Favoritism In The MLB Final Four 2009
A tradition unlike any other...
3-0, 3-0, 3-0, 3-1 then boom, just like that, the first round of the MLB playoffs was in the books. I know each series is only best three of five, but man, this year felt even shorter than all the others. In retrospect, it's probably because it was the fastest played Round 1 since they instituted the wild card back in '94. And I know we never like to think about baseball as seeds or tournament -- because it rarely ever matters -- but seriously, peep the 2009 MLB playoff bracket. Both 1's and 2's advanced. And almost all clean sweeps across the board. So damn chalky.
Regardless, there's little to complain about in terms of the teams left standing. It's all so damn compelling...
- Three of the four managers have won the World Series (and the only one who hasn't is the one manning the prohibitive favorite)
- The Nick Adenhart stuff
- The nine-year Yankee drought
- The Dodger glitz
- The Phils trying to be the only team this decade to take two straight
I mean, I hate baseball so much, but this stuff is too good to deny.
Look at the god damned match-ups:
- Yanks vs. Phils: Would be epic East coast destruction
- Angels vs. Dodgers: Would be epic California destruction
- Yanks vs. Dodgers: Would be a mammoth ratings juggernaut unlike anything we've seen this side of Lakers-Celtics
- and Angels vs. Phils: Would be... well, actually, that might suck
So it's now time to do what we always do here at TUP. Rank the final four based on arbitrary biases I've accumulated throughout the course of the current season and seasons past.
(HUGELY IMPO'TANT DISCLAIMER: I really, really like all four teams. They're all incredibly acceptable. And I'd find happiness seeing any of them win the title.)
From least favorite to favorite...
4) Los Angeles Dodgers
Me and Nomar at Dodger Stadium Circa 2007
Cool player to get behind? I've enjoyed Andre Ethier quite a bit in these playoffs so far. Former White Sox knuckleballer Charlie Haeger is purportedly on the team's inactive roster. I like the idea of him trying to claim a World Series title. Did I mention John Garland?
Cool steroid bust from this current season to get behind? Actually, not so much. As someone who tends to like players more when they get busted for steroids, the Manny bust really bothered me. I don't want to play some Cal Ripken/Greg Maddux "I never expected him of all people!" card, but at the same time, it's Manny. We just spent so much time in 2008 marveling at his brilliance. The wound just felt too fresh. Plus the fact that it was a women's fertility drug? It just became so indefensible so quickly. There are at least ways to go about trying to justify HGH, by-the-book steroids, cocaine, heroin... but a women's fertility drug? Come on, Manny! Way too boxed in.
Anything that's funny? Yeah, Juan Pierre is kinda funny.
Real league? No.
Back breaking x-factor? Really, really bandwagon-y fans. I find the whole come-in-the-3rd then leave-in-the-7th thing pretty harmless during the regular season, but it's a bit more grating in the playoffs.
Random stuff? Not being totally over the fact Manny wears No. 99. I mean, that's pretty damn funny. / Joe Torre super-cementing his legacy is a nice perk. / The beach balls get a bad rep. / Of all the parks I've been to, they play in my favorite stadium in all of baseball. / Jim Thome getting his first ring would be pretty excellent.
Reason my opinion shouldn't matter in any way? Did I mention I don't think I'd ever heard of Andre Ethier until last season*?
VERDICT -- It'd be cool, but there's better.
* - or possibly this season, I'm not sure
3) Philadelphia Phillies
I know, but I couldn't find anything funny.. and we never, ever, ever do T&A
Cool player to get behind? I've grown a little bored with the usual cast (your Utleys and Howards and such). Pedro is kind of cool and blunt, but he sometimes says dumb things. Moyer is super old, and that never stops being great, but this section boils down to two people.
a) Cliff Lee: Really cool to watch pitch. Every time he dominates, he makes the NL look worse. Quite superb, really.
b) Brad Lidge: What's a word that's stronger than maligned? To the thesaurus!
Brad Lidge may be scorned, loathed, disparaged, and spurned, but how the hell can you root against this guy? I love him and will spend this playoffs rooting for nothing but his success. Because, in a way, even his success is like failure because it earns him more playing time while scaring the living hell out of the Philadelphia fan base. Win-win? Win-win.
