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Mudville: May 22, 2024 2:00 am PDT

Mirror, Mirror…

BY KEVIN KERNAN

There once was a glorious time in New York baseball when the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium stood across from one another on opposite sides of the Harlem River. The National League Giants played in Manhattan. The American League Yankees played in the Bronx.

In 1951, the two teams met in the World Series with the Yankees beating the Giants, who had a 22-year-old centerfielder named Willie Mays, four games to two. The Yankees centerfielder was playing his last season, 36-year-old Joe DiMaggio. Three years later at the Polo Grounds, Mays would make baseball’s greatest catch in World Series history as the Giants swept the Cleveland Indians.

That was a lifetime ago. The two storied MLB franchises have lived on opposite ends of the country since 1958 with the Giants in San Francisco; but the two teams currently mirror one another, and not in a good way.

In their ineptitude. And that is The Story this week.

Both the high-priced Yankees and Giants could not even make it to the low bar postseason as the third wild card team (sixth overall playoff team per league) as their seasons come to a close Sunday. Both teams, after World Series success in their somewhat recent past, success that was built upon a strong baseball-oriented foundation buoyed by core stars, have gone full Nerd. Anybody can play anywhere, defense doesn’t matter. Who needs athletes? It’s all about lift and separate … and both are paying dearly for those mindless non-baseball decisions.

The Giants under Farhan Zaidi (Dr. Z, as I call him) and the Yankees under post-2009 Brian Cashman have created similar non-athletic, boring teams that are really tough to watch because they both can’t do baseball things.

But don’t worry Yankee fans, Hal Steinbrenner has an outside group gauging where his Yankees went wrong. Hal could have saved a lot of money by just going out to see the bleacher creatures or by reading BallNine.

Along the way, both teams have forgotten that the game is baseball.

The game is not exit velocity or spin rate, it’s baseball. The game is not a battalion of coaches and others looking at iPads and passing along measurements. It’s baseball. There are times when both the Yankees and Giants players seem overwhelmed by the situation and look to be thinking too much, and you can see that by the trouble the teams have hitting fastballs.

The Giants, of course, have the most coaches of any team in baseball.

“When you have unqualified people, more doesn’t make it any better,” one top talent evaluator told BallNine. “If you had three coaches who know what they were doing, a hitting coach, a pitching coach, and a manager; and then an outfield, base-running, and an infield, third base coach, and a guy who knows catching is in your bullpen, that’s all you need. That’s all we ever needed.”

That’s sounds like the Braves’ staff, who have quality coaches who know what they’re doing and help along talented players with the understanding of baseball and personalities.

The Yankees suffered one of their most embarrassing losses of the season Friday night when Carlos Rodon, who was signed as a free agent by Cashman and his Nerds to a $162 million contract after going 14-8 with a 2.88 ERA for the Giants in 2022 – in order to resuscitate the Yankee rotation – has been a failure his first season and somehow surrendered eight runs to the lowly Royals while not retiring a batter.

You know how difficult that is to do against the Royals?

The Giants are so bad that Gabe Kapler, who had been the most overrated manager in the game going back to his days in Philly – simply because he has no feel for the game and no ability to hold players accountable – was fired this week.

This had to be done.

Let me tell you a little story. Before a last-chance series against the Dodgers last weekend in LA, a scout sent me a pre-game video of Giants players frolicking in right field, spikes off, as part of their zen game plan to stay in the race for the third wild card spot, running around catching a football and tossing a frisbee. Being in LA, maybe they thought they were on Venice Beach. No doubt the Giants who were not on the field frolicking in the grass were in the weight room, pumping iron; their own Muscle Beach.

As far as simple baseball work, infield, outfield, no way.

That’s one way to prepare for Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

Freeman, by the way, Yankee fans, cost the Dodgers the same amount of money as the Yankees gifted the left-hander Rodon. Nice move, Nerds.

Well, it’s not like the Yankees are in need of a left-handed bat.

Somehow for years that has gotten past the Yankee Nerds; a left-handed bat might play well in Yankee Stadium with that Little League short porch across right field.

Rodon only gave the Yankees 64.1 innings this season with a 3-8 record with a 6.85 ERA. Things got so bad at Kauffman Stadium that when Yankees pitching coach Matt Blake came out to talk to Rodon in that firestorm of a first inning, Rodon, in a totally disrespectful manner, turned his back on his pitching coach.

This clearly was something that was building.

“Over the last year and a half,” one evaluator told me, “I’ve seen a lack of respect from the Yankees veteran pitchers toward Blake. There is no real engagement.”

That is a huge point and the Rodon turn your back moment was the exclamation point to that lack of respect.

The Yankees and Giants are so similar in their ineptitude that their stars, Aaron Judge and Logan Webb, each called out their teams after being officially eliminated from the low-bar playoffs.

One of the biggest problems is that both the Giants and Yankees position players and pitchers can’t seem to correct their mistakes. They don’t have the ability to be their own coach; and in general that’s what is happening today throughout much of baseball, up and down organizations from A Ball to the majors, with few exceptions.

These Over-Nerding front offices have created robot players, not ballplayers; and that’s something I have said for a while and it’s finally beginning to get noticed by those players who are paying attention.

The Yankees and Giants are so similar in their ineptitude that their stars, Aaron Judge and Logan Webb, each called out their teams after being officially eliminated from the low-bar playoffs.

Good for them.

Webb said of his Giants: “I’m tired of losing. It’s not fun. We’ve got to make some big changes in here to create that winning culture – that we want to show up every year to try and win the whole thing.”

