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Mudville: May 28, 2023 2:45 pm PDT

Three Rocks

BY KEVIN KERNAN

LOSERVILLE – Some teams get exactly what they deserve.

One of the big stories this week was the latest installment of Javy Doesn’t Hustle.

We’ve seen this before with Javier Baez. The rebuilding Tigers are trying to change under Scott Harris, the new director of player ops, and A.J. Hinch, once the unofficial director of cheating with the Astros (at least that is what we are being told).

In this edition of The Story, a couple of losing teams are in the spotlight, the Tigers and the A’s.

Baez got into trouble because he forgot the number of outs at second base on Thursday in Toronto. I guess he never looked at any of the scoreboards. But once he was out of the game his Tiger teammates got it together and came away with a 3-1 victory over the Blue Jays; funny how that works.

They won the next two games, too, with Baez in the lineup against the defensively challenged Giants. What the heck ever happened to Run Prevention, Gabe Kapler? But the losing Giants are a future story. Let’s stick to the Tigers and A’s.

Baez forgot the number of outs on Thursday, being doubled off second base on a routine fly ball to centerfield by Akil Baddoo, who, to his credit, held up one finger as he got to first base, trying to tell his over-paid and under-hustling teammate there was only one out.

And let me point out that Baez should have been on third base to begin with, and Baddoo should have had a sacrifice fly. On the ball that Baez hit high off the left field wall, he jogged to first, thinking it was going to be a home run; even though he had yet to garner an extra base hit this season.

That was actually base-running Mistake No. 2, forgetting the outs was Mistake No. 3.

Mistake No. 1 had occurred earlier in the series when Baez was at third base and made no attempt to even try to draw a throw from the outfield on a flyout. I don’t think I have ever seen a baserunner stand at third base like that. Baez looked like someone who was over-waiting for the bartender to look his way so he could order a drink.

There was no effort at all to be a baserunner.

To their credit, the Toronto TV broadcast team highlighted all three of those mistakes; and they also had the moment A.J. Hinch called Baez into the tunnel after the second inning to tell Baez he was out of the game. It was great TV and Dan Shulman and Buck Martinez were all over the issue in every way. Kudos to them.

My favorite part of the whole scene, however, was a disgusted Baez coming back up the steps to retrieve his cap and glove off the bench and then rushing down the steps to the clubhouse while the rest of his team was trying to win a baseball game. Before he left, though, he furiously unloaded the pocketful of seeds that he had in his back pocket, making even more of a mess.

Javier Baez #28 of the Detroit Tigers reacts to getting called out on a double play after forgetting to tag up against the Toronto Blue Jays in the second inning during their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on April 13, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

Hinch gleaned praise for benching Baez. However, I disagree with how that praise was given.

He should have benched Baez after Mistake No. 1, and then there would not have been Mistake No. 2 and Mistake No. 3. How a manager could not react in a negative way after seeing Baez being a bystander on third base is beyond me. Everything should have been addressed after that game, but it wasn’t. Maybe A.J. was tossing some video screens like when he was so upset when he found out his Astros were banging on trash cans. I don’t know.

Either way, Hinch allowed Baez to be at shortstop. Perhaps his boss Scott Harris, who was once a lacrosse player, not a baseball player, tied his hands. Who knows? But if I’m the manager and I am trying to build a new winning culture in Loserville, I don’t accept the base runner at third base in a tight game being completely bored.

Better late than never with the benching, though.

Which brings me to Three Rocks. Way back in my formative high school years, I had a coach who said if you had trouble remembering the outs, keep three rocks in your left back pocket and if you are a baserunner, make the rocks correspond to the outs as the inning progresses in your right back pocket.

I know it’s not high tech but it works like a charm. After a while you may even be able to count to three by yourself. That’s progress.

How many outs are there?

Well, I only have one rock in my right back pocket so there must only be one out.

After Baez did not hustle to second, he made a big show with teammates to get the baseball back. After the ball hit high off the left field wall, it went over the left fielder’s head and the center fielder had to track it down in left center. If Baez had run with any effort out of the box he would have had a standup triple. Hinch had to see that as well.

I’ve known Billy Beane a long time and I know he knows baseball so I have questions about how all of this has happened. Maybe Billy has completely checked out.

I know we live in a Let the Kids Have Fun baseball world and there will be treats for all, win or lose, after the game; but don’t be so self-centered about getting the baseball, your first extra base hit of the year, that you don’t hustle.

Baez also had his trouble with remembering outs back in his Cubs days with David Ross as the manager.

Baez had his thumbs down Mets problems, too. He then showed hustle after that incident that prompted Mets announcer Gary Cohen to scream: “Turn those thumbs around.’’

In a way, that’s the shame of it all. Baez, when he hustles, can be a force on the base paths. He’s 30 now. Enough with the lack of hustle.

Baseball, in many ways, creates its own problems; and this is just another example. The 5-9 Tigers’ winning percentage the last six years has been abysmal. Here they are in order, starting with 2022: .407, .475, .397, .292, .395, .395. There are not the Jim Leyland Tigers, that’s for sure. These are not the Magnum P.I. Tigers either. A once proud franchise has lost its way. They are paying Baez $140 million over his six year deal. Last year he put up a .238 average with a .278 on base percentage and a .393 slugging percentage.

