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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 19, 2020 11:01 pm PDT
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Steamy Wins Participation Award

Enough with making excuses. How about making energy?

How about one of these excuse-making MLB managers say what’s really wrong with his team and start calling players out for poor play.

Before this 60-game season started I said teams that play with energy and play fundamentally sound baseball will be the teams that have success.

This season has opened a Pandora’s Box of what is wrong with MLB, and enabling managers have made some of the weakest excuses I have ever heard.

The most exciting teams are teams that play with a blast of energy.

Those teams are the Padres, Rays, A’s, White Sox and to a lesser degree Blue Jays and Marlins.

Other teams meeting expectations include the Twins, Cubs and Indians.

All those teams are making the most of the situation and have overcome speed bumps along the way.

Early on this season I noticed when I watched Padres games without real fans and only fake fan noise, you could hear the Padres dugout explode with excitement over a hit or even a walk.

The players were into the game, each pitch. You could feel the energy and there would be a roar on a base hit.

The sound of defeat is a player or manager making an excuse or just mouthing analytical gibberish.

That’s the sound of victory these days. The roar of the dugout crowd.Right now the Yankees lead the world in that department, led by Aaron Boone, who is constantly covering for his underachieving players like catcher Gary Sanchez, saying things like “behind the scenes he’s working his tail off.’’

The worst excuse was when backup catcher Kyle Higashioka said it was difficult for Yankees pitchers to read the catcher’s signs at Sahlen Field as the Buffalo Blue Jays torched Adam Ottavino and the bullpen for a 10-run inning.

The catcher was trying to protect his pitchers but let’s at least deal in reality, please.

“ We played hard.” 

BUFFALO, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 07: Adam Ottavino #0 of the New York Yankees reacts after giving up six runs, including a grand slam to Danny Jansen #9 of the Toronto Blue Jays, during the sixth inning at Sahlen Field on September 07, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. The Blue Jays are the home team and are playing their home games in Buffalo due to the Canadian government’s policy on coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Sure, the bright lights of Buffalo don’t compare to the bright lights of New York City, deal with it.

Don’t make bizarre excuses.

Ottavino had complained that the Buffalo Blue Jays might have been stealing signs because evidently the Yankees needed to simplify their signs – because the pitcher couldn’t see the intricate set of signs.

Buffalo is a minor league ballpark that was refurbished to major league standards, including lights. So that is that.

Evidently the lights were good enough for BBJ batters to track Ottavino’s pitches and bash them even without their two top hitters Bo Bichette (.361 average) and Teoscar Hernandez (14 home runs, .995 OPS) out with injuries.

Loss after loss, managers continue to roll out the excuse: “We played hard.”

Do you want a cupcake and a gold star, too for your players?

Sep 6, 2020, FOX Sports Ohio, David Bell reflects on Reds late game loss

This PT Generation – PT stands for Participation Trophy – is evidently so soft managers can’t even begin to hint at the truth for fear their fragile players will turn to stone.

By making such weak excuses for sign stealing, the Yankees make their legitimate argument about the electronic sign stealing Astros, weaker.

That is the excuse culture the Yankees have created.

After covering sports for 45 years this is my rule of thumb: Bad teams make bad excuses. Good teams find a way to suck it up.

It is really that simple.

Another MLB third generation manager – like Boone – that is making excuses is Cincinnati’s David Bell, a nice guy who appears to be caught in Analytics Hell with that Reds front office.

Are these managers so short of confidence, so desperate to keep their puppet jobs that they have to sell out on a daily basis? Bell does not hold his players accountable for their constant screw-ups.

After his team of underachievers dropped to 18-24 and was shutout by the Cubs – remember the Reds were picked by many to have a breakout season – Bell said this, all with a straight face, “We continue to play, we continue to compete. This team cares tremendously about going out and doing everything they can to win. That’s all we can do.’’

That’s all we can do?

Are you kidding me? Do you watch your team play and all the fundamental mistakes? The ghastly bullpen?

Have you witnessed any of that? That’s all we can do?

