Cup of Coffee: October 15, 2020

The Dodgers woke up. And it's more like "Hillbilly Smell-egy," amirite?

Good morning!

Usually I do Free Friday. Today it’s Free Thursday. Mostly because I wanna see if I can get more of you non-subscribers to pull the trigger on a Thursday than a Friday. Let’s call it science.

Today is also a free day because I wrote a bunch of stuff about J.D. Vance and the new “Hillbilly Elegy” movie and I sorta want people to be able to share that. I mean, let’s be real: after baseball, my kids, and middle aged man stuff, I’m probably best known for taking the piss out of J.D. Vance. A guy’s gotta protect his beat.

But before we get to that, we had two LCS games last night. Well, one game and that performance the Braves pinched off, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Finally, there’s a lot of baseball news to get through. From a possible extension for a young superstar, to a possible change of scenery for a guy who was considered a young superstar not all that long ago, to some managerial vacancy news involving a candidate who hasn’t been young since Nixon was in office.

Also, let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about “karma,” shall we? We shall.

First, though, yesterday’s action.


And That Happened

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 15, Braves 3: Allison’s horse, Beetlejuice, woke up not feeling well yesterday. The concern, especially when the weather quickly goes from warm to cold like it did here this week, is equine colic. That’s a gastrointestinal issue in horses in which everything binds up and their stomachs turn inside out and other nastiness of that sort ensues. It’s potentially deadly. It’s no joke.

Juice seemed to get better as the day went on but, to be on the safe side, Allison went to the barn after work last night to check on him. She watched him eat and, to make sure his system was functioning properly, hung out with him to wait for him to do his horsely business. As always, she kept me updated:

Last year Atlanta gave up a record 10 runs in the first inning of Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cardinals. I thought that was bad. This was one (1) badder and, of course, a record for the highest-scoring inning in postseason history. One inning and one run later, our friend Lou — hi, Lou! — sent me this:

Gee, thanks.

Eventually Beetlejuce pooped. The Braves, however, continued to shit the bed. The Dodgers had 15 by the end of the third and the rest of the game was mere administrative necessity. The only surprise was that Atlanta didn’t use Charlie Culberson to pitch an inning or two.

What we did get, though, were three first inning homers for the Dodgers, including a Max Muncy grand slam, a three-run shot from Joc Pederson, and a dinger from Edwin Ríos. Cody Bellinger homered in the second and Corey Seager went deep in the third. It was an absolute bloodbath. Julio Urías didn’t have to be sharp, but he was.

I guess that the Braves pitching was going to break down eventually. Here it was Kyle Wright (0.2 IP, 5 H, 7 ER, 2 HR) and Grant Dayton (2 IP, 8 H, 8 ER, 3 HR) who did the breaking down. And I guess that even if you lose a baseball game by close to a couple of touchdowns, it’s just one game. Still, this game showed that the Braves have, to say the least, a bit of a gulf between their top two starters and everyone else on staff. And that the Dodgers’ bats were not gonna be kept at bay for long.

So now it’s 2-1. The Braves’ staff was bombed into the stone age and could be reeling for a day or two at least. And the Dodgers now have Clayton Kershaw ready to go in Game 4. Atlanta, meanwhile, counters with Bryse Wilson the third rookie starter they’ve called on in this series and a guy who hasn’t pitched in 18 days.

Call me crazy, but I feel like this series just turned on a damn dime.

Astros 4, Rays 3: José Altuve may have a case of the yips — I talk about that in the Daily Briefing — but he homered in the first and doubled in a run in the third to give Houston a 2-0 lead. He also committed zero errors, so perhaps he’s fine. Rando Arozarena homered in the fourth to tie it at two, but George Springer’s two-run homer in the fifth put the Astros back in the lead and they held on.

A big part of that holding on came when Zack Greinke escaped what could’ve been a disaster in the sixth, when he allowed consecutive singles by Manuel Margot and Austin Meadows with one out. Dusty Baker came out and you figured Zack’s night was over, but Baker left him in. He struck out Arozarena, then allowed Ji-Mon Choi to reach on a single to load the bases. Greinke, whose arm ain’t right, reached down and punched out Mike Brosseau on a full count changeup to end the threat and save the Astros’ season. That was some old school stuff, both from Baker in letting Greinke be the guy to live or die in the moment and in Greinke surviving it.

