Dr. Strangeglove: Hunter Pence, Child

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, August 19, 2011 02:01 PM | Comments: 24
Dr. Strangeglove, Opinion, Posts

I’ve got a friend who used to dip. We’ll call him Special Agent X, because he’s a government agent, and while I could give you the name he’s gone by as long as I’ve known him, I’m not sure it’s his real name, because people in his line of work are not born the way you and I are, but rather grown in a test tube in Quantico and stripped of human qualities that might get in the way of their professional lives, like fingerprints, or remorse.

Anyway, Special Agent X, in the it-takes-one-to-know-one manner, has spent the last several months pointing out to me every ballplayer he sees on TV who dips. Of course, I’d been aware of the phenomenon of ballplayers using smokeless tobacco before, because my favorite player when I was six years old was Lenny Dykstra, the man Andy Van Slyke once accused of turning center field in Veterans Stadium into a “toxic waste dump.” The obvious offenders (Dykstra and Carlos Perez long ago, Chipper Jones and Nick Swisher now) never bothered me, but I’ve been trained by Special Agent X to pick up the slightly swollen lower lip, or the telltale can in the back pocket–subtle signs that might go unnoticed by the casual observer, but allow Special Agent X to identify those players (Chase Utley, for instance) who indulge in the use of smokeless tobacco on the field of play.

Anyway, I was sitting behind first base at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night, in perfect view of the backside of any runner to reach first base (which, considering that Utley singled twice that night, made me the envy of the women of Citizens Back Park). It was after Hunter Pence singled in the bottom of the eighth that I noticed the aforementioned can of what I assumed to be dip in his back pocket.

I bring this up not as any sort of crusade against Hunter Pence, or even against dip, which I find personally disgusting but in no way morally reprehensible (though not as disgusting as that bizarre wad of gum-and-sunflower seeds that A-Rod keeps in his cheek during games). Instead, I was shocked that Hunter Pence did something on a baseball diamond that I couldn’t imagine a hyperactive 11-year-old doing.

I usually poo-poo the so-called “intangible” elements of baseball, particularly in player evaluation. So I’ll say that while I in no way believe that Hunter Pence’s childlike nature adds anything to the Phillies’ performance, it makes him superlatively fun to watch in the field. I’ll also say that I still think the trade that brought him here was a bad deal for the Phillies, but that doesn’t take away from how much I’ve enjoyed watching him play over the past couple weeks.

I hadn’t seen a lot of Pence live until his arrival in Philadelphia for two reasons: 1) he played in Houston, which meant that his games weren’t on TV very much here and 2) even if they were, watching Pence would require watching the rest of the Houston Astros, and frankly, since 2005 or so, I’d rather stub my toe on a cinder block over and over than watch the Astros. I’m sure you understand.

So I was aware of Pence’s gangly all arms-and-legs running style and his exaggerated bad-actor-in-a-movie-about-the-dead-ball-era-White-Sox swing, but seeing it day in and day is an entirely different experience altogether. I had previously been convinced that Chase Utley–the man whose movements on the field I’d once compared, in separate incidents, to a fiddler crab on acid and a chimpanzee chasing a penguin across a frozen lake–would take the cake for “most awkward good baseball player” from now until the end of recorded history. I was wrong.

Here’s the thing, though, about Hunter Pence. I should really hate him as a player. He’s got this compulsion to swing at the first pitch in every at-bat. He doesn’t get on base as much as he ought to, and watching him play the field is even weirder than watching Chase Utley. The Phillies paid, I still maintain, a huge price to acquire him. Pence ought to frustrate me for the same reason Shane Victorino did until he turned into Tris Speaker this season: his baseball IQ was holding him back from being the player he could be. But for some reason, that doesn’t matter–the things about Hunter Pence that would drive me to distraction in another ballplayer are somehow endearing in Pence.

Here’s the thing about Hunter Pence: he’s a good player who’s more fun to have on one’s team than he ought to be for no other reason than he’s easier to imagine as a Little Leaguer than perhaps anyone else in the majors. Let’s try to imagine Roy Halladay in the Little League World Series. He’d be the six-foot-one 12-year-old who never smiles. Sort of like now. Most major leaguers are hard to imagine as kids because they take the game so seriously now. That’s as it should be, because they’re, you know, professionals. I think this is about as close as we’ll get to getting that glimpse for most Phillies players.

