Larry Walker Belongs in Cooperstown

The numbers jumped. Why deny it? When, in 1991, MLB awarded Denver a franchise, set to begin play in ’93, it was certainly not a surprise to baseball’s braintrust to learn that the city’s elevation would have an ameliorative effect on the flight of baseballs. That might even have been the point…. But, like performance-enhancing substances, thin air won’t turn nothing into something. Larry Walker, as his pre- and non-Denver numbers attest, could hit.

“Larry Walker Belongs in Cooperstown,” for VICE Sports Canada

The Panda Game is not the drunken mess it used to be

They played the 47th Panda Game last weekend. It was, as it has always been, a chance for the respective schools’ supporters to show enthusiasm for their educational institutions, cheering on the football teams as costumed proxies. These are not, by and large, big football fans. They are young people in search of something about which to scream. They are looking for a party. They are looking for a drink.

“The Panda Game: When Canadian College Football is a Big Deal,” for VICE Sports Canada

Josh Donaldson’s Leap

When he popped back onto the Tropicana Field turf, the ball in his glove, his tongue stuck brattily out of his mouth, there flashed the apparent essence of him: an exultantly cocky swagger of the sort we’ve viewed cautiously in the turbulent wake of Jose Canseco and the neon-plastic wraparound era embodied thereby. Donaldson inevitably removed his cap and flipped back that hair of his—a cut last seen gracing yearbook photos atop Vuarnet T-shirts and Nike Airs. That’s when it hit you plain: Donaldson is a throwback, but not in the usual baseball sense of Pete Rose’s dirty uniform—or not only of that variety—but in a somewhat more modern sense. He’s possessed not just of that hard-nosed, vaguely dirtbaggy air, but also of a flash and zip, an MTV-ness that Rose and our other rote callback characters never had the chance to acquire. Donaldson is the intersection of Brooks Robinson and Brian Bosworth.

“Josh Donaldon’s Leap,” for VICE Sports Canada

The Other Baseball Hall of Fame

Among those previously sanctified Canadians are the likes of Ferguson Jenkins and Larry Walker, unquestionably worthy inductees—Jenkins, after all, is in that other Hall, too—as well as players such as Rhéal Cormier and Rob Ducey, whose greatest accomplishments, so far as the folks in St. Marys are concerned, were having been born here. Viewed that way, the Canadian Hall of Fame is a component of the larger effort toward nation building, something like careful brand management, the brand being the amorphous notion of “Canada.”

“The Other Baseball Hall of Fame,” for VICE Sports Canada

The Man Who Would Be King Felix

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When he collected his first strikeout, as a 19 year-old in 2005—it was Pudge Rodriguez—Hernandez was all braun, firing fastballs like unguided ordnance. He’s since become a fair bit brainier, and notably more virtuosic; Hernandez seemed, for the bulk of last season’s 248 strikeouts, to be several strategic steps ahead of every unfortunate facing him from in the box. On Mother’s Day, two pitches before the 92mph heater that claimed Fuld, Hernandez dropped in an 80mph curve of giggle-inducing perfection. It was unfair.

“The Man Who Would Be King Felix,” for Vice Sports

On Alex Rodriguez

His Hall of Fame bonafides are undeniable; it seems safe to assume they would have been that way even if he’d never applied Anthony Bosch’s weird science to his body. He was always a hell of a ballplayer, and denying that would be foolish. He also cheated, and lied, and covered it up, confessed in a manner not quite pleasing to us, and then did it all again. Fans will say that this is why we dislike him. I think the reason Alex Rodriguez arouses such discomfiture in us is that, when we gaze upon him, we know that he is in so many ways just what we asked for, and that the fault is ours for not being specific enough with our wishes. He is our imprecise desire made grotesque; the baseball hero David Cronenberg would give us.

“We Made Alex Rodriguez Who He Is,” for Vice Sports

The Ballad of Ricky Romero

There is no solid moral purchase to find on the matter of how athletes are disposed of once they’re no longer needed—anybody care to discuss Josh Hamilton’s role as the pariah in Arte Moreno’s morality tale? But the hard fact of it, under the specific little tragedies, is that there’s nothing particularly notable about Romero’s story. Athletes are paid to win, goes the argument. But also: this is an actual human who was paid to do a thing until it seemed like he wasn’t very good at doing that thing anymore, at which point the employer said, publicly, “We don’t think you’re worth our money anymore, and we can’t use you, but maybe somebody else will?”

“Odds Against, or The Ballad of Ricky Romero,” for Vice Sports

Chin Music

When things finally wrapped up without further incident—final: 13-6 Blue Jays—Bautista was cornered by the press in the home clubhouse. “At least I’ve gotten the last laugh the last two times,” he said, referring to that night’s supremely attitudinal bat flip, and the previous week’s “Oh, really?” shot off O’Day. When a reporter offered to let Bautista in on what Adam Jones had said about the incident, the slugger cut him off. “I could care less what Adam Jones is saying,” he intoned. April, remember.

“Chin Music: Orioles, Blue Jays, and the Antidote to a Long Season,” for Vice Sports

When Spider-Man Met the Montreal Expos

Spider-Man: Dead Ball is a strange baseball souvenir, and doesn’t really have to be more than that. Old baseball stuff can inspire the kind of rich grief for childhood that makes adults spend vast sums of money in questionable ways. For those with the appropriate memories, it generates that weird, wordless hum that occurs in your brain when two or more of the symbols of your childhood meet in an unexpected space.

“When Spider-Man Met the Montreal Expos,” for Vice Sports

The D-Train at Rest

There are those whose misfortune gives us some quiet pleasure, or affirms some idle and uncharitable judgment of their character. Not so Dontrelle, who was a mess in Detroit, the victim of injuries and what appeared to be the sudden and sinister disappearance of whatever alchemy he’d harnessed in Miami. Even when it was clear he didn’t have what had once made him so dominant, he still inspired a kind of good-natured boosterism in fans. Something about that smile, something about that motion, something about the blazing memory of what he too-briefly was—whatever the reason, no one who cared about baseball did not care about Dontrelle, or want him back.

“The D-Train at Rest,” on the retirement of Dontrelle Willis, for Vice Sports