Bob Schwartz

Category: Baseball

The Weird Randomness of Life

The Catcher in the Rye

I went to the gym this morning for my regular morning workout. The TV was on, but nobody was there. I saw that the remote control was gone. I climbed on a chair, pushed the power button and turned the TV off.

On further search for the remote, I discovered a handbag on the seat of stationery bike. I didn’t want to pry, but I peeked in to see if the remote had ended up there. Instead, I saw a copy of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Are people still reading The Catcher in the Rye? They should and apparently they are. It is a great and famous novel. Once upon a time controversial, when it was published in 1951, because Salinger included the word “fuck” multiple times.

After this novel, another novel, and a book of stories, Salinger disappeared, like the remote control. He is considered the most reclusive and mysterious of contemporary fiction writers. W.P. Kinsella included a character based on Salinger in his novel Shoeless Joe, which became a character in the movie version Field of Dreams. The character in the movie is played by James Earl Jones, a big black man with a booming voice. Salinger was a white Jewish man, as far as we can tell regular size and regular voice.

In high school, I wrote a book report on The Catcher in the Rye, one that was supposed to be read aloud. The English teacher was one of those young, hip women, so I thought it would be alright. I was a little concerned about some of the quotes, specifically the ones that included the word “fuck.” In that class was a girl who was a friend, not a girlfriend, who read it before class and urged me to read it just as it was. She was a popular and cool girl, but mostly I wanted to seem cool to her because she was pretty and had really big breasts.

So I read the report out loud. This is one of the passages I read. The confused and questioning adolescent Holden Caulfield says:

I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another “Fuck you” on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn’t come off. It’s hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “Fuck you” signs in the world. It’s impossible.

I wasn’t particularly confused, but I was punished. Someone in the class took offense and told the principal. I was called down to his office, and despite his liking me a lot and despite my record as a star student, he believed some sort of sanction for my indiscretion was necessary. The sentence was that my entry into the National Honor Society was to be delayed one year.

If I had it to do all over again, I would know that none of this mattered. I read the book, still love it, and maybe my book report led someone else to read it. If I was somebody else, then or now, I might have said something to the principal that was clever and super-meta, such as “Go fuck yourself.” I didn’t and wouldn’t.

On the other hand, if I go down to the gym tomorrow, and still can’t find it, I might say to myself—only to myself and not out loud—“Where’s the fucking remote?”

Books: W.P. Kinsella

The Essential W.P. Kinsella

The writer W.P. Kinsella has died at the age of 81. He is most famous as the author of the novel Shoeless Joe, which was turned into the beloved baseball movie Field of Dreams. (The book is infinitely better.)

That was only a small part of his work. He wrote many other books and stories, some about baseball, some about indigenous Canadians on the reserve (reservation), and others. All his work was by parts unique and charming and funny, filled with a lot of magic, because Kinsella was such a gifted literary magician.

I looked for an obituary to quote that didn’t spend most of its time talking about Field of Dreams. Not many of those. I also looked for an obituary that didn’t mention his personal life, which seems to have been untidy and ragged in some ways, as he apparently could be a difficult person, as talented artists are wont to be. He may have been difficult, but reading his work is easy, so what does it matter, at least to readers?

Many of his books appear to be out of print, as interest in his work has faded. His death has brought him more attention than he had for years, which is the way it goes. The good news is that last year a collection of his stories was published. Here is the publisher’s description of The Essential W.P. Kinsella:

This career retrospective celebrates the 80th birthday of baseball’s greatest scribe, W. P. Kinsella (Shoeless Joe), as well as the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams, the film that he inspired.

In addition to his classic baseball tales, W. P. Kinsella is also a critically-acclaimed short fiction writer. His satiric wit has been celebrated with numerous honors, including the Order of British Columbia.

Here are his notorious First Nation narratives of indigenous Canadians, and a literary homage to J. D. Salinger. Alongside the “real” story of the 1951 Giants and the afterlife of Roberto Clemente, are the legends of a pirated radio station and a hockey game rigged by tribal magic.

Eclectic, dark, and comedic by turns, The Essential W. P. Kinsella is a living tribute to an extraordinary raconteur.

