Monday, December 15, 2008

"And the kids at Camp Wealthy won't win anything because they lack heart!"

With my favorite baseball blog, Fire Joe Morgan, officially shuttered forever, it's fallen to scattered and ragged bands of sports fans sitting in post-apocalyptic basements in mom's houses strewn across America to try to forge a new society of abuse for misbegotten sports writing. I haven't nearly the patience for number-crunching that those FJM guys did, but I believe I can do my part in at least the "abusive thinking" department.

Today's sample comes from the Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey:
Chicago Cubs need to shed their nice-guy persona
Jake Peavy once fired Agent of Darkness Scott Boras. This suggests a man with fine judgment and perhaps even a good heart.

Thus, he was the last guy the Cubs should have been pursuing during the recently concluded winter meetings.
What's great about this is that you can read the title and know that there's almost zero chance you'll encounter anything that makes sense in the rest of the article.

Jake Peavy was tied for 9th in the NL in WHIP last year, meaning there were arguably only eight pitchers better than he was.

Is WHIP the only way to measure pitching? No, but it's very convenient if you happen to be lazy, and it's one of the few tidy stand-alone statistics for looking at general pitching aptitude, because it measures the pitcher's ability to keep men off base.

Off the top of my head, of the eight pitchers with better WHIP, six are already tied up with teams, and two (Sheets and Lowe) are looking for big contracts incommensurate with their age and health. Peavy is a better deal than both those last two. But nevermind: he fired notorious agent and vampire Scott Boras, meaning he's arguably even easier to negotiate with. Stay away! Faaaar away!!!!

I know: You never can have enough good pitchers.
Now watch as I use the rest of this article to explain why you should ignore getting a good pitcher.

The mere thought of Peavy joining Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden and Ted Lilly had Cubs fans searching for the "It's Gonna Happen" T-shirts they had vowed to donate to Goodwill.
That's probably because they noticed Peavy had a better WHIP than all these guys. They were excited because of the prospect of getting a better pitcher. They weren't worried about whether he enjoyed quilting and spoke to churchmen in a stage whisper for fear of being "too loud for God's mighty ears."

But Peavy is not coming to the Cubs, and trust me on this one, it's a good thing. The Cubs need a few nasty characters on the roster, and Peavy's dismissal of Boras automatically disqualifies him. It shows a fatal streak of rationality.
There's a reason why Rick Morrissey finds this last sort of thing terrifying and negative, and it's because it's capable of destroying his entire column.

No, as we have been saying all along, the Cubs are too nice, too soft, too upstanding. We could use unfriendliness, hard edges and even a little villainy, within reason.
Nobody says this. People call the Cubs lovable because they're not a threat. The reason they're not a threat isn't because they're nice. It's because they routinely do really stupid shit. A good example of this would be "not hiring a pitcher because they were afraid he'd be too nice." Having a history of terrible owners and terrible management and a current highly overrated manager has nothing to do with whether the fellas on the field don't like ringing a doorbell without offering a card to announce themselves, using harsh language or taking the field without first calling up the groundskeeper to say what a swell job he did today. All those things are fatal to a ballclub before you even get to the starting pitcher's personality. But even if you do all those things perfectly, you are going to lose ballgames if you start hiring people whose numbers count less than how many times they say "Ma'am."

Which leads us to the two not-so-gentle men the Cubs should sign, Milton Bradley and Randy Johnson.
One of these is a good idea. One of these is not. Also, the thing that is not a good idea also isn't even justified by Rick's examples. More on that later.

Bradley is a switch-hitter, so he fits the Cubs' need for a left-handed bat. He can play all three outfield spots, can hit for power and has been known to be completely unpredictable. Given the club's glee-club image, that unpredictability is exactly what the psychiatrist ordered for the Cubs.
Milton Bradley isn't unpredictable. Milton Bradley is fired up. Milton Bradley's problem — at least insofar as the vast idiocracy of sportswriters is concerned — is that he's not white. I've made this point before elsewhere (and it's by no means one that belongs exclusively or probably even originally to me), and I'll continue to make it: if Milton Bradley were white, he'd win accolades every year from baseball columnists. He defends his teammates, gets angry when people quit on the game and gets amped about the little things. If he were a white midget shortstop, he'd be gritty, gutty, all heart. He'd be a quintessential gamer. The fawning over him would be Ecksteinesque.

Better yet, take a white guy: Kevin Youkilis. Sportswriters can't stop talking about what a gamer he is. He's such a gamer, he tried to punch out a teammate in the dugout. I'm an unabashed Red Sox fan, and there's no way to describe Youkilis as anything other than a total asshole. Still, White Guy + Intense = GAMER. Black Guy + Intense = HEAD CASE. Sportswriters wouldn't dream of suggesting a team trade for Youkilis because he's emotionally and mentally basically a giant bag of dicks. They'd talk about what value he has at the plate and what he does for the team's psyche. Meanwhile, Bradley gets treated like a guy who'll fire everyone up because he's a borderline psycho.

