Josh Hamilton

Josh Hamilton, Ron Washington draw blame for the Rangers’ early exit

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I maintain that the Rangers are baseball’s most talented team. That they’re done after one wild card game falls mostly on the shoulders of Josh Hamilton and the shortcomings of manager Ron Washington.

Hamilton’s struggles are well chronicled. In the Rangers’ final nine games — seven of which proved to be losses — he went 10-for-39 with no homers, 16 strikeouts and no walks. He also made a big error in Wednesday’s defeat that gave the AL West to the A’s and relegated the Rangers to the wild card.

Tonight’s performance didn’t come with any defensive miscues, but it may have been the ugliest of the bunch. Hamilton grounded into a double play on the very first pitch he saw. He made another first-pitch out later, and he twice struck out on three pitches. Four at-bats, five outs, eight pitches.

Washington’s in-game management leaves much to be desired — Tony La Russa ran circles around him in the World Series last year — but one can live with that if his players respect and play hard for him. The way Hamilton mailed it in at the end and laughed off Washington in the dugout after Wednesday’s error doesn’t speak well for him and doesn’t speak well for Washington’s leadership. Perhaps it’s just one player. Perhaps it isn’t.

Still, Washington has blind spots. It’s one thing that Washington thinks Michael Young can still hit. After all, Young did bat .338 last season. It’s another thing that Washington has somehow been fooled into thinking he’s worth playing in the infield.

Washington also believes Elvis Andrus is good enough to bat second in the AL’s best lineup, yet he constantly has him put down sacrifice bunts ahead of two of the game’s best hitters. Andrus led the league in the category this year.

Now tonight’s loss was a team effort. Washington shouldn’t have gone to Derek Holland in the seventh, but it only cost Texas one run at the most in what ended up being a 5-1 game. Hamilton’s 0-for-4 still looms large, particularly since the two guys ahead of him both had two hits, but cleanup man Adrian Beltre had the same line. Unless Washington was the one who told Rangers hitters to go up hacking against Joe Saunders, he’s not responsible for the futile effort.

But the Rangers have come up short with a very talented roster three straight years now. I imagine the early exit makes it a whole lot less likely that Hamilton will be brought back after he hits free agency this winter. Washington almost surely will return, but it might be for the best if he’s set free, too.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.