Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Not my Business: NBA Free Agency

Danville, Kentucky- Not since a Wasilla woman was asked, "What newspapers and magazines did you regularly read?" has the mainstream media stooped so low. Today, ESPN, Grantland, Bleachers Reports and Yahoo have reminded those celebrating a new fundamental right that perhaps our most fundamental right is being lost: the right to not ask a man about his business.

LeBron James is one of the world's best basketball players. To me, it's tough to see him ever overcoming Bill Russell or Robert Horry on the ring or all-time greatest list. Nonetheless, his talent makes me happy that at one of the last Chili's smoking sections in the country, we still  have a big screen T.V to fully capture his veteran presence of mind.. LeBron wins titles, sells Kias and returns home.

The mainstream media doesn't care. In recent days, the "AP Style-guide" has been replaced by the "Ruin everyone's privacy guide: Volume 1: No Privacy." Before, good journalists focused on constructing sound sentences and interviewing the players in the lockeroom. Now, when a reporter finally asks a question, he gets to one we have no business with.

Bill Simmon's old website despicably has an entire article on what the LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge can make this season. Even more upsetting, the article goes on to say what they can make in future seasons. Folks, that's not my business. It's not your business. It's LeBron James and his family's business. LeBron and LaMarcus are veterans. Undoubtedly they are reeling. When LeBron and LaMarcus walk into the country club, other members will know their income. When they walk into the luxury car dealership, the employees will understand they can easily purchase a vehicle.

Sadly, the media won't even spare the young. Kyle O'Quinn's potential "mid-level" exception salary is everywhere. O'Quinn is still developing. He's got a great head and game. Yet, the media's blatant disregard for his business is startling. We're on the path to just killing these younglings.

The media expands their evil to asking about where a man might live too. Folks, I never give out a man's location. ESPN's not willing to offer the same courtesy. According to them, LeBron and Kevin Love will work in Cleveland next year. Those men have a right to keep their future homes private. At least, they used to before media consolidation seperated the divide between a news desk and a MapQuest.

In 1968, Danville, Kentucky was a masterpiece. Many suffered crippling alcoholism. Many felt the woes of unregulated loans, while even more awaited the crushing might of NAFTA. Despite these problems, we had a code in Danville: we knew it was not my business.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Free Pete Rose

Danville, Kentucky – The year was 1994, in the city of Danville, in the great state of Kentucky. It was a low-point of my life. Estranged from my sons due to a loud misunderstanding with their baseball coach after their untimely defeat in the semi-finals of the baseball state championship, and fresh off of yet another acrimonious divorce, I had nothing to live or hope for except the dream of 1995 and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. A liar from Arkansas was President, and NAFTA had all but shuttered the GM plant that gave Uncle Bert and the rest of the Harts their livelihood. The Big Red Machine had come and gone, and the Reds capped off what was a miserable year for me with a 5th place finish. It was a characteristically cold North Kentucky winter. Given the bleakness of this situation, I did what any reasonable person would do. I turned to the bottle. The ketchup bottle, at Applebee’s to be precise.

The finest place in Danville to watch a game.
I spent most of February of ’94 drinking Margaritas (until the bartender would mercifully cut me off) and eating mozzarella sticks (until my body’s metabolism could no longer keep pace with my appetite). It wasn’t glamorous, but I caught up with the locals and got to reminisce with some other Danville High alums who were also trying to drown their sorrows in ranch dressing and honey mustard. Running into the all familiar faces, the type of folk who like Bill Russell but not Bill James, reminded me of some of the better moments I had at Danville High, particularly my no-hitter. That night, I went back to my apartment and popped an old tape of my no-no into the VHS machine, poured myself some Kentucky Deluxe and let myself take a drive down memory lane more meandering than Vin Scully’s play-by-play. Suddenly, I had a moment of clarity, as though I finally discovered a higher calling; I had to circulate copies of my no-hitter. The good people of Danville had to be educated about the rich baseball heritage of their city. What better place to start than at Applebee’s, which had always been bursting at the seams with good folks who watched the games and also received failing grades in their high school algebra classes? With a confidence I hadn’t felt since ’72, I drove my ’69 Ford to the Applebee’s parking lot, popped the drunk and started selling copies of my no-no for $10 each.

At first, it was beautiful. Economically speaking, the scheme worked out perfectly, and financed my consumption of appetizers for the next few weeks. Then, Clinton’s America struck again. After a particularly aggressive sales pitch to my ex-wife’s new husband, the Boyle County sheriff got involved. “This parking lot isn’t zoned for commercial activity, rendering your operation in violation of municipality code,” they told me. “Loiterer,” they called me.

