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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: December 3, 2022 10:45 am PDT
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BY KEVIN KERNAN

Baseball needs more wisdom, less widgets.

That is just one of the many thoughts as I sit here in Northern Florida waiting on Hurricane Ian. This is a good time to reflect on the state of the game as the 2022 regular season is coming to an end, so welcome to the Hurricane edition of Baseball or Bust, a hurricane of baseball notes as we pray for the safety for those in the storm’s path.

This was a week where even Donnie Baseball is walking away from baseball for the time being. Don Mattingly will not be manager of the Marlins in 2023. Can’t wait to see who they hire in Miami where the team is struggling to find a fan base.

This was a week where ESPN was blasted for having the gall to cut into a college football game to show Aaron Judge’s at-bats in his march to match Roger Maris with 61 home runs, and that certainly gives you an idea of where baseball falls in the pecking order of sports fans.

Number 61 came Wednesday night in Toronto for Judge, a home run for the ages that tied Maris.

This was a week where a highly respected baseball man Dayton Moore, who won a World Series with the Royals – imagine that – was sent packing in quest for the latest Nerd to take over the franchise. You just have to keep up with the other Nerds; the moribund Tigers named 35-year-old Scott Harris president of baseball operations. Harris falls out of the Tree of Theo.

I really like the innovative game plans of the new baseball geniuses, finish in last place as often as possible to get top draft picks.

Looking at the Tigers, a once proud franchise, this should be a continuation of the wonderful seven-year rebuild.

A lot of front offices look and act alike these days and one top evaluator made this plea years ago when he saw where baseball was heading down a destructive path – and he was imploring that there is an art to running minor leagues and player development, an art to running scouting and the art to putting together a major league team.

Again, years ago he was having this conversation with fellow baseball executives and scouts one night.

“They don’t know what they are doing,’’ was his blunt evaluation of the totally data driven front offices. “We’ve got to keep good baseball people in leadership roles. … (Rob) Manfred has empowered the owners to think they understand baseball, that you really don’t need baseball guys, you need business guys.

“They want to get rid of baseball people.’’

At the time, the others in the group scoffed, saying there would always be room for baseball people in the front office, in scouting, in development and in the dugout as managers and coaches, men who have lived and taught the game their entire lives. They could work in partnership with the analytics.

Well, times certainly have changed and look at the results of some of the putrid baseball we are watching every single day in this numbers driven game we have today.

“They wanted to get as many of their like-minded people into the game and they have done just that,’’ the baseball insider told BallNine of today’s game. “They just don’t want any of us around.’’

Scouts who went to the wall to draft certain players, players that have gone on to excel, have been fired with history being re-written on who went to bat for those players.

Manager Don Mattingly #8 of the Miami Marlins reacts toward umpire Marvin Hudson #51 and umpire Ryan Blakney #36 after a call during the eighth inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on September 27, 2022 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Minor league managers who have taught the game well continue to be released. The Nationals just fired Tripp Keister, a highly respected minor league manager in their organization the past 11 years. Institutional knowledge is being lost again and again.

“Tripp is a really sharp guy who works his ass off and is positive,’’ one scout told me. “I’ve watched firsthand, you get to the park at 2 o’clock and he is out there teaching guys base-running, how to get better leads or working on fielding.’’

This also was the week the Pirates and Reds were locked up in a mighty battle for NL Central ineptitude. And did you happen to notice the “crowds’’ at PNC Park this week, an announced crowd of 9,127 Wednesday, mostly disguised as empty seats? At one point on Tuesday during an interview of a family in the stands, a wide camera shot showed the entire lower stands beyond third base absent of any people.

Pirates owner Bob Nutting should be proud as well as his Reds counterpart Bob Castellini. Team president Phil Castellini, Bob’s son, basically told the fans to get lost before the season started, and the Reds fans, some of the best fans in baseball, did just that as the Reds are trying their best to lose 100 games while the Pirates are trying hard to finish last in the NL Central for the fourth straight year.

AMBS has heard that Castellini is so frustrated with his team that he is actually going to cut back on some of the Nerd Patrol In Cincinnati… to a degree.

I really like the innovative game plans of the new baseball geniuses, finish in last place as often as possible to get top draft picks. You can see why an Ivy League education is paramount to being a president of baseball operations.

Finish last, get good players in the draft and wait for them to develop.

It’s always good too when your previous GM left you with some key young talent that you can make people believe was your own, it worked in Houston for the Astros and to a degree it is working in Baltimore for the Orioles.

MAY 6, 2018: Outfielder Juan Soto #25 (right) of the Potomac Nationals, single-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, stands at third base with manager Tripp Keister (left) after reaching third on a single by Jake Noll during the bottom of the first inning of a Carolina League game on May 6, 2018 against the Salem Red Sox, single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, at Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, VA. (Photo by: 2018 Diamond Images via Getty Images)

The Red Sox, though, continue to mystify me more than any other team because of the terrible baseball they play every single night. I’ve seen more fly balls dropped by Red Sox outfielders than anywhere else, it might just be the luck of the draw when I turn on the games, but man, are the Red Sox dreadful and have you seen the throws from the Red Sox dead-fish armed outfielders?

Tommy Pham from short left field nearly threw a ball toward home into the third base dugout on Friday night against the Yankees. Do the Red Sox outfielders ever work on throwing? Do they even care about defense? We know the Red Sox don’t care about the bullpen.

