As October turns into November, so yet another baseball season draws to an unspectacular conclusion. (What makes it unspectacular? Well, this particular World Series does, as well as anything that involves the Yankees winning. But that’s besides the point.) Now we turn to the inevitable stream of awards and hardware handed out to assuage the fragile egos of many a ballplayer, as well as to celebrate what went right for so many teams and what went wrong for all but one of them.
When last we left the World Series recap, the Giants had just gone up 3 games to zip-zada-zero on the Tigers, with imminent demise highly foreseeable for the boys from Detroit. Once again, I was at work during the majority (i.e. all) of Game Four, yet with the game featured on the big screen televisions in the bar at which I work. I did manage to see Miguel Cabrera’s home run that gave the Tigers their first (First!) lead of the Series, followed by raucous celebration from the Detroit fans.
And then the channel was switched over to showcase some football game featuring the New Orleans Downtrodden and the Surgically Prepared Monster that is FrankenManning.
Sigh. So much for prescient analysis.
Scouring my contacts, I realized that my associate (nameless, as always) was in attendance at both Games 3 and 4. A native of the nearby suburb of Livonia and a ravenous baseball fan, he was on hand to record the final moments of the 2012 Major League Baseball season in all of their glory. Or lack thereof.
Proving rather difficult to pin down for a phone interview yesterday, the following transcript comes from our conversation by phone this afternoon. More or less completely.
A: The fuck do you want?
Q: Hey, it’s been awhile. How’s it going?
A: I’m fucking busy at the moment! What the fuck are you doing?
Q: Bad time?
A: Well, that all depends. You wouldn’t happen to have any ether in Chi-Town, would you?
A: I didn’t think so.
Q: Sure it’s ok to talk?
A: Make your fucking point and make it quick. These are dangerous times that call for dangerous methods, and there is little enough time for methods as it is.
Q: Maybe I should call back.
A: Out with it! You’re calling about the Series, I would imagine.
Q: Yes. I heard you were at the game Sunday night? (*Game Four, played in Detroit)
A: I was, and what a shitstorm that turned out to be.
Q: That bad, huh?
A: You have no idea.
Q: Well, I’m actually calling you because I wanted to interview you for the Recorder.
A: I thought you fuckers quit that thing months back!
Q: No, we just have busy lives that preclude us from writing.
A: Ah, the fuck you say! What in God’s name have you been doing with your time, anyway? You never call anymore!
Q: Well, I finished my book, I’m working on grad school applications –
A: The real world that scary, huh?
A: I don’t blame you. It’s tough as balls out here. Get out while you still can. Make like Vonnegut! So it goes, and all that jazz.
Q: What does – you know what? Nevermind. Let’s talk baseball.
A: Yes, lets. All it’s good for, anyways. Get on with it.
Q: Well, I understand you were at the game on Sunday –
A: Christ’s sake, man! You said that already!
Q: Well, fine. How was the game?
A: Relative. If you were a Giants fan, it was an undying classic. They’ll write songs in the coffee houses of San Francisco about how Marco Scutaro finally got a god damn hit in the 10th inning and saved their World Series.
Q: Were Giants fans on edge about losing the next four games?
Q: Wow. Really?
A: To an extent. Remember, the 2010 Series was a fluke. Until then, the Giants had done shit for the city. It was all “New York this” and “1954” that, but nothing to show for it. Remember 1989? Fucking earthquake happened. The earth rent itself asunder rather than let the Giants win a World Series.
Q: I don’t think those were related…
A: You wanna do this interview?
A: That’s what I thought. And then don’t forget the Barry Bonds era. For all the hype, for all the home runs, they didn’t win shit. 2002 is still fresh on the minds of many out there. Nothing good came out of that era.
Q: Well, something good came of it.
A: You mean AT&T Park? Pac Bell? Whatever the fuck it is?
A: Well, you’re wrong! Dead to rights wrong! What they have is the most beautiful major league ballpark in all of the fucking major leagues and you know who built it? The most callous douchebag to swing a bat since Enos Slaughter. And what’s worse, they’ll remember that stadium forever as ‘The Stadium We Built for Barry’. A monument to the Steroid Era.
Q: Speaking of, thoughts on Melky Cabrera.
A: The team played better, hit better, and smelled better once he left the team. How do you think they feel about him?
Q: …smelled better?
A: Trust me, you do not want to catch a whiff of that bastard. Stand downwind of him on a breezy day, it’ll ruin your ballpark experience forever. I can guarantee that.
Q: Alright, enough about the Giants. How about the Tigers?
A: The team that broke Detroit?
Q: Did they really, though?
A: Of course not. Don’t be fucking ridiculous. They’re moving on with their lives already.
