Renewals

Hi everybody. Hope you’re holding up in these crazy times.

I apologize again for not posting here more often. I’m hoping for things to begin to clear up a bit over the next few weeks and we can get this thing rolling again. In the meantime, I wanted to mention a few things.

  1. I’ve heard from a few of you that your free year-long subscription to The Athletic has expired and your credit card has been charged its renewal cost. I, unfortunately, do not have any first-hand knowledge about this, and if you would like to cancel or dispute charges, you need to email The Athletic directly at support@theathletic.com. I’m told they are responsive to all inquiries. My sportswriting appears at The Athletic and I hope you’ll keep reading. Here are a handful of recent stories:

Five Baseball Things: The Yankees, the AL Central and a plea to the Hall of Fame

Thoughts on the Novak Djokovic fiasco

60 Moments: Game 6 of the 1975 World Series

The angel that inspired Lou Brock (unlocked for everyone)

Considering Tom Seaver in baseball history

The Comeback: When baseball greats returned from World War II

  1. This newsletter and blog is free. I guess that’s not much of a bargain if I’m not writing for it, but I do hope to pick things up here over the next few weeks and have pieces here focusing mostly on non-sports stuff.

  2. Our oldest daughter and I have been binge-watching Community, and we’re hopelessly smitten by it. I think we completely ignored the show when it was actually playing because of my general aversion to Chevy Chase. There was a time when I got Chevy Chase, back in the Fletch days when he would do movies now and then with Goldie Hawn, but that’s a long time ago and I’m pretty sure seeing Modern Problems affected me in ways that I’m still not completely over. In any case, I don’t particularly like Chevy Chase in Community either but I didn’t realize that he’s really a small part of it, and the rest is just wonderful. When there seems so much to be happy about in the world, Community brings us nightly joy (though we are about to finish the sixth season, and there’s no movie yet).

  3. For reasons I cannot fully explain, The PosCast is now weekly … and has been for several months now. I am fully aware that this is only adding meaninglessness to this already incomprehensible time, but if you’d like to listen, it’s a free country (I’m pretty sure). You can also find it on

Stitcher

Podbay.fm

Spotify

The Athletic (no ads)

  1. I mentioned this in the last update, but that was so long ago I thought I’d mention it again: Dan McGinn and I and the whole gang with Passions in America had one heck of a summer. We got to be part of two absolutely amazing Centennial Celebrations — one commemorating the birth of the Negro Leagues and one commemorating the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

Please check the Negro Leagues Celebration here.

And you can find the First Woman Voter celebration here — take some time and watch a few of the videos if you can. They’re simply spectacular.

First Woman Voter

Or "How I spent my summer vacation."

A few of you have reached out to check on me since it has been a little while since I posted here. Thank you for that. I’ve been entirely swamped on this project I’m about to tell you about — and it has been wonderful and exhausting and inspiring and, mostly, all-consuming. But I also have been writing some baseball over at The Athletic, so please check that out.


You might know that a couple of years ago, I partnered with my friend Dan McGinn on a project we call, Passions in America. What is Passions in America? That’s a very good question … and one we have spent a long, long time trying to answer.

The inspiration behind Passions is a simple idea: Our passions — which is to say the activities and pursuits and collections and pastimes that bring us joy and well-being and a sense of purpose — are more important now than ever. We deeply believe in that idea, deeply believe that our passions connect us, they energize us, they give our lives balance, they bring out our best selves, they help us see each other in entirely new ways.

But where does that idea lead? How do we use Passions in America to bring a little more joy, a little more unity, a little more creativity into the world? How do we encourage people to embrace their passions? How do we tell more stories about people through the prism of passion?

I can tell you: These are all pretty sticky questions. Over the last couple of years, we’ve gone down numerous paths, some with more success than others. But none of them seemed exactly the right path.

Then, this summer, we came upon something. We asked people if they would send in a photo of something bringing them joy during this pandemic. It was just this simple idea, but it led to something wonderful: Most than a thousand people sent in photographs … and they were all so stirring and marvelous and, especially, happy. We got photos of dogs and sunsets, magic tricks and board games, puzzles and delicious foods, books and lawnmowers, coffee mugs and picnic tables, bicycles and guitars. We all felt like just looking at those photos was, somehow, like having some of the passion and happiness that people felt transferred to us.

Not long after that, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick approached us with the idea of creating a virtual celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Negro Leagues. And in a whirlwind few weeks, thousands of people across America — including the four living former Presidents, 20 Baseball Hall of Famers, sports legends like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson and Billie Jean King, celebrities like Paul Rudd and Rob Lowe, more than 40 U.S. mayors, politicians and musicians and countless kids on baseball teams — tipped their caps.

