Deep thoughts: what the heck is “Old School Baseball” anyway?

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When Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper, he defended himself by saying it was just a case of “old school” baseball.  Others said that by Harper taking his base and then stealing home, it was “old school baseball.”  Some others — most notably Cal Ripken, earlier today — said that they were unaware of any tenet of old school baseball that involved throwing at guys. Of course, any number of Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson fans would beg to differ.

The point is that I don’t think there is any agreed upon definition of Old School Baseball.  Rather, I think it’s just a slogan people use to justify whatever the hell it is they want to justify, with the claim — well-intentioned or otherwise — that it conforms to some tradition or another.

I understand the impulse, of course.  Indeed, in this it’s one of the most basebally things imaginable, because baseball as we know it would practically cease to exist if we were to pretend that what goes on now is unconnected to what happened in the past. The ballparks, the uniforms, the strategies and the language of the game would be totally different if they were devised new today. It’s a game whose very essence requires a historical connection.

But that reference to history becomes meaningless if we rely on it too much.  If, instead of justifying his actions, a player or his fan or media surrogates simply say “hey, old school baseball.”  Or, less flippantly, “that’s the way it’s always been done,” they’re saying nothing. They’re saying “we don’t have to think about what just occurred, or defend it.  It’s fine because it’s always been that way.”

We don’t accept that in most walks of life. When it comes to on-field strategy, we are accepting it less and less these days. But we seem oh so willing to accept it when it comes to deportment or the unwritten rules or any of the culture surrounding the game.

I wish we’d be as critical about that as we are with just about everything else in life.

Report: Braves extend Kurt Suzuki

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Kurt Suzuki will wear a Braves’ uniform through the 2018 season after signing a one-year, $3.5 million extension with the club on Saturday, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Rosenthal adds that the two had been in talks for weeks and Suzuki made it clear that he wanted to remain in Atlanta for the foreseeable future. The team has yet to announce the extension.

Suzuki, 33, initially signed a one-year contract with the Braves back in January. The veteran backstop stepped into a backup role behind starting catcher Tyler Flowers, but still found a way to impress at the plate with a .271/.343/.525 batting line, career-best 18 home runs and an .868 OPS through 287 PA. According to FanGraphs, Suzuki’s 2.2 fWAR makes 2017 his most valuable season since his run with the 2009 Athletics.

It’s a prudent move for the Braves, who would have lost one of their most dynamic second-half hitters to the free agent market this offseason. Entering Saturday, Suzuki is second only to Freddie Freeman with 11 homers and 1.4 fWAR since the All-Star break. His stunning comeback also confirmed the team’s decision to look outside the organization for a backup catcher, rather than turning to fellow veteran Anthony Recker behind the plate.

“On a personal level, this season exceeded my expectations,” Suzuki told reporters on Wednesday. “It’s just one of those things I can’t explain. I put a lot of work in and really didn’t have a job until late January. I got an opportunity here and took advantage of it. It was definitely a good fit.”

Mikie Mahtook is likely done for the season

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Tigers’ outfielder Mikie Mahtook is unlikely to play again this season, club manager Brad Ausmus announced Saturday. Mahtook was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left groin strain following Friday’s series opener against the Twins, when he appeared to injure himself after chasing down Byron Buxton‘s two-RBI double in the fourth.

This is the second time Mahtook has sustained a groin injury over the past month. The 27-year-old exited Friday’s game with a .276/.330/.457 batting line, 12 home runs and a .787 OPS through 379 plate appearances with the team.

With the Tigers out of contention, there’s no reason to trot out Mahtook for the remaining eight games of the regular season. The club has yet to specify a timetable for his return, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in fine shape to compete for a starting role next spring.