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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: May 29, 2024 1:47 am PDT

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Imagine if Manny Machado had been ejected for arguing a pitch clock violation in the playoffs. It still might happen.

Machado was ejected Tuesday in his first at-bat in an 8-6 Padres loss to the Runnin’ Diamondbacks by home plate umpire Ron Kulpa. Machado called time, Kulpa said Machado was not ready at the Manfred Moment (you know – the eight-second mark), that was strike three (a violation), there was an argument, and goodbye Manny.

Isn’t Clock Baseball great, as BallNine drops its first McNuggets notes column of the 2023 season?

Imagine spending all that money to see Manny and the Padres at Petco – yes, there was another full house – and then having Manny tossed in his first at-bat. You must play by the new rules or else. Forget about the hitting routine that made you a perennial All-Star.

Fall in line or else Manfred will have you ejected.

Imagine how many more strikeouts Nolan Ryan would have had with the Pitch Clock, because Zac Gallen got credited with a strikeout when he did nothing but hold the baseball on the mound. When are we going to bring out the asterisks, Commish, for Ks, or stolen bases? With the easy to steal rules, and walks where the pitcher does not throw the baseball, and so much more in Manfred’s Mad New World.

The Fake Runner is nothing compared to this, all in the name of speeding up the game.

Yes, the game is faster, fans can get home quicker, that’s all that matters; sure hope they are using all that extra time in their life to help mankind.

Head coach Bob Melvin argues with umpire Ron Kulpa #46 after Manny Machado #13 of the San Diego Padres was called out on a timed third strike during the first inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at PETCO Park on April 04, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

That Machado Manfred Moment (MMM) should be a wake-up call for all hitters, and all along I said here at BallNine that the Pitch Clock would be harder on the hitters than the pitchers; and this is just another example. Hitters have to abandon their routine.

After the game Manny said. “I feel I didn’t do anything wrong.’’

He didn’t. But how dare Machado try to play baseball, when this is Clock Ball now?

A few nights earlier, Bryce Harper, who is out injured, showed his complete disdain for the new rules.

Harper is old school and I learned that early on with him, doing interviews. He wanted to learn about the old stars like Mickey Mantle. Asked by ESPN about the Pitch Clock, Harper, in total disgust mode from the dugout, said “I know a lot of players that want our game back, right? But as of right now, it is what it is.’’

Kind of says it all. When the game’s best player, other than Shohei Ohtani, makes such a comment, that means a lot – and kudos to Harper for telling it like it is, even though ESPN later tried to have him walk that comment back.

Old Rob Manfred does not take criticism well. I learned that a long time ago.

 “The Marlins and the A’s have a chance to be historically awful this year. I know the Marlins have some high end starters, but nobody can pitch effectively over the course of a season with no run support.’’

*****

The media honeymoon is officially over for the Mets. They are off to a ragged start and are lucky the Phils are not playing well either. After being outscored 26-6 the three games in Milwaukee, Mets owner Steve Cohen was dealt a bit of reality. The Mets have holes that have not been filled properly. This is not going to be the financial cakewalk Cohen thought it was going to be. Other teams can hit with power. Every team isn’t the punchless Marlins. Justin Verlander is out with a shoulder issue and Max Scherzer was bombed by the Brewers. I really like the looks of Brewers young second baseman Brice Turing, who hit a grand slam Monday and can run like the wind. In the first two games there, the Mets were out-homered, 7-0. They don’t play well in Milwaukee, in the ballpark that used to be known as Miller Park.

After those three losses the Mets are 3-18 in their last 21 games in Bernie Brewer’s town; talk about going down a slide.

*****

Anyone who can run should easily steal 60 bases this season, especially against the relievers, who live in their own timeless world; something else that was pointed out here at BallNine a while back.

The Phillies pitching staff looked tired in spring training after going deep into October.

Those March fears have become April reality as the Phillies have gotten off to a dreadful start and their team ERA is the worst in baseball at 6.98.

Really, though, what do you expect? Put a third place team into the expanded Manfred playoffs, get a miracle run after a miracle home run by Bryce Harper, have the pitching staff get hit with a couple crucial injuries early in camp, have the two aces Aaron Nola (7.45 ERA) and Zack Wheeler (8.31 ERA) looking exhausted from the October baseball, have Harper on the injured list because of Tommy John surgery, have Rhys Hoskins blow out his knee just drop-stepping, fielding a ground ball – and none of this really should be a surprise.

Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on during the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field on April 02, 2023 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

*****

Hitters may be having a little bit of help too, you think?

That 2023 baseball sure seems to be flying out of the ballpark pretty easily these days as Jeff Frye recently pointed out, saying this baseball is juiced. Watching the Giants-White Sox the other day, Giants announcer Duane Kuiper, who played 12 years in the majors in another era, said after one of the seven home runs the Giants hit that day, “I had that as a double.’’

Who knew the ball would fly so well in early April in Chicago? But we all know Manfred loves his offense any way he can get it.

Bad command can lead to home runs; but there is no doubt this ball is flying early in the year.

Shocking, I know. Former major leaguer Frye pointed out that a home run by second baseman Ozzie Albies, “had a 41 degree launch angle but still went out.’’ Essentially it was a popup that traveled. Frye also noted that Austin Riley hit a 473-foot home run earlier in the same game. Giancarlo Stanton, a strong man, seems even stronger this year; hitting a 485-foot home run to center field and then on a double play ground-out to short, stroking that ground ball at 115 mph.