And from a starred review in Publishers Weekly:

The career of the incomparable Kinsella is beautifully represented by these 31 short stories, including, of course, “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa,” the haunting tale of a baseball fan’s obsession with a long-dead star that was developed into a bestselling novel and then the film Field of Dreams. Other charming baseball fantasies include “The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record,” in which a fan agrees to sacrifice himself to bring back the recently dead Yankees star Thurman Munson, and “Searching for January,” which concerns an encounter with the deceased Roberto Clemente. Alongside these stories are several more realistic and mostly gentle satires, such as “The Fog,” that present the escapades of several indefatigable members of Canada’s First Nations. “The Grecian Urn” concerns a couple who can inhabit the interior worlds of great works of art. “K Mart” is the touching tale of three boys who use baseball to escape from their unhappy lives. Kinsella is a masterly writer of short fiction.

If you love good writing, please give W.P. Kinsella a read.

Baseball: The Green Fields of the Mind

The Major League Baseball season begins this weekend.

I’ve read, written and talked about baseball almost as passionately as about anything else in my life. Baseball people understand. Others may not.

Looking for something else to say besides what I’ve said before, including in this blog, I’ve decided instead to repeat myself. Or, to be precise, to repeat my repeating what somebody else said.

The fifth post on this blog was four years ago, just as that baseball season was beginning. The post, replicated here, speaks for itself. Even if you’re just a fan of life and not of baseball, there is something for you here.


A. Bartlett Giamatti was the president of Yale University and, for a brief time until his untimely death in 1989, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Besides his commitment to baseball, Giamatti was a man of letters who left behind some remarkable writing about the game. None is more moving and famous than his short essay The Green Fields of the Mind.

On the occasion of a new baseball season, here is an excerpt. Whoever you root for, whatever the season or the game – baseball, politics, art, religion, business, love, life – it offers hard to accept wisdom and the semi-sweet opposite of comfort:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops…

It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised…

And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

Ken Griffey Jr. in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Ken Griffey Jr.

You probably don’t care that much about baseball. And I’ve been writing less and less about it, though it remains by far the greatest of our popular team sports, even if football has sort of taken over as America’s game. More’s the pity, as we seem to have chosen brute force in the service of skill and strategy over grace and talent actually forbidden to collide or be gratuitously aggressive.

Ken Griffey Jr. is going to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The official announcement will come late today. There will be plenty of stories to explain why and what it means, and you might enjoy reading a few of them.

He was known as Junior, in part to distinguish him from his baseball-player father, Ken Griffey Sr. If a son ever exceeded his father, exceeded even the highest expectations, and exceeded just about everybody else who played the game, Junior is it.

Read the stats. Watch the videos. And remember that just before baseball was mired in lies and controversies about stars succeeding by using performance enhancing drugs, there were a few actual supermen who did it themselves. Those who could do it all, including possessing the perfect swing. Junior was a cultural hero because he was both incredibly talented (literally, you couldn’t believe it) and so very cool. Actually, he was more like a cross between Superman and Batman.

It is uplifting to know that in this world there are such people.

Life Lessons from the End of the Regular Baseball Season

MLB Standings
The 162 games of the regular Major League Baseball season are over. Now the League Championship Series begin. For those who don’t care about baseball—or who think it a stupid waste of time—some generalized random thoughts about life lessons we can learn.

Cleveland Indians: The Indians closed the season with a ten-game winning streak. 10-0. That itself is a big deal. A bigger deal is that it came at the end of the season and kept them in the running for a spot in the playoffs.

Life Lesson: Winning streaks are good, well-timed winning streaks are better.

Boston Red Sox: Up until 2004, the Red Sox were one of the two legendary non-winners of World Series (Chicago Cubs are the other). Some attributed this to their selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. Prior to that, the Red Sox were one of baseball’s great teams. After, the so-called Curse of the Bambino took over. They did get their mojo back, winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007, and having another great season this time around, with a 97-65 record—the best in baseball.

Life Lesson 1: Hang in there.

Life Lesson 2: There is no Curse of the Bambino.

Miami Marlins: The Marlins have the strangest history of any modern expansion team, maybe of any major league team at all. A rich guy owned them when they began in 1993. He bought a lot of talent, which led to their winning a World Series in 1997. He got rid of all the high-priced players before the next season, and so the World Champions had a record of 54-78. He sold the team to another rich guy, who would later own the Boston Red Sox. Before leaving, that rich guy set the stage for another World Series win in 2003. The current rich guy, who had previously owned a team that is now defunct, bought the Marlins just before that championship. He has subsequently changed his approach to baseball every year in a style that can be described as either whimsical or self-serving. To entice the leaders of South Florida to spend hundreds of millions on a new ballpark, he beefed up the team with lots of expensive talent for the 2012 season. He got the park, but the talent fizzled there, with a record of 69-93. He got rid of the talent, went for cheap and mostly untried young players, and the Marlins finished this season at 62-100. The most infamous upshot of his profitable penny-pinching was trading Miguel Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers in 2007, because he knew he could never pay what Cabrera might one day be worth. Cabrera is now almost certainly the greatest hitter of his generation, so it may not be the Curse of the Miguelito, but it’s close.

