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Nobody Asked: How I’d Vote for Baseball’s Hall of Fame 2015

(“Nobody Asked” is a recurring feature in which your author shares opinions of questionable merit, largely about baseball.)  

BBWAA 2015 ballot

I’m only mildly surprised that I care as much about the Baseball Hall of Fame as I do now, and more specifically that I find that I care a little more about it every year. It would seem like the kind of things the Hall does for the average fan (save for visiting, which I haven’t done and would like to remedy sometime soon) is inspire comparisons and discussions of “clutch” performances or “egregious” omissions. However, as I get older, players I watched and revered now come up for enshrinement. I can trust my eyes and selective memory as much as the Baseball Reference page and opinions of those I respect and admire. This year, two of my favorite players of all time are on the ballot in addition to two of the best players to ever play in any era. With the early hum of the offseason slowing down, it’s the perfect way to fill my commute.

As I keep reading articles with different ballots, I figured the best way to appreciate what these writers with actual weight in the BBWAA must do in an overloaded ballot (not to mention the Hall of Fame making changes that only heightens the problem by shrinking the window of eligibility), I wanted to go through the process on my own. Since I don’t have a vote (BBWAA members become eligible after ten years of membership, so I’m hypothetically ten years away from my own vote), I’m going to be somewhat lazy and not dig deep on a lot of statistics. That said, I can recommend two great resources: Ryan Thibbs’ spreadsheet of all of the public ballots (this is especially interesting if you read this in the few hours between when I publish this and the results are announced) and Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric (JAWS aims to compare a candidate’s career and peak statistics to those already enshrined; Jaffe says that JAWS measures who should be voted in, not who will be voted in).

A couple points before I begin:

  • In addition to the resources above, I’m going to use Baseball Reference for statistics unless otherwise mentioned.
  • To appreciate the process, as many note that the restriction of ten names is too few for the deserving, I’m going to rank my candidates and produce three hypothetical ballots: my “without restrictions” ballot, my “strategic / pragmatic” ballot, and my “if the BBWAA miraculously made me a voting member tonight” ballot.
  • Without getting into it too much, here’s my stance on PED users: without a positive test or a federal drug conviction, I’d vote them in. Regardless of MLB’s stance on steroids, most of them are illegal and buying them is against the law. That said, I also believe that without hard evidence, I can’t hold it against the player (see my entry on Bonds below). I’m in favor of a Hall that acknowledges these players and the era.

On that note, my rankings:

