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Mudville: June 18, 2024 8:45 am PDT

Comp Time

Ranger & Randy

BY KEVIN KERNAN

The other night I was a guest on Rickie Ricardo’s show on 94WIP in Philadelphia, and in our conversation he made a great comp.

Baseball is a comp sport. Always has been, always will be.

Current players are compared to past players as a way of putting the talents of a particular player into focus. That doesn’t mean they are baseball clones; it is merely a point of reference.

I’m going to offer up two comps today in Baseball or Bust. One pitcher comp and one manager comp. In their own way, both are old school and baseball needs more of that. The manager is the Marlins’ Skip Schumaker, who has his work cut out for him. You’ll have to wait to find who the manager he compares to, according to one longtime scout, and I think it is a terrific comparison. This deals with accountability, something baseball needs a lot more of, especially in the managerial department.

Kudos to Schumaker and more on him in a bit.

In the course of praising the work of Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies on Rickie’s show, I mentioned how the Phillies are succeeding without the 100-mph fastball. Their starters are rolling along at a 92.4 mph clip and their staff is led by Zack Wheeler, who I have known since he first came up with the Mets, and Aaron Nola.

But let’s not forget the 9-0 No. 3 starter Ranger Suarez.

As our talk turned to the left-hander and how much I have liked Suarez since I first saw him and how he comes up big in the postseason – and how he fields his position so well – Rickie made the comp.

Ranger Suarez reminds him of Randy Jones. Perfect!

Ranger Suarez #55 of the Philadelphia Phillies salutes the crowd after pitching a complete game shutout against the Colorado Rockies at Citizens Bank Park on April 16, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Phillies defeated the Rockies 5-0. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

So who better for me to call the next day than Randy Jones, my radio buddy from my days in San Diego at KFMB.

Randy is not shy on his thoughts about today’s pitching. Fifty years ago in 1974, Randy lost 22 games for the Padres. You have to be pretty good to lose 22 and your team has to be pretty bad, but Randy was not happy with how he faded in the later innings of those games; so he made adjustments and really started mowing down the opposing hitters.

For the most part, Randy Jones allowed the hitter to get himself out. He was out-thinking the opposition long before the Nerds came along and told you how they re-invented the game.

A year later, in 1975, Jones was the major league ERA leader with a 2.24 ERA, losing the Cy Young Award to Tom Seaver. A year after that, the lefty won the NL Cy Young Award. Over in the AL, Jim Palmer was the winner for the second straight year, beating out one of the all-time characters of the game in Mark Fidrych.

In many ways this was the golden age of pitching. It wasn’t just throwing. Starters were expected to go deep into games.

For baseball fans it was a glorious time when the bar was raised, not lowered as it is today. You were expected to do your job.

The Complaint Window was closed. No excuses.

Jones suffered an arm injury at Chapman University and had to re-invent himself when he lost most of his fastball. He was all about pitching quickly, sinking the baseball, and getting outs asap. To this day he is still making adjustments. A throat cancer survivor, Jones underwent 10 hours of reconstructive spine surgery in April of 2023.

“I got a bunch of steel in my spine,’’ Jones, 74, told BallNine.

There were some issues during the surgery with the breathing tubes.

“I lost a vocal cord so I retired from my radio job,’’ Jones said. “At least I’ve got one vocal cord. I can still bullshit a little. I’m back to swinging my golf clubs again.’’

How can you not love Randy Jones?

Pitcher Randy Jones of the San Diego Padres delivers a pitch during a game on August 1, 1976 against the Cincinnati Reds at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jones and the Padres were defeated by Santo Alcala and the Reds, 5-4. (Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)

And they love him in San Diego. He was the reason to go to the ballpark in 1975 when the team finished 27 games out of first place. In 1976, that Cy Young season, Jones led baseball in starts (40) complete games (25) and innings pitched (315), totals you will never see again in the game.

As for the comparison to Ranger Suarez, Jones loved it, especially the fact that Suarez is lefty, pitches with command, pitches to contact, works quickly, out-thinks hitters, can sink the baseball and fields his position.