Life Lesson 1: When Eve complained to her nemesis in the Garden of Eden, the legless one who convinced her to break bad, the reply was simple: What are you complaining about? You knew all along that I was a snake.

Life Lesson 2: It’s all fun and games, but business is business. Not being cynical, just realistic. Whether you’re a fan of politics or music or baseball or whatever, enjoy the show, but don’t forget that.

How to Innovate: Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t

Willie Keeler

Here’s a bit of advice on innovation from baseball great Willie Keeler, who played in the majors from 1892 to 1910.

Batters usually hit to the field on the side of the plate they bat from. Right-handed batters stand on the left side of the plate and usually hit to left field. This is known as pull hitting. Some batters can time their swing so that they can hit to the opposite field—that is, right handers to right field—and this is appropriately known as hitting to the opposite field. In either case, when fielders know the tendency of the batter, they can be positioned to best catch the ball.

The greatest batters can hit the ball wherever they want, leaving fielders having to guess and work for every out, and leaving those hitters with awesome statistics.

Keeler was one of those greats. He was called “Wee Willie” because he was only 5’4-1/2” tall and weighed 140 pounds. That did not stop him from compiling a .341 career batting average (14th all time), hitting over .300 16 times in 19 seasons, and hitting over .400 once. If you’re not a baseball person, just trust that this is really good.

How did he do it?

He advised keeping the ball away from opposing fielders. “Keep your eye clear, and hit ’em where they ain’t.”

So if you are starting or renewing a business, starting or renewing a career, no matter how “wee” you think you are, take it from someone who knew. Hit ‘em where they ain’t.

Detroit: Motown and Corvettes and Tigers, Oh My!

Stingray 1963

Sometimes the best way to tell a story is not to tell it. The news about Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy, the biggest ever in America, is like that. Others will tell it at length. Sometimes the best way is to offer a few items that are interesting and related, and let readers and listeners make the connections, draw the lines, complete the picture.

Just in case your dot-connecting doesn’t make it clear, the story of Detroit’s bankruptcy is the biggest American story of the day, and possibly one of the biggest in many years. It is bigger than the story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, bigger than last fall’s story of the rich son of a former Michigan governor disastrously running for President (and loving those Michigan trees, though not Detroit), bigger than the continuing economic malaise, but related to all of them.

Fifty years ago, in July 1963, Motown Records, Hitsville U.S.A., released the single Heat Wave by Martha and the Vandellas. It reached #4 on the Billboard Top 100, but did top the R&B chart. Like so many Motown records, who cares about the numbers? Motown is some of the best pop music ever produced in America. Want proof? Just play Heat Wave, or other irresistible tracks by the Vandellas, the Temps, the Tops, or put on another Motown single from fifty years ago that did go to #1, the astonishing Fingertips (Part 2) by 11-year-old phenomenon Little Stevie Wonder. Motown founder Berry Gordy was not just a model of black entrepreneurship in a white country, at a time when black voting rights had still not been established, but was the model for some of the hugest entertainment moguls in the world, including Jay-Z. But that was fifty years ago in Detroit.

Fifty years ago, the Corvette Stingray was introduced. Edmunds not only rates it the best Corvette of all time; it says “A full half-century after its debut, the 1963 Corvette coupe remains one of the most alluring automotive designs ever conceived.” The ad above shows an airline pilot in Los Angeles (back when being a pilot was super-special manly, and LA was the city of the future) ogling the new Stingray. He was envying the Motor City vision. But that was fifty years ago.

This very day, as the second half of baseball season begins, the Detroit Tigers are one of the best teams in baseball, with maybe the best pitcher (Max Scherzer) and certainly the best hitter (Miguel Cabrera), who may be on his way to becoming the first player to win consecutive Triple Crowns. Detroit fans appreciate this, and have been showing up for home games at a solid pace, about 37,000 a game—equal to the attendance for the Los Angeles Angels and way more than the 17,000 fans per game that show up in “ultra cool” Miami.

