h1

Lou Brock

January 13, 2009
 Untitled 
Years ago, back when I lived in Brooklyn, I was staring at the ceiling, listening to the radio, and wondering if it was too early in the day to masturbate. The usual. It must have been a slow news day, because the radio hosts, a short-lived pairing of Suzyn Waldman and Jody MacDonald, started comparing current players to players from the past. I was roused from my torpor by the claim, made by Waldman, that Bernie Williams could hold his own in a comparison to Carl Yastrzemski. Enraged, I dialed the number that had been ingrained into me from years of lying around and staring at the ceiling and listening to the Fan. Unfortunately, the line was busy. I tried back a couple times. Each time my desire to actually get through waned a little more. Eventually my anger dissipated so much that all I needed to do to spend the remainder of it was to turn the radio off, which I did. Then I lay back down and stared at the ceiling, listening to the traffic out on Metropolitan Avenue.

But then yesterday, I made my second try to join the sprawling, neverending facsimile of a conversation. I turned on the radio to hear the announcement of the new inductees into the Hall of Fame, and after pumping my fist for Jim Rice and whooping a little, I kept the radio on for the rest of the afternoon, tuned to the XM all-baseball station, attempting to bask in the moment as long as possible. Ironically, I first started thinking about calling into the afternoon show (hosted by Rob Dibble and the very same Jody MacDonald from years earlier) when I found myself disagreeing with the hosts’ comparison of Jim Rice to Reggie Jackson. When I was a kid, I hated Reggie Jackson as much as I loved Jim Rice, but when either Dibble or MacDonald (I forget which one, but they were in agreement on the subject) pointed out as an argumentative trump card that Jim Rice’s career slugging average was ten points higher than Reggie Jackson’s, I sort of wanted to punch the wall. How can you make your living talking about baseball and not be compelled to add when offering this stat that Rice benefited from playing in a great hitter’s park while Reggie toiled for years in Oakland, one of the worst hitter’s parks in the league?

But I didn’t seriously consider calling in on that subject, because the last thing I wanted to do on a happy day for a childhood hero was to start using him as ballast in an attack on the hosts. Besides, I’m a non-confrontational guy. But something about the way the two hosts were talking throughout the afternoon made me want to put in my two cents. Basically, they both had the familiar “I know a Hall of Famer when I see one” attitude coursing through all their comments. As you may know, this attitude always comes with a statement along the lines of “statistics are fine up to a point, but ‘basement-dwelling number crunchers’ [an actual phrase from today’s vintage offering from Dan Shaughnessy] go way too far.” What the holders of this attitude are saying is that they will accept the stats that they understand, but when you start going beyond batting average and hits and RBI, you are the kind of guy who lies around all day staring at the ceiling, wondering if it’s too early in the day to masturbate. While they happen to be right about at least one of us, I still find myself upset by their arrogance and ignorance. They are like guys with a magnifying glass deriding the arrival on the scene of a guy with a microscope. Instead of being curious about the microscope, they mock the duct tape on the microscope-weilder’s glasses and give him a swirly. Or worse, they use their platform (a column, a radio show) to reduce the microscope-wielder to insignificance, to the size of an ant, and then of course they try to use their outdated tool to melt the ant. (For a less feverishly metaphor-driven rant about this general subject, see King Kaufman’s recent column.)

But since I am not a confrontational guy, I wanted to shoehorn some apparently unconventional thinking into the conversation in a positive manner, so I decided for my call-in subject I would pick the guy in yesterday’s vote who I thought was most criminally underrepresented in the voting and make a case for him. I consulted baseball-reference.com, wrote down some numbers that though verging on a microscope were still firmly in the realm of a magnifying glass, and I made the call. Unlike years earlier, I actually got through to a producer, who asked me my name and where I lived, then asked me why I was calling. This turned out to be as far as I ever got. But for a while there, I thought I was going to have my say. I had numbers that showed my guy as the equal to recent “no-brainer” inductee Tony Gwynn, and as substantially superior to the guy, shown at the top of this post, who prior to yesterday’s induction of Rickey Henderson was generally thought to be the standard bearer for leadoff men in the Hall of Fame. Oh, what a case I was going to make! But after fielding calls for a while the hosts then turned to a long interview with a sportswriter, and I gave up and went back to my life in the basement (note: I actually live on the second floor). However, I imagine that even though I didn’t get through, I was still for a brief time a small part of the show, a possibility, a someone, a glowing line on the hosts’ computer screen: Josh from Chicago. Wants to talk about Tim Raines.

***

(Love versus Hate update: Lou Brock’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)

18 comments

  1. 1.  Yesterday was a day of frustration. For 24 hours the Flat Earth Society ran the baseball world. I’m not necessarily talking about Jim Rice (I wouldn’t have voted for him, but his selection is hardly a travesty—just a poor choice), but rather I’m referring to the media blitz against reason and evidence that Josh is writing about.

