From North Dallas Forty To Biogenesis

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Major League Baseball’s ham-handed investigation into the Biogenesis Clinic and the players who might have been involved in PEDs after being named as clinic clients is an attempt to appear as if they’re on top of the situation done in a way similar to how the National Football League would’ve done it. Except the way in which MLB is handling it is the way the NFL would’ve handled it in 1970, not 2013.

The tour-de-force account of how the NFL operated back then was the 1979 film North Dallas Forty as the protagonist, Phil Elliot is struggling through injuries and the refusal to “play the game” and the “game” isn’t football—it’s going along to get along, taking shots of painkillers, playing injured (different from playing hurt), being used and willing to be used to fill the masochistic need to play the actual on-field sport.

In the movie, the North Dallas Bulls with their megalomaniacal and exceedingly wealthy owner, iconic and cold-blooded coach, and hard-partying teammates (*wink wink* at the “similarities” to the Dallas Cowboys) prepare for the next week’s game. Early in the film, Elliot experiences a break-in at his home and catches the perpetrator in the act who threatens Elliot with a gun and flees. In the penultimate scene, the break-in was revealed to have actually executed by a private eye who had been hired by the club to get dirt on Elliot with the complicity of the league to catch disposable, independent-minded players like him smoking pot and using an excess of painkillers in order to exploit the violation of league rules not to pay their salaries when they’re dumped as Elliot eventually was. Left out of the equation was that Elliott was smoking pot with the team’s star quarterback, but the club couldn’t very well function without the star quarterback and cutting Elliott filled the dual function of sending a message to the rest of the team that they’d better behave or suffer the same fate of not only being cut, but also having their reputation sullied throughout the league and face a suspension for drug use if they didn’t do as they’re told.

Elliott’s quote regarding his marijuana use, “If you nailed every guy in the league who smoked grass, you wouldn’t have enough players left to field the punt return team,” still resonates today in every sport and with every drug—performance enhancing and otherwise.

MLB is trying the same type of thing sans the illegalities (that we know of) with the Biogenesis case in their over-the-top show of trying to extract information from the head of the clinic Anthony Bosch to the degree that they’re paying him and, according to other potential witnesses, “bullying” with threats and empty promises of help in a legal case if they cooperate. The problem for MLB is this when thinking about the tactics similar to those used in North Dallas Forty: the movie was from 34 years ago and it was adapted from a book published 40 years ago about the way the game was run in the 1960s.

And that’s what MLB is doing. They’re using methods from the 1960s to garner information in 2013.

The problems with the way in which MLB is reportedly running this investigation is manifold and goes far beyond the Cold War-era strategies. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that this Biogenesis clinic was used by players in today’s NFL and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who was at the top of the hill in this new scandal instead of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Would the entire structure be handled differently? Better? More competently?

Selig is essentially seen as a doddering figurehead whose main job descriptions is that of a functionary. It’s not far from the truth. His performance as commissioner has been a byproduct of what is good for the owners’ pockets rather than what is promoted as good for the game. While the PEDs were rampant throughout baseball and were used with the tacit approval of everyone in an effort to draw fans, restore the game’s popularity following the 1994 strike, and accrue money for the owners and players alike, there was Selig with a faraway gaze either clueless as to the reality or willfully ignoring it. Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

Selig’s performance in front of Congress along with the players who showed up that fateful day was humiliating in a myriad of ways. From Rafael Palmeiro’s finger-wagging lies; to Sammy Sosa’s “me no speaka the Inglés”; to Mark McGwire not being there to talk about the past; to Curt Schilling clamming up after his yapping for days before and after the fact, baseball has never acquitted itself well when self-preservation came to the forefront at the expense of stating the facts.

Has baseball improved since then? Has Selig gotten the message? Let’s just compare Selig with his NFL counterpart Goodell. Only people inside baseball’s front office know how alert Selig is to the Biogenesis investigation or anything else. Perhaps it’s a matter of, “Don’t tell me what I don’t want to know so I don’t have to lie about it later.” But this is an indicator that MLB should’ve tossed someone overboard when the entire PED scandal initially broke to send the message that a new sheriff was in town and things weren’t going to be done the old way. And I use old in every conceivable context of the word when discussing Selig. That would’ve meant that Selig had to go a decade ago, and he probably should’ve.

Would Goodell be so disengaged to not know every aspect of what’s going on with an investigation of this magnitude? Would he not take steps to control the message and how it’s framed as politicians—like Goodell and Goodell’s father Charles, a former United States Senator from New York—do and did? This is the fundamental difference between MLB and the NFL. Goodell is smooth, smart, and cagey. He’s available yet insulated; touchable but unknowable; protected and in command. Selig on the other hand is cadaverous and scripted, but unable to follow the script; he’s anything but smooth and the disheveled clothes, $10 haircut and bewildered countenance that was once somewhat charming lost its luster as he had to get to work to restore the game’s validity. What makes it worse when having a figurehead as commissioner is that baseball doesn’t appear to have taken steps to place competent people behind the scenes to pull the levers to keep the machine greased and running well. It’s people charging headlong into each other and having the bruises to prove it.

