The old-school way of dealing with the Junior Lakes of the world

MLB

The easy way to asses the milling session described as a “bench clearing incident” between the Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs on Wednesday is to lambast Cubs utility player Junior Lake for his behavior. The video link is below.

We can get past the “Who the hell is Junior Lake?” bit as well as the argument as to whether a hitter or pitcher enthusiastically celebrating adheres to the game’s unwritten rules. This much is clear: Lake pimped a home run that cut a Marlins lead from 6-0 to 6-2 and the Cubs eventually lost 7-3. He celebrated a home run that meant absolutely nothing to anyone other than him. It’s a sign of selfishness and total lack of propriety that has become prevalent in the game today. Baseball is a naturally individualistic sport, but it’s increasingly forgotten that it’s an individual sport in a team concept. The latter half of that – “team concept” – is less and less important in the eyes of many and I don’t just mean the players.

While Lake is a non-entity as a player and an extra body for the Cubs, it’s the potential fallout from his act, the enabling from the organization and their new age manager Joe Maddon, and that the game has changed so drastically and negatively from its self-policing of yesteryear that has resulted in players feeling safe in doing exactly what Lake did. There hasn’t been a mention of any bad blood between the Cubs and Marlins that led to Lake’s leisurely trot around the bases, but judging from the clip, the Marlins bench was hollering at him for his showboating and he responded by “shushing” them with a finger to the lips.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto said something to both Anthony Rizzo and Lake and the benches subsequently emptied. No punches were thrown, but this incident won’t be forgotten by a Marlins team that has gotten beaten around this entire season, has veterans who know how to deal with acts such as that of Lake, and has clearly had enough.

The culture of today’s game has fomented the idea that it’s acceptable to be so overt when celebrating. In part that is due to the shrugging nature of what other teams think. In part it’s due to the tamping down on retaliatory strikes on the part of pitchers. Would Lake have dared to behave as he did if Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson were on the mound? The way the game was played during Drysdale’s and Gibson’s heyday was such that hitters knew they wouldn’t just get drilled, but they’d likely have to duck a fastball heading toward their heads. A contemporary copy of Drysdale and Gibson, Roger Clemens, would also have made certain that someone paid for Lake’s transgression and it wouldn’t have been a journeyman like Lake. The Cubs might not care one way or the other if Lake gets hit for his behavior, but they will certainly care if Kris Bryant or Rizzo take one between the shoulder blades for what Lake did. So too will the players in the Cubs clubhouse as the actions of one player caused other players to be targets simply because they’re more important to the team.

Baseball has tried to stop this in-the-trenches reality, but the fact is that hitting someone other than Lake is dealing with the problem in an effective way.

Umpires are mandated to issue warnings to stop beanball wars from occurring. In truth, like the Field of Dreams line when Moonlight Graham was knocked down as he asked the umpire to issue a warning to Eddie Cicotte and the ump replied by saying “Watch out you don’t get killed,” that was the way the umps of the past oversaw the game. Even they wouldn’t mind seeing a player like Lake being put in his place by the players.

Those who see nothing wrong with Lake flipping his bat and taking his stroll around the bases are speaking from a position of never having played a testosterone-fueled sport and are missing the point that he was drawing attention to himself in a situation that meant, basically, nothing. His home run was an individual achievement in a game that the Cubs were trailing and likely to lose – and they did. “I got mine” is not a team concept. The attention-starved Maddon, team president Theo Epstein and the rest of the Cubs staff are just as invested in the concept of the world knowing their names and crediting them as they are in winning, if not more. So they’re not exactly on the moral high ground when it comes to telling Lake to tone down the act.

But it can be handled in a variety of ways even if the Cubs don’t want to do it themselves. The key is ensuring there are legitimate consequences for one’s actions. The Cubs and Maddon might shrug off the behavior as the way the game is played today and it’s no big deal, but if they’re running the risk of losing one of their star bats because of Lake, they’ll care and it will stop.

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Dan Jennings represents a new threat to uniformed baseball people

MLB

Widespread bafflement and undisguised anger has simmered from the Miami Marlins’ stunning decision to replace fired manager Mike Redmond with general manager Dan Jennings. The results in Jennings’s first three games at the helm have mirrored what they were under Redmond with discombobulated losses and puzzlement as a team that many had considered a World Series contender looks closer to a club that’s heading for the number one pick in the 2016 draft. While owner Jeffrey Loria and his front office staff are loath to admit this sad fact – and probably won’t – it’s the flawed roster that’s the problem and not anything that the manager did or didn’t do.

That aside, Jennings put himself in this difficult situation by accepting the job. Uniformed baseball people have been anonymously expressing their dismay that the field is now being invaded by “suits.” While the Marlins situation is different from most other clubs in that there is a known quotient of dysfunction from the top down and has been for years, the Jennings hiring isn’t only offensive to those who have dedicated their life to the on-field, nuanced, “you can only learn by watching” portion of the game. It symbolizes the final infiltration of the last enclave in which players and “baseball people” held sacred and thought was safe.

