Floating In A Most Peculiar Way

Some days, the universe gives you what you need. Today, that something was our own real-life Tony Stark launching his car into space.

For those of you who don’t follow such things, today was the launch of SpaceX’s “Falcon Heavy” rocket. It’s the biggest rocket ever launched, able to put a fully loaded 737 into orbit, and for you forward-thinking types, it’s exactly the sort of rocket we’ll need if we want to get serious about exploring Mars and beyond. So, we’re like… 10, 20 years from Star Trek now? Right?

There were a few different phases to the test.

The first part was just to get it off the ground without blowing up. Apparently, that’s no minor feat — the liftoff force was supposed to be the equivalent of 4 million pounds of TNT. Fortunately there was no Michael Bay ‘Splosion; other than a bit of delay because of winds (scheduled to launch around 1:30, didn’t actually go until 3:45), everything went pretty smoothly.

The second part was to land the reusable rocket components — the main booster was supposed to land on a floating platform out at sea, but the two side boosters were actually scheduled to return to dry land. The results there were mixed. The secondary boosters did indeed land, and they even came down at the same time like a pair of synchronized swimmers. It was executed so well it looks like they just took footage of the launch and ran it backwards. COMING SOON TO A GIF NEAR YOU. Unfortunately, the main booster didn’t land on its barge out at sea, and is unaccounted for. Still… two out of three ain’t bad.

The third part? That’s where shit gets weird. The general plan was to put a payload into an orbit around the sun, where it will orbit… well, they’re saying a billion years, but who knows? Now, normally, the “payload” is just a cargo hold full of bricks or concrete or something. But because Elon Musk is a real-life mad scientist, he made the payload a Tesla Roadster. With a spacesuited mannequin behind the wheel. Reportedly with the radio playing Bowie’s Space Oddity. Baller.

So depending on where you are, you can step outside your house, stare at the night sky, and Elon Musk’s car is up there somewhere. I won’t be maudlin and say it’s staring back at you — it’s got places to be. Mars, to start, and then a leisurely tour of our solar system. But it’s out there somewhere. (Try explaining that one to the insurance company, though.)

And I have to admit… even though I was watching a delayed feed and knew it had already gone up successfully, I got a little misty around the edges watching Falcon Heavy lift off the pad. It wasn’t quite as exhilarating as when Curiosity sent back its first picture from the surface of Mars, but it was more needed right now. Somewhere in the day-to-day ups and downs of living, and the shitshow that the Trump presidency has been, I forgot what it looks like when we do big things, and that we still ARE capable of doing them. Even if one guy’s doing a disproportionate share of the heavy lifting right at the moment.

I don’t know if we’re ever going to get to Mars, or if SpaceX’s ultimate destiny is to end up pushing communication satellites around low-earth orbit to pay the bills, but for one day, it was a breath of fresh air to be reminded there’s still something bigger and better for us to be working toward. Commencing countdown, engines on.


In Defense Of Not Watching The Super Bowl

Consider me a firm believer in not watching the Super Bowl.

If the Steelers aren’t in it, and if nobody invites me to drink beer while watching it, I’m OK with missing it, or at least skipping ahead to the fun part. I’ll check the score at 9 or 9:30, see if it’s even close, and duck my head in if it is. This plan worked fine for Pete Carroll’s goal-line misadventures and Eli: The Sequel, and it kept me from having to watch the Broncos use Cam Newton as a pinata; on the other hand, I’ll concede it backfired for the Falcons’ bed-shitting last year because I saw 28-3 like a lot of other people and called it a night (“other people”, in this case, included the Falcons themselves). The one recent exception is that I tuned into the Ravens-Niners one because I heard about the power outage at halftime, and I stuck around for most of the second half.

Some of it is just my general disenchantment with football as a whole. On one hand, the concussion/CTE stuff makes it start to feel a little like bloodsport, but at the same time, from a viewer perspective, the cure may be worse than the disease. They’ve put in these rules to create the illusion of protecting guys, but they’re so arbitrary and poorly enforced you can’t even tell what’s a clean hit and what’s a penalty anymore. Similarly, replay has gone from a handy thing that occasionally fixes a bad call to “let’s spend two hours considering 341 camera angles and then say it’s inconclusive because that avoids having to take an actual stand”. I’d almost rather they just go back to the pre-replay days, even if they occasionally get a call wrong here and there.