“Buck Showalter said back in his Orioles days the game needs to be played organically,’’ the scout noted, not this scripted stuff they are trying to do that doesn’t work.

That comment hit home watching the Padres-Rockies at Petco Park the other day. As Machado came to the plate, Rockies leftfielder Jurickson Profar immediately pulled a card from his pocket and began studying it and moving into position as if Machado had just landed on earth from another planet.

Never mind that Profar had been a teammate of Machado’s for the last three years. After all those games, he still had to look at a card as to where to play Machado.

Like I always say, the Nerds don’t want free-thinking players, they want robots.

“It’s like: Stand here. Stand there. Throw that,’’ said one scout. “None of it actually works at all.’’

So far one hitter who seems to like the Pitch Clock is Joey Gallo.

If there was any player that needed to stop thinking at the plate and just react, it was Gallo, the strikeout machine. As a Twin, Gallo hit home runs in three straight at-bats this week, a fine start to becoming the Comeback Player of the Year.

Don’t think, Joey. React.

I had a high school baseball coach named Nelson Gibble, who was also the head football coach at David Brearley High School, which was home to students from Kenilworth and Garwood, N.J. Gibble put it in perspective for me back in 1971, saying these words I still remember to this day: “If you think, you stink.’’

Here at BallNine, Chris Vitali subsequently came up with a “Don’t Think’’ T-shirt. Some major league teams could use those.

Pitchers need to command now more than ever and not just be velocity machines.

Joey Gallo #13 of the Minnesota Twins hits a home run against the Miami Marlins on April 3, 2023 at loanDepot park in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

Despite some early season issues, our old friend Bob Melvin has to be the happiest manager in baseball not only because the Padres have talent, but because they have locked up that talent, signing another long-term piece, Jack Cronenworth, to an eight-year deal worth $80 million.

Noted one MLBer: “After being in Oakland where he had to manage and every time his teams got good they rolled them over, this is great for Bob Melvin.’’

The question remaining for the Padres is what to do with Juan Soto. This Cronenworth signing, some believe, is a sign that the Padres may not sign Soto long term. Then again if they sign Shohei Ohtani, there is no need to sign Soto. It looks to be a two-team race for Ohtani between the Padres and the Dodgers, who have cleared a lot of financial room for Ohtani, who is a free agent after the season and can finally escape the Angels.

Soto also has to cut down on the batters’ box drama, something the fans loved with all his antics; because he only has about seven seconds to get locked in at the plate, another fun nuance lost to the pitch clock.

*****

The Marlins are the opposite of the Padres. Only 8,900 fans showed up Monday, when they were beaten 11-1 by the Twins. Remember, the WBC was a huge crowd every night at loanDepot Park; but now it’s crickets in Miami.

Noted one of our nationwide network of scouts of the Marlins and their AL brethren A’s immediate future: “The Marlins and the A’s have a chance to be historically awful this year. I know the Marlins have some high end starters, but nobody can pitch effectively over the course of a season with no run support.’’

Great point. Another thing to notice early is the number of injuries.

“We’re only a week in and how many injuries have there already been?’’ remarked one talent evaluator to me. Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson was the latest to leave a game Wednesday, with a hamstring injury.

Another scout offered this assessment on the injuries, especially to the pitchers who are suffering leg injuries as well as arm injuries. “They’ve been babied so much,’’ he noted. “They simply don’t run enough.’’

There also have been quite a few oblique injuries for position players. The scout asked me this question: “When was the last time you saw pitchers running the poles in the outfield?’’

Pitchers used to run foul pole to foul pole to build endurance.

Been years since I’ve seen that.

Jake Cronenworth #9 of the San Diego Padres sits in the dugout before the Spring Training Game against the Chicago White Sox at Peoria Stadium on March 11, 2023 in Peoria, Arizona. (Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images)

Another former pitching coach added, “I think all the players need to get back on the field and do more on the field than they do in the weight room. For me, that’s where they got to go. You cannot just spend so much time in the weight room where all you do is make your body tighter and tighter and more muscular. The more muscular you are the better chance you have of tearing a muscle. Be more flexible. Do things on the field that make you more of a baseball player.’’

The Last Word goes to Landry Burdine, who has been the sideline reporter for TCU football for years and is moving up to the broadcast booth next season. He went to TCU as a baseball player and football player, a center fielder and safety, and went on to become one of the captains of the football team. He was a batboy for the Texas Rangers in the mid-90s. Now successful in real estate as well, he credits all the skills he acquired as a batboy in learning how to deal with people. He worked in the Rangers clubhouse and then switched over to the visitor’s clubhouse so he got to learn to deal with different players, everyone from Jose Canseco to Wade Boggs to Cal Ripken Jr. – and he remembers the ferocity that Cal showed playing clubhouse ping pong.

Burdine was upset by Manfred’s recent comments about batboys and batgirls because Burdine knows how much work, hustle, and emotion is involved in that job. He also offered this intelligent response about the Pitch Clock to me and Dave Dagostino in our Real Voices of the Game podcast. “One of the beauties of this game is that it doesn’t have a clock; when it’s over, it’s over. Can you imagine if we missed out on Bryce Harper’s (home run) at-bat (last October against the Padres) because he got rung up for a time violation? If you got a guy who is notorious on the mound for being slow, put a clock on him; but that clock goes away for everybody else.”

“We all have to live our lives according to the clock, and baseball is the one escape for our kids, our family, my father,’’ Burdine said. “I think (Manfred) has lost the beauty of what makes baseball great and that’s what really bothers me. I think he shows that he really doesn’t watch baseball and never did and that bothers me.’’

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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