New Age Collisions and Matt Holliday

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The photo you see above is Graig Nettles kicking George Brett in game 5 of the 1977 ALCS. The Yankees eventually won the game and the pennant. A brawl occurred between the two teams following this incident. No one was kicked out of the game. (Get it?)

If that happened today, someone would have to be thrown out. I think. Although Roger Clemens was allowed to fling a projectile—a broken bat—at Mike Piazza in the 2000 World Series and didn’t get tossed. It’s a fine line between defending oneself and running the risk of getting ejected.

In last night’s game 2 of the NLCS, on a double play attempt, Marco Scutaro of the Giants was nailed and had his hip injured on a takeout slide by Cardinals’ outfielder Matt Holliday.

You can watch it below.

Holliday was past the base and his specific intent was to hit Scutaro hard enough to prevent the double play. He did it cheaply with a dangerous roll block and raised arm making it doubly treacherous for the infielder. This isn’t little league and there’s a reasonable expectation for hard, clean play. Infielders have their own little tricks they use to prevent this from occurring. In general, they use the base for protection because the runner is technically not supposed to pass the base; they also throw the ball sidearm and specifically aim it at the runner’s head (this is taught) so the runner has to get down to avoid getting beaned. Holliday’s play was arguable in its legality/line-crossing because the ball and Holliday arrived nearly simultaneously and Scutaro didn’t have the time to hop out of the way or use the base as protection, nor could he throw the ball at Holliday’s head. Holliday did go past the base to get Scutaro.

It wasn’t overtly illegal, but it was a legal cheap shot.

On the Fox broadcast, Tim McCarver—a former catcher, no stranger to home plate collisions—compared the play to Buster Posey getting leveled by Marlins’ outfielder Scott Cousins in May of 2011. Posey had his ankle broken, needed surgery, and was lost for the season. It was his absence that set forth the chain-of-events that might have cost the Giants a second straight World Series and forced them to search for more offense and surrender their top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler to get Carlos Beltran from the Mets.

There was no comparison between the two hits because what Holliday did was questionable at best and dirty at worst. What Cousins did was within the rules. Rules and propriety don’t always intersect and if that’s the case, then baseball has to step in and clarify the grey areas.

What creates the controversy is that it’s so rare in today’s game. In the Royals-Yankees annual ALCS matchups (4 times in 5 years between 1976 and 1980), Royals’ DH/outfielder Hal McRae took every opportunity to try and send Yankees’ second baseman Willie Randolph into the left field seats and break up a double play. It’s perfectly acceptable for a runner to run into a fielder if he has the ball and is trying to tag him, but the last player I remember doing it was Albert Belle.

With catchers and runners, it’s an old-school play that some former catchers like McCarver, Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi, and Giants’ manager Bruce Bochy would like to see outlawed, while Angels’ manager Mike Scioscia thinks it’s an integral, exciting, and necessary aspect of competition. No one will accuse any of the above ex-players of being wimps. All were tough, but disagree on the subject. Scioscia relished the contact and was the recipient of one of the most brutal collisions I’ve ever seen in 1985 when Jack Clark of the Cardinals barreled into him. Scioscia was knocked out; Clark was staggered as if he’d been he recipient of a George Foreman sledgehammer punch; and Scioscia held onto the ball.

Nobody runs over the catcher anymore. There’s a commercial playing in New York of Derek Jeter crashing into a catcher. When has Jeter ever run into a catcher? It’s almost never done, and when it is, it turns into a national catastrophe if one of the players gets hurt.

The camaraderie and brotherhood among the players also precludes these hard plays. Everyone knows each other now. With the limited degrees of separation and the amount of money at stake, few are willing to take the chance of ruining another player’s career. You don’t see knockdown pitches; you don’t see take-out slides; you don’t see busted double plays; and you don’t see home plate collisions.

It wasn’t an, “I’m trying to hurt you,” play. But an injury was a byproduct. It was legal, yet borderline. If MLB wants to make it illegal or come up with a way to constrain it, then fine. Until then, it’s acceptable. As long as the people in charge fail to make a concrete announcement and provide a clear-cut mandate to the umpires that certain actions won’t be tolerated, there will be players who are willing to do what Holliday did, injured players, and indignant reactions in its aftermath.

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Billy Beane And The Ka’aihue Caper

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Which do you want?

Do you want the Moneyball (the farcical book and ridiculous movie) version of Billy Beane where he’s a ruthless Gordon Gekko-like corporate titan who treats the players as chess pieces and moves them regardless of feelings or personalities according to what’s best for the team and winning?

Do you want a hard-edged and intelligent architect who also has the empathy and understanding that is similar (again in the farcical book and ridiculous movie) to Beane’s relationship with his young daughter? A man who triumphed in the face of adversity and and achieved a success in the baseball front office he couldn’t achieve on the field while simultaneously slaying his own demons from that failed playing career?

Make a choice.

