Cup of Coffee: March 16, 2023
A big WBC injury, the cheap Yankees, Ohio trying to stick it to athletes, a dryer vent update, a question for every Republican, "The Long Goodbye" at 50, and farewell to a singer of stone cold jams
Good morning! And welcome to Free Thursday!
Pool play — and even one quarterfinals game — is over in the WBC and today I recap that action below. We also talk about a big injury to an important player in last night’s Puerto Rico-Dominican Republic matchup. Elsewhere, we learned that the Yankees are surprisingly cheap in the oddest way, we take a look at the tradeoffs catcher face between throwing behind base runners and pitch-framing, and discuss a possible change in a state’s law that would have serious negative implications for athletes who play there. Of course it’s goddamn Ohio, because the people who run my state are jackasses, hellbent on turning it into a dystopia.
In Other Stuff, I provide a dryer vent update — paid subscribers know what I’m talking about — we identify a question every single Republican should be asked, look back at one of my very favorite movies as it turns 50, and say goodbye to a blue-eyed soul singer whose name many of you may not know but whose stone cold jams you definitely do.
The Daily Briefing
Cuba 4, Australia 3 (quarterfinals)
Venezuela 5, Israel 1
Mexico 10, Canada 3
Puerto Rico 5, Dominican Republic 2
United States 3, Colombia 2
That Cuba and Australia game was the first game in the single-elimination rounds, so Cuba has moved on to the semifinals/final four/whatever you want to call it and Australia is heading home. The rest of that action was the final bit of round-robin pool play:
Mexico’s win means they won Pool C and they move on to the quarterfinals while Canada’s run is over;
Puerto Rico’s win over the Dominican Republic means that they join their fellow Pool D team Venezuela in advancing to the quarterfinals. The win, however, was clouded by the fact that Edwin Díaz suffered an injury while celebrating on the field after closing the game out, but more on that below;
That loss eliminated the Dominican Republic altogether, which is frankly shocking given how stacked that team was. But, of course, this is baseball, and in baseball four games is not really determinative of quality. Not really determinative of anything, really. I mean, the Pirates swept the Dodgers in a series last year and that didn’t matter, right? Yes, I know that that’s what tournament play is all about, and good for all of the teams that have advanced obviously, but this is one of the reasons I have a hard time getting invested in the WBC;
Finally, the United States’ win over Colombia — the last pool play game — means they advance along with Mexico out of Pool C.
So: today Italy is taking on Japan in the quarterfinals. Indeed, that game is going on right now, early Thursday morning as this newsletter is going out to the masses. Tomorrow evening Puerto Rico plays Mexico in their quarterfinals matchup. The winners of those two games will play a semifinals game Monday evening. The United States takes on Venezuela Saturday evening and whoever wins that one faces Cuba in the other semifinals game on Sunday.
The final will be on Tuesday evening at 7PM EDT in Miami.
Edwin Díaz suffers injury during WBC celebration
Mets reliever Edwin Díaz closed out Puerto Rico’s victory over the Dominican Republic last night, striking out the side and helping Puerto Rico advance to the quarterfinals. It was a big win, and with big wins come big celebrations.
But, as that photo above makes pretty clear, Diáz hurt himself during that big celebration. He needed to be helped off the field and appeared to be unable to put any weight on his right leg. You can see video of the aftermath of the injury here. It looks . . . bad. The Mets said last night that Díaz will undergo further imaging today, at which point the team will provide an update.
There are always those who fret about big leaguers participating in the WBC, the Olympics, winter league play, and other non-MLB competition because they might get hurt. And yes, some guys have suffered serious injuries in the WBC that significantly impacted their major league careers. Most notably Drew Smyly missed the entire 2017 season and most of 2018 season after suffering an elbow injury while playing for Team USA.
Those sentiments are understandable on a certain level, but they are also often overstated given that players get hurt in league play all the time and there isn’t any data suggesting that playing in the WBC is any more risky than participating in spring training or simply working out at home over the offseason. You really can’t predict these things and, unless your plan is to ban anything but league play — which is not reasonable — it’s just a risk that everyone has to live with.
That said: the optics of a player getting hurt in the WBC play differently to a lot of people and hindsight makes it easier to say “hey, he wouldn’t have gotten hurt if he was there!” so there will be a lot of chatter about any injury to a big leaguer in the tournament. And yeah, it’s also worth noting that Díaz’ particular injury — one sustained by celebrating — would not have occurred following a meaningless spring training game at Port St. Lucie because no one celebrates those, so it will not be surprising if the anti-WBC sentiment has a bit more juice behind it in Díaz’s case.
