I Can’t Quit Baseball

Two days ago, when Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred released a statement saying there would likely be no baseball in 2020 unless the Players Union dropped grievances against the league, I was ready to walk away from baseball.

My anger had reached it’s boiling point. For months, the players union and Rob Manfred have negotiated through the media, trading barbs along the way, ultimately wearing on the nerves of fans, the media and literally everyone who cares about the game.

After lunch, I left my apartment and took a drive. Driving is my way of getting and clearing my mind. It’s where I do some of my best thinking and reflecting. Now that places are starting to open back up in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I walked into a Barnes & Noble bookstore.

By default, I go to the magazine racks first and then the sports section of books. Baseball, of course. I ended up leaving the store with two books, The Inside Game, by Keith Law and Yankee Miracles: Life with The Boss and the Bronx Bombers by Ray Negron and Sally Cook.

I got back in my truck, drove away from the store, and I felt a familiar tug. The tug of baseball pulling me back in. I realized how much I love this game. I was very angry at baseball, like so many are right now. Upset at both sides because we all could use a distraction from all the craziness of 2020. But I know I still love this game, and I know I can’t turn my back on it. I love writing about it and sharing it with you.

Before I went home later in the afternoon, I drove up by Lake Ontario’s shoreline to catch a cooler breeze coming off the water. As I sat there, I checked my phone and opened Twitter. This tweet from New York Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch was one of the first things I saw as I scrolled.

Maybe these experiences today are a sign that everything is going to be okay, that things are coming back together. I know one thing – I can’t imagine myself living without baseball. ⚾

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MLB: Just Find a Way to Make it Work

It’s been a hot minute since I have written anything on The Titanium Spine. My last post was on March 6, but with everything the country has gone through with COVID-19, it feels longer. I hope everyone reading this has stayed healthy along with your families and friends.

Major League Baseball owners and the Player’s Union are currently battling over finances and salaries for this season, and if it’s not resolved there may not be baseball in 2020. Yesterday, the owners submitted a proposal to the players union that would pay players on a sliding-scale. Players who are under team control, and thus generally paid less than one who has a larger contract stand to benefit the most.

 

Needless to say, the players aren’t happy with this proposal. Washington Nationals starting pitcher Max Scherzer tweeted this out late Wednesday night.

 

Keep in mind this was a baseline offer and the players union will counter. Minor league players are already suffering, although for now all teams are paying them a monthly stipend. But the Oakland A’s intend to stop paying after this month ends.

 

Not all teams are taking this hard stance. The San Diego Padres plan to pay their kids through August, so this is by no means a universal thing in Major League Baseball.

 

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and baseball can return this summer. A lot of players, workers and fans could really use some normalcy in their lives.

Mike Fiers was the First to Speak-up but not the Last

Unless you have been living under a rock since mid-November, you have heard about the 2017 Houston Astros using technology to steal signs to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents.

When former Astro and current Oakland A’s staring pitcher Mike Fiers went on record with The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal, speaking out on how his former team stole catchers’s signs, it turned the baseball world on it’s ear (the Drellich/Rosenthal piece can be read here).

Needless to say, Fiers’s former teammates are upset that he broke an unwritten code of clubhouse culture. Major league clubhouses are sacred. What goes on in a clubhouse is supposed to stay in a clubhouse. Fiers may never be fully trusted again by some current and future teammates because he went against the grain, letting team doings become public.

On social media, the reaction has been mixed. Many folks are calling Fiers a hero (including this writer), and many are destroying him, calling him a rat, a bad teammate and many words unsuitable to repeat here. Reactions from many ex-players, including Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez had this to say:

 

Mike Fiers was the first former Astros player to speak out, but I don’t think he will be the last. Players are human beings, and many human beings have consciences. Fiers proved he has one by going public. But he can’t be the only one who feels the same way about his team’s cheating. Immediately after Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, former Astro Gerrit Cole distanced himself from the team.

This is certainly not to say Cole will say anything at all regarding the Astros’s indiscretions, but it makes me question whether he agreed with what his former teammates were doing.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the current Houston squad was cleared of any wrongdoing, but let’s remember how Jose Altuve jumped all over a slider thrown by New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to end the ALCS, and had a look of terror on his face as he told his team not to rip off his jersey. He did that for a reason.

