Pine Tar on a Slider: The Struggling Pitcher’s Viagra

Boston Red Sox fans who tuned in to this season’s opening match between the defending World Champions and their bitter rivals, the New York Yankees, possibly thought last night’s game should have featured this dependent clause of a disclaimer:  “For wicked sliders lasting five innings or more…..”.

That choice of words may sound like a Pfizer commercial promoting the popular E.D. wonder drug, Viagra.  However, there may be a new topical derivative of the pharmaceutical, called Slide-Agra, undergoing secret clinical trials in the Bronx Bombers Clubhouse.

Last night’s starting pitcher for the Yankees, hard-throwing Michael Pineda, made only his second start since July of 2011, and racked up another solid six innings on the mound.  With the exception of just two walks, however, his command was impeccable, and his slider was untouchable through the fourth inning.

Pineda’s performance had to be encouraging to team manager, Joe Girardi and General Manager, Brian Cashman, who acquired the highly touted pitcher from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for high-baller (and recently DFA’d), Hector Noesi, as well as the perpetually overweight Jesus Montero.

After last night’s game at the stadium though skeptics across the country have been looking at game tape to see if there’s any substance behind Pineda’s performance.

And by “substance”, I’m not talking in the abstract.

During the 3rd inning of last night’s game television cameras captured what appeared to be a brown, shiny substance, similar to pine tar, on Pineda’s throwing hand.  Speculation immediately spread across the Internet that perhaps Pineda was gumming up the ball.

Suspicion further mounted during the fifth inning when the pitcher returned to the mound after obviously washing his hands.  In post-game comments Pineda explained the brown substance was nothing more than dirt he had rubbed on his hand to absorb excess sweat.

Diehard Yankee fans had to roll their eyes and giggle at that explanation. Pineda quelling sweat with dirt is less believable than the Seattle Mariners Player Directory that still lists Jesus Montero at 235 pounds.

Dirt mixed with moisture is commonly known as mud.  It doesn’t reflect a sticky shine.  Thus, if Pineda is going to insult the intelligence of baseball fans, he should do so with a story that is remotely believable.

The larger question is: if Michael Pineda has completely rehab’d his shoulder, why did he allegedly doctor his pitches?  Does he know something about his own abilities that Yankee coaches haven’t figured out?   Is he inadvertently signaling his own deficiencies?  Or is it possible he was just seeking a little extra something to keep a tighter grip on his balls on a cool night in the Bronx?

After two years on the DL it is understandable that Pineda might lack confidence and suffer occasional performance anxiety.  In that regard, a bit of pine tar applied at the right time could probably give his game the type of lift he is looking for.

But why be so blatant?

Since the substance is dark brown and sticky, it’s hard to conceal.  Also, it doesn’t disappear as fast as other water-soluble solutions, like KY, which was the apparent preference of famed spitballer, Gaylord Perry.

Moreover, the side effects of pine tar on a pitch as it travels through space are not always consistent, and vary depending on the actual dose administered. When applied to breaking balls, however, pitchers can be confident the substance will add a few inches of movement to their game.  Sliders, in particular, are known to bend more due to the velocity of the pitch against the added friction.

From a pitcher’s perspective, pine tar on a ball is only as good as the odds of getting away with using it, which are small.  Whether Pineda used the substance or not is moot at this point because the Red Sox dugout never alerted umpires that anything was amiss.  Therefore, he’s off the hook with respect to last night.

Whether Boston’s lack of apparent interest or action had anything to do with accusations last year by Jack Morris that Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz uses pine tar is unknown., however.

Certainly his next opponent will cast a keen eye on Michael Pineda’s every pitch.   If he’s hooked on pine tar it could be a short season… and a short career.

This article originally appeared at Last Word on Sports on April 11, 2014, and can be viewed here

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MLB Needs More Bill Veeck; Not 7-Inning Games

ESPN’s Buster Olney shocked Major League Baseball fans yesterday with an anonymously-sourced article about the possibility of reducing games to 7-innings, rather than the standard 9-inning fare of the past 125 years.

