Cup of Coffee: November 18, 2021

Cy Young, some signings, the push to create gambling addicts, the Queen's "new phase," Thanos, "Achtung Baby," Gosar, crypto dudes, James Bond, and time slips

Good morning! And welcome to Free Thursday!

Share Cup of Coffee by Craig Calcaterra

And boy is there is a lot to talk about today.

Today we have the first little bit of controversy regarding postseason awards in some time. It’s not extreme controversy — as a veteran of the Miguel Cabrera-Mike Trout MVP Wars [*takes long drag off cigarette*] I know what real battle looks like — but some people are disagreeing about the NL Cy Young. Also: Justin Verlander signed, Brandon Belt has forgone the open market, a hefty-hitting Japanese player could be coming to America, the Royals will soon be getting new uniforms, the Marlins have a new hitting coach, Cleveland will officially become the Guardians tomorrow, Mr. Scherzer Goes to Washington, and there’s a great new movement afoot to create gambling addicts. And by great I mean terrible.

In Other Stuff the queen is not dead but get your Smiths CDs ready just in case. While you’re at it, listen to your copy of “Achtung Baby” because today is its birthday. The U.S. House censured a member but in doing so a couple hundred Republicans showed their asses. Some crypto people want to buy the Constitution but I’m weirdly OK with it. Some nerds debunk Thanos’ snap, but it’s still real to me, dammit. Finally, I talk about time in two very, very different ways. One of which is admittedly weird and I imagine I’ll lose some of you with it, but whatever.


The Daily Briefing

Robbie Ray, Corbin Burnes win Cy Young Awards

The Cy Young Awards were handed out last night and the winners were Toronto’s Robbie Ray in the American League and Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes in the Senior Circuit.

Ray received 29 of the 30 first place votes so, yeah, there was no competition there. He went 13-7 with a 2.84 ERA and a league-leading 248 strikeouts against 52 walks in 193.1 innings pitched. He joins Roy Halladay (2003), Pat Hentgen (1996), and Roger Clemens (1997-98) as Cy Young winners for the Blue Jays. He’s a free agent now, though, so if the Blue Jays want him to continue to pitch for them they’re gonna need to back up the money truck.

The NL voting was much closer, with Burnes narrowly beating out Zack Wheeler. Both received 12 first-place votes but Ray had a better grouping below. Max Scherzer, who finished third, earned the other six first-place votes.

On the merits it was, at least theoretically, a matter of how much you valued dominance vs. overall value. Burnes had the better ERA and had a higher strikeout rate while Wheeler pitched almost 50 more innings than Burnes. That said, this wasn’t a radically clearcut quality over quantity issue here, as Wheeler threw 27% more innings than Burnes but his ERA was only 12% worse. If the ERA gap was considerably larger maybe I side with Burnes and “dominance” but I don’t think the gap was big enough to overcome the innings advantage of Wheeler and I’d have voted for Wheeler if someone was dumb enough to give me a vote.

Based on the close tally that argument clearly split voters. It also gave rise to the rather obnoxious invocation of straw men:

As noted, I don’t agree with the voters who think Burnes’ superiority was great enough to overcome the innings gap. But to suggest that those who disagree on that score were convinced by “nerds” that “innings don’t matter” is preposterous. No one in the stathead community that I’m aware of has ever argued that. This just looks like Passan trying to generate cheap heat. He knows better than that. Or at least he should.

Oh well, the MVPs are announced tonight.

Astros sign Justin Verlander

There have been a lot of rumors about teams being interested in free agent Justin Verlander over the past couple of days. Forget about ‘em, because Verlander is going back to Houston. They’ve agreed to a one-year, $25 million contract with a player option for a second season at another $25 million.

Verlander was the 2019 Cy Young Award-winner for Houston but made just one appearance in 2020 due to a barking elbow and he had Tommy John surgery that September. He missed the entire 2021 season after which his previous deal ran out. Last week Verlander held a showcase for about 20 teams and people said he looked great. Whoever was gonna sign him probably had to move quickly.

The Astros outdrew ‘em all.

Brandon Belt accepts Giants qualifying offer

Giants First baseman Brandon Belt accepted the $18.4 million qualifying offer from the club. He’ll be back in San Francisco in 2022. He was the only player given a qualifying offer who accepted it by last night’s deadline.