  1. Barry Bonds (OF) – Bonds is likely the best player I’ve ever seen or will ever see. He most likely took performance enhancing drugs, and most likely lied under oath about doing so (and was convicted of perjury, which isn’t quite the same thing). He’s probably not someone I’d like to spend a lot of time around. You’ll see how this plays out below, as Bonds makes my “perfect world” ballot, but likely wouldn’t make my other ballots largely for strategic reasons.
  2. Roger Clemens (SP) – More or less everything I said about Bonds above applies to Clemens. He’s below Bonds because I think Clemens has peers (see next entry) during his era while Bonds was unparalleled during his era and belongs in the discussion with the greatest hitters of all time (again, leaving the PED issue aside; it’s more complex than that). I also hate him far more than I hate Bonds. Like I said above, this is a personal, subjective list.
  3. Randy Johnson (SP) – Johnson probably had the most overpowering stuff I’ve ever seen. He has longevity, post-season success, individual season numbers in addition to career numbers, the key statistics (300+ wins, in particular), FIVE Cy Young Awards (Clemens won SEVEN). He’s in Clemens’ neighborhood, and if Johnson figured out his mechanics earlier (or Clemens tailed off at the end of his career closer to Johnson’s arc than his own, likely PED aided twilight), their case would look similar. They both belong in, and Johnson likely has his flight booked for July. (Question: does the Hall spring for flights? You’d think so, right?)
  4. Pedro Martinez (SP) – The only question is longevity, as his accumulating stats aren’t as impressive as Johnson or Clemens, and his peak was likely shorter. That said, Pedro has perhaps the two greatest pitching seasons of my lifetime and perhaps the highest peak of any pitcher I’ve ever seen. If you promised me Peak Clemens, Peak Johnson, or Peak Pedro for a game or a season, I’d take Pedro every time. Like Koufax, he’s the great “what if he stayed healthy” candidate (and, like Koufax, was so good for long enough to warrant enshrinement). In addition to his credentials on the field, he’s been a joy in retirement. TBS was wise to snatch him up, and his appearance on Jonah Keri’s podcast last summer was one of the best interviews I’ve heard in ages. I can’t wait to read his book, and as my gratuitous use of his first name belies, he’s the player on this list I’d love to meet the most.
  5. Mike Piazza (C) – In retrospect, Pedro Martinez might be my favorite baseball player. I adored his injury raddled tenure with the Mets, and I’m convinced that his arrival opened that brief window that brought the Mets to a pitch away from the 2006 World Series. That said, Piazza is the player I’m most personally invested in. Jose Reyes and David Wright went on to be my favorites throughout their whole career, but Piazza’s arrival in Queens coincided with my renewed interest in baseball. This is all without mentioning that Piazza is perhaps the greatest hitting catcher (and, conservatively, the second or third greatest) and, as Jaffe points out in the SI piece linked above, is the fifth highest rated catcher on JAWS. As for his PED whispers, terrific Mets blogger and writer Greg Prince had a series of tweets earlier this evening that captured it perfectly. (These three in particular are great).
  6. Jeff Bagwell (1B) – Like Piazza, Bagwell suffers from whispered accusations. As Jaffe points out (which is so staggering that I’m linking again), Bagwell is the sixth best offensive first baseman, and after World War II he trails only Albert Pujols. (He’s ahead of the recently enshrined Frank Thomas, and this list on Baseball Reference gives serious merit to Jim Thome’s eventual appearance on the ballot and, to a lesser extent, Todd Helton’s, but I digress).
  7. Tim Raines (OF) – Raines was a little before my time, so I’m trusting numbers and YouTube highlights. Also, he’s (probably?) the only candidate with a website devoted to his enshrinement. Ultimately, all of the baseball minds who I trust put him in, and the numbers validate it (plus Raines was the type of player who wasn’t always captured adequately in the box score, for what that’s worth). If he played for the Yankees his whole career, he’d be internationally famous. If he played now, sabermetricians would lose their minds over him. Jonah Keri sums it up well: “It comes down to this: Tim Raines kicked ass, and too many people missed it.”
  8. Edgar Martinez (DH) – Sure, he didn’t play the field. As a counterpoint, the best DH annually gets an honor named after Martinez. I hope this gets sorted out in time for Martinez, an exceptional hitter, to be enshrined and early enough to induct David Ortiz when he comes up for election. Then, we should get rid of the DH altogether (or, more realistically, bring it to the National League. I think I’ve upset just about everyone in the last sentence and a half).
  9. Alan Trammell (SS) – I didn’t see Trammell either, and like Raines he seems like a victim of the pre-internet, pre-offensive boom (and pre-PED?) era. His numbers hold up, and it seems like the strongest case against voting for him is, as Jaffe suggests, that he’s a “lost cause” being so close to the end of his eligibility. I don’t really know what I’d do with him if I was voting.
  10. John Smoltz (SP / RP) – I don’t know what to make of Smoltz. JAWS doesn’t love him, but that’s largely because it looks at his numbers as if he started his whole career. When Smoltz went to the bullpen, he was one of the best relievers in the league, and perhaps might have still been one of the best starters during those years (edit: Smoltz also won a Cy Young, unlike the pitchers below (who were logjammed behind Clemens and Johnson for much of their careers) and I errantly attributed it to Schilling). However, a reasonable counterpoint could be that his stint in the pen helped him survive that long). My gut instinct is that he deserves to get in, although not as overwhelmingly as it seems like he might be voted in (Ben Lindbergh wrote a great piece that looked at this). I’ll be polite as long as he doesn’t poll higher than Pedro or Randy Johnson.
  11. TIE: Curt Shilling (SP) and Mike Mussina (SP) – I’m cheating by lumping them together, but they seem to complement each other well. Mussina had a longer, more consistent career, while Schilling had the higher points (a Cy Young stronger Cy Young consideration (thanks, Mike) and several memorable post-seasons). If push comes to shove, I’d likely vote Mussina largely because I’d privilege regular season over post-season (I think Peak Mussina would have put up strong enough post-season numbers, perhaps not Schilling-like, but strong enough to nudge him closer). I also don’t really care for Schilling for a number of reasons I won’t go into here.
  12. Craig Biggio (2B / C / OF?) – This is where I have to stop and think. Biggio has the career numbers, but he earned them largely by sticking around well past his expiration date, and did so in an era with inflated offensive statistics. I’m sure someone has run what his numbers would look like were he to play when Trammell played, and I’d venture to guess they wouldn’t hold up. Then again, he wasn’t a power bat in a power era, and he played catcher (a position that saps up offensive numbers) for three and a half seasons, but unlike Smoltz who dominated in this alternate role, Biggio had one strong year of these first four. Also, he was so close last year, and he seems to suffer from being teammates with Bagwell (which would make that “second hand whispers,” I guess?) I guess I don’t fault anyone voting either way.

