Ed Easley’s Wonderful Day: A Browser-Based Visual Novel

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Today the Cardinals called up career minor-leaguer Ed Easley for what is sure to be a single-game appearance with Jon Jay returning this weekend. Rather than write a blog post about it, I made a short visual novel. You can play it in your browser or on your phone at this link: Ed Easley’s Wonderful Day

While you’re at it, if you like visual novels, go check out Serafina’s Crown on Steam Greenlight. I wrote about 1/3 of the dialog (the creator of SC is doing the music and portrait art for The Closer). It’s not my usual style, but if you like my video game/sports writing, give it an up-vote to speed up the greenlight process. Thanks!

MathenyQuest, a Playable Teaser

MathenyQuest

If there is any creed that I strive to live by, it is this: do as Hideo Kojima would do.

So when I was presented with the question of how to continue to promote my upcoming game, The Closer: Game of the Year Edition, there was only one thing to do. I needed to make a playable teaser.

Last year, Hideo Kojima rocked the world of video games with P.T., a brief and mysterious free game released on PS4 with little-to-no explanation.

Despite the fact it was only a promotional tool, P.T. was so effective and weird that numerous reviewers ended up naming it one of the best games of the year. It’s a great idea for promotion: a short game that is entirely divorced from the story of the main title, but can express the themes and ideas in an easily accessible (and free) manner.

To follow in Kojima’s footsteps, I had to distill the humor and existential weirdness of The Closer into something that could be played and understood by anyone. A text adventure, maybe. Or just a Twine game.

I made a Twine game. Go check it out.

MathenyQuest

 

MLB The Show – World War K: Sign of the Moose

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Start from the Beginning – Episode 1: The History of the First Base War

Previous Episode: The New Blood (May Recap)

For years, the world believed that Mike Mussina’s baseball story ended in 2008.  At age 39, the veteran ace retired after his first 20-win season.  He never won a World Series, never pitched a no-hitter,  and never claimed a Cy Young, but with 270 wins and 3.68 ERA in one of the highest offensive eras in baseball, he was considered a solid Hall of Fame candidate among fans who knew what the hell they were talking about.  After Mussina left baseball, he spent his days doing crosswords and fixing up old tractors.  He never thought he’d get a chance to pitch again, except maybe in an old-timer’s game if he suddenly decided he could stand to be around the other old-timers.

The first robot baseball stars could be distinguished by their design.  Top robotics firms used space-aged alloys, precision-crafted joints, and advanced processors to build machines that would stand out among their counterparts.  But before long, every android player was built from one of a handful of perfected designs.  The only advances made in the machinery were slight and incremental.  Teams had to find new ways to elevate their robots–to make them better than the competition.

First efforts in advanced robot AI were led by MLB’s chief programmer, Jeff Francoeur.  Francoeur was an ex-ballplayer himself, who had retired and went back to school to devote himself to other causes after a life-changing incident in the independent leagues: he’d let his bat slip out of his hands on a strikeout and killed a fan sitting behind the dugout.  A repentant Francoeur had devoted himself to the cause of safer baseball.  To him, this meant helping transition to robot baseball players whose pressurized mechanical hands could never lose the grip on the handle of a bat.

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Jeff Francoeur in happier days.

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MLB The Show – World War K: Trade Winds Part Two

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Start from the Beginning – Episode 1: The History of the First Base War

Previous Episode: Trade Winds Part One

Pat Burrell and the Kansas City Royals thought that trading for Major League pieces in the middle of May would be a difficult proposition, but they had underestimated the power of the trading block.  After putting out feelers for a few players listed on the block, it became clear that they were more than just available–they were priced to move.  The Royals would be able to upgrade both their rotation and their lineup with some judicious planning.

The first call Pat Burrell made was to Sandy Alderson, GM of the struggling New York Mets.  The Mets had not been expected to contend in 2014, and in the new alternate future they were more than living up to expectations.  They sustained a 9-18 record in April and continued to barely limp along into May. Alderson already knew there wasn’t much hope of competing, and wanted to move some of the older spare parts off for pieces in the future.

