Musings on the Fetishization of the Modern Baseball Prospect

dickey-ra-130108-8col

Prospect: The possibility or likelihood of some future event occurring.
-Oxford English Dictionary

“I can’t believe [Anthopoulos is] thinking about doing this,” said one AL official Saturday, before the Jays and Mets finished the structure of the deal. “He’s out of his mind,” said another.
-ESPN’s Buster Olney, following the Blue Jays acquisition of R.A. Dickey

We live in a world in which there exists an inexorable relationship between the proliferation of technology and the accessibility of information. One could argue that there is not an industry on earth that has been immune to the sweeping changes brought about by the dawning of the internet age, and this is certainly true of the business of baseball.

Technology has facilitated the use of advanced statistical analysis, governing the way the game is managed. It has changed the way organizations scout players, the way Major League Baseball tests for performance enhancing drugs, and increasingly, with the implementation and expansion of instant replay, the way in which umpires oversee games.

Further, technology has fundamentally changed the way in which we consume baseball. Fans have access to virtually every major league game, through their televisions, computers, smartphones and tablets. We live in a world of 24-hour sports coverage, where All-Star Game balloting, out-of-town box scores, farm system reports, and fantasy baseball leagues are but a click away. This saturation of information has resulted in an increasingly sophisticated fan base. Indeed, where once the typical barroom debate over the superiority of Williams to DiMaggio turned on batting average and All-Star appearances, it is difficult to envision the same conversation occurring today without some mention of each player’s WAR, UZR, and VORP.

The emergence of the internet paved the way for websites such Baseball America to chronicle the development of the game’s top prospects, from High School to AAA, extolling the virtues of previously unheard of ballplayers roaming the outfields of the baseball wilderness. These websites succeeded in bringing mass awareness to the previously-veiled world of amateur and minor league baseball, at the same time satiating baseball fans’ voracious appetite for information, while expanding the breadth and depth of the meaning of fandom. No longer was it enough to be a fan of one’s local Major League team. The modern, educated fan was soon expected to have a working knowledge of their team’s minor league affiliates, top prospects, and draft position.

Mainstream sports outlets, such as ESPN, seized upon the growing popularity of prospect watching, and soon every columnist, analyst, and blogger was producing a top 100 prospects list, breathlessly anointing the ‘next big thing’.

However, a funny thing happened. In an industry in which everyone was in a rush to find the next Jake Peavy, Randy Johnson, and Carlos Beltran, the luster of the present day versions began to pale by comparison. Before long, the act of trading top prospects for Major Leaguers became cause for criticism, as untested prospects became overvalued.

As a case in point, one needs look no further than the offseason orchestrated by Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos. After a disappointing 2012 season that saw the 73-win Blue Jays decimated by injuries, Anthopoulos aggressively set out to revamp his team through a series of bold trades and free agent signings. Enter Jose Reyes. Enter Josh Johnson. Enter Mark Buehrle and Melky Cabrera. Each acquisition was greeted with fanfare by the media and fans alike, not just on account of the caliber of players Anthopoulos was able to stockpile, but for his ability to maintain a firm grasp upon the crown jewels of the organization’s farm system, namely catcher Travis d’Arnaud, and pitchers Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard. Such was the reason that Hall of Fame General Manager Pat Gillick lauded the Marlins swap.

“The one thing Alex was able to do, he gave up talent but didn’t give up some of his premium prospects, so consequently I think they got a lot more back in return from the Marlins than they gave the Marlins,” Gillick told Shi Davidi in an interview in the aftermath of the blockbuster trade.

“That’s in the back of your mind any time you make a deal, what impact will the players have coming and what impact do the players have going. In his situation, I don’t think he gave up a whole lot and he got a lot back in return.”

However, seizing the opportunity to bolster the team’s pitching staff, Anthopoulos pulled off a trade for reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey. In doing so, the Blue Jays sacrificed Syndergaard, the team’s top pitching prospect, as well as d’Arnaud, the consensus top catching prospect in baseball.

Criticism of the trade was instant, intense, and practically universal. Almost lost amid the flying barbs and ardent cynicism was the fact that the Blue Jays had acquired a proven, front-of-the-rotation pitcher, for unproven young players with upside, but lacking a single day of Major League service between the two.

While Blue Jays fans may yet rue the exodus of prospects, it is worth remembering that, despite the ever-increasing value the industry has placed upon them, prospects as a whole remain a volatile commodity, with no guarantee of achieving future success.

