Grandpa Skipper

2019-10-23 DavidRoss

David Ross gets a World Series-winning lift from the Cubs in 2016. Now he gets to manage them.

If you take the word of Chicago Tribune columnist Paul Sullivan, the only successor to Joe Maddon who was ever on Cubs president Theo Epstein’s radar was David Ross. And if you read Epstein’s foreword to Ross’s 2017 memoir, Teammate, in which Epstein described Ross in terms that sounded like a job description for a manager, you probably figured the same thing:

The watchful eye from the dugout to make sure we respected the game and played the Cub Way. Unselfish, team-first, winning baseball. The glare when someone did something that wasn’t Cub. The rare harsh word when it happened again. The high-fives and pats on the rear when it got fixed. The instinct when to know when to create levity and when to get guys locked in. Reminding the young players how good they are. Reminding them they can get better. Words to keep the team grounded when winning seemed easy. Words to lift up the team when losing just one more would end the season.

Sounds a lot like the way Grandpa Rossy was during the Cubs’ run to the 2016 World Series conquest. (Which so wasn’t Cub, right?) Especially when he had to handle his buddy Anthony Rizzo’s Game Seven jitters.

Especially when Ross himself needed a big lift after a horror of a Game Seven throwing error one inning, providing it himself the next when this spaghetti bat whose baseball knowledge was ten times as valuable hit a gassed Andrew Miller’s 2-2 service into the left center field bleachers, for his final major league hit en route the Cubs’ stupefying win.

Found reposing alone with his wife and children in the Progressive Field visitors clubhouse, Ross was asked whether he’d now rethink his intended retirement. “Oh, God, no,” he replied. “How can I top this? If I come back, it’ll be to get my [World Series] ring and maybe yell at [Anthony] Rizzo from the seats.”

Ross picked up his World Series ring the following Opening Day in Wrigley Field. Now, despite the Cubs having to go through the hiring process even as a matter of formality under the rules, Ross will get to yell at Rizzo and any other Cub who might need it now and then from the dugout again. This time, as their skipper.

“[I]f you’re looking for a leader to take the Cubs back to the level they believed they’d be at for years after that ’16 title,” Sullivan writes, “those are exactly the qualities you’re seeking—a motivating, demanding, reassuring and fun-loving guy.”

It could be fun loving for Cub Country, too, especially considering the biggest weakness among several that they had in 2019. This year’s Cubs didn’t intimidate pitchers quite as much as they found pitchers absolutely unconcerned about giving up hits because those pitchers got to see them run into outs as if there were free tickets to the nearest clown show at the end of each out.

He might have earned the nickname Grandpa Rossy for his sanguine style as a team leader, but it doesn’t mean Ross is going to be that indulgent a grandpa now that he has the bridge. He won’t stop the Cubs from having fun again, he’ll probably encourage it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll forget to break out the bull whip when need be.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’ll be a lack of laughter over Ross’s hiring. He’s never managed. And the continuing trend of skippers without the backup experience still draws mixed reviews. For every Aaron Boone there’s a Gabe Kapler.

Stop snarling, Yankee fans. It wasn’t even close to Boone’s fault the Yankees got shoved to one side and away from this World Series, and—contrary to popular belief (namely, yours)—Boone did better in his first two Yankee regular seasons (203 wins) than any manager in Yankee history except Ralph Houk (205 wins). Even Joe McCarthy (201), Casey Stengel (195), Joe Torre (188), and Joe Girardi (192).

So Boone was silly enough to let a faltering Aroldis Chapman finish what he started and refuse to put Jose Altuve aboard with a man on and two out to pitch to a glove-first/ spaghetti-bat on deck? There have been equal or worse mistakes in Yankee history, postseason and otherwise, and by skippers with more time in service than Boone.

In his twelfth Yankee season Stengel forgot to align his World Series rotation to give Hall of Famer Whitey Ford three starts—and cost himself the 1960 World Series. Houk in his third had no answer other than expecting the Dodgers to drop dead at the sight of Yankee uniforms—and got swept in the 1963 Series.

Girardi in his final year failed to demand a review of a hit batsman who actually got hit on the bat knob . . . and watched the next Indian hit a grand slam in a division series to push the Yankees to the brink of a sweep they avoided and beat only to lose that pennant when the Astros out-scored them 11-1 in Games Six and Seven.

Ross should have few problems if the front office gives him even a marginally better bullpen than 2019’s, his hitters actually meet balls with their bats, his defenders tighten up, and his baserunners quit auditioning for the next Three Stooges revival. Not to mention the Cubs overcoming a few years of dubious drafts since Epstein yanked the front office inside out.

And remember: Ex-catchers do rather well as major league managers in any era or game culture. It only began with Connie Mack and two Philadelphia Athletics dynasties.

