MLB…The Sky Is Not Falling.

Sometimes I have a little too much time on my hands, and with the excess time, I will occasionally visit the team chatrooms of MLB clubs, just to read the various chatter coming from them. I have been doing this for a few seasons now, and every spring, the same thing just jumps off the pages at me. It is the proclamation of ‘The sky is falling! We are going to be terrible this year! We can’t pitch! The guys are not hitting! They raised the price of hot dogs! We’re DOOMED!’ Really?? Okay, let’s jump in the pool…
First off, we are two weeks into Spring Training! If teams are worried about winning these all-important exhibition games, perhaps they need to re-focus. Believe it or not, spring training is NOT about winning games! It is about getting things working again. It is about players getting into ‘game shape’. It is irrelevant how rigorous or passive a players’ offseason training regimen is, game tempo is different. Players need to adjust to that atmosphere.
Second of all, players are actually working on things such as timing and technique. It is during spring training that players and teams are working out their double-play sets. Players are working on skills such as bunting, stealing, hit-and-run, and many other things. Pitchers are focusing on things like pitch location and getting their ‘stuff’ working. Spring training is the time to work on the correct execution of skills and plays. Sometimes when you are simply working on things, there will be failures, and these failures will translate into losses. It doesn’t matter, because spring training games do not count in the regular season standings. I find it hilarious how people are getting crazy because their team is getting beat at this time of year. It-does-not-matter…
Next, the regular-season starters see only limited action in spring training. For example, a pitcher will not be pushed to 7 or 8 innings in the spring. He might go 2 or 3 innings, and as spring progresses, he will slowly be stretched to go longer. Nobody wants to get their regular season line-up hurt in a game that means nothing. It does happen, but it is hopefully kept to a minimum.
Lastly, we have the young prospects hoping to make a club. These guys are the ones who seem to give maximum effort all the time. Why? Because they have to! These players are hoping to catch the eye of the coaching staff and evaluators. This is why in a relatively large percentage of spring training games, the guys who are on highlight reels are players that you have never heard of. We have to remember that most of these guys are going to be sent down to AA or AAA ball in a few weeks, but the team wants to see what they have down on the farm. Spring training is the time to do that. Conversely, these are young players going up against other minor leaguers. Take from that what you will, but there are precious few AA hitters who are going to be taking Clayton Kershaw over the wall…
So, my friends, if your team is getting hammered in spring training games, try to keep it in perspective. A World Series was never won in a spring game in Vero Beach FL or Surprise, AZ, so relax. It is only spring training. The sky is not falling. The games that count are still a few weeks away.

MLB…More Arm Issues

I am starting to feel like I am a jinx, and that this is somehow my fault. Yesterday’s column ‘Arm Issues’ addressed the alarming frequency of arm injuries among major league pitchers during MLB Spring Training 2015. Almost as soon as I posted my article, I heard about a few more candidates for trips to the disabled list. This is kind of proving my point…
First of all, we have an update on Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies. It turns out that he may not require Tommy John surgery. His diagnosis is a torn flexor tendon, and he said that he would try to pitch through the injury, however the team is not optimistic, and they fear that Lee will need surgery, and that surgery may be career ending.
Now to the rest of the updates on the rash of arm injuries…Marcus Stroman (Toronto Blue Jays) has a torn ACL and is gone for the season. Gavin Floyd (Cleveland Indians) has reinjured the elbow that had a stress fracture last season that put an early end to his 2014 campaign. Mike Minor (Atlanta Braves) has an inflamed rotator cuff. Jacob Turner (Chicago Cubs) has a mild flexor strain and a bone bruise.
Get better soon, guys!

MLB…Arm Issues.

If you have been paying attention to 2015 Spring Training, you will see that Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers is having a little bit of elbow discomfort. The injury that Darvish has is being described by the team is an elbow sprain. It seems that this term on many occasions morphs in to a UCL injury (ulnar collateral ligament), and very rarely does it have any other outcome than Tommy John surgery. The outlook for the Texas Rangers was not good to begin with, and now with their ace most assuredly gone for the season, it has become dismal. Anyway, I was thinking about the amount of pitchers that are succumbing to UCL injuries, and asked myself if the frequency of this particular injury is now higher than it was 10 or 20 years ago? It certainly seems that way. In the past few seasons we have seen this injury to Matt Harvey, Joel Hanrahan, Stephen Strasburg, Jose Fernandez, and now Darvish along with several others. Why? Is it because today’s pitchers are bigger with different mechanics? Is it because they throw harder with what is termed as ‘maximum effort’ on every pitch? Is it because most pitchers have been at it for a long time, from the time that they were kids thru the time that their arms simply just let go? Perhaps it is a combination of all of these factors…

My point of all of this is not to get into the weeds of the bio-mechanics of cause and effect. It is more the simple question of what, if anything, can be done to diminish the frequency of this plague-like injury? I am not a doctor ( and no, I do not play on on TV either…), so I really don’t have an answer. Would limiting a pitchers work in the off-season or spring training be helpful? Darvish had done only minimal work in spring training this season, and now he is gone. I do not think that overwork is the issue here. Players have off-season conditioning programs which are generally effective, but in the case of these injured players, not so much.

