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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Giants & The Beanstalk

Although I certainly would've preferred the World Series to run on a little longer with a little better showing from the Rangers, as I've probably made quite clear, I'm very satisfied with this result.  The Giants are a "fairytale" team.  And, every once in awhile, baseball needs a fairytale champion.  Sadly, the ratings were bad, as the casual fan was less likely to be familiar with the narratives of these players and the history of these teams, which was a large part of what made them interesting.  But by winning the World Series for the first time in half a century, during a season when few people picked them to finish better than second or third in their division, the Giants dignified that optimism which inspires fans every March and April: "With a few good breaks, with a few smart decisions, this could be our year."

This is a big part of why the Rangers/Giants matchup was "good for baseball," even if it wasn't good for Fox Corp (and, by the way, fuck what's good for Fox Corp).  Baseball thrives on the performance of the underdog.  Let's face it, it's only the first of November and we already know there are less than half a dozen teams with a chance of winning the NBA title next June.  March Madness consists of 64 teams, but we all know less than a quarter of those have even the slightest chance.  The NFL thrives on the rhetoric of competitive balance (and rhetoric whose main aim is to somehow dignify an inhumane labor policy), but nearly half the teams in their league have never won a Super Bowl.  Baseball has had nine champions in the last ten seasons.  Two of those champions were first-time winners (Angels & D-Backs) and three had waited more than a generation (ChiSox, BoSox, & Giants).  One could easily argue that, on that basis, there's more balance in baseball than in any other sport, even though it doesn't have a salary cap and hopefully never will.

So, there's the good, but, frankly, I've had enough optimism.  The fact is, although I thoroughly enjoyed this season and these playoffs, now it's all over, and that inevitably puts me in a sour mood.  Here are some reasons why this season sucks:

1.) Yankee Fans

From the meathead bigot who slapped Nelson Cruz's glove during the NLCS to the jackasses that spit on Cliff Lee's wife.  Yankee fandom has reached a new nadir.  Maybe it's the fact that Hank and Hal are sleazier and more entitled than their old man (who would've thought it possible).  Maybe it's the fact that the new stadium is an overpriced, simulacrum haven for Caucasians.  Maybe it's the fact that the pinstriped ethos has turned soulful players like C. C. Sabathia, Nick Swisher, and Curtis Granderson into stilted shadows of their former selves.  Whatever the cause, the Yankees are more despicable than ever, and the widespread ignorance and arrogance of their supporters may be the main reason why.  Enjoy the rapid decline of A-Rod and the "Core Four."  You deserve it.

2.) Brian Sabean

I think my position on the likability of this team is pretty well documented, but the Giants GM was very fortunate that a strategy which looks a hell of a lot like a desperate shot in the dark actually paid off.  Sabean, baseball's longest tenured GM, has a few things to hang his hat on.  The Giants have drafted well.  They've developed young pitchers as well as any franchise in the sport.  They've got a great ballpark and a very supportive fanbase, despite a great deal of controversy and the number of crappy teams they've fielded during the last decade.  However, by winning the 2010 World Series, the Giants players basically got Sabean off the hook for what has been a pretty embarrassing stretch of acquisitions, dating back to the infamous Liriano, Nathan, and Bonser for one year of A. J. Pierzynski trade in 2003.  As I discussed in my previous post, this team is on the hook for some really bad contracts: Barry Zito, Aaron Rowand, and Mark DeRosa top the list.  And those are just the ones that are still on the books.  Resigning Bengie Molina was patently absurd.  One can argue that Edgar Renteria justified his ridiculous contract with a World Series MVP, by remember how much money the Giants paid to other over-the-hill veterans like Randy Winn, Rich Aurilia, and Dave Roberts.  All are likable players, all were at one point productive, but not so much when Sabean was paying them.  Sabean's fiscal record is among the worst in the sport.  Will winning buy the Bay Area hundreds of millions more dollars in bad contracts?

3.) Seth Everett

I can't possibly do any better than to direct you to the recent "re-reunion" of Fire Joe Morgan, but at a time when research is getting easier, access is more abundant, and competition is fierce, mainstream media commentators are somehow growing more incompetent.  Peter Pascarelli isn't exactly a baseball genius, but they replaced him on the ESPN Baseball Today podcast with an asinine self-promotor named Seth Everett who made the show pretty much unlistenable.  By host Eric Karabell's own admission, his podcast is made specifically for rabid baseball fans, yet Everett frequently exposes an ignorance of the sport to the point of not knowing which player is on which team and babbles on incessantly about his personal life, which is about as interesting as the underside of the refrigerator and should be as inaccessible.  The Baseball Today situation may be a synechdoche for the problems which abound throughout the baseball media.  Pascarelli was fired because he made a relatively mild joke about the new statue of Bud Selig in Milwaukee.  The iron hand of MLB has made good journalists weary of being critical, objective, candid, witty, and spontaneous when it comes to coverage of their sport.  And thus we're left with the smug, insubstantial musings of half-wits like Everett and his ilk.

4.) Backlash Against Defensive Sabermetrics

One of the major stories of last offseason was the attempt, especially by forward-thinking GMs like Theo Epstein, Billy Beane, and Jack Zduriencik, to build their rosters around defensive efficiency, measured in part by things like UZR, the Fielding Bible, and no doubt many other in-house statistics.  Unfortunately, none of these teams made extraordinary leaps in the standings in the wake of this strategy.  In fact, quite the opposite.  The Red Sox, though still a solid team, dropped six wins from 2009 and finished out of the postseason for the first time since 2006.  The Mariners, following an optimism-inducing 85-win campaign in '09, dropped to 61 wins, one of the worst records in baseball.  And though the Athletics managed to get to .500 for the first time since '06, they remained well short of contention.  Anti-sabermetric pundits will use this opportunity to berate us for thinking that defense is measurable.  The truth is, Boston's season was derailed by injuries, Zduriencik couldn't possibly have predicted how bad his team would be offensively (historically bad), and a closer look at Oakland (forthcoming) suggest that Beane's approach has some legitimacy.  In all likelihood, however, that's not how the story will be treated during this offseason.

5.) Chicago Cubs Still Chicago Cubs

This one hurts.  The Cubs got back to losing in 2010 and not only that, they got back to losing in sensational and humiliating fashion.  They had the largest payroll in the National League, yet they managed to finish fifth in their division, behind even the Houston Astros, who started the season by going 16-33 and then traded away two of their best players.  The Cubs best (and most expensive) pitcher got demoted to the bullpen, than suspended from the team, and now his future may no longer be in Chicago.  The three best (and most expensive) hitters were all busts, looking old, slow, and brittle.  The $136 Million prize, Alfonso Soriano, had the same WAR (2.9) as Denard Span.  He has four years left on his contract, at $18 Million per annum (in other words, for the same price we could probably have Carl Crawford).  Lou Pinella "retired," but the new ownership, for some unknown reason, still hasn't gotten around to firing Jim Hendry, who has presided over the creation of this mess, apparently in perpetuity.  Now they've got a rookie manager, very little payroll flexibility, and a stacked division.  The decade just began, but it already looks like this might not be the one in which we'll finally break the curse.  Congrats to San Francisco, Boston, and the White Sox.  It's getting very lonely in Loserville.

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