Sorry, Old Man Rant over. Where was I?

The halftime show? The actual music almost universally sucks — even if it’s a good band, a hurried medley of 3-5 of their greatest hits is not the proper way to enjoy them. The setup-to-music ratio is way too high. And the recent trend of having the “crowd” of dead-eyed mannequin people “cheering” for a band they’re clearly too young to appreciate is a little disconcerting. LOOK HOW MUCH THESE PHOTOGENIC YOUNG PEOPLE LOVE THREE-FIFTHS OF JEFFERSON STARSHIP!

The ads? I’ll admit I used to like them better when they stood on their own and didn’t seem quite as concerned with sparking multi-episode campaigns (I blame you, e-Trade Baby). Now, thanks to social media, it’s this whole process built up around itlet’s show a few still photos from the ad, let’s re-live the ad we played last year, let’s interview the cinematographer of the ad, here’s a short film where we watch Loretta prepare the Budweiser Clydesdales’ diet. It’s a lot of hype to hear “Dilly Dilly” uttered in some new and unexpected setting. Besides which, if there’s something genuinely clever, it’ll be all over YouTube by morning.

And then there’s this year’s matchup, which is particularly excruciating.

On one hand, we have the Eagles. Here in Pittsburgh, the narrative is that one can’t support the Eagles because of in-state rivalry, and I actually take issue with that. In football, we only play them every four years. The baseball rivalry died when the divisions aligned (and when the Pirates sucked for 20 years and couldn’t sustain a rivalry with a beer-league softball team). Even Pens-Flyers isn’t what it once was during the “Spectrum Jinx” heydey. I think the more compelling reason not to be interested in the Eagles is they have Nick Foles at quarterback. Yeah, because watching Checkdown Charlie throw four-yard slants and generally make Alex Smith look like Slingin’ Sammy Baugh is EXACTLY how I want to spend four hours. I think I’d literally rather put the microwave on defrost for four hours and watch that instead.

On the other hand, there’s the Patriots. I could make cheap jokes about their fanbase, but I think the thing I really dislike about them is that (with the obvious exception of Gronk, a human cartoon character) they’re so joyless and corporate — they’re a fucking PowerPoint presentation brought to life and placed on a football field. It’s like watching a friend play Madden and rooting for the CPU. And Belichick, while a talented coach, reminds me of the worst rules lawyer from any fantasy league I’ve ever been in — “show me in the rulebook where it says I can’t set a tiger loose in the opposing locker room”.

The counter-intuitive thing about the Patriots is they’ve got a track record for putting on a great show, win or lose. Every Patriot Super Bowl in the Brady-Belichick era has been a close game that came right down to the final minutes (not just the Eli Manning ones). So even in the years they’ve been dominant and expected to win in a blowout, they find a way to play down to the competition and keep it close. I suppose we ought to give them grudging credit for that.

Credit yes. Four hours and my emotional investment? No thanks. I’ll be over here watching Altered Carbon or playing Overwatch.

Just as soon as I watch that Solo promo a few more times.

Shilling For Schilling (Reluctantly)

So, a few days ago, I looked at this year’s Hall of Fame class, and I promised I’d come back to the case of Curt Schilling. So, to strike while the iron is still relatively hot, let’s take a look at him.

Let me start with the disclaimer that I’ve come to loathe the man for his post-playing antics. 50% “I want to be honest about my biases”, 50% “I need the catharsis of saying it”. To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to. For those who don’t know, after his playing days ended, Curt took a $75M loan from the state of Rhode Island to start a video game company (38 Studios) when his only background in the field was that he liked playing them. He promptly ran the company into the ground, but then re-emerged as a full-of-shit “small government, except for multi-million dollar loans to ex-jocks for their vanity projects” conservative. I suppose that was eye-rollingly tolerable, but he’s since leaned into his second life as “Alex Jones Lite” and frequently graces Twitter with all sorts of bigoted trash while promoting his show on Breitbart.

