FIRE JOE MORGAN: Gentlemen, Start Your Idiocy Machines


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Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Gentlemen, Start Your Idiocy Machines

It's March 29. Opening Day is hours away. And that means it's time for unthinking, pointless drivel to come pouring out of the laptops of the BBWAA. Even from normally semi-reliable people like Ken Rosenthal, who wrote this little number, entitled: Small Ball is Yielding Big Results.

Excited just by the title? Me too!

I suggest reading the article on the FoxSports site -- it has lots of cute photos of people bunting!

Time to play ball. Real ball, not the mutant, pharmaceutically enhanced monstrosity that supposedly saved the sport.

Some call it small ball. Others call it a return to fundamentals. Still others call it a pitching-and-defense revival.

Whatever the catchphrase, it translates to winning baseball.

Oh, the rhetoric! I imagine Ken Rosenthal standing at a podium, lips tightly pursed politician-style, imagining himself a Leader of Men, addressing thousands of hearty non-computer-owning salt-of-the-earth American baseball fans, clutching American Flags that display not 50 stars, but rather small pictures of Scott Podsednik bunting. And he's staring down his constituency, and telling them in no uncertain terms that by God these home run-happy stat nerds will take away his love of sac bunts and stolen bases and Darin Erstad's football-playing mentality only by prying them out of his cold, dead hands.

Shortstop Derek Jeter talks wistfully about the Yankees' four championship teams under manager Joe Torre, recalling that they did all of the little things right. The World Baseball Classic drove the point home once more, with the Asian teams, in particular, demonstrating the value of execution over physical talent, of brains over brawn.

Chalk up another vaguely racist "compliment" for those brainy Asians. Who, by the way, had the most HR of any team in the WBC, the 3rd most walks, and the second highest OPS. Brawn, anyone?

Play ball. Play it right. The fans won't go away.

Write stuff. Write it in overblown self-important rhetoric. I will make fun of you.

Chicks dig the long ball, always will, and so does everyone else. But the notion that fans are power junkies, too simple to grasp the game's subtleties — it's an insult. Major League Baseball isn't alone in dumbing down its product; virtually every sports, entertainment and media company does. But what baseball fans want most is to see their favorite team win.

Right. Which is why smart teams don't try to steal bases and play "small ball." You're conflating good pitching, "doing the little things," "fundamentals," and "execution," and calling it all "small ball." Good pitching is not "small ball." Good pitching is good pitching, and every team needs it. "Fundamentals" are important, too. But most of that other stuff -- bunting, stealing bases if you're not really good at it, etc. -- hurts your team. It causes your team to score fewer runs. Smart teams do not eschew such self-mutilating strategies because they believe their fans are too dumb to appreciate it. They do it because embracing them makes it harder to win.

I like that it was not enough for people to misinterpret "Moneyball" as "strike out a lot and try always to hit home runs." Now, it seems, being a "power junky" (read: "Moneyball") team, and thus not doing things like bunt runners over, also means you don't care about "fundamentals." As if part of the Moneyball philosophy (not explicitly cited here, but come on -- that's what he's talking about) is specifically not caring about hitting cutoff men or something.

Teams like the Braves, Cardinals and Angels are successful year after year not because they score the most runs, though their offenses usually are strong. No, they succeed because they play the game properly, rarely beating themselves. In an age of increased parity, the little things become even more important. As any statistical analyst will tell you, the big things matter most. But a game, even a pennant race, can turn on a well-timed bunt or well-executed relay.

Any game can turn on anything. A lot of games turn on HR, for example. I'm thinking in particular of an Astros-Cardinals playoff game -- a few playoff games, actually -- last year. Baseball games are crazy explosions of random chances and impossible-to-predict scenarios. The surest way to maximize your winning percentage is by stressing OBP and SLG offensively, and fundamentals defensively, which, despite the message of this article, are not mutually exclusive. One way to minimize your chance to win, offensively, is by bunting a lot.

Also, I like referring to the Cardinals' recent NL offensive juggernauts as "pretty strong."

Jim Tracy, the new Pirates' manager, has spent much of the spring talking to his hitters about taking smarter approaches, adjusting to situations. The Cubs, by acquiring players like center fielder Juan Pierre and right fielder Jacque Jones, mimicked the White Sox, improving their athleticism and speed. A's general manager Billy Beane, a leading proponent of offensive efficiency, has built a contender, once again, around starting pitching.

1. Shouldn't every manager always spend Spring Training "talking to his hitters about taking smarter approaches, adjusting to situations?" You can't tell people to hit more home runs. You can tell people to "take smart approaches," like taking pitches at the right times and so forth. 2. Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones had OBPs of .326 and .319 last year, respectively, so, yes, the Cubbies are mimicking the White Sox, but not by improving anything. 3. I don't know what you mean to imply by the last comment about Billy Beane. He has always been a leading proponent of offensive efficiency, yes, and he has always built his team around starting pitching, so you have told me nothing.

The season begins with yet another steroid uproar, but the game — by every quantifiable measure — has never been healthier. It is widely accepted that the home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998 fueled the sport's comeback from the strike of '94 and '95. That notion, too, gives fans too little credit. People love this sport, can't get enough of it. In time, the fans would have come back, anyway.

And so a new season begins, a season of baseball, not powerball. MLB is returning to its roots not because of more stringent drug testing — some players still will use performance enhancers — but because teams are going back to the time-honored methods of success.

Can you hear it? "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" is fading in behind Rosenthal...the Podsednik flags wave in the breeze...a trained hawk circles above and starts to dive...the crowd buzzes in anticipation of the big finish...

To small ball. To smart ball. To playing the game right.


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