Saying that Detroit will be back from beyond the brink isn’t just wishful thinking. The idea that Detroit can fail but that everybody else in America will be alright is all wrong. The 17th century poet John Donne said it:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

And if you don’t go for old poetry that you hated in high school, and would rather forget the troubles of Detroit and the world, Motown has lots to offer, especially on a sweltering July day.

Whenever I’m with him
Something inside starts to burning
And I’m filled with desire
Could it be a devil in me
Or is this the way love’s supposed to be?

It’s like a heat wave, burning in my heart
I can’t keep from crying, it’s tearing me apart

The Year Begins with Baseball

Mom Marlins
The New Year finally begins. It is Opening Day for Major League Baseball.

Non-baseball people are turning away with a lack of interest or understanding. Even non-sports people know that football long ago took over as America’s pastime. The Super Bowl v. the World Series? Who are you kidding? When’s the last time the Rolling Stones performed at a World Series halftime. (Note: There is no halftime in baseball. Just a brief break known as the seventh inning stretch, where we sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame, not a Stones song.)

If baseball has somehow been eclipsed, it may be symptomatic. Whatever it is that has made football more popular than baseball might not be such a good thing. There are tomes by eminent scholars written about this. The time element alone is telling. Those leaning towards short attention spans and busy lives like football because something is always happening and it is time-constrained by a clock. For non-baseball fans, there are long stretches where nothing seems to be going on in a baseball game, except most of the players just standing around. Games can theoretically go on forever, and sometimes they seem to, exceeding five hours. Once again the chorus asks: Who are you kidding?

George Carlin, one of the sharptest and funniest observers of American life, focused on the differences between baseball and football. You can read the complete text and listen to a recording. Here’s an excerpt:

Baseball and football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.

I enjoy comparing baseball and football:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle….

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap….

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice….

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! I hope I’ll be safe at home!

There are dozens of books containing art, poetry and writing about baseball. The other sports may have some, but not of the quantity or the caliber of these. As pointed out before, and it will be pointed out again, for a brief moment in the late 1980s, cut tragically short by illness, A. Bartlett Giamatti was the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. Bart Giamatti was the President of Yale University, a professor of literature, and a writer of note. When and only when the NFL, NBA, NHL, or any other sports league decides to appoint a person of equal credentials as their commissioner, then and only then will it be worth having a conversation about the big picture relative merits.

Bart Giamatti also wrote the quintessential essay about baseball. The Green Fields of the Mind is written not about Opening Day, but about the last day of the season for his beloved Boston Red Sox in 1977. He didn’t live to see that one of baseball’s most hapless teams would go on to become a championship powerhouse years later.

The essay is a poetic take not only on the refrain of baseball fans everywhere—“wait until next year”—but on the way that refrain works in our lives. It reflects the progress from the hopes of spring to the dimming of prospects in the fall, but only in the meantime. There is no justice in an excerpt of it, but here is one anyway:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.…

That is why it breaks my heart, that game–not because in New York they could win because Boston lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to the Yankees of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

Finally, a rare personal note. Many, many families have memories tied up with sports. I am no exception. Those memories aren’t important because the game is, just as the game isn’t important because of the memories. They are just tied up in a package that you open on occasions. Opening Day is one of them. Above is a photo of my Mom, a few years before she passed away. She is watching a Marlins game. As Bart Giamatti wrote, “there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts.”

That’s another reason we love baseball and are happy it is Opening Day again.

MLB.com At Bat App

MLB-At-Bat-Splashscreen
About the game of baseball, you cannot say enough great things. No matter how many players in other sports wear John 3:16 eye black or bend a celebratory knee in devotion, baseball is the sport God invented and intended for great athletes to play—proven, among other evidence, by the 60 feet from home to first that is the perfect balance between the speed of a running batter and the speed of a ball thrown from shortstop. Proven also by that fact that very few stars in those other sports have succeeded at baseball, including the greatest of all basketball players, Michael Jordan. If baseball is God’s game, the curve ball is God’s wicked joke.

About the business of baseball, it is more equivocal. As with all sports, teams face daunting changes as the financial stakes have grown exponentially. Some teams have handled the challenge with professionalism, skill and finesse, and with respect for the game, for players, and most of all for fans. With other teams, the terms self-interested and heedless of baseball’s best interests may apply. Right now, a number of Florida fans consider Miami Marlins owner Jeff Loria the poster person for that.

