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Mudville: September 26, 2022 12:34 pm PDT
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Goin’ Down in Frames

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Pitch Frame This.

The Nerd Philosophies that have infested baseball show themselves to be anti-baseball nearly every game, and one of the worst instances of that occurred Friday night in Cleveland.

Here at The Story we’re always on the lookout for what’s wrong with what used to be America’s Pastime and the evidence is overwhelming. We often have real baseball fans alerting us to what’s wrong; but this one we saw with our own eyes and couldn’t believe it, and what’s worse is what happened after the egregious play by the Twins, one of the Nerdiest teams in baseball.

Here are the Twins in a supposed fight in the AL Central, one of the weakest divisions in baseball. Even though their record is now under .500, those in charge of the Twins want you to believe they are contenders, “I could have been a contender!’’

The Twins are actually so bad they’re not even in the watered down race for the final Wild Card that Rob Manfred put on the table this year, further diluting the game.

What gets me most about all of this is that the Nerds will tell you their actions are best for the game and best for the team. This is all about the team, their Zombie Managers will proclaim. But in reality, this is all about the Nerds. They come up with something and even when it’s proven dead wrong, they don’t change – because Nerds never backtrack.

They don’t want their owners to know they know nothing about the real game of baseball.

Have somebody grab some pine and you might see changes for the better and an attitude where a player knows he has to be in position to make a play and not just in a position to grab sunflower seeds out of his pocket.

I was speaking to a veteran baseball man Saturday who has held many top jobs in the game, and he was telling me about one of the organizations that he worked for and how player development people were ordered to write positive, glowing reports about the minor league play “in case the owner looked at those reports.’’

How messed up is that?

Needless to say that team is currently struggling, well under .500 these days. No surprise there, but at least the owners don’t hear bad news. Now the owner may be smart enough to look at the standings, but that is another point entirely and we are not going to go there.

He’s probably excited about the team’s Prospect Rankings, pretty much another Nerd scam.

As for the particular play in question, it happened in the eighth inning of a 3-3 tie between the Guardians and the Twins. The Twins were leading 3-0 to start the seventh, but as so often happens to the Twins, a bad defensive play opened the floodgates; and this time the error was made by second baseman Nick Gordon, who showed zero play awareness on a ground ball hit to him by the speedy Andres Gimenez. When Gordon finally realized this was a fast runner it was too late, and he hurried his throw to commit the error.

Credit Gimenez for the hustle.

But the real hustle was to take place the next inning.

Tito Francona, who out-thinks the Nerds, put in pinch runner Ernie Clement at second base with no outs and runners on first and second in the 3-3 game.

Right-handed pitcher Jhoan Duran was on the mound. Gary Sanchez was “catching.’’

As luck would have it, Gimenez was at the plate. There were no outs, and the first two breaking balls were inside and in the dirt to Gimenez. You could see this coming.

Gary Sanchez was locked on one knee. The one knee catching revolution was embraced early on in Minnesota so this is fitting. The third in-the-dirt pitch was really, really in the dirt and Sanchez, with his right knee cemented into the ground, made a casual swat at the pitch with his mitt. The ball bounded up over his head and Sanchez had no clue the ball was heading to the third base side of the backstop.

Mistake No. 1.

Mistake No. 2 was made by Duran who not only was slow to move toward the plate, but who never gave a directional signal to Sanchez, something like, “Hey Gary the freaking ball is the other way!’’ Instead he loped home. Third baseman Gio Urshela, an ex-Yankee who has seen this act before, was racing to home because he was able to think ahead that the pinch runner might take two bases.

Clement, again, great hustle on his part, saw the play in front of him and this was the easiest 180 feet in baseball history. He slid home head first in triumph on the play to put the Guardians ahead as the runner from first moved up two bases as well. The Indians are next to last in home runs, ahead of only the pitiful Tigers, yet they lead their division. They have to score runs any way they can and do it as a team.

Now here is the best part.

Did anyone say, “Forget about one knee and catch or be ready to block the ball.’’

Nope. Zombie Manager Rocco Baldelli, who I hear is a really nice guy, just stared ahead and chewed his gum. On the next pitch, same bouncing ball reliever on the mound, same slow catcher behind the plate, again Sanchez went down to cementing his right knee into the ground like nothing bad happened after a two-base, run scoring wild pitch.

And that is what is most embarrassing of all. For the Twins, for Gary Sanchez, for Twins fans, for Major League Baseball.

Even when a new revolutionary style of play doesn’t work, the Nerds will not admit defeat.

Manager Rocco Baldelli #5 of the Minnesota Twins gives a high five after a game versus the Boston Red Sox on August 29, 2022 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

They will blame it on the player. They will say the execution was poor; they will not say what was obvious to all at that moment: one-knee-down catching is the most ridiculous change to happen in the game in generations and game after game, wild pitch after wild pitch, that is proven to be true.

Yet after the game, Baldelli was talking about the good things he saw from his team.

Managers with backbone from yesteryear would have gone berserk and probably would have taken it out on some poor baseball writer – believe me, been there, done that. But there were no comments about the one-knee stance not being conducive to success.

Today’s Zombie Managers are just trying to keep their jobs and do not have the guts to call out what is wrong with the game.