Rejecting them:

  • Angels: Raisel Iglesias;

  • Astros: Carlos Correa and Justin Verlander whom as noted just re-signed with Houston;

  • Blue Jays: Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien;

  • Braves: Freddie Freeman;

  • Dodgers: Corey Seager and Chris Taylor;

  • Mets: Noah Syndergaard, now with the Angels, and Michael Conforto;

  • Red Sox: Eduardo Rodríguez, now with the Tigers;

  • Reds: Nick Castellanos; and

  • Rockies: Trevor Story

The Angels, via the Syndergaard signing, and the Tigers, via the Rodríguez signing, have to surrender their highest non-protected draft picks in next June’s draft to the Mets and Red Sox, respectively. As do any teams which sign the remaining guys on that list.

Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki to be posted next week

Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported yesterday that Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki of the Hiroshima Carp will be posted next week.

Normally there’s a 30-day window that opens at that point in which the player in question may negotiate with major league clubs. Because the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires on December 1, however, Suzuki has only around a week or so to do it.

Given his quality a week may be enough. The 27 year-old outfielder posted a line of .321/.435/.647 with 38 home runs and nine stolen bases across 526 plate appearances in 133 games with the Carp last season. That kind of performance doesn’t grow on trees.

The Royals are going to get new uniforms

The Kansas City Royals are having some fun:

The reason the team’s handle is different there is that after this tweet dropped many people tried to use whatever digital photo manipulation tools they had at their disposal to brighten that up only to find that it reveals a message that says “Nice Try”

OK, that’s pretty hilarious, Royals. Well played.

As for the uniform change: I’m pretty skeptical that it’ll be major. They Royals have tweaked the livery here and there a fair amount over the over the years — they wore a lot of black for a spell, they’ve worn vests, and they’ve been in and out with powder blues — but they have never strayed too far from the basic Royals uniform. The colors. The script “Royals” with the number beneath it on the player’s lower left. And for good reason. Royals uniforms have always looked pretty damn good, the black trim and the vests notwithstanding.

I predict that this big reveal — coming Friday — will be more of a facelift than a change. Or maybe a new alternate. I’m having a hard time seeing them doing anything radical.

Cleveland officially becomes the Guardians tomorrow

The Cleveland baseball club will officially transition to the Cleveland Guardians tomorrow. In a press release yesterday they said The team store will open and begin selling merch that day. Some of the team’s digital elements such as the team website and social media handles may change as early as today.

It took ‘em a bit, but they finally made it.

Marlins hire Marcus Thames to be their hitting coach

The Miami Marlins are reportedly hiring Marcus Thames to be their new hitting coach. Thames was recently dismissed by the New York Yankees where he held the same role from 2018 to 2021.

The Yankees had the best offense in baseball the first couple of years Thames was there. Then they fell off a cliff and were a sharply underachieving offense the past two seasons. You can choose to believe that Thames was super skilled and insightful for a couple of years and then forgot how to coach hitters or you can choose to believe that hitting coaches are only as good as the hitters they coach.

I choose to believe the latter, but like I said, you can do what you want.

Mr. Scherzer goes to Washington

On Tuesday, images of Max Scherzer walking around the Capitol and meeting with people like Mitch McConnell made the rounds. Since Scherzer is a fun, rather over-the-top character, when the images started circulating people made jokes about how he was there to intimidate Congress into doing the right things and about how, even if he annoyed them, NO ONE HAD THE GUTS TO TAKE HIM OUT!

All of that was kind of funny, but I didn’t participate because I don't wanna buy in too deeply on Scherzer being a good guy who agrees with the sorts of things I believe and who would use his MAX SCHERZERNESS to make it all happen. And that’s the case even for jokes. Probably because I fear that, like so many other ballplayers I admire, at some point Scherzer will give some interview in which he talks about how, actually, child labor is good for the economy and that taxes on the wealthy are too high. Or worse. Given how often that’s happened, I've learned that the less I know of ballplayers' politics the better because I am so often disappointed.

Later in the day, however, Scherzer’s wife Erica tweeted that he was in Washington to talk to people about a sustainable energy project he’s working on. Because I still want to believe that Scherzer is a good due, I’m going to choose to believe that the sustainable energy source is not, say, baby bunnies being thrown into incinerators or small children chained to treadmills. But really, I don’t wanna know much more.

