Sunday, November 15, 2009

Sunday Lightning 11.15.2009

  • John Wetteland's always been teetering on the edge:

There's a quote about John Wetteland, attributed to sportswriter Terry Johnson, that pretty well sums up all you need to know about how his entire life has been spent always walking the tightrope of self-destruction:

"Wetteland was the first guy Tommy Lasorda actually thought was insane."

Think about this for a second and digest it.

Having managed the Dodgers for 12 years by the time Wetteland showed up, Lasorda had dealt with the following players in that time (to just name a few of the more unique personalities): Jay Johnstone; Don Stanhouse,; Jerry Reuss; Steve Garvey; Rick Sutcliffe; Mickey Hatcher; Pedro Guerrero; and Steve Howe.

None of the above mentioned players would ever be mentioned as the paragons of sanity. Varying from the slightly weird to the goofy to the drug addled, there were diverse individuals to coax a performance from for a manager. To have that same manager, who was a little odd himself, to think that a certain player was "insane" is saying something that shines a bright light into what Wetteland's been his whole life.

Wetteland's latest incident in which he was hospitalized for what's being referred to as everything from a rapid heartbeat to a suicide attempt----ESPN Story----the only people who should be surprised are those that haven't been paying attention to the various incarnations of the man over the years.

The Sports Illustrated article from 1994----Link----about Wetteland's conversion from wild child to evangelical Christian is a relatively clear window into how he experiences such ups and downs leading to the leaping into extremities without thinking about consequences. Wetteland's history contains the following memorable incidents:

He threw a chapel leader of the clubhouse----physically----while in the minor leagues.

He experimented heavily with LSD, magic mushrooms and drank heavily as a teen.

Wrote loony bits of stream of consciousness above his locker such as the following:



His wife and the transitory reality of money, fame, a life of lunacy and searching led him to being born again as a Christian early in his big league career.

He wanted to start the last game of the season in 1989 because he wanted to tie a team record held by Sandy Koufax----the record for wild pitches in a season.

In anger at throwing a hanging curve, he broke his toe with a kick...during batting spring training....when the hitter didn't swing at the pitch.

Imploded completely in the 1995 playoffs while pitching for the Yankees that manager Buck Showalter used Jack McDowell and had Andy Pettitte warming up in the bullpen rather than go to his closer as they lost game 5 and were eliminated.

Rebounded to lead the league in saves in 1996 as the Yankees won the World Series.

Lost his job as Nationals pitching coach for disrespecting manager Frank Robinson and encouraging his charges to set off firecrackers, among other things----Washington Post Story.

And now this latest bit of oddness with the hospitalization.

It's not as if Wetteland was a stable character to begin with. Those that have something invested in the born again Christianity of public figures or use said conversion as the basis for a personality change are missing the point of why someone with the issues of Wetteland turns to God. The searching for an outlet led to the drugs; the wild behavior; the outbursts; and the altered personality based on whatever was a good idea at the time.

Much like the fervency he exhibits as he talks about his faith with the conviction of a zealot, so too were the frequent bits of out-of-control, self-destructive incidents that occurred long before this last incident.

You can bet this won't be the last off-field story about Wetteland. One can only hope he doesn't leap so far off the bridge that the bungee cord that's brought him back time and time again doesn't snap so he goes plummeting into the darkness and can't bounce back. One can push fate so many times before fate pushes back. Maybe Wetteland's getting the help he needs after this last progression into self-destruction, but given his history I wouldn't count on it.

  • The Brain Eaters:

I woke up in the middle of the night, flipped on the TV and happened to find The Brain Eaters playing on AMC. Horribly acted, senselessly scripted and absurd even by the genre of the 50s zombie films, the movie was so bad it was almost good. It looked like something Ed Wood probably would've rejected as too camp for his sensibilities; that should've been on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

And then I read the movie description and could think of one thing and one thing alone----stat zombies:

Subterranean parasites tunnel to the earth's surface to turn unwary humans into obedient zombies.

Sound familiar?

Subterranean parasites? Sounds like anti-social math geeks emerging from their hives and integrating themselves into the real world armed with their calculators and stat books to infect an unsuspecting public.

