By In Stuff

Aparicio v. Vizquel

I’ve been wanting to say something about the Baseball Hall of Fame … and I worry that I will not quite hit the point and it will come out like I’m saying something else. Here goes anyway: The last few years, the Hall of Fame process has — more than ever, I think — become a comparative process.

That is to say, more and more players become eligible for the Hall of Fame and we compare the players to those who are already in the Hall of Fame. This is explicitly what Jay Jaffe does with his superb JAWS system. He uses WAR to compare a player’s career value and his peak value against the average Hall of Famer. JAWS has become very, very important in how people think about the Hall of Fame.

And that’s good. But it isn’t just JAWS. Every player who comes up for the Hall vote is at some point compared to Hall of Famers … and, to be clear here, so there is no mistake, NOBODY does this more than I do. I probably have spent half my lifetime word supply comparing Dan Quisenberry and Bruce Sutter, Tim Raines and Tony Gwynn, Luis Tiant and Catfish Hunter, Edgar Martinez and numerous Hall of Famers, on and on. I love doing this. I will not stop doing this. I intend to do this later in THIS VERY STORY.

So, again, please don’t miss the point of what I’m trying to say here.

What I’m trying to say is if we focus too much of our efforts on comparing players we end up missing something crucial.

Every player must cut his own path to the Hall of Fame.


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Browns now 0-11

Some Browns games are more “fun” to write about than others. I put “fun” in quotation marks because none of them are fun to write about. But some are at least funny or quirky or maddening or emotional. The last two weeks, the Browns have lost convincingly and uninterestingly to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cincinnati Bengals. These were toothache games where the Browns did some “quote-unquote” good things and sort-of, kind-of, maybe-but-not-really had a chance to win the fourth quarter if this had gone right and that had gone wrong and Superman had come and whatever.

These two games were complete wastes of time, really. The Browns weren’t going to win either, and the good signs don’t add up to anything, and people are muttering the same nonsense about them not quitting and forget all that. Let’s do some math instead.


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Kidney stones, electric cars, Pixelbooks and Twitter

The two worst days on the calendar to get a kidney stone, I can tell you, are:

    1. Thanksgiving.
    2. Every other day including Thanksgiving (tie).

Yes, OK, 3:30 a.m. Thanksgiving morning I woke up to that awful thing, the kidney stone pain, and any of you who have gone through it know that it’s not super pleasant. I spent the last three days drinking lots of water, fighting off the various waves of agony and nausea while waiting for this thing to pass. There is really not much to add about the pain of kidney stones other than to say that if you happen to watch the Lawrence Taylor leg-snapping sack of Joe Theismann when you’re in the midst of a kidney stone attack, you think: “I’d trade for that.”


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More on WAR

For a few years now, Bill James has had a problem with WAR. He has mostly stayed quiet on this because, well, he knows that he’s Bill James. He remembers how the people who held the power in baseball punched down hard on him as a young analyst. He has some power now, being a legend and one of Time Magazine’s most influential people and the Godfather of Moneyball and a three-time World Series winner with the Boston Red Sox. He does not want to punch down hard at the young analysts today. He absolutely wants to encourage people to advance baseball thought.

But, like I say, he has a real problem with WAR. And Thursday night, armed with strong feelings about the Jose Altuve-Aaron Judge MVP race, Bill let it rip.


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By In Stuff

dWAR to end all WARs

Baseball Reference never stops improving, which is one of the reasons I love the place. The searches keep getting better. It gets easier and easier all the time to find cool stuff. Love it.

But I have to admit: dWAR baffles me.

dWAR is Baseball Reference’s “Defensive Wins Above Replacement.” It is such a convenient concept — a one-stop number that estimates how much value above replacement level a player brings with his defense — that I look at it all the time. But, like Inigo says in the movie, I don’t think it means what we think it means.

Take Keith Hernandez. Please.


