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Mudville: May 30, 2024 10:48 am PDT

Mound Chum

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Thanks, Nerds.

There has been a steady drip of the degradation of Major League Baseball; it’s nothing close to the game I grew up with – but on Monday, things got Progressive-ly worse, fittingly at Progressive Field, aka Jacobs Field.

What the under .500 Guardians (aka Indians) did was a joke, utilizing lob-throwing utility man David Fry, who usually plays catcher, third base, or first, as a relief pitcher for four innings in a 20-6 loss to the Twins – the longest relief outing by a position player since 1988.

Fry didn’t pitch though, he lobbed.

They will tell you the move was to save the bullpen. But like most things the Nerds do, it made little sense, keeping the team on the field much longer late in the year; and the next night, the bullpen gave it up anyway with a five-run eighth in an 8-3 loss to the Twins. At least the Guardians, and I use that term loosely, kept the Twins to only a touchdown and two-point conversion on Tuesday.

So in two games, the Guardians surrendered 28 runs to the Twins; a team they had designs of beating in the dreadful AL Central.

Using position players as Mound Chum has become so prevalent, new rules had to be enacted to slow the process; but give the Nerds an inch and they will take a yard. It’s what they do – and if the game becomes a mockery of the original MLB game, so be it.

All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall.

There’s the fake runner in extra innings, the fake steals, and the pitch clock because MLB does not enable the umpires to truly run the game like they once did: “Get in the box, kid.” Then there’s the gambling on games and the outcomes everywhere you look.

There’s also no more true action plays at second base or home plate, where the new rules have turned great plays by catchers into run scoring plays even though the runner was clearly out – but someone in a booth far, far away said a rule that no one can really figure out was broken.

That’s progress.

Even the entertainment factor of a good baseball argument between manager and umpire has been diluted by replay and the pitch clock and other technological advances.

The meat of the game has changed, too. Strikeouts don’t matter, batting average doesn’t matter but Joey Gallo was able to up his WAR hitting a home run and a single off the lob-throwing Fry.

WAR is all that matters.

When the game finally ended, excellent play-by-play man Matt Underwood signed off with these words: “The less said about this the better.”

And Rob Manfred loves any means possible to up the sinking batting averages due to the pop-up/launch angle style of hitting.

What makes this even more ridiculous is rosters are so bloated with pitchers it makes no sense to have position players ever take the mound; but not to be outdone, the Twins had their own position player “pitch” the ninth, Willi Castro, who was tossing 40-mph lobs in the general direction of home plate and every time the ball hit the dirt, the catcher would toss it out. The ump would put a new ball in play as if the PPP, Position Player Pitching, was Whitey Ford and would know what to do with a scuffed baseball.

The truth is, pitchers, especially relief pitchers, aren’t really pitchers any more. They are throwers. They rarely go more than an inning. That’s another benefit the Nerds have sent our way and it all needs to be called out, especially the lack of command of pitchers.

I watched those final four innings and it was some of the worst baseball I have seen; and certainly Tito Francona’s mind was already made up not to come back and manage again next year, but perhaps this game was the one that pushed him over the edge.

As for Tuesday night, the five-run eighth was highlighted or low-lighted by yet another one-knee “wild pitch” that scored a run, and a bases-loaded line drive to center that Myles Straw let get past him – and, of course, no other outfielders were there quickly to back up the play as three runs scored easily on the “triple.”

The great radio announcer Tom Hamilton then said, “That’ll do it for this game.”

That will do it for the season too.

The Guardians were 45-45 at the All-Star break and have gone 22-28 since. The Guardians/Indians haven’t won a playoff series since 2016 when they lost the World Series to the Cubs. They were in the ALDS last year, losing in five games to the Yankees and now both the Guardians and the Yankees are on the outside looking in for the playoffs – but because the Guardians play in the AL Central, it’s really bad not to win that division.

I’m going to start calling all this The Curse of the Guardians. You have to go all the way back to 1948 to find the last World Series championship team in Cleveland.

This will mark 75 years since the Clevelanders last won a World Series. Hey, anyone can have a bad 75 years.

In baseball overall, it’s just one thing after another, a complete mockery of the game and the Ivy League elites keep running the game into the ground and running pitchers into the ground with their pitch count limitations and inability to develop pitching, the extreme inability to not fix mechanics, and having more pitchers than ever injured because of their new ways. Again, don’t forget all the betting talk; by the ninth inning the poor souls broadcasting the game for the Guardians were looking ahead to the next day’s parlays.

When the game finally ended, excellent play-by-play man Matt Underwood signed off with these words: “The less said about this the better.”

One top evaluator and a former player put it all in perspective when he told BallNine, “That’s what happens when the Travel Ball Generation and the Baseball Academy generation have taken over baseball. Everybody plays all around the field. There’s no set lineups like there always used to be, there’s no set positions, no set roles for bullpens, you have 30 (bleeping) guys you shuttle back and forth between the majors and minors and after you pitch two innings, you get sent back to the minor leagues. These kids spend more time going back and forth than you ever want to see in your life.

“It’s horrible.”

In the end the Nerds are only outsmarting themselves and the fans who pay their hard-earned money to go to these games and wind up with two guys lobbing balls over the plate. Beer League Baseball.

