Cup of Coffee: November 19, 2020

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Good morning! It’s Free Thursday! If you’re new here, welcome. I hope you enjoy your free cup of morning brown.

Seriously: You should enjoy some morning brown. At least if you’re OK with some NSFW language.

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Today we have big PED news about Robinson Canó, ownership news about the Padres, layoff news about the Dodgers, news about the eagerness of fans to go to ballgames in 2021, an interesting nugget about Negro Leagues statistics, and I procrastinate by redesigning the Tigers road uniforms.

In other stuff, I talk about how Trump is not a hijacker of the GOP but, rather, its apotheosis, about George Clooney and briefcases full of cash, Conan O’Brien and variety shows, and talk about yet another Substack navel-gazer. This one is better than the others this week, however, because it contains the word “circle-jerk.” Will the shit hit the fan with subscription newsletters? Nah, but I made you click that link, so it was worth suggesting it.

Let’s get at ‘er.

Seriously, let’s get at ‘er.


The Daily Briefing

Robinson Canó suspended for the entire 2021 season

Yesterday afternoon Mets second baseman Robinson Canó received a 162-game suspension without pay after testing positive for Stanozolol. The full year is because, back in 2018, he was suspended for taking a diuretic that is commonly used as a masking agent for Stanozolol, and you lose a season for your second offense.

That’s all pretty bad, but let’s look at the bright side here: it’s becoming pretty damn clear that our man Robinson is into some pretty old-school steroid action — no one takes Stanozolol anymore — and you gotta respect someone who appreciates the classics.

Or not. Just trying to get my head around the fact that a guy is willing to risk $24 million — his 2021 salary — for whatever marginal gains these substances provided him. I’m not really able to do it but, frankly, getting into the psychology of ballplayers is difficult under even the best of circumstances.

The biggest immediate effect of all of this, at least beyond how it affects Canó personally, is that the Mets just had $24 million come off their 2021 payroll at a time when their new owner is likely looking to make a big splash in a free agent market that is expected to be a buyer’s market as it is. Which is to say that Canó may have just done more to help the Mets win a World Series by getting suspended than if he had been on the damn roster.

As for the long term: on the numbers, there’s a good argument that Canó was on a Hall of Fame trajectory. He had his detractors, but his consistency and longevity was pushing him toward the 3,000 hit club and a career line comparable to that of a lot of Hall of Fame infielders. This past season, in which he hit a solid .316/.352/.544 in 49 games, suggested that he had the staying power to ride out a slow and casual decline in a way that tends to get a guy like him into Cooperstown.

Now that’s shot. I think we will have some publicly-known PED guys get into the Hall of Fame here eventually, but I cannot possibly see a two-time offender making his way in. No one has satisfactorily quantified PEDs’ affects on a guy’s career numbers, but with two strikes there will absolutely be a presumption that much of what Canó accomplished was drug-aided, and no one is going to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Here’s the Mets’ statement on the suspension, delivered by Sandy Alderson:

"We were extremely disappointed to be informed about Robinson's suspension for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. The violation is very unfortunate for him, the organization, our fans, and the sport. The Mets fully support MLB's efforts toward eliminating performance enhancing substances from the game."

It didn’t say “we’re happy to save the $24 million this year and, perhaps, cut him this time next year and eat the $48 million he’s owed in 2022 and 2023” but it has that energy. There’s a new owner in town who understands the concept of sunk costs and he has every incentive to turn the page from the Wilpon era, which includes the trade for Canó. It wouldn’t shock me, frankly.

Ron Fowler steps down as Padres chairman

San Diego Padres executive chairman/control person Ron Fowler has sold a portion of his stake in the team to general Partner Peter Seidler. That makes Seidler the team’s control person or, as we colloquially refer to it, the team’s owner, in the eyes of Major League Baseball. The other 29 owners approved Seidler’s ascension yesterday morning.