A new way to create gambling addicts

This, from Sportico’s daily sports business newsletter, is about as depressing as it gets:

As the U.S. sports betting market matures, operators are expected to invest increasingly in product innovation to differentiate themselves from the competition. To date, much of the discussion related to innovation has focused on in-game betting and micro wagering . But surprisingly, it could be out-of-game, out-of-season products (think: wagering on the outcome of a simulated sporting event) that give operators a leg up.

The story goes on to spew a bunch of buzzwords about “Web 3.0” and “the Metaverse” to make betting on simulations sound visionary and shit, but when you dig down into the analysis it becomes pretty clear here that the idea is to create gambling addicts as cheaply and efficiently as possible:

“ . . . virtual wagering offers a number of advantages over traditional sports. Operators have full control over the timing and quantity of games offered. Wagers can be made and settled at any time of day, all year round. And since the games are simulated using random number generators, players can wager on shortened, highlights-only versions of the games. So, virtual wagering has the potential to significantly expand the number of betting opportunities available. If it becomes a widely adopted practice, the financial upside is seemingly limitless . . . The ability to wager on shortened, highlights-only versions of games (akin to popular online casino games) should also pique the interest of a target demo that seeks instant gratification.

Every single story about sports gambling comes down how quick, seamless, and habit-forming the bet-placing process can be made. The gambling on simulated games idea goes one better by promising that, because random-number generators are determining the outcomes as opposed to athletes, not even a pretense of understanding sports is required. All of which puts lie to the already dubious idea often floated that sports gambling, rather than just a means of extracting money from suckers, is a means of better-understanding and appreciating sports, like sabermetrics or something.

That’s bullshit, of course. Gambling companies and the sports leagues which partner with them would prefer you not think too hard about what you’re seeing at all. They just want you to activate the little pleasure centers of your brain while you hit the “place bet” button on your phone as quickly and as frequently as human physiology allows. And, I am pretty sure, they are all working on ways to overcome that pesky human physiology hurdle was we speak.


Other Stuff

Rogers Hornsby Award

People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do . . .

Look, the woman is 95 and it doesn’t take a genius to grok what’s going on here. Still, I am struggling to think why anyone would put it exactly this way.

In related news, a lot of fascinating stuff is gonna happen when Liz eventually goes wherever it is royalty goes when they shuffle off. Some of it will be highly-orchestrated ceremony. Some of it will simply be about making playlists.

Whatever happens, I bet it’s gonna be wild to watch the clash between official and traditional expectations regarding mourning, ceremony and reverence of the monarchy on the one hand and the reaction from the sorts of folks who don’t go in for that stuff but who, the last time a sitting monarch kicked it, lived in a far more buttoned-down and conforming society and didn’t have the sort of voice and platform that they do now.

Happy 30th Birthday “Achtung Baby”

U2’s “Achtung Baby” came out on this date in 1991. That somehow makes it 30 years old. I talk more about time later on in today’s newsletter but, man, that’s a head trip.

While I like U2 just fine, I’m not an intense U2 fanboy or anything. “Achtung Baby,” however, is one of the most important albums in my life. I wrote about that five years ago when it turned 25. I still feel the same way about it. I’ll always feel that way about it. And now I’m gonna go listen to it.

Paul Gosar censured, but it sure is telling

Members of the House of Representatives voted yesterday to censure Arizona Representative Paul Gosar and remove him from two committee assignments as punishment for his sharing of an animated video which depicted him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Biden. I talked a bit about that all last week.

I think the most telling thing about this vote is the breakdown: 223-to-207. Only two Republicans — Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, each of whom were already personae non gratae in the Republican Party — think that it’s bad to post violent, threatening images of another member. Virtually the entire GOP caucus has no problem with this. At least not a problem they consider to be as bad as stepping out of line.

Indeed, many, many more Republicans believe that voting in favor of the Infrastructure Bill is something that should be punished. That’s because the Republican Party is way more of a cult than it is a party. You bow to its leadership — be they formal leaders like Kevin McCarthy or spiritual ones like Donald Trump — and you do not stray from the dogma. It’s pathetic.

