Appreciating this year's exceptional crop of MLB rookies

October 3, 2022


If you are a baseball fan, chances are you have marveled at several outstanding rookies this season. Julio Rodriguez mashed a ton of dingers during the Home Run Derby. Perhaps you caught Adley Rutschman gunning down a would-be base stealer or lining another double in the gap. Steven Kwan dominated a few early-season news cycles. Carlos Correa has put up a more-than-respectable 4.3 fWAR for Minnesota this year, but his replacement, rookie Jeremy Peña, has put up 3.3 fWAR for Houston. Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider have been wildly productive for Atlanta. The Mariners’ George Kirby has basically matched Gerrit Cole in fWAR — this year’s crop of rookies have been so good that I bet most baseball fans outside Seattle are largely ignorant of who Kirby is, even though in a normal season he’d be among the front runners for AL Rookie of the Year.

Riley Greene, Bobby Witt, Jr., and Oneil Cruz are all athletic marvels who are already helping their teams and have been slated as future All Stars for years. What can Joey Meneses do in a full season? Why are the Cardinals always able to develop guys like Brendan Donovan and Lars Nootbaar?

This is all good for baseball, but the player I want you to spend a few minutes considering is the one Fangraphs has pegged as the sixth-most productive position player rookie in MLB this year, even though he had only played 96 games as I write this, and every other player in the top 10 had appeared in at least 108 games: Jake McCarthy.

"Rick and Morty": A character study with sci-fi comedy dressing

September 25, 2022


I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should watch “Rick and Morty,” but if you’re unfamiliar, the one thing I would emphasize is that the series is a surprisingly poignant study of alienation and the importance of family and human connection. (I don’t believe there are significant “Rick and Morty” spoilers in the following.)

GOP : Yankees fans :: Donald Trump : George Steinbrenner

August 27, 2022


As I write this on Saturday evening, Donald Trump has not been indicted for possessing classified materials at his home after leaving the presidency, but whether it actually happens or not, based on what is currently known, there isn’t any reasonable explanation for why he had those documents. If he weren’t the presumptive front-runner to be a major political party’s presidential nominee, he might already have been indicted.

Furthermore, the worst people are talking themselves into the position that possessing a bunch of papers with government secrets isn’t all that bad and laying the groundwork for Trump’s supporters to adopt that line, too. Given his supporters’ dedication over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised if they continue defending Trump even if it turns out he was responsible for revealing the identities of American spies overseas in addition to culling material with embarrassing information about other world leaders.

The thing about the Trump cult is that they venerate him in predictable ways. I’ve come to think of them similarly to the people who hold up George Steinbrenner as a paragon of American sports ownership, and believe the Trump fandom will follow the same arc.

The best pants I own

August 15, 2022


I wore my favorite pair of pants to my most recent high school reunion, complemented by a hoodie, denim jacket, and athletic sneakers. I’ve worn that same pair of pants to business meetings with a button-up shirt and dressier shoes. And I’ve worn them with a t-shirt when I’ve gone hiking and bicycling.

I don't know if Rob Manfred hates baseball, but nothing he has done suggests he loves the game

August 1, 2022


Late last week, Major League Baseball sent a letter to Congress arguing the organization deserves its antitrust exemption. One would think MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred might wish to express his deep care and love for baseball as the base motivation for all his decisions, but as with many of his other public statements this message communicated the commissioner’s view that maximizing short-term profitability for MLB franchise owners is his primary concern. The tragedy of Manfred is he occupies a role that, historically, has been conceived as caretaker of a major American institution, and yet almost everything he supports and stands for diminishes the long-term prospects that baseball will flourish.

If the Nationals trade Juan Soto, they are not a serious ballclub

July 17, 2022


With reports that the
Washington Nationals are exploring their options for trading young superstar Juan Soto, it is worth stating plainly that this is a travesty because the team will almost certainly be better off paying the man what he has asked for rather than trading him for a collection of players who, because most of the other teams in Major League Baseball are run by reasonably intelligent people, will face extremely long odds of ever producing as much on-field value as Soto, combined, let alone individually.

One person’s humanitarian crisis is another’s footnote

July 13, 2022


In the summer of 2003, I spent six weeks with a study abroad program in London. I attended wonderful Shakespeare productions, traveled one weekend to Paris and another to Dublin, met a whole bunch of cool people — including Will, who gifted us with his pronunciation of “pendulous” while reading aloud from a trashy romance novel — and in almost all ways had a lovely time.

