Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we will be discussing the Mets’ new ace, a young slugger called Big City, and “42.” With the season being a mere two weeks old, all the standard small-sample-size disclaimers apply. With that out of the way, let’s dive in.
Who’s Hot: Matt Harvey, New York Mets
I mentioned Harvey in last week’s Triple Play. He’s only gotten better. Two weeks into the season, Harvey is thrilling fantasy owners with a 3-0 record, 0.81 ERA, 0.54 WHIP and 25 strikeouts (compared with just six walks in 22 innings). While he obviously won’t continue this pace, Harvey is showing enough dominance to help Mets fans forget R.A. Dickey. Harvey’s composure on the mound has to be exciting for Mets fans, especially when you realize that he just turned 24 in March. As an added bonus for fantasy owners, Harvey will not be pitching this week at Coors Field. That’s almost as good as another victory in itself.
Who’s Not: Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins
Hicks earned the starting CF job for the Twins with a sizzling spring, during which he hit .370 with 18 RBI and 18 runs scored. This led to hope that the 23-year-old would be an effective table-setter in front of Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham. The regular season has been a disaster for Hicks. Through his first 10 games, Hicks has whiffed 20 times and batted a ghastly .047. Worse, Hicks got himself in manager Ron Gardenhire’s doghouse due to a lack of hustle on a routine pop-up (that was dropped by Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain). It’s nothing new for a young player to start off cold, but a lack of hustle is the surest way for Hicks to find himself back in the minors. He is fortunate that the Twins lack decent alternatives. As a fantasy owner, though, you should not hesitate to drop him if there are better options sitting on your waiver wire.
Playing the Name Game
Player A: .233/.277/.372, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 runs, 0 SB, 43 AB
Player B: .643/.667/1.214, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 5 runs, 0 SB, 17 AB
Player A is the Phillies’ Ryan Howard. Player B is St. Louis’ Matt “Big City” Adams. In addition to having a great nickname, Adams is having a great impact on the Cardinals. In just 14 at-bats (entering Sunday), Adams has punished opposing pitchers, while Howard continues to struggle at the plate. He was one of the players on my “do not touch with a 10-foot-pole” list when my auctions before the season. Adams, meanwhile, is adjusting to major-league pitching just fine, thank you. Actually, Adams’ situation right now reminds me of Howard’s situation with the Phillies in the mid-2000s. Each player had bashed his way through the minors and had an established first baseman blocking his path. In Philadelphia, it was Jim Thome. In St. Louis, Allen Craig is entrenched at first. Fortunately, the Cards have the luxury of using Craig to spell Carlos Beltran in right field, thus allowing Adams to start two or three times a week. If he keeps hitting this way, though, Adams is going to force his way into the lineup more regularly. What a wonderful “problem” for the Cardinals (and fantasy owners) to have.
Player A: 0-1, 7 K, 11.04 ERA, 2.73 WHIP
Player B: 3-0, 20 K, 0.40 ERA, 0.81 WHIP
Player A is the Blue Jays’ Josh Johnson. Player B is Justin Masterson of the Indians. Johnson is off to such a horrendous start that he could have been this week’s choice for Who’s Not. Several respectable baseball analysts have noted a decline in Johnson’s velocity compared to last season. Obviously, it’s early, but this is definitely not how most Blue Jays’ fans and fantasy owners envisioned the season starting in Toronto. On the other hand, Masterson is blossoming into a top-of-the-rotation starter in his age-28 season. In my AL-only auction league, Masterson went for the bargain price of $5, while Johnson fetched $24 from an optimistic owner. Right now, that is looking like money down the drain.
Random Thoughts on “42”
I tried to avoid reading reviews before seeing it on opening night because I didn’t want someone else’s complaints about the film in my head as I watched it. Didn’t want baseball historians nitpicking things, didn’t want film critics bashing the acting performances, cinematography, musical score or who knows what else. So, with that in mind, here are five things I took away from “42”:
1) The acting was good. Not great, but good enough.
a. I had been apprehensive about Harrison Ford taking on the role of Branch Rickey. Would I be thinking to myself “Look, that’s Harrison Ford!” or would he immerse himself sufficiently enough that I could forget it was Ford beneath all that makeup? I think he succeeded. He dominated his scenes without hamming it up or turning Rickey into a caricature. Bravo to Mr. Ford.
b. Chadwick Boseman’s role was difficult. The movie did not really allow for many nuances in Jackie Robinson’s character, since the film focused on a three-year span in Robinson’s life. During those three years, Robinson had to turn the other cheek; in other parts of his life, he was much more combative. Boseman wasn’t always 100% believable to me off the field, but on the field, he did well.
2) The little things were brilliantly done. The CGI images of the stadiums in the film (particularly Ebbets Field) were gorgeous. The uniforms were as well. I’m not an historian, but if those things had not been done right, they would have bothered me. I also enjoyed the Red Barber-isms in the latter half of the film (Incidentally, Barber discovered Vin Scully. More on him below).
3) The action on the field was pretty good. The sliding, the fielding, the baserunning all looked believable to me. And using an actual pitcher like CJ Nitkowski was a very savvy decision. As we all learned watching Bull Durham, it’s darn near impossible to teach an actor how to pitch without looking like a buffoon. Much better to leave something like that to a professional.
4) The movie to which I compare “42” the most is “Miracle,” the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Why? Because I already knew the story going in. The hockey team, made of up of college kids, stunned the world by beating the mighty Soviets, who routinely humiliated the NHL’s best. “Miracle” did justice to the story and then some. Would “42” do the same?
5) In my mind, the answer is a resounding yes. Many baseball analysts have complained that the movie did not cover enough of Robinson’s life. That’s an apples-and-oranges argument to me. The movie sought to tell the story Robinson breaking the unwritten color barrier in major league baseball. It does that in grand fashion. It was not an attempt to chronic Robinson’s entire life, or even his entire career. Most importantly, writer-director Brian Helgeland did not take liberties with the action on the field just to enhance the story. The uncomfortable scenes with the Phillies manager Ben Chapman happened. Racist Dodger teammates really did circulate a petition against Robinson. Robinson really did hit a late-season, game-winning home run off the Pirates pitcher who drilled him early in the season. The movie is a terrific 30,000-foot view of Robinson’s 1947 season that will thrill viewers who don’t know Robinson’s story and should not disappoint those who do. That’s enough for me.
Bonus random thought
Vin Scully is a national treasure, reason #99,999: Listening to his description of the Dodgers-Padres brawl last Thursday was just priceless. No hysterical yelling, no denouncing of the Padres or ridiculous defense of Dodger players, none of it. Just cogent observation of the action on the field. As Matt Kemp spewed one particular profanity repeatedly at the Padres, Scully said this: “That’s fertilizer, Matt Kemp says. That’s fertilizer.” I found myself smiling at how Scully turned an R-rated moment into one appropriate for all audiences, while still conveying all relevant information to his viewers or listeners. If this is his last season broadcasting, then I’m going to savor it for all it’s worth.
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