strasburg wide getty

John Smoltz says smart things about the Stephen Strasburg shutdown

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John Smoltz was on NBC SportsTalk last night and gave his opinion of shutting down Stephen Strasburg, and it’s a pretty smart, informed and nuanced one:

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I think Smoltz made a key point early: “maybe if they had to do it over again [the Nationals] would have done something without alerting everyone to what was going to happen.”  They didn’t, of course, so here we are. It makes me wonder if the Nats realized that they’d be as good as they are and if they didn’t just figure that the season could be functionally over by late August so, hey, why not let him pitch regularly until shutdown as opposed to pacing him differently?  Regardless, I agree with Smoltz’s point: if you have an innings limit, great, enforce it. But do so in a way that gets him through an entire season so as not to bollocks-up competitive expectations.

Also fun: when Eric Kuselias brings up Steve Avery and his heavy workload at a young age, comparing it unfavorably to the young workloads of Smoltz, Glavine and Maddux. Smoltz was not impressed with the analogy, noting that Avery had a different kind of motion — higher up, which was harder on the shoulder — and that he tried to pitch through injury.

That flowed into Smoltz’s general point, which was a good one: every pitcher is a different case. Some guys could throw 300 innings a year and never get hurt. Some guys could be treated as gently as can be and disintegrate. Genetics, physics, physiology and pure dumb chance all play into it, making it impossible for anyone to say for certain that a given workload will either hurt a guy or save a guy.

Fact is, Stephen Strasburg could be shut down now and destroy his arm on the first pitch of next season. Or he could be let loose for 250 innings this year and never feel so much as a twinge in his elbow. Or anything in between.  Neither those of us who hate shutting down an ace in a pennant race nor the Nationals and Scott Boras who are relying on doctor’s advice have any real certainty about this.  If we did, we’d have an insight into pitching and injuries that has thus far eluded every team, doctor and pitcher who has ever weighed in on the subject.

Mets sign outfielder Roger Bernadina

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Veteran outfielder Roger Bernadina has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Mets that includes an invitation to spring training.

Bernadina was a semi-regular for the Nationals from 2010-2012, but never developed as much as hoped offensively and didn’t play in the majors at all last season.

At age 32 he’s a career .236 hitter with a .661 OPS in 548 games as a big leaguer and given the Mets’ outfield depth–they already have Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares in bench/part-time roles–Bernadina seems likely to begin the season in the minors.

J.R. Graham is in The Best Shape of his Life

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher J.R. Graham celebrates after the final out as the Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 12-2 in  a baseball game, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 12-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that Twins reliever J.R. Graham has lost “roughly 30-40 pounds this offseason.” It’s not a result of workouts, though. Just a change in diet. Bollinger says that Graham cut out sugar, alcohol and foods heavy in carbs and focused on a high-protein diet with lots of salads, meats and vegetables.

That’s an awful lot of weight to lose in four months, but the dude is only 26 and guys in their 20s lose weight just by thinking about it. Which is so very annoying to those of us who aren’t guys in their 20s.

The real test, of course, will come when he is working out far more strenuously once spring training starts and gets into the season. Normal schmos like me can keep up that kind of diet without much of a hitch as long as we have the willpower. An athlete’s energy requirements are far greater and far more specialized, so he’ll need more fuel than he’s probably been getting this offseason. Word is, however, that professional sports teams have people on staff that, you know, have made monitoring that kind of thing their life’s work.

In the meantime:

“I can just feel the change,” Graham said. “The energy. Everything. I feel great. I’m excited to see how it’ll translate into spring. I know I shouldn’t have any problems because I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m faster. All that. So it’s really exciting.”

It’s very exciting indeed. Because, with that, Graham becomes the latest baseball player to be . . . In The Best Shape of His Life.

The time my family invited itself to Gaylord Perry’s house for lunch

Gaylord Perry
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I mentioned my Gaylord Perry story in the last post. I feel like I’ve written this up before, but I couldn’t find it in our archives. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe I’ve just told it to friends and radio hosts and people so many times that it feels like I’ve written it before. Oh well, I’ll tell it again because I like telling this story.

In 1984 I was on vacation with my family in the big RV, driving through North Carolina. As we always did on those long family road trips, my brother and I spent all of our highway time sorting through boxes of baseball cards we brought along with us. As we passed through a little podunk town, my dad suddenly pulled over and stopped to make a call at a pay phone. He got back into the RV and said “we’re stopping for lunch.” As we pulled away from the phone booth, I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Williamston, North Carolina, Home of Gaylord and Jim Perry.” Maybe Jim got first billing since he’s older. I don’t remember. But that was the upshot.

