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The Kelley Blowout: The end of the road for a big star

Week 2 includes advice against Albert Pujols, not believing Gay Talese's longform, getting in touch with some emotions, and why you should never know your heroes.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I was tempted, this week, to write about standings. We all know it's stupid to look at fantasy baseball standings after a week. It's stupid to look after two weeks, a month. Maybe in late May, we can talk about it, but in general, standings are way too variable to matter.

Despite that, I look at them. I saw that I went 4-8 in one league last week and was annoyed; I saw that I went 8-6 in another and was happy. It's natural to want to succeed, to be ahead, but the real truth is that it doesn't matter even a little right now.

And I don't have it in me to write about things that don't matter as my friggin' lede. I mean, granted, fantasy doesn't matter, but even things that don't matter within this framework? Sorry, y'all. I'm no masochist.

This is Week 2 of the Kelley Blowout, my weekly trip through my brain, hitting on things I'm thinking about. It's long. It's varied. But it's fun. Enjoy.


Your Name Is Mud

Albert Pujols hit 40 home runs last year. That was good for a tie for seventh in the league, sitting alongside Jose Bautista and Carlos Gonzalez. He also had only 95 RBI. That makes him one of 21 players to ever his 40-plus home runs with fewer than 100 RBI. (Love you, Baseball-Reference Play Index.)

Okay, so that's not disastrous. Also on that list, just from last year, were Bryce Harper, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Gonzalez and, interestingly enough, Pujols' own teammate Mike Trout. (Yes, five of the 21 player-seasons ever with 40-plus and 100-or-fewer came last year.) So, from that list, Pujols last year:

  • Scored the fifth-fewest runs, at 85
  • Had the lowest OPS, at .787 (no one else was under .800)
  • Had the lowest OBP, at .307
  • Had the second-lowest slugging, at .480 (only Adam Dunn in 2006 and 2012 ever joined him under .500)
  • Had the third-lowest batting average (again, hanging out with those two Dunn years)
  • Was the third-oldest during his season
  • Had the third-fewest walks, at 50

It's that last one that really gets me. Prime Pujols was good for 90-plus walks in a season, topping that number every year from 2005 to 2010. He walked more times than he struck out every year from 2002 to 2011. But these days, he doesn't walk like he used to, he doesn't hit like he used to, he just doesn't Pujols like he used to.

The chart that follows is his on-base percentage by season, since his debut. Out of kindness, I'm not including his first week of 2016. Out of kindness, and because my graph doesn't actually go that low:


That's disastrous. That's ... that's the graph of Heroes quality over time or something. Also, I couldn't help but notice Pujols has yet to draw even one walk this year. (Okay, I wrote that before his first walk Monday, but still.) The chart that follows is his year-by-year end-of-season OBP alongside how many plate appearances it took him to draw his first walk.

Year OBP PAs for first walk
2001 .403 17
2002 .394 5
2003 .439 1
2004 .415 3
2005 .430 13
2006 .431 1
2007 .429 3
2008 .462 5
2009 .443 4
2010 .414 6
2011 .366 17
2012 .343 4
2013 .330 5
2014 .324 34
2015 .307 2
2016 .179 26

No, the first walk isn't indicative of end-of-season walk totals, but it stands to reason there'd be some correlation, yeah? And dude just isn't walking. While it's nice to have seen 40 homers last year, he had 28 the year before in even more plate appearances, with his HR/FB rate at a four-year high. In other words, one number (his on-base skills) is going steadily downward, while the other (power) had a random one-year blip. I don't really think the blip is the way to put your money.

Despite everything I just said, though, Pujols is 95 percent owned in Yahoo! fantasy leagues. That's more than Brandon Belt, more than Lucas Duda, more than Mark Teixeira and Kendrys Morales and Byung Ho Park. I would take all those guys over Pujols, and the list doesn't stop there.

Albert Pujols is a big name. That's cool. If Rickey Henderson were to make a comeback today, he'd be a big name, and I wouldn't want him either.

Insert skeptical-face emoji here

Maybe you saw this story. Maybe you didn't. But Gay Talese had the longest-of-longform stories on The New Yorker this week about the man who ran a hotel for some three decades, spying on his customers the entire time.

