The Year in Worst: Baseball Writing

Leon Halip

There's nothing everybody loves more than BEST OF lists. And here at Baseball Nation, we've got plenty of them. But you know whose feelings always get hurt, this time of the year? Poor forgotten WORST OF. So in the spirit of the holidays and good cheer and beginning the New Year with grace, it's time to throw a little love toward the worst of something. But the worst of ... what?

Baseball players are under a lot of pressure, and many of them don't earn enough scratch to afford the best mental-health professionals. So I think it's best to leave them alone. The writers, though ... they we all have thick skins and can take just about anything. Shortly after the World Series ended -- and inspired by one of the efforts excerpted below -- I asked my Twitter followers to nominate the worst baseball writing of the year. What follows are the top nominees, along with my best holiday sentiments ...

********************

Here's the San Diego Union-Tribune's Nick Canepa, in the wake of the news about rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal getting suspended for the first 50 games of the 2013 season:

Whatever ties that bind the Padres to Yasmani Grandal should be cut. That’s right. The chemically polluted catcher should be shown the door by the front end of management’s wing tip.

Allow me to tell you why. In performing an incredibly stupid and thoughtless act, Grandal burned this franchise, his teammates and its fans when he tested positive for testosterone and thus was smacked with a 50-game suspension by Major League Baseball. He just tore the club’s head off.

It’s easy to say it’s forgivable. But not when it’s unforgivable.

--snip--

He thought of no one but himself. How can Grandal look a teammate in the eye? Sorry isn’t good enough. This was a selfish act. He wasn’t a bench guy. He was this team’s catcher.

The Padres, of course, aren’t about to do it, but that’s how the pros operate. Professional sports are not a part of the real world. Hard to say they have a world to be a part of.

That's how the pros operate. Because, you know, amateur athletics are shining paragons of virtue. And what, pray tell, is this real world of which Canepa writes? Maybe that will be explained in a future column. The fake world awaits...

This brilliant piece, published shortly after Bryce Harper hustled a single into a double thanks (apparently) to Jason Heyward's carelessness, is headlined "Bryce Harper, conservative hero". Yeah. I'm hesitant to include it, because writer Mark Judge is a political ideologue who doesn't often write about baseball. But someone did nominate the column, and Judge also wrote about Stephen Strasburg. So, here you go:

Bryce Harper is a conservative hero. The star rookie for the Washington Nationals has woken up Major League Baseball, and watching it unfold has reminded me of nothing so much as the collapse of the old political paradigms and the inevitable and upcoming rebirth of conservatism in November.

--snip--

Watching Bryce Harper play is like listening to an economic speech by Paul Ryan: It’s long on reality and short on excuses. Harper has slapped baseball awake, and every time he steps up to the plate, years of crusty baseball routine no longer apply. He swings the bat with a blinding snap of force, and in the outfield dives for balls that bored veterans would let go. When he hits a double he usually tries to stretch it into a triple. Manager Davey Johnson tries to bench him for being hurt, and Harper confronts him and says, like a person with enough dignity to refuse welfare: Let me work. Then he wins the game with a crucial hit.

This fails on multiple levels; for a full accounting, you'll have to read the whole piece. But if there's one thing we know about political ideologues (of any stripe) it's that they see almost everything in the world through their own dogmatic prism, rationality be damned.

The following is just a representative snippet from Jeff Seidel's Detroit Free Press column during the World Series, with its catchy headline -- "OK, I'll say it, San Francisco is a strange baseball town" -- really setting the tone:

They sit there -- decked out in orange and black, waving orange towels -- watching their Giants while eating garlic fries, crab sandwiches on grilled sourdough bread, clam chowder, fried calamari, sweet potato fries with cinnamon and chipotle sprinkle, and clove garlic chicken sandwiches.

Others can be found drinking margaritas, Irish coffee and an assortment of wines.

Can you imagine eating clam chowder and drinking wine in the bleachers at old Tiger Stadium?

You'd get thrown out on your tush. Just because.

Just in case anyone's forgotten ... the Tigers tore down the bleachers at old Tiger Stadium. Along with the rest of the place. I'm all for tradition and beers and brats and all the rest of it, but the Tigers killed those traditions when they knocked down the best baseball stadium in the world. So give me a break, please.

Of course there's lots more. Which isn't to say that a Detroit writer couldn't write an amusing column about baseball in San Francisco, California. This just wasn't that column. It's like that Seinfeld episode where Tim Whatley converts to Judaism, and Jerry suspects he did it just for the jokes.

"And this offends you," a priest asks Jerry, "as a Jewish person?"

"No," Jerry replies. "It offends me as a comedian."