Q: Is that so?
A: You must remember, Detroit was not a great team this year. They weren’t a bad team, but they weren’t good. If anything, they feasted on the Indians and Royals this year, struggled against most of the rest of the league, and rode Miggy Cabrera’s hot bat to the World Series. This team should have won more with the pitching they’ve got, but that offense doesn’t hit worth a damn.
Q: Cabrera aside, Fielder didn’t provide the pop the team was hoping for?
A: Not so much. It’s hard when you have two dominant hitters, one mildly competent hitter, and a bunch of perennial major league ramblers prone to hot streaks and long slumps. Delmon Young anybody? But again, it’s not like anybody cares. The city of Detroit saw this coming and reacted accordingly. With mild indifference.
Q: You’re saying people don’t care about the Tigers?
A: No, don’t misinterpret my words. Detroit cares about the Tigers. In fact, of the two cities that actually watched this Series, they’re not far behind the Giants in terms of rabid fan bases.
Q: But only two cities watched the Series.
A: Not a lot of margin for error, then, is there?
Q: Why do you think that this is?
A: The whole reason we watch sport is for the narrative, right?
Q: Explain that one.
A: Damn. You are an idiot. Alright, let me make this clear. When we watch something like a baseball game, what we’re seeing is just that: a baseball game. Our minds naturally seek to fill in the blanks with whatever story seems most compelling. That’s why people say that baseball is so dramatic. Although it’s become less dramatic in recent years. That’s why football is so popular.
Q: I can relate to that. They turned off the game at the restaurant I was working at in favor of Sunday Night Football.
A: And right there, you have two compelling stories. One is Peyton Fucking Manning in the twilight of his career coming back against all odds with a neck held together with duct tape and WD-40. The other is the New Orleans Saints, victimized by the league, and rightfully so, fighting against the man. Football markets its stories better than most other sports do. Except the NBA. And with them, the only good stories follow good teams. What you had with baseball this year is a certain lack of compelling narratives.
Q: There were some good stories in baseball this year. R.A. Dickey finally having a good year after his past, the Yankees falling apart, the drama in Boston, Ozzie Guillen in Miami –
A: And what do all of those stories have in common? They all missed the Series this year.
Q: The Yankees made it.
A: And properly fell apart against Detroit, arguably an inferior team. Although all odds were removed once Jeter fell off the table.
Q: So Detroit and San Francisco lack a compelling narrative?
A: Precisely. Detroit was a good team that got hot at the right time, while the Giants were merely competent. What was the running storyline behind that team?
Q: A bunch of guys scrapping out wins when it mattered the most?
A: Right, the colloquial ‘frat-house’ gang, the “Nobody Believed in Us” storyline. Which would be fine if A) they hadn’t already won it all two years ago, and B) that wasn’t the most fucking overplayed narrative structure running in sports today. It’s why the Super Bowl wasn’t quite as interesting last year. We’d seen it before.
Q: It was still a fun game.
A: It’s the Super Bowl. Add bourbon to anything and it’s more fun.
Q: Getting back to the narrative of this World Series –
A: Or lack thereof.
Q: Yes. So you’re telling me there was nothing at all interesting that could have happened this year?
A: I wouldn’t say that. There’s lots of drama around Prince Fielder’s life. Could’ve played it into him trying to show up his dad. Verlander going for a ring to add to his Hall of Fame legacy. Miggy Cabrera coming into his own. The thing is, there just wasn’t that great story coming into play this year.
Q: Might that just signal general disinterest in the sport? Or maybe the season’s going on too long?
A: There’s never too much baseball. Look at last year.
Q: Ratings were down last year too.
A: Yes, but people remember that Series. You had the Rangers looking for redemption after their own loss to the S.F.G., along with Josh Hamilton, who’s a compelling narrative all on his own. And then you have Tony LaRussa going for one last victory, you had Albert Pujols possibly playing his last season as a Cardinal. Good storylines with some of the best players in the game.
Q: Well, you had Buster Posey and Cabrera this year, and one could argue they’re both winning M.V.P.’s this year.
A: Bullshit. Posey’s a nice kid, and it’s a good thing he came back strong from that injury, but Cabrera’s been too bland for his own good for years.
Q: Well, he’s overcome his drinking problem. That’s a good story.
A: It’s a nice story if you’re watching the fucking Lifetime Channel. Baseball is rife with alcoholics and strung out losers playing for the big one. Grover Cleveland Alexander striking out Tony Lazerri while hungover? Pure legend. Ty Cobb? Rogers Hornsby? Bob Gibson? Baseball is better when filled with assholes. Look at Barry Bonds. People ate that shit up. Didn’t matter that I wouldn’t trust him with a Bible. He made for compelling drama. And remember Darren Baker? Shit like that doesn’t just become memorable on accident. People eat those stories up.
