ALCS Coverage: Proust Probably Wasn’t a Baseball Nerd

Were you to comb the annals of world literature in search of little nancy boys, you’d probably be hard-pressed to find anyone nancier than the very nancy Marcel Proust. In the first part of his Swann’s Way (itself only the first of the seven volume Remembrance of Things Past), we see little Prousty: crying at length for his mommy, describing breathlessly the winding paths about his family’s summer home, and (if memory serves) sending away for any number of American Girl dolls. Nancy, indeed.

Having said that, it’s in the same text that Proust also provides us with one of the more important moments of literature. Sitting down to tea one afternoon, Proust (or the character who resembles him in almost every way) dips one of his madeleine cookies in the aforementioned beverage. Then this happens:

And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory – this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me it was me. I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy? I sensed that it was connected with the taste of the tea and the cake, but that it infinitely transcended those savours, could, no, indeed, be of the same nature. Whence did it come? What did it mean? How could I seize and apprehend it?

The passage has become famous for a lot of reasons, probably, but most notably as an early illustration of modern psychology in literature. Much is made of Proust’s description/exploration of the “involuntary memory” — the manner in which the senses are able to prompt a strong and, yes, involuntary reaction in the brain. [For info on this and more, see Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist.]

Well, during the first inning of Thursday night’s Angels-Yankees game, I had a bit of a madeleine cookie moment — not with Proust’s attendant “shudders,” but the same experience of involuntary memory.

I don’t know that you’d agree with me, but, watching the bottom of the first inning of last night’s Angels-Yankees game, I couldn’t help but notice how hard the Angels were hitting the ball off New York starter A.J. Burnett. Like, real hard. Like, superhero hard.

To refresh your memory, here’s what that inning looked like:

Chone Figgins walked.
Bobby Abreu doubled to center (Liner). Chone Figgins advanced to 3B.
Torii Hunter singled to center (Grounder). Chone Figgins scored. Bobby Abreu scored.
Vladimir Guerrero doubled to center (Fliner (Liner)). Torii Hunter scored.
Kendry Morales singled to left (Liner). Vladimir Guerrero scored.
Maicer Izturis flied out to right (Fliner (Fly)).
Juan Rivera grounded into a double play to third (Grounder). Kendry Morales out at second.

Obviously, I’m not talking about Figgins; he walked. Nor was Rivera’s grounder to third particularly well-struck. Ditto for Hunter’s single (although it wasn’t some sort of nancy BS, either). But the other four batters in the inning — Abreu, Guerrero, Morales, even Izturis — all appeared to hit the ball as hard as each of them is respectively able to.

Hit f/x data isn’t available yet for public consumption. Were it, I’d include it so hard right [here]. In any case, our play-by-play data bears out the Angels’ onslaught: Abreu’s double is classified as a liner; Vlad’s double as a fliner; Morales’s single, a liner; Izturis’s fly-out, a fliner. That’s four out of five consecutive batters squaring up offerings from an above-average pitcher. Not impossible, sure; but unlikely. And probably more striking as it was the first inning of an important playoff game.

And just like that, having said to myself the word “line drive,” I was immediately brought back to the following. Remember this? [Thanks to Awful Announcing for the transcript.]

Joe Morgan: Jon, I gotta ask you a trivia question. I was fishing with Matt Franco, used to play for the Mets. I was fishing with him on a boat, and Matt Franco asked me this trivia question. He said he had talked to players past and present. He asked me, Which guy hit the hardest line drives most consistently of all I’d ever seen. Hardest line drives.

Jon Miller: That’s a trivia question?

Joe: Well, it was for me and him. We were playing trivia on the fishing boat.

Jon: Where would I look up the answer to that?

Joe: Well, you should know the answer!

Jon: Give me the question one more time.

Joe: All right. Who hits the hardest line drives of any player you ever saw on a consistent basis?

Jon: Dave Winfield.

Joe: All right, keep going. That’s one. That’s “A”. “A” wasn’t right.

Jon: [Loud Laughs] “Yes it was right! I beg to differ!

Joe: I’m gonna give you, uhh … I’m gonna give … I’m gonna give you a hint. You even broadcast games for him.

Jon: [Long Pause] “I broadcast Dave Winfield’s games.

Joe: No … for the answer, I’m talking about. I’m telling you, he asked all the other players. I’m not saying—

Jon: Well, I’m saying, this is a question for which there is no correct answer.

