Thursday, February 07, 2008

Small Market Baseball

I believe the Tigers actually had the biggest trade of the offseason in acquiring Miguel Cabrera (3B) and Dontrelle Willis (SP) from the Florida Marlins during Baseball's Winter Meetings, but the Minnesota Twins certainely generated the most sustained press while all of baseball fandom speculated where Johan Santana (the active pitcher with the most consistently astounding flame throwing excellence) would be traded. Red Sox, Yankees, and Mets were the frequently cited destinations.

Long (and it was long) story short: Johan finally went to the New York .... Mets -- the fact that he did not go to either the Red Sox or Yankees being the current best argument for the existence of God. A number of Twins-supporting media types have taken the opportunity to bemoan the fact of this impending deal (see here or here): why do "small market" teams like Minnesota always have to lose people like that? Why can't those owners open those deep pockets (the Twins owners, the Pohlad family, are the richest sole owners in all of baseball) and buy out a superstar or two? Just once, pretty pretty please.

I, for one, am actually glad they didn't. Yes, that's right, for the price he was asking, I'd rather see the perennial Cy Young favorite walk in exchange for a handful of blue chip prospects than guarantee him $20+ million for six years. My reasons:

1) No matter how good a ball player one is, there is no one who can predict the trajectory of a major league career. Some incredible players have bottomed out when they hit 30. There are a million things that can go wrong for a pitcher -- even if we are talking about Cy Young himself, do you really want to bet 10-20% of the payroll on everything going right for half a decade?

2) Prospects are really fun to watch. Not a whole team of them, mind you (see Royals, Kansas City or Devil Rays, Tampa Bay) but having a team with 2-4 (depending on position) truly promising rookie players is great fun. Is there more true joy when someone hits their first major league home run or their 756th? Watching a rookie sprint around the bases and forgetting to touch second because he is so thrilled out of his mind (yes I have seen that) is worth the price of admission ten times over.

3) It's always more fun to be the underdog.
3a) How often does your team need to win a championship for you to feel there is some hope in rooting for them? (I apologize to Cubs fans throughout the world.) The Twins won it all in '87 and '91. That was a pretty exciting stretch that I was lucky enough to be aware of my innate Twins-fandom for. The 1991 World Series often won (until ALCS 2004) and is still always in the top three of best-playoff-series-ever votes. We got to the playoffs (though were often crushed) a lot in the last five years. That is pretty fun. There are a lot of fans of a lot of teams who have been nowhere near that in the last twenty years. I could see the Twins miss the playoffs for the next three years (no jinx, please!) and still be a very happy and hopeful fan.
3b) It is NOT fun to be the favorite, and it is even less fun to be a 'dynasty'. Why? Do you know any Patriots fans? The primary emotion going into the game-which-everyone-already-expects-you-to-win is nervousness; you are not allowed to "just be happy to be there"; you can't really just go out and play really hard and possibly be a little too crazy but that often seems to work out anyway; and the smile at the end (if you win) is relief, not surprised joy: it all feels pre-programmed and stale, and like a "really historic statistic". Basically: boring. (An aside: wouldn't the best thing for Red Sox baseball fandom right now be if they didn't win a World Series for 10-12 years and then ripped off another one? or two? With this core group of players, every additional World Series now starts to feel ... dare I say it? ... Yankee-ish).

In short, I think it all amounts to keeping the real ability to hope as the dominant feature of rooting for a sports team. We have a chance, it might happen, it very well could not, but there's a real chance. And that is really, really fun. If the Twins have to see people like Torii Hunter and Johan Santana leave after five to eight years of young stardom in order to keep that alive, so be it; and I'm perfectly happy for Mr. Pohlad to keep on being the richest owner in baseball. I just hope he has something to hope for too.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A Nice Description of the Difficulties of Interpreting Plato Correctly

The interpretive problem emphasized here is the tension between demands for systematic meaning and the unresolved variety of Plato's thought. This opposition is invited by hints of unity on the one hand and by diverse manifestations of the philosophy--apparent contradictions and seeming gaps--on the other. The latter are aggravated by the indirections of the dialogue form, by exposition through differing speakers, and by electing variously mythic, dramatic, logistic, and poetic modes of presentation.

From William Sacksteder's review of E. N. Tiegerstedt's Interpreting Plato, a book I discussed back in the day.