Monday, June 8, 2009

Baseball Draft

Tuesday is baseball's draft, which tends to function as a minor event in the baseball world. It certainly has less flash than the NFL and NBA drafts; Major League Baseball got the draft televised this year by taking control of its own network, taking a page out of the Silvio Berlusconi playbook.

Selig's Forza Baseball policy hinges on retroactively changing baseball rules that effect
him, but has been hampered by the publication of nude photos of aged Czechs taken at
his villa, an ugly public feud with his wife over the appointment of former beauty
queens and television personalities to European Parliament (over which Major League
Baseball evidently has no authority), and a photo posing strategy based on a complete
misunderstanding of the Jowellgate scandal.

Interest in the MLB draft eludes all but the most hardcore baseball fans for several reasons: the relative unpopularity of college baseball coupled with the fact that so many prospects come from high school, the concept of "sandwich picks" and other vagaries resulting from the loss of different types of free agents graded by a shadowy cabal of of Freemasons, the fact that few ever make the majors, and the fact that the draft is restricted to American and Canadian players while the teams stock their foreign talent through some sort of shady process spinning a web of treachery and deceit across Latin America.

A strategic meeting of baseball scouts in Santo Domingo

The success of a player rarely has anything to do with his position in the draft, with first rounders floundering about in the minors unable to deal with tougher opponents, or succombing to injuries or gunshot wounds from mysterious women in black who follow them onto trains, an injury that accounts for a startling 14% of prematurely ended careers. Northwestern's own J.A. Happ avoided this fate after going in the third round to the Phillies in 2004 and is enjoying his first season as a full-time starter.

J.A. Happ joins Northwestern alums Joe Girardi and Mark Loretta in
the Bigs


The exception to the rule is the few highly hyped prospects at the top of the draft, expected to charge through the minor leagues and serve as cornerstones of the franchise. This year, San Diego State ace Steven Strasburg is touted as the can't-miss prospect that could help change the fortunes of the Washington Nationals who have been afflicted by the "Curse of the Youppi" caused by their hasty departure from Montreal as well as the team's brazen taunting of all of the city's soothsayers, monkey skull retailers, crusty old hermits, and Indian grave yards.

Talk of a can't-miss pitcher coming out of college naturally engenders painful comparisons to Mark Prior, whose brilliant 2003 season gave way to an improbable series of shoulder injuries and the occasional freak injury such as when he took a line drive to the elbow, collided with Marcus Giles, and rented an apartment in Chicago's hanging piano district. None of these skeptics have thought about the improbability of a pitcher repeating Prior's career cycle of brilliance matched by an alternating series of freak accidents and the replacement of his shoulder with a cylinder of Cream of Wheat. After speculation of a comeback with the Padres, Prior has been unable to return to the mound; take a look at this list of his recent activity and take a shot every time you see the phrase "Dr. James Andrews."

The classic Prior injury cycle in which Prior reports to camp, claims that he is
feeling better than ever and ready to pitch, and then falls into unforeseen tragedy

The 2001 draft was seen as a symbol of baseball's financial inequity, as Minnesota passed up drafting Prior because they could not afford all of the marriageable daughters and spices from the Orient demanded by Prior's representation of agents and traveling Khanate administration. Instead, the Twins had to get by with Joe Mauer and his batting titles. Who else was available in the first round in 2001 instead of Prior? Mark Teixeira, for one, as well as a surprising number of serviceable major leaguers. The Cubs' roster includes the eighteenth and nineteenth picks of that draft, although Aaron Heilman may still be on the payroll of a competing team in an effort to sabotage the club with his shoddy relief pitching and attempts to convince Cubs that the umpires plan on seizing their children through the aid of an apparatus hidden in the gatorade dispenser.

Other drafts do not seem to have as fruitful of a first round. For example, the 2004 first round seems to lack many bona fide major leaguers, although it does reveal that the St. Louis Cardinals spent the nineteenth pick on Christopher Lambert.

Christopher Lambert's epic rise from the
Quad Cities River Bandits to AA
Springfield to player to be named later in a
trade for Mike Maroth


Christopher Lambert, best known as Connor Macleod in the Highlander movies where he would chop off enemies' heads before being showered in sparks as opposed to when he was in the Mortal Kombat movie and shot showers of sparks at his enemies, also starred in Druids about the life of Gaul leader Vercingétorix. The trailer for the movie covers the requisite Roman war movie motif, alternating shots of clanking soldiers marching across a field and hairy men shouting in slow motion while tantalizing potential viewers with two snippets of dialogue ("You wanna fight? You wanna live forever? Then I will lead you!" and "We have made an enemy. And it would have been much better to have him as a friend.") in French accents so comical that at special screenings, the movie would pause occasionally to batter the audience with baguettes.

Vercingétorix rose from the Gallic province of Gergovia in the middle of present-day France and led an army against Caesar's invading legions. Unfortunately for Vercingétorix, he came down on the wrong side of a besiegement, a common barbarian ailment along with haunch rot, goblet rash, and battleaxe elbow. Though Vercingétorix lost and was subsequently paraded around as a trophy by the victorious Caesar while his land was enslaved to the Romans and then subsequently executed, he became a nationalist symbol under Napoleon III who commissioned a suitably violent statue of him trampling a hapless Roman as he rides to his death. Napoleon III emulated his hero a bit too closely as he discovered that Kaiser was German for Caesa. The Emperor led Frenchmen to glorious surrender as well, although luckily for him, by nineteenth century, captured heads of state merely spent time waxing their Van Dyke beard and getting deposed by unruly French mobs eager to declare another republic.

An illustration from Guizot's 1883 History
of France depicts Vercingetorix either
surrendering to Caesar or accepting a quest
to find the Sword of Foreboding that he will
use to destroy Ceasar when he turns into a
giant snake

The Cubs have the 23rd pick in the draft. Whoever they end up selecting, let's hope that Hendry offers each selection the proper words of encouragement: You wanna play forever? Then I will draft you!

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