Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Why Was "Moneyball" Written? Among Other Reasons, THIS

Oh my goodness gracious. Oh sweet potato pie with gravy. This one is a motherfucking doozy.

What you're about to read is going to sound an awful lot like a parody- the kind of fictional conversation you might read on The Dugout or Kissing Suzy Kolber. But it's not. It took place during an actual, real broadcast of an actual, real edition of Baseball Tonight which aired last Saturday night and Sunday morning. These ESPN analysts (term "analyst" used loosely in Buck Showalter's case) really said these things. It's perhaps the most hilarious pile of bullshit I've ever heard on TV. I was able to transcribe what was said word-for-word and stutter-for-stutter, as I moved into a new apartment on 8/1 and am now the proud owner of a DVR. It takes forever to do the transcription but in this case it was 100% worth it. You'll see that my commentary is pretty limited, because, let's face it, this segment is funny enough on its own.

One final time, please keep in mind, this is a real segment that ran on BBTN. Seriously. We join it already in progress, as I happened to channel surf into the catastrophe rather than watching it unfold from its beginning. You'll have to imagine how it began. Our topic: what baseball scouts look for in terms of a prospect's body.

Buck Showalter (standing, adjusting his feet from pigeon-toed to parallel to "open," presumably showing different ways players run): I've seen some bow-legged guys, you know, you wanna talk about Deion Sanders or Derek Jeter...

Steve Berthiaume: [Indecipherable] could barely walk, but he could run like a deer!

BS: Well I'll tell you what, he could put it in play, and he could run.

Buck is a folk hero. He's the Boomhauer of baseball analysts. Tell you what, that boy could play a little ball, you know?

SB: Now, "10 to 2," "5 to 1," (referring to ways scouts describe the alignment of feet) I thought scouting was all about average, RBIs, OPS.

You forgot living in your parents' basement, never seeing the sun, not knowing what grass feels like between your toes, not knowing how to talk to a girl, never having sex, never having sexy dreams because you've never had sex and can't even conceptualize what it would be like, etc.

But you're using terminology that they use, and that's what they actually make their recommendations on, right?

BS: The stats are the easy part! Now, you don't get to see a guy play 20, 30 times. But you take your experience you've learned from years and years and years, what Major League players look like, for the most part. With a few exceptions to the rule.

And this is part of the impetus behind Billy Beane's style of GMing, and thus the inspiration for "Moneyball." A bunch of (in my opinion, creepy) old baseball scouts pay a significant amount of attention to how a player looks. Do they pay more attention to looks than ability? Most probably don't. Some probably do. In any case, this segment is about to get all kinds of anecdotal/creepy. Because we're not just talking about a prospect's body in general. We're talking about individual body parts.

SB: Alright, we've done feet. What's a good leg?

One that works? One with muscles and bone in it? One that enables a guy to run fast?

BS: A good leg? Well, it's a, you don't wanna see a guy's thigh wide this way (places hands at sides of upper leg and expands them outwards), you wanna see them wide that way (places hands at front and back of upper leg and expands them outwards).

Thanks for the anecdotal bullshit, Buck. I don't care how many dusty dirt roads in the middle of Wyoming you've driven down to find the next Mickey Mantle playing in a community softball game in a city no one has ever visited. You've got to be fucking kidding me with this. How are you going to be able to tell if a guy has a "wide" side-to-side thigh versus a "thick" front-to-back thigh? You aren't. But don't let any of those stat nerds tell you that. They're too busy not understanding what it's like to feel the foul line chalk between your fingers.

Tim Kirkijuan: Who's got great legs?

BS: Alex Rodriguez. Perfection in his legs, as far as going this way. (He repeats the "good" motion he used above, as a Baseball Tonight graphic which reads "LEGS" flashes across the screen and is immediately followed by a clip of Rodriguez running down the first base line. It freezes at some point, and a spot shadow illuminates A-Rod's gorgeous thigh.) Very strong, can stand up to the toll that Major League players... and uh, stays away from injury for the most part.

He missed most of spring training and all of April with a hip injury this year. Where were his turbothighs on that one? Also, way to pick one of the 10 or so best players of all time to prove your point. You're really crossing the correlation-causation gap there. A-Rod has legs => A-Rod is a great player => A-Rod is a great player because of those legs.

Perfect example, Derek, uh, Alex Rodriguez.