To make matters worse, the Marlins aren’t even a pure sabermetrically-inclined team from whom this type of blurring of the lines of accepted propriety was possible or even likely. The Marlins under Loria are more Steinbrennerean than sabermetrican, lending credence to the idea that stat people are watching closely for the reaction to Jennings among the players, media and fans to see if they too can get away with a non-baseball person going down on the field and taking charge just as they’ve overtaken a large portion of big league front offices.

Uniformed baseball people accepted the new age front offices and statistical adherence not by choice, but out of necessity. These faceless, suit-clad front office people have no qualms about going into the clubhouse as if it too is their domain and they’re free to make “suggestions” to players, coaches and managers that are orders disguised as options. Now, with the Jennings foray down to the field, it might be making its way into the clubhouse completely.

The difference between uniformed personnel who work their way up through the minor league system as players, then coaches, then managers and finally find themselves on a big league staff or are actually in the manager’s office and those who are permeating baseball’s front offices today is that those who are in the front office have options for other forms of employment that will be just as, if not more, lucrative than being a GM or scouting director. Often, uniformed personnel can’t do anything else besides baseball. So it’s either accept the new reality or get a job at Wal-Mart. Another threat they have to parry is presenting itself and they’re resisting it.

The chipping away of the aura of the once insular and sacred realm of “baseball people” began with the widespread popularity and acceptance of the ludicrous stories in Moneyball. It blew up from there and is still multiplying like a disease meant to wipe out those who probably can’t formulate an algorithm, but have an innate sense of when their pitcher is out of gas. It’s easy to see why they’re chafing at Jennings being in uniform.

There’s no threat of the pure sabermetric front offices or even sabermetrically-leaning front offices having their current baseball bosses go down on the field as happened with the Marlins and Jennings. You won’t see Jeff Luhnow, Theo Epstein, Andrew Friedman, Brian Cashman or any of the other GMs who are stats-obsessed pulling on a uniform to run the team on the field. But is it possible that there’s a group of 20-somethings making a load of money in the stock market looking to buy a team with it in their minds to be the next subject of a book by having a non-baseball guy go on the field and win a World Series? The ego and arrogance that has led to the transformation of an endeavor that was once meant to be a plaything – a sports franchise – into a big business in which non-athletes can become sports celebrities. It’s treated as such. It provides a spotlight that these Masters of the Universe wouldn’t get by being mentioned on Bloomberg as a CEO with a $150 million bonus and a mansion in the Hamptons.

This is why the Marlins and Jennings could have unintended consequences throughout baseball. The Marlins are being deservedly ridiculed for what they’ve done. Jennings is a baseball guy, so It’s not “ridiculous” in the context of Bill Veeck’s midget Eddie Gaedel or Ted Turner going down on the field to manage the Atlanta Braves. It is, however, an intrusion into what the uniformed people felt was their domain. If one team does it, another team might do it. That’s what the uniformed people are rightfully afraid of more than they are offended by the Marlins’ breach of accepted protocol.

The Marlins way

MLB

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria finally gave in and did what he’s clearly wanted to do by firing manager Mike Redmond. My prediction was off by two-and-a-half weeks.

Let’s not treat Redmond as a victim here. Yes, he got caught in an Oliver Stone-conspiracy style of triangulation of crossfire between the demanding owner, the roster that was thought to be better than it actually is, and the fact that he is, at best, an average manager. He didn’t do a particularly good job, doesn’t have the resume to say that he should have been given more time, and the team is floundering. High expectations can cost a manager his job and if the expectations are reasonable, then the firing is deserved. Unreasonable expectations will get a manager fired, but that doesn’t mean that the firing isn’t justified.

These ambiguities can be viewed as unfair, but they’re part of the landscape when choosing managing a baseball team as a vocation.

When a manager takes a job offered by Loria, it’s not hard to predict how it’s going to end. Like Al Davis with the Oakland Raiders, the manager/head coach is a supporting character in the drama. That said, many clubs in sports treat their field bosses as disposable entities and have been far more callous about it than Loria, doing so with the tacit protection of a starstruck gallery of supporters and media factions invested in selling a myth.

Billy Beane – considered a “genius” – has gone through four managers in his time. Some were fired for cause; others were fired just because he felt like firing them; others were tossed overboard with Beane blaming the media, not the manager, for his failings. Theo Epstein fired both Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria and was given a widespread pass for it from the same people who are unloading on Loria now. Because Epstein got the so-called “best” manager in baseball Joe Maddon, his tactics are somehow more honorable because there’s a reason behind them rather than emanating from Loria’s reflexive response to fire the easiest target: the manager.

It’s partisan nonsense hidden behind analysis and excuses.

