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The Yost/Graffanino/Estrada Altercation

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Here's what we know: late in yesterday's game, Graffy and Estrada confronted Yost about something.  It got heated; there was plenty of yelling.  Here's what Adam has to tell us:

The skirmish happened at the end of a tunnel that connects the dugout to the home clubhouse and was captured by the Mets' television crew. It was a confusing jumble of players and coaches that apparently started with a confrontation involving Yost and catcher Johnny Estrada and continued between Yost and infielder Tony Graffanino. In both instances, other players and coaches, including pitching coach Mike Maddux and bench coach Dale Sveum, served as shields to keep things from escalating further.

Here's Haudricourt's report:

What actually happened was that infielder Tony Graffanino, then Estrada, came to the defense of a teammate who they thought had been unfairly singled out by Yost for poor play.

In an interview with the Journal Sentinel later in the day, Yost confirmed that Graffanino and Estrada were defending a teammate. Yost said it was unfortunate the incident was being interpreted by some as a problem between him and Estrada.

I'm sorry if I'm being really repetitive here, playing the part of an obsessively dogmatic stathead, but this story, I'm telling you right now, is all the proof you should ever need that streaks, trends, sparks, turnarounds, slumps, and small samples are a load of BS.

Best of all, it's really simple.

This altercation came at a crucial point in the season, obviously: two months to go, Brewers are more or less tied at the top of the standings.  The Crew has been losing a lot of games, due to either poor play, bad luck, or some combination thereof.  Coincidentally, the Cubs have been playing well, making this seem like an even bigger pressure situation than it really is.

Over the rest of the season, one of three things will happen:

  1. The Brewers will play much better than the Cubs, and will win the division by a healthy margin.
  2. The Brewers and Cubs will be neck and neck to the end, and the winner will edge out the other by no more than 2 or 3 games.
  3. The Brewers will collapse, and the Cubs will win the division handily.
I'm not making judgments here: obviously, the division will end one of those three ways.

Here's the best part: if 1. or 3. happens, I absolutely guarantee you that end-of-season wrapups will refer back to this altercation.  If the Brewers run away with things, everybody will say something like this:

Veterans such as Graffanino and Estrada sparked the team when it needed a spark the most, challenging their manager and giving the young club a rallying point.  The ensuing team meetings gave them a new sense of purpose, and they started to win again.

If the Cubs run away with it, this will be the story:

On August 2nd, tempers flared, indicating that the clubhouse was in disarray.  It just goes to show how important team chemistry is: teams that don't have it have a hard time winning games, especially inexperienced teams like the Brewers.  From that point on, the Cubs took over, and the Brewers weren't cohesive enough as a team to put up much of a fight.

If the teams stay neck and neck, some other spurious storyline will arise, and it will "turn out" that the altercation didn't matter much after all.

If it's not already obvious, look at what's happening here.  An event occurred, one that could have any number of effects.  (Or, more likely in the long term, no effect whatsoever.)  But because it fits in to the way the mainstream press talks about baseball, it will probably be referred back to again and again in support of whatever happens, regardless of what that is.  Just like Lou Piniella's explosion and the Michael Barrett trade, this altercation will be used as evidence of whatever happens.

That makes no sense.

You know what happens on a baseball field?  Of course you do.  At any given time, it's a battle between two players.  Those players, whether due to love of their teammates, personal pride, love of lucre, or plain old instinct, are almost always making their best effort.  Occasionally outside effects play a part, but I'm convinced that it's rare.

Further, whether you like it or not, luck plays a huge role in nearly all of those encounters.  Fair or foul by an inch?  3-2 pitch just outside (according to Hunter Wendlestadt)?  Grounder just outside of Hardy's reach?  Skill, of course, plays a part, but it's not the whole story.  

Because we are humans and we like stories, we make up effects for things.  I guarantee you that if the Brewers have substantially good luck or substantially bad luck over the next 30 days, yesterday's fight will be referred to as the cause.  But you know what?  It'll still be luck.  If the fight actually meant something, we'd know what was going to happen with some degree of certainty.

Yes, of course, skill plays a part: the Brewers are more than likely to be a .525-.550 team for the rest of the year, just as they have been all year.  But that isn't much of a story.  The degree they differ from that is the amount that sportswriters and fans have to make stuff up to explain the difference.

When really, the difference can't be "explained" away.  Luck happens, and both Brewers and Cubs fans ought to be massively aware of that.  Both teams have experienced lots of good luck and lots of bad luck this very season.  Then why is it that we don't recognize it as such?

I guess we just love to talk about managers and catchers yelling at each other.