First-quarter awards: NL Rookie of the Year

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heyward swinging.jpgA one-man race, right? Jason Heyward was practically handed the award a couple of weeks into the season, and though he’s hit a bit of a rough patch over the last week, he’s still batting an exceptional .274/.399/.540 with 28 RBI. That’s definitely Rookie of the Year material.
But what no one expected was that there’d be a pitching equivalent: Jaime Garcia has been a revelation for the Cardinals, opening the season 4-2 with a 1.42 ERA that ranks second in the National League.
Let’s take a look at the legitimate candidates at the quarter pole:
Jason Heyward: .274/.399/.548, 8 HR, 28 RBI in 113 AB
Gaby Sanchez: .294/.386/.468, 4 HR, 18 RBI in 126 AB
David Freese: .305/.378/.458, 3 HR, 24 RBI in 131 AB
Ian Desmond: .279/.326/.443, 3 HR, 18 RBI in 122 AB
Jaime Garcia: 4-2, 1.42 ERA, 36/16 K/BB in 44 1/3 IP
Mike Leake: 4-0, 3.09 ERA, 33/20 K/BB in 46 2/3 IP
Jonathon Niese: 1-2, 4.79 ERA, 33/18 K/BB in 41 1/4 IP
Hisanori Takahashi: 3-1, 3.12 ERA, 33/14 K/BB in 26 IP
This isn’t to say that John Ely, Ike Davis and others won’t factor in later, but given their limited action to date, they don’t have a real case for any honors right now.
Heyward and Garcia are still the obvious standouts, with Leake, Sanchez and Freese next in line. That Freese plays the tougher defensive position (albeit not quite as well) and has the bigger RBI total probably gives him a bit of an edge over Sanchez as the No. 2 hitter.
Leake, with six quality starts in seven tries, is a big reason the Reds are a half-game in front of the Cardinals at the moment. Still, his numbers don’t measure up with Garcia’s.
So, Heyward versus Garcia. Heyward has been the big bat in an Atlanta outfield that’s been otherwise totally void of power the last couple of years. He’s leading the team in both homers and RBI. He’s getting on base at an excellent clip, playing fine defense in right field and handling lefties about as well as righties. He’s pretty much the perfect rookie, and the Braves would be lost without him.
That said, Garcia has been even better to date. He’s gone at least six innings in all seven of his starts and allowed more than two runs just once — and those extra two he gave up in the one “poor” start were both unearned. The Cardinals are just 4-3 in his outings, but that’s because they’ve scored a total of two runs in the losses. He’s second in not only the NL in ERA, but also the majors as a whole.
That makes Garcia the choice in my book. Heyward remains the heavy favorite to be the NL Rookie of the Year, of course. Garcia not only isn’t this good, but he’s also a significant injury risk. Still, for a quarter of the season, he’s been one of baseball’s top performers.
First quarter NL ROY
1. Garcia
2. Heyward
3. Leake

CC Sabathia won’t visit the White House if the Yankees win the World Series

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Over the past couple of days the subject of athlete activism, always present to some degree in American sports, but recently revived by Colin Kaepernick and a few other football players in the form of silent protests during the National Anthem, exploded into a headline dominating news story. Lighting the fuse: President Trump directly inserting himself into the controversy.

He did so during a speech on Friday night and during a series of tweets Saturday and continuing into this morning in which he urged NFL owners to “fire” or suspend players who do not stand for the national anthem. He also attempted to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him, though Curry had already said he wouldn’t go.

As Ashley wrote last night, the silent anthem protests have now come to baseball, with A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the fist player to kneel during the National Anthem. Before that, at least one baseball executive, Orioles Vice President John P. Angelos, came out strongly on the side of players and against Trump. Joe Maddon said some less-than-enlightened words on the matter. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the matter. It was, not surprisingly, somewhat empty, taking something of a both-sides-have-good-points tack. It’s understandable, I suppose. I suspect Major League Baseball and its owners would prefer to not have to comment on this at all. The league does not do this sort of controversy well.

Ballplayers, however, will likely continue to speak up. The latest: Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was asked yesterday whether he would visit the White House if the playoff-bound Yankees won the World Series. From the Daily News:

“Never. I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all. I just think it’s stupid. I just think it’s dumb that he’s addressing players and stuff that he shouldn’t be. But it is what it is, and that’s the country we live in these days . . . I’m proud of the way that everybody has Steph’s back and just athletes in general these days, the way everybody has been stepping up has been great.”

Baseball players, as we’ve noted many times over the years, tend to be a more conservative bunch than football or basketball players. There are a lot more white players and a lot more players from southern, suburban and exurban areas. A significant number of racial-ethnic minority players were not born in the United States, so U.S. politics may not necessarily preoccupy them the way it may players from the United States. As such, political protest like we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA was never going to start in baseball in 2017.

But that does not mean that it was not going to come to baseball. Contrary to what so many fans seem to think, sports do not exist inside some bubble into which the real world does not intrude. Athletes are citizens just like you and me with social, political and personal concerns just like you and me. And, at the moment, a government official is demanding that they lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views and the manner in which they are expressed. I suspect most of us would get upset by that if it happened to us. Certainly a lot of people I know on the conservative side of the political expression worried about government overreach and freedom of speech. At least before January of this year.

So I am not at all surprised that baseball players like Sabathia are beginning to speak out. He will not be the last. Others will join him. Others, as is their right, will push back and say they disagree with him. If and when people feel inspired to tell them to “stick to sports,” or “stay in their lane,” perhaps they should ask why the President of the United States decided not to do so himself. And ask why he thinks it’s appropriate for athletes to lose their jobs for their political views and why private entities like the NFL should be patriotic institutions rather than businesses which put on sporting events.

 

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

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Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.