Q: So there was nothing going on this year?
A: Nope. You could just tell. They compounded a Series’ worth of drama into the first game, and even then it was lackluster.
Q: You mean Pablo Sandoval’s three homer game?
A: Sure. Look, three home run games in the playoffs are impressive. But let’s look at who did them in the past: Babe Ruth, Hall of Famer; Reggie Jackson, Hall of Famer; Albert Pujols; definitely a Hall of Famer, provided nobody checks how old he is or asks any questions about steroids. The Kung Fu Panda? Nice guy, but he’s got the body of Kevin Mitchell and the stability of Mo Vaughn. Not a Hall of Famer. That asshole ruined the Three Homer Game for the rest of us, and it isn’t even his fault.
Q: Be fair, he’s only been in the league for three years.
A: And already looks like an ambulatory hippo. Check back in five years. Maybe he’ll be better. Maybe he’ll eat Prince Fielder and bloat up. Who knows?
Q: Tell me about the fans in Detroit.
A: Never had a chance. By the time Miggy hits that home run in the 2nd inning, it’s too late. Sure, there was excitement. Maybe they’ll come back! But then it starts to set in that this team just isn’t that good. They’re overmatched by the Giants’ pitching. By inevitability. You mentioned that, right?
Q: A little, yes.
A: Yes. Well, the fans could see it coming. They knew that somehow they’d blow that game. They knew that even if they did win, defeat would probably come Monday night. No matter how good Verlander was. Once he was beaten in Game One, the Tigers had no Plan B. They were toast.
Q: But doesn’t that inevitability fit into the idea of creating a narrative worth following?
A: Sure, if you’re that one asshole who thinks that this time the Titanic makes it out okay in the end. Or you’re a Giants fan. It’s why no one talks about the Red Sox sweeping the Cardinals in 2004. By that time, everyone knew how it was ending. All that matters is the ALCS that year. Now that was compelling. And it was because of the narratives behind the game! Otherwise, it’s just one team folding at the worst time.
Q: So are you saying that once the outcome is predicted, there is nothing more to compel the narrative? Or are you saying that narrative momentum is harder to sustain?
A: The latter. Here’s this, for example. Say you’re walking into the new movie Argo. You know it’s about the Iran hostages, you know Affleck has to save six people. Well, a quick research on Wikipedia reveals that they all make it out in the end. It’s history. You know how it’s going to end. But you’re still watching it, and you still get excited. Why? Because it’s a fucking good movie. You don’t know how they make it out. They don’t lead off by saying: “OK, boys, here’s how they make it out, and I know it looks dangerous, but don’t worry, because…” and so on and so on. The plot is spoiled because you know how it’s going to end. By not telling us how it ends, we can sustain our investment in it. It’s about how they escape. The opposite is true for tragedy, actually. Like how Shakespeare’s characters all have that one tragic flaw that dooms them, or Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed and going to take their life. It’s cathartic watching them tear themselves apart. Like when the Cubs folded in 2003.
Q: So what was this year?
A: Some sick combination of the two. We saw the tragic flaw of the Tigers (not enough hitting all season long), but didn’t care enough about them to fully invest ourselves. We knew the Giants were hot, but had seen this all before: once a team like that gets hot, they can’t be beaten. Remember Rocktober?
Q: The 2007 Rockies? Yeah, they couldn’t be beaten either.
A: Until the World Series. But then they rested for days and cooled down. At which point, everyone remembered that these were the fucking Colorado Rockies and only a decent team, not an outstanding unstoppable juggernaut. Which is what the Red Sox were that season. And what the Giants had become two days before the World Series started. Again, inevitability, but without the suspense or the catharsis. Detroit was not some evil giant or a team of miscreants where watching them fail felt good. They were a bunch of hapless schmucks from a city that’s been picked on, beaten down, and kicked around. Watching them lose didn’t feel good and wasn’t particularly investing. It just felt sad.
Q: So the World Series is the anti-Argo. We knew what was going to happen, we didn’t know how, but we didn’t care.
Q: How did you like Argo, by the way?
A: Fine enough. Nothing new or fucking brilliant about it, but it was well done. Not safe enough for awards, but not ground breaking enough to be remembered. Kind of like the Giants this year. Nothing compelling about them.
Q: What would your ideal World Series have been this year, then?
A: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix from The Master fighting the cast of Les Miz with a bottle of paint thinner in the French Revolution.
Q: I’d pay to see that.
A: I bet you would, and you know why?
A: Because paint thinner is fucking flammable as shit, that’s why.
Q: But not Argo?