The well-known sportswriter delivered his mind-numbing scoop in a subscriber-only post by citing a “high-ranking MLB team representative” who believes games run too long, offer too little action, and are fraught with too many injuries. Most importantly, the games’ traditional audience demographic is aging, yet not expanding amongst those pesky Millenials.

And if that wasn’t enough, the same source complained that teams “can’t find good pitching these days!!.

Leaving aside the fact that quality pitching has been a recurring challenge that is as old as the game itself, this unnamed source strikes me as just another one of those “Chicken Littles” who comes along every once in a while to claim “the sky is falling”.

Baseball doesn’t need a Chicken Little to take it down the road to Fox Lox’s lair where it will likely get it’s head chopped off. If the game indeed suffers from lack of interest, it’s time to clean out marketing departments around the league and fill their ranks with passionate purveyors of the past-time, such as former multi-franchise owner, Bill Veeck.

Bill Veeck was a work-horse owner who tirelessly promoted the interests and growth of the game, while also keeping it interesting and fun. During his days as owner of the Cleveland Indians, he hired Larry Doby, the second black player in baseball, and the first in the American League, in July of 1947. In 1948 he hired one of baseball’s most colorful and quotable personalities, Satchel Paige. In 1951, he hired the shortest player to ever enter a game, three-foot, seven-inch Eddie Gaedel, as a publicity stunt for the St. Louis Browns.

Veeck’s guiding philosophy was: “we can’t always guarantee the game is going to be good; but we can guarantee the fan will have fun”. He was also wise enough to know that “in twenty years of moving around a ball park, the knowledge of the game is usually (located) in inverse proportion to the price of the seats.”

Recalling Bill Veeck’s love of the game and his interest in promoting the sport to the level of exhaustion causes me to wonder how anyone in a “senior” baseball role could suggest a value proposition as silly as shortening the game to seven innings.

If season-ending injuries are a legitimate concern, shorter seasons aren’t the solution. Subtracting 2 innings from every game will reduce the season by a net 46 games, and in that regard, extend a player’s career by one year for every 3.5 seasons in the league. But with MLB playing careers averaging just 5.6 seasons, the differential equates to little more than an extra one half of one season for every player. And in a game where age is a more relevant factor to longevity than injury, players don’t grow young.

With respect to lack of action, that is worth examining. Olney’s shy source sounds a bit spooked by a Wall Street Journal study last summer that claims the average amount of action over the course of a 183-minute game is just 18 minutes. In other words, a baseball game is about 10% action and 90% fluff.

… as if a night at home watching the Kardashians provides a better ratio.

One means of keeping action in the game is to reconsider the instant replay rules introduced this year. As pointed out in this post last week, instant replay reduces the chances of a good rhubarb, and eliminates the entertainment value thereof.

There is one valid concern that resulted from Olney’s confidential source, and that is audience. Demographics have shifted. Younger fans enjoy more choices and have other interests outside of baseball. Younger fans also have different hot buttons. So if they aren’t turning up at the ballpark or tuning in on some type of screen, Major League Baseball needs to figure out a better way to connect with them instead of seven-inning games.

Bill Veeck wouldn’t have concerned himself with the length of the average baseball game at 183 minutes. He would have treated the time factor as one of it’s great strengths… which it is.

Baseball doesn’t use a clock, and any attempt to sync the game to time periods will reduce it’s value as traditional summer time entertainment. If fan support is sagging then it’s time for teams to invest in some quality marketing campaigns to bring them back to the park. It’s time to explode the social media opportunities inherent whenever a large crowd gathers for a specific purpose. It’s time to better blend the views of the stadium audience with the insights of the “folks at home”, and create tie-ins that amount to additional fun, and thereby expand game-time participation.

The problem isn’t Millenials. The challenge is to market to them in ways that cause them to buy in to America’s oldest game just like their parents and grandparents have.

The amount of action in today’s game, and the duration over which it is played, should be neither interrupted nor changed.

Lets not let baseball buy into this Chicken Little scenario that has been floated as a trial ballon by some anonymous source, lest the sport ends up as food for Fox Lox

This article originally appeared at Last Word on Sports on April 9, 2014. The original link can be found here

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This Week’s Testee Award Winner: Mike Delio, High School Pitcher

by Testiclees

Who the heck is Mike Delio (@Mike_Delio), and where the Devil is Carle Place High School?

