26 February 2009
The Importance of Aesthetics.
I get the same visceral response to pitching motions as I do to the sound of drums on records.
To stretch the metaphor even further, I can't tell you how many times friends & acquaintances of mine have questioned my sanity for not liking bands like My Bloody Valentine or New Order or wondered why in the hell am I listening to that gawd-awful Power Station record. It's all in the drums. If they don't sound the way I need them to sound, then I can't like the band.
Take Interpol, for example. It took awhile for me to like that first record since it is in my nature to dislike things that are surrounded by hype but after about a year of avoiding that thing like the plague, I've grown to absolutely love that record. The reason? The sound of the rhythm section & the drums in particular. The other two records they've released haven't been as sharp to me, even though I will readily admit that the singing & songwriting is actually better on the two follow-up records. I just don't like how they've mixed the drums on those two records. They're not as big. They're not as harsh. They're just not the same.
I mention this because I caught my first-ever glimpse of Tommy Hanson pitching today. As I stated along time ago, I've been a big believer in Tommy Hanson's numbers as a minor league pitcher. He's strikes a ton of guys out; he doesn't give up a lot of hits (underrated virtue in my book) & he, for the most part, keeps the ball in the yard. My affection for him only grew with the beyond-glowing reports streaming out of the Arizona Fall League this year, where Hanson would become the first pitcher in AFL history to win the MVP award. My main reason for liking him still though is the fact that up until last year, he was the sort of unsung maestro that was being overlooked, in my opinion. This points to a fundamental change in my approach to appreciating baseball.
As a kid, in fact up until I really started playing fantasy baseball, the wonderment of watching the game was far more important to me than the numbers associated with the game. Sure, I knew batting averages & home run totals from memorizing the backs of baseball cards, but the arithmetic was secondary to watching Vince Coleman taunt a pitcher or Tommy Herr shaking his ass for the ladies.
If you really want to know what kind of person I am, look no further than the guy whom I chose to be my favorite pitcher from those glorious Cardinal teams of the 80's, a man whose photo is featured just over to the right there, Danny Cox.
Taken as a whole, Danny Cox's career was that of a total mediocrity. It didn't start out that way though & I vividly remember him taking the mound against the hated Cubs for his second big league start. I remember loving the fact that he was a big big dude. I loved that he was born in England, lending an air of aristocracy to his bulk. And I loved his wind-up. He stood on the mound with his feet spread far apart & stood out in the same way that the small "COX" seemed to puncuate the #34 on the back of his jersey; sort of like the top of a pyramid. After getting the sign from Daryl Porter, he would calmly raise his hand up over & behind his head while taking a small, leisurely step back. Then, as if shocked into the realization that he was actually preparing to throw a ball instead of engaging in a Tibetan relaxation technique, he would quickly raise his front leg barely up to his waist, extend his arm back while flexing his wrist & launch the ball towards home. Most importantly to me, he had that lovely exaggerated fall-off to the left that just seems to make me smile every time I see it. The Cubs totally bombed him that day but I didn't care. It was love at first sight.
Flash forward 25 years to one Thomas Hanson. His performance today wasn't outstanding but it wasn't terrible either. He walked Carlos Lee to open the 3rd & then hit Miggy Tejada in the ass with a 98 MPH fastball. He ended up going 2 innings, giving up 2 runs while striking out....2. All in all, it was what you would expect out of a tremendously hyped kid getting his first look at real big league hitters. That's all fine.
But something just didn't sit right with me. It wasn't the types of pitches that he throws; the giant curveball & the consistentant 95 MPH fastball; those were just fine... It was the way they were delivered that didn't sit well with me. He just.. I don't know.. He didn't look like I wanted him to look. If I were to compare him to other pitchers, I would say that his motion looked sort of like a cross between Darryl Kile & Eric Gagne, two pitchers who always looked like they were throwing darts more than engaging in an elegant movement of limbs. They both had a way of holding the ball almost directly in line with their right ear just before gunning it home which has always seemed too practical a way of pitching in my view. It wasn't brute force like Nolan Ryan; it wasn't leisurley precision like Greg Maddux or John Tudor; it was the delightful bizarreness of the Japanese pitchers. It was throwing darts like Joe Wroblewski. And even though I mentioned Gagne as a comp, it still didn't have Gagne's wonderful finish where he literally jumps into the air & pulls his pants back up, you know? Nothing like that. And that' not sitting well with me. It's not that he wasn't in some ways unique, since most young pitchers today have had most of the individuality completely removed through MLB's "re-education" in what they feel are "effective mechanics" (again with the math). It's just that the exentricity that he's chosen to show is not one that I'm at all attracted to, thereby limiting the amount of affection I can have towards him.
So, what do I do?
As an accountant, I would absolutely love to see Tommy Hanson succeed in every way. But as an appreciator of art, I can't quite get with what he's sellin'.