There is no respect for the game for the game’s sake. This has nothing to do with Bat Flips and Let the Kids Play. This is about taking pride in your team.

On May 14,1988, Jose Oquendo had to come into the game in the 16th inning for the Cardinals and shut out the Braves for three innings until the 19th. In the 19th he surrendered two runs to get the loss, the first position player to get a decision in a game in 20 years. The Cardinals legitimately ran out of pitchers, so this was a move that had to be made; and to Oquendo’s credit, The Secret Weapon gave his team a chance to win but the offense could not push through.

Ken Griffey’s two-out, two-run double was the difference in the 7-5 win for the Braves. Ken Griffey Jr., then only 18, was still in the minors and would show up in Seattle the next season.

Because of Rob Manfred’s fake runner rule, 19-inning games have gone from memorable to a memory. They just don’t happen.

Before Oquendo got the decision as a position player, it had not happened for 20 years. That’s how rare it used to be when baseball was baseball.

That position player pitching who got the win in 1968 was Yankees outfielder Rocky Colavito. He shut out his old team the Tigers for 2.2 innings, and AMBS was there at the original Yankee Stadium.

I still remember the thrill of watching Colavito come in from the old Yankee bullpen and pitch because he came on in the fourth inning with the Yankees trailing 5-0. He later wound up walking and scoring the go-ahead run, too, in the 6-5 win. In that Yankees sixth inning Bill Robinson and Bobby Cox, who would later become a Hall of Fame manager, homered.

And this was only the first game. You got two games for your money and we had fantastic box seats behind first base. My father had been given the box seats by a local business in Kenilworth, New Jersey – Volco Brass. It was off to Route 22 and then the NJ Turnpike, the GW Bridge, parking in the Bronx (and not for $75 like today), and a hot dog and a soda for me and a hot dog and a beer for him.

What I also remember was after games you could leave your seat and walk on the field at Yankee Stadium and go out through the massive gates by the bleachers. Now there is a moat surrounding the Legend Seats and you have no chance of stepping on the field or even getting past the moat if you’re in regular seats.

My father was a huge Tigers fan so he was in his glory in 1968 when the Tigers of Mickey Lolich, Denny McLain, Gates Brown, Bill Freehan, Willie Horton, Dick McAuliffe, Mickey Stanley, Dick Tracewski, and Al Kaline would go on to win the World Series. His team had taken decades of beatings by the Yankees; but the Yankees were now in a bad way as this was the fourth year of an 11-year drought of no October baseball. The 1968 Yankees did well to finish 83-79, 20 games out of first place, fifth place in a 10-team league. It was pennant or bust back then but I didn’t care, going to Yankee Stadium at the age of 15 was a blast and I had a lot to tell my friends the next day at the 16th Street playground in Kenilworth when we took the field to play ball.

Yes, kids used to play baseball on their own.

Let me make this clear, Colavito was not a carnival act. He had one of the strongest outfield arms in baseball and had pitched in a game 10 years earlier. He even shook off catcher Jake Gibbs. Yankees manager Ralph Houk had planned for such a thing (back then managers actually managed). There were 10 pitchers at most on a team. Colavito came into the first game of a doubleheader in a wicked stretch of eight games in five days from Friday to Tuesday because of rainouts and doubleheaders.

Houk, aka, The Major, had done his homework and also had Gene Michael, a backup shortstop who’d pitched a little in the minor leagues, as well as Colavito pitch in an exhibition game against Syracuse the last week of July.

The Major was prepared. It wasn’t just “let’s put our utility guy in there to lob the ball somewhere near the plate” like it is today.

There was pride taken in putting the best team you could on the field, even if your team wasn’t that good.

Saving pitchers for a tomorrow that never comes is not the way to do business.

Use real pitchers – maybe they might learn something about themselves.

My friend, former major league player Jeff Frye, noted on X (aka Twitter) what the final line was for Fry with these words: “Four innings pitched, 10 hits, seven runs, all earned, three home runs. Imagine spending your hard earned cash and this is what you get.’’

That comment was X gold and the video of Gallo’s home run ran wild.

One comment from someone with the handle Sinker Slider really got to me. After all, I’m just  a writer who played high school and college baseball but this person, who had a major league dream, commented: “I spent 10 years in the minors and this guy gets to dish that stuff up in a MLB game.”

Think about that.

Think about all the minor league pitchers who dreamed of getting to the majors and getting to throw a pitch in the Show who never got there.

Frye, the utility man, is just doing what the Nerds are asking him to do so I don’t blame him. But give a pitcher a chance. I remember in 2014 when the Mets called up Jacob deGrom, and then he wrote his story.

You never know.

I’m not saying that a kid pitcher who is a September call-up, and I know the call-up rules are more restrictive now, would change the direction of his career if he got to pitch in a blowout; but at least, after all the years of prepping for that opportunity, a pitcher should be rewarded and maybe something good would come out of it as well.

Instead of a real pitcher trying his best, and that is all any of us can do – try our best – it’s four innings of Lob Ball; Mound Chum for the Nerds, who think they are so smart they saved their real bullpen arms for the next game.

No you didn’t. You once again made a mockery of the game.

In no way are you Guardians of 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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