    All freakin’ day long I heard the stupid “pornography” argument—”I know a Hall of Famer when I see one”. Charlie Steiner was the most egregious offender as he wondered why statistics played such a big role in a players’ enshrinement AND he said that the ‘uh-oh’ factor should really count for something. As in, “Uh-oh Jim Rice is on deck”…really…that was one of his ‘arguments’ for Rice.

    Again, I’m not here to rail against the Rice selection. It’s just…shit…if a mouth breather like Dibble can claim that it’s unfair to compare Rice to Manny or Sosa or Bonds—different eras and all—why can’t he make the tiny f***ing leap to see that comparing Trammell to ARod is a little unfair too??

    Back to Steiner, if we don’t use statistics then what the hell should we be looking at?? (Stealing a line from FJM—RIP) Statistics merely count the good and bad events on a baseball field, it’s how we tell who’s good and who isn’t.

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the feeble minded use HOF day as the day to unleash their most furious attack upon evidence and thinking. The priesthood of national sports media knows that guys like the bloggers on this site actually know more than they do and they are scared, so they throw up the absurd defense that to truly understand baseball you need to have worn a jock in a MLB stadium (or have been close enough to one that you could smell it).

    In the end Rice’s election was less about Rice than it was about an increasing irrelevant national print media fiddling while their Rome burns.


  2. 2.  I’m with ya.

    I was moved to phone in to Mike Francessa once over an ignorant remark he’d made in passing about Rey Ordonez. Unfortunately, I got in, got my turn and learned that talk-radio is just not the right medium to introduce nuance.


  3. 3.  1 : Steiner, man… On that show of his, which I listen to to get good info from the beat writers he talks to, he really is the epitome of the blustering bafoon. Gad, I recall when he and Sterling were the Yankee radio team. Enough hot air between the two of them to fill the sky with bloated dirigibles.

    2 : I’d love to see an approximate transcript of that phone call.

    I wonder if nuance can exist in some corners of talk radio. I wish I had called in to talk to the great Steve Somers back when he accompanied all us lonely insomniacs through the long dark hours from dusk to dawn.


  4. 4.  I used to listen to a guy late at night on WLS while traveling from springfield to bloomington…can’t remember his name, but he was constantly talking about who shot who at the end of Reservoir Dogs. He was fun at the time.

    I think the guy was Jay Marvin, now that I think of it.


  5. 5.  Chris-

    I don’t often agree with you, but you are spot on here.

    I saw the FJM argument (“if not stats, then what?”) well put in a book- Allen Barra, I want to say-like this: How many games have you seen, in your life? Probably, for most guys on this site, at least a thousand-probably, including TV and highlights shows. OK, now how many players and games did you not see, while you were watching those games? Obviously, thousands and thousands more. So how are you going to evaluate those players and games you did not see?

    I agree with you on Rice-though my Red Sox heart does not want to admit it, he is not a Hall of Fame caliber player. He is far from the worst player in there, not even the worst left fielder in there. But the Hall was broken long ago, and he doesn’t belong under any reasonable standard.

    Yet he’s in, and nobody can take it away from him. Let’s just celebrate what he was.


  6. 6.  5 “But the Hall was broken long ago”. I tend to agree with this, but at what point? 1992? Would you rather pitch to Rice in his prime, or face Rollie in his?

    I also want to add that Trammel and Whitaker were my boyhood idols growing up, so it’s hard to see them (likely) never get in, especially when I feel there are less deserving in the Hall…..but that is also a biased opinion.


  7. 7.  5 Glad I can be all things to all people—at least occasionally. ;)

    6 I don’t want this to sound like a anti-NY rant, but if Trammell and Whitaker had played at ss and 2nd in NY for 15 years their plaques would already be up on the wall..

    I guess in the end, the guys voting are writers so maybe it shouldn’t surprise me that they vote for good stories and are susceptible to emotional arguments that the baseball hall of fame is really about the narrative and not the objective worthiness of a candidate.

    The best stories out there about Raines involve vials of coke and returning from collusion-induced exile and having a good day on national tv. Not exactly the ‘most-feared hitter for a specific 11 year period of baseball’ that we’ve heard in connection with Rice.


  8. 8.  I’ve just added “listened to Somers on the overnights” to my list of things in common with Josh: Red Sox fan from New England who also lived in NYC, proofreader, baseball card collector, writer, blogger….

    I’m wondering about how the year you got into the Hall of Fame is thought of years down the line. Except for the first-ballot guys, I wouldn’t think the common fan would could look at names of Hall of Famers and tell you if they got in on the 3rd ballot or the 12th. So, from here to eternity (or until we’re all gone from being killed by texting drivers), Rice will just be thought of as another HoFer. For the people who don’t think he should be in, it’s no less of a tragedy that it took 15 years to get him there. But for Jim himself and everyone who was alive during the 15 years, that 15-year wait clearly meant something. It meant that the writers as a whole think he deserves to be in, but literally less than anyone else (or even with the other Year 15 guys). So while that might not matter to anyone in 2314, I think it was quite fair that Jim got in on his 15th and final try.