This was the last straw. I was already several Margaritas deep, and a little ticked off over an under-cooked Quesadilla Burger I had been served that night. After I finally found a job worth working for, the bureaucrats at the Boyle County Planning & Zoning department shut me down and told me to apply for a business license. The red tape that shut down the GM plant had slowly encroached to deny me another employment opportunity. In a fit of blind rage I lost my temper and threw a punch at my ex-wife’s new husband. We brawled and wrestled atop the cold blacktop of the Applebee’s parking lot, and blood ran from my nose like the marinara sauce which I so enjoyed dipping my beloved mozzarella sticks in. I was served with a lifetime ban from Danville’s Applebee’s, and I haven’t been back since – necessitating my daily commute to the Lexington Chili’s during the baseball season.

But enough about me. I’m here to talk about another person who has been unfairly banned and denied entrance into a place of great importance. Somebody who also scaled the heights of baseball glory only to be excommunicated and treated like a criminal. I’m talking about Pete Rose, whose treatment by the MLB and denial of Hall of Fame recognition is every bit as unceremonious as the beating I received from the man who stole my wife and the Boyle County sheriff that February night. There comes a time where the mistakes of the past have to be forgiven. But Pete Rose owes nobody an apology. When you hit 4,000+ baseballs like he did, your worthiness of Hall of Fame status should be as self-evident as the success of Nixon’s trip to China. The Liberals forced the greatest electoral candidate of all-time from the White House -- Richard Nixon -- and by the end of the next decade would ensure the greatest pure hitter of all-time would leave a more important home: the dugout. The Hit King, Charlie Hustle, was guilty of nothing other than believing in his boys – his willingness to put money on the line is testament to the confidence he must have had in his teammates.

The Hall of Fame shouldn’t be a Hall of Goody-Two-Shoes, because baseball is a game played by men who drink, gamble, fight, juice, swear, eat hot dogs between innings, and sometimes kill, if you’re Ty Cobb. Why should the Hall of Fame present a view of baseball’s past more sanitized than the history books at Danville High, which omit any reference to Lyndon Johnson’s involvement in the Kennedy assassination or Hillary’s Whitewater scandal? I would never take my sons Will Hart Jr. and Peter Rose Hart to a Hall of Fame that honored Derek Jeter but not Alex Rodriguez.

According to the New York Times, Ty Cobb once “went into the stands and severely assaulted a heckler who was missing seven fingers, having lost them in a workplace accident, even as surrounding spectators yelled, ‘He has no hands!’” If he is allowed into the Hall of Fame, why not Pete? I would never argue against Mr. Cobb’s inclusion in the Hall, but a Hall of Fame without Pete Rose is more incomplete than the apology letter to my ex-wife’s new husband that I never got around to writing.

Why continue to punish one of the greatest hitters of all time, who brought two World Series championships to the good people of Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky? Hasn’t he been excluded enough? What’s the point in holding a grudge over a few bets in the 80s, or a parking-lot altercation in the 90s? All these years after the fact, the MLB is simply being as vengeful and vindictive as the Applebee’s that was happy to take my money until they found out I acquired it from a questionably-legal video tape distribution enterprise located in their parking lot. I was the face of baseball in Danville in my time. Pete Rose was the face of baseball in the 70s and 80s, just as Barry Bonds defined his era of the game. Yet, you fill find none of us in the places that we truly belong. Shame on you, MLB. Shame on you, Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Shame on you, Applebee’s.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Boston Massacre: What's Wrong With Rick Porcello?

Danville, Kentucky – Rick Porcello had a pretty good life. A spot in a Cy Young-studded Detroit Tigers rotation, a 3.43 ERA and 15 wins to his name, in what many described as a breakout season for the 25 year old right-handed sinkerball artist from Jersey. He was a pillar of Detroit’s rotation, throwing 3 complete game shutouts, including a Maddux, at times looking like the reincarnation of the groundball guru Maddux himself. More importantly, he stepped out of the shadow of aces like Justin Verlander & Max Scherzer, finally making a name for himself.

His strong 2014 campaign was rewarded with a trade to the Boston Red Sox, a team freshly loaded with proven hitting talent like Hanley Ramirez & Pablo Sandoval. Next, the Sox promptly made Rick a $82.5 million/4 year offer he couldn’t refuse. Afraid to let the young stud walk, the Red Sox snatched Kid Rick up like the last Cheddar Bay Biscuit at Red Lobster.

Fast forward a few months, and Porcello has an ERA north of 5 and a 4-8 record on a Boston Red Sox team floundering like the big banks before Obama spent my hard earned tax dollars to bail them out. What went wrong?

