First, let’s get into some internal business. As of today, I’ve decided to change the name of this weekly column from “Grant Land” to “This Week in Dumb, Beautiful Baseball.” It was important to me to make sure the new name was also legally precarious, and I believe it is keeping that same spirit. However, the old name meant absolutely nothing to the uninitiated, and its primary appeal was that it was mildly amusing for exactly one day. [Editor’s Note: I laughed every week TBH.]
The new name at least gives you an idea of what to expect. And what you should expect is a whole bunch of dumb, beautiful baseball. Because, if we’re being honest, this sport is just so dumb and beautiful. They should have sent a poet and/or prop comic.
Luckily, I fancy myself a little bit of both. And we begin today with an appeal to ...
Let us study this baseball thing
The Orioles are not having a good season. Did you hear about this? Feels like something you should read about. You might think that a team like the 2018 Orioles is exactly whom you want your favorite team to play against.
Except that’s not always true. Let’s theorem this up:
The Playing a Historically Lousy Team Theorem
The amount of enjoyment received by watching your team beat up a historically awful team is inversely proportional to the amount of shame received by watching your team get beat up by a historically awful team.
The Mariners were having a good season. Then someone opened the box that read, “WARNING: MARINERS. DO NOT OPEN.” and now there’s Mariners all over the place. It’s not entirely fair to pick on them, considering that they would be two games behind the Indians in the AL Central and leading the NL East or NL Central, but we’ve never worried about being entirely fair. The point is that they’re making interest payments on all of the unfortunate baseball they somehow avoided in the first part of the season.
And I can’t stop watching this play:
The Orioles really tried to screw up. I promise you. Jonathan Villar decided to test Denard Span’s arm — a very reasonable decision, mind you — and got caught in a TOOTBLAN situation. Fair enough. Just another humiliating play for the ol’ O’s.
Except Villar had a cosmic karma chip to cash in. For he was the victim of the Butt Slide.
I’ve watched the GIF of Shaq dunking on some dude and crotch-forcing him down to the ground about six thousand times. The Butt Slide will always be more humiliating to me. At what point did Villar realize he was heading for a butt? Doesn’t matter. Couldn’t stop his slide.
Anyway, the point is that as soon as that happened, Villar got one Turn My Base Running Into Another Person’s Humiliation card. He should have gotten four of them, but he definitely got at least one. He exchanged it for this play.
Alas, it wasn’t to be. And at some point before or after this, Gordon got into a clubhouse fight with a teammate. Well, let’s cheer up by looking at a graph of the Mariners’ postseason odds by game:
makes sense the mariners drew a mountain, we do like mountains here pic.twitter.com/0Jop5MsacO— Meg Rowley (@megrowler) September 10, 2018
It’s like a big ol’ pimple, but at least they’ll always have that swollen, infected peak. And they’ll always have the ignominy of beating the Orioles at their own game, which is beating themselves.
That is, there’s nothing better than beating a team at beating themselves, except for everything better, which is most things.
(I’ve spent more time looking at the Butt Slide in the last half-hour, if we’re being honest, but I still have no idea how Villar avoided that tag, and it will give me hope in every rundown for the next thirty years.)
A brief ranking of incredibly awesome and violent backswings
If you say “Butt Slide” into the mirror three times, Brandon Phillips appears. People forget this. As such, here’s a collection of incredibly awesome, violent backswings on well-hit baseballs, with one of them including Brandon Phillips.
3. Trevor Story
Aesthetically, it’s the prettiest of the entries because of how far the ball went. But the fall didn’t have anything to do with how hard he hit the ball or how hard he swung. It was a cleat catching. It wasn’t a consequence of how hard he tried to hit the ball; it was a consequence of his feet getting tangled up.
That doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. It just means that it’s not the best example of a violent backswing.