Loria is an easy target because he’s the one who was investigated by the SEC, hoodwinked the State of Florida into building him a new stadium, was slapped on the wrist by Major League Baseball for pocketing revenue-sharing money, and fires his manager when things don’t go the way he thinks they should. This is how he does business and he’s successful at it. Who’s to say he’s wrong?

Redmond joins an eclectic group of past victims buried in the body orchard of Loria’s impatience, petulance, anger and blameworthiness that includes respected GM Larry Beinfest; one of the best current managers in baseball Joe Girardi; an underrated baseball lifer Jack McKeon; the mediocre Fredi Gonzalez; the missing in action Edwin Rodriguez; and the magnet for self-inflicted, intentionally-created controversy Ozzie Guillen.

With the daylong speculation as to where Loria was going to go to replace Redmond, the names that popped up included Dusty Baker, Jeff Conine, Wally Backman, and Bo Porter. In a tactical move seemingly designed to surprise, general manager Dan Jennings will take over in the dugout. Jennings has been a respected scout and front office man, but has never managed or coached at the professional level.

While unusual, this is not completely unheard of in today’s game. Former Marlins manager John Boles didn’t play professionally. Nor did former Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Trembley. Their results when managing were poor and while there was limited talent on the teams they managed, it’s naïve and ignorant to dismiss their lack of professional playing experienced as irrelevant.

Playing for a year or two as a low-level minor leaguer with zero chance of making it any further than the bottom rung or professional baseball shouldn’t add any more credibility than someone who worked his way up through the minors. But that ignores the macho, testosterone-fueled nature of baseball.

Hiring Jennings might craft greater organizational continuity between the field staff, president of baseball operations Michael Hill, and, naturally, Loria. Some are questioning the decision, but Loria has – intentionally or not – shielded himself from criticism by a large portion of the viewing public by doing what the stat people say should be done more often and ignore the “experience” factor when making a decision on whom the manager should be. They can’t critique it in anything more than a nitpicky fashion because doing so inadvertently chips away at their own belief system and its tenets.

Jennings might think that since he’s been a longtime confidant and is a trusted member of Loria’s baseball operations staff that he’s safe. If this was a short-term attempt on the part of Loria and Jennings to get a close look at what’s happening on the field and in the clubhouse, then it makes sense on all ends. That may yet be the case. The Marlins run their club differently than other teams do in which the general manager is the ultimate face of the franchise and runs the club on a day-to-day basis. The Marlins have Hill, Loria’s stepson David Samson, Jennings, and Loria himself taking part in how the team is run with numerous advisers and kibitzers jockeying for position. In theory, Jennings can do what he was doing as the GM and still manage the team.

The players are the keys here. They didn’t hate Redmond, so his departure won’t be viewed with a sense of relief. There’s a very real possibility that the team really isn’t much better than a .500 team, so it won’t matter who the manager is unless structural changes to the roster are made. Players, being the entitled, blame-shifting, “nothing’s my fault” entities that they are, will look at Jennings and raise an eyebrow if (when) he simply looks out of place in uniform. Ostensibly, Jennings is the players’ “boss,” but in sports that’s largely meaningless unless the owner himself is taking over the team. Sharing an office with a boss is uncomfortable no matter how good a person is at his or her job; no matter how secure within the terms of employment he or she is. The idea that the “boss” is with them 24/7, watching, judging assessing, scrutinizing is awkward.

The players are the ones with the power and the larger paychecks. They’re the ones who should be blamed, but rarely are. Now Jennings is on the field. Undoubtedly, given the flawed nature of the Marlins’ roster, he’ll learn the same thing that Redmond did: there’s not much he can do to fix it unless the players play better. The biggest problem with this team stems from the thought that they were going to be a World Series contender when they are, in reality, a mediocre team who can make the playoffs if everything goes right. Since it didn’t go right, it cost Redmond his job and put this odd chain of events in motion.

Miami Marlins *may* fire manager Mike Redmond

MLB

On Saturday, after their third straight loss to the New York Mets, I wrote the first draft of a post entitled “Miami Marlins fire manager Mike Redmond.” The reasons for this were three-fold:

1) I expected him to be fired that Monday if the Miami Marlins lost on Sunday

2) I wanted to have the post ready to go needing little more than tweaking when it happened

3) I wanted to specifically say that I’d written the first draft of the post on Saturday to establish my prescience

This wasn’t an example of jumping on the bandwagon based on the swirling rumors as to the tenuous nature of Redmond’s job security. I saw it coming before the season started when there was an inexplicable number of “experts” who predicted a Marlins playoff run with a few going so far as to say they were going to win the pennant.

My tweet on this subject from April 1 is below.

For the most part, this isn’t to denigrate the predictions of others. In many cases, there are extenuating circumstances for a reasonable projection with a strong foundational basis to have ended up wrong. Injuries, tragedy and good or bad luck all play a role. Since the post was essentially written, I’ve chosen not to wait for Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria to finish sharpening his well-worn axe and swing it at Redmond, but to point out that those who are defending Redmond now are just as misguided as those who looked at this team and thought they were a rising threat.

