I always found Comedy Central’s sketch comedy show Key and Peele to be very hit or miss. A lot of the humor that Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele would portray on screen could be an acquired taste. They weren’t really slapstick. Some of the laughs were often far from obvious. Much of their work was eccentric and flirting with the line of absurdity while other sketches were just plain odd. Ultimately, the show made its mark in the ratings, won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Scripted Variety Series in 2016 and continues to live on the internet with its sketches getting millions of views on YouTube.
The show also had several different sports-related sketches over its five-season run. Most people remember the College Bowl sketches where fictional college football players would introduce themselves in the starting lineup by saying their name and their school like on a television broadcast, but the names got increasingly… unconventional. My personal favorite sports-related sketches they ever put together though were two they did about a baseball player that is addicted to congratulating his teammates by slapping their butts. It sounds so stupid (because it is), and maybe I’m just weird for thinking this way, but somewhere in the crude humor, there is some sort of metaphor for real-life addiction. Being so profound while also ridiculous deserves credit. Also, Jordan Peele looks strikingly like Jose Ramirez in the sketch. Thank goodness this isn’t a real affliction.
Anyway, if the title of this post isn’t an indication already, we aren’t talking about an actual sports sketch today. We are talking about what is likely Key and Peele’s other most famous set-up: Obama’s Anger Translator. The idea was simple. In his eight years as our nation’s president, Barack Obama came off as a cool customer. Politics aside, I think most would agree that he was an eloquent, skilled orator that was very careful with his words (look people, I’m not trying to make a political statement here, I hope we can all agree that our former President portrayed himself this way. Work with me. Let’s at least agree that’s his portrayal in the sketch, okay? Good). The premise of the sketch is that President Obama had hired an “anger translator” by the name of Luther that follows up the things Obama says by translating them into a louder, angrier, more frustrated and “real” version. This is what he really means but can’t say because he needs to stay composed as the leader of the free world. Hilarity ensues at Luther’s candor about the given situation.
I’m a baseball writer and not a comedy critic. So, why am I referencing a nearly decade-old sketch starring one of the most sought-after psychological thriller/horror writer/director of recent times (incredible career transition by Peele, by the way)?
Well, a summary of a recent press conference held by Guardians manager Terry Francona was making the rounds on the internet on Friday, posted by Zack Miesel of the Athletic. Miesel posted it on his Twitter page and doesn’t mention its origin. I can only imagine it comes from the pre-game presser Friday.
Francona, much like Obama, tends to portray himself as level-headed to a fault. He has been the steady hand at the helm of the Guardians for over a decade now. He’s a player’s manager and not often fiery unless an umpire does something really egregious or his knuckle-headed starting pitcher chucks a baseball over the center-field wall at Kauffman Stadium.
And in this transcript, where Miesel directly questions some of his recent decision-making, Francona still seems pretty stoic. Interestingly, he does challenge Miesel at one point in responding to why Francona hasn’t made more changes in the Guardians batting order, but largely, Francona is his usual self. Personally, I think he is holding back.
So, for your sake Tito, allow me to step in. I’m not going to so much be an “anger translator” as I will be a “real-talk translator”, but this should work in the same way. Below is each topic from the summary followed by Francona’s response, followed by my translation. Be aware that I don’t like cursing in my writing. I like people of all ages and sensibilities to be able to read my writing, so if some humor is lost because of that decision, oh well. I’m just trying to provide a different perspective as there seems to be a lot of people (online at least) that are starting to pile onto Francona right now because the season hasn’t gone as expected so far.
Lastly, I’m not taking shots at Miesel. He’s a great writer and reporter. I bought his book for my dad last year. He’s doing his job and asking the questions he should ask given where the Guardians find themselves. This isn’t about criticizing him (or Francona). It’s about reading between the lines.
Without further delay.
State of affairs:
We need to do better. If yelling and screaming at them made them do better, I’d do it. That’s not going to make somebody hit. Changing the lineup, if I felt that it would make somebody hit, I’d do it. This is kind of a rarity where you see everybody’s not quite at the level- usually its like three (hot) and three (cold) and everybody (else) in the middle. So, we’re going to have to work through it.