Joe: Yeah, there’s a correct answer.

Jon: Well, what did you say? What was your answer? Did you get it right?

Joe: Yes. [pause] Al Oliver.

Jon: Oh, Al Oliver. He was—

Joe: See!

Jon: He was a very good line drive hitter.

Joe: I knew you would say that. See, I knew that you’d eventually come up with the answer.

You’ll probably remember that little dialogue between Morgan and Miller. A lot of sites picked it up. And for good reason: it’s like Ionesco-level absurd.

But wait, there’s more!

It wasn’t long after Joe Morgan’s little trivia fest that, poring through the excellent Troubadour Books in Hatfield, MA, I found and purchased some of the old Bill James Baseball Books. They’re awesome, in case you haven’t read them. But what made buying them even awesomer — and relevant to the present discussion — is James’s capsule review of Rafael Palmeiro in the Player Ratings section of The Baseball Book 1992 (p 238, for those following along at home).

According to James, Frank Thomas is tops among AL first basemen. Palmeiro is second. Here’re the first two sentences about him:

An awesome hitter, too, Al Oliver-type hitter. Hard line drives three times a game.

Bizam! Line drives! Al Oliver! Madeleine cookies!

The irony of all this, obviously, is that Bill James and Joe Morgan both consider the name Al Oliver synonymous with the words “line drive” — even though Morgan hates-slash-hasn’t-read James’s famous book Moneyball.




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Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


78 Responses to “ALCS Coverage: Proust Probably Wasn’t a Baseball Nerd”

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  1. Eddie says:

    Bill James didn’t write moneyball.

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    • Tom Jakubowski says:

      Bill James didn’t, but Bill James probably built those computers that wrote it. Damn computer nerds!

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      • divakar says:

        No, actually. Bill James doesn’t build computers either. In fact, who in the world thinks that computers can write a book?

        Recently, over a warm cup of coffee, Eddie and I discussed the merits of being very accurate in one’s statements.* It’s imperative.

        if one insinuates that Bill James wrote a book which, in fact, he did not, some people might get confused. No one will be sure what to make of such incorrect statements, because without accuracy, nothing makes sense.

        Cistulli – please stop doing this. It is unfair to your readers.

        *Eddie and I have never met, nor did we ever have said discussion.

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    • MPC says:

      Are you being serious with this? I really hope not.

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    • Matt L says:

      Come on Carson, don’t spread misinformation masquerading as a joke, it upsets people.

      Billy Beane wrote Moneyball, end of discussion.

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  2. Ben says:

    OK thats probably the first and last time anyone ever incorporates proust into a baseball article. Or any sport article for that matter.

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  3. paris7 says:

    Awesome, awesome post! Great work with the Proust reference, and all the rest (with the exception of the use of the word irony, which doesn’t mean “a surprising concurrence between two separate events”).

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    • Carson Cistulli says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Paris, thanks. And I totally agree: we should be responsible in how we use the word “irony,” which, as you say, is frequently used to mean something like “meaningful coincidence.”

      Having said that, I think the Morgan-James connection does actually represent a case of real, live irony. Morgan is on record as saying that he can’t stand computers or Billy Beane or anything/-one that embraces the scientific method. James obviously represents almost the exact opposite strain of baseballing commentary/analysis. That they both vehemently agree on the line-driving prowess of Al Oliver — especially when you consider how crazy and unscientific Morgan seemed in making this very point — ties them together in a surprising and (I’d argue) ironic way.

      That said, I frequently have no idea what I’m talking about. And no, I don’t mean that ironically!

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      • divakar says:

        oops should have left that to cistulli.

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      • paris7 says:

        Well answered! Had I known more about the specific Morgan-James positions being alluded to, I would not have been so pedantic. Again, this is the BPE for baseball and Proust!

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    • divakar says:

      Agreed – Carson, best post yet.

      It is true that the situation with James and Morgan is coincidental – but that doesn’t always preclude irony…

      3rd definition of Irony in merriam webster:

      Irony: 3 a (1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2) : an event or result marked by such incongruity.

      The incongruity here would be Morgan claiming a trivia question (hence some form of objectivity) had an answer that was clearly just his opinion… In such situations, I (and many others) normally expect his opinion to fall flat in the face of objective analysis. This time, that outcome was in line with a generally objective observer.

