Raze the neighborhood; take out the takeout

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Baseball was never meant to be a game of contact.
Sure, we all know how Ty Cobb went into second base spikes high, but we wouldn’t tolerate those attempts to injure players today. So why do we allow the forearm shiver or the barrel roll?
Those ridiculous slides into second base are the reason we have the neighborhood play, a big topic of controversy since Erick Aybar wasn’t given credit for straddling the bag on what would have been a double play Saturday night. It was obvious the umpire got the call right in saying Aybar never touched the base. The problem is that Aybar would have gotten that out call 95 percent of the time. Inconsistency is the major issue, of course, and Jerry Layne picked a big moment to start enforcing the rules.
So, will we see any changes in the future because of Saturday’s events? It’s safe to assume the majority of major league umps saw that call last night and might be more prone to making it in the future. It’ll certainly take several more instances of seeing it happen for infielders to start changing the way they position themselves at the bag. Odds are that it will be mostly business as usual, and that’s too bad, because MLB could use a change.
The neighborhood play exists because it’s dangerous standing on top of a base when a runner is set to do everything possible to prevent a relay throw. Far too dangerous. Middle infielders need protection, especially second basemen, who can’t see the runner coming from first. That double play turn is, in my opinion, the biggest reason why second basemen tend to have short careers.
So, it’s either keep the neighborhood play or rein in the baserunners. I prefer the latter option. Baseball was not a sport designed for collisions. Accidents will happen, but MLB can further discourage contact if it wishes. First, enforce the rule that says runners are called out if they don’t slide towards the bag. Most runners these days won’t even reach out towards the bag to even give the impression that they’re trying to touch second base when their legs are five feet off to the right. Call it.
Furthermore, the intentional overslide of the bag, an even more dangerous play, has to stop. Melky Cabrera performed just a modest overslide on Aybar, yet the shortstop still ended up taking a forearm to the thigh and a helmet to the groin. We see far worse every day, and there’s just no reason for it.
If a player intentionally overslides the bag, he should be called out. If he pulls off the Orlando Cabrera “slide into the bag, pop up and try to forearm the shortstop in the face” maneuver, he should be ejected.
Force the shortstop and second baseman to touch the bag, but make it safe for them to do so. It should be easy enough to pull off.

Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: Lou Piniella

TORONTO - JULY 9:  Manager Lou Pinella of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during batting practice prior to the1991 All-Star Game at the Toronto Sky Dome on July 9, 1991 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Lou Piniella

The case for his induction:

He notched 1,835 wins, made seven postseason appearances, a won a World Series as a manager. That win total is good for 14th all time. Of the 13 men ahead of him, 12 are already in the Hall. The only who isn’t is Gene Mauch, who was under .500 for his career. Connie Mack and Bucky Harris are in that crowd and they were under .500 too, but Mack is kind of a special case as the all-time wins leader and Harris, well, I dunno, he hung around forever and the Veterans Committee was a different beast back in the 1970s. Point is, if you have Piniella’s win total and you’re over .500, as Piniella is, you’re probably getting in, at least eventually.

A lot of those wins came in some good places and at some good times, adding some psychological weight to that record. Taking the 1990 Reds to the World Series and beating the heavily favored A’s was a great story and, as the Reds’ last title for 26 years and counting, stands as a more memorable accomplishment than doing it someplace else. Likewise, his next job, in Seattle, coincided with the franchise’s best seasons thanks to the emergence of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez under Piniella’s command. Mariners’ history fundamentally changed during the Piniella era and he will always be associated with that. Oh, and his 2001 team set the single season record for wins with 116. He made two playoff appearances with the Cubs too. That’s been eclipsed by the 2016 team’s exploits, but it was a pretty big deal at the time.

It’s also worth noting that Piniella likewise had a very fine playing career, with 18 seasons of 109 OPS+ hitting, a Rookie of the Year Award and a couple of World Series rings on his resume. That’s not enough by itself to get him in the Hall, but he presents a nice total package as a Baseball Man Supreme who has been thought highly of for close to 50 years now.

Oh, one other thing: he was colorful. He had a temper and a repuatation as kind of a red ass, with a good number of on-the-field incidents which stick in people’s minds. That sort of thing doesn’t necessarily make someone a good manager or a good person, but Piniella has been seen as a guy who mellowed with age and, at various times in his career, showed that he had a sense of humor about all of that stuff which makes it play a heck of a lot better. For Hall of Fame purposes, it certainly plays a heck of a lot more memorably.

The case against his induction:

His years in Tampa Bay weren’t all that great and, by the time his days in Chicago were over there was a sense that he was sort of running on fumes and padding that win total to get him into that top 14. In both places Joe Maddon eventually came along and did better things and, in some cases, undoing some bad things Piniella did. Some believe he should’ve won another pennant or two and, yes, some of those Mariners teams disappointed in the postseason. Some people look less amusingly on his temper tantrums over the years and, I suppose, one could characterize them a bit more sinisterly than I did above without being too dramatic.

Would I vote for him?

I think so. As I mentioned in the George Steinbrenner entry, when it comes to managers and executives, I put a lot of weight on whether one could tell the story of baseball in a guy’s era without mentioning his name. Piniella is no Joe Torre, Bobby Cox of Tony La Russa in that regard, but he’s pretty close to that group in terms of the figure he cut in the game and, as I mentioned, he’s critical to the story of a couple of franchises. Certainly the Mariners but also the 1970s Yankees as a player and, possibly, the 1990 Reds. I tend to be a softer Hall of Fame touch than a lot of people, so I get that people may disagree, but I’d put him in.

Will the Committee vote for him?

Hard to say. On the one hand, Piniella feels like the sort of baseball man that gets rewarded by the Veterans Committee. On the other hand, the Veterans Committee took ages to vote in some other notable managers such as Whitey Herzog, suggesting that maybe Piniella will have to wait. This is the first year for the new composition of the Veterans Committe, however, so it’s hard to say if they’ll be tougher or easier graders. He may be the hardest call of all of the guys on this year’s ballot.

Twins hire James Rowson as their hitting coach

BOSTON, MA - June 4: The Minnesota Twins logo is seen during the fifth inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Twins have announced that they have hired James Rowson as their hitting coach.

Rowson was the minor league hitting coordinator for the New York Yankees for seven of the last nine seasons, interrupted by a short stint with the Chicago Cubs as minor league hitting coordinator. He also worked at the minor league levels with the Los Angeles Angels. He played in the minors for the Seattle Mariners and Yankees.

Rowson replacesTom Brunansky, who was hitting coach for the past four seasons.