2. Bo Bichette
New Hampshire takes a 3-0 lead in the sixth! Bo Bichette rips a ground rule double to left, and Cavan Biggio follows with a two-run double later in the inning.— NH Fisher Cats (@FisherCats) September 6, 2018
Here's Bo's two-bagger that got us going: pic.twitter.com/2eH4uVpR76
Bo Bichette’s backswing might be the absolute best I’ve ever seen. The only explanation I have is that the runner on second base knew that a breaking ball was coming, and he signaled as much to Bichette, who was absolutely salivating at the thought of a breaking ball thrown by a pitcher thinking, “Heh. He’ll never expect the ol’ 1-0 breaking ball.”
But it wasn’t a home run. So it cannot win. I’m terribly sorry.
1. Brandon Phillips, who is apparently on the Red Sox now
It’s not a violent backswing, per se, but the backswing definitely takes Phillips into the decision to lean back and appreciate just how much he clobbered the snot out of the baseball. When you play 17 years in the majors and then spend a couple months in Triple-A proving you still belong in the majors, this is the appropriate reaction to hitting a ball that hard.
Putting your head down and acting like it’s no big deal? Now that’s cocky. Realizing that entropy rules us all and absolutely digging the feeling of clobbering a baseball? That’s just being human. As such, we would like to award Brandon Phillips the Adrian Beltré Achievement Award for Comical Backswings.
May it not be your last.
A very related baseball picture of the week
Here is a picture of a normal home run. It has won the contest of “Baseball Picture of the Week” because it is completely normal.
Excuse for a Simpsons reference
These are the cleats that Bryce Harper wore on September 5 in honor of Roberto Clemente Day:
There are few players who transcend team boundaries like Clemente, where it’s not only possible for someone on another team to celebrate him, but it’s completely indefensible to argue against Harper’s right to wear them. It’s Roberto Clemente Day, and heck yes, anyone who wants to celebrate one of baseball’s greatest talents and humanitarians should be able to.
And yet ...
Is that petty? Oh, yeah. Is this a stretch of a Simpsons reference? Darn straight.
At the same time, it’s all that I could think about, and I’m very, very sad that Harper didn’t play against the Pirates just to make the parallels more applicable.
Javier Baez is electric, even when he’s doing absolutely nothing
I’m not entirely sure that I’ve seen a pitcher make a pickoff throw to a base when the runner had not taken a step off. I’ve seen runners who were exactly one step away from the base, sure, but never one where the runner is standing on first, staring at Jhoulys Chacin like he’s an idiot.
Certainly never two in a row.
Except the color announcer makes a good point. There is still utility to throwing the ball when a runner might be just about to take a single step off the bag. The last thing the runner is expecting would be a pickoff move, and maybe his head is down. Does that make it worth the risk of throwing it down the line and letting him scamper to third? Probably not, but I would very much enjoy the spectacle of a runner getting thrown out when he’s a step off the bag.
What I’m trying to say is that it might be smart to make a pickoff attempt when Jhoulys expect it.
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Trevor Williams should have been a hero, but he did a whole bunch of stuff wrong
What a great bare-handed play! Surely there could be no killjoy to find fault with this pure baseball moment.
Oh, damn straight there could. And I’m that killjoy. Here are three things Trevor Williams did to ruin his excellent play while on the air:
My nine-year-old stopped dabbing several months ago. Dabbing with irony is fun now, sure, but at some point there won’t be enough irony in the world to save a dab. We’re close to that tipping point right now, I think.
2. Threw the ball into the safety netting behind the dugout
This seems like an honest mistake from someone who played for two decades without dedicated safety netting behind the dugout. On the other hand, it makes Williams look extraordinarily incompetent, like he’s a clumsy French waiter.
Unless he was trolling, which would have been beautiful.
1. Referred to “runs” as “points”
I’m extremely mad online about this. That was a professional major leaguer, in the middle of a breakout season, calling “runs” “points”. This is worse than Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose put together. You win a baseball game with runs. You win a weather balloon with points.
I’ll concede that it’s pretty cool to barehand a chopper while doing an in-game interview. It might be the only cool thing that’s possible with an in-game interview, and anything cooler is just a variant on the theme (e.g. catching a ball in your mouth like Snoopy.) Still, I’m going to have to give a C-minus to this whole experience.
