There were three certainties about the 2014 MLB season: the Mets would continue their fascinating, occasionally morbid performance art piece, the Cardinals would win in the most infuriating way possible, and Ryan Braun would be booed on the road. It is early yet, but while the first two have fallen through, the last and loudest has delivered better than anyone dared dream.
Given his extended steroids-related suspension (and his douche-chilly antics surrounding it), Braun would receive all the disgust of baseball fans across the nation who value tradition, sportsmanship, and deep tones of sepia. The question was not whether they would boo, but which Braun they would be booing. A rusty shell of his former self? A humbled league-average plugger? Either would have made the Braun Opprobrium Tour a fun time for the whole family.
So far, though, the Braun that road teams are getting is a merciless killbot seemingly intent on breaking the spirits of opposing fans -- a wrestling heel who refuses to put anyone over but himself (and his teammates). That’s just no fun at all, watching the living avatar of All That’s Wrong With Baseball strut into your house and wreck the place. So far, Braun has a three-homer game in Philadelphia and game-tying and 9th inning go-ahead homers in Pittsburgh. He is OPSing a robust .952 and the Brewers have the best record in the National League and he is basically trolling the shit out of the league and everyone in it.
But the Brewers can do better. Braun is Braun, and bat-flip virtuoso Carlos Gomez is already one of the most exuberant and authentic heels in the game. There is already a lot to work with, here. But with a few savvy roster adjustments and stylistic tweaks, the Brewers could become the first All-Troll World Series contender.
The first order of business is getting Nyjer Morgan back from the Indians. During the 2011 Brewers pennant run, Tony Plush was pretty good, and definitely the closest thing the team had to a dedicated troll. Morgan’s brand of HAM ball and not-so-judicious use of the third person popped monocles across the league -- although, obviously, mostly in St. Louis -- and a return engagement to Milwaukee as Designated Troll would really set the tone for the season.
Next, of course, the Brewers need to announce the hiring of Barry Bonds as the new hitting coach. This is self-explanatory, but also maybe makes some baseball sense, too. Maybe he DH’s a little in American League parks? Anyway, I’m not the manager.
Roster moves are only going to take the Brewers so far, though. There just aren’t that many truly troll-adept players in the league right now. (There’s always A.J. Pierzynski, but we’re not trying to start a riot.) Fortunately, there’s plenty that can be done with the existing squad to up the Troll Factor. These are simple adjustments.
Jonathan Lucroy reads the God Delusion and starts retweeting Richard Dawkins all day. The league office is unsure if he’s joking or not, and so he is not fined. Also Aramis Ramirez announces that he’ll be playing the role of Vigo the Carpathian in the Ghostbusters sequel that no one on earth but Dan Ackroyd wants to see, and then spends a lot of time in character. A codpiece is involved. This isn’t difficult.
But there are a few potential anti-troll landmines planted on the Brewers roster that have to be defused, as well. Rookie second baseman Ryan “Scooter” Gennett is exactly the kind of scrappy, white, smallish, dedicated, and white ballplayer that leads sportswriters and a large chunk of baseball fans to erupt in soaring hallelujah choruses. He self-identifies as a “Scooter.” It’s a challenge.
But the Brewers can trollify Gennett by at least fifteen percent simply by changing his nickname. Just hearing the name “Scooter” makes you instantly imagine Abraham Lincoln laying down a sacrifice bunt in a sandlot game. Let’s see how suburban dads taking their son to their first game at Busch Stadium react to the introduction of Ryan “Knockout Game” Gennett. it’s a name that might make more sense for Martin Maldonado, but we can’t waste such promising troll bait on a backup catcher. Anyway, Maldonado will be busy reading up on the collected works of Penn Jillette, in case Lucroy needs a breather.
The biggest obstacle to the Brewers creating the ultimate Troll Team is actually the smallest member of the squad: Hank the Ball Park Pup. The Brewers adoption of Hank was the feel-good story of spring training, and now that there’s merchandise -- with proceeds benefiting the ASPCA! -- and a portable dog house for Hank at Miller Park, the situation has become notably more adorable.
Fortunately, the essence of trolling the league is making fans feel bad in their home stadiums. All the Brewers need to do is keep Hank at home and send a different “Hank” on the road trips. Hank the Ball Park Pit Bull, for instance, who not only scares the hell out of opposing mascots, but takes timely leaks in the outfield and wears a radio collar that only plays Pitbull songs.
It’s early and it’s always risky to predict too much too soon. But this Brewers team has potential. Not just to win, but to win in a way that makes them history’s most hated small-market team with an adorable rescue dog mascot. It will be interesting to see what Ken Burns does with that.