Nerds and FIP certainly can’t offer any explanation. It’s not like Boston’s defense is a substantial downgrade over Detroit’s, which for many years had more traffic cones (see: Prince Fielder & Jhonny Peralta) than a Kentucky highway during summer. Indeed, Boston’s defense boasts some plus defenders like Dustin Pedroia, Xander Bogaerts, and Mookie Betts. If Rick kept the ball down like he usually does and let the defense do the rest, the Green Monster would be no more a threat to his ERA than the Green Party is a threat to Hillary in 2016. On paper, it looked like a good fit.

Yet according to Wikipedia, baseball is a game played on a grass & dirt field with a "minimum distance of 325 feet (99 m) from home plate to the fences in left and right field and 400 feet (122 m) to center", not on paper or spreadsheets. Something went wrong with Rick. Skipper John Farrell hinted in the right direction when he said that Rick’s problem is not providing “shut down innings” after the Red Sox score. Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe gets even closer to the problem when he wondered if Ricky was pressing too much, and struggling in his new surroundings:

"Is he pressing being on a new team? In Detroit he had Justin Verlander, Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister, to take the pressure off. He just had to blend in there."

I’m not afraid to speculate about what went wrong with Ricky. And it isn’t his BABIP, HR/FB, K/9 or xFIP. It’s chemistry. A baseball team is like a finely tuned machine (a ’69 Ford perhaps) or a “Triple Hog Dare Ya” handheld at Applebee’s.

If even one ingredient is out of place – such as the succulent pulled pork, ham, bacon, and crispy onions which grace this heavenly sandwich – the whole ensemble falls apart. Such is the case with Applebee’s handhelds, and such is the case with ball clubs.

Rick Porcello is a great pitcher. You can’t fake the reliability and efficiency he showed last year. He may yet succeed in Boston, and have a bright future serving up groundballs by day and feasting upon freshly-caught lobster by night. Yet, it’s not surprising to see a young man of only 26 years old struggle in this new and unfamiliar environment. The explanation for Rick’s struggles is simple. It reminds me of when my eldest son Will Hart Jr. went to summer baseball camp when he turned 10 years old, leaving my younger son Peter Rose Hart to spend summer alone with me and my Basset, Barry Goldwater. Peter was miserable that summer. He missed being around his big brother, just like Ricky misses being around big brothers Justin and Max, who he has acknowledged were a positive guiding influence on his development as a pitcher.

What veteran hurlers are available to mentor Rick in Boston? Wade Miley? Joe Kelly? Those two serve up more meatballs than Olive Garden.

Let’s not forget what a toxic environment Boston is as well, where some players have been in open mutiny against their manager.

Rick is transitioning from a clubhouse that wanted to win now, to a clubhouse that wants to sit on the toilet and play on Instagram. Perhaps these growing pains are to be expected, given that the Rick Porcello of yesteryear once engaged in mortal combat with the Red Sox.

Boston is located in the state that gave us Kennedy in ’60, and by transitive property, Johnson in ’64 instead of Goldwater. The state that deflated the integrity of the National Football League. Let’s not forget what a half-witted organization this is either; according to that terrible Brad Pitt movie they were one of the first front offices to jump on the sabermetrics bandwagon. Why are simple concepts like interpersonal relationships and comradery so impossible for the nerds to understand? These aren’t xFIP scores on a spreadsheet, they are human beings who need nurturing and companionship to succeed. Championship teams aren’t built on spray charts, they are built on friendship, chemistry, and love. For the sake of the Boston Red Sox and the young Rick Porcello’s still-promising future, I hope the clam chowder-slurpers in Bean-town realize this sooner rather than later.

It'll be OK, Rick.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Leaving Hosmer Hanging Chad?

Danville, Kentucky- The first election of the last millennium of my life was nearly stolen. Governor Bush won Florida fair and square, but Albert Gore couldn't handle that America believes in democracy. Gore gathered up his lawyers and tried to discredit the votes of Florida. Luckily, somehow or another it got settled. Bush ended up President.

Sadly, a far more important election than a contest between two Southern Ivy league alums is being ruined by the tactics that we stopped in Florida. This weekend, Bob Bowman, President of Bussiness and Management for Major League Baseball said, "it’s between 60 and 65 million votes that have been canceled."

Folks, why did baseball announce 60 million votes were cancelled? It's simple: Major League Baseball hates the Royals. The Royals are built on old-school baseball: advancing the runner, hitting in the clutch, and winning. Eric Hosmer earned more votes than Cabrera. The voters decided the most important trait in an all-star voting was experience in the most recent World Series, not who has a higher BABIP against left handed pitchers on day games following night games, or WAR.

