On the internet, nobody knows you're a Juan Gonzalez fanatic.
When I was a kid, I loved old magazines. Books were fine too, as far as they went. But there was something surreptitious about reading old magazine articles, reading outdated reviews and glancing at anachronistic advertisements. Something about the transitory nature of them made them feel forbidden, like they were written for a specific moment that I was intruding on. Like the powder blue pullovers and the shaggy hair of the baseball generation just before mine, they made me feel like I was peeking into the wisdom of adulthood.
In a sport that fetishizes comebacks, it can be difficult to tell a return from a redemption.
I was following along, like maybe a lot of you, with the Matt Bush story the past few weeks. Bush likely needs no real intro to a committed baseball readership, but here’s the short version for context’s sake. Bush was drafted as a shortstop with the first overall pick in the 2003 draft by the San Diego Padres. He was bad at hitting—which led to his conversion to pitching—and bad at avoiding injury. Worse than either, though, were his problems with drugs, domestic violence, and DUI. He spent three years in prison.
Now, he’s with the Texas Rangers—the team most closely associated with another former first-overall draft pick/recovering substance abuser—and pitching in the major leagues for the first time ever. He’s throwing 98 miles an hour, he’s on a zero tolerance policy for drugs or booze, and he’s rapidly climbing the ladder in the Rangers’ bullpen. In short, Matt Bush has reinvented himself.
I’m taken in easily by stories like Bush’s, and that can be a problem. Bush’s anomalous transformation, his ability to become something different in order to succeed in what is a brutal game of failure, makes it tempting to forgive and (more problematically) forget his past sins. And while we all might have different opinions on the value of redemption or retribution, the fact is that we can’t really enjoy the rise of Matt Bush without asking ourselves some serious questions about our relationship to the actions that made him fall.
Bush’s sins aren’t of the Josh Hamilton variety, after all—there’s an easy link by way of substance abuse, and I’ll admit I’ve drawn it without thinking a few times. But Hamilton’s problems were self-destructive, limited for the most part to his own abuse of drugs and his fight to get over that. Bush hurt a lot of people on his way back to the majors, the most famous example of which was running over a man’s head while fleeing a hit-and-run DUI. (The man survived thanks to his wearing a helmet.) While this incident is what landed Bush in prison for a little over three years, he was also involved in the assault of a high school lacrosse player with a golf club (getting him released from the Padres) and he threw a baseball at a woman’s head (which got him kicked off the Blue Jays). In short, Matt Bush made his bed in a fairly dramatic and troubling way. He was awful.
But now he’s back, and it’s tempting to revel in the baseball return story. After all, the comeback is one of our most treasured genres as fans, and for good reason. These stories make us believe, however briefly, in our ability as people to beat the odds. I mentioned Hamilton above, and his story is likely one of the most inspiring in this way, as he kicked his drug habit and tasted some of the Mickey Mantle-esque appeal he had when being drafted first overall by the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. And while Hamilton’s journey has been a little windy since then, the fact that he saw any success after flaming out for years in the minor leagues is remarkable. Baseball, as I’ve said before and I’ll say again, is powerfully unforgiving.
And so when we see most of the nameless first-round busts or snake-bitten injured phenoms go the way of our Brian Bullingtons and Mark Priors, we’re rightly amazed to see a happy ending. When Rich Hill can stick to the pursuit of baseball as long as he has, and then end up pitching beyond our wildest expectations at 36, that’s pretty cool. That’s a story we can tell our kids about all the great, warm fuzzy feelings baseball is classically supposed to give us: perseverance, self-confidence, belief. These guys beat the odds in a game that is literally already about beating long odds, and we remember and revere them for that.
Yu Darvish returns in full force, the Royals stage an unlikely comeback, and the Mariners embarrass themselves on the basepaths in new and creative ways.
The Weekend Takeaway
It only took 659 days, but Yu Darvish is back where he belongs: striking out the league’s best hitters and taking names. The 29-year-old returned to the major-league stage on Saturday afternoon, where he pitched for the first time since August 9, 2014, in front of a sellout crowd in Arlington, Texas.
Can baseball thrive in cities where nostalgia is suffocated?
The Texas Rangers are getting a new ballpark. We’re used to thinking about the stadium question in terms of tax dollars, and it is an obviously smart way to approach it because of all the things tax dollars turn into that aren’t baseball. Tax dollars are schools and roads and recycling bins, and their allocation is a collective expression of what is important to us, or ought to be. It’s an exceptionally boring way of declaring that most of us like this thing more than this other thing, not merely as sports fans or consumers, but as citizens and parents and people. So when the Arlington City Council voted to approve a master plan for a new stadium for the Texas Rangers, they kicked off a process by which voters will decide if they like air conditioned baseball more than whatever else you can buy with $500 million. Like recycling bins or public transit or a comical number of two-foot-long hot dogs. We’re used to thinking of this question in that way, and it is a good way to think about it.
Adam Wainwright is a exit-velo monster at the dish, Dallas Keuchel loses a streak, and Lorenzo Cain has a tough night.
The Monday Takeaway
For those who sought to go out on a limb with their World Series picks this spring, the Rangers represented an alluring dark horse. They were so alluring, in fact, that, at least in this neck of the woods, the horse in question wasn’t dark at all. Five BP’ers, including yours truly, pegged Texas to go all the way in 2016, giving Jeff Banister’s club more backing than any other except the Cubs.
The Rangers had plenty going for them as a tempting pennant pick. They’d have a full season of Cole Hamels. They sported a breakout candidate in Rougned Odor. They’d added a cheap, high-upside bat in Ian Desmond near the end of the offseason. And, beyond all that, the injury-ravaged 2015 outfit had managed to win 88 games and the American League West. But, while I can’t speak for my colleagues, the determining factor behind my preseason vote was the potential for internal reinforcements to greatly bolster the roster midyear.
On the persistent and insidious tough luck that Cole Hamels has pitched under.
The prevailing narrative surrounding Felix Hernandez is that he has been one of the great tough-luck pitchers of the modern era. King Felix. Felix the Great. Felix the Strong. Felix the Perpetually Let Down. Burdened with great talent and Mariners’ offenses that prominently featured Endy Chavez, the King’s reign would be recognized by many fans for the games during which Felix would pitch seven innings, give up one run, then sit helplessly on the bench as his team failed to do… much of anything.
What happens when the surest thing in baseball gets too old for an extension? If you aren't careful, things get weird.
Sometime three or four years ago, it seems like a lot of baseball fans had the same realization at the same time: “Wow, Adrian Beltre’s really good—even Hall of Fame-worthy. But nobody realizes this, so he’s going to miss the Hall of Fame when he comes up and we’re all going to riot.”
Fortunately—perhaps—for Beltre, public opinion corrected itself. Fortunately for us, Beltre’s tacked on a few more years of star-quality production for us to watch. When the Texas Rangers signed Beltre to a six-year, $96 million contract after an insane one-year stint in Boston in 2010, it looked like one of those veteran free agent deals where the team pays in extra years as well as in extra dollars. But entering the last year of that contract, his age-37 season, Beltre’s been superb—worth every dollar of that $96 million, and more.