FIRE JOE MORGAN: Hindpsychology


Where Bad Sports Journalism Came To Die

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Thursday, October 12, 2006



The day after a sports team loses in the playoffs, people suddenly have a lot of (typically intangible) insights as to why that team was always destined to fail in the first place. It's a combination of hindsight and psychology that I am deciding to call hindpsychology, because I am a fan of sports portmanteaus (or as I call them, sportmanteaus).'s John Rolfe is an expert in hindpsychology. Here's the title of his latest column:

Teams of Mighty Caseys usually strike out

I wonder what team this is going to be about.

Here's one to chew on: What would have happened if the Red Sox had succeeded in acquiring Alex Rodriguez before the 2004 season?

My guess is your guess is they would have lost. Something about how A-Rod never would have fit in with the scruffy, dirt-eating, pine-tar-smeared "Idiot" culture that was at least in part a media creation.

Numbers aside, the more crucial question is whether A-Rod would have fit in with the scruffy, dirt-eating, pine-tar-smeared "Idiot" culture that enabled the Red Sox to weather intense pressure and pull off an unprecedented comeback against their most bitter rivals.

Would he have come through as the less-heralded Bill Mueller did by driving in Dave Roberts with the tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 4 with the crushing weight of the Curse, an 0-3 deficit and Mariano Rivera bearing down on him?

Hmm, I don't know. I do know Bill Mueller's batting line for that seven-game series, though:

.267/.333/.300, 4 R, 1 RBI, 0 HR, 1 2B

I bet A-Rod could've done that. In fact, I know what he actually did in that same series:

.278/.378/.516, 8 R, 5 RBI, 2 HR, 2 2B

A-Rod lined out to short with the go-ahead run on second and one out in the top of the 11th -- his first clutch at-bat for the Yankees after their ship began to take on foaming brine in that game. The rest, as they say, is history -- 1-for-12 for the rest of the series history.

So you're going to throw out the fact that he was 7/19 with a ton of extra-base hits in the same series before that point because his at bats didn't become "clutch" until the Red Sox won a game in the series? Remember, no one suspected that the Sox would even threaten to come back -- it hadn't ever been done before. So A-Rod pre-emptively knew to tense up even though the Yankees were still up 3-1? How about the Minnesota series just days earlier? None of those at bats were clutch? (A-Rod's ALDS: .421/.476/.737.)

Finally, the only reason the Yankees were up 4-3 to begin with in Game 4 was because A-Rod had already hit a two-run home run. But since that happened in the third inning, it's pretty meaningless and definitely not clutch. I don't think runs scored before the seventh even get put on the board, come to think of it.

My gut feeling is no on all counts, a sentiment echoed by the devout Red Sox partisans I've spoken to.

Red Sox fans and John Rolfe agree: in a hypothetical world where A-Rod hypothetically plays for Boston in 2004, hypothetical Red Sox A-Rod chokes in the hypothetical ALCS. What a hypothetical loser! I'm getting angry just hypothetically remembering it.

I'm tired from all this hypothesizing. What were talking about again?

Can you see prim, gleaming A-Rod with a mug full of scruff and some cornrows or dreds, hangin' with Manny and Papi? Can you picture him in Jason Varitek's gritty, bristle-headed contingent?

I think you just reworded a sentence you wrote two paragraphs ago. Yeah, there it is. Except this time, instead of "scruffy," "dirt-eating," and "pine-tar-smeared," the dudes are "full of scruff," "gritty," and "bristle-headed." What about all the dirt they ate? What about the dirt, John Rolfe?

The bottom line is that it takes an ironclad mentality to succeed in places like Boston and New York when the heat is on, and quite often that ability is found in lesser lights like Mark Bellhorn (game-winning three-run homer in Game 6 of that ALCS), whose presence doesn't often stir the coals of avid partisans (Bellhorn hit .192 for the series). Yankee fans surely recall cocky Jim Leyritz, who hit .264 with 7 home runs during the 1996 regular season, but delivered a World Series-turning blow against the Braves.

Man, this shit bothers me to no end. You genuinely think there's something special about Mark Bellhorn and Jim Leyritz? That they have a more "ironclad" mentality than Alex Rodriguez? How about Hideki Matsui, who's won jack shit in the major leagues but by all accounts is a calm, non-chokey, hard-working pure professional? Rolfe's trying to limit this to Boston and New York, but really, this type of halo is awarded to anybody -- anybody who does anything good in the postseason. Just last night, Alexis Gomez went 2-4 with a two-run jack and 4 RBI to pretty much win the game for the Tigers. Alexis Gomez. Guy had one home run in his 158-AB career. How many times do we have to say it? (deep breath) SMALL SAMPLE SIZE.

Actually, screw that. I'm going on record right now. You heard it here first: Alexis Gomez has an ironclad mentality. He's scruffy, full of scruff, dirt-eating, gritty, pine-tar-smeared, and bristle-headed. And I would rather have him on my team than Alex Rodriguez, because he's proven he can get it done when it counts.

