Scenes from Spring Training: Arrrrgh! The Pirates! Part 3

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Pirates Pen.jpgThis was an ugly, ugly game. Highlights, such as they were:

  • As I sat down in the box I realized that the netting behind the backstop was lower than the already fairly low pressbox level.  During the course of the game three or four foul balls came in my general direction, each time banging loudly on the metal roof or facade of the box, scaring the tuna salad out of me.
  • As the National Anthem was being sung, the Pirates’ employee who seemed to be in charge of everything going on that day saw that one of the padded panels on the outfield wall had fallen down. He jumped on his walkie talkie and started stage managing. In the space of, like, 25 seconds, he had (a) dispatched a couple of members of the grounds crew to fix the wall; (b) got someone else to go tell John Russell and the umpires about the panel and to not start the game yet; (c) spotted a plastic bag floating across the field and got someone else to run out and retrieve it; and (d) watched the guy retrieve it and reminded everyone on the line to NOT walk over the pitcher’s mound if you have to go out on the field. The dude was just hyper-competent. If they could bottle whatever moxy he has and distribute it throughout the rest of the organization the Pirates wouldn’t be in nearly the dire straits they’re in these days.
  • In the top of the second, Jose Tabata badly misplayed a fly ball to center, allowing the batter to circle the bases for what was ruled a single and a three base error. The next batter hit one right back out to him, he was once again turned around, the ball dropped for what was called a double simply because Tabata didn’t get close enough to even really say that he made a play on it.  To be fair to Tabata, the winds were whipping terribly yesterday, but none of the other outfielders seemed to have the kind of trouble he was having.
  • Carl Crawford hit a long, long home run to left centerfield. Almost landed in Tampa. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Yankees’ camp to get the lay of the land before he starts training there next spring.  The next batter, Pat Burrell, hit a home run to the same part of the park, also a long shot. Maybe he sent the ball on ahead to Tampa too. There are a lot of senior citizen communities up that way so maybe he was scouting his 2011 spring home too.
  • Though the writers in the box said that the Pirates’ media lunch was
    good as far as those things go, I skipped it. Even if the food is
    decent, these catered, chafing dish affairs remind me too much of those
    rubber chicken lunches at political events I used to have to attend for
    my job and those working lunches in law firm conference rooms. I went
    down to the concourse and got a hot dog and a Pepsi instead. Bonus: I
    talked baseball with a couple of fans who were eating too.  Columbus,
    Ohio is not a baseball town, and though I “talk” baseball all day with
    you guys here, I don’t get a chance to chat casually and face to face
    about the game that much when I’m home. This was a treat.
  • Because the Rays were playing with a split squad — the rest of the team was playing the Blue Jays yesterday — the bullpen
    coach,
    Bobby Ramos coached third base. Between innings one time they did the
    old t-shirt launch thing along the third base line. One of the shirts
    misfired and landed near Ramos. He picked it up and started walking it
    toward the stands. Then he put it behind his back. He did this, like,
    five times, taunting the fans who soon began to boo him. Ramos had a
    huge grin on his face. Any chance he had at becoming my favorite
    bullpen coach was dashed, however, when he gave in and threw the shirt
    into the stands.  We don’t have enough heels in baseball. I think we’d
    be better off with a few Mr. Fujis or Bobby Heenans.

  • As the game dragged on there were a lot of substitutions. They led to near-bedlam in the pressbox. Overheard: “Jonson’s in.”  “Wait, is that Dan Johnson?” “No, I think it’s Elliot Johnson.” “Too damn many Johnsons around here.”
  • Top of the fourth, Sean Rodriguez pops a foul behind the plate. He audibly registers his disgust at himself. The wind whips, however, and catcher Hector Giminez can’t get it.  Rodriguez then does some little nod-with-a-fist-pump thing that seemed a bit out of line. Rodriguez took the next pitch which seemed to be way inside from where I was sitting. John Hirschbeck rang him up anyway, and I can’t help but think he did so as a means of getting Giminez’s back. Not that he’d ever admit it or anything.
  • Around the sixth inning the game just flew off the rails. Lots of home runs — understandable with the wind — but it was dragging in every other possible way as well.  The best thing that happened during the game after the sixth: someone sent me this picture to remind me of what the Pirates were like back when they were totally cool.
  • As the game drew to a close, a man in the pressbox said “I’ve been doing this for seven years, and this is the absolute worst game I’ve ever seen.”  I think I have to agree with him: worst game I ever saw too.  The final score was 16-15 in favor of the Rays. There was bad defense.
    Nearly every count went 3-1 or 3-2, sometimes because the pitchers
    didn’t have control, sometimes because Hirschbeck’s strike zone
    seemed rather erratic. The game lasted three hours and forty-one
    minutes and actually felt longer than that.

But here’s that epiphany I mentioned earlier this morning: I am damn, damn lucky to be able to do what I’m doing. The worst baseball game of my life was 100 times better than the best day I ever had in an office.  It was awful baseball, sure, but it was baseball. In a nice, unassuming little park, with the smells of hot dogs and beer and fresh cut grass and the sounds of the bat cracking and, jumpin’ Jesus on a pogo stick, I could go on with those cliches all day.

As I drove back to Tampa, I was tired and weary and stuck in traffic. And you couldn’t peel the grin off my face.

Willie Mays gets a cable car named after him

Major League Baseball hall of famer  Willie Mays, who spent the majority of his career as a center fielder with the New York and San Francisco Giants, smiles as President Barack Obama honors the 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants baseball team, Monday, July 29, 2013, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. The team beat the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 World Series, their second championship since the franchise moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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This is not exactly stunning news, but it’s Willie Mays’ 85th birthday today and any excuse to talk about Willie Mays is a good one. Happy Birthday, Willie!

