A Misunderstanding of How to Determine Greatness

Dick Allen

Dick Allen passed away today. He was one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He is not in the hall of fame. He was the classic five-tool player – he could run, throw, field, hit and hit for power. He smashed 351 home runs in his career, walked a lot, won the NL Rookie of the Year for the Phillies, the MVP for the White Sox, and posted a little over 58 WAR in his prime 11 years of playing. His best years were truly great, his good years were damn good, and he never had a bad season until injuries and age took their toll at the very end of his career. His being overlooked is not conspiratorial, but rather an unfortunate combination of wrong place and wrong time. Or, maybe it would be better to say wrong places/wrong times.

Allen, a black man, played in Philadelphia in the 60’s. He also played before analytics came into vogue and lauded all that he did well (pretty much everything) and shrugged collectively at the things he did not (refrain from striking out, errors). And look, it’s a tough town on its best days, what with booing Santa and building a courtroom inside the new Eagles stadium to prosecute all the drunk/belligerent/violent idiots who attend games there, and the culture in the city is one in which athletes are the subject of intensity that defies logic, as witnessed below in the greatest trolling ever committed to local news.

Most of it today seems like harmless fun, if a bit obsessive. In the early 60’s? When Allen would play in the outfield – AT HOME – fans would throw batteries and horseshoes and god knows what else at him during games. The racist invective hurled his way goes way beyond what anyone outside of Jackie Robinson and other players of the era who crossed the color barrier experienced. He suffered through it, stoically, and still he was an all-star caliber player. Year after year.

If he was playing there now he’d make $20 million dollars a year and vie for the most popular player in the organization. As it was, he was run out of town. Quiet and withdrawn, some of which was because he was by nature not a showboat and also for obvious reasons of persecution and harassment, he was thought by the Philly fans to not care enough. Every error and strikeout dissolved the relationship a little further. He was uncommonly versatile in the field, could play third, short, left, first in a pinch, but because he was shuffled around so much the consensus was he didn’t fit anywhere. In today’s game he’d be Ben Zobrist but faster and with waaaaay more power. And he struck out a lot. That was the big one, and the biggest reason why sportswriter’s didn’t give him his due at the time. We’re somewhat immune in today’s game because everyone punches out with alarming frequency because the math says swing away, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. In the 60’s, it was deemed a failing, and he was crucified for it. Nowadays his walk/strikeout rates would make him the target of every GM in the league.

Allen’s power was prodigious. He once hit a home run whose trajectory was so low the shortstop jumped for it. He finished with 351 dingers, only ten less than Joltin’ Joe, which is good for the Hall of Fame, but not exceptional. This is the crux. He didn’t play long enough to amass the overall stats to get the invite. His eleven (ten and half really because of one mostly injured year) seasons are Hall of Fame worthy, but the longevity of racking up numbers in meh seasons to pad the overall stat line is missing. Don’t discount the blah years in the early/late stages of a players career to get them over the hump with voters. Take Andre Dawson.

Look, I love the Hawk. I wore number 8 in high school because of him. He’s my favorite player of all time. If you match these two up in their prime years, you might be able to make an argument for Dawson because of his superior fielding and base running to go along with their comparable offensive numbers, but strictly as an offensive player, Allen was likely better. Dawson was a good-to-great player from 1977-1992. It’s the length of his career that put him over the hump with voters, along with Sandberg’s push during his entrance speech (thanks Ryno!). The last 4 years of Dawson’s career are not good, but they were enough to push him over 400 homers, 500 doubles, 1500 RBI’s, and almost to 2800 hits. Arbitrary numbers, but that’s what baseball does, witness the 3000 hits qualification for automatic HOF entry. The point is not to tarnish Dawson’s accomplishments, he was above average/all-star/MVP level for 16 STRAIGHT YEARS and most of them on a bad knee. He’s a hall of famer.

But so is Allen. His peak years are undeniably great, but he didn’t have what most players get, the buildup of a year or two of okayness in breaking in to pad the numbers and/or the few years of decline where he could still post surface-respectable stats like Dawson’s 1993 in Boston – a .273/.313/.425 slash line. Nor did he have the luxury of playing in the modern game, with its quality medical care and lack of overt, vicious racism. Instead he was a man ahead of his time, someone who walked a ton, mashed the ball, whiffed more than most everyone in the league, could play multiple positions and was strong in both mind and body. I wish I could have seen him play.

No, seriously this time, Requiem for Moviepass

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I should tell you at the top that I loved moviepass and it made me very happy to go to the theater as often as I did for approximately $10 a month, but it was never going to last, we all knew it, and even if that’s true of everything in the history of ever, it’s still sad to be going to the funeral. The company tried to stay afloat after things fell apart a year or so ago, but it was only a matter of time before the revamped/relaunched all-you-can-movie subscription service went the way of the dodo, and this time it feels less like the ending of Friday the 13th Part 6, where they tell you it’s finished, but I mean, come on, you just know Jason Voorhees is coming back to epically fight his way through a telekinetic teenager in order to slaughter a host of morally compromised teenagers before being brought down by the protagonist’s dead father who has for the last 10 years been at the bottom of Crystal Lake and reappears at the last minute for…reasons, and instead more like Logan.

I know a lot of this movie doesn’t actually make sense, but what am I, made of stone? Oh, and spoiler alert.

Anyway, now that we really are at the end, here’s a final and complete list of the movies I saw in the final few months of moviepass. RIP.

Late Night

A series of badly written characters, highlighted by a protagonist without any sense of context for her actions, sinks everything in its wake and the movie collapses under the weight of its grand intentions clashing up against a near total lack of connectivity from scene to scene. It doesn’t help that many of the jokes fall painfully flat and the comedy world of late night network television is portrayed both unbelievably and as if it were taking place ten years ago. A movie that fails all the more when considering how good it could have been given the premise and cast.

