Derek Norris better be very good

835423.jpg

Derek Norris better be very good

Well, its official now. Derek Norris better be very very good.

As it is now clear that the Athletics are not making some back-door blockbuster trade for a catcher, or trying to coax the 2003 Jorge Posada out of retirement, they have just handed their immediate future in this still-improbable season to a 23-year-old with 403 games of catching experience.

And maybe Norris is worth this level of faith. After all, baseball teaches that heaven comes in a number of sizes.

But the trade of Kurt Suzuki and cash to Washington for a High-A catcher named David Freitas on Friday is essentially a counter-intuitive move by Billy Beane that affects a young pitching staff that enjoyed the experience of being caught by the veteran.

And yes, Suzuki has been a veteran in offensive decline for some time now, so its not like Beane traded Yadier Molina for a pitch-back net. This is not a pure salary dump, in other words even though shedding 8 million and change over the last two months of this year and all of next has always had a way of warming Beanes innards.

In fact, what it really is, is Beane doing what Beane occasionally does -- falling hard in love with a new player and falling hard out of love with an old one.

Suzuki was one of Beanes favorites for a long time. He was a professional catcher at a time professional catchers are hard to find. He became a pitching staffs best friend, especially in Oakland where he was doing the major equivalent of teaching at a military base elementary school -- educating the young and transient.

And he had one of those staffs now, only this staff still leads the major leagues in most of your more important metrics. That staff is the largest part of the reason why the As are nine games over .500, with the fifth-best record in baseball, and 24 games over what they were projected to be in March, which would have been the worst record in baseball.

In other words, Kurt Suzuki had value to the most important component of the baseball team, and the fact that manager Bob Melvin swore by him even through Fridays post-trade presser indicates fairly clearly how he felt as well.

But Beane wants Derek Norris there instead, and Suzukis .218.286.250 didnt really put up much of a countervailing argument.

So Derek Norris is now in charge of that pitching staff, at a time when Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone are three starts short of exceeding their greatest workload ever, and the rest of the staff is scheduled to turn over to veterans Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson fairly soon.

It is, in short, a hell of a challenge, and an odd time to take it on. But that is Beane at his Beaniest -- he is, and we put this politely, aggressively non risk-averse.

The risk here is clear -- the pitching doesnt take to Norris, or Norris doesnt take to the pitching, or most likely, they begin but do not complete the process of finding that happy simpatico in the middle. A term, we hasten to add, Beane doesnt believe in that much anyway.

Or maybe Norris does get in stride with the staff but spends so much time worrying about that that his offense deteriorates. Or maybe it all converges in a joyous merging of precocity and ferocity -- I mean, maybe Beane is right here, after all. Hes had what by any assessment is a pretty good year of general management, even if like the rest of the universe he couldnt have foreseen much of it.

No, this isnt about whether trading Suzuki was right or wrong, because we have no way of knowing at this moment whether it is. It is Beanes process that fascinates here. He sees in Derek Norris the future. He sees in Kurt Suzuki the past, even if he still has some present in him.

And Billy Beane has always craned his neck to try to look over the horizon. It hasnt always worked, but hes trying to do it again here.

In short, Derek Norris better be very very good. Like we said.

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

deford-frank-obama.jpg
AP

Frank Deford's longform storytelling made him worthy of our attention

Frank Deford’s death over the weekend did not mark the end of longform sportswriting as we knew it; he had long ago become part of the electronic commentariat that has reduced longform’s place in the public’s attention span.

But there is still longform writing and storytelling to be found in many places, and it is still worthwhile. It has more production value, as the TV folks like to blather, and the words have to fight for their place between the cracks left by the pictures and the mutated graphics, but longform lives, and it should, lest we all agree as one people to further desiccate that attention span like a grapefruit left in the sun.

Deford’s death, though, reminds of when longform was the zenith of the storytelling art. It could, and still can, give you access and depth and breadth that a TV crew simply could not, and cannot. Even extended TV features are by their very nature so contrived by all the equipment that nothing is natural, nothing is a surprise, and the act of writing is almost an afterthought.

Deford knew this. He more than merely dabbled in TV himself, playing the wizened old raconteur who was as much character in his pieces as storyteller. He was also a star and a starmaker with The National, a daily sports network in newspaper form that was long on talent and ideas but short on delivery and distribution. It lasted 17 months, until mid-1991, but it led to grander attempts decades later, and could if you squint your eyes hard enough be the natural parent of Grantland and The Ringer and Vice and SB Nation and dozens of others – all bigger ideas, positioned in the post-typing world. Some lasted, more didn’t, but capitalism is like that – making fuel to keep the fires burning and the engines churning.

