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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 24, 2021 2:12 am PDT
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Under Rob Manfred, MLB has now entered the “Slap Shot’’ age.

All that’s missing are the brawling Hanson Brothers from the 1977 classic hockey film.

But we are getting closer to that with Nationals ace Max Scherzer Tuesday night staring down Phillies manager Joe Girardi in the fifth inning. Girardi then left the dugout to try to get it on with Nationals coaches, including his former hitting coach while manager of the Yankees, Kevin Long. Long could be seen screaming at Girardi, along with Nationals pitching coach Jim Hickey as Mad Max gestured “I’m clean’’ from the dugout in the fifth-inning blowup.

Girardi was ejected after leaving the dugout and coming out onto the field.

This all started in the fourth inning with one out, Girardi had Scherzer checked for the third time for foreign substances, thanks to the new sticky substance rules instituted by Manfred.

No sticky substances were found.

On Wednesday, Nats GM Mike Rizzo was not happy. “It’s embarrassing for Girardi. It’s embarrassing for the Phillies. It’s embarrassing for baseball,’’ Rizzo said on 107.7 The Fan in Washington, D.C., hours before the Phillies lost two huge leads in a crushing 13-12 loss to the inspired Nats at Citizens Bank Park.

Switch over to the A’s at the Rangers, reliever Sergio Romo was a bit indignant when he was checked by the umpires and tore off his belt with his pants coming down. Again, another scene from “Slap Shot’’ playing out in Major League Baseball with Romo playing the part of the Charlestown Chiefs best player Ned Braden, who was portrayed by Michael Ontkean, when Braden did his striptease act on the ice.

“Fans are paying Major League prices for stuff a Little League coach would not put up with from a bunch of 11-year-olds.”

All that was missing was the song “The Stripper’’  by David Ross and his Orchestra as Braden removed his hockey uniform.

Amazingly, this is where baseball stands today. Thanks, Rob Manfred. To do all this in the middle of a season is beyond ridiculous. This should have been taken care of in spring training.

Already, two pitchers who each gave up four runs in an inning were then checked for sticky substances. No common sense applied, one size fits all.

Add that lunacy to all the incredible gaffes that litter the game night after night after night.

Are you proud of all this Rob Manfred? This is what the game has become under your watch.

My favorite gaffe Tuesday night had to be seen to be believed, and again this came directly from Manfred. It was Manfred who invented the Fake Runner. Well, that Fake Runner turned out to be the Rays’ Brett Phillips who pinch ran for Austin Meadows in the bottom of the 10th.

How you can put a pinch runner in for a Fake Runner in extra innings is something Babe Ruth would never have believed – or even Joe Jackson, “Say it ain’t so, Joe’’ – but that too is where the game is today under the spongy fist of Rob Manfred. And don’t worry, the way the game is going with Manfred in charge ballparks might soon become mini-casinos before long.

I’m sure the Babe would have loved seven-inning doubleheaders, too, even though that would have cost him some home runs that came in the eighth and ninth innings of doubleheaders back in the day. Babe’s nights on the town could begin a little earlier, though.

Phillips, a bubbly Fake Runner to say the least, was on second base to start the bottom of the 10th. Randy Arozarena got ahead in the count 3-0 and promptly popped up. Boston manager Alex Cora smartly intentionally walked Joey Wendle to set up the double play with Mike Zunino coming to the plate.

At this point evidently, Phillips takes a nap at second base. He does not see his teammate at first base and the first and third base coaches neglect to inform him that he must run to third on a ground ball because it is a force play, you know, something he has done his whole life.

Those two poor bastards took it for granted that Phillips would understand all of that.

Not in 2021. That’s not the way it works. Any mistake is possible.

Zunino hit a bouncer to third that bounced off of Rafael Devers and went into foul territory. Bases loaded, right?

No, that would only happen if the man on second, Phillips, ran to third on what was a force play at third. You know, something every Little Leaguer should know how to do. Phillips took a few steps forward, stopped and inexplicably raced back to second base. Again, he must have taken a little snooze during the intentional walk to Wendle.

Wendle came racing into second base not believing he was seeing his teammate racing back to second.

This, friends… this is the major leagues.