Moving on to another Loserville, team, let’s see how embarrassing a start it’s been for the David Forst A’s. Billy Beane is still around too. John Fisher is the owner of this mess and being in Oakland doesn’t help – but that’s life.

Can you at least teach your pitchers to pitch just a little bit?

Detroit Tigers Manager A.J. Hinch reacts during the MLB baseball regular season game between the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays on April 12, 2023, at Rogers Centre in Toronto, ON, Canada. (Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Take a peek at Team ERA and as of Saturday the As’ team ERA is 8.34, dead last in the league. I can’t imagine how you could even build a staff with this kind of ERA, especially since you’ve been unloading some talented players through the years and supposedly getting prospects in return. This is beyond embarrassing. Plus the Mausoleum the A’s play in is a great pitcher’s ballpark. As for the lack of money excuse, always a favorite of the Nerds, well the cheap Rays are just a little bit ahead of the A’s with a 2.43 team ERA.

Amazingly, the As’ pitchers walked 77 batters heading into Saturday. The Dodgers have walked the fewest, 28. The Rays, who don’t spend a lot of money, have issued 38 walks.

The A’s were once the toast of the Nerd crowd with Moneyball.

This is something much different. This is Moneyfall.

Remember, people got paid to put this staff together. I’ve known Billy Beane a long time and I know he knows baseball so I have questions about how all of this has happened. Maybe Billy has completely checked out. But David Forst was ballyhooed as some baseball genius as well. I know the payroll is minuscule; but there is no excuse for this to happen.

The A’s have an overall 7.34 ERA at home, and believe it or not there is a team that has an even worse home ERA, the White Sox with a 9.25 ERA. The Rays have a 2.00 ERA at home, by the way. It gets worse for the A’s. Their starters own a 10.22 ERA. Again, that’s tough to fathom.

Somehow the A’s walked 17 Mets on Friday, the most in their Oakland history. A frustrated Mark Kotsay said after that game, “Throw strikes in the middle of the plate right now.’’

Sounds like the Nerds have the A’s pitchers thinking too much. On Sunday the A’s walked only two Mets, but still lost – to drop to 3-12.

“It’s really embarrassing,’’ one longtime baseball evaluator told BallNine of the A’s. “Easily they are the worst team I’ve seen.’’

Manager Mark Kotsay #7 of the Oakland Athletics takes the ball from starting pitcher James Kaprielian #32 taking Kaprielian out of the game against the New York Mets in the top of the fourth inning at RingCentral Coliseum on April 14, 2023 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

There’s a lot going on in baseball right now, and the scout mentioned something that I wrote about in a previous column. It’s one thing for me to say it, it’s quite another for the experts to say it.

This is important.

“Some people are saying the ball is juiced again,’’ the evaluator said.

Quite a few opposite field April home runs and 483-foot home runs will make you think that.

Still, even a juiced ball is no reason for a 10.00 ERA for starters.

Perhaps the A’s pitchers have to work on their spin rates to improve.

I remember Larry Lucchino telling me with the Padres that if you take care of the little things, the big things will take care of themselves. Which brings us to the As’ visiting TV booth. The Mets TV guys had to be relocated to a new booth on Friday night because a possum is living in their work space. And leaving lots of stuff behind.

I know the A’s are in a battle to leave Oakland (really, there is no there there) and go to greener pastures in Las Vegas or somewhere else, but can’t the team and the city keep possums out of the TV broadcast area? Imagine what’s living in the walls where the print media resides in the press box. It really shouldn’t be that hard, but when you understand the A’s can’t do anything right, and that their starters’ ERA is over 10.00, it all makes sense. If baseball had a real commissioner that cared about its fans (and I went to A’s games for many years and there are dedicated fans there), they would do something about this farce of a franchise.

Evidently this possum has been around for at least a year, making him one of the longest tenured A’s; but nothing has been done. And once that possum started leaving gifts for the broadcasters, you would think there would some sense of urgency to clean up the work station.

Then again, you wouldn’t think that a once proud franchise that won three World Series in a row (1972, ’73, and ’74) and changed the entire culture of the game with a book and a movie that really never mentioned the Big Three pitching stars of that team Hudson, Mulder and Zito, and a shortstop who was pretty good too named Tejada, bringing wave after wave of Nerds into the game, would now be bringing possums into play.

In possum parlance, Moneyball hasn’t won squat in Oakland.

Now the rules throughout baseball have been changed to improve the offense; no shift, bigger bases, and the pitchers are no longer playing on a level playing field when it comes to stopping the running game.

So essentially we have Fake Runners, Fake Balls, Fake Strikes, and Fake Steals in Manfred’s World.

These are faster games and that’s all that matters to the Manfred Minions. The play is worse and I laugh when I hear that hitters are now getting hits because of the no infield shift. The hitters could have gotten hits if they had gone to the open areas of the field in the good old shift days, but the Nerds encouraged the culture of home runs or strikeouts, and not to take what the defense is giving you.

My brother Sean, a longtime sportswriter as well, made this interesting point to me on Saturday. Since the games are faster and there is much less wear and tear on the players with their workload being dramatically trimmed with the faster games, it is the baseball equivalent of a four-day work week; and since all that has happened, why does MLB still need the Fake Runner for extra-inning games during the regular season? (Something that is not done during the forever playoffs.)

At least keep the Fake Runner seated until the 11th or 12th inning.

Good point – and fix the Fake Teams, too.

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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