Thursday, February 28, 2008

Beltran’s New Intangible Tool:

Carlos Beltran, who recently proclaimed that Mets were the team to beat in the NL East, is in many ways your classic five tool player: he 1) hits for average, 2) hits for power, 3) is an excellent base-runner, 4) fields his position exceptionally well, 5) and has a strong throwing arm. Jimmy Rawlins, the Philadelphia shortstop at whom Beltran’s statement was directed, is fairly toolsey himself, but people more frequently praise his fire, leadership, passion, and, lately, his NL MVP award.

The five-tool label is justly regarded with a fair amount of skepticism, firstly because it is hard to accurately judge who actually posses said tools, and also because it is not really necessary to posses all five tools in order to be an amazing ball player. David Ortiz does literally nothing for the Boston Red Sox other than draw walks and smack the shit out of the ball; you’d still want him on your team over the vast majority of baseball players, even if that meant playing him at first and being defensively weak there as a consequence.

The five tool designation is used to identify the players who posses the physical gifts necessary for the game of baseball, and there is an implied opposition between them and the gritty players, the “grinders” and “hustlers” (the David Ecksteins, Paul LoDucas, and Endy Chavie), who, while not blessed with inordinate physical gifts, have gotten themselves a place in the game (and in the affections of sports writers) through heart, passion and character. Classic five tool players include Alex Rodriquez and young Barry Bonds and the implication, when one considers the way in which writers and fans have treated the arc of their careers, is that their superabundance of talent actually hurt them, both as human beings and ballplayers. Due to their amazing physical gifts, they were never forced to develop the fortitude and intangibles of their less talented counter-parts and this is the reason that A-Rod is a choke artist and a head-case and Bonds is an arrogant asshole. Five tool players are frequently presented like the rich girl in my high school photography class, who took far and away the best pictures of any of us: she had a really nice camera and had taken pictures of India-- the rest of us had ok cameras and pictures of New Jersey. I felt no need to giver her any particular credit.

While this attitude is rarely explicitly stated, it is also clearly prevalent and can even be somewhat inferred from the very phrase “five tool player.” Tools are extremely tangible objects, means to the end, rather than an end in itself. The tool exists only to be used; calling someone a “tool” is a fairly serious insult. In the world of actual tools there is no credit or honor associated with owning a very good set of them: you are given credit for using them.

Beltran, then, is further typical of five-tool players, in that, while he has been excellent at most of the measurable aspects of baseball, there has always been a sense that he was intangibly lacking. This was probably never clearer than in the opening days of his Mets career. In a weird departure from A-Rod, the knock on Beltran was that he had hit too much in the post-season, his home run barrage for the Astros in ‘04 coming suspiciously on the eve of his free-agency and leading some to believe that he had done it on purpose, in order to get a larger paycheck. This paycheck he got, and large it was, from the Mets in 2005, and he then proceeded to have, by his standards, a fairly bad season. With their typical sportsmanship and logic, the Shea faithful started to boo him, which Beltran (perhaps unfortunately) took hard; he was pissed enough that Julio Franco had to talk him into coming out for curtain call after he hit his first game winning homer of ’06.*

Beltran is tied for the club single-season home-run record, but, as the New York press never tires of pointing out, is not really your typical New York player. Beltran does not have the exuberance of Reyes or Pedro, the polished charisma of Wright or Jeter, the venerability of Tom Glavine or Marriano Riverea. He doesn’t seem to like speaking to the press; he is not known as a clubhouse leader; he is not a character or a practical joker. He doesn’t really seem to do anything except for hit (for power and average), field his position very, very well, throw out runners, and steal bases at one of the highest percentages in major league history. Off the field he is quite, charitable, religious, and dedicated to training. He is apparently slightly vain about his cloths.

This year, it seems that the poor bastard spent the off-season reading the Post. He learned that the Mets collapse was due to a lack of fire and clubhouse leadership; he lamented, with the venerable of gentlemen of the sporting press, that what little of the later there had been departed with Tom Glavine and Paul LoDuca.

So Beltran reported to camp in ’08, firmly resolved to be more intangible. It is, perhaps, to be regretted that his first foray into leadership was such a blatant copy of Jimmy Rawlins; but Beltran is new at it and if he is going to steel from someone it might as well be from a master-- an MVP of intangibility, if you will. I look forward to his further intangible efforts with interest…as long as it doesn’t take away from his hitting.

*Julio got so much credit for having talked Beltran into that curtain call that maybe they would have gotten rid of him sooner if Beltran would have decided to just trot out there by his own damn self. And if they get rid of Julio earlier maybe they win two more games in ’07, and then…Beltran…what an asshole.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Met's Martinez honored at Dominican Sporting Event

I feel deeply irresponsible for not having responded more promptly to the Pedro Martinez/cockfighting incident. In that I have an excuse, it is because I find the matter utterly trivial, and was unable to resolve the debate about what form my sarcastic response should take. The principle objections to cockfighting, that it is 1) brutal and 2) unkind to chickens, are inarguable, in and of themselves. However, in that we live in a society where people frequently eat chicken McNuggets and frequently watch pro-wrestling or hockey (not to mention financing and implicitly supporting murderous wars, but whatever) without being subject to any form of public condemnation or censure, all objections to cockfighting are pretty much hypocritical and preposterous.

