Underrated / Overrated: Baseball and Other Stuff – Part V
I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately. Not just baseball movies. In fact, no baseball movies. Just the wide assortment of drama, comedy, and off-beat stuff that usually keeps me going through the winter.
So let’s call this the Baseball and The Movies edition (but not baseball movies) of Underrated / Overrated – Part 5.
Overrated: Tony LaRussa – LaRussa started out as a 34-year old Wunderkind manager back in ’79 with the Chicago White Sox. Half a life-time later, at age 65, LaRussa has managed 4,934 regular season ballgames. His win-loss mark in those games (managing the White Sox, A’s and Cardinals) is 2,638-2,293 for a .535 percentage.
In 32-years of managing, he has five pennants and two World Championships to his credit.
LaRussa has managed some of the games greatest superstars, such as Rickey Henderson and Albert Pujols, and he has generally handled himself with dignity over the years (aside from a D.U.I. arrest in March 2007.)
Still, the reputation he has earned over the years as a clever tactician and as a cerebral manager, is largely inflated. Batting the pitcher eighth, for example, is very cute, but there is no objective evidence that it makes a damn bit of difference where you bat the pitcher because, #1 very few starting pitchers regularly pitch deeper than the sixth inning anymore, meaning that they will be pinch-hit for sooner rather than later, and #2 making an out in the eight- hole vs. making an out in the nine-hole (or even the seven-hole) isn’t likely to sway the Gods in your favor.
Moreover, LaRussa has had a nasty habit over the years of tinkering with his lineup more than a novice fantasy league manager. Back in the ‘90’s, and again over the past couple of seasons, he has employed a revolving door in his outfield, shuttling four players in and out of three positions. Worse, there never seems to be any obvious strategy for doing so.
Finally, last season’s Cardinal swoon over the last couple of months of the season revealed an absolute inability to engage his players emotionally to effectively motivate them.
And despite a respectable payroll, and a lineup that includes the best player in the game (plus a couple of very good starting pitchers), the Cards have topped 90 wins just once over the past five years, even while playing in, arguably, baseball’s worst division.
Underrated: Joe McCarthy – He managed for 24-years in the Major Leagues, and NEVER ONCE had a losing season. That’s virtually impossible. Granted, he managed the powerhouse Yankees from 1931-46, but he also managed the Cubs for five years, and the Red Sox for his final three seasons.
Overall, his teams won nine pennants and seven World Series titles. Fifteen of his teams won at least 90 games in a season. He was efficient, began the season with a coherent plan, and stuck to it throughout the year. His Yankee teams never panicked, and he was the primary reason why they didn’t.
Overrated: “Donnie Darko” – Fans of this movie, if you stumble upon their comments on-line, invariably gush, “It’s the greatest movie ever made,” or “I consider myself an ambassador for this great movie.” If you let on to them that you just don’t see what all the fuss is about, they will make certain that you understand that you are intellectually beneath them because, you see, although the “plot” of this movie is largely incomprehensible to even this film’s fanatical fans, why that’s just incontrovertible evidence that this is an INTELLECTUAL film. And you, ignorant pond-scum that you are, JUST DON”T GET IT. Apparently, then, not a single intelligent movie with a complex yet comprehensible plot-line (not to mention a tight script) has ever been made before this 2001 release.
But I guess if you grew up watching films like Jurassic Park, learned to shave eighteen months ago, finally landed your first apartment last week, and are too insecure to objectively debate the actual merits of this film with your genius buddies, it’s unsurprising that you would make such a revealing comment as “This is the greatest movie ever made!” with a straight face.
Underrated: “Wristcutters: A Love Story” – Written and directed by Croatian film-maker Goran Dukic, this sly little 2006 film release – which features an opening song and an acting appearance by the legendary singer / songwriter Tom Waits – is an engaging homage to the American Road Film. But this road movie just happens to take place in Purgatory, which appears to exist in a place that looks and feels a lot like the desolate American West. The primary characters, all of whom have committed suicide, sort out the meaning of life as they search for loved ones, leaders and spiritual gurus on “the other side.” This film skillfully treads the thin tightrope between dark humor and social satire without ever succumbing to the temptation to take itself too seriously, or worse, hinting at a deeper, underlying meaning. Dukic is clearly comfortable in his own skin as a writer / director, never pandering to or pointlessly manipulating his audience. He expects that we will enjoy the ride because, like an experienced fellow traveler, he has already been there before.
