Previous Hatter’s Dozen Posts: Introduction, Media and Twitter.

I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve finished reading a @JPosnanski post and thought, “He’s the best”. -October 12, 2010 tweet

Joe Posnanski is a blogger, columnist and sportswriter. I’ve been a fan of him for awhile, but this past year my appreciation for his writings seemed to skyrocket. I like his style. I like his voice. I like his use of available data in leveraging his story or post. I like his attention to detail and his willingness to write, and write, and write, until he thinks his point is made. Mostly, I like the guy. For some reason, I always have a shortlist of people I’d want to invite over to a dinner party if I could invite anyone.* Joe is on that list.

*Ah, the joy of having been a part of a multitide of gatherings, events, outreach trips, small groups and so much more, over the years, where the first time together in a big group you go through any number of ice breakers. These ice breakers are there to allegedly make forming friendships easier with other people. “You just told me your most embarrassing moment? Awesome! We’re now best friends!” Not quite. I did like the question of, “If you could have any five people over for dinner, who would they be? Since I’ve been in ministry since the 90’s, I’ve heard Jesus used a lot as an answer. The expected “right” answer. I’ve never used him as my answer.** Maybe because it’s expected of me to say that. I always wanted to answer with something less obvious, and to say individuals that would reveal a bit more about me. Isn’t that the goal? For me, it’s always been a mix of people from the fields of sports, pop culture and ministry. And, I always try to factor if the people would get along well with one another. Because it would be bad to have all these people together for dinner and then for it to descend into a shouting match, or to have one person dominate the proceedings.***

**Nothing personal Jesus.

***Nothing personal Ted Williams.

Joe has written over 300 posts this past year by my rough count. Probably closer to 400 than 300. These are twelve of his posts that I like. They stick out from the thousands of words he wrote this past year. Narrowing down the field was tough, and I’m sure there are posts I’m forgetting about that should crack this dozen.

Click on the blog post title to read the original post in its entirety. Snippets from the posts are in italics below. Additional thoughts by me are marked by an asterisk(*).

12. The Jeter School of Acting (September 16, 2010) – As a Red Sox fan I don’t like the Yankees. However, I have begrudging respect for Derek Jeter. He’s a great player. Not quite as good as most in the media have made him out to be, but he’s still a first ballot Hall of Famer. Jeter has been so good for so long that he’s at the point where it’s easier to nitpick his shortcomings. Kind of like a college football or basketball player that stays in school, instead of going in the draft, and has a worse draft status a year later because scouts and media types pick him a part. As Jeter gets older, those shortcomings become more and more obvious.
One thing that has become synonymous with the Jeter narrative is he is the consummate baseball player. He’s part John Wayne, part Davy Crockett and part “Right Stuff” pilot. That’s why it was surprising to see him fake an injury, because it went against the Jeter narrative. Then again, some would say this is why he is the consummate baseball player, he did what he could to gain an advantage.
I don’t think what Jeter did was wrong, not at all, not in baseball terms. So what was my reaction? Well, I think what Jeter did was kind of … sad. Has he become so impotent as a hitter — do you realize the guy now has an 86 OPS+? — that now he’s willing to hop around and have trainers look at his forearm when the ball clearly did not hit him? That’s what Derek Jeter has become? And then afterward, he’s sheepishly defending the move by saying it’s his job to get on base, well, is that what’s behind the Derek Jeter aura? Is that what he has stood for all these years?

I think of the immortal words of Whitey Ford, who was well known in his later days for cutting the baseball: “I didn’t begin cheating until late in my career, when I needed something to help me survive.” I think that’s exactly right. There are very, very, very few people who bend the rules, push the limits, stray from good sportsmanship when they don’t have to do it. My favorite exchange in the movie Major League is a touching little scene where the old pitcher, Harris, talks about how sometimes he will put snot on the ball. Ricky Vaughn, the hard-throwing kid just out of prison, is disgusted.

Vaughn: “You put snot on the ball?”

Harris: “I haven’t got an arm like you kid. I have to put anything on it I can find. Someday you will too.”
11. The Big Zero (June 10, 2010) – I was curious to read what Joe thought of the conference realignment in college sports. While he has a national platform, Joe spent many years writing for The Kansas City Star. He would have a better perspective into the issues with the Big 12, and the allure of the Big Ten, than many of the national writers. There wouldn’t be taking the easy way with the post.
Of course, North-South tensions are just another by-product of the biggest factor. The biggest factor is money — and the simple truth is that even with all those Texas television sets, there’s simply more television money to be made per school in the Big Ten and Pac-10 and SEC. The latest numbers indicate that Big 12 schools made $8-to-$12 million this year in television money. The Big Ten will pay its schools closer to $20 million.

The Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe has been doing his best George Bailey in the Building & Loan speech — running around from school to school, promising a better television deal, asking everyone to just tighten their belts and hang in there, because better days are coming (“Aw, Tom, just enough to tide you over ’til the bank reopens!”). It’s no wonder that time ran out on that pipe dream. A few months ago, the first rumors began of Missouri going to the Big Ten. Then, the rumors changed course and suddenly it seemed that the Big Ten might want Missouri but it REALLY wanted Nebraska. And then the Pac-10 began courting Texas and whoever the Longhorns wanted to bring along for the ride.

And now, it looks like we can pull up a chair and watch the Big 12 implode. Colorado has already run off to join the Pac-10. Nebraska could join the Big Ten as early as Friday. Texas and its merry band of schools figure to bolt soon after that. Missouri officials will wait impatiently by the phone. And the Big 12, after only a few years of uneasy competition, will join the Big Eight in the ether of dead sports conferences.

10. The Indictment of Roger Clemens (August 19, 2010) – Maybe it’s due to me being a Red Sox fan, and a former Roger Clemens fan, but there was some satisfaction in seeing Roger’s lies finally catch up to him. He’s thrown everyone, including his wife, under the bus to protect himself. Who knows what happens with his life going forward, but I wonder if he’d trade the perception people have of him now with the course of action he’s undertaken the past few years.

In Clemens’ case, you have an unreliable accuser in McNamee, various unanswered questions, a famous defendant, what is certain to be an expensive legal defense team…

…but the question now is really not about innocence or guilt or potential jail time or even about how this seems a ludicrous waste of government time and money. The question is, Why? If Roger Clemens did use performance-enhancing drugs — as several people say he did and like so many players of his era did — then he could have come clean. People would have forgiven him, many people WANTED to forgive him. Does anybody care that his teammate and friend (and witness for the prosecution) Andy Pettitte used?

And if Roger Clemens DID NOT use PEDs, he could have quietly denied it, lived his life, the people who were inclined to believe him would have believed him, and the others, well, he wasn’t going to convince them anyway. He KNEW it. “No matter what we discuss here today, I am never going to have my name restored.”

Instead, he went to Congress. He said dubious things. He raised suspicion. He found his personal life unveiled for the tabloids. He inspired a government investigation. He got indicted. Now he will have to fight for his reputation and his freedom. Why? People say it’s because of his ego. People say it’s because he has to win. People say it’s because he believes in his innocence and he’s not just going to stand there and let people lie about him. People say it’s because pushing the envelope is just what he does — it is what made him a great and dominant pitcher. People say. But people don’t know. Nobody really knows.

9. Cheating and CHEATING (March 1, 2010) – We have a tendency to look fondly on the past, to remember the good while forgetting the bad. A bit of revisionist history we all do to some degree. This happens a lot in sports. The teams and players were better years ago, allegedly.

Joe uses Pete Hamill’s review of a book about Willie Mays as a jumping off point about cheating in baseball. It’s something that has always been part of the game, despite what some may say or think when attempting to laud the purity of the game from generations ago.
“Above all, the story of Willie Mays reminds us of a time when the only performance-enhancing drug was joy.”
– Pete Hamill

The above sentence — which concluded Pete Hamill’s New York Times review of James Hirsch’s excellent Willie Mays book — has been batted around a bit on the Internet the last few days. It has been batted around mainly because, well, with all due respect, it’s ridiculous. As more than one person cynically has written, and more than a few hundred cynically have thought: “I didn’t know that joy was another word for amphetamines.”

8. Best Players in Baseball (January 4, 2010) – I really enjoyed this post. Thoughtful, lots of data to support the findings, and I learned a thing or two about the best baseball players, during five year incrementals, over the past forty years. Ken Singleton, who knew? One of the goals of this post was to take a fresh look at players that often get overlooked because they played on losing teams, in small markets, or were forgotten for some other reason.
1975-79: Ken Singleton
Very Close: Schmidt, Dave Parker.
In the discussion: Morgan, George Brett, Rose.

Comment: There he is — Ken Singleton, best player in baseball. Wow. Now, to be fair, he’s only one Win Share ahead of Schmidt and three ahead of Parker — so really it’s about a three way tie.