If Goodell makes the implication that the witnesses will be assisted in a criminal investigation as was alluded to in the ESPN piece linked above, you can bet that the NFL and Goodell himself will have the connections to follow through on the promise.

MLB? What are they going to do about it? Are they even capable of helping anyone? Would they know who to call and would that person even take the call as he would if he heard, “Roger Goodell is on the phone,” instead of “Bud Selig is on the phone,”?

Not much thought was put into any of this going back to allowing of players to get away with PED use and then the about-face due to public outcry, the banning of substances and the potential fallout of doing so. They want to clean up the game, but keep it entertaining to the fans. Did it ever occur to them that the reason that so many man games are being lost due to injury stems from the tendons and ligaments becoming weakened from carrying the extra muscle built through chemical means? That players can’t play 150 games and toss 225 innings and maintain performance without chemicals? That they aren’t going to be able to beat out a dribbler on the infield in August by chugging cups of coffee and cans of Red Bull as they would from their trusted amphetamines (greenies)? That the risk/reward for players like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera and anyone else whose name was caught up in Biogenesis was such that there was no reason not to do it?

What’s 100 games in comparison to the half a billion dollars in contracts—just for playing baseball alone and not counting endorsements—A-Rod will have made once his career is over? What’s 100 games in exchange for Braun’s MVP and the minute risk (Braun’s just unlucky, arrogant and somewhat stupid) of getting caught? What’s 100 games in exchange for a slightly above-average talent like Cabrera being given a contract for $16 million almost immediately after his humiliating suspension and public lambasting?

Until MLB does something about the laughable penalties, players will keep trying to navigate their way around the tests and punishments because it’s worth it for them to do it given the likelihood that they’ll get away with it.

Attendance and TV ratings are down all around baseball. In large part it’s because the fans who jumped on the bandwagon at the excitement of the home runs have little interest in watching Joe Maddon outmaneuver Joe Girardi with tactical skill. They want homers and if they’re not getting them, they won’t bother to watch. This new “get tough” policy is falling flat not just because of the maladroit manner in which it’s being implemented, but because there’s no integrity behind it. The owners are interested in one thing: the bottom line. Many are as blind as Selig was to the PED use and only came around when the evidence was plunked on their desks with the widespread demand to “do something” about it to “save the game.”

Using the 1960s as a guideline for running the Biogenesis investigation in 2013 forgets that back then, there wasn’t the constant flow of available information with real time stories, opinions and criticisms appearing immediately and going viral. Back then, MLB would’ve been able to get in front of the story using friendly, like-minded reporters who were willing to do the Max Mercy thing from The Natural and “protect” the game. In other words, they would protect the people who owned the game against the ephemeral presence of the players who come and go and who were using drugs to undeservedly place themselves in the stratosphere of legends that was once rightfully limited to Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Bob Feller. Now there are bloggers, reporters and networks gathering information as it comes in. It can’t be controlled.

For MLB to put forth the pretense of being all-in for the Biogenesis investigation is the epitome of wasteful hypocrisy. They can pound on doors, stand on rooftops and proclaim their commitment to stopping PED use. They can threaten, cajole, demand and make empty promises, but that’s not going to alter the reality that the changes to the game have to be foundational and not a self-serving attempt to clean up a game that has been infested from the top to the bottom due in large part to the inaction of MLB itself.

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The R.A. Dickey Trade, Part I—The Rumors Are Lies

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The Mets’ trade of R.A. Dickey to the Blue Jays along with catcher Josh Thole and a minor leaguer for catcher Travis d’Arnaud, catcher John Buck, minor league righty Noah Syndergaard and another minor leaguer is contingent on Dickey signing a contract extension with the Blue Jays by Tuesday afternoon. Until then, it’s not done. But negative analysis of why the Mets are doing this has run the gamut from them being tight-fisted to petulant to stupid.

It’s none of the above.

The easy storyline is to take Dickey’s comments at the Mets’ holiday party as the last straw. At least that’s what’s being implied by the New York media. That holiday party has become a petri dish for dissent and the final impetus to trade players. It was in 2005, after all, that Kris Benson’s tenure with the club was effectively ended when his camera-loving wife Anna Benson arrived in a revealing, low-cut red dress. Then-Mets’ GM Omar Minaya subsequently sent Benson to the Orioles for John Maine and Jorge Julio, which turned out to be a great deal for the Mets.

The Benson trade and the pending Dickey trade are comparable in one realistic way: they got value back. Maine was a good pitcher for the Mets for several years and they spun Julio to the Diamondbacks for Orlando Hernandez, who also helped them greatly. With Dickey, it’s an organizational move for the future and not one to cut a problem from the clubhouse.

Were the Mets irritated by Dickey’s constant chatter? Probably a bit. In looking at it from the Mets’ position, of all the clubs Dickey pitched for as he was trying to find his way with the knuckleball—the Rangers, Brewers, Twins (three times), and Mariners (twice)—it was they who gave him a legitimate shot. He took advantage of it, they got lucky and he became a star because of his fascinating tale on and off the field and his ability to tell it. It’s not to be ignored that the Mets, under Sandy Alderson, gave Dickey a 2-year, $7.8 million guaranteed contract after he had one good season in 2010. They didn’t have to do that. They could’ve waited to see him do it again, wondering if it was a fluke. The Mets invested in Dickey and he agreed to it. For him to complain about the contract he signed with such silly statements as the $5 million club option for 2013 setting a “bad dynamic” and threatening to leave after the 2013 season as a free agent were things better left unsaid considering all the variables.