All of that makes this next part hard to say: Curt Schilling probably belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

One can view his full stats here, but to give a few highlights: Schilling was one of the premier power pitchers of his generation (3116 strikeouts, currently sitting 15th all-time). What’s more, he did it with pretty great control — his Ks/9 weren’t that much worse than Greg Maddux, who’s widely lauded as the best control pitcher in modern history. He also played for three World Series winners (2001 for Arizona; 2004 and 2007 with Boston). If there’s a statistical knock on his candidacy, it’s that his win totals are kinda low (216) because he spent the first half of his career playing for mostly-bad teams in Philadelphia (he arrived in time for the 1993 World Series trip, but then they blew up the team around him). The other knock is more of a feel thing — somewhat borne out by things like Cy Young and MVP voting — that he never really felt like a best-of-the-best guy, more like he topped out at “really good” (not that there’s any shame in that).

Let’s start with the “character clause”/off-field stuff first, because it’s probably easiest to dispense with. There have been people who say they won’t vote for him because of his political views. Besides the fact that it just feels wrong to punish him for what is ultimately free expression, I would argue that the character clause, even if one were to apply it, should apply to their career as a player, not to what they do in their personal life outside baseball. You wouldn’t catch me at his induction ceremony even if you paid me, but nothing Curt Schilling did in his playing days casts the slightest shadow on his candidacy.

So then there’s the low win total. On one hand, I think the sabermetrics movement has cast the idea of the win in a new light, and 300 wins isn’t the Holy Grail it used to be. On the other hand… that’s pretty freakin’ low. It wasn’t so long ago how we were talking that Don Sutton shouldn’t be an automatic Hall of Famer at 324 wins; now we’re just gonna drop down a hundred-some wins like it’s no big deal?

Except… Pedro Martinez is the game-changer here. There is not a sane person in the world who would argue that Pedro Martinez is not one of the most electric pitchers of his generation. You simply cannot have a conversation about great pitchers of the 90s and 00s without him. On a personal level, I was once working a contract in Albany, and I seriously considered driving the 3-ish hours to Boston — after a full day’s work — to try to scalp a seat at Fenway because his rotation spot was up that day. He was that good.

And guess what? Pedro finished his career with 219 wins. So if you want a Hall of Fame that includes Pedro Martinez, then all of a sudden, the 210-220 range is in play, at which point maybe we need to recalibrate our radar and admit that’s what a great pitcher looks like now. If you somehow don’t want a Hall of Fame with Pedro Martinez? Go watch cricket because you’re clearly not a fan of baseball. It doesn’t kill the argument entirely — there’s a case to be made that Pedro was a transcendent talent but that the queue for non-Pedro pitchers should start at 240 or 250 wins — but it takes some of the sting out of it.

Now let’s take a look at the idea that Schilling was merely “really good” rather than “great”. An interesting comparison here is Kevin Brown — other than the World Series rings and strikeouts, Brown and Schilling are pretty statistically similar pitchers. But Brown’s Cooperstown case was a one-and-done with 2% of the vote. Is Schilling THAT much better than Kevin Brown?

Let’s come at this from the top down. Who amongst Schilling’s contemporaries were absolutely better than Schilling? I would think you’d get little argument on Randy Johnson, Maddux, Martinez, Roger Clemens, and perhaps Tom Glavine.

After that, who else could you credibly could put in conversation? We’ll put the aforementioned Kevin Brown in the bucket to start, just for grins. Mike Mussina? Most of his stats other than wins aren’t nearly as good. I think Johan Santana at his peak was better (if it’s a “Space Jam” scenario where you have to win one game, give me Santana over Schilling) but he was injured so much that he only had 4 or 5 truly great seasons. The third guy of the Braves’ trinity, John Smoltz? An oddball career that included reinventing himself as a closer for three years, and then going back to the rotation. Roy Halladay also feels like he could fit (long time staff ace, win totals suffered because he played for a lot of bad Toronto teams), but you put his stats next to Schilling and it’s not really much of a contest. Anyone else? There’s a few other names like Roy Oswalt and Mark Buehrle that briefly wave hello to my brain and then leave, but no one jumps out as a serious contender.

(Aside: there’s also a few guys like Jamie Moyer  who are nobody’s idea of a great pitcher, but managed to pile up more wins just on longevity. Since we’re talking about greatness, let’s just say those aren’t the droids we’re looking for and move on.)

So let’s say you give ALL those guys the benefit of the doubt — which I wouldn’t — and that’s still only 10 guys, with Schilling knocking at the door at #11. Eliminate a couple (I wouldn’t make a serious case for Halladay or Santana) and Schilling’s a top 10 generational pitcher, unless I’m forgetting someone obvious.