The Yankees charge their players for in-flight Wi-fi
I recently took a couple of flights on Delta Airlines. I don’t have any Delta status or anything — I rarely fly them — but by simply registering for the SkyMiles program I was able to get free Wi-fi on a couple of cross country flights. And thank God, because we all know I’m not online enough.
What that experience suggested to me, however, was that even if the airlines have conditioned us to pay nine bucks or whatever to be online during flights, the cost of Wi-fi on those flights is actually so negligible to an airline that it’s worth it to give it out for free as a means of obtaining someone’s email address for marketing purposes. Or at least Delta has decided so.
Against that backdrop, this little nugget from Stephanie Apstein of Sports Illustrated is positively delicious — the Yankees charge their players to use Wifi on team flights:
Technically, it’s Delta that does the charging, approximately $9 per flight. (Delta also offers free iMessage and WhatsApp.) But the Yankees, whom Forbes estimates are worth $6 billion, do not cover the cost. A person familiar with the prices of such things said an in-flight Wi-Fi plan for one team for one year costs approximately $40,000—or about the price of four Cole pitches.
A very serious and embarrassingly exhaustive survey of the 30 MLB teams could identify only one other team that regularly makes its players pay: the Reds. (Some teams provide free Wi-Fi on their usual jet but do not cover the cost when they fly a different plane.)
If you get to the end of the article it mentions the SkyMiles thing, which is apparently pretty new. But Jesus Christ, the fact that the Yankees aren’t just footing the bill for in-flight Wi-fi — especially when at least one of the players in the article mentions that he pays for it to brush up on scouting reports and game plans for upcoming opponents — is kinda nuts. As is the fact that the players quoted in the article don’t expense their out-of-pocket Wi-fi charges. Someone get an accountant to talk to these guys, stat!
The Reds charging players for Wi-fi? Sure. They’re cheap as hell. But the Yankees? Inexcusable. Hell, even the Marlins provide it for free!
The tradeoffs between back-picks and framing
Our friend Noah Woodward at The Advance Scout posted a great article yesterday talking about the tradeoffs between pitch-framing and controlling the running game in light of the new pickoff rules.
Short version: a lot of people have suggested that, since pitchers are limited in their pickoff throws now due to the new rule, that runners can be kept a bit more honest by having catchers throw down to first base in a back-pick, as they say in the business. As Noah points out, though, there are a couple of problems with that.
The first one is that it really sucks when catchers airmail the ball past the first baseman, which happens more often with catcher back-picks than pitcher pickoff attempts.
The bigger problem, however, which Noah spends far more time on, with a lot of data being marshaled, is the interplay between back-picks and the trend of catchers receiving the ball with one-knee down, as most catchers all do these days, in an effort to frame pitches better.
If you want to effectively throw down to first, you’re better off not having a knee down. But if you don’t have a knee down, your framing efforts will be less effective. And that’s before you account for the fact that, whenever a catcher back-picks, they’re far less likely to get strike calls anyway, because they’re moving away from the framing position to make the throw. Back-picks are, in this regard, functionally pitch-outs, and no one wants to do too many of those because strikes are good and balls are bad, mmm-kay? So, ultimately, the extra strikes that come with optimal framing technique are preferable to extra pickoff throws, which work against good framing, thereby reducing the utility of the back-pick as a means of controlling the running game.
At least until we get robot umps and pitch-framing specialists become as obsolete as slubber doffers, powder monkeys, flensers, pinsetters, lamplighters, and switchboard operators.
Ohio moves to limit worker’s compensation for injured professional athletes
I spend a lot of time talking about the awful things that come out of the Ohio Legislature but that’s only because they barely ever stop to take a break from doing awful things in their drive to turn Ohio into a smoldering dystopia. Things such as introducing a bill that would severely limit professional athletes’ ability to receive permanent partial disability awards under the state’s worker’s compensation law which would, in turn, limit their ability to receive worker’s compensation awards and medical benefits for on-the-job injuries later down the line.
The bill — put forth by Cincinnati representative Bill Seitz, who is an absolute cretin, by the way — is being championed by Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown. It states that “athletes who are under contract to play for a professional athletic team are not eligible to file for or receive a permanent partial disability award under this section.” The significance of that is that a permanent partial disability award — even if it’s just nominal in terms of dollars or percentage of disability determination — acts to extend the statute of limitations on a worker’s comp claim. If you can’t get a PPD award at the time of injury, you only have five years to file your claim. With me so far? Good.
