Daily Dose: All's Wells for Vernon Again?

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Vernon Wells went 3-for-4 with a homer on Opening Day and followed that up with two more homers Wednesday, showing some serious signs of life after a terrible 2009. Last year was either the worst or second-worst of Wells’ career, with the other forgettable campaign being 2007, and he bounced back from that to hit .300 with an .840 OPS in 2008. Too early to expect a similar story in 2010, but so far so good.
While the $107 million left on Wells’ contract looks slightly less horrific for the Blue Jays, here are some other notes from around baseball …

* Billy Wagner looked excellent Wednesday nailing down his first Braves save, clocking in at 96-99 miles per hour with his fastball and breaking off several unhittable sliders to strike out the side. Wagner has come back amazingly well from Tommy John surgery given that he went under the knife at age 36. Since returning late last season he’s thrown 17.2 innings, racking up 31 strikeouts compared to just nine hits.
* Rich Harden’s lack of peak velocity during spring training carried over to his Rangers debut Wednesday, as he worked mostly in the high-80s and topped 91-92 miles per hour on just a couple pitches. Harden has always managed to remain dominant despite a never-ending string of injuries, but his velocity has crept downward for several years now and he was anything but overpowering against the Blue Jays.
* After a cortisone shot and having his surgically repaired knee drained, Lance Berkman said Wednesday that he’s hoping to come off the disabled list during the six-game road trip that begins Monday. Geoff Blum and Pedro Feliz have batted fifth while replacing Berkman at first base, so the Astros desperately need him back in the lineup, but some of his comments suggest that the knee is still far from full strength.
* Kelly Johnson moved into the leadoff spot Wednesday with Conor Jackson getting the night off and responded by going 3-for-3 with two homers and a walk. With his value at an all-time low following a poor, injury wrecked season Johnson was one of my favorite sleeper targets in part because Arizona is a great place to hit and in part because he batted .282/.362/.451 in 297 games for the Braves in the previous two seasons.
* Milwaukee faced a right-handed pitcher for the second time Wednesday and for the second time Jim Edmonds started over Corey Hart in right field, going 2-for-4 with a double. Edmonds is 40 years old and sat out last season when the job market proved lacking, but looked good this spring and posted an .882 OPS against righties in 2008. He’s unlikely to hit for much of a batting average, but the power and patience remain.
AL Quick Hits: John Lackey tossed six shutout innings in his Red Sox debut Wednesday, but Curtis Granderson won it with an extra-inning homer off Jonathan Papelbon … Ian Kinsler (ankle) is hoping to join the Rangers during an 11-game road trip that begins Monday … Russell Branyan (back) is slated to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Max Scherzer and Luke Hochevar combined for 13.2 shutout innings Wednesday in a game that went into extra frames … Nolan Reimold got his first start Wednesday when Felix Pie was scratched from the lineup with a sore shoulder … Fausto Carmona handed out six walks Wednesday, but also held the White Sox to one hit in six innings … Hideki Matsui is scheduled to play the outfield Thursday for the first time since June of 2008 … Jim Thome got his first start Wednesday, but Ron Gardenhire oddly chose to bench Jason Kubel rather than Delmon Young versus a right-hander … Matt Joyce (elbow) is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment Thursday at Triple-A … Jake Fox replaced Eric Chavez at designated hitter Wednesday against a left-hander.
NL Quick Hits: Edgar Renteria reached safely in all six plate appearances Wednesday, collecting five hits and a walk in a blowout win … Brad Lidge (elbow, knee) is slated to throw a bullpen session Thursday, but there’s no timetable yet for his return … Jose Reyes went 1-for-5 with a double in an extended spring training game Wednesday … Jason Giambi started Wednesday as part of the Rockies’ plan to give Todd Helton more rest … Brett Myers escaped with a no-decision Wednesday despite giving up a dozen hits in six innings … Jason Marquis lasted just four innings in his Nationals debut, coughing up six runs … Jeff Keppinger started at shortstop Wednesday after Tommy Manzella was plunked on the wrist … Joe Blanton (oblique) made 60 throws from 60 feet Wednesday, but isn’t close to rejoining the rotation yet … After batting .373 with 18 RBIs in 20 games this spring, Hunter Pence is 0-for-12 … With his path to Cincinnati blocked by Joey Votto, the Reds have moved prospect Yonder Alonso to left field.

