MIAMI — Here’s why I don’t think baseballs are juiced, and why Major League Baseball would not quietly remake the baseballs harder and therefore faster and less visible, and why it would be reckless – if not borderline criminal – if it did: the scars.
Because while those baseballs would carry farther, while they would look cool and fun when they land 470 feet away, land in some happy kid’s glove and bring a lifetime’s memory, in order to get so far away they would have to start somewhere, and shortly after they start at the bat they also would have to pass – and miss – the man standing, oh, 55 feet away.
That heart-thumping exit velo, to that guy, looks more like an enter velo. And it’s all fun and games and Statcast era wonderment until the guy on the mound gets in the way of the next physics experiment and the next best way to market the game.
If baseball is ordering juiced baseballs, which I don’t believe it is but could be wrong, then it also should order L-screens or body armor, because nobody, in the name of a game that might better appeal to the younger generation, wants a hospital wing of casualties either. We marvel at oppo-shots and ball trajectories and other stuff we’ve not seen since, well, you know, and the moment a trainer is kneeling over a bloody soul on a mound, somebody’s going to have to say, “Hey, who the hell is messing with these baseballs?”
Who’s going to answer for that?
Maybe I’m naive, but I’d hope that if someone decided to spice up the game with cue balls with red stitches painted on them, he’d let the pitchers in on it. Stay lively out there, pal.
A batted ball hit Pat Neshek in the face when he was in college. It’s not the sort of thing a guy forgets, and the firm comebackers remain something of a challenge for him.
“It freaks me out sometimes,” he said.
Most pitchers prefer not to spend a lot of time considering the possibility of the career- and life-changing heater seeker. Alex Wood shrugged and said it would require the “perfect storm” of pitch and swing and everything else, and there’s no good in fixating on that.
Said Chris Archer: “It’s dangerous. But, you know, a lot of things in life are dangerous. Driving a car is dangerous. Getting in a plane driven by Mookie Betts is dangerous.”
On a Tuesday afternoon in which they both conceded the public seems to like home runs and, in the right circumstances, strikeouts, commissioner Rob Manfred and union chief Tony Clark said they will continue to monitor a game that teeters toward home runs, strikeouts and little else. The balls, Manfred said, do fall into the proper, or at least standard, testing ranges. He also said it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a look at the bats, which yesterday were a health hazard because they broke and became helicoptering spears and today are hitting baseballs with the kind of force nobody’s ever seen before. So maybe they’re overly shatter resistant?
The union has received offending baseballs from its members, likely from pitchers, a group that is getting louder in its complaints the balls are harder and more difficult to grip. It also is interviewing agencies it hopes can take part in the ongoing investigation of baseball and bat consistencies and their impacts on the players and the game.
That’s all fine.
As Manfred said, “Will we ever … know the whole answer? Probably not.”
What we know is the game has changed for the moment. The defensive shifts came, the uppercuts followed, the big arms keep coming, the strikeouts too, and our instinct, rightly, is to take a long look at what everybody’s throwing and swinging. It’s possible the standards for each are too broad, that we’re pushing too hard toward the home runs and strikeouts everyone loves, and otherwise not concerned enough about the guys who could really lose in all of this.
They’re the ones standing the closest, the ones who should be warned.
Said Clark: “There’s a health and safety connection, too, we are talking about.”
They should start there, if indeed there’s a there there.
• When the Florida Marlins beat the New York Yankees in the 2003 World Series, Yonder Alonso was in high school in Coral Gables. Several days later, he attended the parade with a few of his high school buddies. They stood 150 yards from the floats and watched Mike Lowell and Jeff Conine and Ivan Rodriguez drift by, a significant moment for a kid who loved the game. On Tuesday, nearly 14 years later, the All-Star parade followed a similar route, only this time Alonso was waving from the parade.
• One of our favorite things about Alex Wood is that on every pitch he looks like he’s faking a handoff to the second baseman, so it’s sort of a play-action pitch.
• Joey Votto, on Aaron Judge: “It’s like he should be playing in a ballpark that is 20-percent bigger, he’s so skilled.”
Added Alonso: “They definitely need a bigger sized stadium for him. It’s not fair.”
• The whole face-of-the-game conversation is tedious, but here’s Clayton Kershaw on it anyway: “If I had to have my son watch one player – Mike Trout.”
Kershaw, by the way, isn’t getting sucked into the juiced-ball conversations, even though he’s allowed a career-high 18 home runs. Asked if batters are hitting good pitches for home runs, he referenced the many he’d allowed and said, “So I can’t remember all of them. I would venture to say none of those pitches were amazing. That’s my guess.”
The New York Yankees have been awful for a month, since they were 15 games over .500 and four games up in the AL East. They’ve won seven games since, and lost 18, and they come out of the break 3½ games behind the Boston Red Sox, because their team ERA pushed 6 during that month.
They are among the teams likely to be busy at the trading deadline, as they could use upgrades in the rotation, at third base, at first base, and then for whatever is happening lately in their bullpen.
The coming weeks will tell. Those start Friday on a testy road trip that begins at Fenway Park and a four-gamer that includes a Sunday doubleheader. That’s followed by three in Minnesota and four in Seattle, and empties out a week from the deadline.
The Yankees have not announced their rotation out of the break, but they’re likely to promote Jordan Montgomery to pitch one of the Sunday games.
Friday: Undecided vs. Drew Pomeranz
Saturday: Undecided vs. Chris Sale
Sunday: Undecided vs. Rick Porcello
Sunday: Undecided vs. David Price
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