Al Lopez won pennants managing the Indians and the White Sox. Long the third-string backup to Hall of Famer Yogi Berra and his backup Charlie Silvera, Houk won three pennants and two World Series in his first three seasons on the Yankee bridge. The Yogi himself won a pair of pennants managing the Yankees and the Mets. Gil Hodges converted from catching to first base—and managed the 1969 Miracle Mets.

Johnny Oates won three AL Wests managing the Rangers. Joe Torre won an NL West with the Braves a decade plus before his pocket full of pennants and World Series rings with the Yankees. Mike Scioscia won a World Series behind the plate for the Dodgers and on the bridge for the Angels. Before Mike Matheny married his Book and lost his clubhouse, he took the Cardinals to some postseasons and the 2013 World Series, though he lost to the Red Sox. Girardi won three AL Easts plus a pennant and a World Series with the Yankees.

And that’s a former catcher who managed the first Astros World Series winner two years ago and is trying to win their second in a) franchise history and b) three years right now.

Of course, not all catchers become postseason managers, either. Bob Boone, Del Crandall, Doc Edwards, Herman Franks, Rene Lachemann, Jerry Narron, Tony Pena, Paul Richards, Muddy Ruel, Joe (Ol’ Sh@tf@ck) Schultz, Birdie Tebbetts, Jeff Torborg, and Wes Westrum, among others, call your offices.

Grandpa Rossy has reasonable odds of joining either one or the other group. The bad news is that a lot depends on how reasonable or unreasonable the Cubs are from here. The good news is that you won’t see Ross tearing his hair out over Cub mistakes. He hasn’t got any left to tear out. Almost. A bark under the park should suffice.

He even gets his own unique entry in the land of trivia contests: Name the only manager ever hired for the job two years after he finishes as a runner-up on Dancing with the Stars. Look out, you Dancing Nats, here come the Cha-Cha-Cubs!

Could Ross take the Cubs’ bridge?

2019-09-22 AnthonyRizzoDavidRoss

Keeping Anthony Rizzo (left) steadied in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series is probably only one reason David Ross (right) may be seen as managerial material—and closer to a shot at it than he thinks.

When the Cubs delivered the long unthinkable almost three years ago, about-to-retire veteran catcher David Ross couldn’t be found when the celebration moved to the clubhouse. He’d ducked into the visitors’ weight room in Cleveland’s Progressive Field to repose with his wife and his two children.

A reporter found Ross anyway. And, asked the man known affectionately as Grandpa Rossy whether having been big enough in the Cubs’ century-plus-overdue return to the Promised Land had him re-thinking his intended retirement. “Oh, God, no,” Ross replied. “How can I top this? If I come back, it’ll be to get my [World Series] ring and maybe yell at [Anthony] Rizzo from the seats.”

The storybook Cub season gave Ross his happy ending. As for how he could possibly top that, the former catcher who’s worked since 2017 as an ESPN colour analyst may get his answer, perhaps sooner than he thinks. Perhaps as soon as this off season. If not sooner.

With the Cubs’ continuing collapse ramping up speculation that manager Joe Maddon won’t be offered a new deal to stay with the team he shepherded to that Series triumph and kept in contention since, the list of prospective successors has come to include Ross himself.

September began with the Cubs having a grip on the second National League wild card. A critical four-game set against the National League Central-leading Cardinals in Wrigley Field began with the Cubs a measly three games behind them with an excellent shot at overthrowing them for the division lead. There went that idea.

That series is on the threshold of ending with the Cardinals taking the first three at minimum and the Cubs taking in the possibility that any postseason hope they had this time around is all but over. All three were one-run losses. Two out of three were lost in the ninth inning. Saturday night especially.

After the Cubs had four deficit comebacks they handed an 8-7 lead to Craig Kimbrel. The same Kimbrel who owned one of the game’s most dominant relief resumes before he made closing postseason games for last year’s World Series-winning Red Sox exercises in cardiac crash cart alerts. The Kimbrel who only thought he was going to shoot the moon in free agency last winter anyway, and ended up shooting barely past the antennae atop Willis Tower when he finally signed a three-season deal with the Cubs in June.

The same Kimbrel who returned from the injured list (knee) Thursday and surrendered Matt Carpenter’s tenth-inning bomb that proved the winning run. Saturday night Kimbrel saw and raised. With a lot of help from Cardinals catcher/leader Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong.

Saturday night he opened against Molina, starting Molina with a climbing four-seam fastball. And, watching it fly into the left field bleachers. Then DeJong checked in at the plate. Kimbrel opened with another four-seamer that didn’t climb quite so high. DeJong had an easier time sending that one over the center field wall. And the Cubs had no answer in the bottom after Kris Bryant opened with a walk off Carlos Martinez.

Thus the first time they’ve lost four straight one-run games since 1947. Overtake the Redbirds for the Central? Second wild card? Not when they’re skidding while the Brewers are on a 13-2 run that began with sweeping the Cubs the weekend of September 6. It put the Brewers three behind St. Louis in the Central and three up on the Cubs for the second wild card.

