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Mudville: April 22, 2024 1:15 pm PDT

Even A Donkey Can Shake Its Head

I am not a big fan of New Year’s Resolution columns.

Just be a better person, get in shape or read more books in the coming year. Just do it. Don’t talk about it ahead of time.

The same goes for baseball. Become a better game. Remember your roots. Get back to playing baseball. Run the bases. Focus on defense. Educate and develop players coming up through the minor leagues. Do more for the fans because without fans, you are nothing. Teach starting pitchers how to go deeper into games and start this in the minor leagues. Hit to all fields. Chill the Launch Angle a bit.

In other words, MLB, do everything the opposite of what you are doing now, that’s the No. 1 Resolution for 2021. Baseball needs to get back to loving baseball, what made the game the best in the world.

It has become too much of Gadget Ball – not baseball.

That is the basis of my baseball resolutions. That’s what I care about here at BallNine where we don’t sugar coat anything to stay on the good side of front offices.

We have answers. You may not like them, but we have answers at Baseball or Bust.

And make sure you fix it now. Baseball had better realize they are close to the edge of really losing the Forever Foothold it has on the fans.

You can only push them away so many times with your selfish overpricing antics, the most ridiculous being taking a crowbar to the minor leagues.

One day the fans are pushed away for good and baseball will be just another niche sport, if things don’t change for the better.

That is what is at stake in the 2021 baseball season.

That’s where we are in the game. So before we go any further, I am going to start with this story that one of baseball’s premier talent evaluators told me.

A young pitcher was struggling on the mound because he didn’t have the courage of his convictions on a certain pitch he had just thrown.

The young pitcher had just given up a home run to a good hitter. The pitcher did not want to throw that breaking ball to the hitter. Asked what he was thinking by the veteran pitching coach when the coach came to the mound for a meeting with the pitcher and catcher, the young pitcher replied, “I don’t know, he called it.’’

That “he” would be the catcher.

The pitching coach responded: “Well, even a fucking donkey can shake its head.’’

That’s another resolution. Think for yourself. Kind of works in real life too, not just on the baseball field. Think for yourself a bit and throw each pitch with conviction. Let the chips fall where they may.

The person who told me that wonderful story then made this smart point.

“I really think good big league hitters sniff fear and lack of conviction.’’

There is no data to back that up but after watching baseball games of all kinds the last 60 years, I totally agree. Good hitters sniff fear and lack of conviction. It’s a beautiful thing.

While we are on the subject of pitching, cool it with the velocity game. Pitching is more than velocity – it is command. Tommy Glavine told me some months ago that after his first full season with the Braves when he lost 17 games, he spoke at length to hitters on his team and they all pretty much told him the same thing. That low outside corner, perfectly placed fastball is the toughest to hit.

So he altered his approach. He worked on getting the command of that pitch and went on to win a total of 305 games and enter the Hall of Fame.

One of the smartest pitching people I know made this astute observation. Listen and learn baseball, if you are capable of listening to someone who is not spewing data at you.

“We don’t develop starting pitching because we’ve turned them all into four- or five-inning babies,’’ he told BallNine. “As a result, they don’t have any arm strength. They have flashing high-velocity short term arm strength, which was always there for all pitchers.’’

That is such an astute point. Shorter bursts always create more velocity. Pitchers pace themselves.

“You want to build arm endurance, you don’t want to build just arm strength just to flash high numbers. You want to build endurance that keeps you healthy. So that you can be Jim Palmer and pitch for years. So you can be Tom Seaver and pitch for years,’’ he added. “You can be these guys that have good long careers and don’t have a ton of injuries. We’ve got to stop just falling in love with whatever it is now that we’ve fallen in love with and now it is bullpen velocity, I guess. Do we think the key to our success is our bullpen? Let’s see where the Rays go this year subtracting Blake Snell and Charlie Morton from the rotation. Now see what happens when you throw the kingpin role to (Tyler) Glasnow. He is going to have to be the No. 1 starter, not the No. 3.’’

“Think for yourself a bit and throw each pitch with conviction. Let the chips fall where they may.’’

You can’t be a No. 1 – especially in the AL East – and be fragile. This is a huge season for Glasnow.

One of baseball’s biggest problems continue to be GMs. Most of them are inept. They’ve glided into the position with no clue how to run an organization. They tell the owner what they want to hear about being able to be a self-sustaining team, replenishing from the minor leagues when a need arises yet they have removed most of the teaching principles from the development people because they have removed the teachers.

Machines have replaced know-how.

Most of the new breed is pushed into the position by Ivy League colleagues or media members who have identified the next hot candidate because that candidate has had a relationship of sharing information with that media member.

You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

That explains why so many teams look the same – and play the same crappy brand of baseball.

Look no further than the NL Central or, as I like to call it, the Peter Principle Division. It really is the definition of major league mismanagement.

Tyler Glasnow

Tyler Glasnow will look to be Tampa Bay's #1 starter in 2021. He has never pitched more than 111.2 innings in a season prior. (Photo: Orlando Ramirez / USA Today Sports)

A refresher: Way back when, Laurence J. Peter developed the Peter Principle which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their level of incompetence. It happens all the time in baseball. Employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job don’t necessarily translate to another job.