On the players who I wouldn’t vote for, but could be persuaded were I given lifetime BBWAA membership:

  • Larry Walker – if he put up the numbers he put up playing somewhere other than Colorado, I think I’d consider him more strongly. That’s probably unfair of me.
  • Garry Sheffield – He could tear the cover off the ball, but I don’t quite remember him as dangerous as long as some of the other players.
  • Lee Smith – I don’t really know what to do with closers aside from the complete elites, and Smith largely pitched before I appreciated him.
  • Fred McGriff – I spent his tenure with a strong anti-Braves bias, and I’m willing to concede that my view of him is myopic were someone to make a compelling case.

As for the rest, they either weren’t good long enough (Mattingly) and/or don’t seem as impressive when adjusted for PED use (McGwire and Sosa in particular). Shouts to Cliff Floyd, though, who I loved watching play.

And now, how I’d vote:

“In a Perfect World” ballot (unlimited entries):

  1. Bonds
  2. Clemens
  3. Johnson
  4. P. Martinez
  5. Piazza
  6. Bagwell
  7. Raines
  8. E. Martinez
  9. Trammell
  10. Smoltz
  11. Mussina
  12. Schilling
  13. Biggio

“Strategic / Pragmatic” Ballot (leaving off those unlikely to be elected)

  1. Johnson
  2. P. Martinez
  3. Piazza
  4. Bagwell
  5. Raines
  6. E. Martinez
  7. Trammell
  8. Smoltz
  9. Mussina
  10. Biggio

(Note: This drops Clemens and Bonds, since they are unlikely to be elected this year, leaving me with 11. When it came down to it, I wanted Biggio in more than Schilling, largely for personal preference. Like I said, I’m voting subjectively)

If I were given a “One Time Only” BBWAA ballot, my ten Hall of Fame votes for the history books:

  1. Bonds
  2. Clemens
  3. Johnson
  4. P. Martinez
  5. Piazza
  6. Bagwell
  7. Raines
  8. E. Martinez
  9. Trammell
  10. Smoltz

(Note: I went with who I thought are the ten most deserving. I sat for a long time trying to decide between Smoltz and Mussina, and while part of me thinks that Mussina is the pitcher I’d rather have on my team knowing their career arcs, I think Smoltz overall is the better candidate. I might change my mind tomorrow.)

Finally, as a bonus, what I think will happen tomorrow (not necessarily in this order)

  1. Johnson
  2. P. Martinez
  3. Biggio
  4. Smoltz
  5. Piazza (wishful thinking, probably).

Rev ’em Up / Run ’em Over – Bring on 2015


“Don’t Stop Me Live (Live in London, 1979)” – Queen

It’s been a New Year’s Eve tradition to sit down and write one more time before celebrating the end of a year and the beginning of another one. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how this time of the year is draining, and it’s easy to feel that weighing down at the end of the year. 2014 was no exception, and there are plenty of things that I’m ready to cast away to history.

That said, the best parts of the year were steps forward. Re-reading last year’s post, I’m not sure I did as many new things in 2014 as I did in 2013. However, I feel like I did many of them better this year. Specifically, I’m doing a better job of taking care of myself. I’ve gotten in much better shape and I’ve set myself up on a reasonable budget. I’m continuing to grow professionally. I’m sleeping better than I have in years. At the end of last year’s post, I wrote that my only resolution was to leave 2014 better than how I entered it, and I have in ways I probably didn’t think I was capable of doing at the beginning of the year.

I also realize now more than ever how lucky I am. I have a stable job doing something I love doing (even if it’s often draining). I have friends near and far who love and support me. I have a partner I love deeply and admire wholly. I like where I live and that I can walk around. I want to do a better job of being aware and appreciative of these things and to reciprocate them better. Now that I’m taking better care of myself, I want to take better care of others who are supportive of me.

Near the end of last night’s episode of The Best Show with Tom Scharpling, itself three weeks into an incredible rebirth after a year’s hiatus, Tom declared that “we rev ’em up in 2014 and we run ’em over in 2015.” It’s struck a chord with me all day; I can be proud of what I’ve done in 2014, but none of it is the end or the final product. Instead, it has to be the set up for what’s next. I’m not entirely sure what that entails. Some of it means sticking with the positive changes I made this year, and some of it is more subtle, and some of it isn’t anywhere on my radar. Instead, it’s a commitment to an attitude to go full steam ahead. I want to burn brighter, charge harder, and be better.