Nice little Freudian slip there. Whose thigh is Buck thinking about again? And yes, I'm sure you already guessed it, but this isn't the last time we'll be hearing about a certain man named Derek.

TK (a little too excited): OK, now let's move up. Butt. What's a good butt?

Slow down, Tim. You've barely met these guys.

BS (defensively): Hey, heyheyheyhey. Well it ain't here, boys, I'm, you know (interrupted by laughter from UA and TK) Well it's common of good, especially good pitchers and guys with a lot of power, that part of the body, and the torso and the stomach, create a lot of arm speed, create a lot of bat speed. And you just don't see a lot of power hitters, or good pitchers that can generate arm speed, who don't have a good high butt on them.

At least here, I can understand that there might be some butt variation from player to player. I can also understand that a high butt helps guys generate power. Despite the inherent weirdness of talking about dudes' asses, this is probably the least objectionable part of this whole segment.

SB: You want a, who's a "high butt" guy?

BS: Uhhhhhhhh... not that I look at them a lot (TK giggles), but uh, Derek Lee.

SB: OK, Derek Lee, I like this guy, he's a "high butt" guy. (Again, we get a Baseball Tonight screen graphic which reads "HIGH BUTT" and are treated to a shot of Lee running the bases, with a spot shadow on his ass and two large yellow arrows on either side of it, pointing up.)

I'm not kidding. They really did that. With the arrows and everything.

BS: And I don't want to say he's got a "perfect butt" but I'll tell you, if you watched this guy as an amateur player you'd go "wow." That's a-

TK: And scouts are saying "He's got a high butt, I like that."

BS: Oh, without a doubt.

Again, I find this creepy.

And you don't see many guys who can't run with a high butt. They usually can run pretty well.

Nice and anecdotal, just how I want my favorite team to scout young players!

SB: So a "low butt" guy would be a catcher, somebody like that.

BS: Yeah, sometimes you- but there's exceptions, like you said, might go behind the plate, might be a relief pitcher.

What he's implying is that he, or perhaps friends of his who are scouts, have in the past (and maybe even still do) looked at a potential prospect unfavorably because the prospect's ass was not "high" enough. These are the guys who, up until maybe 10 years ago, made pretty much every low-level personnel decision for every team in baseball.

TK: What about the back? (awkwardly gestures towards his own back)

Try pointing at your own back. I bet you look like a fucking idiot right now.

BS: Oh, without a doubt, I'll tell you, one thing you look at is a wide shoulder, wide back guy.

SB: A "V" guy. (Make a "V" motion with his hands)

BS: That's why sometimes, smaller pitchers can have long careers and generate arm speed and can withstand the pounding that they take, you look for that wide back.

How is the width of your shoulders/back going to help you generate arm speed? I'll buy the durability argument, I guess. And that's the kind of thing you have to scout for without relying on stats. They won't often tell you whether or not a guy will break down over time. But I will say this- do you think Tim Lincecum would be able to ditch his crazy whiplash delivery and still be able to throw 96 if only he had a wider back?

TK: Who's got a good back?

BS: Oh, I'll tell ya, every time I see Derrek Holland with the Rangers pitch, I go "wow." That's what it looks like. (Cue "BROAD BACK" screen sweep graphic, and spot shadow on Holland's back.)

It looks exactly like every other baseball player's back does through his jersey.

Somewhere along the line a scout wrote, in his narrative, when he's going, "look at the back on this guy." Perfect-shaped back, small waist, wide shoulders, that's a good lookin' back.

Again, mildly creepy. That's not the focus of this post, but you have to admit it's definitely here in spades.

Are you ready for the good stuff? Here comes the good stuff.

TK: I remember when Bobby Cox met Chipper Jones, and I asked him, "Tell me about Chipper Jones." And he said "He's got a great face."

SB (laughing): "He's got a great face?"

Like Bill Simmons!

TK: And I was like, what is that? Give me a guy with a great face, what does that mean?

It means the scouts who started this idea that you can evaluate a player based on what his fucking face looks like (and the ones who have continued it throughout the years) are a bunch of buffoons. Seriously. I tried to cut some slack in my criticism of the "high butt" and the back. I mean, although incredibly difficult to evaluate, I acknowledge that the physical makeup of those body parts can affect a player's performance. The face? The fucking face? The bone with skin stretched over it which gives the eyes, nose, and mouth their shape? Fuck you and die in a tornado, baseball scouts.