Given that Fowler will remain in the ownership group and that Seidler was already in the ownership group makes this less like a team sale and more like one of those kinds of control changes the San Francisco Giants have had over the years, with junior partners becoming senior partners or what have you. As such, it’s doubtful that this will change much in the way of the team’s direction. Fowler and Seidler worked together pretty closely. Both agreed on hiring A.J. Preller to run the baseball operations department and to embark on the rebuild that brought the Padres back to the playoffs last season. Fowler will, likewise, continue to serve in an advisory role with the team and will likely be involved in various MLB ownership committees and things. So, no, not much disruption should be expected here.

Fun fact: Seidler, 60, is the grandson of Walter O’Malley, who owned the Dodgers when they moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. His mother was Walter’s daughter. His uncle Peter owned the Dodgers after grandpa did.

The Dodgers are laying people off

Less than a month after winning the World Series — and a day after their team president won the Executive of the Year award — the Los Angeles Dodgers informed employees that the will be laying off numerous employees. In this they join the Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, and Houston Astros, all of which have laid off employees.

The team issued a statement:

“While the Dodgers had a championship season, the organization has not been immune from the widespread economic devastation caused by the coronavirus. Since March, we have worked hard to minimize the impact on our employees. The ongoing economic crisis, however, forces us to make difficult personnel decisions throughout the organization, going forward for the 2021 season. This is a heartbreaking decision. This year, more than ever, we are truly grateful for the role each member of our Dodgers family plays in our success.”

Last week, Dodgers President Stan Kasten said the franchise lost “well north of $100 million this year.” That number was not, like any other claimed loss in Major League Baseball, backed up with any sort of documentation or context. We do know, however, that the Dodgers were sold to their current ownership group for around $2 billion in 2013, signed an $8 billion broadcast rights deal not long after that, and are valued at around $3.4 billion by Forbes right now.

All of that aside, there is a massive amount of wealth in this ownership group and the Dodgers are, in the normal course one of the highest-revenue and most profitable teams in baseball. Possibly the most profitable. If the Dodgers did lose money in 2020 it was, given how team owners roll, less than the $100 million Kasten claimed and because it was pandemic-related it was a temporary loss, as opposed to a long-term loss. They will, in all certainty, be back up to their usual level in either 2021 or 2022.

Which is to say, I strongly suspect that via either assets on hand, a cash call to the owners, or borrowing at what are, at present, historically-low rates, the Dodgers could’ve quite easily kept the employees they are now firing. They simply choose not to, because employees are never the top priority for businesses. Employees are seen as cost centers and businesses spend an extraordinary amount of time and money looking for ways to be profitable with fewer and fewer of them. And that’s the case even if they claim otherwise in their public statements in which they announce that they will be proceeding with fewer and fewer of them.

Fans won’t show until the vaccines are out

A new poll conducted by Seton Hall University has found that the majority of sports fans will not feel comfortable returning to live sporting events until there’s a vaccine circulated.

Two-thirds of respondents said they would not attend an indoor sporting event without a vaccine, even if masks and social distancing measures were being enforced in the arena. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they were waiting on a vaccine to go to outdoor sporting events.

Fun thing: back in April, in the early days of pandemic 72% people said they were unwilling to attend any kind of sporting event, indoor or outdoor, without a vaccine. I suppose you can read that change in any number of ways, ranging from pandemic fatigue — people are willing to take more risks now than back in April — or a refocusing of the mind now that a couple of vaccines seem to be on the horizon.

In light of these results, I figure that means that the actual rollout of the vaccines is something Major League Baseball is watching closely. If there’s a good chance that mass distribution will be accomplished by March or April, one would assume that the season — dependent largely on a certainty of ticket sales — could go off as usual. If there are snags and it’s more like summer before people are generally able to get the vaccine, then we could have another partially fan-free and/or truncated season.

Taking the Negro Leagues out of the land of legends

There’s a neat story over at MLB.com about researchers who have been combing box scores, scoresheets, and news reports from the Negro Leagues in an effort to compile a comprehensive statistical record. The sort of record that a lot of people have long simply assumed was not possible. The sort of record the absence of which has allowed for legend, tall tales, and, quite often, blatant or tacit dismissiveness of the legitimacy of the Negro Leagues all together when discussing its legacy.

