Let’s gear up for another incredible day of baseball

26 Comments

In case you missed any of yesterday’s mind-boggling action I offer you two things. First, my condolences, because you missed one of the best days of baseball in recent memory. Second, I offer you a quick set of links explaining to you how incredible it was:

But that was yesterday. Today we strap in for another twelve amazing hours of baseball, complete with two certain elimination games and two potential elimination games. And they break down like this:

Giants vs. Reds, 1:07 PM, TBS:  Matt Cain vs. Mat Latos for the right to advance to the NLCS. The Reds are at home, but home field has meant nothing in this series. Perhaps more meaningful: the Reds have beaten up Matt Cain pretty well this year, with the Giants ace going 0-3 with a 5.50 ERA and six homers in 18 innings against the Reds in 2012. Meanwhile, Latos was 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in two starts against the Giants. The Reds have mostly outplayed the Giants and have certainly outhit them over the four games in this series, but the Giants have shown tremendous resolve. This is a tossup.

Cardinals vs. Nationals, 4:07 PM, TBS: Kyle Lohse against a man in Ross Detwiler who wouldn’t be in this postseason rotation if not for the shutdown of Stephen Strasburg.  But the talk of the woulda, coulda, shouldas of the pitching staff will have to wait for the winter. Right now the Nationals need to figure out how to hit again, because their lack of offense these past two games has killed them every bit as much as their poor pitching. As for the Cardinals: we’re now on two straight years of no one really taking them seriously as a playoff team. Last year, that made some sense. This year, as the defending World Series champs, far less sense. It’s almost as if these guys are showing us that playoff experience makes a difference.

Orioles vs. Yankees, 7:37 PM, TBS: How do you get up off the mat after sustaining the gut punch that was Raul Ibanez’s ninth inning home run and the knockout punch that was his 12th inning bomb? If you’re the Orioles you try to shake it off and tell yourself that, contrary to all of the stuff going on in front of you, there is no such thing as Yankee Mystique and Aura. Probably. You also hope that the not-so-good version of Phil Hughes shows up for the Yankees and the good version of Joe Saunders shows up for you.  Because really, these are two guys who are each capable of a short outing, and we should not expect another tense matchup like we saw with Kuroda and Gonzalez yesterday.  Yesterday’s blasts notwithstanding, the O’s have the better bullpen and this is a game in which they’ll likely need it again. For the Yankees, after pulling A-Rod for a hero pinch hitter, and after all of his struggles, what do you do with your $250,000,000 man?

Tigers vs. Athletics, 9:37 PM, TNT: OK, Tigers, get off the ground. Shake it off. I realize that your heart attack-inducing closer coughed up a two run lead when you were three outs from winning the series, but that’s the past and the future is brighter. Why? Because over there in that hangar you have a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in the form of Justin Verlander, warmed up and ready to fire missiles against Oakland A’s hitters who, yesterday’s rally notwithstanding, have not been all that hot. If you’re a betting man, you take the otherworldly ace over the possibility of improbable comebacks and walkoff wins every time.  The only question is, after yesterday’s Jose Valverde meltdown, what on Earth does Jim Leyland do if he gets to the ninth inning with a lead?  My suggestion: set Verlander’s pitch count at approximately 195.

Strap in, baseball fans. Turn your TV on at 1PM Eastern and don’t touch that dial. And while you’re watching, have your computer, tablet or smartphone with you locked in to HardballTalk, because we’re gonna have this stuff covered like nobody’s business.

CC Sabathia won’t visit the White House if the Yankees win the World Series

Getty Images
18 Comments

Over the past couple of days the subject of athlete activism, always present to some degree in American sports, but recently revived by Colin Kaepernick and a few other football players in the form of silent protests during the National Anthem, exploded into a headline dominating news story. Lighting the fuse: President Trump directly inserting himself into the controversy.

He did so during a speech on Friday night and during a series of tweets Saturday and continuing into this morning in which he urged NFL owners to “fire” or suspend players who do not stand for the national anthem. He also attempted to disinvite the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from their traditional White House visit because of their star player Stephen Curry’s public opposition to him, though Curry had already said he wouldn’t go.

