Friday, March 5, 2010

The Saunders Code

As we all know, baseball is a solemn, funerary pursuit. It’s less a game, and more a religious ritual along the lines of lighting ceremonial candles or taking a pilgrimage to Mecca, or sitting cross-legged and pondering the nothingness of existence.

Celebrations and gamesmanship in baseball have always been subdued. You’ll never see champagne or beer sprayed all over for a big win. You’ll never see a closer enter the game to the tune of raucous heavy metal meant to fire up fans or intimidate the other team. And you’ll never, ever see fireworks after the home team hits a home run. Or a guy slide down a slide and wave a flag. That just doesn’t happen in this highly respected, Glass Bead Game-level contest that we call baseball.

At least, that’s the case in National-Sportswriter-Pundit-Land, which is coincidentally the most depressing place on earth. Cliff Saunders is the Precept of the NSPL. Take a look at this garbage:

Barry Zito is 31-43 since he signed that $126M contract with the San Francisco Giants a few years ago. The fans in San Fran didn’t have a lot of patience with him. At one point the team thought about putting their $18M a year pitcher into the bullpen. His contract was an example of how not to blow millions of dollars if you’re a Major League Baseball team. However, he finally earned his keep yesterday.

In the preseason? Barry earned his $126 mill in the preseason? Did he find gold under the mound or invent some clean, cheap renewable energy or something?

All it took was one pitch.

Did that pitch collide with a hydrogen atom resulting in cold fusion?

One pitch that drilled Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder directly in the middle of his back. That’s all it took for Zito to be my new hero.

Oh. It’s worth a $126 mill sunk cost to watch a guy (who doesn’t throw hard) plunk Milwaukee’s hefty first baseman? I’ll sell you any of the sports memorabilia on my desk for $140 mill right now. You can pick from my Ross Verba autographed mini helmet, my Lyle Overbay bobble head, or my Eric Young autographed baseball. You can’t have the puck I caught though. Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll give you the whole batch. I mean that stuff has to be worth more than watching a fairly weak pitcher hit a guy in a pre-season game, right?

I’m exaggerating, obviously. But if Zito were with me right now, I’d offer to buy him a beer.

Maybe even two.

Ah. Well, I’ll still offer up the EY baseball.

Don’t mistake that as me being anti-Prince Fielder. I’m not.

Oh, see, cause I thought that since you wanted to see him get hit with a hard object traveling at 85 MPH that you might be…

I covered the guy for about five seasons. He’s a tremendous player. He might not be the best sound byte out there, but he’s good in the locker room. He’s a doting father.

And surely people have wronged you worse than this, so I was just wondering if you advocate random people getting drilled by baseballs for minor slights, even if they’re good people and doting fathers. So, well, what’s your standard?

The only problem is that he’s a bit of a showboat.

Ah. So if you’re playing golf and you duff one into the woods and your buddies give you guff for it, you take a 9-iron to their back. Got it…

Cardinals fans are all too familiar with Fielder’s tactics.

Wait, what did the Brewers do to the Cardinals?

Cardinals fans saw firsthand how the Brewers acted after victories.

Oh, right, the Brewers beat the Cardinals.

Teams all around baseball took offense to Milwaukee un-tucking their jerseys after games.

Wait…what are you,…are you loosening your belt…is that a shirt tail…what are you…NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Though it was meant to pay honor to former Brewer Mike Cameron’s father, opponents (the Cardinals especially) had a big problem with it.

I continue to believe that this is a rip against the Cardinals and not the Brewers. If you are offended by someone untucking their shirt, you are a gigantic pussy.

Or maybe the Cardinals were all beaten by their fathers or something. Who knows?

My colleague Bernie Miklasz wrote a scathing column a couple of years ago taking the entire ballclub to task.

I’ll outsource this to the defunct Chuckie Hacks (RIP). In said column, Bernie compares untucking your shirt to the actions of Ron Artest. Bernie is a stupid man.

It was a column that I totally agreed with – and I was working in Milwaukee at the time! It didn’t necessarily make me Mr. Popular there, but what’s right is right. Bernie was right, and the Brewers were wrong.

Remember when the shirt untucking resulted in fans throwing beer at the players and Prince Fielder running into the stands and fighting with fans while Stephen Jackson punched players on the court? No? Remember when the Cardinals manager fell asleep while drinking and driving and their first baseman took every PED known to man? Yeah, that I remember.

It didn’t stop the Brewers, though. They continued to celebrate victories by un-tucking their jerseys.

You mean a demented column from very stupid man did not convince the Brewers to change their behavior? Even though you agreed with it?

They did that even though their manager (Ken Macha) and future Hall of Fame closer (Trevor Hoffman) refused to do it. Both felt it disrespected the game. They were right.

Trevor Hoffman – Untucking is disrespectful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I don’t think the sound board guy is playing my WWE-style entrance music loud enough.

The Brewers didn’t stop, though. The worst example of their showboating came after Prince Fielder hit a walk-off home run against the Giants at Miller Park on September 6th. The entire roster met Fielder at home plate, at which point Fielder and his mates did their little ‘bowling pin’ celebration. He braced for contact. They all fell backwards.

It was awesome. Good fun. Everyone loved it. Big moment, big win, fun celebration. It’s nice to see something more creative than the standard hopping up and down with your teammates after a walk-off HR for once.

The fans at the ball park loved it.

I wasn’t there, but I’m sure it was a great moment.

No one else did.

I just said I wasn’t there, and I loved it. You know who else loved it? Baseball fans, ESPN, local sports broadcasts all over the country, and people who like to see the Giants lose.

