Matt Stroup over at Universal Sports has noted that sprinter Usain Bolt has some conflicting baseball loyalties. Recently he was spotted wearing a Red Sox cap. Yesterday, he had on a Braves cap. Jamaica doesn’t have a team so all is forgiven, but the image of the fastest man on the planet in a Braves cap did give me a quick, cheap thrill.
Would it be worth it to sign the guy and make him a pinch runner? It’s been done before: The Athletics signed track star Herb Washington to be their full-time pinch runner for the 1974 season. Washington scored 29 runs and stole 28 bases in 91 games without once coming to bat or playing defense. But even the A’s — who were pretty crazy about pinch runners in general back in the Charlie O. Finley days — didn’t think so much of Washington that they kept him around. He was cut early into the ’75 season and was never heard from again in baseball circles.
The problem: he was just too one-dimensional. And he wasn’t really that great in that dimension: in two seasons he was caught stealing 17 times in 48 attempts, which is below the level of success that makes stealing bases a value-added proposition (you usually want to see a 75% success rate or higher). Washington’s failure as a pinch runner clearly shows that there is way more to stealing bases than speed. Indeed, there was probably no one faster than him in the game at the time. But you have to be able to read pitchers’ moves and pick your spots, and to do that you need experience.
These days it would be even harder for a guy like Washington — or Bolt — to make that job work because (a) stealing is way less a part of the game now than it used to be; and (b) roster spots are just way too precious to be used on a runner. In 1974 the A’s basically had a nine-man pitching staff. Today teams typically carry 12 pitchers and, on occasion, go with 13. Yeah, that’s ridiculous, but it’s how it is, and as a result a baseball team in 2010 would be more likely to sign a chef who only prepares bear steaks than it would be to sign a pinch runner.
The upshot of all of this is that I can see only two situations in which Usain Bolt would ever appear in a major league game. Either as (a) a pure gimmick, on a losing team after the rosters expand in September; or (b) after someone teaches him to shag flies and decides that they can stick him in left-center and thereby eliminate one of their three outfielders.
Given that Nate McLouth is currently patrolling center for the Braves, I’m not sure that a Bolt-Heyward outfield isn’t a bad idea.
On Sunday, it was reported that second baseman Neil Walker and the Mets were discussing a potential three-year contract extension worth “north of $40 million.” Those discussions took a turn for the worse. The Mets feel extension talks are “probably dead,” according to Mike Puma of the New York Post.
Walker underwent a lumbar microdisectomy in September, ending his 2016 season during which he hit .282/.347/.476 with 23 home runs and 55 RBI over 458 plate appearances.
The Mets may not necessarily need to keep Walker around as it has some potential options up the middle waiting in the minor leagues. Though Amed Rosario is expected to stick at shortstop, Gavin Cecchini — the club’s No. 3 prospect according to MLB Pipeline — could shift over to second base.
The story of Rick Ankiel is well known by now. He was a phenom pitcher who burst onto the scene with the Cardinals in 1999 and into the 2000 season as one of the top young talents in the game. Then, in the 2000 playoffs, he melted down. He got the yips. Whatever you want to call it, he lost the ability to throw strikes and his pitching career was soon over. He came back, however, against all odds, and remade his career as a solid outfielder.
It’s inspirational and incredible. But there is a lot more to the story that we’ve ever known. We will soon, however, as Ankiel is coming out with a book. Today he took to the airwaves and shared some about it. Including some amazing stuff:
On drinking in his first start after the famous meltdown in Game One of the 2000 National League division series against the Braves:
“Before that game…I’m scared to death. I know I have no chance. Feeling the pressure of all that, right before the game I get a bottle of vodka. I just started drinking vodka. Low and behold, it kind of tamed the monster, and I was able to do what I wanted. I’m sitting on the bench feeling crazy I have to drink vodka to pitch through this. It worked for that game. (I had never drank before a game before). It was one of those things like the yipps, the monster, the disease…it didn’t fight fair so I felt like I wasn’t going to fight fair either.”
Imagine spending your whole life getting to the pinnacle of your career. Then imagine it immediately disintegrating. And then imagine having to go out and do it again in front of millions. It’s almost impossible for anyone to contemplate and, as such, it’s hard to judge almost anything Ankiel did in response to that when he was 21 years-old. That Ankiel got through that and made a career for himself is absolutely amazing. It’s a testament to his drive and determination.