Under the current law, which has always been in place, a player could get injured, obtain a PPD award, seemingly recover and continue to play for more than five more years, and if, after the five years, the injury becomes worse and requires medical care and entitles the player to worker’s comp benefits, they’d get it, because their deadline to file a claim would have been extended by the PPD award;
Under the proposed law, however, if a player got injured in the first year of his career — say he sustained a bad concussion — but came back and played for five+ years, but then was forced to retire due to CTE symptoms, he would not be able to get benefits even if it was clear that the concussion back in year one was to blame. The amended law would bar it, his medical costs would be out out his own pocket, and he’d get no other benefits.
This issue came to light this past weekend when the NFL Players Association highlighted the proposed legislation, casting it as the State of Ohio — at Mike Brown’s and the Bengals’ prodding — as stripping players of potential benefits for on-the-job injuries. Brown and the Bengals have pushed back, denying that they’re trying to strip anyone of anything and casting it as a means of preventing “double-dipping.” Their basic argument is that if a player is healthy enough to take the field he should not be able to have a PPD determination and if a player is hurt enough to need worker’s comp benefits he shouldn’t be playing.
Brown’s and the Bengals’ position on that — backed by the mindlessly pro-business, anti-worker Republicans who dominate Ohio government — is idiotic, of course. It precludes the exact sort of example in the second bullet point above regarding chronic injuries that grow worse over time or seemingly minor injuries that prove to be serious and debilitating at a later date.
It also cynically ignores the nature of professional sports itself. Specifically, the extreme pressure placed on athletes to play through injuries and to attempt to take the field even if doing so is ill-advised. That pressure often comes from the teams themselves, one of which is now trying to get out of its responsibilities to its players for that very thing. Either way, the last thing a smart worker’s comp policy would ever do is force workers to gamble as to whether or not an on-the-job injury may one day get worse. To force them to choose between being able to work to the best of their ability or to abandon their careers because, if they don’t file for worker’s comp in a short, specified window, they’ll never get it.
All of the talk about this has focused on the NFL so far, but the bill refers to all “professional athletes” in the state. Which means that, if it passes, it would apply to members of the Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Guardians, the many minor league baseball clubs in Ohio, the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets, Ohio’s two MLS teams, and any other team in any sport which pays its players to work and perform. Which means that there are way more stakeholders, on both sides of the issue, who will likely be weighing in on this soon.
Dryer vent update
Yesterday I shared the story of my new dryer and my possibly clogged dryer vent with subscribers.
The story also featured my suspicions that someone at the LG Appliance Corporation had been brutally murdered for sharing too much information with me, but I don’t really have the time to rehash that. Just know that (a) I am still unsure if there is or is not a rotting corpse someplace that is tied to all of this (note: there TOTALY is); and (b) if you want the whole story you have to plunk down your $7 and subscribe, which will give you access to the archives. Yes, I am worried about being in the middle of deadly intrigue, but I’m also running a goddamn business here.
Do know, however, that I did get a dryer duct cleaner to my house yesterday morning just to be on the safe side. And friends, it was some really ugly business. The amount of accumulated linty sludge in that bad boy was something to behold. And there was an old bird’s nest too. Which is weird because I’ve always had one of those little cage covers over the outside vent. The guy said that the previous owner probably lost the original cage at one point and replaced it with the new one without checking to see if birds got into it in the meantime. I sure hope the birds didn’t get Cask of the Amontillado’d in the process, but if I’ve learned anything during my short time in the dryer vent game I’ve learned that life is cheap and we can’t dwell on the casualties or else we’ll lose our minds.
Yesterday I mused that the vent cleaning might cost me $150. Well, it was double that, but based on the sheer volume of crud that came out of that vent it was worth every penny. As for the dryer itself: I ran a load of wash right after the dude left. The dryer performed flawlessly, drying my clothes considerably faster than the old one did. I’d say that’s about 20% attributable to the new dryer being better and 80% attributable to the clean vent. Maybe 10%-90%. Hard to say.
Anyway, that closes the book on this saga. At least until they find the body of the LG customer service representative. If the killers were smart they weighed it down and dumped it out in the ocean past Catalina Island, where the currents will ensure that it never washes back up on shore, but it’s also the case that washers and dryers used to last decades, not mere years, and I expect that the greedy, short-sighted half-assery that informed those engineering decisions apply to the modern appliance industry’s body-disposal habits as well.
There are no shortcuts on the important things, however, so this saga is likely not over.
