Dirk Hayhurst’s story of sexual abuse and debauchery in the minors has caused some blowback

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Earlier this week, Dirk Hayhurst wrote about his 2003 rookie league team over at Sports on Earth. Specifically, their off-the-field sexual habits which ranged from mere immaturity to what seems to have been, by any definition of the term, rape. I linked the post here approvingly, as I believe that, for whatever else it is, it’s a revealing look at an ugly part of sports culture that is overlooked by many.

But there is that “for whatever else it is” part, and many have come out in the past few days to criticize Hayhurst for telling this story. Or telling it in this way. Or telling it at this time. Or in, possibly, overstating how many of his teammates were involved in what he described. There are a lot of good points being brought up in this regard.

One good read along these lines is Alexis Brudnicki’s, who reached out to some of Hayhurst’s teammates for their side of the story. Another is Eireann Dolan’s piece, which sharply criticizes Hayhurst for having stood silent for so long. If something was said or done about it back in 2003, she argues, the very culture that Hayhurst seeks to expose now could have been addressed then and, maybe, the perpetrators of these alleged crimes could have been dealt with. Dolan’s piece is based, unfortunately, on personal experience. Another is from Stacey May Fowles who, while getting Hayhurst’s intent, notes that, in some important ways, Hayhurst’s story is part of the problem when it comes to male attitudes about sexual abuse. All of these reads are worth your time.

For Hayhurst’s part, he responded to the criticism he has received this week on Twitter, accepting some of this criticism as well-placed, but defending himself as well. I’ll put his tweets together into paragraph form for easier reading:

Back in 2003, I was afraid to lose my job, nuke teammates with things that would be denied and near impossible to prove…I wasn’t the writer I am now. I was young and stupid and naive enough to believe baseball policed itself…The rule was never speak of team behavior outside the locker room, no matter how bad. if you did and caused drama you’d get cut, or worse…You’d get branded (ask Bouton) and subject to every form of frontier justice the game had… beaten and beaned for breaking the code . . .I didn’t write that SoE piece to accuse anyone but myself. It’s not an attack or an apology. It’s a recounting… an admission of what was . . . It’s an expose’ of baseball’s code of silence on sexist behavior, which I was a part of just as much as anyone else, and I own that…So, yes, I realize I look awful. Some think I’m a coward for speaking late. Some think I’m a rat for speaking at all…I realize how bad I look, but the truth isn’t always convenient for those who tell it. If it was, more of it would be told. Thank for reading my stuff, your support, and for putting up with this long thread of tweets invading your feed.

This is one of those situations where I can see everyone’s point of view to some extent. I do wish Hayhurst had spoken up sooner but I understand why a person in his situation didn’t. I do think he painted with a very broad brush, but I also understand that his intent — even if it wasn’t necessarily successfully pursued — was actually not to call out anyone specific (and some who complain in Brudnicki’s piece about the broad brush seem more upset about Hayhurst writing about his experiences in baseball than what he wrote here specifically). It’s a hard subject that involved failures on Hayhurst’s part. I’m not sure there is any way he could have written this which wouldn’t lead to criticism of some sort. I hope (and believe) that he knows that.

From the outside-looking-in, however, I am still glad Hayhurst wrote this, even if it wasn’t anything anyone truly wanted to read. The excesses that can and all-too-often do take place inside sports are very real and need to be talked about. Ideally, they’re talked about when they occur and when something can be done about them. But short of that, I hope that they can still be talked about so they can help us deal with this stuff in the future.

Justin Verlander changed his mechanics to prolong his career

Justin Verlander mechanics
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Last week, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reported that Astros starter and reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander changed his mechanics in order to prolong his career. Specifically, Verlander lowered his release point from 7’2″ to 6’5″.

As Brooks Baseball shows, Verlander drastically altered his release point after being traded to the Astros from the Tigers on August 31, 2017. The change resulted in a huge bump in his strikeout rate. Verlander’s strikeout rate ranged between 16% and 27.4% with the Tigers, mostly settling in the 23-25% range. With The Tigers through the first five months of 2017, Verlander struck out 24.1% of batters. In the final month with the Astros, he struck out 35.8% of batters. He then maintained that rate over the entire 2018 and ’19 seasons with respective rates of 34.8% and 35.4%. Just as impressively, the release point also resulted in fewer walks. His walk rate ranged from 5.9% to 9.9% with the Tigers but was 4.4% and 5.0% the last two seasons with the Astros.

Verlander finished a runner-up in 2018 AL Cy Young Award balloting to Blake Snell before edging out teammate Gerrit Cole for the award last season. Despite the immense success, Verlander described his mechanics as unsustainable. Per The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan, Verlander said, “I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary. But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”

Verlander is 37 years old, so 10 more seasons would put him into Jamie Moyer territory. Moyer, who consistently ranked among baseball’s softest-tossing pitchers, pitched 25 seasons in the majors from 1986-2012.  He threw 111 2/3 innings with the Phillies in 2010 at the age of 47 and 53 2/3 innings with the Rockies in 2012 at 49. But aside from Moyer and, more recently, Bartolo Colon, it’s exceedingly rare for pitchers to extend their careers into their 40’s, let alone their mid- and late-40’s.

The Astros have Verlander under contract through 2021. The right-hander will have earned close to $300 million. He’s won a World Series, a Rookie of the Year Award, an MVP Award, two Cy Youngs, and has been an eight-time All-Star. Verlander could retire after 2021 and would almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2027. That he continues to tweak his mechanics in order to pitch for another decade speaks to his highly competitive nature.