The All-Star game matters. Home-field advantage is on the line. Some nerds bring up that the Royals lost game 7 at home the previous season. Once again, the nerds are like a painter that wants to show you his paintings. The issue with that is that paintings are boring and useless. Instead, we should care about things that actually matter like the Royals being on the road the two previous series. The Royals spent so much energy thinking about that additional road game they could have hypothetically played that they were spent once game 7 came. If the Royals were fresher facing Madison Bumgarner- with the momentum from winning so many road games- they would likely be World Champions.

Some nerds counter that the all-star game isn't actually democracy. These folks say: One man, one vote. First, the radical feminists probably will chew you up for saying "man," so I'll see the few nerds that make it on the other side. Second, that's not how democracy works in America. See, Al Gore claimed he won the popular vote. But folks, that's not how democracy works. America is the world's best democracy. America doesn't rely on one person one vote, we rely on an electoral college where someone can get fewer votes and actually win, like when Governor Bush was the choice of most of what we choose to have choose in America.

Additionally, America is based on the idea of doing whatever it takes to win. Johny Kennedy didn't actually win the 1960 election according to this guy, but Kennedy was willing to register dead people and Democrats to win. A majority of my wives wanted me to pay child support, but I fought the system and continue to fight the injustice of that system every month of my life. Similarly, all-star voters that take advantage of the system should be celebrated, not seen as criminals. Once a game is set up, it's about winning, not trying to re-invent a losing formula every year, Billy Beane.

I also need to be honest that Hosmer isn't even my choice for the all-star game. I believe in the Triple Crown. Hell, if I could, I'd vote American Pharaoh into the damn game. Alas, I can't. However, I can vote for a triple crown winner. Yet, I am but one man with a few e-mail addresses and therefore, hundreds of votes.

I understand where MLB is coming from. It's tough to admit when you played your hardest and the other team wisely moved the runner or came through in the clutch. Yet, to a man that's not in the game, he recognizes when one side has lost. Eric Hosmer hasn't lost anything. His voters have found a way to win, and I hope Major League Baseball finds a way to remember their allegiance is to democracy, not nerds deciding at the last second what they want the all-star game to be. If those nerds truly care about the game, their vote counts the same as the rest of us, sort of.

My Podcast Debut

Folks, I'm happy to say I took some time off of drinking Margaritas at Chili's to appear on a lovely baseball podcast. I had a lot of fun despite the fact that they made me talk about an irrelevant team. You can listen to it here, or on itunes:


God bless,

Will Hart

Saturday, June 20, 2015

FORG1V3 & Never Forget - the A-Rod & Scherzer Story

Danville, Kentucky -- Friday June 19th through Sunday June 21st, 2015. The weekend that baseball history was made. Two super-stars, on two opposite career trajectories – career trajectories more opposite than those of me, an unemployed sports-writer, and my sons who boast statistics degrees. An aging slugger, chasing redemption and glory in the twilight years of his historic career. A flame-throwing power-arm, brimming with ambition and the urge to silence the nerds who criticized the monstrous contract he signed in the off-season. Leagues apart, but now forever immortalized; the type of players who you’ll describe to your kids as you pop them on your knee to spin yarns about this wonderful game. Their accomplishments are of an opposite nature as well; Alex Rodriguez will be remembered as the man who hit 3,000 baseballs while Max Scherzer will be remembered as the man who by sheer willpower alone refused to let a single Pittsburgh Pirate collect a base-hit, flirting with perfection all the while, just as I foolishly flirt with the staff of the Lexington Chili’s.

A-Rod’s accomplishments were decades in the making. Beginning in 1994 in Seattle, culminating 21 years later in New York. He collected his 3,000th hit the way many of his hits were collected; by blasting them over the Yankee Stadium right-field short porch for a dinger, off former Cy Young Justin Verlander no less. Folks, it’s time to admit A-Rod is one of the greats and belongs in the Hall of Fame. Fresh off of passing Willie Mays on the all-time dinger list and collecting RBI number 2,000 earlier this summer, he’s now the 29th member of the 3,000 hits club, a group more exclusive than the Triple Crown stats-only fantasy baseball league I play in with other Danville old-timers. The only other Yankee to collect 3,000 hits is the Captain himself, Derek Jeter.

I’m not afraid to admit A-Rod is an all-time great, who should be mentioned in the same breath as Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, and Barry Bonds. Some nerds would like to put an asterisk next to all of his accomplishments because of steroids. But exactly did A-Rod do? Did he tamper with the sacred tools and equipment of the game, like Tom Brady or the bat-corkers? Are people really willing to deny A-Rod his rightful place amongst the all-time greats because he was brave enough to take the substances necessary to improve his game? The keyword is improve: A-Rod would be a formidable slugger regardless of what he injected into his bloodstream. In my time, that drive to make yourself better was celebrated as the hallmark of a true competitor. The baseball hall of fame isn’t about passing judgement on the morality of players. As is the case with love, war, and obtaining the optimal seating at Chili’s, all is fair in baseball. Ty Cobb killed a man just to watch him die, yet we celebrate his accomplishments by enshrining him in the Hall of Fame. A-Rod is guilty of nothing besides dating Madonna.

