The final episode of the 1980s show "St. Elsewhere" calls into question the existence of some key baseball moments.
We all remember the celebration in 2004 after the Red Sox won the World Series. The glorification of Curt Schilling and his bloody sock. Johnny Damon and the "Idiots". Cowboying up. Something about Babe Ruth and curses. And then of course there was Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore celebrating on the field.
Or the 1996 Yankees. Derek Jeter introducing himself to the world (and the gift-basket business). Wade Boggs riding around Yankee Stadium on a horse. Mariano Rivera being Mariano Rivera for 107 innings (107!). I'm sure George Steinbrenner said something entertaining as well.
As the example of John Lackey makes clear, baseball isn't completely devoid of compelling characters, even if they're only likely to show their true colors at trying times.
Last week at this website, Adam Sobsey opined that baseball players are less interesting now than they used to be. That may be so, though I think it is at least arguable (as Mr. Sobsey mentions in the article) that much of their oddball nature has been pushed underground, suppressed by a culture that seeks either to worship or destroy its athletes.
A case in point is Boston Red Sox pitcher John Lackey. Lackey (and his contract) generated high expectations when they came to the Red Sox from Anaheim. Whether those expectations were justified is another issue, but his pay and previous success pointed toward at least adequate things, if not great ones. For the most part, the results haven’t been either great or adequate. The John Lackey Boston received has been, in order, adequate, historically awful, and now, injured.
Exploring the origins of baseball's unique moral burden, with an assist from Diderot and Jacques Barzun.
Poor baseball. These two words keep running through my mind lately, the way a line from a song gets stuck in your head. Poor baseball. Poor baseball. Oh, pity poor baseball.
It is our beast of burden. We ask the sport to do so much work for us, and when it fails, we beat it mercilessly, often until we are beating ourselves. That is because the work we ask baseball to do is moral, and the punishment for doing it poorly or not at all is severe.
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A writer who never saw Jack Morris pitch watches him in action for the first time and comes away even less convinced that the traditionalist case for his candidacy should earn him a call to Cooperstown.
Does the randomness of a seven-game series detract from a champion's accomplishment?
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
Did Hollywood exaggerate what Moneyball was all about, or was it an accurate depiction of what went down in Oakland?
I was the guy who had to wait to see Moneyball when it actually opened in theaters, so I came in post-hype. I’d scanned reviews written by people I know, like, and respect, and the predictability of the reviews upset me. The movie seemed to have people digging into trenches long abandoned. Some proclaimed the film's mere existence was some sort of victory for sabermetrics. Detractors reminded everyone that Beane didn't win a World Series, but conveniently forgot that many of his processes, once iconoclastic, are now in every front office—including in those that have won titles with the ideas and philosophies originated in Oakland.
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.
An all-time great hitter threatens to upend his career with drinking, but sadly enough he's had predecessors on this path.
In Roger Ebert’s essay on Michelangelo Antonioni’s classic 1966 film Blow-Upin his book The Great Movies (a version of which can be read here), Ebert dismisses the film’s ambiguous ending, saying that the film is neither about the “swinging London” in which it is set nor the possible murder in which the main character becomes concerned. Rather, he says, the movie is, “A hypnotic conjuring act in which a character is awakened briefly from a deep sleep of bored alienation and then drifts away again.” It is, he says, “simply the observation that we are happy when we are doing what we do well, and unhappy seeking pleasure elsewhere.”
It seems to me that this is a pretty good summation of the professional athlete’s life—a brief awakening, followed a drifting away and an oft-unfulfilled quest for find pleasure elsewhere. Or, as the song from Damn Yankeesgoes, “A man doesn’t know what he has until he loses it.” Are you listening, Miguel Cabrera?
Perhaps fictional analogies won’t do the trick. Let’s try a real antecedent, Jimmie Foxx. There’s a funny scene in A League of Their Own, the 1992 film about women’s professional baseball during World War II where “Walter Harvey,” a stand-in for Phil Wrigley, lectures ex-player “Jimmy Dugan,” a character inspired by Foxx:
Character assassination, speculation, a commitment to process... ah, it has to be Hall of Fame season.
I doubt you've missed it, but the Hall of Fame announcement is coming next week. I should stress that I don't vote on the Hall of Fame because as of yet I cannot, and won't be eligible to for another eight years, if ever. As a result, I tend not to get as wrapped up in the annual frustrations with the process as some, having already long since despaired over the shabby treatment of the late Ron Santo for not getting voted in, not to mention the flabby gymnastics presented by way of explanation from that shrinking segment of voters determined to ignore Bert Blyleven. But I get asked about it often enough casually by people assuming that I must already be in the electorate; optimist that I am, I stick with the hope that, come the day, Tim Raines will never need my vote, and that justice will be done to the players who deserve election in the meantime, however fractiously, and with however many unhappy exceptions.
The Mariners bullpen coach and former major-league closer discusses pitching mechanics, knowing his pitchers and the question "Why?"
Only 10 pitchers in major-league history have saved more games (330) than John Wetteland, and of them, it is likely that none have ever been as enamored with physics and the question, “Why?” After breaking in with the Dodgers, Wetteland went on to close for the Expos, Yankees, and Rangers, amassing the most saves in the 1990s. The Most Valuable Player of the 1996 World Series with the Yankees, and the Rangers’ all-time leader in saves, Wetteland currently serves as the bullpen coach for the Mariners.
Continuing an analysis of Cole Hamels' 2008 and 2009 seasons.
Two weeks ago, I wrote an article on Cole Hamels on the day that the Phillies clinched the National League pennant, explaining in detail that I do not believe that there is anything wrong with Cole Hamels, and that the difference between 2008 and 2009 is abnormally good luck in the first and abnormally bad luck in the second. The first clue was that he had similar peripheral statistics in 2008 and 2009. He struck out 21 percent of hitters in both years, and walked just over five percent of hitters in 2009 after walking just under six percent of them in 2008. His ground-ball rate stayed roughly the same, rising from 41 to 43 percent. The difference came from his BABIP jumping from an incredibly fortunate .262 to an incredibly unfortunate .321. It has been shown many times before that BABIP is a statistic with low persistence, and that pitchers see their performances jump up and down constantly with respect to this statistic. As a result, much of year-to-year fluctuation in ERA is tied to fluctuations in BABIP. Unsurprisingly, Hamels ERA went from 3.09 in 2008 to 4.32 in 2009. As Hamels' peripherals indicate an ERA around 3.65, it seems likely that he had a mixture of good luck in 2008 and bad luck in 2009 that belied his ERA.