Welcome to Three Outs, the weekly column that can get it wrong thrice as often as any other. In this week’s edition: Billy Butler, Barry Bonds, and sweet guitar solos.
Out One: A Billy Butler Appreciation Post
I still have a bottle of Billy Butler’s Hit It a Ton barbecue sauce. It’s not going to get opened because, well, it’s almost seven years old, and because I had some from a different bottle back in the day and it was terrible.
What was not terrible was Billy Butler and his time as a Kansas City Royal. This is a shame because I feel like Butler’s name hasn’t been remembered in the same light as some of the other contributors to the 2014-2015 teams. Yeah, Butler wasn’t a part of the World Series victory squad, but neither was James Shields, and it certainly seems that Shields is revered much moreso than Butler.
Butler was also before his time. When he debuted a dozen years ago, baseball wasn’t nearly as analytics savvy as it is now. As a result, Butler’s lack of home runs and traditional athletic physique made him underrated. But he was, for a long time, a great hitter. He took walks, didn’t strike out much, and hit for average. From 2009 through 2013, Butler hit 26% above league average, a five-year run that was the best since prime Mike Sweeney and Carlos Beltran and a five-year run that has yet to be matched since.
Sometimes I’ll just sit back and remember his sweet, sweet doubles swing and picture him effortlessly driving a ball to a Kauffman Stadium gap.
Out Two: Barry Bonds Was a One-Time Event
I’m old enough to remember Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa racing for the home run title in 1998. It was a blast, and everyone loved it. It was the rare sports story that broke its way into mainstream discourse. I also remember a similar energy surrounding Barry Bonds’ epic home run chase in 2001.
One of the most frustrating things about the Hall of Fame discourse is that the same journalists who have the gall to consider themselves moral gatekeepers of the sport were also celebrating baseball’s popularity in the steroid era.
Perhaps nobody has been more negatively impacted than Barry Bonds, who I think is the best player in the history of the game. Bonds was the GOAT from the time he was a five-tool player in Pittsburgh. In 1992, Bonds put up a wRC+ of 198, stole 39 bases, and won a Gold Glove. An all-time great season.
But the real reason why Bonds is the GOAT is because of how much better he was than his peers. In the steroid era, huge swaths of players took performance enhancing drugs. If they all worked the same, somebody would have come close to his performance. But Bonds was so much better than everybody that it’s clear that PEDs aren’t even the majority of the story.
For how good Mike Trout has been in his historic career, he’s matched by a few other players in history—one of whom is Bonds. Bonds is himself matched by no one.
Out Three: Instruments are Instrumental Again?
I think that one of the most widespread musical trends of the 2010s has been a movement away from real instruments to a more digitized world where songs are entirely constructed from samples and computer generated sounds.
In 2006, Kelly Clarkson took home the Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album for her album Breakaway. One track co-written and co-produced by Swedish writer and producer Max Martin, Since U Been Gone, featured live drums, guitar, and keyboards. A decade later, Taylor Swift won the same Grammy for her album 1989; Martin co-produced and co-wrote Blank Space, one of the album’s #1 hits. Unlike Since U Been Gone, Blank Space consists entirely of synths and drum machines.
I love a good electronic bop as much as the next guy, but it can be tiring to only hear that on the radio. It seems to me, though, that this trend might be slowing down. Halsey, a traditionally synth-heavy artist, released the single Finally // beautiful stranger, a song without a single electronic sound. Swift’s eponymous title track on her album Lover features starkly old-school instrumentation, as do a few other songs on the album as well. And multiple nominees for 2020’s biggest pop Grammy also feature live instrumentation.
In a world where Spotify exists, you can find music easier than ever before. But what’s popular still matters, and I think it’s only a good thing that instrumental skill is in the fold.