Exhibit A can be drawn by taking a trip down memory lane. Consider the two following scouting reports of young catching prospects, each lifted from the pages of Baseball America’s 2008 Prospect Handbook:

Player A:
“Offers rare, above-average lefthanded power from the catcher position. Stays inside the ball and makes consistent, hard contact to all fields. Gets such good backspin and carry on the ball that he can drive it out of any part of the park. A natural leader with work ethic to spare, he offers average arm strength to go with solid receiving, blocking and game-calling abilities behind the plate. Has worked extensively with the organization’s roving catching instructor on getting his feet to work with his arm on throws.”

Player B:
“Has above-average catch-and-throw skills. His game-calling still needs work, but he improved in that regard during the summer. Scouts weren’t entirely sold on his bat, and he didn’t light up Gulf Coast League pitching, but he did show some ability to stay inside balls and drive them to the opposite field. He has a quick swing with potential for some loft power.”

The report on Player A is by far the more glowing of the two, and this is reflected in each player’s overall prospect ranking. Where Player B ranked as his team’s 16th best prospect, Player A was the top ranked prospect in his organization. Further, where Player A was a top 50 prospect and the sport’s consensus second-best catching prospect to Matt Wieters, Player B’s name was far removed from any discussion of the game’s best young prodigies. And now for the reveal: Player A is none other than….

The immortal Jeff Clement! The University of Southern California product and then-Mariners wunderkind catching prospect was coming off a season primarily spent mashing Pacific Coast League pitching to the tune of 20 homeruns, 80 RBI and an OPS of .867. Clement had also made his Major League debut that season, hitting .375 in 19 plate appearances with the big club.

As for the player in question that inspired the second scouting report? That would be a then-18 year old Philadelphia Phillies prospect by the name of Travis d’Arnaud. The same player who, 5 years later, would be deemed “untouchable” by media, fans, and front office executives alike, was, at the time, a middling prospect ranked behind the likes of Jason Donald, Freddy Galvis, Edgar Garcia, Scott Mathieson, and Drew Carpenter. Within his own organization, d’Arnaud was ranked behind fellow catching prospects Lou Marson and Jason Jaramillo.

Fast forward to the dawning of the 2013 season, and the roads each player has since walked could not be any more divergent. While d’Arnaud’s emergence as one of the elite prospects in the game has allowed him to be a centrepiece to trades for Cy Young winners R.A. Dickey and Roy Halladay, Clement has traveled more frequently by charter bus than charter jet, bouncing between AAA and the Major Leagues for Seattle and Pittsburgh. Over parts of four Major League seasons, Clement has produced a batting average of just .218 with 110 strikeouts in 385 at-bats, while also making the transition to first base. As d’Arnaud seems poised on the precipice of Major League stardom, Clement hangs on to what big league career he has left.

While it would be easy to dismiss the present-day comparison between the two players, one need only consider the similarities between 2008 Jeff Clement and 2013 Travis d’Arnaud. Both were one-time first round picks with sterling minor league track records, going into seasons in which it was assumed they would seize Major League jobs. Both were considered their organization’s top prospect, and among the very best catching prospects in the game. While this is not to say that the same fate that befell Clement awaits d’Arnaud, it should serve as a caution to those ready to celebrate d’Arnaud’s ascendancy.

General Managers live in fear of one day being known for completing a trade the likes of Larry Anderson for Jeff Bagwell, Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz, or Glenn Davis for Steve Finley, Pete Harnisch, and Curt Schilling. That said, Alex Anthopoulos deserves credit for rolling the dice and going all in on a team that has upgraded its talent quotient exponentially. For a fan base starved for playoff success, the initial trade opposition amongst Jays fans will quickly dissolve if Dickey can lead the team deep into October. – GP

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Old Time Photo of the Day – The Decline of the Mick

MICKEY MANTLE

“On two legs, Mickey Mantle would have been the greatest ballplayer who ever lived.”
– Nellie Fox, Chicago White Sox Hall of Famer

Injuries run rampant in sports. From concussions and contusions to sprains and strains. Ankles roll and snap like kindling, knees and elbows blow out like worn tires. Fingers jam and break, both on the field and the basepaths. The image of an athlete frantically grabbing for their hamstring as they hustle out an infield hit or lying motionless after colliding with an outfield wall causes fans to cringe. Injuries can cut a great career short (Koufax, Sandy) or prevent potential greatness (Prior, Mark). They’re one of the unfortunate downsides to being a professional athlete.