After I finish writing this, I’m going to take a shower, go to dinner with Jenny, and go see a couple terrific bands (Mean Creek, whose Local Losers LP will be one of my favorite bits of 2014 going forward, and the Dismemberment Plan, appropriate given the video linked in these posts the last two years). Whatever you’re doing tonight, I hope you have fun and are safe. If I haven’t seen you much this year (or at all), I hope I get to see you more often in 2015.

If 2014 was about me getting revved up, I am ready to go run ’em over in 2015. Don’t stop me now.

Cursed Days

Somewhere in my drafts folder are a minimum of two posts about the Timehop app. I’m unlikely to finish or use those drafts, so I’ll mention it tonight: I’ve been using Timehop for a while (two years if I had to guess), and aside from reminding me how long I’ve been on Twitter (January 2008, a whole virtual lifetime ago) and Facebook (a decade?!) and all the other assorted things, I’ve noticed how much my years follow cycles. Some of this has to do with working in education, where a new set of students plus fairly consistent routines yield similar behaviors, but it goes beyond just “wow I’m busy” declarations. Sure enough, I find that I tend to tweet about needing to clean up / get organized around the same time every year (March) and tend to hit silent periods around the same time (right in the middle of each grading quarter, usually). For a while, I saw a Ted Leo (with or without the Pharmacists) within the same half week window over multiple years (I mention because he’s playing the Aimee Mann Christmas show in Boston tomorrow night).

As each year goes by, I observe more of these trends. The first happened during my second year of teaching, when I noticed how tired I’d get around the first weeks of December and April. I concluded that it was my body still responding to the undergraduate schedule nearly half a decade later (to be fair, I spent two years in grad school with a similar schedule, but I observed it in the year in between undergrad and grad school, plus my first few years of teaching). Last year, I realized that I always hit a minimum of one incredibly frustrating December day. It must be from a combination of many factors: being close to the first significant vacation of the academic year, the rest from the Thanksgiving non-break ceding to the exhaustion of the non-stop fall onslaught, the rollout of cold weather, holiday shopping stress, lack of sunlight, etc. It doesn’t show up in Timehop because I tend to keep these things to myself.

I’ve been thinking about that because today was that day this year. Nothing significantly bad happened; no illness, injury, or emotional damage occurred, and I didn’t incur any significant costs, but today was the day where ten tiny frustrations lined up and greeted me nearly hourly. I left work exhausted (despite a double dose of coffee, which didn’t help) and drove home in darkness (which didn’t help). Unlike past years, I caught myself in the moment the way Liz Lemon realizes that she can anticipate her cast’s meltdowns by reading her diary. I forced myself to sit down on the couch (after eating a two-part dinner, in what seems appropriate for a Liz Lemon reference) and by writing this post, I realized two things that have made me feel a little better.

1. I really can’t complain.

I didn’t detail the list of things that rat-kinged me today in part because I don’t want to remember them next year (or, more accurately, I don’t want to think about how dumb I was today). They also don’t matter. I leave today annoyed, but in good shape. I’m tired, but I’m in a good place. I’m trying to figure out the difference between acknowledging problems and annoyances and wallowing in them (or, letting them smolder in resentment), and today is the type of day I’m prone to open the door to self-pitying. If I’ve learned anything about myself this year, it’s that I’m not helping myself by lying.

2. We need to look out for each other.

That said, this is a tough time of year for a lot of different reasons. If you’re in a good place yourself, keep an eye out for your friends and loved ones. It’s easy to let things accumulate this year, and under the banner of “the most wonderful time of the year,” for many people it’s easier to stay silent rather than reach out. This year in particular feels especially heavy, so we need more of us to help bear that weight. I’m grateful to the friends who reached out to me today (some of which didn’t know that sending a random text or email was a necessary distraction), and I’m going to try to do the same as soon as I hit publish.

On Losing and Gaining

I’m not sure why, but this is strange to write. I have no problem posting my half-formed ideas about songs, or my predictions about baseball that I know will be wrong almost right away (go look at my last post and then go look at MLB.com), and I’m not particularly averse to explore shifting priorities, emotional growth, or even personal failures. This post started in my brain over the last few weeks, and then moved to the actual WordPress drafts folder in an entirely unprintable (in that it would be an awful read) form.

