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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.

White Sox players reportedly did not pay clubhouse dues at Safeco Field to protest

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 21:  Starting pitcher Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the seventh inning at Safeco Field on August 21, 2015 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale was recently suspended five games by the White Sox over a heated confrontation with front office staff over an issue concerning throwback uniforms the team was to wear against the Tigers. Sale was scratched from his scheduled start, forcing Matt Albers to make a spot start.

Ken Rosenthal reports that the White Sox players also collectively protested over another issue. The club was in Seattle for a three-game series at Safeco Field from July 18-20 last week. The Mariners have a new clubhouse policy that, as Rosenthal describes, redirects 60 percent of the dues into an account managed by the team. White Sox players did not agree with the policy because “Mariners management unilaterally entered a financial relationship that historically has existed between only players and ‘clubbies,'” Rosenthal explains.

Clubhouse attendants handle a lot of the players’ needs, typically doing a litany of chores throughout the day. They don’t get paid handsomely for their labor, so players often tip the clubhouse attendants for their hard work. The White Sox were protesting that the money was being redirected from the hardworking clubbies to the front office.

Mariners GM Jerry DiPoto confirmed that the White Sox were the first team to refuse payment to the visiting clubhouse manager Jeff Bopp. DiPoto also noted that other teams have reacted with “curiosity” and that the Giants backtracked after adjusting its clubhouse procedures last year following complaints from visiting players.

This is the third controversy in which the White Sox have been involved. Before the start of the regular season, some members of the club were upset that Adam LaRoche — now retired — often brought his son Drake into the clubhouse. Then there’s the Sale incident, and now this. Needless to say, it’s been an interesting year for the White Sox.

Report: Rangers interested in Royals’ Edinson Volquez

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 29: Starter Edinson Volquez #36 of the Kansas City Royals pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first inning at Busch Stadium on June 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reports that the entire Rangers “inner circle of front office personnel” was on hand to watch Edinson Volquez start for the Royals against the Rangers on Sunday. Volquez went six innings, giving up a lone run on seven hits and three walks with three strikeouts.

Volquez, 33, is earning $9.5 million this season and can become a free agent after the season if his team chooses to buy him out for $3 million instead of picking up their end of his $10 million mutual option for 2017. GM Jon Daniels said he was hoping the club would be able to avoid considering rentals, but as the club has dealt with injuries, the strength of the starting rotation has become a concern. Colby Lewis and Derek Holland are both on the disabled list. Yu Darvish has made only five starts since making his season debut in late May. Meanwhile, Kyle Lohse — who has given up 13 runs in two starts — has occupied the back of the rotation. A reliable starter would go along way towards helping the 57-42 Rangers fight to keep first place in the AL West.

Jon Morosi of FOX Sports also reports that the Rangers have shown interest in young Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez, but they would pay a much higher price for him than for Volquez. Velasquez has a 3.34 ERA with a 103/34 K/BB ratio in 91 2/3 innings for the Phillies this season.