The Ball and The (Ever Moving) Stick

What do we root for, when winning means different things to different people?

(Ed’s note: WordPress is not cooperating but we would like to note that this piece is co-authored by Nathan Bishop and Matt Ellis)

During last Sunday’s Super Bowl, we were fortunate enough to share company with many old and dear friends. One of those friends brought a baseball, for reasons he could not explain when pressed. As has been the case our entire life when occupying space in close proximity to a baseball, we held it in our hand. We did so for long enough that others felt compelled to press us on why, and we confess it was for reasons that, we too, could not explain.

For every baseball player, we imagine it is variations on similar themes: At some point, somewhere as a small child a parent, sibling, friend, or relative put a ball of some kind in that child’s hand, took five or six steps back, and told them to throw. Most probably, without knowing how they knew how to do it, wound back and threw that ball with a kind of innate force and velocity that belies all instruction and training. After that, maybe it was a stick swung at a softly lobbed rolled up pair of socks. Or a toy truck at a balloon. From that tiny genesis springs forth the game’s rivers of life: Little League, travel teams, youth showcases, scholarships, academies, weighted ball training, and professional careers that earn wealth the likes of which has ruined the lives of many a Mega Millions winner.

At the beginning, though, we believe it is important to remember it was just a kid, throwing a ball, and swinging a stick.

*****

We have some thoughts on billionaires, and while we understand you probably don’t want to hear them, we hope that you will extend us that same fair share of understanding when we say we don’t really care. So here:

We do not begrudge anyone on this planet whatever form of wealth or plenty they manage to acquire during their short time in this dimension. What we do believe is that the mindset, and the actions that spring out of it, that leads to the acquisition of the kind of wealth of, say, a Carl Pohlad are almost universally not only not aligned with the fundamental, collective good of our fellow man, but diametrically opposed to it.

We believe that the primary skill of a billionaire lies in one of two areas:

  1. The exploitation of one of the great flaws of our modern age, and that is that there is more profit in the acquisition and marketing of greatness than there is in simply performing greatly.
  2. Being the child of a billionaire.

We believe that many billionaires do not think of themselves as evil, and often legitimately do not understand why the 99.9% of this world’s population’s increasing dependence on their altruism for things like health care, space exploration, and clean water is viewed as a bad thing by many. We believe Mariners’ owner John Stanton had a childhood dream of playing in the major leagues, just as we believe he truly thinks living somewhere where you run into Jeff Bezos at the grocery store, and see the founders of Microsoft playing tennis qualifies as “a fairly normal life.”

We believe that John Stanton believes this, because we believe almost all people believe themselves to be good, even if that illusion requires the insulation of gated communities, security forces, and the support of your fellow twenty-nine baseball owners as you drive your team, no, the community’s team that you profit off of, to what may very well be their seventeenth straight season without a postseason appearance.

We have many more things we believe about billionaires. We originally were going to list all of them through this section, but there is no point. The views you share on wealth and whether or not the vast preponderance of it being held by a comically small few qualifies as proof of liberty and opportunity or a hollow pyramid scheme with those same words functioning as nothing but good #branding will not be changed in any meaningful way by what we say here.

This is, largely, how we got here in the first place.

*****

In short: in an attempt to understand, and critique, the current wave of labor disputes in the MLB, it might be time to look beyond the language of “collusion.” This is not to say the owners have not engaged, or are currently not in any way engaging in collusion. The so-called Gentleman’s Agreement for one, was quite literally the definition of collusion, and the concept has been frequently invoked by the MLBPA since its founding in 1966. Clearly, it retains some analytic precision for those actually materially invested in labor struggles (i.e. those of us whose role in Major League Baseball encompasses more than swigging beer on the couch while yelling at Danny Valencia Ryon Healy).

The image of a smoke filled room inhabited by anthropomorphic pigs in top hats and monocles laughing as they devise a secret plan might have worked for early Soviet agitprop propaganda, as they traveled the post-revolutionary countryside in an attempt to distill the essence of global capitalism to the rural, heavily illiterate peasantry. But there are a number of problems with this: first, there is the fact that large swaths of the rural peasantry already kind of implicitly understood that they were being screwed, and second, that this simple yet effective image reduces the complexities of global capitalism into a problem with a clearly attainable solution: just get the dang pig and his stupid top hat!

