The Big Five with … Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens

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SAN FRANCISCO — Hensley ‘Bam Bam’ Meulens was supposed to be the first big thing from Curacao — Andruw Jones before Andruw Jones, if you will. He had power and the nickname of a ‘Flintstones’ character, but the best part of Meulens’ playing career turned out to be three years as a gaijin slugger in Japan in the mid-1990s.

And now in his first year as hitting coach of the San Francisco Giants, Meulens’ hitters have picked the perfect time to explode: 20 runs scored in the first two games of the World Series — after scoring only 19 in winning the NLCS in six games. Meulens takes a swing at The Big Five here:

So 20 runs in the first two game of a World Series doesn’t really surprise you?

“That’s what I said. We have hitters who have been great hitters in their career — .280-.290 career hitters. At some point, I thought they would all get together and put up some runs. We’ve been scoring just enough runs all year. It’s nice to see them breaking loose like this on this stage. I took this job last Nov. 2, and haven’t taken a day off since. It’s definitely gratifying that the hard work is paying off.”

So there was a specific plan of attack against Cliff Lee in Game 1?

“Definitely. The plan was to attack, and attack him early (in the count). Don’t let him get strike one, strike two, because he’s really tough when he gets ahead. We attacked him early and often, and he made just enough mistakes for us to capitalize. We wanted to get some runs on the board against him, make him work and get him out early. We had him over 100 pitches in the fifth inning. He missed with some pitches, and he threw more breaking balls than we thought he would throw.” 

Be aggressive and attack Lee, but also be patient enough to key a six-run eighth inning in Game 2 by drawing back-to-back-to-back walks?

“This is a veteran-filled lineup, smart enough in its approach to capitalize on mistakes. The bullpen for them came in and threw some balls. They couldn’t find the strike zone, we took advantage, and then we got a couple of big hits.”

Edgar Renteria has had a tough season injury-wise, but comes through with the big hits again — a fifth-inning homer and two-run double in the big eighth inning in Game 2. 

“He’s all about business. He’s all about playing in big games. He’s done it before. With Florida, he got the game winning hit (to win 1997 World Series Game 7). He was on a World Series winner in St. Louis, and he did it again with that home run to get us on the board. There was a long time when he was unable to play (due to injury), and then he basically lost his job to Juan (Uribe). But he persevered, and got his chance to play again when (Pedro  Pablo) Sandoval struggled.”

At this point, does anything Juan Uribe accomplishes surprise you?

“Not at all. He’s a guy who wants to be in this situation. That’s when he is at his best. At times, he’ll swing at balls over his head, or in the dirt. But he has the discipline to take pitches sometimes, too.”

Editor’s note: Tony DeMarco is a contributor to NBCSports.com who has been covering the big leagues since 1987. He’ll interview a guest during each day of the World Series for HardballTalk.com.

Something needs to change to avoid future incidents like Machado-vs.-Welke

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On Monday, Major League Baseball announced that Padres third baseman Manny Machado was suspended one game and fined an undisclosed amount for “aggressively arguing” and making contact with home plate umpire Bill Welke after a controversial strike three call in the fifth inning of Saturday’s game against the Rockies in Colorado. The clip of the incident is below, showing that Welke’s call was poor. Machado’s behavior was also poor, as he indeed made contact — inadvertently or not — with Welke and repeatedly swore at him. Machado also threw his bat, though it was not in anyone’s direction and no one was put in harm’s way.

Machado chose to appeal his suspension, as is his right. While that matter is in the process of being resolved, the Major League Umpires Association put out a lengthy statement on Facebook and a shorter but hashtag-laden post on Twitter. The statements were problematic for a number of reasons, chiefest being that the union is publicly commenting on an ongoing matter. MLB can keep Machado’s suspension at one game, which seems likely, or it can reduce his suspension to zero games. The league can also choose to reduce or remove the fine as well. Once the matter is resolved, the MLBUA should feel free to comment publicly on the matter.

MLBUA’s statement was also poorly proofread, hyperbolic, and creates a very legitimate argument for bias against Machado and/or the Padres going forward. The MLBUA described Machado as “violently” throwing his bat “with no regard to anyone’s safety.” It continued, “It is NOT okay to throw a temper tantrum and physically touch someone of authority, just because you don’t agree.”

MLBUA then moralized, asking, “What does this teach the MLB’s immense and ongoing influential youth movement trying to attract young fans to the game? Major League Baseball has to always lead by example in all cases of violent behavior, on and off the field.” It closed out, saying that the union was “extraordinarily disappointed” in MLB’s “inaction.”

Among the hashtags MLBUA used on Twitter were “#TemperTantrum,” “#RepeatOffender,” and “#Nonsense.”

Major League Baseball then released a statement on Tuesday night, saying, “…we do not believe it is appropriate for the union representing Major League Umpires to comment on the discipline of players represented by the Players Association.” The league added, “We also believe it is inappropriate to compare this incident to the extraordinarily serious issue of workplace violence.”

Whoever put out the message on behalf of the MLBUA should have asked themselves, “What is my purpose here and for whom am I posting this?” The entire purpose of a trade union is to create a cohesive unit, establishing bargaining power on behalf of labor versus capital. So, MLBUA is not writing this for fans, for players, or for MLB executives; it is publicly commenting for umpires. An ancillary benefit might be to engender public support for umpires vis-a-vis Welke.

It must then ask itself if the statement creates solidarity among umpires. And I think that’s a solid no. Machado is not the first player and will not be the last to make contact with an umpire and to throw a “temper tantrum” of that magnitude. So why single Machado out and die on this hill today? I would be shocked if more than a handful of umpires outside of Welke and his closest confidantes appreciated the MLBUA reacting the way it did. It doesn’t help them achieve any union-specific goals and might actually hurt them. Repeatedly referring to Machado’s actions as a “temper tantrum” and “nonsense,” and calling him a “repeat offender” is unprofessional. It’s something an Internet commenter would write in the heat of the moment, not the representative of a trade union in one of the most profitable industries in the country. Furthermore, in singling out Machado, Machado himself as well as his teammates have a legitimate reason to believe Welke and his crew might be biased against them not just for the remainder of the season but for the foreseeable future.

On a more pedantic note, the MLBUA wrote that it is not okay for players to act the way Machado did against “someone of authority.” It’s not the power that should shield umpires from workplace violence; it’s their humanity. Machado should no more or less scream and yell at an umpire than he should anyone else in any walk of life. However you rank umpires, coaches, front office executives, teammates, opponents, fans, etc. — they should all be treated equally.

All of this being said, there was one part of MLBUA’s statement that rang true. As mentioned, Welke did suffer violence in the workplace. I disagree with MLB that the comparison was inappropriate. There is nuance to what constitutes “workplace violence.” Is it a mass shooting? Of course not. But in no other employment setting would it be appropriate for one person to scream, curse, and throw items across the room during a disagreement. The union correctly wrote, “Physical contact simply cannot be tolerated.” The crux of all of this is that Major League Baseball doesn’t discourage altercations between umpires and players/coaches. Things have gotten better since the implementation of instant replay, but some instances — especially ball/strike judgment — can turn into very heated altercations.

MLB needs a flat rule instructing players and coaches not to argue with umpires. The team of the offending person(s) would incur an in-game penalty as well as a potential fine and suspension. In exchange for this loss of power on the part of players and coaches, the umpires should be subject to actual oversight. As it stands, umpires are almost never punished in any way for any kind of behavior towards players and coaches, nor are they often punished for poor results in terms of correct calls made. The umpires already have the advantage with their authority; their lack of oversight puts that advantage on steroids, which is why there’s often so much frustration. Umpires instigate confrontations a non-negligible amount of the time. If they felt like they would actually be held accountable for it, they might be much more reluctant to act, for example, the way Ron Kulpa did towards the Astros in early April.

MLBUA helped gain that power imbalance for its members, so it isn’t likely to give it up very easily. I don’t see my utopian dream coming to fruition anytime soon. But that’s the crux of every umpire-involved confrontation: authority. Umpires and players/coaches need to be on a level playing field in that regard, and the rules need to be crystal clear on what kind of behavior is allowed from both sides. Until that happens, we’ll be seeing a Machado-vs.-Welke incident once or twice every year ad infinitum.