Of course, it's ridiculous to blame the Yankees' last three postseason flops on A-Rod.

Well done. Agree with you totally there.

Yet there's no doubt he could have turned the team's fortunes toward the better by elevating his play.

Boy, that is an awkward, weird sentence. Whatever. Don't disagree. If he plays better, sure, the team benefits.

I cite A-Rod because he's become such a lightning rod and his numbers alone are so often taken as an indicator of success. His presence on the Yankees gives lie to the adages that you can't have enough of a good thing, or can never be too rich or too thin (just check out their pitching staff the past three years).

Okay, wait. Hold on. Now, John Rolfe is saying that the problem with the Yankees is that they're too rich. That's it. They're also too good at baseball. That's it, goddammit! I'm a genius!

My pet theory is that All-Star-laden teams don't sweat enough to be motivated by the fear of failure or even righteous anger when they find themselves on the edge of disaster.

Here we go -- hindpsychology! I promised you! Teams need to be motivated by "fear of failure" or, barring that, "righteous anger." Um, so the Yankees weren't afraid of failing after five ... straight ... years ... of failing ... and with an absolutely batshit crazy owner at the helm. Yeah, that must be it. Plus, they didn't "sweat" enough. That's the problem. In hindsight, it's all very clear.

The overabundance of talent makes it too easy for players to assume that someone will come through and pick them up.

That is totally insane, and yet I've heard this same theory bandied about on TV several times in the last few days. In John Rolfe's brain, there's a graph with talent on the vertical axis, and when you cross a certain point on that axis, you get into the "overabundance of talent" zone, where adding more talent hurts you. It hurts you because every guy stepping to the plate thinks to himself, "I'll let Sheff or Hideki or whoever the f get these guys in, we have too much talent in this lineup and I am an idiot who wants to fail because of that."

There's not enough incentive to prove yourself worthy, as the Tigers are intent on doing only one year removed from a 91-loss season.

Your 2006 Yankees: Sorry, New York, We Didn't Have Enough Incentive to Prove Ourselves Worthy.

Check it out -- it's on the Franklin Mint commemorative plate for this season.

And to think: we never would have known the Yankees had all these terrible mental problems without them losing three out of four games to a team that was basically as good as they were! (The Tigers, meanwhile, had lost six games in a row (including three in a row against the Royals) before winning three against the Yankees. But since those six losses came at a very slightly different time in the calendar year, they're totally mentally sound! Hurray Tigers!)

Watching the Yankees go down in flames in Detroit, I thought I'd seen more life on the ice at the Fulton Fish Market.

At least he's super funny.

It seemed that when Hideki Matsui and Gary Sheffield came back from the DL, the fire and resolve that rookie Melky Cabrera and the other fill-ins gave the team during the long summer went out.

Jesus fucking Christ. Let's say we want to get that fire and resolve back. Let's plug all these guys into the 2007 lineup (I'm going to helpfully add their career EqAs, just in case you want to know anything at all about their baseball abilities outside of fieryness and resolve):

Melky Cabrera (.266)
Andy Phillips (.228)
Nick Green (.239)
Aaron Guiel (.253)
Miguel Cairo (.244)

New York: outside of possibly Melky, you do not want these men getting at bats for your two hundred million dollar team.

A-Rod, meanwhile, looked like he was wound tighter than the proverbial funeral drum.

Does anyone know what proverb he's talking about? I'm serious. I've heard "tight as a drum," but where does the funeral enter into it? A search for "tight funeral drum" (no quotes) on Google just gives you lyrics to that Pink Floyd song about how dry a funeral drum is and how tight a tourniquet is.

In this age of glorified offense, the lure of an A-Rod is irresistible.

Yes, it is because of "this age" that people are interested in A-Rod. The only age I can think of in which people would not be interested in a baseball player as good as A-Rod is the age before baseball was invented. He would have had to become a blacksmith or something. (But don't put him under any pressure to make your horseshoes, or they'll come out square! He's the least clutch blacksmith in all the land! Ha ha! Burned, Blacksmith A-Rod!)

Yet A-Rod-esque numbers can be illusory. If you can fail seven times out of 10 and still be considered great, it's awfully easy to have those seven times pop up in crucial postseason situations when the best arms in baseball are on the hill.

Okay, you're referencing that Ted Williams quote. Weird way to use it, but whatever. Then Rolfe brings up a sort of valid point -- there could exist a hitter who is better against average and below-average pitching than other hitters are and worse (again, compared to other hitters) against top-notch pitching. What evidence do we have that A-Rod is such a hitter? Um, that's the end of the paragraph.

It's also not clear that this hypothetical hitter would do far worse in the playoffs. Yes, many good pitching staffs earn their way in, but right now we're also looking at an entire LCS filled with names like Trachsel, Suppan, Weaver (the bad one), and Maine, not to mention the likelihood of an epic Oliver Perez-Anthony Reyes tilt on Sunday. Our imaginary ShittyPitcherHitter is going to be a playoff hero this year!