Two days ago, Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a member of the Astros from 2012-18, gave something of an apology, saying he is “sorry for the situation”, but also pointed out they didn’t cheat every game.

But make no mistake, Keuchel wasn’t happy the aforementioned “clubhouse code of silence” was broken.

 

This isn’t over by any stretch, and I think as time goes by, more people will shed light on what really happened. It’s just a matter of how long and how many people have a conscious. Stay tuned.

Red Sox entertaining trade offers for Betts

The Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres are discussing a trade that could send center-fielder Mookie Betts to the west coast, according to The Athletic’s Dennis Lin.

The trade would potentially send Betts, a free agent after 2020, to San Diego in exchange for 1B/OF Wil Myers and a number of prospects (reportedly MacKenzie Gore and CJ Abrams are not a part of the deal).

With the Red Sox expected to decrease payroll, enticing Betts to stay in Boston could be an uphill battle. It is not known at this time if the Padres are willing to offset some of the remaining 67.5 million owed Wil Myers through 2022. Myers’s contract also has a 20M option for 2023 with a buyout of a dollar. Although it is reported a deal isn’t likely as it is, Lin’s story says there is “legitimate interest” on both sides. My guess is San Diego might eat a little of his contract if Boston will accept “less than blue-chip prospects”.

Updates: It’s reported by Dennis Lin and Jon Heyman the Red Sox are interested in Padres prospects Luis Campusano and Luis Patiño in a potential trade for Mookie Betts.

This is a developing story and will be updated as things progress.

2019 Yankees Take’em or Trash’em – Starting Pitchers

The 2019 season came to a heartbreaking finish for the New York Yankees two days ago, and for their fans it still stings. With the World Series between the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros set to begin Tuesday night, now is a good time to begin a post-mortem assessment of the Bronx Bombers.

This year’s “Take ’em or Trash ’em” will begin with the pitching staff. We will begin with the starters and follow with the bullpen.

Masahiro Tanaka – On the surface, Tanaka’s 11-9 record and 4.45 ERA look very pedestrian, but his numbers were skewed by a pair of starts against the Boston Red Sox where he was absolutely destroyed (14 ER’s over four innings). Take away those two starts and his season ERA was 3.84. Masa stayed healthy all year and was very dependable. If MLB goes back to using the same ball from 2018 and before, look for more strikeouts and overall better results.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽

 

J.A. Happ – (12-8, 4.91 ERA) Happ was signed to a two-year deal last offseason with a vesting option (27 starts or 165 innings) for a possible third year. His 2019 season had more ups and downs than an elevator. Happ gave up 34 home-runs and had ten starts where he gave up four or more runs. He also showed the brilliance of his second half of 2018 after Brian Cashman traded for him. He’s still under contract at 17M for 2020, and the Yankees would have to eat the majority of his salary if they decide to pull the plug and trade him.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽 (and pray he reverts to his 2018 form)

 

Domingo Germán – (18-4, 4.03 ERA) It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Germán was rolling along toward the end of May, pitching to a 9-1 record and an ERA of 2.60. From there, the rail-thin right hander was up and down, until his season was abruptly halted on September 19, when he was placed on administrative-leave after allegations of domestic abuse surfaced.

It remains to be seen where Germán’s career goes from here. If an investigation proves him guilty of domestic abuse or assault, it may be the end of the line for him in Pinstripes.

My take (If he’s guilty of these charges)? TRASH HIM 🚮 

 

James Paxton (15-6, 3.82 ERA) Paxton’s first season in the Bronx was a tale of two halves. The Big Maple pitched with mixed-results for the first four months of the season. In a pair of back to back starts in April, Paxton dominated, fanning 12 in both outings. However, he was consistently inconsistent until the calendar flipped to August. Going into Pax’s August 2 start against Boston, his ERA sat at 4.72 with a record of 5-6. Over his last eleven starts, Paxton put the Yankees on his back, going 10-0 with an ERA of 2.51. His final start against the Astos in the ALCS proved his internal fortitude, where he insisted on staying in the game, despite being well over 100 pitches. I look forward to seeing more of “The Big Maple”.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽🇨🇦

