For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: July 12, 2024 7:45 pm PDT



Here is a baseball truth: read it and weep, Guardians of the New Way.

In 2024, major league ballplayers’ instincts stink.

They say you see something new at the ballpark every game, but fundamentals have deteriorated to such a pitiful degree that we are now seeing something new at the ballpark in the major leagues that you would usually see at the local Little League field.

Yes, these players are unbelievably talented, and can hit the ball a mile when they connect, but when it comes to knowing the game, they don’t know the game. That is the biggest problem in the game. In the minors, hitters are so consumed by exit velocity and launch angle, they don’t spend any time working on the nuances of the game like moving a runner up. Same for pitchers working on velocity and spin, how about command and setting up the hitter and reading swings.

“None of them have instincts,’’ one top talent evaluator told BallNine of today’s players in general. “They don’t work on it in the minor leagues anymore, they don’t do it in BP anymore, there is nobody out there taking balls off the bat where they can read a ball and go, ‘That should be down.’ The problem is the inmates run the asylum.’’

Throughout baseball. As a result, they don’t do baseball anymore.

The Nerds don’t know, that’s why they are Nerds, but ballplayers should know, they should work at the skills of the game like base-running, but that has been pushed aside because Nerds don’t emphasize base-running, other than sprint speed.

They don’t know about checking the position of the fielders before each and every pitch, so you immediately get a read on the batted ball.

Aaron Boone is the Yankees team mom, and he needs to get it in gear.

They have no clue about getting a read. They can’t judge where a ball will land. When the Nerds were younger, they were probably the ones in the stands screaming at the average fly ball, acting like it was heading 10 rows deep into the seats.

Check out the Yankee fans momentarily screaming for joy on Aaron Judge’s foul popup to third base Friday night in the 10th inning of the Yankees ugly 5-3 loss to the Red Sox when the Yankees were one strike away from a 3-1 victory before Masataka Yoshida’s game-tying two-run home run in the ninth.

This after being swept at home three games by the Reds.

“The Reds just played harder and smarter than the Yankees all three games,’’ a scout at the series told me.

That they did.

The play was never worse for the Yankees than when Trent Grisham loped after a lazy single on Thursday, did not even bother to bend his knees to pick the ball up and tried unsuccessfully to use the tip of his glove to holster the bobbled ball and as a result gave up a hustle double.

I don’t think I have ever seen a lazier play by a major league centerfielder on a routine single.

“For (Aaron) Boone to protect him for what he did the other day, that’s ridiculous,’’ said the scout, telling it like it is.

On Friday, Grisham performed his offensive version of not giving a crap, when he took three 97 mph fastballs right down the middle for a strikeout that had Paul O’Neill so befuddled, O’Neill said incredulously, “You didn’t give yourself a chance. The bat never left your shoulder.’’

Getting back to Little League, O’Neill sounded like the parent behind home plate yelling at his kid after an effortless K.

Aaron Boone is the Yankees team mom, and he needs to get it in gear. The Yankees bounced back Saturday with a 14-4 stomping of the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium after losing a season-high four in a row and 15 of their last 20 games.

Perhaps they made so many mistakes over the last few days, that woke them up Saturday.

Yankees rookie call-up Ben Rice lashed three home runs in the Saturday victory, a lifetime memory, good for him, and got his first Yankee curtain call. Fantastic. Rice became the first Yankee rookie to ever hit three home runs in a game. His seven RBI matched another rookie who did the trick 99 years ago, a fellow named Lou Gehrig.

A play that caught my eye Saturday was when second-year shortstop Anthony Volpe catapulted across home with a headfirst slide as if he were shot out of a cannon, scoring easily in the Yankees seven-run fifth inning.

Why was that one run so important?

Because on Friday night Volpe loafed home on a double play. There was a ground ball hit to first, the first baseman stepped on the bag and threw to second for the tag out of D.J. LeMahieu. LeMahieu should have looked back over his shoulder and should have known he was now in a tag play situation and gotten in a rundown or at the very least, stop, adding time to the play so the runner at third could score.

Volpe at third, looked totally confused and loafed home and never crossed the plate before LeMahieu was tagged out. It was a huge base-running mistake on both Yankees’ parts and that run cost the Yankees the game. After the game, Boone made an excuse for LeMahieu’s blunder. Volpe told reporters at Yankee Stadium that he thought it was a foul ball. Yikes!

Double mistake.

Ballplayers are not umpires. They do not need to be making those decisions in that spot. Volpe’s only job once the ground ball was hit was to run hard to home and cross the plate before the tag could be applied.

On Saturday, by diving across the plate on a sacrifice fly, Volpe showed he hopefully was not going to make the same mistake again by lollygagging home. That was a good sign.