Loria has spent his time as a baseball owner earning the image of George Steinbrenner-lite. He’s overseen significant upheaval on his roster, with the coaching staff, in the managerial office, and front office. Often seen as petulant, impetuous, demanding, irrational and bullying, Loria has made nine managerial changes since taking over the organization prior to the 2002 season. Some were misguided tantrums like dumping Joe Girardi. Others were questionable in blaming Fredi Gonzalez for a flawed club that the manager somehow coaxed to 87 wins in 2009 and firing him in 2010. Ozzie Guillen was a “this was the wrong guy hired for the wrong reasons” mistake.

In true Steinbrennerean fashion, he’s recycled Jack McKeon twice, the second time being when McKeon was 81-years-old. If McKeon were 10-15 years younger today, he’d already be managing the Marlins again for 2015.

But he’s not.

So barring a miraculous turnaround from their current record of 3-11, Loria will be looking for a new manager within days. Speculation has centered around the “fireplug” type whose personality is diametrically opposed to the cerebral and outwardly calm Redmond; someone who will come in, flip the food table, get in the faces of players (his own and opposing), umpires, and anyone else who dare draw his ire.

Loria wants his Billy Martin and with McKeon too old to fill the role, he’s looking elsewhere. Mets Triple A manager Wally Backman’s name has come up. A carbon copy of Martin with a turbulent off-field life, rampant controversy, the flammable reputation in personality, alcohol-fueled ignitability, baseball nerve and savvy, Backman would be a risk that could pay off big or really blow the thing up.

All of this is independent of whether or not the Marlins’ slow start falls at the feet of the manager.

Objectively, it’s hard to blame Redmond for what’s happened thus far with the Marlins. But to absolve the manager of all blame and say that injuries have undone the club is misrepresenting the facts and issues that have caused this atrocious start. With the players retreating into the embrace of team meetings, a vampire-like side effect of inability to see one’s reflection in the mirror, and Giancarlo Stanton saying that they don’t have “fire”, it’s only a matter of days (hours, minutes, seconds) until Loria holds someone responsible for this catastrophe. The easy target is the manager.

And he’s not wrong.

For all his volatile behaviors, ruthless businessman trickery, political machinations, and Lex Luthor-style evil persona, Loria does have baseball knowledge. Trouble arises when he thinks he knows better than everyone else and because one bout of interference worked that they’re all going to work. The Marlins are certainly dysfunctional, but the Marlins under Loria have always been dysfunctional. This was true when he gutted the team after a large free agent spending spree and lost 100 games and it’s true now that they were a trendy preseason pick to go to the playoffs.

There can be a dozen excuses as to why Redmond’s not at fault. He’s without their best pitcher Jose Fernandez until mid-season when, instead of a glossy equivalent to a mid-season pickup of an ace, he might end up as a guy getting ready for 2016 rather than pushing it in 2015. Henderson Alvarez is also hurt. The injuries are not irrelevant, nor are the misplaced, oversized expectations that permeated the team and led Loria to believe they should have a record opposite to the one they currently do. The players they acquired before the season leading to the enthusiasm were more complementary than headliners. Mat Latos, Mike Morse, Dan Haren, Dee Gordon, Ichiro Suzuki, Martin Prado – all have use in one form or another, but to take their acquisitions as the finishing touches for a team that was mistakenly believed to be thisclose is compounding the problem: the team was overestimated from the get-go.

And that goes back to the blame game. Loria’s certainly not going to blame himself. The players can say they’re blaming themselves, but really aren’t. The baseball operations chain-of-command was just changed. There’s no one else to fire other than Redmond.

He’s a generic, replaceable, vanilla voice whose message isn’t getting through. For the owner to look at the situation and decide that he might as well bring in someone else is completely fair. In fact, it’s justified in that what’s happening now is not working and it’s better to act sooner when there’s still time to save the season than later when it’s not.

James Shields choosing San Diego over Miami wasn’t only about being close to home

MLB

Even if the Miami Marlins had the highest offer on the table for James Shields – something that has been speculated – and he chose to pitch closer to home in San Diego for the Padres for slightly less money, it’s highly likely that it wasn’t his home base that was the biggest aspect in his decision. The Marlins’ offer, if it was indeed higher, would also have been even more lucrative given the lack of state income tax in Florida.

Shields undoubtedly preferred to pitch closer to home. But after money is considered, he also might have wanted to pitch for a team that is more likely to tell him the truth when it comes to the contract negotiations. History has shown how useless any verbal promises the Marlins make are. At his age and at this stage in his career, it was worth it for him to believe that he wouldn’t be traded away after the first year or year-and-a-half of the contract.