      That’s at least mildly ironic, I’d say…

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      • Terminator X says:

        My favorite part of this analysis (which I might agree with) is that it’s saying, essentially, that it’s ironic that Joe Morgan was right. Wonderful.

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  4. Jack says:

    James’s famous book

    That should be James’ famous book

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    • Jon says:

      Actually, according to the Chicago Manual of Style, the only time an apostrophe (as opposed to an apostrophe plus “s”) is added to a proper name ending in “S” is if the name is of Greek etymological origin. So unless Bill’s real first name is Achilles, Carson has it correct.

      Also, this post needs more Proust. Loved it.

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  5. knox says:

    Carson, if you were still in high school I’d assume I’d be beating you up about now, or at least slamming you in a locker, cause even knowing who Marcel Proust is would qualify you for being a nancy boy. However, we are not in high school together.

    This doesn’t change the fact that I have no idea who Marcel Proust nor have I heard about whatever book you opened up discussing in this article. You are clearly very smart and like showing off how smart you are, readying this article I’m reminded of beating up kids that were smart and geeky in high school. Is that ironic? Something reminded you of a book you read, and something I read reminded me of beating dorks like you up and down a hallway. Oh glory days.

    Any its clear I’m a dope, your smart, and I think your article is pure drivel (i had to look this word up in a dictionary).

    -26 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mike says:

      Get a life. This site is for mature baseball fans not idiots like you.

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    • minesweeper says:

      Oh yes, glory days. Before you got that beer gut, before you discovered erectile dysfunction, before you enjoyed the job security of Cumberland Farms, and before, yes, BEFORE, your wife left you for Gary in the motor-powered LazyBoy. Glory days indeed.

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    • Matt L says:

      Yeah, I’m with Knox!

      Marcel Proust, who is that? One of the most acclaimed writers of the 20th Century? Sorry, too obscure, never heard of him.

      Wait!? He’s French. Oh my God, I hate French people.

      Fangraphs, get Knox on board — I’m thinking managing editor.

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    • Doug Melvin says:

      People like you give sane people who don’t like Mr Cistulli’s “work” a bad name.

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  6. walkoffblast says:

    Did anyone else get to the end and think did he really just write all that just to get to this point?

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    • Mr G Feeny says:

      Yes. I was surprised to see so many people say how great this article was. It left me a little confused, like, was that it? Also, what does this have to do with ALCS?

      Basically he wrote about 10 paragraphs about how he saw a lot of line drives against Burnett, which somehow reminded him of that stupid Joe Morgan/Al Oliver analysis, and how Bill James also thought Al Oliver hit a lot of line drives. Basically a stream-of-consciousness type story, that really fell flat

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  7. Nick says:

    It’s not really irony because there’s really nothing about Morgan’s anti-stat philosophy and James’ analytical ways that would preclude them from coming to the same conclusion about who hits a lot of line drives (considering LD% wasn’t around in 1992). It’s baseball related, but it’s really no different than saying: ironically, Bill James and Joe Morgan both feel that Ghostbusters 2 is superior to the first Ghostbusters.

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    • GrandSlamSingle says:

      Exactly.

      Personally I think the best example of irony here is how the author’s writing style is not that different from Morgan’s tortured and labored thinking process.

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  8. Logan says:

    Funny and refreshing.

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  9. Pinball1973 says:

    The quality of work at FG is really very high. It’s only right for something like this to pull it much closer to the ordinary.

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    • divakar says:

      ordinary. that’s a good way to describe a stat-head baseball-related post that quotes Proust and spawns a “comments section” discussion on irony.

      nice.

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    • Logan says:

      I don’t get it. Cameron’s a great writer, as are the others, but they all have a similar style. These posts are a nice change.

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    • alanis m says:

      I agree. Plenty of interesting points in Carsons’S posts but most of the time buried in a miasma of long-winded, redundant, self-congratulatory rubbish. Overall, an ordinary, replacement-level columnist.

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      • divakar says:

        Replacement level? Really?

        I wish there was more of this stuff on the web. If this is really replacement level, let’s replace all the boring baseball sites with these guys!

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        • Spoilt Victorian Child says:

          This sort of writing is all over the web — it just usually appears in music reviews instead of baseball columns. You can also find it in any freshman writing seminar at any liberal-arts school in the country, albeit in a less assured voice. It is honestly saddening to think that someone is impressed by it.

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        • color me impressed by what you just wrote!

