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Span and Sain and Pray for Rain 

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June 13, 2011 9:00 am

Span and Sain and Pray for Rain: The Monkey in the Room


Emma Span

Even when directors include baseball, they should know better than to cast a chimp in the movie.

While generally an animal lover, I’ve never been a fan of chimps. Sure, they’re a bit creepy—nothing should look that human without actually being human—but that’s not really why. I think I’ve figured it out: No movie that prominently features a chimpanzee, or an orangutan, has ever been good. Gorillas and/or giant ape-type creatures: Sure. See King Kong. Monkeys? Sometimes—that little Nazi spy-monkey from Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark, or even the not-exactly-good-but-memorably-freaky Monkeyshines. But chimps or orangutans? No.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. I bring this up because weird movies are something of a hobby of mine—on Tuesdays, some of my friends and I have a regular Bad Movie Night, where we watch stuff like Troll 2 or Heartbeeps or Night of the Lepus or Death Bed: The Bed That Eats or Birdemic: Shock and Terror—and weird baseball movies are, of course, a passion. There’s a chapter in my book about this, which you can read here; aside from explaining why I hate The Natural, it covers Safe at Home and Night Game and Rhubarb The Millionaire Tomcat. All memorable in their own ways.

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A guide to talking to sports reporters without saying anything.

Anyone who watches a lot of baseball coverage realizes early on that most of what players, coaches, and managers say to the press is essentially meaningless. “We’ve just got to find a way to score runs.” Yes, that generally helps. “I was looking for a pitch I could drive.” Good strategy. “That’s baseball.” Thank you. “We’ve just got to give 110%.” Why stop there?

The pinnacle of inane sports reaction quotes is, of course, “it is what it is,” quite possibly the five least meaningful words it’s possible to string together in English. I’ve been ranting about “it is what it is” for years, which makes it all the more painful when, every now and then in a moment of stress, I find myself saying it. Of course it is what it is. If it ever isn’t what it is, that’s when I hope someone will let me know.

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A visit to the Friendly Confines inspires thoughts on nostalgia, progress, and Bill Veeck. Warning: some adult language.

Last Friday I was lucky to attend part of the American Statistical Association Conference in Chicago, and Saturday I was luckier still to go to Wrigley Field for the first time. One of Friday’s speakers was Allen Sanderson, a professor in the University of Chicago’s Department of Economics. In between making a number of intelligent points about things like the fiscal reality of hosting the Olympics, he said one thing that seriously jarred me: that it made no sense for the owners of the Cubs to put “another penny” into Wrigley, and that instead they should tear it down and move the team to the suburbs.


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Last Friday's faceoff between Tony LaRussa and Dusty Baker could lead to a good old-fashioned managerial feud.

Compared to football, or even basketball, “manager-vs.-manager” is rarely part of the hype surrounding a baseball game. There’s not really a personality-clash equivalent of, say, Bill Belichick’s team going up against Rex Ryan's, at least not these days. There are plenty of baseball managers who are still characters—hi, Ozzie!—but relatively few who really impose their personality or style on a team in a dramatic, Billy Martin sort of way. Some run more than others, some leave pitchers in longer than others—but ultimately, over the course of a season, a manager is usually not a huge factor in a team’s success or failure.

I started thinking about this last week, when two very different dugout fixtures went up against each other more directly than is typical these days. Last Friday night, the Reds were paying the Cardinals, and with rain predicted, La Russa decided to sit scheduled starter Kyle McClellan and start the game with reliever Miguel Batista. Dusty Baker, meanwhile, had Edinson Volquez warmed up and ready to go before a two-hour pregame rain delay hit, after which he instead stuck Matt Maloney in the game. The Cardinals went on to win, 4-2.

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Every ballplayer's in movies, it doesn't matter who you are.

I have a new favorite road trip game/bar conversation/internet time-waster: if baseball players were movies, what movie or genre would they be?

This came about because of Manny Ramirez. I was talking to a friend and one of us asked, if Manny Ramirez were a movie, what kind of movie would he be? Tragedy? Comedy? Something with a lot of explosions? We actually never did come to a satisfying conclusion about Manny, but then, he’s an unusually difficult case. Maybe something from M. Night Shyamalan post-Sixth Sense—a lot of thrills, suspense, and manipulation… and then such a silly ending.

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Now that Bryce Harper has a sponsor for his plate appearances, how far can ads at the ballpark go?

There doesn’t seem to be much point in complaining about the commercialization of baseball. Everyone's aware of it, and no one is particularly fond of it; no one is ready to stop watching because of it, either, so here we are. An average game probably involves somewhere between 40 minutes and an hour of commercials, and that's not even counting the many additional ads you get in the course of the broadcast itself—the AFLAC trivia question, the AT&T call to the bullpen, the Drive Angry 3D bench-clearing scuffle, and so on. Even furious DVR gyrations can’t entirely save you.

But this isn’t down to the failures of modern society or the callowness of today’s youth—baseball has shilled for all sorts of products since its earliest days. Wrigley Field is named after a chewing gum company, Mickey Mantle promoted anything that wasn’t nailed down, Reggie Jackson got his own candy bar… and as someone who’s always said that I would cheerfully sell out if only anyone were buying, I won’t judge.

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March 10, 2011 8:36 am

Span and Sain and Pray for Rain: The Man Behind the Curtain


Emma Span

Bud Selig's reign as commissioner has been marked by a lot of things, but transparency is not one of them.

Because he is soft-spoken, polite, and a stupefyingly dull public speaker, Bud Selig may not always come to mind as one of the sports world’s more dictatorial figures. He has none of the bite or flair or arrogance of someone like George Steinbrenner, with whom he often clashed. Yet, in a very soft-spoken, polite, and stupefyingly dull sort of way, Selig has a habit of making unilateral decisions and then refusing to explain them. Because the powers of the MLB Commissioner are so broad, and because of the indefensible legal loophole that is baseball’s antitrust exemption, there’s not much anyone can do to change that, but we—fans and writers—seem to have given up even pressing him on anything.

It’s often hard to know whether Selig’s fiats are wise or not, since he rarely announces them, elaborates on them, or answers questions about them. The most recent example came last month, when Selig decided to veto a huge FOX loan to Frank McCourt, who’s struggling to keep his Dodgers solvent in the wake of a bungled and very public divorce. A few days afterwards it emerged that Selig had previously authorized an MLB loan to the also-struggling Mets of some $20 million, which neither he nor the Mets ever made public, apparently simply hoping that no one would notice. Whether one millionaire authorizes loans to other millionaires is an issue I find it hard to get too worked up about generally, but I can’t help feeling that huge franchise-altering transactions ought to come with at least some level of transparency.

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