25 November 2002

Things To Do In Philly If You're Stupid

On 23 October 1999, Norm McDonald hosted Saturday Night Live, which is not such a tremendous accomplishment when taken out of context, as hundreds of people have done the same over the years. What made it of particular interest is perhaps best explained by Norm himself, with his monologue:

"When the people here asked me to do the show, I've got to say, I felt kind of weird. I don't know if you remember this, but I used to actually be on this show. I used to do the "Weekend Update" news routine, you remember that? That's where I did the make-believe news jokes. That was me, you know? So then, a year and a half ago, I had sort of a disagreement with the management at NBC. I wanted to keep my job. Right? And they felt the exact opposite. They fired me because they said that I wasn't funny. Now, with most jobs, I could have had a hell of a lawsuit on my hands for that, but see, this is a comedy show. So, they got me. But, now, this is the weird part, it's only a year and a half later, and now, they ask me to host the show. So I wondered, how did I go from being not funny enough to be even allowed in the building, to being so funny that I'm now hosting the show? How did I suddenly get so goddamn funny?! It was inexplicable to me, because, let's face it, a year and a half is not enough time for a dude to learn how to be funny! Then it occurred to me, I haven't gotten funnier, the show has gotten really bad! So, yeah, I'm funny compared to, you know, what you'll see later.

Okay, so let's recap.
The bad news is: I'm still not funny.
The good news is: The show blows!"

Now, obviously, this is all tongue-in-cheek.

The real reason for his firing is not that Norm was ever not-funny, and the show didn't particularly blow any more than it ever did, especially when you have the Joe Piscopo Era for comparison. The real reason is that they wanted him off the show because of his constantly swearing on live TV and the fact that they thought he couldn't do anything well other than read the fake news. But, when given a chance to blossom on another show, suddenly Norm's phone is ringing off the hook.

Similarly (you were wondering where this was going, weren't you?) there are people like Tuffy Rhodes, Alex Cabrera and Roberto Petagine, who go from being so "not-funny" (in baseball terms, "not-hitty") that they're not even offered a job in MLB, to being so funny (read: kicking ass in Japanese, Mexican, Korean, Timbuktu League) that they're suddenly wanted back on the show, or, more accurately, back in The Show. Peter Gammons reports that Petagine suddenly has a whole boatload of suitors for a major league firstbaseman's job, after coming close to leading Japan's Central League in a bunch of offensive categories. Obviously, these guys weren't ever all that bad, and the quality of the Japanese Leagues is not so far below that of MLB, and nobody "learns" to hit in two years. These guys just needed a shot.

Which means that there are probably dozens of guys out there somewhere who can and would hit just like David Bell, for less than a tenth of what Bell will reap over the next four years. If there's anything to be learned in this era of free agency and high-priced mediocrity, it's "Don't sign a 30-something mediocrity coming off a career year to a long-term contract." But the Phillies can't be bothered with things like "research" and "fiscal responsibility". They want to be able to point to David Bell, or Heathcliff Slocumb, or Gregg Jeffries, or Danny Tartabull, or Mike Jackson, and say to the City of Brotherly Boo, "See? We tried! We signed a free-agent, and look where it got us! Why should we bother? It's the Market's fault!" Without acknowledging that they help to skew the market by paying for mediocrities like David Bell.

I want to like the Phillies. I do. Really. But then they go and sign David Bell for four years at ~$17 million, and I am instantly reminded of why I have such a hard time rooting for them, at least consistently. John Perricone, over at OBM, has compared Bell to Edgardo Alfonzo, another free-agent 3B looking for a job, and has shown how remarkably similar their counting stats and such were. I would submit (and I think John would agree) that Fonzie was actually the better player last year, when he was healthy.

John is upset that Bell spurned SanFran for Philly, and particularly that Larry Bowa is attributed as the main reason that Bell split, which is like your wife telling you that she's leaving you for Jake LaMotta. However, this potentially opens up the Giants to go get Alfonzo, or any of the other half-dozen third basemen on the market right now who are better than Bell. David Pinto correctly points out that Bell had the third most WinShares on the Giants last year, and accurately predicts that Felipe Alou will have his hands full trying tor eplace the production of Bell and Jeff Kent, but fails to mention that there was a STEEP drop-off after SuperMan and BatMan. According to Baseball Prospectus, Bell was only about the 15th or 20th best 3B in the majors last year, by EQa, depending on how many plate appearances you want to use as a qualifier. The Phils are not "breaking the bank" by today's standards, but $4.25 mil/year is a lot for essentially a league-average 3B. It's also a lot because it might not have cost much more to get Alfonzo, given his injuries last year, and they already have Placido Polanco, who should never play daily on a good team, but who is a serviceable backup and could play a few weeks if The Fonz goes down again. Too late now.

The so-called experts and insiders who are comparing Bell to Scott Rolen and lamentig the dropoff in expected production are totally right. And completely missing the point. Rolen is moot. He wasn't an option, so the comparison is worthless. The real comparison should be between Bell and Alfonzo, or Robin Ventura, or Phil Nevin, or Mark Loretta, or Todd Zeile. None of these guys is perfect, or they'd already be signed, but a lot of them will hit better than Bell over the next four years. Or at least until Chase Utley is ready.

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