The Padres also have something of a history of spending and then cleaning house of all big contracts when the profits or attendance figures didn’t meet their expectations, but that was under previous owners Tom Werner and John Moores. With the Marlins, it’s the same double-dealing, ruthless businessman Jeffrey Loria who’s running the franchise. No matter what he says, no player can believe him. Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle said outright that he lied to their faces as they signed with the Marlins after the 2011 season and did so without the benefit of a no-trade clause in their contract. The Marlins claim that they, as a club policy, don’t give no-trade clauses. When a team says that and they buttresses it with a illusory “promise,” a savvy businessman will be more keenly aware of the ramifications of going back on it than a naïve player will be. After going back on his word, the owner can shrug and point to the contract while the player laments, “But, but, I was promised…” as if it matters.

Some don’t care where they wind up as long as they’re getting paid. Some, usually veterans with options, don’t want to sign for four years to play in Miami and then find themselves traded to oh, I dunno…Toronto? after the first season or sooner. And that’s the danger with signing for Loria’s team. As a businessman, he’s brilliant. He’s tricked everyone at various times, taken revenue sharing money that was meant for the players and pocketed it, hoodwinked the state political apparatus into essentially giving him a new ballpark, and committed numerous acts of trickery to get what he wants with no apologies and no regrets.

No matter his profit margin, that doesn’t alter the fact that his reputation in baseball is one in which everyone – players, agents, general mangers, owners and the commissioner’s office – thinks he might be blatantly lying to their faces no matter what he says. This is why the talk that the Marlins are one of the up-and-coming teams in baseball has to be taken with a significant amount of hesitation. They’ve been aggressive in trying to improve, but they’ve done that before and gutted the place when there weren’t immediate dividends on the field and off. This is why the smart bets for the first manager fired should be Marlins manager Mike Redmond. This is why prognosticators picking the Marlins as the flavor of 2015 need to step back and look at the club’s history before anointing them. That’s why players and their agents don’t want to go there if they have a choice. Shields had a choice and went to San Diego.

American League Remaining Schedule and Playoff Chance Analysis

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Let’s take a look at the remaining schedules for all the teams still in the hunt for an American League playoff berth.

Boston Red Sox

Record: 89-58; 15 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 9.5 games, American League East

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Rays; 3 games vs. Yankees; 3 games vs. Orioles; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 2 games at Rockies; 3 games at Orioles

The Red Sox have the best record in the American League by five games. They’re going to have a significant say in which team gets the second Wild Card given their six games against the Orioles and four against the Yankees. They’re not going to lay down as evidenced by manager John Farrell’s somewhat odd – but successful – decision last night to use Koji Uehara is a tie game that meant nothing to them. I’m wondering if Farrell has received advice from Patriots coach Bill Belichick on going for the throat at all costs because it was a Belichick move.

They don’t seem to have a preference as to whether they knock out the Yankees, Rays or Orioles. They’re playing all out, all the way.

Oakland Athletics

Record: 84-61; 17 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 3 games, American League West

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Twins; 3 games at Rangers; 3 games vs. Angels; 4 games vs. Twins; 3 games at Angels; 3 games at Mariners

The A’s lead the Rangers by three games and have three games with them this weekend. Strength of schedule can be a dual-edged sword. This isn’t the NFL, but teams whose seasons are coming to a disappointing close are just as likely to get some motivation by playing teams that have something to play for as they are to bag it and give up. The Angels have played better lately and the Mariners can pitch.

Detroit Tigers

Record: 84-62; 16 games remaining

Current Position: First Place by 6.5 games, American League Central

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Royals; 4 games vs. Mariners; 3 games vs. White Sox; 3 games vs. Twins; 3 games vs. Marlins

The Tigers’ upcoming schedule is pretty weak and they have a good cushion for the division. They can’t coast, but they can relax a bit.

Texas Rangers

Record: 81-64; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 3 games, American League West; lead first Wild Card by 3.5 games

Remaining Schedule: 3 games vs. Athletics; 4 games at Rays; 3 games at Royals; 3 games vs. Astros; 4 games vs. Angels

The Rangers are in jeopardy of falling out of the playoffs entirely if they slip up over the next ten games. All of those teams have something to play for and the Rangers have been slumping.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 78-66; 18 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 9.5 games, American League East; lead second Wild Card by 1 game

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Red Sox; 3 games at Twins; 4 games at Rangers; 4 games at Orioles; 3 games at Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays

With the way they’re currently playing (think the 2007 Mets) they’re not going to right their ship in time to make the playoffs. They’d better wake up. Fast.

New York Yankees

Record: 78-68; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 10.5 games; 1 game behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game at Orioles; 3 games at Red Sox; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Giants; 3 games vs. Rays; 3 games at Astros

There’s a reluctance to say it, but the Yankees are better off without this current version of Derek Jeter. He was hurting the team offensively and defensively. Their problem has nothing to do with schedules or how they’re playing, but with age and overuse. They’re hammering away with their ancient veterans for one last group run. Mariano Rivera is being repeatedly used for multiple innings out of necessity; Alex Rodriguez is hobbled; David Robertson is pitching hurt; Shawn Kelley isn’t 100 percent; Andy Pettitte is gutting his way through. If they’re in it in the last week, will there be any gas left in their collective tanks?