Devers retrieved the ball and dove onto the bag at third, thinking Phillips would be sliding into the bag, not going back to second to order a hot dog.

Easy out, the Red Sox get out of the inning, score four in the 11th and the Rays lose their seventh straight game.

After the game, Kevin Cash was asked about the hard to comprehend play and did his best Sgt. Schultz routine from Hogan’s Heroes. “I know nothing. I see nothing.’’

“I’m not sure what happened with Philly,’’ is what Cash actually said. Phillips should have been talked to by Cash as he came off the field, something along the lines of “Hey, get your head out of your ass.’

Really. It is one thing to protect your players, it’s quite another to embarrass yourself and the game with mindless play. But this is Rob Manfred’s game, embarrassing plays are a nightly occurrence and managers, always in a state of self-survival with the Nerds howling at the door, have to protect themselves by overprotecting their players. They don’t want their players to get upset. The baseball diamond must be a safe space area.

Rob Manfred doing his best Stevie Wonder impression by turning a blind eye to what it will take to actually fix the game.

You can’t possibly be having players being held accountable for their mindless actions. Let the kids play.

Managers are of course babysitters these days, not managers.

Meanwhile, on the Red Sox broadcast Jerry Remy and Dennis Eckersley could not believe what they saw. “What are you DOING?!’’

Only once in a great while is a player held accountable by the manager as David Ross held Javier Baez accountable the other day, pulling him out of the game after Baez “forgot’’ the outs and was doubled off first on a popup. This came after Baez “forgot’’ to take a lead in a previous trip to first base.

Hey, that’s baseball Rob Manfred Style!

You would not expect the Yankees to lose any more ground to the Red Sox on Tuesday because they were playing the lowly Royals, but the Yankees did, in fact, lose 6-5 because they went 0-10 with RISP. But Aaron Boone still believes in his guys and swears by Launch Angle and the home run offense. And why not? There are so many bad teams in the game it’s easy to turn it around and now that the Rays have lost seven straight, the halo and the sparkle have been removed from the “Rays Way”.

Interestingly, all the pitching struggles the Rays have had are since the word came out a few weeks ago that sticky substance ban will be enforced. It’s one thing to enforce a new rule, it’s quite another for a new rule to not have a lot of common sense behind it – and that’s where we are at now in the majors.

Again, this is the major leagues. Fans are paying Major League prices for stuff a Little League coach would not put up with from a bunch of 11-year-olds.

Ironically in the movie classic Major League, could you imagine if they wrote into the script in 1989 that a pinch runner will run for a Fake Runner –  and that pinch runner will not run to third even though there is a runner at first base – and a ground ball is hit to third with one out because the pinch runner did not see the intentional walk – or his teammate standing at first base?

“Going somewhere, meat?’’

Turns out, not 90 feet.

No one would ever believe it. That’s too Hollywood. That could never happen in the real Major League. But who knew that Rob Manfred would change the majors for the worse so much thirty-something years later?

One former major leaguer texted me on Wednesday. We were chatting about the Phillips play and Cash’s reaction, and he made this point, which is so true about today’s managers: “The major problem is they’re so afraid to talk to the players, it’s ridiculous.’’

Managers afraid to talk to players. Yep.

Well, what does the former player texting me really know?

I mean he only has two World Series rings. It’s not like he has a Driveline coaching certificate.

I beg of you, baseball, can the spirit of Billy Martin come back for just a week, at least for entertainment purposes? Wouldn’t that be great to see.

All this is coming to a head because of Manfred’s decisions. Instead of cracking down on the Nerds and pitchers who actually used the Next Level sticky substances like Spider Tack, every pitcher now has to go through this TSA line ritual now, and good for Max Scherzer who said, “These are Manfred rules. Go ask him what he wants to do with this. I’ve said enough. Go ask Alec Bohm how he feels about 95 at his face. I don’t need to say anything more about this.’’

Scherzer maintained, on this cool night, he could not get the grip he needed with just rosin and sweat, partly because the only sweat he could muster was under his cap and that is why he ran his hand through his hair. He was tired of having the taste of rosin in his mouth. That created suspicion on Girardi’s part who overplayed his managerial hand.