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The Hollow Manager

When Mike Matheny was hired to manage the St. Louis Cardinals, he had never managed a game above the little league level. Or at least that’s how the story goes. I can’t find any verification that he ever managed a game at the little league level, either.  Most of the articles from around the time of his hiring describe him as an “assistant little league coach”, which seems to put him a level below the guy who decides whether the team gets to go out for ice cream after the game.  But it doesn’t matter.  Even if Matheny was making the lineup and pitching changes for the 12-and-under TPX Warriors, he came into MLB with no meaningful professional experience.

At the time, I didn’t think it was such a bad thing. I still don’t, at least in theory.  When Mike Matheny was just rumored to be a candidate, I wrote this blog post discussing his surprising appearance among a list of expected names. I defended his potential hiring, because he’s always been a good clubhouse guy and I thought it was ridiculous to pay a ton of money for a good “tactical” manager because unlike on most sports, the tactical moves a manager can make are limited enough that anyone can probably learn to do them.

Maybe I was half right.

We are now two months into Mike Matheny’s third year as manager of the Cardinals and I think I need to start a change.org petition to expand the field of “profanity” so I don’t have to repeat myself so often. I honestly haven’t watched enough other teams lately to say, definitively, that Matheny is the worst tactical manager in baseball, but I’d believe it.

This might sound harsh or spoiled, since the Cardinals were in the World Series last season, but I don’t think it’s wrong. I stand by my earlier assertion that managerial tactics aren’t that important, so even the most bumbling manager isn’t going to implode a good team, which is why (along with some astronomically weird situational splits) the Cards were still incredibly successful last year. However, a bad manager can cost a team a couple wins over the season with his late-innings substitutions, and that number might just be important to a team on the cusp.

Despite everything I hoped, Mike Matheny never learned how to manage. Perhaps even worse than that, though, is that he did learn what managing should look like. Years of playing under Tony La Russa taught him several lessons: a manager meddles with the lineup. He looks at platoon matchups and player history, and makes substitutions that keep players fresh and puts them in the position to succeed. A manager isn’t afraid to cut back the playing time of a star or prospect who is struggling, hurt, or not giving his all.  He is quick to make a pitching change, but will let a starting pitcher he trusts work out of a jam.  And late in the game, he will use the double switch to control the lineup.

Tony La Russa did all these things and, while sometimes I would disagree with him, for the most part he did them well. The Cardinals experienced unbelievable success under La Russa, and Mike Matheny was around for a lot of that. So he emulates La Russa. He repeats the actions he has watched with precision but without purpose, like a teenage boy who has seen every Jackie Chan movie and thinks he can fight because his moves look the same in the mirror.

Over the last two months, the Cardinals have rarely utilized the same lineup two days in a row, rare for most teams but a staple of the La Russa era. But these changes were haphazard, never moving the struggling Matt Carpenter or Allen Craig out of their established roles, or based on sample sizes so small they would make even the stingiest caterer blush. Like La Russa, Matheny gives plenty of playing time to his bench, but never in a manner calculated to see them succeed. A few weeks ago, Bernie Miklasz detailed his usage of Daniel Descalso, who has gotten most of his time at SS, and in high leverage situations, both of which set him up for failure. Descalso isn’t a contact hitter or a shortstop, but he is constantly dropped into those roles at critical moments.

Matheny has treated several rookies on the team with the JD Drew and Colby Rasmus special, reducing playing time in favor of established veterans and Matheny favorites. I never liked TLR’s approach with Drew and Rasmus, but I at least understood where he was coming from. They were stubborn, set in their ways, and often looked like they weren’t hustling because they’d had every level of the game handed to them on a platter. TLR forced them to earn at bats they had already earned because he thought they needed the adversity. But using that tactic on Kolten Wong, who seems to grind and hustle as much as the grittiest fan favorite? I’m reminded of Mr. Burns on the Simpsons, demanding Don Mattingly trim his sideburns time after time.

And then there are the pitching changes. Despite going to the pen often, Matheny still hasn’t figured out how to use Randy Choate, who has faced righthanders about as much as lefthanders in 2014, echoing the 2013 World Series, which is basically Exhibit A in the case that Matheny doesn’t understand why La Russa came walking out of the dugout so often.

