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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: May 25, 2022 9:24 am PDT
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The supply chain is a mess. 

I’m not talking about that supply chain, I’m talking about baseball’s supply chain. It’s never been in worse shape because of the over-indulgence to analytics, the shortening of the draft and the loss of talented development people who have been replaced by Nerds.

Add to this the ridiculous amount of players and pitchers on a minor league roster and you have another disaster in the making — Thank you Commissioner Rob Manfred. The Orioles AAA team at Norfolk managed to win a grand total of 52 games this past season, the exact same amount of wins as the major league club. The major league Orioles lost 110 games. The AAA team lost 78 games. That is a lot of losing.

Here is the amazing part, though. The AAA Orioles had 81 players come through there this past season and they all got into games. There also were about seven more players who were around here and there for emergency purposes, BallNine was told; in case there was a shortage at the major league level, so that is a grand total of 88 players in one season for one team.

How ridiculous is that? Whether it is 81 or 88 that’s a living, breathing bloated clown show of a minor league team.

How do pitchers get enough work?

How do hitters get enough at-bats?

How do infielders and outfielders get enough work on their defense?

In the rush to take technology to the 10th degree the new baseball god… real everyday work — you know, what they used to call practice — BP, infield-outfield, bullpens are not in play like they once were. And you wonder why today’s players who come up to the major leagues are so fundamentally challenged and don’t know how to play the game … except for a rare few talented youngsters.

And you wonder why baseball is so off course and so boring, in this home run or nothing enterprise.

Listen to this MLB insider explain what is really going on in baseball, a man who spent countless time in the minors.

“When I played, we had 23 guys on our roster, they have like 35 guys that they travel with now, that is not bleeping player development,’’ the insider told BallNine. “Guys do not get enough at-bats, they don’t get enough innings, and nobody is teaching them anything except how to throw harder and how to hit more home runs. We’re creating a generation of players that don’t know how to play our game at all.’’

That is exactly what is happening.

“When they agreed to cut back teams, I said at the time, I can make the argument that we need to add another team,’’ he explained. “Why are you shrinking the entry level?’’

That’s a great question. Here is another. When the wizards over at MLB decided to get rid of so many minor league teams, someone with common sense asked: “You’re trying to grow the game worldwide, right? You want to grow this game and make it bigger and better.’’

“Yes,’’ the MLB wizard answered.

“Then why are you shrinking the entry level?’’

Evidently, the response was something like: “Well you know, in the draft, after the fifth round there really are no big league players.’’

Yikes! Tell that to Jake deGrom. Or maybe Hall of Famer Mike Piazza or so many more post-fifth round major leaguers that have come through the system before this current supply chain disaster. That is the kind of wizardry and mindset under the Great Manfred’s leadership baseball is exhibiting.

“What they are talking about is you want to be able to look and only identify someone who might be a superstar,’’ the insider said with passion.  “Not realizing all the other pieces are important pieces. How about all the players that don’t get to the big leagues, play 10 years in the minor leagues, they mentor your stars on how to be a good teammate, how to work every day, how to go out and compete and then they end up coaching or scouting. All the stuff MLB has lost sight of.’’

The only thing MLB hasn’t lost sight of is gambling money.

And all that is so shortsighted. But it would not be MLB if it were not shortsighted. They are missing what I call it the Bull Durham effect. More on that later in Baseball or Bust.

Perhaps that is why it is so difficult to sit through a major league game these days. The game is off the rails and others are starting to notice. Certainly, fans have noticed if you look at the TV ratings and attendance in certain cities where teams are not playing to contend.

Someone passed along a Substack article to me this week entitled: “Yes, Sabermetrics Ruined Baseball.’’

Don't tell Mike Piazza a draft should only be five rounds.

The entertaining and informative piece was written by Freddie deBoer. He pointed out the absurdity of the game being a home run or walk or foul ball sport with action replaced by inaction, noting: “The most athletic, fun, and unpredictable elements of baseball, fielding and baserunning, have become less and less prevalent over time. Guys launch homers or they strike out, wracking up foul balls by the score, and when that’s not happening, it’s just pause after pause, long stretches of nothing. We live in an increasingly-frenetic digitally-mediated culture and Shoeless Joe isn’t coming out of the holy cornfield to entice your kids to watch baseball. It’s really hard to see how the game competes with Twitch and YouTube moving forward to say nothing of the NFL or NBA.’’

Owners, who have been given a huge ball of analytical BS, have no clue on what is really going on with their game not only at the major league level but in the minors as well.

The sad thing is that there are plenty of good coaches who understand all the significant data completely, have major league experience and are being pushed aside for inexperienced coaches and new hires with such titles such as Quantitative Analysis Associate. It is the way of the game now.

Why rely on scouts who might argue with you when you have a roomful of people staring at their laptop screens deeply centered on quantitative analysis?

