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Mudville: June 23, 2024 6:45 pm PDT

Roller Coaster Ball

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Get off the roller coaster.

For owners, that should be the first order of business in what they demand from their baseball leadership.

“Nobody can sustain anything,’’ a top talent evaluator told BallNine on Wednesday.

That has never been more true than today in MLB 2024.

“The older scouts always told us, ‘Good teams don’t ride the roller coaster. They play steadily good. They don’t go up and down,’ ’’ the evaluator said. “The mark of a good team is to stay consistent. They don’t lose eight games in a row, and then win seven in a row, you’ve got to be really bad to lose eight games in a row.’’

It is a roller coaster league now.

“Just look at these teams, the Cardinals were horrible, now they went on a little run. Are they good? No, they are not good,’’ the evaluator said. “Cincinnati? Cincinnati is playing the Rockies, that’s why they are winning. The Mets are another example.’’

The Mets are beating up on the sad sack Nationals so Mets fans will once again have visions of grandeur.

“It will be an interesting trade deadline,’’ the evaluator promised.

It sure will be because there are so many bad teams, and mediocre teams that are going up and down, teams that will once again deceive themselves and deceive their fans believing they are in the Last Wild Card race.

The Last Wild Card is a little bit like the Last Picture Show.

That’s the 1971 film about a dying Texas town and high school graduates trying to find a better future. I lived the New Jersey version of the Last Picture Show, minus Cybill Shepherd.

Closeup view of batting equipment on deck in the bottom of the eighth inning during the MLB game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros on June 5, 2024 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I graduated David Brearley Regional High School in 1971, one of many students from two small Jersey towns, Kenilworth and Garwood, trying to find a way to build a better life. Somehow I’ve survived this long and watched baseball grow in the 70s and beyond and now have seen baseball lose mass appeal as it is becoming a niche sport, run into the ground by it’s own leadership.

Baseball staples have been replaced by new numbers hacks.

When a team does it right, though, the fans come out in droves, just look what is going on in Philadelphia and with the new look Yankees. The two seasons the Yankees and Phillies are putting together are seasons of consistency fans desire, it is what makes them come out to the ballparks, what makes every night special.

And Cleveland is right there too and in one of the strangest happenings of them all, the Guardians will be given the top spot in the upcoming draft. More on that later in Baseball or Bust. Only MLB ’24 could screw up the draft, too.

This is not a roller coaster ride for the Yankees, Phillies and Guardians, the three teams with win totals in the 40s. All three teams are emphasizing hitting the ball to all fields, that is as Old School as you can get. And what I’ve noticed is that each of those teams, especially the Yankees and Phillies, have conversations among the players in the dugout, they communicate constantly.

That’s Old School, too. Nothing wrong with Old School.

Former Yankees president Michael Burke once put the game in perspective in this way, tying team and town together.

“A baseball club is part of the chemistry of the city. A game isn’t just an athletic contest. It’s a picnic, a kind of town meeting,’’ Burke said.

That captures what a team can mean to a city.

Nerds have issues with communicating.

How do I know? Just try to talk to them and see what nonsense they spout. There is real communication between the successful teams. It is not what I call Word Salad Baseball.

Baseball is too simple to make it a word salad.

A baseball sense of humor helps as well.

Next time you watch a game look for that communication. I’ve noticed often after one of his at-bats, especially when something good happens, Yankees star Juan (Salary Drive) Soto goes directly to assistant hitting coach Pat Roessler, who was with him at the Nationals, to discuss the at-bat. That’s beautiful to see. There is excitement in their conversation.

It’s not a mad dash to the iPad.

The Yankees lead all of baseball with a .774 OPS and Aaron Judge is tops in that department at 1.084. The Phillies are tied with the Brewers for fourth at .738. The Dodgers are solid at No. 2 with a .762 mark and the Orioles, right on the Yankees heels, are No. 3 at .756.

These teams are not riding the roller coaster. They are consistent in pretty much everything they do.

It’s much the same over in ERA with the Yankees first at 2.75, the Phillies second at 2.92, the Dodgers third at 3.19, then the Orioles at 3.25.

Luis Gil has been a savior for the Yankees staff, although he did have to ride the Tommy John Highway to get to the Bronx. He came over from the Twins in a deal for Jake Cave in a spring training deal in 2016, which has turned out to be a steal for the Yankees. The Yankees can thank their lucky stars for the Twins in so many ways. Cave is now with the Rockies and Cave said on Rockies TV the other night he hopes Gil continues to have monster success because then someday he can say he was traded for a Hall of Famer.

A baseball sense of humor helps as well.

The Guardians are 11th in OPS at .710 but have improved their slugging and are seventh in ERA at 3.50. A year ago the Guardians were 29th in slugging at .381 and are now 10th in slugging at .395. First-year manager Stephen Vogt, always a great communicator as a player and former catcher and fun to talk to any day of the week, has the Guardians talking and thinking the game. He has picked up where Terry Francona left off and congratulations to the Guardians front office for getting it right.

All these teams are also wisely running the bases, there is so much to take these days with easy as DoorDash base stealing and outfielders with popgun arms, and from what I’ve seen it is the little things like hustling to first to stay out of the double play that helps produce success.

