Archive for the ‘TPA Dispatches’ Category

So they announced last offseason that MLB would be adding a second wild card team in each league to this postseason, with the two not-quite-winners playing each other in a one-game playoff to determine which moves on to play a real series. I think the reactions generally ranged from extreme displeasure (that was me, for one) to…a kind of extremely cautious optimism, I suppose? The change was so obviously and unabashedly profit-driven that it was hard for anyone to get terribly excited about it, but let me know if someone did and I missed it. Anyway, we said our things, and we kind of forgot about it for six or seven months.

Now, though, there’s about a quarter of the season left, around the time that people really start paying attention to the wild card race. Understand, now, that we’re not really going to know much about how the new system is working for at least a few years now, since the way the races break down next year could be drastically different from this one and so on. It’s way too early to make judgments about that sort of thing.

Still, though: how’s the new system working?

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You’ve probably read something this week about Johnny Pesky, the beloved Red Sox player, manager, color commentator, instructor and foul-pole-name-inspirer who passed away on Monday at the age of 92. There was a lot to be written about Pesky, whose exceptionally long post-playing career has a tendency to obscure his impressive accomplishments as a player.

Then there’s Pesky’s military service. In the fall of 1942, Pesky was 22 years old and coming off of a season in which he batted .331 and led the league in hits, finished third in the MVP voting and easily would have won the Rookie of the Year Award if such a thing had existed. A few months later, though, he was in the service, and wouldn’t play a big-league baseball game again for more than three full years.

Pesky wasn’t special in that regard, in the context of his time — that’s just what the players (and other able-bodied men) did then, most of them. As you might know, established Major Leaguers who joined the armed forces would generally end up playing baseball in the armed forces as well — but they would also have regular, military duties, many of them played and served in dangerous parts of the world, and of course, even the ones who played regularly didn’t have anything like the same routine that they would have had in an organized professional league.

Over on his Sports Illustrated blog, Jay Jaffe made a pretty good case that, had WWII never happened, Pesky may well have ended up putting together a Hall of Fame career. And Jay was being intentionally conservative in what he gave Pesky credit for, too. Pesky was a top player in his rookie year and a top player when he came back, so it’s not crazy to assume that, by happening to play during the years he did and answer the call of duty, he cost himself three full elite-level seasons.

That got me to thinking about other players who sacrificed more than most in the World War II — guys who didn’t live to see the age of blogs and Twitter and who didn’t work visibly in front of an adoring fan base for decades after their careers ended, but who, like Pesky, may have missed out on something truly special on the baseball diamond in exchange for doing their part toward something quite a bit more important. And as great as Ted Williams’ sacrifice was (his more than four combined service years almost certainly kept him from reaching the 600-HR and 3000-hits milestones), and Joe DiMaggio’s (he skipped his age 28-30 seasons, which should really have been his true prime), you know about those guys, and they’re legends anyway; I’m thinking about players who missed the chance to become legends, or at least superstars, because of their military service.

So here is a totally subjective top five: guys of whom you might not be particularly aware and who, like Pesky, saw their lives and careers affected most significantly by the War.

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I don’t have hope. That sounds really horrible on the surface, so I feel like I should explain.  You’ve undoubtedly heard of the Ancient Greek myth of Pandora’s box, wherein Zeus gave the first woman, Pandora, a chest that she was instructed never to open.  But Pandora’s curiosity got the better of her and she opened it, releasing evil into this world.  By the time she could get it closed again, only hope remained in the bottom of the box.  Most people think this is a good thing, that hope gives us the strength to move forward in the face of incredible odds.  I mean, none of us get out of this life alive, so without hope, life could just be a nihilistic slog.

But there’s a certain interpretation of the myth that holds that hope is actually Zeus’s greatest revenge on Prometheus for his treachery.  By making sure that Prometheus’s creation, humanity, retained its hope for the future, Zeus ensured that men and women would continue to be disappointed when tragedy and death befell them, as it eventually does everyone. To live without hope, then, is the ultimate freedom because you can simply enjoy any good that comes your way without creating unreasonable expectations about that good fortune continuing.  So with the Twins on pace for a second consecutive 90 loss season, I’m enjoying my lack of hope as much as I possibly can.

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I love Baseball-Reference.com, as does every right-thinking North American. Of all the hundreds of things that site has given us as baseball nerds, however, one of my favorite is its nicknames. I mean, everyone knows that Babe Ruth was “The Bambino” and “The Sultan of Swat,” and most know that Honus Wagner was “The Flying Dutchman,” though it’s good to have those things recorded on there just in case. But did you know that Walter Johnson was not only “The Big Train,” but also “Barney” for some reason? You may have heard David Eckstein referred to as “The X Factor” back in the day (I prefer the alternate spelling “Ecks Factor”), but how about “Just Enough”? And from five seconds from now through the end of time, will you ever be able to think of Billy Butler and not think of his perfect-but-somehow-not-yet-universal nickname, “Country Breakfast”?