Here’s lead researcher Gary Ashwill, speaking to MLB.com:

“The biggest myth of them all is that the history of Negro League baseball is nothing but blurry, hard-to-substantiate legends and tall tales. I grew up with the distinct impression that no statistics could ever be compiled, that it was often unclear what happened at all, and that it was more or less impossible to find out anything for sure about many of the players.”

But, thanks to his work and the work of others, that is becoming less and less the case.

Deep sartorial thoughts

I’m writing the Tigers essay for 2021’s Baseball Prospectus Annual. My deadline is tomorrow. I’d be lying if I said I was done with it. I’d be lying if I said I was almost done with it. I have been thinking about it a great deal, however, and, as every writer knows, thinking about it is better than abject procrastination.

Part of my thinking probably is procrastination, though: I’m thinking about their uniforms and what I’d change about them.

Not the home uniforms. The home uniforms are absolutely fantastic and perfect and should never be touched:

They actually did mess with it once in 1960 because their then-general manager William DeWitt — the father of current Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. — wanted to fart around, but he left the following year and the team changed it right back and hasn’t changed it since (well, almost hasn’t changed it since). Probably because everyone with half a brain knows that the whites with the English D are perfect.

The roadies, actually, look really good too. Not knocking them at all. It’s a classic look, like the stuff they wore from the 30s to the 50s:

They also get credit for always sticking with the full grays and not going with solid batting practice/pajama-type jerseys like most teams do and which I’ve always considered a cheap look. Thank God the Tigers — along with the Yankees and Dodgers — keep it tight.

I do like two other Tigers road uniforms better, though. The version they wore from 1960 through 1971 and the version they wore from 1972 through 1993. Here they are, respectively:

That is obviously a throwback version of the 1960s model, but it’s good to see it in modern fabrics on a modern player as opposed to the bulky old flannel duds on a lumpy guy such as Mickey Lolich. Either way, it harkens to one of the best periods of Tigers baseball, would be a nice nod to the late Al Kaline, and looks pretty damn clean and sharp.

Here’s the later one:

That was a bit late in its run, so it came after they dropped the orange D on the road cap and moved away from the pullover, elastic waist double-knit version of it, but it’s better to see it like this, with a more classic button/belt combo (I’d keep the orange D on the road cap). Maybe it’s just nostalgia on my part, as those are the uniforms I grew up watching on TV when I was a little kid in Michigan, but I’d love to see ‘em back again.

None of this has anything to do with anything. None of this is going to make it into the Baseball Prospectus writeup either, but I actually think it, indirectly, gave me a neat idea for that now, so I suppose it really wasn’t procrastination after all.


Other Stuff

Trump is the apotheosis of the GOP

A Reuters poll found that about half of all Republicans believe Trump “rightfully won” the election but that it was stolen from him by widespread voter fraud that favored Biden.

That’s obviously nuts, but it’s a pretty good gauge of how many people in the Republican Party are essentially brainwashed by Trumpism. That won’t matter for the transition — Biden will take office just fine — but it’s going to have huge implications going forward. Particularly for Republicans and particularly if Trump continues to engage with politics after he’s out of office. Which I suspect he will.

Because he can reliably dictate the thoughts and actions of about half of all Republicans with not much more than his Twitter feed, Trump will basically be able to continue to steer the Republican Party in whatever direction he chooses to. Other Republicans will either have to cater to him and his whims or face intra-party consequences, be they electoral or otherwise. The fact that they’re compromised by it now, even as Trump stands as a defeated loser, is evident in their silence in the face of what is, essentially, an attempted coup. They’ll be compromised by it for years and years going forward. Hell, if someone assumes Trump’s mantle once he loses interest or if he designates a philosophical successor, they may be compromised by it forever.

All of which proves what I and many others have said since 2016: Trump is not an anomaly. He did not hijack the Republican Party. If he had, it’d proceed without him now that he has been defeated and would be loudly repudiating him in order to get ahead of the next election cycle. They’re not doing that, though, because he is and always was exactly what the core of the GOP has long wanted. He is not an anomaly in the Republican Party. He is its apotheosis.