Giants’ fans probably didn’t like it, but that’s because they lost. And crusty sportswriters probably didn’t like it, because they’re humorless jerks. And the Giants themselves probably didn’t like it because they were on the receiving end of the celebration.

Of course, you can sympathize with Giants’ fans because they never supported a showboating power-hitter who cheated baseball, collected several ill-gotten hitting records, led their team to an undeserved 2002 World Series appearance and had a giant, steroid infused head. No way. Those guys always respect the game.

I spoke with GM Doug Melvin the following day on 101 ESPN.

I wonder what Doug had to say over the radio…

He told me that he didn’t have a problem with it considering the struggles the Brewers had been through all season.

Ah, no problem with it. That’s good to see. You wouldn’t want your GM mucking with team chemistry…

I think it was more of a political answer than anything else.

Uhm, OK. So you’re a radio psychic too?

Melvin’s an old-school baseball guy at heart (even though he embraces new school baseball trends). My gut tells me what he said and what he really felt probably were two different things. I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.

Just so everyone knows, in Cliff Saunders’ head, Doug Melvin doesn’t like it when people untuck their shirts. Even though Doug said he had no problem with it. Because, you see, Doug is an old-school baseball guy, even though he likes the newfangled stats. But hey, he has his gut. And as we know, if you are paid to write or speak on the radio, your gut is way better than actual information that was told to you by the actual person in question.

The Giants took Fielder’s actions more harshly than anyone else. There had been talk from the moment that game in September ended that there would be ‘consequences.’ So, it should not have been a surprise that the reaction came on the first pitch of Fielder’s first at bat of the spring.

It’s not surprising, it’s just moronic. I understand a pitcher plunking a guy in retaliation for the opposing teams’ pitcher plunking a guy, but I was always told that it wasn’t ok to physically assault someone just because they called you a name. If you don’t want to watch the other team celebrate, beat them.

It wasn’t a pitch meant to hurt him (Zito’s not a flame thrower). It was a message pitch. The message was simple. Respect the game. Respect those who play the game.

What a bunch of bullshit. Here’s a post Cliff Saunders wrote about Pete Rose. Here’ Cliff on steroid users.

Here’s a list of things that are more disrespectful to baseball than untucking your shirt, or performing a choreographed HR celebration:

1. Ryan Braun’s fashion line.

2. Barry Bonds

3. Gambling on baseball/Pete Rose

4. Low OBPs

5. The HHH Metrodome

6. Kevin Costner

7. The way that Roy Hobbes’s son throws

8. Mark McGwire

9. Gaylord Perry

10. Bad sports writing

I don’t know if the message Zito sent will sink in. I covered the Brewers for five years. They have a bit of a swagger to them. Fielder’s a big part of that. So is Ryan Braun – who has a bit of the ‘U’ in him (he went to Miami if you didn’t know).

Thugs! All of them!

The problem is the Brewers – with the exception of 2008, when they scrambled to get into the playoffs – have not won. It’s one thing to have that swagger when you are winning and reaching the post-season. It’s another thing to do it when you are losing the way they did a year ago.

So Barry Zito hit Prince Fielder because they celebrated after a win in a season where they were mediocre. Got it. If you're going to be a dick, you'd better be a perennial playoff team.

This terrible sentence also ignores the fact that coming into 2009 the Brewers had back to back winning seasons and were actually a pretty good team even if 2009 was disappointing. In 2007 they finished 2nd in the central with an 83-79. They then built on that season with their playoff run. I suspect that they believe themselves to be a pretty good team, which they probably still are.

Whether you believe in political correctness or not, there are unwritten rules in the game of baseball.

I do not understand this sentence and I don’t think Cliff Saunders knows what political correctness is.

Unwritten rules are stupid. If you want it to be a rule, write it down.

Football players don’t get it. Neither do basketball players or hockey players. But there’s a code in baseball. You break that code, you pay for it at some point.

My understanding is that in hockey if you hit a team’s star player they will send a big lug to kill one of your players. This is very similar to the unwritten rule of retaliation in baseball. It is also my understanding that hockey players do not beat people up for untucking their shirts.

Fielder broke that code last September. He was reminded of that code yesterday.

He doesn’t care about the code. Neither should you. Because you’re an adult, and adults think for themselves and don’t adhere to arbitrary bullshit simply to give radio personalities something to talk about.

Thanks, Barry – so what are you drinking? It’s on me.

And Cliff, if I run into you at a bar I’ll be happy to pick up the tab for your Amaretto Sour.

I shouldn’t have said that. He might try to throw a baseball at me.



Silverwolf said...

I miss FJM, but this is some fine work. Thanks for the amusement this fine Friday afternoon...

PaulNoonan said...

Any time. Thanks Wolf.

Rubie Q said...

"All it took was one pitch."

Did that pitch collide with a hydrogen atom resulting in cold fusion?

So good. So very, very good.

Gregor said...

"So good. So very, very good."


Stuff like this "is a big deal" only because sports writers blow stuff out of proportion to get people to pay attention.

E.S.K. said...

Awesome article. I'm especially puzzled by the hockey comment. Is there another professional sport in the world where the players line up and shake hands after the game?

edgrimly said...

Fantastic. That guy was a dink when he was on the radio here. Glad to see he still has it.

Eric said...

Football, ESK. Though strictly speaking the players hug after a game. 'Cept Favre of course who slaps ass.

I think the Brewers should drop their pants.

Anonymous said...
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Chris said...

I agree with the Chinese guy :)

Anonymous said...
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Megan said...

On the list of things more offensive to baseball: #6. Love.
This might have made my day.

woziszeus said...

Nice work indeed. Nothing riles me up more then reading columnists like that...