Maybe the biggest sign Matheny doesn’t understand what he is doing, though, has been his use of the double switch. These days hardly a game goes by without an important piece of the offense getting pulled in the late innings so that Matheny can rearrange the lineup. And with the team battling a shaky bullpen in low scoring games, it’s left them high and dry on multiple occasions.

Remember the infamous twenty inning game of 2010?  Position player Joe Mather took the loss in a brutal 2-1 battle of attrition against the Mets. Tony La Russa was ravaged by fans and the media for a double switch that pulled Matt Holliday from the lineup and allowed the Mets to pitch around Albert Pujols for the latter half of the game (and took out one of the team’s best bats).

We haven’t had a twenty inning game yet in 2014, but Matheny makes similar thoughtless double switches so often that it’s no longer remarkable. And worse, sometimes they’re done without any reason. On Thursday, Wong was removed from the game simply to push back the pitcher’s spot from 9 to 2, even though the pitcher wasn’t due to bat in the next inning. There was no tactical advantage in the double switch at all and, as a result, Shane Robinson was sent up at a critical moment rather than Wong.

Of course, this problem would be remedied with a better bench—lately the bats coming into the game aren’t much better than the pitchers they are theoretically replacing—but you should never be switching out guys in the 2-5 spots in the lineup unless there is a decided tactical advantage to doing so.

Mike Matheny knows what a manager is supposed to do, but he still hasn’t learned how or why. He plays the part, but only because he’s memorized the lines. It worked for two years, thanks to one of the best front offices in the game and a heaping portion of luck. But if the Cardinals continue to struggle this season, it’s only a matter of time before everyone grows tired of his hollow Tony La Russa act.

 

Experiences in Old Sports Games: Not Tony La Russa’s Ultimate Baseball

I’m late on making this post because I threw out what I wrote last night.  The subject of my post was going to be Tony La Russa’s Ultimate Baseball for the Commodore 64, both because I can’t stop picking baseball games and because I was using the post as an excuse to rant about Mike Matheny.

See, for a long time I disliked Tony La Russa.  In 2000, he started Rick Ankiel against the New York Mets in the NLCS, giving him a little-needed second chance to implode.  In 2001, he brought in Jeff Tabaka to face Lance Berkman and it arguably cost the Cardinals the division.  I realize it was foolish to get so hung up on a single bad move, but using Tabaka there may still be the single worse bullpen call I’ve ever seen (bringing in Boggs on May 30 of this year comes close).  So after 2001 I was done with La Russa and couldn’t wait for him to leave.  Of course, he didn’t leave, the Cardinals won a shit-ton, and my hatred of La Russa lessened all the way to the point that I finally want him back.

This is the 17th result for a google image search for "Jeff Tabaka", which says everything about his career and also the result of bringing him into that game.

This photo of Lance Berkman is the 17th result for a google image search for “Jeff Tabaka”, which says everything about his career and also the result of bringing him into that game.

Basically, the post I had written up Thursday night was only half about Tony La Russa’s Ultimate Baseball. I discussed how it innovated the presentation of fly balls within the game.  Rather than render every hit as a ground ball, or use a shadow texture to indicate the height of the ball, the interface marked the spot the ball would eventually land.  This made fielding much easier, and allowed for a greater variety of hit types.  This innovation and the fantasy draft, like the bullpen innovations of Tony La Russa himself, was imitated by everyone who came afterwards and is now a standard part of the genre.

Tony La Russa also innovated the use of the conga line on the basepaths.

Tony La Russa also innovated the use of the conga line on the basepaths.

The other half of my post was about how I missed La Russa, and how sick of Mike Matheny I was.  This was coming off games 4 and 5 of the NLCS, in which he put on a bad managing clinic.  It was like watching Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough: the performance was so terrible that if I wanted to teach someone how to be godawful, it would be shown in class on day one.  However, after last night I just couldn’t go through with the post.

Denise Richards could play a nuclear physicist in the same sense that Matt Adams could play shortstop.

Denise Richards could play a nuclear physicist in the same sense that Matt Adams could play shortstop.