The pretext is a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about how The Greatest Baseball Player of All Time (my view anyway) is getting an iconic cable car named after him. An icon named after an icon, I guess. The cable car is, appropriately, number 24.

Next month I’m taking my kids on vacation to California and we’re spending a few days in San Francisco. It’ll be a shame when I tell them we have to cancel half of a day’s plans while I make them wait for one particular cable car to come by so they can take my picture with it, but that’s just what they have to deal with given that I’m their dad.

Carlos Gomez calls out a hit piece-writing columnist

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Yesterday I wrote about a column written by Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. It was about Astros outfielder Carlos Gomez, who has had a poor start to the year.

The column, as I noted, was a hatchet job, blaming Gomez for the Astros’ problems despite the fact that Gomez is by far from the biggest of the Astros’ problems. It was particularly bad in that it presented an unedited bit of broken English from Gomez which seemed calculated to cast Gomez in a bad light. Many journalists were critical of Smith in this regard, noting that he could’ve used a translator, could have paraphrased or could’ve done some mild correction via brackets, as is often done with quotes from non-native English speakers.

Last night Gomez took to Twitter to call out Smith himself:

It’s possible to write a column about how a player hasn’t lived up to expectations without being an insensitive jackass. It’s possible to do so even in the sharpest of ways. Smith didn’t do that, however, and didn’t make an effort to try, it seems. Gomez is right to take issue with it. And I suspect that Gomez’s teammates and organization take issue with it too. Which likely doesn’t bode well for Smith getting cooperation from others in the Astros family.

Reminder: athletes are not heroes

Zack Greinke
Associated Press
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This is something of a “greatest hits” piece and it’s topic I’ve talked about here before, but I’m reminded of it again because of Facebook’s memories thing which tells me I wrote about it seven years ago today back when I was still doing stuff at my old Shysterball blog at the Hardball Times.

The topic: ballplayers as heroes. The subject of the 2009 post on the matter was Zack Greinke, who was then beginning his breakout year with the Kansas City Royals. A columnist talked about how uplifting Greinke’s story was, what with him having overcome some struggles with anxiety disorder which had caused him to leave the game for a brief period. In early 2009 he was back, baby, and better than ever and many wanted to turn him into something larger than just a ballplayer excelling at his craft.

In the post I wrote about how, while such an impulse was understandable, it was a dangerous one as athletes have been made into heroes for years and years and, so often, they end up disappointing. Because we built them up so high, however, we don’t see such instances as the mere exhibition of human fallibility. We see them as some greater failure or even a betrayal, which is both ridiculous and unfair to these men and women, even if they have failed in certain ways. They have worked hard all of their lives to be good at a particular sport. They did not promise us glory or inspiration, yet we assume that they owe us those things. Their failures, however they are manifested, are matched by our failures at expectation management.

But it’s even more pernicious than that. Because, as I wrote at the time, when we create heroes, we necessarily create the need for villains and we will go out of our way to find those too, justified or otherwise:

“Hero” is too strong and baggage-laden a word anyway. As [Bill] James notes, it places a heavy burden on young men, and these guys are under such scrutiny day-in and day-out that they really don’t need it. What’s more, the term hero it necessarily assumes its opposite — villain — and demands that we search them out too. You know, to restore balance to the universe and everything. Often — as in the case of A-Rod and Gooden and Bonds and all of the others — they’re the same people, just older . . . Hero creation, worship, and subsequently, destruction has long been a part of baseball. But it’s not an essential part, and in my mind not a desirable part.

Seven years later we’re still doing this. As Bill James noted in his “Historical Baseball Abstract,” “When a young player comes to the major leagues and has success right away, writers will almost always write about what a fine young man he is as well as a supreme talent.” Many of them, like Zack Greinke, will prove to continue to be fine older men, just as they were fine young men. Some will not. Would it not be better if we didn’t get so invested in how fine a young man any one of them is? Or, short of that, if we didn’t act so betrayed and victimized if they turn out not to be such a fine young man?

I like to hear a good story about a baseball player who, by all outward appearances, seems like a good person. But I’m content to give such a story a smile and leave it at that. If we require heroism, there are people who do truly heroic things in the world beyond throw baseballs.

Andrew McCutchen apologies to an official scorer he said should be fired

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) watches from the dugout during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Pittsburgh. Detroit won 7-3.(AP Photo/Don Wright)
Associated Press
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Andrew McCutchen made an error on Wednesday night. He thought he shouldn’t have been charged with one on the play, however, and afterward said “whoever scored that an error should be fired. That’s unbelievable. I did everything I could to catch it.”

It was a dumb comment for two reasons. First, a player “doing everything he can” on a play doesn’t make a misplay not a misplay. The “e” ain’t about effort, man. I realize scoring has gotten somewhat lax in recent years and players are routinely not given errors if it looks like they really, really tried, but there is not an intent element to the crime of making errors on the playing field. If you muff one, you muff one.

It was a dumb comment for another reason, and that’s that it was just not very nice. As we noted when David Ortiz or some others have made publicly disparaging comments about official scorers, it’s the ultimate punching down. These are people who have other jobs, aren’t public figures, don’t get paid a lot and really, really don’t have it in for anyone. Publicly criticizing them is bad enough, publicly demanding their jobs is pretty low.

Thankfully, with a day’s worth of reflection, McCutchen realized that this was the case and apologized. There aren’t public words from McCutchen available, but the club said that he reached out to the scorer and personally apologized. As he should’ve.