Seriously, dude cut holes in the ceilings, disguised them with vents, and crawled around overhead watching people do ... pretty much everything. The story includes stories of graphic sex acts, murder, drugs. Talese has known the man for 35 years, and  is only now writing about it because he agreed to learning about his life off the record.

There are thinkpieces all over the internet about this. You can (and should) follow up reading the core piece with some of those, as holy crazyballs, Batman. I'm curious to see what comes of this, whether the man encounters any legal fallout from finally telling his story. And the moral implications of Talese knowing about this (even briefly participating) all those years is definitely worth the discussion. There is also the question of whether Talese was in the right from a journalism standpoint; while it's true that reporters often report on ongoing crime, you do have to ask whether it's worth it.

But I want to ask other questions. Particularly, I want to ask about honesty. Because while I think there are parts of Talese's subject's story that are worth calling into question (and he does), Talese's part of the story, frankly, has me doubtful.

Longform is a tricky subject, for both the writer and the reader. For the writer, you're going on for thousands of words on a single subject, writing (these days) for a medium people look at when they have a spare few seconds in the middle of their day. Getting someone to read what amounts to a short book on his or her phone is a daunting task, and a reason why longform is held in some prestige.

But the flip side is that longform, when published, has some theoretical prestige banked. Like, if you play a pickup game at the park, and a guy shows up at 6'11, you just assume he should be your first pick. When you read a piece identified as longform, well hell, it's longform, this is going to be good.

And inherent in something being "good" is something being honest. Because the starting point of this whole piece is that Talese has been sitting on this piece for 35 years. He says he never planned to write about this man from the beginning, instead going to meet him to satisfy a morbid curiosity. Okay, cool. But then why in hell aren't you turning this guy in to police when you see clear lawbreaking? You aren't protecting a source, protecting a story. You're just ... well, harboring a fugitive.

Okay, so maybe Gay Talese is just an asshole. Maybe he didn't want to turn in a criminal. If you insist on this, I'll nod and go on.

Then there's this passage:

Despite an insistent voice in my head telling me to look away, I continued to observe, bending my head farther down for a closer view. As I did so, I failed to notice that my necktie had slipped down through the slats of the louvred screen and was dangling into the motel room within a few yards of the woman’s head. I realized my carelessness only when Foos grabbed me by the neck and, with his free hand, pulled my tie up through the slats. The couple below saw none of this: the woman’s back was to us, and the man had his eyes closed.

So, wait, you not only don't turn in the voyeur, you join in on the fun. On top of that, in the apparent few seconds he's watching, his tie just happens to slide down through the slats in the vent? The vent is wide enough for his tie to accidentally slip through the holes, but still no one ever noticed the motel owner through those oh-so-wide slats? Even when the motel owner accidentally lets a shout out at a rude guest (in a later vignette)?

At first glance, maybe that's believable. But after no more than a couple seconds of contemplation, I'm sorry, I just don't believe it. That vignette is presented as a big moment, Talese seeing first-hand the man at work. If that part is inherently unbelievable, and I contend that it is, then you start picking apart at the rest of it:

  • This man found not one, but two women who not only knew about his tendencies, but approved, encouraged and assisted him?
  • Supposedly, the man often sneaked into rooms and disposed of drugs when he knew of them, and that only led to issues one time? That one time, the man basically acts as the cause for a murder, and causing a murder doesn't make him change?
  • The man writes obliquely about a murder, that the police years later can't even verify occurred?

Much of this is explained away by Talese as the motel owner keeping flawed records, or of police reports being handwritten, or as just one of those things. But honestly? I don't believe anything.

Well, that's not fair. I believe a man probably had a way to spy on his hotel guests. I believe ... honestly, that's the only thing I really believe.

You've all seen those trivia Twitter accounts, right? Like Snapple Facts, but online. I cringe every time I see a new one, I cringe, because I know I'm set up for disappointment. As soon as one of them says one of the old tropes, like "a duck's quack doesn't echo" or "we swallow eight spiders a year in our sleep" or "the Great Wall can be seen from space," I can no longer read the source, because once trust is gone, it's gone.

