Trevor Bauer on the mound for the Cleveland team.

The Machine is Already Broken

Ever since the moment I finished reading The Only Rule Is It Has to Work I knew that it was my favorite baseball book I’d ever read. It approached the game of baseball in a way I can relate to and asked the questions that I want to see asked when it comes to strategy and implementation of analysis. Of course, it helped that Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller were the co-authors of that book and just so happen to be two of my favorite baseball writers. Naturally, when I heard that Ben had a new book coming out and that this time his co-author would be another baseball writer I enjoy, Travis Sawchik, I was stoked. As time crept by I found myself reading more and more about the book and getting more and more excited.

Then this past Saturday Sawchik sent out an odd tweet,

I wasn’t sure why Sawchik was waxing poetic about the positive qualities of Trevor Bauer. I left a kneejerk response about how Sawchik’s Tweet was wrong for a few different reasons, and then I went hunting into why Sawchik even felt it was a good idea to Tweet his comments about Bauer. Turns out I had missed one important fact about Travis and Ben’s new book, The MVP Machine, throughout my entire period of getting hyped up over its release. One of the main narrative driving forces in the book is Trevor Bauer, and that immediately gave me pause over my excitement towards The MVP Machine.

For background’s sake, it’s important that anyone reading this know where I’m coming from in my issues with Bauer. I won’t repost them here because I don’t feel like spreading his brand of hate, but a quick Google search will reveal a petulant man-child who is prone to transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, racism, sexism, and a lot more -isms that should make anyone with a moral compass cringe. Trevor Bauer is the same man who uses his celebrity as a bully pulpit to beat down and harass those who disagree with him or have the temerity to call him out on his hateful ways. In a nutshell, Trevor Bauer is a garbage human being.

That brings us back to Sawchik’s Tweet and his new book. His Tweet is problematic, but it is easily dismissed. Anyone with a working brain realizes that Bauer is not someone who should be pushed as the face of Major League Baseball. The league is smart to not aggressively push a climate change denier and Barack Obama birth certificate truther. MLB smartly realizes they don’t need to be associated with such a person beyond the level they already are. They seem to also understand that Bauer’s beliefs are easily mockable and deserving of said mocking. The powers that be at MLB allow Bauer his little world that he inhabits with his zealot-like followers and Bauer should be happy they give him that much.

The real problem here is The MVP Machine and the fact that prominent baseball writers continue to use their voices and pull to give a man like Bauer a larger and larger platform from which to spew his hate and other boorish views. Sawchik and Lindbergh decided that the best they could do to present the player development revolution come to life was to pin a good chunk of it on Bauer. I have not read The MVP Machine yet, but multiple reviews and firsthand accounts from those who have read the book confirm that Bauer is presented as a player development hero. On its surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad thing, but a little digging shows why this is a terrible thing.

On the pure baseball side of things, the question that needs to be asked is whether Bauer really is the best representation of the player development revolution? He’s a former third overall draft pick who has been mediocre his entire career save for his 2018 season. In 2019 he isn’t replicating what he did in 2018, in fact, he is regressing and coming up with plenty of excuses for his regression back to what he was before 2018. Bauer’s pedigree has to be taken into account, as do the fact that a lot of the player development he preaches on his own has been debunked by both traditional and progressive player development people as a crappy sort of pseudoscience that does nothing to improve his pitching. Broken down to a micro level it’s pretty clear that Bauer is a poor representation of any player development revolution that may be taking place.

The reality though, is that the above is a minor issue and pales next to the true heart of the problem with Bauer, The MVP Machine, and the love that writers like Lindbergh and Sawchik keep giving to the proven transphobe. By continuing to write about Bauer positively and present him in a way where he is portrayed as some kind of mad baseball genius the truth of who Bauer is finds itself normalized. If writers like Sawchik and Lindbergh are willing to accept Bauer for who he is and present him as a cult hero of sorts they are telling their readers that his transphobia, homophobia, climate change denial, etc. don’t matter. The baseball writers who keep writing positive takes on the quirky or mercurial Trevor Bauer are changing the narrative of who Bauer is without him actually changing who he is in any legitimate way.

I’ve been told by numerous people that the love The MVP Machine gives to Bauer falls squarely on the shoulders of Sawchik. That it was Sawchik who interviewed Bauer and that Lindbergh had next to nothing to do with Bauer. Maybe that is true, but does it really matter? Sawchik may be loud in his support of Bauer, but by attaching his name to the book Lindbergh is giving his tacit approval of the book’s Bauer narrative as well. In the end two respected baseball writers decided to publish a book where they took a mediocre pitcher and downright hateful human being and presented him as anything but the reality of who he is and how he presents himself to others.

Sawchik has doubled down in his Bauer love, sending the above Tweet while completely ignoring the people pointing out that Bauer is a hateful human being. The end result of Sawchik’s treatment of Bauer and the book he and Lindbergh co-authored is that Bauer gets more time in the limelight to spread his hate. I was excited about The MVP Machine, but that excitement has waned. I’m sure there are excellent points made in the book, and I believe all the well-respected baseball people I’ve seen giving reports that it is a great insight into the player development revolution. All the same, I don’t want to feed into giving Bauer’s hate any larger of a platform. For that reason, I can’t in good conscience read The MVP Machine and help to push a false narrative about a hateful man. If you do choose to read The MVP Machine that is obviously your choice, but the more we read these false Bauer hero pieces the more his hate is normalized, and I don’t want to help Lindbergh and Sawchik continue to normalize hate.

Lead photo courtesy of Duane Burleson – Getty Images

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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