The Old Man at the Ballpark

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It’s a beautiful day here in Surprise, but being a Monday, it’s a lazy day too. Not a big crowd either, so I decided to take in the first six innings or so from the stands.  I squatted in the first row of the tiny second deck along the third base line. Wonderful seats. And the company was fantastic.

Sitting two rows behind me was an old Rangers fan. The one with the mustache over my shoulder. I want to take him home with me. He knows a lot about baseball, he’s sarcastic, he complains a lot, but he seemed to have a lot of fun doing it. Actually, I think he is me, about 30 years in the future.

He started heckling in the first inning, but his heckling was all well-informed:

  • When right fielder Engel Beltre ranged far to the gap to pull in a fly at the wall he said “Cruz doesn’t get that.” Then added “God damn Cruz.”
  • When Lance Berkman popped out foul on the first pitch he said “Atta boy Berkman, make ’em work!”  I love that his heckling is informed by an appreciation of both defensive range and plate patience.
  • Padres’ first baseman Kyle Blanks hit a long home run. The man said “He knocked the “s***” outta that one!”  Then he told the pitcher who gave up the homer, Neal Cotts, “Don’t throw another one of those, OK?”
  • Later, when Berkman grounded out he said “we lose Hamilton, and we get this guy.” At that point the man’s adult son said, in a somewhat disgusted tone said “I will get you an Angels jersey if you keep this up. Do you want that?” The old man chuckled. I have this feeling he’s been driving his son crazy for years, and I hope some day my I can say I’ve done the same to my son.

There’s a fine line between being a jerk and not being a jerk. This guy seems like a master. He’s tongue in cheek enough to where he doesn’t seem mean. He’s old enough to where it’s clear that he’s not trying to impress anyone. He just likes his baseball, dammit, and prefers it if his Texas Rangers don’t suck at it.  I imagine it wears thin after a while — God bless his poor son — but for six innings it was wonderful.

Miguel Cabrera has two herniated discs in his back

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Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera underwent an MRI which revealed two herniated discs in his back, MLB.com’s Jason Beck reports. With six games remaining in the season, if Cabrera plays again, it will be as a designated hitter.

The back issues shed a lot of light on Cabrera’s uncharacteristically subpar season. He’s batting .249/.329/.399 with 16 home runs and 60 RBI in 529 plate appearances this season. He carries an adjusted OPS of 92, which is eight points below the league average and 14 points below his previous career low set in 2003 with the Marlins.

Cabrera, 34, is signed through 2023 and is owed a minimum of $192 million through the end of his contract.

MLB managers weigh in on anthem protests

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No other Major League Baseball player has taken a knee during the National Anthem since Athletics’ catcher Bruce Maxwell‘s protest on Saturday night. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trump’s call for the boycott of the National Football League and the firing of any player who chose not to stand during the anthem. The comments drew harsh criticism from many NFL players, coaches and owners and more than a few in MLB have also lended their support. There is still one game left to play on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether any of Maxwell’s league-mates will show their solidarity by refusing to stand as well.

Given a baseball culture that tends toward conformity more often than not, it seems unlikely. But it’s something league managers are prepared for — even if they don’t all agree with the demonstrations themselves.

White Sox’ skipper Rick Renteria specifically addressed Maxwell’s protest on Sunday, speaking to the league’s policy of inclusivity:

None of the White Sox knelt prior to their series finale against the Royals. Neither did members of the Pirates or the Cardinals, though St. Louis manager Mike Matheny and Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington both weighed in on the situation.

Matheny called the president’s comments “hurtful” and, like the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, appeared content to leave the decision to protest up to each player.

The Pirates, meanwhile, took a firmer tone. “We appreciate our players’ desire and ability to express their opinions respectfully and when done properly,” GM Huntington told Elizabeth Bloom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “When done appropriately and properly, we certainly have respect for our players’ ability to voice their opinion.”

Just what the Pirates consider “appropriate and proper” protocol was left up in the air, and club president Frank Coonelly offered no further insights in a separate statement to the press. Setting strict parameters for players to voice their opinions kind of puts them in a gray area, one they’ll have to clear up should someone elect to protest in the days to come, either with a bent knee and a hand over their heart or in some other fashion.

Equally ambiguous were comments from Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts, who claimed to oppose the movement for personal, if misguided reasons, but also respected the right of his players to make an “educated” statement in protest.

The Indians’ Terry Francona took what was perhaps the most balanced approach of the entire group:

“It’s easy for me to sit here and say, ‘Well, I think this is the greatest country in the world,’ because I do,” Francona told MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. “But, I also haven’t walked in other people’s shoes. So, until I think, not just our country, but our world, until we realize that, hey, people are actually equal — it shouldn’t be a revelation — and the different doesn’t mean less. It’s just different. We’ve got work to do.”

These may all be moot points. Maxwell may be the only player to formally protest Trump’s comments, despite the good intentions of his teammates and fellow players around the league. Others may feel too ambivalent, threatened or uncomfortable to protest what the A’s catcher referred to as a “racial divide,” especially in a way that is routinely perceived as unpatriotic.

Even if the protests made by NFL players and Bruce Maxwell fail to gain momentum, however, the underlying issues they speak to are not going away anytime soon. Here, then, is where MLB managers can help foster a more inclusive environment throughout the league, not only by showing respect for a player’s decision to stand against racism but by actively partnering with those who do so. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.