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Browns Diary: The Goal Line

It is an odd thing to give up football. For the first 50 or so years of my life (and especially the first 30 or so years of my life as a sportswriter), football governed my autumns. Every fall weekend, I had to go — physically go sometimes, yes, but more often mentally and emotionally go — to Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to Foxboro, Massachussetts., to Manhattan, Kansas, to Oakland, to Austin, to Cincinnati, to Ann Arbor, to Athens, to East Rutherford, to Pasadena, to wherever the kickoffs mattered most.

All those years, I could not imagine life without football. The sport was as much a part of me as the music I listened to, the books I read, the friends I made, the air I breathed.


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By In Stuff

It’s the Cleveland Browns

“It’s the Cleveland Browns

When they’re Siped up, you can’t shut ’em down

Take your tranquilizers, pop your beer-can lids

It’s the Kardiac Kids.”

That is the chorus of a novelty song from my childhood, a song called “The Kardiac Kids,” by Messenger. It came out in Cleveland in 1980 when the Browns had a semi-magical season, and I probably hear that chorus in my head once or twice a month. It’s like that gum commercial in “Inside Out.” I expect to hear it in my head for the rest of my life.


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Browns Diary: Never Give Up

–“The Browns haven’t given up. You have to credit them for that.”
Announcer Trent Green with 4:58 left in game and Browns down two touchdowns.

“I agree with not calling a timeout here. They’re down two touchdowns … just get out of here.”
Announcer Trent Green with 1:12 left in game and Browns down two touchdowns.

* * *

Trent Green is an old pal, so I’m not singling him out here. This is what you get when you watch Cleveland Browns football*. One minute, the announcer is overwhelmingly impressed by how the Browns just don’t quit. They next minute, the announcer advising the Browns to, yeah, go ahead and quit before someone else gets hurt. It’s a Browns life.

*Honestly, why would you do that to yourself?


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Browns Week 7: Penalty declined

The Cleveland Browns in Week 7 lost a legend, continued their quarterback clown show and committed 12 penalties including, somehow, FIVE defensive offside penalties, and feat so remarkable that announcer Spero Dedes called it incredible. Twice. The Browns needed a missed field, a stop at the 1 and a bizarre slice 54-yard field goal just to force overtime against a Tennessee team that seemed entirely uninterested in winning the game. Then the Titans won the game in overtime anyway to make the Browns 0-7 and to make head coach Hue Jackson 1-22 and to make my own life so sadly predictable.

“Is the game over?” my wife asked as she brought the kids home from girls afternoon outing.

“Yes,” I said. “The Browns lost.”

“Well, I knew that,” she said.

All of this, I’m told, was a step forward. This is what it is to be a Cleveland Browns fan.

Actually this was a good week to be a Browns fan because my friend Tommy Tomlinson came over for the first time to watch the game with me. Another friend, Jonathan Abrams, author of this marvelous upcoming oral history of The Wire, stopped in for a little bit but he had the good sense to bring a baby and, as such, had a ready-made excuse to leave at any point. Tommy does not have a baby and so was forced to stay until the bitter end.

In truth, it was good to have Tommy there — good for me anyway — because it reminded me how ridiculous this team is, how ridiculous this organization is, and how ridiculous my life is for caring. This should be intrinsic knowledge but, like the knowledge that we are all going to die, it is easily pushed down deep,

On the first series of the game, Tommy was given a great give, a full sense of what it is to be a Browns fan. The Titans had the ball, 3rd and 1 on the Cleveland 32. They were in field goal range, just so we are all clear here. The Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota threw an incomplete pass. But there was a flag on the play. The Titans had committed a 15-yard facemask penalty when trying to block Browns rookie sensation Myles Garrett. Woo hoo! Back ‘em up to midfield!

Then the camera showed a closeup of Hue Jackson, and it was the damndest thing. It was like a bizarre optical illusion where it looked like, well, this will sound crazy, I’m sure it was just the lighting or something, but it looked like Hue Jackson was waving his arms as if he wanted to DECLINE THE PENALTY.