In the case of the Texas Rangers, they will lose one pitcher, but he was their ace, and the one thing that they could have hung their hat on this season. We probably not see him again until mid-2016. That is going to be a long drought in Arlington Texas. What did the loss of Matt Harvey (Mets) and Jose Fernandez (Marlins) mean to their teams? In the long run, if MLB keeps losing it’s marquee players, they are going to want to do something to protect the product. The question again is ‘what’? I am hopeful that somehow it will get figured out. Players are having their careers dramatically altered, if not ended by UCL injuries. I would like to think that we have some of the best training methods and best sports doctors in the world. Surely they would have some input.

I wish the best for Yu Darvish, and going forward, any other player who suffers a UCL or any other injury. I understand all too well that it is part of the game. My hope is that there will be an answer to the question of injury reduction.

MLB…Fool Me Twice…

If it seems like I am picking on Alex Rodriguez, it is only because quite frankly he deserves it. His ‘apology letter’, in my humble opinion, is nothing but a bunch of nonsense that one of his handlers helped him write. I am not buying it, and I am not sure that anybody else is either.
In a nutshell, Rodriguez has basically issued a 5-paragraph ‘mea culpa’ which basically is saying, ‘oops, my bad. Let’s play baseball.’ It just isn’t sitting well with me. In this letter, Rodriguez is still arrogantly deceptive, never stating or admitting, exactly or in part, what he did. Isn’t that part of an apology? Rodriguez has now twice (first with the Texas Rangers, and now with the New York Yankees) played MLB and all the fans and other people who are non-cheaters for suckers, and now he wants to make all-nice and get back to the business of playing baseball?
Here is a large part of my issue. How is it that Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Rafael Palmiero, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and a host of other players tainted by the PED scandals are basically baseball pariahs, while Golden Boy Rodriguez is expecting to be welcomed back to Yankee Stadium with open arms? He says in his letter that he ‘accepts that many of you (baseball fans) will not accept his apology or anything he says at this point…’ and he is right. Is it a lousy thing that he did what he did? Of course it is…it is cheating! Anthony Bosch, the man who owned Biogenesis, has been sentenced to 4 years in a Federal prison while Rodriguez gets to collect his undeserved, multi-million dollar contract, yet he hopes he can buy forgiveness with a letter. Sorry Alex, but it will take a lot more than that…
When somebody says that they are accepting responsibility for a wrong that they committed, it is not enough to just say that they are accepting responsibility. They need to try to right the wrong that they have done. Just how does Alex Rodriguez plan on doing that? The short answer is that he can’t, and his ‘accepting responsibility’ is nothing but empty words at best. As I mentioned earlier, he has done this twice (Texas, and now New York) and you would think that he could change and perhaps be a better person, but I am not sure that he is capable of that kind of change.
There is an old expression that goes, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ Well, this is time number two, and if we just let this go and give him a pass, then it is truly ‘shame on us.’

MLB…Vacuum.

As a baseball fan, I think that I can speak for most, if not all of us when I say that the few weeks between Super Bowl Sunday and the first televised MLB spring training games constitute the worst time of the year. In general, it is cold. Depending on where you live, there is probably snow on the ground. You long for images of sun-drenched fields in Florida or Arizona. If you are like me, you are not a basketball fan, and the hockey coverage where I live is not exactly spectacular, so there is this void in your life. A vacuum has been created, and it feels like it will never end. The days drag by and seem longer and longer all the time. You look at the calendar and notice that it is still a few weeks until pitchers and catchers report, which by the way, are among the 4 happiest words in the English language…
You begin to wonder if the sun will ever come up again. You look at the sports pages of the papers and on the internet. You read every baseball blog that you can get your hands on (including this one…). If you are married, your wife (or your husband, significant other, maybe your therapist…) tries to help you get your mind off of your misery by offering you various distractions. Does ‘honey, since you have no plans today, why don’t we go antiquing…’sound familiar? Or, how about ‘Now you can clean out the garage’…Sigh. I miss Florida and Arizona so much, that as I write this, I have PGA Golf on TV…Hey, at least it is sunshine and palm trees, okay?
I know that it sounds crazy, but for me it is a real thing. As soon as the World Series wraps up, I am already scouring the news from the post-season baseball universe for news of firings, retirements, and other such information. During this time, I am grateful for football, and it is better still that football is played on Monday nights, Wednesday nights (college), Thursday night (college and pro), Friday nights (college and high school), Saturday all day and well into the night (college), and Sunday afternoon and night. But once that all ends, we are forlornly looking into an empty abyss. College football is done by the end of the second week in January, and the NFL is done by the beginning of February. So, from then until early April, we are in the badlands. No baseball, no football…just antique shops, garage sales, and cleaning out the garage…
So, what is a baseball junkie to do? For me, I have a regular job that keeps me very busy with things and responsibilities that are much more important than baseball in the grand scheme of things. But even at this job, I have a lot of baseball junkie friends, some of which are even more gone than I am. That is helpful. There is MLB Network, which for me has been an absolute Godsend. However, I know that we need to get back to real bats and glove issues when they start playing ‘The Sandlot’ and ‘Brewster’s Millions’ over and over again.
I know that there needs to be an off-season. Players need to heal and rest. Grass needs to regrow. Other things need to push in and have their time. But I miss baseball. There’s just a sad emptiness when it is not around. It will be back in a few weeks. Come back soon, baseball…I will be right here waiting.