Seidel's piece, full of one-sentence paragraphs and tired stereotypes, offends me as a writer. I understand that almost everybody occasionally phones one in. But during the World Series?

And finally, I really hate to pick on the Free Press, but this discussion simply won't be complete without the sublimely wealthy and ridiculous Mitch Albom, who wrote a real gem of a column about the A.L. MVP results (coincidentally, a Detroit player came out on top). Here are two of my very favoritest parts!

Today, every stat matters. There is no end to the appetite for categories -- from OBP to OPS to WAR. I mean, OMG! The number of triples hit while wearing a certain-colored underwear is probably being measured as we speak.

So in areas such as "how many Cabrera home runs would have gone out in Angel Stadium of Anaheim" or "batting average when leading off an inning" or "Win Probability Added," Trout had the edge. At least this is what we were told.

I mean, did you do the math? I didn't. I like to actually see the sun once in a while.

--snip--

A box score now reads like an annual report. And this WAR statistic -- which measures the number of wins a player gives his team versus a replacement player of minor league/bench talent (honestly, who comes up with this stuff?) -- is another way of declaring, "Nerds win!"

We need to slow down the shoveling of raw data into the "what can we come up with next?" machine. It is actually creating a divide between those who like to watch the game of baseball and those who want to reduce it to binary code.

The only thing that's missing is the proverbial blogger in his proverbial mother's proverbial basement. Actually, that might have been in there. I couldn't stand to go back and read the damned thing again. No, Mitch Albom is not a baseball writer. At this point he's not really a sports writer. But as long as reputable news organizations are willing to publish this sort of drivel, his work is fair game.

For the sake of inclusion, I will mention that I also got nominations for Keith Olbermann's piece on the future of baseball in Florida, for Marcus Hayes' collection of one-sentence paragraphs about the Phillies' second-half prospects, and for the various breathless columns about Royals fans booing poor Robinson Canó at the All-Star Game. But Olbermann's piece, while perhaps overly speculative, is perfectly fine; Hayes' isn't any worse than the sort of thing you can read nearly every day, somewhere; and the Canó thing ... Well, pobody's nerfect. For proof, just spend about three minutes going through my archives.

Bonus Terrible Writing: Nobody nominated this one, because it wasn't published until a few days ago when Andruw Jones signed with a Japanese team. So I'm using my editorial discretion and making a nomination of my own: Terrence Moore's column for MLB.com about Jones. A few representative snippets:

The guy who was predicted by baseball's elite nearly 17 years ago to be in the Hall of Fame stretch at this point of his career is preparing to play for the Rakuten Eagles of Japan's Pacific League.

Let that sink in.

The bottom line: Jones is only assured of joining the inaugural class of the Hall of Fame of Disappointment.

--snip--

With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel, where have you gone, Andruw Jones, and how did you lose your way to Cooperstown?

--snip--

What Jones did during that 1996 World Series has become greater than Mickey Mantle. More impressive, Jones did so in The House that The Mick Reconstructed after it was built by Babe Ruth and renovated by Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio.

It happened in a New York minute -- you know, whatever amount of time it took for Jones to homer during his first at bat in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium.

--snip--

Now come the Rakuten Eagles.

Sad. Really sad.

The House that The Mick Reconstructed?

The bottom line: Andruw Jones had a fantastic career, and there have been plenty of other great players whose careers petered out in their middle 30s. Everybody can't be Willie Mays and Hank Aaron.

But you know what really makes this piece so awful? What justifies me going to the trouble of offering my own nomination?

Moore wrote essentially the same column one year ago. Same arguments, same writing, same tired Simon & Garfunkel reference, same almost everything...

He's 34, he's healthy, and he's heading into his 17th season in the Major Leagues. At this point of his career, he was supposed to have one cleat in the clubhouse of his original team -- the Atlanta Braves -- and the other within the city limits of Cooperstown, N.Y.

To paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel between a deep sigh, where have you gone Andruw Jones?

--snip--

We're talking about the 1996 World Series. If the Braves hadn't blown a two-games-to-none lead, it would have been known as the Andruw Jones World Series.

Two months earlier, Jones made the incredible jump from Class A to a Braves team racing toward its fifth consecutive division title -- while seeking to defend its World Series championship. And here was Jones with those Braves, meeting the Yankees in the opener of that World Series at Yankee Stadium, where Jones became better than Mickey Mantle.

After Jones slammed a pitch over the left-field fence in his first at bat, Mantle fell to the second-youngest player ever to homer during a World Series game -- at just two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.

Jones was 19 years, five months and two days old.

--snip--

Now, Jones is just hanging on as that fourth outfielder for the Yankees, with some designated-hitting duty.

How sad.

Oh, and the same sadness. How original.

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