Of course, this couldn’t be true — it had to be the way the angle of the sun or something — because no one with even a basic grasp of football rules would decline the penalty there. Ha ha! If you accept the penalty, the other team is moved back the 47, well out of field goal range, and it’s 3rd and 16, and even the Browns can stop a team on 3rd and 16. But if you accept the penalty, you give them the field goal and, even worse, the option to go for it on fourth and one. No one would do that, no one on earth, but here was the strange part. The officials seemed confused and proceeded as if the Browns DID decline the penalty. Perhaps they too were swayed by this optical illusion. I just kept waiting for the error to be fixed.

But nope, they just kept on going as if Hue Jackson REALLY declined the penalty. The Titans sent out their offense like it was fourth and one.

I looked to Tommy, who sat there on the couch slack jawed. This was eye-opening. See, he KNEW the Browns were terrible. Everybody knows that. He KNEW the Browns were capable of astonishing acts of incompetence. Everyone knows that. But this … this was getting a bit too close to the sun.

It goes without saying the Browns jumped offside to give the Titans the first down.

Then, and only then, did Tommy understand. Sure, he’s been around bad teams all his life. He was an Atlanta Braves fan in the 1970s and 1980s. He roots for the Atlanta Hawks and Falcons, who have provided plenty of heartburn. But it wasn’t until the first series of the Browns-Titans game that he really got what this is about.

“Oh,” he said, as it was the end of The Sixth Sense. And, “Is it always like this?” And, “Why?

Why? It is, perhaps, the greatest of all existential questions. I’ve read that the philosophers way to respond to “Why?” Is “Why not?” But in this case, “Why not?” is easy? “Why?” remains.

In this way it was actually fun to school Tommy and Jonathan on the ins and outs of Browns fanhood. For example, Tommy often would say, “So this is where the Browns fumble?” Or, “So this is where the Browns lose the game?” And I would laugh my knowing laugh and say, “No, no, not yet.” It reminds me of the wonderful scene in “Groundhog Day,” where Bill Murray convinces Andie McDowell to spend the night, almost like a science experiment, and she expects him to disappear at midnight. When he does not disappear, she is baffled. He explains that nothing happens until 6 a.m. She feels a little bit cheated.

This is the part of being a Browns fan that is hard to explain …. they will rarely give you the satisfaction of making the dunce play when you most expect it. They do not have the decency to just blow the game while you are bracing yourself for it. Instead, you have to endure 66 minutes of awfulness, boredom and garbage truck crashes before the Browns lose in an entirely unsatisfying way. Sure, sometimes they will lose by having a field goal returned for a touchdown or by throwing a helmet and getting a penalty, but more often they lose blandly. You have to wait for it until it no longer seems worth waiting.

And so I kept telling Tommy, “Oh, they might get the first down here,” or “Oh it wouldn’t surprise me if he makes this field goal,” or “Yeah, the Titans might not score here.” It is only with a lifetime of watching the Browns, only with Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, that you begin to really get the rhythm of this team’s true awfulness.

I’m pretty sure Tommy is now going to put in the necessary 10,000 hours.

There are two more things to discuss.

One … I had one of those out-of-body Browns experiences during this game without even realizing it. This happened early in the second half, I think, when Browns starting quarterback DeShone Kizer was still in the game. Kizer was pulled in the third quarter because he was absolutely terrible and anyway, at this point, Hue Jackson has lost the script. The idea coming in was to stick with Kizer through the hard times to develop him into this team’s quarterback. Hue has now benched him for all or part of the last four games. This time he benched Kizer for Cody Kessler, who was so bad in training camp he lost the starting job that was handed to him, then lost the backup job too.

Kessler was competent in replacing Kizer, by the way, only throwing one bad interception and showing a veteran’s sense of throwing the ball away when defenders steamrolled the guy now playing left tackle. I suspect there will be calls to start him this week because that’s the most chaotic decision imaginable.

