Around the Horn with Paul Ghiglieri – The Inaugural Column
Welcome to the first edition of “Around the Horn.” Throughout the season, this will be a recurring op-ed that riffs on whatever’s noteworthy in baseball, except it will have a more satirical slant. Think a stripped down Last Week Tonight or Daily Show in a column format, except all about baseball. There will be recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s Pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
We’ve got a lot to talk about as well as the beginning of a killer two-part interview with former Giants prospect and rising Twitter legend Eric Sim. So let’s get right to our first “segment”:
(Our Main Story)
Finally, this long, dark winter has mercifully come to an end. The sun was always going to rise and set this offseason with the AAVs of Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, so no matter when spring training started, the baseball world wasn’t going to fully pass “Go” until the most anticipated free agents in more than a decade finally put ink to the dotted line. Everybody had an opinion on this, and speculation about where Harper and Machado would end up eventually turned into a spotlight on free agency in general (somehow the “hot stove” got colder this year), with an examination of the current collective bargaining agreement’s failings and predictions of a possible work stoppage when the basic agreement expires in 2021.
Before you stick your face in the firing line of a pitching machine upon hearing the words “work stoppage,” there are some things you should consider: First, Machado and Harper each made some serious bank this year, with both nabbing contracts that extend a decade or longer for $300 million or more. So for all the grumbling that fans and players did all offseason about the game’s biggest stars remaining unsigned and not getting paid, here are some things Machado and Harper could combine their salaries to do together if they wanted, not counting for inflation: more than 300 space trips on Virgin Galactic, funding the budgets of a few small cities, or buying an NBA basketball team are just a few of the options. It should be noted that had Harper signed with San Francisco, apparently, the majority of his contract likely would have been siphoned off by California taxes, and if locals are to be believed, the mortgage of a one-bedroom condo somewhere near Mission Bay. Such is the state of city living in the Golden State.
See, it’s the middle class of baseball, composed mostly of aging veterans, that has been squeezed, and it’s rather ironic that what’s happening in baseball with a bunch of millionaires is actually a mirror image of what’s been happening to most everybody else under the weight of income inequality in America, though one group probably isn’t quite as worried about the price of gas and milk as the other. But hey, mo’ money, mo’ problems, right?
Seriously though, if the Nolan Arenado extension and Machado contract did anything, it went full hothead pitcher taking a baseball bat to the dugout Gatorade container in the sense that it definitely smashed the idea that midrange and small-market teams can’t foot huge salaries. They can. They all can. There’s never been more money in baseball. Teams are choosing not to spend it, and you have all the analytics we all love and adore to thank for this. Prediction models that figure dollars per win added are what MLB front offices are all using to value players, and because they’re using basically the same models, they’re offering the same conservative offers to free agents. If collusion with Russia wasn’t enough, now it’s in your baseball too!
Will there be a work stoppage? None of the players who went through the last one (1994-1995) are even in the league still, so would this current crop of players, with most of the superstars getting paid while the youngsters play out their initial deals, actually walk out? And are they entitled to do so? After all, it was their union that negotiated this unfavorable CBA deal in the first place. Many are saying that efforts to seize their piece of the revenue pie in the most recent deal with the insistence of having no “salary cap” ceiling ultimately and indirectly created a no salary floor, allowing teams to spend as little as possible and tank to speed up a rebuild. It also inadvertently created a cap anyway, with most high-revenue teams running from the luxury tax like it’s the plague.
While that’s hardly fair to fans who expect their hard-earned money spent on $11 hot dogs, $14 beers, and expensive tickets to go toward building a winner, front offices are going to listen to logarithms instead, and they’re convinced fans won’t care or even remember a few years of gutter ball once the farm has been restocked and prospects turn into cheap All-Stars en route to a World Series. You’ll have to pay the piper eventually because five-plus years of service might be the new free agency, but if the computers don’t project champion, then most teams are going to wait and pay for one later, the current product on the field be damned.
Until further notice, that is baseball in 2019, run by Skynet and reported on by Smashmouth.