But Hunter Pence? Doesn’t it seem plausible that he started playing right field because that was where his insistence on sitting down and pulling the petals off dandelions in the field would do the least harm to the team? The way he can’t sit still in the batter’s box, can’t you imagine him hanging off the chain-link dugout fence screaming “WE WANT A PITCHER, NOT A BELLY-ITCHER!” for six innings? I’m not convinced he doesn’t still do this. Hunter Pence is a three-or-four fWAR player; a nice player, if not a superstar. But when you’re getting three fWAR a season from an overcaffeinated 11-year-old, it’s a lot more fun to watch.

I guess this is my way of saying that I’m on board with the Hunter Pence experiment, if not with my head then with my heart. It just looks like too much fun not to be.

Avatar of Michael Baumann

About Michael Baumann

Michael Baumann has written 229 articles on Phillies Nation.

Michael is a graduate student at Temple University who lost his childlike innocence when, at the age of 6, his dad let him stay up for the end of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Unsettled by the Phillies' recent success, he has threatened over the years to leave the team he loves if they don't start losing again, but has so far been unable to follow through. Michael spent 4 years as an undercover agent in Braves territory at the University of South Carolina, where he covered football and soccer for The Daily Gamecock before moving back up north. He began writing for The Phrontiersman in June 2009 before moving to Phillies Nation in January 2010.

  • Posts: 1435 Pat Gallen

    Avatar of Pat Gallen

    Nice Mike!

  • Posts: 79 branderson925

    Avatar of branderson925

    ” Instead, I was shocked that Hunter Pence did something on a baseball diamond that I couldn’t imagine a hyperactive 11-year-old doing.”

    And what was this childish action?

    I’m sorry but this article is rubbish. You dont’ solidify a point at all. You talk about Pence being childish and all that but don’t mention his positive attributes which he brings to the table.

    You’re questioning his baseball IQ? So you’re a blogger who I’m sure has studied the game long and hard, but you probably have nowhere near the baseball IQ Pence or any MLBer does.

    I’m sorry. I read PhilliesNation every day but this article is what’s really childish.


    • Posts: 1435 Pat Gallen

      Avatar of Pat Gallen

      Jesus, Branderson. This is supposed to be a fun, outside the numbers type of article.

      I dont think Mike was calling him an idiot or stupid – rather he was pointing to baseball attributes that may point to a lower baseball IQ. Swinging at every first pitch, running the bases with his head cut off. They all fall into the old category of “low baseball IQ”.

      This isn’t a demeaning article aimed towards Pence (at least I didn’t see it that way). I think it just points to how fun it is to watch a guy who is so incredibly unorthodox and plays the game unlike many others – he plays the game in a way that defies what a baseball player should be like.

    • Posts: 0 Sean

      This might be the absolute worst article I have ever read in my entire life…WOW!!!

  • Posts: 0 Phylan

    You guys are seriously the worst

    • Posts: 5482 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      Looks like the “commentariat” doesn’t appreciate being called stupid.

      atomicruckus Michael Baumann
      15 Jul

      Maybe you reap what you sow?

  • Posts: 0 TheDipsy

    Mike. I’m gonna tell you what I think of these “off the cuff think pieces”, as I’ll call them. While I like the fact that you are irreverent and whimsical, and that you can be very clever with similes and metaphors, and that you’re clearly a Phil’s fan, I think think that your writing often lacks the requisite “narrative spine” and that you fail to nail down a central point.

    I think you should try and reign in a lot of the outside references you make to people, places, and things, and stay on message a little bit more. In basketball terms, leave out some of the “french pastry” (who can tell me who coined that phrase?), like dribbling behind the back and spinning the ball on your finger, and just go in for the lay up, big boy. Thats my view anyhow and I don’t write for a living.

    That said, and without being condescending, keep on writing and eff what we all say. Who are we anyway? Seriously.

    The Dipsy

  • Posts: 1090 betasigmadeltashag

    Avatar of betasigmadeltashag

    Dipsy, this kind of leads to your point about less posting the other thread, The Phillies are on a roll, and no they got the RH bat most of you wanted them to get, there is really nothing to complain about. You get posts like this, which I kind of like. I found it entertaining and simply fun. I am pretty sure if he was not a profesional baseball player they would have him on ribalin or some other drug that they give hyperactive kids these days. What about the slide into third before getting up to score on a single. Now Lets Go Eat

    • Posts: 0 tpenny47

      WOW! You are an idiot! Next time write about something you know about.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

    Everyone loves a critic.