When a player is marred by injuries for the majority of their career, we say he was “injury plagued” or that their career was “injury riddled.” When we start discussing “injury plagued” players, there are two players that immediately come to mind: Ken Griffey Jr and Mickey Mantle.

Now I had the pleasure of getting to see Griff at the height of his game (before the major injuries) playing in Seattle. Unfortunately I also saw him get decimated by injuries that practically pushed him into obscurity for a three year span. If only Griff had deer antler spray (too soon?) I did not get to see the Mick play.

Regardless, I have alwasy known two things about the Mick: 1) anybody who grew up in the 1950’s and early 60’s maintain that one of either Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays was, and will ALWAYS be the GREATEST ballplayer of all time. 2) Mantle’s career and injuries will always be the source of one of the greates What If’S in baseball. What if Mickey Mantle wasn’t injury plagued? There is one great argument there… but we’ll save that for another time.

Mantle’s first, and most famous injury, came in his rookie season (1951) during the World Series. Mantle was playing RF which allowed an aging, immobile “Joltin'” Joe DiMaggio to maintain his position in CF. Mantle knew his role was to cover the ground and get the balls that DiMaggio couldn’t. In the 5th inning of Game 2, NY Giants rookie Willie Mays hit a shallow fly between the Mick and Joe D. Mantle heard DiMaggio coming on at the last second and attempted to pull up and yield to the Yankee Clipper. In doing so, Mantle’s right foot landed on a sprinkler head. Mantle described the moment as “there was a sound that sounded like a tire blowing out and my right knee collapsed.” It has often been speculated that Mantle had torn his ACL and due to the lack of surgical procedure at the time, the ACL was never properly repaired. Sadly, there would be more to come:

1952 – Torn knee cartilage.
1953 – Torn left thigh muscle.
1954 – Cyst behind the right knee.
1955 – Pulled right thigh muscle.
1956 – Sprained left knee and Tonsillectomy.
1957 – Torn right shoulder.
1959 – Broken finger
1961 – Hip abcess that required surgery (infamously portrayed in the movie 61*)
1962 – Pulled left thigh muscle.
1963 – Torn rib cartilage, torn left knee, and a broken bone in the left foot.
1964 – Various leg ailments (muscle pulls, ligament strains)

The above picture was taken on July 30th, 1965 and featured in TIME magazine. It reminds me of a heavyweight boxer who has put it all on the line and realizes that he has nothing left to offer and throws in the towel. Now this wouldn’t be the end of the Mick though, he always had a little more fight left in him. Mantle would have one more Mickey Mantlesque season (1966) before retiring in 1968. Of all the players that have graced a major league ballpark throughout history, I have to put the Mick in my Top Ten of players that I wish I could have seen in their prime. -$

By the way… if you have not seen 61*… get on that ASAP!

“I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.”
– Mickey Mantle on his many injuries

Bob Gibson – A Lesson in Competitiveness

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“(Hank Aaron told me) ‘Don’t dig in against Bob Gibson, he’ll knock you down. He’d knock down his own grandmother if she dared to challenge him. Don’t stare at him, don’t smile at him, don’t talk to him. He doesn’t like it. If you happen to hit a home run, don’t run too slow, don’t run too fast. If you happen to want to celebrate, get in the tunnel first. And if he hits you, don’t charge the mound, because he’s a Gold Glove boxer.’ I’m like, ‘Damn, what about my 17-game hitting streak?’ That was the night it ended.” – Dusty Baker

Everybody is competitive to a point. The need to win and succeed brings out the worst in people. Winners are celebrated and toasted. Losers are heckled and booed. This isn’t anything new. It has been documented and rampant throughout history, and not just in context with sports. It was even the popular catchphrase for ABC’s Wide World of Sports, “The Thrill of Victory… and the Agony of Defeat.” The natural need/want/desire to win/succeed is what causes competition and brings out the “competitive nature” in people.

I am an overly competitive person. I hate losing (who doesn’t?). I am a sore loser. I’ve even been known to turn off a video game if I have no chance of coming back.

When I’m winning, you do not want to be losing. I run my mouth and smack talk like the bastard offspring of Gary Payton and Larry Bird. I spray Febreeze to honour a dirty dangle or a sick juke. I refer to my Xbox controller as “My Hot Fire” and have even resorted to gaming with oven mitts on JUST to ensure my hapless opponent knew what a rout it was.

