Author: Bob Harkins


Hanley Ramirez has ‘hunger of a rookie?’ It’s about time


Look out world, Hanley Ramirez is ready to play hard this season.

No more fooling around for this kid. No more treating ground balls with that special Roger Dorn flair. No more strutting around like he taught Abner Doubleday the nuances of the game. No more spotting the pitcher a pitch or two in each at-bat.

Ramirez, the star shortstop of the Florida Marlins, is ready to rebound from a sub-par 2010 season in which his average dropped 42 points, his RBIs plummeted from 106 to 76 and his defense regressed from casual to careless.

With spring training only two weeks away, the enigmatic star is ready to return to the form of 2009 that nearly netted him the NL MVP award. He says he “has the hunger of a rookie,” and started his offseason workouts a month early, according to a report from Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

“Everyone will be very surprised with the new Hanley and his whole makeup,” manager Edwin Rodriguez said. “He is very motivated. He was very disappointed in his season. He knows the whole offense revolves around him.”

Good for him. It’s heartwarming to see a three-time All-Star who is about to make $11 million decide that unlike last year, this time he really means business. These sorts of stories always make me wonder why he wasn’t motivated before? Perhaps it’s a matter of being too good too soon, and you just assume you’re going to hit .340 and drive in 100 every year. It just comes that easily. Or maybe it’s a matter of looking at the prospect of making $57 million over the next four seasons and feeling pretty happy with yourself.

Either way, Marlins fans are going to be facing years of frustration if their best player has to remember to be motivated every of couple of seasons. Ramirez is obviously a great talent, and even a down season like 2010 translated into an OPS+ of 124. But he’ll have to realize at some point that you can’t get by on talent alone. Otherwise you end up like Shawn Kemp, and nobody wants to see that.

Jackson reports that last year, opposing pitchers figured out that a steady diet of sinking pitches down-and-in would hold Ramirez in check, and the Marlins star never adjusted. And then there is the issue of his attitude, which some teammates perceive – according to Jackson – as moody.

Marlins special assistant Andre Dawson put it this way late last season: “When he’s struggling, he’s humbled and more approachable and communicative and you see a different makeup. When he’s on a hot streak, you see a lot of swagger. Some players don’t like that and call it selfishness or ‘hot dog.’ … You have to always show interest in teammates when they are struggling.”

There’s nothing wrong with a little humility. And knowing what a joy it is to watch Ramirez at his best, one can only hope that his new-found motivation has a lasting impact.

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.

Meche gave up $12 million because he ‘didn’t feel like I deserved it’

Gil Meche

The baseball world was stunned last week when Kansas City Royals pitcher Gil Meche announced he would retire from baseball, and in so doing surrender the $12 million he would have made in 2011, the final year of his contract.

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times caught up with Meche in a telephone interview, and the resulting story reveals Meche as a strong-willed man who puts personal reputation ahead of wealth, and who marches to his own beat.

That in itself is hardly surprising. After all, I don’t know how many people would give up $12 million when all they would have to do to earn it is to sit on the disabled list for a season. Lenny Dykstra wouldn’t give it up, as Kepner points out. Neither would Mo Vaughn. Neither would I, for that matter.

But Meche couldn’t live with the idea of making money that he didn’t earn, even though baseball teams know full well the risks they take when handing out big contracts.

“When I signed my contract, my main goal was to earn it,” Meche said this week by phone from Lafayette, La. “Once I started to realize I wasn’t earning my money, I felt bad. I was making a crazy amount of money for not even pitching. Honestly, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I didn’t want to have those feelings again.”

Meche made more than $50 million playing baseball, so giving up another $12 million hardly makes him a hero. But it’s hard not to admire him for standing by his principles. The right-hander, who is divorced, is living in an R.V. at a campground as he searches for a home to buy in his hometown of Lafayette, La. He says he’ll be spending a lot of time on airplanes visiting his children – two live in Phoenix, another in Texas. He told Kepner that he’s content with his decision.