If the Mets were truly interested in wringing every last drop out of Dickey and seeing if he could repeat his 2012 season while placating the ignorant fans complaining about this brilliant trade, they would’ve kept Dickey on the cheap as a drawing card and worried about later later—just as they did with Jose Reyes.

Rather than repeat that mistake, they dangled Dickey to pitcher-hungry teams and when they didn’t get the offers they deemed acceptable, they waited until the big names (Zack Greinke, James Shields) and medium names (Ryan Dempster, Anibal Sanchez) came off the market and struck. That it was simultaneous to the holiday party “controversy” is a matter of timing convenient for conspiracy theories. Delving deeper into the reality of the situation and there’s no substance to the “Dickey Must Go” perception.

This is a cold, calculating decision on the part of the Mets for the future, not to send a message. If you think Alderson was influenced by Dickey’s comments, you’re misjudging Alderson badly. It’s amazing that he’s been able to convince the Wilpons to make deals for the long-term that won’t be popular with a large segment of the fanbase and will provide kindling for the members of the media to light another fire to burn the embattled owners at the stake, but he did it. Personalities didn’t enter into it. Alderson, as the A’s GM, had Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson. While they were productive, he kept them and tolerated their mouths and controversies, then discarded them. As CEO of the Padres, he acquired Heath Bell knowing his reputation. It’s not personal until the personal is affecting the professional. Dickey’s situation hadn’t reached that tipping point.

It’s a childhood fantasy to believe that every player in a major league clubhouse is a close friend to every other player in a major league clubhouse. Like any workplace, there’s conflict, clashes and little habits that get on the nerves of others. Did Dickey’s sudden fame grate people in the Mets clubhouse? Were they jealous? Probably, especially since there’s a prevailing perception that a knuckleballer is comparable to a placekicker in football and isn’t really getting hitters out as much as he’s tricking them with a pitch they rarely see. Whether or not that’s true is irrelevant. As we saw in the Cy Young Award voting, no one’s giving credit based on how they got their results. Dickey was among the top pitchers in the National League and garnered enough votes to win the award. The Cy Young Award, like Reyes’s batting championship is a title based on so many factors that it shouldn’t enter into the equation as to whether or not a player stays or goes.

How many players are there about whom teammates, on-field management, front office people and opponents don’t roll their eyes and whisper to media members of how annoying they are? In today’s game, there’s Mariano Rivera. 30 years ago, there was Dale Murphy. Apart from that, who?

Even Goose Gossage, who has replaced Bob Feller as the Hall of Fame’s grumpy old man in residence, doesn’t criticize Rivera personally when going into one of his rants about closers of today that should begin with a fist pounded on the desk and, “In my day…” and end with, “Get off my lawn!!!”

On the opposite end, there are players universally reviled like Barry Bonds. Most are in the middle. People can still do their jobs without loving the person they work with.

The trade of Dickey was baseball related and nothing more. It was the right call.

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100+ Wins….In 2003

Hot Stove
  • A bad sign:

This rotation—C.C. Sabathia, Mark Prior, Bartolo Colon, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte(?)—would win 100 games.

Easily.

In 2003.

But it’s not 2003.

It’s almost 2011.

And, after taking a flier on Mark Prior, the Yankees are “interested” in Bartolo ColonMLBTradeRumors Story.

Yah.

Obviously, with the absence of legitimate “stuff” to write about, entities like MLBTradeRumors, ESPN’s Rumor Central (I call it Imagination Central) and the blogosphere aren’t as creative and skillful as I at finding “stuff” to write about, so they have to report on such stories as clubs being interested in the likes of Bartolo Colon. The Yankees would undoubtedly caveat their “interest” by saying they’ll look at anyone who might help them with no expectations as to what they’ll contribute.

The mere fact that the Yankees signed Prior and are “interested” in Colon signifies that they know their pitching is woefully short and they’re willing to try anything to patch it together until they get an answer from Pettitte and things shake out in season. By then, they’ll have an idea as to what Ivan Nova is going to be (I like him, his stuff and his toughness); which Burnett is going to show up; who’s going to be available via trade.

Colon, 38 in May, pitched well in winter ball and was competent when he last pitched in the majors with the White Sox in 2009; it’s not absurd to think he might be able to help; he’d be a better bet than Prior.

Why not have a look with no expectations?

The problem is that the Yankees aren’t in a position to be rolling the dice on pitchers like Colon and Prior and expecting anything of significance, yet that’s where they find themselves after missing out on Cliff Lee.

They’re waiting on Pettitte and looking at Colon.

And it’s a bad sign.