Overrated: Carl Crawford – Did the Red Sox really just sign Crawford for seven years and 142 million dollars? Crawford, entering his age 30 season, is coming off of his best overall season in which he scored a career high 110 runs, led the league with 13 triples, stole 47 bases, and almost reached 300 total bases. He also won his first Gold Glove. Crawford is a four-time All-Star, and he finished seventh in A.L. MVP voting last year. He is certainly a valuable commodity.
But Crawford also sports an unimpressive .337 career on-base percentage and an anemic .444 slugging percentage. His career OPS+ of just 107 is the same as Jeff Conine, Lee Lacy, Candy Maldonado and Gary Redus. Last season’s OPS+ of 134 was just the first time Crawford ever topped 120 in a single season.
Crawford’s .781 career OPS is just slightly better than Troy O’Leary’s .779 and Orlando Merced’s .780.
Also, Crawford’s excellent range as a left-fielder will be largely wasted in Fenway Park where it is right-field that rolls off into the horizon.
Underrated: Minnie Minoso – Like Crawford, a league-leader in triples and in stolen bases, scoring over a hundred runs five times to Crawford’s (so far) three times. Minoso also led the league in Hit By Pitch an incredible ten times. His career on-base percentage of .389 is significantly higher than Crawford’s, as is his .848 OPS. His career OPS+ of 130 is the same as Hall of Famers Wade Boggs, Dave Winfield, and Roberto Clemente. Minoso finished as high as 4th in MVP voting four times. He also won three Gold Glove awards and played in the All-Star game in seven seasons. Between 1951-60, he finished in the top five in the A.L. in runs created six times. A case can be made that he just might belong in the Hall of Fame.
Overrated: “Ran” Directed by Akira Kurosawa – This 1985 epic is basically the Japanese version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, set in 16th century feudal Japan. Technically, “Ran” is an excellent piece of filmmaking. Elderly clan patriarch Hidetora decides to abdicate power and turn his kingdom over to his three sons. Soon, however, betrayal, murder and all-out war destroy the entire family. The effect of the settings, costumes and sheer scope of this film is powerful.
Yet emotionally, the film seldom draws the viewer in on a personal level. We observe and marvel at, but seldom feel the drama so much as we witness a grand spectacle. If tragedy implies that the viewer feels moved on some emotional level by the terrible events that unfold, then this film’s one flaw is that the viewer is helplessly left to serve in an unsatisfying role as impotent witness.
Underrated: “Harakiri” – Released in 1962, this surprising film does to the samurai myth what Clint Eastwood’s film “Unforgiven” does to the Western genre. That is, it is a classic samurai film that explodes the myth of the sacred cult of the samurai. Gradually drawn into the layered plot-line, we discover that all is not what it seems when disgraced, starving samurai wander the countryside looking for a noble clan in whose courtyard they can regain their honor after disgrace by committing seppuku (ritual disembowelment.) The revenge in this film is very personal; a father is left with nothing but an empty myth, and confronts a ruthless clan leader with the tragedy of an ideology taken to its logical extreme. Produced just seventeen years after Japan’s surrender after WWII, it is clear that this film greatly influenced Japan’s decades-long (although recently fraying) commitment to virtual pacifism.
Overrated: Baseball Card Conventions – Several years ago, I used to love going to these events, if only to see what kinds of products and collectibles the sellers would have to offer. Sometimes, you would find some truly unusual and interesting items. Baseball cards long since forgotten would stare out at you from under glass display cases, mocking the moment you foolishly disposed of them a lifetime ago. But it became increasingly apparent that few of the sellers had any sentimental attachment to the game itself. Many of them could just as easily have been out there hawking Fords or Chevy’s if circumstances had been slightly different in their lives. Most items were overpriced, and in some cases, the sellers would outright lie about the authenticity of their product. Call me naïve, but that’s just not something that’s likely to keep me coming back, brother.
Underrated: Flea Markets – Although the people who sell stuff at flea markets are also just there to make a buck, they are far more likely to seek reasonable prices, and to dicker over the price of an item, than their far less flexible counterparts at baseball card conventions are. True, flea markets are far more hit-or-miss in terms of what you are likely to find, but when American families finally decide to clean out their late-uncle’s attic / cellar / garage, God knows what will turn up.
On that note, this New Year’s edition of Underrated / Overrated has come to an end. Enjoy the New Year’s festivities in your neck of the woods. As for me, I plan on spending New Year’s Eve drinking beer and listening to Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards (underrated) perform “Marie, Marie,” at a satisfyingly loud volume.
I’ll be back soon after New Year’s Day.
Be safe, my friends, Bill
- In Boston, Crawford Eyes Postseason (nytimes.com)