“I figured sooner or later somebody would do that,’’ Jones said with a laugh. “Especially with a No. 3 starter, throw him in there with the big boys. That’s called pitching … A lot of people can learn from just watching (Ranger Suarez). It’s food for thought, ‘Hmm, maybe I could do that.’ ’’

It sure is, and pitching art needs to make a serious comeback. Why don’t more pitchers pitch that way making the most of a 91 mph fastball? Suarez was spectacular in the 5-2 win over the Rangers Tuesday night, striking out a career high 10 in seven innings as he lowered his ERA to 1.36. Ranger Suarez knows how to pitch – and the Phillies have the most wins in baseball with 35.

“That’s always been my pet peeve,’’ Jones said, noting that today’s staffs are built on velocity and spin. “But they don’t know how to pitch. Too often it’s a one-pitch scenario. They’ll throw a breaking ball for a ball somewhere and go right back to the fastball. If you come up with that secondary pitch, they can baffle hitters.’’

I asked Jones what his spin rate was at his peak. “I didn’t know and I didn’t give a shit,’’ he said. “All I knew was get outs and win, that’s all I knew.’’

I asked Jones what his spin rate was at his peak.

“I didn’t know and I didn’t give a shit,’’ he said. “All I knew was get outs and win, that’s all I knew.’’

Too many starting pitchers are getting hurt and if they don’t get hurt, Jones noted, “You’re only going to go 5 1/3.  You either are going to be burned out or you are going to be tired.’’

And never underestimate the Art of Fielding. Randy Jones didn’t. “I think I still hold the record for the most chances without an error for a starting pitcher,’’ Jones said. “In ’76 I never made an error.’’

That was in 112 chances, 31 putouts, 81 assists, and, get this: 12 double plays.

Jones made the most of his talents. “I’d have to say I maxed them out,’’ he chuckled.

I asked Jones how he developed his style of pitching. These, of course, are questions POBOs, president of baseball operations, should be asking, but they could not be bothered talking to experienced, successful pitchers from the past.

“I always had a lot of movement and control,’’ he said, “but after snapping that tendon twice, my speed was gone. I said, okay, let’s get creative. So I did. I just started watching hitters and picking out their weaknesses, what their tendencies were and started doing it that way and it worked out real well for me. It was fun. I loved it.’’

So did the fans. It was a packed house for Jones’ starts. There was gold in those slow-speed sinkers. The season that Jones won the Cy Young he was The Show as those Padres finished 29 games back. Jones never looked for excuses. It was his job to go out there and win and finish the game he started.

These days, pitchers are doing backflips if they manage to get through five innings. Some of Jones’ complete games included pitch totals of 68 pitches. Some game times included 1:38 and 1:42. For the home fans in San Diego that meant they could catch a ballgame at Jack Murphy Stadium and be home early enough to get up at daybreak to go surfing.

Yes life in San Diego was splendid in the ‘70s.

Former San Diego Padre Randy Jones tips his hat to the crowd prior to the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.(Photo by Andy Hayt/Getty Images)

Jones is glad there is a pitch clock but it shouldn’t have come to that. “Grab the ball. Throw it. Let’s go,’’ he said of his pitching mantra.

This is my favorite part of my conversation with Randy Jones. He was not worried about going through the lineup the third time. In fact, it was the opposite. “It was the game inside the game, really,’’ he said. “The year I completed 25 games, I felt sorry for the hitters the third and fourth time up because in my opinion, they didn’t have a chance. I had them setup so well, that I went, ‘Oh man, this is going to be great, I’m going to love this.’ ’’

Jones was outsmarting them every pitch and the more he saw the hitters, the more he zoned in on their weaknesses. Again, that’s the Art of Pitching and that’s what was going on in the game back then, what fans loved, and has been lost to the mad scientists of 2024.

Randy Jones got better as the game went on. Suarez is doing the same this season.

