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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: December 5, 2022 1:26 am PDT
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BY KEVIN KERNAN

The year was 1959 and the Go-Go White Sox, under new owner Bill Veeck, shocked the baseball world, winning their first American League pennant in 40 years with speed, pitching and defense.

And now here we are today with the Slow-Slow White Sox, mired under .500, a team with too many injuries and too many players who can’t play defense.

Each week something happens in baseball that is hard to believe, and this week that hard to believe event went to Tony La Russa and the White Sox. I have much respect for La Russa – after all he is a Hall of Fame manager – and by him telling the world this week the training staff has told his players to slow it down, that is his way of protecting the players from being criticized when it is obvious to fans they are not hustling as a team.

“We literally have five of the nine guys who are playing under trainer instructions that if they make a routine out, they slow it down. If you watch closely, there are extra bases we haven’t taken and you can sit them, but they’re key offensive guys,’’ La Russa said. “So long as the fans understand it, they’re not lazy, but their legs are important.’’

I don’t know about the fans, but I don’t understand it.

Like I said, I know where La Russa is coming from, but this is so wrong on so many levels. This is another example of MLB losing its way. “Don’t hustle, kids” is the message to young people playing the sport; you might get hurt.

My first reaction is, will the White Sox be offering discounts to fans who come to the games?

Will those who have the MLB TV package be getting a discount?

After all, you as a fan are not getting what you paid for and in this day and age with inflation rising to new heights and food and gas being so costly, why would you spend your money on a team that will not hustle, for whatever reason?

The White Sox have broken the social contract with their fans.

Hustle is a big part of the game. If more than half the starting lineup can’t go all out because of injury issues, shouldn’t the price of tickets and other aspects of the game be cut in half?

And what if you are a bettor, betting on every angle they beg you to bet on at MLB Network 24/7. How can you bet on the White Sox in any capacity when the players are being told to slow it down? I guess you take the under on runs scored.

There is one question after another but that is MLB 2022, a world of questions. To me, this is a little bit like the NBA when players sit for a rest game, load management, and you already had purchased a ticket thinking you were going to see certain players.

The agreement between team and fan has been broken.

 If you do see someone running in the outfield during a spring training game now, you wonder, “Hey, how did that fan get out there?’’

The biggest question continues to be why can’t baseball keep its players healthy? My good friend Sal Marinello, who studies these things and knows more about training athletes than anyone I know, said the essential problem with baseball players is they have become so fragile, in part, because they do not push themselves to the limits or they push themselves in the wrong direction.

“They are getting hurt in doing things that are central to the game,’’ Marinello told BallNine of the injury influx. “Running the bases, swinging the bat, throwing the baseball. And that’s because they don’t do those things properly in their training. Their training is not addressing what their body needs to handle in the game, it’s that simple.’’

Yes, it is. That is the essence of what is happening in baseball, players are getting hurt doing baseball activities. Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres injured an ankle simply taking a lead off third base the other day. He was lucky it was only a mild ankle sprain. Manny Machado wasn’t so lucky. The Padres star rolled an ankle running to first base and awkwardly hitting the bag. Oblique injuries occur taking a swing. Tommy John or so many other arm injuries happen in the act of throwing the baseball.

Injuries will happen, part of the game, but the way they are happening in baseball now is all too frequent and all too ridiculous.

Manager Tony La Russa #22 of the Chicago White Sox looks out at the field from the dugout before a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Guaranteed Rate Field on June 23, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

“It’s a combination of not working properly,’’ Marinello said, “and it’s not working properly hard enough. You and I have been talking about this for years.’’

Yes, we have but the injuries continue because baseball doesn’t make the changes necessary to make the players more resilient.

Rob Dibble, the 1990 NLCS MVP said a similar thing to me this week, pointing out that as a pitcher in Cincinnati, he and the other pitchers would run pole to pole in the outfield until they were exhausted. You pushed yourself to the limit. You rarely see pitchers running to that extent anymore.

It’s workout lite for most players these days.

In many ways, injury prevention under the Nerds means, exercise prevention. In the long run that has proven to be so detrimental to the game.

It’s crazy. Like so much about baseball.

Another former player, a catcher, and a longtime coach and minor league manager offered this about why Johnny can’t stay healthy anymore in the major leagues.

“How about each club doing a study on WHY these guys are getting hurt,’’ he told me. “Look no further than the weight room.’’

Then there is the fact there is not enough work to go around in the minor leagues with so many players, especially pitchers. “We are 10 weeks into the AAA season,’’ a scout told me, “and guys have 15 innings. That was a bad week for me as a starter. They throw two one-inning stints a week and you go, ‘That’s player development.’’’

Evidently, it is nowadays.

Baseball has closed its eyes to the old ways of the past that seemed to keep players healthy and just goes along, each team pretty much doing the same thing now. That does not include all-out running. My favorite thing in spring training used to be seeing the pitchers running in the outfield during a spring training game before every spring training complex became the Taj Mahal. And they would be running hard.

Now the players are running into the never-ending food room filled with goodies and protein shakes. If you do see someone running in the outfield during a spring training game now, you wonder, “Hey, how did that fan get out there?’’

Los Angeles Dodgers Charlie Neal (43) in action, making tag vs Chicago White Sox Luis Aparicio (11). Game 5. Los Angeles, CA 10/6/1959 CREDIT: Phil Bath (Photo by Phil Bath /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Like in the case of analytics, a little bit of numbers is okay, too many numbers is not okay and too much intrusion into the clubhouse by Nerds is not okay. A little weight room is okay, too much weight room throughout the year is not okay. Time and again I have been told that by baseball people who know.

Getting back to the 1959 White Sox, I am re-reading the classic baseball book “Veeck – As in Wreck’’ and even he was stunned by the White Sox success that season.

“The last person in Chicago to see the light, I suspect, was me — although I am normally a devout optimist. I never enjoyed a season so much or suffered so intensely. Or was so astonished. Since my early days in Milwaukee, I have been an advocate of power and pitching. In modern baseball the winning equation is Power + Pitching = Pennant,’’ Veeck wrote.

The book was published by G.P, Putnam’s Sons 60 years ago but those words could have been said by any one of the current 30 general managers in MLB.

“Teams like the White Sox which depend upon speed and defense delight the hearts of all old-timers and generally finish in the second division,’’ Veeck wrote “ … I spent the first two-thirds of the season predicting that we didn’t have enough power to beat the Yankees, which seemed to be self-evident. I spent the rest of the season sticking happily to my prediction, not because I believed it anymore but because the White Sox fans were getting such a kick out of badgering me about it. I should have listened to Al Lopez. Al told me from the beginning we were going to win it.’’

Al Lopez, the manager, was a baseball man. He knew.

He had Nellie Fox at second base, who would win the AL MVP that season. He also had Luis Aparicio at shortstop, who would finish second in AL MVP voting. Lopez also had Early Wynn on the mound, and he would win the Cy Young back when only one Cy Young was awarded in the major leagues. The mighty Yankees finished 15 games back of the White Sox in the eight-team team AL that season.

After all those years since the 1919 Black Sox, the White Sox had a pennant-winning team again. Amazingly, that White Sox team was involved in 52 one-run games during the season, winning 35. Their luck ran out in the World Series against the Dodgers. After winning Game 1, 11-0, the White Sox scored only 10 runs the final five games and lost two of those games by one run.

The Go-Go Sox were finished.

In April of 1959, Bill Veeck, Chicago White Sox owner, left, hears a secret from Chisox manager Al Lopez, perhaps that the club will win the American League pennant at the season's end. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)

No more Go-Go for the White Sox, now it is Go Slow Sox; you don’t want to hustle and get hurt. Listen to those trainers. I wonder what the Tony La Russa of the 1979 White Sox would have said back then if he were told, “Tony, don’t make these guys hustle. They might get hurt.’’

The White Sox have some terrific coaches on staff and I’m sure this is difficult for them to handle as well as the White Sox continue to struggle along under .500.

And my second favorite thing of the week was in a two-game span between the Yankees and AA A’s there were not one, not two, but three catcher interferences called, two on the AA A’s and one on the Yankees. That is pretty pathetic in my book, but I always check with the experts and one former major league catcher got right back to me in a text and said, “That’s what happens when you ‘reach out’ to receive the ball instead of letting it come to you.’’

He added, “I can’t believe how many balls get by catchers now, and they don’t even bat an eye.’’

The answer is simple. They are trying to steal strikes.

I’ve got a better idea. How about throwing strikes. Command the baseball, pitchers.

There are new priorities and those in charge of the game don’t really know the nuances of the game anymore. They are hired because they talk a good game or the media pushes them as the Next Big Thing, but they are not allowing real instructors to instruct, they are fearful of people with real knowledge, they surround themselves with “Certificate Coaches (CC)’’ for the most part now – and they sell the catchers on stealing strikes instead of, you know, actually catching.

Anaheim Angels manager Mike Scioscia (L) talks to San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds before the start of Game Three of the World Series in San Francisco 22 October, 2002. The Angels and Giants are tied 1-1 is the best of seven series. (JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)

Certificate Coaches is a term I just came up with, by the way. It’s all these coaches, CC, that earn a certificate at these popup baseball factories. Good for them, they are learning a new trade but don’t expect them to be able to teach catchers how to catch or pitchers how to pitch. Pitchers may throw harder, but they will not command their pitches. Catchers may steal a few strikes here and there, something that was not allowed by old school umpires who have been replaced by umpiring robots, but in the long run, they can’t catch, especially on one knee.

If you really want to have some fun, watch how these catchers receive balls on throws from the outfield. It’s entertaining and they are not exactly Mike Scioscia in front of the plate.

Speaking of Scioscia, this marks the 20th anniversary of his Angels shocking the Barry Bonds Giants in the 2002 World Series. I was there for that World Series, it was a lot of fun to watch as the Angles won in seven games, despite Big (I wonder why) Barry batting .471 in that World Series with a 1.994 OPS. The Angels stole six bases in that World Series, the World Series winning team last year, the Braves, managed to steal one base.

Like I said, the Go-Go White Sox of 1959 lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games in the World Series. They did not Go-Go, stealing only two bases against the Dodgers that October.

Maybe they had some injury issues and were told to go Slow-Slow.

Maybe, but I doubt it.

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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