The Red Sox may have done the Yankees a great service by tanking, though.

Aaron Judge has to consider that the Red Sox will be dead in the AL East for years to come, opening up a pathway for the Yankees to make the postseason every October, especially with the watered-down playoff format created by Manfred. I still think there is a good chance that Judge the Free Agent winds up in San Francisco or Los Angeles with the Dodgers, but the Red Sox certainly have made it easy for the Yankees. That Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is kaput thanks to the decisions made by Chaim Bloom. The Red Sox also may have helped Judge go to LA if Judge suddenly winds up with the Dodgers, a lineup that could feature ex-Red Sox star Mookie Betts and Judge and ex-Braves star Freddie Freeman, that would be a lineup for the ages; and I have to think that Judge will seriously consider the Dodgers if the Dodgers ante up. If the Dodgers lose Trea Turner to free agency and find a taker for Cody Bellinger, they will find money for Judge.

Aaron Judge not only has saved baseball this year from itself with his magical home run numbers, but he also will save the off-season for MLB with all the Judge rumors that will be tossed around until he signs on the dotted line.

Aaron Judge will keep MLB in the spotlight in the winter.

This is essentially a LeBron moment for Judge where he will decide to remain in pinstripes or take his talents elsewhere.

Before I move on, it’s time for one of my favorites. I have become a sucker for watching Rocco Baldelli’s post-game press conferences. Again, Baldelli is a wonderful person, but the Pollyanna stuff that comes out of his mouth … here is the latest.

“We actually swung the bat pretty decently,’’ Baldelli said. “We hit some balls good.’’

This came after a 10-3 loss to the Angels.

See, Baldelli forgot he was talking to the media after the game, he thought he was talking to the Nerds, who after games the Twins lose by seven runs, get all jacked up by Exit Velo. The Twins are putting out the old too many injuries excuse to the media, too – don’t believe it – too many bad decisions and not enough working on baseball things for this Lost Franchise.

The overall relentless march to Exit Velo Players as opposed to actual ballplayers continues.

Think about it, today’s players have to use a cheat card to see where to position themselves. On offense, it’s all about out-guessing the pitcher and that’s why you see so many strike three fastballs taken right down the middle of the plate with RISP.

The days of “see the ball, hit the ball’’ have been replaced by what percentage of the time does this pitcher throw a certain pitch. It’s all analytics all the time, on the broadcasts, too, and that is part of the reason Moore got the boot in KC. Owners are naturally locked into numbers. Royals CEO John Sherman, who came over from the Indians/Guardians, made this revealing comment after Moore was axed.

“I do have some admiration for what the group has been able to do in Cleveland, particularly in pitching development,’’ Sherman said. “But it’s not just that. You think about Tampa, Oakland was there; they’ve going through some issues (now). Milwaukee has been a team that I think has been innovative.

“But it’s not just about player development. It’s about your willingness to change your players. I don’t want to use the word ‘churn’ because these are athletes. But I mean building an organization where you have excess talent that would allow you to go get more talent to fill needs.’’

General manager Dayton Moore of the Kansas City Royals talks to reporters prior to a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Kauffman Stadium on August 30, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. Owner David Glass has agreed to to sell the team to a group led by Kansas City business man John Sherman for an estimated $1 billion. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Here is my favorite comment from Sherman the Numbers Guy.

“Dayton was the right guy at the right time in 2006,’’ Sherman noted.

In other words, baseball is not the same game it was 16 years ago.

That is the trap most of the owners fall into, and the reality is, baseball is the same game it was 16 years ago if you play solid defense, put the ball in play and drive the ball and, of course, pitch well.

It is not about turning players into widgets. It’s not about making more widgets. There must be more of a human connection. In an interesting new book “Intelligent Influence in Baseball: Amazing Stories of Influence, Success and Failure’’ written by Dr. Dale G. Caldwell and Robert V. Hurte Jr., a member of SABR’s bio project, who has written 20 of those fascinating bios, there is a segment called the Influence of Consistency.

It notes: “There is a tee shirt for sale with the following words emblazoned on its front: ‘Baseball is Life, and everything else is an interruption.’’’

I believe teams have to bring more of the life experience into the game where players play for their teammates and themselves, where they learn in the minor leagues it’s not just about them, where accountability has to be one of the top skills in the game and learning to play as a team is vital.

The human connection is as important as the data connection.

You can look at the iPad all you want but don’t forget to look your teammates in the eye as well during the game and discuss the game. We need more of that.

The Royals went to the World Series in 2014 and won the World Series in 2015. They lost Game 7, 3-2 to the Giants in 2014 when Madison Bumgarner was Superman with five innings of relief in that final game.

Interesting to note for all the Indians/Guardians success in the division, thank you Terry Francona, they haven’t won a World Series since 1948. The A’s have never made it to the World Series in the Billy Beane era, the Rays have not yet won a World Series and the Brewers have never won a World Series, either. Dayton Moore has and he nearly won back to back World Series.

I get it, time ran out on Dayton Moore in KC. His era of GM is no longer in vogue. Perhaps a team deciding to go in a baseball direction will hire him. That would be a nice change.

Finally, here is a statistic that caught my eye this week. The Atlanta Braves do not have a sacrifice bunt all year in their chase of the Mets in the NL East. The Mets, under Buck Showalter, a manager who does not just sit back and let the analytics run the show, have 19 sacrifice bunts.

Interesting, if the battle for the NL East comes down to a sacrifice bunt.

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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