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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: April 11, 2021 7:49 am PDT
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The original This Week in Baseball was one of my favorite shows. Mel Allen, the music, especially the classy ending music, “Gathering Crowds” and all the plays you just had to see that week. There is a new version of the show now called: What Did Baseball Screw Up This Week?

Same answer as last week. Plenty.

I promise there will be positive baseball talk later in this edition of Baseball or Bust and I will highlight a team I believe can be a savior to the game. More on that later.

First, baseball needs this wake up call.

Instead of focusing on players developing their skills through proper and experienced coaching and development, you know, all the guys teams fired, the game is trying to push new rules to cheapen the product even further.

Instead of beating the shift, it’s about eliminating or limiting the shift. How about expanding the lemon slice area that a hitter now puts the ball in play, How ‘bout that, as Mel Allen used to say. How about dropping a bunt down when defenses are over-loaded to one side. Encourage that.

Instead of teaching base-stealing techniques and base-running, it’s about making bigger bases and limiting tosses over to first base to make it easier to steal bases.

So at AAA this year it is no longer the perfect 90 feet between bases. So much for tradition. Great job baseball. Maybe the NFL can make the 100-yard football field shorter next year, too.

“Who needs a World Series trophy? “It’s just a piece of metal.”

Baseball is so focused on finding trickery to speed up the game, they just keep on opening up one Pandora’s Box after another, each having its own unintended way of slowing the game down to a crawl.

Remember when “Instant’’ Replay was going to fix everything? Yeah.

And just wait until they bring in the electronic strike zone. Batters will be whining constantly, unless they shrink the strike zone even more, which is possible. After all they went from 15-inch bases to 18-inches, maybe they will shrink home plate from 17 inches to 15.

It’s all for the good of the game, they will tell you.

Baseball encourages hitters to swing from their ass on every pitch, another Pandora’s Box, and now that is what they have, they are drowning in a sea of non-action and fans are bored. You broke it baseball, fix it by bringing back the hit-and-run, and not making the baseball fly out of the ballpark like a jetball.

The afraid of its shadow-new breed front office wanted to eliminate the risk of stealing bases or gambling on taking the extra base and now offenses can’t put together rallies. They worry about what might happen instead of seeing what is happening.

Even though Moneyball was a good book and movie, the Oakland A’s still haven’t won anything.

Also, the medical people have too much veto power. Trades are nixed because “His shoulder is going to blow out with that motion’’ but the shoulder never blows out, it’s an industry running scared of its own talent because of the expense of workman’s comp.

Accept the talent, accept the risks and play the game and stop trying to play God. Injuries are worse than they have ever been in baseball. It’s not working. Change what is not working.

Going from the 15-inch base to the 18-inch base really got me this week. How long before a player mis-steps on the bigger base and goes down in a heap. Hey, let’s make the bases even bigger and when they change out the bases between innings, have the new bases delivered in a Clown Car.

Stepping off the rubber before a pickoff attempt will make it that much easier to steal. Same goes for the two pickoff throw max. Lower expectations and ability.

It's all Brad Pitt's fault.

If taught properly on both ends, the cat and mouse of pitcher vs. baserunner is a game within the game, something fans used to look for, something parents would love to explain to their children through the years while sitting in the stands and actually watching the game, and not just the betting lines on your phone. So much for all that.

I’ve been saying for the last seven years baseball is in danger of becoming a niche sport and with every decision made recently, they move closer to what happened to Friday Night Fights.

Fake runners, obese bases, limited pickoff attempts, rollover innings, cheat cards on wrists, in back pockets and in caps, are all part of the new game. Wait until they add some other stuff, like The Power Play hitter in the ninth inning, you know the “star hitter’’ who made the last out of the eighth but can re-hit in the ninth. Keep your nose in your phone because you want to make sure to place a bet on the second-chance slugger.

It’s all so non-baseball.

But is it surprising? No. We have max effort pitchers who think only of velocity and no longer about command.

Is it surprising that the skills of the game are not being taught like they once were but that is because Nerd Management has replaced veteran teachers with gizmos or inexperienced gizmo tech handlers.  A large number of quality veteran pitching coaches can no longer sniff a major league job but hey, there is a new sequencing guru ready to take charge now. He learned all he needed to learn while coaching high school baseball and giving trendy velocity lessons at night.

Same goes for qualified position coaches and this is not just at the major league level but on all the minor league levels.

And don’t get me started on scouts and how their contributions to the game have been degraded. If teams even have scouts anymore that go to games.

It’s all such a mess.

The attitude of those in charge, starting with Rob Manfred, is who needs player development people, who needs scouts, who needs the minor leagues anyway? Who needs a World Series trophy? “It’s just a piece of metal.’’

Baseball got away from athletes to promote one-trick pony showcase sluggers. “Did you see that exit velocity?’’ And they wonder where has all the athleticism gone. They wonder why the game in the 1960s, 70s and 80s was so much more fun to watch. That game had a heartbeat, that game had romanticism, that game had a past, a present and a future.

This game is all about the latest gimmick they can conjure up.

The Mets' Francisco Lindor

How about building minor league pitching staffs that can contribute to the major league teams. That takes pushing the limits of one’s talents and this generation of pitcher is coddled from the start.

Only the strongest willed pitchers do it their way. And that is why I want to highlight what I saw from the Mets this week. If any team can save baseball, I believe it can be the Mets.