This is one hell of a way to play the final regular season series at the Confines. Not even Rizzo’s unexpectedly early return from an ankle sprain Thursday—or his opposite field home run in the bottom of the third—proved inspiration enough. And Maddon wasn’t even aware Rizzo would be ready for duty until he heard it from president Theo Epstein after a pre-game press confab.

Which suggests to a lot of observers that Maddon’s days on the Cubs’ bridge really are numbered. No matter that he’s led them on their most successful run since the years of Frank Chance; or, that he kept them in contention, somehow, some way, despite this year’s battle between the injured list and the bullpen over who could do more to sink the Cubs deeper.

And Ross’s name was thrown forth as a prospective successor by none other than USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, in a column whose headline began by noting not one major league manager was executed yet—four days before Padres skipper Andy Green got pinked after a grotesque 9-0 loss to the Diamondbacks Friday night. “The biggest surprise in Chicago this winter,” Nightengale wrote, “will be if David Ross is not named their next manager by Thanksgiving.”

The Cubs have been preparing Ross, who helped lead them to the 2016 World Series championship and four consecutive division titles, to the heir apparent, and although bench coach Mark Loretta can’t be completely ruled out, they believe Ross will be the perfect fit.

Epstein himself added to the sense of Maddon’s impending non-renewal, never mind that he can be faulted almost as easily for some of this year’s issues by way of a couple of signings here and a dubiously-retooled bullpen there, for openers. “Honestly, we’ve been essentially a .500 team for months now,’’ he’s quoted as having told the Cubs’ flagship radio station. “If you go back twelve, thirteen months, it’s just been marked by underachievement and uninspired play.”

If Grandpa Rossy’s tires are being kicked as a Maddon successor, the “uninspired” portion of Epstein’s comment looms a little more profoundly.

Ross was a journeyman major league catcher respected for his knowledge of the game, his handling of pitchers (some of whom made him their personal catcher, including Jon Lester with the 2013 World Series-winning Red Sox as well as the 2016 Cubs), and his mentoring of younger players. He’d been one of the Cubs’ clubhouse leaders in his two seasons there, and among the more audible whispers coming from the Cubs’ arterials has been how much his leadership has been missed in the Cubs’ clubhouse since his retirement.

The latter came into very close focus during that 2016 Series. When Ross had one horrible moment in the bottom of the fifth, throwing Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis’s squibbler away and into the seats, opening a door for the Indians to shrink the Cub lead to 5-3. And, when he atoned for it in the top of the sixth, hitting a 2-2 service from spent Indians bullpen star Andrew Miller into the left center field bleachers.

Because the television cameras soon enough panned close enough up to Ross and Rizzo at the dugout railing, where Rizzo gripped the rail almost like he was clinging to dear life onto a skyscraper’s fortieth-floor ledge. “I can’t control myself right now,” Rizzo said. “I’m trying my best.”

After Rizzo admitted he was an “emotional wreck,” Ross replied, “Well, it’s it’s only going to get worse. Just continue to breathe. That’s all you can do, buddy. It’s only gonna get worse . . . Wait until the ninth with this three-run lead.” At the Cubs’ championship rally Rizzo’s voice almost cracked a few times while he credited Ross with teaching him how to be a winner.

A lot of speculation has had former Yankee manager (and one-time Cub catcher) Joe Girardi succeeding Maddon if Maddon isn’t offered a new deal. But Girardi’s Yankee exit came under the same circumstances that might block a new Maddon deal. His young Yankee team still underachieved. He, too, lost touch with his front office and clubhouse. And he, too, had a recent run of head-scratchers.

None more head-scratching than his failure to call for a review at once on a hit batsman ruling for Indians outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall with two out in the bottom of the sixth, Game Two, 2017 American League division series. Every television replay showed the pitch hitting the knob of Chisenhall’s bat. A Yankee review would have meant strike three.

Girardi fiddled and got burned. Now the Indians had the bases loaded. And the next batter, Francisco Lindor, hit one off the right field foul pole near the second deck. Turning a potential blowout into a one-run deficit. The Yankees would survive to be pushed home by the eventual World Series-winning Astros in that American League Championship Series, but Girardi’s non-review call still stung.

Reaching for Ross would be the Cubs’ way of gambling as the Yankees did hiring Aaron Boone to succeed Girardi, with a similar lack of managing experience. How has that worked out for the Yankees? Boone’s managed them to back-to-back 100+ win seasons and a division title this year plus a second straight trip to the postseason. Despite leading baseball in the injured list.

He’s not exactly a strategical genius but if managing is 70 percent or more keeping your players on task regardless of onslaughts such as injuries, Boone should be a Manager of the Year candidate. By the Baseball Writers Association of America and the American Red Cross.

When Ross retired, there was speculation enough that managing might be in his future. All other things considered, it might not be that great a shock, even if it might send Cub Country to protracted spasms of joy, if that future proves to be this offseason, if not a little sooner. And if there’s speculation about him taking a team’s bridge, Grandpa Rossy isn’t exactly in a big hurry to shy away from it. He recently admitted as much to FanSided: yes, he’s got the itch to manage.

