Baseball: the only sport people expect to be stuck in the past

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These two tweets came from ESPN’s Howard Bryant yesterday morning. They came exactly three minutes apart:

The first tweet: a smart reminder to NCAA fans and hand-wringers that the future is not to be feared, that the past is not the only way to do things and that people and institutions adapt to change. The second tweet: a complaint that baseball isn’t like it was several years ago when managers barking loudly and creating controversy was the rule rather than the exception.

That second part is endemic to baseball analysis: “Baseball was best before, and these new things are going to send the sport straight to hell.” Most of the time, you’ll find, baseball was best was when the speaker was a kid. Or, sometimes, when they were a young writer making their first mark in the industry.

I mean, ask yourself, do we seriously compare sprinters, tennis players, basketball players, football players or soccer players to those of the past? Maybe by analogy, but in those sports everyone appreciates that Rafael Nadal, transported back via a time machine, would never lose if he played in the 70s, that a college long-jumper would sweep the medals in the 1956 Olympics, or that if we put Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick in charge of a team in the 50s that they wouldn’t win several consecutive championships. They don’t think like that with respect to baseball, though. No, people still seriously think Babe Ruth would hit .360 with 60 homers if he were facing today’s pitchers. It’s ridiculous, of course, but we allow such magical thinking in baseball for some reason.

And, as Bryant’s tweet shows, it applies to broader analysis than analysis of just the sport on the field. The old, headstrong barking managers like Ozzie Guillen, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella either barked themselves out of jobs or burnt themselves out and front offices have almost uniformly decided to go in a different direction. In any other sport it’s characterized as innovation or evolution. In baseball, whoa, this is the end of the world.

If you dig down into the conversations Byrant’s tweets spawned, you’ll see that his larger point is that baseball is scared to death of losing young fans and thus, the change to what he calls “science” and what he thinks is “boring as shit” is the worst thing to do. I suspect he believes this applies to broader sabermetric thinking and not just manager choice.

If so, I’d ask him to think about who was leading the game, who the managers were and what the game’s character was as it slid into unpopularity. Brad Ausmus and Matt Williams — two company men cited in the Ken Rosenthal article that inspired Bryant’s tweets — aren’t responsible for that. Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker were on baseball’s scene from the 1960s-on. Which isn’t to say it was their fault either. It is to say, however, that baseball’s popularity and demographic challenges are bigger than the philosophical orientation of a handful of managers and general managers.

And in no event are the solutions to baseball’s problems more likely to be found by looking harder at the past than at the future. Because that’s not the case for anything.

Cardinals place Dexter Fowler and Kevin Siegrist on the disabled list

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The Cardinals announced a handful of roster moves ahead of Sunday night’s game against the Pirates. Outfielder Dexter Fowler and pitcher Kevin Siegrist were placed on the 10-day disabled list with a right heel spur and a cervical spine strain, respectively. Outfielder Chad Huffman was optioned to Triple-A Memphis. The club recalled outfielder Randal Grichuk and pitcher Mike Mayers and purchased the contract of first baseman Luke Voit from Memphis.

Fowler, 31, apparently suffered his heel injury during Saturday’s game against the Pirates. He had previously missed a few games due to a quadriceps injury. He’s currently hitting .245/.336/.481 with 13 home runs and 35 RBI in 277 plate appearances.

Grichuk, 25, struggled to a .222/.276/.377 triple-slash line over his first 46 games in the big leagues, so the Cardinals sent him down to Triple-A. In 14 games with Memphis, Grichuk hit three doubles and six home runs.

Voit, 25, has crushed Triple-A pitching so far this season, batting .322/.406/.561 with 12 home runs and 48 RBI in 293 PA. He may see the occasional start at first base, but he’ll be used mostly as a bench bat.

Roberto Osuna reveals he has been dealing with an anxiety issue

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Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna recently revealed that he has been dealing with an anxiety issue, Rob Longley of the Toronto Star reports. Osuna specified that the issue is completely off the field, not on the field.

Osuna had been feeling “a little bit anxious, a little bit weird” and said, “I feel like I’m lost a little bit right now.” Despite the anxiety, Osuna volunteered to pitch during Friday’s loss to the Royals, but the Blue Jays smartly chose not to put him into the game.

Osuna said, “I wish I knew how to get out of here and how to get out of this. We’re working on it. We’re trying to find ways to see what can make me feel better. But to be honest I just don’t know.”

It must have been tough for Osuna to make his issue public, as there is still a stigma around dealing with mental issues. Given the prominent position he holds in the Jays’ bullpen, fans become even less empathetic about taking time off to deal with it as well. Hopefully, Osuna is able to use the time off to get the help he needs. And hopefully his going public helps motivate other people dealing with mental issues to seek help for themselves.

The 22-year-old recently became the youngest player in major league history to reach 75 career saves. This season, Osuna is carrying a 2.48 ERA with 19 saves and a 37/3 K/BB ratio in 39 innings.

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Update: Osuna pitched the ninth inning of an 8-2 ballgame on Sunday and got all three Royals out on strikeouts.