And you wonder why baseball is so off course and so boring, in this home run or nothing enterprise.

Where are the base stealers? What happened to all the outfield arms? How about the pitiful baserunning and most of all the game is played at a snail’s pace. Since MLB Network doesn’t realize modern day players exist anymore with the lockout going full bore, they have been showing World Series games from not so long ago and it is stunning to see the difference in the game in such a short period of time.

Rickey steals like Rickey does.

Then if you go really back to the 70s and 80s it hits you like a ton of bricks. I covered many World Series games from the late ‘80s all the way to 2019 so I saw the changes live and in person.

The games were once amazing and so full of action and athletes and little things done right. Just look at Tony Gwynn’s slide to win the 1994 All Star Game. And, of course, the games were much quicker.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, growing up in Kenilworth, NJ, the first major league game that got me totally invested in Major League Baseball both physically and mentally was Game 7 of the 1960 World Series between the Yankees and the Pirates.

Bill Mazeroski

This has often been called the greatest game of all time.

It sure had the greatest action.

The Pirates won on Bill Mazeroski’s home run, long before they were called walk-off home runs. His trip around the bases was a celebration for the ages at Forbes Field and is the Holy Grail of Pirates memories in Pittsburgh.

Look how far the Pirates have fallen now and even a mediocre Steelers team is in total control of the city. In that 10-9, 1960 masterpiece there were a combined five home runs, a combined 24 hits and amazingly there was not one strike out in that game. Not one.

The Yankees were 5-for-9 with RISP, the Pirates were 5-for-8, a combined .588 average with RISP.

And the best part is with all that action those nine innings were played in 2:36.

Game 1 of this past World Series, a 6-2 Braves win over the Astros, took 4:06 to play. Another game was four hours long.

They call it progress. I call it Bullshit.

“If you get one person in a leadership position who has the courage to do things the right way,’’ one baseball insider told me, “and the other owners start seeing the result of that and they go, ‘Wait a minute, what are we doing?’ ’’

Perhaps Buck Showalter can be that person.

It comes back to doing the hard work it takes to become a better ballplayer, all the practice, all the repetition.

MLB Network also is rotating between movies Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and For Love of the Game. The irony of all three baseball movies is that it was a much different game than what they are selling now. Look at the minor leagues, dozens of cities had their teams ripped away by Manfred & Co.

Watch the 1988 film Bull Durham about life in the minors and 81 players don’t come through that team. They added veteran catcher Crash Davis to the roster to tutor Ebby Calvin Nuke Laloosh on the art of baseball.

Consider this conversation between Crash and Ebby.

Nuke: “How come you don’t like me?”

Crash: “You don’t respect yourself, which is your problem. But you don’t respect the game, and that’s my problem. You got a gift.’’

Nuke: “What do I got?’’

Crash: “You got a gift. When you were a baby, the gods reached down and turned your right arm into a thunderbolt. You’ve got a Hall of Fame arm but you’re pissing it away.’’

Nuke: “I ain’t pissing it away. I got a Porsche already. I got a 911 with a quadraphonic Blaupunkt.’’

Crash: “Christ! You don’t need a quadraphonic Blaupunkt. What you need is a curveball.’’

That says it all.

Tough love goes a long way in baseball. Or it used to go a long way.

Nowadays minor league teams, and some major league teams too, they change the roster so much they need to have players wearing name tags. As for getting in the face of a No. 1 millionaire prospect, it isn’t done like it once was through the baseball generations.

“We had 23 guys our our team,’’ the baseball insider said again of playing on a manageable roster. “We had 10 or 11 pitchers so our starters had to go deep into games. We had to have relievers who could throw multiple innings, we had to have a closer who could throw multiple innings if needed. We had guys who knew how to play. You had your prospects that played every day, but you know what, you had other guys who ended up playing three or four days a week and they ended up getting 250 at-bats. Now the bench players on these bloated rosters get 70 at-bats a year. That’s not player development. Pitchers throw 30 innings, that’s not player development. It’s a joke.’’

Bring back common sense before it’s too late. And it is getting close to being too late.

Don’t haphazardly change the rules just to change the rules and make life easier for the hitters. Don’t change the rules to make it easier to steal bases. No shortcuts.

“No, let’s learn how to hit better,’’ the insider said.

Fix the supply chain mess. Teach players how to play the game the right way. Use the best coaches. Wisely use analytics.

“Guys used to earn their way to the big leagues, now guys get opportunities because they got drafted in the second round and they got $1.4 million and they never had what you or I would consider a good season,’’ the insider said. “But they get social promotions. He attended the class for the whole season in A ball, yeah I know he hit .240 and he struck out 180 times, let’s move him to AA.’’

Fix baseball’s supply chain to help fix the game. Before it is too late.

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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