Craig Calcaterra

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - JUNE 13:  Catcher Jose Molina #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks for a sign from the bench during play against the Kansas City Royals June 13, 2013 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.  The Royals won 10 - 1. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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Will catchers soon have headsets in their helmets?

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Teddy Cahill of Baseball America tells us about a new innovation in the never-ending struggle to speed up games: catcher headsets.

Just as quarterbacks never call their own plays anymore and, instead, have them radioed in to them from the sidelines, catchers rarely call their own pitches anymore and have signs relayed to them from the dugout. While it doesn’t seem to take a ton of time to get the signs, it does require the catcher to take his attention off the field and everyone to momentarily stand down. Over the course of 300 pitches in a game a catcher being able to simply set up and listen, rather than look over, is not a trivial amount of time.

Cahill explains how the technology is being tested in the college ranks. If it works, don’t be surprised if you hear about it being tested by the pros soon.

Hall of Famers talk about character, PEDs and sabermetrics

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 27:  Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven is introduced during the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Clark Sports Center on July 27, 2014 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Jerry Crasnick of ESPN interviewed several Hall of Famers — Craig Biggio, Tom Glavine, Jim Palmer, Barry Larkin and Bert Blyleven — to ask them their thoughts on the various controversies that tend to come up whenever the Hall of Fame is mentioned.

Things like, how to treat guys who were primarily DHs or relief pitchers. What role, if any, “character” should play in a guy’s candidacy. PEDs, obviously. It’s a pretty interesting conversation — all of the guys Crasnick speaks to have a reputation for being smarter than your average baseball player — so it’s certainly worth your time.

Blyleven’s comments were somewhat . . . curious, however. As he has in the past, he’s pretty hard on players who used PEDs while thinking Pete Rose should be in. Which, yes, a lot of you think, but the manner in which he approaches the topic is odd.

Blyleven justifies voters dinging PED guys based on the vision the Hall of Fame’s leaders, Jane Forbes-Clark and Jeff Idelson, have for their institution and “what they expect out of their inductees.” Fair. But he then laments Pete Rose not being in there without mentioning that the reason Rose has never been on the ballot is that Forbes-Clark and Idelson ruled that he not be, presumably because he is not “what they expect out of their inductees.” Maybe he doesn’t realize that’s why Rose isn’t there, I have no idea, but he comes off as praising their character judgments in one instance but slamming it in the next.

More interesting to me, however, is what Blyleven says about how Hall of Fame voters should consider sabermetrics and statistical analysis. Here he is today:

“I’m from the old school, so I don’t really get into the Sabermetrics or analytics. I try to see what’s in a guy’s heart. I’ll look at his hustle and desire and leadership and character. I don’t care what the numbers say. Sometimes they don’t show what a guy really means to a ballclub.”

Again, a lot of baseball players say that. But there is no baseball player who owes his Hall of Fame induction to sabermetrics and analytics like Blyleven does. Blyleven polled below 30 percent on his first six times on the ballot, going a low as 14% in 1999.

In 2003, Rich Lederer founded a website, The Baseball Analysts, and Lederer made it part of his mission to advance Blyleven’s candidacy. As Lederer’s campaign proceeded — joined by many sabermetric voices and fellow travelers — Blyleven’s vote totals climbed. Eventually, of course, he was elected.

Blyleven was always thankful for Lederer’s advocacy and gave him shoutouts for it. Like he did here, to the Washington Post in 2011:

“I thank all of those people in my corner trying to get me into the Hall of Fame, that the day has finally come,” Blyleven said.

Although Blyleven wasn’t viewed as one of the elite pitchers in the game during the era in which he played, his backers argued — apparently quite convincingly — that he should have been. There were the well-known “counting” stats, such as his 60 shutouts (ninth all-time) and 3,701 strikeouts (fifth all-time). But there were also advanced metrics, such as WAR and ERA+, that placed Blyleven’s career in a different light.

“[Lederer] brought out so many stats,” Blyleven said. “[He showed] it wasn’t just about wins and losses.”

To be clear: I don’t think Blyleven is contradicting himself here. It’s possible for him to be thankful for someone for bringing advanced stats to bear in support of his Hall of Fame case while still believing that his legacy is, in reality, a function of hustle and heart, like he said today.

But you’d think he’d believe there are other players who get overlooked despite having his level of hustle and heart too, and that he’d be in favor of those guys being properly assessed the way he eventually became. Sabermetircs and sabermetric advocates are how it worked for him, so you’d think he’d believe it could work for the next Bert Blyleven to come along too.

I dunno. The only definitive takeaway I have of this is that talking to ex-ballplayers is not necessarily the best way to get insight into stuff that isn’t directly related to that particular ex-ballplayer.

Joe Maddon says the 2017 Cubs are going to be “authentic”

Joe Maddon
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Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes the cosmic, big picture stuff. He comes up with themes and slogans for entire seasons or parts of seasons. Thinks about larger and broader motivational things and talks about them far more than he talks about the Xs and Os of baseball.

Last year, for example, he talked about expectations and “embracing the target” that others set for the Cubs, which runs contrary to how most people in baseball talk about external expectations. This year he’s talking up something else. From ESPN Chicago:

Coming up with a new slogan for a new challenge has been an offseason goal for the Cubs’ third-year manager. “Authenticity” is the foundation of his message.
“It’s a great word to bring an entire message from,” Maddon said. “Get in front of the group that first day in spring training. Just think of that word: ‘authentic’ and ‘authenticity’ and the positives that can be derived from that.”

I’m not sure how the concept of “authenticity” translates to baseball motivation and preparation. It seems like a key part of being an elite athlete is believing a lot of impossible things as a means of psyching yourself up to do things most people can’t do. And people smarter than me have talked a lot about how transparency and authenticity can, in some contexts, hinder leadership.

But I suppose figuring out how to navigate such philosophical minefields is why they pay Joe Maddon the big bucks.