However, I also remember something that did not stick in the American popular memory: that summer, a deadly heatwave hit Europe for weeks.

'This Land Is Your Land': The national anthem we need

July 4, 2022


Whitney Houston sang the hell out of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” So did Marvin Gaye. The Grateful Dead’s a capella version is both straightforwardly traditional and layered with Deadness. Huey Lewis and the News’s a capella rendition is slicker and swings a little. Of course, Jimi Hendrix kicked the song’s ass.

But lyrically, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is a maudlin paean to military might. While a good portion of the country is certainly happy with this particular song as the American national anthem, count me in the segment that believes our nation’s anthem should express something other than a martial warning and that it is long past time we had a serious movement to change it and rethink its role in civic life.

There is no shortage of songs that would be better than “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Obvious possibilities include “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” and “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee).” I have also seen less-obvious suggestions like “Lean On Me” or the much more obscure “The House I Live In.” However, the best choice is a song that evokes American promise and potential, and ultimately calls for its citizens to take care of each other: “This Land Is Your Land.”

Popular art is not up for the fight

June 27, 2022


The Supreme Court’s recent rulings on abortion, guns, and prayer in schools have made me think a lot about popular dramatic representations of explicitly liberal political drama.

In many ways, “Hamilton” is the most Obama-era Democratic Party piece of dramatic art, in that it seems carefully calibrated to offend no one, and it suggests representation, itself, is good enough to inspire, enact, and maintain positive change against reactionary forces. But “Hamilton” was far from the first such drama to take that specific, self-defeating tack. While “The West Wing” has become a go-to object of scorn from leftists highlighting Bush-era liberal drama, I think more about a Bush-era stage musical that was turned into a Hollywood film that grossed more than $200 million worldwide that also presented racism as an obstacle that can be overcome with representation and wit alone.

There's nothing complicated about those Rays players' bigotry

June 6, 2022


When I played high school baseball in the late 1990s, there was a guy on the team who said, without irony, that he had no problem with gay people but that he did not appreciate them shoving their gayness in his face. There was rampant homophobia at my school so this conversation would have been unremarkable except that several other guys on the team pushed back and asked him what, precisely, he meant by that. Was he really asking people to not be themselves? What if someone suggested he not shove his straightness in everyone else’s face?

We didn’t get anywhere with him, but I thought about that day when I read that several Tampa Bay Rays had refused to wear Pride-themed patches and caps.

Stephen Curry needs help to win championships, just like everyone else

May 31, 2022


If you have spent much time interacting with NBA Twitter, you are probably aware of how stan culture has created a series of rip currents just under the surface of broader NBA fandom. It’s not unique to the NBA, but I’m still often taken aback by the rabid reactions to random people with triple-digit followers expressing opinions about star players.

For the most part, NBA player stans aren’t on the same level as, say, the Beyhive or Army, but it is still disconcerting how certain stan groups will go off when they feel their beloved player has been disrespected. Maybe there’s something to the notion that when a person stans for a celebrity — athlete, entertainer, politician, or whatever — it is because the celebrity has come to represent something in the stan’s identity, so a perceived slight of the celebrity is a slight on the stan.

All that is prologue for what I really want to write about, which is that Stephen Curry’s greatness may be overstated by his stans, but I also feel he is held to an unfair standard when it comes to historical greatness, just like every other modern basketball star is.

Everyone's a winner if the Commanders move to the boonies

May 23, 2022


Upon reading that the Washington Commanders have taken steps to purchase land in A Town You Don’t Care About That’s A Considerable Distance From Washington, D.C.’s City Center, ostensibly with the plan of building a new stadium there, I fully expected to see complaints about how the team would be abandoning their fans, but I didn’t expect quite this level of vitriol. By now, it’s probably a reflex to condemn anything Dan Snyder does, but in this case, if Snyder wants to build a football stadium in the Virginia hinterlands, that would be a good thing, on net.

Let's talk about Kirk Reuter

May 15, 2022


I’ve been thinking a lot about Kirk Rueter, and if he would have made it to Major League Baseball had he come up today rather than three decades ago. Heck, he might not have even gotten drafted, given his underwhelming stuff and mediocre strikeout numbers in a non-power college conference.