  • Perceived reality is fleeting; true reality is painful:

For an executive whose career is based in scouting and who has made his reputation as a stat-friendly GM (before the burgeoning disaster his tenure with the Mariners has become and is rapidly getting worse), Jack Zduriencik has failed in both aspects during his time as a team boss. Not only has he misjudged the likes of Milton Bradley and Chone Figgins on and off the field, but Zduriencik’s reputation as a baseball man and, more importantly, as a human being has taken a brutal beating in the past six months.

The way he was said to have double-crossed the Yankees after an agreed upon deal for the aforementioned Cliff Lee was bad enough, but that he turned around and acquired Josh Lueke—despite Lueke’s legal issues—in the deal he did make in sending Lee to the Rangers has sullied him worse than any pure baseball move could.

These were some of the more egregious gaffes by the proclaimed “genius” and “Amazin’ Exec” since last year. Now his closer David Aardsma needs surgery for a torn hip labrum.

In the grand scheme, this is not the fault of Zduriencik. Players get hurt. But the Aardsma case, on the whole, exemplifies the growing notion that Zduriencik might be overmatched as a GM; that he—in the tradition of Dave Littlefield and Dayton Moore—might have been better off as an assistant/man-behind-the-scenes rather than the final decisionmaker.

The Mariners had been looking to trade Aardsma.

They wanted an “impact bat” in exchange for him.

I say, “yes” to the first tenet of trading him; “no” to the second.

Regardless of your definition of “impact bat”, there’s no way, no how any team was going to give up anyone of significance for a journeyman like Aardsma. I’ve always liked Aardsma’s stuff and said so, but thinking that the rejuvenation of his career as a closer for a non-contender like the Mariners was a predicate for getting a so-called “impact bat” is absurd.

Perhaps Zduriencik is still harboring thoughts that the misleading save stat would hypnotize someone into giving up what was requested in a trade, but those days are nearly gone. The number of GMs who don’t think about what they’re doing before they do it and are blinded by misleading numbers and accolades are dwindling rapidly.

The old standby of teams to trick is flying out the window with Sandy Alderson taking over as GM of the Mets. I suppose there are teams who might have taken Aardsma’s 69 saves in the past two seasons as an indicator that he’s grown into his talent. The Pirates aren’t all that bright and there’s always the Royals ready to do something stupid, but an “impact bat”? Really?

What was Zduriencik expecting?

The Mariners closer is out for now and, with the hip labrum, one could reasonably expect him to be ready for the season, but that’s beside the point. Truth be told, the Mariners would find someone else to fill the closer’s role without Aardsma and that someone else would presumably be just as effective—Brandon League for example. The mistake isn’t that they were trying to trade Aardsma or that he got hurt before they could, it’s that he’s not someone who would beget the acquisition of anything more than a useful piece; that Zduriencik was greedy in his dealings and didn’t get anything at all when he should’ve gotten something for a scrapheap pickup.

It’s “genius”!!!

  • Viewer Mail 12.31.2010:

Joe writes RE Ichiro Suzuki and the Royals:

I don’t really enjoy watching Ichiro hit much either, relative to other “star” players.  I prefer reasonable *individual* home run totals, like the last few years. But the threat of the home run still entices me.  Ichiro doesn’t do that often. Not that I dislike watching him. Entertainment-wise, he looks like Lou Gehrig in that atrocious Mariners lineup though.


People outside the Royals organization have the ability to scout too.  And they are the ones that come up with these lists.  So this is mostly viewing from the outside.

I got the impression from the linked posting by Joe Posnanski that he was reluctant to go after Ichiro the way I did, but that’s my own interpretation. I don’t stop what I’m doing or flip to the Mariners games to watch Ichiro hit; it’s not like you’re missing something you won’t see later in the game if you don’t see his first inning at bat.

With the Royals, people are missing the point of my posting. They have all these prospects, but their major league maneuvers with the likes of Jeff Francoeur, Jason Kendall, et al. indicate that there’s a disconnect on how to build a winner.

Aside from Billy Butler, their development has been wanting with the prospects they have. Whether these prospects were acquired by this regime or the prior one is irrelevant; no one ever gave the Rays grief for the foundation that was there when they arrived. It was what it was and they moved forward. Some worked out, some didn’t. I question what’s going to happen with the Royals as they try to take the next step, and given the continued mistakes by their GM, I have a pretty sound case.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Alex Gordon:

I remember when Alex Gordon was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. Too bad he didn’t live up to expectations.

He may need a change-of-scenery. He’s going to turn 27 in February which is well young enough to turn it around. There’s still time. He might be a Phil Nevin-type—another 3rd baseman who needed a break and a little bit of a struggle to develop. Gordon showed great promise in 2008, but injuries have derailed him.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE prospects:

I wonder if there’s a special place for washed away prospects… the Alex Gordons, Brandon Woods, Todd Van Poppels… part of me feels sorry for them, but then again, their bank accounts are way fatter than mine so they can kiss it for all I care. Making it big in the Big Leagues is tough. It’s not for the weak. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here’s the problem with the “next hot prospect”—the latest being Bryce Harper/Stephen Strasburg—the outside pressures to perform and hopes of the organization can add another layer onto the already stifling expectations they’re facing.