When losing… well… let’s just say it’s not pretty. It’s a combination that is half gut-wrenching depression and half a two year old throwing a temper tantrum. Now keep in mind that I cannot stress the following with any more importance:

a) I do not condone, nor am proud of ANY of my actions. I think it’s sad to be quite honest, and has come to the point where I do not like taking part in an activity unless I have some kind of chance at being successful or winning.

b) I am not a professional athlete. I am not even an amateur athlete. I am a recreational athlete. I play house league and pick-up games. I pay to play sports.

c) Most of my successes come at besting my best friends and family members at video games and fantasy sports. I know I am a pathetic individual…

Losing for me is beyond demoralizing, it is straight tortuous. It is one of my own personal levels of hell. It causes me to stew and sulk. It causes me to become catty and callous. I may as well change my name to Tom just because of how Petty I become. What can I say? Losing is a real Heartbreaker. In lieu of a punching bag, I used a straight over hand throwing motion. The result… Multiple new Xbox controllers, hockey sticks, cordless phone handsets; not to mention the amount of holes and dents that required patches and poly fill.

To say Bob Gibson was a competitive person is an absolute UNDERSTATEMENT.

Bob Gibson is my favourite baseball player of all time. I know what you are thinking: How can I say that someone is my favourite player when I never even got to watch them play? Hell, even with YouTube and mlb.com archived videos, I still haven’t really seen Gibby pitch. But it is a fair question, and one that I have been asked on more than one occasion. Gibson is my all time favourite because he is the EXACT type of player that I would want to be. Hands-down, no question about it. I absolutely love everything about him and his career. His arrogance and ferocity on the mound. His surliness towards not only opposing players, but his own teammates. The way that he put every single ounce of energy into every pitch he threw, so much so that it caused him to nearly fall down after every pitch. He was the definition of fearless competitor and he exemplified what it was to be regarded as an Ace in baseball.

Bob Gibson

Let’s start off with a little background on information for those who may not know (OH YOU DIDN’T KNOW!?!?), or need to be reacquainted with the Cardinals’ #45.

Career Stats:
• 251 wins – 174 losses (46th all time)
• 2.91 ERA (65th all time)
• 3117 Strikeouts (14th all time)
• 2x NL Cy Young Winner
• 2x World Series Champion
• 2x World Series MVP
• 1968 NL MVP
• 9x All-Star
• 9x Gold Glove Winner
• Major League All-Century Team

MLB Records:
• 35 Strikeouts in a World Series (1968)
• 17 Strikeouts in a World Series Game (Game 1 – 1968)
• Modern Day MLB Single Season ERA Record (1.12 – 1968)

Now, I am not here to go over every single aspect and detail of Gibby’s heralded career. If you want that, go check out his wiki page. But I will explain how a legend is created.

Gibson was a standout athlete as a child and teenager. He overcame rickets at a young age and struggled with being an asthmatic for his entire athletic career. In high school he was a standout two-sport athlete playing both baseball and basketball, not to mention track and field. Gibson arguably was a better hoops player than a ballplayer. He was an all-state basketball player in Nebraska and was given a full athletic scholarship to Creighton University for basketball. After majoring in sociology at Creighton, Gibson signed to play basketball with the Harlem Globetotters in 1957. Yes, the same Globetrotters that have been schooling the Washington Generals for the better half of a century. I told you that he was a sick baller. However, that is where this tale of a baller ends and the LEGEND of a ballplayer begins.

See, basketball’s loss would be baseballs gain, thanks to St. Louis Cardinals GM Bing Devine. When Gibby had agreed to ball with the ‘trotters for a season in 1957, he had also signed a minor league contract with the Cards for $3000. Despite signing with the Cards, he had agreed to put off baseball for a year in order to star in the first AND1 highlights. After the 1957 season, GM Devine convinced Gibson to trade in the hard court and orange ball for the diamond and a brand new pearl. Maybe it had to do more with the $4000 cheque and not Devine’s shrewd negotiation skills that made Gibson make the leap to the Cards.

