And When I Slam Down The Hammer…

Spring Training

…can you feel it in your heart?

Much appreciation for the title to the patron saint of the misérables, Morrissey.

Being it’s simultaneously Valentine’s Day and the opening of spring training camps all over baseball, it’s time for me to do what I do best—yank the hearts out of the collective chests of overly-enthusiastic (in some cases delusional; in some cases addled) fans and media members, give them a brutal dose of reality and show them their still beating hearts before they hit the ground.

As teams outlooks evolve, there will undoubtedly be others added to this list to shatter their myths, but pitchers and catchers have just reported; the spring is still young!!

Give it time.

The “gurus” don’t have all the answers:

Dave Duncan is quite possibly the best pitching coach ever and he’s had his failures. Rick Ankiel and Todd Van Poppel come immediately to mind. Both had their own issues that couldn’t be solved by a simple tweak here and there. Ankiel was a time bomb and even though Tony La Russa and Duncan played a part in the expedited explosion in the 2000 playoffs, it was going to happen regardless; Van Poppel’s stuff wasn’t that good.

Duncan’s work with so many pitchers gives him the cachet to be anointed as the best at what he does, but it’s not as if he never misses.

Larry Rothschild is being doled similar accolades as a pitching coach now; the Yankees are pinning their hopes on him “straightening out” A.J. Burnett more than anyone else.

Here’s a flash: no matter how well Burnett and Rothschild “connected” when they met after Rothschild was hired, the only person who can straighten out Burnett is Burnett; and if you think that the pitcher Burnett has been since he arrived in the big leagues—oft-injured; running the gamut between unhittable and awful with little in-between deviation—is “fixed” because of a new pitching coach, forget it.

The pitching coach can only do so much and one has to wonder how much front office interference he was willing to accept when he took the job. It’s not Rothschild’s decision as to how many innings Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are going to pitch; it’s GM Brian Cashman and his charts, graphs and medical reports used as a basis to “protect” their young arms that will determine how they’re deployed. Rothschild will have a say, but Cashman has become so wood-headed and invested in the organizational edicts and adherence to numbers that he’s got the last word.

Presumably an old-school pitching coach like Rothschild wouldn’t be totally on board with it, but sometimes one has to go along to get along.

Rick Peterson’s status as a “fixer” wore out with the Mets and was inconsistent with the Brewers; Leo Mazzone—supposedly the architect of the great Braves staffs in the 1990s—can’t find a job. You can list the names and question their results because the only way you know whether something worked is when it actually does work.

If Burnett pitches well, Rothschild will get the credit; if he doesn’t, who gets the blame? It won’t be the pitching coach because the history with Burnett is right there in black and white—he is what he is whether he wins 18 games or goes 12-16.

Place the responsibility where it belongs—on the individual—and we won’t know until we know.

A means to an end:

Orioles fans who are excited over their improved lineup and the full-season presence of Buck Showalter had better understand that: A) they don’t have enough pitching to compete; B) the division they’re in is an utter nightmare; and C) while Vladimir Guerrero‘s contribution to the team will reverberate for years to come, it won’t help them much in 2011.

Showalter’s history of turning his clubs around in his second year on the job aside, you can’t deny the facts.

Much like a hitter can make a “productive out” with a sacrifice fly or ground ball to the right side of the infield to advance a baserunner, the Orioles can have a productive season despite losing 95 games.

If the young players are taught to respect the game and play it in a fundamentally sound, team-oriented fashion, this will be something to build on in years to come when they are ready to take that next step.

Guerrero, with his leadership and positive attitude, can greatly assist in this as a conduit between the manager and the players on how they should comport themselves on and off the field.

The talk from the likes of Keith Law that Guerrero is “in the toaster” if not already “toast” is all well and good (and I don’t agree with it), but the team would lose 95 games without him; they’re probably going to lose 95 games with him.

That’s irrelevant in the long-term. If some of the younger players learn something about winning from Guerrero and it helps them in 2014, then it was a worthwhile signing.

Albert Pujols is not going to the Cubs:

MLB Trade Rumors has this rundown of the increasingly contentious Pujols negotiations here.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post chimes in that an executive told him that Pujols could go to the Cubs.

Did Sherman write that thing on a napkin at Michael Kay’s wedding? Stuffed with plentiful portions of chicken parm? Shocked by the fact that someone is marrying Michael Kay without a shotgun to her head?

It’s almost to the point that the only time Sherman writes something intelligent is when he’s repeating something I’d said days earlier.

Here’s a flash: Albert Pujols is not going to the Cubs.

No way.

No how.

This would be tantamount to Derek Jeter going to the Mets or Willie Mays to the Dodgers.

Money aside, Pujols would never be able to return to St. Louis. Ever.

The betrayal would be so profound; so ingrained that even the instinctively supportive Cardinals fans—for whom memories of their stars are part of the organizational fabric and inherent to the rapport between club and fan—would turn on him.

The Cubs?

Really?

If—if—things go terribly for the Cardinals and Pujols, there are much more appealing options for him and for fans of the Cardinals. The Dodgers, if they get their ownership straightened out; the Mets, if they get their ownership straightened out; the Angels; the Tigers; the Nationals—all are more agreeable locales for Pujols to land than the Cardinals most despised rivals, the Cubs.

Plus if you add in the histories of the respective franchises and how many times the Cubs have made that one move that was supposed to spur them to break the hex that has relegated them to a running joke for 100 years, not even Pujols can cure them.

If he wants to get paid above anything else, I suppose that it’s possible; but isn’t the team-oriented concept why Pujols is so respected whereas Alex Rodriguez was always seen as a mercenary who was only interested in himself?

There never appeared to be a pretense with Pujols; but now that the media is running with the stories of how poorly the negotiations are going; that the club and player are far apart; that there won’t be any talks after the player-imposed deadline and a refusal to allow any talk of a mid-season trade, it’s spiraling out of control.

I still believe, ultimately, he’ll stay with the Cardinals; but if he leaves it won’t be for the Cubs.

If your heart is still safe in your chest, beating as normally because your team wasn’t included in this missive, rest assured I may have something coming very, very soon to drive the electric current of Force Lightning through your entire body.

It’s spring training.

And I’m getting ready for the season too.

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3 thoughts on “And When I Slam Down The Hammer…

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