It is one of the most inspiring and wonderful things I’ve ever been lucky enough to be a part of.

And then came First Woman Voter. Talk about a whirlwind. Over the last month, in celebration of 100 years of women’s suffrage and in conjuction with numerous women’s groups and too many amazing people to name, Dan and I have played a small part of this incredible celebration of women honoring the First Woman Voter in their families. I can’t really describe it well enough, I mean, just watch this video from CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux:

And this one from Bernice King celebrating her mother Coretta Scott King:

And this one from Lynda Bird Johnson Robb about her mother, Lady Bird Johnson.

And this one from my friend, ESPN’s Mina Kimes:

There are more than 120 of these videos on the site — including the four former First Ladies and every woman who has been Secretary of State — each of them so personal, so moving, so unifying. In a time when everything feels so hopelessly divided, these videos from Democrats and Republicans, hard-line liberals and conservatives — from those who trace their voting rights back to 1920 to those who go back to the 1965 Voting Rights Act to those first-generation Americans like myself and Mina — have lifted my spirit continuously.

They remind me every single day that there is a bond that ties us together as Americans, and even if that bond seems frayed it is not torn.

The Washington Post so loved this project that they asked us to share our videos for them to display in a wonderful package they put together called “Why She Votes.” Others have asked us to share these videos for projects we will unveil as time goes on.

It has all been amazing. I’m not sure how financially viable it is since right now the running money total on the two projects is $640 — that’s how much we SPENT on the websites and for video converting software — but the feeling of being a part of these projects and bringing some good into the world is indescribable.

The First Woman Voter campaign is still building online, particularly as we go into Women’s Equality Day on Wednesday. It’s really simple: Record a video celebrating the First Woman Voter in your family (or the woman in your family who first inspired you to vote), use a photo and a memento if you can, and post it to your social media with the hashtag #FirstWomanVoter. Would love for you to join in.

As for Albert Pujols officially moving into second place in RBIs even though Babe Ruth actually had more RBIs … I’ll save that for another day.

The George McQuinn Fiasco

Baseball in the time of COVID
(Writing Time: 20 minutes)

OK, so I found a few moments this morning to break away and write a little baseball — 20 minutes today. This isn’t about today’s baseball but about a little rabbit hole that Bill James unintentionally sent me down. It involves the 1947 American League MVP voting which, as you might know, is probably the most controversial in baseball history.

That was the year Ted Williams won the Triple Crown but lost the MVP award by one point to Joe DiMaggio, who was not nearly as good.

Williams: .343/.499/.634, 9.5 WAR

DiMaggio: .315/.391/.522, 4.6 WAR

I was well aware of the controversy that year, but I always assumed it was a straight-up vote between DiMaggio and Williams, and the writers idolized DiMaggio while generally loathing Williams. I’d always heard about the writer who left Ted Williams entirely off his ballot and blamed him most of all.

Tuesday, Bill tweeted this:

Well, that seemed an interesting question — Cory Schwartz responded by pointing out that DiMaggio was left off three ballots.

But it turns out that wasn’t the most interesting part of all. I’d never really looked closely at the 1947 MVP balloting before. And when you do look at it, you realize that it wasn’t exactly the writers’ love of Joe DiMaggio that cost Williams the vote. No, instead, it was the writers’ insistence that the MVP had to come from Yankees because New York had cruised to the pennant.

It simply didn’t make sense to the vast majority of them to give the award to Williams or anyone else who wasn’t a part of a Yankees team that moved into first place on June 20 and was never challenged after that.

This shouldn’t feel too foreign to us … there are still plenty of people who think that the MVP should go to the best player on the best team. Every year, you will hear those tedious arguments about how the Most VALUABLE Player is not the same thing as the Most OUTSTANDING Player or some such thing. It was simply canon in 1947 that the MVP should go to a player on the runaway Yankees.’

And in truth, most voters DID NOT vote for DiMaggio. Here are the first place votes:

DiMaggio, 8 votes
Joe Page, 7 votes
Ted Williams, 3 votes
George McQuinn, 3 votes
Eddie Joost, 2 votes
Lou Boudreau, 1 vote

Joe Page was the super-reliever for Yankees in ‘47. He appeared in 56 games, went 14-8 with 44 games finished. He alone got almost as many first-place votes as DiMaggio.

And then there’s George McQuinn. You are forgiven if you have never heard of George McQuinn. He was a solid enough player for the St. Louis Browns before and during World War II. He made a handful of All-Star teams. Then in 1946, he played for the Philadelphia Athletics, and he seemed finished — hit just .225 with three home runs. Philadelphia released him. The Yankees picked him up.