Gibson started with the Cardinals at spring training in 1958 but was assigned to the minors for the season. The 1959 season would see Gibson start the season with the Cardinals, make his first MLB appearance and get his first MLB start and win. However, he was not overly impressive and impactful in his first few major league seasons and he would yo-yo between the majors and minors until 1961. In 1961 the Cardinals fired their manager (Solly Hemus) and promoted Johnny Keane from their AAA affiliate Omaha to become the new manager. Keane, who had seen what Gibson had to offer as a starter from their time together at Omaha, immediately moved Gibson from the bullpen into the starting rotation. Gibson went on to go 11-6 for the remainder of the season. It would be the following season that would begin his ascent to greatness.

Who’s Better?

From 1962-1969 Gibson was ARGUABLY the best pitcher in the game, keyword being arguably. Yes I am biased seeing as Gibson is my favourite player (hence the article) but the numbers don’t lie. Between 62-69 Gibby went 148 – 87, won a CY Young, two World Series, two World Series MVP’s and the 1968 NL MVP. Koufax had 111 wins from 62-66 when he was forced to retire because of an arthritic left elbow. Koufax won three CY Young awards, three pitching triple crowns, and two World Series rings, was MVP in both those World Series wins, and also won an NL MVP. Juan Marichal went 182-76 in the same period. Nothing against Marichal, but with no Word Series rings, no CY’s or MVP’s it really makes it a two-horse race. As much as I love Gibson, Koufax was the better pitcher in that time span but his career was cut short by the previously mentioned arthritic elbow. Gibson ranks higher long term perhaps because of longevity, but Koufax wins this round.

One Tough Sonofabitch

I’m not even mentioning how Gibson had an ankle broken by a line drive in 1962 ending his season halfway and postponing his return to brilliance until May the following year. It wouldn’t be the last time that Gibson was wounded in action. In July of 1967; Gibson took a Roberto Clemente line drive off the right leg. Unaware of the severity of his injury, Gibson continued to pitch. He lasted three batters before his right fibula snapped. Gibson would return less than two months later and lead the Cards into the post-season.

The Year of the Pitcher – 1968

Some pitchers have good years. Some have great years. Few will EVER have the season that Gibson had in 1968. Ironically a few of those pitchers had that kind of year in 1968. Denny McLain would win 31 games, something that had not happened in baseball since Dizzy Dean pulled it off in 1934. Don Drysdale would pitch 58 2/3 scoreless innings. Bo’Sox pitcher Luis “El Tiante” Tiant had a 1.60 ERA on the season, all while holding AL batters to a .168 batting average; also an MLB record. Catfish Hunter even twirled the first perfect game in the AL in 12 years. Damn fine seasons all around.

Bob Gibson on the other hand:

22 wins – 9 losses – 1.12 ERA – 268 K’s – .085 WHIP – 28 Complete Games – 13 Shutouts

Please read that again.

1.12 ERA!!!!

Needless to say that it is a modern day MLB record, Dutch Leonard had 0.96 ERA in 1914, and one that a modern day starter may never come close to. (I do not count relievers/closers in this category). Almost more absurd are the 28 complete games and 13 shutouts!! Gibson was only 3 shutouts off of Grover Cleveland Alexander’s 16 in 1916. A few things happened after the season:

a) Bob was (obviously) awarded the 1968 NL CY Young;

b) Bob was awarded with the 1968 NL MVP;

c) Because of the absurd stats posted by pitchers in the majors in the 1968 season, Major League Baseball implemented the “Gibson Rules” for the 1969 season. The rules included lowering the mound from 15 inches to 10 inches, and reducing the height of the strike zone from the armpits to the top of the letters.

Gibson was so good that they had to change the rules.

Ignorance in the World Series

The Cardinals made it to the World Series three times during Gibson’s career; 1964, 1967, and 1968. To say that he was a major factor in those appearances doesn’t give him enough credit. His stats in World Series play look like this:

9 Games Started – 8 Complete Games – 7 wins – 2 losses – 1.89 ERA – 92 K’s

Go back and read that one more time.

Ridiculous and absurd to say the least. If that happened today, Twitter would explode. In the 1964 WS against the Yanks, Gibson won two games, including a complete game win in game 7, and set the MLB record with 31 strikeouts. When he returned to defecate on the Bo’Sox in the ’67 World Series, he did so by allowing only three earned runs, and fourteen hits, all while pitching three complete game victories, including Game 7 (again). Sidenote – Bob also added a homerun in game 7. The complete game victories tied Christy Mathewson’s legendary performance in the 1905 World Series. Following his ridiculous 1968 season, the Cards met the Tigers in what would be Gibby’s last World Series. Gibby started the series off by striking out seventeen batters in Game 1. SEVENTEEN BATTERS!!!! That was, and still is, an MLB record. Following a Game 4 win over Denny McLain, Gibson lead the Cards into another Game 7 duel. Unfortunately he would be on the losing end this time round. Gibson would go onto break his own MLB post season record by striking out 35 batters.

