Hank Blalock changes mind, accepts assignment to Triple-A

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Last week, when the Rays were still deciding whether or not to keep him around, Hank Blalock made it abundantly clear that he would not accept an assignment to the minors.

I don’t have any plans on playing minor-league baseball this year. At this time in my life, if there’s no major-league opportunities for me then I’ll find something else to do.

Two days later the Rays Bay opted to keep Reid Brignac over Blalock as their final bench player and Blalock reportedly spent the weekend searching for one of those “major-league opportunities.” Apparently he came up empty, because today the 29-year-old former two-time All-Star indeed accepted an assignment to the minors and will try to work his way back to the majors with an impressive stint at Triple-A Durham.

The reason that I would go and play in Durham, if no other team wants to pick me up right now, is because I love baseball and I’m going to continue to play and not going to do that would be quitting. And that’s not an option for me. I’ve changed my mind about that. Mentally, I feel very positive regardless of the fact I was told I’m not going to be on the Opening Day roster. I’m staying focused and I’m going to keep playing baseball.

I give Blalock some credit for not simply opting out of his contract with Tampa Bay after not making the Opening Day roster, because while his pride was no doubt damaged remaining in the Rays organization is likely his best shot to make it back to the majors for good. They obviously have some level of interest in him, whereas clearly no other teams feel strongly about giving him a chance right now, and a strong month or two at Triple-A could get him into their plans as a designated hitter option or backup corner infielder.
Of course, Blalock hasn’t been healthy and produced an OPS above .750 since way back in 2004, so his name is definitely much bigger than his actual upside at this point. He also hasn’t played regularly at Triple-A since 2002, when he hit .307 with an .821 OPS in 95 games as a 21-year-old to help cement his status as a top prospect in 2002. In fact, that year Baseball America ranked him as the third-best prospect in all of baseball, behind only Josh Beckett and Mark Prior.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.