Still, he is ahead. He is our official best player in baseball. This is why I really believe it’s important, as baseball fans, to look back at players with a fresh eye and new approaches. Because Ken Singleton was wildly under-appreciated. He punched up a 152 OPS+ from 1975-79 — second only to George Foster. But he got about 200 more plate appearances than Foster, and his on-base percentage was about 50 points higher.

If you had told people in 1979 that Ken Singleton was better — markedly better in many cases — than Parker or Jim Rice or Dave Winfield or Steve Garvey, they would have called you nuts. Many of them still would call you nuts. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Ken Singleton played in a low-scoring era and in a bad hitters ballpark. And he did the things that win games — he got on base, which leads to scoring runs, which leads to winning games. It was that way 1912, and in 1958 and in 1979 and today.

7. Genius of Messi (June 29, 2010) – Soccer is one of those sports I wish I had more time to follow. Due to my experiences in other countries,  I have a greater appreciation for the sport. I’ve been in other countries for two of the World Cups, which made following it even better.

Lionel Messi is one of the best in the beautiful game. I liked how the post highlighted the subtleties of his game. And, what took it over the top with me was the comparison to Tommie Frazier and what I think is the greatest run I’ve ever seen in a football game.

Here’s one more sport comparison for Messi: Some years ago, I was at the Nebraska-Florida Fiesta Bowl, and Tommie Frazier made that remarkable run where he broke six tackles and raced 75 yards for a touchdown. And what I remember most about it is that about eight or nine yards into the run, when four people had Frazier stopped, I looked down at my notebook to write something down. And it was only when I heard the crowd scream that I looked back up and realized that Frazier was still going.

That’s what it is to watch Messi throughout a game. He will be surrounded, completely blocked off, the play will seem ordinary, the action stopped, and your body reflexively relaxes. Nothing to see here. Only then, suddenly, you realize that Messi is still going, still has the ball in control, is still heading toward the goal, and then he will get off a pass to someone open or get off a shot that must have gone under someone’s legs or under their elbow or something. He does this absurd kind of thing multiple times in the game. And nobody else really does, not quite like him.

6. Jedi Knight of Hoops (May 26, 2010) – This post is about Paul Pierce, and it may be on the list solely because I’m a Celtics fan. Still, I think it provides great insight into Paul Pierce the player and person.

And now … he’s a Jedi. That’s all I think when I watch him. Pierce is nothing at all like that kid I watched play ball in Kansas. He barely jumps at all. He seems to be moving at glacial pace. He wears those high socks, and he has that weird facial hair that makes it look like he he was just about to finish shaving when he got a phone call, and he’s got the headband on, and except for the long shorts he looks like he walked out of 1974. He stops and pops, spins and ducks, pulls off that throw-out-the-arms move that makes referees call fouls. He gets to the lane without actually running by a defender. He gets free for open shots without a whole lot of effort. He plays tough defense without making a lot of steals or blocking a lot of shots. He hits shots with hands in his face and bodies blocking his chest.

Trooper: “Let me see your identification.”
Obi-Wan: “You don’t need to see his identification.”
Trooper: “We don’t need to see his identification.”
Obi-Wan: “These are not the droids you are looking for.”
Trooper: “These are not the droids we are looking for.”
Obi-Wan: “He can go about his business.”
Trooper: “You can go about your business.”

Yeah, it’s like that.

5. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (December 7, 2010) – Harry Potter, fatherhood, imagination, Bill James and kids.
My wife Margo is very much into such things, though, and she kept pushing me to read them, and I had my stock answer: “I will definitely read them when I run out of grown-up books.” This set piece of sarcasm did not dull her enthusiasm — she knows me too well, knows I wear down in the later rounds — and she kept hammering away at me to read the books, read the books, read the books.

And then Bill James came in for the kill. Bill, in the cliche of public opinion, seems a man without imagination or a sense of romance. He is, in public readings, the man who has turned baseball into a row of numbers. He has come to accept this as the price of being able to live a baseball life. But it has nothing at all with Bill James himself. When it comes to baseball, he loves the romance of the game more than anyone I know. He loves the way the grass smells, the way base runners go from first to third, the way pitchers kick at the dirt, the way the game’s history (and I mean the ENTIRE history going back into the earliest known moments of baseball in the 19th Century) plays on every current moment. He also doesn’t much like damn nonsense, and he will work numbers and create formulas to cut through. But that doesn’t cut into his love of baseball or of literature or Bob Dylan. People are never as simple as the cliche. Anyway, Bill suggested I read Harry Potter, and I always do what Bill tells me, so I started the first book, and two weeks later I had finished the first six and on the first day it was out I bought and read the seventh.