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 02: Jake Marisnick #16 of the New York Mets crashes into the wall trying to catch a triple hit by Pedro Severino #28 (not pictured) of the Baltimore Orioles in the second inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 2, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The Reds, Yankees and of course the Mets, it is always the Mets, are three of the most underachieving teams in the majors.

The Mets and Yankees have new pitching coaches this season, bringing in younger coaches with little experience, but they do have high-speed cameras that are going to make them pitching coaching gurus and propel the pitchers to new heights of success.

All by watching video and getting that spin rate off the charts.

Meanwhile, former Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild, just your lifelong baseball hard worker who kept that staff together, is in San Diego living the good life with the high-flying Padres.

Rothschild does not suffer fools and makes his pitchers work. It’s not just about looking at video and giving the pitcher a pat on the backside.

There is some old school tough love in his style of coaching. It is amazing that he is even allowed to have such a style these days.

Give me accountability over analytics any day of the week.

SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 20: Austin Hedges #18, Dinelson Lamet #29 and Larry Rothschild #38 of the San Diego Padres walk in before the game against the Texas Rangers at Petco Park on August 20, 2020 in San Diego, California. The Padres defeated the Rangers 8-7. (Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Dave Eiland, you’ll remember, was jettisoned by the Mets and the player’s best friend GM Brodie Van Wagenen in June of 2019 because he was too tough on Mets pitchers. So, how’s that working out, Brodie?

Mets starters are 19th in the majors in ERA with a 4.74 mark, hard to do with Jake deGrom leading the rotation, and their relievers are 23rd with a 5.21 ERA – and too many pitchers are getting hurt in Jeremy Heffner’s first year as pitching coach with new assistant pitching coach Jeremy Accardo.

Did I mention both men bring a heavy analytical approach to the job?

That’s the trifecta of defeat right there. Starters bad, relievers worse and pitchers getting injured.

The Yankees went heavy into analytics with their new pitching coach Matt Blake, who was described as a “progressive pitching coach’’ when hired away from the Indians where he was the Tribe’s assistant director of player development, overseeing the formation of pitching strategy for the organization.

Brian Cashman went all in on analytics with that move because Rothschild still had a year to go on his contract.

The Yankees are 14th in starters’ ERA at 4.50 and 13th with relievers posting a 4.45 ERA.

What scouts are seeing from both the Mets and Yankees are deliveries that are not crisp.

In the Yankees case another major issue is how slow the relievers work. There is no flow. Too busy with intricate signs or checking laminated cards in their caps.

Mechanical flaws are not being cleaned up as quickly as in the past, they tell me.

Arm slots are off a bit, too.

There is more. And this can’t be measured by numbers.

Pitching Coach Matt Blake #67 of the New York Yankees poses during Photo Day on Thursday, February 20, 2020 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

First, some telling numbers for the Yankees, wins and losses, the only numbers that count.

The Yankees are 2-7 in fake 7-inning games.

They are 4-6 in one-run games.

On the road they are 7-14.

They are 7-0 against the rebuilding Red Sox.

Didi Gregorius

I said multiple times the Yankees would miss Didi Gregorius and that is evident. He is not the same player he once was, but he is still a clubhouse force, plays with energy and makes the game fun and is doing all that with the Phillies who are hanging in there in the NL East.

It was the wrong move to get rid of Didi and believe young Gleyber Torres, who has the body of a second baseman or third baseman, could excel at shortstop.

Shortstop is like catching, there is so much to the position from a leadership standpoint as well as production. Gleyber has been hurt, too.

Injuries are always the biggest excuse with the Yankees, but they traded for perennially injured Giancarlo Stanton and have not figured out how to keep Aaron Judge on the field.

Watch the Yankees play and you can see they are not having fun.

The only thing that gets them going is home runs, but this year is different. There must be more hitting to the opposite field. This year is a small size analytical year.

You can’t just rely on numbers, and this year the game is different in a variety of ways, including no fans in the stands so you have to produce your own momentum and stay on top of that.