The moves that result in a championship team often are subtle, not immediately apparent or particularly exciting when they happen.

Sure, I'm with you. Maybe "result" is a little strong. "Help build," though, no argument.

It's also a mistake to give short shrift to character and chemistry and the value of having unsung scrappers in your lineup when it's time to get dirty in the postseason trenches.

Oooh. Ugh. I'll be honest. I don't think you should ignore character entirely. If a guy is T.O.-level crazy, that's a factor. I defy you to tell me in any reasonable terms what defines a scrapper, though. And getting dirty in the postseason isn't at the top of my list. I'll take guys who can pitch and hit and field well.

And let's not forget the underappreciated and often feared joy and fun.

GM John Rolfe's Baseball Personnel Rubric

1. Character
2. Chemistry
3. Scrappitude
4. Joy
5. Fun
6. Speed
7. Can they catch the ball?
8. Pitching (wins championships!)
100. VORP (nerdy)

Levity may too often be seen as a lack of intensity or commitment, but it's hard to play well when you're so tight a tractor can't pull a pin out of your posterior.

Again, hard to argue with the guy's comedy.

So adding A-Rod was obviously unnecessary for the 2004 Red Sox, who were already a potent offensive team, just as the addition and resurgence of Jim Thome did not ensure a second Series title for the White Sox, who had just enough offense to go with their strong pitching and defense in 2005.

Obviously unnecessary! We've proved that with the awesome thought experiment I did with a couple of my buddies who are Red Sox fans! And what a mistake it was to add Jim "Zero Championships" Thome to the White Sox, who already had just enough offense -- I mean, they already proved that. You know what? I'll bet it was Jim "Clubhouse Cancer" Thome's fault that Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jose Contreras, Jon Garland, Javier Vazquez, Bobby Jenks, Neal Cotts, Cliff Politte, and Brandon McCarthy all pitched worse than they did last year. Add one Thome and all those guys go down. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Look at the rosters of the last five World Series champions, or any of the ones in the four major team sports. You won't find an array of all-stars at every position, but stars in a few key spots surrounded by a cohesive mix of veterans, talented and hungry kids, productive role players and the occasional firebrand.

Great, but there's one problem. The Yankees are unique in having as many all-stars as they do. There simply isn't another baseball team like them. So you can't say "see, no other total all-star squad has won a championship, so the Yankees won't, either" because the Yankees are the only team built like that. It's a nonsense argument.

You can forget about an NFL team having "all-stars at every position." The only other recent sports team I can think of that's even close to the star-studded Yankees are the 2003-2004 Shaq-Kobe-Malone-Payton Lakers. But basketball is a sport where you have to pass the ball to each other and work together as a team on offense and defense. (And that team didn't lose until the Finals, anyway, which is pretty good.)

It's an imprecise formula, a feel thing, and desire them as you might, there are no guarantees no matter what you do, as George Steinbrenner is surely learning. The talk now is that the Yankees must trade A-Rod. They'll obviously survive and likely thrive without him as they have offense to burn, and there will be teams eager to have him, but any team that does take him had best carefully take stock of what it already has before inadvertently spoiling a good thing.

Do you hear me, Angels/Astros/Cubs/Dodgers/Phillies/Padres/Giants? A-Rod is a clubhouse bogeyman with zero character, negative scrappiness, no pine tar on his helmet, a horrendous joy-fun quotient, and he refuses to eat dirt. He cannot join a team with too much talent because he will put them over the Overabundance of Talent Barrier and guys will just stop trying. He will certainly lower your team's sweatiness and you can forget about your all-important fear of failure. He might ruin your pitching like Jim Thome did with the White Sox. Be careful. Trust your gut. Whatever you do, do not trade two grinders and a firebrand for him. This has been John Rolfe, Expert Hindpsychologist.

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posted by Junior  # 7:08 PM
The best adjective to decribe the amount of time it took to post this would be: menschness.
So now A-Rod is wound too tightly? That's his problem?

I thought he was "getting too Zen-like" or "not concentrating enough" or "too loose at the plate" and "not focusing enough."

These are imaginary quotes I have made up from semi-imaginary sports journalists.
I like to think it would be "sportmanteaux."
To spread the anti-hindpsychology word I'm working on building a sportmanteautem pole.
Getting an early start on that would put you in great sportmanteautempoleposition.
And would make you an excellent sportmanteautempolepositionplayer. It would certainly get you into the prestigious sportmanteautempolepositionplayersclub.
I think at some point you guys stopped making portmanteaux and just started putting words at the end of other words.

I could be wrong.
That said, I heard that Nietzsche is working on a theory about the "overman" who works at the establishment for people who have gotten a head start on the construction on large obelisk-like structures, in an effort to let people know about the endless possiblities of sports words built by conflating two pre-existing words together.

That's right. The "sportmanteautempolepositionplayersclubermensch."
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