Category Archives: Media Events

A dream deferred: Pence doesn’t make it into the ASG

Alas, the young protagonist wiled away the biggest day of his baseball career riding the pine.

Richard Justice sums it up nicely in a column on the subject.

Pence said he definitely felt like part of the National League team, that he enjoyed meeting Trevor Hoffman and others.

About all he didn’t do was play. NL manager Charlie Manuel, that sly fox, apparently was saving Pence for extra innings.

Pence’s journey is just beginning. He’s 26 years old and in his second full major league season. He’s smart and enormously talented and almost surely will be here again.

“It definitely was a great experience,” Pence said. “I wouldn’t say it was everything I hoped it was going to be, because I want to play, and I want to win.

“It’s disappointing, but it gives me a reason to fight even harder and come back next year and have a chance to play. It was nice being part of the best in baseball, even though I didn’t get to play. I felt like I was part of the game.”

Just to see his face on the TV screen with the big mashers and the basepath thrillers was something else, from my fan’s point of view. Tejada, for his part, laced a nice single up the middle.

On another note, McCarver and Buck have gone beyond annoying. They are limp and drowsy in the booth these days. When Carl Crawford made a fantastic catch against the left field wall, Buck’s tone didn’t waver in the slightest. “And he makes the catch.” McCarver immediately added, “I don’t think that would’ve been a home run. It probably would not have…. Oh, yeah, that would have been a home run.” I mean, good grief, can we not get someone in there who can at least pretend to enjoy themselves during the season’s most a) lighthearted and/or b) important moments? It’s getting to the point where they detract from the experience, rather than just not adding to it. Before it was all the schmaltz. Now even the schmaltz, the Yankees and Red Sox-loving, is exhausted, limping along like a great-grandmother to the market each day, like always.

And this at a time in baseball when the sport is trying to attract young urban audiences. Aside from Buck’s association with football, this pair is about the least appealing one I could imagine to do that, to excite non-fans enough to draw them in. There are the players in place to do so–the Ryans Howard and Braun, Crawford himself, Sizemore, Ichiro (an older player who is still as thrilling as he was on his first day), &tc. Now MLB and Fox need to catch up with their media representatives, on the game’s most prominent promontories.

Spaceman Bill Lee considers McCarver the smartest player he played with. Thats all well and good, but dont use that power, sir, to overanalyze everything.

Spaceman Bill Lee considers McCarver the smartest player he played with. That's all well and good, but don't use that power, sir, to overanalyze everything.

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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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Pitch-tipping: the new old piracy

King Kelly, base-skipper

King Kelly, now- beloved base-skipper

Doug Glanville posted a New York Times column about the A-Rod pitch-tipping allegation, in which he argues that:

If in fact there was a pitch-tipping scheme, I would expect a full investigation, not just of Alex but of any player who would share information with his opponent. It is that serious.

It’s a little hard for me to view this whole tipping sidenote with the stern and worried attitude that Glanville presents in the column. In 50 years, such episodes will be remembered fondly, as signs that baseball was still a quirky game with lots of little ins and outs and rules-trifling trickery. Excepting steroids (which I consider an entirely different level of “oh shit”), Pete Rose and the Black Sox scandal, the baseball literati and fanerati look back on most of the gambling and cheating and boozing and fighting from the old days as symbols of freewheeling charm and the anti-establishment nature of the game, with the canonization of rogue leagues and managers and players who were giant assholes. Here I’m thinking of your King Kellys (drank himself to death, ran from first to third directly), and your Ty Cobbs (old X-ACTO-Spikes).

It’s notable perhaps that pitch-tipping to the other team can affect the outcome of the game, in the manner of “throwing” a game. It remains, though, that if Honus Wagner devised a secret code between he and Nap Lajoie, with a double shuffle-left hand twitch-triple-spit, it’d be a fantastic quip about the simpatico between baseball legends. The stories that survive over time are those that transgress. The only incidences of nicety that last are those involving extreme nicety (Christy “The Christian Gentleman” Mathewson comes to mind).

Not so cute when it's contemporary.

Not so cute when it's contemporary.

In times like these, it bears remembering that people used to really fucking hate pirates. The global outrage over this Somali pirate business, with calls for government actions and protections and whatnot, echoes the way populations used to view the pirates of yesteryear. The bastards impeded commerce and scared everybody. Now, of course, our nations most beloved hero is a pirate: Ross Ohlendorf.

All I’m saying is that, as ever, let’s be careful about the nature of our unrest. For there will come a time when we’ll laugh at ourselves and the mess we made back then.

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Watching the World Baseball Classic: The grumbling gives way to the Game

World Baseball Classic logo

The WBC is in full swing.

I’ve been watching a good amount of the World Baseball Classic, on the MLB Network, ESPN2 and, most awesomely, on ESPN360 at my leisure, and the early going warrants, I think, some commentary:

First off, clearly the amount of low-hum perturbia surrounding major leaguers in the tournament missed the point and the mark, and that includes those offering up those omniavailable enshrinable columnistic gems: “Does anyone care about the World Baseball Classic?” often followed closely by “Not me.”

Appearances would suggest that the players care about the World Baseball Classic: I watched Pudge Rodriguez get good and ticked when he missed a high cheesy Netherlandish slider; later he and teammate Yadier Molina celebrated the younger catcher’s go ahead hit with even greater intensity. The Italians–loose as that definition might be–looked every bit as invested as the PRs. Mark DeRosa of Team USA pumped a fist after busting it for a triple against the Venezuelans. D. Pedroia laid out on Astro-carpet to field a sharp grounder and make a play to first.

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A tale of two craftsmen and the media events that showed us more: Christian Bale and Alex Rodriguez

Two semi-recent media events continue to hound me, if only for their polarity: Christian Bale’s on-set rant, and Alex Rodriguez’s steroid “confession” and ensuing press conference.

  • Bale’s rant: A spontaneous, slightly scary outburst from an actor at the top of the film industry; a private psychological event, not intended for public consumption.
  • A-Rod’s whatever-it-was/is: A stagy, cagey, reactionary PR torture session, from a ballplayer still at the top of his industry; a public event, intended solely to make excuses for private psychological events.
Were all wearing some kind of mask, am I right?

We're all wearing some kind of mask, am I right?

Each media event involves a craftsman in a given field, and each media event reveals something about the respective craftsman’s relationship to his craft.

Bale’s rant is a glimpse into the artist’s mind, hovering ever on the border between control and chaos. In the arts, beauty and truth often emerge from the scorched earth struggle between sanity and insanity, life and death, the conscious and the unconscious, control and chaos. Continue reading

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