So set aside the wins or the fact that he was only sporadically a Cy Young finalist. Should a Top 10 pitcher be in Cooperstown? I would argue yes.

I will say it’s no great crime that he’s struggled to get in. First, there’s been a glut of pretty good candidates the last few years, particularly as the voters have had to grapple with the PED guys on the hitting side. Looking at his stats, Schilling’s a better pitcher than I remembered, but some of his value was tied up in the un-sexy workhorse stats. I also don’t think it’s anyone’s fault that it took us a few years to recalibrate toward the notion that 250 wins is the new 300 and 225 is the new edge of reasonable. So all the people rending their garments about how Schilling is being punished can probably simmer down a little and give it a few more years. He’ll probably get in eventually, and he probably deserves to.

Book ‘Em, Dan-O: Artemis by Andy Weir

You’ve probably heard of The Martian by Andy Weir — there was a Matt Damon movie and everything.

Artemis is Weir’s follow-up effort, released a few months ago, but I just got around to reading it. I don’t want to spoil huge chunks of the plot, but Weir himself has described it as “a heist novel set on the moon”, so I think we can give that away. Our main character is Jazz (short for Jasmine) Bashara, a worker bee on the Artemis lunar colony, who gets involved in a scheme to turn a quick buck. Things go wrong — also not a huge surprise, or it would be a short story, not a novel — and science-themed mayhem ensues.

Weir’s thing — both in The Martian and now in Artemis — is (reasonably) scientifically accurate fiction. He writes books where plot points hinge on the boiling point of a particular liquid, or what byproduct gases are created if you mix chemical A and chemical B together, or how a character gets from Point A to Point B when there’s no air and 1/6th the gravity. And i have to admit that appeals to me as a science nerd. While I’m still not too cool for people punching and shooting lasers at each other (haven’t missed  a Marvel movie yet), I do think there’s a welcome place for heroes who succeed by using knowledge to solve problems instead of their fists. See also: Doctor Who, Captain Picard. If you can create compelling adventures of that sort, SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY, as the meme says.

And the guy deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award for having a character proclaim “I’ve got to science the shit out of this”.

So why did Artemis fall a little flat for me? It’s not that I didn’t like it, but I also didn’t come away with the “fuck yeah, I can’t wait until they make a movie of this” vibe I got from his first book.

I think part of it is because it’s more conventional. The Martian was a “man vs. nature” procedural about solving problems — how to keep a guy alive and get him off Mars. There were no “good guys” and “bad guys” — even the NASA director (finnnne… “the guy Jeff Daniels played”) who was reluctant to risk six other lives and the entire future of his program to rescue one guy was given some room for sympathy and got moments of redemption later in the story. Artemis is much more “Hollywood” in its execution — good guys, bad guys, low-gravity fist-fights, Michael Bay ‘Splosions… it might actually make a pretty good movie, but it lacks that special sauce that made the first one such a breath of fresh air.

The second reason is hard to discuss because of spoilers, but the character motivations were off in a way that made it hard to root for our protagonist. In The Martian, Mark Watney (finnnnne… Matt Damon) got left behind on Mars, so his motivations were clear; every choice was “is this going to make my chances of survival better or worse?” You root for him because he’s fighting for survival. In Artemis, the plan itself is dangerous and stupid, and Jazz is basically doing it for the money. So there’s a degree to which the “hero” we’re supposed to be rooting for is stupid and selfish, some of the crisis points are dumb shit she brought on herself, and it distracts from the story.

The last reason is a lesser complaint, but I don’t feel like Weir got writing for a female Muslim character quite right. It felt like Jazz’ gender and religion were just exterior trappings — the character read and reacted as indistinguishable from Mark Watney, but if Mark Watney had broken the fourth wall and yelled “I’M A WOMAN” at the reader every five pages and “I’M A MUSLIM” every 20. There’s a similar, lesser problem with the writing of a secondary character who is gay… and either he or someone he’s talking to has to mention he’s gay every page or two, just in case the reader forgot.

