Cooperstown Kibitzing: Sheff vs. Man-Ram

Paraphrasing scripture, David Crosby wrote in reference to the months of January and February vis-a-vis the baseball media, “to every offseason there is a season, churn, churn, churn,” and so we find ourselves in that season of a season when the game is unplayed, the transactions are slow, and meta-speculation abounds. MLB is set to announce its 2019 Hall of Fame class this evening, which means everybody who’s nobody is talking about the publicized selections of everybody who’s very slightly somebody solely by virtue of having a hall-of-fame vote, which led me to the shared ballot of known typer of baseball words Bob Nightengale, whose selections were surprisingly inoffensive. These days, the things to look for to get a quick read on a voter are whether he or she included or excluded Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, and Edgar Martinez. There are a bunch of names on the ballot, and voters may vote for as many as ten, but I think the quickest way to get a feel for the type of person the voter is is to check the selections on those four players. If you somehow care, Bob was in on all four of those guys.

The selection/non-selection combination that caught my eye was the vote for Gary Sheffield and no-vote for Manny Ramirez. To be clear, I do not care about how Bob voted, and it’s a testament to the failed human experiment that is the internet (probably) how quickly the cult-like obsession around the publicization of MLB HOF ballots has dissipated into wait-was-it-ever-even-a-story? status, but this ballot pairing is interesting to me in part because it wasn’t surprising that any eligible voter would choose Sheffield over Ramirez, even though I think Ramirez probably has a better resume and, in any event, they’re pretty close. Here’s how they stack up on a series of potentially relevant factors:

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Sheffield has Ramirez by a few seasons and about a hundred hits, which, at those levels, should not be discounted, but things otherwise look pretty good for Manny. I don’t know if either of these guys deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, but if you think Sheffield does, maybe it makes sense for you to think Ramirez does too? Or maybe you just have a weird thing for mid-aughts Tigers. Maybe it’s Sheffield’s work as a World War I historian that tips the scales for today’s writer-voters. Who knows.

My guesses for who will make the cut tonight? (you didn’t ask): Mussina, Martinez, Mariano Rivera, and Roy Halladay. Tune into MLB Network at six if you want the full scoop.

UPDATE: My guesses were correct.

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Taylor Swift and Phish deserve 2016 World Series rings

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Taylor Swift’s influence on this year’s historic World Series is well-recognized. First, she cleared the Chicago Cubs’ path through the National League side of the playoff draw by failing to release a new album in an even year for the first time since 2006, thereby removing the true and powerful source of the San Francisco Giants’ even-year magic. Things wobbled a bit when, on the day of game three of the NLDS (in which the Cubs held a 2-0 series lead over the Giants), Swift announced that her first concert in nearly a year would take place later that month and, some thought, hinted at a new album release that would spirit the Giants to another world championship. San Francisco avoided elimination by beating Chicago that night.

Swift performed her concert, but she ultimately declined to release a new album, thereby halting the Giants’ playoff run and allowing the Cubs to advance to the World Series.

As all baseball fans know from the parable of the angels in the outfield, though, a team’s supernatural helper– be it Christopher Lloyd or T-Swizz– only will carry the team so far. In the World Series, the Cubs faltered again. Their offensive power, which had floated them to a regular-season-best 103 wins, suddenly became scarce in the playoffs, and they quickly found themselves in a 3-1 hole against Cleveland in the final round. Backs against the wall, Chicago would have to win three straight games in order to claim the title. To do that, their first baseman, Anthony Rizzo, would have to start hitting.

At twenty-seven years old, Rizzo qualifies as a wise old veteran on this young Cubs team, and he knew a change was necessary for the Cubs to have a shot at winning the series, so he made one. All year and throughout the playoffs, Rizzo had used Swift’s “Bad Blood” as his walkup music, and it had served him well. With one game left at Wrigley Field, the first of three consecutive must-wins, Rizzo hit shuffle on the jukebox, swapping “Bad Blood” for the Rocky theme. It worked. Rizzo hit a key double and scored a run, and the Cubs won 3-2, sending the series back to Cleveland, where they would win twice more, including a dramatic game-seven victory in extra innings. And it’s all thanks to Taylor Swift.

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Almost all of it, anyway. The touring phenomenon that is the band Phish has been making music together since 1983. In the more than thirty years of their existence, they have performed in Chicago numerous times. In fact, prior to this year, they’d played in Chicago twenty-eight times (I’m counting their five appearances in Rosemont), including a 1991 gig at the famous Cubby Bear bar. (For more on that storied venue’s history with music and baseball, enjoy this brief video from 1984.)

Until 2016, though, they never had performed inside the (helping) friendly confines of Wrigley Field. In the 108th year of Chicago’s north-side championship drought, however, Vermont’s finest made their Wrigley Field debut on June 24. We joined them on night two of their two-night Wrigley run, and they were excellent. The second night’s second set, in particular, was sublime.

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I don’t recall any explicit baseball references from the band that evening, but the first set offered some clues:

  • Waiting All Night (a World Series game seven preview)
  • 46 Days (sung as a reference to the days of 1946, the year after the Cubs’ last World Series appearance)
  • I Didn’t Know (You Were That Far Gone – from a World Series championship)
  • Good Times Bad Times (acknowledging that the Cubs and their fans have had their share of both)

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Are there musicians more closely associated with the Chicago Cubs than Taylor Swift and Phish? Probably. Eddie Vedder comes to mind. Michigander and ostensible Detroit Tigers fan Jack White has had his public flirtations. It is clear from the foregoing, however, that no musicians did more to help the Cubs break their various curses and claim a World Series title for the first time in 108 years than Swift and Phish. If Manny Ramirez is getting a World Series ring this year, then so should Taylor, Trey, Jon, Mike, and Page.

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