Anyway, Kizer rolled right and looked downfield and it was entirely, abundantly, absolutely clear that he was going to throw an interception. It was clear from the snap. The intended receiver in the flat was not open so Kizer was going to throw the ball downfield. The man covering the flat backed off the receiver and was of course in the line where Kizer was looking. Kizer is too inexperienced and headstrong to not throw the ball. So he threw it. And Kevin Byard intercepted it. It was one of three interceptions for Byard.

“Have you ever seen a more obvious interception?” I shouted out while the ball was still in the air. I fully expected my friends to both share my sense of disbelief.

Instead they were both looking at me with an expression I can only call pity.

‘Well,” Jonathan said. “I didn’t see it. But you sure did.”

At which point, it occurred to me … I’d had a flash-forward. I’ve seen so many Browns horror show moments that now I’m seeing Browns fiascos before they actually happen. So … you know … yay me.

Two … watching Browns left tackle Joe Thomas go down with the first injury of his career after a record 10,363 consecutive snaps has crushed my spirit. Buddy Bell once said that things can always get worse, and that’s the only takeaway I have. In the three or so years I’ve been doing this Browns blog, Joe Thomas has been my lone salvation. Even while the world collapses around him, Thomas has been a weekly reminder that life is about giving your best even when it will make no difference at all, even when no one will notice, even when you’re coming off a loss and going into a loss and in the midst of a loss. It isn’t just that Joe Thomas deserves so much more than this team — he’s a Hall of Fame left tackle, one of the best to ever play his position, and the team around him never wins, of course he deserves more than this.

It’s that he plays as if he would not have it ANY OTHER WAY. He loves Cleveland. He loves the Browns. He has never asked to be traded. He has asked to NOT be traded. His optimism, like his game, never declines, never diminishes; he even ended his depressing Tweet about an MRI on Monday with: Go Browns!!

Two exclamation points.

There are people out there, more than I expected, who are reasonably OK with what the weekly slapstick comedy the Browns are putting on. See, the losing doesn’t matter to them, not now. The incompetence doesn’t matter. It’s about tomorrow. The team has gathered a bunch of draft picks. They are tanking another season and so should get more great draft picks next year. They seem to have acquired a star defensive player in Myles Garrett, and maybe there are a couple of other players on the defensive side of the ball who could be part of a good team, and there might even be an offensive weapon or two in the mishmash that is the Browns offense. Look at the Houston Astros! Look at the Chicago Cubs! They tanked! And then they won! These people preach patience and trust, two admirable traits, and suggest that all this losing will lead to better days.

Maybe they are right. Maybe there are better days ahead. But watching Joe Thomas go down — the indestructible Joe Thomas — is more than just a reminder about giving your best. It is a reminder that time is short, and the future isn’t promised, and this team has stunk beyond reason for a decade even with one of the best left tackles to ever play this game. I hope Joe’s MRI comes back negative (or positive — whatever the good one is). I hope Joe Thomas plays again soon and for as long as he wants. I hope he will continue to be an inspiration to those of us who find in him all that’s good in sports.

I also hope the next time around, Hue Jackson takes the 15-yard penalty when the opponent will face fourth and one from the Cleveland 32 yard line. You want to believe that things will get better.

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The Stupidest List Ever

We are eager for your outrage!”
— Editors of GQ

No, GQ, you aren’t. I know you write that you are eager for my outrage but, as Ferris Bueller once said, you don’t want this much heat. I don’t want this much heat. I didn’t begin reading your list of 50 greatest living athletes with the expectation of building THIS MUCH outrage. I expected that, if there was any outrage at all, it would be the fun kind, the sports kind, the “Ha ha, how could you have put Tom Brady on this list and not Peyton Manning,” kind of outrage.

So, no, I did not expect to feel a “This list is an abomination upon the earth and all people involved in it should be banished,” kind of outrage. I can’t sleep, GQ. I am sending angry texts to friends I haven’t talked to in 25 years. I am walking around with a cartoon bubble of “?#@*%!” floating over my head.

Yes, I’m letting this list get to me. I’m taking it too seriously. Read ahead at your own peril.


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