Thursday, July 16, 2009

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL'S CODDLED MILLIONAIRES


Before I get accused of piling on Major League Baseball, let me make one thing perfectly clear: Every sport has athletes who are diva multimillionaires. Baseball's athletes simply take it to the next level.

Over the years, this sport has gradually morphed its' pitching staffs into a series of "specialists". You have your starters, your long relievers, your seventh and eighth inning set-up men and then finally, that most sacred of all cows, your closer. There are even pitchers who only get used when the game is way out of hand, one way or another. But for some odd reason, the people who manage baseball teams have long espoused the idea that it is better to have only one man get all of the saves than to have two or three players who can compete for them.

When you have a strong closer, most of the time this works out. However, on a night when the closer just doesn't have his usual stuff, this is where the egos and ultra-sensibilities of baseball players must be coddled and massaged even more by their ever-mindful managers.

John Russell fell into this time-honored tradition the other night when he allowed his closer, Matt Capps, a normally reliable ninth inning pitcher, to stay in on a night where he looked more like the batting practice pitcher. With the Pirates up by four runs and having played a real nice ballgame to that point against the World Champion Phillies, Russell trotted out Capps. STOP THE TAPE. ("P.B.& G. Telestrator")

Let's start off with this move. This game wasn't even a save opportunity because of the size of the Pirates' lead, but Capps came in anyway, because, presumably, he is the only man on the Pirates' pitching staff capable of getting the last out in a ballgame, regardless of the score.

John Grabow had just pitched the eight and done a good enough job, especially when he was aided by a spectacular over the shoulder catch in shallow left-center by Jack Wilson that was turned into a double play. A pumped-up Grabow was seen vividly gesturing to Wilson over the quality of the play and for getting him two outs. Grabow was dialed in and into winning this game and he was also already loosened up. But out of the game he came after the eighth. It was ego-stroking time.


ABOVE: There have been a couple occasions this year where Matt Capps stuff was very predictable... almost batting-practice-machine-like.

Now please understand that Matt Capps didn't pick up the bullpen phone and demand to be inserted. He didn't have to. He knew that the ninth inning, for whatever reason, belonged only to him when the Pirates have a lead. From the first pitch of this inning, a ball that was jacked to the wall in right center and tracked-down beautifully by Andrew McCutchen, it would soon prove very apparent that it was not Capps' night.

The Phillies rained down shot after shot and John Russell stubbornly sat...like the Great Sphinx in Egypt, while two, three, four and finally five runs crossed the plate. I'm sure there are people who will say that Russell was showing Matt Capps how much faith he had in him to get that last out, but what was he telling the rest of the bullpen, that they're a collection of stiffs and that Matt Capps is the only guy he can depend on?


ABOVE: The Sphinx, a distant cousin of John Russell.

When a manager puts himself into a position with his players that they feel "entitled" to have the ball in certain situations, there can only be a potential problems when those expectations are not met. But once again, because these professional athletes are so spoiled, so used to being coddled, a manager can unwittingly find himself in the situation that John Russel had last week: A pitcher having a lousy night who was in there for the duration, regardless if it cost the team a great win against the World Champs..

I've never been able to relate to these management types who sit on the bench with the same blank stare whether they're winning by ten or losing by ten. Does acting android-like mean that you're under control of your emotions or that you just don't have any? I've also never gone for management types who are so locked into doing things only one way that they would prefer to lose a game...I'll say that again...Lose a game, rather than make an obvious pitching change when it's necessary.

Matt Capps isn't necessarily a bad guy, he's just another example of a coddled Major League baseball player. At this point of the story, I've become more frustrated with John Russell going along with this ridiculous, convoluted line of thinking than I am with baseball players being what they are: The most spoiled group of people on the planet Earth.

For my money, a great guy to manage this team would be Bob Walk. Even though he's a former player, he seems to have more "old school" baseball sensibilities than most potential candidates out there today. At least he could be a little more animated.