“This isn’t about being a hero — that’s not even close to what it’s about,” Meche said this week. “It’s just me getting back to a point in my life where I’m comfortable. Making that amount of money from a team that’s already given me over $40 million for my life and for my kids, it just wasn’t the right thing to do.”

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.

Brandon Webb would like to sell you a car


What will it take for Brandon Webb to get you into a car?

The former Cy Young Award winner, who is trying to make a comeback from shoulder surgery with the Texas Rangers, is selling used cars with his brother-in-law in his hometown of Ashland, Ky.

A lot of pro athletes have businesses on the side, from real estate projects to bars and restaurants. Some even own car dealerships. But Webb actually is selling them. And we’re not talking about Escalades and Navigators. Think Honda Accords. Very old Honda Accords.

Webb told the Ben and Skin Show all about it, and the Dallas Morning News – thankfully – was listening.

“I got a little lot out here at this golf course that I bought,” Webb said. “We ended up just throwing some cars there. My brother-in-law has been selling cars for most of his life and he decided to do that, and I was like, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’ So we got about, I don’t know, 15-20 cars. We specialize in high-mileage cars, too. If y’all need one I can definitely get you taken care of. … I’m actually at the dealership right now.”

A used car lot at a golf course? Sounds like a place where Ty Webb — not Brandon Webb — might hang out.

On a side note, Webb also said that he was making “dramatic strides,” in his rehab, and that he would be ready to hit the ground running at spring training. But it’s good to know he has a back-up plan, just in case.

Now, what do we need to do to get you Rangers fans into one of these beauties?

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.

Jon Lester is already talking World Series


Red Sox Nation is brimming with confidence these days, and rightly so given the amazing offseason Theo Epstein put together.

They bolstered their bullpen with Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, added Adrian Gonzalez’s big bat to the middle of the lineup and nabbed speed merchant Carl Crawford. So obviously, there is reason for plenty of optimism in Boston.

What’s interesting, though, is that Jon Lester is already talking about the World Series – three weeks before spring training. The Red Sox ace is not the type to go on long-winded (or even medium-winded) rants. Nor is he likely to puff out his chest like an NFL receiver after an 8-yard catch. So his comments to Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe should tell you something about how good the Red Sox expect themselves to be this year.

“Mentally and physically, I’m preparing for the World Series,” he said. “I’m doing extra right now to make sure my body holds up for late October. You look at the kind of team we have and I don’t see why (we) can’t get there.”

Lester raved about Wheeler as “one of the best set-up men in the game,” and said the added bonus of having ex-Tampa Bay player Crawford on the team is that he doesn’t have to worry about facing him anymore. The left-hander, who won 19 games last year, also said that the Red Sox are focused and motivated after missing out of the playoffs last season.

We had a good year last year but we didn’t have a great year. Because of the injuries a lot of guys had time off. I think a lot of guys will have a chip on their shoulder.

“There’s a lot to prove in our clubhouse. That can take you a long way as a team.”

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.

Strasburg to begin throwing in 2-3 weeks, but long rehab ahead


Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post caught up with Washington Nationals phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg, and has some information on how the right-hander has been handling his rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery, how he has been spending his time this offseason, and his prospects for returning to action.

There are some good nuggets, so check out the story here.

Among the highlights …

  • Strasburg is expected to start tossing a ball again in 2-3 weeks.
  • He will likely begin minor league rehab appearances next August, but most likely won’t throw a pitch for the Nationals until 2012.
  • He is (this is for you, Craig) in the best shape of his life. Where he used to squat 235, he now squats 315.
  • He created and ran in the Stephen Strasburg 5K Fun Run & Walk, the proceeds of which benefit the San Diego State baseball program.
  • He’s done being down about the injury, and is instead looking ahead.

Strasburg no longer dwells on the injury. He chases the feeling his best moments brought, sustained by the belief that only work and time separate him from feeling it once more.

“I focus on the times where I pitched really, really well,” he said. “I try to remember what I was thinking.

“I just can’t wait to go there and do it all over again.”

You can follow Bob on Twitter, and get all your HBT updates here.