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        • i meant that for the guy above me… but i did enjoy the original post.

          “so how was your day?”

          UGH, you wouldn’t believe it. i went to my favorite baseball website, and then there was an article by this guy who talks about philosophy and literature.

          “uhh…and?”

          DON’T YOU GET IT. PHILOSOPHY AND LITERATURE. HE USES BIG WORDS AND WRITES LONG PARAGRAPHS.

          “i still don’t see the point.”

          I HATE YOU. YOU NEVER SIDE WITH ME.

          “…”

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        • Doug Melvin says:

          I can’t help but think the people loving Mr Cistulli’s work have never/rarely been exposed to this “style” of writing before.

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  10. John C says:

    Well, at least then Joe was right about Al Oliver, although possibly in the most painful, roundabout way. Counts for something, no?

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  11. RPMcSweeney says:

    Best French-speaking Major Leaguers: Eric Gagne, Albert Belle, Jeff Francoeur, Marcel Proust, Shawn Chacon, Pete LaCock.

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  12. Logan says:

    Read it again, still love it. So many good lines (“Then this happened…”, “hates-slash-hasn’t-read”, haha), and the point was an interesting one. I understand why people criticize this type of writing- it meanders sometimes, the conclusions may seem a bit contrived, etc., but for me it works, and then some. Keep it up Carson!

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  13. wobatus says:

    I remember reading that comment from Bill James comparing Palmeiro to Al Oliver. And that when I was 7 or 8, even though I was Mets fan, I cut out pictures in Sports Illustrated of Oliver, Stargell, Clemente and Sanguillen (the Lumber Company) and pasted them on my wall, right next to ones of Seaver, Willie Mays, etc. Talk about a Proustian rush.

    I am pretty sure Bill James did not study Al Oliver’s line drive percentage to make that reference. He probably just saw what Joe Morgan saw, from a different vantage point. Al Oliver hit a lot of hard line drives.

    I know Morgan comes into a lot of grief for his luddite attitude and even some of his I-played-the-game observations of events on the field seem off, but that exchange with Miller is hilarious and I actually enjoy the way they play off each other at times, intentionally or unintentionally.

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  14. Marcus says:

    Good God. Crap on paper is meant to be flushed.

    Please, please, please make this garbage go away.

    -14 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • WY says:

      Are you referring to your own comment?

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    • Marcus says:

      Seriously there is no defense of this kind of tripe. It’s best to just call a spade a spade and move on from a failed experiment before the credibility of the whole site is negatively impacted.

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    • Marcus says:

      Complaining about foul odors isn’t petty. Purposefully farting in a crowded elevator is in fact offensive behavior and should be called out….

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      • PoopJoker says:

        Marcus,

        You appear to elbow deep in a pile of deuce trying fish out a suitable poop metaphor for Cistulli’s writing and your appreciation of it. May I propose one to you: The Warm Carl. In this metaphor, the computer screen is the saran wrap (or coffee table) between you and Cistulli, and Cistulli’s post is the fresh ordure that comes a fallin’ on you.

        PJ

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  15. Joe D. says:

    Carson, I love reading your stuff. I really do.

    That being said, it is borderline blasphemy that you didn’t include the actual, correct answer to the trivia question posed by Joe Morgan.

    Obviously, it’s Gary Sheffield.

    I’ve looked it up and his LDBOBSORH (Line Drive Ball-Off-Bat Speed Over Replacement Hitter) is 338.41 furlongs per fortnight, ranking first among all qualifiers over the last twenty olympiads.

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  16. Shoeless_Mike says:

    This article was extremely difficult to read and verbose. Stop showing everyone how much you know about literature and stick to the task at hand. You know your stuff re. baseball – show that more.

    MM

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    • WY says:

      I love how Cistuli is one of the only writers on this site who knows grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc., and gets raked over the coals for being too fancy.

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      • GrandSlamSingle says:

        It’s not that he’s too fancy; it’s that he emphasizes style over substance. It’s particularly grating because his style isn’t good enough to pull it off. My biggest beef with this piece is that that James-Morgan coincidence is simply not compelling enough to be the payoff for what I thought was an interesting setup. Way to punish the reader.

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  17. alanis m says:

    hey divakar, stop defending Carson (is this momma Cistulli?), he clearly relishes being the Dennis Miller of Fangraphs and probably cringes at your posts with the rest of us.