  9. 9.  I’m in a agree with the general theme of my fellow basemen-dwellers about Jim Rice not quite being there for me, either as a HOFer and also in sharing my frustration at the Dan Shaughnessys advertising their ignorance on even basic new evaluation tools (ignoring Sabermetrics while covering baseball is like not talking about the Internet during the Presidential election).

    In regards to Rice, I e-mailed a writer I like a great deal, Bob Ryan from The Boston Globe and various ESPN programming, and asked him if was bothered by the idea of the Hall having such pseudo-luminaries as Jim Rice, Orlando Cepeda and Ton Perez and NOT having Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Ryan quite adamant that this presented no problem to him (he was actually a little snippy (uncharacteristically) and haughty.
    I just don’t know what the point of the HOF is without Bonds and Clemens. That would be a huge, huge hole.

    (I’m dead-set against Pete Rose, however; he did not cheat to get better, like the steroid guys did, but God knows he’s a whole other nasty-message-posting issue.)


  10. 10.  7 : Yeah, it’s all about the narrative. Good point. Maybe in place of a narrative, Raines supporters such as myself can start pushing an analogy: Raines is Jimmy Foxx to Rickey’s Lou Gehrig.

    8 : Rice and his long wait is like the aging hood who after years and years of hijacking trucks and breaking guys kneecaps finally gets made. Took him awhile, but made is made. I’m happy about it.


  11. 11.  “I just don’t know what the point of the HOF is without Bonds and Clemens. That would be a huge, huge hole. I’m dead-set against Pete Rose, however…”

    Wait a minute. So the guys who “cheat[ed] to get better” SHOULD be honored for what they accomplished on the field, but a guy who cheated in a way that didn’t improve his playing ability shouldn’t?


  12. 12.  For anybody still contemplating Rice, here’s an excellent take on the subject:

    http://wezen-ball.blogspot.com/2008/12/through-years-jim-rice.html


  13. 13.  There’s a batting cage in this card. How common was that?


  14. 14.  Hey Josh,

    Great stuff as always.

    I’ve only ever called in to a sports talk show twice — Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton out here on the west coast. Even though I like Hamilton, yes you do get rushed through when you finally get on the air.

    A truly fascinating description of talk radio in general and what the imperatives and techniques are is David Foster Wallace’s 2004 piece, “Host” (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200504/wallace) It’s crucial to remember that talk radio does not need or try to be informative or correct, only entertaining.

    QUOTE:

    The fact of the matter is that it is not John Ziegler’s job to be responsible, or nuanced, or to think about whether his on-air comments are productive or dangerous, or cogent, or even defensible. That is not to say that the host would not defend his [position]—strenuously—or that he does not believe it’s true. It is to say that he has exactly one on-air job, and that is to be stimulating.

    One other note is that I have a friend who is a radio producer, and I have more than once been recruited to make a staged phone call to a national talk show. Nothing sinister, but just as a way to bring up a particular topic that the host wanted to get on the table.

    How is the book coming?

    JWP


  15. 15.  it’s never too early.


  16. 16.  Re sports radio, I think the only time I ever called in was to stump to host. He couldn’t name a player who was a teammate of both Bo Jackson and Danny Ainge so I won tix to see Mitch Hedberg and Lewis Black.

    But I’ve listened to sports radio on and off since 1991. I Used to listen to the FAN more often. It seemed to be come in better here in Hartford back in the day. Lately, I’ve listened to more ESPN radio with an occasional turn of the dial to WEEI.

    Even before 1991, WTIC in Hartford had an evening sports show with an old guy named Arnold Dean. He was like the anti-Jim Rome. He probably said stuff as stupid as what Dibble says, but would do it in a nice way. BTW, Dibble’s dad was an award winning newsman at WTIC. I swear to God.


  17. 17.  13 : Batting cages in cards: A quick spot check says these are not too common, but oddly enough the first card I checked had one (also the only card on this site with no original writing accompanying it: Bill Buckner’s Cubs card).

    14 : Thanks for the link to the Wallace essay. Looks good.

    16 : Dang, I’m dying to know the answer to that Ainge/Bo question. I’d look into it but I want to see if I can come up with it first. Did Garth Iorg play for the Royals, maybe? Ah, I bet it’s some drifting reliever.

    I’ve seen Lewis Black; he made me laugh. Mitch Hedberg must have been great.


  18. 18.  Batting cages in shots: pretty common among cards that are posed, pre-game shots. I’ve actually been poring over the Topps Baseball Card book the last few days–it’s open in front of me, and looking on the page it’s open to (1982, cards 289-324), I see Chambliss in front of the cage, Reggie, too. And on Hargove, you see the edge of it. I’m working on one crazy card project–stop giving me ideas! :) (The all-batting cage set…oy.)



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