A: Ben Affleck as a baseball player? Fuck off, man. He’d play Justin Verlander, and we’d be bored to shit.
Q: Isn’t that a little unfair?
A: Bite me. Sports isn’t about fair.
Q: It is, though. It’s all about fair.
A: If it was fair, Pete Rose would be in the Hall of Fame.
Q: But he’s not.
Q: Alright, your ideal baseball matchup for the World Series this year.
A: The Texas Rangers against Milwaukee. Hamilton vs. Braun. Two completely polarizing figures. That would’ve been worth watching. If either team could’ve put something together. Not enough drama this year. Baseball’s cleaned itself up too much. The Yankees are overpaid, the underdogs are smothered by the fact that they’re all tiny Midwestern towns where nobody wants to go and play ball, and by the fact that football is just too smothering a presence.
Q: But there’s still reasons to watch baseball.
A: Sure. Just let ‘em be wild again.
Q: Anything else to say?
A: Sure. Avoid bath salts. Especially on a full moon in a back alley in Detroit.
Q: …should I ask.
A: No. No you shouldn’t.
Q: I’ll look you up when I get out to Livonia.
A: Lying bastard, why the fuck would you come here?
Q: Good point. I’ll see you around.
A: Bite me.
…And there you have it. The 2012 Baseball Season is wrapped up. As a bonus, my predictions for the hardware, along with who I feel deserves it.
Rookie of the Year:
AL Should Win: Mike Trout, Angels
Will Win: Trout
NL Should Win:– Bryce Harper, Nationals
Will Win: Harper
– This one was tough, because the deserving candidates are all…meh at best. Harper came on strong and played for a playoff team. The kid has a bright future, is exciting, and came up with the phrase “that’s a clown question, bro.” The game needs more characters like this. Plus, look at the picture: he’s wearing golden cleats. Dude.
Manager of the Year
AL Should Win: Buck Showalter, Orioles
Will Win: Showalter
– Raise your hand not just if you saw Baltimore playing in the postseason, but also contending for winning their division. Especially given the relative inexperience of their team. Showalter has a history of building contenders, and this year proved no exception. Expect a let down next year, but this year certainly raised the hopes of many fans in the Baltimore area. Also, if he doesn’t win, he might eat your children, judging by the picture.
NL Should Win: Dusty Baker, Reds
Will Win: Davey Johnson, Nationals
– I admit it. I’m a homer. However, Baker’s team lost Joey Votto, one of the top three players in the game, in the middle of the season. Most teams fold when an injury like that happens. Not the Reds. Give Baker some credit. That being said, the Nationals were the winningest team in the league this year, through no small credit on the part of Davey Johnson. And he’s an ex-Reds manager, so good for him!
AL Should Win: Justin Verlander, Tigers
Will Win: Verlander
– Not as good as last year, when he was Detroit’s solution to alternative energy. That being said, a mediocre year from Verlander tops an outstanding year from most other pitchers in the game. David Price could pull this out, and it wouldn’t be undeserved, but voters here will favor consistency. Verlander pulls it out.
NL Should Win: R.A. Dickey, Mets
Will Win: Dickey
– Dickey has the edge on two counts. The first is almost winning the pitching Triple Crown, falling a few wins short. The second is his personal narrative. For more insight on that, read his autobiography, published earlier this year. The man had a fantastic year against all odds. And was one of the best pitchers in the league. On a bad team. Give the man his trophy already.
NL Should Win: Buster Posey, Giants
Will Win: Posey
– Won a batting title. Dominated in September. Led his team to the playoffs. (My highest criteria, by the way. If you’re pretty obviously carrying your team to the postseason, that makes you incredibly valuable. Taking that away and watching your team crumble around you reveals how important you are. More on that in a second) Also, as we mentioned before, he recovered from a nasty injury last year to become the top catcher in the Senior Circuit. This is an easy choice.
AL Should Win: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
Will Win: Mike Trout, Angels
– Cabrera’s team made the playoffs. You might argue that if he were taken away, the Tigers would still have had Prince Fielder. Well, maybe. Fielder had an okay year, but not his usually dominant one. Trout, to be fair, did turn the Angels’ season around, had a year unlike any we’ve seen in recent memory, is an all out stud, and will be exciting to watch for years. But the Angels didn’t make the playoffs. That being said, I sense a certain air leading towards Trout winning the award. In years past, anyone winning a Triple Crown would’ve been a shoo-in for the award. The fact that Cabrera is being debated for this award shows A) just how good Trout’s year was, and B) also reveals that there are doubts about his validity for the award. With that in mind, I think Trout wins.
There you have it. Until next year, hope you enjoy football season. I’m sure there’s a story to follow in there somewhere. Or so I’ve been told.
By the way, go see Argo.