Not to mention that A-Rod has accomplished all of this while being persecuted by a front office that is more vengeful than my ex-wife after she found out about my gambling problem. A-Rod is knocking out milestone after milestone, yet being denied the bonuses he so rightfully deserves because the Yankees front office deems his accomplishments “unmarketable.” It’s a lie more preposterous than the Great Society or the New Deal. Yet, despite the constant barrage of asterisks and the denial of his bonuses, A-Rod pays no mind, hitting dinger after dinger, all in search of redemption. It’s time to FORG1V3 & forget.

Scherzer is a man who seeks neither money nor redemption. This past off-season, he got paid more handsomely than a North Kentucky private investigator. He throws a fastball with a heat and intensity that matches the burning desire for glory in his heart. This weekend, he united America by bringing the nation together to watch his quest for perfection. It was a nail-biter at times, as Max nearly let defensive shifts ruin his perfection on at least one occasion. He was 1 strike away from a perfect game before Jose Tabata leaned into a ball to become the Pirates’ first baserunner. I can understand Tabata’s move; he plays to win, and his team needed men on the bases and runs. Yet, it hurts my soul to see men like Scherzer flirt with perfection but fall just short.
In the end, former AL Cy Young Scherzer has secured his place in the baseball pantheon by throwing a no hitter. So far this year, he has constructed an outstanding case to win a Cy Young in the senior circuit as well. Most importantly, he got the W.

It’s been a fantastic weekend for actually watching the game. The excitement that comes from watching a man belt hit #3K or chase perfection simply can’t be measured in numbers or found in a box-score. Pour yourself some Kentucky Deluxe, give your dog a bone, put your feet up and watch history being written. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Ban the St. Louis Cardinals

Danville, Kentucky – For those of us who watched the games, the early 1990s were a golden age of High School baseball in Northern Kentucky. Gas was cheap, the economy was humming along, and NAFTA had not come into force. While the boys at Danville High never quite reached the heights I scaled in my no-hitter days, I’m proud of what my sons William Hart Jr. and Peter Rose Hart accomplished in their hay-day. I still brag about Peter’s curveball and Will Jr.’s supreme bunting skills if I get enough skillet queso and Limearita in me. What was best about that era of baseball in Danville was the ethics of its players; my boys and their comrades played the game the right way – the Danville way. Unfortunately, that era of sportsmanship ended more abruptly than my 2nd marriage when Greenup County High violated the unwritten code of ethics that governed the game in those days. The crooks at Greenup County had one of their good ‘ol boys in the ballpark that night, stealing signs with a pair of binoculars and relaying the intel to the Greenup dugout. The Greenup sluggers hit Peter’s signature curveball across the Cumberland Gap, en route to a blow-out victory in the state semi-finals. I haven’t been on speaking terms with my boys since I accosted their coach for not playing under protest that night. My obscenity laden tirade cost me the respect of my sons that night, but not as much as the respect I lost for Greenup County High. From then on out, baseball in Danville was never the same. You could never be sure that the result on the field was a legitimate outcome, the product of boys earnestly trying their best and accepting the consequences of their shortcomings.

I can’t help but feel the same way as I watch one of the game’s most storied franchises, the St. Louis Cardinals, face legal repercussions for stealing secrets from the Houston Astros. Let’s get a few things straight. The Astros are not blameless here. They are equally responsible for entrusting prized trade details in computers, which are as fickle as a female at an IKEA and have all the security of a liquor store in Branson, Missouri. This could have never happened in my day, where important business was conducted in person and not by interns or dweebs in the sabermetric department. Hopefully this serves as a wakeup call for the league – trades are best negotiated over bloody marys, not the internet. Take notes on pen and paper, not spreadsheets. Any organization foolish enough to store secrets on computers and not in the darkest and deepest of vaults behind lock and key should basically expect this to happen now that computer saavy nerds have invaded the game at every level.

Yet, the Cardinals are the ones who are truly guilty. If the Cardinals were willing to steal confidential information from a bottom-feeding team, what are they willing to do against the league’s top-tier competitors? Did they light up the un-hittable Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers two straight years in the playoffs because they stole signs like the jerks at Greenup County? Were Scott Feldman and C.J. Wilson Manchurian candidates planted in the Texas Rangers organization by the Cardinals to guarantee an implosion in Game 7 of the World Series? Is their recent run of incredible success and incredible consistency built on a foundation of lies more deceitful than Lyndon Johnson? I’ll be frank; I never bought into the “Cardinal Way” or “Best Fans in Baseball” mystique, but I have always admired the Cardinals because they won baseball games. They weren’t afraid to give guys like Jhonny Peralta a second chance, who was unfairly persecuted by the league for being brave enough to the take the drugs necessary to help him reach the next level. They weren't afraid to buck the trend and play baseball the correct way, without defensive shifts. They did things the right way. But now, all of that is called into question. It is a breach of trust more severe than the time my step-dad courted my third wife after drunken flirtation at Outback Steakhouse after one Bloomin' Onion too many.