Out of the Park
(A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week)
In case you missed it, @Watch_Momentum micd me up for my first start of spring. Had a lot of fun doing this and I look forward to bringing you all more content like this in the future pic.twitter.com/7hrhBzg8nB
You know, it would probably do a world of good to mic up players more often during games. The NFL does it all the time, and it’s a great way to bring fans closer to the game and introduce new fans to the personalities that make it so colorful and fun. Sounds a lot better than moving the mound around, instituting pitch clocks and doing just about whatever else possible to screw with the game itself in order to speed things along. Want a reality bite? The average length of a ballgame in 1920 was about an hour and 47 minutes. If baseball wants to cut down the run time, perhaps someone should suggest we start reducing the intermissions and pauses for radio and television advertising spots. Seems like that would probably solve this whole affair, don’t you think? Yeah, good luck with that.
In the meantime, give me more Bauer on the mic, and perhaps make at least one game like this available per week as part of MLB’s replay package.
Was there truly anything better this offseason than the New Year’s gift of a middle-aged Babe Ruth “working out” only to then start to go after his overzealous trainer like he’d stolen his steak dinner?
99 years ago, the @Yankees acquired Babe Ruth.
Needless to say, conditioning has changed since then. 😂 pic.twitter.com/LoVV1BIG7d
— MLB (@MLB) January 3, 2019
No. There was nothing better.
It’s about time to get to part one of our interview with former San Francisco Giants prospect Eric Sim (@esim3400). Eric has developed a prolific social media following with his often NSFW and candid tweets, and he was recently the subject of an article by Eno Sarris over at The Athletic. Be advised: some crude language is used in this interview.
Here’s the pitch:
Me: All right, here we go. I really appreciate you taking the time, Eric. I’ll just jump right into it. Just in looking at your background here, you were born in South Korea. You’ve spoken a lot about the different types of pressure and culture associated with baseball and sports and how that compares to what it’s like for kids growing up playing sports here in America, and I was curious if you could tell us a bit more about what that experience was like for you.
Eric: Yeah, sure, I was born in South Korea and I lived there until I was about 13 or so, and I played ball growing up ever since I was 8, around there. My dad kind of took me in, and I started playing, really, so that’s pretty much how I started. The culture is very different, back then too. I heard it’s changed a little bit nowadays because it’s not as [expletive] insane as back in the day, so like for example, in my day, this is when I was 10 years old, right? So I’d go to the field, and I would literally practice for about eight to nine hours straight. I used to get beat the [expletive] up because I was fat. Like, coach would literally just call me over if I made a mistake. Let’s say we’re taking infield, right? And I drop a ball or something. He’ll call you in. “Hey, come here!” And you’ll run from the left field position all the way to him and get in a push-up up position. And he’ll beat the [expletive] out of you with a bat. And that’s how it was. It was it was [expletive] insane. But it was real life for me. So, actually, one of the biggest reasons I moved over to Canada was because my mother couldn’t handle me getting beat up every [expletive] day. And yeah, it was just a miserable lifestyle. But it was the norm there you know, and still, to this day, they will, I heard it still happens, right? And especially in more of a smaller town kind of thing, right? But it’s a little more of a big deal now, but back then it wasn’t a big deal. I used to take the bus for an hour to get to the field, and on the way back, I couldn’t sit down, so I had to stand up because my ass was bruised from getting hit, so I would have to stand up the whole way. It was something that nobody really knows, you know? Back then it was, again, different culture, different lifestyle, different coaching. Coaches are like God over there, so they can do pretty much whatever the [expletive] they want to. And then you have to obey them, so that kind of stuff was pretty overwhelming, especially for a little kid. And I mean, I think that’s probably one of the biggest reasons I don’t like baseball as much as other people. I don’t care about baseball that much because of that, I think. I’ve had some shitty experiences.
Me: Yeah, at a very young age.
Eric: Yeah, yeah. So again, everything was different. And when I first came over to Canada, it was the greatest thing ever. Like, I would just show up and then we’d practice for two hours, and then coach gives you a high five and tells you, “Good job!” Like, this is [expletive] awesome. It was insane. It was a culture shock for me. But I liked it.
Me: You played both catcher and pitcher for the Giants minor league affiliates from 2010 to 2015. You registered stops everywhere from rookie ball all the way up through Triple-A. I was curious what it was like being able to get into the mindset of both sides of a pitching battery, both on the mound and behind the plate.