And this…

Elizabeth loves the Harry Potter books — and through her I love them even more. Every jolt, every laugh, every thrill, every annoyance I felt reading the book myself is magnified ten fold through Elizabeth. Every night (more or less) we read a chapter. And she falls for every literary trap. She comes out of those traps with her eyes wide open. She loves characters and despises them and is constantly surprised by them, which I think makes for the best sort of reading and also educational on an entirely different level from, say, history books or science books. She has learned through just the first three books that not all is what it seems, that bad is sometimes good, and good is sometimes bad, and that almost everything is neither good nor bad but instead a shade.

4. Duncan’s Place (March 29, 2010) – Sportswriters who say a certain team or player was the best because they say so can be annoying. Usually, this individual only watches that particular team or player. Usually, it’s a major market team or player. They don’t know really know of other players and teams because they don’t watch the games.

Earlier in the year, Joe wrote a story for Sports Illustrated about Tim Duncan. The story was about his admiration for Duncan. Near the end of the article, he called Duncan one of the ten best NBA players of all-time. Some seemed to have issue with this, particularly Dan Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy is a writer for the Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated. Shaughnessy’s main argument was that he’s seen other players and they were better.*

*This was the same rationale used by a lot of media types in New England to hype Jim Rice’s Hall of Fame prospects.

Tim Duncan doesn’t play an exciting brand of basketball, he is not know for his loquaciousness with the media, and he plays in San Antonio. Shaughnessy probably hasn’t watched him play as much as other players, due to his market, and doesn’t hear about him much because Duncan isn’t a quote machine.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions. If you say a particular player is better than another player, well, so be it. In some regard, I would hope a national writer could distinguish a favorite player from a best player.

If you are going to call out someone, nationally, on their well-researched and crafted story, and say they are wrong, then I’d hope you’d have something more to back it up with than “because I say so”.

Joe took to his blog to counter Shaughnessy in a way only Joe does.

Dan picks up on the theme today. He too lists off 10 players who have to on his Top 10 list … he added Shaq and Cousy to his list and removed Elgin Baylor and Julius Erving. He then listed off another dozen he decided to put ahead of Duncan — those two along with Kobe, Lebron, Olajuwon, Barkley, Karl Malone, Moses Malone (so Moses and Karl, but so far no Jeff Malone), Kevin McHale (Kevin McHale? Really? Over Duncan?), Pettit, Stockton and Isiah.

Look, there have been a lot of great players in NBA history … and those are some of the greatest. I think there are probably seven or eight guys who would be on just about everybody’s Top 10 list — Bird and Magic, Wilt and Russell, West and Robertson, Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan. After that, you have another few, as you can see above, who would battle for the final two spots.

But I think, once again, it’s just tempting to undersell Duncan. It’s tempting to undersell him because he just does the same thing every single year — 20-22 points, 10-12 rebounds, two blocked shots, first or second team All-NBA, first team All-Defensive. He has been Top 5 in defensive Win Shares every year (No. 1 four times), and top 10 in rebounds every year, and he always has been the best player on a team that has never won fewer than 53 games in a season.

3. The Charm of Modern Baseball (May 7, 2010) – Baseball is a lot like church in that you have a faction of people that will always say it was better years ago. They hate change with a vengeance. They’ll make statements that are accepted as fact by everyone, until you look closer.

Baseball will always have people longing for yesteryear. Joe does a good job of highlighting the great things in major league baseball right now, while acknowledging the tension with comparisons to the past.*

*He does bring up the undercurrent point that people have with baseball today, the length of the game. While it is sound strategy to wear down a pitching staff, I don’t have the time to sit through 162 four hour Red Sox games.

One of the best examples he uses in this post is not even baseball related. It’s about gymnastics and how the average sports fan views Nadia Comeneci. Yet, compare Comeneci’s perfect 10 routine with any routine today.

So, you total it all up — and we’re seeing the same number of hits we’ve ever seen — about nine per game on each side. We’re seeing the same number of walks we’ve ever seen. We’re seeing the same number of double plays we’ve ever seen. We’re seeing a few more doubles and a few less triples. We’re seeing more strikeouts and fewer outs to shortstop and second. We’re seeing more home runs. In my mind, we’re seeing the best battles between pitcher and catcher in the game’s history. We’re seeing a bit of a rebirth of the stolen base and a defensive something of a defensive Renaissance — every game seems to have dazzling defensive plays.