In the shorter games you have to create runs.

Do things differently this year.

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 17: Fernando Tatis Jr. #23 of the San Diego Padres celebrates with Eric Hosmer #30 of the San Diego Padres after hitting a grand slam against the Texas Rangers in the top of the eighth inning at Globe Life Field on August 17, 2020 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Even the biggest home run of the year, Fernando Tatis’ unwritten rules grand slam was a great example of going with the 3-0 pitch with a huge lead.

At the time, Padres manager Jayce Tingler and team leader first baseman Eric Hosmer got on Tatis’ case for that hit and he apologized. Tingler labeled it a “learning opportunity’’ for Tatis because the Padres were up seven runs in the eighth inning.

Whether you believe in unwritten rules or you think this is all entertainment and anything goes or are somewhere in between, you have to appreciate the Padres talked accountability with Tatis.

That is the bottom line.

They tried to guide him, and his strength of character showed through as he continues to be one of the best and most exciting players in the majors.

That is what sets a tone and that might have lit a bigger fire in Tatis’ belly.

The shortstop is a generational star, a natural at the game, and one of the best plays I’ve witnessed all year is when Tatis was playing in and a blistering line drive nearly took his head off.

He made the catch and smiled just as a Little Leaguer would do when making such a spectacular grab.

Go with the 60-game flow, baby.

Tatis gets it. He plays hard. He’s an athlete. He has tools, it’s not just about home runs even though the young Padres are called the Slam Diego Padres.

They are keeping the heat on the super-talented Dodgers, who also need to be praised for their ability to live up to expectations in the short season unlike the Yankees.

A short disclaimer: In this bizarre postseason anything is possible especially with the make it up as you go rules that really don’t give top seeds much of an advantage. The Yankees and Mets, if they make the postseason, could still both make it interesting because each team has an ace. The Yankees have Gerrit Cole, who has not been the same pitcher as Astros Gerrit Cole, and the Mets have deGrom. Both teams could ride aces to postseason success.

But that is still a long way off and judging off the results of today, both teams are excuse-making disappointments.

In 34 games this season, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is batting .121, with a 41% strikeout rate.

For the Yankees, a lot of this dovetails back to Sanchez, who has allowed his natural talent to get away from him, yet Cashman doubled down on Sanchez this year instead of cutting bait.

Sanchez has been in steady decline for years.

But the Yankees arrogantly kept telling people Sanchez was an All-Star.

He was just in a rut.

Manager Joe Girardi of the Philadelphia Phillies

Remember, Joe Girardi saw the Sanchez problems and tried to hold him accountable and that just got him in more hot water with Cashman.

The Yankees also let another key piece walk away to the Tigers in backup catcher Austin Romine, who basically covered for Sanchez’ atrocious play. Romine is hitting .253 and is the better defensive catcher. Sanchez is hitting .121.

Girardi has the Phillies sitting in a playoff position.

Batting Average MattersSince 16 teams make the postseason – yet another sellout by Rob Manfred – another example of lowering the bar. There are fake fans, fake runners awarded second base in extra innings, even if it is only the eighth inning in those dreadful seven-inning doubleheaders and fake playoff chases by teams hovering around .500.

Girardi actually manages Phillies games and has come a long way with a bad bullpen which is not easy to do. He removed Zack Wheeler after 83 pitches the other day against the Mets because he sensed Wheeler was done for that day.

He made a decision.

The Phillies were able to win the game – just barely – but the decision was made and Wheeler didn’t like the decision but he respected the decision. Girardi will not allow himself to be a Nerd Puppet and good for him.

Being a manager means making tough decisions, not making excuses.

You have to protect your players, I get it, but you can’t make a fool of yourself while doing that.

Accountability is the big thing in baseball and always has been. Players must be held accountable for poor play.

Feelings will get hurt.

Baseball is a game of personalities and performance. That can’t be scripted especially in an anything goes 60-game season with no fans.

Make your own energy, not excuses and ride the wave of accountability to success.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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