Media Day

Ballplayers: paid to hit and pitch, but they talk to the media anyway

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We’re in the middle of the NL player availabilities right now. The AL players will be made available in a few minutes. Somewhere right now there is a press conference about the Home Run Derby about to start. I’m not going to it because no one will be honest and say “Well, I’m just gonna try to hit the ball really far and see what happens.” Who needs it?

These events are really for the folks who live on player quotes. We, obviously, don’t live on player quotes here at HBT. Unless they’re funny or controversial, of course. Then we go to town. But hearing and repeating that it’s an honor to be selected to the All-Star game and that they’re soaking it all in and they’d like to thank the fans who voted for them, well, that doesn’t do a ton for us. And I’ve never been the fan of “ask the ballplayer the off-the-wall question!” school of journalism. Let’s leave that to gimmicky NFL people on the Super Bowl media day. Baseball and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog don’t mix that well.

Still, I went down and talked to some NL players and will talk to some AL players later because, heck, maybe someone would say something funny or controversial. No one did to me (we’ll have to wait for stories from other reporters before we know for sure). I talked to Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman and Andrew McCutchen. I was in a giant scrum around David Wright. I listened in on about a dozen other players being interviewed by other reporters. Among the highlights:

  • Jim Leyland had said earlier that, no surprise, Mariano Rivera will close the game out if necessary for the AL. I asked Kimbrel if Bruce Bochy had given any indication of the closer pecking order for the NL. I told him that he can answer quietly so Jason Grilli, sitting nearby, wouldn’t hear. Kimbrel said that he had no idea as he landed in New York about ten minutes ago and that I was like the fourth person he saw. When asked (by someone else) what his favorite park to pitch in was, he said “the big ones.”
  • Freeman is disappointed by the fact that a day or two after he won the Final Vote thing he got hurt and now isn’t able to play. I almost think winning the vote for him was the most fun part about it, though. He figured he’d get killed by Puig in the voting and thinks his family back in Orange County stuffed the ballot box like crazy. I told him 19 million people voted for him. He laughed and said “well, they helped.”
  • Jason Grilli is honored to be here. He also is unaware of any closer pecking order for the NL. Nor does he know if he’s the pitcher that Bruce Bochy has chosen to hold out of the game in case it goes 16 innings or something. I said that that’d probably be a starter. He said “yeah.”
  • Unsurprisingly, Andrew McCutchen does not think the Pirates are going to collapse this year. I asked him if that question bugs him. He added that it’s way better to be asked about a team collapsing than never having the team be good enough to inspire that question in the first place. He didn’t put it quite like that — he sort of got to that point after many words — but that was the idea. I feel like it was one of those things that, back in the day before tape recorders and media scrums, one single sports writer — a Damon Runyon type — would craft it into a more pointed and witty quote and attribute it to McCutchen all the same.

Sometimes I’m kinda sad we don’t live in those days, actually. I like to think of ballplayers as witty raconteur-types. But they aren’t. They’re ballplayers and they’re paid to crush baseballs, not say witty things to sweaty reporters. And therein lies my basic issue with the game of player quotes.

Willie Mays gets a cable car named after him

Major League Baseball hall of famer  Willie Mays, who spent the majority of his career as a center fielder with the New York and San Francisco Giants, smiles as President Barack Obama honors the 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants baseball team, Monday, July 29, 2013, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. The team beat the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 World Series, their second championship since the franchise moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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This is not exactly stunning news, but it’s Willie Mays’ 85th birthday today and any excuse to talk about Willie Mays is a good one. Happy Birthday, Willie!

The pretext is a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about how The Greatest Baseball Player of All Time (my view anyway) is getting an iconic cable car named after him. An icon named after an icon, I guess. The cable car is, appropriately, number 24.

Next month I’m taking my kids on vacation to California and we’re spending a few days in San Francisco. It’ll be a shame when I tell them we have to cancel half of a day’s plans while I make them wait for one particular cable car to come by so they can take my picture with it, but that’s just what they have to deal with given that I’m their dad.

Carlos Gomez calls out a hit piece-writing columnist

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Yesterday I wrote about a column written by Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. It was about Astros outfielder Carlos Gomez, who has had a poor start to the year.

The column, as I noted, was a hatchet job, blaming Gomez for the Astros’ problems despite the fact that Gomez is by far from the biggest of the Astros’ problems. It was particularly bad in that it presented an unedited bit of broken English from Gomez which seemed calculated to cast Gomez in a bad light. Many journalists were critical of Smith in this regard, noting that he could’ve used a translator, could have paraphrased or could’ve done some mild correction via brackets, as is often done with quotes from non-native English speakers.