Translation: This isn’t my first baseball game. I know we made the playoffs last year. I know we are 22-28 and haven’t won a series in nearly two weeks. Believe it or not, I am paying attention when I’m in the dugout for every game. You guys remember I won Manager of the Year like seven months ago, right? If there was a quick and easy fix, don’t you think I would have done it already? Do you think I want us to lose? Seriously? These are grown men playing this game. Adults. You watching at home or in the press box may find me screaming at the team to be cathartic, but it isn’t going to be productive. I’m here every day. I’ve been with these guys since February, often longer. I’d know if that’s going to work. I think you ought to trust me.
My leadership of this team is based on providing a steady hand. We have too many young guys in this ball-club that are trying to figure it out at the Major League level to start hitting panic buttons and making changes for the sake of change. That would be completely out of character for how I manage a baseball team and that would put everyone on edge and make them press more than they already are. This isn’t a video game. These are human beings with psyches.
When is it time for lineup changes?
When there’s a reason to change it, when I think it better suits us. That would be my answer. I mean, I guess I would ask you who would you move up? I’m open, if you have somebody you think should move up, tell me. I want to make sure a guy, if guys struggle, they can handle it. And that’s part of developing guys is not getting em beat up. So, trying to accomplish a few things.
Translation: Who is so great that we should move them up in the order right now? For weeks people were saying “Andres Gimenez needs to be hitting second!”. Gimenez has barreled two balls all season. Two. That’s it. What are we talking about here? Do you want to move Gabriel Arias and his 127 Major League at-bats to hit clean-up or something? I know we are struggling but this is change for the sake of change. I might as well pull a Billy Martin and pull the lineup out of a hat. That’s really the shake-up we need? Please. Spare me.
Changing the lineup sounds like a great way to create some sort of instant gratification. It’ll make the people at home feel better because there’s been a reaction on my part to our poor play. That doesn’t make it the right thing to do.
Josh Bell‘s struggles:
He’s been very streaky pretty much everywhere and I really hope that one of those streaks shows up and the power surge comes with it. Don’t think he’s gotten the ball in the air as much as he probably has in the past. Just again, you’re dealing with people and sometimes it doesn’t go the way you really want it to. I’m sure he would love to be sitting there saying “I’ve got 13 home runs.” He doesn’t. The good news is he’s a worker. The hard thing is a little bit of a tinkerer, so I know (Chris Valaika) tries to kind of keep him on one thing as opposed to bouncing around.
Translation: I know Bell hasn’t hit the ball over the fence the way we would like him to. Look at his track record. He’s a streaky hitter, if he can get the ball in the air a little more and get on one of his hot streaks he will be fine. If I bench him or move him down he’s going to start trying to fix his swing five different ways and we don’t need that. He’s working hard right now trying to improve. That’s all I can ask from him. We just need him to relax, focus and be Josh Bell. I know we paid him $19 million to hit clean-up. The fact is you can’t buy home runs. If you could, the Dodgers would have won the last five World Series and the Mets would be undefeated this year.
Andres Gimenez struggles:
I think sometimes with Andres just seeing some hits is going to help keep his head up. Yeah, think he’s been over trying and trying to do a little to much.
Translation: The dude just needs to see a couple of solid balls come off his bat and land in the grass or over the fence. Again, he has two barrels so far. Even if last year was a mirage and he’s not as good of a hitter as we thought, there’s no way he is “2 barrels in 2 months” level bad. It’s all between the ears right now. Confidence. If I start making panic moves, that’s not going to help anybody.
On Tyler Freeman, young players riding the bench:
Its something I need to figure out a little bit better. I’m not quite sure how always, but I’m certainly working on it cause I don’t want him to sit as much as he is.
Translation: This question isn’t really about Tyler Freeman. It’s about Amed Rosario. Amed’s been a contributor on this team for the last two seasons. He has a proven track record at this point as a productive ballplayer. Playing him every day isn’t the absurdity that people are making it out to be. This team’s success this year is incumbent in part upon Amed playing well every day. Or at least that’s been the plan this whole time. I know it’s not going well for him. He’s not the only one. I’m not sure why everyone wants to specifically pick on him. If we were playing well and Amed was stinking up the joint, we’d be looking to replace him, but right now, it looks more like he either needs to be part of the turnaround or we need to be playing him so he has the chance to play better and will actually have some value to trade at the deadline. If that happens, you’ll get to see as much of Tyler Freeman as you want in the second half. Also, I don’t know why a lesser prospect like Richie Palacios wasn’t given to me to waste away here on the bench so Freeman could get at-bats at AAA.