Prior to Tuesday, the answer to the first question might have been “nobody”, while the answer to the second could just as easily have been “nowhere”.  But after throwing a “double perfecto” earlier in the week, at an ordinary, nondescript baseball diamond in Long Island, NY, Delio, a high school junior, put himself on the map.

Possibly forever.

On Tuesday afternoon, in his first varsity start, the right-handed pitcher sent down twenty-one batters in a row.  Not only did he send twenty-one guys in a row back to the dugout, but he sent them ALL back with their bats on their shoulders and their tails firmly between their legs.

He struck out all 21 batters, using just 84 pitches, 64 of which were strikes.

Delio, however, wasn’t “Absolute Perfect” over 7 innings, because that would mean 21 strikeouts on 63 pitches.  Still, by limiting his strike count to one over the minimum, it can be deduced the other team got ‘some’ wood on at least one foul ball.

Pretty impressive.

As described in this post a few weeks ago, The Testee Awards were created to honor superior athletic performances, or actions deemed extremely significant; as in beyond expectation, anticipation or even comprehension.

The award is set aside to acknowledge those special moments in sports that leave fans with a “can you believe that?” sense of “awe” over what they’ve just seen or heard about.

Bubba Watson, for example, converted a total “balls” shot from the trees on the 10th hole at Augusta to win the 2012 Masters.  Some commentators described the result of Watson’s gutsy loft that landed just ten feet from the pin as “the shot heard ‘round the world’”.   It was pure testiclees!

In Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, David Ortiz, of the Boston Red Sox, slammed a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 12th, to overcome a 3-game to zero deficit with the New York Yankees.  Ortiz eventually led his team to victory with additional heroics in Game 7 of that series, and followed up by helping his team win its first World Series title since 1918 the next week.  But it was that 12th inning homer in Game 4 that was a moment of total testicular glory, or what I call a “moment of clees’”.

To some, Delio’s “double perfecto” might not be classic clees simply because the kid is only in high school, and his opponent might not have been up to scratch.  Doubters who express their disdain, however, are only showing their ignorance.

No-hitters, perfect games, and certainly double-perfectos, don’t drop out of the sky.  Perfection is the result of rhythm and chemistry between pitcher and catcher, coupled with quality defense; such as snagging the line drive, or the sliding catch in late innings.

Total domination of the kind Delio demonstrated on Tuesday, however, is unheard of.  In that regard, it was total clees.

Delio is only a junior so he’s not a shoe-in for the Mets rotation next June.  Hopefully his sudden spectacular accomplishment won’t lead the young pitcher to over-confidence or a sense of invincibility.  There’s still plenty of time for his game to fall apart over the next couple of years.

There’s no doubt about the hurler’s achievement, however.  21 up and 21 down, on 21k’s, is an epic and inspiring moment that deserves recognition.   And for that, Mike Delio of Carle Place High School, in Long Island, NY, is the Testee Award Winner of this week.

This blog post original appeared at Last Word On Sports on April 4, 2014, and can be read here

 

MLB Instant Replay: Bye, Bye Spontaneous Managerial Combustion

by Testicless

The “rhubarb”… Major League Baseball’s traditional manager-umpire, in your face, eye-bulging, vein-popping tirade, usually over a blown call at first base, or when fans reach over fences to steal homers from outstretched gloves….  is facing extinction.

Sports fans who enjoy baseball (or not), will find a good old “rhubarb” at the ballpark a reason to recall fond memories while passing summer nights.  Sadly, the introduction of instant replay in 2014 could create an environment that diminishes the value of a classic component of baseball’s cultural heritage.  And it’s a component worth keeping.

Until this year baseball fans could factor in the probability of Spontaneous Managerial Combustion as part of their end-user experience at baseball diamonds across the country.  Viewers at home could also enhance their amusement by lip-reading profanity-laced insults amidst the spray of spit simply by hitting the rewind button.

But not anymore.

On field managers can now challenge most umpire’s calls under the instant replay system.  Each manager is allowed  one challenge per game, with additional challenges allowed later, subject to success of the first.  All disputes are reviewed by the MLB Replay Center in New York within seconds.