Eric: Yeah, well, it’s a different ballgame. Especially at the pro level, right? So it was a totally different element catching and pitching. But yeah, I mean I’ve grown up as a catcher. I’d never actually pitched ever in my life, even as I was growing up. I was a little fat kid from Korea. I was [expletive] put behind a plate because I was fat, and then, same thing happened when I moved over to Canada. I was a good catcher, so they put me behind there, and that was actually a good way for me to learn English as well, so that’s why I don’t really have much of an accent. But again, catching was different, especially the pro level. It’s different; it’s a different ballgame and my preparation, to my routine, to everything was totally different, but I actually enjoy catching more. One of my favorite things to do was throwing guys out until I threw 97 off the mound. That was [expletive] awesome, so that’s one of the best feelings there, too, but there’s pros and cons about everything.
Me: So it goes without saying that the competition on the field obviously gets a lot tougher with each level you advance, but what were some of the most noticeable differences in your experience between those levels, and by differences, I don’t mean the competition. I mean lifestyle and culture. Is a day in the life of rookie ball or Single-A dramatically different than that of Triple-A?
Eric: My opinion, it’s different, right, but not as much as what people think because, to tell you truth, all the prospects I played in Low-A, they all made it to “The Show,” too, you know? So it’s not like their talent level was below, at the time, a Triple-A player, and if anything, I’ve seen more of Triple-A players that were, in my opinion, shitty, throwing about an 86, 88, 90, around there, you know? In Low and Double-A, you’ll see a bunch of 95, right? So like, let me tell you, like, a quick story. My High-A team, my bullpen, we had a lefty throw 97, a lefty throw 98, righty throw 98, righty throw 97, and our closer was Josh Osich, and he got up to 100. Again, the talent level and everything is all there, just maybe the consistency, maybe a little more consistent in the higher levels, but at the same time they’re all old as [expletive]; if you’re 33 years old in Triple-A, you better know how to [expletive] throw strikes. That’s probably the only difference, really, but other than that, talent-wise, I didn’t see a lot of difference; if anything, I saw more talent in the lower levels and lifestyle, and you know, it’s just different. At different levels, you get paid different and get treated a little different, you know? So coaches won’t be on you as much if you’re a Triple-A guy. No one’s going to tell you, you know… (pauses) For example, we had Boof Bonser. He was a big leaguer. It was an ex-big leaguer, but he was in Triple-A. I mean, our coaches didn’t tell them what to do. Now, guys like me that were second or third year would be told what to do. And in High-A, again, I spent most of my time in Low-A, and in Low-A, I played against Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge. I played against all of them, right? And the talent level is always going to be there.
Me: You have about 14 and a half thousand followers on Twitter right now; you’re known for these very no-nonsense, very honest, often self-deprecating takes on both college and professional athletes, but also you’ve got a lot of colorful language regarding the lifestyle. I was wondering if you could tell us a bit how this all started. What inspired you to use social media as a forum just to share these very poignant and hilarious takes that you always have?
Eric: Literally, last, I think in April (of 2018), I started tweeting a little more and I was at four or 500 followers, right? So I was barely on there, but there was an article done with me with Eno Sarris about how shitty we’re getting paid or whatever in The Athletic. I’ve got a lot of tension, and I started getting some followers and I said, you know what, I’m not affiliated with teams, you know? I’m not scared to say what’s in my mind, and I never changed really who I am. I started tweeting about my experiences, especially minor league stories, and a lot of people haven’t heard it, I guess, and I’ve been getting more and more of a following. All of a sudden, I’ve got a [expletive] ton of people. I don’t know why, but they follow me and they enjoy my [expletive]. But yeah, I like to be real, man. A lot of people have these fantasies about playing pro baseball, and I’m like, no the [expletive] it’s not. Let me tell you some stories.
Me: What I found most interesting about following you, because I’ve been following you for a while now, but it wasn’t so much the party stories and the pranks, which were always a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong, but I liked how you use your forum to kind of highlight the financial struggle that a lot of these minor leaguers faced in pursuit of this goal like you did in that highly regarded interview with Eno Sarris. I was curious why you feel it’s important to shine the spotlight on the underbelly being a pro athlete, especially for these people who really glorify the idea of being a pro ball player.
Eric: Yeah, it’s very important that everyone has a right to know the truth, you know? I mean, everyone can sugar coat it like, “Oh yeah, get drafted, sign for millions of dollars, and bang all the girls, and [expletive] make it to the big leagues in two years, and then you bang more hot chicks.” It doesn’t work like that, you know? Like, 98% of us don’t live a lifestyle like that, and people don’t know that; they still don’t know that. They didn’t know that before and even if I speak up, they still don’t know. Don’t expect them to know exactly what we [expletive] go through, but you don’t have to go through to know. I know plenty of people around me that’s never played in the minor leagues, but they understand it. Or they try to understand it because they get it, you know? Some people are going to get it and some people are not, and I don’t give a [expletive] who gets it and who doesn’t, but it for me right now, I have a platform that I like to use so that people hear the truth.
