Marlins Comeback, Irrational Fears and Rick Camp

Try and understand my irrational habit involving MLB specifically, and local team affiliations in general. I enjoy following, listening, but not always watching, MLB’s Florida Marlins. I also enjoy the emphasis in the field of economics which assumes that human behavior is rational and based on incentives and trying to find that logic in everyday activities. Fandom and efficient use of my time has long represented one of those RAM-memory eating concerns which David Allen tells me to write down and figure out the next action step to resolve.

But the now vicious habit — whose inculcation began through an old Zenith radio [it’s not the one pictured, but close] which I now equate to the method of attacking civilization in Stephen King’s novel, ‘Cell’ — had idyllic origins [don’t they all?] in the early 1970’s, as I sat by myself and carefully calibrated the radio dial to pick up WKAT-AM which carried the Atlanta Braves games. My favorite scenario was when they were on the road to play the LA Dodgers, as I had the kitchen to myself with no pesky human witnesses to impede my assault on the fridge [the roaches were unamused]. That’s two more bad habits if you’re keeping count, so let me confine this post to just one and not digress.

The habit which began next to that radio was cemented on cable television in the early morning hours of July 5th 1985. The glorious baseball game which began with and endured two hours of rain delays, lasted an actual six hours, ended at 4 am, had a player hit for the cycle and saw the Atlanta Braves hit two two-out game-tying home runs in extra innings. Afterwards, the Braves stadium people, clearly in a sleep-deprived decision-making mode, went ahead and emptied out their fireworks, which resulted in numerous 911 calls in the Atlanta area.

The second of those two-out home runs was hit by a middle relief pitcher who had the worst career batting average of any active MLB player when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 18th inning, his name was Rick Camp. Camp hit the home run on an 0-2 count. Often, when I hear one of those jokes about people wasting their Genie-granted wishes on less than miraculous things, I think of that home run.

I was watching and I knew I had just seen one of the most amazing sports-related things ever. But it must have been around 3:30 am, there was no one who I could turn to or call. I walked outside my Little Havana house on the possibility that there was someone else watching who needed to have another human being confirm what they had just seen. There was no one and besides that, I was quickly reminded that I didn’t live in the safest of neighborhoods.

What I saw when I walked back inside made this the greatest game ever. The Mets scored 5 runs in the top of the 19th inning. Now I know the Camp 18th inning home run is the main thing here, so if the game had ended with the Braves going 3-up and 3-down, it’s still gotta be one of the top 5 games ever, no doubt. But what happened next makes it #1 and if you disagree you’re probably the type of person who thinks public employee unions are a good thing for democracy.

The Braves had two outs with a runner on second. Then, walk, walk, single and the tying run comes up to the plate in the person of Rick Camp. Again an 0-2 count. This time he strikes out. I was standing up and not breathing during his at-bat. Greatest game ever, case closed.

The unproductive activity I alluded to earlier is watching or listening to the end of sporting events involving teams I root for which will almost certainly [98% probability] result in defeat, i.e. I’m not even counting close or interesting games. The irrational fear is the fear of missing any comeback. Missing any comeback is annoying, missing a great comeback is anathema. Fortunately, I have only one other irrational [plenty of rational ones] fear in life, that is being outside of Miami the day Fidel Castro suffers a violent and agonizing [OK, … any kind of] death.

Recently the Marlins had one of those comebacks against the Arizona Diamondbacks. It was a comeback on steroids with 14 unanswered runs, culminated with a 10-run eight inning. It was the 3rd time in MLB history that a team had come from 7 runs down and won by at least 7 runs. I missed the comeback. I didn’t just miss it, I missed it in the most egregious of manners. I gave up on the game based on the time and score [down 7 in the 5th]. I turned my back on what may be the highlight of the season for what? A little extra sleep?

The shame.

Emilio Bonifacio and his Selectively Tough Critics

After “Michael Jackson,” the phrase “why is Emilio Bonifacio playing everyday” was the most popular worldwide search term in Google last week. Or maybe it just seems that way. Earlier in the week, Juan Rodriguez’s Sun-Sentinel blog basically told Marlins fans, ‘you may wanna back off, Bonifacio might not be going anywhere.’ That blog post made sense because Bonifacio has become the favorite target of local sports talk shows callers [no doubt only temporarily supplanting Freddi Gonzalez, who is filing in ably for Randy Shannon until football season begins]. I was going to describe those callers as hyper-critical and illogical, but since I already noted that they called sports radio shows, that would be redundant.