Crypto investors want to buy a copy of the Constitution

When I saw the headline “A group of crypto investors is trying to buy an original copy of the U.S. Constitution” I had two thoughts: (a) “original copy” is an oxymoron; and (b) Oh, God, what horrible things do crypto ghouls plan to do with the Constitution?

Reading the story, however, took this out of the running for a “Dystopia Watch” item and now just makes think it’s all rather weird but interesting.

As for the oxymoron, eh, after 230 years I suppose “contemporaneous-to-the-original, first generation copy” resolves that well enough. It was one of several hundred copies printed up to give to the actual Constitutional Convention delegates to read and consider as they hashed it all out. It’s the last of those copies to be privately owned as opposed to being in a museum or government collection. That’s all pretty neat, even if it’d be way cooler if it featured redlining-out of crap like the Three-Fifths Clause.

As for the intentions of the crypto goons? My fear was that they planned to turn it into an NFT and sell fractional ownership or else cut it up into a thousand pieces and sell the shreds on the collectibles market or something, but nah. They say they simply want to buy it and have it displayed publicly in a place that is free and open to the public. If you invest in the fund which will be used to bid on it, you get a vote when it comes time to make that determination.

Yeah, I’m guessing some of the people involved in this are the sorts who fetishize the Constitution and their particular interpretation of it in ways that cause all manner of problems with governing in the 21st century, but at least as far as can be told now, they’re doing a pretty harmless and, potentially, good thing here.

Oh, snap!

There are a bunch of nerds out there ruining my nerdy interests:

The Marvel Cinematic Universe was dramatically altered at the end of Avengers: Infinity War with an infamous snap of Thanos' fingers. But could the intergalactic warlord have managed to snap his fingers at all while wearing that cumbersome metal Infinity Glove? That question inspired a new paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, exploring the biomechanics of the finger snap, particularly the role of friction.

According to these dudes Thanos probably could not have actually produced a finger snap with the metal gauntlet on due to the friction requirements involved in finger snapping.

Pfft. He has the power stone and the reality stone, geniuses, so he can presumably use them to alter the physics around his hand in such a way as to allow for metal-fingered snaps to occur.

God, do I have to explain EVERYTHING to you people?

“No Time to Die”

I finally got around to seeing the new James Bond movie, “No Time to Die” last weekend. It had a lot of what I’ve liked in the Daniel Craig-era Bond films. Great action, a minimum of Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan-esque smarm, and the willingness to examine the nature of James Bond and his place in the modern world. I think, overall, the Craig-era films have been pretty solid all around and, at times, they have pushed the Bond movies beyond their usual genre limitations and into something approaching genuinely good cinema. The effort has been appreciated. “No Time to Die” continues that effort.

Not that they’re all great. Of the five Craig movies I think “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” — two of my favorite Bond films in the entire franchise — stand significantly taller than the other three. “Quantum of Solace” was a muddle and, while well-made as far as production values and its more superficial elements, was a poor story and in the end a poor movie. “Spectre” was simply forgettable. Indeed, when I heard that “No Time to Die” was in large part a continuation of it I had to go back and read a bunch about it because I couldn’t remember anything.

As for “No Time to Die” . . . it was fine. I won’t go into any of the details here because of spoilers and stuff, but overall I found it to rank a pretty good deal ahead of “Quantum of Solace” and “Spectre” but several steps behind “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall.” I have some opinions about its ending and where, if anywhere, the Bond series should go now that Daniel Craig has said goodbye to it, but we’ll save that for another time.

In the meantime, I’ll share with you this extended discussion of “No Time to Die” that I found to be pretty interesting. It’s chock-full of spoilers and discussion of major plot points, so if you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, don’t read it. I can say that the ultimate conclusion of the piece is that “No Time to Die” is a deeply moving masterpiece and that it contains all manner of depth and callbacks from the entire history of the Bond series. The writer gives it four out of four stars.

I don’t know about all of that. I get what he’s saying and, overall, I think he has made a number of excellent observations that, in hindsight, make a lot of sense. I must confess, however, that the majority of the things he highlights were not apparent to me while I actually watched the movie in real time and I doubt they are likely to be appreciated by almost anyone but the hardest of hardcore Bond aficionados. And hell, even among them, I suspect they’ll be appreciated only by the ones who have read a bunch of other deeper discourse about Bond movies not long before going into the theater.