Deford could have thrived in such a world, to be sure. He was not, in the hideous phrase, “a man of his time.” Indeed, he was a crossover figure years ago in ways that other longform writers attempt to resist even now. They want to be Deford at the height of his powers at a time when the instruments for their gift are either dying or veering away from anything that hits the 600-word mark.

But his passing did not kill the art of clever writing and incisive storytelling. There are far too many people who can do that still, even if the market for their gifts is neither as pronounced nor as eager for the product as it once was. It did remind us not only that he was a giant, but that there are still giants among us should we deign to take the time to seek them.

Thus, Deford’s death marked his passing but not the thing that made him worthy of our attention. Storytelling, longform and otherwise, remains the heart of why this is still worthwhile to a culture, and when the generation his work spawned starts to die off, I suspect we’ll still be saying the same thing then. Notebooks are smartphones, photographs are streams, but the human eye and ear and hand still remain pre-eminent.

That is, until the robots take over, at which point reading won’t be worth it.

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

Does St. Louis' suit against NFL mean hope for the City of Oakland?

You thought you were done worrying about the Raiders. You thought the votes were in, the moving vans booked for three years down the road, and all gnashing and sharpening of teeth was over. You thought you were free.

Then those buttinsky-come-latelies from St. Louis decided to rear their litigious heads, and now you find yourselves slipping back into that desperate-hope world from which no one escapes.

It seems the city and its regional sports authority has decided to sue the National Football League and its 32 semi-independent duchies over the relocation of the Rams 15 months ago because, and you’ll like this one, the league allegedly did not follow its own relocation rules when it moved the team.

As you know, there is no such thing as a rule if everyone governed by the rule decided unanimously to ignore the rule. This doctrine falls under the general heading of, “We’re billionaires, try and stop us.”

But all lawsuits have a common denominator, and that is that there is money at the end of the rainbow. St. Louis is claiming it is going to miss out on approximately $100 million in net proceeds (read: cash) and has decided that the NFL and especially their good pal Stan Kroenke is going to have to pay for permission to do what they have already done -- specifically, leave.

Because the suit was filed in St. Louis, the benefits of home field advantage apply, and the league is likely to have to reinflate their lawyers for some exciting new billable hours.

As to whether it turns into a windfall for the jilted Missourians, well, as someone who has known lawyers, I would list them as prohibitive underdogs. But there is nuisance value here, which brings us to Oakland.

The city and county, as we know, did not put its best shoe forward in trying to lure the Raiders into staying or the other 31 owners into rejecting the team’s pleas for geographical relief. By that, we mean that the city and county did not fall all over itself to meet the league’s typically extortionate demands.

But they did play angry enough to start snipping about the 2019 part of the Raiders’ 3-More-Coliseum-Years plan, and they are threatening to sue over about $80K in unpaid parking fees, so filing their own breach-of-rules lawsuit might be a possibility.

Because, hey, what’s the point of sounding like a nuisance if you can’t actually become one?

By now, it is clear that everyone in SuitWorld got what it needed out of the Raiders’ move. The city and county could concentrate on guiding the A’s into activity on their own new stadium. The team could go where Mark Davis has been agitating for it to go for at least three years – somewhere else. The state of Nevada could find a place for that $750 million that was burning a hole in its casino vault. And the league went to a market that it, at first reluctantly and then enthusiastically, decided should be its own.

The fans? Oh, please. Who cares about them? To the NFL, and to all corporations in all walks of business, folks are just walking wallets.

But for some cash? Well, climb on board, suckers. The gravy train is pulling out on Track 3.

Nobody is fool enough to think the Raiders would be forced to return. Hell, even St. Louis isn’t asking for the Rams back. They just want to get paid for the money they probably banked on in the good old days before Stan Kroenke decided to head west.

And that would doubtless be Oakland’s stance as well if. Now the circumstances are slightly different, in that St. Louis worked harder to keep the Rams than Oakland did to keep the Raiders. St. Louis scared up $350 million toward new digs for the Rams, well short of what Kroenke would have accepted, while Oakland said it could get its hands on some infrastructure money and no more.

But Mayor Libby Schaaf complained in her relocation post mortem that the league didn’t follow its own guidelines (yay correlation as causation!), maybe with an eye toward throwing a few lawyers into the fire to see how long it would burn.

There is not yet any indication that the city and county are going that route (and the silence may simply mean that they are sick of the Raiders’ saga as everyone else seems to be), but if they do, well, don’t freak out that the team might be forced to return.

Except, of course, in that place where migraines start. Dragging this back up is a bit like the phantom pain amputees feel -- but hey, people will do a lot for a bit of court-ordered cash. Anyone who has ever watched Judge Judy will understand.