It gets weirder: one of Pablo Sandoval‘s three nicknames is “Fat Ichiro,” which I love because that has the ring of a name that just has to be race-based…but it’s not! And then there’s my favorite of all: Lou Gehrig, Biscuit Pants. That has a story that I’m sure I once knew, but I don’t even want to know it anymore. I picture Sean Forman sitting there in his (mom’s) basement, conjuring these names from thin air and giggling madly to himself, and dammit, that’s just exactly as I want it to be.

“The Toddfather” is hardly “Biscuit Pants,” but I was similarly confused and surprised to learn that that’s apparently the nickname of Colorado legend Todd Helton. I’m on the fence on that one. On one hand, it’s kind of obvious, and could be (and, I assume, more or less has been) applied to every person who has been alive since 1972 and has happened to be named Todd. On the other hand, though, it fits this Todd pretty perfectly; he’s the Rockies’ longest-lived and probably still most beloved star, and he was kind of the grizzled veteran on the team’s first World Series squad in 2007. So, I like it for him. I think.

Anyway, it was announced yesterday that The Toddfather needs season-ending surgery.

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If I’m being honest (and when am I ever not honest with you people), I couldn’t care less about the Olympics this year.  A lot of that probably stems from the fact that I’d just prefer to keep watching baseball every night than to tune into a big event where I don’t really know all the rules and am going to have to trust the announcers to educate me (what if I get stuck with the Tim McCarver of water polo?).  And I’d rather see the Twins play or listen to the beautiful cadence of (the now Twitterly aware) Vin Scully than root for the U.S. of A. to prove that it has the best putters of shot on God’s green Earth.  And I don’t care to see the NBA superstars of Team USA destroy Nigeria, like the Globetrotters taking on an 8th grade traveling squad.  There’s not much glory in that.

It’s not that I’m not patriotic.  It’s just that I don’t see why I should care who the best hurdler or diver or marathon runner is.  I don’t understand the nationalist fervor that would have me rooting for a target shooter or rhythmic gymnast to somehow prove that the U.S. is #1, as though that weren’t (in large part) a function of having a large population and a willingness to funnel tremendous resources into our Olympic program.

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I think we need to start paying more attention to something. Adam Dunn is on his way to doing something that hasn’t happened since Babe Ruth did it in 1927. No, it isn’t “sixty homers by a big oaf while wearing black and white/gray” — he’s on pace for closer to fifty of those. Rather, Dunn could be the first in 85 years to lead the entire Major Leagues in each of the “Three True Outcomes” categories: walks, strikeouts and home runs.

Through Sunday (though he’s done nothing to improve his standing in any of the categories so far as I write this on Monday evening, managing to put the ball in play twice thrice four times in a row), Dunn was leading both leagues in all three categories, and by a relatively healthy margin: his 31 home runs are three better than the four guys tied for second, his 77 walks lead Ben Zobrist by ten, and his 150 strikeouts lead Carlos Pena by twenty (it’s very possible that Dunn would end the season in the top ten in that category if he didn’t strike out again all year). Dunn, through Sunday, was on pace for 50 homers, 124 walks and a record-smashing 241 strikeouts.

Leading the American League in all three categories would by itself be an admirable feat. As Jonah Keri (with help from Elias) noted a month ago, a Three True Outcomes Triple Crown (TTOTC) has historically been half as common as the old BA/HR/RBI Triple Crown, having been done just eight times in history. Leading both leagues in all categories, though? That’s been done by exactly one guy. Until now.

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Rumor has it he’s the one I’m leaving you for. – Adele

(Yeah, that’s right, I just quoted Adele. I am that confident in my own masculinity.)

I’m beginning to hate rumors.  Like, a lot.  It’s not that I’m worried about spoilers.  I’d love to have a scoop about player movement before it happens, as it makes analysis and writing it up so much easier.

But here’s what happens with rumors:

 ”At least the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Giants appear to have some interest in Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who is making a nice comeback this year.”

See what Heyman did there?  The Blue Jays and Giants are “interested in” Morneau.  He doesn’t tell us the level of interest, or the likelihood that a deal will get done before Tuesday night (although Morneau could probably slip through waivers unclaimed).*  He also doesn’t mention the Rangers, who have also been linked to Morneau at one point or another in the last couple weeks.

*Update: Aaaaaaaand…the Dodgers are already out.

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