Tag Archives: St. Louis Cardinals

Baseball’s Narcischism

Players in new countries often suffer a kind of culture shock when immersed in another country’s baseball culture. Latin American players sometimes comment on the lack of joy in Japan’s game, while many from North America find the endless meetings to discuss opponents’ tendencies and weaknesses mind-numbing.

Japanese describe western baseball as a game of speed and power. What sounds like praise is also an opaque slite that says Americans attempt to physically overpower baseball in a way that lacks the science, art and discipline revered in Japan.

Former Seibu Lions manager Haruki Ihara was fond of saying Japan had nothing to learn from MLB. This was an extreme example of the kind of misinformed nationalistic dogma that sports sometimes encourages, where it’s us versus them. Ihara is proud of the effort Japanese put into the game, and rightfully so. But to be dismissive of other styles and ways of thinking is to restrict what one can learn.

Baseball is parochial at heart. As much as sports can bring people together, it can also highlight minute differences in approaches, and to fans of the local game, that can mean a constant critique of the way others play. What are unwritten rules but an effort to assert that one set of behaviors is the “right way” to play the game and that conflicting views are “wrong?”

You see this as much off the field as on, where social Darwinism seems to steer much of the discussion of what baseball is towards those with the most influence and money.

Within any league you can name, because of owners’ wealth and their power to gift a region their brand of the game or take it elsewhere, they sometimes talk as if their businesses grant them a degree of ownership of what baseball is.

Owners and team executives are also sources for stories about policy, so it’s very easy for us in the media to be swayed by their point of view that baseball is a business. It’s one thing to explain why teams and leagues make decisions that adversely affect their customers, by using blackout rules or by manipulating service time. It’s another to argue that fans should accept that behavior.

Arguing that teams should manipulate service time to lengthen the time prospects need to reach arbitration is akin to arguing that political office holders should give sweetheart deals to big donors because “that’s how the system works.”

Although people make money off of baseball, it isn’t itself a business, it’s a game, and how it’s played, watched, and marketed as entertainment varies a lot. Just because Major League Baseball attracts more of the best players in the world, doesn’t make MLB synonymous with baseball or give its owners the power to decide what baseball is and isn’t even if they talk as if it does.

When people refer to “baseball” they so often mean “their baseball,” the game they grew up with and the way it is played by the teams they follow. For most modern American fans, social Darwinism is really part of their baseball, since MLB essentially lords it over its imperial colonies in the minor leagues. These people tend to see baseball as a kind of order of quality, with the quality of a league defined by its location in the world hierarchy.

With MLB nowhere near starting in the current coronavirus pandemic, Americans looked at other leagues and some desired to know where they fit in their stratified social Darwinism models. How good a league is CPBL? Is it better than Double-A? How about KBO? To answer that question, someone published a graphic that had MLB at the top followed in descending order by NPB, Triple-A, KBO, Double-A, CPBL, and so on down to rookie ball. I don’t remember if it had the Mexican league or not, which MLB has nominally labeled as “Triple-A.”

But Mexico, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are different animals that aren’t organized by the same principles that govern talent within MLB’s imperial structure. In this regard, they are something like how minor league ball was in the United States, Canada, and Cuba before Branch Rickey and the Cardinals ruined it by spreading their tentacles across the continent much as the British Empire had around the globe in the preceding centuries.

By amassing resources, the Cardinals were able to compete at a high level and forced other teams to mimic them at a great cost to baseball across America. The creation of farm systems was a form of baseball eugenics to achieve efficiency at the cost of variety.

Pro leagues outside the majors’ imperial sphere aren’t “levels,” they are leagues, were like the majors, teams keep their top talent in order to win games. That makes their leagues vibrant sources of variation that enrich baseball as a whole. I believe baseball was better before MLB turned minor leagues and their teams into the baseball version of chicken houses, where poultry is grown to order in unhealthy conditions because they aren’t any part of a real ecosystem.

Baseball needs to grow and be part of places and cultures. And deciding where those cultures and their baseball ranks, as many baseball fans do around the world, is a vile, narcissistic exercise.

Scout Diary: Jan. 28, 2020 – National League’s best outfield tools

The mission: Identify a professional outfielder who you feel has the best tools identified from this week and the previous week’s readings. Describe in scouting terminology why you feel he is the best.

Last week was infielders, this week’s assignment is outfielders. Again, I want to narrow the focus to as manageable a group as possible so I’ll stick to the four leagues I can access, American, National, Central and Pacific, and center fielders. While right fielders may possess more of the best outfield arms, I’m making an arbitrary decision — as I did with shortstops in the search for the best infield tools — with looking only at the most exclusive position, center field.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page´╗┐

Let’s start again with the Gold Glove finalists from the National League for 2019:

  • Victor Robles, Nationals
  • Lorenzo Cain, Brewers
  • Harrison Bader, Cardinals

Criteria

  • arm strength
  • accuracy
  • release

  • jumps
  • speed
  • judgment at the wall

Victor Robles

Lacking the highlight clips for Robles that people like to make of shortstops, I’ll go with two videos of him, catching and throwing the baseball.

Victor Robles catch
Victor Robles throw

Lorenzo Cain – armed robber

One of my favorites since the 2014 World Series, Cain has four times been named MLB’s Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in center field but has yet to win a gold glove. Because of his knack for making catches at and over the fence, there is no shortage of Cain highlights. Here’s a good one:

Lorenzo Cain

Harrison “Darth” Bader

The fun part of this course is that it gets me to look at different things than I usually do and players I don’t normally see. Bader is one of these.

Harrison Bader

Conclusion

With so few glimpses of Robles to work with, it’s hard to get an impression of him other than the few plays I saw were all amazing. He has a gun, throwing 97.4 MPH across his body in what amounts to little more than a snap throw, but I’ll have to omit him from consideration for lack of evidence.

I neglected to mention a couple of points since all three appear to have excellent throwing mechanics and soft hands. Robles may have the best raw arm strength, but it’s hard to overlook the accuracy of Bader’s throw or that snap release that would look right at home as a shortstop.

If you held Robles’ cannon to my head and forced me to choose, I’d go with Cain. The one part of the video I wanted to see that they cut off is a throw he was getting ready to make after a catch at the warning track. This reminds me of Willie Mays talking about his famed World Series grab in 1954, saying “I made many catches better. The best part of the play was the throw.”

Cain can do what the others can perhaps to a slightly lesser degree as he ages, but that ability to pick balls at the wall makes me go with him.