BS: Uhhh, probably Orlando Hudson.

Well obviously Orlando Hudson.

Every time I see him, I go "great face."


I guarantee you, somewhere along the line- this is my favorite category. ("GREAT FACE" graphic sweeps by, and we are greeted to a close up of Hudson's mug complete with spot shadow.)

Holy shit. Holy dog balls. Can you imagine being the ESPN junior video production assistant in charge of this segment? How many times would you need to take a break from working on it so you could roll on the floor laughing? This is mind-bogglingly stupid. It's stupid in its baseball context and its even stupider in its BBTN incarnation. Yes, thank you ESPN. Thank you for the spot shadow. Now I know where Orlando Hudson's fucking face is. Better than that, I know that some scout told the Blue Jays to draft him in the 47th round way back in 1997 BECAUSE HE HAD A GOOD FUCKING FACE. I defy any Billy Beane hater out there (read: people who are scared of numbers) to watch this and then say with a straight face "Yes. This is a reasonable way to judge young baseball players." Holy fucking shitballs.

When you tell a scout "tell me what kind of face he's got," everybody knows what he's talking about. It's just a sincerity.

A calmness? A dreaminess?

There's a look in his eyes, there's a competitiveness, there's an alertness about his face. He sees what's going on around him.

Those players with great high school stats but a bad face? No idea what's happening around them. They're oblivious.

Derek Jeter,

There we go.

first time I met him in the dugout at 18, I went "Wow. What a good face."

Over time you and your ilk have probably ruined hundreds of young careers, and tried to jump start several others which had no place being jump started, based on how the players' faces looked. THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES, YOU BLITHERING IDIOTS. JUST BECAUSE HERB "FACELOVER" MCGEE, WHO FOUND WILLIE MAYS HITTING ROCKS 500 FEET WITH A BROOMHANDLE BACK IN 1947, SAID "IT'S IMPORTANT TO LOOK AT A PLAYER'S FACE" DOESN'T MEAN YOU HAVE TO KEEP DOING IT. IT'S OK TO STOP AND PAY MORE ATTENTION TO ATTRIBUTES THAT ACTUALLY MATTER ANYTIME NOW.

SB: Now Buck, I know you got a lot of hits, Cape Cod League, minor leagues, I noticed, and I say this with great affection, you've got kind of a square head. (TK giggles) So I'm wondering, I'm going to guess that that's good.

It's not.

BS: Well not because I have it. I've been told it's round, but thanks anyways! (TK giggles) Square heads. I like square heads. A lot of guys, there's a definition of, uh, uh-

TK (finishing his sentence): -character there.

Character. In the shape of your head. One last time, I promise this is the last time- these guys really talked about this on a real BBTN broadcast. And thus it is fair to assume that yes, real scouts really used to (or still do) use this as a way to measure the viability of young prospects.

BS: Yeah. There's a great bloodline there, you see the definition of the jawline.

"Great bloodline?" Is Buck a member of the Aryan Brotherhood?

SB: Pujols, square head guy. (Cue "SQUARE HEAD" graphic, and video of Albert Pujols which freezes with a spot shadow on his allegedly square head)

BS: Oh, perfect! You know, that's the way major league quality hitters look. Same way guys don't like to see hitters, in a perfect world, have anything but brown eyes. There are some great blue and green-eyed hitters, but they talk about that.

Yeah, he's definitely some kind of bizarre iteration of baseball racist. EYE COLOR? FUCKING EYE COLOR?

TK: Now, when a scout shakes hands with a kid. What, what, what's that-

BS (interrupting): Oh, he's getting a lot of info back. He shakes hands (TK and BS reach out and shake each other's hands), he's already said "OK, how long's his fingers, how supple is his wrist, how fat are his palms, and how firm is his handshake?" You've got four tools before they even-

It's funny, now we're back into things which might at least have a tertiary impact on a prospect's ability. They're still patently ridiculous when compared to, you know, how fucking good the prospect is at baseball. But at least you can kind of see them mattering. And that means they are infinitely more worthy of analysis than WHAT A GUY'S FACE LOOKS LIKE.

TK (interrupting, incredulously): He, he, he's got a fat palm, he's-

SB (sarcastically interrupting, perhaps warming up to the idea that this is the most ludicrous 4 minute stretch in television history): Fat palm, he's out.

BS: Ehhhh.... catcher.

