Good morning sports fans. Since it’s Friday, we’re going to have some fun! Today I’ll be discussing the cultural value and importance of baseball and what makes it so great by breaking down my aforementioned game(s) of the week and at the end recommend a fun craft beer to kickoff your weekend, as well as providing some fantasy advice! I’d also love to hear from you, the reader: what’s your favorite baseball memory, or why do you love baseball (or both)? Share the love!
You’ve probably heard of Bryce Harper’s infamous “Make Baseball Fun Again” campaign, which started with a hat. If you haven’t, what it boils down to is this: baseball is best when it has personality, flair, and a touch of flamboyance. And I agree. Whether it’s Manny being Manny, Ichiro’s infamously vulgar pre-All-Star game rant, or Bautista’s patented bat-flip, baseball is at its finest when the players (and coaches) show some humanity, and build on the extensive, ever-growing lore of the sport.
The Long View and the Long Ball
There are so many facets of the game that make baseball fun; the chess match between the pitcher and hitter, the palpable tension of a 3-2 count, mascot races (go Teddy!), big strikeouts, diving catches, doubleheaders, bobblehead nights, or a young rookie making a name for himself at the plate. I could go on for pages. But today I want to focus on two aspects of the game: the unique role of history in the sport and the home run.
Baseball is by far the oldest of the Big Four professional American sports associations. The NBA was founded in 1946, the NFL in 1920, and the NHL in 1917 (though it was strictly in Canada until 1924). Baseball began its professional league in 1869 as two separate entities (American and National Leagues), before merging in 1903. As America’s oldest sport (by over 50 years!), we know that the MLB is bound to have more history by volume. What’s unique about baseball is the role that this extensive history plays in the sport, even to this day.
Enduring memories, legends, great moments, and of course, statistics are passed down from one generation of fans to the next, and through this process the game grows every year. We define baseball by eras, deadball versus liveball, or by scandals, the Black Sox Scandal and the steroid era, or by larger than life players, Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Pete Rose, and Reggie Jackson. There’s the Pine Tar Incident, the Clemens-Piazza broken bat toss, Joe Carter touching ’em all in his WS walkoff, Bucky F*cking Dent earning his middle name, Pedro Martinez beating up an old man, and Buckner’s still-stupefying between-the-legs error that cost the 1986 BoSox the World Series.
Like worldbuilding in a good fantasy novel, these moments in time provide perspective, depth, and realness to America’s Pastime, and I’d argue that baseball keeps these memories alive and relevant more than any of the other Big Four. That history is such a big part of what defines baseball as a sport and what draws generations of fans to the ballpark, or television, or radio.
Most of all, baseball is about tension. Bases loaded, no-out jams. Tie games in the 9th. The collective holding of breath when a big slugger connects, wondering if this one goes yard. We feel the tension because we know what the possibilities are, because we know the history, we know what can happen anytime, that any game could be perfect (Dallas Braden, anyone?), that any moment we could witness a milestone. Nothing exemplifies the excitement and potential of the game more than the home run.
Since the liveball era, nothing has captured the attention of fans and players alike like the longball. Going yard, sending one out, a moonball, a laser, a jack, a blast, or, as the internet is now fond of saying, a dong. Babe Ruth and the rest of Murderer’s Row launched the fetish for clearing the fences, Maris and DiMaggio made it a competition, and Bonds, Canseco & Co. turned the fetish into an obsession with the enamoring home run race of the steroid era. Any at-bat can turn epic, and it’s the not knowing that makes it fun.
The Game(s) of the Week
I chose the Tuesday matchup of Ivan Nova and the Pirates vs. rookie hurler Jose Urias and the Dodgers, and Big Mike Pineda and the Yankees vs. the studly Dallas Keuchel and the streaking ‘Stros, and what a pair of games. Urias’s Dodgers eked out a 4-3 win in extra innings, while the Astros staved off a Yankee comeback with a dramatic play at the plate to end the game at 3-2 in the 9th.
What does the history have to add here? That we as fans know that stars are born every season, and each game has the potential to add to their luster. We know that any Judge at-bat can leave the yard. We know that Dallas Keuchel is a threat to toss a no-no every time he steps on the mound. We know that Pineda can be dominant to the tune of 13 K’s when he’s not being a pinhead. We know that seeing Urias take the mound could be watching the future ace of an already loaded Dodgers rotation. Anything can happen. And a lot sure did. We saw two games decided by one run each in either the bottom of the 9th or extra innings. We saw three home runs, including a pinch-hit donger (see, I used the new term). We saw studs play like studs and duds.
What I remember most from those two games was actually between innings. In the first inning of the Astros-Yankees game, young stud Carlos Correa smacked a two-run shot over the outfield wall to give his team a 2-0 lead. Yankees announcer Michael Kay provided his signature home run call (“there it goooess! SEE YA! A home run for Carlos Correa!”) as usual. During the break, YES Network’s dugout reporter had the smiling slugger mimic Kay’s call and announce his own home run for the camera. Correa did a serviceable job (though I don’t know if broadcasting is in his future), but the real fun was watching him laugh and smile his way through it. In that silly little moment, a 22-year-old kid from Puerto Rico had some fun at his own, and Michael Kay’s, expense. Was it game-changing? No way. But it was humanizing. And funny. And a little cute.