Ostensibly, this is a post about good news, but in order to talk about it, I have to admit that I had (and, to be fair, have) a problem.

Since the beginning of July, I’ve lost a little more than thirty pounds. It started first as a commitment to spend my summer beyond my couch, and it slowly morphed into a different way of looking at my life. Week by week, I watched my weight creep lower, occasionally passing by tangible milestones until the odometer of my body mass ticked back to numbers I haven’t seen in nearly half of my life. I didn’t plan on losing weight this summer, but looking back I realize that I probably needed to do so.

Over the past year or two, I started feeling strange looking at certain pictures of myself. It first started with certain angles, leaving me free to rationalize that I was contorting weird. When my clothes didn’t fit as well, I assumed I was shrinking them in the laundry despite not knowing how to do that on purpose. When I was mildly active, I felt like I was going above and beyond. It didn’t add up.

When I started going to the gym this summer, it coincided with the end of a month with a few unexpected financial expenses that meant the beginning of the next month needed to be on a budget. I started going to an affordable gym so that I wouldn’t sit around all day or go out shopping and/or to buy lunch. With this and the Fitbit that my mom gave me last winter, I made myself accountable for a certain amount of physical activity, whether it was on the elliptical machine, walking around my neighborhood, or running errands. Around the same time, Jenny showed me an app that would link my physical activity to the food I was eating, and that opened my eyes.

I knew I wanted to be more active. What I didn’t know was that I needed to rethink how I thought of food.

I’ve never eaten particularly healthy. Over the last few years, I’ve also not eaten with any discretion. I am usually good about breakfast and lunch, and I used that as a blank check to eat a giant snack, a giant dinner, and anything else I wanted to eat. It wasn’t rare to finish a large bag of chips and salsa in two or three days. When I started keeping track of how much I ate, I had to confront the fact that I had no discipline whatsoever. In the summers, this was worse; if I was bored, or tired, or event faintly productive, I rewarded myself with food.

So I started keeping track of what I ate, and before I realized it, I was on a “diet.” It was a strange realization, but I think it’s what’s helped me stick with it. Knowing that I had to log whatever I ate made me think twice about grabbing crackers every time I walked by the box. Figuring out how many servings of something I ate made me question the true number of “servings” that was common for me, and made me think about what I put in front of myself. Most importantly, plans to go out for food made me think about what I ate at 3:00 on the couch, knowing what I’d likely have in store that night.

To that point, I’ve developed habits that many, including myself a few months ago, might deem extreme. I weigh out almost everything from my cereal in the morning (I’ve gotten good at getting within two grams of my cereal on the first pour) to the dozen tortilla chips I’ll have as a snack. While visiting friends this summer, I kept tally of the Goldfish I ate while we played cards, knowing that if I didn’t count, I’d likely eat the whole bowl.

I also embraced another tried-and-true diet mantra – I didn’t deny myself. With only a couple occasions, I haven’t had to completely forgo something I truly wanted – I only needed to eat a reasonable amount. For instance, after I publish this post, I’m going to have some (coconut milk) ice cream, but I’m going to have a small amount of it (I realized my “normal” serving was probably closer to three servings, and looking at the label while doing that math makes my head explode). I’ve still had pizza and Shake Shack, but I just don’t have it every night (or, in some occasions in the past, every meal). I haven’t turned down an invitation to go out to dinner, but I have thought two or three times before ordering. At home, I’ve measured out portions and gone back for another if I was truly hungry. What I started to find out was that I often wasn’t, and that I kept eating past being full because it was easy.

I also realized that I saw food as comfort. When I had a long day, I rewarded myself with a snack. When I was too tired to cook, I took comfort in whatever junk I had in the kitchen. If I had a good day, I deserved a burrito. None of these things are a problem alone – my problem was I often combined a few of these on top of full meals. I especially needed to stop rewarding every tiny accomplishment with a thousand calories of junk.

I’m convinced that I’ve been successful because I didn’t set this as a goal when I started, and that I’ve been lucky to have had relatively consistent success every week. It would have been frustrating to know I needed to lose tens of pounds only to see a quarter pound difference on the scale even if it was only a few days later. I still haven’t really set a goal (according to BMI, an imperfect statistic, I just entered the top range of “normal” weight) and instead I’m looking to let my weight stabilize based on my new, mindful eating patterns.