Marx–whatever you think of him–understood capitalism to be something much more complicated: a machine, globalized. A period in material history undergoing continuous development, one which does not rely on the inherent “human nature” of agents and actors but rather through the machinations of the gears and levers which delimit all that it can, and will be able to, do.* In the first of his three-volume, ten-bazillion-page study on capitalism, Marx outlines his reading of the labor theory of value, which stands effectively in contrast to other theories of value which might sound familiar to our popular American understanding of economics.

It gets way more complicated when you bring in value in use and value in exchange, and I realize this is a baseball blog, after all so I’ll keep this brief. In short, we are fooled when we look at something we want to purchase–say a fancy, shiny car or a game-used replica Dustin Ackley jersey at the Mariners team store–and think wow that looks amazing it must be so expensive. You put a down payment on a home for the lamborghini, and shell out hundreds on the jersey because that’s just what those things are worth. But why is a game-used Dustin Ackley jersey $300 dollars? (spoiler: it isn’t).

To Marx, the value in a given commodity is indexed to the labor required for its production, including the labor required to produce the conditions under which that commodity was able to be produced in the first place (the factory where they individually packaged Northwest-Green replica #13 jerseys to sit unpurchased on the shelf, or if we will, Safeco Field itself). You can see where I’m going with this.

If we take the labor theory of value at its face, and argue that we fundamentally ignore its discovery in place of other theories of value focused on the lure of the object itself, then the historical development of contemporary market capitalism is fundamentally the reason why this labor crisis is happening. The owners don’t need to collude if the market rewards them for shedding payroll. As millionaires, Major League baseball players may be miles away from the economic realities you and I inhabit, but they nevertheless are key laborers in the production of Major League Baseball’s commodities. And not just major leaguers–the entire labor force that actually produces value for the league and owners here encompasses the minor leaguers subsiding on Top Ramen and the Robinson Canós of the world.

But a refrain of this sort has started to emerge in recent discourses about our perplexingly slow 2018 offseason. In one sense, we would argue well-meaning critiques of the league do a disservice to the real struggle which needs to be fought for the future of the game and the players which produce its value. Some have argued a player strike would damage the public face of the fight, while others have rightfully critiqued the MLBPA for its relative silence on the plight of minor leaguers. But we are lying to ourselves if we think that dealing with a class of owners who seek first and foremost to maximize profit and “balance” spreadsheets (an obvious echo here to politicians bemoaning the spiraling deficit while public institutions are rapidly privatized–one which we mostly see through arguably because baseball is more fun than congress) is one in which we can de-link the brutal exploitation of minor leaguers and the Major Leaguers whose value is being siphoned upwards more and more as this CBA marches towards its inevitable explosion in 2020. You can’t: for the death of what little power labor currently has–power which needs to grow and expand downwards to cover the minor leaguerswill irrevocably be eroded once we start calling for players to make “the right grievances,” or to stop “complaining” about arbitration. They may be millionaires, but whose interest would such tactics truly serve?

Indeed, the structure of baseball since the institutionalization of its current form around the turn of the century is one in which the labor of the players versus the interests of the owners has constantly been in struggle. And while it is true that players today, thanks to the Marvin Millers and Curt Floods in history, have been able to regain some ground in this struggle of appropriation–the market is changing itself in response to the growing threat of labor power in much the same ways political theorists such as David Harvey have noted the entire global market began changing in the 1970s when faced with similar paradigm shifts.

No, rather than conceive of this large free agent class two days before pitchers and catchers report as the result of a backroom poker game between Thomas Ricketts and Arte Moreno, we should instead look to a number of historical, economic, and indeed on-field events as key constitutive factors in producing this backlog. We all praise Billy Beane and watched the movie, perhaps even read the book. We watched as Jack Zduriencik abandoned spreadsheets with disagreeable fonts and chased right-handed power hitters, and we begged for the man to look at the new data that was frustratingly available to seemingly half the league. Hell, we all did.

At the time, the stats revolution seemed like a positive development for fringe players possessing skills that the system had deemed useless, or at the very least, inefficient. But while the popular myth of moneyball narrativizes the fight of the tight-pocketed owner versus the #disruptor GM of #innovation, we should look back on this period of history with one single, operative question: whose interest did this revolution truly serve? Indeed: moneyball emerged in part as a response to a constitutive problem of an owner refusing to give his GM more money to field a winning team. It was, in effect, a capitulation that sought band-aids rather than antibiotics.

