Baseball is no morality play, and certainly not a woke-left one

The Washington Post keeps getting worse, and that’s true of all its main sections including the sports pages. The reason for the deterioration of the sports pages is the same as the reason for the rest of paper’s descent — the leftism of its reporters and columnists.

The Post’s sports columnists are relentlessly woke. Their work is long on scolding and short on insight.

Naturally, the sports reporters have less leeway to display wokeness. But when the opportunity arises, they virtue signal, too.

Chelsea Janes, who writes well and insightfully about baseball, is one of the few Post sportswriters whose work seems largely devoid of politics and ideology. Ironically, she returned to the sports section after a stint covering the 2019-20 election campaign.

I want to focus this rant on an article by Adam Kilgore that appeared in today’s paper. He argues that the Los Angeles Dodgers botched their attempt to repeat as world champions due to poor decisions by the organization. Focusing on the Dodgers’ NLCS loss to the Atlanta Braves, Kilgore writes:

The Dodgers assembled the most talented team in baseball, and their own decisions managed to undermine that talent.

This claim misses the mark for several reasons. First, any team, no matter how talented, can lose a seven-game series to an opponent good enough to make the playoffs. Drawing broad lessons from such an outcome is usually hackery.

Second, Kilgore overlooks the fact that the Dodgers made it past the crap-shoot that’s the Wild Card game and went on to beat the San Francisco Giants, winners of 107 regular season games, in a five-game playoff series. Organizations that “undermine their talent” rarely accomplish that much.

Third, Kilgore downplays, and indeed basically dismisses, the extraordinary number of injuries/absences the Dodgers had to cope with. The team had to navigate the playoffs without three outstanding pitchers — Trevor Bauer (suspended for beating up a woman), the great Clayton Kershaw, and Dustin May. They were also without Max Muncy, their best hitter (highest WAR) during the regular season, and for most of the Braves series, without Justin Turner, their terrific third-baseman (tied for third highest WAR among LA’s position players).

To top it all off, the Dodgers’ best pitcher, Max Scherzer, had to pitch in the Wild Card game. That appearance, along with his workload in the grueling series against the Giants, caused his arm to go dead. He was thus unavailable for the crucial Game Six against Atlanta — the contest that eliminated the Dodgers.

The Braves didn’t have to play a Wild Card game. This, despite the fact that the Dodgers won 106 regular season games, compared to 88 wins for Atlanta.

I don’t object to this, It’s just how things worked out. However, Scherzer’s appearance in the Wild Card game, coupled with the unavailability of the three other star pitchers, put the Dodgers at a significant disadvantage by the time Game Six of the NLCS rolled around.

Kilgore acknowledges the Dodgers’ injury/unavailability woes, but blows them off by noting that the Braves were without the great Ronald Acuna Jr. and quality pitcher Mike Soroka. Kilgore doesn’t mention it, but they were also missing the powerful bat of Jorge Soler for almost the entire NLCS.

But the Dodgers’ absences were more crippling, especially in the pitching department, which is where Kilgore’s main critique of the team’s in-game decisions centers. It was due to the absence of so many top arms that the Dodgers were forced to “bullpen” their way through the Atlanta series and to focus so much on matchups instead of following Kilgore’s recommendation, in hindsight, that they “simply play” the games instead of “trying to manipulate” them.

Why does Kilgore take the Dodgers to task for losing a series that nearly any team in baseball history could have lost under similar circumstances? It’s clear to me that he did so for ideological reasons.

Kilgore hates the fact that the Dodgers signed the aforementioned Trevor Bauer. He calls that signing “ill conceived [and] shameless” and contends that the Dodgers “never recovered” from it.

Never recovered? They won 112 games this season, all told.

When the Dodgers signed Bauer, they had no way of knowing he would punch the daylights out of a woman (in what a judge found to be a consensual arrangement). Kilgore admits as much. However, he points out that Bauer had “a record of misogynistic statements.”

So there you have it. Kilgore can’t get past what he views as a politically incorrect signing by the Dodgers. That’s why he’s writing nonsense about their playoff exit.

But if baseball teams refused to stock their pitching staffs with players who have made misogynistic or other politically incorrect statements, they would probably have to dip into Double A ball to come up with 13 arms. Bauer had never been ruled ineligible to play baseball. And although he was once the subject of a protective order based on accusations of hitting a woman, he had never to my knowledge been convicted of a crime when the Dodgers signed him. Nor has it been shown that the Dodgers knew about this incident when they signed him.

Accordingly, I don’t view the Dodgers’ decision to bring him on board as “shameless.” However, it’s not unreasonable for Kilgore to view it that way. What’s unreasonable is to connect that decision to the Dodgers’ playoff exit.

The team compensated for the loss of Bauer by acquiring Scherzer in a trade. They might well have gone all the way if injuries hadn’t plagued them. In any case, failing to go all the way with great talent isn’t evidence of bad organizational decisions.

Kilgore is trying to turn baseball into a morality play. He’s not the first writer to attempt this feat (the “baseball gods” and all that). But it’s almost always a fool’s errand, and so it proved to be in this case.

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