Monthly Archives: June 2009

The bluntness barrier: watching language in the news

Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez

I was reading an average baseball article from the Miami Herald today–about how Hanley Ramirez thinks his pitcher should’ve plunked the other guy after he got plunked himself–when the article took a little turn to the left, a small unexpected dog leg through the brambles. I’ll quote part of it below. Keep in mind that I’m focusing not on the content of the debate, but on the writerly discourse going on (the italics are mine):

”Everybody knows it,” Ramirez said in a calm voice while dressing in front of his locker after the game. “I think Fredi knows it. J.J. knows it. He was throwing strikes.”

Ramirez, speaking in Spanish, was more blunt with a South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter, saying the Marlins had an ”obligation” to retaliate.

”You know, incredible,” the newspaper quoted Ramirez as saying. “There’s going to come a point where I’m not going to feel protected. I’m going to be scared to hit a home run because I know I’m going to get hit.”

Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald does the right thing, acknowledges his lack of Spanish

Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald does the right thing, acknowledges his lack of Spanish

There’s a lot of layers to this little happening. First we have a player talking to a reporter in English, providing a pretty basic run-down of a pretty emotionally charged event. I don’t know what Hanley’s language proficiency is, nor do I particularly care. In fact, I didn’t think twice about the nature of the conversation, as a newspaper account can strip any conversation clean of character and style. So it’s hard to say what the nature of the discourse is, but point is it was pretty low key.

We start to see a little frustration from the reporter–Clark Spencer–who makes a bold decision: he lifts the journalistic curtain and reveals what must be a common problem/circumstance in today’s pro baseball media. Spencer turns the attention away from the content of the story towards the nature in which the content was delivered to representatives of the media. Ramirez, speaking in Spanish, was more blunt with a South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter. That’s got to sting a little, to not only know but to report that there’s a guy standing right next to you getting the really good quotations because he speaks Spanish. But rather than treat Hanley’s words as those he gathered himself–he was probably standing right there after all–Spencer does the admirable thing, indirectly admitting that he doesn’t know Spanish, and giving the nod to the publication that does by citing their particular quotation.

Not only is there the language barrier, then. There’s the emotion barrier, and Spencer admits this too, acknowledging that Hanley was “more blunt” when conversing in Spanish. This is probably not the most acute choice of words on Spencer’s part, as Hanley is probably better able to express complex thoughts in Spanish if that’s his native tongue, rather than being more or less blunt in one language over another. But for Spencer to cite that increased intimacy between Hanley and the Spanish-speaking reporter struck me as a tender moment–a peaceful eddy of humanity in the raging rivers of up-to-the-minute sporting news.

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Orlando Hudson, the swing

Orlando Hudson and his impressive swing

Orlando Hudson and his impressive swing

Here’s an Orlando Hudson card I made. I had almost no awareness of the O-dog pre-2009, and I still haven’t watched him play much, but what little I’ve seen has me well-impressed. His swing from the left side of the plate is a beautiful thing, where he sends the bat on that perfect flat trip and flips it over his back, the whole thing a perfectly synthesized act. Have an MLB video look here.

It’s a decent place to mention the unfortunate aesthetic prejudice against right-handed swings. I can’t explain it, it’s unfair. But the O-dog’s righty swing, which is probably identical in every measurable way to his lefty swing, just doesn’t look as poetic, as flowing or as singular.

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Just where the draft should be: my low key response to Posnanski’s critique of the draft on TV

Yeah, I saw him pitch, IU pitcher and first rounder Eric Arnett

Yeah, I saw him pitch, IU pitcher and first rounder Eric Arnett

Over at si.com, Joe Posnanski does a general bash of the 2009 MLB amateur draft as a television event.

So, this year, for the first time, they tried to make the First Year Player Draft a television spectacular. They broadcast it in prime time. Commissioner Bud Selig came out to the lectern every few minutes to make a dramatic reading of a name he clearly had never seen before. Then, some baseball analysts talked for a few minutes about that name, and how great that name would become, how that name had 60-power or three-plus pitches — scout talk — and everyone came to the inevitable conclusion that the name would really help the team in the future. Yes, it’s a familiar formula.

Only … the whole production didn’t work at all, at least for me.

On the whole I don’t have a huge problem with this critique, or with the claim that the draft is uninteresting because most of the player-participants will never make it to the majors. I’d add that I’ve never even heard of 99.9% of the players that get drafted.

I’ve got only a few points to add to the conversation, and a few examples of when the MLB draft as a television event in fact shines:

1. When a player gets drafted that you’ve got some kind of personal (or non-television-based) connection with.

For me it was only a tangential connection this year that added something to my viewing experience: a guy whom I watched pitch in a game this year ended up getting drafted in the first round. I was up here in Indiana, where first round studs are rare, and it was a simple treat to see him on the board and know that I’d seen top-rated talent.

And I think I can say that with all of the college and high school baseball getting played (not to mention the amount of minor league ball later on), and with the sheer number of players who get drafted, most baseball fans have some sort of connection with at least one if not more of the players drafted. That sort of connection is more than I’ve felt in a basketball or a football draft. You’re going to connect more with a player you’ve seen while one among several hundred on a random Thursday when you got a hankering for some live ball, as opposed to the not-so-intimate experience as one among 100,000 on a Saturday with all of college-town and alumni-ville turned out.

2. The market for this stuff is growing, and the MLB draft is perfect for the MLB Network.

As much as MLB has tried to make it a major TV event in Joe’s eyes, I think it’s still safe to say that 6 p.m. on the MLB Network is exactly where the draft belongs. It’s a specialized event on a specialized channel, and Bud Selig’s mug is a specialized piece of imagery to tune into. Anyone who is watching the draft already knows the implicit problems, that excitement will wane, &tc. So we don’t have to warn them. Hey guys! This is gonna be boring and slow! It’d be like warning Parrotheads that the Jimmy Buffett concert will involve inflatable palm trees.

