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Archive for January, 2015

You’re Gonna Hate A-Rod Anyway…

This is a piece I expect to recycle many times over the next few months (maybe even the next few years?) because, inevitably, Alex Rodriguez will be mentioned again in the future. And each time he is, every little story will be blown out of proportion and someone will have something negative to say. Because that’s how it works – the media so much as mentions Alex Rodriguez, in any way, and people have something negative to say.

Let’s start with stating the obvious – he’s polarizing, and he has been for years. He’s been tied to PEDs multiple times – and even in the absence of a single positive test, he has been suspected over many seasons (maybe his entire career, and maybe even before he was drafted) and was suspended the entire 2014 season. I’m not disputing these points, and I can completely understand why people hate him.

During the suspension, he was relatively quiet. Take a moment and remember that. After the shitstorm that was the suspension appeal, we didn’t hear from him. You could almost forget he even existed during the 2014 season. At the end of the season and when the suspension was officially over, we still heard nothing. No celebration. No declaration of redemption. Quiet.

Sometime over the winter, he posted photos working on the field and in the batting cages – and the comments of how delusional he was followed. Even prior to the Yankees signing Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez is still a professional baseball player and is still on the Yankees roster. It is his job – even if people are pissed about the $20+ million he stands to make this year – to train for the upcoming season and do everything in his ability to earn that money.

Of all the things ever said about Alex Rodriguez, I cannot recall a single time anyone has ever called him lazy. I’ve always heard he works incredibly hard and puts forth his absolute best effort. Be honest – and remember he’s still on the roster whether you like it or not – wouldn’t you rather he have that work ethic? Two things I’m certain of about his performance this season – he will not show up looking like Bartolo Colon, and he will put forth more effort on the field than Manny Ramirez.

As if the reaction to the photos aren’t enough, we hear from “Source” that Alex Rodriguez believes the 3B job is his to lose in spring training – even after the Yankees signed Chase Headley and announced Rodriguez would be primarily used as a DH. “Source” has such fascinating information he/she can’t be mentioned. (Also, pretty sure “Source” works for “Mystery Team”.) Why does this report even cause a reaction? Because it can.

Source” could be anyone, making up any crap they feel like. Remember, there’s no report of Rodriguez himself (or anyone willing to be named) actually saying he believes the job is his to lose. (He has been quoted saying he’s been working hard and excited to join his team for spring training.) Even if he truly believes he is first in line for 3B – who cares? I doubt many athletes ever made it to the professional level by thinking “I want to be mediocre.” They (or at least most) all set their goals and work their asses off to reach those goals. And then when they do, they set the bar even higher and work some more! Let’s say Rodriguez completely accepts he will be only a DH next season. An injury will happen, and Joe Girardi will get creative moving players around to fill in for the injury. There is a good chance Rodriguez plays in the field somewhere next season. Again, he is a professional and this is his job – it would be foolish to prepare for anything less.

But wait – there’s more! Alex Rodriguez has been working with Barry Bonds! He’s also worked with Edgar Martinez, but that’s not mentioned as much because he’s much less controversial. Rodriguez and Bonds together – two of baseball’s greatest hitters – must have some hidden agenda given their respective PED pasts. They must be kicking puppies and stealing candy from babies between swings! Give me a break!!

Forget the 5,874 hits or 1,416 homeruns between the two of them. They used steroids so they must be evil!

I’ve said before that I do not believe PEDs equals hits. It may turn hits into homeruns, but your average player isn’t going to load up on PEDs and suddenly turn into a superstar. Even if you ignore the homeruns, Rodriguez and Bonds combined have 1,618 more than baseball’s all time hit leader (Pete Rose at 4,256). They are still 33 (Bonds) and 32 (and counting? for Rodriguez) all time. Rodriguez is already a proven hitter, even if his career ended the day he began his suspension. Maybe – just maybe – he’s focusing on hitting a little more with the expectation he may see more time as DH than anything else this season.

The bottom line is no matter what is said about Alex Rodriguez in the weeks leading up to spring training, and then when he arrives in Tampa, someone will have something negative to say. Fans react like every single story is A-Rod making a spectacle of himself again.

Could he have chosen a less controversial player to work with? Sure. He could have sought out help from another great hitter he’s known his entire career – somone like Edgar Martinez. Oh wait…

Aside from that, these are actually positive stories for Yankee fans. Whether you like it or not, Alex Rodriguez is still on the roster for 2015. He is working – as hard as ever, I assume – to be a productive player offensively and defensively. With that, he’s as ready as he can be for anything this season might bring him.

He will never be the player he once was (chemically induced or not) but he’s still part of the team and appears ready to contribute. Even if he plays a limited role on the field, he is still a veteran presence with 20+ years of experience who can lead younger players. (Gold Glovers/All Stars Manny Machado and Robinson Cano have both said they’ve learned from him.) Without a doubt he has made his fair share of mistakes, but he has served his suspension and technically begins this season with a clean slate. It’s time to stop making a mountain out of a molehill, and appreciate the fact that he’s focused on returning and contributing to the team. We cannot erase the past, but, in his own words, we can judge him on this day forward.

Machado Excitement

The most exciting news I’ve heard all season came yesterday, and it was courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles. As a Yankee fan, it’s unusual I would support another A.L. East team, but in truth I’ve always liked the Orioles. It’s not a result of just my geography or my Orioles-loving/Yankees-hating husband; Brady Anderson and (of course) Cal Ripken, Jr. were some of my first favorite players in the game.

My favorite young player in MLB right now is Orioles 3B Manny Machado, who reported to the Orioles spring training complex in Sarasota yesterday after his second consecutive season-ending knee surgery. In an interview, Machado reported feeling “great” both mentally and physically, and for the first time of this off season, I felt generally excited for the upcoming 2015 season.

That isn’t to say I’ve given up hope on the Yankees and am becoming an Orioles fan – far from it. Even though I hope the Orioles do well, I will always want the Yankees to do better and win the division (and hopefully more). Still, this season has left me somewhat disappointed with the departure of three of my favorite Yankees from last season (Shane Greene, Brandon McCarthy and David Robertson).

The first time I saw Machado play, he immediately reminded me of a young Alex Rodriguez (think superstar rookie in Seattle, long before PEDs). Ironically, the two players are actually quite similar: they’re both Dominican and raised in Miami by single mothers, both drafted out of high school and worked through the minor leagues quickly, and both started at SS before moving to 3B. They’ve even had the same agents (first Scott Boras and later Dan Lozano) and both wear #13. Despite a large age difference (39 and 22) the two are also reportedly friends, and Machado has credited Rodriguez for giving him advice on hitting and fielding. Naturally, I would be curious about a young player so similar to my favorite player in his early years.

After being selected third overall in the 2010 draft, Machado was promoted to the Orioles by August 2012 at only 20 years old. His breakout season came the following year when he won the A.L. Gold Glove, the A.L. Platinum Glove, and chosen to the A.L. All Star Game. At the plate, he broke Ty Cobb’s record for most multi-hit games for a player under 21, and his 44 hits in May 2013 is second only to Mickey Mantle (46) for hits in one month, also for a player under 21 (Machado turned 21 in July 2013). Machado accomplished all of this despite his season ending prematurely on September 23 with the first knee injury. His 2014 season was shorter (returning from the DL May 2 and sustaining the second knee injury on August 11), although his overall stats are similar to 2013 at about half as many games played.

Even for such a young player (Machado will turn 23 this season), two serious knees injuries/surgeries and not yet playing a full season in his career can be concerning. The left knee injury in 2013 in considered to be a fluke by many – hitting first base at an awkward angle and twisting his leg – and prior to the injury, Machado had played in 207 consecutive games. The 2014 injury to the right knee happened against the Yankees, a game my husband and I were pitted against each other watching at home. One thing we could agree on that night was that there should have been a rain delay. No delay was called and the rain continued. When Machado swung the bat (and grounded out to SS) his leg twisted and he immediately fell to the ground before leaving the batter’s box. My personal opinion is the ground was just slippery enough because of the rain, causing his leg to turn in such a usual way, leading to the injury.

It is worth noting Machado has a few other minor on field issues, which includes an ejection in June 2013 for arguing a called strike (the only innings he missed during the 207 consecutive games played) and a two day rift with the Oakland A’s in June 2014. The first day, Machado argued with A’s 3B Josh Donaldson about a tag he had applied to Machado while running to third. The next day, Machado threw his bat after A’s pitcher Fernando Abad pitched him inside – resulting in fines and a 5 day suspension for Machado. While I generally support Machado, I do disagree with a few of his actions and attribute those bad decisions to his age/inexperience.

Machado is the first of three Orioles (along with Chris Davis and Matt Wieters) expected to return to the team this season. The fact that he is so optimistic about his return is even more exciting for fans because he is so young, has shown great potential already, and could be the future of the franchise since he doesn’t become a free agent until 2019. Since his second knee surgery in August, Machado has reportedly been rehabbing all off season, aside from a month break for his wedding and honeymoon. (He married best friend and Padres 1B Yonder Alonso’s sister.) His approach to returning, along with Orioles staff and his surgeon, seems to be very practical and well planned to adjust to real games and his two brand new knees. A video was posted after Machado’s workout Wednesday showing him not just standing, but running the bases – a very welcome sight for Orioles fans.

With two freak injuries behind him and working with two new joints, hopefully Machado’s difficulties are behind him. If he has appropriately rehabbed after the most recent surgery, and plays well enough to match his confidence level, there is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to have a very successful career. He will obviously continue to mature – but the raw talent is already there. I am very excited to see him back on the field, and even more excited to see where his career takes him.

Hall of Fame Voting

Would you ever want to be a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Yesterday morning, I thought it would be one of the coolest jobs ever and would love to have such an opportunity. By yesterday afternoon, I decided it didn’t sound like such a great job.

It’s a huge honor to be one of the voters, but at the same time it’s a huge responsibility. You are given a list of names – all fantastic baseball players in their own way, and likely deserving of the Hall of Fame – but you can’t chose everyone. Out of the group of potential Hall of Famers, you can only chose ten. Could I chose ten? Absolutely – but if you ask me a hundred times, I would probably give you a hundred different ballots.

On a personal level, the names on these ballots seem surreal. I am not old, but I am not a teenager, and many of the players in this group were either young or in their prime when I started watching baseball. While I consider myself lucky to have watched these guys play in my lifetime, it feels like just yesterday I was actually watching them. There’s a lot of nostalgia there – but I guess that’s part of the point of baseball and the Hall of Fame.

While I appreciate witnessing these remarkable player’s careers, it cannot go unnoticed that a lot of those careers happened during the height of the steroid era. Because of that, there’s a dark cloud hanging over some players’ names due to steroid use – whether it’s proven or suspected. In reality, no one really knows. I wasn’t in the clubhouses and I don’t think you were either, so how do we know who was or wasn’t using?

For some players (steroid era and beyond), we are confident of their PED usage – whether by positive testing, their own admission, BALCO, Biogenesis, the Mitchell Report, etc. But then the question becomes when. Did this player always use PEDs? Or were their isolated times? Again, we don’t know the answers – and we probably never will.

How would I vote for players of that era, especially those connected to PED usage (proven or suspected)? I’d like to think I would consider each player on a case-by-case basis. Did they use or do I suspect they used PEDs? Is that the only reason for their success on the field? Would they be a Hall of Fame player without PEDs? (I’ve said before and still believe that PEDs will not make your average Joe a superstar athlete; you’ve got to have natural talent to start with.) It sounds easy, but I’m sure it would prove to be an incredibly difficult task.

Would I vote for Mark McGwire? Unlikely. Would I vote for Sammy Sosa? Maybe. Would I vote for Barry Bonds? Absolutely.

Perhaps even worse than the suspicion PEDs have caused to so many players during the steroid era is how the more than 700 voters are handing it. While some voters play PED police withhold their votes from anyone even rumored to have a connection to PEDs, others feel Cooperstown is trying to ignore a huge part of baseball history and will vote for known PED users. They’re both right – in their own way and for their own reasons – but which side is most right?

The four players elected today – Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz – all deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, and I agree with the voters’ decisions on those four men. Next year there will be an entirely new ballot, without these names but adding new ones, and the great debate will begin again. Fans and voters will argue who deserves (and doesn’t deserve) to be enshrined in Cooperstown, and whether or not PED usage (or suspected usage) should factor into voting. Again, I will consider what an insurmountable task it would be to chose just a few, out of a list of many, to be considered baseball’s best.

Would you ever want to be a voter for the Baseball Hall of Fame?

Pitchers and HBPs

A few months ago, I wrote about catchers – how complex their position actually is and my admiration for anyone voluntarily playing that position. In the piece, I alluded to a similar admiration for pitchers.. While catchers have to be versatile (in a single word), pitchers have to be precise. (Obviously, since pitchers are out there to throw strikes and get outs, not to walk batters and give up runs.)

According to the Major League Baseball rule book, the strike zone is defined as: “that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.” While there is no specific measurement, and each umpire has their own strike zone (sometimes for each pitcher/team), it’s still a small target from 60 feet away at 80-90 (sometimes up to or over 100) mph. It takes incredible talent and accuracy just to throw the baseball, not to mention the added challenge of an MLB batter standing there waiting for the pitch. It’s really an incredible action.

Sometimes, that incredible accuracy fails a pitcher and an errant pitch will hit the batter. Even the best pitchers hit batters. On the list of pitchers HBPs, Hall of Famer (and arguably the best pitcher in the history of the game) Walter Johnson ranks #4 with 205 hit batters in his 21 year career. Cy Young is #12 with 161 hit batters in 22 years and has a pitching award named after him. Greg Maddux, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame this past summer, hit 137 batters in a 23 year career.

What if the batter is intentionally hit by a pitch? Whether it’s good baseball or not is debatable., and sometimes an opinion might change based on the teams and players involved. Personally, I am against it in all situations.

First, it takes away from the pitcher’s talent. Any pitcher, whether I like them and their team or not, has my respect for being able to do that job. Pitching isn’t easy! I have never been able to pitch (in my youth softball leagues) and I certainly would never be able to pitch at a major league level like these guys do. To purposely hit a batter, rather than pitching to them and working toward an out, is a waste of talent. It may spark strong reactions from players, fans, and umpires – but no matter what the emotional reactions are, they’ve still put a man on base who wasn’t there before. There’s a chance the batter might have gotten to first (or further) anyway, but that intentional hit removes any possibility of getting the out before the batter reaches base.

Any batter hit by a pitch – intentional or not – is at increased risk for injury; even the weakest and slowest pitch can hurt. Consider the pitches that hit Yankees’ Chase Headley and Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton: both on September 11, 2014 and both (in my opinion) accidental hits. Without a doubt, Headley sustained less injury than Stanton, but both cases are examples of what kind of physical injuries a wild pitch can cause.

Headley was hit in the chin by a 98mph fastball from Rays’ closer Jake McGee. In the video, you can see McGee is stunned and says a few choice words to express that. Chris Young later hit a 3-run homework off McGee to win the game for the Yankees, quite possibly a result of the closer still being shook up after the hit. While he was lucky enough not to suffer any fractures or serious injuries, Headley did not play again until September 15. Even then, he wore a special attachment to his batting helmet to protect his jaw, and had noticeable bruising on his chin, neck, and apparently onto his chest (even though Rays’ managed Joe Maddon said the pitch only “grazed” Headley).

Stanton’s hit by a fastball from Brewers’ Mike Fiers was obviously worse. Immediately after being hit, Stanton fell to the ground and Fiers – along with the rest of the Brewers’ and Marlins’ – looked stunned. Medical staff transported Stanton off the field and to a hospital near Miller Park in Milwaukee, where he was found to have multiple facial fractures, dental damage, and a laceration requiring several stitches. He recovered well and documented it on social media, although he did not play another game during the 2014 season.

While I am against purposely hitting a batter with a pitch, I do understand the pitcher’s motivation. They’re often throwing at the batter in retaliation for something he did against them, their team, or baseball. For example, when Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster intentionally hit Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez in August 2013, it was a clear demonstration of Dempster’s disapproval of Rodriguez’s involvement with PEDs and subsequent suspension (Rodriguez was playing while awaiting a suspension appeal). Most baseball fans and players were unhappy with the situation – there were loud boos in Fenway Park when Rodriguez came up to bat, and loud cheers when Dempster finally hit him – but the hit did nothing more than prove a point.

Dempster’s first pitch went behind Rodriguez (point made), the next two were inside (we really get it now), and the fourth consecutive pitch hit Rodriguez in the side (who didn’t see that coming?). Later in the game, Rodriguez hit a homerun off Dempster, the Yankees went on to win 9-6 (Boston was winning 2-0 at the time when Rodriguez was plunked), and two days later MLB gave Dempster a five game suspension. Again, any MLB pitcher has my respect (whether he plays for my least favorite team or not), but Dempster could have used his abilities in a better way. Rodriguez had just made his 2013 debut less than two weeks before the incident; he wasn’t in the middle of an MVP season and was not the threat at the plate he once was. In all reality, he could have been an easy out.

If the best pitchers in the game hit batters, and any pitcher risks seriously injuring a batter with an unintended wild pitch, purposely throwing at a batter could easily do just the same. Major league pitchers are incredibly talented and intelligent. Not only do they have to have the physical ability to throw, but they also have to have the mental ability to know each batter and pitch to their strengths and weaknesses. If a pitcher truly wants to make a point, go ahead and pitch inside to brush the batter off the plate. Throw a wild pitch that is completely out of the strike zone and has no risk of hitting the batter.

Regardless of who is standing in the batter’s box and what they’ve done (and there can be some real assholes standing there), they’re still human. It is their career as much as it is the pitcher’s. Any pitcher, especially at the major league level, is better than throwing at a batter. Save the baserunner, don’t risk unnecessary injury to the opposing player, and do what a pitcher does best. If pitchers want to make a point and embarrass a batter, they should do so with the talent and precision they already have. Throwing at an opposing player diminishes those skills.