So while we can laugh at the absurdity of Albert Pujols being paid a quarter-of-a-billion dollars to be the worst player in baseball (and to be clear, it is funny), we should also remember he was being paid $200,000 in a season in which he earned 7.1 fWAR for the St. Louis Cardinals in a decade in which he was, arguably, one of the two best baseball players on the planet. The next season, Billy Beane infamously signed Scott Hatteberg and his fucked-up elbow for $950,000 and he immediately put up a season that ranks right up with the best of Pujols’ entire tenure with the Angels. We can point to this division, and we should also ask what it means that we fans can seemingly only conceive of “value” as a metric of on-field performance in the aggregate, rather than the amount of profit each player produces for the league, their teams, and the requisite owners.

But most of all we should remember that all three of these men–Albert Pujols, Scott Hatteberg, and John Stanton–arguably spent long periods of their childhood holding baseballs like the rest of us, dreaming first as fans, tossing them back and forth into makeshift gloves with glee, or swinging sticks in the air. All three of them, arguably, love the game and each want to “win” in their own way, and each feels they have (or had) something useful to contribute to the process. But “winning,” arguably, means something very different to two of these men than the other.

The Mariners want to win. But ask yourself what that word really means.

_______________________________________________

“But all methods for the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation; and every extension of accumulation becomes, conversely, a means for the development of those methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.” from “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,” in Marx, Karl. Capital Vol 1, pp. 799.

 

Not By Faith Alone

Some politics. Some religion

1) A “Christian” education, eh? Well that’s a hell of a thing to pursue from a very young age. Let’s take a look at the first grade course load:

Math
Reading
Science
Physical Education
The Study of the omniscient, omnipresent, eternal creator of all things past and present, The Lord, and the history of his interaction with humanity, including but not limited to the life of His Son, Jesus Christ, who was God but apart from God, while also fully human, and was sent to Earth two thousand years ago to live perfectly and die blamelessly, thus atoning for the act of original sin, which was performed by Eve in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of creation, and has been attached to every single human since, dividing us from our Creator. Only through Jesus’ death and sacrifice may we be in Holy Communion with our Lord once we die, otherwise you, young child, are dammed to eternity of hell and torment by the sin you contain within your soul.

Now, please turn to Luke Chapter 4……

2) You learn in that environment. You learn fast. Multiplication tables, grammatical structure, Ezekiel and Jeremiah are MAJOR prophets, Hosea and Obadiah are MINOR prophets, i before e, except after c…. It’s all part of the daily schedule. Wake up, head downstairs to the kitchen, crack a book, sharpen a pencil, and get to work. This is the ritual of your homeschooled education.

“Public school?”, they say.  “Well maybe when we were kids, but now we can’t have that. Did you know the Clintons banned prayer from school? Public school is good enough for them, but not for us. We’ll stay here. If you need friends, well, it’s almost Spring. Little League will start in a few months.”

3) There’s a little metal cross someone gave you for your birthday once, you don’t remember who. But some of your favorite baseball players have one too, and so you let it hang out of your uniform. It looks……cool………right? You stand in centerfield for entire summers, and as your team criss-crosses the country you hold that cross for every big pitch, in every big moment. The finish wears off, and you kind of give your right hand a little mini-Stigmata holding the damn thing, but it works often enough.

Plus you look cool. And there are girls in the stands. Maybe someday you’ll get up the courage to talk to one.

4) In college it’s more of the same. You could have gone to a state school on the cheap and been out in a few years with minimal debt but, again, there’s that implication that everyone is really hoping you’d go somewhere for that “Christian” education. So Bible college it is.

You’ve got questions now, a lot of them. But the answers more often than not point you towards a knowledge gap. You’re offered a big dump truck labeled “Faith” and encouraged to fill in that gap, but no matter how many times you try that, the gap remains. Maybe it’s just too deep to fill.

In the meantime, while it gnaws at you, you vote for George W., attend prayer meetings earnestly asking God to put a Republican in the White House, and make fun of the music majors in your department who seem like they might be gay.

You’ve got questions, but you’ve also got to keep up appearances.

5) While the school won’t let you watch cable TV, or spend more than 4 hours at a time a few days a week in the girls’ dorms (doors open, lights on, feet on the ground), even they won’t cut off the internet. Baseball was always your connection to the outside world, and the Mariners, weirdly, are really good. So you use the Mariners as your launching point for accessing the internet’s vast array of content. ESPN is your startup page. Edgar Martinez has 145 RBI. Life is good.

One day you get an email from a friend back home. “Check out this site. It’s just a few guys who love the Mariners, but they’re really smart, and they’re saying stuff I’ve never heard before.” It’s a blog post by a guy named Derek Zumsteg. He’s clearly smart, at least equally arrogant, and strangely not optimistic about the team, despite the fact that they’ve won 90+ games four years in a row.

