Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Polite Discussion of Terms



Hot damn do I love Carlos Zambrano

edit: Now with bigger, juicier pictures and video! (as long as MLB doesn't notice):

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Dart Through the Dime


First off, to those of you who check JnM regularly enough to know our output has been lacking, thanks for doing so. Within the week expect a treatise on the toast of the AL East, the Toronto Blue Jays. And soon we'll be back to our normally updating schedule - Mondays and Thursdays.

In the meantime, though, I wanted to bring attention to some gorgeous new NBA commercials from Adidas. These were done in collaboration with Free Darko; both the look and the stylistic commentary are copped from their book. The commercials - the second of which is my favorite - are embedded here, but feel free to jump over to FD to read their post and maybe cop some merchandise (this shirt and this print are both worthy of praise) to support the good work they do.

Friday, May 8, 2009

See the Ball, Hit the Ball

Before I get into this, I should say that JnM is by no means a reactionary, angry site. We're for baseball, for the people who play it, for the foibles and the eccentricities and the human bits that make it all worth watching. For new visitors, it might be worth checking out our Ethos, and maybe skimming one or two of our other posts to get a sense of what we're about. Note in first link how Ramirez is listed as a player who exemplifies what we love about the sport. We've said from the beginning that steroids aren't as big a deal as they're presented to be by the media at large, and that the numerology in baseball can be as much of a burden as it can an asset. So when a player who embodies so much of the good in baseball gets hoisted out on a skewer by yet another irresponsible columnist holding aloft his personal code of ethics as the Truth, I think we should say something.

Jayson Stark's new article about Manny Ramirez's suspension is up and can be found here. You should probably read it before continuing.

Every single part of that article is horseshit. Complete and utter horseshit. Starting with the first sentence, where Stark decides to start his article burying Manny with a grand statement about being proud to be an American and proud to be amongst such a forgiving populace, continuing to the last, where he says it'll take more than his (Manny's) hair and his bat to earn forgiveness. It's horseshit because it's built on a faulty premise and is thus fallacious; that Manny doesn't deserve to be forgiven because he didn't take on the full brunt of the blame in his apology. The people who have done this and have been forgiven (deservedly) apparently begins and ends with Pettitte. There's not another name listed, though Stark infers there are others. These people who have been forgiven were so absolved because they took their punishment like a man. It's a ridiculous idea that misses the point completely.

I don't want to step on the toes of upcoming posts we'll do about steroids, but I've never felt that juicing is enough to warrant a tarring-and-feathering. It's just not that simple. Even for a player like Rodriguez, whose use was/is more a statement of insecurity than anything else, and whom I don't even care for, the Steroids is an insignificant event; more interesting for the psychological implication it makes about him than the padded stats. So while I may think it's not a big deal regardless of the player, Stark clearly does. On his own terms, then: Manny was caught with a female fertility drug that raised the amount of testosterone in his body. Pettitte used Human Growth Hormone to heal his pitching arm. In simple black and white terms, Pettitte's was the greater baseball sin. It's not even close. Also worth noting is that Manny has passed at least a dozen tests for illegal substances in the last few years, and given the nature of steroids, its benefits and consequences on the body, combined with Manny's strengths as a player, it's pretty reasonable to say that there's no real reason to suspect he's had a history of juicing. Bill Simmons, of course, takes a maudlin approach when he contemplates the cataclysmic repercussions of Manny taking some pills, and though he's more realistic about what steroids mean in a general way, somehow Ramirez's failed test causes him to lose his shit. He's wrong, too, but his is a more personal disappointment and while he misses the point - Manny and Ortiz still were the Ruth and Gehrig of our time - his last sentence sort of gets it right. Everyone's cheating.

Baseball is a game of cheating, though. Stealing signs and steroids, whether to win a game or prolong a career, are all part of it. So when Simmons says "Everyone was cheating back then," he's half wrong. Everyone has always been cheating.

Back to Stark. There's a weird sort of fascist bent to whole article's chiding. Stark darkly intones that Manny's reputation before this suspension is enough cause to throw him overboard; whereas Pettitte's stellar history renders him easier to forgive. This is where I take the most umbrage. You see, whereas Stark seems to think Manny has no fans, that his behavior is sinister and his past unforgivable, I see it the other way. This play, for better or worse, sums up what I love about Manny. He's a ridiculous, child-like person; he leaves the field to pee in the middle of a game, wears sunglasses with earbuds in them during warm ups, he doesn't seem to be taking any of it seriously, ever. There are a thousand other examples of this, and anytime an expression is coined to explain a person (Manny being Manny), you can rest assured there's a pattern of behavior. But Manny's acts aren't childish; they, as I said just now, are child-like. And the joy Manny has for baseball is obvious. Witness his slump busting homerun against the A's a few years ago in the playoffs, where he stood back and admired his hit for far too long, and you won't see a player rubbing his excellence in his opponent's faces. You'll see a player watching the ball go over the wall, finding his swing again.

Manny is one of the top 2 or 3 right handed hitters in the history of baseball. He's a World Series MVP, he's clutch, and a dozen other positive adjectives that I can't list here. Moreso than that, though, he's wholly himself and authentic. He has style and verve and swagger and is one of the handful of players that I would steal money to use to watch him play. That is why he'll be forgiven. Not because we're his parents and we decide punishment, or our ideals of purity and sanctity have been compromised. That's stupid, and where Stark is fundamentally most wrong.