Although most major sports these days use instant replay as a means of settling controversial calls, baseball stands alone with respect to being the only sport where the sole penalty for excessive argument is ejection.

Basketball has the technical foul, and there is a 15-yard penalty in football for unsportsmanlike conduct.  In hockey a player can get nailed with a 2 minute bench penalty, but in tennis an opponent might be awarded a point if his playing partner throws down a vintage John McEnroe over a line call.

Only in baseball has arguing calls been allowed with such passion without penalty prior to ejection, which doesn’t occur unless the “discussion” dents the lines of decency, or causes unnecessary delay.  The style and tempo of the game, however, happens to be conducive to sudden fur-flying fits of rage over a late-inning disagreement at 3rd base.

If you’ve never seen pint-sized Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver’s 6 minute stream of consciousness directed at a much taller umpire, get yourself over to YouTube for a bit of a howl. Former Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners manager Lou Pinella’s rants, like the one where he pulled 2nd base off it’s peg and threw it into center field, were so epic they could easily be GIF’d into a Buzzfeed mashup.

But the ruler of the rhubarb roost had to be former New York Yankee and Oakland A’s manager, Billy Martin. Martin had a laser-like focus for detail, was wound like a knot, and had a hair-trigger personality as volatile as a roadside IED.

Billy Martin was MLB’s best example of Spontaneous Managerial Combustion lying in wait. His meltdowns were so entertaining that fans could be forgiven for thinking they might have been rehearsed poolside in Palm Beach during the off-season.

In one of his semi-recurring routines, Martin had a habit of kicking dirt on umpires the same way cats bury their own feces.  Only Billy Martin could channel Marcel Marceau well enough to let every fan in the ballpark know he was calling the umpire a piece of “cat $h_t” on national television (which was then still a vast wasteland of relative G-Rated programming)

Instant replay will eliminate the Skoal-laced, spit-spewing rhubarb from the great game of baseball because the conditions that create Spontaneous Managerial Combustion are being diminished. In fact, this process is already evident in the first few games of the season.

Now, when a dispute arises, a manager still runs onto the field to confront an umpire.  Instead of ripping his head off, however, the two have a friendly chat to ensure the bench has sufficient time to review film from behind the dugout to determine if a challenge is warranted.

Where, exactly, are the optics in that?

A good ol’ fashioned rhubarb is part of the pageantry of the game.

The instant replay process now plays out like a couple of attorneys consulting an independent arbitrator. The net result of diminishing the conditions for a good verbal scrum,  and backfilling it with the equivalent of dead air, is a reduction in entertainment value.

That’s a give-away that can never be gotten back, and could reduce the classic rhubarb to legend and folklore.

Imagine the day when grandfathers are forced to embellish versions of the afternoon Philadelphia Phillies manager Jim Fergosi, “A cheek filled with chewing tobacco the size of a golf ball, went off on the umpire like a firecracker on the Fourth of July…”

But the grandson interrupts to ask inquisitively, “Grandpa, what’s a firecracker?

The grandpa stops mid-sentence and responds…  “Maybe we should back up a bit.”

This commentary appeared at Last Word on Sports on Thursday, April 4, 2014.  The original post can be read here

The Difference Between NCAA & Twinkies (One can definitely survive in landfill)

by Testiclees

There is a specter haunting college sports… The specter of union-ism!

Hurry!  Everyone reach for your frowny face and OMG! emoticons.  Whether you’re a churn & burn free-marketeer consumer of college sports or a concierge of the collective, rumbles out of Chicago that the National Labor Relations Board granted the  Northwestern University football team permission to unionize probably registered on your radar.

Although the Baker’s Union temporarily destroyed some of America’s favorite junk-food icons, such as the Hostess Twinkie, the Ding Dong and the Ho Ho, it is unlikely that unrestricted unionization will upend the world of college sports.  Capitalists among us can therefore rest our weary heads. But the time has come to compensate our “college athletes” rather than allow the NCAA to perpetuate the charade that it exists to protect “student athletes”.

