Before there was Strasburg, there was McDonald

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As we approach the draft, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale has an excellent story this morning about the last
Stephen Strasburg: Ben McDonald, the LSU pitcher who was the first
overall pick of the 1989 draft. Taken by the Orioles, McDonald, like
Strasburg, had ungodly stuff. McDonald, like Strasburg, was expected to
help the big club almost immediately. And most interestingly, McDonald,
like Strasburg, had Scott Boras for an agent:

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like for (Strasburg’s) family,
but for us, tough, really, really tough,” says Larry McDonald, Ben’s
father. “We took Scott Boras’ advice, and he got Ben more money than we
dreamed, but it was so tough on everyone here. Every time Scott Boras
would call, my wife would just say, ‘Oh, here’s that fancy
slick-back-haired California lawyer calling again’ ” . . . Says Rebecca
McDonald, Ben’s mother: “I sat by myself many nights on the porch just
wanting to cry. People were getting caught up in town. Some of our
friends agreed with us, some didn’t. And all Ben wanted to do was play
ball” . . . “People didn’t like Scott Boras too much back then,” Larry
McDonald says. “I guess things haven’t changed much.”

The biggest difference between Ben McDonald’s family in 1989 and
Stephen Strasburg’s family in 2009 is that there exists twenty years of
accumulated and easily accessible Scott Boras history out there, so if
they’re unhappy with his representation they only have themselves to
blame. Yes, he’s unpopular in some quarters, but he’s not coming in
under the radar or anything, and anyone who hooks up with him should
know what to expect. What shouldn’t
be expected is the $50 million that everyone seems to keep parroting. A
deal that big isn’t happening, and even Boras knows that. He’s just
throwing the number out there so that the $25 million + perks (e.g. an
opt-out clause or something) he ultimately gets from the Nationals
seems relatively reasonable.

The funniest thing about all of this is the part of this which will
probably drive Nats fans the craziest — the fact that, thanks to
Boras, no deal will get done until midnight at the August 15th signing
deadline — is likely what will protect Strasburg and the Nats the
most. The article reminds us that Ben McDonald made his Major League
debut the same summer he was drafted, which immediately followed a
spring during which his workload was extreme. While some quoted in the
article lament the fact that a pitcher’s development could be set back
by signing late, there’s no question that McDonald could have benefited
from a little rest in 1989. And who knows? If he got it, maybe he
wouldn’t have suffered so many injuries down the road.

If you’re pulling for Stephen Strasburg — and why wouldn’t you? —
I can’t think of any downside to him getting most of June, July and
August off, be it due to contentious contract negotiations or
otherwise.

Dee Gordon apologizes, is reinstated from PED suspension

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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The Miami Marlins have reinstated second baseman Dee Gordon from his suspension.

Gordon, of course, has missed the last 80 games while serving his drug suspension. He’s coming off a minor league rehab assignment and will be the everyday second baseman for the contending Marlins. He was hitting .266/.289/.340 with three doubles, two triples, five RBI, 13 runs scored, and six stolen bases in 97 plate appearances when he was popped. He was replaced by Derek Dietrich, who hit a nice .275/.366/.398 with 22 extra-base hits, 30 RBI, and 26 runs scored in 314 PA in Gordon’s absence, so don’t expect a tremendous upgrade at second down the stretch, even if they get a nice upgrade in the utility and depth department.

To make room for Gordon, the Marlins designated utilityman and sometimes hero Don Kelly for assignment. Sad jams.

UPDATE: Gordon issued a video apology on the eve of his reinstatement:

Chris Sale called “a competitor” for stuff that gets most guys called “head cases”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox reacts during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale has had an eventful week.

On Saturday he was scratched from his start and subsequently suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear, making them unusable. That cost the team over $12,000 and cost the Sox their best pitcher hours before game time.

On Monday Sale gave an interview to Scott Merkin in which he apologized to fans and teammates and explained his rationale for the uniform shredding. Even if his act was over the top, there was a core of understandable motivation at least: Sale said he voiced his displeasure with the untucked jersey months ago and asked to not pitch on a night they’d have to wear them because he believed it would mess with his mechanics and/or mental state. The Sox didn’t heed his request and Sale took issue, as many probably would, with what he felt was the business of throwback jerseys taking precedence over on-the-field stuff.

Of course, there are still some pretty big problems here. Mostly having to do with the facts that (a) the Sox have people on staff who could’ve optimized his jersey any way he needed it to be optimized if he had asked; (b) ballplayers have been wearing throwbacks for a long time now and, even if they don’t like them, they tend to endure them; and (c) he’s a ballplayer who needs to suck things up sometimes like every single ballplayer ever has done. There are a ton of things ballplayers are expected to do which are insisted upon by the business folks. It’s part of the gig.

A little more seriously than that is the fact that Sale pretty publicly threw his manager, Robin Ventura, under the bus :

“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale said. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”

An undercurrent to all of this is Sale being fairly obvious in voicing his desire to be traded.

Today Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story about Sale’s week. It’s sourced largely by Sale’s friend Adam Eaton who defends Sale as a passionate competitor who just wants to win and how all of this stuff of the past week was about his desire to do so. The headline of the story buys in to all of that:

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We heard much the same along these lines when Sale blasted Sox brass following the Drake LaRoche stuff during spring training, going on an expletive-filled rant in a meeting behind closed doors but then bringing the same noise, albeit cleaned up, in front of reporters after it all became public.

Chris Sale is who he is, of course, and I’m not going to too harshly judge who he is. He’s an amazing pitcher and, as most athletes will tell you, the mental part of the game is almost as important or, maybe, even more important than the physical part. Asking Sale to be who he isn’t would probably be counterproductive in the long term.

But I am fascinated with the way in which someone who has behaved like Sale has behaved is described. He’s a “competitor” whose objectively disruptive and literally destructive behavior is explained away as merely a function of his desire to win. His friends on the team, like Eaton, are sought out for damage control and spin and his detractors, which there are likely some, aren’t quoted, even anonymously. He has publicly called out his manager as not wanting to win as much as he wants to please his bosses and he has likewise called out his manager’s bosses and has welcomed a trade, yet we aren’t seeing stories about how that’s a bad thing for the Sox’ clubhouse.

I don’t much care for that sort of stuff, actually, as I suspect most clubhouse controversy stories are somewhat overblown and overly dramatized. But those stories have been go-to tropes of sports writers for decades, and I am trying to imagine this sort of story about players who aren’t Chris Sale. Players who don’t have as friendly a relationship with the media as he has or who don’t have clubhouse allies who do. I feel like, most of the time, a story about a guy who who has done the odd things Sale has done both this week and last March would play a hell of a lot differently.

How does this all play of it’s Yordano Ventura? Or Yasiel Puig? Or Jose Fernandez? How does this play if it took place in the NBA and it was Kevin Durant who shredded up a bunch of short-shorts on 80s throwback night? How does it play if it’s Cam Newton?

I bet it plays differently.