I'll wait for Manny to come back because Manny is a baseball player: One who plays a game. That he does so in accordance with his own head rather than some fictionalized utopia a sportswriter dreams of is all the better. I'd wish to everyone that they find the happiness and excellence in their own jobs or hobbies that Manny Ramirez has in baseball.

So, Jayson Stark, we here at Joy in Mudville posit that you (along with Plaschke and his typically completely ludicrous response, and a number of other ESPN talking heads), are completely and totally wrong about this. And if you think for a moment that baseball is more about Pettitte than it is about Manny - that we're watching the game for Andy's dour expressions or impassive mein - then you can take your ball and go home.

The rest of us will be happy to fill the stands.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Burn, Basepaths, Burn!

Another assortment of quasi-organized thoughts from our foreign correspondent and has-been jersey taxidermist, Blylevin's Beard.

Did you see Jacoby Ellsbury steal home against the Yankees?! I mean, wow! Sorry, I’m excited, and I’ve gotten way ahead of myself. I’m gonna back it up, like a lot, and seemingly switch topics entirely, but I beg of you, please bear with me. Because that steal of home was awesome.

Barry Bonds had eclipsed perhaps the most treasured record in all of sports, a feat responded to by Hank Aaron with predictable grace, and by Bud Selig with predictable weaseliness, and by the American public with all the enthusiasm of a car owner paying for new brake pads, Major League Baseball blackballed him. They shut him out, hoped he’d shut up, and directed our attention to Alex Rodriguez, the clean-shaven-former-teen-phenom, the pinstripe-clad golden boy at the height of his considerable powers, destined to restore the shine on the newly-tarnished Home Run Throne. And then it turned out that he’d tested positive for ‘roids while a Ranger. And some new book clams that he may have been juicing as far back as his high school days, and has played with needles while in a Yankee uniform, too. Oh yeah, and while in Texas he allegedly tipped pitches to opposing batters in hopes of getting the favor returned – selling out his teammates for an infinitesimal boost to his own stat line. To put it bluntly, this is a bonafide shitstorm. And this time, the MLB can’t slug their way out of it.

The tradition of enticing disillusioned fans back to the ballpark with the promise of dingers aplenty stretches back to baseball’s seminal shitstorm, the Black Sox Scandal of 1919. The following year, umpires began cracking down on spitters (and emeryballs, and goopballs, and snotballs...) and introducing fresh balls once those in use got scuffed up, dramatically tipping the scales in favor of hitters: ergo, the dawn of the "Live Ball Era." The Babe became The Guy, and was soon joined by the likes of Lou Gehrig, Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx and Mel Ott in reeling fans back in by knocking more and more pitches out of the park.

Most recently, of course, the “Problems? What problems? Check out this 500-foot blast!” method was employed following the disgusting/depressing 1994 strike. At the pinnacle of this swing stands the McGwire-Sosa derby of 1998, but those two certainly weren’t alone in the effort: Bonds, Griffey, Sheffield, Matt Williams, hell, even Jason Priestley, er, I mean Brady Anderson, got on the Round-Tripper Trolley! Only this time around, it wasn’t decreased levels of vaseline on the ball making everybody homer-happy; it was increased levels of testosterone in the players. Baseball’s best and brightest in the post-strike era weren’t “farm-boy strong” a la Enos Slaughter and Mickey Mantle, they were rapidly morphing into Lou Ferrigno lookalikes, and it wasn’t because of the new Nautilus machine in the clubhouse, either, and everybody knew it, but they thought the party would last forever, and then it blew up in MLB’s face, and that pretty much brings us to the shitstorm at hand.

So like I said, with Barry long-beyond-tainted and A-Rod newly-tainted, it’s become clear that the longball won’t cure what’s currently ailing baseball. To my great delight, however, it appears that what will is a return to old-school, Senior Circuit speed-and-defense baseball. Once again, did see Jacoby Ellsbury steal home against the Yankees?! How about Carl Crawford’s sextet of steals against the Red Sox. Don’t get me wrong, I love it when Ryan Howard gets ahold of one, too, but he does so once every 15 at-bats or so. Jimmy Rollins’ wheels, on the other hand, are on display in every inning of every game he plays. So I say give me more Emilio Bonifacio inside-the-parkers, more Ichiro Suzuki stop-on-a-dime bunts, more Reed Johnson diving catches, more of Hanley Ramirez on the rise and Juan Pierre on the rebound [Ed: This last one's not going to happen. Live in the now, Beard]. Give me the second coming of Vince “Firecrackers Ahoy!” Coleman and the Redbirds of the mid-‘80s, with a lineup full of switch-hitting, count-working, drag-bunting, hit-and-run-executing speed demons who somehow found a way to make baseball played on turf a glorious thing.

Let’s put this steroid mess (and all the other baggage A-Rod’s bringing to the table these days) behind us. One stolen base at a time. Speaking of which, did you see Jacoby Ellsbury steal home against the Yankees?!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A Pacific Typhoon

Because I can't say anything more about the fight than these pictures do.

If you're looking for analysis of the beautifully phrased, putting-this-into-context sort, the type of post I wish I could write about boxing, head over to Boxiana (on the "sites we're following" box to the right) and check out this latest post, Tell it to the Judge. It's excellent work.

Baseball commentary to resume tomorrow, this fight ended up eclipsing the entire weekend of sport for me and pushing other things out of my brain.