 

Luis Severino (1-1, 1.50 ERA) Luis Severino missed the majority of 2019 with shoulder and lat muscle strains. When he came back, he looked like the Sevy Yankees fans are used to seeing. His three starts in September were abbreviated as he was still getting stretched out. Severino started twice in the postseason and pitched well enough, but it was clear his command wasn’t where he or the Yankees wanted it to be. Now healthy, look for him to have a big impact in 2020.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽

 

Jonathan Loáisiga – (2-2, 4.55 ERA) Loáisiga began the 2019 season as the Yankees’s fifth starter, thanks in part to Luis Severino’s injury and CC Sabathia’s “That’s for you, bitch” suspension. He made a couple starts before Sabathia was activated, but his command was inconsistent and it got him in trouble. He was sent to AAA Scranton before being recalled again for a start in early May. Soon after, Loáisiga was shut down for three months with a right shoulder strain. He came back in mid-August and was used exclusively in relief. Jonathan’s stuff plays better out of the pen, and he may stay healthier if stays in relief.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽 (as a reliever)

 

CC Sabathia (5-8, 4.95 ERA) Unless you have been living under a rock, or you don’t follow baseball and clicked on the link to this article by mistake, you know how much CC Sabathia meant to this team. Yeah, his numbers this year weren’t great and to me they don’t mean much. He DID record his 3,000 strikeout this year and my son and I were lucky enough to win tickets to our first game at Yankee Stadium in April and we got to see CC pitch (and WIN!) against the Kansas City Royals.

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The last image we’ll see of CC pitching for the Yankees was him leaving the field with Stevie Donahue and his shoulder hanging, but he was so much more. Other great pieces from many excellent baseball writers have chronicled Sabathia’s accomplishments on the field and what his leadership has meant. I just want to say, “CC, you’ll be missed”.

TAKE HIM 👍🏽 (even if he’s retiring)

 

In our next installment of Take’em or Trash’em, we’ll assess the Yankees bullpen.

Thanks for reading! 😎

Baseball: Is There a Better Game?

The question in the title is one of rhetoric, and subjective to the person reading it. To me, and hopefully many of you, there really isn’t a better game on Earth.

My love of baseball began young, watching games on TV with my grandpa. It didn’t matter who was playing. My grandfather would watch any game. I remember seeing Pete Rose in the later parts of his career. I remember the late, great Thurman Munson  and Reggie Jackson with the Yankees, Gary Carter with the then-Montreal Expos (now Washington Nationals) and many other players. Grandpa, who passed in 1995, was notorious for mispronouncing players’ names. For one, ex-Pirates reliever Kent Tekulve was “tea-kettle”.

My Mom was also a baseball fan, and grew up as a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the late 1940’s and 50’s. Of course, the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958 and have been in L.A. ever since. My step-father was a Yankees fan, and watching games with him got me turned onto the Bronx Bombers.

Baseball became a needed distraction for me as I grew into adolescence. For as much as my family enjoyed and passed on the love of the game to me, there was also much turmoil in my immediate family. Watching baseball was a welcome escape from the madness going on around me. Strat-O-Matic baseball helped chew up a lot of time when I wasn’t actually watching a game on TV. It was a source of comfort and it was reliable. It’s still my go-to when things get tough today!

As I grew into my high school years and beyond, I discovered friends (and women), graduated and got a job. Between working and having a young family, baseball took a back seat for a while. As life went on, I began to have problems with my degenerating spine. Resulting surgeries, pain and depression took hold, and I rediscovered baseball. It was a welcome distraction that once again helped me escape. Just as before, this wonderful game helped me find comfort as it did more than two decades before. The players are all different, but the game remains the same.

My son Jacob and I visited Yankee Stadium for the first time on April 19. I captured his first look at a Major League Baseball diamond.

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I’m trying to instill the love of baseball into my son, hopefully I can pass on my love of this great game to him. I won’t force it, because I’m proud of him for who he is now and for who he will be in the future.

Before I close, I want to give heartfelt thanks to everyone on Twitter who voiced their support over this past week. I was feeling particularly vulnerable, questioning if my own writing was good enough to have any kind of future. Your words mean a lot to me, and I look forward to getting back on the saddle. Thank you so much.