Obedient zombies? Much like those without any people skills or judgment whatsoever latch themselves into baseball, they try to take over the world by using numbers and gutless ridicule to denigrate those that disagree with them. Brainlessly clinging to the fallacy of Moneyball, holding desperately to the silliness therein, they remain with their factions, eating one another and themselves along the way. The threat is dwindling, but still exists.

I must continue my construction of the ultimate weapon.

To save the world.

From the stat zombie.

It's down to me.

I'll do what must be done.

  • Viewer Mail 11.15.2009:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the possibility of Wally Backman managing the Cyclones:

Sounds like Brackman is, indeed, in the Billy Martin mold. I hope he's successful - and stays out of trouble!

I dunno if Backman can stay out of trouble. That's the problem with such combustible personalities: they're so great at what they do, but part of what makes them great is the fuse that's always on the verge of being lit. There's "good" trouble like getting suspended for an umpire freak out on the field; and there's "bad" trouble like the off-field incidents that blew Backman's chance to manage the Diamondbacks.

If that attribute/detriment be contained and pointed in the right direction, the Backman-type can be a big win...or a massive explosion. I'm being positive about it because he'll sell tickets on his own and could work in the long and short term with the players catching some of his fire.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Backman:

Good, 'cuz if anyone can straighten out Jose Reyes type prima donnas it's Backman's drunk backhand slap to the face. I like it.

It's probably a bad idea for a guy in his 50s to take on the younger, more sober star of the team, but for the young kids entering pro ball who need to be disciplined and taught to play the game hard and correctly? Backman's the guy. He'll get in their faces if they don't hustle, that's for sure.

Franklin Rabon writes RE Jeff Francoeur:

Non-tendering Francoeur would certainly be dumb, but I think you vastly overestimate the guy's ceiling. I'm just really not sure what he does well offensively. Even as much as he caught fire during the half season he played for the mets, he didn't hit for anything more than middling power. The guy just isn't going to hit 30 homers without turning into a mental trainwreck all over again as he tries to yank everything.

Like most mediocre offensive players, he could hit 25-30 homers and bat .250 or he could bat .280 and hit 12-15. I just really don't know what you can point to other than a half rookie year to say he has multiple MVP talent. I think what gets to people with him is that he just LOOKS like he should win an MVP.

He's a plus defender, a minus fundamental player, a minus baserunner, a minus contact hitter, a minus batting eye, and a neutral power hitter.

When you say he has multiple MVP talent, other than his fielding arm, what exactly are you referring to? Can you tell me exactly what his talents are, in regards to baseball, other than a great arm?

Of course, he could totally transform himself into a multiple MVP type player, but two things seem to get in the way: Can you name me a single player in the HISTORY of baseball who has had his first 5 full seasons be as generally bad/mediocre as Francoeur who then went on to win multiple MVP's? And Francoeur is the guy who's going to do it?

The closest example I could come up with comparing to Francouer was Dave Winfield early in his career, who was a better baserunner. Dave Winfield, despite completely turning his offensive numbers around, didn't win a single MVP, or even come in second, even once.

To win an MVP in our era, it would likely take 40 HR's, 120RBI's, .300 BA, .390 OBP. That would be a joltingly shocking transformation for Francoeur.

Francoeur's ceiling offensively is somewhere around Shea Hillenbrand's career numbers.

The bit about Francoeur being a "mental train wreck" has merit, but you have to look at the proximate cause of his fall from grace with the Braves. When a local hero, a sports star from the time he was a kid to be playing at home and tagged with the expectations that Francoeur dealt with, it was all good...until he hit that first speed bump.

Everyone----including the Braves and the national media----was in love with the feel-good story of a hometown hero making good. It was only when he slumped that his game went from "Jeff being Jeff" with a Manny Ramirez-like wink and nod to his talent that his flaws became something to latch onto and use as weapons. The Sports Illustrated cover boy and future Braves star became persona non grata with blinding speed. Add in that he was hearing advice from anyone and everyone on what he should be doing at the plate, tried to incorporate the advice out of politeness or desperation and wound up back in the minors and the picture clarifies of what went wrong in Atlanta. The way the Braves----especially GM Frank Wren---soured on him and jerked him around didn't help matters.

