Greg Maddux needles Mets, offers wisdom, will be missed

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Prior to Mets-Braves last night, Greg Maduxhad
his number 31 retired at Turner Field. And after a nice ceremony,
Maddux concluded his remarks with this gem: “Let’s beat the Mets …
like old times.” Who knew that Greg Maddux was funny? Even as a Mets
fan, that slayed me. And his matter-of-fact delivery just forces you to
nod your head begrudgingly in agreement.

Later, in an interview with WPIX’s Kevin Burkhardt,
Maddux was asked about setting hitters up. Within his answer, he noted
that he “still had to play to a hitter’s strengths in order to keep
their weaknesses.” Loved that, and not just because it sounds like
something you might hear Phil Jacksonsay. It goes in
line with the stories that Maddux purposefully threw (what appeared to
be) meatball changeups to hitters, but placed them just far enough
inside so they’d pull them foul.

Maddux will be most remembered for his whiffleball movement,
ready-to-field-the-position delivery, and masterful precision. But
here’s three more underrated things that stick out and make him unique:

  1. In the 90’s, just about everyone had switched to the solid color
    sock, and some guys had brought back the knee-high look. But Maddux
    always had his pants stop right below his calf so there were like 6-8
    inches of sock before his shoe. And when stirrups went out of fashion,
    he still wore those white socks that had the colored line stitched in.
    The problem was, if you wore low-tops, the stitch ended before the
    cleat started and solid white showed at the bottom. Fashion disaster. I
    guess you can wear whatever you want when your ERA is like a 1.50.
  2. He despised pitching to Braves catcher Javy Lopez,
    and eventually had his own personal catcher. So even though Lopez was
    one of the better hitting catchers in baseball at that time, Bobby Cox would have to pencil in the likes of Charlie O’Brien and Eddie Perez every five days.
  3. When
    he wasn’t pitching, there was a 50-50 chance that if the television
    cameras shot him on the bench, he was picking his nose. It probably
    only happened a few times, but those few images are burned into my
    brain. And this was before Joe Torre perfected it.

Maddux will be missed.

Finally, now that Maddux has his number retired by both the Cubs
and the Braves, here’s the list of players who have been honored by
multiple clubs:

  • Nolan Ryan (Angels, Astros, Rangers)
  • Rod Carew (Twins, Angels)
  • Reggie Jackson (A’s, Yankees)
  • Carlton Fisk (White Sox, Red Sox)
  • Frank Robinson (Orioles, Reds)
  • Rollie Fingers (A’s, Brewers)
  • Hank Aaron (Braves, Brewers)
  • Casey Stengel (Mets, Yankees)

What in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.