There’s only one logical thing for our almost-never-updated blog to do (other than popularize the use of extended adjective constructions in English): start a tumblr!

We rarely talk about baseball here at the Salad. This is largely because our particular brand of deconstruction doesn’t seem to advance the cause of sabrmetrics. (There is the notable exception of my piece on Kyle Drabek, where I argued that the residue of the signifier was enough to make him a good draft pick. Leider, I left out the jargon so it doesn’t count.) No, until such time as we’re able to do away with the ball-strike and out-safe binaries, Yesterday’s Salad will mostly sit out commenting on our national pastime.

But we will comment on Ryan Howard’s contract since lost in the kerfuffle over whether Ryan Howard’s extension is a good deal or a bad one are the discrete pieces of knowledge it gives us about Ruben Amaro, the Phillies GM.

1. Amaro is not afraid of old position players. We already knew this from the Raul Ibanez signing, but the Howard extension confirms that Amaro suspects that so called “old player skills” can now translate into production by old players. It doesn’t hurt that Ryan Howard’s conditioning has improved considerably in recent years and he looks less and less like Mo Vaughn and Cecil Fielder every day.

2. The Hometown penalty is real. Credit goes to Will Leitch for this one. It used to be said that  players would offer “hometown discounts” to continue playing with their current teams. If anything, the opposite is now true. Certain players are more valuable to their current teams than they are to other teams because they already play there and are identified as being singular causes of winning. Consider the outrage over the Phillies’ trade of Cliff Lee. Lee wanted more money than the Phillies were willing to offer, and a large portion of his demands clearly resulted from the Lee mythology that had developed in Philadelphia during last year’s postseason.

3. Conversely, being a winning team is/enables/exposes a market inefficiency. Roy Halladay took a below market deal to come to Philadelphia since he determined that being a Philly was a good way of getting to the postseason. There are players of a certain caliber who value winning as much or more than money itself. These players want to be on winning teams and will take less money to be on the winning team, lowering their acquisition cost. Yet this efficiency is only available to teams with the demonstrated ability to win (some matrix of actual won-lost record, perceived strength of franchise, and payroll).

Consider a hypothetical from the independent film world where actors will often work for scale to make a prestige picture with a high-chance of winning Academy Awards. John Travolta might normally want 10 million plus to star in “Pulp Fiction 2: Where Vincent Vega Never Goes to the Bathroom,” but he’d be willing to sign for much less if Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Ke$ha (in a “heart-rending dramatic turn” that “could only come from the mind of Quentin Tarantino”) all took reduced salaries to make the film a-go.

Could investing in Howard and locking in those wins actual lower the cost of the next win? In other words, there might be an additional value to sunk costs.

4. Baseball economics vs. Real Economics. Finally, what will the global market be in a few years? Obviously the baseball market is influenced by the real economy but we don’t quite know in what way. Is it a lagging indicator or reasonably recession proof? Certainly inflation will help balance out Ryan Howard’s contract but will it really balance it out? Rob Neyer suspects not, though there’s always the possibility that it could.

For example, what if we were to experience another financial panic (let’s bring back this term once and for all)? Ryan Howard’s contract might end up looking pretty good compared to the cost of a win in the miserable “Oops! I did it again Depression of 2013” free agent market (a result of president Palin dismantling derivatives controls coupled with a strict no-bailout policy that leads us into a hyper-inflationary mess [shudder]). Or, more reasonably, what if the US economy resembled that of the late 1970s and we were suddenly in an era of double-digit inflation? Again, Howard’s contract might look a lot better.

Teams certainly consider all sorts of baseball and financial factors when offering a contract. What this clause presupposes is, maybe they also consider macroeconomic factors? Unfortunately that’s an area where no one really knows what’s going on, and Glenn Beck style gold purchasing might be a real loser in a deflationary economy. So to with Ryan Howard.

One of my favorite personal finance blogs is Get Rich Slowly (yes, there’s no limit to our semi-personal aggregation). I don’t know how I started reading personal finance blogs but I’m sure I’d have a lot more money if I followed even half of the tips. Right now I’m scheming up at least twenty different ways of saving cash for various future endeavors.