6) The baseball world you loved is unraveling before your eyes. It’s all numbers, data, empirical evidence, and metrics now. RBI are……….meaningless? Bunts are not noble sacrifices of the individual for the greater good, but instead simply sub-optimal strategy? Pitcher wins are comically overrated?

As child, as a teen, hell as a Sophomore in the dorms you would have just pushed this all away. But now? Well you’re engaged now. You’re getting married in a few months. Adulthood is around the corner, and you’ve got a few hundred bucks in your bank account. It’s time not to just start asking questions, but to find some answers.

So you rabbithole sabermetrics; Moneyball, Bill James, the whole Smart Baseball Fan Gospel. You’ve got it, you’ve learned, you’re in the know. You come up for air, to look at your politics, your social beliefs, your religion. You thought you knew baseball before, and look at you now. You wonder what will happen if you take these newfound, shiny principles of empirical thought and data-supported beliefs to the other parts of your life. You’ve still got those gaps, but maybe now you’ve got tools a little more refined than an empty dump truck you have to wish full. You get to work.

7) You still have faith, of course. It’s not particularly revelatory to observe that life demands constant small acts of faith. Faith a chair won’t break, the car will start, you’ll make rent.

You have faith that the nurse setting your wife’s IV drip won’t accidentally mix up the levels, overdose her on Pitocin during labor and cause her uterus to contract and refuse to stop contracting. Faith, as you watch your child’s heart rate plummet and doctors spring out of nowhere to rush them both into surgery, that there’s only been one mistake, and that there won’t be another. Faith they can Fix This. Faith that the child’s scream you just heard is normal, and that your wife will survive too.

Sometimes faith is rewarded, and other times it’s not. We keep faith because we have to. We keep it because without it, we’re paralyzed.

8) The Mariners, a baseball team of little consequence who nonetheless was the mechanism through which you learned to think, to rationalize, to escape a life of narrowness, smallness, bigotry, and malice towards anyone who thinks, feels, or believes differently than you, are no longer good, and haven’t been since shortly after you got that first USS Mariner email. Somewhat poetically they are the ones asking for faith now; in them, in the future. Their general manager is a bright, earnest, handsome, well-spoken man. It’s easy to sit back, close your eyes, and let everything he says make you feel great about where the team is headed. It all just makes so much sense. It’s just sports, right? What’s the harm in it?

Faith is a personal choice, and one of the deepest, most vulnerable ones we can make. Your choice isn’t for all, and you’d never expect it to be. Others have more faith, newer faith, different faith. Your faith is, simply, yours. Your journey taught you a long time ago that many will ask for faith, and many don’t deserve it.

So, you wait. You question, wonder, agitate, annoy, and speculate. When the handsome man speaks, you don’t close your eyes and believe. You push back. You probably always will, now. You lived on faith for a long time, but no longer. Not by faith alone.

 

Darryl P. Skeeby: Or How I Came To Love The Bat

If you don’t read this you probably still play Pokemon GO.

The truth, huh? Alright, I’ll start with the truth, but truth can be a tricky thing when you’re face to face with a bull gator and nothing betwixt you and a bony dinner but the home-made poultice of orange-rind and cinnamon that Momma P. made for warding off the spirits. If you want the truth, it’s simple – Ol’ Darryl was knee deep in his evenin’ pastrami and egg sandwich when my pager went off.

Beep. Beep. Bop. Boop. Boop.

That’s how you always know it’s gonna be a good one. That late-night buzz. I know what’s coming next, I do.

A ring-a-ding-a-ling and what do you know, a familiar number flashes across the screen of my brand new Apple Watch, a gift from my Cousin Gus. A voice I know all too well, low and severe, like a riptide on the Snake River, cuts through the late-night air of my penthouse Motel 5 room,”Darryl, we need you.”

If I had a nickel for every time I heard it, well, I’d be one Dapper Dan. Which is to say, I’d have enough to purchase a can of pomade.

“What’s the skinny, Jules?”

Julia Peffercorn is the toughest chief investigator I have ever had the displeasure of knowing. Sure, most elevated to the position have some sort of chip, or bag of chips, on their shoulder, but her chip was more a whole plate of nachos. She never took “No,” for an answer, and never tried my herbal tea mix that I promised her would knock a possum out a tree at midday sun.

“Someone stole Griffey’s bat.”

It was then I knew that trouble was afoot. Steeped deep in my stories and a long cup of the self-same herbal tea mix I just described, I knew it had to be mere minutes past 10:37PM. The time for perfect crime. Quickly, I reached for my notebook.