However, Rueter managed to fashion a long Major League career during which he had multiple solidly above-average seasons, despite being a soft-tosser who only had two full seasons in which he struck out more batters than he had runs allowed.

Jon Stewart made Democrats feel good. That's not a compliment

April 24, 2022


There’s a long essay about Jon Stewart in The Atlantic trying to explain why the comedian’s recent output doesn’t have the same edge or impact as his work on The Daily Show. While I haven’t watched his Apple show, nor have I listened to his podcast, so I can’t comment on the piece’s analysis in that regard, I was a regular viewer of Stewart’s Daily Show, and I think the piece falls short in explaining what that program did well and why it was ultimately a failure.

Observations about how Carlos Rodón pitches

April 16, 2022

If you’ve never had the opportunity to watch Carlos Rodón pitch, the main thing is he’s a hulking dude, and the ball explodes out of his hand, whether it’s coming at 99 miles per hour at the top of the zone or spinning in at 78 miles per hour and falling off the table into the dirt. He’s been that guy for a long time, going back to his time at NC State University, but he hadn’t been able to harness that talent and get consistently great results in MLB until last season, when he struck out 185 batters in 132.2 innings and had a 2.37 ERA. Even then, you’ll notice his limited innings due to injury.

This year, in two starts for San Francisco, he’s picked up right where he left off, hurling untouchable pitches with shocking precision. I was fortunate enough to attend his Giants debut against the Marlins, I watched his next start against the Guardians on TV, and I’m utterly stoked he’s on my team.

Beyond that, I’m fascinated with the evolution of Rodón’s pitching mechanics over the years. I’ll leave it to people with more expertise than me to make narrower conclusions, but from my observations I have one super-broad macro conclusion.

The only guide you need for complex pasta sauce

March 27, 2022


One of the most useful skills I’ve added as an adult is the ability to make a complex pasta sauce from scratch. This particular recipe is especially useful because it is multiple sauces in one — you can stop at different points and have sauces for different uses. Moreover, depending on what the sauce is going with, you can make a few key additions here and there.

MLB should expand a lot. To, like, 40 teams

March 13, 2022


When Major League Baseball forced several teams out of affiliated Minor League Baseball, I understood it as a craven power grab with stated motivations that made little sense — the obvious reason the game’s overlords did it was because they saw an opportunity to enhance their control over the minor leagues, cut their expenditures, and thus make more money.

Of course, those moves were short-sighted. Perhaps the Chicago White Sox save a few ducats by paying only six teams’ worth of professional baseball players rather than seven, but I argued then, and still believe now, that those ducats were exceptionally well-spent even beyond what they contributed to player development because they ensured professional baseball was played in more places around the country, which I strongly suspect was a real contributor to creating more baseball fans. That is, in the long term, MLB decided to actively give up opportunities to create and cultivate more fans.

Upon news that MLB and the MLB Players Association had reached agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement, ending the owners’ 99-day lockout and prompting them to schedule a full 162-game season, it occurred to me that many of the ills that plague MLB — both real and imagined — could be addressed by more baseball.

'Sing 2' broke me

February 27, 2022


The other day, I took The Little One to see Sing 2 in a theater. They’d enjoyed the first Sing movie, and I’d found it inoffensive, so I figured it might be a treat to see this one on the big screen, with big speakers.

Instead, I came away feeling as if I'd just watched a deeply cynical bit of popular children’s entertainment. (Spoiler alert, I guess, if you’re intent on not knowing anything about Sing 2 going in.)

I remember Spring Training

February 21, 2022


As late as the 1990s, a family of four could go to Spring Training in Arizona and enjoy a relatively inexpensive vacation watching Major League Baseball teams practice and play practice games. I know, because several times my family drove down from Northern California to take in several days of the Cactus League.

I remember all four of us going — my dad, mom, brother, and me — and I remember going with just my dad. I remember we stopped at Disneyland at least one time. But the thing I remember most vividly, given that all this happened from the time I was 5 to perhaps 10 years old, was the sheer casualness of it all.

In case you were unaware, American city streets are terrifying if you’re a cyclist

February 14, 2022


I bought a bicycle a few weeks ago — a low-end six-speed that retails for $300, but was marked down 25 percent because the store where I got it is closing for good next month. It’s exactly what I wanted: A bike able to handle 15 to 20 rides per year, and cheap enough I wouldn’t be all that upset if it got stolen.

