Friday, October 1, 2010


NEWS—Derek Jeter fakes being hit by a pitch. Gets away with it!

VIEWS-- On September 16, in a road game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Ray’s pitcher Chad Qualls threw inside to the New York Yankees’ Jeter, who spun away from the plate as though the ball had struck him. He was awarded first base by umpire Lance Barksdale.

Videos clearly showed that it was Jeter’s bat that was struck, not his person. Jeter later admitted as much. An uproar ensued, partly because of Jeter’s good-guy reputation and partly because Jeter rhymes so nicely with “cheater.” One website I saw took a poll and 57.5% of those responding said they thought the Yankee captain had sinned, while the rest thought that his “acting” was a legitimate part of baseball.

As usual, the majority is wrong. Getting away with what you can, and pretending to be in the right no matter what the circumstances, are time-honored parts of all our major team sports. While golfers and tennis players descend from a “gentlemanly” tradition and are expected to call fouls on themselves, the base runner who, say, knows he was tagged out but still is called “safe” while advancing would risk his teammates’ scorn and an umpire’s rebuke should he offer an immediate confession.

That’s okay because sports are considered to be little worlds unto themselves, subject to their own customs, and as long as no one gets hurt one should be able to follow them without being seen as dishonorable in the society at large. Remember that the team-sport model—not golf’s and tennis’s—prevails in the broader community. When’s the last time you sent the state a check because you found yourself speeding and no cop was around to ticket you?

NEWS—The Chicago Cubs’ Tyler Colvin is hospitalized after being speared by a piece of a teammate’s broken maple bat while on the third-base line. Baseball continues to “study” the bats issue.

VIEWS—Bats have been exploding all over the Major Leagues since maple, shorter-grained and more brittle than traditional ash, became the game’s wood of choice a decade or so ago. Flying-bat injuries have been numerous, including ones to fans, umpires and coaches as well as players. Several of them have been scary but none more so than Colvin’s, with the bat splinter puncturing his left upper chest and threatening to pierce his lung. He was released from the hospital three days after the September 20 incident in Miami, but the rookie’s season was declared over.

Baseball’s response was the same as it’s always been--“we’re studying it.” That’s what it says when it wants to wish a problem away. Truth is, the players union is as much to blame as the commissioner’s office, because many of its members like maple bats’ combination of hardness and light weight. That’s the same sort of shortsightedness the union displayed for all the years it opposed steroids’ testing on privacy rounds, forcing players to make the Faustian choice of endangering their long-term health for the short-term performance gains steroids can bring.

A few inches up and Colvin might have caught the projectile in his neck. A few inches down and it might have found his heart. Alas, it looks like that’s what it will take to get baseball’s head out of the sand on this one.

NEWS—The Arizona Diamondback’s Mark Reynolds could be the first every-day player whose strikeout number is higher than his batting average for a season.

VIEWS-- Reynolds, the D’Backs’ third baseman, has been my least-favorite ballplayer these past few seasons. That’s partly because he epitomizes the careless, swing-for-the-fences ethos that infects many players today. Just as bad, when he’s asked about his proclivity to whiff, he answers with a rhetorical shrug. That’s his style, he says, in effect. Live with it.

The D’Backs do because he hits more home runs than most, but while power hitters often strike out a lot the not untalented but muscle-headed Mark has taken the negative side of the equation to new heights, or depths. In the 107 years that began the modern game, no player ever struck out 200 or more times in a season. Reynolds did it with 204 in 2008, his first full year up, then upped his record to 223 the next season. So far this year he’s fanned 208 times, bringing his career total to 764 in 2,238 total times at bat. That’s an atrocious once every 2.9 trips.

And while he’s hit 32 home runs this season, his current batting average is.198. That’s below .200-- the so-called Mendoza Line which is the game’s bench mark for ineptitude. It’s named for Mario Mendoza, the utility infielder who dipped below it several times in his nine seasons (1974-82) with Pittsburgh, Seattle or Texas. But Mendoza made his living with his glove, while Reynolds, erratic afield, can’t claim distinction there.

About the only ameliorating factor for Reynolds is that many of his teammates are almost as bad as he is. Five of them have more than 100 Ks so far this season, and with 1,495 of them all told as of yesterday the D’Backs already have set an all-time team swish record, by about a furlong. Strung together that’s enough outs for 55 complete games—more than one-third of a season-- without making contact.

This week the genius who covers the D’Backs for the Arizona Republic did a piece seeking the reasons for their last-place divisional standing and 95 losses to date. He concluded, with player quotes for support, that a “losing mentality” was to blame.

Losing mentality? Maybe, but hitting the ball more often wouldn’t have hurt.

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