February 28, 2006

Batista Likes God, Making Outs

Sunday's Minneapolis Star Tribune contained an interesting article about Tony Batista by Joe Christensen that was prominently displayed on the front page of the sports section. From the corny headline ("Batista has faith in his game") to Batista's reason for being in Minnesota ("God brought me here"), there are all sorts of tidbits that make for amusing blog-fodder.

Here's the sub-headline that more or less sets up what the whole article is about:

A little eccentric and very religious, new Twins third baseman Tony Batista is coming back from Japan to show the major leagues that he still has the skills that made him a two-time All-Star -- and to spread the word of the Lord.

Here's how Christensen describes Batista's role on the team:

Batista's track record earned him another starting job. Manager Ron Gardenhire said third base is not an open competition. Batista is pretty much slated to bat seventh in the batting order.

From that spot, the Twins will accept his miserable .298 career on-base percentage and high propensity for strikeouts. For the past seven seasons, including the one in Japan, he has averaged 30.4 home runs and 98.1 RBI.

If Batista produces anything close to that from the bottom of the order, the Twins will be delighted.

There was a time this offseason when people would defend the Batista signing by claiming that he was really just sort of a spare part to be evaluated for a larger role, but from the outset it was fairly clear to me that he had the third-base job all but locked up. Now we learn that he will likely bat seventh, which is better than him batting fourth and not as good as him not batting at all.

As for "Batista produc[ing] anything close to" 30.4 homers and 98.1 RBIs from the bottom of the Twins' lineup ... well, that would be very impressive. However, it is nearly impossible. The reason Batista has been able to rack up those gaudy RBI totals over the years is that he typically bats in the middle of the lineup. Batting near the bottom of a Twins lineup that figures to be average at best in 2006 will not provide nearly the number of RBI chances Batista is used to.

Only one major-league team got as many as 90 RBIs from the seventh spot in their lineup in 2005, and that is with combining the contributions of every player who hit there throughout the season. Only seven teams had 80 or more RBIs from #7 hitters. Even if Batista plays all 162 games and takes every plate appearance available to the seventh place in the lineup, he'll have a tough time cracking 75 RBIs. All of which is why context is so important and why someone as bad as Batista being a "proven RBI man" is so misguided.

Christensen talked to a Japanese newspaper reporter about Batista's time in Japan:

According to Gaku Tashiro, a reporter from the Japanese daily Sankei Sports, Batista's contract was the biggest a Japanese team had ever given to a foreign player with no experience playing there.

"He was released for several reasons," Tashiro wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune. "Manager Sadaharu Oh expected a lot. [Batista] was predicted to hit many home runs. But his numbers were not high enough for a high-paid foreign player and No. 3 hitter.

"Another reason Softbank released him was they had a good third base prospect. The team wanted to give an opportunity to the young player. ... Batista's fielding as a third baseman was also a problem."

Batista played in 134 of his team's 136 games, but he led Pacific League third basemen with 14 errors. Five of the six teams in that league play on artificial turf, which is interesting as Batista moves to the Metrodome, with its slower and more forgiving FieldTurf.

Whether or not the team truly has "a good third base prospect" who they wanted to give a shot to, the fact that they were willing to release Batista one year into a contract that was "the biggest a Japanese team had ever given to a foreign player with no experience playing there" is a pretty big sign that something else was up. Last I checked it would have been possible to get both Batista and a young third-base prospect into the lineup at the same time.

Also, we can now add Gaku Tashiro to the list of people who have seen Batista play since he was last in the major leagues and have come away from the experience questioning his defense at third base. The list already included fans from the Dominican Republic and a Twins scout. Needless to say that if Batista is a butcher in the field and insists on making an out at the plate 70% of the time, I may have to be put on suicide watch.

After noting that Batista "came to camp about 10 or 15 pounds over his ideal playing weight," Christensen then delves deep into all of the religious stuff:

"This is a guy you want to have on your team," Orioles All-Star third baseman Melvin Mora said in a telephone interview. "This is a guy who is always talking about Jesus. All of the people are going to love him in Minnesota."

This may come as a shock to Batista and Melvin Mora, but there is a large segment of the population that probably isn't all that thrilled when someone they work with on a daily basis "is always talking about Jesus."

There's a lot more:

If anyone thought Batista would shrivel from his Japanese experience, they were mistaken. Like anything in his deeply spiritual life, he speaks of it now as part of God's divine plan.

With Fukuoka, he said, he handed out Bibles inside the clubhouse to his Japanese teammates.

"And they read the Bible," he said, without sounding surprised. "So I think God probably said, 'You're done over there. So go back here to Minnesota and talk about Jesus Christ to those guys.'"


After that, no matter how the Twins fare this season, he might be ready to spread the message somewhere else.

If coming to Minnesota and spending a season with the Twins is indeed part of "God's divine plan," then I assume that means having Batista make me miserable for a year while hurting my favorite team's playoff chances is also part of the same plan. That's an odd sort of relationship, like saying that someone dropping an anvil off a skyscraper is part of a plan and a person on the sidewalk below being crushed to death by an anvil falling from the sky is within the same plan.

Also, it's astounding that Batista was able to do all the "work" he needed to do in the entire country of Japan in one season, yet needs the same amount of time to do that work in Minnesota. Or perhaps he'll have completed his work in Minnesota within a few months, and God's divine plan can include Terry Ryan cutting him in June.

I'm sure some of you reading this are upset with the anti-religion tone of today's entry, but I actually have no problem with religion and commend Batista for the acts of charity that he has completed in the name of his beliefs over the years. However, I have a problem with religious people who won't stop talking about their beliefs in public and won't stop pushing their beliefs on other people. (It's essentially the same stance I have on the WNBA.)

I also question why Batista's propensity to push his religious beliefs upon teammates is being spun as such a positive thing. Let's say, just for an example, that Rondell White is an Atheist. He is joining the team and meeting his new teammates for the first time, just like Batista. If White were constantly bringing up Atheism and pushing those beliefs on his new teammates, would it be treated the same way by Christensen?

I doubt it, and you can sub Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism or any number of other religions in and ask the same question. Whatever the case, I think the answer will be the same and it'll be a lot different than the way Batista's belief in Christianity is being covered. (Interestingly, on the same day that the Batista article ran, the front page of the Star Tribune featured an article under the headline of "Bringing God to the job." It also focused on Christianity.)

I'm glad that Batista has found something in life that makes him happy and it's wonderful that one aspect of that thing is to donate money to worthy causes. I'm just fine with him going to church every day or believing his life is being run by God. What I'm not fine with is when those things begin to impact the people around him, who may not be interested in the religion Batista has chosen to make a big part of his life also becoming a part of their lives.

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