Monday, June 25, 2012


We said it fifteen years ago. The so-called "new" perspective on baseball, as marketed by those whom we've both jeeringly and jocularly termed "neo-sabermetricians", would semi-consciously wind up being virtually indistinguishable from the mainstream writers that the "new voices" have held up to similar scorn and ridicule.

What happens with most of these writers is that they have a lamentable tendency to fall in love with their own voice. And much like the beat writers and newspaper columnists, they soon become semi-conscious caricatures of themselves, spooning out product that is meant to be digested as disposable content.

Now, of course, these folk are getting paid for their work--an artifact of a parallel version of the "good old boy" network that works against critical thinking and pushes toward a variant of the journalistic "cult of personality"--so they have to write something. While some of these folk are good writers in other contexts, their work in the feature/column/filler mode becomes nothing more or less than throbbing gristle.

A few recent examples:

Evan Hughes on the "post-Moneyball"A's. (g)Rantland is a site where no lack of nuance is left unexplored, and Hughes--a literary maven with a breezy, semi-chauvinistic chronicle of Brooklyn's literati that strains to tie threads together in a manner akin to tying shoelaces from each half of a pair of shoes to the other one--is caught in the slummy marshes as he tries to eke out a "Defence of Billy Beane."

Hughes conflates the very natural underdogism (in fairness, awfully hard to suppress) that the current A's have perfected via Beane's most manic incarnation of "throw it against the wall and see what sticks" with the one cogent feature of the A's long journey that remains continually underrepresented: their long-held recognition that the "crappy park" in which they play creates a kind of haven for the astonishing quantity of pitchers they've run through their organization since 2002, when the Moneyball myth became the siren call for an increasingly addled "civil war."

Brandon Moss: not even the next Jack Cust, kiddies.
We certainly don't mean to ridicule the fan-boy impulse--after all, even the most strict adherent to the "model modality" (of which Hughes is a relatively wan example...) was, at some point, a wide-eyed acolyte. But it's woefully premature to posit that the A's are actually in a mode where they are building a new core from the shock troops that Beane has assembled.

The likely outcome in 2012, despite the plucky, entertaining snapshots in the first three months that the A's have provided, is a slow but steady fade into the recesses of the AL West. Their hitting uptick in June will, alas, prove to be a temporary aberration.

Hughes is far from offensive here; he's just a man who strings together elegant sentences with a curious lack of inflection--all of which underlines his whimsical determination to indulge a desire to slum in the sports pages. He's most revealing in what he elides--which is the fact that, despite the occasional exceptions, the "unfair" game now barely permits even one small-market team a chance to defy baseball's stacked deck over a series of years. (Or have we all forgotten about the contemporaneous "anti-As"--the 'aught decade Minnesota Twins?) We can root for the A's and the Rays and the Pirates and (your team here) all we want, but the magical synthesis of castoffs and canny draft choices is much, much rarer than what the neo-sabe spin doctors would lead you to believe.

Rob Neyer on R.A. Dickey. We love R.A. Dickey too--but, Rob: come on...Dickey's astonishing hot streak came against a series of weak-hitting teams (Pirates, Padres, Rays, Nationals, a Cardinal team in the midst of a week-long nosedive (no-hit by Dickey's rotation mate Johan Santana), and an Oriole lineup that's shown a lot of "all-or-nothing" qualities.

R.A. Dickey: he reached the top of the mountain, but no one
(not even a knuckleballing mystic) can stay there for long...
When he's not got out his pom-poms, Rob is a bit more likely to point out countering facts, such as the one demonstrating that Dickey has been getting much better run support so far in '12 (5.34 R/G as opposed to 3.75 last year).

The fan-boy variation here that moves toward the cringeworthy is the notion that Dickey has a "hard" knuckleball that's somehow revolutionized the entire notion of "snake jazz" (as so wonderfully coined by Dave Baldwin). Dickey had his fantastic run against teams who are at or near the top of their respective leagues in batter strikeouts. It was great fun, but for Rob to leap off a tall building without a net in search of terminal velocity disguised as paradigm shift is the type of behavior that he used to excoriate with a ferociously wielded (if not always platinum-blade sharp) rapier. There's something cartoon-like about Rob's rapprochement with the writers he used to so gleefully grenade.

Joe Pos on Kevin Youkilis. Here is the quintessence of the mawkish fanboy, distilled in melodrama as masterfully overwrought as the sappy set-up in Vertigo where Konstantin Shayne revels in the bloated pathos of the Carlotta Valdes shaggy-dog story. ("The sad Carlotta...the mad Carlotta"--one can subsitute Youk's angry goatee for Carlotta's hypnotic hair-whorl, and you will just about be ready to jump off that church roof yourself.) Pos comes off like the led-by-the-nose Scotty Ferguson (James Stewart) who thinks with his dick and figures out a way to be culpable for the death of two women, who were somehow the same woman.

That's just what Pos does with Youk, referred to via a grossly overdetermined maudlinalia, all but left for dead. This is an ersatz case study that somehow tries to reclaim the Red Sox as exemplar of the Moneyball approach to offense--one that Billy Beane proved was fungible in 2002, when his A's rode their pitching (not their hitting) to storied prominence. Youk is somehow elevated to a central role in the Red Sox' mid-decade success, which is some serious delusion on Pos' part. (Fact: Youk had three excellent seasons, but he was not a dominant player.)

And the underlying assumption herein that Youk is through (more baldly hedged than usual by Pos, whose writing here skews heavily to a manic-depressive undercurrent and a unshakable overtone of extreme haste) is another strange manifestation of the ongoing despair over the decoupling of the Epstein-James Era (the overstated, overrated underwiring in the Beantown ballclub's copiously padded brassiere) when there is still no reason to write off the '12 Sox as a contender. (While they are flawed and mediocre, it looks increasingly like a year of uncommon parity in the AL East, and they have plenty of time to recover.)

Now Pos is really, truly, and for worse as well as for better a mainstream scribe, despite his attempts to stake out a kind of Roger Ebert territory within the little realm of sports, and so all this sleeve-drowned-in-briny-tears stuff is playing to that long tradition of overwrought hackdom that's the long, interminable decline phase from the days of Runyon and Lardner. From reading this piece, you'd think that Youkilis had suffered the same fate as Nick Adenhart.

Now that was a story with agonizing pathos--a bonafide baseball tragedy. If Youk's departure from Boston actually comes close to such a heartbreaking event, then it should have been written about with a keen sense of understatement.

It should have evoked the sad resignation of Vertigo's Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), when she suddenly recognizes that she's lost Scotty for good.

Instead, we get Pos not only leaping off the church tower, but trying to take his readers with him.

No doubt about it, guys: you all need some time off. Whether the exact amount should be weeks, or months, or years isn't yet clear. But don't call us...we'll call you.