For the most part, Volpe has good instincts, but he let his guard down for that one play Friday night. That cannot happen and it used to rarely happen in the majors because the players had excellent instincts and if they made dumb mistakes, they immediately heard about it from the manager or a coach or a veteran player.

This is a much kinder MLB.

Those instincts are not what they once were, hence, my new word: Instinks.

You have to admit it has a certain ring to it and tells The Story in only eight letters.

I want to make this clear, I am not just picking on the Yankees here, the Grisham play and the tag-out double play without a run not scoring, just happened to happen when I was watching the Yankees play.

Stuff like this is going on all over baseball.

“Just play baseball the right way,’’ the scout said. “And there is a right way. And it isn’t the way that you’ve re-invented it. It was played the right way for years and you’ve gotten away from it. If you analyze when you are good, and when you are bad, it’s all the little fundamental things you didn’t do that night is why you lost.’’

That is a forever truth of a paragraph, and every Nerd in Charge should be made to type that into his laptop and read it over and over.

On that same Friday Horror night, I saw the Pirates make a terrible base-running blunder by a veteran player, a player with speed, Michael A. Taylor. They say you should never make the first out of the inning at third base, and we’ve seen plenty of that this year with runners on second and no outs, taking off for third base on a ground ball hit to shortstop and they are thrown out at third.

I’ve recently seen both Anthony Volpe and Ben Rice make that mistake for the Yankees.

Taylor topped them both. The game against the Pirates and Mets was still tight and Taylor made the first out of the inning going BACK to third base. Taylor singled and moved to second on a walk. Both runners moved up when Mets pitcher Luis Severino threw to the umpire at second instead of the fielder on a pickoff. Just solid baseball all around.

Not to be outdone, Taylor got himself picked off third by a throw from Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez to heady third baseman Jose Iglesias moments before Bryan Reynolds hit a two-run home run that should have been a three-run home run.

A pickoff at third for the first out can’t happen. Geez, if you just hang around third you got three whole outs to wait for that inevitable One Knee Down “wild pitch’’ and you can walk home.

If that pickoff happened in a Little League game it would be a no-no but for it to happen in the majors, just like all these base-running mistakes, the instincts of the game are not like they once were because quite simply they don’t work at the nuances of the game on offense or defense anymore because those in charge are not nuance oriented. The little things are not big things anymore and that is a shame.

Mastering those little things is what makes baseball baseball.

In the 10th inning Friday night on a line-drive single to right with the Yankees down two, Ben Rice, who was on second as the Fake Runner (thanks Sir Manfred), got totally discombobulated and broke to third base but for some reason, completely stopped, and headed back to second base as Juan Soto’s single hit grass.

Rice should have scored easily but didn’t. Not to be outdone, the Red Sox right-fielder, Wilyer Abreu, a strikeout machine in this series, unwisely threw home. The Red Sox were leading 5-3 and Rice’s run was not important, it was important to keep the potential tying run Juan Soto off second base. Soto would have gone to second on the throw that was air-mailed home, but he had to hold up because Rice was heading back to second even though it was a single to right.

Again, just a complete comedy of baseball errors. Instinctive plays that have become Instinks, in this generation of talented but lost ballplayers. Coaches would have taken care of this in the past in a not so nice manner. Kind of something like: “Get your head out of your ass.’’

But that is no longer part of the deal. Coaches have to bite their tongues over and over if they want to remain in the majors on most teams.

I can pull out example after example, but I don’t want to waste that much time watching bad baseball. I’d rather go to the beach or play pickleball or have a catch. Having just turned 71 I am officially an old man yelling at clouds, but that’s okay. The game should be played a certain way. Major league players are privileged to have such a job and I have faith that young players like Anthony Volpe will correct their mistakes and will build better baseball instincts.

And on that positive note let me make you aware of something that you don’t know.

I watched the Angels the last two days and Ron Washington’s club, under veteran catching instructor Jerry Narron, is breaking the rules. They actually have the catcher squatting and not on one knee with a runner on base and included in The Story is a video via Talkin’ Baseball on X. The catcher is the immensely talented and hard-working Logan O’Hoppe and while setting up like Johnny Bench he was able to be on the catching end of lefty Tyler Anderson’s career-high 10 strikeouts in a 7-0 win over the 41-49 Cubs on Saturday.

It can be done folks and here is the proof.

You too can “steal strikes’’ and actually catch the baseball.

Amazing. There is hope.

Instinks can once again become instincts if the right instruction is put in place and the player has the wherewithal, the mental fortitude and toughness to work on the little things that make baseball so great.

Ie: When you are on base check where all the fielders are playing. Don’t let your mind wander. This also works in the field and at-bat. Focus.

Watch the baseball. It’s really the secret ingredient to the game.

As I often tell the youngest of generations playing the game now, also known as grandchildren, watch the baseball like you are watching your phone, and you will be ahead of the game.

The same goes for major leaguers. Turn Instinks into Instincts.

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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