But not a first baseman! Or an outfielder, heaven forbid! Can't have all these fat-palmed fatty fat palms running around out there in fair territory.

TK: Alright, supple wrist, what's that?

BS: Well I'll tell ya, great example. Mariano Rivera. Mariano Rivera had a very stiff wrist. That's the reason why they made him a relief pitcher, because he couldn't ever master a breaking ball, couldn't make his wrist go (makes a curveball-type motion with his wrist).

SB: Now hold on, the greatest closer in the history of baseball, and he is, he can't throw a breaking ball, because his hand doesn't go like that? (makes a similar motion)

BS: Oh, he can throw a breaking ball! But it's not pretty. You know, basically, that's why he throws the cutter off-center. He can't do that (makes the curveball motion again) and create a lot of torque, he can't throw the slider, you know, and that's why he throws the cut fastball. Doesn't mean he can't pitch in the big leagues, but his ability to start was not gonna happen because of how stiff his wrist was.

OK, I'll buy this is as a useful attribute by which to judge a player, but I will not buy the idea that you can figure this out from shaking a dude's hand. Aren't having a firm handshake and displaying a supple wrist mutually exclusive? How could you possibly do both?

TK: Well the guy had a full beard at 18.

Aaaaaaaand.... we're back to the absolutely ridiculous stuff.

BS: Well I'll tell ya, you go in and see an 18 year old guy with a full beard, shaving once or twice a day, he's out more than likely. He's flatlining!

Words fail me. Words should fail anyone with a brain who reads this. It's like trying to listen to someone who insists the moon landing was filmed in Hollywood or that the world is going to end in 2012 because the ancient Mayans said so. How do you respond? My advice is to punch anyone from any of these three groups (2012 people, moon landing hoax people, and "don't sign a prospect if he's got a lot of facial hair at age 18" people) directly in the eye socket. Crush that orbital bone nice and good.

That's as good as he's gonna be!

Again, your kind has probably ruined at least a few potential careers over the years... because a teenager had facial hair.

You see a guy who's starting to lose his hair at 18, he's mature! (pronounces it "mah-toor") He's getting ready to go the- that's as good as he's gonna get! You're looking for upside.

And no matter how much of it you see on the field or in the numbers, don't be fooled. If a guy has the genes that cause baldness in his family, he's going to suck at baseball. Just ask that lovable* little bald scamp Dustin Pedroia.

* = I hope Dustin Pedroia gets run over by a cement mixer

Derek Jeter

These kinds of things always happen in 3s.

hadn't shaved in high school, I don't think, when we signed him.

Don't tell that to the find folks at Gillette! He's making them a lot of money these days.

SB (playing devil's advocate): What if he shaves, but he's got a great face?

BS: Ooooh... that's a tough one. That's when you ask the scout, well, what do you think.

So the scout can pull some more random shit out of his ass about how good or not good the players is, based on absolutely nothing.

TK: Right. But if he shaves twice a day and has a low butt... done.

BS (making "you're outta here" motion with his thumb): Done.

The dreaded beard/buttsag combo.

SB (looking towards camera as it pans away, mercifully ending the segment): Well I think you've got three low butt guys here. (TK chuckles)

BS: Speak for yourself!


So, yeah. That's why Billy Beane started GMing the way he did. The fact that anyone out there still tries to take pot shots at him, no matter how bad the A's have been since 2006, makes my brain hurt. What makes it hurt even more is the fact that no one questioned this nonsense earlier. As recently as 20 years ago, most teams were probably signing a large number of their players based in part on analysis like this. Wow.


Chris W said...

I've always wondered why people take Buck Showalter seriously in any sense.

He's barely above .500 as a mananger, and the first two teams he managed won a world series THE FIRST FUCKING YEAR AFTER HE WAS FIRED/RESIGNED

Unknown said...

Yerah, Buck is about Joe Morgan level of unlistenable. He never shuts the fuck up either.

AwesomeSean said...

Why the fuck are you DVRing BBTN? DVR is for The Office and Lost. Crazy kids.

Incidentally, the creepy factor was so far through the roof I didn't even finish reading. Christ.

Iridescence said...

I knew a gay guy a few years ago who used to love to explain to me how sports represented the ultimate in repressed homo-eroticism. He would have a field day with this stuff. You're right, creeepy!

LincolnHawk said...

* RIP - 7/31/2009 - Larry B's Awesome Basement Apartment (pour one out for mom)

Anonymous said...