“That has definitely crossed my mind, with all the rumors that fly around,” he told FanSided‘s Mark Carman last week, referring indirectly to the Cub speculation, though he also said he wasn’t in that big a hurry to see Maddon’s days on the bridge expire. But Ross is still “flattered” by the thought that people think he’s managerial material.

Former catchers are often the first thoughts teams have when it comes time to name a fresh manager. With good enough reason: their game knowledge is often a given, and historically they win often enough.

Four former catchers now managing have division, pennant, and/or World Series rings on their resumes: Maddon, Bruce Bochy, A.J. Hinch, and Ned Yost. Bochy’s retiring from the Giants after this season; Yost is often rumoured departing Kansas City after this season, too. Their predecessors in triumph include Connie Mack, Al Lopez, Ralph Houk, Yogi Berra, Gil Hodges (who converted to first base early in his playing career), Johnny Oates, Joe Torre, Mike Scioscia, and Girardi.

Put Ross on the bridge of the right team and he could join that company. Whether the Cubs prove the right team, however, may not be entirely within his control.

“It’s a huge honor . . . People think that you’re the best guy to run an organization . . . [but it’s] one of those things that it’s gonna have to be the right opportunity to come back,” he continued. Especially if it’s one of the teams for whom he played.

“I’ll tell you, my heart definitely itches to get into the dugout at times and to be part of something special that I’ve been a part of before, so there’s a push/pull for sure,” he said. “It’s gonna have to be a unique opportunity to pull me away from my family and the sacrifices you make to be in the major leagues.”

The Cubs have been accused of many things in their history. Lacking uniqueness isn’t always one of them.

“You can’t have one foot in one camp and one foot in the other.”

2019-08-29 DavidRossAnthonyRizzo

David Ross, aboard Anthony Rizzo’s shoulder after the Cubs won the 2016 World Series. Today Ross broadcasts for ESPN . . . and is also paid to advise Cubs president Theo Epstein. Conflict of interest?

The Mets and the Astros (as the Colt .45s) were born in 1962. In the same year, a future Pulitzer Prize winner for distinguished commentary offered a wry observation he couldn’t have known would describe even more acutely the American atmosphere of 22 years after his death.

“It is impossible for a man who has enjoyed the taste of our beer and the flavour of our politics to decide which has gone more sour in his lifetime,” wrote Murray Kempton, introducing a section of his anthology of newspaper and other essays, America Comes of Middle Age.

The flavour of our politics has always included partisans on any side or from within any political camp who assume those delivering, observing, or analysing news they simply don’t like are employed, gainfully or otherwise, by one or another opposing campaign or office holder.

And there have been reporters and editorialists every so often caught behaving and performing as though they are employed formally if furtively by political campaigns to which they are personally sympathetic.

I raise the foregoing in part from personal experience and in part from an intriguing excursion in The Athletic this morning that examines a trend not necessarily new but necessarily troublesome.

My adult life has included about 31 years as a professional journalist, from small regional daily newspapers to small regional daily news radio (as an anchor/reporter), from trade journalism to the station from which I’ve practised in the past decade as a free-lance baseball writer for a vast audience, conservatively speaking, of three.

I’ve never been employed, formally, gainfully or otherwise, by any baseball organisation including a baseball team. Nor, in my earlier career, was I ever paid for any particular work by any political party, or by any organisation inclined to promote politics, law enforcement, education, or other matters I covered as a reporter and, yes, occasional columnist.

You’d have to be the title character of the Who’s legendary Tommy (you know: deaf, dumb, and blind—oops! today we say hearing-, speech-, and vision-impaired) to doubt such things exist, of course. But no such people ever approached me that way. (Some were more inclined to approach me for an execution: my own.) If they had, I would have told them politely but firmly where they could plant such a request, usually into a certain part of their ample anatomies.

I’ve also dealt with readers and listeners who presumed I was so paid, not because they questioned the validity or the diligence of my work, but because they simply disagreed with where it went and what it disclosed. I have no issue with disagreement, but I have every issue with the presumption that someone with a particular formal agenda paid me to report or think one way or another.

As a baseball writer here and elsewhere, and at least four other publications have published my work in the past several years, I’m employed strictly by myself or by those who chose to publish me. No major or minor league baseball team has ever paid me to write or think anything. And I’m reasonably confident that no major or minor league baseball team might ever be foolish enough do so.

The Athletic discussed those whom the public knows to be baseball broadcasters or reporters who are not strictly former baseball players but who also happen to be employed, formally, gainfully, or otherwise, by a few baseball teams. The magazine seems uncertain whether to be amused or alarmed. It’s an uncertainty about which I’m certain myself that it should seem alarming enough.