A “student athlete” attends university primarily to acquire the best possible education, while “college athletes” attend largely to further their athletic careers.  Back when a college education was actually affordable, such a distinction wasn’t as necessary as it is today.  Now that the price of a  4-year education consistently correlates, on the cheap end, with the price of a 4-door BMW 5-Series, or a 4-bedroom middle class home in the Chicago suburbs, on the steep end, distinctions are necessary.

It is legitimate to question if unionizing college sports might lead to the type of central planning that could bloat an agile organization like the NCAA.  For an organization that sprang into existence during the first Roosevelt administration over 100 years ago, as a means of protecting athletes from injury during football practices, the NCAA now governs nearly every aspect of every college sport.  It’s more bloated than Melissa McCarthy in an undersized set of Spanx on Venice Beach, yet it’s still as nimble as Catwoman escaping the clutches of Bruce Wayne or Batman.

Furthermore, the NCAA has overcome, adapted or outgrown any challenges to its revenue stream and power structure, and with its unchecked quasi-monopoly intact.  In the 1940′s, for example, the organization, in conjunction with its affiliate schools, expressed concern that televising games might drastically reduce gate attendance.  While such concerns may have been warranted at the time, the NCAA continued to bloat right through them.

In practical terms only a tiny percentage of college athletes ever capitalize on their sporting talents.  The overwhelming majority either run out of talent or suffer career-ending injuries, and some are even dismissed for honor code violations or criminal activity.  The NCAA and their member institutions effectively utilize their talent pool of college athletes for maximum profitability under a cost structure that fails to reward the most important component that justifies it’s own existence:  Performance Labor.

A business model that can acquire, rely on, and legally avoid compensation for labor would be labeled “slavery” in any civilized society.

Compensating college athletes poses a challenge because of legitimate differences in Divisional structures, such as the PAC-12 vs the WAC.  Television revenues, alumni contributions and gate receipts don’t flow evenly across the collegiate spectrum, and any mechanism to balance the differential would prove unworkable.

Degree of difficulty, however, isn’t an excuse for inaction.

Northwestern University’s permission from the NLRB to organize might bring the NCAA to the table.  If the organization chooses to embrace the inevitable conclusion that performance labor must receive compensation, then it will maintain its pivotal role as a governing body for years to come.

If not, an eventual nationwide NCAA Players Association will ensure its demise just like the Baker’s Association managed to test the “Twinkie-in-landfill” theory.  As any Hostess fan knows, the Twinkie was resurrected recently after a painful restructure.

It is currently unknown how long an organization of such size and sophistication like the NCAA can survive in a garbage dump.

They shouldn’t embark on the experience of finding out, however.

(This article originally appeared at “Last Word on Sports”, and can be viewed here

The 1st Testee Award Winner: Eagles Head Coach, Chip Kelly

…. for having a pair of ‘clees big enough to dump DeSean Jackson.

By Testiclees

News wires and sports services across North America lit up on Friday with word that the Philadelphia Eagles had effectively fired star receiver and franchise-tagged player, DeSean Jackson.

Although a separation has appeared in the works recently, Jackson’s release from the team was greeted with a heavy dose of whiplash as most NFL fans collectively stopped on a dime to ask, “are you kidding me? Eagles Nation took it’s outrage to Twitter, and even questioned if the entire organization had gone off it’s meds.

To most NFL fans, Jackson wasn’t just any pedestrian style receiver. @ESPNNFL, for example, pointed out that number 10 had the most receiving TDs of 30+ yards or more since 2008, with 21.

The stream of stats, rumor and innuendo discussed on wires and social media today took on a Twain-like spin; only in reverse… as in “there are statistics, damn lies, and lies”.

This writer has no idea, cannot verify, and will not contribute to the conversation about DeSean Jackson’s apparent off-field activities that allegedly contributed to his termination. However, NFL sources, who wish to remain anonymous, confirm reports the receiver was a disruption in the locker room, was late to meetings and possessed an attitude considered detrimental to the team.

Furthermore, one source, speaking specifically about the receiver’s on field talent, said Jackson “is a pussy who doesn’t like to cross over the middle”.

Ouch…

Although Jackson denies the rumors and innuendo circulating around him, his termination says more about Chip Kelly as he settles in as head coach.