The season is still in danger, though. A 3-1 hole is better than a 3-0 hole, but it’s still a big hole to climb out of.

The Rays and Astros go at 5PM Eastern today. The Dodgers and Braves kick off at 8. At the rate things are going, the Dodgers will return the kick for a touchdown.


The Daily Briefing

MLB wants to know what sort of eyewash will make you happy about attending games in a pandemic

A little bird told me that MLB is quietly sending out surveys which seem aimed at figuring out how to make fans comfortable about actually going to ballparks next year. Among the questions:

  • To your best knowledge, are coronavirus (COVID-19) cases increasing in your state, decreasing in your state, or staying at about the same level?

  • What grade would you give your state and local government response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?

  • Do you personally know anyone who has contracted the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

  • What is your current level of concern regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

  • For each of the following activities, please indicate whether you feel it carries a low risk, moderate risk, or high risk of contracting the coronavirus (COVID-19)? [a number of day-to-day activities, but not attending sporting events, is listed];

  • In your view, what is the earliest time frame in which events like sports and concerts will be safe to attend?

It goes on to ask how fans think their favorite team — and it selects that for you, based on your past interaction with MLB.com — has handled the pandemic and what level of activities in ballparks (e.g. entering the gate, buying concessions, using the restrooms, etc) stress you out the most. There are also questions about attitudes toward masks, temperature checks, and what things ballpark operations can do to make people feel the most comfortable, such as spaced seating, contactless payments, hand sanitizing stations, and the like, and what might inspire you to go to the ballpark. Finally, it asks you how likely you are to go to a ballpark, followed by a bunch of demographic questions.

Knowledge is always useful, but I feel like something else is going on here. I think Major League Baseball is looking to find as many sources of anti-pandemic safety eyewash that it can find in order to convince people to go to the ballpark next year regardless of the situation on the ground.

I mean, let’s be honest: laws and regulations aren’t going to be the biggest impediment to there being butts in the seats. We already have fans in the stands in Texas and, even though COVID cases are spiking everywhere, shutdowns and safety regulations and restrictions are being relaxed, not strengthened. As I wrote about at length at the Pandemic Diary, our public officials and institutions have largely given up even trying to fight the pandemic. We’re simply reverting to normal because we, as a society, do not have the will to do what is necessary to fight it. The results have been disastrous, but they’re also fading from the headlines. Trump has utterly failed as a leader during this crisis, but he was absolute right in saying that we’d “learn to live with COVID.” America is just baking that into life now, even it’s resulting in thousands of deaths.

So, you’re Major League Baseball. It’s next April. You don’t have any significant legal restrictions in most markets, but you still have fairly widespread public anxiety and a broad hesitance of people to actually attend sporting events. What do yo do? Why, you provide the appearance of safety in a way that, while not adhering to best scientific practices or the recommendations of public health experts — that’s what has been rejected in America, remember — at least adheres to public opinions about safety, which is the point of this survey. You let a bunch of sports fans with no scientific expertise decide what they think will keep them safe.

Except, as we have learned, a great deal of the things the public believes to be important for COVID safety — surface cleaning and temperature checks, for example — are actually fairly pointless and have been referred to as sanitization theater. COVID transmission comes via small particle aerosols, which can only be effectively combatted by not putting a bunch of people in close proximity to one another. Which, again, is a non-starter in today’s America because, you know, the economy. Major League Baseball WILL have games with fans. It just wants fans to feel better about it, regardless of whether or not it’s actually, you know, a good idea.

So we’ll get temperature checks, hand-sanitizer stations, in-seat concession delivery, and whatever else this poll determines will put people at ease. We will get things which provide the illusion of safety. We will get those things because, in the absence of actual leadership and sacrifice in the face of a deadly enemy, the illusion of safety is all that is really needed and all that can actually be done.

Personally, I think allowing public opinion to decide how we fight this pandemic, while ignoring expert advice, is the primary reason that things have gotten so bad in the first place. And I think that Major League Baseball relying on public opinion, as opposed to expert advice, to shape the ballpark experience in 2021 and beyond is profoundly irresponsible even if it’s entirely predictable.

José Altuve and “karma”

Yesterday all of the talk was about José Altuve’s case of the yips. In looking at all the yip discourse (yipcourse?) as the day went on, I saw a recurring theme: that Altuve was being visited by “karma” and that his case of the yips is cosmic justice in response to the sign-stealing scandal.