Consider Alex Rodriguez and Jessica Mendoza. Rodriguez is a retired player who has since carved a reputation as a candid analyst for ESPN since joining them last year, but who was also employed as a Yankee advisor from the moment he took his uniform off for the final time until, by mutual assent, he stopped receiving Yankee paychecks quietly last winter.

Rodriguez’s relationship with the Yankees is no longer an employee-employer but an informal one, hence his presence when the Yankees flew to London to play the Red Sox there this season, but he still has a relationship with the team. Mendoza is also an ESPN commentator—and a paid advisor to the crosstown Mets. Which presented a ticklish hour or two during the run-up to this year’s new single mid-season trading deadline.

Because, on one Sunday Night Baseball program, Rodriguez and Mendoza addressed that coming deadline, and Rodriguez asked Mendoza frankly whom the Yankees should have on their wish list, to which Mendoza replied without skipping the proverbial beat, “Noah Syndergaard,” the Mets’ righthanded pitcher who was only thought to be the prize nugget on the trading floor.

“So began an impromptu game of Let’s Make a Deal,” wrote The Athletic‘s Marc Carig, “one that illustrated an issue that has raised concerns within clubhouses and front offices alike . . . By uttering Syndergaard’s name on the air, [Mendoza] indirectly revealed for millions of viewers that her team had put the pitcher on the block, the type of acknowledgment that is typically not made public.”

Consider. Mendoza has broadcast Mets games against assorted opponents with deep access to both sides’ clubhouses, as well as being “involved in various facets of the front office operation,” as Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen indicted she’d be when he hired her as an advisor this spring.

When most baseball fans last saw David Ross, he basked in the mammoth party around the Cubs’ 2016 World Series triumph, to which he’d contributed especially a one-out home run in Game Seven’s top of the sixth, as well as a very viral on-camera dugout bid to ease the jitters of Cubs third base star Anthony Rizzo.

Like Mendoza, Ross is an ESPN broadcaster today. He’s also on the Cubs’ payroll as an advisor to president Theo Epstein, a role that includes scouting to the extent that Grandpa Rossy (as he was known affectionately by his fellow Cubs and by Cub fans alike) was involved directly when the Cubs signed protracted free-agent relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel this summer.

“It wouldn’t be unusual,” Carig noted properly, “for Ross’ duties to take him to games involving division rivals such as the Cardinals and Brewers.” If you’re thinking to yourself that the conflict-of-interest potential is rather vast, be advised, as Carig notes further, that that potential seems to divide teams.

Carig observed Braves manager Brian Snitker unconcerned about Mendoza interviewing him in her ESPN capacity even while knowing she’s a paid Mets advisor; and, Cardinals manager Mike Schildt gives Ross the benefit of the doubt even though he’s an ESPN commentator on the one hand and a Cubs advisor on the other. “Listen,” Schildt told Carig, “if ESPN trusts [Ross] to be able to do his job appropriately, then there’s no reason for me to question that.”

But Carig also noted that Mendoza told an ESPN conference call with reporters “that managers and players were already cautious with members of the media when speaking on the record, and that ‘teams that I’ve been around . . . they would probably have the same concern with whatever information they give me, whether it be me working for the Mets or me working for the media’.”

Adam Jones, the longtime Oriole favourite now a Diamondbacks outfielder, doesn’t shy away from the prospect of a conflict of interest arising, though Carig didn’t exactly phrase it that way. “One hundred percent there’s potential there, because you’re going on air and you’re talking baseball,” he told Carig.

“But [Jones] also believes that both Mendoza and Ross bring the kind of personality and insights that should be featured during broadcasts. ‘I think it’s good for the game,’ Jones said. ‘I see no harm in it’.” Note the order in which Carig mentioned personality and insight. One of the greatest knocks against turning former players into broadcasters and analysts has been that they’re engaged as personalities first and game callers or analysts second.

The legendary broadcaster Red Barber was known to have respected Phil Rizzuto because the former Yankee shortstop, hired as a broadcaster, approached Barber at once to teach him the craft. Barber was also repulsed by another former player, Joe Garagiola, who thought his natural locquacity was qualifier enough. On the flip side, Sandy Koufax proved a deft in-game analyst for NBC until he gave it up after five years, while chafing that his broadcast partners wanted him to talk more and more about his least favourite subject—himself.

Decades ago there were those in the sports press who suspected one or another colleague was one or another team’s employee in everything but name. And even before the larger advent of players turned broadcasters, teams had their tendencies to reject the idea that their broadcasters could be and often enough were more than just team cheerleaders. Barber himself learned the hard way after a little over a decade as a Yankee broadcaster following his legendary term with the Dodgers.

When the Yankees headed toward the first dead-last standings finish in their franchise history, in September 1966, Barber called a Yankee home game in which the paid attendance was announced in the ballpark itself as 413. He ordered a camera pan of the empty park, but the camera crew refused. So Barber told his viewers, “I don’t know what the paid attendance is today, but whatever it is, it is the smallest crowd in the history of Yankee Stadium, and this crowd is the story, not the game.”

