Torii Hunter

Torii Hunter: “we’re brainwashed to want to win”

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LAKELAND, FLORIDA — I made it into the Tigers’ clubhouse right as it opened this morning. It’s like most of the other spring training clubhouses. A bit more cramped than some because Joker Marchant is a bit older, but it’s the same scene you always see. At least physically. In terms of vibe it felt much looser than many I’ve been to.

Miguel Cabrera has a lot to do with that. Unlike a lot of megastars who are scarce when the clubhouse is open to the press, he was in front of his locker the entire time. He holds court over in his corner, mostly with the Latino players, but not exclusively. Indeed, there appears to be more racial/ethnic/rookie-veteran intermingling in the Tigers’ clubhouse than you often see. As it was Cabrera was loud and laughing and joking. At some point he and some other players started making random rooster/chicken/I have no idea sounds and it devolved into a game of some kind in which one of them took video of the others as they all tried to do the same thing. If I had remembered even a lick of my college Spanish I would have asked, but oh well. They all looked like they were having a ball and happy to be in each others’ company. Good chemistry? I dare not even suggest it.

I had a reunion with Torii Hunter, with whom I spoke in Tempe when he was with the Angels in 2011 and 2012. As always, Hunter was amiable and talkative. Indeed, if you’re holding a notepad anywhere near his locker he’ll just start talking to you without you asking him anything, which is highly unusual. But pleasant. I’m pretty sure that’s the reason why every baseball writer goes out of their way to praise Hunter. The guy could talk about how we should seriously consider forced euthanization of everyone over 50 and how we should outlaw ice cream and baseball writers would still talk about how great he is. I get why. He makes their jobs easier. We all like people who make our jobs easier.

Hunter and I talked about the politics of veterans taking long bus rides during spring training — he doesn’t have to do it and is just fine with that — the difference between Florida and Arizona — he much prefers Arizona, even if he likes being with the Tigers — and the thing that makes him wake up every day even after the grind of spring training starts to set in:

“I just want to win a championship. That’s what we all want,” Hunter said.

I asked him if, as many in the media like to say, a players’ “legacy” is somehow incomplete if they don’t get a ring. He considered that for a second and didn’t quite agree with it, but he did say “Ballplayers, we’re all brainwashed to win. We’re brainwashed to want that. That’s what we want.”

He feels he’s close. Joe Nathan came into the room and Hunter yelled across to him. After their conversation ended I asked Hunter if he helped recruit his old Twins’ teammate to Detroit this offseason. “Yeah, I did. I called him and told him,” Hunter said. By “told him” it was clear that he meant that he told them that Detroit is where he should come to win a World Series.

The Tigers are among the handful of teams who can seriously say they’re set up for that.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]