As far as lines of thinking go, I think that’s pretty shitty.

For one thing because, no matter how deeply the word and (very broad) concept of karma has found its way into western discourse (one of John Lennon’s many crimes), karma is still a religious concept and it’s a lot more nuanced and complicated a concept than “do bad stuff, bad stuff happens to you.” I, personally, am not a religious person but I try to respect people’s religious beliefs and I’ve tried hard to stop using words like “karma” lightly. I don’t always succeed in that, but I try. I certainly don’t speak for adherents to Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism or other eastern religions and thus can’t say how they feel about it, but I feel like we crap on the concept of karma a great deal and I feel like a lot of Christians I know would be irked if their beliefs were used as shorthand like we use karma.

That’s a mild objection, though. It’s not a hill I’m gonna die on. A broader objection is giving any credence to the notion of cosmic justice, which I truly don’t think exists, as it relates to a baseball controversy.

I know everyone is sort of having fun with bad things happening to the Astros, and that they don’t mean it super deeply, but I wish we spent more time appreciating just how often people get away with bad things scot-free rather than to look into the slightest subsequent misfortune they suffer and conclude that justice has been done. Trump getting a disease from which he has (apparently) quickly recovered does not make up for his crimes and transgressions. José Altuve throwing away a couple of balls does not mean he has been punished. Those things are all on different tracks and trying to mash them all together and say “haha, karma!” just hits me wrong.

In some way this is like a twisted version of the just world fallacy, which causes us to believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. I don’t think that happens in anything approaching the volume people like to think it does and I think our casually believing it does excuses us from asking whether it’s actually so and what, if anything we should do about it.

Yes, I realize I’m overthinking this by orders of magnitude. I do that sometimes. I just happen to think that “shit happens” explains more of what goes on in the world than “instant karma’s gonna get ya” and get a bit salty when I see the latter.

Padres, Tatís may talk extension soon

Padres all-world infielder Fernando Tatis Jr. isn't arbitration-eligible until after the 2021 season and he’s under team control through 2024. Which means the Padres could simply set his salary at whatever they want for next year and fight him tooth-and-nail on raises for three years after that.

It’d be pretty dumb to do that, of course, because Tatís is perhaps the brightest young star in baseball and already stands as the most important player the franchise has had under its employ since the end of the Tony Gwynn era. An organization which wants to build a long-term winner — and build a loyal fan base — would do well to do what it can to keep Tatís in Padres brown for some time.

That may be in the works: AJ Cassavell of MLB.com reports that Padres general manager A.J. Preller said yesterday that “it sounds like there's interest on both sides” in a contract extension for Tatís. Discussions have yet to take place, but Preller said “we'll start to look more seriously at that here this offseason.”

It’s “a fair question” whether Gary Sánchez will be the Yankees starting catcher in 2021

Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said yesterday that it's “certainly a fair question” whether Gary Sánchez will be the Yankees' starting catcher in 2021.

That’s a hell of a thing.

Sánchez had a horrendous year at the plate and, by the end of the ALDS against the Rays, Kyle Higashioka had taken over every day catching duties. Still, Sánchez is only 27 and he was an All-Star who hit 34 homers just a year ago. Would the Yankees really demote Sánchez to backup status? Would they trade him?

Maybe. There’s been some talk about the Yankees making major changes this winter (and some talk throwing cold water on that). Either way, moving Sánchez could be a way of opening the doors for a lot of other moves. A change of scenery might do him good too. Worth watching.

White Sox to interview Tony La Russa for their open job

I linked this as an aside the other day because I didn’t take it seriously, but apparently it’s more than just a Bob Nightengale fever dream: the White Sox are going to interview Tony La Russa for their open manager’s position.

La Russa, who managed the White Sox before a good many of you were born (1979-1986), is 76 years-old and hasn't served as a major league manager since 2011. He currently works for the Angels, where he’s been a senior adviser to baseball operations for the past year. Before that he served in a similar role in Boston and as the Diamondbacks’ Chief Baseball Officer.

The guy is a Hall of Famer, you gotta grant him that, but he’s also an old school guy whose experience does not exactly make one think “yeah, this is who you want managing a bunch of players who were born after La Russa had already been managing for twenty years.” Some have said Rick Renteria was canned because he wasn’t the kind of guy who could connect with the Sox’ young stars. La Russa is 17 years older than Renteria. Age aside, there hasn’t been any suggestion that he has been interested in returning to managing since he retired with the Cardinals, so all of this is rather surprising.