Todd Van Poppel’s fastball was always pin straight, but he wasn’t given the chance to learn his craft before he found himself in the majors—as a prerequisite to his signing a contract after the A’s took a chance in drafting him—at 19.

I’ve questioned the Phillies strategy of leaving their youngsters in the minors for far too long. Both Ryan Howard and Chase Utley could’ve been in the big leagues at least a year-and-a-half before they were, but you cannot argue with the results. They’re maintaining a similar, no-pressure strategy with Domonic Brown.

Other clubs have tossed their kids into the fire and succeeded. Such was the case with the Diamondbacks and Justin Upton.

It all comes down to the individual case. Former Mets GM Frank Cashen always regretted rushing Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden to the majors before they were emotionally ready.

Maybe he was right.

Al Spina writes RE Bob Feller:

Bob Feller was a great pitcher, but an angry man, in my opinion, who could not relate to anyone in this day and age, let alone current athletes.

I don’t disagree.

For a long time, I ripped into Feller for being a miserable old buzzard (trying to keep it clean) for his over-the-top negative reactions to the players of today. Perhaps it was part of getting older.

Feller wasn’t shy in stating his opinion about the decline of society and the rampant disinterest in contributing to others. He may have pigeonholed every player into the same category and shown a bitterness because of it. Had he been less strident in expressing himself, his image may not have been what it was during his later years.

In the end, he did serve his country and was a great pitcher. The other stuff is a matter of personality and how he expressed himself.

Ambiguity And Brandon Webb

Hot Stove

There’s absolutely no risk and a massive reward for the Rangers to sign former NL Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb to a 1-year, incentive-laden contract with a $3 million base salary.

But that doesn’t eliminate the questions surrounding Webb and whether he’s going to regain a semblance of the form that not only won him the Cy Young in 2006, but allowed him to finish second in the voting the subsequent two years.

As recently as late September, Webb’s velocity was in the Jamie Moyer-zone of 78-82—MLB FanHouse Story.

This is a problem.

What makes the wonderment of what the Rangers are getting more pronounced is the shift from the National League to the American League and pitching in a Rangers home ballpark that is notoriously hitter friendly. If Webb’s sinker was at its diving, darting, bowling ball best, then he’d thrive in Texas; but this point is moot because if that were the case, he would’ve been unlikely to leave Arizona; and if he did leave Arizona, he’d have been in greater demand than Cliff Lee.

None of this is important in the grand scheme of things. What would concern me more than anything regarding Webb is the ambiguity in his injury. The surgery wasn’t for a torn labrum or a rotator cuff; according to this ESPN Story, Webb’s surgery was “shoulder debridement surgery, which essentially cleans out loose debris and inflamed tissue”.

He’s missed two full years with this injury and the velocity hasn’t returned yet.

If a pitcher has a defined issue, it’s repaired and there’s a proven method of rehab, then you can pretty much know what you’re getting when he returns. With this? After missing two years and being unable to break a pane of glass with his fastball in his early workouts?

You can look at other pitchers who rehabbed from injuries and compare them to pitchers who’ve had similar issues. Tommy John surgery has become so common that it’s almost a guarantee that a pitcher will be as good or better than they were before.

Rotator cuff surgery is more dicey and, for the most part, the pitchers who’ve rehabilitated have altered their approach to account for the diminished stuff.

Frank Tanana was a power fastballer in the Sandy Koufax mold who blew people away until he hurt his shoulder; rejuvenating his career as a junkballer, he carved out a long career for himself. But he, like Moyer, was a lefty.

Alex Fernandez and Steve Busby were top-tier pitchers who tore their rotator cuffs and were never the same; both retired at 30.

Another aspect of Webb’s comeback is how the injury will affect the unique sinking action that has been the foundation for his success.

For all the dissection of pitching mechanics using various techniques prevalent today—computer generated, eyeballing, whatever—no one can adequately explain why a Webb or Kevin Brown have had the ability to throw the ball and create a seemingly natural movement where others have tried to copy them with different grips, twisting of the wrist and even scuffing the ball—and failed.

Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Al Leiter made a living off of a cut fastball; Bruce Sutter from a split-fingered fastball; Webb and Brown from their sinkers.

Pitching is such an individualistic endeavor that the thought of creating a baseline set of mechanics for everyone to follow can’t work any better than trying to make everyone into a scientist for NASA. Some have the aptitude; some don’t.

If mechanics and techniques are altered to prevent injury, who’s to say that the change isn’t going to ruin what it was that made the pitcher effective in the first place?

When he broke into baseball with the Texas Rangers, Ron Darling was a pitcher who had movement with a 3/4 arm angle. The Rangers made him change to an over-the-top motion to develop a curveball. The results weren’t good. When he was traded to the Mets, they immediately switched him back to his normal way of throwing. Had he stayed with the Rangers, there’s every chance he would never have made it to the big leagues.

Webb might come back. He might need to adjust his style to account for the diminished velocity. It may be that the mere thrill of competition will pop his fastball back up into the high-80s range—that’s enough to get by if a pitcher is skillful and has control; but there will be those questions surrounding Webb; they’re not helped by the absence of a defined problem that was solved by the surgery.