    Some of you take the Phillies this site and yourselves WAY too seriously.
    Some of us arent here to solve the crisis in the middle east or the stock market.
    Just trying to have some fun.

    Baumann bores me to tears. His comments on his twitter about our comments are pretty funny though.

    Have to say BRAVO mike.

    Any one who wants to make a column or a comment no matter what its content is BRAVO.

    Some of you need to grow a pair and get over yourselves.

    @ Dipsy very good take on things. But better he write it then not.

  • Posts: 1190 Manny

    Avatar of Manny

    I feel the same way about Pence as you do, Michael. Incredibly fun to watch, and even though we paid a very hefty price to get him, it’s refreshing to see him play.

  • Posts: 0 RichieAllen

    While on the subject of “He who we got to play right ,hit right and bat behind Howard”,which we have all been hoping to sign for months.I love the way this guy plays the game .And I dont care what he has in his pocket.

  • Posts: 0 Owl Kernan

    Come to the point a little quicker, like about half the words. I like your writing, it is just a bit long winded for an attention deficit turd like me.

  • Posts: 0 Big C

    Wow what a SH**TY article! I kept thinking it was gonna get good and it never did. maybe there’s a part two comming.

  • Posts: 10 BigDaddy.com

    Avatar of BigDaddy.com

    Who cares what he chews or puts in his mouth? As long as he can HIT and FIELD he can become the Philly fans new favorite.

    GOGGLE his girlfriend at “Hunter Pence’s Girlfriend”

  • Posts: 3084 Chuck A.

    Avatar of Chuck A.

    I’ve never particularly cared for your writing ….and this article is no different. But it’s nice,at least, Michael, that you can acknowledge that you’re “on board” with Pence. I have a funny, little feeling inside of me that in a few years…if not sooner…. you will be very happy that this trade was made.

  • Posts: 0 Phylan

    I’m going to make a big slideshow of all your comments and name it “missing_the_f**king_point.ppt”

    • Posts: 3084 Chuck A.

      Avatar of Chuck A.

      And we should make a big slideshow of all your (and your condescending buddies) comments and name it ” how many ways can we act like we are better than the ‘commentariat’. “

      • Posts: 3084 Chuck A.

        Avatar of Chuck A.

        Because most of us DID get the point. But I guess you “missed” that.

      • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

        Are you ignoring him too?

        I always laugh when people who hate Howard Stern but listen for 5 hours a day.

        Andrew from Waldorf
        Chairman of the committee to teach Chuck what ignore means.

        Just for a bit of a heads up. When your buddy Don does a column I ignore it. But I dont post into it I am ignoring it LOL

        I also dont “ignore Howard Stern by listening 5 hours a day and posting on his blog about him LOL
        You made me laugh though And I do like you. So take that for what its werth ( pun intended)

        1. Refuse to take notice of or acknowledge; disregard
        2. Fail to consider

  • Posts: 2071 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    Wasn’t it last night when Hunter slid into third base, slipped got up and continued home to score a run?
    He was embarassed but happy none the-less.
    Look, if klutz cargo played LF for us, hits right and hustles and can frequently be mistakend for Clutch Cargo – I am very fine with that! Whatever else we might think, he definitely adds character to this squad..

    Keep the Hunt going!

  • Posts: 0 Dash Treyhorn

    I thought this was a well written piece that was a good read.

  • Posts: 8 John Russo

    Avatar of John Russo

    I thought this was a very nice little read. Yep, Pence is that crazy kid at the top of the fence heckling the pitcher. This team needed that and I couldn’t be any happier to have him as a Phillie.

    Oh, and Branderson needs to mellow the hell out ;)

  • Posts: 79 branderson925

    Avatar of branderson925

    Haha I am pretty damn mellow. The internet is kind of easy to confuse people’s tones on the internet. I probably wrote that comment with a big smile on my face while I was stoned (if you want mellow)

    Yes the article is crap. I’m sorry, It’s just really childish and doesn’t really centralize a point.

    I am a huge fan of this site as mentioned previously, I just call em like I see em and this specific article was just not worth reading.

    I know it is a long season and it is increasingly hard to write “fresh” material as the season moves along. I understand that, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not allowed to not like something

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