Cool steroid bust from this current season to get behind? No.
Anything that's funny? They ended "Rocktober" with extreme prejudice, which was hilarious. Just so cold-blooded. Which was the only way it could happen.
Real league? No.
Back breaking x-factor? The rampant boringness of Raul Ibanez has always kind of bothered me.
Random Stuff? I'm currently living in New Jersey in an area that's mostly Phillies fans, this has been enjoyable for several reasons...
1) The paper I work at is loaded with Phillies fans. And they entertain me. And they live up to their stereotype completely. They were getting furious at some of Charlie's managerial moves in those post-winning the division these-games-don't-even-matter games. Every game, every inning gives them something new to be miserable about. They were acting so dramatic and strung out during Game 1 of the NLDS that I rhetorically asked one of them, "aren't you the defending champs?
His response: "What's your point?"
2) Old-man-swearing. I've found that old age usually calms down even the most die-hard sports fans. Not the old man river Phillies fans. While most people stay at their desk in the newsroom and go in and out of watching the games, these guys stop everything they're doing entirely, park in front of the TV, and curse up a storm at everything going on with such violent negativity. It's unlike anything I've ever seen.
3) General cruelness. When Cole Hamels left for the birth of his son, an editor and writer were kicking around headline ideas. One of the ones they came up with (that was later shot down by a higher up at the paper) was the less than subtle brilliance of: DEADBEAT DAD.
4) Proximity. I might end up going to a game. And totally overpaying.
Reason my opinion shouldn't matter in any way? I seriously (seriously) had never heard of Shane Victorino until yesterday.
VERDICT -- Really awesome team. Any other year, they'd probably be No. 2 on this list, but circumstances give the No. 2 spot to...
2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
No jokes. Straight up.
Cool player to get behind? The Nick Adenhart tragedy was awful, and I am in no way going to make an attempt to contextualize it.
But I will say this: you're crazy if you don't respect the way the Angel players have handled his memory throughout the season.
Though soaking his jersey in booze may have been controversial to some, look at the player response to people being put off by it:
"He's our teammate," third baseman Chone Figgins said. "We're allowed to do what we want."I'll translate: If you're offended by this, we do not care. You can't tell us this is offensive because you don't know what this means to us. We'd do it again, we're not sorry, and if you don't like it, fuck right off.
I'll admit, I was taken back for a few seconds when I saw the footage of the jersey being drenched, but I instantly gave it some thought and realized it was the only way. It's been an unorthodox method of coping, but that's what makes the dynamic feel so real and so unique. It defies cliche. And in death and mourning, sometimes that's all you can ask for.
/end of unintentional contextualization
Cool steroid bust from this current season to get behind? No.
Anything that's funny? Knocking out the Sawx was very terrific. You really can't ask for more than what they delivered in Game 3 at Fenway. What with the Boston losing, Papelbon blowing it, and everybody crying thing going on.
Real league? Yes, but with a huge asterisk.
* - It really upsets me that the Angels get to play in the AL West a.k.a. the fakest division in all of professional sports. Four teams?! That's it?
What's even crazier is the Cubs have to play in a division with six teams. Granted, one team isn't ever a team (Pirates), and the other isn't usually a team (Reds), but still, it's the principle of the matter. You will rarely see me ever defend the Cubs, but the composition of the NL Central contrasted with that of the AL West is completely bogus. What's even crazier is I have never met a Cubs fan who has complained about it. Complain about goats, Bartman, Big Z, but never the fact that they're being totally screwed over by major league baseball.
In a league that emphasizes the regular season more than any other, the set up of those two divisions is ludicrous. And it really needs to change.
Back breaking x-factor? I feel like Vlad has secretly entered the boring zone from an actual baseball perspective. Totally possible. My lasting memory from this year is when he made headlines for cutting his hair. This is not a good thing.
Random Stuff? Chone Figgins. I should be sick of him yet, but I'm not. And I really wish he'd sign with the White Sox in the off-season. But not as much as Chuck Garfien does. And I still read his name in print as "Chone" and not Shawn. / Torii Hunter has been great this playoffs. I think it was Simmons that compared him to a fired up football player. I implore you to watch his interviews. Any face time he gets from here on out (pending it being after Angels wins) will be nothing but gold.