I still think that the Sox are looking at A.J. Hinch or Alex Cora. Indeed, the conspiracy theory-friendly parts of my noodle make make me think that La Russa’s interview is aimed at making the job look like an opportunity so rarified that it would lure one of the greatest managers ever out of a happy retirement, thereby making it look more appealing to Hinch and Cora.

The Tigers have a couple of managerial candidates as well

It was reported yesterday that Yankees hitting coach Marcus Thames has met with the Tigers twice — over Zoom, because it’s 2020 — to discuss their managerial vacancy. He makes the second known candidate for the Tigers, following Dodgers first base coach George Lombard who, for now anyway, is a little busy to be interviewing.

Thames spent six of his ten years as a big league player with the Tigers. He’s been a coach with the Yankees, both on the minors and the bigs, since 2014. Lombard has managed rookie ball in the Red Sox system before coaching there, in the Braves system and then on to L.A. Lombard played for the Tigers in 2002. It was the most action he ever saw in the bigs.

Both Thames and Lombard have been talked about as future managers. Will the Tigers give either a chance?


Other Stuff

Bootstraps Porn

The trailer has dropped for the “Hillbilly Elegy” movie. It’s about as subtle as someone smacking you in the face with a hardcover copy of “Atlas Shrugged.”

Those who have been reading my stuff for a while know that I have an almost monomaniacal disdain for J.D. Vance and the book “Hillbilly Elegy.” Yes, I know everyone and their brother — including a TON of urban liberals who thought that Vance was telling some necessary truths about poor, rural America — loved that book, but it was absolute unmitigated bullshit.

I included most of the reasons for that in my original review of the book, I have expanded on it as Vance has continued to write in the public eye, and have continued to note Vance’s ignorance — which I believe to be willful and calculated — whenever it arises.

The short version, if you don’t want to read those posts on it: Vance has a compelling personal story that, yes, is at times harrowing and inspirational. He came from nothing, had a lot stacked against him, and he, against the odds, made something of himself. He should be credited for that.

What’s more, to the extent he tells his personal story and the story of his family in “Hillbilly Elegy” it’s a pretty decent read. He’s not a particularly gifted writer, but his unadorned, matter-of-fact account of his tough upbringing is affecting in a certain way. Unlike others might do, he doesn’t romanticize the poverty from which he came. He’s telling it to you pretty straight. At least to a point.

The problem, however, comes from the lessons he draws — and wants us to draw — from that story. His central argument is that the crisis of poverty, addiction, and countless other challenges facing rural Americans is attributable to a lack of character and work ethic by those suffering from it. It is Vance’s view that the underclass from which he rose is struggling so mightily because it is not taking responsibility for its own decay. That it’s the moral failures of the poor, as opposed to external social and economic challenges posed by people, companies and systems which seek to extract money and resources from the lower and middle classes and funnel them to the rich, which are to blame.

These arguments, which are all over the pages of “Hillbilly Elegy” and which have informed Vance’s various columns and speeches over the past few years, are utter hogwash. Hogwash, it should be noted, that adheres pretty closely to the views of the Yale Professoer/author who mentored him and helped get “Hillbilly Elegy” published and the Silicon Valley venture capital class among which Vance worked for many years and continues to work. It also, not coincidentally, is on all fours with GOP political leaders who will, eventually, aid Vance’s manifest political ambitions. In our system the poor are blamed for being poor and to the extent we even have a functioning social safety net, it is largely premised on the idea that people deserve to be punished for being poor and should be forced to beg and jump through hoops if the need help. Vance’s book is like an instruction manual for maintaining that system. It’s written permission for someone to sneer at a mother using SNAP to buy food for their children an act of absolution for those who would demonize the poor as deadbeats or freeloaders.

It’s Vance’s political ambitions, by the way, which compel me to continue to stay on his case more than four years after his book came out. Yeah, I can be a bit overbearing on the topic of “Hillbilly Elegy” and J.D. Vance, and if he was merely some author throwing crap out into the world every few years I would’ve let it go a long time ago, but he aims, many believe, to be the junior Senator from the State of Ohio one day, and I’ll be damned if I let him ride his sugar-coated poor-bashing pablum to Washington unopposed.