You know, this really explains why I'm not an MLB player. My ass isn't high and I don't have the face of a model.

10 hours of plastic surgery and I'm an all-star. Suck on that little league coach who told me I'd never make the pros.

Larry B said...

Sean, I started DVRing after I realized I was watching BBTN's version of the Hindenberg crash. It has a 5 minute "back memory" when it starts recording, so if you realize you want to watch something that was on the screen less than 300 seconds ago you're in good shape. That was the case here.

Yeah, that's right, I'm just now figuring out DVR. I'm officially living in 2004. Let me call you on my Motorola Razr while I'm at it.

dan-bob said...

seriously, anonymous... my career was foiled not by a lack of power or speed but by a lowness of butt and a slight overbite!

Venezuelan Beaver Cheese said...

After all these years of thinking Chipper Jones had an ugly mug I suddenly learn he has "the good face."

Bodjo said...

I....I'm amazed....I think I'm going to go into shock....I can't believe that segment happened, and yet....I've seen how dumb the BBTN guys post has destroyed my faith in the human race.

Then again, Ozzie Guillen did once say that Buck Showalter invented baseball.

Jack M said...


Braces and lunges. It's not too late!

Elliot said...

When they started talking about Mariano Rivera being able to grow a beard at 18, I absolutely 100% for-real thought that there was going to be a "BEARD" logo flashed on the screen with a spot shadow on the facial hair area.

BTW, if I didn't have a unibrow I would have hit .400 multiple times.

Freaking great post LB.

The Casey said...

Reading this shit, I'm surprised that no MLB team has a phrenologist on staff. Or maybe they could apply leeches to a player and observe the leeches after they feed.

KentAllard said...

Who knew that baseball scouts were students of Cesare Lombroso?

Angelo said...

It's similar to the way new bloggers are chosen- Jack M's posture was terrible and he had leftover Cheetos' cheese on his fingers, so it was clear he was destined for greatness. If you want to be a blogger, but you have tan skin, good luck getting scouted.

Tonus said...

Wait, didn't they have a part of the segment where they analyzed COCKS? Surely Buck Showalter knows a GOOD COCK from a BAD COCK? Has he ever discovered a GREAT COCK? Did he ever find that fabled "5 tool star"? The one with a GOOD FACE, V-SHAPED BACK, THICK THIGHS (not wide, thank you), HIGH BUTT, and GREAT COCK? Was it Barry Bonds? Jose Canseco? DEREK JETER???

Also, I have a firm handshake and a supple wrist, which means I can throw the curveball. Suck on that, Mariano Rivera.

ivn said...

so when Bill Simmons confidently explained that Kevin Durant would be better than Oden because of how Oden walked like an old man, he was using actual scouting techniques?

dan-bob said...

tonus, man, i'm thinking you might have taken that one a bit too far.

dan-bob said...

Also, I bet this is EXACTLY the type of scouting system used by the All American Girls Professional Baseball League.

That Geena Davis sure had one high butt.

Dan said...

So was TK making fun of them or was he really buying into this shit?

Jeff said...

Well this all explains to me how Willie McGee had a productive baseball career. The guy looked like E.T. and was about 90 pounds.

A nice face? You've got to be fucking kidding me.

Also, Tonus - don't forget the balls.

BS: "You see a guy at 18, and his balls are less than 1.5 inches hanging distance from the base of his cock....that guys a ballplayer, because he's got some dropping to do. If they taste only mildly salty at the same time, with pubes that are thin and scraggly, you have a future hall of famer".

TK: "any examples"

BS: "Absolutely, rumor has it that Butch Wynegar had a forest in his pants when he was 15, and you see, he had a poor career. But the first time I licked Derek Jeter's nuts, it was like kissing a baby's cheek. We gave him a $3.5 million signing bonus that day. I was in the Yankees locker room a few weeks ago, and Derek still only has the ballsack of a 24 year old. I want to have sex with Derek Jeter, gay sex."

Derpsauce said...

Hey waitaminute.....that conversation never REALLY happened, did it?

James said...

This was brilliant, thanks. And I enjoyed the more than a decade old comments too. My take on Buck Showalter: I never thought he was an idiot, but I always wondered why people seemed to think he was God's gift to baseball managing. Then we get to the wild card game in 2016 and leaving the unhittable Zack Britton on the bench ... I'm sure you all enjoyed that as much as I did!