Kelly, currently preparing for his sophomore season in the NFL, is clearly not happy after getting bumped by New Orleans in the opening round of the playoffs…. at home. With one season out of the way, and a 10-6 record under his belt, the former Oregon coach clearly has his sites set on better finishes.

The decision by the Philadelphia Eagles today to dump their star receiver sends a signal that Chip Kelly is in charge. Instead of a one-man offense, Kelly’s message is that it’s an offense filled with diverse options and endless possibilities. The inherent complexities require a discipline that can’t absorb distraction, whether via self promotion, self-glorification or plain old selfishness.

By releasing a franchise-tagged wide receiver today, Chip Kelly demonstrated Testicular Audacity by dumping a guy who was arguably his best player. And for that, he is this week’s winner of the Testee Award.

Hey Robinson Cano: There Are Plenty of Bats in Seattle!

…. but few who know how to swing them.

by Testiclees (as in Testy ‘Cleez)

Major League Baseball kicks off this weekend when the Padres host the Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball.  Until the season shapes up over the course of the first 30-40 games it will be difficult to determine the actual contenders.  It is unlikely, however, that the Seattle Mariners will make their way out of third place in the American League West.

Why?  Because for a team that didn’t have much talent anyway, they spent too much money in the off-season and acquired too little.

For the one or two baseball fans unaware of the wintertime hysterics that took place in the Hot Stove League, Beyonce’s husband, Jay-Z, played a reasonably good hand of poker against an otherwise average charades player; as in the Seattle Mariners GM, Jack Zduriencik (a.k.a, “the Other Jay-Z”).  When the dust settled, free agent Robinson Cano had landed in Seattle for 10-years at a rate of $24mm a year.

The deal only happened because conventional wisdom dictated that Cano wouldn’t dare lock himself up in a small market town in the upper left hand corner of the country for ten years.

I mean, like, as in a whole decade.

It’s doubtful that even “the Other Jay-Z” expected the sure-handed second baseman was interested in Seattle as anything other than a stalking horse…. until the Real Jay-Z yelled down the phone,  “YOURS Baby!!

Oops.

Break out the handcuffs.

Couple of months later, after a couple of weeks in Peoria, AZ, and a survey of the Mariners underwhelming prospects for 2014, Cano acted like he was stuck aboard the Orca in the movie “Jaws”.   With eyes wide open and seeing that huge shark of a season surfacing right in front of him, he metaphorically backed into the GM’s office to offer some advice.

Instead of uttering “you’re gonna need a bigger boat” to the ship’s captain, he informed his small press entourage that “we’re gonna need another bat”.

Way to go Robinson.  What other thoughts might you have?

Well, how about re-signing Kendrys Morales, the new $240 million man suggested.  As constructive as Cano’s comment was, it was greeted with stunned silence.

The reason for the silence?

You see, the meaning of “another bat” distracts the new school Sabermetrician as much as it baffles the traditional old school slugger.  But the nuance befuddles Mariner fans even more, since they are conditioned to relative mediocrity at the plate.

To seasoned Seattle fans “another bat” is a label applied to any player in the league who can answer YES with a straight face to the question, “but can you hit .210?  In that regard, Seattle has plenty of bats but it’s the guys swinging them who are either extremely over-confident, at best. Or worse, they’re a bunch of liars.

Sub .210 hitters have had a lot of success occupying roster space in Seattle over the years.  Some hitters, such as Richie Sexson, were slight exceptions, considering the big man finished out his last 1.5 seasons with about a .211 average.  One optimistic hire from December, 2012, Jason Bay, managed to get through half of the 2013 season with a whopper of a .204 average.

Speaking of “whoppers”, other Mariners who overstated their skills at the plate include:

  • 2011: Chone Figgins, .188, Michael Saunders, .149
  • 2012:  Brendan Ryan, .194, Chone Figgins, .181, Munenori Kawasaki, .192,
  • 2013:  Brendan Ryan, .192, Jason Bay, .204, and 5 others.

Is it any wonder with so many bats on the roster that “the other Jay-Z” signed aging right-handed pitcher, Chris Young, to a one year, one million dollar contract today?

Considering how the Mariners front office acquire players these days, it’s possible Chris Young assured himself a contract simply by stating to management, “I can get guys out.  I mean, I can REALLY get guys out”.

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