So far, I’ve ridden on the Great Highway during a time it was closed to motor vehicles, and I’ve ridden along paths in a park near my home. I climbed a 50-foot hill at about a 20 percent grade and felt like a Tour de France winner. I also nearly squished a squirrel that darted out from a bush and just missed my front wheel.

As much as I’ve enjoyed these excursions, I’m also now viscerally aware of how most places I’ve lived, including my hometown and current city, San Francisco, do pitifully little to protect and encourage cycling.

It’s a myth that sunlight is the best disinfectant: On comedy and Joe Rogan

February 6, 2022


One of the funniest comedians I saw multiple times at the Comedy Cellar in the early 2000s in un-Google-able, because as I recall his stage name was Hood. No last name, just: Hood. I may not even be spelling that correctly. (Update 2/28/22: I found himHis full name is Hood Qa'Im-maqami, and, as expected, some of my memory was off.)

In my memory, this was a part-time gig for him — he had a job in finance, maybe? — but I remember he was a standout performer because he was uproariously funny, his bits had layers, and the three or four times I saw him, he killed. Perhaps that was a function of him not using the Comedy Cellar to work out new material, and so while other comics were using these nights to shape their jokes and search for just the right edges, Hood’s act was much more polished because he wasn’t going anywhere else with it.

Hood said he was Iraqi, which colored much of his material in 2002, when I first saw him perform. One of the times I saw him, he started his set talking about how, because of all the racists, he’d started letting people think he was Italian. Somehow, he had the audience scream-laughing as he talked about what it was like to move through New York in the wake of 9/11 with assholes left and right accusing him of being a terrorist, sometimes openly. He moved on to other topics, but also ended his set with a bit that involved his son, and the final joke was a callback, as he recounted telling his son, “Finish your spaghetti, Luigi.”

All that’s to say that Hood, in my memory, was courageous with his comedy. At a time when Middle Easterners were being attacked and shunned, he got up on stage and used jokes to say that was a fucked up thing to be happening.

I thought about Hood when, once again, a bunch of comedians leapt to defend Joe Rogan against people complaining that Rogan has said a bunch of racist shit on his popular podcast over the past decade-plus, and furthermore, that Rogan has given his platform to numerous guests who proffer harmful pseudo-facts and ignorance dressed up as intellectualism and out-and-out racism (and more racism) (and more racism).

Northern Exposure through the red state/blue state lens

January 31, 2022


Here’s a game I play whenever I watch a television show or movie: First, can you clearly identify the political affiliations of the characters? Second, does identifying their politics have any bearing on the meaning of the show?

I thought about this a lot in recent months while I went through the complete series of Northern Exposure, which I believe sits in a rarely-occupied space in American drama: it depicts politically-conservative Americans sympathetically, gives them complex and nuanced lives, and was critically-acclaimed.

It's okay to ignore the Baseball Hall of Fame

January 21, 2022


The thing about the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is that the Hall of Fame has lost most of its meaning in recent years, and the museum is thoroughly mediocre — or at least it was when I went, in 2016. Both problems are tied to how fans consume baseball today and, by extension, how consensus develops about certain players’ greatness and overall worthiness.

Are multi-purpose stadiums really gone for good?

January 14, 2022


(Quick note to start: If you’re a baseball fan, I highly recommend Craig Calcaterra’s
Cup of Coffee newsletter. It’s a great way to keep up with the broad baseball conversation, but he also brings up a wide variety of other topics for spice. Overall, I look forward to reading it every morning and think it’s well worth the purchase price. Also, one of the subscriber perks is that if you buy a certain piece of merch from him, you can submit a guest essay, which I did, and he published it Friday morning. My thesis: The institutions that grapple with COVID-19 most publicly are probably professional sports leagues, which in turn distorts our experience with the virus.

Now, on with today’s post…)

Pro sports teams don’t like multi-use stadiums. Part of it may be a reaction to the concrete ring stadiums built in the 1960s and 1970s that were designed to host multiple sports, and which tended to feel cavernous and hostile to any event, especially baseball. But I suspect a bigger element is that building a sport-specific ballpark is a statement of purpose and stature, that this is a place for that sport, specifically, and therefore the team that plays here matters — even though owners will absolutely use the facility for as many other uses as they can.

That said, I wonder if we’re due for a rebirth of multi-purpose stadiums.

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