Ballparks are adding spaces for players to let out their anger

Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Remember that time David Ortiz destroyed the bullpen phone in the dugout at Camden Yards? It was an understated dangerous moment for everyone else in the Red Sox dugout. An angry 6’3, 230-pound man was furiously repeatedly swinging a bat within feet of his teammates against the phone, causing the bat to break into shards.

What if there were a designated space for players to let out their anger? Let’s say, a safe space? Some ballparks are doing just that, as James Wagner of the New York Times reports.

Miller Park has installed an Everlast heavy bag in the bathroom of the visitor’s dugout. Mets second baseman Neil Walker said, “I’ve beaten that bag up a few times,” referring to some frustrating moments against the Brewers as a member of the Pirates.

Turner Field, too, has a punching bag, installed in the visitor’s dugout tunnel. Wagner spoke to clubhouse manager John Holland, who said, “We’re trying to minimize the damage.”

Wagner notes that players have other methods of dealing with frustration. Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur prefers to throw his bat at a wall. Cubs starter John Lackey not only yells at himself, but has taken his anger out on tables and chairs for which he’s had to pay clubhouse assistants.

Other players, like Yoenis Cespedes, are more zen. “I go sit down and think about what I did wrong so that the next time I can do better,” Cespedes said.

Athletes taking their anger out in violent, unhealthy ways is nothing new, so it’s great that some steps are being taken to reactively deal with it. However, my other response to Wagner’s article is: why are men so angry? It’s not just athletes. Men overwhelmingly commit the majority of violent crimes. That may be, in part, because we teach boys not to show weakness, and to respond to perceived slights by violence. Why do you think it’s embedded in baseball’s unwritten rules that if a batter shows up a pitcher, that pitcher should retaliate by throwing a 95 MPH fastball at the offender’s ribs?

What if, instead, we taught boys that it’s okay to feel sad or embarrassed or angry, and that it’s okay to talk about it? To that point, we have also socially demonized seeking help for mental health. What if we taught them that violence, no matter what — whether it’s directed at a person or an inanimate object — is an unhealthy response?

Maybe ballparks wouldn’t need to install punching bags in bathrooms to that angry players don’t put their teammates’ safety at risk, the way Ortiz did.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.