MLB…Truck Day!

What an exciting time of year this is! No, it is not because I like snow, and while I do like chocolate, Valentine’s Day isn’t the reason either. And don’t get me started on than damn Groundhog… The reason for my personal excitement is because February 12th is what is affectionately referred to in Boston as ‘Truck Day’. This is the day that the 18-wheelers pull up to the service entrances of Fenway Park by Gate D on Van Ness St., and all the equipment needed for spring training is loaded up for the 1,465 mile trek from Boston to Ft. Myers Florida and JetBlue Park. This has become an annual rite of spring, and there are those that say that Truck Day is the unofficial start of the baseball season. It is kind of hard to argue. It is a big deal to Red Sox Nation (of which I am proudly a member of!). It is a sign of the new season that is just around the corner. It is a sign of hope anew. It re-kindles the flame of baseball romance in us. We look forward all winter to this, and as weird as a tradition as this might seem to be, it is a tradition that is unique to the Red Sox, and it is OURS!
This year as the trucks head south, they will be carrying enough gear to get the Red Sox through the 2015 spring training schedule of workouts and games. This will include over 20,000 baseballs, 1,100 assorted bats, over 200 batting helmets and batting gloves, and a massive supply of uniforms and such. And don’t forget the 20 or so cases of bubble gum and the 60-plus cases of sunflower seeds. But I like to think that the trucks are carrying something much more important than gloves, gum, and bats. They are carrying the hopes and dreams of every single Boston Red Sox fan for a championship in 2015. They are transporting the very first pieces of a season that will hopefully conclude with MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred handing over to Red Sox owner John Henry, general manager Ben Cherington, manager John Farrell, and the rest of the Red Sox, the 2015 Commissioner’s Trophy! It has been a long, cold winter, and it was made even worse and even longer by the awful season that the Red Sox had in 2014. Adding to that misery was the losses of some of the key Red Sox during the 2014 campaign. We had a lot of time to seethe, to ponder, to hope, and to dream. And now it is here. It is time to pack it up for the 21-hour drive to the winter home of the Red Sox. This is what we have been waiting for…a new season. Truck Day is here!!!

MLB…What’s up with this snow?

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” Rogers Hornsby.
I was pondering this very thought this morning as I awoke in my home in Overland Park, Kansas to find that it had snowed last night, and the temperature outside was a balmy 5°F. It wasn’t a lot of snow, probably around an inch, but not much more. The point is that it snowed. The amount wasn’t important. The fact that Punxsutawney Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter was not exactly buoying my spirits…
My wife and I had just watched Super Bowl XLIX last night. It had been raining and snowing on and off all day. Nothing was sticking to the ground, and I foolishly thought that we may have dodged a snowy bullet. I was wrong. As the day melded into night, the snow had started to stick on our lawn, and by the time the game was over, we had our aforementioned inch-or-so of snow. I hate snow. It makes me wish that we were still living in the Orlando, Florida area. I could scuba dive any time that I had the time, or we could drive the 30+minutes to New Smyrna or Cocoa Beach. We got to a point that we took it for granted, so we went less and less. Talk about not knowing what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone…
My original thought was that yes, there is snow on the ground, but I am thinking about baseball. Batter up! Play ball! Get your programs here! But not if there is a bunch of cold white stuff on the ground! In reality, at this time of year, the snow is not an issue as far as spring training is concerned. It doesn’t really snow enough in Florida or Arizona to affect workouts and spring training games. My thoughts are fast -forwarding to the end of March and the beginning of April. I was thinking of major league games being postponed or cancelled because of snow. On April 23, 2013, 17 games were cancelled because of snow and cold. Yuck! On May 2nd of that same year, the Rays-v-Royals game at Kauffman Stadium was called due to snow. The Mets-Rockies game was called due to snow on April 15th, 2013.
There are probably many examples of this throughout major league baseball history. It is a mental exercise to try and think back to remember them. I would like to hear about some of your memories of baseball games being cancelled because Old Man Winter wasn’t ready to play ball yet.
As for me, I will once again recall the words of the great Rogers Hornsby, and add a few of my own. Let’s see… ‘I really hate snow! This stuff needs to melt, and it needs to warm up so we can start baseball season’.