Cleveland Indians

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Second Place by 6.5 games, American League Central; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 4 games at White Sox; 3 games at Royals; 4 games vs. Astros; 2 games vs. White Sox; 4 games at Twins

The White Sox are playing about as badly as the Astros without the excuse of lack of talent/innocent youth. They just don’t seem to care. The Indians’ schedule pretty much guarantees they’ll at least be alive in the last week of the season.

Baltimore Orioles

Record: 77-68; 17 games remaining

Current Position: Fourth Place by 11 games, American League East; 1.5 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 1 game vs. Yankees; 3 games at Blue Jays; 3 games at Red Sox; 4 games at Rays; 3 games vs. Blue Jays; 3 games vs. Red Sox

The Red Sox are taking great, sadistic pleasure in hampering the playoff hopes of anyone and everyone and have shown no preference in who they’re beating on. This will hurt and/or help the Orioles. The big games to watch are those four with the Rays.

Kansas City Royals

Record: 77-69; 16 games remaining

Current Position: Third Place by 7 games, American League Central; 2 games behind for the second Wild Card

Remaining Schedule: 3 games at Tigers; 3 games vs. Indians; 3 games vs. Rangers; 3 games at Mariners; 4 games at White Sox

I’d like to see the Royals make the playoffs because: A) they’re a likable young team; B) we need some new blood in the post-season; and B) the likes of Rany Jazayerli, Rob Neyer, Joe Sheehan and the rest of the stat-obsessed “experts” who live to bash the Royals will either have to admit they’re wrong (unlikely) or will join together to play a disturbing game of middle-aged men Twister (hopefully clothed) to justify why they were “right” even though Dayton Moore’s moves worked and the Royals leapt into contention and more.

It will be nice having an experienced arm like James Shields for a one-game Wild Card playoff or for the first game of the ALDS. I have a feeling about the Royals making the playoffs. And it’s gonna be funny.




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Tino Martinez And The Clash Of Baseball Civilizations

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During the late-1990s Yankees dynasty, certain players had certain off-field roles. Derek Jeter was the quiet, behind-the-scenes leader. Jorge Posada was Jeter’s enforcer. Mariano Rivera was the team’s quiet conscience. Bernie Williams was the player who receded into the back of the clubhouse but came through at crunch time. Paul O’Neill was the snarling, raging, water-cooler abusing intense competitor. And Tino Martinez

Well, does anyone remember what part Martinez played off the field? Yes, people remember his near-MVP season in 1997 when he hit 44 home runs. During his time in pinstripes, he was a good fielder and a consistent offensive performer during the regular season. He hit the tone-setting grand slam off of Mark Langston in game 1 of the 1998 World Series. But he was never the one other clubs said they had to stop to win a game or series against the Yankees and his personality in the clubhouse was not discussed.

That lack of definition kept Martinez as a background player. During his career, he had a seething, underlying intensity that was similar to O’Neill’s, but it never manifested itself in the same overt manner. That anger could have stemmed from many issues. Given his status as a former member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team and the Mariners’ reluctance to give him regular playing time, there was always a sense that he spent a year or two more than he needed in the minors. Other stars from that Olympic team, notably Jim Abbott and Robin Ventura, went almost immediately to the majors. Martinez, however, languished in the minors and didn’t get the opportunity to play regularly for the Mariners until 1992.

When given the chance to play, he evolved into a key component for the Mariners until he was traded to the Yankees after the 1995 season. Replacing Don Mattingly, he heard the boos at Yankee Stadium as punishment for a slow start. He rebounded to hit 25 homers and drive in 117 runs during the Yankees’ first championship of that era.

An underappreciated cog from the World Series winners from 1998-2000, Martinez was one of the first to depart after the 2001 World Series loss to the Diamondbacks. It was then that the Yankees went from having a cohesive unit that knew each other, trusted each other and would fight and grind their way to win and evolved into a club that relied on star power and mercenaries. Martinez’s replacement, Jason Giambi, was an expensive PED user. He was well-liked and performed up to an MVP-level, but there was something missing with Giambi’s reluctance to step forward in Jeter’s clubhouse and the absence of Martinez’s understated fire.

Those who claim that Martinez is “mild-mannered” have seen the smiling face on Yankee-centric TV too much and don’t remember the anger he sometimes exhibited. The stories surrounding Martinez’s resignation from the Marlins as their hitting coach center around his alleged abuse of players with cursing and some physicality. He responded to those allegations here.