Flipping through important sketches of 3D cubes I had made while waiting to get a hold of a real person at Comcast (I don’t trust robots) and a grocery list for the butler detailing the seven different beans I needed to make Mama Skeeby’s Famous Bean Salad for weekend supper, I came to my List of Lists.

Yes, dear reader, any detective worth their salt and pepper has a good, old-fashioned List of Lists. In there are all the learnings of a life hard-lived. I have pros and cons on purchasing a yellow car, hats and their proper occasions, different uses for paisley, and a whole sublist of lists containing best chili recipes. Having so many lists, I finally got to the one I was looking for: Reasons for Stealing A Bat.

What follows are trade secrets on motives for stealing a bat:

  • Researching origins of mammalian flight
  • Vampire breeding
  • Echolocation – I think that speaks for itself
  • Infect enemies with rabies
  • Too many insects in a room
  • Lonely – if you’re all alone a bat would be a fine pet, I suppose

The rest of the list has been redacted due to the explicit nature of the content and the potential of compromising Deep Cover friends. I still care for you, Barney. I called Julia back, certain I knew exactly who did this: Daniel Paul Valencia.

The motive was obvious. Who could more clearly be trying to master echolocation in order to find the strike zone again? Who could be more concerned with mammalian flight than a man in his mid 30’s looking to regain strength to “fly” across the outfield grass. Lean in closer, dear reader, and let me show you exactly how I know it was him.

In the Spanish League of soccer, known to the cosmopolitans amongst us as “La Liga”, the team representing the beautiful and cultured city of Valencia Spain has the following mascot:

Valencia

A bat, indeed, Daniel.

Full of culture and dreams of tapas, I call Julia.

“Ken Griffey Junior’s bat from the statue, you idiot. I swear to G-”

I quickly hang up, I cannot take her scorn. Embarrassed, I return to my List of Lists. This time, quickly searching for a list I made when I was a younger man, playing semi-pro ball in the lesser-known Cape Halibut League. Oh, the fish and chips we’d have. Simply sublime it was in those days. Lost in visions of lemon wedges and tartars, that’s when sleep became me.

I arose the next day with renewed strength and ambition. After a particular dream I called Julia again, sure that my night terrors had given me the answer to the case at hand. Ready to prove my worth to the investigator who just hours before had scoffed at me.

“Julia, I kn-”

“Darryl, let me stop you right there. We caught the vandal and the bat has been safely returned. We’ve had enough of your help on this case.”

Sensing this for the cover up I knew it to be, I pleaded with her for one more consideration. Sure that there was no chance they had apprehended the real criminal, I played my cards.

“The man you’re looking for is Daniel Paul Valencia, former first baseman of the Seattle Mariners.”

She waited a beat, released a short chuckle, “How do you figure, Mr. Skeeby?”

“The answer is quite obvious, Julia.”

I waited a pregnant pause.

“He still needs a bat.”

 

 

The baseball season needs to be like the soccer/football/futbol/calcio season

Baseball, in an attempt to remain relevant in everyone’s eyes (despite the fact that the postseason is currently going), recently revealed the prospect of two expansion squads entering the field, and the subsequent changes that would accompany it.

Most importantly, if baseball expands, that would mean that the Seattle Mariners would be joined by two new teams to one of the most futile stains in all of baseball–the few, the sad, the ones who haven’t made the World Series.

One of the key aspects of the expansion plans involve restructuring the divisional makeups, leaving us with 16 teams in each league, and four teams in each division. That would immediately have implications on the playoffs, and all around, the whole thing could become a giant mess.

As it stands now, the Wild Card is a necessary evil to making the playoffs work, otherwise you are constantly rewarding a team like the 2005 San Diego Padres with a chance for offseason greatness, over the likes of many more, better teams (three in fact!). SPOILER: If your system rewards the Padres, the system is broken.

What if we could get rid of the necessary evil/Padres? What if we could get rid of all evil in the world? That is right. I’m talking about a soccer system, the sport of unparalleled virtue and moral cleanliness. I’m talking about making every single game count, not just the ones your No. 1 and No. 2 starters make. I’m talking about constructing a team that is built to win throughout the entire season, not just in October.

In the past 20 years, the overall regular season champion has only won the World Series four times. It is even more rare for the World Series to include the overall top two teams in baseball.

This is an opportunity like no other. Abolish the playoff scenario that so many of us are addicted to, because the end of the season dramatically would become that playoff race. In seven of the past 10 years, including this season, the top two records in MLB have been decided by two games or less.