Later in the week, Dave Hyde weighed in with a balanced take on Bonifacio, pointing out positives, for example how his OBP has improved by month. However, the negative crescendo reached its peak with Joe Sheehan from Baseball Prospectus on the Jonathan Zaslow radio show on Friday. Joe really doesn’t like Emilio. I believe the nicest thing he said was that ‘Bonifacio really wasn’t really a MLB player.’ I enjoy the analytical approach which sites like Baseball Prospectus have opened up to us fans. But in listening to Sheehan, the limits of statistical analysis, or more accurately, the limitation of statistical analysis without imagination, became evident.

What’s the point in just saying that Bonifacio’s OBP and OPS need to improve? If you say it with enough invective does it become more interesting? The real questions worth analyzing are whether Bonifacio can be expected to improve or how long the Marlins can afford to continue to play someone with his current level of stats. Clearly the Marlins believe he will improve [as he has begun to do so already]. Those who say that Bonifacio should not be playing are in effect stating that he will not improve. Based on what? Do they discount the improvement he has already shown? Are they aware that many good players struggled early in their careers?

I had a post where I discussed Dan Uggla’s performance by month during his first 3 seasons and made certain assumptions based on that [namely that if the Marlins were to trade him, they should do so right after the month of June]. If someone had replied that 3 years was not enough of a track record to assume how he would perform in his 4th or 5th seasons, I think that would be a fair point to make, especially if someone could back it up with examples.

That is the area that I expected someone from Baseball Prospectus to get into. But that’s not what Sheehan did [it took me a while to realize that he wasn’t just another angry white man from Aventura]. I looked up Bonifacio’s stats, he has 500 MLB at bats. In those 500 at bats, Bonifacio has walked way too little and struck out way too much, but are Bonifacio’s critics saying that after 500 at bats, you pretty much know what type of MLB hitter someone can be?

That doesn’t make sense to me. Even my late night cursory look at other 2B revealed that Brian Roberts had a similar poor start to his career — perhaps not coincidentally when Roberts was 23 & 24 years old — check out their stats at the beginning of their careers:

Bonifacio: 500 AB / .244 AVG / .296 OBP / .310 SLG

Roberts: 401 AB / .244 AVG / .294 OBP / .327 SLG

Also, keep in mind the following facts about Emilio Bonifacio:

  • He is 24 years-old.
  • He is really fast.
  • This is his 3rd organization in 3 years. In practical terms, he’s worked for 3 different bosses, 3 different management teams, while living in 3 different cities / homes.
  • Bonifacio is learning a new position at the MLB level, 3B.
  • The Marlins baseball operations — widely regarded for their ability to compete with minimal payrolls — believe enough in Bonifacio to have traded for him and then stuck with him through major struggles.
  • He’s hitting just 4 points less than Jeremy Hermida.
  • He is really, really fast.

I love stats. But the type of people who used those stats to beat up on players without also conveying that they are just guessing about the prospects of that player’s development — a guess, by the way, which is at odds with the collective opinion of Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Freddi Gonzalez — strike me as just a cut above a fan yelling obscenities at the ballpark, especially when they avoid criticizing someone like Beinfest with the same amount of intensity.

The reason I equate the two is that just like I assume that fans who specialize in obscenity-laced tirades at the ballpark would never speak that way, especially without the alcohol, face to face to the athlete. Similarly, analysts or commentators who go after someone like Bonifacio, rarely attack those ultimately responsible for putting him in the lineup [i.e. Larry Beinfest] with the same amount of gusto. The reason they don’t in the case of Beinfest, is that he has a very good reputation [and memory, no doubt] in MLB. As such, those who pull their punches when it comes to those who are putting Bonifacio in the lineup, are glorified bullies in my book.

They represent a new set of MLB powers that be, armed with too many spreadsheets and too little humility. If they ever get tired of baseball, they probably would fit right into Washington DC. To paraphrase Nick Carraway, I think ‘they’re a rotten crowd, the whole damn bunch put together.’

A Catholic Man

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