It’s a case of “he said/he said” and the incidents were probably due to several factors that could not be avoided unless Martinez never went into coaching at all. Having come up the way he did in baseball and, in his formative big league years, playing for a manager who yelled a lot and confronted players in Lou Piniella; then going to the Joe Torre Yankees where players were expected to behave a certain way and if they didn’t, they were gone; then going to play for Tony LaRussa, it’s no surprise that there’s been a clash of cultures with Martinez and the young players of today. When he was a young player for Piniella, had Martinez done what Derek Dietrich and other players are said to have done by refusing to behave as rookies and do what they’re told, he would’ve been screamed at, possibly grabbed and shipped to the minors. In today’s game, you can’t get away with that type of methodology when overseeing players.

The problem with the former MVP-caliber player is that he generally has to alter his expectations and demands when dealing with players who aren’t going to be as good as he was. When performing as the hitting coach for a young team like the Marlins, the attitude that Martinez shows is probably not going to go over well with the players because they don’t want to hear it and will react rather than fall into line to keep their jobs. It wasn’t that long ago that players had to conform. Now, with the money they’re making and the power they have over the people who are ostensibly their bosses, they don’t have to listen. And they don’t. The attitude is, “I’ll be here longer than he will.” Most of the time, they’re right. The results of the clash of civilizations are evident with what happened to Tino Martinez, who might not be cut out to be a coach in today’s major leagues.

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No Managerial Replacements Means No Managerial Changes

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If there was an obvious choice replacement manager or two (or three) sitting on the sidelines it’s very possible that both the Angels and Dodgers would have made changes by now. Instead Angels manager Mike Scioscia has received multiple votes of confidence and the speculation surrounding his job status has been qualified with the “it’s not his fault” lament. For the Dodgers, the club has been ravaged by injuries, none of which are the fault of manager Don Mattingly. For both teams, if they turn their seasons around, it will be the steady veteran experience and failure to panic on the part of Scioscia that will be referenced as a reason; with Mattingly, it will be his experience of seeing so many managers on the hotseat in his time as a Yankees player and coach as well as his unending positive enthusiasm (almost bordering on delusion) that the Dodgers will steer out of the spiral. The Angels’ situation is far worse than that of the Dodgers. They’re 11 games out of first place and have shown no signs of life apart from the brief boost they got from Astros manager Bo Porter’s strategic gaffe a week ago that lit a short-term fire under them. Since the three game win streak, they’ve settled back into the dysfunctional mess they’ve been all season. The Dodgers are only 5 1/2 games out of first place so there’s a logic to say that once they get their players back and GM Ned Colletti follows through on his usual burst of mid-season trade activity, they’ll be right in the thick of the race.

We’ve seen from history how worthless votes of confidence, logical explanations as to why it’s not the manager that’s the problem, and positive vibes in the face of adversity are—if teams are under enough pressure and their seasons are on the brink, they’ll withstand the fire for “lying” and make a change. But who would be the replacements for managers like Scioscia and Mattingly?

Because the “deans” of managers—Joe Torre, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa, Lou Piniella—are all 69 and older and have shown no interest in managing again, who is there to replace a manager on the hotseat to ignite the fanbase and tell the players that something different is going to be done? Torre and Cox are through with managing. LaRussa might be able to be convinced to come back but it won’t be this year for the Angels where, if he succeeded, he might hinder his close friend Jim Leyland’s last chance at a title with the Tigers; he likes to be compensated lucratively and the one thing the Dodgers have to offer along with spending on players is a lot of money—they’d pay him and Dave Duncan handsomely to come and Mark McGwire is already there. Piniella has also said he’s not interested in managing anymore, but he also likes to be paid, was in line for the Dodgers job once before and might be dragged out of retirement.

These are maybes contingent on the whims of the men who no longer need the job or the aggravation. Who is there that could replace any manager who’s on the outs with his current club and who would definitely jump at the job offer? If the Angels wanted to go with the polar opposite of Scioscia (as is the strategy teams like to use when firing their manager) they could hire Ozzie Guillen and wouldn’t have to pay him all that much because the Marlins are still paying him for two-and-a-half more seasons, but that would not be reacted to well by the players. Perhaps that’s what the underachieving bunch needs, but Guillen, LaRussa, Piniella or anyone else isn’t going to fix the Angels biggest problem: pitching. Scioscia’s been there too long, it’s no longer his type of team, a change needs to be made whether they admit it or not, but a change really won’t help in the short term.

If Terry Francona had chosen to sit out another year, he would be mentioned with every job that could potentially be opening, but he took the Indians job. Bobby Valentine can pretty much forget it after the 2012 disaster with the Red Sox. Combining the competent and functional retreads like Jim Tracy, Phil Garner, Larry Bowa and Don Baylor who would love to have a job and probably wouldn’t make much of a difference and the lack of a guy next to the managers on the bench who are viable replacements, it’s easier for the Angels, Dodgers and other teams who might consider a managerial change to just leave it as is and hope it gets better until something has to be done. And by the time something has to be done for cosmetic purposes more than anything else, the season will be too far gone for the new manager to turn around club fortunes. At that point, they can stick whomever they want in the manager’s office and see what happens with zero chance of it helping the team for the rest of this season one way or the other, then decide what to do for 2014.