Maybe Gay Talese was telling the truth through most of his longform (and book-to-come) and just embellished at parts. He'd hardly be the first nonfiction writer to do so. Hell, maybe he was telling eh truth the whole time, and my skepticism is out of control.

But I see a long story that is unbelievable in too many parts, and I can't stick with that. Heck, best case scenario, he's an asshole who didn't turn in a criminal. Maybe it's better if I don't believe him.

Daniel's Conundrum of the Week

I'm in five fantasy leagues this year, which, frankly, is an improvement for me; I've been floating near double-digits for a few years now, and it's just too much. But one thing that's true for me this year that I tend to avoid is this: More than half my leagues involve weekly lineups.

When fantasy/rotisserie started, this made sense. You sent your lineup to the commissioner through the regular mail or whatever, meaning daily lineup changes were impossible. Knowing which starting pitcher had two starts in a given week was something you looked up in the latest issue of Baseball Weekly, and if you were really on top of things, it gave you an advantage.

Now, though? Now, we can change our lineup nigh-on infinity times between the start of one day's games and the next. If there are enough add/drops, we can start however many pitchers we can find in the course of a week. I'm not even altogether sure Baseball/Sports Weekly even exists these days.

So why the heck are there still fantasy leagues with weekly lineups? Finding two-start pitchers is no longer Moneyball; every site gives you that information in little icons. And while yes, the best pitchers will have two-start weeks more often, (a) that difference isn't very significant, and (b) the best pitchers are still the best pitchers.

There shouldn't be an advantage to injuries that occur on Saturday as opposed to Monday. There shouldn't be a difference between two starts in Week A and one in Week B versus one in A, two in B.

Fantasy baseball doesn't require that much attention. I check my lineups every morning for about a minute. Occasionally, I'll sit down and work with real numbers, but the idea that we need weekly lineups just to avoid a time crunch? That's stupid too.

If your league has weekly lineups, your league is wrong. It's that simple.

I second that emotion

I used to play a lot of poker. My last semester in college, and my first six months to a year out of it, poker was my primary source of income. I was good at it. Not great, but enough that I was actually profiting, even if I wasn't exactly buying a yacht.

I'll get back to that in a minute, but first, a couple of sidebars related to one another:

First, when I was in second grade, there was a school variety show in which students could perform any sort of performance they wanted. I decided I wanted to sing the Star-Spangled Banner (for some awful reason; I'm a terrible singer and it's an awful song) and got paired with a group of girls, including Leisha, who even then I had a crush on. During the fateful performance, my mother, in the front row, decided we all looked to serious and started making silly faces, leading to me laughing instead of singing, leading to a basically ruined performance. I blamed my mom for it and was angry at her for days.

Three years later, I had assigned seating in school next to Leisha, who I still had that crush on. We had a daily game of "who can make the other one laugh," which I tried my damnedest to win. My goal was always to be stony-faced, at least until Leisha was laughing her butt off.

Now, poker. I prided myself on being at least passably good at every part of poker. Math, reading opponents, logic, blocking my own tells. I can't swear I was perfect at it as far as poker goes, but I was doing it so much that I felt my protection against tells was bleeding into my everyday life. I was becoming increasingly closed-off, increasingly unable to connect with people. Or at least I felt I was. It's not the main reason I stepped away from the game, but it was definitely a factor.

Which brings me to this piece from the New York Times last week, about emotional honesty in men, particularly college-aged men. There's undeniably pressure on me and my male brethren to be stone-faced to as much as possible. I got some great news last week, and when I called my fiancée to tell her, she said she was about to cry. When I told her I was way ahead of her, there was a second of silence, and then she said "Really?" Like I was kidding.

Men have it so easy. I don't want to pretend I'm saying otherwise. I'm straight, white, American. On top of all that, I came with a Y chromosome. Relatively speaking, I'm as well off as it's possible to be. But I can't deny that there's a certain pressure on people like me to be stoic, closed-off. Macho, if that's the word you want for it. And it's stupid. I never got together with Leisha. I never had a girlfriend when I was a steady poker player. My singing of the national anthem was going to be bad if I was straight-faced through it; at least by laughing it was interesting.

