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A Hater’s Guide To The MLB Playoffs, With Justin Halpern

Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger celebrate in a Dodger win.
Michael Owens/Getty Images

Octobers pile up. This is a good thing, on balance—Februaries pile up, too, and no one’s celebrating that—and the accumulation of all those Octobers, over time, adds something to the experience of each new one. This is not just a matter of past October weirdnesses steepening the anticipation and deepening the appreciation of the ones coming up, although that is nice. But it also just as naturally adds some extra salt and spice to old grouchinesses. This is also good, it’s just less nice.

To root against the Cardinals in the Wild Card Game, for instance, is not just a matter of rooting against Harrison Bader and Giovanny Gallegos or whoever. It is rooting against the Cardinals who have befouled past Octobers—it is rooting against Willie McGee’s permanent expression of extreme gastrointestinal distress, and Scott Spiezio’s dyed-red goatee, and Tony La Russa’s transition lenses. To hate any or all of this is not rational, really. This is the best month of baseball we’re going to get, and only gets better as the season dwindles and narrows and tightens; even this Cardinals team was pretty likable as Cardinals teams go. But hating is what we do, here, and the darker side of October—the irrational beeves and bugbears that fans pick up, accidentally or on purpose, as the month goes on—is no less valid than all that honeyed autumnal George Will-scented appreciation. It was with that in mind that we invited returning champion and co-creator of HBO Max’s Harley Quinn Justin Halpern to join us to talk about the sweet stuff (a little) and the bitter stuff (a lot).

Given that a solid third of MLB is actively trying to lose and another third isn’t actively trying to win, there is something sort of samey about this October. With all due respect to the inexplicable, undeniable San Francisco Giants, who are somehow the best team in baseball, the cast of characters in this year’s postseason is pretty familiar. And so we ran through all of it, with intermittent spells of actual Talking Baseball but mostly with no reverence or remorse. Fascinating, brilliant baseball teams were dismissed without a thought or casually turned into the butt of jokes; groups of individuals were held accountable for collective failures that predated and in some cases had nothing to do with them; Justin told a dazzling story about Tony La Russa sourly mining bulletin board material from the marketing department of the St. Louis Cardinals. Everyone kind of agreed that the Brewers were cool.

And then, from there, it somehow got dumber. We remembered both Ryan Klesko the baseball player and the broader goateed vibe—a confounding and distinctly Californian energy that is a perfect mix of “chill bro” and “wants to fight somebody”—that he embodied. We discussed the perils of self-help books and the nation’s distressing relationship with hustle porn, and the most and least dignified ways to dispose of your own dead body, and other stuff that was somehow even dumber than that. October really is different, but the rules that govern this podcast have not changed.

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