They have personality. They have talent. They even have a shortstop who hates the shift in Francisco Lindor. God love him, but here is a piece of advice. Next time you come up against the shift, Francisco, like I saw this week, bunt against the shift. Get a couple shift bunt hits a week. Make that a goal.

Lindor is his own man and I love it – and now that he is out of Cleveland and on the big New York stage his talents and knowledge of the game will be even more appreciated.

But it doesn’t stop with Lindor.

The at-bat of the week, the at-bat of the spring goes to Luis Guillorme, Mets utility infielder. Guillorme is a talented player who has been lost in the shuffle because analytically he doesn’t jump off the page at you.

When I first saw him years ago in pre-camp in Port St. Lucie he caught my eye because of his incredible soft, quick hands. The world saw those hands when he amazingly caught that “foul bat’’ in 2017 spring training. Guillorme has bounced around the Mets and has gotten only 185 at-bats the last three years. He’s a gamer and that doesn’t compute all the time to the nerds. Against the Cardinals’ Jordan Hicks Sunday, he fell behind 0-2. Heat was coming and Guillorme managed to work a walk, not just any walk – but a 22-pitch walk – and with each foul ball against a 100-mph pitch, the cheers in the Mets dugout grew more raucous.

Ballplayers love it when ballplayer-type things happen. The emotion was real.

This spring training at-bat was not given away and the Mets as a team under hitting coach Chili Davis appreciated Guillorme’s efforts.

On Tuesday, a scout noted of Guillorme’s at-bat: “That 22 pitch at-bat may be the catalyst to making them a whole different team. In an era when guys give away at-bats, Sunday I was at a game where the Yankees struck out 16 times against A-ball pitchers, and that kid has a 22-pitch at-bat against Jordan Hicks who is throwing 101 miles per hour with a power 92-mph breaking ball, and he takes a walk. Watch how excited their dugout was and then today, any time someone fouled off a two-strike pitch, the whole dugout went crazy.’’

A team comes together in that crazy fashion.

“Those are the things that analytics doesn’t tell you anything about, but it lifts a team to fight and compete every pitch,’’ the scout said. “This ain’t an easy game. The first part of being a good hitter is thinking you can hit and not giving in.’’

All that helps make a team a team.

The second Met I want to mention is the obvious Met. That would be Jacob deGrom, who is headed to a third Cy Young. DeGrom keeps getting better and his gas is opposite of Driveline gas, it is effortless, an easy 100-mph with a slider around 94. DeGrom said it’s all about rhythm and working his front side properly. He is never late with his arm and that is why he has so much success. This is a pitcher who works constantly on his command and his delivery. Even when playing catch. It’s about being smooth.

“Even playing catch, working on where I want my front side,’’deGrom said.

When he is out of whack, even if people can’t tell he is out of whack, and the numbers are still off the charts, deGrom knows when he is not in sync.

“I refer to it as I feel like I almost jump, that’s when my front side flies open,’’ deGrom explained, a great tip for young pitchers. “My main key: trying not to do too much with my front side. If I get thinking about it, I almost start doing too much. Where it’s more like a relaxed, let it kind of fall in-line.’’

Interesting too that deGrom stays away from the weight room for the most part and believes in being an athlete. He takes accountability seriously every step of the way.

The scout has long loved deGrom’s ability and compared deGrom to some of the big arms the Mets have had the last six years, “He is so fluid and athletic and that he is throwing 100 and he looks like he is playing catch. He is always on time there is no effort to him at all. The other guys try to throw hard, he just pitches.’’

The addition of catcher James McCann will make deGrom even better this season.

The third Met I’ve mentioned already, Lindor, and his love for the game shines through. He will relax his teammates. With Robinson Cano suspended, Lindor is the leader of this team. He plays the game his way and does not want to bogged down with analytics and shifting and all that. “He’s playing for big money and that’s dangerous when you got that kind of talent,’’ the scout said of how impressive Lindor has looked this spring. “He likes to play the game. He just became a little home run centric with the Indians. Chili Davis will help him. Chili is not an all or nothing guy, he wants guys to be good hitters first.’’

Lindor’s arrival will work wonders for the fourth Met I want to mention. Pete Alonso has his swing back. It was clear to me early last spring Alonso was dropping his hands and we even had a conversation about it at the time at his locker. This spring, with Davis back in camp, Alonso is starting low but is getting his hands high enough where he will not be beaten on the high fastball and even got on top of one high fastball for a home run on Tuesday. Lindor’s presence will lighten the load for Alonso.

I also want to mention new outfielder Kevin Pillar. He takes an aggressive approach and that is something the Mets other outfielders Brandon Nimmo, especially, had to witness. That type of aggressiveness will pay off across the board, especially with the Mets dynamic pitching.

Lastly, I am impressed with right-handed reliever Miguel Castro. His stuff is electric and will be a huge boost to the bullpen, which needs a boost. Jeurys Familia remains a mess even though he has strikeout stuff but his windup is usually all over the place as are his pitches.

Familia has time to fix it.

Will baseball have time to fix all the problems it has created for itself? My friend Barry Rozner of the Daily Herald, outside Chicago, wrote a terrific column this week crushing Manfred, and proclaimed “Major League Baseball hates you.’’

Rozner went on to say Manfred “would use Home Run Derby to decide every game tied after five innings and limit every game to two hours. He can’t help it. He wants you to hate baseball.’’

No matter how much they try, I’m still going to love baseball.

But that love is being tested now like never before.

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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