Many have mocked long-time New York Times baseball columnist Murray Chass since he left the Times a few years ago and began writing at his own website. After he kicked off his solo enterprise explaining how he was NOT a blogger and how bloggers are the worst and all of that, he has been called “The Blogger Murray Chass” around these and other parts.
And a good deal of his output over the past several years — including his seeming obsession with Mike Piazza’s back acne, his smearing of Stan Musial, and his reporting mistakes regarding Marvin Miller’s Hall of Fame candidacy — has revealed that the the mocking is quite often earned.
That said: Chass is among the absolute best when it comes to writing about baseball’s labor and business history. He is particularly well-versed and well-spoken when it comes to the labor battles of the 1970s and 80s. Which is why it was quite nice to see the New York Times ask him to write a column about the 1975 decision by arbitrator Peter Seitz in the McNally/Messersmith case which ushered in free agency. It ran late last week and is well worth your time.
It’s worth it for two reasons. First, because as Chass notes over at his blog, the Times (and almost everyone else, to be fair) tends to jumble the history of free agency in baseball, often citing the Curt Flood case or the instance in which Catfish Hunter was set free by the A’s to sign with the Yankees as the birth of free agency. In reality neither of those cases actually did anything, even if they are important historical touchstones in the larger story of baseball free agency. Flood lost his case. Hunter’s was a singular matter involving an insurance premium that created no actual precedent.
The second reason it’s worth it is because it shows that baseball’s arbitrators are almost certain to be fired whenever they make a big decision and that, because of that, they can’t really think too hard about who they’ll please or anger with any decision. This is why discussion of the upcoming Alex Rodriguez arbitration shouldn’t really focus on whether the arbitrator is worried about his job security.
Anyway: always nice to see Chass talking about the stuff he knows so much about.
Spring training is tough for players under the best of circumstances. Even in an age when players work out all year, getting back into the swing of baseball-at-full-speed is tough. Many players spend the bulk of February and March knocking off the rust and getting their timing back. Because of this — and because the games have no real stakes — it is not wise to take spring training statistics super seriously. Especially if the player in question is assured of a spot on the roster and is trying to avoid injury before the regular season arrives.
Spring training for Shohei Ohtani is doubly difficult. Not only does he have to knock the rust off from the offseason, but he (a) has to get used to a new country and language; (b) has to get to know all new teammates, coaches and, really, an entirely new baseball culture; and (c) do all of that while dealing with a media crush that hasn’t been seen in baseball since Ichiro first arrived 17 years ago. In short, Ohtani is under massive pressure and has to make massive adjustments in a short time.
With that said, neither the Angels nor Ohtani can be all that pleased with how his spring training has gone. In two actual major league exhibition games he’s allowed eight runs in two and two-thirds innings. Seven of those came on Friday when he was shelled by the Rockies in an inning and a third. If you include B-games against minor leaguers, he has allowed 17 runs on 18 hits, four of which were homers, in four games. As a hitter he’s 2-for-20.
As Jeff Fletcher of the OC Register notes, Ohtani’s peripherals are not bad, as he has struck out a lot of guys and walked very few and the average on balls in play against him has been brutal, which is not super sustainable. Bad luck and some fat pitches at a time of the year when luck doesn’t really matter and the pitches, because of the rust, are likely to be fatter than normal.
As Fletcher also notes, Nolan Arenado, who faced Ohtani on Friday, said that his stuff looked good and that he’s going to be a good big league pitcher. Ohtani and Angels officials are all striking the right notes about bad luck and adjustments, saying that they’re not worried.
I imagine they’d be worrying even less if things had gone well this spring. Unless of course this is just a professional wrestling-style work aimed at getting more of us to watch his regular season debut, in which he’ll reveal that he was sandbaggin’ all along.