A question every single Republican should be asked
Republicans have spent a couple of years now inveighing against “woke culture” and “wokeism” at every turn. The media has, for the most part, just let them do that, going so far as to talk about Ron DeSantis’ “anti-woke” agenda, for example, as if being “anti-woke” is some timeworn political ideology with a grand tradition and a coherent set of values and positions. No small number of Democrats have stupidly helped advance that agenda by warning the left wing of their party against being “too woke.” It’s apparently a big problem!
The thing is, though, that these folks are never asked to describe what “woke” or “wokeism” actually is. What, specifically, they oppose. What specific danger “wokeism” causes. Which is strange, because a far as I can tell, “wokeism” is a thinly-veiled euphemism for anti-Blackness and a code word designed to dismiss genuine matters pertaining to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion of all sorts. A politician can’t say that they are opposed to racial, ethnic, and gender equality or that they don’t want to consider the racist or bigoted implications of their policies and beliefs, but they can say they are opposed to “woke culture” and it accomplishes the same thing without them explicitly espousing racist or otherwise retrograde things. Clever!
If someone were to push back on that even a little, of course, the entire facade would collapse and their bigotry would be made plain. Yet, for some reason no one ever does.
Well, almost no one. Check out this exchange between Brianna Joy Gray and conservative writer Bethany Mandel — who literally just wrote a book about the dangers of “wokeism” and “woke indoctrinators” of our children! — when the former asked the latter to simply define the term around which her book’s entire thesis revolves:
Again, this is a woman who has literally written a book about the topic. It was published just last week! If she cannot define the hottest buzzword of the political right — at least without giving the bigoted game away — what chance do any of the halfwit politicians who spew on and on about “wokeism” all day have? The answer is that they can’t. Of course they can’t. At least without giving the whole racist and bigoted game away.
Maybe journalists should start asking them what they mean by “woke” until they provide a coherent answer. I feel like cutting to the chase like that is preferable to allowing them to keep on speaking in code. It’d certainly cut through a lot of bullshit that is serving to harm a lot of people and inject a toxin into the body politic.
“The Long Goodbye” at 50
There is a viral Twitter/Facebook thing going around in which people name the movies which explain them. Which speak to them in a way other films do not and which, if you have seen them, you would know the person better. I, like everyone else, have a handful of such films. One of them, without question, is Robert Altman’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel “The Long Goodbye.”
The novel, which came out in the early 50s, is a straightforward Philip Marlowe detective story. It was Chandler’s last Marlowe novel, so there are some nods to Marlowe growing older as well as some greater depth to the proceedings than in some of Chandler’s earlier books — it may be my favorite of his novels — but it’s still a recognizable pulp detective story, not all that different for being set in Eisenhower’s America as opposed to FDR’s.
The movie, however, is a very different matter.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, the central conceit of the film version of “The Long Goodbye” is that Chandler’s iconic private investigator, played by Elliott Gould, is still doing his 1940s-style Philip Marlowe thing in early 1970s Los Angeles. He has the old suits, an old car, and his 1940s code of honor, but he is in a time and a place where those things mean little. It’s not explained why Marlowe has not changed with the times — there is no time travel or anything involved here, and he isn’t walking around particularly confused or bewildered by Me Generation California — he just is.
That said, the contrasts between the pre-1960s archetype Gould inhabits and 1970s Los Angeles allow Altman to offer a satirical take on what was, at the time, modern life. If you’ve seen “The Long Goodbye” you know that much of it plays almost as a comedy of sorts due to that dynamic. The thing about it, though, is that none of the characters in it really acknowledge the anachronism beyond the occasional reference to Marlowe being old fashioned and thus none of them are laughing. Because of that — and because it’s still a hardboiled detective movie, complete with deadly stakes and at times shocking violence — it has far greater depths to it than most mere comedies or satires ever manage to possess.
As for why “The Long Goodbye” speaks to me? At least beyond it just being a well-acted and engaging movie in its own right? It’s hard to say specifically, but I think at least some of it has to do with aging. With the notion that it’s OK to let the world pass you by a little bit as long as you still know who you are and as long as you’re still comfortable with what you are. Even if the world confuses you at times. A lesser filmmaker than Altman and a lesser actor than Gould might’ve been tempted to make an anachronistic Marlowe be totally overwhelmed by 1970s America but he does just fine in the movie. Not because he is some reactionary who applies old fashioned ways to modern problems and foils the callow youths or anything pat like that — leave that trite claptrap to Clint Eastwood — but because he has a code and an ethos that stand regardless of time. It might cause him to come off corny sometimes, but it works.