I’d actually like to take the opportunity to put in a plug for Roger Corman’s Cockfighter (1974), starring Warren Oates. Oates plays a man who has vowed not to talk, until he wins the Kentucky Cockfighter of the Year Award, which is actually given out, oh, not necessarily annually, but only when there is a deserving recipient. The brilliant thing about it is that, story-wise, it perfectly mirrors your classic inane sports movie about an introverted athlete who needs to make peace with himself or his love ones, en-route to the success that he craves. Only its about cockfighting. It’s also amusingly permeated with skevy ‘70s sexual mores. Any movie where someone loses their girlfriend to Harry Dean Stanton over a cockfight gets tons of points.


The Clemens Hearing:
Nigel: I haven’t seen anyone in such unabashed self-righteous denial since Nixon.
Sam: yeah, well at least Nixon didn’t try to pin it on his wife.


I recently subscribed to Baseball Prospectus, and found an article about the top performers in the Winter Leagues. The top rated pitcher was Nelson Figueroa, who, while he hasn’t distinguished himself in the majors lately, won championships in Taiwan and Mexico this winter. He is an older player, who works mainly with off-speed stuff: if he fits in, in the majors, it would seem to be as a durable, back of the rotation guy, or a long-man in relief. Apparently he is a non-roster invitee at the Mets camp, although I haven’t been able to find any mention of this on the Mets website.


Further Pedro Speculation:
Part of me thinks that Pedro put the video on YouTube himself, since he was tiered of everyone paying attention to Santana. Either that or he was attempting some sort of reconciliation with Anna Benson.

Dr. Louis Fishman, who was variously known in life as Lou, Sonny, and, to the author of this blog, PopPop, was a longtime Knicks fan who died in the early morning on Tuesday, January 22nd, after suffering a stroke on the previous Wednesday and having spent the interval in a state that was more or less unconscious and inert.

My last conversation with him had, not surprisingly, taken the form of an argument about the Knicks. It was my contention that the team was badly assembled and that all of the players were, relative to other professional basketball players, bad at basketball, and I saw this as the major explanation of the Knicks troubles. My grandfather blamed the team’s abject state on Coach Thomas; he felt that Thomas “just sat there” on the bench and did not show the animation and passion appropriate for a man being played well to run an historic franchise into the ground. (I speculated, privately, that, had Thomas been a white man, what my grandfather called apathy would instead be seen as “cool” and “collected.”) My grandfather maintained that the Knicks players were, in fact, quite talented, and that a competent coach (such as Larry Brown?) could have turned them into a winning team.

A particular point of non-agreement was our respective assessments of Jamal Crawford. Early in the season, I had observed that the Knicks depended on a dominant scoring performance from Crawford to even be in a game. The problem is that Crawford is no player to depend upon: he is a streak shooter whose performance regularly fluctuates from awful to brilliant. He takes a lot of shots, and, while on some nights many of them go in, on other nights almost all of them miss and, given the state of the Knicks’ rebounding, a missed shot is very much like handing the ball to the other team. An inherently unreliable player, he had, due to the badness of the team, found himself their most reliable scoring option—which essentially dooms the Knicks to mediocrity and inconsistency. My grandfather took the opposite point of view, and maintained that Crawford was one of the five or so best players in the East. I abused Crawford’s defense and might have referred to him as a far crappier version of Rip Hamilton.

It is hard to overstate how actually pleasant this conversation was for both of us to have. We both, I think, felt a desire to connect with the other that was out of proportion with our meager abilities to transcend the gulf of years; our patience for minor differences in attitude, opinion and demeanor; and our capacities to even understand such a desire, much less express it. We had few subjects of conversation in common, and on the remaining ones we would generally either find ourselves in tedious agreement, or so fervently opposed to each other that frank conversation was completely impossible.

The great mercy of sports is that, due to their relative ultimate banality, a level of difference of opinion that would be unacceptable on a subject like the State of Israel is almost welcome when it comes to the New York Knicks. Both my grandfather and I possessed somewhat argumentative personalities, and it was pleasant to find ourselves in a disagreement where we could be sure that all that was finally at stake was the evaluation of a group of basketball players, and not larger judgments on ways of life or habits of thought.

On Tuesday, January 15th, the Knicks beat a tired Washington Wizards team; in their previous game, on Sunday, they had beaten a tired Detroit Pistons team. On Wednesday, in an e-mail to a friend discussing the victory, I wrote “the next time Jamal Crawford goes 6-for-fucking-7 from downtown, the Knicks might win that one, too.” Sometime before or after I sent that e-mail, my father called me and told me that my grandfather had had a stroke.

At that point it was unclear what exactly the ramifications of this would be—although in retrospect this uncertainty seems mainly due to the reluctance of all parties concerned to contemplate the worst and likely outcome while there was still a credible cause for hope. When I spoke to my father, my grandfather had been sent home from the hospital; his refusal of treatment having been honored largely because he was himself a physician. His speech was impaired and he could not swallow. There was a chance that the symptoms would clear up in the course of the night and there was also a chance that they would get worse.