The entire experiment would be an exercise in equity and fairness. Rather than have the NL West be murderers row while the Washington Nationals (thanks for not making the World Series) and the Chicago Cubs are busy padding their stats against the cellars of their divisions, this inventive system would level the playing field.

This could happen in a multiple of ways:

  • Each team plays each team five times: two home, two away, and ONE NEUTRAL LOCATION (why I have no idea) (So Spokane can get some games Go Zags)
  • Each team plays each team six times: three home, three away.

The overall season length remains relatively the same, if not a bit shorter (whoops the owners probably don’t care for that). If anything, the playoffs no longer somehow drag into November, because people only care about October baseball, not November baseball. The rest of the atmosphere would remain the same. If you are a garbage team, you can still play spoilers for those that are in the race for the top. The glory is there for the team that is truly the best team in baseball, not the team that just happens to have Madison Bumgarner on it. Baseball isn’t broken yet, but its not like it is completely fixed either.

Perhaps you are sitting there, and thinking (because you are a well-informed, global, multi-sports viewer), hold on a second! How can we even discuss the idea of a soccer/football/futbol/calcio table without even broaching the subject of relegation. Well that, my friend, is an issue that is too complex to approach in this blog post. The discussion of how to improve baseball is far from over. We are just getting started.

 

The Case for Giancarlo

On July 28th, 2033 Giancarlo Stanton was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As his time came to speak the hulking man – the rare physical specimen for whom time seems only to adorn regality, and take nothing at all – sat quietly, a look of mild distance in his eyes.

There were ten, maybe fifteen minutes to encapsulate a seventeen year career of hitting baseballs like no one ever had before him. A few moments to speak of his time playing baseball on opposite corners of the nation; seven in Miami, ten in Seattle.

He had always been more than just another power hitter. The rules of baseball indicate any ball clearing the fence on the fly in fair territory is a home run. Plenty of players did that, and so did Giancarlo. But he used his home runs as an instrument of psychological terror.

His home runs were more than runs, they were oppression, torment; annihilation. Giancarlo Stanton home runs were Marshawn Lynch up the middle, or Shawn Kemp on the break. Oh we tallied them of course, this is baseball. “That’s home run 500!”, “Wow exit velocity of 120.3 MPH”, and so on, but these were the desperate attempts of we baseball disciples to capture gospel on the page. We wrote them in red, so people would notice, but no ink or page was sufficient, nor could it ever be.

He strode to the microphone to speak, and paused. Among the masses gathered to see him was twenty-seven year old Julie Graham, a rising star in the White Sox analytics department. Despite the ongoing season, and her employer currently leading the AL Central, Julie had been planning this trip since last summer. She was smart and ambitious, with an eye for a general manager position someday, but this was bigger even than her career.

This was about the summer of 2018, spent in a small, WWII trackhouse on Trenton St, on the east side of Bremerton, WA.

*****

Julie’s parents had split up when she was six. She lived mostly with her mom, in and around the Orwellian-sounding City of Industry in California. Her father had a tough time keeping a job, and as such his life was in the state of perpetual instability that made primary custody an easy decision for the court. But by 2016 her dad had settled in Kitsap County, and found steady employment at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. It was good, union pay, and by the summer of 2018 he was able to pay off enough debt to afford renting that small rambler on Trenton St., and convince the court and Julie’s mom to let her come stay with him for the summer.

She hated it, of course. She was twelve, the dawning of the age when hate is the default setting for most things in life. She hated the small house, the small town, the way the rain stuck around into July. She hated her dad, and his friends, and the few kids she saw around the neighborhood. One Saturday a guy at the yard had a few baseball tickets he couldn’t use, and when Julie’s dad drug her to Safeco Field she was fully prepared and capable of hating that too.

They trudged to their seat, about halfway up the left field bleachers, and sat down. Julie was annoyed; the sun made it impossible to see her phone screen. Without speaking a word to her dad she got up and walked all the way to the top of the bleachers, where some shade would allow her to see, and thus escape.

THWACK

Julie’s head jerked up, something had smashed into the bleacher behind her, about twenty feet from her head.

CRASH

Once she had visited an aunt in Texas, and through a torrential Texan storm learned about baseball-sized hail. But this, this was a storm raining actual baseball-sized baseballs.