To be sure, Gould’s Marlowe is not an old man in the movie. He’s played roughly as old as the 34-35 year-old Gould was when he filmed it. The anachronistic aspects of his character are close enough proxies for aging, however, that it still gets at that notion. About how, while you’ll never be young again, trying to chase youth or fashion is a sucker’s game. About how being who you are, even if you’re somewhat out of step with the times and, again, even if you’re confused sometimes, will almost always set you straight.
Yeah, that’s almost certainly an over-analysis of what Altman was up to with “The Long Goodbye” — I think he was really just trying to subvert old detective movie conventions in a way that amused him — but it’s what I take away from it whenever I watch it. Which is pretty damn often.
“The Long Goodbye” was released 50 years ago last week. I wasn’t aware of that until yesterday when my friend/subscriber/film critic Stephen Silver wrote a piece on the film for Living Life Fearless. For those of you who haven’t seen it and may be interested, it contains a nice, non-spoilery overview and contextualization. You should check it out. Both the article and the movie.
Bobby Caldwell: 1951-2023
Blue-eyed soul singer Bobby Caldwell died yesterday at the age of 71.
You may not know who Bobby Caldwell was, especially if you’re under a certain age, but I’m willing to bet you’ve heard his signature song, “What You Won't Do for Love.” You also know songs that he wrote, such as the number one hit “The Next Time I Fall” by Amy Grant and Peter Cetera. You have probably also heard Caldwell’s “My Flame,” which was sampled in Biggie Smalls “Sky's the Limit” and a sample of “What You Won't Do for Love” in the Boyz II Men song “To the Limit.” He had a lot of loungey/yacht-rocky songs in 1980s movies as well, including a song in the cult classic “Night of the Comet” I referenced here a couple of weeks back, called “Never Give Up.”
I know that Caldwell’s brand of white boy R&B, complete with the sexy sax solos and all of that is kind of passé, but he was a particularly skilled practitioner of that craft. Indeed, as the multiple samples from major artists suggest, the foundations of his songs were strong enough upon which to build almost anything. That, more than the genre, which may fall in or out of fashion, or superficial style, is what makes a great song in my book.
Caldwell’s cause of death, by the way, was kind of shocking, even for a guy in his 70s. Back in 2017 he had a cold or a respiratory bug of some kind. He was prescribed the antibiotic fluoroquinolone — the brand name of which is Cipro — and he suffered debilitating side effects. Specifically, he developed neuropathy, a known side effect of fluoroquinolone, which caused a torn Achilles tendon in his leg which prevented him from walking for most of the last five years of his life, among other neurological health problems which contributed to his decline and ultimately his death.
I know everyone’s number comes up eventually, but I’m still always a bit shaken when something so small and seemingly random leads to someone dying. I can understand heart attacks and cancer and getting hit by a crosstown bus. A series of cascading illnesses due to random side effect from a seemingly routine thing, though? Hard for me to get my mind around.
Oh well, that’s life sometimes and we have to shake such things off. It’s easier to do so, I suppose, once I put on “What You Won't Do for Love.” It’s a stone cold banger.
Rest in Peace, Bobby Caldwell. And have a great day, everyone.
I saw back pick and assumed you’d caught the March Madness.
I think Cav players will be more effective than the weak NFL player response.
Man, anyone that doesn’t subscribe and missed out on yesterday? Let’s just say you’re gonna wonder for a long time if you don’t sign up.
And so the football has been taken away from Mets fans.
This does NOT mean the season is over. But I am getting ever more vibes of 1987, when the Mets rolled back most of its World Championship team and the injuries never seemed to slack off (plus Gooden in drug rehab, which in retrospect should also be seen as injury).
But at least Cohen pays for the Mets' wi-fly.
Also saw an interesting article that said that apparently Hal Steinbrenner has been consulting with Aaron Judge about things like what he thinks of Volpe and what he thinks of upcoming renovations to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Makes sense to me, actually, since if Judge is being paid that much, he's practically a partner. And he certainly knows a lot about baseball.
Not much of an Altman fan - indeed, I cannot stand MASH the movie - but I figure eventually I will get around to The Long Goodbye. I recently watched Farewell My Lovely, which was an entirely conventional period piece but also a tour de force for Robert Mitchum, and Marlowe, which was set in the then-present 1960s, but was less a Marlowe film and more a proof of concept for The Rockford Files, since James Garner plays the detective in about the same mode as he plays Jim Rockford. I might be due a grand tour of all the Marlowe films, even a rewatch of The Big Sleep, which I never cared for.