Telling men to shut down their emotions isn't the worst thing we do. But it's a damned stupid thing. Feel things, fellas.

Never meet, learn about or acknowledge your heroes

Friday was the 30th anniversary of Will Clark's debut, when he hit a home run in his first big-league at bat off of none other than Nolan Ryan. The Giants acknowledged the day with a throwback video:

I was born in 1983. By the time I was cognizant of things like baseball, my brother had a firm Will Clark fandom in place and I, wanting to be like my brother of course, adopted it. Wore Giants shirts. Memorized stats. My first real, concrete memory is of the 1989 World Series quake. When Clark signed with the Rangers, my fandom went with him, and to this day they remain my favorite team, despite short stints in Baltimore and St. Louis where I briefly let my loyalties lie.

To this day, I will occasionally look at his Baseball-Reference page and wish he had gotten more Hall of Fame attention. I will wonder if his early retirement cost him a few years of stat-padding that would have boosted his acclaim.

But also, I can't help but learn things.

The Internet wasn't a big part of my life during Clark's career. But since then, even a cursory googling will reveal things about possible race-fueled interactions with Jeffrey Leonard, or with Kevin Mitchell. A gay slur from him pops up in a Tony Gwynn retrospective. I have spent years avoiding reading deeper on my childhood favorite player, because I don't want to learn more things about Will Clark. And isn't that a problem

My other favorite player from childhood was Gary Carter. I've never really seen anything about him that has made me question that fandom. But Will Clark? Look, I can't go back and rewrite my childhood. My instinct when seeing or hearing about him is always going to be enjoyment. But the fact that that enjoyment is immediately followed by a vague hollow feeling, like when you are a child and you steal a cookie and get away with it, but just can't enjoy the cookie as much.

I still like Will Clark. And I feel bad for that. Let your heroes stay hidden.

Everything is so commercial

Just to show I don't always complain about commercials, this week I present to you one of the best ads I've ever seen:

In high school, my buddy Will decided he wants to become a high school history teacher entirely because of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire." He had it in his head that his big assignment would always be to assign the students the song, and they had to write a paragraph about each thing Joel mentioned and why he mentioned them. (Will owns his own bar now, which is probably more satisfying than teaching in a lot of ways, but that's neither here nor there.)

This commercial is the same sort of thing. I'd love to go through and find the origin of every clip there. Moreso, I'd love to talk to the people who made the commercial about how they settled on the clips they used. Cup stacking? Scott Pilgrim? Every time I see the ad, I see a clip I didn't notice before, or I newly recognize the origin of a clip from having discovered it between ad viewings. For example, it wasn't until my viewing of the ad for this posting that I realized the Christopher Walken clip was from the video for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice," which I hadn't seen until a recent night at a bar that does music videos. I learned!

(Writing about this ad: Doesn't count.)

Tweet of the week

Almost two weeks ago, a Twitter user I had never met announced her intention to commit suicide. I didn't know about it until several hours later, when I was clicking through some Keith Law tweets and saw he was one of many people who saw the declaration and tweeted her some variant on "don't," or "people love you," or "please," or any one of the several things that can be helpful to someone feeling that desperate.

The woman ended up not following through. Now, I have no idea whether she was serious, or joking, or desperate-but-not-that-much. I don't know, but it also doesn't matter. A stranger announced something, people jumped in to stop it, all was good.

Except that was one thing. Life had, for whatever reason, apparently been shitty for this woman, @twomiletower. She didn't go through with it a couple weeks ago, and she said she had sought help, but who knows for sure? Maybe next time, she doesn't announce it, doesn't get Twitter feedback. People might not be around for her next desperate moment to tell her she's loved. That's why this tweet is this week's winner:

Props to Law for reaching out at a random moment. If she was faking or just wanted attention, he's wasted about four seconds of a tweet. If she was serious, though? He might have saved a life. We should all be so willing to waste our time.

Let's create a league

Last week, we decided via poll that we'd create a dynasty league. Frankly, it wasn't what I was hoping for, as I prefer limited keeper leagues, with a handful of holdovers and a big new draft. But that's fine; we're crowdsourcing this SOB.

This week, well, we know we have a dynasty league, but we don't know how many teams. How big is this league?