Charlie

Who’s Your Vladdy?

From the time Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. was drafted in July 2015 by the Toronto Blue Jays, he has been compared to his Hall of Fame father, Vladimir Sr. The 20 year old third baseman hits much like his dad, putting baseballs deep into orbit and hitting for a high average at the same time. He even mashes the lowest of pitches a few inches off the ground like Vladimir, Sr. did.

Junior has powered his way through the minor leagues, from High-A Dunedin, to New Hampshire and AAA Buffalo, making it look pretty easy the whole way.

Tonight, the entire world of Major League Baseball will get their first glimpse of Vladdy, Jr. as he makes his big league debut for the Blue Jays.

Twitter is already ablaze with Vladdy’s debut just minutes away. Rogers Sportsnet play by play man Dan Shulman even tweeted out video of batting practice.

You don’t have to be just a fan of the Blue Jays to be excited to watch this kid play. Players like Vladdy are good for the game, just as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are. If you are a baseball fan, take some time this evening and watch Vladimir Guerrero’s first game. You’ll be glad you did.

 

The Yankees are 5-7. Let’s Not Panic.

The 2019 season in Major League Baseball is two weeks old (except for the Mariners and Oakland A’s, who began a week earlier in Japan). The New York Yankees have started off winning only five of their first dozen games, and Yankees Twitter is already ablaze with a lot of bad takes interspersed with several others being much needed voices of reason.

I’m not sure what’s more disturbing. Is it people blaming manager Aaron Boone or Twitter GM’s creating polls asking whether this is Boone’s fault or GM Brian Cashman for creating the roster? WE’RE TWELVE GAMES IN, PEOPLE! The Yankees have played 12 damn games! Get a grip on reality.

Listen. There are several players injured. The team has Luis Severino, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Miguel Andújar and Aaron Hicks among others on the injured list. Sure there have been some players not performing well, most notably Zack Britton and James Paxton after last night’s loss and sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros. I’ve had some wingnut tweet me during each of Paxton’s three Yankees making sure he tells me how bad he is.

Thank God for the mute button. I can’t think it’s an exercise in good judgement to write a guy off after his first three appearances in Pinstripes, but there are people out there doing that.

Rest assured, Yankees players, coaches and front office don’t want to have a record of 5-7, but it’s EARLY. We’re not even halfway through April. So please, hang in there. When players get healthy and the temperatures warm up, these Yankees will be the Bronx Bombers we all know and love.

Didi admiring Judge 495

It’s Opening Day!

It’s finally here!

Opening Day in MLB is a holiday in my household. Personally, I feel that it’s better than Christmas. Baseball is my favorite thing in life after my son. Every team in baseball is full of optimism and dreams of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy in October.

And the weather is warmer in the vast majority of the country than it is on Christmas!

There is literally nothing on the agenda for me today than watching our national pastime. Good luck and best wishes to whomever you root for.

Enjoy the day, everybody!

What is with Angel Hernandez?

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has been working for some time to improve the quality of games and speed up pace of play. This has been well documented, and Manfred has proposed and added several new rules to “improve” the game.

Another way to speed up MLB games is having consistent and fair umpiring, especially behind the plate. Case in point, yesterday’s game between the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. Angel Hernandez, everyone’s favorite ump this side of Cowboy Joe West, was behind the dish. Astros pitcher Forrest Whitley threw a close pitch that should have rang-up Harrsion Bader to end the top of the first inning, but Angel didn’t give him the call. Hinch began chirping about the non-strike call. Bader eventually reached base on an error, prolonging the inning. Hernandez, a notoriously terrible umpire, ejected Astros manager A.J. Hinch for arguing balls and strikes. Hinch was so irate and incredulous from being tossed that he had to be restrained.

It’s bad enough that Hernandez felt the need to make himself the “star”, ejecting a manager in a spring training game. Making it worse, Hinch claims Angel “said some condescending things that are inappropriate, unprofessional.”

Believe it or not, when umpires create their own “umpshows”, it adds unnecessary time to a ballgame. If MLB goes ahead and begins use of Trackman doppler radar in the future, some umpires will eventually need to find a new line of work. Angel Hernandez should be among them.