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Mudville: August 8, 2022 6:45 am PDT
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What a Weak!

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Outfielders not bothering to chase fly balls they lose track of in the “twilight’’ and no one is there to back them up anyway. Pop-ups falling to earth on the grass in front of the pitching mound. The lowest rated All-Star Game in history. Chalk lines being drawn in the infield to keep players in their zones so there is no longer just a first base foul line and third base foul line. Teams being beaten by touchdowns where even the scoreboard operator could not keep up.

Teams turned down by their stars even when they offer $440 million contracts as Juan Soto rejected the Nationals. Position players pitching nearly every night. Fundamentals totally lost. Pitchers up 0-2 in the count repeatedly throwing hanging sliders that are hit for home runs. Home runs that are miscounted in the Home Run Derby. Teams proudly retweeting young players firing off aggressive bat flips showing up the pitcher. Just about everybody is an All-Star now because so many players opted not to go to the All-Star Game in Los Angeles, of all places. Red carpet outfits more entertaining than the All-Star Game itself. And let’s not forget the overdone Mic’d Up madness. Fake runners galore. All-Stars barely hitting .200, the Manfred Line.

An amateur draft of mostly college players and way too many pitchers who have already had Tommy John surgery. Another serious pitching injury Friday night to Yankees reliever Michael King as the epidemic of pitching injuries continue. Remember when the Number Nerds told us they would get a hold on the problem by limiting pitch counts, you know the one size fits all answer that really isn’t an answer.

Remember, Rob Manfred loves baseball, he just loves it, so you don’t have to love it anymore.

All the problems are getting worse in Major League Baseball and that is the subject this week in The Story.

What was your lowlight of the “weak,’’ and I do mean weak? There were so many to choose from this week.

Yet another week in baseball where the game has lost its way and fans show their displeasure by not watching.

What is fast becoming true – and we saw it coming first, that’s for sure – while all those paid talking heads on MLB Network looked the other way, there is simply not much that is Major anymore about Major League Baseball.

Except Major disappointments.

There is not much action in games with strikeouts, pop-ups, no hit-and-runs, hardly any stolen bases, lazy defense, and hitters not taking advantage of the shifts when they should.

Baseball used to be exemplified by the way Willie Mays played the game.

Baseball in 2022 is exemplified by the way Joey Gallo plays the game and here are his raw, ugly numbers: 225 at-bats, 100 Ks, 40 walks, .164 batting average, 12 home runs, and my favorite, 0 sacrifice flies.

Is this what fans want? Give us more Joey Gallo and three true outcomes.

You know the common sense answer but you are not going to hear it in many places.

The road to destruction is paved with Number Nerds’ innovations to the game, put in place by a commissioner who insists he loves baseball, I’m telling you, he just loves baseball!

That’s why he wants to change the game so much.

If not for Aaron Judge doing his thing, hustling, playing hard, being a good teammate, the game would be in even much worse shape. Through the years the Yankees didn’t even have the common sense to sign Judge to a long-term deal, only finally coming around to reality this off-season. Heck, those in charge didn’t even realize he could play centerfield making him even that much more valuable.

There are a few other players who rise above the mediocrity as well that I enjoy watching. A few.

With the All-Star break in the rear-view mirror and the same for those hideous All-Star uniforms – you can buy your own jersey for only $159 at MLB.com – it is time to admit that the game you once loved is never coming back. Never.

The MLB Red Carpet Extravaganza

When Red Sox centerfielder Jarren Duran misplayed that fly ball into an inside the park grand slam Friday night in a 28-5 loss to the Blue Jays at Fenway, he offered this comment about not chasing after the ball. It speaks volumes of the mindset of the young player, who lives in a world where they no longer do serious pregame defensive work. He stood there and watched as Alex Verdugo had to run to dead center from left field.

“Dugie was right there already,’’ Duran surmised.

That wasn’t true. Verdugo was not even in the picture with Duran just standing there. Verdugo finally came sliding into the picture.

“Obviously I should have taken a step or two,’’ Duran said. “But he was already going to beat me to the ball, so I just didn’t want to get in his way. What if I sprinted and collided with him or something like that? But next time I know to take one or two steps. But he was already going to beat me to the ball.’’

Imagine that. He sure learned his lesson. Next time he can fake it with one or two steps.

Need I remind you that that Red Sox love to point out the speedy Duran is in MLB’s 98th percentile in sprint speed? Speed means nothing if you don’t hustle.

So, one of the fastest players in the game may take a step or two next time he misplays a ball. Give me a break. By the way, Verdugo and right-fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. who is always heralded for his defensive play, should have been in the picture long before they were – because once they could see Duran was in trouble, if they bothered to watch the flight of the ball, they should have been flying to centerfield.

Pro scouts that I talked to could not believe what they saw.

“How about the centerfielder from Boston,’’ one talent evaluator told BallNine. “I have never seen anything like that in my life.’’ This scout has seen only about 10,000 games, maybe more, so take that into account as well.

“Are you freaking kidding me,’’ the scout fumed. “What would Bobby Cox had done?’’

Cox famously pulled Andruw Jones from centerfield in a game in 1998 for not hustling after a fly ball that dropped in for a hit. Duran lost the ball in the “twilight’’ but then could not be bothered to hustle after the ball, but next time he said he will take one or two steps to the ball that lands over his head.