The Days of Chief Wahoo are numbered

Fox Entertainment

One of the more common responses to what I’ve posted about Chief Wahoo lately is “it’s just a cartoon character! Nobody cares!”

Well, looking at that guy in the photo above and many others dressed like him at Progressive Field the past two days is evidence that it is not just a cartoon character. A certain swath of Indians fans think that, because of their team’s name and mascot, it’s totally acceptable to show up in public looking like this. Wahoo as an official trademark of a Major League Baseball club gives people license to dress up in redface — or in this case, red and blackface — with headdresses on, turning a real people and a real culture into a degrading caricature. It’s not just a cartoon character by a long shot. To many it’s a get-out-being-called-a-racist-free card.

As for “nobody cares,” well, yes, someone does. Go read this from Sterling HolyWhiteMountain over at ESPN, talking about both Chief Wahoo as a symbol and America’s treatment and conception of Native Americans as a whole. It’s moving stuff that puts lie to the idea that “nobody cares.” It likewise puts lie to the false choice so many Chief Wahoo defenders reference in which they argue that people should care more about actual injustices visited upon Native Americans and not mascots. One can and should care about those injustices. And one can do that while simultaneously finding Chief Wahoo to be an odious symbol that serves to dehumanize people. Once people are dehumanized, it’s far easier to treat them as something less-than-human, of course.

But it’s not just Native Americans or anti-Wahoo folks like me who care. While I have been critical of Major League Baseball for not taking its own stand against Wahoo publicly, it seems pretty clear at this point that the league is weary of Wahoo and is looking to pressure the Indians to eliminate it. Last night, at the Hank Aaron Award ceremony, Manfred spoke more expansively about Wahoo than he did the day before. Manfred is a lawyer and he does not choose his words carelessly. Read this and parse it carefully:

“I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people, and all of us at Major League Baseball understand why. Logos are, however, primarily a local matter. The local club makes decisions about its logos. Fans get attached to logos. They become part of a team’s history. So it’s not easy as coming to the conclusion and realizing that the logo is offensive to some segment.

“I’ve talked to Mr. [Indians owner and CEO Paul] Dolan about this issue. We’ve agreed away from the World Series at an appropriate time we will have a conversation about this. I want to understand fully what his view is, and we’ll go from there. At this point in this context, I’m just not prepared to say more.”

Yes, he’s still trying to be diplomatic, but note how he (a) acknowledges that Wahoo is offensive to some people; (b) that “all of us at Major League Baseball understand why” and (c) does not validate the views of those who do not find it offensive. He acknowledges that they feel that way due to history, but he does not say, as I inferred from his previous comments the day before, that both sides have merit. Indeed, he says he’d like to hear Paul Dolan’s side, suggesting that while he’ll listen to argument, he doesn’t buy the argument as it has yet to be put.

I still wish that MLB would come out hard and strong against Wahoo publicly, but the more I listen to Manfred on this and read between the lines, the more I suspect that Major League Baseball is finally fed up with Wahoo and that it wants to do something to get rid of it. That it’s not just the hobby horse of pinko liberals like me. I believe Manfred realizes that, in 2016, Chief Wahoo is an embarrassment to an organization like Major League Baseball. Maybe, because of p.r. and political considerations, he doesn’t want to stand on a soapbox about it at the World Series, but I believe he wants to put an end to it all the same.

You can call me names for being against Wahoo all you want. But you can’t say it’s a non-issue. You can’t say that it’s just a cartoon character and you can’t say that nobody cares. To do that is an exercise in denial. I have come to believe that Major League Baseball cares and that it’s going to push hard to make the 2016 World Series the last time it is embarrassed by anachronistic racism on its biggest stage ever again.

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images

In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will be the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played for four hours and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.