Judge said of his Yankees: “We’ve got a lot to work on, a lot of things to change, and a lot of stuff going on around here that needs to be fixed.”

Both players get it. Both teams have gotten away from baseball fundamentals as well as excelling in all the little things that make for a winning team and creating a ballplayer who can think for himself, not just one who looks at a card in his back pocket or listens to a pitching command coming out of his cap.

The Giants are so un-athletic, that in the year of the Manfred freebie stolen base, they only have 57 stolen bases as a team – 13 fewer than Ronald Acuna Jr. – going into Saturday’s play.  That is pathetic.

The Yankees are not much better with only 99 stolen bases, 20th in baseball; and rookie shortstop Anthony Volpe has 24 of those stolen bases. Now he needs to do something about his .207 average and his swing from his butt approach. The Yankees are 29th in batting average, the Giants are 28th. The Giants have the seventh-most strikeouts in baseball, while the Yankees are 11th. They think along the same lines in building a team and, of course, it was the Giants who desperately wanted Judge, but he stayed with the Yankees to be their captain.

Judge clearly was in a win-win situation financially but in a lose-lose situation on the field.

When the Giants won three World Series titles in five years, 2010, 2012, and 2014, they had Brian Sabean and Bruce Bochy in charge. Compare that leadership tandem to Dr. Z and Kap. They also had leadership in their stars like Buster Posey, and when Posey retired after the 2021 season, it all fell apart in the Giants clubhouse. The Giants are the only team I know of that plays music after losses. It’s a small thing, but it’s a big thing.

The Giants also have more coaches than any team; but what exactly do they coach?

For Giants players it’s more like going to a wellness retreat than going to a baseball game.

The Yankees have not stooped that low but they have some strange stuff going on; witness the Dillon Lawson firing as hitting coach, replaced by former MLB player Sean Casey, an ally to Boone, and the Rodon blowup with Blake. That clearly is an indication that veteran pitchers want a little less fluff from Blake and more substance, like, you know – fix the flaws in their deliveries.

That’s why Andy Pettitte has a role with the team now. There is no doubt that Boone is King of Kumbaya and after that dreadful outing when Rodon could not get one single out and could not stand and listen to the pitching coach, Boone said, “ … the guy has been competing his ass off.”

Boone did acknowledge that there is work to be done over the winter for Rodon. Oh yes, and the Yankees Pitch Lab will cure all ills.

One scout said this about watching Rodon in a recent game:

“He didn’t throw his first changeup until 71 pitches into the game. And he actually has a decent changeup. They were on his fastball, they were on his slider the whole game – and there was no feel from who was catching and who was pitching to actually have a clue to throw something different than your fastball or your slider that the hitters were just sitting on.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - SEPTEMBER 29: Carlos Rodon #55 of the New York Yankees reacts after walking Logan Porter #88 of the Kansas City Royals in the first inning at Kauffman Stadium on September 29, 2023 iat Kauffman Stadium. ``Worst damn inning of baseball I have EVER seen``, B9 EIC Chris Vitali. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

“I was taught the proper mechanics, how to read swings, how to sequence pitches,” the pitching coach said. “I was taught all that stuff so I didn’t need a card to look at, I didn’t need 33 coaches who are on iPads all day, I was around people who knew how to play the game.”

In so many organizations those people who know how to play the game have been cancelled or minimized and replaced with numbers-driven “coaches” and baseball operations analysts. I counted nine baseball systems engineers on the Giants front office page, one for each position I guess, and that does not include other areas like applied sports analysts and a performance science fellow, whatever that is – but it’s all not working. For instance, under Kapler from late July on, they were 6-12 on the road. Overall in September they were 8-17 under anything goes Kap.

The Yankees brought up the kids, and that is a work in progress. Young Austin Wells was catching Friday and though he has shown the ability to hit some home runs (he is only batting .197), his catching skills lag far behind those hitting skills. One scout noted, “He’s got the gear but he is not a catcher. He is Kyle Schwarber, that is who he is and Theo Epstein and his people were smart enough to take the gear off Schwarber and like the bat that you see and run him out to the outfield.”

Don’t try to reinvent the baseball wheel or you will find yourself with a $279 million dud, the 2023 Yankees, and don’t dare look back and say, “If only Aaron Judge had not run into that curb in Dodger Stadium…”

Injuries happen. Overcome them. You were not even in the race for the sixth-best team in the league.

I asked someone in baseball to sum up Kapler’s managing career so far and got this interesting answer and insight into the baseball world of today:

“First of all,” he said, “Kapler micromanages everything with a bunch of clones that worship him because he gave them opportunities to go to the big leagues, so they try to micromanage every moment of the game and everything is done inhumanly almost.”

All that falls on Dr. Z as well, who has put this incomplete team together. Dr. Z has been for years worshiped by much of the media, but is now up against it with ownership – and if Bob Melvin escapes the Padres, you can expect him to land in San Francisco as manager.

As Judge and Webb pointed out in their comments, the Yankees and Giants have work to do; they see the flaws, and the players internally recognize all that at some point. I know that because I’ve been around enough failed teams, so I’m going to close with this astute comment from a longtime baseball man who knows how the clubhouse operates:

“Frauds get figured out eventually,” he said. “Especially in the clubhouse – and that is the problem with all the Smart People, they think the players are stupid. At a certain point, we all figure people out, some of us a little quicker than others, but we read through their bullshit, eventually everybody reads through the bullshit and says, ‘This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing.’”

The Giants and Yankees, once proud New York neighbors with ballparks across the river from one another, have much work to do.

The question for both teams is simple: Will ownership ever figure it out?

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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