Better to Burn Out Than Fade Away

From 1969-72 Gibson would continue to be an elite pitcher in the National League. He would hit the 20 win mark two more times, including a career high 23 in 1970. From 1973 until the end of his career in 1975, Gibby became an average to slightly below average pitcher. He went 12-10 in 1973, 11-13 in 1974, and a career worst 3-10 with a 5.04 ERA in 1975. Gibby left the game on his terms in 1975 following a dismal season that saw him relegated to the relief duty. In his last appearance in the majors he served up a walk off home run to a no name player, as Gibby could only say; “When I gave up a grand slam to Pete LaCock, I knew it was time to quit.”

Ignorance as a Batter

Having played in the National League for his entire career, as well as during the pre-DH days, Gibson was forced to bat on a regular basis. Unlike today, where most pitchers fail to obtain a batting average higher than the weight of a small child, Gibby knew how to handle the twig. For his career Gibson posted a batting line that looked like this:

.206 AVG (274-1328) – 44 Doubles – 5 Triples – 24 Home Runs (2 in the World Series) – 144 RBI – 13 SB – 63 Walks

Pretty damn impressive seeing as he was paid to pitch. More impressive was the fact that Gibson was routinely used as a pinch runner because of his above average speed.

Ya F*** Around…Ya Won’t Be Around

As I mentioned earlier, Gibson was not only a surly prick to both opponents and teammates alike; but he was also an absolute psychopath when it came to winning and being competitive. It didn’t matter who you were, friend or foe; all were treated with the same utter disdain.

Bill White was Gibson’s close friend when they played together with St. Louis. That would change following White’s trade to the Phillies. In his first at bat against his former teammate, Gibby fired a fastball inside, hitting White on the arm. As he walked to first, White made the mistake of saying “What are you doing Bob?! We were teammates for years!” Gibson replied, “We’re not teammates anymore!”

Gibson famously told his long time catcher, and future abysmal commentator, Tim McCarver, that “The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it!”. McCarver was just attempting to have a mound meeting following a hit.

Even after his retirement, Gibson made sure it was known that he was not one to play nicely with others. In 1992, the All-Star game was held in San Diego. As part of the All-Star festivities, Gibson took part in the annual Old-Timers Day game and promptly served up a muffin to Reggie Jackson, who deposited it in the bleachers. Not one to forget things, when the Old-Timers’ Day game was played in 1993, Gibson threw Jackson a fastball up and in. You can hardly call it a fast ball as Gibson was 57 at the time, and did not hit the 47 year old Jackson, but the message had been delivered, and Jackson failed to get a hit.

Here are a few good quotes from both Gibson’s peers and the man himself:

“Barry Bonds? I’ll tell you what, if he hit a home run off (Bob) Gibson or (Don) Drysdale and stood and admired it, they’d knock that earring out of his ear the next time up.” – National League Umpire Doug Harvey

“He (Bob Gibson) couldn’t pitch today because they wouldn’t let him. The way he’d throw inside, he’d be kicked out of the game in the first inning, along with guys like Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax.” – Red Schoendienst

“I’ve played a couple of hundred games of tic-tac-toe with my little daughter and she hasn’t beaten me yet. I’ve always had to win.” – Bob Gibson

“Why do I have to be an example for your kid? You be an example for your own kid.” – Bob Gibson

As a kid, I always thought that the pitchers were at the mercy of the hitter. Compared to batters, pitchers looked both unassuming and non-athletic. They seemed timid, like they were one hard hit foul ball away from burying their head into that little pile of dirt they stood on. Sure, a 100 mph fastball was impressive, but not nearly as impressive as a hulking slugger depositing said fastball 500 feet into the bleachers. Don’t blame me. I was a kid. Loud noises and explosions resonated more with me than the idea of playing chess or studying. Who am I kidding? They still resonate more with me. What has changed is the amount of respect I now have for the man standing some 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate.

