Scenes from Spring Training: Even the phenoms pay their dues

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Last night I was on a radio show, and the host asked me why we don’t tend to see prima donna baseball players making demands on their teams the way we do in the NBA and the NFL.

There are a lot of reasons, of course. For one thing, no one baseball player is as important to a baseball team’s prospects as a single basketball player or skilled NFL player can be to their teams, thus depriving a would-be baseball diva of any real leverage. Another is that, by virtue of college and prep baseball having a very low profile compared to college basketball or football, no one comes to professional baseball already a superstar.

Finally, there’s just the cultural difference: baseball tends to breed and reward conformity and tends to punish non-conformity.  That’s partially for the reasons stated, but partially because that’s just the culture of the game. The upshot: even if you’re the number one prospect in all of baseball, you gotta pay your dues.  And Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is no different.

Not that he would be if the culture of baseball were different. He seems like a nice young man who is polite to his elders (who is everyone) and respectful of his place in the hierarchy. But even if he were inclined to be a hotshot, outside of a handful of prospect hounds and hardcore Angels fans, there really isn’t anyone telling him (or any other hot prospect) that he’s all that.  It’s quite the contrary, actually, as is readily apparent based on a scan around the Angels’ clubhouse.

When you walk in, you notice a nice spacious area to the left with wide lockers and plenty of room to relax.  In front of those lockers sit Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Vernon Wells and the other veterans, all in seeming comfort.

Trout’s locker, in contrast, is crammed in a corner where 15 guys share very limited real estate, and some of them even share a locker.  On this morning in Tempe, the limited space was even further limited by the fact that the clubhouse attendants were using the floor in front of rookie corner to stage and fill equipment bags. This despite the fact that there was much more room over in the Hunter/Abreu/Wells section.  As Trout and his fellow youngins sat in preparation of the day’s activities, their arms were drawn in to their sides and their knees were up, much like passengers on an overbooked flight.

The NFL has rookie hazing in training camp. The NBA probably does too.  But I get the distinct impression that young baseball players pay higher social dues over a long period of time.  This doesn’t make baseball any better.  Indeed, this socialization program is what makes ballplayers a lot more boring and cliched than their counterparts in the other sports. It also likely the basis for a system in which the boat is rarely if ever rocked anymore, even if the boat needs a good rocking.  It’s just a different scene with different good and bad points.

After taking in the clubhouse atmosphere a bit I walked over to Trout, climbing over equipment bags in the process.  We engaged in the most cursory of chitchat before he said the most significant thing I imagine he’ll say all spring:  He’s happy to be here. He just wants to help the ballclub. He’s looking forward to learn whatever he can from Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, Bobby Abreu and the other veteran Angels.

What, you were expecting a demand that he be traded to the Knicks?

Ron Darling rips Mets trainers after yet another player goes down with an injury

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Last night starter Robert Gsellman became the latest Mets player to go down with an injury when he strained his hamstring while running out a ground ball. He’s certain to go on the disabled list, making him the sixth Mets starter to go down this year. He’ll join Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Juan Lagares, Neil Walker, Matt Harvey, David Wright, Jeurys Familia and many, many other Mets on the DL.

Mets broadcaster Ron Darling is fed up with it. Last night, after Gsellman went down, he went off on the Mets trainers, who he believes to be enabling all of this:

“[These] trainers, get them in a room with some of the old trainers and people that took care of baseball players and how to keep them healthy. And get them in a room and try to tap into their knowledge on how you train baseball players — not weightlifters, not six-pack wearers — baseball players. They’re doing a disservice to their million-dollar athletes that they’re paying. It’s a joke to watch this happen each and every night.”

Here’s video of his rant:

Darling is certainly tapping into a frustration a lot of Mets fans feel. For years the Mets injury issues have vexed the fanbase, less so for the sheer number of them — other teams have had more DL trips for their players — than for the manner in which they were handled and/or discussed by the team. They’ve often been loathe to use the disabled list even when it makes sense to and have, at times, run guys out to play despite there being serious red flags which would counsel most teams from doing so.

But is he right about why the players are getting injured? It’s a commonly held bit of conventional wisdom that players using weight training and being muscular makes them more brittle, but I’m unaware of any science that backs that up (if you have some, please pass it along, I’d genuinely be interested in reading it). Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t, but Darling seems so certain about it.

He could be right. But I also suspect that Darling may be falling prey to some back-in-my-dayism that retired players often exhibit. Are players getting injured more or are they merely being diagnosed better? Are they getting more seriously injured, or are they just taken out of action more quickly rather than be left to play through injuries like so many old timers have claimed they had to back in the 50s, 60s and 70s? Fireballers used to try to hang on as junkballers after suffering elbow injuries that today would send a guy to surgery. There was a much greater tolerance for lumbering slow dudes who might take it easy with a bad hammy as opposed to getting shut down now.

None of which is to say that Darling is wrong, necessarily. Like I said, maybe there is something to the idea that weight training and musculature makes a player more brittle. But I am always loathe to nod along with an old player who says the science and medicine surrounding sports has regressed compared to where it was back in his day. It may be true, but it’s counterintuitive given how science and medicine usually work. And when you offer a counterintuitive take like that, I think you need more evidence than your frustration at an injury occurring in front of you in real time.

Bryce Harper is pretty clearly messing with people

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Not too long ago some rumors popped up about Bryce Harper wanting to sign with the Cubs when he hits free agency following the 2018 season. Such rumors are sort of silly this far out — and they almost always tend to be non-predictive of where the player eventually goes — but they tend to get folks excited or concerned, depending on who they root for.

With the Cubs in town to face the Nationals, Harper was asked about those rumors again. He wisely dismissed them, saying he had no idea where that stuff comes from. Which is what someone in his position should say.

Not that he’s not going to have some fun with it. Check out his Instagram post with friend Kris Bryant. Specifically, check out the hashtag:

#Back2BackOneDay is, of course, an implication that he’d be hitting behind Bryant in the same batting order.

Harper is no idiot. He’s not going to use social media, in the middle of a season, two seasons before he could even potentially play elsewhere, to send genuine signals about wanting to leave the Nationals and join the Cubs. He’s just messing with the rumormongers. As he TOTALLY SHOULD by the way, because rumormongers deserve to be messed with.

Not that the rumormongers won’t take this a genuine evidence of his intent. The rumormongers aren’t big on subtle humor.