In this it’s a lot like Shakespeare scholarship. Yep, great points with which I agree, but not the sorts of points most people are getting absent a very close reading with notes and secondary sources and discussion to go along with it. I’m a pretty big Bond fan but, not gonna lie, that’s not really the experience I’m looking for in and surrounding a Bond film. Hell, it’s not even the experience that, my considerable study of Shakespeare in college notwithstanding, I even want from Shakespeare. When it comes to the Bard, I’ve come to a place where I enjoy his plays the best when they stand on their own as the pieces of popular entertainment they were intended to be. Likewise, with Bond, I mostly want to see the handsome British man chase bad guys and then kill them in inventive ways and looking absolutely dashing while doing so. The thinkpieces and scholarship can be interesting, but they’re really not necessary.

Still, the movie is worth seeing. And the linked discussion about it is worth reading.

Time Slips

I’m on the Internet an awful damn lot to never have heard of this before, but there is apparently an entire community of people out there who believe in time slips. Like, real ones in real life, not fictional ones.

What are time slips? As described by believers, they are paranormal events during which people — inexplicably, involuntarily, and temporarily — travel through time by unknown means. Or, alternatively, witness someone or something else traveling through time via unknown means. It’s not a function of a time machine. It just . . . happens.

For example, they get out of their car and, for 15 seconds, they’re in 1947 before snapping back. Or, while walking down the sidewalk, they are suddenly accosted by a medieval peasant who just as suddenly disappears. A rift in the space-time continuum, perhaps. A glitch in the Matrix. Like flat-Earthers and QAnon adherents, there are entire communities of people — far more harmless people one presumes — devoted to this stuff, convinced that it is real.

I, and likely a lot of other people, became aware of this just yesterday by reading this thoughtful and, I suspect, on-point essay by the writer Lucie Elven, who offers some explanations for what time slip belief says about its believers:

I have begun considering the message boards on which they are exchanged to be narrow but important release valves, allowing posters to talk about the feelings that arise from being time-bound: depression, midlife crises, the dysmorphia of living in a human body. What ailed Miss Smith, whose car slid into a ditch after a cocktail party, and who witnessed “groups of Pictish warriors of the late seventh century, ca. 685 AD,” if not an understanding of her smallness in history’s vast expanse? Why did two academics, famous in the time-slip community for writing a book about spotting Marie Antoinette in the Versailles grounds, encounter trees that looked lifeless, “like wood worked in tapestry”? Perhaps in that instant, like the last queen of France’s Ancien Régime, they felt radically out of joint with their present moment.

I’m a sharply left-brained dude with no small amount of skepticism about anything that cannot be objectively proven. As such, I discount literal accounts of things like ghosts and any and all things paranormal. I thus, likewise, discount time slips that are claimed to be actual instances of time travel.

That said, I do often talk about being haunted by ghosts. When I say that, though, I’m referring to vivid memories and emotions felt when reflecting on the past or on history. In that same vein I like the concept of time slips — and may even be inclined to believe in them — at least if you allow for a very loose definition of what a time slip is.

Our brains are pretty amazing things. They often find means by which to process that we are having trouble processing consciously. Sometimes they do it by practicing some self defense, like I suspect is what caused a strange dissociative episode ten years ago that I’ve written about in this space before. I can imagine that they can also cause some of us to imagine things that aren’t there as a means of processing visually that which we can’t manage to process via our usual inner monologues and reflections. Something, closer to a hallucination more than anything else, to process the sorts of things Elven is getting at in the quoted paragraph above.

Short of that, I can imagine a situation in which I’m being haunted by ghosts — my version of ghosts anyway — which results in something akin to a time slip. A few moments when I’m so deeply communing with that which haunts me that I’m, for all practical purposes, transported to the past. At least in such a way that falls short of violating the laws of thermodynamics.

I presume that the people who hang out in time slip forums would be annoyed to read that. That they’d consider my non-literal take on the notion to be condescending and my personal definition of what a time slip might look like to fail to qualify.

Maybe I’ll ask Kurt Gödel about that the next time I’m back in the 1940s. Which, as many of you know, is an era in which I spend a fair amount of time.

Have a great day, everyone. And if you’re here because of Free Thursday, hey, maybe give it a five-days-a-week whirl?