As Ashley wrote last night, the silent anthem protests have now come to baseball, with A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the fist player to kneel during the National Anthem. Before that, at least one baseball executive, Orioles Vice President John P. Angelos, came out strongly on the side of players and against Trump. Joe Maddon said some less-than-enlightened words on the matter. Major League Baseball issued a statement on the matter. It was, not surprisingly, somewhat empty, taking something of a both-sides-have-good-points tack. It’s understandable, I suppose. I suspect Major League Baseball and its owners would prefer to not have to comment on this at all. The league does not do this sort of controversy well.

Ballplayers, however, will likely continue to speak up. The latest: Yankees starter CC Sabathia, who was asked yesterday whether he would visit the White House if the playoff-bound Yankees won the World Series. From the Daily News:

“Never. I just don’t believe in anything that is Trump. So there wouldn’t be any reason for me to go at all. I just think it’s stupid. I just think it’s dumb that he’s addressing players and stuff that he shouldn’t be. But it is what it is, and that’s the country we live in these days . . . I’m proud of the way that everybody has Steph’s back and just athletes in general these days, the way everybody has been stepping up has been great.”

Baseball players, as we’ve noted many times over the years, tend to be a more conservative bunch than football or basketball players. There are a lot more white players and a lot more players from southern, suburban and exurban areas. A significant number of racial-ethnic minority players were not born in the United States, so U.S. politics may not necessarily preoccupy them the way it may players from the United States. As such, political protest like we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA was never going to start in baseball in 2017.

But that does not mean that it was not going to come to baseball. Contrary to what so many fans seem to think, sports do not exist inside some bubble into which the real world does not intrude. Athletes are citizens just like you and me with social, political and personal concerns just like you and me. And, at the moment, a government official is demanding that they lose their jobs because he does not agree with their political views and the manner in which they are expressed. I suspect most of us would get upset by that if it happened to us. Certainly a lot of people I know on the conservative side of the political expression worried about government overreach and freedom of speech. At least before January of this year.

So I am not at all surprised that baseball players like Sabathia are beginning to speak out. He will not be the last. Others will join him. Others, as is their right, will push back and say they disagree with him. If and when people feel inspired to tell them to “stick to sports,” or “stay in their lane,” perhaps they should ask why the President of the United States decided not to do so himself. And ask why he thinks it’s appropriate for athletes to lose their jobs for their political views and why private entities like the NFL should be patriotic institutions rather than businesses which put on sporting events.

 

Bruce Maxwell first MLB player to kneel during National Anthem

Getty Images
75 Comments

Athletics’ rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did not stand for the National Anthem on Saturday night. He’s the first MLB player to do so and, like other professional athletes before him, used the moment to send a message — not just to shed light on the lack of racial equality in the United States, but to specifically protest President Donald Trump’s suggestion that NFL owners fire any of their players who elect to protest the anthem by sitting or kneeling.

“Bruce’s father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” Maxwell’s agent, Matt Sosnick, relayed to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser on Friday. He continued:

Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump’s response to a number of professional athletes’ totally peaceful, non-violent protests.

Bruce has shared with both me and his teammates that his feelings have nothing to do with a lack of patriotism or a hatred of any man, but rather everything to do with equality for men, women and children regardless of race or religion.

While Maxwell didn’t make his own statement to the media, he took to Instagram earlier in the day to express his frustration against the recent opposition to the protests, criticizing the President for endorsing “division of man and rights.”

Despite Trump’s profanity-laced directive to NFL owners on Friday, however, it’s clear the Athletics don’t share his sentiments. “The Oakland A’s pride ourselves on being inclusive,” the team said in a statement released after Maxwell’s demonstration. “We respect and support all of our players’ constitutional rights and freedom of expression.”

Whatever the fallout, kudos to Maxwell for taking a stand. He may be the first to do so in this particular arena, but he likely won’t be the last.