I’ve also been successful because I fell into a new habit. I’m not going to the gym every day or nearly as much as I did during the summer, but I’ve hit my activity goal every day since the first week in July, including a few nights where I left the house in darkness to go get the rest of my steps. I think this daily attainable goal speaks to the same compulsion that helped me blog every day in 2009 and much of 2010, whether it was finding solace in the routine or fearing breaking the chain.

In general, I feel better. My clothes fit again (or, in the case of some items, fit for the first time). I think I need to get some new belts and retire a couple pairs of pants. I don’t feel as exhausted at the end of the day. Even while working out, I’ve found that my effort (and my heart rate) goes further with less exertion. I was lucky to make these changes before it affected my health (knock on wood) and during a point where I could make “getting in shape” my full-time job. It made coming back to school that much easier.

The first crack at this post was to talk about why I was successful. I thought that naming the apps and habits and other routines might be useful to others, but it felt cheap. I think I was uncomfortable making it celebratory because I never really got to the root cause: accepting that I needed to make a change. I’m grateful that I was able to make the change before I could articulate that I needed it, and I’m especially grateful to the people in my life (Jenny in particular, who has watched me do very strange things like weigh Goldfish into a coffee filter*) who helped me with this both knowingly and unknowingly.

This brings me to my last point – I’ve found results, and I’ve changed my habits, but I have to stay on top of myself. Even just this afternoon, I started down the familiar trap of “a burrito would be really good on this ride home.” I’m not sure if I’m ever going to stop seeing food as a potential reward, so the best I can do is to be aware of my own thought processes and stop myself when I’m being counter-productive. I don’t think I’m going to weigh my meals the rest of my life, but I also know that I can’t stop doing it tomorrow.

In short: I’ve come a long way, and I’m getting there. Once I’m there, I have to make sure I stay.

*OK, one piece of advice – we have a lot of basket coffee filters and no longer have a coffee maker that uses them. I’ve found that they work great for covering a bowl in the microwave when reheating something. I’ve also found that if you want to measure out a reasonable portion of a snack food, they are the perfect size, and they don’t create more dishes and are cheaper than paper towels. I told you it was weird.

You Didn’t Ask for It: A Series of Lists about Baseball

(Largely collected for future bragging rights and/or embarrassment)

Rooting preference for the 2014 MLB playoffs (most preferred to least preferred):

  1. Kansas City Royals
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates
  3. Oakland A’s
  4. Baltimore Orioles
  5. Washington Nationals
  6. Detroit Tigers
  7. San Francisco Giants
  8. Los Angeles Dodgers
  9. Anaheim Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
  10. St. Louis Cardinals

Personal confidence in teams winning the 2014 World Series (most likely to least likely):

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. St. Louis Cardinals
  5. Baltimore Orioles
  6. Los Angeles Angels
  7. Oakland A’s
  8. San Francisco Giants
  9. Pittsburgh Pirates
  10. Kansas City Royals

Preferred, semi-realistic 2015 New York Mets Pitching Staff, Opening Day

  1. Matt Harvey
  2. Zach Wheeler
  3. Jacob deGrom
  4. Bartolo Colon
  5. Dillon Gee

Preferred, semi-realistic 2015 New York Mets Pitching Staff, July 2015

  1. Matt Harvey
  2. Zach Wheeler
  3. Jacob deGrom
  4. Noah Syndergaard
  5. [Trade for available pitcher]

Moves I would attempt were I the General Manager of the New York Mets, Offseason 2014-2015

  1. Offer Jonathan Niese and Raphael Montero for Yoenis Cespedes (likely turned down, but willing to negotiate higher). If rejected, offer Niese for Will Middlebrooks (to be converted to LF).
  2. Offer Bartolo Colon (no money sent) for a second-tier prospect
  3. Shop Daniel Murphy for a Dickey/Beltran type-haul (i.e. top prospect, preferably a middle infielder)
  4. Aggressively court free agent SS J.J. Hardy
  5. Make reasonable (market-rate) but short term (3 years) offers to Jon Lester and/or James Shields. Hope that Theo Epstein decides to wait a year for pitching and/or market bottoms out. Go to 5 years if a premium SS prospect is available via trading deGrom/Syndergaard/Montero.
  6. Offer Colon plus choice of Niese, Montero, Gee, or Murphy to the Dodgers for Matt Kemp plus cash
  7. Offer 2/3 of Colon, Gee, and Murphy to Dodgers for Andre Ethier. Include either Niese (affordable contract) or Montero (high upside / lots of team control) among choices if significant cash is included.
  8. Make lowball offers on Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce.
  9. Listen to any offers for Jose Bautista that don’t include Harvey or Wheeler. Hang up on Toronto as soon as they mention Jose Reyes.

