(Alternative title: I read the Morosi swag article and now everyone has to suffer)
I did not expect greatness from a Jon Morosi article on “swag” in baseball. In fact, I expected it to be pretty insufferable, full of painful puns and too much Brandon Phillips and to possibly be able hear quiet tittering noises when I scrolled past Morosi smirking visage on the page. And to some degree, that was right on the mark. This is a very silly piece that one can only get so far into ripping without feeling ridiculous for getting so mad at something so frivolous.
What was unexpected is that Jon Paul Morosi, national reporter for Fox Sports, whose bankable skill is his connections in the industry, not soaring prose or incisive inisght, only quotes Phillips in the entire piece. Even a personal profile article tends to have a second source for validation of what the primary interviewee said, let alone an article masquerading as a commentary on a trend in the sport. Where do I, the interested but under-informed reader go to find a serious discussion of swag as opposed to a synthesis of 30 minutes of Brandon Phillips ranting?
Morosi does his best to assure us that this is the only source on swag we’ll need.
“Around the 15-minute mark, I realize this is no mere interview. This is a master class on the state of swag in Major League Baseball.”
Oh, because you would know.
But by granting that designation of expertise to Phillips, Morosi lends credibility to all the unrelated and really pernicious crap that Phillips slides in alongside discussion of different types of high-fives. Morosi’s ignorance of the subject matter of his conversation with Phillips renders his unable to vet any his supporting points, and unless we want to be shut out of the world of swag altogether, we have to accept it too.
[Phillips] pillories sabermetrics – “all this stat crap,” as he calls it – for removing passion from the sport.
Since player value has been determined via a rigorous collection of stats (just inaccurate ones) since before Phillips was born, I am always curious about what specifically about the new developments in analysis is sapping away the passion from the players. Does Phillips know that Joey Votto‘s reserved demeanor is secretly the product of him staying up all night running regressions on his own performance data? Or is Phillips like Adam in the Garden of Eden, where upon gaining knowledge of the world, he becomes inhibited by shame? The shame of a .310 OBP.
“That’s exactly why African-Americans don’t play baseball,” he tells me. “(There’s) no passion in the game. You’ve got to be like a robot.”
Tip for all you young writers out there: if someone offers you an explanation for a social trend based on a stereotype about the demeanors of an entire race of people, you’re done. No second sources, no mention of possible economic factors and the actual barriers to becoming a top prospect in American baseball. Just write it up, file that sucker and make sure the Pulitzer committee has your correct mailing address.
Phillips provides a definition of his concept, which basically centers around being demonstrative in a positive way that’s plainly visible for fans and teammates.
“Baseball swag, to me, is a guy that goes out there and plays with emotion, plays with the passion of the game, not caring what anybody else thinks of them,” Phillips says. “He doesn’t play for himself. He plays for the fans. He plays for the city. And when he goes out there and he does his job, he lets everybody know.”
It’s straightforward enough, but when Phillips names his “All-Swag Team,” there’s a commonality that’s hard to ignore in the selections. For example: Felix Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen, Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, Troy Tulowitzki, Adam Jones, Hunter Pence, etc.
It’s easy enough to figure out on its own, but then Phillips delivers the line that both breaks his own criteria and reveals the secret of it.’
“In basketball, the dependable Tim Duncan has “no swag’ – which, Phillips allows, is a sort of swag unto itself.”
In a shocking development, there seems to be a correlation between success and positive body language. All of the players Phillips names are having dominant season and just seem to have a way of communicating their passion and intensity to others. And for someone like Tim Duncan, who shuns all kinds of swaggerlicious (a term Phillips actually used) displays, it’s fine if he just demonstrates commitment to his craft and his teammates through his play. Say! It’s almost like that matters more!
Conor Gillaspie‘s neverending stoicism seems cold-blooded when he’s just clocked a go-ahead home run, and looks like he’s trying to hide inside of his skin after three errors. It’s all depends on perspective, and when athlete are constantly putting themselves in a good light by succeeding, it’s easier to read positive things into their body language. If Chris Sale was constantly in his post-home run mode where he’s fuming and recklessly hurling fastballs, he’d seem pretty ridiculous as a person and athlete; someone who conveyed rage and regret at all times. I suppose that means Alex Rios has the most eternal swag, since he just looks uninvested at all times.
Here’s a rundown of some of the swag-styles of some White Sox players, since that was the point of submitting myself to this all along:
Adam Dunn: Casually blows his bubble gum while trotting around the bases after a home run, which is pretty chill. Yet he also does this after strikeouts.
Gordon Beckham: Used to have giddy, child-like antics after good moments. Now he is older and there is less to be happy about.
Erik Johnson: Harumph, harumph, harumph, harumph.
Dayan Viciedo: His constant “Did I do that?” demeanor is charming after home runs, but is losing it’s ability to protect him after dropped fly-balls
Alejandro De Aza: In too much pain to have swag
Addison Reed: Is damn near perfect for a closer, from a comedy perspective. His little active hop out in front of the mound to get the ball back after every pitch seems like an attempt to communicate “Yeah, yeah, all part of the plan! Next pitch,” which is hysterical when he’s just started someone off 3-0. And after so many saves, Reed bumps the brim of his cap up, as an expression of both exhaustion and also to give him the demeanor of someone who’s been working on a car all day, but only had it turn on when he dropped his wrench into the engine well.
Avisail Garcia: I expected to have something here, but other than hit home runs, fly around the bases and perform other athletic wonders, Avisail doesn’t do anything extra to call attention to himself
Paul Konerko: I suppose the only person to actually be concerned about is the captain, whose responses to positive moments is only the absence of misery, which is problematic because that can only be beaten away for so long and become consuming at it’s worst. It was easier not to think about this when he was hitting 30 home runs every season. The best, most successful version of everyone is usually more than enough.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan