The Cycle: Petty Tempers, Diamonds in the HUGE Rough.

Posted: May 17, 2012 in ALL II
Tags: ,

The Cycle covers four baseball stories that crossed my radar in the past week.  I cannot confirm that they will be the most important stories but I will guarantee that they will be interesting.

Single: Baseball Still Doesn’t Get It…Rule Change?

Major League Baseball’s Rules Committee decided to move forward a proposal making the third-to-first pickoff attempt a balk beginning in 2013.  I applauded MLB’s decisions to tweak the playoffs for more excitement and to fully integrate interleague play as a norm to regular season scheduling but this is a clear case of too much meddling.  Grandpa baseball (Bud Selig) would understand this better with the old cliché: If it aint broke, don’t fix it.  To my mind, no one ever complained about this move because it is, well, insignificant.  It is barely used to begin with, never works, and there remain bigger issues to deal with (like instant replay or people complaining about umpires- overrated-, or making sure my favorite sport doesn’t fall behind hockey in popularity).  Associated Press’ Ben Walker does get a quote from Boone Logan on how left-handed pitchers cannot legally use the move and that it is unfair.  Counter argument: it never works!  And if you are griping about that useless move, you need to improve your pitches.  It should also be noted that lefties get a much greater advantage as they look directly at runners on first and can be far more deceptive with their pickoff attempts.

This doesn’t speed the game up, there was no complaint to begin with, and this change seems utterly useless.  Glad to see the Playing Rules Committee staying relevant with concerns.

Double: Temper Temper….

Anger management seems to be the hot topic in sports.  Tiger Woods kicking clubs in majors.  Amar’e Stodemire punched a fire extinguisher.  Players throwing at each other on the diamond started as an issue but MLB anger took a turn over the past few days.  Bryce Harper, the world’s next big thing, kicked everything off by fighting a wall and losing!  Harper struck out three times on Saturday and his anger boiled over as he hit a wall on the way to the clubhouse.  The wall, opting fight instead of flight (because it’s a wall you know), bounced the bat into Harper’s face.  Ouch.

Tuesday also featured a bevy of outward expressions of animosity.  Brett Lawrie became enraged after two questionable strike calls and went on a tirade against home plate umpire Bill Miller.  The explosion featured a helmet thrown on the ground in the direction of Miller and it indeed hit him.  I’m not sure if the helmet bounced any other way we would be talking about big suspensions but this will no doubt get a letter from league offices – after discussions of other mundane things like changing the patterns of infield grass or something.

Bob Davidson and Charlie Manuel did battle on Tuesday dropping F-Bombs all over the place.  It’s amusing to hear some of the audio from the umpire because he certainly didn’t want to get in the way and didn’t want to take Manuel’s mess with less than two innings remaining.  Though I think the animosity at the beginning is genuine (though not very high) it looks like the two just put on a classic side show.  Davidson seems thoroughly amused with Manuel, even smiling after getting a break from the profanities.  Both went at it and well – everyone seemed happy afterwards.

Finally, David Wright and Mets manager Terry Collins had a minor disagreement as Wright was pulled from an 8-0 shutout to avoid being hit in retaliation after Ryan Braun was beamed following a Ricky Weeks home run.  Wright understandably wanted to stand up for his team but Collins pulled Wright to protect him from injury – something Wright understood but team is team.  Collins is probably wise to be protective of his best player as Wright is QUIETLY having an amazing, albeit, young season.  The start to this year is by far his best in years.  Despite only 4 Home Runs (he does play in the canyon that is Citi Field), Wright does have an MLB best .408 batting average and top ten in OPS.  To say Wright is a slow started is being kind.  2011 saw a .210 BA in April and May and .261 BA in 2010.  This looks like the beginning of a year that puts Wright back in elite territory, a welcomed relief for New York’s second team.

Triple: White Sox Diamonds in the Rough

Chicago’s second team, you know the team that has won a world series in the past 100 years, is under .500 but features some mega-comeback stories.  Despite a rough outing on Tuesday, Jake Peavy is the early AL Cy Young favorite with dominant starts against top AL opponents.  The 2007 NL Cy Young winner finally looks healthy after running the gauntlet of injuries (sore elbows, tendon injury in ankle, ruptured latissimus dorsi muscle, and tendonitis to name a few) and is looking to make a run to shed himself of the dreaded one-hit wonder title.  Peavy sports a 2.45 ERA (1.89 entering the Tigers game where he gave up 6 in 5.1), top three in innings pitched, and top ten in WHIP.  Peavy rediscovered the effectiveness of changing speeds on the fastball but also incorporated more changeups, something that keeps hitters fooled when his control is on.  Not sure if this is sustainable but getting through the early months with this performance must be a welcoming sight for Southsiders.

The other astounding comeback is the resurgence of Adam Dunn.  The Big Donkey began his tenth season as the first in the American League and posted god-awful numbers.  .159 BA, .277 slugging, 11HRs, 42 RBIs, and an embarrassment to the organization and National League power hitters.  (With Pujols struggling, it is certainly justifiable to ask if being a National League slugger is as impressive as it looks.  Richie Sexson came to the American League from the Brewers and sucked.)  Dunn looks much better this year with 12HRs, 28 RBIs, and .613 SLG.  His strikeout rate is still high but he is still Adam Dunn.  The Sox paid him to hit the ball long and far and he has succeeded.  Manager Robin Ventura’s decision to play Dunn in left field during interleague play shows his value to the team and maybe it takes a year to get used to pitching in the better league!

Home Run: Stadium Dilemmas

This section had so much potential as I was going to reconsider the complications of the Ryan Braun positive test, off on technicality saga in light of a similar situation in my life.  But that can wait because the Wall Street Journal set off a million bells with a tongue and cheek piece on Wrigley Field.  Rich Cohen argues that Wrigley Field must be destroyed because it embodies the wretchedness of 100 years of ineptitude, bad luck, and scapegoating integral to modern American sports.  To be quite honest I hate that urine smelling, overrated, consistently drunk, lovable loser haven on my city’s Northside.  The place is an utter dump and if I can avoid it, I will never go there again to watch a baseball game.  If my Mariners were in Game 7 of the World Series and I could be at Wrigley to watch I would not attend (they would probably lose).  Horrible.  The fetishization of Wrigley as mystical and more special than any other place distorts the legacy of bass ackwards ownership, poor team construction, underachieving with a solid team, and fans who consistently award GARBAGE by showing up to that dump.  Bleachers on rooftops?  Amateur hour!  Old baseball stadium does NOT equal special team.  The Yankees won in Old Yankee Stadium because they had better players and more money to spend in the greatest market.  The Red Sox won in 2004 and 2007 because great pitching and timely hitting, not because of a stupid curse being removed.

This doesn’t escape a broader conversation of the role of stadiums in baseball, especially the cavernous parks drawing the ire of home team stars.  Petco Park is the leader of this maddening trend with a combination of the “marine layer” (changes in air off the coast making the air heavier and killing distance) and ungodly dimensions ruining batters.  Citi Field changed its dimensions going into this year resulting in at least eight home runs that would not have been home runs under the old configuration.  Undoubtedly, Marlins Park will bring in the fences with major complaints coming from power star Giancarlo Stanton (formerly Mike Stanton).

These huge ball parks appear to be built to give the home team some type of edge, especially during the Steroid Era.  Unfortunately, teams did not factor in 1) the emphasis on home runs would be important to their players, 2) the steroid era would in fact end, and 3) strategic baseball appears to be a secondary issue.  Home run hitting serves as the go to measure of equalizing games – unsurprising as American culture wants everything to happen as soon as possible all the time.  The downside is the huge parks are not lending themselves to alternative forms of run production.  Extra base hit figures show debunk the myth of large parks leading to more alleys for speedy teams to extend singles (and doubles) for an extra base.  It wouldn’t shock me if parks continued to shrink to accommodate fan’s need to see the long ball and remain attractive as locations for major sluggers.

All this goes to suggest that team management (on the field and in the bank books) drives success but Cubs fans will have it no other way.  Goofs!

 

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