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Halladay’s Shoulder Injury

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Yesterday Roy Halladay looked like Orel Hershiser at the very end of his career in 2000 with the Dodgers: a one-time unstoppable force who had no idea where the ball was going once it left his hand. In Hershiser’s case, he’d run out of bullets. With Halladay, he was hurt and finally admitted as much to the Phillies after the game when he said that his shoulder was bothering him since his start against the Pirates on April 24—ESPN story

He was hammered in his next two starts by the Indians and Marlins and it was in a manner that couldn’t have been much worse if I’d gone out there and pitched. It was either admit something was the matter or continue to look helpless on the mound. Not even the greats like Halladay can bluff their way through when their stuff is diminished to this degree where he has no pop, no movement, and no control.

As much as Halladay is celebrated for being an old-school, “gimme the ball and let me finish the game” throwback, this is a reminder of what also happened to pitchers of 30-40 years ago due to the damage accumulated from gobbled innings. While the Marlins and Indians hitters brutalized the once great Halladay, there had to be some semblance of sadness and wonderment in their dugouts while it was going on. Big league hitters want to win, but they also want the challenge of facing and succeeding against the greats. Beating on Halladay like Larry Holmes assaulted Muhammad Ali in 1980, with Holmes screaming at the referee to stop the fight before he severely injured Ali, could provide no sense of fulfillment as it would have had Halladay been at full strength.

Why was Halladay pitching hurt? Maybe it was due to his reputation as a cold, steely-eyed gunslinger that comes along with the nickname Doc Halladay. Maybe it was because the true greats (in any endeavor) are generally the most insecure, spurring them to work harder and constantly prove themselves in fear of losing their jobs or not being the best. Or maybe he felt that the Phillies were paying him a lot of money to pitch, needed him, and that anyone else they put out there wasn’t going to do much better at 100% than he would at 75% or less.

We may hear the best case scenario that it’s tendinitis or a strain and he’ll be back sometime this season.

We may hear that it’s a torn labrum or a rotator cuff.

We may hear that by altering his delivery to accommodate the pain in the back of his shoulder that sidelined him last season, he managed to create a deficit and injured the front of his shoulder or the whole shoulder. If a great pitcher who’s as regimented as Halladay alters one thing, everything else might come undone all at once and that’s what appears to have happened. It takes years to learn to pitch differently and Halladay was trying to use the same strategies with different weapons in a very short timeframe. For a few games, he managed it, but then the shoulder would no longer cooperate. Now we’ll wait to see the amount of damage and whether he’ll pitch at some point in 2013 or beyond and what he’s going to be when he does get back.

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Early Season Underachievers: Washington Nationals

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Just a note: these “underachievers” are based on what the majority of the prognosticators thought prior to the season and not what I thought. For example, I had the Phillies at 79-83 in my book (which, for the record, is now available on I-Tunes). The majority of the predictions I saw had the Phillies as contenders. I had the Nationals winning 103 games.

For a team as loaded as the Nats to have a .500 record after almost 20% of the season is unexpected. Is it something to be overly concerned about though? The answer is no.

Both Adam LaRoche and Danny Espinosa are proven players who are batting under .200. That won’t continue. The starting pitching and bullpen are deep and diverse and as the season moves along, GM Mike Rizzo will find a lefty specialist somewhere—Wesley Wright, Mike Dunn—because several will eventually become available.

That’s not to say there’s not potential for things to go wrong. They’re leading the Major Leagues in errors and manager Davey Johnson made a typical Davey Johnson managerial move when the Nats were playing the Mets two weeks ago and it neatly summed him up for better or worse. With the Mets leading 2-0 in the top of the eighth inning Mets reliever Scott Rice gave up a single to Steve Lombardozzi, walked Denard Span, and went to 3-0 and Jayson Werth. Werth was given the green light, swung at a low, outside pitch and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. The Mets won the game.

That’s Johnson. It’s always been Johnson. It always will be Johnson. With the Mets in the 1980s, the lack of discipline, overaggressiveness and arrogance in believing that the fundamentals would be unnecessary as long as they pitched and hit home runs cost them playoff spots multiple times to teams like the Cardinals who were schooled in playing the game properly. Whitey Herzog’s hardline treatment of his players was well-known and if they didn’t do what they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it, they didn’t play.

Is it a problem for the Nats? Yes and no. One of the reasons he’s been so successful is that the players love him and know he’s going to put the game in their hands. There wouldn’t be a debate if Werth hit the ball out of the park. It’s not the strategy that was the issue, but the execution. Werth was overanxious and swung at a bad pitch and criticizing him or Johnson won’t matter because telling Johnson what he did was wrong is only going to accomplish one thing: he’s going to do it more just to prove how smart he is and how dumb his critics are.

The Nats are too talented and deep to play in so mediocre a fashion for much longer.

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