Year the Mets will make next playoff appearance (from most confident to least confident)

  1. 2016
  2. 2017
  3. 2015
  4. 2018

Percentage of votes Pedro Martinez deserves to get on Hall of Fame ballot: 100%

Percentage of votes Pedro Martinez will likely get on Hall of Fame ballot: 88%

Awards – American League

  • MVP – Mike Trout
  • Cy Young – King Felix Hernandez
  • Rookie of the Year – Jose Abreu
  • Manager of the Year – Buck Showalter

Awards – National League

  • MVP & Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw
  • MVP if writers are stubborn: Giancarlo Stanton
  • Rookie of the Year – Jacob deGrom
  • Manager of the Year – Clint Hurdle (largely out of antipathy, to be honest)

UNSOLICITED PREDICTIONS WITHOUT MERIT OR RATIONALE:

  • Wildcard winners – Royals and Pirates
  • Division Series – AL Wildcard, Tigers, Nationals, Dodgers
  • League Champions – Tigers and Nationals (MVPs: Max Scherzer and Jordan Zimmerman)
  • World Series – Nationals in 6
  • World Series MVP: Jason Werth
  • Random Prediction: Harold Reynolds surpasses Joe Buck in internet disdain

 

Giving 2013 Its Final Due

One of my first professional mentors gave me the advice to update my resume every year. This was near the end of my first year working, and I didn’t see the need for it. Like much good advice, it was born out of equal parts practical and personal advice. The practical side was to list your accomplishments while they were fresh in your mind, but it also offered an opportunity to reflect on the past year of accomplishments (this is among other benefits, such as having a resume ready to go when necessary). I’m not in the mood (or thankfully, the need) to update my resume, but I thought I’d take stock of the past year for myself anyway.

In 2013, I’ve found myself settled in a job for the first time in several years, and with that I’ve made the most growth professionally since my first couple years. With that, I’ve made a renewed vow to become a better teacher, and more specifically a better teacher of writing. I’ve watched my bookshelf swell again, I attended a week-long class to teach Advanced Placement, and I’ve seen specific curricular decisions pay off in better writing in my students. I still have a long way to go, but I feel like 2013 has been a major step forward professionally.

I got to travel to a few places this year. Jenny and I went to New Orleans in April and Baltimore in September. I went to Vermont for the first time in my life this summer and made a return visit only a few months later. I sang karaoke in New York, relaxed on the beach in Rhode Island, and saw family and friends in Connecticut. I’ve also seen more of Massachusetts, my adoptive home state, and even went as far as mentally drafting an essay about driving around the state (this may have been “Roadrunner” aided, and was shelved when a flat tire the next day sucked the romance out of driving for a while).

I saw a bunch of really great shows. I saw virtually no movies. I read a lot of terrific things, but still not enough books. I’m becoming a better cook.

I wrote when I wanted to write, and even if I didn’t write a lot, I wrote a few things I was proud of writing, including a couple entries for One Week / One Band again. Most significantly, 2013 was when I stopped feeling guilty about not writing, specifically not writing about music. After writing about a lot of music for a few years, I still carried a lingering guilt that I should write more even when I wasn’t particularly interested in writing. While there are aspects of that ritual I miss (the habit, the deep thought, and the sense of accomplishment in particular), it made writing when I wanted to write enjoyable rather than obligatory. I hope to write like this more often (and yes, with far more frequent output of course).

I find that during the winter it’s easy to retreat into a social cave, and that December seems to be the worst. I almost always spend the end of a calendar year exhausted or mentally defeated, and I’m certainly tired now, but I don’t feel as isolated as I have in past years. For every personal relationship frayed by distance or other obligations, I have others that I feel deepened this year. I feel blessed to have a partner who encourages the best in me and supports me whether I’m working late or sleeping in, and I want to do my best to replicate that every day.

I’ve also found myself gaining a slightly healthier relationship with the onslaught of media pumped through the internet. I can’t say I’m FOMO-free, but I feel better marking feeds as read, ignoring trends that don’t interest me, or checking out from other things that I used to keep cursory tabs on. The next step in this is to deepen my actual interests, and that’s an ongoing process.

So it’s easy to disparage this year (or any year, really) and look ahead to the next one, and there are things from this year I’m looking forward to leaving behind, but I leave 2013 better than when I entered it, and my only resolution is to say the same thing next New Year’s.