The Cardinals' biggest problem is that they are from St. Louis. St. Louis is the kind of town that won’t vote for Donald Trump. These folks think they are too smart for Trump, yet they were dumb enough to let beloved icon Albert Pujols head to the Angels in the Outfield team. They think Don D. missed that call at first base because they watched replay. Folks, my eyes told me he was safe. I’ve never watched a replay of the 1985 World Series because life is meant to be lived, not re-watched over tapes of Cheers.

The Cardinals have entered rare territory, and I don’t say this lightly. Ban them. Gather up the entire St. Louis roster, front office, farm system – every employee, down to the guys selling peanuts and cracker jacks – and lock them in a cell with Tom Brady, and throw the key in Michael Vick’s dog-fighting cage. Strike all their championships and accomplishments from the record. Make them give draft picks to the Astros until Lance McCullers and Carlos Correa are old enough to burden society by collecting social security.

The Cardinals organization used to be a twinkling star of integrity in a black night of corruption. An olive of honesty in a Martini of unscrupulousness. Now they’re just another slimeball in the bleachers with binoculars.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

TWTW's Reds - Tigers Preview - 6/15 - 6/18

Danville, Kentucky -- Folks, we have an exciting series on our hands – a 4 game home-and-home set between Los Rojos de Cincinnati and Los Tigres de Detroit – two blue-collar teams that play a hard-nosed brand of baseball. This is the flavor of baseball we live for, as the type of fans who aren’t satisfied to read the latest Fangraphs article about Carlos Martinez’s xBABIP. The type of fans who don’t sit around in their basement reading box-scores instead of seeing the game for themselves. The folks who pack into old beater cars with broken air conditioners and drive to see their favorite players, with nothing but money for a ticket and an old cap to represent their favorite team. The folks who stay put during hours-long rain delays that drive fair-weather fans off the bandwagon quicker than Obama drove the economy off the cliff. For the true fans, like myself, baseball is like the Slurpee machine at your local convenience store; you just want to put your mouth on the nozzle and suck all the summery goodness in.

The true fans live for baseball; we get sunburnt sitting in the stands cheering for our team, we get hangovers from drinking away a tough loss or celebrating a Joey Votto dinger. We emotionally damage ourselves arguing with the fans of other teams on twitter, and lay awake at night wondering if our boys have what it takes to taste October.

Amongst the good peoples of Southern Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and the greater Detroit area, many such fans can be found. They remember the days of watching the Big Red Machine and the Bless You Boys Tigers on a black-and-white TV. I’m a man that was Danville born and raised. But my Uncle Bert from Flint, Michigan used to regal me with tales of 1968 Tigers, Al Kaline, Denny McLain, Ernie Harwell, and the GM plant in the days before NAFTA. As a kid at the time, I didn’t quite appreciate his drunken musings. I have mixed feelings about interleague play, but I am grateful that my Cincinnati Reds now get to play Uncle Bert’s Detroit Tigers every few years, even if it means I can’t watch pitchers bat and have to see some guy playing a fake position.

Truthfully, if it weren’t for the Mistake on the Lake being just a few miles North, I think the Redlegs and Tigers would be the true interleague rivalry. Cleveland as the chief interleague rival of my Reds just feels wrong. Cleveland has no baseball team to speak of, and it’s more of a basketball town these days anyway. Cincinnati has always felt culturally separate from the rest of Ohio, at least to me. On the other hand, Uncle Bert’s stories about the summer days he spent on the shores of the Great Lakes reminds me of my own adolescence,  which I spent on Herrington Lake since I was old enough to shotgun a Miller Lite and buy Kentucky Deluxe with a fake ID. The good people of Southern Ohio, Northern Kentucky and Detroit also agree on another important lifestyle choice: the deliciousness achieved when hot dogs and chili are fused in an act of culinary transcendence. Cincinnati and Detroit have for years been locked in an intractable dispute over how to best prepare hot dogs and chili:

Cincy-style Chili Dog
Detroit-style Coney Dogs

For me, and Tigers reporter Jason Beck, it’s not really close. Maybe it’s the Danville in me, but I love Cincinnati chili dogs like Brian Kenny enjoys annoying innocent baseball fans with his enthusiastic tirades about made-up analytics such as third-order winning percentage or UZR. I’m a guy who thinks noodles and hot dogs go together like Todd Frazier and dingers, or Mike Leake and 5-run innings. The Detroit style coney simply doesn’t give me that.

