Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Overcoming Philosophy

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

- Hamlet

Philo = life. Sophy = the study of.

"Study" usually means observing something and then gradually developing some theories to explain behavior. But ironically, when it comes to the study of life, we often go about things backwards. We develop our philosophy and fit life into it, like a boot stuffing overflowing garbage into the trash.

As the saying goes, baseball IS life, so you'll see the same behavior regarding baseball philosophies, as was abundantly clear this week. As Twins fans looked for comfort after two days of wretched baseball, we found commentators willing to tell us what we had seen. Unfortunately, the perception about how Sidney Ponson and Boof Bonser performed usually had very little to do with their actual performance, and everything to do with the commentator's philosophy.

One such philosophy might be: Major league teams should trust prospect more than they do. That's the philosophy that drove Tuesday morning's righteous indignation. How dare the Twins gift starts to a 30-year-old washed-up, homer-prone blimp. Did you see those home runs? Just like we expected when they signed Ponson this offseason. Why the hell isn't Matt Garza up here?

And on Wednesday morning - crickets. Or if there was any talk, it was about how hot A-Rod was, or how the Twins offense was struggling, or how the defense needed to tighten. Bonser still needs to be careful not to fall behind in the count, but he's young. He'll figure it out.

Today, let's be candid: Ponson was better than Bonser, and it wasn't particularly close. And last night, the Twins OTHER foolish signing, a 33-year-old, washed-up, homer-prone toothpick, shut down the American League's best offense for eight solid innings. Which means that the "youth now" philosophy had the same record as the Twins in this series - one win, two losses.

Which isn't to say it isn't a valid philosophy. It just means that one game doesn't validate it, any more than two games destroys it. And while we're at it, neither does one player, or one player's season. A sabermetric study that shows strikeout rates correspond with career length doesn't mean that Ramon Ortiz can't develop a change-up that adds a new dimension to his fastball. It also doesn't mean that Matt Garza is going to save a season (you remember he didn't last year, right?)

Philosophy is a noble undertaking, whether it be in life or in baseball. But philosophies about either are smaller than their subjects. Stuffing baseball into its philosophies isn't just fruitless, it's silly. For there are more things in heaven and earth, Barreiro, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Making the Season Gladden
In the past I've made it pretty clear that I wasn't the biggest fan of Twins announcers. Twice this year I've done something I haven't done in years - turned off the sound on the TV and listened to the radio.

The difference is Dan Gladden. I don't know if it's the switch to the Twins own radio network, or getting teamed with Jack Morris chunks of the game, or just getting more confident, but Gladden has consistently given insights to the game that he hadn't in previous years, and which the TV announcers gave up on years ago.

The eighth inning last night was a perfect example. In the space of five minutes, Gladden pointed out:
1. that Nick Punto should be given some credit for Luis Castillo's stolen base, because he held his bunt attempt long enough to make sure that Jorge Posada couldn't jump out from behind the plate.
2. that Jorge Posada can get a little lazy behind the plate late in games and start back-handing pitches, which can lead to wild pitches. He made that point just prior to Posada letting a ball get past him.
3. Then he pointed out that Posada's body language following that passed ball indicated that he was crossed up by Farnsworth, which was likely because Joe Mauer was on second base and they were using a series of signals.

Point three was fairly obvious, but impressive nonetheless. About 80% of announcers would have been patting themselves on the back following the wild pitch because of point #2, whether or not it was relevant.

Listen, I've been as down on Twins announcers as anyone in this town, partly because I spent several years listening to some real announcers named Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn and partly because the Twins threesome was legitimately poor. No longer. Do yourself a favor and tune in. You might be surprise how much more you see than if you just use your eyes.

A Helping Hand
Mr. Kubel, I thought I might share with you a little lesson I've learned from the real world. Sometimes, at work, things don't go well for me. I might make a commitment that I can't meet. Or I might face a problem that I can't solve. Or I might unknowingly break something. And that can really dissappoint people, because I'm paid pretty well, but can also be ditched in the space of about two weeks.

You might be experiencing something similar. Maybe you'e just very cool, or maybe your knees hurt, or maybe you're just not that bright. It's hard to say. But whatever the reason, one thing you might want to remember is:

Look like you give a damn.

