February 13, and the Hated Yankees have pitchers and catchers reporting today. Dice-K arrived in Red Sox camp. The Mets show up in a couple days. Me, I'm still knee-deep in the NBA season, rooting for my favorite team to lose. So I'm going to ease into this baseball preseason thing slowly.
But I do want to open with a question. It's not who's gotten better or worse in the offseason. It's not who'll rise up in the AL Central (which, by the way, should be a great division to follow this year). I'm talking about who's going to make things interesting beef-wise?
Let's step back. Baseball is still a fairly genteel sport. It has its share of brawls, brushbacks, and knockdowns, but it tends to skimp on legitimate feuds, except among fans. This season Gilbert Arenas vowed to drop 50 on any team employing a coach or assistant involved in the Olympic team selection process, just to get back at them for not selecting him. When was the last time a baseball player vowed revenge on the entire league? That's what I want to see. Silly fistfights help, but that's not really what I'm about here.
Nor do I condone poor sportsmanship. I think what I'm really on about here is that MLB as a whole has suffers from a lack of swagger. This is a game where middle-aged white reporters go on TV and strain themselves, veins popping out of their foreheads, to whip some poor schmuck for admiring a home run or not running out a grounder, or break out the dreaded double-C ("clubhouse cancer") for anyone who calls out a teammate. And fine, of course you shouldn't do that stuff (kids at home: always run out your grounders and fly balls). But I think the tendency for everyone to break their legs leaping onto their high horses at the smallest provocation has had the ill effect of keeping the game stodgy.
So here at The Ballclub we're going to be keeping an eye out for the guys who buck the trend, who make crazy predictions, guarantee victories, talk about themselves in the third person, say things like, "These guys hit me pretty hard last time, tonight I'm gonna strike out 15 of them." I want guys who start trumped-up feuds, who, in short, are hungry for beef. I want to be clear: there's a difference between this stuff and disrespect. We don't condone disrespect and full-on arrogance. Think about that Gilbert example. He's making a crazy, impossible promise rooted in his self-proclaimed (though earned) underdog status, in a way that gets himself up, gets the fans up, catches media attention, but doesn't disrespect anyone he's facing. That's swagger. Why doesn't Major League Baseball have any?