(As a post script, when I wrote this last year, I embedded a video of “The Ice of Boston.” This year, when the Dismemberment Plan came around, I ended up on stage (probably right behind the guy who took this video). It seems somewhat emblematic of the year.)

“Bring On Your Wrecking Ball” – Reconsidering Springsteen’s Last Album

Last week, I wrote about an idea that had been bouncing around my brain for over a year. I’m editing it a little bit and posting it over here because that’s the kind of thing I’d like to do more often – work out ideas on my Tumblr and then flesh them out a little more for this blog.

It feels right tonight because it’s the end of the first day of Bruce Springsteen coverage at One Week / One Band. Dave Bloom, a terrific writer of his own right, has been working for months to solicit, schedule, and edit a bunch of people tackling the evolution of Springsteen’s songs. I was thrilled when Dave invited me to participate (I have a couple posts on Friday), in part because it got me writing again, but also because it got me thinking deeply about songs I love. I’m guessing this is where my ideas about Wrecking Ball found themselves.

One of the things that hasn’t sat well with me since Wrecking Ball came out last year was how neatly everyone wrapped it up as “Springsteen’s Political Album” or “His Occupy Movement Record” It’s not that Wrecking Ball isn’t political or populist; these descriptors just fit too neatly. The articles and analyses focusing on how Springsteen’s songs dissected the 21st century recession felt incomplete even when well written, and it didn’t really make sense until I saw Springsteen perform last summer.

During the encore on an August night at Fenway Park, Springsteen introduced “We are Alive” as a song he wrote to tie up the themes and ideas in the Wrecking Ball album. He specifically cited the hard times of the past half decade and how they had him looking backward to other hard times in history, but the thing that stuck with me the most was how he spoke of the past. ”The voices of the dead are always speaking to the living,” he said, “if you listen hard enough.” One of the constants of the Wrecking Ball tour was the “roll call” segment appended to “My City of Ruin.” After giving every member of the band a moment in the spotlight, the lights illuminate two empty parts of the stage. Springsteen then calls out his departed bandmates and adds the mantra of the Wrecking Ball tour: “If you’re here, and we’re here, then they’re here.” Since then, “We are Alive” gives me a little chill when I hear it, as I imagine the “voices of the dead” Springsteen describes aren’t the faceless ghosts a child might dream up in alone in a cemetery. Rather, these are the all too real voices of people who were once with us.

This connection made the rest of the album start to fall into place too. The defiance and anger that seemed entirely political felt like grieving. The searching and uncertainty in “We Take Care of Our Own” and “Rocky Ground” took on another dimension given the band’s uncertain status after losing Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons in a short span. “Death in My Hometown” took on a personal edge rather than a narrative direction.

Most significantly, it helped me understand how Springsteen pulled off the trick in “Wrecking Ball” where by the end of the song he wasn’t eulogizing Giants Stadium anymore. Originally written in 2009, the song begins like a celebration to athletic competition, complete with sports buzzwords that feel empty through repetition: “blood,” “champions,” “guts,” and “balls” in addition to slightly cleverer allusions to the stadium’s name, location, and primary tenant. In short, it sounds like the kind of thing played in a football stadium when football is listed on the ticket. Then, there’s this beautiful Aaron Copeland sounding melody that sneaks in long enough to distract me from missing the line that now leaps right off the page: “Tonight all the dead are here.” Springsteen might start by eulogizing the edifice itself, but by the end of the song he’s grappling with the inevitability of time. However, in true Springsteen fashion, this acknowledgment of mortality isn’t fatalistic, it’s empowering. The narrator goes from reflective to resolved, calling for us to “hold tight to our anger.” When he lays out the cycle of hardship in the last verse that awaits all of us, it’s more defiant than defeated. By the end, “bring on your wrecking ball” feels like a taunt rather than a toast. Coupled with the image of Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew and current E-Street saxophonist, standing with his fist raised during the song’s bridge, makes it clear that the ticking clock isn’t just the one in the stadium.

This urgency made all of Wrecking Ball more fascinating for me. It gives the political analysis that accompanied every review the right depth and shading. In his essential profile last spring, David Remnick noted that the dominant theme of the Wrecking Ball tour would be “time passing, age, death, and, if Springsteen could manage it, a sense of renewal.” This made what seemed like a late period footnote an essential introspective turn. It gave more of the album (to me at least) staying power, at least in the sense that I felt compelled to write this thirteen months after I probably should have sat down and done so.  Finally, it gives me hope that the August night I spent with the E-Street Band last summer won’t be the last time they come around.