What Shohei Did
Won Player of the Week after being told he needs Tommy John surgery? Seems like that’s going to be a harder record to break than Cal Ripken’s consecutive-games streak, and I really, really wish that I could mail an envelope back in time that reads “There’s a player who wins AL Player of the Week after being told he needs Tommy John surgery,” just to experience the mental gymnastics I would go through trying to resolve the paradox.
Turns out the answer is a big, tall dinger lad who doesn’t need elbow ligaments to hit baseballs far.
Not sure why he’s wearing that elbow pad. You’d think there’s at least a small chance that a HBP could knock the elbow ligament back in place.
Ah, I’m getting word from the booth that’s not how the human body works, but we’ll just have to agree to disagree. At any rate, it’s kind of fun that Ohtani is walloping dingers, even though there’s a small part of me that wants him to get the surgery over with so that we can get our once-in-a-century double threat back.
Maybe there’s a medium part of me that wants that.
Possibly a Dan Vogelbach-sized part of me.
The dingers are fun, though.
This Week In McGwire/Sosa
This week in McGwire/Sosa? Are you kidding me? What a week in McGwire/Sosa. It was an entire week, after all.
First, read my piece on how we’re all misremembering the Home Run Chase, and how it’s easier to damn McGwire/Sosa with the benefit of hindsight. At the time, what they did was entirely reasonable.
Second, read Marc’s tongue-in-cheek column about how Ryan Howard is the only legitimate home run champ. Then send him an email to argue about the premise. He loves that.
Third, read Whitney’s look at the McGwire-Sosa timeline, complete with a fancy tracker. It’s a whole lot of fun to revisit.
Fourth, check out Eric’s ranking of all the home runs. Here be dingers.
Fifth, read Kim’s recollection of what it was like to be a Sosa fan in the shadow of the chase.
Finally, watch this video about the pitchers who didn’t allow homers to either McGwire or Sosa, and then immediately race to the comments and complain about me not being Jon Bois:
It was a literal McGwire-Sosa week last week, that’s your week in McGwire-Sosa, dammit.
But I suppose you want your statistical update.
18 AB this week
445 AB for the season
5 HR this week
60 HR for the season
.333/.455/1.167 this week
.294/.471/.742 for the season
23 AB this week
563 AB for the season
3 HR this week
58 for the season
.348/.348/.739 this week
.314/.379/.657 for the season
We’ve touched on it a little bit, but it’s worth isolating: Not only were these two monsters hitting dingers because of better living through chemistry, but they were able to sit on pitches over the middle of the plate and cover the outside edge better than almost any hitters in history.
That’s because just about every pitcher who faced them was thinking, “I’m not going to be the asshole that breaks his wrist and ends this chase.”
In August, Mark Clark faced McGwire several times. You might not remember Mark Clark, who was a serviceable pitcher for years. If he were the pitcher who broke Mark McGwire’s wrist with an inside fastball, though, he would have been “Mark Clark, the Asshole Who Broke America’s Heart” for the rest of his life. Better just to stretch the strike zone outside and see if the umpire will call it.
I don’t have data on this, but it feels true. It sure would explain why week after week, these guys keep raking.
Spoonerism of the week
Now, hold on. I’m not putting this because the spoonerism sounds like “pee on.” Instead, it’s an earnest appeal to the old-timey nickname and a study of missed chances. We all know about those nick names — “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, “Schoolboy” Rowe, “Walter” Johnson — and how fantastic they were, but I really think there was a missed chance with Peon. Kid comes up from the sticks, clearly from a family that didn’t have a ton of money, and he’s Peon Dagwood or Peon Jenkins. It would have been the kind of nickname that would have almost seemed like a proper first name after a while, and like “Albert Pujols,” you would stop thinking about how it sounded a little dirty.
There should have been a Peon in baseball, dang it.
Note that we’re inching ever closer to Matt Capps with every installment, so take what you can get. You’ve had fair warning.