I do want to give Weir credit for trying. This is not by any means meant as a “fuck political correctness” rant. Representation matters, and graded strictly pass-fail, it’s progress that we have stories that feature a female Muslim protagonist with a gay sidekick, rather than a lantern-jawed white male protagonist with a slightly less lantern-jawed sidekick (possibly with glasses to establish his lesser standing in the wolfpack). But if an author is going to include diverse characters in their story, I find myself wanting them to sound authentic, and something was a little off for me. It wasn’t bad enough to ruin the book, but it was sometimes immersion-breaking.

If it seems like I hated it, that may be overselling things. Part of the problem is that it’s hard to to discuss the things I liked about it without getting too spoilery. The action moved along at a nice pace, and if you concede the weaknesses of the originating event and move forward from there, Weir worked in some interesting twists and some interesting solutions to those twists.  I suppose graded pass-fail, I’d probably give it a passing grade, but getting more granular, maybe more of a B or B- than the A+ with extra gold stars The Martian was.

If you liked The Martian, definitely check it out, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t quite hit those same heights. If you’re new to Weir’s work, if “Ocean’s 11 for Science Nerds” sounds like something that might be up your alley, it’s a fairly quick read, so you might want to give Artemis a try.

New Phone, Who Dis?

Well, decided to get a new phone today. Semi-begrudgingly. My Old Man Eyes got the better of me, and I had to get something with a bigger screen than my iPhone 5S(mall).

I’m not particularly gonna gush about the phone itself. It’s… well, it’s a cheap phone (ZTE Max XL, $70) on a cheap carrier (Virgin Mobile). That’s how I roll. Despite the fact that I work in IT, I’m actually a bit of a Luddite when it comes to phones — if it can make calls, has a camera, and can play a game or two on the bus ride to and from work, that’s kinda all I need. I was on my Nokia brick when everyone else had flip phones; I finally got a flip-phone around the time everyone else was going to smartphones; these days I finally have a smartphone, but I’m probably two or three cycles behind current. I can pretty much guarantee you will never catch me in line for the newest anything… unless someone wants to pay me to hold a spot for them.

Having said that, I’m at least a little disappointed at having to defect from Apple back to Android. I don’t quite rise to the level of “Steve Jobs Cultist” — I don’t even own a black turtleneck — but I gotta admit they make a nice product.

First, things just… work… on Apple products. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with closed vs. open system and the fact that Apple exerts a lot more control over what gets placed on their app store, but my previous Android was crashing all the time; meanwhile, I can only remember one major problem with my iPhone — though ironically, it was last week.

I also think Apple has put a lot more of thought into user interface over the years than the competition has. They’ve got a clean unified look, and it’s pretty intuitive to figure out what to do or what button to push in any given situation. Android? In trying to be everything to everyone, the look is kind of disjointed, and the actual means of operating things is all over the map — sometimes you drag up, except this menu flies in from the side, except on alternate Tuesdays. I’ll concede that some of it will come with practice and muscle memory — they moved my office at work two months ago, and I still push UP instead of DOWN on the elevator occasionally. And that’s one damn button.

Lastly, there’s the low-end logistical concern that I’ve been using iTunes to manage my music for what… a decade, maybe longer? So it’s been a lot less hassle to manage my music library on the iPhone than to have to either a) start using Spotify or Pandora more or b) transfer MP3s manually, which is a bit clunky and forces you to pre-plan your tastes a little bit. In the grand scheme it’s a minor thing — frankly, it dawns on me I can still just download music onto the old iPhone using wireless and use it as a glorified MP3 player — but it’s another minor inconvenience.

Having said all of that, hey, I’ve got a new toy to play with. I suppose it’s time for me to get going — got to sync up contacts, dig out ringtones I haven’t used in a while, make sure all my work-related stuff works so I can hit the ground running on Monday. Perhaps I’ll just console myself with the new iPhone X I’ll be getting in… 2024, I think?


XFL 2020 – Make America Watch Crappy Football Again

Really? We’re doing this?

I guess so. Apparently Vince McMahon is going to try to bring back the XFL. Yeah, that football league whose on-field product sucked so bad that they had to change the rules while the first season was being played to make it possible for teams to score.

But hey, they had nicknames on their jerseys. Well, “nickname”, anyway… can anyone name a player with a nickname other than “HE HATE ME” (aka Rod Smart)? So there’s that.