Thanks to the many hours spent reading up on the history of the game, I came to view pitchers not as ostriches who were about to defecate in their stirruped pants, but rather as educated assassins. They were a combination of gunslinger, physicist, and psychologist. Armed with an arsenal of mid-to-high 90 mph heat and accompanied by ungodly, gravity-defying breaking pitches. Pitchers knew their opposition better than their opponents knew themselves. They knew what they liked, what they hated, and their tendencies. Damn, they even knew what the outcome of throwing a specific pitch at a specific time in the count would result in (see Maddux, Greg). Above all though, they knew it was up to them to ensure that the opposition stayed off the score board. They were enforcers. If a batter crowded the plate in order to shrink the strike zone, the next pitch would be at their ear. If the opposing team’s pitcher hit one of your batters, it was their job to settle the score. Don Drysdale, a Hall of Fame pitcher and notorious brush-back specialist, made it known on how he policed the game:

“My own little rule was two for one. If one of my teammates got knocked down, then I knocked down two on the other team.”

I still play baseball – men’s league, recreational baseball. I am predominantly a pitcher, always have been since I started playing ball again back in high school. I am by no means a good pitcher. I do not have anything measured in the 90’s unless you count my blood pressure. I am a baker on the mound. I throw muffins. Every Sunday, batters come out to my weekly bake sale in an attempt to gorge themselves on the muffins and cupcakes that are being served. I know this. I am well aware, mainly because of the opposition and my friends who consistently remind me of this. I like to think that I am successful. I get hit, but not always hard, and rare is the week that I take a pounding like a mallard duck. It’s because I take the Maddux approach when pitching. I live on the black. I try and use deception and location to my advantage. Why? Simple, I am never going to overpower somebody, but if I can show them enough slop and junk perhaps I can sneak one of my muffins past them.

Pitchers were straight up bad asses back in the day. They had nicknames like “the Barber” because of how perilously close the pitch would come to cutting your hair. They were surly and unfriendly and above all, they hated to lose. It did not matter if it was your best friend or brother on the opposing team. There were no hugs and handshakes and words of praise between opposing players. You straight-up were taught to loathe and despise both losing and the opposition. That is why I love Bob Gibson so much. I love that he wanted to win at any expense, and he didn’t care who thought otherwise. I love that he did not care if you played together for 10 years – the second you stepped in the batter’s box sporting the opposition’s colours was the second that 10 years no longer mattered. Why do people love classic cars so much? It’s because they don’t make them like that anymore. The same can be said with classic movies, hell even classic rock. That is why I love Bob Gibson so damn much as a player…they just don’t make them like that anymore. – $

“Between games, Mays came over to me and said, ‘Now, in the second game, you’re going up against Bob Gibson.’ I only half-listened to what he was saying, figuring it didn’t make much difference. So I walked up to the plate the first time and started digging a little hole with my back foot…No sooner did I start digging that hole than I hear Willie screaming from the dugout: ‘Noooooo!’ Well, the first pitch came inside. No harm done, though. So I dug in again. The next thing I knew, there was a loud crack and my left shoulder was broken. I should have listened to Willie.”
-Jimmy Ray Hart

Just the tip of the experience… just the tip

February 11th… that’s what I keep telling myself. February 11th… Pitchers and catchers report. It’s almost time.

Yes I am aware that the opening of spring training only means that the official start of the season is ONLY less than two months away… sigh.

But who cares. It’s January 31st. This asshole of a month is only a few hours away from disappearing until 2014. Yes I am aware that winter is FAR from over. Trust me… I am WELL aware. So much so that I have been growing my winter weather protest/opening day beard since just after Christmas. Outside of a little wedding grooming this weekend, my face fur will not be trimmed until the Jays take the field against the Tribe on April 2nd. Opening day is pound for pound my FAVOURITE day of the year. Here are a few things that make a Jays game un amazing experience…

• The promise of street meat within the vicinity of the skydome… err Rogers Centre. We’ve had a discussion about the quality of street meat in the downtown core for years now and it always ends up like this… “The further you walk away from the dome… the poorer the quality of the street meat.” Now there are a few exceptions to this rule, the most notable being the quality of the meat being derved at the cart outside of Finch station (shocking!) The 2 stands that stand out for me personally are the one directly across from Gate 5 – to the right of the Jays Drummer. The other is located past the Box office on your way towards Gate 9. Nothing gets me in the mood for a Jays game like scarfing down a spicy Italian sausage on the way thru the gate… who am I kidding?? Usually it’s 2 if we’re lucky.