Five minutes later we are pulling up to a house next to a large farm. A woman came out of the house and said, “You’re the fella who just called? Come on in!” She welcomed us inside. “Gaylord will be here in a minute,” she said. My brother and I freaked out as we looked around the living room. There were photos of Gaylord Perry in action. Trophies and awards. Jerseys in frames. All kinds of other stuff. The thing I remember most was a giant leather chair shaped like a baseball glove that, to this day, I wish I had (maybe the 1984 version of this?). Five minutes later Gaylord freaking Perry walked in. He was wearing dirty jeans, work boots, a dirty white t-shirt and a Kansas City Royals cap. It was his first summer not playing baseball since he was a kid and he was spending it farming. Still had the cap on, though.

Gaylord and his wife, Blanche, were warm and welcoming. They said that not too many baseball fans just up and stopped by, but that they were happy someone did. Blanche made us sandwiches. Gaylord signed autographs (we had a few Perry cards in the RV stash). Even at that age I knew Perry’s reputation as a ball-doctorer. He told us a bunch of spitball jokes and stories which he had no doubt honed on the banquet circuit over the years, but they were mostly new to me. My parents, who were not baseball fans and didn’t know much about Perry apart from the fact that he was a famous baseball player, were delighted when Perry asked me to explain to them what I thought a spitball was. You could tell Perry thought that it was absolutely adorable that I thought the best way to doctor a ball was to, you know, spit on it. He talked about Vaseline and all sorts of other stuff, adding “or so I’m told” or “some people say” every now and again with a wink.

After lunch, Gaylord took us back to his office, in a separate building. He opened a file cabinet containing autographed baseballs from his former teammates and his friends in the game. I got a George Brett ball, which Perry said he gave me because Brett was the best player whose autograph he had sitting around handy. My brother said he was a Tigers fan so Perry gave him a Lance Parrish ball Perry had gotten somewhere along the way. He had a bunch of others too, but we weren’t greedy. He gave my mom a T-shirt he had which commemorated the Pine Tar Incident, in which he played no small part. He autographed the shirt for her, apologized for it being so big and said that maybe she could use it as a night shirt. My dad took Polaroids of my brother and me with Perry which I still have around here someplace. Then off we went, with Gaylord and Blanche Perry waving from the porch.

I was saddened to hear a couple years later that Perry’s life took an unfortunate turn not long after we met him. Two years later he lost his farm to bankruptcy. A year later Blanche died in an automobile accident. Perry went on to coach college baseball for a while. I remember seeing an interview with him around that time and he seemed like a much sadder guy than the smiling fellow we met that day in 1984. It makes sense given all that had happened.

In 2012, while in Scottsdale to cover spring training, I walked into the Giants clubhouse one morning and sitting at a table were Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Gaylord Perry. They were there for some sort of pregame ceremony and were just shooting the breeze and telling old baseball stories. Perry was laughing and animated and at times was practically breathless due to all of the cackling. He had Mays in stitches too. It was fantastic to see him smiling.

When the conversation ended Perry got up and walked from the table. I thought about saying something to him about the time in 1984 when my dad impulsively took his kids to Gaylord Perry’s house and to thank him for the kindness he and his wife showed my family that day. I didn’t, though. He was soon in another conversation and, on some level, it seemed awkward for me to have brought that up there, in the clubhouse, wearing a press credential when people were working and preparing and things. In hindsight I wish I had.

I’m going back to Scottsdale to cover spring training again in March. I hope he’s there again. If so, this time I will.

Giants player who cheated in order to achieve milestones to be honored with statue

FILE - In this Sept. 3, 1973 file photo, home plate umpire John Flaherty checks Cleveland Indians' pitcher Gaylord Perry's cap, at the request of Milwaukee Brewers manager Del Crandall,  during the first game of a doubleheader against the Brewers,  in Milwaukee. Well after the end of his Hall of Fame career, Perry could still joke about his infamous spitball, but in 1982, the Seattle star was ejected for allegedly throwing the pitch against the Boston Red Sox. (AP Photo/File)
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Hey, I didn’t say “records,” I just said milestones. Milestones which I recognize as totally valid, by the way.

We’re talking about Gaylord Perry here, of course. As Hank Shulman reports, he’ll be getting a statue at AT&T Park. It will be unveiled on August 13, and it will go alongside statues of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal.

Perry was a fantastic pitcher, of course. A man who won over 300 games and struck out more than 3,500 dudes and, without question, belongs in the Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted eons ago. He belongs even if he cheated because, Jesus, a lot of dudes did or at least tried to do what he did and they didn’t become amazing pitchers as a result, so maybe the cheating didn’t make or break the man’s career? And because how on Earth can you have a baseball Hall of Fame without Gaylord Perry in it? That’d be preposterous.

Moreover, he’s a player for whom I have a great deal of personal admiration for personal reasons no matter what he did on the field (have I told you my Gaylord Perry story? If I haven’t told my Gaylord Perry story before remind me and I’ll do a post on it; he was a prince of a man to my family one time). UPDATE: Here’s that Gaylord Perry story.

See, you can separate the rule breaking from the rest of it if you try even a little bit.

Bonds next, please.