And McQuinn, at age 37, had a renaissance season. He hit .304/.395/.437 with 84 runs scored and 80 RBIs. It’s utterly laughable to compare that season to the one Ted Williams had … but there was a sense that McQuinn was the difference-maker.

The ‘46 Yankees without McQuinn had finished third.

The ‘47 Yankees with McQuinn won the pennant by 12 games.

So he got three first-place votes. If even one of those votes had gone to Ted Williams … but they didn’t. So when you think about the bizarre ‘47 MVP balloting, the full picture is larger than “Eh, the writers just loved Joe DiMaggio.” The writers loved winning teams.

Oh, and don’t get me started on Eddie Joost. Those two first-place votes — for a guy who hit .206 and led the league in strikeouts — are utterly inexplicable. THOSE might be for the writers who just hated Ted Williams.

Angels being Angels

Baseball in the time of COVID
(Writing time: 30 minutes)

So you should know that this week is pure madness for me. On Friday, we are launching another nationwide make-the-world-a-better-place campaign, much like the amazing Tip Your Cap to the Negro Leagues campaign we were a part of last month. Only this one (and I never would have believed this possible) is many times more complicated than Tip Your Cap.

This campaign also (and I wouldn’t have believed this either) might be even richer. I will wait until Friday for the details but let’s just say that we are celebrating another great American centennial and we are doing everything in our power — and I mean every minute of every day — to make this one special and unifying and uplifting and inspiring.

We launched Tip Your Cap with the four living former U.S. Presidents. That was pretty good, right? This one — well, there’s still so much work left to do and so many details to finalize. But I’m hoping it will blow your minds.

I mention all this because, alas, baseball will have to take the backseat this week. I don’t think I’ll be able to get back to these “Baseball in the time of COVID” essays for at least a few days. So before I disappear for a little while, I did want to talk about the agony of Mike Trout’s Angels.

You know, the Angels were pretty close to a model franchise in the 2000s. They went to the playoffs six times from 2002 to 2009, reached three American League Championship Series and won a World Series. And they did this mostly without stars. Yes, their featured player was the incredible and lovable Vlad Guerrero, who won an MVP award and finished third two other times in that span. But the rest of the lineup was generally made up of good, solid players — Chone Figgins, Adam Kennedy, Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad, Howie Kendrick, Torii Hunter, Kendrys Morales, David Eckstein and so on.

And the rotation? It was John Lackey … and other guys. Jarrod Washburn. Ramon Ortiz. Kelvin Escobar. Jered Weaver came on toward the end of the run. Kevin Appier was in there for a little while. K-Rod closed the door.

The philosophy of those Angels seemed to be: Have useful players at every position. it’s not the flashiest plan in the world, but it can be really effective.

Then Vlad Guerrero left and the team immediately became mediocre and panic seemed to creep in.

In 2012, the Angels changed their whole makeup. They signed Albert Pujols to a 13 bajillion dollar deal (I don’t have time to look up the details — I only have 30 minutes to write this) and they also signed C.J. Wilson for a few bajillion dollars too and the next year they signed Josh Hamilton for several bajillion dollars too.

That year, 2012, also happened to be the year that a kid named Mike Trout exploded on the scene.

So you had two things happening at the same time — 1. The Angels, having run out of ideas, tried to take every shortcut imaginable to build a winner and 2. The best player in baseball dropped into their laps.

This has led to some painful contrasts. The Angels had one year, 2014, when things sort of came together. They led the league in runs scored in 2014 as Hamilton and Pujols squeezed out the last bit of offense greatness they had and Trout, at 22, won his first MVP award. But the Angels promptly got swept by a Kansas City team that had useful players at every position, and that was the end of that. Hamilton was out of baseball. Pujols has a grand total of 3.6 WAR over the five-plus seasons since then.

The Angels had almost nothing in the minors, so they had no ability to build a rotation or position depth. So they kept on taking pretty big-money flyers on veterans like Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons and Zack Cosart and Ian Kinsler and Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey and so on. Some worked out better than others. They won the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.

And all the while, Mike Trout pushed his game higher and higher and higher while playing for hopelessly mediocre teams.

This season is obviously a complete anomaly, and there’s no telling how things will shake out in such odd conditions. But it’s interesting that, even over a tiny sample size, the Angels are playing to form. They went big-game hunting again in the off-season, landing Anthony Rendon. Trout has been as good or better than ever — he has seven homers in 13 games.

And the Angels are still 6-11, the worst record in the American League. Sure, it’s only a few games, it doesn’t mean much, but it’s so striking how the Angels repeatedly manage to do Angels things.