Every game has the potential to be great, and even the ones that don’t have eye-popping statlines are fun for precisely that reason: the joy of the chase, and the way we get to know the players along the way. Chasing history, chasing records, chasing hardware, and chasing October. Every moment matters. There’s no dead time. There’s no killing the clock, or punting, or timeouts. There’s just pure possibility. To quote Crash Davis:
“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – you get a groundball with eyes, you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”
That’s why baseball is great. Anything can happen at any time. There is no script for a season. Streaks, slumps, wild pitches, 10 run comebacks, defensive gems, bench-clearing brawls, and of course, the longball. Players define personalities in big moments, they show us who they are and in doing so they change the game. The big, mean pitcher. The hot-headed slugger. The calm, level-headed on-base-machine. Player archetypes are made, changed, and destroyed every season, and damn if it’s not fun to watch. Every year we get a new crop of prospects and rookies, wondering which among them could be breakout stars, Hall of Famers, or even generation defining.
I’ll never forget in 2002 being at Camden Yards for the last game of the season. Alfonso Soriano was in his prime, and had swiped 41 bases and clubbed 39 homers going into the final game. For those of you who don’t know, the 40/40 club is a rare and special display of power and speed where a player records at least 40 steals and home runs in a single season. At that time, only three players in history had ever achieved that feat: Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, and Alex Rodriguez. Needless to say, I was hoping to see history. I wanted Fozy to crush #40 right into my left-field seat. It was a great game that the Yankees ended up winning 6-1, but Soriano never got that 40th dong.
The thing is, I still loved every second of it. I was on the edge of my seat every time Fonzy stepped into the box, and while I wish he would’ve gotten the record, just being in the chase made it as exciting as anything I’d ever seen in my young life. These moments of possibility, whether they bear fruit or not, are why I love baseball, and what make baseball the greatest sport on earth.
And by the way, Soriano eventually became the fourth member of the 40/40 club in 2006, when he slugged 46 homers and swiped 41 bags.
Please share your favorite baseball memories with me, or why you think the game is great!
The Fantasy Slant
Whew! That’s a lot of opinionated waxing on baseball, right? Let’s get to it.
Today I’ll be discussing deceptive numbers, and a simple strategy that you should use to help you make decisions on your players, with a recommendation on two guys to pick up.
The strategy: How we pick, and why you should be watching. Well, look at stats, right? No shit? No shit. But what’s in a stat? In the box score, an 0-4 is just a number. But 0-4 with four weak ground balls or four infield fly’s is a lot different than 0-4 with four screaming line drives that happen to find the gloves of the defense. An 0-4 day with four strikeouts is a lot different when your player strikes out swinging at quality strikes from a dominant pitcher rather than wild cuts at balls in the dirt.
Again, pretty obvious, right? What do you do with this info? Watch more baseball. Make an effort to watch your players play, and watch guys you’re thinking about picking up or trading for. It can make a world of difference. Your player may look like he’s slumping on the stat sheet, but if you watch his games, you may see that he’s playing with a limp, or that he’s actually making great contact but can’t find the hole. Conversely, you might think your guy is swinging a hot bat when he’s been benefiting from bad defense, or from circumstance.
The pickups: Jayson Werth, OF (WAS) and Tommy Pham, OF (STL)
Two outfielders, both hot as hell right now. Werth is owned in just 28% of leagues despite swinging a hot bat for a hotter Nationals offense, and Pham is owned in under 14% of ESPN leagues. Both players have collected more than 10 hits in the last week to a tune of a .536 OBP for Werth and .517 for Pham.
Werth has amassed 7 R, 3 HR, and 4 RBI in the past week. In this potent Nats offense, especially with Eaton out for the season, Werth figures to get plenty of at-bats and opportunities to score runs and collect RBI. No one wants to give Murphy, Bryce, or Zimmerman pitches over the plate, so Werth will get a lot of meaty fastballs as pitchers hope to avoid the strong part of the lineup. Don’t expect these numbers to fade any time soon.
Pham is filling in, but with Piscotty and Fowler on the DL, he will get plenty of regular starts for the foreseeable future. He’s swinging a hot bat since his call-up, with three multi-hit games and a stolen base already with just 6 starts under his belt. His 6 R, 3 HR, and 6 RBI look nice next to a .416 AVG, and he shows no signs of slowing down at the plate. His low ownership makes him a prime candidate on the wire.
Today I’m recommending Old Engine Oil, a smooth, black ale by Harviestoun Brewery out of the UK.
Clocking in at 6%, this malty, drinkable brew has notes of chocolate, coffee, and light bitterness. The real strength of this beer is it’s mouthfeel and utter drinkability. It’s velvety-smooth and light in your mouth, and the strong but simple chocolate flavor is there to please but not overwhelm.
On a day where I hope you’re thinking about baseball and history, this “Old” Engine Oil should go down smooth while you ponder this weekend’s slate of games. Check out your local craft beer store’s international section!
Don’t forget that I’d love your comments on what you love about baseball, or why it’s great!
Cheers everyone, and have a great weekend!