Oops. One of the 413 was Michael Burke, the CBS executive who’d just been named the Yankee team president. (CBS bought the Yankees controversially in 1964.) It happened to be Burke’s first visit to a live Yankee game. Burke was informed of Barber’s remark and called Barber to a breakfast meeting at which he told Barber, essentially, “You’re fired.”

Around the Brooklyn Dodgers of the early to mid-1950s there were those who believed that the acerbic New York Daily News sportswriting legend Dick Young—who did kind of stop on the proverbial dime, turning from criticising Dodger management in the Branch Rickey era to all but canonising it by comparison as the Walter O’Malley era began—did so because he was being fed if not paid by the Dodger front office.

Young arguably brought what came to be called the New Journalism to baseball writing, observing and writing frankly about player, manager, and front office flaws in ways previously unknown in sportswriting. It’s not that his technique was novelistic, as the actual New Journalism came to be, but his penchant for calling it exactly as he saw and heard it helped seed the New Journalism approach.

Eventually enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner, Young also rejected the accusations that he’d become a Dodger front office promoter, though his colleagues in the press box were never entirely certain. Roger Kahn, eventual author of The Boys of Summer but the Dodger beat writer for the New York Herald-Tribune from 1952-54, once spoke for those who were:

[Walter] O’Malley hadn’t planned and schemed all his life so that Dick Young would call him a bastard five days a week in the Daily News, so when he took over he put Emile J. “Buzzie” Bavasi in charge of Dick Young. I once said to Fresco Thompson in the Dodger front office, “I guess one of the first things Walter wanted was to get the Daily News and Young off their neck.” He said, “One of the first things? It was the first thing.

And so Bavasi captured Young, and he was in the Dodger hip pocket all the time, until it became clear that the Dodgers were going to leave [for Los Angeles]. The Daily News was to the Dodgers what the Osservatore Romano was to the Vatican. It gave the Dodger line. Young gave the Dodger line. The guys he liked were the guys management liked. The News became a Bavasi-O’Malley house organ.

“If you put in the time, if you’re there, you’ll get things that other guys don’t get,” Young once said in his defense, as quoted in Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers by Peter Golenbock.

So the guys who weren’t there would always look for the crutch, and they’d say I was getting special treatment. I wasn’t. Buzzie himself said to the other guys, “You come around, and I’ll tell you the same thing.” He wasn’t going to call them up and tell them. And that applies today. You get stories by working. There’s no substitute.

The kind of actual or alleged conflict of interest suspected of Young—who didn’t exactly deny that he was still giving the official Dodger front office line—existed when the print press still generally dominated news and sports, when print journalists weren’t former ballplayers, and not necessarily in New York alone.

Can the prospect of conflicts of interest be dismissed entirely, in today’s long-enough-entrenched community of former ballplayers turned broadcast game callers, analysts, and commentators, while at least some of them are also employed formally by baseball teams?

Longtime Columbia University journalism professor Sandy Padwe, who once consulted for the ESPN documentary series Outside the Lines, said no. “You can’t have one foot in one camp and one foot in the other,” Padwe told Carig. “It’s just not right.” He’ll get no disagreement from State University of New York media professor Brian Moritz. “Speaking strictly journalistically, that’s a pretty strict conflict of interest,” he told Carig. “It’s very cut and dry on the first glance of it. You shouldn’t be paid by one of the teams that you’re covering.”

But that begs the question of the ex-players-turned-broadcasters actually being precisely defined journalists. To which Bob Ley, the now-retired longtime Outside the Lines host, said, plainly, “Just because you’re sitting behind a microphone broadcasting a game does not make you a journalist. It makes you a broadcaster.”

As often as not, though, the best team broadcasters become journalists simply by doing; Barber and his protege Vin Scully were only the most fabled examples. But they were usually not employed as paid team advisors, either. An early-season MLB memo cited by Carig showed Hall of Famers Pedro Martinez and Jim Thome, former manager Terry Collins, and former players Ryan Dempster, Jim Kaat, David Ortiz, Dan Plesac, Nick Swisher, and Rick Sutcliffe also employed dually as network broadcasters and paid team advisors.

Put to one side that paranoia is as old a baseball presence as simple on-the-field sign stealing by baserunners or coaches, the conflict risk is too large no matter how diligently the broadcasters-while-team-advisors work to separate them. The Mets ended up not trading Noah Syndergaard, after all. But they might have wanted to, and perhaps working it out of the public eye would have gotten them a great return if they did it.

We’ll never know when it comes to this year, of course. But who’s to say when the next broadcaster/journalist who happens also to be paid as any team’s advisor will drop that kind of bomb and impact something like a trade deadline one way or the other?