Me: As part of that platform, I noticed that you’re offering a promo code for the Smart Coach Radar and the Ball Coach as part of the Help A Minor Leaguer Campaign. As far as I can tell, all commissions made will be used towards the campaign itself. Do you want to talk a little bit about why you want to get involved in that?
Eric: I got a following last winter, and then I was like you know, I want to do something cool for the current minor leaguers, so I did a little Go Fund Me page. I had 10,000 followers back then, but if everybody donated $1, then I can give $10,000 to a broke [expletive] minor league that really needs it, you know? I didn’t get to my goal, but I still raised $2,050 or something around there, so I actually got the players, the current players, to nominate each other and then there are two of them that were taken. One actually has a pretty cool story. I recently did an interview with another guy, too, and then he did an interview about him because he bought a school bus – it was [expletive] badass man – he bought a school bus for two or three grand or something, and he was renovating it, and he’s gonna live in there for the rest of the season. You know, this guy gets it. $2000 I cut in half, so I gave one to that guy and then I gave another guy, a Blue Jay’s organization guy who was nominated by like ten of his friends. He must be a good guy to be nominated like that, so yeah, you know, he deserves it, so boom, raise some money for them. They [Smart Coach Radar] just they kind of helped me, and they gave me a free product for me to try, and all I did was make videos of it really, and then I was getting tons of DMs, like, “Hey, like, what is the stuff that you’re using?” And I was like, “It’s Pocket Radar, Pocket Radar Gun.” And I got kind of sick of it, so I was like why don’t we just do some cool [expletive] and they’re like, “Okay, cool.” So they gave me a promo code, which is “ESim3400.” They [customers] can use it and they get 10% off, and then Pocket Radar is going to match that 10%, and then they’re going to donate that money to my Help A Minor Leaguer Campaign. It’s going to happen again this winter. I’m gonna try and do it once a year, and I’m gonna try to help these guys out.
Me: That’s fantastic. I noticed that you’re a really big advocate for life after baseball; you clearly still have a passion for the game in many ways, but you don’t seem to have let baseball define you the way a lot of other guys do, so what would you say to a former pro athlete who’s really struggling with that transition from “real baseball” to the “professional world” as you like to say?
Eric: Well, I have a lot of friends, too, that were done with baseball and then they’ll struggle because, first of all, they don’t know what the [expletive] to do now, and the second is it’s very traumatizing for them. I mean, you’ve worked all your life for something, especially something like professional baseball. There’s something everyone worked towards to, and then when that’s over, and like literally over in a second… (pause) Like, for me, I got released over a phone call. Five minutes man, and then my career was done, you know, and then a lot of people don’t know what to do after; a lot of people do struggle, so I just want to make sure that it’s okay, like [expletive] move on, you know? You can do anything and be successful because whatever helped you to get to your spot in baseball, that’s going to help you to become successful in real life. A lot of people get pretty caught up and base everything on saying, “Oh, you know I was a professional baseball player.” No the [expletive] you’re not. You’re in the real world. You’re nobody. You pretty much do whatever the [expletive] you need to do again to get better. And again, I’m telling you, I’m not the most successful guy. I’m a bar manager of a small bar in Canada, but at the same time, I’m working hard. I’m studying and then I’m getting better at it, and we’re having more success as a business, which is good, so when we do share like that, you learn, you know?
Me: Sure. Speaking of that, I know you’re WSAT certified in wine and spirits, so how was studying wine different than baseball? Which one do you enjoy more?