We’ve crossed 250,000 COVID dead

As of yesterday, according to Johns Hopkins University, COVID-19 has killed 250,000 people. That’s more people than strokes, suicides, and car crashes usually do in a full year combined.

Still, huge swaths of the country simply don’t care. From the Washington Post:

Alexander [North Carolina], population 37,000, is a county where deaths from covid-19 have had little impact on many residents’ attitudes toward the pandemic.

People still chafe at the idea that masks are a must, still hang out together, still gather much as they always have when it’s time to say goodbye to a loved one.

“There’s a lot of resentment” about masks, said Monte Sherrill, 55, whose father died this summer of covid. Most people in shops and restaurants don’t cover their faces, Sherrill and two of his brothers said. Neither do they. All Trump supporters, they said they value their right not to wear a mask.

“If someone can choose to have an abortion and end a human life, then I should be able to choose to wear a mask or not,” said Kevin Sherrill, 48. If someone is vulnerable, he said, “they should be the one to wear a mask.”

Meanwhile, a young couple here in Ohio held a big indoor wedding and reception in late October and nearly half of the people got infected:

“I didn’t think that almost half of our wedding guests were gonna get sick,” Bishop [the bride] said. “You’re in the moment. You’re having fun. You don’t think about covid anymore.”

And so it goes.

It’s tempting to simply hold up the people quoted in these articles as reckless idiots. And maybe they are, in fact, reckless idiots. But it was our leaders who set the tone. It was our leaders who provided the space in which the ignorance or recklessness of common citizens was allowed to flourish and cause harm.

If Ohio’s governor had issued binding shutdowns of event halls like the one where that wedding reception took place and if authorities seriously endeavored to prevent large gatherings, that reception doesn’t happen. If Trump and other Republican leaders don’t turn masks into some sort of political issue, those people in North Carolina likely aren’t spewing that bullshit and COVID-infected droplets from their uncovered mouths.

But that’s not what happened. And that’s why a huge percentage of those 250,000 people are dead.

Yet even more Substack navel-gazing

Like I said yesterday: Substack — the platform where writers don’t have to care about trending topics if they don’t want to — is a trending topic this week, so everyone’s writing stories about it.

The latest: old school blogger Kevin Drum of Mother Jones wrote a piece in which he laments that everyone going up behind paywalls is putting an end to that wide-ranging big community blogging and media landscape where everyone linked each other and perpetuated conversations:

Back in the day, the virtue of blogging was that everyone could talk to everyone. Later, when many bloggers (including me) went to work for magazines, our work was still freely available. We could link back and forth and our readers always had the option of clicking those links if they wanted more details or just wanted to check and make sure we were quoting each other fairly. The same was true of news articles we commented on . . . I’m not really willing to rack up a whole bunch of $60-per-year subscription fees for individual writers, which means I’ll never know what they’re saying. And even if I did, you’d never know what they’re saying unless you’re coincidentally a subscriber too. This means we have a growing circle of writers who are influencing the political conversation but doing it semi-privately. The rest of us will only get hints here and there, the way you might have heard snatches of gossip from acquaintances who had been invited to an 18th century salon.

Later in the post he muses that, perhaps, he is overreacting. I agree with that part. Yes, he is overreacting.

Back in the Golden Age of Blogging guys like Drum and Andrew Sullivan and most other bloggers of stature went on and on about the value of the "we can all talk to each other" part of it like Drum does here. I think then, as now, they overstated the prevalence and significance of that dynamic.

Yes, all of that back-and-forth conversation and linking is really interesting for writers on a some level — it's how I made lots of friends in the baseball media and how they and we all became chummy sometimes-colleagues — but in the end, the circle jerk-to-value ratio of that is off-the-charts. The conversation, such as it was, wasn’t as grand as we liked to pretend it was. In the end the world of blogging was still profoundly insular in all the ways the world of media has always been insular.