About Major League Baseball, the enterprise overlord that oversees all this, there is even more equivocation. Most of that is centered on the Commissioner. Just as historians talk about the evolution of the Imperial Presidency, the Imperial Commisionership grew out the infamous Black Sox Scandal in 1919, when players on the White Sox were accused of throwing the World Series. The next year, federal judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was appointed Commissioner to take control, and ever since, the Commissioner has served an increasingly central role in the fortunes (metaphorically and literally) of the game.

The best modern Commissioner, who combined the myth and poetry of baseball with its down and dirty aspects, was Bart Giamatti, whose tenure was truncated by his untimely death. Giamatti knew how to manage huge and venerable institutions as president of Yale, but also understood the soul of the sport as a writer and a passionate lover of baseball. The current long-time Commissioner, Bud Selig, is more controversial, and a bit less generally beloved or respected in some quarters. Selig is no poet, nor was meant to be, but some knowledgeable fans also believe that as the game both succeeded and suffered over the past decades, he was a catalyst for both.

Whether or not you are a fan of the Commissioner, or of the direction MLB is taking, or of the direction your particular team is taking, it is time to give credit where it’s due.

Baseball fans are as fanatic as any—some might say more than any—in delving into the details, past and present. Once upon a time, that might have meant reading the Sporting News, especially as spring training for a new season began. Then magazines began popping up, and then fantasy leagues, and then more magazines to inform the fantasy leagues.

But nothing beats the comprehension and immediacy of digital for any special interest, and baseball is no different. The very thought of having a mobile app to feed your baseball addiction is almost too much to bear. The sad news, though, is that with one grand exception, baseball is not yet successfully mobile. Typical for the mobile realm, there’s a bunch of junk and some almost-decent efforts.

The exception: love, hate or question MLB, you have to admit that the free MLB.com At Bat mobile app is a model of how to serve a universe of fanatics. (As an extension of their online offerings, there are paid premium versions that include live games.) Scoreboard, standings, players, teams, rosters, news—it is all there, in an admirably usable and appealing form. They keep working at it too, with a major overhaul just as spring training began. It is not perfect, but it will do until something better comes along.

If you are a real baseball fan, married to the game, you have reasons to complain and moan about MLB even as you are ecstatically thankful for your bliss. Set aside whatever those complaints are and here, as another season begins,  consider downloading the MLB.com At Bat mobile app today.

Permissions and Privacy: Medium

As with all mobile apps, please read carefully the Permissions requested by the developer. Users should be diligent in weighing potential privacy issues against the utility and value of an app.

More Proof That Baseball Is Better Than Politics


The political polling analyst Nate Silver is something of a hero, both for his accurate predictions and for his amazingly clear explanation of the statistics that lead to his seemingly prescient conclusions. To paraphrase Barack Obama talking about Bill Clinton’s ability to make complex budget math simple, Nate Silver should be the Secretary of Explaining Things statistical.

Those of us who have followed Nate’s career, even before the New York Times made him and his Five Thirty Eight blog a must-read fixture, know that his roots are not in politics but in the art and science of baseball stats. That’s why it was wonderful to see him switch gears yesterday from the election to the most contentious baseball argument of the moment: who should be this year’s American League Most Valuable Player, an award voted on by the Baseball Writers of America?

To make this basic for non-baseball fans, two players in the league had historic, exceptional seasons. Miguel Cabrera, playing for the pennant-winning but World Series-losing Detroit Tigers, was the first player in forty-five years to win the Triple Crown, leading the league in Batting Average, Runs Batted In and Home Runs. Twenty-year-old Los Angeles Angels rookie Mike Trout not only had one of the best first seasons ever (unanimously winning Rookie of the Year award), he had one of the best seasons period. Of the so-called five tools (hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning, throwing and fielding), few players of his age have ever exhibited such an array of gifts.

Yesterday, the Major League Baseball Network convened a conclave of baseball experts for a one-hour debate on the matter; that’s how significant it is (at least to lovers of the game). And yesterday Nate posted The Statistical Case Against Cabrera for M.V.P.

The point here is neither Nate’s argument nor the merits of the debate (Cabrera will most likely win, though the best outcome, given how micrometer-close it is, would be for a shared award). The point is that soon after the blog post, hundreds of comments arrived. Not just a few interesting comments mixed with uninformed, borderline psychotic rants, as we’ve come to expect from political posts. This was an amazing collection of intelligent, articulate, deeply researched responses, offering perspectives that even the most attentive fan might not have considered.

That’s why we are happy that Nate returned, at least for the moment, to baseball. And that’s why baseball is, inarguably, better than politics.