Eric: [expletive], I hate both. (laughs) Wine’s way better. It’s [expletive] drinking. I love drinking. It’s different because, obviously, this is more studying, you know, like reading books and [expletive]. Like once you’re outta baseball, you still gotta read [expletive] books, you know? It’s just different, but I really enjoy what I do now, and I’ve never been happier. My last three years of professional baseball, I hated waking up and going to the field. I hated baseball that much, you know? I’ve never been the guy, like, “Oh, I love baseball so much; it’s everything.” No, it’s just something I was kind of forced to do when I was younger because dad pretty much, like, “Hey, you’re decent at it. Why don’t just go play baseball.” I’m like alright, [expletive] it. I was good at it, so I was successful at it. I got my scholarship, which is fine, and then I got drafted, which is fine, but that doesn’t define me, you know? It’s a little part of me. Most people get done with baseball at what, 22? After college, you go to college and you play. You’re pretty successful in my opinion. A lot of people will be done after 20 or 21, but I played until I was 27. I’m grateful for it. I don’t regret it. If anything, I wish I would have been done with baseball a little bit younger, so I can get started a little bit sooner on the real world because I’m 3o now. But at the same time, it’s never too late, man. Again, the biggest point is don’t get stuck into what you think forms you, you know? Like, “baseball player” doesn’t [expletive] form you, you know? There’s literally 50 years of your life ahead of you after baseball.
Me: Absolutely. So in addition to your social media presence, I noticed you did a bit of writing for South Side Socks on SB Nation.
Eric: I still do.
Me: What’s that been like for you?
Eric: It’s been great, actually, writing something. I’ve never thought about it. I was a [expletive] 2.2 student. I went to school, but I never was good at tests, you know, so I still have a tough time reading English books because I’m an immigrant, and reading wasn’t something I picked up the fastest. Like speaking, I picked up the quickest, but reading-wise for me… like, I can read a Korean book in like three days. And it takes me like three weeks to read an English book. So a little tougher transition like that. But I’m loving every minute of what I’m doing, which is completely different than baseball, and I never thought I would be able to do it. But again, a lot of people in our field, especially baseball players, just do something for 20 years. I played baseball for 20 years, right? And it’s just like [expletive], when it’s taken away, what the [expletive] you know? So it’s just different, but I mean, you just jump into it right away. But writing, again, it’s been fantastic. That has been something totally different. An element out of my comfort zone. I’ve written about six or seven articles, which I’m [expletive] blessed with, and people actually read it and comment on it, so it’s been great. I used to write once a week but it was kind of getting… (pause) he asked me if I wanted to get paid, and I was like, dude, I don’t want to get paid. I don’t want to feel that pressure. Just let me write whenever I want to, and they’re like cool, so I write pretty much once a month about whatever I want to. I’m going to shoot for a once a month kind of thing, and then kind of talk about whatever the [expletive] I want to talk about. They’re really lenient with that, which is awesome.
Me: Just to get into a little bit more actual baseball, how does it feel to hit a ball off a tee at 99?
Eric: [expletive] awesome. (laughs) When I did that, I did that two days ago. I was like, actually thinking, “Oh, in three or four days, I’m getting there.” So again, I just got that competitive fire. I hate baseball. I hate going through the season, and all that [expletive] politics and all that, which there’s a lot in pro ball, but I like to train. The best part of baseball for me is actually the training part, how I get better. It’s almost like a video game. You make that Road to the Show character, you know? I feel like that when I train, and when I get better, you get that fire. I’m hitting a [expletive] 100. I bet I’m going to do it within a week, so I’m pretty excited.
Me: Based on some of your tweets, you were hungover for approximately what percentage of the games you played?
Eric: Oh, [expletive] every one of them. (laughs) Surprisingly, my first year, I didn’t touch any liquor. I was, like, you know what, baseball’s like everything. I need to make to the big leagues. And then that changed because I saw that it doesn’t work like that. You can’t just [expletive] live baseball, breathe baseball 24/7 and be sane enough to make it. You know what I’m saying? So I realized that I was taking it way too far. I needed to let loose a little bit; obviously, I got [expletive] carried away. But I [expletive] partied pretty hard and don’t regret that. For example, I’m never gonna remember my buddies, like “Oh dude, you were that the guy that hit 300 that year.” No, I’m gonna remember, like, “Oh dude, remember that that [expletive] night out in San Jose?” You know, that’s how I’m gonna remember my boys, so, I don’t regret any minute of me going out or partying or whatever.
Check back next week for part two of our interview with Eric Sim, where we talk about what really goes on in pro locker rooms; batting practice with Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, and Brandon Belt; catching 102 mph from Ray Black; what he would do if he were the dictator of baseball; and the best hitter he ever played with (the answer may surprise you).
Lastly, be sure to check him out on Twitter and Instagram (@esim3400) for some more honest baseball talk until then.
And that’s the ballgame for this week.