It’s not because my mind has changed about Matheny.  I still think he’s lost out there and carried by a very talented team and front office.  Most managers are.  But it seemed light the pinnacle of Being A Spoiled Cardinals Fan to put down so many words about the manager’s mistakes on the same day that the team advanced to the World Series.  My team is about to appear in the fourth World Series out of the last ten, and I wasn’t about to write a post critical of the team while that was happening.

Yeah this looks like the face of a guy who would make the ~1,500 words I wrote on Thursday completely meaningless.

Yeah this looks like the face of a guy who would make the ~1,500 words I wrote on Thursday completely meaningless.

So in place of the post I was going to put up yesterday, I’m just going to end on a picture of Adam Wainwright and Carlos Beltran celebrating a World Series trip together, posted on twitter by Beltran’s wife, @ivanalenin.

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Even if you hate the Cardinals, you should be cheering for Beltran to get a ring.  He’s arguably the best post-season hitter of all time, and while he shouldn’t need to bolster his Hall of Fame credentials, the truth is he’s going to need as much help as he can get.

Rob Johnson Fined For Describing His Promotion As “Double Bagging”

Mere hours after being promoted to back up St. Louis Cardinals backup catcher Tony Cruz, the team levied an undisclosed fine against veteran Rob Johnson for inappropriate remarks made to the press about his role on the Major League club.

When asked how much playing time he expected to get, and why he believed that the Cardinals thought they should carry three catchers on the roster, Johnson compared the added protection of an extra backstop to the practice of wearing two condoms at once, colloquially known as “double bagging.”

“Baseball is just like ****ing on Craigslist,” Johnson said just after exiting the plane from Memphis. “You don’t just plow some **** you never met without a condom, and you don’t go into a game without a second catcher.  If you’re not safe, some bad **** is gonna happen at home plate.  And what do you do when the only piece of *** who responded to your 2:30 casual encounters post looks extra nasty, but you gotta be at the park by 4:00? You don’t just kick her out of the back of your half-ton like you’re some kinda royalty. You go, but you go extra safe.  You wrap your **** up twice, just to be sure.  Looks to me like the NL Central just got extra nasty, so the Cards decided if they’re gonna **** it, they gotta double bag it.”

The team immediately issued a response to Johnson’s statement, noting that his remarks were “not in the spirit of the St. Louis Cardinals organization” and “an affront not only to fans, but to his teammates.”

Manager Mike Matheny echoed the team’s condemnation of the veteran catcher.  “I don’t know who he thinks he is,” Matheny said.  “I won’t have behavior like that in my clubhouse.  He should head right back to Memphis if he thinks that this team supports casual sex, profanity, or any form of birth control other than the will of the Lord.”

Jake Westbrook was similarly disgusted by his new teammate, noting that he would be a bad influence on all the young pitchers, especially Kevin Siegrist, who Westbrook believes has not reached puberty.

“Craigslist?  The only Craigslist I need is Allen Craig’s list,” said Cardinal first baseman Allen Craig, pulling out a well-worm piece of paper.  He then proceeded to muse wistfully about how he hadn’t “seen Amber since the night of the fire.”

Other teammates weren’t so quick to criticize.  “I think he sounds cool,” said reliever Seth Maness. “Like that guy from my high school who owned a van. Well, I think he went to my high school. I never saw him in classes. But he definitely had a van.”

When asked just how “nasty” he thought the NL Central race was getting, Johnson became agitated. “It’s like a warm can of Keystone Ice left open on the bar,” he told reporters.  “You don’t wanna  drink it because, ****, it’s not even full.  So you know someone else put their mouth on it. But the bartender is in the back taking a **** or something and you’re pretty sure you’ll smell any cigarette butts floatin’ on the top before you taste anything, so you risk it.

“That’s how nasty the NL Central is.”

Even outside of baseball, Johnson’s comments have caused controversy. The American Medical Association issued a statement, clarifying that the use of two condoms did not protect any better against pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.  Noting that it is superfluous and reduces the overall effectiveness of the protective method, the AMA likened using multiple condoms to wasting a MLB roster spot on a third string catcher.