While Cincinnati’s coneys are clearly better than the Detroit variant, this week’s home-and-home set will be a much more tightly-contested affair.

Here’s what to expect: some exciting games. Game 3 of the series will feature the best duel since Alexander Hamilton v. Aaron Burr, when aces Johnny Cueto and David Price face off. David Price has been on top of his game, coming off back-to-back complete game shut-outs and a Maddux vs. the Cleveland Indians.  Johnny Beisbol is the pride of Cincinnati, though folks in Danville are worried he might not be in town much longer with the trade deadline drawing closer. In fact, sources have even hinted that Johnny could be targeted by Detroit – providing additional proof that these cities may in fact be linked by destiny. Game 4 will feature the second start of the season by Justin Verlander, the once and future ace of Detroit’s rotation. The last time these two teams met in 2012, the Tigers won 7-6, rallying off of Aroldis Chapman it what some nerds described as a turning point in their season, which culminated in a World Series appearance. Will this match-up 3 years later be similarly fateful? You'll have to actually watch the game to find out.

Ultimately, what draws me to these games isn’t the numbers – it’s the narrative. There are several plotlines that astute, game-watching fans should notice:

First is the ascendance of shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who was acquired by the Reds in the offseason via trade with Detroit, and will now see playing time because of the untimely loss of Zack Cozart. He has already made a name for himself amongst the good peoples of Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky by delivering a clutch, game-winning RBI against the Cubs last week. While this week’s series won’t ultimately settle the question of “who won the trade,” as potential All-Star Big Pasta Alfredo Simon will not start against the Reds, little Eugenio will make the return to Comerica Park to face his former teammates for the first time. This was the team where Eugenio broke into the majors; he remembers coming up in the minor leagues with young talent like Hernan Perez and James McCann. He remembers being showed the ropes by hardened veterans and fellow Venezuelans, Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera.

It will be bittersweet for Eugenio; he knows he was rendered expendable by the return of Detroit’s franchise shortstop, Jose Iglesias. He will feel a twinge of jealousy as he watches young Jose smiling and bantering with his former double-play partner Ian Kinsler and his idol Miguel Cabrera.

Eugenio, a cheery and youthful personality, is not one to hold grudges and will nonetheless catch-up with his former companions on the field during batting practice. As Eugenio wanders onto the fresh green grass of Comerica Park, the place where he once fought, bled, and battled to prove he was worthy of a roster spot, he will encounter Andrew Romine,  the new Don Kelly of the Detroit Tigers. Eugenio and Andrew, the little utility infielders that could, will look into each other’s soulful eyes, and share a knowing look. They share a special bond; a unique bond that can only be formed between people who realize they were a team’s “Plan D” – who might not have even gotten a crack at the big show if Jose Iglesias had stayed healthy and if Steve Lombardozzi and Alex Gonzalez hadn’t been bigger bombs than the Affordable Care Act.

The Little Utility Infielders That Could
Andrew and Eugenio went through a lot together. If it were up to Andrew, Eugenio would still be right there by his side in the dugout, and right there to share in whatever glory may await the Tigers in the autumn. Knowing that the baseball gods have thwarted the realization of such a dream, Andrew will pat Eugenio on the back before the two engage in mortal baseball combat against each other. Little Geno will wonder if he is destined to be the next Ramon Santiago, or if he may yet bring glory to the good people of Northern Kentucky and Southern Ohio.

The Best Smile in Beisbol
The second plotline to pay attention to is that of Cincinnati’s catcher. Fortunately for little Eugenio, he is not without role models, guardians, and companions within Cincinnati’s dugout. From the moment he arrives in Cincinnati’s locker-room, the should-be All Star and all-around-great-guy Brayan Pena, another former Tiger, will take little Eugenio under his wing. After watching Mr. Pena play for my Reds for the past year and a half, I’ll never understand why the Tigers let Pena go when he was available to be resigned for such an affordable price. Indeed, Brayan is one of those guys you can’t put a price tag on. His willingness to put his body on the line for his team, his smile, his clubhouse presence, and his capacity to keep the spirits of teammates high is something that simply can’t be measured in dollars or WAR. Pena is a player so gritty that the MLB had to change its home-plate collision rules because of him:

Pena is also a player so classy that he refuses to take the luxury of a self-congratulatory home-run trot, opting to sprint around the bases instead.