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  18. neuter_your_dogma says:

    I applaud the author for trying something new and interesting. And for those of you commenting negatively on the article, no one forced you to read it in its entirety.

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  19. Klatz says:

    Frankly that article was way too long for one pretty small point. He could have made it in one paragraph. Bill James and Joe Morgan think Al Oliver hit hard line drives. Neat aaaannnnnddd so what. Because Joe Morgan dislikes stat-driven baseball analyses that he can’t share of the same opinions as Bill James?

    The Proust reference is only relevant because like Proust the author’s writing style is bloated, self-important, and pompous, which, pared down, has little to say in reality.

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  20. Xavier says:

    God, this back-and-forth is stupid. So he’s a long-winded writer. If you guys were writers yourselves, you would know that there’s a mutual respect no matter what kind of style you have.

    You didn’t see Hemingway and Faulkner getting into it because they had different styles, did you?

    They said what now?

    Oh. Carry on then.

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    • Eric says:

      You are correct broadly, but Hemingway and Faulkner did have a bit of beef. Only the kind that the two biggest writers of an era can have, but beef nonetheless:

      Faulkner: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”

      Hemingway: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?”

      That said, yes. This back and forth is stupid. I’m glad to have now been a part of it.

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      • Xavier says:

        That was the joke I was trying to make.

        FAIL.

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      • Xavier says:

        To be clear, I was saying that I failed to properly make the joke. Not that you failed for not understanding it.

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      • Doug Melvin says:

        Why is the back and forth stupid? It should at least be showing that Fangraphs has created a Stuart Scott. Which is in no way a good thing.

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    • Shoeless_Mike says:

      Xavier –

      I think you are stating an opinion and I disagree with it. I am a former sports writer (I still write but no longer am paid for it) and know of many authors and journalists who criticize each other, sometimes via not-so-subtle references in their own columns, on their blogs, or over beers etc. There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism – I paid the same as everyone else did to post comments here…

      MM

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  21. Greg G. says:

    If you didn’t like the article then it clearly wasn’t intended for you.

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  22. Joel says:

    From all the complaining about Carson’s articles I imagine that many people here either need to realize that there is an audience for literary styles on this site or simply need to learn to read beyond middle school level.

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    • Marcus says:

      There is no audience. He’s an experiment that is smelling worse than burnt socks. Most are just hoping that it will be over soon.

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      • Michael says:

        If there were no audience, how come there’s a fair amount people saying good stuff about it?

        For the record, I liked it, even though the payoff wasn’t terribly great. This wasn’t the best piece, but it was decent.

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    • Shoeless_Mike says:

      Bad logic Joel. I did not like the article so I need to learn how to read beyond middle school level? I simply wanted less Proust and more analysis. When I read classical literature I do not expect nor want the author’s opinions on whether or not Ben Zobrist’s WAR this year accuratley reflects his future value to the Rays…

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      • Shoeless_Mike says:

        I know I know – Hemmingway hated sabermetrics…

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      • Joel says:

        I wasn’t all too clear in my reply looking at it. If you don’t like Carson’s work, that’s fine, but there is an audience for it so complaining isn’t going to do jack. The middle-school comment was for those who think he’s too hard to read, which confuses me because none of his posts, even with some flowery prose, are particularly difficult to read.

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  23. djp says:

    I bet this was ghostwritten by Al Oliver!

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  24. Llewdor says:

    Proust? You wrote about Proust?

    Are you real?

    Well, in the immortal words of ELO:

    Don’t bring me doooowwwwn, Proust!

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  25. dan woytek says:

    I don’t see how you all don’t get it. This website belongs to me. It must always reflect my sensibilities and point of view concerning a game that doesn’t allow for flexibility of thought. I, the internet commenter, should control the content on this site that promised me personally that all the articles should contain pitch f/x and UZR without exception.

    There I have said my piece. Fangraphs you have lost another internet reader.

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  26. Don Hamilton says:

    Here’s another trivia question. Who has fought more duels, Carson Cistulli or “nancy boy” Marcel Proust? Google ‘proust’ and ‘duel’ for the answer (assuming Carson has never fought a duel). The narrator of “Remembrance” also fought duels, though maybe you didn’t get that far.

    As for hard line drives, I go with Sheffield, though Julio Franco hit hard, too.

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  27. Eric says:

    Maybe you should question your assumptions ?

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