Last night Gomez took to Twitter to call out Smith himself:

It’s possible to write a column about how a player hasn’t lived up to expectations without being an insensitive jackass. It’s possible to do so even in the sharpest of ways. Smith didn’t do that, however, and didn’t make an effort to try, it seems. Gomez is right to take issue with it. And I suspect that Gomez’s teammates and organization take issue with it too. Which likely doesn’t bode well for Smith getting cooperation from others in the Astros family.

Reminder: athletes are not heroes

Zack Greinke
Associated Press
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This is something of a “greatest hits” piece and it’s topic I’ve talked about here before, but I’m reminded of it again because of Facebook’s memories thing which tells me I wrote about it seven years ago today back when I was still doing stuff at my old Shysterball blog at the Hardball Times.

The topic: ballplayers as heroes. The subject of the 2009 post on the matter was Zack Greinke, who was then beginning his breakout year with the Kansas City Royals. A columnist talked about how uplifting Greinke’s story was, what with him having overcome some struggles with anxiety disorder which had caused him to leave the game for a brief period. In early 2009 he was back, baby, and better than ever and many wanted to turn him into something larger than just a ballplayer excelling at his craft.

In the post I wrote about how, while such an impulse was understandable, it was a dangerous one as athletes have been made into heroes for years and years and, so often, they end up disappointing. Because we built them up so high, however, we don’t see such instances as the mere exhibition of human fallibility. We see them as some greater failure or even a betrayal, which is both ridiculous and unfair to these men and women, even if they have failed in certain ways. They have worked hard all of their lives to be good at a particular sport. They did not promise us glory or inspiration, yet we assume that they owe us those things. Their failures, however they are manifested, are matched by our failures at expectation management.

But it’s even more pernicious than that. Because, as I wrote at the time, when we create heroes, we necessarily create the need for villains and we will go out of our way to find those too, justified or otherwise:

“Hero” is too strong and baggage-laden a word anyway. As [Bill] James notes, it places a heavy burden on young men, and these guys are under such scrutiny day-in and day-out that they really don’t need it. What’s more, the term hero it necessarily assumes its opposite — villain — and demands that we search them out too. You know, to restore balance to the universe and everything. Often — as in the case of A-Rod and Gooden and Bonds and all of the others — they’re the same people, just older . . . Hero creation, worship, and subsequently, destruction has long been a part of baseball. But it’s not an essential part, and in my mind not a desirable part.

Seven years later we’re still doing this. As Bill James noted in his “Historical Baseball Abstract,” “When a young player comes to the major leagues and has success right away, writers will almost always write about what a fine young man he is as well as a supreme talent.” Many of them, like Zack Greinke, will prove to continue to be fine older men, just as they were fine young men. Some will not. Would it not be better if we didn’t get so invested in how fine a young man any one of them is? Or, short of that, if we didn’t act so betrayed and victimized if they turn out not to be such a fine young man?

I like to hear a good story about a baseball player who, by all outward appearances, seems like a good person. But I’m content to give such a story a smile and leave it at that. If we require heroism, there are people who do truly heroic things in the world beyond throw baseballs.

Andrew McCutchen apologies to an official scorer he said should be fired

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) watches from the dugout during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Pittsburgh. Detroit won 7-3.(AP Photo/Don Wright)
Associated Press
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Andrew McCutchen made an error on Wednesday night. He thought he shouldn’t have been charged with one on the play, however, and afterward said “whoever scored that an error should be fired. That’s unbelievable. I did everything I could to catch it.”

It was a dumb comment for two reasons. First, a player “doing everything he can” on a play doesn’t make a misplay not a misplay. The “e” ain’t about effort, man. I realize scoring has gotten somewhat lax in recent years and players are routinely not given errors if it looks like they really, really tried, but there is not an intent element to the crime of making errors on the playing field. If you muff one, you muff one.

It was a dumb comment for another reason, and that’s that it was just not very nice. As we noted when David Ortiz or some others have made publicly disparaging comments about official scorers, it’s the ultimate punching down. These are people who have other jobs, aren’t public figures, don’t get paid a lot and really, really don’t have it in for anyone. Publicly criticizing them is bad enough, publicly demanding their jobs is pretty low.

Thankfully, with a day’s worth of reflection, McCutchen realized that this was the case and apologized. There aren’t public words from McCutchen available, but the club said that he reached out to the scorer and personally apologized. As he should’ve.