“But you steal strikes.’’

No, you have games stolen from you time and again. It’s pathetic and it shows how the Nerds care only about themselves and their new ideas and if their ideas don’t work (just look at the drop in batting average, just about the worst it’s ever been) that’s okay, it’s not the Launch Angle’s fault, it’s not the “home run or go home” attitude of hitters, it’s now the shift’s fault so let’s just change the rules.

I say change the Nerds, not the rules.

Bring baseball people back to the forefront. Start teaching the game again.

The way it is now, the game is heading to total collapse because of those in charge of the game and those in charge of teams. Defense is out the window. I recently mentioned how the Pirates are clueless and now like some other clubs have machines sending out ground balls to infielders pre-game, three zombie coaches with one coach feeding baseballs to the other two zombie coaches and mindlessly sending out ground balls.

No fungoes. No technique. No teaching. Zombies doing zombie things.

The Pirates absolute lack of defensive awareness is startling. And on the same night as the two-base wild pitch, the Mets’ Eduardo Escobar scored from first on a single to right where Pirates’ right-fielder Ben Gamel heaved a throw in the direction of home plate – but the ball wound up between home and third, a dreadful throw.

This occurred with Roberto Clemente being remembered this week, by the way; and my mind immediately flashed back to the days of Clemente firing rockets to every base from right field for the Pirates. Watch most of the right field arms in the game now and it is appalling.

But that terrible throw wasn’t the worst of it.

The worst of it was caught on camera by ex-third baseman Todd Zeile, now an SNY-TV analyst. Zeile was another player I had so much fun with talking about the game through the years. Zeile, a former catcher, sees the field and he noted on the replay that third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes, an excellent defender and the son of former major leaguer Charlie Hayes, was caught by the SNY cameras casually watching the play and standing flat-footed at third.

That’s not the worst of it. Hayes was so disinterested on the play where Escobar was steaming home, he took his glove off his left hand, was holding it with his right hand because he had to reach into his back pocket with his glove hand to shovel sunflower seeds into his mouth as a runner was rounding his third base bag.

The run scoring play was going on right in front of him and he looked like he was out for a Sunday stroll.

Hayes could not even bother to keep his glove on his glove hand. That’s Pirate September Baseball as Zeile noted.

Hayes was assuming the play has nothing to do with him but there is something to do on every play as Urshela, another third baseman, hustled to home on that bizarre wild pitch in Cleveland with a fast runner on second knowing there would be a play at home.

A shout out to faithful reader Keith Appell who forwarded the Zeile clip to me on Twitter.

Real fans notice these mistakes night after night after night and notice zombie managers zombieing – and coaches don’t do a thing because those managers are working on behalf of front offices who don’t understand the nuances of the game.

Buck Showalter understands. Tito Francona understands. Dusty Baker understands. Dave Roberts understands. Most managers work for owners who are totally clueless about baseball except for a few owners like the Mets’ Steve Cohen.

Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton talks with Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Tucupita Marcano (30) after he grounded out in the fifth during a MLB game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals on June 13, 2022, at Busch Stadium, St. Louis, MO. (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

Through it all the Nerds simply aren’t held accountable. The players aren’t held accountable. The manager is a public relations man these days who dresses up in a baseball uniform and all everyone wants to talk about is Exit Velo.

How about talking about baseball?

No one is talking about the game and how the game continues to deteriorate, a death by a thousand cuts. Working on infield and outfield is not important in this game anymore and that is why there are so many terrible plays.

Even though a catcher is called a “catcher’’, catching is not important with the Nerds. It’s all about Pitch Framing. That’s all the rage and no one catches or blocks the ball like catchers used to block and catch the ball. Life is not easy on one knee behind the plate.

The Nerds have changed the language, too. You are not a catcher. You are a pitch framer. And then we have to hear about the studies that show pitch framing is oh so important even though our eyes show us catchers who can’t catch or block the baseball because they are in a pitch framing position, not a catching position; and are losing games left and right.

Then the Zombie Manager when pressed offers a weak, “We’re going to talk about that.’’

Forget about talking about it, the damage is done. Have somebody grab some pine and you might see changes for the better and an attitude where a player knows he has to be in position to make a play and not just in a position to grab sunflower seeds out of his pocket.

It’s all beyond belief.

Teach instead of legislate.

And if you think it’s bad in the majors, see what’s going on in the minors – and with the new pitch clock rules, and bigger bases and fewer pickoffs and no shifts, the lack of teaching will catch up to the majors in an even bigger way than it is now.

In a nutshell, this is what’s missing from the game. I call it the Loss of Top Step Baseball.

Not too long ago in baseball, if you made a mistake, especially a mental mistake or did not execute in the field or at the plate (like not getting a bunt down for example), by the time you got back to the dugout, someone would be waiting for you on the top step of the dugout to set you straight.

It was the School of Hard Knocks. It wasn’t The School of Zombie Managers.

That someone could have been a coach, a manager, or a player – a team leader. Keith Hernandez was such, a top step player. You would get a stern talking to and you would learn from the experience or you would not be around for long.

The team benefitted from such guidance. That guidance has been lost. Nothing is said most times now. The same terrible mistakes are happening game after game. And this must change. Top Step baseball must return to the game.

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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