Reason my opinion shouldn't matter in any way? It's beyond definite that I like "Angels In The Outfield" a lot more than several legitimate sports movies.
VERDICT -- Don't fight destiny. OK, you can fight destiny a little. But not too much.
1) New York Yankees
A Cubs fan saw this picture and asked "Joba?"
The Yankees?! Oh shut the hell up and let me make my case.
Cool player to get behind? This is as run-of-the-mill stereotype as it gets, but I might have to go with Jeter. I know most people hate him. Myself? I was always indifferent, but as I've learned more and more, it's impossible not to respect the guy. It's funny how statheads hate his defense, how he's unwilling to fight in stupid baseball brawls, and how jaw-droppingly Tim Duncan boring he can be sometimes. But at the end of the day, he's just a player that has done way too much. Yankee fans would probably trade away members of their family to keep him. Leitch's profile was great at driving all this home.
Cool steroid bust from this current season to get behind? Oh, ho ho. The one, the only: A-Rod.
This bust had everything...
- Came at a hilarious time.
- Crushed the hearts of old white sportswriters. Remember, when Bonds was breaking the home run record, a lot of these people were saying things like "Whatever, Barry! Alex is going to break your stupid record anyway! And he'll do it the clean way!" Haha, your dreams are destroyed, baseball sucks.
- Created an odd backlash against Selena Roberts, who was supposed to be making a career out of the revelations.
- Created a new skin color.
Anything that's funny? Too much to dive into here, so I'll be brief: A-Rod's quest to become a true Yankee. Look at this Deadspin insanity (via the Village Voice):
A-Rod, through 42 postseason games: .291, 25 RBIs, 9 HRs, 46 hits, 158 at-bats, not a True Yankee, not clutch.
Reggie Jackson, through his first 42: .265, 19 RBIs, 7 HRs, 40 hits, 151 at-bats, True Yankee, clutch.The numbers are painful. It's not just some, it's all; he's better than someone nicknamed "Mr. October" in every major statistical category. And he's our emblem of a playoff choker? What kind of society is this where we let this misinformation exist?
OH, and also: they swept the Twins, upset white people, and killed the Metrodome for real. Seriously, look at this picture and feel good about yourself.
Real league? As real as it gets.
Back breaking x-factor? Joba always kind of seemed like a big stupid oaf. Plus Rivera being religious and boring isn't very cool, either. And Mark Tiexeira, would it kill you to have a semblance of a personality?
Random Stuff? CC is fat, but in a cool way / Their new stadium spawned some funny controversies / Matsui loves porn / And don't look now, but the winner of the longest game in World Series history is in the bullpen -- oh yes, former ChiSox stud Damaso Marte!
Reason my opinion shouldn't matter in any way? It's the Yankees.
VERDICT -- I really was having minor issues with this endorsement, until one picture finalized everything:
Not to over-harp on A-Rod (too late!), but this picture has everything. It's obviously funny. And on the surface, it's so symbolic of the A-Rod/Jeter dynamic. Jeter has it all, and A-Rod wants to have it all, but it seems he's always on the outside looking in. But!... if you look at this specific picture, it's almost more symbolic of this season's potential deviation from that plot. Sure, on the surface, it's A-Rod looking in. And that's still what's happening in New York. But the difference is this: A-Rod is no longer masquerading as this macho God of a baseball player -- not because he himself changed but because his public approval rating went from questionable to completely dead over the course of this last calender year. It's over for A-Rod. Totally over. His only option from here is to say "screw it," reinvent himself, and start hitting the crap out of the ball. I think he's opted for that. And if being anointed a True Yankee is what's waiting for him come November, then I think he'll at least have to be a little happy with how insane this past year has been for him.
And that's what this picture is all about. A-Rod making it in. Maybe not gloriously through the front of the room like he originally wanted, or sneakily through the back by riding Jeter's coattails, but goofily through the side -- succeeding on his own merit but never in Sports Illustrated Feel Good way he originally intended. And with all that's happened to this man, could this really play out any other way?