Readers were, for the most part, largely invisible to these writers, most of whom never had comments sections or, if they did, never interacted with them very much. If they had, like I have, they would’ve known that readers don’t benefit from that cross-pollination Drum’s talking about anywhere nearly to the degree he’s portraying. Writers are not opening up whole new worlds to them all that often. Readers are their own, independent actors who, while maybe hipped to other writers and blogs by the ones they are reading, are still making independent choices of who they read. Those choices did not skew toward “read absolutely everything” back in the days of newspapers and magazines, they did not skew that way in the blog era, and they do not do so now in the subscription model-era. No one ever died because they missed any given opinion of a ranting white dude to read.

The paid subscription thing does, of course, serve as a limiting factor. It forces readers to decide what voices they truly value and what voices they don't. But readers (or TV viewers or whatever) have always done that to some extent, with only a tiny slice of media addicts truly consuming everything and everyone to such a degree that they now have to make super hard choices, even if they must make choices. Writers face some limits of their own now, too. We must be content to speak to the 1,000 or 3,000 or 10,000 subscribers we can attract and we have to get over the fact that our voice is not going out wider. Maybe that's an ego bruise to some degree, but that's all it is. The business tradeoffs are more than worth it.

Yes, we’re all making choices now, as anyone has to make choices when money is involved. But the vast majority of us were making choices already because the vast majority of us didn’t dedicate hours a day to reading blogs. But even if we had been, dropping some of our media consumption as a result of those choices is not some horrible thing. At worst it’s an ego blow to writers more than it is a serious loss of any kind.

Anyway:

George! George Clooney! Remember me?! Your friend, Craig?!

There were rumors for years that, back in 2013, George Clooney presented each of his 14 best friends a briefcase full of cash. A million bucks in each case. He did it, the legend went, as a thank-you for being there before he was big and supporting him then and now.

That’s not the kind of story you tend to get actual comment or confirmation about. Often such stories are invented from whole cloth and, even if they’re true, publicists and managers and lawyers allow it to float around because it’s good to have legend-boosting myths like that surrounding a person.

Welp, turns out it’s true. Clooney confirmed it. From GQ:

“I thought, what I do have are these guys who've all, over a period of 35 years, helped me in one way or another. I've slept on their couches when I was broke. They loaned me money when I was broke. They helped me when I needed help over the years. And I've helped them over the years. We're all good friends. And I thought, you know, without them I don't have any of this. And we're all really close, and I just thought basically if I get hit by a bus, they're all in the will. So why the fuck am I waiting to get hit by a bus?”

The best part is how he actually got the cash. It’s only a paragraph, but it’s better than “Ocean’s 12” and “Ocean’s 13” combined. And I say that as someone who cites “Ocean’s 11” as one of my favorite movies of the 2000s. The sequels are not canon as far as I’m concerned.

Conan to do a variety show

Conan O’Brien will end his TBS show in June. Between that and his time at NBC, he’ll have done the night time talkshow thing for 28 years. Which was long back when guys like Johnny Carson roamed the earth but seems like eons in today’s fare more pressure and competition-heavy TV environment.

Up next for him: he’s going to host a weekly variety show on HBO Max.

I’m several years past the time in my life when I could even hope to stay up to watch late night TV, so it’s not like O’Brien or anyone else leaving that game affects me in any way. But I am to the point in my life — and I’m enough of an out-of-his-era weirdo — where I spend more than a passing amount of time watching clips of old 60s and 70s variety shows. Like anything else there were good versions and bad versions of that genre, but at their best they were fantastic. And they basically don’t exist anymore.

What’s more, variety shows break down very well into isolated segments (the singing act, the stunt act, the comedy act, etc.) that lend themselves very well to today’s YouTube/video clip-driven entertainment economy. That dynamic has caused late night talk shows to contort themselves into a bit-driven culture that misses more than it hits in my view, and which take them further and further away from what made talk shows interesting in the first place. Go watch a Carson clip from 1974 or something and marvel at how he actually . . . talked to people. The best bits were always digressions from the likely talking points for the interview. Today it’s, at best, two minutes of an actor promoting their new show followed by carpool karaoke or whatever.

Which is to say that I like the idea O’Brien doing a variety show. Bring on the musical numbers, the spinning plates, the dancing bears, the escape artists, and all of that stuff. And put on someplace where old farts like me can watch it at 7PM.

Have a great day, everyone. And hey, freebies: