The Beanball Epidemic

Yesterday, the San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals were involved in a bench-clearing brawl when Hunter Strickland deposited a 98 mph fastball into Bryce Harper‘s right hip in the top half of the 8th inning at AT&T Park.

After the dust settled and the players went back to their respective dugouts, most fans and media likely wondered, how many games will Harper be suspended? To a lesser degree, how many games will Strickland be banned? No disrespect to Strickland, but the game of baseball suffers as a whole when Harper isn’t playing. While Strickland denies hitting Harper on purpose, the whole thing was unnecessary, especially if it truly was about the two home runs Bryce hit off him in the 2014 postseason.

There have been no less than four bench-clearing incidents within the month of May in 2017, making beanbrawls and resulting fights an epidemic. The Rangers and Astros kicked things off when Lance McCullers threw a pitch behind Mike Napoli’s head on the 1st of May. A little more than two weeks later, Yasmani Grandal took exception to a fastball thrown by Johnny Cueto, and the benches emptied. The same day, the benches cleared on a couple different occasions when Jose Bautista flipped his bat after a home run and Jose Motte quick pitched to strike-out Kevin Pillar. The above mentioned Giants/Nationals brawl makes four , and there are two more days worth of games left to play as of this writing.

In the postgame interview, Harper stated, “A baseball’s a weapon“. When it is thrown at speeds professional baseball players throw, it’s potentially lethal. When most fights happen in baseball, it is usually because a pitcher threw at another team’s hitter. In this month’s dust-ups, that was the case in each game with the exception of the Braves/Blue Jays game.

Personally, I think it’s right that teams protect their players when needed, but it’s getting to the point of getting ridiculous. If Hunter Strickland really was exacting revenge against Harper hitting 2 home runs off him two and a half years ago, Joe Torre and Major League Baseball needs to raise the bar higher in terms of punishment. To some degree, they did when commissioner Rob Manfred and Joe Torre told the Red Sox and Orioles to cut out the feuding, after both teams traded high and inside (and at time, behind) pitches resulting from the late slide by Manny Machado.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but from a fan’s standpoint, I don’t want to see someone seriously injured (or worse) because some pitcher decides to use a 90 mph as a weapon because he’s mad.

Before I go, I want to share a video of the very first bean-brawl I ever saw. On August 12, 1984, the Atlanta Braves and San Diego Padres had a brawl for the ages. I was 13 years old and was watching the game on TBS, back when Ted Turner owned both the TV station AND the Braves, and most of their games were televised. I’ll let the Sporting News article I linked and the video below to give the specifics, but it was very surreal and unforgettable.

 

The above video is only part of the craziness. There were other times over the course of that crazy game where the benches cleared, both before and after. There are videos on Youtube that show the others.

The Braves manager on that fateful 1984 day? None other than Joe Torre!

 

 

See you next time!

Charlie

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In Memoriam: MLB Players Who Made the Ultimate Sacrifice

Memorial Day is a day where everyone should take a few moments and honor those who served in the Armed Services and was killed in the line of duty. Those who made the “Ultimate Sacrifice” protecting our freedom and our way of life deserves the highest respect.

In honor of Memorial Day, I would like to honor the MLB players who were killed during World War I, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. Their names all deserve to be mentioned.

World War I:

Lt. Alexander “Tom” Burr (OF), US Army Air Service, killed in a plane crash in France on 10/12/1918

Lt. Harry E. Chapman (C) of the US Army, died of illness in Nevada on 10/21/1918

Lt. LaVerne A. “Larry” Chappell (OF), Medical Corps, died of illness in San Francisco, CA on 11/8/1918

Pvt. Harry M. Glenn (C), US Army, died of illness in St. Paul, MN on 10/12/1918

Cptn. Edward L. “Eddie” Grant (3B), US Army, killed in action in France on 10/5/1918

Cptn. Newton S. “Newt” Halliday (1B), US Navy, died of illness in Great Lakes, Il on 4/6/1918

Cpl. Ralph E. Sharmin (OF), US Army, died in an accident in Camp Sheridan, AL, 5/24/1918

Sgt. Robert G. “Bun” Troy (P), US Army, died from battle wounds in France, 10/7/1918

 

World War II:

Cptn. Elmer J. Gedeon (OF), US Air Force, killed in action in France, 4/20/1944

1st Lt. Harry M. O’Neill (C), US Marines, killed in action in Iwo Jima, 3/6/1945

In 2013, Rob Weintraub wrote an excellent article for the New York Times on Cptn. Gedeon and 1st Lt. O’Neill expanding on their lives and their ultimate sacrifices in the line of duty.  Two Who Did Not Return

 

Korean War:

Mjr. Robert O. “Bob” Neighbors, US Air Force, missing in action in Korea, 8/8/1952

 

Vietnam War:

None

 

In the interest of space and time, I limited this article to major league players. Many more players killed during these conflicts were minor league players, Negro League players, college, amateurs, semi-pro players and baseball players from other countries as well.

I drew my information from Gary Bedingfield’s Baseball in Wartime website, an excellent resource honoring players who served, who died in the line of duty, surviving Veterans and more. It’s well worth your time to check it out, and even donate to help keep this resource online, if you so wish.

So please take a few moments to thank everyone who died in the line of duty, allowing us the freedom we enjoy in today’s world.

 

See ya next time.

Charlie

 

 

Posted in MLB

Yankees Stay Patient, Hold Off A’s, 3-2

BRONX, NY – For 5.2 innings in yesterday afternoon’s contest against the New York Yankees, live-armed Oakland A’s starting pitcher Jharel Cotton help the Bronx Bombers without a hit.

Cotton had spotted the Yankees an early 1-0 lead, thanks to some wildness in the first inning. Second baseman Starlin Castro hit a sacrifice fly to right-field, scoring catcher Gary Sanchez, who had walked earlier in the inning. Sanchez advanced to second, when Cotton hit Matt Holliday with a pitch and both runners moved up on a wild pitch, setting the stage for Castro’s sac fly.

Cotton and Yankees counterpart CC Sabathia matched zeroes on the scoreboard until the bottom of the sixth inning. Cotton’s pitch-count was climbing, thanks to his own lack of command and Yankees batters making him work. However, no Yankees batters had recorded a hit. After two quick outs, Gary Sanchez reached base with another walk, bringing up Holliday. On a 1-0 pitch, the 105th of the afternoon for Cotton, Holliday deposted a home-run into the A’s bullpen in left/center field, putting the Yankees ahead 3-1.

 

Two pitches later, Starlin Castro singled, ending the day for Cotton. Those would be the only two hits the Yankees would have for the entire game.

The A’s wouldn’t go away easily, however. Tyler Clippard was on the hill to start the top of the 8th inning. On a 2-2 pitch to the first batter, Jed Lowrie, he struck him out looking. It was the third time Lowrie was rung-up by home plate umpire Will Little, with some pitches being rather questionable, and he blew his stack. Little thumbed him out quickly, but Lowrie had his say. Khris Davis was next, and he walked on a 3-2 count. The following batter, Ryon Healy hit a 1-1 pitch for a double to left, driving Clippard from the game.

Yanks manager Joe Girardi had closer Dellin Betances warming up as Clippard started the inning, and this proved to be a wise decision. Betances came in, and quickly extinguished the fire Clip started. He followed that up by pitching a quick 1-2-3 9th inning, capped striking out Matt Joyce to end the game.

Video highlights courtesy of MLB.

 

Michael Pineda faces off against A’s starter Andrew Triggs in afternoon’s series finale at 1:00 eastern. It can be seen on YES Network.

See ya next time!

Charlie

Posted in MLB

Updated: Is Bartolo Reaching the End of the Line?

June 5, 2017 – **UPDATE**

Bartolo Colon has another rough start against the Phillies, and Braves media and fans are speculating whether this could be his final start for Atlanta.

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

Original story written May 25, 2017

The numbers are ugly. Bartolo Colon and the Atlanta Braves faced the Pittsburgh Pirates this afternoon at Sun Trust Park and the Bucs had their way with the now 44-year old starter, as the Pirates defeated the Braves, 9-4. After today’s carnage (5 IP, 10H, 7ER, 3BB, 1K), Colon’s season record stands at 2-5, accompanied by a 6.96 ERA.

Bartolo Eats It 2

Colon has stumbled through most of his starts in 2017, and his stats for May have been particularly bad. He allowed 39 hits and 25 runs over 24 innings this month, and his trademark pinpoint control has wavered. Over the past month, Bartolo has allowed seven walks. This doesn’t look terrible on the surface, but for a pitcher like Colon, it’s an issue because he now barely reaches 90 mph, and he needs to be precise with his locations or he will get torched. In 2015 and 2016, Bartolo’s average BB/9 innings were 1.1 and 1.5, respectively. In 2017, it’s almost 2.4 BB/9 innings.

Screenshot (414)

An examination of Colon’s stat line, illustrated above, shows he threw roughly 60% of his pitches for strikes and he walked three batters over five innings. A number of his other starts in ’17 have had similar results.

A pitcher with lower velocity can survive in the majors if he can locate his pitches, and Colon has proven it time and again over the years. No pitcher can survive long in the big leagues if he can’t locate, even those who reach the mid and upper 90’s.

Over his twenty year career, Bartolo Colon has logged more than 3,200 innings, almost 2,400 strikeouts and won 235 games. He’s wowed us older fans who remember his early years with the Indians when he could touch 100 mph routinely over the course of his starts. Colon persevered as he recovered from years of shoulder troubles and worked his way back in 2011, and transitioned to more of a finesse pitcher. He learned to win games with lesser stuff and pinpoint location, and won 82 games over the past seven seasons.

Whether Colon’s 20 year career will result in him being inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame is debatable, but this writer feels he should get serious consideration. If this season is the end of the line for Bartolo, then it’s been a hell of a ride and I’m glad I was able to see it.

And we’ll always have his home run off James Shields to look fondly back on! 😎

See you next time!

Charlie

Yankees Bullpen Not Much of a Relief Against Royals

For 6.2 innings, Jordan Montgomery shut down the Kansas City Royals lineup on Tuesday night. The lone blemish was a solo homer by Lorenzo Cain in the top of the seventh inning. Montgomery was efficient and he threw strikes, 71 of them in his 98 pitches on the night. It was easily his best outing of the season, and he was in line for the win as he departed.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi called on Adam Warren to get the last out of the 7th inning, and it took all of seven pitches for the Royals to take the lead and wipe out what would have been a much deserved third win of the season for Montgomery. Warren threw two quick strikes on Salvador Perez, but couldn’t put him away. Perez stroked a single on the 6th pitch of the at-bat, and Jorge Bonifacio smoked the first pitch he saw from Warren over the wall in right-field to give the Royals a 3-2 lead.

In the top of the 8th inning, Girardi called on Jonathan Holder to hold the Royals offense in check. It took all of two pitches for Yankees fans to murmur to themselves, “It’s not what you want”, when Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield lifted Holder’s offering over the right field fence. Two batters later, Holder hit Alcides Escobar with the 7th pitch of the at-bat, and Girardi summoned lefty Chasen Shreve to face the left-handed power threat Mike Moustakas. Things went from bad to worse when “Moose” absolutely destroyed an offering from Shreve that landed in the second deck, closing the scoring on the night, giving Kansas City a 6-2 lead in a game the Yankees had at hand for much of the evening.

The bullpen’s performance in this game highlighted a growing issue with the Yankees, especially with starters having some struggles going deep into games. We are 43 games into the 2017 campaign, and one has to question if relievers are becoming overworked. Tyler Clippard and Holder have appeared in 21 games and 20 games, respectively, putting them on pace for roughly 80 games for the season. Warren has appeared in 16 games.

It’s still early in the season and while 20 games may seem tame in terms of general numbers, that’s a lot of warming up and coming in to close to 50% of the games. There are some games where these guys may have warmed up, but weren’t called upon. It just leaves this writer wondering if guys are already beginning to feel some fatigue.

Yankees starter stats 52417

Above are the season stats as of this morning for Yankees starting pitchers. None of the five starters are averaging six innings per start. Michael Pineda‘s average innings/start is the highest on the team at 5.96, while Masahiro Tanaka is lowest at 5.3333 innings/start, everyone else falls in between. In most cases, the starters are approaching 100 pitches in the majority of these starts, so efficiency is the main issue.

Simply put, the Yankees need more length from their starters. It’s too much to ask for the bullpen to get 10 or more outs per game, every game, because guys are going to get burned out and fatigued. After last night’s performance, it makes one wonder if that is already happening.

See you next time!

Charlie

Posted in MLB

Derek Jeter’s Jersey Retirement

On Sunday afternoon, May 14, 2017, the New York Yankees retired shortstop Derek Jeter‘s famed number 2 jersey in between games of a sort-of day/night doubleheader. Over his 20 year career, he had legions of admirers among both Yankees fans and everywhere across Major League Baseball. There are plenty of articles online which illustrate his career and accomplishments, both as a team and personally, so I’m going to write about what he meant to me as a Yankees fan.

When Derek first was called up to the Yankees from the Columbus Clippers, then the Yankees’ Triple-A farm team in 1995, I had become more of a casual baseball observer. I was then 24 years old, freshly married for the first time, and just started working in machine trades which entailed long hours with lots of overtime. I didn’t have much time to watch baseball, and the team had some lean years in the early 90’s. The 1994 team was excellent, but the 1994-95 MLB Player’s Strike left a bad taste in my mouth.

Late in the ’95 season, I realized the Yankees were playing well and made the playoffs. They were matched-up against the Seattle Mariners, who were managed by one of my favorite players from my childhood, Lou Piniella. Derek didn’t make the 1995 Yankees‘ postseason roster, but I watched some of the playoff games when I could. I got my first glimpses of Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, and despite losing to Ken Griffey Jr. and the Mariners, I found myself getting re-hooked on baseball.

edgar_martinez_1995alcs

In ’96, I was still working odd hours which took away my abilities to watch the games in the evening. I followed the Yanks through SportsCenter highlights and the daily newspaper (internet was barely a thing in ’96). They made it to the World Series against the Atlanta Braves, the reigning champions. By the postseason, I was finally able to work day-shift and was home in the evening to watch the games.

The magical run the Yankees were on looked to be in jeopardy, as the Braves won the first two games at Yankee Stadium.  But Joe Torre never flinched. Atlanta was a place of comfort, as he managed the Braves for a while in the 1980’s, but he felt confident about winning down there.

 

Torre’s confidence in his team paid off, and a huge turning point in the series came when Yanks catcher Jim Leyritz hit a three-run homer off overpowering Atlanta closer Mark Wohlers.

Leyritz HR off Wohlers

Derek Jeter and the Yankees went on to win the ’96 series and three more over the next 4 seasons. I was officially hooked back on the Yankees and Derek was such a huge part of that. The young core of players made watching them fun and reinvigorated my love for baseball.

Derek is only 3 years younger than me and I feel like we “grew up with each other” over the years as we aged. As the 1990’s progressed through the 2000’s, the Yankees won and Derek delivered. After 9 years of not winning the World Series, Jeter and the Yankees hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy with their Series championship against the Phillies in 2009.

2009 Yankees Win

 

In October 2012, in a playoff game against the Detroit Tigers, Jeter broke his ankle on a diving play to his after off the bat of Jhonny Peralta. That play effectively took the wind out of the Yankees’ sails and Detroit went on to face the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 World Series.

As Jeter recovered from his ankle injury, his 2013 season never really got up and going for any amount of time. He admittedly came back too soon and his trials and tribulations in 2013 are chronicled here from our friends at River Avenue Blues.

The following Spring Training, Derek Jeter announced 2014 would be his final season in a Facebook post. Throughout 2014, he received gifts from other MLB cities on the road.

 

But those appetizers from the road couldn’t compare to the main course at home. The Yankees honored Jeter on Sunday, September 7th, a game the Yankees would lose to the Kansas City Royals by the score of 2-0.  It was a different story on the night of September 25th, when the Yankees played their last home game of the season.  “El Capitan”, as long time play-by-play man John Sterling calls Jeter, cemented his legacy as a clutch hitter (not that he needed to) when he drove in the game winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Yankees a win in his last game at Yankee Stadium.

I will never forget that game, I remember it just like it was yesterday, even though it was more than 2 and a half years ago.  I’ll never forget the waves of emotion from other Yankees fans on my Twitter timeline who were experiencing the same emotions as I.

In the years since Jeter’s retirement, the Yankees roster has grown much younger and a new core of young talent has taken hold, bringing the same excitement to younger fans the same way Derek Jeter did for me 20 years ago. But on Derek’s big day, it was nice to take one last look at the Yankees past as old becomes new again.

See you next time!

Posted in MLB

The Velocity Craze is Hurting Pitchers

Ask AP

Radar guns were first used to measure velocity of pitchers in the major leagues some time in the 1960’s, although it was extremely rare and was deemed far from an exact science. On August 20, 1974, The Guinness Book of World Records measured a fastball thrown by Nolan Ryan of the then named California Angels officially at 100.9 mph, a record that stood for at least a couple decades.

Within the past 20 years, MLB broadcasts on all the major networks have been showing radar gun readings on every pitch. This craze has escalated to the point where MLB Network has a clip of a commercial for their major league coverage showing gun readings at stadiums. Play by play broadcasters have made radar gun readings a just as much a part of their deliveries as balls, strikes and outs.

Sadly, arm injuries have increased as much as average fastball velocity has in the past several years. Tommy John Surgery is the most common arm related injury for pitchers, and the frequency of elbow reconstruction has skyrocketed over the past decade. An updated list of Tommy John surgeries, courtesy of Joe Rogele, provides support of this claim.

New York Mets ace pitcher Noah Syndergaard‘s recent injury spurred more discussion in baseball circles about the perils of starters throwing pitches at maximum effort instead of pacing themselves throughout the course of a game.

On NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross interviewed baseball writer Jeff Passan, who provided excellent in-depth information on what a pitcher experiences when pitching through pain, from his mentality to physical results, he discusses Tommy John himself, and how baseball has evolved into the billion dollar industry that it is today. Also discussed are the measures now in place to help protect children from injuring their arms when pitching in Little League and going forward as they grow. The transcript from this interview can be found here, it’s well worth the time to read.

Former Major League pitchers Jim Kaat and Danny Graves have weighed in on Twitter on the state of pitching.

 

Both Kaat and Graves know of what they speak. Kaat pitched in MLB from 1959-1983 and Graves from 1996-2006, with neither having an overpowering arsenal at their disposal. They each had to pitch to succeed and they did just that, with Kaat winning 283 games and Graves was a fixture at the back end of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen, earning 182 career saves.

A good example for children to watch and learn from in today’s world of flamethrowers is Kyle Hendricks of the Chicago Cubs. Illustrated below is a breakdown of his pitches from yesterday’s game against the New York Yankees. The graph below that shows each pitch’s velocity in the order he threw them. His fastest pitch of the game was a fastball clocked at 87.1 mph.

Kyle Hendricks summary 5-5-17

Screenshot (343)

Hendricks has drawn some comparisons to former Cubs and Atlanta Braves pitcher Greg Maddux, and I have to agree. Watching him pitch in the 2016 playoffs, he looked to me like a young Maddux with his two-seamer running back in to left-handed hitters and catch the inside corner. His command is almost as good as Maddux, too.

For the sake of today’s young pitchers and young kids learning to pitch, I hope they focus less on radar-gun readings and max-effort pitches and more on command, more on learning how to truly pitch.

Posted in MLB

Not a Good Night for MLB Umpires

Last night was not a banner night for MLB umpires. The ongoing abomination that is the Baltimore Orioles vs. Boston Red Sox series continued to provide more drama last night. In the bottom of the 2nd inning, Kevin Gausman hit Xander Bogaerts in the fanny with a 77 mph curveball and was quickly ejected by home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook.

I am not sure what Sam Holbrook was thinking, because he’s been an umpire for many years and he wasn’t made a crew-chief by accident. There’s no question him and his crew needed to be on “high alert” (as Holbrook claims) given the recent animosity between the two clubs, but ejecting Gausman without so much as a warning is absurd at best.

Unfortunately, there was more to come for umpire Holbrook. In the top of the 5th inning, Adam Jones was tossed out of the game for voicing his displeasure with a called strike on a high curveball from Boston starter Drew Pomeranz.

Given everything Jones endured during this series, I think Holbrook should have just let him have his say, and he was already walking back to the dugout when he ejected him. Holbrook should have just let it go, given the circumstances.

Meanwhile, shoddy umpiring wasn’t confined to Fenway Park last night. In the Bronx, home-plate umpire Bill Welke didn’t have his finest night. It wasn’t as rough a night as Sam Holbrook, but it’s enough to warrant mentioning.

Throughout the game, Welke’s strike-zone was inconsistent and roughly the size of a postage stamp. He heard from both New York Yankees players as well as the Toronto Blue Jays.

The normally very mild-mannered Brett Gardner took exception to a called strike by Welke and destroyed a dugout recycling bin after his 6th inning at-bat.

 

Yankees manager Joe Girardi got the boot for voicing his displeasure over Welke’s inconsistency. All in all, the evening of May 3rd, 2017 wasn’t the finest day in baseball history for MLB.

What Was Chris Sale Thinking?

As Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles took a few practice swings before his first at-bat at Fenway Park last evening, the Red Sox faithful gave him a round of applause and some gave a standing ovation. It seemed like things were finally settling down between the two teams, with the back and forth brush-back pitches and warned benches surrounding the Manny Machado drama of the last several days. On the evening of May 1st, a group of Red Sox fans heckled and berated Jones with racially charged insults. Major League Baseball and the Red Sox organization apologized to Jones and to their credit, are ensuring they are taking measures to protect players and other fans in baseball stadiums, and to levy serious charges on fans who in the future may elect to make the same foolish mistakes made in Boston on Monday.

As Adam Jones stepped in, many people including myself, thought the anger and drama between these two teams was over. Jones saw three pitches from Red Sox starter Chris Sale, and he headed back to the Orioles bench. Machado came to the plate to take his swings against Sale, who struck out the first two batters on 7 pitches, all strikes.

The very first pitch to Machado sailed behind Machado, at knee level. Machado immediately looked at home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn, who darted out between home plate and the pitcher’s mound, pointed at the Boston dugout and then pointed at the Orioles dugout and issued warnings to each team, along with Chris Sale.

Sale is a pitcher with excellent command of all his pitches, and it was a pitch with obvious intent. In the dugout after the top half of the 1st ended, he was seen gesturing and high-fiving teammates. Machado struck out in that first at-bat, but hit a towering home-run in the top of the 7th to gain some redemption, although the Sox beat the O’s by a score of 5-2.

 

After crossing home plate, Machado stared into the Red Sox dugout with a look of contempt. After the game, Machado went into a tirade against the Red Sox, filled with plenty of words unsuitable for a family atmosphere.

What doesn’t make sense to many, including this writer, is why did Sale decide to continue this war against Machado, when he’s been thrown at several times before? That remains to be seen, but it will be interesting to see what happens on Wednesday evening.

Stay tuned!

UPDATE – Kevin Gausman hits Xander Boegaerts with a breaking-ball and is ejected. You can’t make this stuff up!

Posted in MLB