A lot of times too, in their previous job they were not that competent to begin with  – but they talked a good data game or someone else took the fall for their ineptitude. That’s a little AMBS twist to the Peter Principle.

The NL Central is a pretty good look where all of baseball might be heading at this point. A mess of mediocrity. The Cardinals are a little less mediocre than most, so they often come out ahead in that division.

The Cubs have been heading down this path awhile. This division is perfect for the owners. This is a division that doesn’t want to spend money. Should be fun when the owners are hit with the next collusion charges, don’t you think?

After the fan-less Covid season the owners are crying poverty. As my friend St. Louis based columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote this week:  “I’m thinking of starting a GoFundMe page for the Cardinals so let me know if you’d be willing to contribute and join me in this humanitarian effort to save the franchise from financial ruin.’’

For about the price of a cup of coffee per day, you too can help save the St. Louis Cardinals from financial ruin.

Yeah, it’s tough owning a major league team in St. Louis where the fans never support the home team. Or never hang out in the Cardinals owned bars or buy Cardinals gear. You hardly see anybody in St. Louis wearing red. Said no one ever.

Notice the latest baseball hires as well as GMs in Chris Young and Sam Fuld, both former players. That’s a good thing. It certainly helps with the nerds running the show that both went to prestigious colleges. Fuld went to Stanford and Young to Princeton. That helps open the door for sure.

I’d like to see more ex-players latch onto to these GM jobs. Maybe even a few School of Hard Knocks guys get in those positions. That would be even more fun. Maybe even former players who were in college or pro ball, but also people who spent time in scouting and development. That would be nice, too.

Kim Ng, 51, broke a GM barrier and we are all wishing her much luck and certainly the Marlins are on the rise. CEO Derek Jeter is based in baseball principles, not just analytics. Analytics are only part of the pulse of the game. Jeter and I talked about that many times in his years with the Yankees. Ng paid her dues, working 30 years in baseball and interviewing for numerous GM jobs. She was in the Yankees front office when Jeter was a Yankee and understands the importance of scouting and development – and that is the only way the Marlins will succeed. Gary Denbo has done a terrific job as VP of player development and scouting. To me, the Marlins will be a fascinating watch in 2021. I’m going to watch more Marlins games this coming season.

Little things mean a lot in baseball. Always have, always will, no matter how much you are told differently these days. Cal Ripken Sr. said it best as a manager when he noted: “We’ve got to do all the little things right because if you do all the little things right, you never have any big problems.’’

Kim Ng

Derek Jeter's hire of new Marlins GM Kim Ng highlights his dedication to scouting and development. (Photo: Miami Marlins)

Those are great words to live by but here is the problem considering the little things.

“Nobody is teaching the little things,’’ one longtime baseball man told me. “You go to a minor league complex now and they got machines all over the field while they are playing inter-squad games to measure shit. They think controlling a game with data is more important than playing a game and reacting in real time.’’

Just think about that for a second before we move on.

It’s no longer about playing the game and reacting to the moment, it’s about reacting to the data gathered by an army of always helpful and willing interns. That’s what matters to those in charge of the game. That’s scary. But that’s where baseball is at in 2021.

“Instead of building a rhythm that causes you to have a repeatable delivery and throw strikes and be consistent, you have to stop and look at data and Rapsodo and say oh look your finger needs to be three degrees to the left so that you are staying behind the ball,’’ a former pitcher told me of today’s teaching methods. “I don’t need that to tell me when I made a good pitch. The ball jumps out of your hand when you’re throwing the ball right.’’

Hey, there is room for science in pitching and hitting. I’m sure of that but stop making it the be all, end all. Baseball is a work of art, a work of heart and a work of science. It is all three. And while we are at it, pitchers, try pitching inside more. It works. The hitter has to be uncomfortable at times. This is not about hitting batters it’s about commanding different parts of the plate. The Manfred Ball is a hyperdrive ball so if you leave it out over the plate where the hitter is looking, good luck to you. Take your chances inside.

And here’s a word for youth coaches. Don’t call every pitch. Let these pitchers learn what works best for them. Let them think a little bit.

I’m also pulling for the Dodgers to make a big move again. I learned a long time ago when you win a championship it’s so hard to repeat because other teams can get better. The gutsy Padres have gotten better. They are putting the heat on the Dodgers. And that’s a good thing. It’s called competition and it is what baseball should be all about.

And here is my most interesting player for 2021. Let’s see if Randy Arozarena can stay crazy hot, especially hitting those fastballs. In the postseason he batted .500 against the Blue Jays, .421 against the Yankees, .321 vs. the Astros and .364 against the Dodgers. Along the way he bashed 10 home runs.

I saw the other day on Twitter the Rays posted where Randy raced a horse and won. Of course he did.

Baseball could use a little more storytelling, a little more romance along the way to go along with the mountain of statistics we are buried with on a daily basis. To that end here’s hoping Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum can go off without a hitch this summer. That postponement really hurt last summer.

Let’s get back to the Otesaga Hotel veranda in July, have a cocktail or two and tell some stories.

Now I have a new one to tell, even a donkey can shake its head.

45+ 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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