“He’d be in my office after the game because he would be going to Worcester,’’ the scout said of a fast AAA demotion. “That is such an embarrassment to this industry.’’

On the same night the Red Sox lost 28-5, surrendering the most runs in franchise history and surrendering 29 hits, the Phillies were hammered 15-2 by the Cubs. Both games featured position players pitching. Another terrible trend in baseball. Infielder Yolmer Sanchez now has two innings pitched over his career. He has two at-bats this season for the Red Sox so that is a statistic that shows how ridiculous it all is as Number Nerds think they are saving pitchers by having position players on the mound.

Catcher Garrett Stubbs gave up five runs in the ninth for the Phillies, another position player lobbing the ball over the plate, another great look for MLB.

The time of game was 3:28.

Noted a scout present at that fiasco, “It’s sad. You’d rather go do minor league coverage. At least the bad games are over in two and a half hours.’’

True.

This All-Star Game was the lowest-rated All-Star Game in history, but MLB continues to drive down this road where they have changed the game to such a degree it is destroying the product. People don’t care about baseball like they once did – and that’s on baseball. This was the third straight All-Star Game that produced record low ratings. It keeps getting worse. In 1994 the viewership for the All-Star Game was 22.31 million. This year it was 7.51 million.

Yolmer Sanchez #47 of the Boston Red Sox pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays during the ninth inning at Fenway Park on July 22, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Fluharty/Getty Images)

The MLB All-Star Game used to be a premier event and was always a special night so different than the other All-Star Games. But this is not just about the All-Star Game, it is about how the game is played.

Football essentially has remained the same game, not baseball. The NFL has its problems, that’s for sure, but the games are way more entertaining than baseball games because fans know each week they are going to get pretty much the same game as their parents got. Not the case with baseball.

What the heck game is this we are watching?

There is action in the NFL. No action in baseball and the Duran play highlighted the fact the guy who lost the ball could not be bothered to chase it and he stayed in the game. And was in the starting lineup the next day, too. By the way, that loss was the Red Sox’ seventh in the last eight games and over the last three games the Red Sox were outscored, 55-8 and outhit 55-19.

Chaim Bloom Ball. Go Bloom Sawx!

At least the Red Sox fans can celebrate David Ortiz going into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this weekend in a get out of town moment.

Will the Fenway Faithful continue to watch this garbage on the field? I repeat what I said in a column last week: Is Alex Cora okay with all this? Have the Red Sox started practicing pop-ups since they have lost three of them, not to mention the two fly balls, against the Yankees and Blue Jays, their AL East rivals?

The inability to make simple plays is another demerit for MLB.

As for the anti-shift movement, it could have just been taken care of by hitters taking advantage of the shift but they are too selfish, get paid for home runs and not batting average to fix the problem; you know, hitting the ball the other way. So now baseball has to regulate it by having an off-limits area drawn on the field so infielders can’t go there before the pitch. That experiment is taking place in what used to be known as the Florida State League.

I’m predicting that soon infielders will be put in motion so they can get to the off-limit spots soon after the ball is released by the pitcher. A baseball game will look like the Canadian Football League with fielders like backs and wide receivers in motion in the CFL.

As for those lines being drawn in the infield, a talent evaluator noted, “Pretty soon they will be drawing little circles in the infield, nobody knows where to play.’’

Yes, they will look in their caps at the cheat card and move to a certain spot in the circle.

Remember, Rob Manfred loves baseball, he just loves it, so you don’t have to love it anymore.

“They will be a lot like actors, they will have marks where they’ve got to stand,’’ the scout said.

What’s really funny these days is watching teams making relay throws from the outfield. Balls are cut off that should not be cut off; like in the Phillies game Friday night. Then when balls are cut off and thrown to bases there is no one covering, that also was a poor play by the Phillies Friday night.

“Nobody does cutoffs or relays before the game so there’s nobody at second base anymore,’’ a scout said.

Players don’t know where to go.

The scout said in jest that at some point the Number Nerds may just use a laser to point to where players should position themselves on the field.

At least I think he was in jest, maybe not.

The saddest of all happenings this week was the elbow injury to Michael King, who was in such pain he walked off the mound biting his glove. Some former pitching coaches are starting to wonder about the wisdom of the “new’’ sweeping curve balls that are the latest trend. Who knows? Pitching injuries remain the biggest mystery in the game.

Michael King. (AP Photo)

What’s not a mystery is that pitching well makes all the difference in the world for a team. Just look how the Astros have handled the mighty Yankees this season.

As one former pitching coach told BallNine: “I don’t care what your spin rate is, I don’t care what your shapes are, go get three outs and get us in there to hit.’’

Don’t lose focus on the job at hand. It’s not about the shiny objects. It’s about getting the job done. Make the pitch, catch the pop-up, if you make a mistake, hustle after the ball. Play the game right, but so much is so wrong in Major League Baseball, and it was all there to see this “weak.’’

“It’s hard to believe you are watching Major League Baseball,’’ one evaluator concluded. “It is so unrepresentative of good baseball. Most of the games are not very well played. There are too many strikeouts, too many pop-ups. Nothing happens.’’

There are plenty of mistakes.

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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