Proper journalists are subdivided by their particular tasks. Reporters report (we prefer to presume); analysts analyse; editorialists, columnists, and commentators, depending on your point of view, pronounce or pontificate. But if we’re paid by one or another subject to report, analyse, editorialise, or comment on behalf of one or another outcome, the conflict of interest is about as obscure as a hurricane.

If you’re watching a baseball game or observing the doings and undoings of a team away from the playing field, you prefer to believe that everything is straightforward and fair, but you know in your heart that boys will be boys and not everything proves such. Whether it was Leo Durocher’s then-high-tech sign stealing scheme to effect a dramatic 1951 pennant race comeback, or the Cardinals caught dead to right hacking into the Astros’ computer database three years ago.

But that doesn’t mean you should look the other way, either, when there is a real conflict of interest potential when you watch a game and listen to the play-by-play and the in-game analyses. “Broadcasters working for teams are just another reason for caution,” Carig wrote. “As always in baseball, the guard is up.” Within reason, appropriately.

Lord, have mercy—no mercy rule

2019-08-17 MikeFord

Mike Ford had a ball pitching Thursday night—but his Yankee manager was anything but amused over using a position player to pitch.

Baseball Reference defines a blowout as a game won by five runs or more, which seems a particularly liberal way to define it. By that measurement, though, the Yankees—nestling quite nicely atop the American League East with a season-high ten-and-a-half-game advantage—are 20-11 in blowouts this season.

If  you define a blowout as a game won by a larger margin than five, say eight runs or more, the Yankees have won four such games and lost four such games this year. The latest of those: the 19-5 destruction laid upon them by the American League Central-contending Indians Thursday night.

By Baseball Reference‘s definition, the Indians are 22-16 in blowouts this year. But defining a blowout as an eight-run difference, the Tribe is 4-3. And the Yankees recovered nicely enough from the 19-5 beatdown to beat the Indians 3-2 Friday night.

Yankee manager Aaron Boone is still not amused over Thursday night’s thrashing. Or, what it compelled him to do the better to spare his actual bullpen in a lost cause.

He sent one of his non-pitchers, rookie first baseman/designated hitter Mike Ford, assuredly no relation to a certain Hall of Fame Yankee pitcher, for the final two innings of the massacre.

Rest assured, Boone wasn’t exactly thrilled that the Indians battered Ford for five runs in three consecutive plate appearances in the top of the eighth, on an RBI infield hit, a three-run homer, and a solo homer.

Rest assured further that Boone probably doesn’t want you to remind him that Ford somehow retired the Indians in order in the top of the ninth, half an inning after Gleyber Torres hit a one-out solo home run to close the Yankee deficit to a mere fourteen runs. Or that Ford isn’t the first and probably won’t be the last, rookie or otherwise, to take one for the team on the hill where he doesn’t normally work.

But rest assured, too, that Ford had far more fun on the mound than his skipper had having to put him there. Ford had a blast, even if he did get blasted in the eighth. Boone by comparison almost had kittens.

That blowout began the same weekend during which the Little League World Series will be played. Little League Baseball features a mercy rule: a six-inning game ends when one team leads by ten or more after four innings, or fifteen or more after three innings. Boone would kinda sorta like to see the Show implement a comparable rule.

“If you get to this point after seven innings or whatever,” Boone told a news conference Friday, “there might be something to that, some merit to that and worth exploring. Because it’s not fun to have to put in a position player in that kind of situation.”

Try asking the position player himself. Ask Pablo Sandoval how much fun it wasn’t to put him in that situation against the Reds in May. With his Giants on the wrong end of what finished as a 12-4 blowout, Kung Fu Panda ran, hit, and pitched his way into the record book.

Sandoval stole third in the third and hit a three-run homer in the sixth. With the game too lost a cause for Giants manager Bruce Bochy to even think about kidding himself, he let Sandoval pitch the eighth. And he didn’t get murdered, either.

Kung Fu Pitcher plunked his first batter, got a fly out, and then lured an Area Code 6-4-3 for the side. He faced three hitters, got three outs, and didn’t let one Red cross the plate against him. The fact that he resembled a Venezuelan Jumbo Brown only heightened the entertainment value.

The fact that he became the second Giant ever to steal a base, hit a home run, and pitch a shutout inning in the same game—Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson did it in 1905; that he was a pitcher and threw a complete game shutout at the Reds seems a mere technicality—was gravy.

But the entertainment value sometimes works the other way, too. On Thursday night the Mets in Atlanta started blowing out the Braves early and often enough to have a 10-3 lead after seven innings. Think of the fun the Braves would have missed, never mind the aggravation the Mets and their faithful would have missed, if the Braves could have evoked the kind of mercy rule Boone kinda sorta wants to see.

Think of the optics, too, in a pair of division leaders invoking mercy rules when they’re on the wrong end of an occasional big blowout. Try to imagine the great white shark telling the bluefish to pick on someone his own size.

As I write the Yankees and the National League West-leading Dodgers share baseball’s best record thus far, 84-42. Baseball Reference‘s blowout definition has the Dodgers with a 33-10 blowout record this year. My less liberal blowout definition shows the Dodgers with a 5-4 blowout record.