As for the movie: I want to believe that director Ron Howard cut out all the "poor people are responsible for their plight" crap Vance wrote about and just goes with what could be a simple and compelling family drama. He certainly has a couple of actors involved who could make that something special. There are lines in the trailer, however, that suggest that's not the case.

My suspicion is that Vance’s mother, played by Amy Adams, will be a caricature of irresponsibility while his grandmother, played by Glenn Close, will be the hero who teaches Vance to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Which, as I noted in my review of the book, glosses over a hell of a lot of things about his grandmother and her circumstances, his mother and her circumstances, and the simple facts as they relate to free markets, the economy, and human nature, all of which are pretty damn inconvenient to Vance’s conception of the world.

But enough about that jackwagon. If you’d like to actually understand what people in Appalachia and small town America deal with and who and what, actually, are responsible for the problems they face, do yourself a favor: pick up Elizabeth Catte’s “What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia” and Brian Alexander’s “Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town.” Unlike Vance, those two understand their subjects and the larger world which shapes and informs them. You will not surprised to learn that, unlike the trailer to “Hillbilly Elegy,” it doesn’t all boil down to there being “good Terminators” and “bad Terminators,” as referenced in that trailer.

Screw The Lincoln Project

As someone who has spent way too much time arguing with people on the political right who claim that they oppose Trump but who (a) do absolutely nothing of substance to actually oppose him; and (b) seem far more concerned with salvaging the Republican brand for the post-Trump world, I saw the Lincoln Project’s grift coming at the paddock before the second race. I saw it outside the men's room when I placed my bet. I saw it before it even got up this morning.

The Lincoln Project is the functional equivalent of the car wash on “Breaking Bad,” except in instead of laundering money it’s laundering Republican political consultants. It’s like a post World War II ratline, but instead of getting Nazis safely to South America it’s getting Trumpists and the rest of the GOP safely to 2022.

If you doubt that, just take a moment’s glance at the history of its principals. Then take a look at this thread from yesterday which shows just how much of a scam it is.

The Lincoln Project is opposed to Trump only insofar as Trump makes things really bad for the electoral prospects and policy preferences of the GOP. When he was pushing through massive tax cuts for the wealthy in 2017, they had no apparent problem with the guy. If he was more popular now and was spending most of his time waging an effective Cold War against China and deregulating every industry this side of nuclear power generation they wouldn’t be saying boo. Once he’s gone, they’ll do whatever they can to support the politicians, donors, commentators, and consultants who enabled him in the first place, at least as long as they do those things.

They’ll do it with gusto and they’ll do it with the millions upon millions of dollars a bunch of dumbass Democrats have sent them, believing they were striking blows against the empire because someone stole a clever anti-Trump meme and tweeted it out from the Lincoln Project account.

A Cup of Coffee Podcast?

So, I was thinking of maybe starting a weekly podcast. I’d not get to it until after the season was over — and because I’d want to do it right and prepare properly, it might be well into the offseason before I truly launched it — but it is something I’m considering doing. The world probably needs another podcast from an angry middle aged white guy about as much as it needs another newsletter, but I have a lot of time on my hands.

Questions: would you listen to it? I honestly have no idea if anyone would want to. And, if so, (a) what sort of stuff would you want it to cover (i.e. mostly baseball? mostly random obsessions?); and (b) would you prefer it to just be me ranting about things or would you like me to have guests and stuff? I do have ideas of my own, but I want to get a sense from y’all.

Feel free to comment, and yes, feel free to be critical or tell me it’s a bad idea. We’re all friends here:

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A Cup of Coffee cup of coffee in the wild

Lou’s Cup of Coffee coffee cup up in the recaps was the first one I posted, but this one was the first I received:

If you want to cool like Dave here, here’s where you can get your gear. And, as I said the other day, if you send me a photo like this — Twitter, or email (ccalcaterra@gmail.com) or whatever is fine — I’ll let you write a section of the newsletter one day about, basically, whatever you want. Dave here has submitted his writing to me already! It’ll be in tomorrow’s newsletter. It’s really good!

That’s all I got today. Thanks for reading. If you’re a non-subscriber, hey, maybe give me a chance? I promise you won’t regret it:

And if you think someone else might like it:

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Have a great day, everyone!