I know Ol’ Vince will tell us there’s nothing political about this, but come on. There’s the superficial stuff, like the red-white-and-blue color scheme (at the risk of revealing I know more than I should about wrestling, previous WWE ventures have been black, red, and silver… almost without exception) and the “XFL 2020” hashtag that borrows the trappings of a presidential campaign. And then there’s the non-stance stance of saying “hey, we’re not political, standing for the anthem is just part of the job… it’s just like washing your hands after using the bathroom” or dropping the hint that players with criminal records (go ahead and say it, Vince… “thugs”) won’t be allowed to play. WITH THEIR GOLD CHAINS AND THE HIPPITY-HOPPITY MUSIC! But Tim Tebow is welcome… because nothing says you’re committed to putting a quality product on the field like a 48% career passer who won’t have taken a game snap in 8 years by the time you open your doors for business.

So yep. Trump supporters are going to get their own football league.

I mean, Vince can’t come right out and say that. He might want a TV deal with a network other than Fox, and advertisers are going to want to know their ads will be reaching people under the age of 70. He’s going to need to locate some… well, most… well, all… of his teams in big cities (which tend to have large Democratic populations) because nobody except cattlemen and 1800s railroad barons are going to tune in to watch that hot prime-time Boise vs. Cheyenne matchup.

And let’s be honest that part of the mental math might be that he has to appeal to black athletes to play for his league (and probably for shitty wages, too). Now I’m a realist that if you’re a bubble guy on the outside of the NFL looking in, there’s a lot you’ll put up with for one last chance to grab the brass ring. On the other hand, there may be limits to that, so it’s not in Vince’s best interests to come right out and call it “Football The Way Your Racist Uncle Likes It”. Even if that’s what it’s shaping up to be.

(I was about to make an observation questioning how black players would feel about playing in a league where Colin Kaepernick is unemployable while Richie Incognito — a guy who humiliated a black teammate with racial taunts to the point where he quit the game — not only still has a job but is a big misunderstood teddy bear, but wait… that’s actually the NFL.)

Don’t get me wrong. To whatever extent I’m not generally sick of football (an entirely separate thread; put a pin in that for another time) I’m actually generally in favor of a competing or complementary league. There’s a fair criticism that lack of competition has made the NFL a little stagnant, and the NCAA model of “amateurism” is full of flaws and hypocrisy. So as an abstract concept, if there’s a place where the guys with flaws in their game can work on them and the best young football players in the country can actually get paid to hone their craft instead of faking their way through Underwater Basket-Weaving classes in the NCAA… I’m actually cool with that.

But not this. This is a cynical marketing stunt, designed to cash in on our polarized politics. It wouldn’t even surprise me if the 2020 timing  of the launch was picked so that Trump could get involved more directly if he loses his re-election bid, decides not to run again, or resigns and takes a pardon from Pence. The job of celebrity commissioner seems like it would quench his thirst for sitting behind a desk looking important and lording his power over minorities — it would be just like The Apprentice. And one also gets the feeling Trump has been nursing a “if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em” grudge against the NFL since the failed USFL days. (Aside: the ESPN 30 for 30 doc about the USFL is actually really good — I highly recommend it.)

Or this possibly part of Trump’s play to become a media mogul? I take the claims of Fire And Fury with about 800 grains of salt, but Wolff was neither the first, nor the only, person to suggest Trump might harness his ambitions to a media venture. Having a football league to put on the air as programming might be part of that broader strategy.  Especially when you consider how cozy Trump and the McMahons have been over the years — heck, Vince’s wife Linda is actually an agency head in the Trump Administration.

(And don’t get me started on that… what’s the over-under on “hours of hearings if Obama or Bizarro President Hillary had used their office to repeatedly bash a private business while the spouse of someone who ran a competing business worked for their adminstration”?)

Whatever it ends up being, I don’t think there’s even a chance it’s going to be competitive football worth a damn. At best, it’s going to be Hard Knocks on steroids (figuratively and literally), as they play up the “story” of 5’8″ wide receivers from East Montana School of Mines. The football doesn’t have to be good as long as they have some first responders and servicemen bringing the football out for the kickoff and find themselves a Poor Man’s Tomi Lahren to serve as a sideline reporter. It just has to look professional enough to convince Trump’s fans that watching the games and buying the merch might Piss Off The Libtards(tm), and they can probably spend 60 minutes punting the ball back and forth.

Cooped Up – 2018

So we have our 2018 Hall of Fame class — Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, and Trevor Hoffman.

For the most part, it’s hard to argue with any of those guys.

The thing that stands out about Chipper’s game is the consistency. If you break down the individual components of his game, there was always someone who was better — player A hit more homers, player B won the batting title, player C had more RBIs. (This is borne out by a Black Ink Test of 4.) But when you put it together, there were few guys out there who were more of a lock to deliver a .310/35/100 season.

Digression: The “Black Ink Test” is basically “how often did this player lead the league in some major category?” Gray Ink is “how often were they in the Top 10?” So Chipper’s Black Ink is only 4, but his Gray is a much more respectable 107. They’re not perfect measures by any means, but it gives you a broad sense of how dominant a player was during his time.

Vlad was all of that and more. If Chipper was quiet consistency, Vlad was noisy consistency. With tape measure power and a cannon for an arm, he made more of a physical impression, and even the one flaw in his game — the fact that he’d swing at everything — actually made him more fun to watch. His Black/Gray numbers are 6 and 166; another player who rarely led the league but was always around the leaderboard. His power faded with age, but he was never less than a .290 hitter in a full season. Also, I’d argue he just meets that more “holistic” definition of a “star” — one of my general tests of “fame” is “is this a guy I’d specifically buy a ticket to go see play?” You might or might not do that for Chipper — quiet excellence might not exert itself in a single game. You would ABSOLUTELY go see Vlad play because you might just see something you never saw live before. Even if that “something” was swinging at a pitchout.

Trevor Hoffman is kind of the anti-Vlad. Because he didn’t throw hard after his arm injury in 1994, he doesn’t fit the prototypical definition of a lights-out closer. I’m not sure you’d buy a ticket just to go see Hoffman throw in the high 80s and finish guys off with a freakin’ changeup. And yet he not only made it work, but finished second all time in saves behind Mariano Rivera. In some ways, maybe he deserves more credit for adapting his game to a reduced arsenal and thriving with it.

Jim Thome is the one pick where I give my support a little begrudgingly. One is purely a personal preference — I just find those low-average slugger types a little boring. The bigger issue is that Thome’s selection pulls us into the PED gravity well — can we say for sure what makes him different than Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who seem to have been low-key banned from Cooperstown despite being far more “star-like” players at their peaks? Do we know Thome was clean, or is he flying under our radar because — some combination of “he never challenged Maris’ record” and “he wasn’t a star of the Mitchell Report”? At the end of the day, it’s hard to argue 600 homers isn’t worthy of a plaque, but I’m not sure how I feel about the double-standard.

So those are the guys who made it in. Let’s talk about the guys who didn’t.

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. To me, they represent the hitting and pitching sides of the same basic coin. Yes, they both almost definitely benefited from performance enhancers. Yes, they both came across as kind of dickish in their denials (particularly Clemens, who threw pretty much everyone — including his supposed best friend Andy Pettitte — under the bus trying to dodge accountability). BUT… is there really any doubt in either case that they were also all-time talents and we’d probably still be polishing up their Cooperstown plaques even if they had played completely clean? Would Clean Bonds have been anything less than a Top 5 or Top 10 hitter? Performance enhancers didn’t give him that infuriatingly good eye for the strike zone. Would Clean Clemens be any less than a Top 10 or Top 20 pitcher? I personally think not.

For me, Edgar Martinez was robbed. I know the argument is that DH is somehow an “incomplete player”, but that strikes me as a cheap excuse. If the designated hitter is part of the rulebook, than the best players to perform that role ought to be just as eligible for Cooperstown as anyone else. Besides, aren’t glove-first defenders like Bill Mazeroski and Ozzie Smith “incomplete players” too? Compared to a 300-win starter, a closer who pitches one inning or less in 90% of his appearances is “incomplete” but Mariano Rivera might well make it in on his first ballot without raising an eyebrow.

The most interesting and complicated case is probably that of Curt Schilling, one of the most polarizing candidates in recent memory because of his off-the-field reinvention as “Alex Jones Lite”. I tried to write up a short version, but it kept expanding and expanding, so I’m actually going to come back later with a Part 2 that focuses on Schilling. For now, let’s just say it’s more of a borderline case than Schilling and his fans would have you believe, and the idea that he’s being persecuted for his politics is a little overblown. Fact is: he’s a tough call for a variety of reasons.