The aforementioned flaws do keep it from being a great TV event, Joe’s right, but I happen to think that the NHL, NFL, and NBA drafts are terrible TV events because I don’t care about the NHL, NFL, and NBA. If I did care, they’d be great, and if you do care about the MLB draft, I’m sure it was great. I for one thought it was fantastic to see the brief synopses of each player, and to get a quick sense of the drafting philosophy of my and other teams. More college pitchers, fewer high school infielders, &tc. As long as the commentary is solid, which it was, then you’ve got something going.

I don’t think the MLB draft will supplant Lost anytime soon, but it is what it is, and how often do I get too see Craig Biggio read from a card in a suit?

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A little Biggio milestone custom baseball card fun…

Craig Biggio custom baseball card, 3000th hit

In the continued spirit of Goose Joak’s custom card project, I thought I’d add another custom card. This one commemorates Craig Biggio’s 3000th hit. Remarkably, living as I have away from Houston for a few years now, I was at the game on June 28, 2007.

In town for a wedding, some family members nabbed tickets for the Thursday night game. Under normal circumstances there would’ve been the game we play with historic moments in sports: will the big hit come today, or tomorrow, or on the weekend? If I’ve got one shot, do I shade towards a cynical long view and wait until Sunday, or do I give this living legend near the end of his career the benefit of the doubt and head out there tonight? I had no choice given my schedule, so I had a wholistic approach: if it isn’t tonight, I’m still glad for the second sacker. The journey is more important than the final step. My patience was rewarded with an overabundance of baseball ecstasy.

Bidge needed three hits to reach 3,000 before the game. He singled in the third inning and the fifth. The collective frenzy of the crowd built and built, to the point that there was a constant buzz, literally a humming at Minute Maid Park, the chatty chorus of anticipation and unbelievable good fortune, that we’d all be here and it could happen in the right now. It did, in the seventh, an almost miraculous flurry of hits, more than any of us deserved, much less me the carpet-bagger in town for 48 hours with maybe five Astros games under my belt in the last whatever number of years.

On the fateful hit, Biggio was thrown out at second, but it gave us time to give him his due. One among 27 players in the sport’s history, more rare than the brain can process. He pulled Jeff Bagwell out onto the field.

Bidge would collect two more hits, the final one when he beat out a high chopper to shortstop. It was almost as sweet as the 3,000th.

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When an icon rolls through town: thoughts on Randy Johnson

It was a stunning trade, and he does have Star Power

It was a 'stunning trade,' and he does have 'Star Power'

Last night, Randy Johnson got his 300th major league W. I’ll only skirt around a conversation on the relative silliness of the Win stat, made all the more prominent as RJ watched his Giants reliever teammates try not to give up two runs before the Giants gave up another run even if they eventually went on to win the game, &tc. &tc. Point is, Johnson has pitched remarkably well for a remarkable number of years, and if the Win stat shows anything, it’s how frequently a starting pitcher gives his team an opportunity to win, that his dominance extended over so many innings with such consistency that it took his hitter-teammates a little less to wrap up the ballgame.

The MLB Network spent a good hour going over the dips and swerves of The Big Unit’s career, including a Nolan Ryan training video that all but gave the Ryan Express (and some bio-mechanics dude) credit for the 6’10 lefty’s Hall of Fame creds. They flashed a lot of video, jumping from early Randy Johnson to late, with flickering ballcaps changing from Expos to Giants to Dbacks to Yankees to Mariners. And I was able to take a small bit of glee from one of the hats that showed up in the cavalcade: those beautiful 1998 navy blue and gold-starred Astros hats, perched on the head of the Big Unit for one shining half of a year.

’98 would be a good year for the Astros team-wise. With stars like Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and Moises Alou–along with lesser knowns like the meteoric Jose Lima, Billy Wagner, Carl Everett and the majestically mustachioed Derek Bell–it was just one of those years where the stars would align for a pretty good run.

Team aside, though, the real spark of that season came with Randy Johnson. He was an American Leaguer, so what I knew of him was mostly second-hand, via highlights and national media coverage. I had not, for example, watched him pitch a whole game or considered with any depth his arsenal or technique. What I found when I went to see him play in the Astrodome was an improbably tall and rangy dude, so imposing that the peak of his cap seemed to brush the cieling of the Dome. Pushing the high 90s on the radar gun, and breaking his slider (which I just learned is called Mr. Snappy) that dove across the plate, when he pitched a game it was an event–you could see from the nosebleeds why his pitches were effective, how dominant he was.

He went 10-1 in Houston, with a 1.28 ERA. In 84+ innings, he struck out 116 batters. In the playoffs, where I watched him pitch while wedged into the high-high seats behind home plate with 55,000 other awestruck Astro fans, he hit an RBI single up the middle, which was something like watching a 200-foot crane fling a bowling ball over Buffalo Bayou.

If a star baseball player is one whose presence elevates a fan’s awareness of the game and expands the parameters of what seems possible, then Randy Johnson is a star baseball player. That he’s done it for so long is unthinkable.

In the final pitches of the game last night, there was a camera shot that captured RJ and his son. As the son, brace-faced and mop-headed, struggled to contain his excitement, the Big Unit continued to scowl out onto the field. In a postgame interview, he mentioned that it was nice to get the win, but that there was a lot more work ahead. On nights like those, it bears looking behind a little, too.

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