Rendon is hitting .143 and is off to the worst start of his career. Pujols is hitting .170 and it’s just so sad to watch. Upton is hitting .122.

And yet the Angels STILL lead the American League in runs scored because Trout.

And yet the Angels STILL have a 6-11 record because their pitching staff is a mess.

What’s the point? There is no point, really, other than to say that it’s hard to watch the Angels waste the incredibleness of Mike Trout. There have been other hard-luck players through the years — most famously Ernie Banks. But the player I think of is Barry Sanders. I don’t think there has ever been a better pure runner than Barry Sanders, and he never reached a Super Bowl, never even came close to a Super Bowl, and it was agonizing watching the Lions cough and wheeze and repeatedly fail to figure out how to build a championship team around him.

If anything, it’s even more painful with Trout because Sanders did have at least some vulnerabilities as a running back — he was not great in short-yardage, he was not a great pass receiver, etc. — while Trout has no obvious vulnerabilities. He’s the best player in baseball, year after year after year, and yet every year the Angels spin their tires in the mud. It doesn’t matter how many new cars they buy, they still don’t know how to get out of that mud.

Triples and inside-the-park homers

Baseball in the time of COVID
(Writing time: 30 minutes)

So in case you missed it, here was Christian Yelich’s first homer in a couple of weeks … and it was a doozy …

This is a good reminder that inside-the-park home runs, almost without exceptions, are absurdities. They are almost never natural events, meaning that they almost always feature some sort of defensive blunder, somebody falling down, some ridiculous superball bounce, etc. I mean they’re not often THIS zany, with Eloy Jimenez entirely misplaying a fly ball and then hilariously crashing into a net, like a clumsy hoodlum trying to get at Spiderman.

Two things seem clear. One is that Eloy Jimenez can really hit. Two is that Eloy Jimenez is a danger to himself and society out there in left field.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: Inside-the-park home runs are fun. But they’re fun in the same way that The Wolf scene in Pulp Fiction is fun — something had to go very wrong for The Wolf to get called in.

Triples on the other hand … triples are wonderful because they are not often flukes and silly accidents. They are often daring and thrilling, a ball hit into the gap … the diamond is in motion … outfielders try to run it down … the runner decides to risk it all for third base … the throw comes … the play is close … this is why so many people believe that the triple is the most exciting play in all of baseball.

And the triple, friends, is dying.

We’ve been talking about this for a while —- there have been 21 seasons when teams have averaged less than .2 triples per game (that’s one triple every five games). All 21 of those seasons have come since 1996. The fewest triples hit per game (.16 per game or one triple every 6.25 games) happened in 2013 and was matched in 2017 and was matched again last year.

This year, there have been only 47 triples hit all season and, yes, the season is absurdly young but that’s still .14 triples per game, which would be the lowest rate ever. It’s clear there are a lot of things happening. To name just three:

  1. We all know fewer balls are being put in play than ever before.

  2. New ballpark configurations are not geared toward quirky angles and big alleys, the realm of the triple.

  3. Outs on the basepaths are valued in a whole different way in 2020 than in, say, 1977, and, as such, teams discourage unnecessary risks or particularly aggressive baserunning.

Yesterday, I talked about how not changing the game — which is to say not updating rules or creating new ones — is the most certain way to change the game. In other words, baseball in basically legislating the triple out of baseball by not doing anything to preserve it. I often go back to a conversation I had a couple of years ago with Theo Epstein where we talked at great length about how the people running baseball have a responsibility — to the game and their own futures — to make sure that the game keeps those traits and characteristics that make it so wonderful.

The triple has been thrilling fans for years.

Baseball fans shouldn’t lose the triple just because players have been told to stop trying for them. The game shouldn’t evolve that way. The fans’ interests should be taken into account when figuring out where baseball is going. I very much appreciated John Thorn’s take on my piece yesterday.

That’s 100 percent it: The game is supposed to be fun FOR FANS. And you know what’s fun for fans? Triples!*

*You could argue it’s also fun for fans to see starting pitchers have to go longer in games, many more balls in play, fewer delays, hitting streaks, players chasing .400 and so on. Each of these have faded over the last couple of decades.

What can be done? The answer is: A lot of things can be done. Subtle things. Not so subtle things. But, again, we come back to it, we have to be willing to accept rules that rebalance the game … and it’s hard for us as baseball fans to accept any change at all. Changes are happening whether we like it or not. Just about every pitcher these days those 95; that wasn’t true when batters put so many more balls in play. Batters are so much stronger and hit the ball harder these days; that wasn’t true when starters could go eight or nine innings and only face three or four truly dangerous batters in every lineup. Baseball is DIFFERENT.

Now, we should ask: How do we protect the baseball stuff we all love?

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