The stories about Beane are nonsense. He’s not a genius. He’s not an idiot. He’s not overrated or underrated. He is what he is and what that is is a mediocre GM who found a way to win for a brief time by using statistics and techniques that had yet to become widespread in use or understanding.

As other clubs have taken the successful aspects of stat-based techniques, paid for on base percentage and found other ways to win without spending the money of the Yankees and Red Sox, Beane’s clubs have fallen back to what they were in the mid-late-1990s before Beane stumbled onto his “secret” by luck, necessity or both.

Now the A’s are a haphazard mix of young and old; of players from the past and players for the future; of has beens and never weres; of players who he found and players who he overpaid for. It shows on the fields as, after a surprisingly quick start, they’ve staggered to where most observers thought they’d be at 26-32 and promising to get much worse as the season moves along.

But there won’t be a Major League-style, Barbra Streisand “There’s A Place For Us”, island of misfit toys victory for this group. They’re going to lose 90+ games by the time the season is over and again Beane and his bosses will be pleading MLB for a new ballpark; the freedom to move to San Jose; or some lifeline to save baseball in Oakland.

There is no happy ending here.

But that doesn’t mean that Beane is the epitome of evil or a beacon for the unsung upstarts in the administration of his club.

There’s a large controversy as to the treatment of first baseman Kila Ka’aihue because the A’s designated him for assignment yesterday while he and his wife are awaiting the birth of twins. You can read the story here on Fox and read about the reaction of his teammates at the “injustice” in this slanted, twisted and intentionally inflammatory piece on Yahoo.

Is it injustice? Did the A’s do anything wrong?

Ostensibly Ka’aihue was dumped because Brandon Moss is in Triple A, had an out in his contract if he wasn’t in the big leagues by next week and they were going to need his bat for the upcoming games.

Let’s look at the perceptions of this decision in comparison to reality.

The A’s dumped a player with no concern about him personally or his family.

The implication is that because they designated Ka’aihue for assignment that they left him hanging with twins on the way, no job and no means to pay for their care.

Of course it’s nonsense. Ka’aihue is still technically a member of the Athletics organization. The designating for assignment is to create space for Moss by removing Ka’aihue from the 40-man roster. A team might claim him, he might clear waivers or the A’s can release him. I doubt any team is claiming him, so that leaves a release or going to Triple A. If he’s released someone will pick him up.

But Ka’aihue continuing his playing career is irrelevant in the context of what would happen if the CBA allowed his medical coverage to be gone once the decision was made to remove him from the 40-man roster.

Here’s news: he’s still covered and will still be paid based on his big league contract. He won’t have to leave Oakland for 10 days and if his babies are on the way any day now, I’m sure the A’s—if they’re going to send him to Triple A—will let him stay in Oakland until everything is settled.

The A’s gave Ka’aihue a chance to play that the Royals never did.

On an annual basis in the minors, Ka’aihue put up absurd on base numbers with power. But the Royals never gave him a legit shot to play. The closest they came was in 2011 when he started the season as the regular first baseman, received a month and was sent to the minors when he didn’t hit.

The A’s let him play in 39 of their 58 games and the left-handed batting Ka’aihue was consistently in the lineup when there was a righty pitching against the A’s. He got a chance and hit just as poorly as he did in his brief opportunities for the Royals. He, his teammates and the stat-loving people who worshipped his minor league numbers cannot say he didn’t get a chance. A 28-year-old minor league veteran who posted a .234/.295/.398 slash line with 4 homers and below average defense at first base can’t complain about being dumped after 139 plate appearances.

What else could the A’s have done?

They’re not going anywhere this season so I suppose they could’ve kept him on the roster until the Moss deadline of June 15th and/or waited until Ka’aihue’s kids were born. They could’ve given him more time to see if he started hitting. Or they could’ve done what they did. It’s not as if Moss is a youngster who’s killing Triple A and waiting for a chance to play and Ka’aihue was blocking his path. Moss is a 28-year-old journeyman as well and, as mentioned before, the Athletics’ season is going nowhere.

But this isn’t the monstrous treatment of a player with no leverage it’s being portrayed to be. The A’s needed a roster spot and Ka’aihue was the prime candidate at the position from which they needed to cut some dead weight. His A’s teammates can complain about it but if they look at it objectively, there’s no arguing with the decision because the player wasn’t playing well and this isn’t a charity. The A’s don’t owe him any more than what he’s gotten and will continue to get based on the basic agreement.

He’s still getting his benefits. His family is covered.

So what’s the problem other than the stoking a visceral reaction by twisting facts and tugging on people’s emotions and suggesting that Beane is kicking a pregnant woman out on the street to fend for herself as she’s about to deliver twins or that Beane is hiding behind his assistant David Forst?

There is none.

If you’d like to pick on Beane, there are plenty of other reasons—milking the Moneyball farce; using his “genius” as a shield to do what he wants while wrecking his team; contradicting exactly what he was supposed to be but never was—but the Ka’aihue caper isn’t a reason to attack him. Ka’aihue didn’t hit and he’s getting dumped. It’s as simple as that.

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