Before they take the field, Brayan will notice little Eugenio looking pensive, staring into his locker. The veteran backstop and President of NERTS nation will put an arm around the young shortstop, and let him know that everything will be alright. With the feelings of expendability and jealousy washed away by his teammate’s embrace, Pena and a newly reassured Suarez will confidently walk onto the field, ready to face their friends wearing the Old English D. 

Michael Jordan is the Best at not being the Best

Danville, Kentucky- When the Yankees hired men that weren't stat nerds and as a result, actually won games, a wise man opined, "It's not a lie if you believe it."

Today, people don't actually believe the lie they are telling. The lie is simple: Michael Jordan is the best basketball player ever. I'll address all the lies and leave you with the truth.

First, let's start with things that are irrelevant to Jordan being the best.

Six titles- Michael won six titles. Who cares? Robert Horry was a better player and won seven titles. Horry figured out what he needed to do to win in three different cities in two different decades. Horry knew he needed to not become too big for the team. In contrast, Jordan was a one decade one town man(or so the Jordan nerds will have you believe). Pathetic.

Scoring titles- Jordan won a bunch of scoring titles. Sure. This is impressive. Still, how did that scoring title help Jordan beat the Magic? How did that scoring title hold up when the Pistons went to town on Chicago. I'll tell you, it didn't hold up.

Defensive player of the year- Al Pacino didn't win best actor for his role as Michael Corleone. What I'm saying, folks, is that award voters are idiots. Michael didn't even guard the other team's best player most of the time. Scottie P. handled that. Scottie P. was robbed.

1992 Dream Team- Michael Jordan wouldn't let Mr. Thomas play on the Dream Team, yet he allowed Christian Laettner to play. Folks, Laettner didn't respect the game. Laettner was a whiny punk that hardly worked a day in his life, mainly because he sucked and couldn't play in the NBA. Yet, Jordan let his pride and fear of getting triggered by playing next to Mr. Thomas get in the way. Imagine if Angola had scored 50 more points and the U.S.A. had scored 50 fewer, then it might have gotten pretty close. If Mr. Thomas played, America would have been fine, but with Laetter, Jordan risked throwing away the gold for pride.

Space Jam- Jordan saved the world. In the words of the women whose concert I conceived one of my children at, "That don't impress me much." The tune squad was a group of absolute ballers. Daffy was a man with a plan, while R. Kelly's bars on the soundtrack ensured the team would have all the inspiration they'd need.

Flu Game- Since NAFTA ruined Union work, I've had to show up to work with the flu. Jordan didn't speak out against NAFTA, he was too busy striking out and pushing off against Byron Russell while trade deals that cost America good paying jobs passed. Jordan might have played with the flu, but because of you, sir, I have to play with the flu too.

Hand checking- Jordan played when the game was for pansies. You don't play defense with your hands, you play with your feet. Yet, in the 90's men thought because something was allowed, it was a good idea to do it. In the 70's, LSD was basically legal in Danville, heck, the police still try and sell it to you, which is why my brother is back in jail- but again, that's a story for another time. Folks, just cause it's legal doesn't make it right or good. Jordan played when men played bad defense. He dominated pansies.

90's were the best- The 90's were built on lies. Your job will stay good. Ace of Bass will keep cranking out hits. This is your last divorce. Kobe and Shaq were still young pups. Kevin Garnett was just a kid. Allen Iverson was focused on practice, not a game.

Why he's overrated:

Image result for gandalf

Wizards- Michael's career didn't end in 1998, nerds. The Roman Empire is the world's greatest empire if history ends whenever the Roman Empire was good. Yet, the Roman Empire sucked when it collapsed. Jordan sucked with the Wizards. I kept attending high school parties years after I graduated. Sure, when I was 25 it wasn't weird. I was just one of the guys still. However, eventually the high school kids got lame, and I had to stop going. Jordan never realized he became the lame high school kid. Jordan kept going to the parties even though he became that lame kid.

Baseball- The greatest baseball player of all time- Barry Bonds- played while Jordan took the spotlight away from him while sucking. Jordan played in an era where incredible drugs allowed players to become great, yet Jordan didn't even care about baseball enough to try steroids. The greatest of all-time didn't even take the greatest drugs of all-time. It leads to a simple conclusion: he wasn't even great.

Quitting- Jordan quit on his team. The Bulls won 55 games without Jordan and nearly won the title. The next year, Jordan's team was set to win the title, but he came back and they blew it against the Magic. Jordan was always about showing up when his team didn't need him, and leaving when it did.

The best player of all-time is Bill Russell. Russell never quit on his team. He won 11 titles in 13 seasons. He never tried to play baseball, even though he would have hit dingers all day because he made a commitment to the Celtics. Jordan is a quitter. I'll follow Jordan's lead and quit this paragraph right here.