Where could it be coming from? Julie looked around her, then down to her dad, who pointed towards the other side of the stadium. She squinted down. All she could see was a tiny collection of blue and white spots. One of the spots, admittedly the least tiny of them, was standing close to home plate. Vaguely she saw a flash of something and this time, paying attention, she heard it; a menacing hiss and the accompanying whoops of the people around her as it go closer. The ball smashed about two rows in front of her, and a group of four or so immediately fell upon it.

Julie put down her phone.

*****

Giancarlo stood at the podium. The trade to bring him to Seattle was foolish, reckless, irresponsible even. All the home runs – 400, 500, 600, and on – had not turned around the franchise. They had finally broken that awful playoff-less streak by squeaking into the Wild Card in 2023. They even won the Wild Card game, but were swept out of the divisional series by the Rangers, and quickly returned to mediocrity afterwards.

Seventeen years, an MVP, Silver Sluggers, All-Star games, one of the most transcendent talents in the history of the game. But only four playoff games, no World Series, and no titles. His accomplishments lay as communal testament to his enduring greatness, but seemingly little beyond just that.

Julie Graham stood in the sun, and sweat. She drug her dad to Safeco that whole summer, all those years ago. When the next summer came she did it again, and the one after. Her newfound love of baseball made her want to know more about it, and that led to the discovery of a love of and gift for mathematics and statistics. The full ride to Stanford, the internship with the Padres, the steady progress of her career was traced back to a summer in Seattle, where a Child of Zeus himself reshaped the confines and boundaries of reality with his swings.

Giancarlo began speaking, and Julie looked around. She was far from alone.

Shohei Otani and Three Magic Words

My junior year of undergrad I had a professor, we’ll call him Mr. Williams. He was in his early 30’s, energetic, passionate, and opinionated. His class at my small bible college was one on the Book of Revelations, the Bible’s lowkey signing off on recreational drug use.

A major topic in Revelations, one debated by scholars for centuries, is whether the Rapture, the event in which God calls his still living faithful from earth to heaven to create a new heaven and new earth, is to occur before or after The Great Tribulation, a period cataclysms and horrors set to wipe out a vast swatch of humanity, and signal The End Times.

The two camps of this argument are shorthanded in Evangelical scholarly circles as “Pre and Post-Trib”. Mr. Williams was Pre-Trib, and was to such a passionate degree that you could almost forget that brilliant men had been arguing over this, a prophesy written in a foreign language scribbled down by a guy most likely under the effect of hallucinogens while sitting around on a small Greek island, for hundreds of years. In all that time there has never been a consensus opinion to emerge, and that probably has something to do with the fact that Koine Greek is a bit of a bitch, and that the future is, per my experience, inherently unknowable.

Nonetheless Mr. Williams was unshakable in his belief that the only possible reality was that God would spare his Faithful the horrors of the Tribulation. It was in that class that the largely dormant, but very much alive, seeds of speculation in my mind began to grow, and has led to a philosophy of stubbornly resisting passionate argument, probably too much so.

It was in that class I formed the opinion that the best and most correct answer for something as unknowable as the Tribulation/Rapture debate was one Mr. Williams seemed unable to see, let alone arrive at:

“I don’t know”

***

Shohei Otani is a unique player, in a unique situation. The perplexing and shortsighted willingness of the MLBPA to negotiate away the earning power of future players has put a cap on what teams can pay international free agents. As such Otani, who has made it mostly clear that he intends to come to MLB during this offseason, will most likely make the decision on where to play based on factors that have little or nothing to do with the terms of his initial contract.

As financial compensation is traditionally motivating factors 1-10 for deciding where an athlete is going to play, the absence of it in Otani’s case leaves a vast, gaping, crater in which we can pour our speculations, dreams, and hopes. This is a natural instinct. Humans like to know, and when we can’t we grow uncomfortable and oftentimes try to shape reality to our will.

We have seen plenty of exactly that with Otani this week: “Seattle is close to Japan”, “The Mariners have a strong track record with Japanese players”, or “Otani doesn’t care about money”. The latter is particularly fraught, as it can lead to assigning a moral superiority to a player accepting less money than he can theoretically extract from cutthroat billionaires, where in fact it’s easy to posit that getting every last cent possible out of them in order to use it for the ease of the suffering of the impoverished is at least as, if not more in line, with a highly-aspiring moral code.

The reality with Shohei Otani is we do not know. It’s entirely plausible Otani himself doesn’t know. We have no reason to believe the Mariners are any more or less desirable to him than any of the other 29 major league baseball teams. We do not know how much money means to him, nor should we ascribe a sort of Sunday School Morality to the possibility that he is almost assuredly giving up short term financial gain with the timing of his arrival in MLB.