I want you to understand the personal sacrifice I'm willing to make here. Do you see the risk a sports columnist takes by championing a Bradley signing? One moment your faithful scribe could be writing a column that says Wrigley Field is a dump, and the next Bradley could be breaking all of said faithful scribe's fingers.
I want you to understand: nobody fucking cares. Except for all the people who might think that last part sounds pretty good.

As composed right now, the Cubs are a bunch of nice guys.... You couldn't find a nicer bunch of guys. And that's part of the problem.... I'm talking about attitude. I'm talking about the need for a sneering contempt for the culture that has held the Cubs back for years. They need someone who would scoff at the pressure of the club's 100-year futility streak.
Having an "attitude" has nothing to do with your manager playing smallball, sticking with guys in the lineup for too long when they're sucking, pulling his ace too quickly in postseason games or letting patient hitters go up in the NLDS and hack away like a bunch of excitable little kids. Attitude has nothing to do with having insufficient players to platoon against right-handed pitching. Attitude has barely got anything to do with anything.

They need a few ornery guys who can play. LaTroy Hawkins was as cuddly as a patch of poison ivy, but he was awful as a Cubs reliever. Bradley can play, provided he stays healthy.
"What they need is attitude. This guy had it, but he sucked. So what I'm saying is, they need talent more than attitude. But you know what they really need? Attitude."

Johnson might be 45, but it's a mean 45.
You know what else it is? It's an old 45. Like, really old. Johnson had a fluke year for a man his age and didn't succumb to any number of probable injuries. His play was, by definition, improbable. Johnson is the ideal pitcher to sign if you want to risk his not pitching for half the season, which, since you want to get to the World Series, is a tremendously bad idea.

This is a guy who hits batters who dare try to bunt on him.
BECAUSE HE'S FUCKING OLD. You know who really hates running off the pitcher's mound and trying to scoop up bunts? REALLY TALL OLD PEOPLE WHO FIND BENDING DOWN PAINFUL. RANDY JOHNSON IS ONE OF THESE PEOPLE.

After being traded to the Yankees three years ago, he pushed aside a TV camera and yelled at the cameraman.
Thank God they let the cameramen bat now so Johnson can apply these talents to the game. I remember Yankee fans lamenting that Johnson snapped because he was being hounded on shopping trips by the overzealous New York media and pushing a cameraman around because, as they said at the time, "If only we could get that film jockey in a Sox uniform." Only now — now that can be harnessed. With all kinds of props from everywhere. Remember the ALCS this year, when manager Terry Francona was worried the Sox were going to go quietly to the Rays, and he sent Youkilis out there to kick the shit out of those Fenway Franks that someone piled on first base? Fuckin'-A, man, right there: FIRED UP.

Oh, you know what else Johnson did after being traded to the Yankees three years ago? He aged about a thousand years overnight and missed a shitload of games due to having the back of a VERY OLD PERSON.

Every side of the bed is the wrong side of the bed when Johnson gets up in the morning.

Would any of this translate into a World Series appearance?
NO. Because unless you're Derek Jeter, you don't win World Series on having a higher intangibles rate over replacement players. (IRRP)

Who knows? Who knows if either Bradley or Johnson could stay healthy an entire season? But the Cubs need a free-agent provocateur or two. They need an instigator or two. They need somebody who might be just a tad unhinged.
You know who else the Cubs could use? One:
• No-nonsense Brooklyn Italian.
• Wisecracking Boston Mick whose frivolity stands in stark contrast to the brutality of his death via a sniper and which galvanizes the rest of the team.
• Jewish ballplayer whose presence automatically invests the season with moral importance as the Cubs prepare to meet the Nazis in the World Series.
• Team Chaplain who loses his faith.
• Womanizer who restores the Chaplain's faith.
• Dog adopted outside Anzio, who won't stop following the team to games.
This. Right here. This is the alchemy for coming together as a team. With attitude.

Rick goes on to contradict his own point about Peavy by citing some meaningless traffic arrest, thus cheekily invalidating everything he said (OR DOES IT???), but all his bad points are already made.

Probably the biggest omission of thought — no mean feat, considering the rest of the column — involves how he's hinging his entire argument on an aggressive chemistry when recent history would suggest none of it is needed. The 2004 Red Sox overcame an alleged "curse" just as dire as the Cubs', and they did it without a bunch of angry young men. The Sox anointed themselves as "Idiots" who were too stupid to worry about any curse-schmurse business, and they spent the season hugging each other more than probably made a lot of their fans comfortable.

While someone like Pedro Martinez plunked batters at a higher than average rate, he did so with the distance of a savant, and in any case, he was both playing in the American League and also was nuttily unaggressive enough to spend the postseason palling around with a famous Dominican midget named Nelson de la Rosa. And despite a storied violent brawl with the Yankees earlier in the season, that anger hardly seemed to affect much of anything, since the Sox still finished the season behind the Yankees and then dropped three straight games to them in the ALCS. More importantly, every team in baseball gets into brawls during the season, and their anger still hasn't changed how only one of them actually wins a championship.

Anyway, in case it isn't clear: Milton Bradley is a good baseball player. Rick Morrissey is a bad baseball writer.