Last Black Man in San Francisco

A movie with energy to burn. It doesn’t quite convincingly cross the finish line, but it balances so many spinning plates at once, it’s a minor miracle it stays upright at all.

My Son

A French movie that develops some decent tension and answers the question of what would have happened to Liam Neeson if the Taken franchise existed in reality.

Diane

An amiable journey through the back half of a woman’s oftentimes sad life. I can’t say I liked it, exactly, but it never dragged and many of the performances, including the lead, were very good.

Endzeit aka the German zombie movie with no subtitles

A minute into the movie, it was clear that me and the other three people in the theater were watching a version without subtitles, and a few minutes after that it was clear this was not a momentary snafu, but the reality of the feature presentation. Two people left at that point, but what the hell, I was already there and I’d gone to all the trouble of sneaking in my giant sandwich, so I stuck around. I can’t be sure, what with the lack of clarity on the talking parts and all, but the whole thing seemed pretty damned pretentious amidst the occasional bit of undead carnage.

Wildrose

Engaging enough, more than solid on the music front, but a lack of narrative drive and a willingness to devolve into melodrama kept it from hitting home.

Echo in the Canyon

A handful of good moments/music, but fairly self indulgent and it never digs deep enough for us to glean anything from the subject matter beyond a few amusing anecdotes.

3 Faces

Panahi’s movies are almost always interesting, if not exactly narratively gripping, but the fact he risks spending years in prison to make films at all makes the experience of seeing them a bit of a thrill. Here there’s a generational study within his typical allegorical framework, and it makes for a thoughtful, layered look into more than just the political landscape of Iran.

Shadow

Very good overall. A little slow to get going, okay, a lot slow to get going, but around the halfway mark it kicks into gear and then never lets up. Beautiful visual composition and color palette throughout mostly makes up for the minimal characterizations afforded the cast.

This Is Not Normal

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What can I say? I’m sick to my stomach over this racist buffoon becoming president. I can’t spend four to eight years venting on twitter and facebook every day, and it’s clear by now how I feel to the handful of people online who read what I write, so endlessly repeating on a loop how awful and dangerous Trump is will accomplish nothing save to take precious time away from napping.

So let me just write this and then I’ll (mostly) let things be.

Do not normalize this. This is not a Republican winning an election. There is no comparable event in U.S. history. As such, we must not treat it as if it were any other regular transfer of power in any other election year. We do not owe this man a clean slate, an open mind, a chance to lead, or any of the other numbingly idiotic suggestions given to us since the results came in.

We know who Trump is. He has told us again and again.

Trump is a bigot. He hates and demeans women. He despises Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants, the disabled and anyone who he considers weak or has the temerity to oppose him. He is a bully. Incapable of empathy. Completely amoral. He is stupid yet convinced of his own superiority in all things. He is willfully ignorant and lacking in curiosity about the ways of the world and the people in it.

Informed of the facts, Trump will repeatedly double down on whatever asinine assertion he has spouted off the top of his head, despite the obviousness of the truth. The light is yellow, Mr. Trump. No, it’s green. Here’s a photo and twenty eyewitness statements verifying the yellowness of the light. Nope, it’s green, I was there, I saw it, it’s green.

What can you say to someone such as this? He is a fourth grade intellect with the temperament to match. An entitled, privileged egotist who has never once been denied anything, nor forced to pay a price for his behavior. Trump is the ultimate proof that a rich, white man can literally say anything and not only will he not be punished, he will often be praised and elevated.

He is unfit to lead a third grade field trip to a museum. That he has been elected is a national disgrace. I am ashamed to live in a country that would inflict his callous disregard for others upon those groups already marginalized within the United States, to say nothing of the rest of the world.

Nothing that happens from this point forward with Trump is normal. Acting as such legitimizes the words and actions of a man who would be booted from an Andrew Jackson kegger for being too much of a boor. It’s not a matter of political affiliation or disagreeing with policy, it’s a question of our fundamental values as a nation. Every time he speaks, remember he is openly and proudly racist. We elected a bigot.

That’s the part that cuts the deepest in all of this. A huge percentage of the United States is either racist, misogynistic, xenophobic and amoral or they simply aren’t bothered by any of those characteristics in an elected official. I live here. These people are my neighbors. Of course I saw the crazies in the dark corners, I’m not blind, but to think that there were enough to elect a president is shocking. How is it possible that I could be surrounded by such pervasive ugliness and not realize it? What fucking country am I living in?

We owe Trump nothing. He deserves no grace period, no clean slate, no chance to lead. He has not been ‘humbled’ by winning the presidency, as Oprah Winfrey so bizarrely wrote. The horrendous things he has said time and time again do not vanish because he has been elected – if anything they are magnified. We cannot make the mistake of thinking otherwise. Trump is who he has always been – the enemy of those who believe in the fundamental humanity of all people.

Seven Hours in Amsterdam

IMG_0125Amsterdam is a picturesque city filled with endless canals and gorgeous architecture, and it pretty much shuts down around 2AM. This was only problematic since I’d cleverly planned my 14-hour layover at Schiepol Airport to allow me time to wander the city, assuming it would be open all night for me to take some pictures, drink lots of coffee and, of course, get that all-important stamp in my passport.

I’ve been to Amsterdam’s main airport a half-dozen times, but I’d never passed through customs, and the rule is you have not officially been to a country unless you physically set foot in said country and/or a customs officer reviews your passport. Airports do not count. I was determined to cross Holland off the list.
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