It must've been a rude awakening for such a heralded star who'd never had anyone criticize him, specifically at home, to have to deal with the first bout of adversity on the ballfield. Things spiraled out of control and led to the trade to the Mets. Those same things that made Francoeur the center of attention resurfaced with the Mets, but instead of being savaged for his penchant for talking; his aggressiveness; for doing what he's always done; he was embraced in New York by the fans and his new teammates.

You could almost see the weight of expectations and abandonment that had demolished his Braves career lift and he reverted to the gregarious, fun-loving personality that he is. Statistics are not the basis of why I think he has such a limitless ceiling; it's his physical gifts along with the new venue that are helping him recover his lost enthusiasm for the game.

I don't think his power can be described as mediocre. He had no problem getting the ball out of cavernous Citi Field; I don't think he's mediocre as a baserunner or as a fielder either. You can be a good baserunner without stealing bases. His kamikaze style in the outfield is infectious.

Judging a player by the numbers is a slippery slope and when dealing with a 25-year-old whose career would have collapsed totally had he stayed with the Braves is not the way to evaluate a rough and unbridled thoroughbred. If he can tone down his aggressiveness just slightly; if he's surrounded by hitters in front of him to get on base (Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and David Wright); and protection behind him (examples, Carlos Delgado, Jason Bay), he'll drive in 120 runs. Easily.

There's a time to take a chance on talent and hoping to straighten it out. The Mets got him for nothing and he injected life into the club on and off the field. Many players have had to bounce around and "find" themselves before fulfilling their potential.

Quantifying an MVP is impossible to do. Of course with Albert Pujols in the league, Francoeur and anyone else will have a tough time winning the award. Mike Piazza said something very astute years ago regarding the MVP. The gist was that any player mentioned in the conversation and voted in the top 5 could be considered an MVP; an extra hit; a big game; an extra RBI; or a memorable hot streak might push one candidate into the consciousness and net him the hardware. When I say he has multiple-MVP talent, he can be one of the players mentioned in that conversation. It's based on physical gifts and what he can do in the right situation.

Other players, statistically, could've been dumped based on their early results. Dale Murphy won two MVPs after a shaky start to his career; he didn't blossom until he was 26 and always looked somewhat uncoordinated on the field with an odd hitting and throwing style and an awkward unathletic way of running and stiff way of carrying himself.

Randy Johnson might've been a washout had he not stormed off the mound one day while warming up and, in desperation, gone to an opposing player and pitching coach in Nolan Ryan and Tom House and cleaned up his mechanics and mental approach.

Ryan himself would never have made it had he stayed in New York. It took the Angels sticking him in the rotation and leaving him alone that he made his career.

Sandy Koufax was the same way; it took a conscious decision to ease up on the throttle of throwing everything 100 mph that he came into his own at age 27.

Then there are the talents that don't make it. Bobby Witt should've won three Cy Young Awards based on ability, but only put it all together in one year----1990 when he went 17-10 with great numbers across the board----but was always the guy managers and pitching coaches wanted to strangle as they tried to get it through his thick skull that he'd be unstoppable if he just threw strikes. It never came to pass.

I'm not saying Francoeur will be a Murphy; a Ryan; or a Johnson, but the ability is there and it's not visible in numbers alone. He might be a Witt and live with the oft-heard lament of "what might have been", but you can't make something out of nothing. The talent is in there and all it takes is the right situation and people who believe in him to draw it out. He's worth the risk.


She-Fan said...

That's quite a laundry list of odd behaviors from Wetteland. I was aware that he was on the wild side, but I didn't know about the other stuff. I do love his locker poetry though. "The room smells of burnt plaid." I mean, seriously. The guy could have been the next Robert Frost!

Jeff said...

Francoeur loses me with his rabid evangelism. If he took a break from slamming Jesus down our throats perhaps he could channel that energy to hit the ball to all fields.