And … it’s great baseball. Sure, I wouldn’t mind if they sped it up a bit between pitches. I wouldn’t mind if hitters were not allowed to step out of the box after ever pitch for equipment shifting. I wouldn’t mind if managers didn’t make quite so many pitching changes. There are baseball games that drag and make me think, “Man, I wish baseball would be more like it was when I was a kid.” Baseball inspires us to look backward like that — and there’s nothing wrong with looking backward. There’s also nothing wrong with staying in the moment. Baseball is better than ever.

2. Being There With Greinke (December 16, 2010) – It seems weird to say you have a second favorite team. The Boston Red Sox have been my favorite baseball team for quite some time, yet over the past few years I’ve started following the Kansas City Royals more closely. This is due to some friends being Royals fans, and Omaha is home to one of their minor league affiliates. A big reason is because of Joe’s posts about the Royals.

You would think this would have the opposite effect, because he often writes about how bad the organization is. You have to look closer. Yes, there’s plenty of words written about how poorly the team plays and how the organization always seems to targeting a few years down the road. Within those posts are odes to Royals players that make following them fun.

The past few seasons, Joe has written a lot about Royals pitcher Zack Greinke. Greinke is a Cy Young award winner, but more synonymous with him is his diagnosis of social anxiety disorder. He has been diagnosed and judged by a few million sports fans around America. In our uneducated opinions, we think we know what is best for Greinke. Joe’s post flips the script of what’s been said about Greinke, and I think it is spot on.

Greinke craves pressure. I have seen it. I have listened to him talk about it. He craves big games. He hasn’t had many. You could make an argument that he hasn’t had ANY. I remember in 2006 when he came back to baseball, he was sent down to Class AA Wichita to be a reliever and to get his head together. And he found that he LOVED it. Yes, it was partly because he liked the bullpen (where he could pitch more often) and it was partly because he was on his medication and no longer felt quite so gray. But perhaps the biggest part of it was that the Wichita team was good. They were in a pennant race. The games mattered. When the Royals wanted to call him up to pitch for a third straight 100-loss team, Greinke found that he really wanted to stay in Wichita, where the action was happening.

Throughout his career, he has been at his best in April (before the Royals fall out of contention) and in September (when he can feel the season coming to an end). He probably deserved to start the 2009 All-Star Game, at least based on the way he pitched in the first half, but instead Roy Halladay started. Greinke pitched the fourth inning. He threw 10 pitches, eight strikes, and got a foul pop-up and two strikeouts. Absurdly small sample size? You betcha. But when you pitch for the Royals, and you are trying to find meaningful moments, there aren’t any big sample sizes.

I don’t know how Zack Greinke would do in New York or Chicago or any other big market. How could I know? But when I see people question his toughness or his psyche — either in direct words on Twitter or, infinitely more annoying, in read-between-the-lines quotes and stories — I guess they don’t know him any better than I do. If I had to pick the hardest place in baseball for Zack Greinke to pitch it would be … in Kansas City, with a dreadful defense behind him, with little run support, with little hope of contending now or anytime soon. I would guess that’s why Greinke last year, after playing the good soldier for so long (and signing a club-friendly contract), came out and said he didn’t want to go through another youth movement. He’s been through enough youth movements.

1. Jacobellis (February 17, 2010) – A good perspective on the manufactured drama of Lindsey Jacobellis, her “potential redemption”, and her “failure” to medal at the Winter Olympics.

Yes, many people wanted to attach some kind of larger meaning to the Jacoblunder. And this was especially true when Jacobellis refused to turn her crash into human tragedy. “Silver’s pretty good,” she said at one point during her post-race teleconference, and also “Snowboarding is fun.” She, apparently, had seen her bit of hot-dogging as a goofy mistake rather than some betrayal of her sports’ integrity. She did not even seem to think her sport HAD integrity, or at least not that kind. She was then caught off guard when the media questioning turned harsh. She did not seem to know that, in the majority media view, she had let down herself and she had let down her country. She had blown her chance at glory. As the questions attacked her like body punches, she was jolted to the core. The press conference ended abruptly when Jacobellis, knocked down by the force of the questioning, broke down in tears.
And this…

Lindsey Jacobellis did not get into snowboardcross because of some Olympic dream. No, she got into snowboardcross because it was fun and wild and on the mountain she could express herself. Just because the Olympics added snowboardcross (and the half-pipe and moguls and all the rest) doesn’t suddenly change the complexion of these sports. Showing off isn’t a side effect of snowboardcross. It’s the POINT of snowboardcross. Winning is fine, but leaving them awed is the goal.

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