Nerds, of course, live for more Spin Rate so they ran with the really, really foreign substances, not just rosin and sunscreen, always a pitcher’s favorite grip mechanism. Meanwhile, Cy Young pitchers like Jacob deGrom work on ultimate command.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention that MLB is again dealing with a new baseball because evidently this baseball – this Manfred Ball – has lower seams and is a bit more slick than the baseball of recent years. So that deeply figures into the equation. It’s actually the reason all this has happened and once again, it falls at the feet of Rob Manfred. He changed the baseball.

Again.

Lena Blackburne's Rubbing Mud.

Sorry, Lena Blackburne and your Original Baseball Rubbing Mud, Serving Professional Baseball Since 1939.

By the way, I once did a story on where they got that NJ mud and went with The Man in Charge to collect the mud. So, my guess is I’ve done more research on the mud subject than Rob Manfred has done. In fact, I still have a jar of it. On the side panel it reads: “Get A Grip! Directions: Apply a small amount of mud to palm of hand. Massage onto both palms. Place ball in hand and massage thoroughly. Keep moist.’’

Again, who’s fault is that? Well, it’s Rob Manfred’s fault. Surprise, surprise.

Manfred told The Athletic Wednesday of the foreign substance checks: “My view is the first two days have gone very well.’’

With a new collective bargaining agreement argument coming down the pike this is all part of the negotiation process as well, so the fight has begun early.

Noted sports expert Joe Casale, a former agent and current sports business consultant, said this of Manfred: “When Rob Manfred looks in the mirror, what does he see?

“He probably sees himself as a ‘genius’ labor lawyer who will break the MLBPA. I see a guy who is singlehandedly ruining Major League Baseball. No sport hates its players like MLB. (Tuesday) night was another example. The on-field searching of pitchers for foreign substances was an embarrassment. It casts another black eye on the game.’’

Former Reds reliever Rob Dibble sarcastically tweeted Tuesday night: “Embarrassing your employees is a great way to run a sport.’’

That’s where baseball is at right now. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw noted on every pitcher being checked for foreign substances: “I think it’s kind of weird. It’s a funny look in general.’’

Baseball should be celebrating its players and their skills, not stopping games and patting down every pitcher. Baseball let the cheating get out of hand, again, and now is going overboard on checking on pitchers. Scherzer put it best, saying, “What we’re doing now, this is not the answer.’’

This is not just about checking on foreign substances, this is about the game in general, the scourge of strikeouts plaguing the game, the lack of fundamentals throughout the game, players not being held accountable, those with baseball wisdom being eliminated from the game simply because it’s a Nerd or Nothing approach right now. It’s all that and so much more.

Wednesday should have been a day to celebrate Wander Franco’s amazing debut with the Rays, a three-run home run, a double, turning an incredible double play in the field at third base when the runners actually ran, celebrating great on-field accomplishments.

Instead, it was a day digesting the pitching checks by umpires and the Scherzer v. Girardi confrontation, another day of poor play, the inability to hit with RISP and managers manufacturing excuses on why their players failed instead of manufacturing runs.

Is this the game we want to watch?

Thanks, Rob Manfred. You once again stuck it to your own players, your own game with your version of MLB, and I repeat something I wrote last week in Baseball or Bust.

Hey owners! Are you proud of this product?

You must be proud of the way Manfred is setting up the negotiations for next year as well.

Random checks of pitchers also blow up the argument that Manfred is trying to speed up the game. Everything he touches is Pandora’s Box. Everything he changes has crazy consequences.

Girardi was playing by the Manfred Rules when he had the umps check Scherzer for the third time and like Girardi said, he had never seen Scherzer go to his hair as often as he did Tuesday night. He was playing by the Manfred Rules.

The rules and substances have changed. The ball has changed. Manfred has changed them and this is what you’ve got now. Checking pitchers by umpires is yet another version of checking the replay. It slows everything down. Baseball rhythm is a thing of the past. Players fall asleep on the base paths and in the field in the new game. Pitchers are taking more time between pitches because they are getting used to a new feel to a new ball.

Slap Shot has come to MLB. It’s one hell of a comedy.

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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