• No Jay’s game experience would be complete without the Jays drummer. Located along Bremner Blvd, across from the waterless, swimming salmon art piece, the drummer has been a fixture at Jay’s games since the demise of the Gord Ash Empire, maybe even longer. Pounding on his drums and symbols he lures fans toward the concrete cathedral known as the Dome with his sirens song. “LET’S GO BLUE JAYS!!!!” the words echo throughout the concourse. But this is not a one man show. As the crowd draws in to watch the performance, the drummer lunges out with his drum stick, pointing at an unsuspecting fans; daring them to sing his sirens call back to him. “LET’S GO BLUE JAYS!!!”

• Scalpers. The jackals of the sporting world. They pray on those who were unfortunate enough not to land seats for the hot sporting event, or who are looking to trade up in seats, or who need to lose a ticket. They hunt in packs in and around the route to the ball park. You can always tell who is a scalper… not by their primitive call of “TICKETS HEEERRRREEE…. WHO NEEDS TICKETS!?!?!?!” but more so by their wardrobe. They tend to be outfitted in the finest sweat gear from Wal-Mart. Their jerseys, clearly purchased from the discontinued racks…Honestly, who pays money for a Shea Hillenbrand jersey!?!? You’ll encounter your first scalper as you make your way thru Union station, towards the Skywalk. Be warned though, the closer in proximity you get to the Dome, the more aggressive the Scalper becomes. Exiting the Skywalk you should encounter a pack of them lounging on the path drinking coffee and smoking their John Players Classics. Navigate thru the clouds of carcinogenic smoke and onwards toward your destination. Before you reach the water fountain (soon to be Ripleys aquarium) you’ll run into the final pack of scalpers, the End Boss of scalpers. These are the “successful” scalpers; you’ll usually find them surrounded by frat boys and guys desperately trying to get good seats to impress their date. Pass this final hurdle and you’ll be on your way to slathering mustard on a foot long and dropping $10+ on Bud Light!

girls

^^THIS!!!! But with more Jays gear…^^

• Scoffing at the conversation between the two dudes sitting directly behind you who think they are god’s gift to baseball, equal parts Bill James, Bobby Cox, and Branch Rickey…and then feeling a smug sense of satisfaction when they jump out of their seats to admire an upper deck home run that is, in fact, a routine pop fly to centre field.

• Not being able to help yourself from glancing at the JumboTron every time they show the fans, just hoping to catch a glimpse of yourself. However, try not to be one of those clowns who shamelessly dance like a fool in order to get the attention of the camera. Whether it’s Gangnam Style or the Macarena, their weapon of choice is always a much over used, and often out dated, popular dance move. These are the same people who jump up and down and act like they’re a contestant on the Price is Right once the cameraman does show their shameless mug on the Jumbotron. There are three exceptions to shamelessly dancing and prancing like a clown. The first: you’re a group of attractive young ladies enjoying a few pops and a night out at the old ball park. The Second: you’re a group of guys and have been enjoying MORE than a few pops at the ballgame. (Keep in mind boys, not the best way to pick up those groups of young ladies.) Last, and certainly not least, you’re completely shitfaced by yourself. Who cares what 50 000 people think anyhow…

• Playing it cool and not jumping out of your seat when a foul ball is popped your way. I am always filled with equal parts terror of a ball actually being hit within a three-seat radius of me, and longing to snare a ball hit my way. I also straight up REFUSE to bring a glove with me to the ballpark. No self respecting male over the age of 18 should bring their glove with them to the game… UNLESS… they are accompanied by a minor. If you need something to soften the blow of the screaming liner as it shatters your palm… I recommend using your Maxi Pad… Man up.

• Betting with the people around me on which of two lame antics Ace is going to pull when he comes out onto the field with the grounds crew. Is he going to trip and fall down on his way off the field, or is he going to run into the left-field wall? I’m consistently wrong in my prediction, which is just one more reason I hate Ace. Ace is without a doubt the worst mascot in sports. At least they put the OTHER mascot (Diamond) out of her misery. Seeing as the Jays are enjoying a throwback phase with the new/old jerseys and Johnny Gibbons, I suggest we petition Paul Beeston to bring back BJ Birdie.

Just skip to the 1.40 mark… that is all

• At least once each game casting my eyes skywards to the hotel windows above the outfield walls, hoping to catch a glimpse of a naked chick standing in the window. Am I the only one who does this?? Be honest….

February 11th… February 11th…. It’s almost here