Odds and Ends: Bauer, Baseball Writers, Schilling
A roundup of the latest baseball news, and what it all means.
There’s lots going on in the baseball world, but nothing that quite stands out. So today, we cover a few different baseball developments, I work on my newsletter voice, and we explore why Curt Schilling is not like Bernie Sanders.
According to a USA Today report, the Mets have made an offer to Trevor Bauer that comes close to breaking the Average Annual Value record for a pitcher. Obviously, Bauer is a polarizing figure, so the news that the Mets might actually be taking concrete steps to sign him has been met with a deluge of Tweets.
To me, there’s basically one correct take on all this. Bauer is an excellent pitcher, and the Mets can afford him if they say they can, but he’s also an annoying and sometimes repulsive guy. Some fans of his will argue that there’s actually nothing wrong with his off-the-field persona and temperament. His detractors, meanwhile, will say that in addition to being a bad guy, he’s an overrated pitcher, he’s only had one good season, he’s going to fall back to a 4.00 E.R.A. next year, etc.
Neither of these are valid, I don’t think. Bauer can clearly pitch: after an excellent year in 2018 and a disappointing follow-up in 2019, he put it all together last season. He faced only the central divisions and their weak offenses, so he probably won’t repeat his 1.73 E.R.A., but it’s crazy to look at what Bauer did last season and think “it’s all a mirage.” Bauer is an excellent pitcher, and he’s kind of a turd. Make of that what you will.
In The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal writes that baseball should delay Spring training for at least a month, even though the other three major sports are in the midst of playing their seasons. Rosenthal is wary of bringing thousands of people together in Florida and Arizona. The Phoenix Coyotes are currently admitting up to 3450 fans to each of their home games, and the Super Bowl, on February 6th in Florida, will bring together more than 20,000 fans, not to mention the staff involved.
Obviously, it’s fine to make a health-based case that baseball shouldn’t start yet. But that shouldn’t be a baseball-specific argument. The only valid rationale that Rosenthal offers for why baseball should wait at least a month, but basketball, football, and hockey should go on, is that baseball players might find it difficult to follow COVID protocols over a 162-game season. That’s pure speculation, and not a reason to delay the season indefinitely (and risk cutting player salaries again).
This took me back to last season, when all of a sudden, baseball media seemed to swing en masse to supporting seven-inning doubleheaders, or even all games being shortened to seven innings, roughly equivalent to shaving 14 minutes off every NFL game. I’ve never heard a writer covering a different sport — basketball, hockey, football, tennis, whatever — argue that what their sport needs is less of the sport. You don’t have to love everything MLB does to be a baseball writer, but at minimum, all full-time baseball writers should share one basic characteristic: they should be able to enjoy the game without asking for less of it.
Last night, Curt Schilling, as most people expected based on pre-announcement public ballots, came up a few votes short of Hall of Fame induction. What came next, though, wasn’t as expected: Schilling, effectively, self-canceled. He requested that he be removed from the ballot and have his name thrown to the committees that take control of induction once players fall off the regular ballot.
I mean…fine? Sure? I don’t think Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame, and I’m nothing if not a pragmatist. The one thing I really hope doesn’t happen — though I suspect it will — is Schilling’s announcement somehow turning him into even more of a martyr. “The BBWAA’s anti-conservative bias forced an all-time great off the ballot!” Schilling’s supporters will shout. This is obviously wrong: for one, Schilling very notably left the ballot on his own.
For another, though, his failure to be inducted doesn’t have anything to do with anti-conservatism. As Joe Posnanski and Craig Calcaterra have noted, it’s pretty much safe to assume that most baseball players, and most people on the Hall of Fame ballot, are conservatives. Mariano Rivera has been a high-profile Trump supporter for years, and he was inducted unanimously.
Imagine if a conservative was deciding who to invite to a party. They might invite Bernie Sanders, because he seems like a nice guy and might be fun at parties. But they probably wouldn’t invite a guy with the exact same politics as Bernie Sanders who was also just a deeply distasteful, no-fun, loathsome human being. And no one would accuse them of “making it about the politics,” because for goodness’ sake, most of the people in the room are already liberals. There’s no need to invite the liberal who’s also just an awful person, and there’s nothing political about the choice.