A clean-up?

Personally, I’d prefer to have someone say, “you tore your rotator cuff” and move on from there rather than wait two years and still not be able to pitch.

If I were the Rangers, I’d expect nothing from Webb and be happy if he contributes anything at all. It’s a shame because the way Webb was going, he was on his way to the Hall of Fame; now, he’s trying to rebuild his career and may not have the tools to do it.

History is not his friend.

  • Viewer Mail 12.28.2010:

Mike Fierman writes RE Bob Feller and Dave Eiland:

it’s hard to even make a comparison to what guys like Feller and Williams did back then. The zeitgest was so different I think we can’t even wrap our heads around what most people simply considered to be a duty. duty..a word that hasn’t completely disappeared, but has lost most of it’s relevance. What i DO wonder is what these guys would have done if there had been draft dispensations given to Major Leaguers. How many of them would have volunteered to go anyway?

Eiland is making a fool of himself, but since he is safely out of the media glare in Florida not many are paying attention. Not only would I keep very quiet after the stunt he pulled ( and NO i do not care what the reason was- either do your job or quit)- he really hasn’t got much to crow about as a Yankee pitching coach. see Joba and AJ. but also look at CC– he’s been excellent, but his K’s have gone down and his walks, up. I’ll grant that he’s been good with some of the bullpen guys like Robertson. I’m glad he’s gone

good post

It’s such a different world now. Today’s players, for the most part, were probably treated differently from the time they were children because they could hit the ball a mile or throw harder than everyone else; this led to the sense of entitlement and the notion that the rules of regular society don’t apply to them. It’s brought us to where we are now. I would think that there are a fair number of players who would willingly go to fight if they were called upon; others would try and use connections to weasel their way out of it.

With Eiland, there’s not much more to say. I would tend to think that he’s going to keep his mouth shut; we’re not the only ones saying it and I wouldn’t be stunned to hear that someone from the Yankees contacted him and told him to pipe down…or else.

—-

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE Bob Feller and Jorge Posada:

Excellent piece on the heroes of Feller’s day compared to the so called ‘heroes’ of today. Pretty sure Mike Vick ain’t gonna go fight no Nazis.

You really think Posada would waive his no-trade clause to get dealt? I feel like he wouldn’ t know how to act in another uniform. And I’m serious!

Everyone involved with the nurturing of these star athletes like Mike Vick shares in what they become as they reach the pinnacle. If they don’t know anything else, how are they supposed to know better?

With Posada, I think it’ll come down to money and wanting a new contract that he’s not going to get from the Yankees; plus, the Yankees he knew—Joe Torre, Don Zimmer, Paul O’Neill—aren’t the Yankees of today. He doesn’t seem particularly happy these days and they have treated him shabbily. For all his moodiness and reputation for being difficult, he has some legitimate gripes.

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Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Yankees and having patience:

You’re right – Yankee fans don’t like to wait…and I don’t.

Unless you want Carl Pavano, you’re not going to have a choice. And I doubt you want Carl Pavano.

Sunday Blizzard 12.26.2010

Hot Stove

Admittedly, while he was alive and regularly jabbing his finger into the faces of today’s athletes, scolding them for their selfishness and behaviors, I often dismissed Bob Feller as a miserable old man who was: A) jealous of the money today’s players make; and B) held a death grip on antiquated Mid-American concepts that had no basis in reality.

Following his death, many of the eulogies and tributes extended towards him glossed over his short temper and overt lack of patience that expanded as he aged; as society grew more and more callous and disinterested.

After reading one such eulogy in The Weekly Standard, I’ve come to something of an epiphany regarding Feller’s core beliefs and why he was so irritable.

He had reason to be.

The on-line content is subscriber-only, but here’s the relevant excerpt:

And for all Feller accomplished—he was an eight-time all-star who led the Tribe to a World Series victory in 1948 and was named to the Hall of Fame in 1962, his first year of eligibility—he might have put up even better numbers, were it not for the war. But then, the same might be said of all of that era’s great stars.

As David G. Dalin wrote in our November 1 issue, Hank Greenberg enlisted at the age of 30, when he was officially exempt from military duty, to fight the Nazis. “My country comes first,” said Greenberg. Feller, who joined the Navy just after Pearl Harbor, felt the same. “I’ve never once thought about all the prime years that I missed,” Feller said later. “I’m as proud of serving as anything I’ve ever done in my life.”

We admire as much as anyone today’s professional athletes, young men whose athletic skill and daring cannot but entertain and amaze us, but in the end their image is not well served by the rhetorical excess, often their own, of referring to their place of well-paid work—the gridiron, diamond, court, or rink—as the -“trenches.” Greenberg and Feller knew the difference. So did Ted Williams, who flew combat missions as a Marine pilot; same with Braves lefthander Warren Spahn, who saw action at the Battle of the Bulge.

This week, America lost (…) a right-handed pitcher, Chief Petty Officer Bob Feller, U.S. Navy (ret.).

Think about this.

And think about today’s athletes, many of whom profess a love of country that rivals those of a years past.

Would any of them—-one—-walk away from his prime years as an athlete to serve his country and place himself in harm’s way?