For the sound enough reason that managers don’t want to waste their bullpens in apparent lost causes, you won’t see position players on the mound unless their teams look to be getting blown out big time. A five-run deficit isn’t as likely to prompt a manager to reach for his bench to pitch; an eleven-run deficit is something else entirely.

One fine day last year, the Cubs faced a fourteen-run deficit in the sixth inning against the Cardinals. So manager Joe Maddon, unwilling to subject Randy Rosario, Steve Cishek, Justin Wilson, Pedro (Razor) Strop, or Carl Edwards to any further misuse or abuse in an apparent lost cause, turned to three position players—Tommy LaStella, Victor Caratini, and Ian Happ—to just get them through to live to play another day.

The good news: Happ pitched a scoreless ninth with only one hit off him. The bad news: Before that, LaStella got the final out of the top of the sixth but surrendered a leadoff homer in the seventh before pitching scoreless the rest of the inning. And Caratini, a catcher by trade who knows a little something about pitching, shook off a leadoff single to get two swift ground outs before surrendering a two-run homer and then retiring the side.

There’s no record of Maddon calling for anything resembling a mercy rule.

Nor was there one known to have come from Mariners manager Scott Servais last month, when the Angels—playing their first home game since the unexpected death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs in Texas—not only threw a combined no-hitter at the Mariners but blew them out, 11-0, in a game so emotional all of baseball cast their eyes upon Angel Stadium and nobody accused the Angels of being bullies.

Some position players itch for the chance to pitch even once, to even one hitter. The Cubs’ All-Star third baseman Anthony Rizzo was such a player. He’d only hankered to pitch to even one major league hitter his entire career when, on the wrong end of a 7-1 loss, last 23 July, Maddon granted his wish.

Caratini started pitching the top of that ninth, surrendering a leadoff single and luring a double play. Then Maddon sent Rizzo to the mound. To pitch to Diamondbacks relief pitcher Jorge de la Rosa. The count actually went to 2-2 despite the slop-tossing Rizzo, before Rizzo threw de la Rosa something that approximated Rip Sewell’s once-famous eephus pitch, and de la Rosa flied out to center.

Despite the likelihood of the Cubs finishing the loss they started, Wrigley Field went nutshit the moment de la Rosa’s fly landed in center fielder Happ’s glove and Rizzo began walking off the mound with an even bigger boyish grin on his phiz than he normally flashes in moments of joy.

In 2016, a Cub catcher named David Ross, on the threshold of retirement after a fine career, made up for an error in Game Seven of the World Series by hitting one over the center field fence an inning later. It was the final major league hit and homer in his final major league at-bat for a man whose first major league home run was hit against a position player in a blowout. Grandpa Rossy may be the only major league player to hold that distinction.

On 20 September 2002, rookie Ross’s Dodgers entered the top of the ninth blowing the Diamondbacks out 18-0. Ross took over for Paul Lo Duca behind the plate in the seventh and came up to bat in the ninth. Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace, who wasn’t in the starting lineup, volunteered to take one for the team and manager Bob Brenly assented.

With two unexpected fly outs to open that inning, Ross checked in at the plate against Grace. He hit Grace’s first float ball over the left field fence. “His first major league home run, and he hits it off Mark Grace,” Grace cracked after the game ended 19-1, “I feel sorry for that kid.”

What was then known as Bank One Ballpark shook with unexpected amusement over the sight of Grace on the mound. He got big laughs on both sides of the field and from the stands when, at one point, pitching from the stretch, he performed a dead-on impersonation of veteran reliever Mike Fetters, a portly fellow with the countenance of a grizzly bear suffering indigestion when taking a sign from his catcher.

The crowd didn’t even seem to mind one bit that Ross piled onto that severe a blowout with a shot into the seats.

“Position player pitching opportunities raise the likelihood for weird baseball stuff,” wrote MLB.com’s Jake Mintz, “without significantly reducing the potential for close and competitive game action.”

Position players also aren’t likely to even think about busting moves on the mound such as trying to throw ungodly fastballs or big sweeping curve balls. They know how to stay within their selves and their limitations. Boone may be admirable to worry about injuries, but position players on the mound are actually brainier than that.

If you’re looking to make and keep baseball fun again, well, who says it isn’t fun to see the big boys humbled by a real blowout now and then? Who says it isn’t fun to see even Yankee position players having to take one for the team now and then?

Apparently, Boone isn’t amused. There are times you’d think the greatest comedians in history couldn’t amuse the Yankees. Let a Yankee position player take the mound on the wrong end of a blowout and actually have a little mad fun with it, and don’t be shocked if he’s fined for conduct unbecoming a Yankee, the poor guy.

Let’s not let those sourpusses from the south Bronx spoil our fun. Lord have mercy, the Show doesn’t need a mercy rule. It needs more fun potential.