Because, you see, some people around you actually do. Me, for instance. It's not a huge sacrifice, but I'm dedicating three hours of night to watching the game, and I might like to watch a guy catch a fly ball. Or, even, move towards the ball at any pace faster than a saunter.

And I have to think that there are a fair amount of people you work with that might care a little. For instance, maybe you could try meandering all the way over to third base on a dribbler to right field. Twenty-four teammates who are tired of sucking might appreciate that. Not to mention those older guys who sit in the dugout and make those annoying buzzing noises you try to tune out.

But try not to concentrate on the examples so much as the idea. It doesn't necessarily matter what the effort is, just so long as it's there. You see we all make mistakes. And whether it's your teammates, or your coaches, or that bald guy that sends you your checks, they all feel better about having you around if you look like you care.

Plus, it might make good practice for when you eventually find yourself working in the real world. That could be handly since you're working so very hard to join us here.


Anonymous said...

ummm.... you know `philo' means `love of' and `sophy (sophia)' means `wisdom', right? philosophy = the love of wisdom.

not to detract from more of your beautiful writing....

Anonymous said...

You said it before I could. If you're going to do etymology - well, do etymology.

Greek ἔτυμον (étymon, true meaning, from 'etymos' true) and λόγος (lógos, word).

But that's a pretty minor complaint in the face of fine baseball writing. It's probably because of the general high quality of writing that I was so shocked at the bad word root stuff.

JimCrikket said...

Geek's just following the example of so many baseball scribes before him... 'never let the facts get in the way of proving your point'.

Great advice for Kubes, too, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Where exactly was the anger at Ponson Tuesday morning? The general consensus I saw in the Blogosphere was that in fact he did pitch better than the results indicate. As for Bonser, maybe, but he also pitched several good games for this team last season, something fans generally take into account before blasting someone for one outing. In fact, despite the low expectations for the rotation held by many, I haven't seen much in season complaining so far; there seems to be a fairly judicious wait and see attitude prevailing.

ossieO said...

I couldn't agree more about Gladdens work. I know he has his critics, but I've always liked his insight. He may be unpolished, but he IS smart and capable of "analysis". Not only is Gladden better than Bert, but Gordo is better than Dick as well.

I too spent a few years listening to Kalas (post Ashburn). I wasn't that impressed; not a HOFer in my mind.

As always, love your writing Geek.

Anonymous said...

Gladden was "absolutely" (as he liked to say about a million times a game) horrible when he started, but he has worked at his craft, and has improved.

He doesn't even say "let me ask you this" anymore during interviews.

Kubel seems pretty low key to me. Lay off him Geek. He's going to do you proud this year.

John said...


UGH. Well, I feel like I should roll into a ball and die. Clearly, I'm an idiot.

Adam said...

I think you were too hard on Kubel. he looks like he's getting going. He's not the only one so far this year to make a baserunning error, and his bat is starting to get up. He was severely robbed of an RBI hit on a Cano web gem and he scalded a ball to center that ended up a line-out. he still managed a hit as well. His play is coming around, and the results are already starting to follow.

John Sharkey, Esq. said...

Eh, baseball is wisdom anyway.

Corey Ettinger said...

Wow, thats a lot of vitriol for a guy hitting over .300 and one of the few people willing to do anything offensively. If you want to complain about someone perhaps you should direct the hate at Nick Punto, who along with forgetting how to hit has also forgotten how to field.

brianS said...

Well, the blog is Twins Geek, not Twins Greek.


TheBentKangaroo said...

I'd love to have the radio on and the TV sound off, but the timing rarely works for me. I usually end up hearing about what happens long before I see it, and I just can't stand that.

Anonymous said...

Geek Who do you think you are bashing Kubel. Maybe you should put on a uniform & play with the Twins. Oh you aren't good enough!!!

David Wintheiser said...

Hey Geek,

I won't pile on to those folks who've commented on your wonky entymology or criticism of Kubel. I did want to comment on one point, though.

"Tired of sucking"?

Sheesh, isn't this the team that's won four of the last five AL Central Division titles? What's a ballclub gotta do to get some respect, from its own biggest fans no less?

For what it's worth, I think it's going to be a long season - whatever planets aligned so that pretty much the entire starting offensive lineup was having career years last year, it seems that the off-season allowed those planets to shift orbits. Unless Terry Ryan can pull another late-May adjustment miracle out of his kiester, that is.

David W.