Wright’s plight and other spring springings

Wright hitting a two-run bomb in Game Three, 2015 World Series; at least he, unlike several whom injuries threw off the Hall of Fame tracks, got to play in a Series at all . . .

Wright hitting a two-run bomb in Game Three, 2015 World Series; at least he, like Tony Oliva but unlike several others whom injuries threw off the Hall of Fame tracks, got to play in a Series at all . . .

Yes, Yogi, you can observe a lot just by watching. Herewith some of my observations over the early weeks of spring training:

WRIGHT’S PLIGHT David Wright looks very likely to join Tony Oliva, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Carlos Delgado in the club of certain Hall of Famers whose tracks were torpedoed by injuries. He’s played a mere 75 games in the past two seasons, missed two thirds of last season plus the wild card game recuperating from spinal stenosis, and now he’s dealing with a shoulder impingement that makes it difficult to impossible for him to throw a ball.

For a third baseman, that’s certain doom. Nobody’s willing just yet to count Wright out entirely in terms of whether he can play again at all, but but he has a few years to go on his Mets contract, he doesn’t play in the DH league, and unless there’s a miracle in the offing it looks like his days on the Hall of Fame track really did begin to expire in earnest three years ago.

And even though Wright has always been a modest team-first type, it has to sting only slightly less than stung such as his possible loss of an MVP thanks to the Mets’ 2007 collapse (not his fault: he hit .352 with twenty steaks and ended that fateful September with a seventeen-game hitting streak) and followup disaster. (September 2008: Wright had a .340/.416/.577 slash line for the month.)

Remember: Neck issues finally put paid to Prince Fielder’s career prematurely last year. If his assorted physical issues do likewise to Wright soon, he’ll be remembered as one of the classiest as well as one of the best Mets.

TROUT FISHING Mike Trout looks poised to pick up where he left off last season. Meanwhile, thought you’d like to know he has more wins above a replacement level player (48.5) over his first five seasons than 32 Hall of Famers earned in their entire careers, and he’s only the twelfth position player to earn 10+ WAR in a season twice in his career.

What does it mean for the Angels? They went all-in starting last year to bolster their defense, their pitching looks improved particularly with the departures of fading Jered Weaver (signed with the Padres) and C.J. Wilson (retired to pursue auto racing), and they could prove to have a sleeper shot at the post season. Could.

THE PRICE MAY BE WRONG The Red Sox stepped into spring training feeling very good about their 2017 chances. Two weeks in, they’re feeling very edgy with David Price experiencing forearm issues enough to send him to Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Neal ElAttrache—two of the nation’s top orthopedic surgeons—this week.

Price missed his first spring start due to the problem, but he says he’s feeling somewhat better since. Seeing orthopedic surgeons for opinions isn’t guaranteed ominous, but it isn’t guaranteed that you’ll come away without a date for surgery, either.

* ELLSBURY SAYS IT WORST? It’s looking more as though signing Jacoby Ellsbury will prove one of the bigger Yankee mistakes, albeit one neither Ellsbury nor the Yankees could have seen coming when he signed up after the Red Sox’s 2013 World Series run. The Yankees are considering dropping Ellsbury to the bottom of the order in a bid to coax his former ability back.

In Boston, Ellsbury played hard and paid with more than his share of injuries. He also earned an unfair reputation for softness because he was prudent about recovery. It’s not impossible that his hard play with the Red Sox took a premature toll on him.

The Yankees think there’s something left in the tank—with four years to go on his deal you can understand why—but Ellsbury is pushing 34, and his signing now looks like a panic signing. The Yankees were about to lose Robinson Cano and hunted an early-in-the-order man who could get on base and had some power to boot. Hence Ellsbury, who tries not to let any frustration overflow.

* EVERYTHING’S JAKE? Jake Arrieta is said to be looking for Max Scherzer money in his next contract. The Cubs wanted to talk extension but got nowhere so far; Arrieta is said to be seeking at least equal to Scherzer’s seven-year, $210 million deal with the Nationals.

FanRag’s Steven Goldman, author of the splendid Forging Genius (an analysis of Casey Stengel’s managerial career), makes a splendid argument against Arrieta getting that kind of money, without suggesting he doesn’t deserve a big payday at all assuming he has a solid 2017.

YOU CAN LEARN A LOT JUST BY WATCHING THIS MAN You could excuse Cardinals pitcher Ryan Sherriff for thinking he was being pranked. How often does your team’s ace see you walking back and forth from camp because you rented an apartment ten minutes away after you couldn’t afford to ship your car to camp?

That’s exactly what happened to Sherriff, courtesy of Adam Wainwright. Wainwright paid for a rental car for Sherriff. For Wainwright, it was a case of paying it forward: when he was a young pitcher, his wardrobe was so threadbare that veteran Mark Mulder took pity on him and bought him “a whole box of collared shirts.”

Sherriff sent Wainwright a thank-you, too: knowing Wainwright has a thing for Chick-Fil-A plus sweet tea and barbeque sauce, Sherriff put a plentiful stock of the stuff in Wainwright’s locker. “He nailed it,” Wainwright said. “That’s the best thank-you gift I’ve ever had.”

Almost (underline that) better than the one Wainwright got for looking at his own instructional video and discovering how and why his vaunted curve ball went south last year: he’d inadvertently changed his grip. Now he’s using the old one again. And loving it.

* HARPER’S BIZARRE Bryce Harper, bent on proving last year’s down year was a(n injury-compromised) fluke, opened spring training with a bang, hitting the second pitch he saw this spring (from the Mets’ Sean Gilmartin) over the right field fence, and piling up a clinically insane 1.806 OPS through Thursday’s spring play.

Naturally, the whispers about who’s liable to take him out of Washington have kicked off. Joe Giglio of NJ.com (tied to the Newark Star-Ledger and other major Jersey papers) says the Yankees and the Phillies—both rebuilding, and both hunting established youth—are liable to get into a bidding war for Harper after his current deal expires after the 2018 season.

Jon Heyman (FanRag) says the Yankees are still steaming over having missed out on taking Mike Trout before the Angels snatched him with the 25th pick in 2009, while the Phillies could be primed financially to start loading up after Harper becomes a free agent. (The Phillies now have only one player, Odubel Herrera, signed past 2017.)

And that’s before admitting that if Harper returns to form in Washington the Nationals may have big incentives to keep him, even if they end up having to go rebuild but around him down the road apiece.

19 thoughts on “Wright’s plight and other spring springings

  1. I have a feeling this could be the last season for David Wright, especially if he plays less than 50 games again. He spends more time on the DL, than on the field and that is not going to help the Mets.

    Just heard that David Price will not have elbow surgery, so that had to be a big boost for those at the Red Sox camp.

    • It’s good news for Price for now; you’d have to keep an eye on his forearm through the rest of spring training to determine for sure. But I do have a feeling that Wright is coming to the end he’s not yet ready to face. Too many injuries have yanked him off the Hall of Fame track as it is, but they’ve also diminished him in terms of essential usefulness as a player.

      And you hate to see that happen with classy, stand-up players such as Wright has been. But he’ll always have that Game Three two-run bomb in the 2015 World Series. Wright—like Tony Oliva before him—may have been yanked off a Hall of Fame track due to injuries but at least he, too, got to play in a World Series. Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Carlos Delgado didn’t. (Not that Delgado didn’t try to get there, he had a terrific 2006 division series and League Championship Series for the Mets.) Neither did a lot of players whom injuries threw off the Hall of Fame tracks.

      • Hope the Mets have a lot of insurance on the Wright contract, because there is no way he will play till the end of his contract. He may have had Hall of Fame type numbers, but the injuries have ended any chance of him being a Hall of Famer.

        • The Mets’ insurance is very well secured from what I understand. Just as the Tigers and the Rangers are regarding Prince Fielder and the neck issues that took care of his career last season. I have a very ugly feeling that this could well be David Wright’s final major league season, the injuries have taken just too much toll. And there may also be something to say about pride, too.

          Fielder showed it when he surrendered to his doctors and retired during last season. So did Mark Teixiera when he announced in August that the injury toll was finally too much and he’d call it a career at season’s end. So did Chris Carpenter (2013) and Roy Halladay (2013); the injuries probably kept Fielder and Teixiera from solidifying and Carpenter from making Hall of Fame cases, but Halladay has a borderline case. (He’s slightly below the average career WAR for pitchers, but those two no-hitters including the postseason jewel probably ramp his case up considerably.)

          Sandy Koufax did likewise when he called it a career after a 1966 season in which he was baseball’s highest-paid player. Jackie Robinson obeyed his knees and kept to his retirement promise after 1956. Joe DiMaggio knew his back was trying to tell him it was time to call it a career after the 1951 season, and the Yankees were ready to pay him the same $100,000 for 1952. (He quit because he wasn’t Joe DiMaggio anymore—Tom DiMaggio, his older brother.)

          • Halladay’s .659 winning percentage is 19th all-time, but only 6 Hall of Fame pitchers (if you include Babe Ruth) have a higher winning percentage than Halladay.

            His 203-105 record is so far over .500, that he deserves real consideration as a Hall of Famer. There may be a few starters with more wins than Halladay, but they haven’t pitched a no-hitter and a perfect game.

            There was no doubt that his last season of 2013 was not a typical Halladay season, when he posted a 4-5 record with a 6.82 ERA. He had walked 36 batters in 156 IP in 2012, but then walked 36 batters in 62 IP in his final season.

  2. Halladay’s Hall of Fame case isn’t in his won-lost record; there have been a lot of pitchers with similar won-lost records who didn’t become Hall of Famers. His case rests, I think, in:

    * Rating 126 on the Bill James Hall of Fame pitching monitor, where the average Hall of Famer rates 100.

    * Seven top ten Cy Young Award finishes while winning the award twice.

    * Pitching both a perfect game and a no-hitter in the same year. I could be wrong, but of any pitcher who’s pitched no-hitters twice in a year, Halladay is the only one to have a perfect game as one of the two.

    * Being in the top fifteen among starting pitchers for lifetime win probability added; he led each league once and finished his career number 13 on the list.

    * Shake him out overall and Halladay comes out an average Hall of Fame pitcher. Not over-the-top, not sneaking in somehow, but quite on the average for cumulative Hall measurements. I don’t know how long he’d have to wait to get a plaque, but Halladay does deserve the honour.

    • I could be wrong, but I think Koufax is also the only pitcher to win Cy Young Awards twice in seasons in which he pitched no-hitters of any kind. (Had he not been felled by that finger circulation ailment after the 1962 All-Star Game, Koufax might have done it a third time; he was well on the way to a 1962 Cy when he went down for the count.) Justin Verlander won the 2011 Cy Young Award in a season in which he pitched his second no-hitter; his first was in 2007, but he lost that year’s Cy Young Award to CC Sabathia.

        • Or, if the flaw in his delivery—he formerly pulled back far enough in his windup that his lead arm often obscured his view of the strike zone as he delivered—had been discovered sooner than spring training 1961. He’d shown enough potential prior to 1961, what with his first 18-punchout game, a rookie two-hitter, and a splendid outing in the 1959 World Series, to make you wonder. He’d been a good pitcher often as not prior to 1961, but correcting that flaw in spring 1961 turned him around to where busting the longstanding National League seasonal strikeout record was just the beginning.

  3. Andrew—Koufax and Dean are what Bill James refers to as peak-value Hall of Famers: their peak seasons were plain off the charts and it would have been impossible for Hall of Fame voters to ignore it. It’s remarkable when you have a pitcher who rates as a Hall of Famer in terms of peak and career value; Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Randy Johnson, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson (by a sliver), Juan Marichal (he’d have won at least two of Sandy Koufax’s Cy Young Awards if there hadn’t been a Koufax), Lefty Grove, and Walter Johnson come to mind immediately as being of that breed, as would Roger Clemens if and when he gets there. (Bob Feller I think was more of a peak value Hall of Famer than a career value Hall of Famer; so, I think, was Carl Hubbell; so, when you look overall, was Catfish Hunter.)

    Pure career value Hall of Fame pitchers seem personified best by Warren Spahn—he did win a Cy Young Award, of course (in the years when it went to one pitcher across the board), but other than that his career has Hall of Fame depth but not Hall of Fame height; there always seemed to be someone having a career year (or six, thinking of Robin Roberts) when Spahn was having his best seasons. (Pedro Martinez could be argued as having both, but he’s really a Hall of Famer on his peak value—which had Koufax-like height.) Curt Schilling (when he gets his plaque), John Smoltz (really and truly, even without his brief period as a closer), Bert Blyleven (assuredly), Nolan Ryan (when all is said and done), Jim Bunning (no question), Gaylord Perry (definitely), Don Sutton (more definite), Ferguson Jenkins (arguably), Whitey Ford (arguably), and Early Wynn (like Spahn, he did win one Cy Young Award, but he, too, is depth over height) personify career-value Hall of Fame pitchers.

    In fact, if you hold with the case Bill James has sketched for him, Jim Kaat would be a classic career-value Hall of Famer: Kaat, like Spahn, had the misfortune of having his best seasons when someone else was having a career year, but re-arrange those seasons a little and he’d look more obviously like a Hall of Famer. Standing as he does now, Kitty has a career value case. And the case for Mike Mussina, of course, is almost strictly a career value case.