Every time Curt Schilling rants for one of his conservative causes, can you picture him actually taking up arms and entering into the fray to fight and risk his life? He with his faux presidential and poorly written missives concluding with, “God bless you; and God bless the United…States…of America” and ill-informed falling in line with whatever the line happens to be at the moment?

Is pitching with a bloody sock the badge of a “hero”? Or is is it something more?

For all the admiration doled on Derek Jeter (poor Derek will only have to live on $15 million in 2011), would he behave so selflessly? As selflessly as the players from the 1940s did when, presumably, many of them had the connections to get out of service if they chose to do so? Or, at the very least, could’ve been shielded in safety on a base somewhere, out of the legitimate combat theater?

Cliff Lee took “less” money from the Phillies to go where he wanted to go and received nods of approval through pursed lips as if it makes a grand difference whether he makes $125 million, $150 million or whatever amount million he’s guaranteed.

Has any current player voluntarily walked away from his contract and lush lifestyle to take part in the effort?

The only athlete who has done so since the country’s been in conflict is the late football player Pat Tillman. Apart from that, today’s players scarcely know what’s even happening overseas; that there’s still a war going on; that people are being killed in service to the country.

I’m not sitting here saying I’d do it either, but the entire cultural shift that angered the likes of Feller and others who sound grumpy and envious may not be envy; it may not be anger; it may be disgust. Disgust at the rampant disinterest in the way they got into a position to make that money in the first place.

You can agree or disagree with the wars that are currently being waged, but politics aren’t why there’s no reports of a wealthy athlete walking away from it all to join the military and it has nothing to do with principles of protest; it has to do with the self-interest and lack of concern about the community at large that weren’t considered back in Feller’s day. They served because they felt it was their duty to serve. That they cost themselves money and statistics when they could conceivably have been padding their bank accounts and numbers was irrelevant.

Their own accumulations held no sway back then. Does any player today feel a similar duty?

Judging from their actions, it doesn’t appear so.

And things are going to get far, far worse as time passes and the separation of community grows more and more vast; as the athletes make more and more money and become separated from society because of such money, fame and status.

  • It sure sounds like there are hard feelings:

I wish someone would come out and say, “Yeah, I’m mad!!!” when they’re trying to express themselves in a way that’s unoffensive and it’s known that they’re not saying everything they’d like to say.

Former Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland was a guest on ESPN Radio talking about his new job as a special assistant with the Tampa Bay Rays and his dismissal from the Yankees.

You can read Wallace Matthews’s column about Eiland and listen to the podcast here.

No one in their right mind could expect a former employee not named Gary Sheffield to detonate a bridge that he might need later in his career, but obviously Eiland was irked by what happened.

Apart from a rumor here and there, the details of his monthlong leave-of-absence at mid-season have never been disclosed; I said at the time that if I knew what really happened, I might’ve fired Eiland as well. If it’s something that would be negatively perceived in Eiland’s attempts to get another job or for him to be embarrassed in public, then the Yankees did him a favor by keeping it quiet; and Eiland hasn’t helped his own cause by refusing to expand on what happened.

Truthfully, it’s the business of Eiland, the Yankees and his prospective employers as to what happened—-nobody else’s; one would assume the Rays know what the deal with Eiland and the Yankees was; why he left at mid-summer; why he was dismissed.

But if I were Dave Eiland, I’d keep my mouth shut. The allusions to his “shock” at being fired; the inference that there’s more to the story than is being revealed; that he has a lot to say and is saying it cryptically can only hurt him in the long run.

If I were advising him, I’d drill these words into his head: “I really don’t want to talk about what happened with the Yankees; I work for the Rays now and I thank the Yankees for the opportunity and the championship ring.”

That’s it. The more he says, the more people are going to ask; and if he gets someone with a temper and faulty mouth filter (see Levine, Randy; see Steinbrenner, Hank) angry, dirty laundry might be aired; laundry that’s been carefully pushed down into the bottom of the hamper.

Keeping quiet is the best course of action—-whether Eiland will adhere to that is the question; judging from his interview last week, he’s not holding to it.

It’s a mistake.

  • Viewer Mail 12.26.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Yankees and Jorge Posada:

I don’t think Posada will be happy about being the DH either, but I do think the Yankees will pull off some sort of trade for a pitcher. Wishful thinking maybe but Cashman has to do something.

The only reason Posada might—-might—-keep quiet is his impending free agency. A whining 40-year-old with Posada’s rep for being difficult might have a hard time getting another lucrative contract.

You’re right about getting a pitcher—-he’ll get one because he has to get one, but it’s possible that it won’t be until June/July.

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Joe writes RE Joaquin Benoit and Paul Konerko:

Why don’t you expound on the Konerko and Benoit signings? They might be winners for a year, but both of those contracts will most likely bite them. 3 years for an injury prone reliever.  And 3 years for a mid-30’s 1B with only the ability to hit.

I’m not prepared to say that Konerko will “bite” them over the long term. His hitting and durability has been consistent for the most part; defense at first base isn’t as much an imperative as it would be in center field, catcher or middle infield; the White Sox don’t concern themselves with defense all that much anyway.