Luis Gil #81 of the New York Yankees is all smiles during the game against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on June 4, 2024, in New York, New York. (Photo by New York Yankees/Getty Images)

Playing solid defense is also a big part of it.

There is no magic formula, no magic hacks, no magic Hawk-Eye readings, there is a complete game approach, pitching, hitting and fielding. You know, baseball.

And this is just something I’m saying is a truth and I have no way to tabulate, but on winning, teams I am noticing more dirty uniforms. I remember standing in the hallway one July day at the timeless Otesaga Hotel in Cooperstown, it could be 2019 or 1919, and having Rickey Henderson tell me, “If my uniform didn’t get dirty, I didn’t do anything in the baseball game.’’

That is not World Salad Baseball. That’s Grit Baseball.

These top teams are not up and down, depending on what week this is and who is the opponent. It’s not just pitching and not enough hitting. Once again baseball has created this false wild card situation, sometimes there are just too many people in the pool, letting too many teams in the postseason and watering down the importance of the regular season.

With the Diamondbacks’ success last season teams have deluded themselves into thinking all they need to do is get in the playoffs to win the pennant and make it to the World Series like Arizona did with the Snakes slithering into the postseason with that underwhelming 84-78 record.

The Yankees used to think that way, just make it into the dance, now they are back to thinking “let’s bludgeon the opponent on a nightly basis.’’

In the World Series, the D-Backs promptly got spanked by the Rangers in five games.

But as I often say, the Nerds are not selling success, they are selling snake oil that easily fools owners who have no clue about the game so now everyone thinks they are a contender. Too often the fans fall for it as well.

You will hear things like the Mets are “only three games back in the wild card.’’

You’re also six games away from being a AAA-team. Having won three straight the Mets are 27-35 and there are eight bad teams fighting it out.

Luis Severino #40 of the New York Mets makes a play to retire Keibert Ruiz #20 of the Washington Nationals at first base during the second inning at Nationals Park on June 5, 2024 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

As for the draft, it’s a lottery system because as one baseball sage said, “MLB has to do everything the NBA does.’’

I was around for the Patrick Ewing Lottery when the Knicks, represented by GM Dave DeBusschere, who was a pitcher for the White Sox and a star forward with the Knicks and one of my favorites to cover, won that lottery and Hubie Brown said he was so excited that he fell off his couch.

Funny how that worked – because the NBA always likes to have the Knicks center stage even though they haven’t won a championship since DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, Willis Reed & Company won in 1973. For years the scuttlebutt was that the Knicks lottery envelop was placed in a freezer or had a crease so Commissioner David Stern would be able to assure the Knicks would have the No. 1 pick, which was going to be Ewing, back when the NBA was about centers.

The Knicks are forever waiting for another championship.

The Reds will pick second in the draft. Oakland will pick fourth even though the vagabond A’s only had 50 wins last season, the lowest number in baseball. So it goes. The Royals only had 56 wins and they will pick sixth.

Cincinnati was in the wild card race until the end and the Guardians won 26 more games than the A’s. But they are both picking ahead of Oakland.

Baseball doesn’t make sense in just about every aspect these days. The Rockies, the third team with win totals in the 50s in 2023, they produced only 59 victories, will pick third in the July 14th draft. The lottery was put into place so teams don’t tank, but MLB fails to realize it’s not tanking that is the problem.

“They are not tanking on purpose,’’ one scout told me. “They are tanking because they stink. They just stink.’’

Ain’t that the truth.

And the stink continues in 2024 with so many teams being inconsistent and riding the roller coaster to nowhere. Nine of the 15 teams in the NL are under .500 and two teams, the Marlins and Rockies are playing under .400 baseball.

Over in the American League seven teams are playing under .500 baseball and the White Sox boast a .246 winning percentage going into Wednesday, a special kind of terrible. Here is the kicker, because of new rules, the highest the White Sox can pick in the 2025 draft can be no better than 10th.

All that horrendous losing for the 10th best pick in the draft. That is a special kind of garbage, congratulations Jerry Reinsdorf and the White Sox. The White Sox will pick fifth in July.

It wasn’t too long ago that new White Sox GM Chris Getz said, “There are a lot of players on this team and a lot of pieces that can help a team win a division.’’

He must have been looking at a different team. Manager Pedro Grifol will be fired at some point. but that is just one of many problems for the White Sox, who for a number of years just counted on the wrong guys, one after another.

There are no up and downs for these White Sox on the MLB roller coaster, only downs.

Pity the poor White Sox fan. This organization needs a complete overhaul, a Bill Veeck-like owner to get rolling again. For the White Sox, the roller coaster would be a joy ride.

“Managers want players where they know what they have every night,’’ the baseball man said, a simple baseball truth. “When I write your name in the lineup you are going to come and play every day. You are going to play hard. You have a feel for the game. You’re smart. I don’t want to have the roller-coaster emotional league, the guy who is dumb as shit and ‘Oh my gosh, I forgot to cover first base.’ ‘Oh my gosh I forgot to back up.’ They don’t want that.’’

No they don’t. Get off the roller coaster.

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
  • Still waiting for a positive article from you. Seems all you post is negative. Lots of good in our game

    June 6, 2024
  • Aris Sakellaridis

    Negative? Damn, the truth hurts….

    June 6, 2024
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