      • I was slightly more impressed by him doing it five straight seasons between ages 36-40. What really made Spahn special was

        a) His ability to think as he pitched; he pitched with his brains as much as if not more than his vaunted assortment of curve balls, changeups, and screwball.

        b) His resistance to pressure. “If I do badly,” he once said, “what’s going to happen? Nobody’s going to shoot at me.” (Recall Spahn earning a Bronze Star for his service in the Battle of the Bulge.)

        c) His more than even keel: Spahn was a classic cutup. (His usual partner in crime was Lew Burdette.)

        d) His epic duel with Juan Marichal in 1963.

        e) He was one of the first pitchers to think about throwing days for himself in between starts, a practise common for about three decades now, but when Spahn thought of it it was as rare as his fastball breaking 90 miles an hour.

        f) His striking conditioning. His father taught him early how to pitch without taxing his arm or shoulder; Spahn was never a super hard thrower and that plus his remarkable upper body strength married to produce a long pitching career even through he threw pitches known to destroy elbows or shoulders: “He taught me how to follow through with my shoulder and body, how to throw without any strain, how to get the most out of my pitch and out of my weight even when I was a skinny kid. He taught me how to roll a curveball, how to let it go off my fingers at the last moment. He taught me how to pass my knee by my right elbow.” It’s why Spahn was able to recover from torn shoulder tendons in his early minor league career and continue to pitch his repertoire. You’d think more pitching coaches would have caught on.

        f) Who else could claim that he’d played for Casey Stengel before and after Stengel was a genius? (Spahn dined out on that for decades. In fairness, Stengel once said of him, recalling his sending Spahn down as a nervous rook for refusing to throw a brushback pitch, “I said no guts to a kid who became a war hero and one of the greatest pitchers you ever saw. You can’t say I don’t miss them when I miss them.”)

          • A lot of pitchers have reputations for refusing to go to the brushback as a first or early resort, but they use it when necessary. Sandy Koufax was one such notable: he preferred to intimidate by domination, but he’d use the brushback if absolutely needed.

            The game in which John Roseboro and Juan Marichal brawled was the classic instance. Both the Dodgers and the Giants had been brushing back batters before Koufax vs. Marichal that Sunday. When Marichal knocked Maury Wills down in the second inning, Koufax answered by sailing one over Willie Mays’s head. The next inning, Marichal dusted Ron Fairly. He batted in the bottom of the inning and expected Koufax to brush him back.

            Koufax had decided to himself the brushbacks should stop right there. That should have been the end of it, but Roseboro, God rest his soul, thought Marichal hadn’t gotten the full message. Knowing Koufax threw brushbacks very reluctantly, it was Roseboro’s decision to let a Koufax pitch roll away from him, the better for him to retrieve it and—with Marichal facing the mound in the batter’s box, completely unaware—throw the ball right past Marichal’s ear on its way back to Koufax. I’m not sure, but it might have been the first time a catcher threw a brushback pitch . . .

            That was when Marichal exploded screaming at Roseboro, prompting Roseboro to pull off his mask and advance on Marichal, holding the mask almost as if to deploy it as a weapon (Roseboro had martial arts training, it came out later); Marichal may have feared in the heat of the moment that he was about to be attacked, and that’s when he poleaxed Roseboro with the bat.

            It was completely out of character for both men: Roseboro was usually an even-keeled man, and Marichal was known as so easygoing and prankish (he was infamous in the Giants clubhouse for handing teammates bottles of perfume to give their wives or girl friends, only to have them learn the hard way the bottles were loaded with stink bombs) that, according to Allen Barra (in Clearing the Bases), his wife swore he never woke up on the wrong side of the bed no matter what the day before had been.

            There turned out to be a backstory: Roseboro was deeply affected by the Watts riots that happened not long before that game; Marichal was bothered all season long by the Dominican elections aimed at unseating the Trujillo dictatorship, and had a cousin (who shared his name) running for office in that election.

            None of the foregoing excuses Marichal, of course. The Dodgers screamed blue murder over his suspension, thinking it wasn’t enough, but Marichal missed two key starts during his suspension. When you consider the Dodgers finally won the pennant by two games (Koufax pitched on two days’ rest to clinch the pennant), you could argue that Marichal losing those two starts might have cost the Giants the pennant or at least a tie for it. (In fact, the suspension included a ban on Marichal traveling to Dodger Stadium even to watch the season-ending set; Marichal might have gotten the start in one of those games otherwise.)

            Of course, Marichal and Roseboro eventually settled the hash out of court, with Marichal also apologising personally and Roseboro not only forgiving him but campaigning actively for Marichal’s Hall of Fame election. There are those—including John Rosengren, whose book The Fight of Their Lives ought to be the last word on the brawl and the aftermath—who believe Roseboro’s public support for Marichal helped Marichal make the Hall of Fame on his third try. (Yes, the brawl was held against Marichal, who should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer.) The two men also became friends for the rest of Roseboro’s life; when Roseboro died in 2002, his widow asked Marichal to serve as an honourary pallbearer and to give one of the eulogies. Marichal accepted both gladly. Another eulogist was Sandy Koufax, whose comment included a nod to Marichal, saying, “Juan, you would have loved pitching to John Roseboro.” Indeed, when Marichal spoke, he broke down at first before saying, “I’m sorry, I wish I could’ve pulled back those ten seconds,” and ended by thanking Roseboro for his public and private forgiveness, and ending with, “I wish I could have had John Roseboro as my catcher.”

          • Interesting to know the aftermath of what happened after Marichal hit Roseboro with the bat. It sure didn’t hurt Marichal’s Hall of Fame bid, when Roseboro was backing him.

  4. Rosengren’s book about the two men records a) that Marichal, needless to say, felt horrible about the incident and struggled for a period to regroup (he did, and put up a few more great seasons), and b) Roseboro, too, felt a swelling guilt over having let Marichal take the brunt of the abuse for it. Both men were retired by the first third of the 1970s, Marichal’s fate sealed beginning in 1970 with a bad reaction to a penicillin shot for an ear infection and continuing when it subsequently triggered latent back issues.

    The real tide began to turn when Roseboro published a memoir in which he admitted he dropped that Koufax pitch deliberately and looked to send Marichal a message. Technically, if he and Marichal hadn’t settled Roseboro’s lawsuit out of court, that admission could have meant a peck of legal trouble for Roseboro, since the suit charged Marichal “without provocation commit(ed) assault and battery against the plaintiff with a deadly weapon.”

    Roseboro filed his suit in the same heat of passion in which Marichal counterattacked after that throw back to Koufax shot past his unsuspecting head. Apparently, his conscience began plaguing him in earnest by the time he was ready to write his autobiography. When his playing career ended, Roseboro hit hard times financially; it cost him his first marriage, but he remarried happily almost as soon as his divorce papers were dry.

    In 1975, Roseboro and Marichal (who played briefly for the Dodgers, ironically, in his final season, before his body and spent arm told him it was time to retire) met at a Dodgers’ Old-Timer’s Day. Marichal had the chance to apologise personally to Roseboro, which he did, prompting Roseboro himself to crack that maybe they shouldn’t shake hands because the writers wouldn’t have anything to write about. (They even agreed to a joint television interview.)

    That was the beginning. Marichal hadn’t campaigned on his own behalf for his Hall of Fame election his first two tries, but in his third year of eligibility—remembering their encounter at that Old-Timer’s Day and having read Roseboro’s confessions in the latter’s memoir—Marichal rolled the dice and reached out to Roseboro. Roseboro’s own nightmare of conscience helped convince the former catcher to do it.

    Roseboro took his second wife, his children, and her daughter from a previous marriage, to the Dominican Republic at Marichal’s invitation. The two families, according to Rosengren, hit it off spectacularly. The impetus for the trip was Roseboro’s invitation to play in Marichal’s charity golf tournament, but as the families bonded—the Roseboro children and the Marichal children blended like family, and both Roseboro’s and Marichal’s wives took to each other as well— Roseboro and Marichal became friends for keeps, sharing a love of laughter and prankishness and genuinely enjoying each other’s company.

    They held a press conference in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, site of the charity golf tournament, and Roseboro—to whom Marichal apologised personally one more time—made a point of saying Marichal’s election to the Hall of Fame shouldn’t hang on one out-of-character incident in “a game gone bad.” Marichal finally won with 83.6 percent of the vote, the first living Latino to be elected to Cooperstown. He was in New York filming a television ad when he got the news. First, he called his wife in the Dominican; then, he called Roseboro to thank him. After his induction in July 1983 Marichal made a point of telling almost any reporter who asked that, yes, Roseboro had forgiven him, and they were now friends, and he thanked Roseboro profusely again.

    Later, Roseboro became a roving coach in the Dodgers organisation and managed their winter ball team in the Dominican, giving him a chance to spend time with Marichal again. (Marichal eventually became his native country’s sports minister; before that, he’d worked for the A’s heading their Latin scouting operations.) He suffered a heart attack while there, and had assorted health issues until a cancer recurrence took him off a heart transplant list, before the stroke that sealed his fate. One of his last calls was from Marichal; Roseboro was too weak to take the call but his wife took it. Marichal urged her to tell her husband he, Marichal, would pray for him.

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