He’ll hit for the life of the contract—-that’s what White Sox GM Kenny Williams is worried about.

With Benoit, you’re missing the point. Of course the money and contract are horrible, but the posting was in reference to 2011 and what the club needed; the Tigers needed bullpen help, had the money to pay for it and spent it on a pitcher who was masterful in 2010.

The Benoit deal is likely to bite the Tigers, but if he’s healthy in 2011, Benoit will help them contend. As long as it doesn’t block anyone else’s path nor prevent them from making other moves, what’s the difference?

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Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Nationals:

I can add this to the Nat’inals talk: that ballpark is badass. I’ve been there several times and had a blast each time. The park is beautiful, easily accessible and extremely fan friendly.  One problem in DC though is the fact that it’s such a transient city… there aren’t many Nationals fans — instead, they’re mostly fans of other clubs that have been relocated to the DC Metro area. From what I have seen, the largest contention of Nats fans seems to be Latino immigrants, who, ironically, will be priced out of watching their favorite team, now that they’re doling out crazy assed salaries.

This phenomenon—-the absence of legitimate, passionate Nats fans—-was exemplified by my being linked on the Nationals fan forum in which there was little of use said; nothing to promote a discussion on the subject.

They made fun of a typo, attributed to me, but not made by me and claimed the posting was “poop” among other things without a viable retort to my allegations.

I’m willing to talk to anyone and will even alter my feelings if presented with a cogent argument; none seems forthcoming.

If that’s what they’ve got in terms of refutation, the Nats fans who bother to pay attention deserve their fate.

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Matt at Diamondhacks writes RE me and the Diamondbacks:

If a club ever deserved “and the rest” status, it’s probably my Dbacks. I look forward to what you have to say about their makeover. Love the masthead, btw.

Happy holidays.

It’s always nice to hear from a fellow survivor from the calamity of MLBlogs. The society which has sprouted from the disaster is something of a logical conclusion considering the way the entity is run; we were lucky to get away when we did; others are still slogging away.

With the Diamondbacks, as I said yesterday, you’re seeing the Kevin Towers-style of management up close and personally; it won’t take long before the bewilderment pops up and those that were steadfastly on his bandwagon go leaping off at his strange maneuvers that, at the very least, equaled the brilliant ones he made with the Padres.

For those of you unaware of Matt’s blog, if you think I’m a loose cannon, check him out. It’s a wild ride.

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PhillyPhanatics writes RE the Nationals:

Paul – As a guy who has watched Werth closely during his tenure in Philadelphia, I agree that this was a pretty ridiculous contract for a guy who is a complementary player being asked to be a core player.  Still, to not mention  Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann or #1 pick wunderkind Bryce Harper while excoriating the Nats for a guy who they don’t even own anymore tells me you have a lot of homework to do.  Willingham is arbitration-eligible and would have been a lame duck on a market-value one-year deal.  No, the Nats have no shot in 2011, and with Strasburg also out rehabbing, any guys on a one-year deal are absolutely trade fodder.  I don’t know if this will all pan out, but the Nats remind me a bit of the Rays with their multiple #1 overall picks.  The core players are where it’s at.  Which makes the Werth signing look like a knee-jerk reaction to losing Adam Dunn and based on fear of losing the gains they made in attracting fans of late, more so than a wise on-field move.

What homework did I have to do?

The problem implied with the Nationals signing of Werth; chasing Carl Pavano; looking at Brandon Webb; making a big offer to Cliff Lee and combining the moves they made last year are exactly the issues I’m talking about.

What are they?

Are they trying to win now? Trying to build a better reputation within baseball by making improvements to the current product even if they’re not going to wind up contending? Importing competent veterans to teach the young players to comport themselves?

Which is it?

They’ve had Willingham on the market pretty much since they got him; they benched him for reasons unknown, then when they let him play, guess what he did? He did what he always does—-hit for power, was a professional hitter who showed up every day ready to go.

If they were so concerned about his “lame duck” status, why didn’t they trade him in July of this year? This is the problem—-they traded Willingham for prospects while signing Werth to try and get better now.

You cannot do both. When Harper is ready; when Strasburg is back and has the constraints removed (probably by 2013 for that combination to take place); when they know what they have in Jordan Zimmerman and the other pitchers, Werth’s deal will be more easily judged and he’ll be 34-years-old.

Ryan Zimmerman is a superstar; I like Desmond, especially defensively; they’ve cleared the clubhouse of troublemakers, but they’re not any better now than they were before the 2010 season; in fact, they’re worse.

You can’t compare the Nats to the Rays. The Rays had a plan and a stack of young players who were developing and on the way up. They made some brilliant trades in getting Ben Zobrist, Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett; they were notoriously lucky with Carlos Pena and Gabe Gross; and they didn’t make stupid decisions like dumping a Willingham for the “future” while spending ridiculously on a good player like Werth who, as you said, is complementary.

The Nationals have shown no sign of the intelligence and guts the Rays exhibited in building their playoff teams and are now as they clear out players from whom they’ve gotten everything they could and are reloading.

The Rays had a plan. Do the Nats? I don’t see it.