The Knicks were playing the New Jersey Nets that night and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were winning when I checked the score on-line before I left work.

As I had planned on the train, the first thing I did when I got to my apartment was turn on the television and check score, to see if the game would be a cheerful and appropriate topic of conversation when I called my mother, which was the next thing that I did. The Knicks were up by something like fifteen or twelve, with six or so minutes left to play, and so I decided they were safe.

My mother was watching television with my grandfather, whose condition had not improved. Speech was now impossible for him, and he had resorted to communicating with notes, although this was also becoming difficult. At the same time he seemed comfortable and peaceful. Were they watching the game? No, they had switched to something else when the Knicks had been trailing earlier. Well, I have good news…

I spoke with my mother for a little longer. When I got back to the game, the Knicks lead had shrunk to five, and it promptly proceeded to evaporate completely, putting the game up for grabs in the closing minutes. What the hell were Randolph and Curry doing on the floor at a time like this? Where was David Lee, IsiahThomsas-yousonofabitch? I felt insanely guilty for having potentially inflicted this spectacle on my grandfather, which had probably given him another stroke.

But the Knicks hung on, their victory assured after Jamal Crawford, who had had another very good game, stroked in a three pointer in the game’s final minute. I decided that I would call my mother again, to tell her the final result in case they had turned it off at a point when it seemed that the Knicks were going to lose.

As the game ended I experienced a lonely feeling of uncertainty which frequently comes at the end of a game and dimly mirrors the feeling of finishing a very good book. I had briefly vested my interests in a group of people who were not myself, and in the wake of their departure, and my return to my actual circumstances, I was left in a certain confusion about what to do next.

This time my course of action quickly appeared to me out of this emptiness: I was going to call my mother and tell her to tell my grandfather that I had been wrong, and that Jamal Crawford was a great basketball player. And following closely on this realization was the knowledge that my grandfather was going to die.

They had actually watched the end of the game, which had somehow not been fatal for my grandfather. He apparently smiled when my mother told him about my change of heart regarding Crawford, and wrote on a peace of paper to ask if I was at home. Home in Queens or home in New Jersey? I was at home, but in Queens.

After my grandfather fell asleep that night, he never woke up in any recognizable way, although a debate about his level of awareness persisted until he died on the following Tuesday. His children, my mother and her sister and brother, inhabited his apartment in a rapt state that almost mirrored their father’s, while my father, my sister, and myself appeared, when we could, on the fringes, brooding and protective, making coffee or brining food. As we slipped into an existence without him, our efforts at understanding each other and ourselves were like Jamal Crawford’s jump shots: frequently bouncing sharply away from the rim with an ugly clang and sometimes falling perfectly into place at the end of a marvelous parabola, graceful and improbable.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

If Carlos Delgado can Hit .400, then Barak Obama can be Elected President

At some point today, I thought to myself, “huh, I sure am glad that the Mets went out and got Santana, because otherwise I might be tempted to pay attention to/worry about this whole primary election thing, which, from the small pieces of information that I have gathered somewhat inadvertently, seems to be a total bummer.”

The election process, at this point, reminds me of the Mets two weeks ago when they had not gotten Santana and the club was trying to muster enthusiasm over the possible signing of Liavan Hernandez: a development, which under sane circumstances would be regarded as pretty much a disaster, emerges as a positive only by virtue of the absolute horror that proceeded it.

The one possible ray of hope would seem to emanate from Barak Obama, who distinguishes himself by having provided me with no particular reason to hate him. He seems sort of like Steve Trachsel would seem, if he pitched for the team that you rooted for and the other starters in the rotation were Jose Lima, Scott Schoenwise, Barak Obama and me: it’s not quite like he gives your team a good chance of winning, but he doesn’t really guarantee a loss so, hey, that’s something.

I was still glad that the Mets had signed Santana, (thus removing the temptation to transfer any psychic energy into supporting Obama) because the signing of Santana seems to bode more definitely well for the cause of Mets baseball, than the election of Obama would bode for the cause of things in general not going to hell completely. Santana definitely make the Mets a stronger ballclub; the Superbowl was clearly an excellent football game and I am completely glad that the Giants won. You can’t really ever reach that degree of certainty about anything in politics, which is one of the reasons that sports are great.

But, if through some strange all-American alchemy, it were possible to get Obama the Democratic nomination by sending Santana back to Minnesota, would I pull the trigger on that deal? I honestly can’t figure that one out. Fortunately, my Google Overlords have bestowed upon me the power of putting polls up on my blog, so you can weigh in-- that is if the process of voting in the primaries hasn’t exhausted your capacity to choose between two categories that are meaningless. (do bear in mind that the question refers to Obama getting the Democratic nomination, not becoming President of the United states)

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH, the Mets are paying Santana $137.5 million for six years of pitching (an option exists for a seventh year, but whatever). In 2005, according to a Democratic Party Website, the Iraq war was costing $195 million a day. So, for the money that the Mets are giving for six years of Santana, they could afford to occupy Iraq for a little less than seventeen hours. (in 2005)