“If you were going to get me, you better get me early before my arm gets a little tired because then the ball really starts sinking,’’ Jones told me.

Embrace the challenge. Raise the bar. Pure genius.

“The first couple of innings I might throw a lot of sliders if I was throwing too hard, then the edge would come off and I would throw one sinker and say, ‘Oh, there it is. We’ll go back to that.’ ’’

Take notes, Nerds.

“In my head I was always a couple of pitches ahead of the one I was throwing,’’ said Professor Jones, a proud member of the Padres Hall of Fame.

Did Jones call his own games?

“I called my own games, but I had Freddie back there and he could read my mind.’’

Ranger Suarez #55 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch during the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at American Family Field on September 03, 2023 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

That would be Freddie Kendall. Like Jones, another Cali kid, and the father of catcher Jason Kendall. Freddie spent 12 years in the majors, Jason spent 15 years in the majors. That is some catching legacy right there.

“The only time I shook Freddie off is when he wouldn’t give me a sign and I would look up at him and he would shake his head and then I would shake mine,’’ Jones said of the special Kendall connection.

That was all part of the game of confusing the hitter.

“He told me to do it,’’ Jones said. “So maybe I would do it twice, shake him off, and I’d go into my windup and start laughing. Good stuff.’’

The hitter had no clue what was going on and that was all part of The Sting that Jones and Kendall pulled off in those 60 feet, six inches. And just like that 1973 film they were con men Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) and old pro Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) scheming their way to victory and another complete game. Those 1976 Padres only won 73 games and Jones won 22. The 1975 Padres only won 71 games and Jones won 20 of them.

Today’s pitching coaches could learn a thing or two talking to Randy Jones – and he does talk to Padres pitching coach Ruben Niebla – which is a good thing – but Jones does not push himself on pitchers. “I’ve always refused to do that through the years,’’ he said.

Jones also pitched inside. That’s a lost art too. Look at how they pitch Shohei Ohtani.

“Those pitches are right there for Ohtani to hit,’’ Jones said. “I’m surprised more people don’t knock him off the plate. They started knocking (Fernando) Tatis (Jr.) on his ass and made him make adjustments. Nobody does it to Ohtani. I pitched inside. Every once in a while it would get away a little bit. I’d throw that tailing fastball and it would crawl up the hitter’s ass. I didn’t want to hit him, but I did want to make him uncomfortable.’’

All part of the game.

This is part of the game too. It was refreshing to see Marlins manager Skip Schumaker this week call out starter Sixto Sanchez for a disastrous pattern of poor first innings, a 19.80 ERA in the first inning.

“That’s unacceptable in the first inning,’’ Schumaker said after Sunday’s game, a 7-3 loss to the Mets. “If he wants to start at this level he is going to have to be better in the first inning. That’s just what it is. He’s not giving his teammates a chance to win. At this level it is tough to come back from four runs every single time … We had a heart to heart.’’

Good for Schumaker, it’s about time a manager acted like a manager in 2024.

As for the managerial comp, one longtime baseball scout did not hesitate.

“Lou Piniella,’’ he said. “Without a doubt.’’

Why?

“Lou demanded effort, excellence and accountability, ’’ the baseball man said. “If it had to happen publicly, he never shied away from it. So many guys want the accolades, the money, the fame, without understanding the obligation that comes with that. Bottom line: players always say, ‘It’s hard to have success in the Big Leagues.’ They’re right.

“That’s why it’s the Big Leagues. People always say they want honesty, transparency and fairness. What the hell did Skip say that was unfair or inaccurate?’’

Exactly. There you have it. Two Big League comps: lefty pitchers Ranger Suarez and Randy Jones – and in the managerial department Skip Schumaker and Lou Piniella.

Maybe there is a glint of hope for baseball.

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.

Comments
  • Murray cook

    One might add Jim Fregosi alongside Piniella. I was going to hire him to manage the 90 Reds until Marge replaced me with Bob Quinn. Worked for the Reds

    May 22, 2024
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