For instance, in typical Yesterday’s Salad style I’ve decided to save all my change and deposit it in an interest bearing account. I’m also transferring all my Bank of America “keep the change” over to that account. And I’m not making any withdrawals until the balance is ten thousand dollars. It seems like a suitably large number yet also something I could potentially reach before the end of time. And, the best part: should I ever hit 10k, I’m totally blowing the money on some fancy trip. I’m already 1/200 of the way there.

The Accidental Modernist

March 26, 2010

I’m only about 70 pages into The Book of Basketball, but it’s already quite clear that Bill Simmons is Sholem-Aleichem’s heir to the title of mythologist of the mundane, transforming everyday occurrences into the stuff of legend. (Feel free to substitute Proust for Sholem-Aleichem if that better fits your frame of reference). Haverstam is right: Simmons is something of an accidental modernist. His “fan’s voice” is a unique, stylized version of language on par with Hem or Stein–though completely different–and his use of footnotes is unparalleled as a means for cultivating digressions. Modernism is both William Carlos Williams and Thomas Mann. And now, at a new century’s start, Bill Simmons.

Whither the TV Critic?

March 25, 2010

As you’ve no doubt heard, At the Movies has been canceled. That means that Yesterday’s Salad favorite A. O. Scott is out of a (second) job. Good Tony Scott: there’s always room for you at the Salad!

I’m really sad to see the show go. I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert and their approaches to film no doubt shaped my own. I always liked Siskel more, but the last few years of reading Roger Ebert have shown me how great a critic he really is. Amazingly, for someone whose fame derives from TV, Roger Ebert was a terrific writer, capable of writing long, penetrating essays and perfectly crafted reviews. It’s rare to find someone as adept at writing both short and long. Yet beyond style or a set approach to film, the most important lesson the show taught me was that films were something to talk about, something we could participate in long after.

But the reason I’m sad to see At the Movies go has nothing to do with the past and everything to do with the present. A. O. Scott and Michael Phillips were doing great work. They were smart and funny and had a good rapport with each other. Sometimes they had to review too many movies in a week to make the show really compelling, while other times they got to focus on one or two films, taking the time to situate the movie within the context of an actor or filmmaker’s career.

It was incredibly smart–though it might not have been TV enough. I liked watching the show because I like to hear intelligent people discuss modern culture. Then again, this is also why I like the PBS Newshour. Both feature conversations between talking heads instead of conflicts between screaming interrupting heads. I hope A. O. and Michael can find a way to continue their dialogue. I hear people do great things on the internet these days and that someday someone will figure out a way to make it pay.

Price of Beatuy

I’ve now seen two episodes of the Jessica Simpson “Price of Beauty” show, and I have to say that I don’t quite know what to make of it. (Make what you will of my watching it.) It’s generally lighthearted, though every episode features a segment with a woman permanently scarred by pursuing beauty at all costs. These bits come comfortably in the middle of each episode, before and after various revelry. I also don’t know what to make of her friend “Cacee” (pronounced Casey, she seems to be testing the bounds of signifiers), while Jessica herself comes across as likable if bland. This is better than likable and stupid, although traces of idiocracy abound.

But mostly I like the show as an experiment in accidental anthropology. Jessica sets out to see how the rest of the world views beauty, documenting her experiences. She’s refreshingly unburdened by the critique of Western definitions set out in Said’s Orientalism: Jessica documents her others without worrying about her own complicity in the enterprise of representation. Nor does she worry about the Spivakian critique that her representation obscures cultural diversity. Instead, she happily recognizes that beauty is culturally constructed–and that even she isn’t beautiful in all parts of the world (She’s too short and curvy to make it as a full-time Parisian fashion model!)–and sets out to document difference. It’s not a grand statement in the cause of cultural determinism, though it is a return to an earlier type of ethnography, and a great start for Cable TV.

I can’t help but thinking, though, that the best part of the show is that success could lead to other celebrities accidentally taking on the roll of academicians. Maybe a show with David Cross as an accidental sociologist, deliberately sending out comical surveys to document responses; or Larry David as an accidental deconstructor, challenging the clear meanings of literary texts? Hey it could happen!