We should allow Otani the dignity and mystery inherent in all the wildly complex depths of each human soul, and admit that we do not know why he is coming to America at this exact moment, and we do not know where he will choose to play. To attempt to distill the human spirit into simple cultural and/or moral archetypes to fit our predispositions does him and us a disservice. This is the most honest appraisal of the situation, and as it is so often with honesty, the most freeing.

Shohei Otani could become a Mariner, and he most likely will not. While we can read whatever we like into how much money he lives off of in Japan, or channel a Western understanding of Japanese culture into motivations for him to feel honored/dishonored by this or that, doing so plays into many of our worst American/Western/Imperialistic instincts. Real information will come in due course. For now, the best course of action is to embrace the three magic words:

We don’t know.

 

To Know Someone

(In the spirit of this post we wish to direct our readers to where they may donate to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, an excellent charity working to defeat cancer for all.)

As we stumble through life we have slowly, haphazardly, developed a rough system of determining the quality of a person. Of course, we acknowledge that perfect knowledge of a human’s personhood is practically impossible, thanks to the incredible depth and complexity of the human spirit. This is part of its appeal, and a great contributing factor to many of our trials and tribulations, in our estimation. However, with what little time and exposure is afforded us, here is the cribbed version of our person evaluation process:

How does the person treat other persons when no other persons are watching?

Some years ago we were traveling on the ferry, heading home after a Mariner game. We had consumed somewhere between one and ten beers, and the way we were feeling indicated it was toward the upper levels of that range. At departure from the Fauntleroy Ferry Terminal our traveling companion sat up with a start and said, “That is Angie Mentink, you must go talk to her.” Having just started writing about the Mariners on the internet at the time, we and the beers were in no position to disagree, and so off we went.

Introductions were barely completed when Angie said, politely though briskly, “Great. Can you walk and talk?” Due to our beers this was more of an open question than is typical, however we said yes. During the 20 minutes between Fauntleroy and Vashon Island, Angie did two things ceaselessly: She did not stop walking in circles VERY quickly, and she did not at any point treat us as a hassle or unwelcome interruption, although we surely were.

We have no illusions that Angie remembers this interaction, or a single word we spoke, but we do not care. In the busy excrutiations of adulthood, there is a very real kindness and charity to projecting the illusion of care, whether or not care actually exists. Angie was extremely kind to us in this way, for no other reason other than we were there. We do not forget that.

How does a person respond to the unexpected, and/or that which is out of his/her control?

We have some mild experience with public speaking, stage place, and public performance. The process demands the utmost exactitude, combined with the ability to make everything seem organic and natural. When things go sideways, and surprises pop up, it can be extremely jarring, and we believe reacting to such things with grace and humor belies a strength of spirit, and peace with oneself. These are excellent qualities, and ones we wish we contained to a greater degree.

On July 22nd, after a walkoff win, Angie Mentink was doing her job and interviewing Mariner outfielder Ben Gamel, when:

Danny Valenciea’s poor aim, far from throwing Angie off her game, led to one of the great moments of the season, and perhaps the finest tweet of 2017:

As a mild postscript we remember that, after a walkoff home run on June 7th Angie, a former softball player at the University of Washington and no stranger to how athletes congratulate each other, smacked Mariners catcher Mike Zunino on the ass. This was, in the absurd modern world we exist in, cause of some consternation. We like to think Angie has not spent one moment worrying about that, and we also acknowledge we would very much also like to smack Mike Zunino on the ass.

How does a person react to hardship?

In the case of Angie Mentink, it’s just grace and humor, all the way down:

It has been said many times and ways, but we will repeat it here: A local baseball team’s broadcasters, more than any other sport, become family. They are daily guests in our home and lives, part of the rhythmic routine that marks our days. In this way we grow to appreciate their presence, a comforting salve which we apply over the aches and pains of existence. Their words are like a nightly nip of brandy for the soul, and we are very grateful for that.

***

We said at the top of this that a human’s capacity for layers and depth makes them all but unknowable, at least in the fullest sense. The act of choosing to love will always contain risk, because the possibility of darker, previously unseen nature is always lurking, regardless of how much time we have spent with a person. But we still choose to love, and sometimes we don’t need to see much to feel comfortable making that decision.

Angie, we love you. We believe you to contain a strength and fire that burns hotter than any disease or malady can defeat. Whether we do so in person, or from afar, we look forward to celebrating your triumph over cancer, and we stand by you in your journey to do so.