In Defense of Joey Bats

It’s been a couple of days since Rougned Odor and Jose Bautista went toe to toe on the diamond following a rough slide by Joey Bats into second base and since then suspensions have been handed out.  Is one of them more wrong than the other?  Has Bautista really done anything wrong?  In the opinion of this blogger, no, no he hasn’t.

Just to set the facts straight before I plead my case in defense of Jose Bautista, I would like to point out that I am not a Blue Jays fan, I’m a Yankees fan.  I am by-large a traditionalist, and would normally not support something like a bat-flip in baseball.  I don’t want MLB to become the NBA or NFL.  I don’t want dunks off the backboard for no other reason than you can, or some jackass breaking out a sharpie and signing a TV camera.  However, the purity of the emotion that drove Joey Bats to toss his bat like he just conquered the world was totally authentic and a byproduct of momentary greatness, and in the context of sport, Joey Bats had just conquered the world and stood on top of it for about 20 seconds.  The bat-flip was pure joy.  We should all be so lucky as to experience that in our lifetimes.

It started with a flip

October 14, 2015, Game 5, American League Division Series.  Rogers Centre, Toronto, Canada.  The Toronto Blue Jays hosting the Texas Rangers.  With a 2-2 tie in the top of the 7th,  Shin-Soo Choo in the batters box and Rougned Odor only 90 feet away on third, Blue Jays catcher went to make a routine back to his pitcher, Aaron Sanchez, when the craziness of the 7th inning would ensue.  While throwing the ball back to Sanchez, Martin threw the ball into the bat of Choo, deflecting it away from the pitcher.  Odor noticed immediately and scampered home.  Shortly thereafter the umpiring crew reviewed the play, and it was ultimately decided that the ball was in fact “live” and that the run did indeed count.  Rangers up 3-2 and the Blue Jays season in jeopardy on an ill-timed and extremely uncommon mishap.  The bomb was set.

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Bottom of the 7th.  First, an Elvis Andrus error allows Russell Martin to reach base.  The Kevin Pillar followed by getting on base thanks to another error, and the bases were then loaded on yet another error.  With an out soon after, Josh Donaldson, The Bringer of Rain, hit into a fielder’s choice to bring home the tying run. Tie ball game.  If the bomb was set in the top of the 7th, the culmination of these events had lit the fuse.

With men on first and third and the pivotal 5th and final game of the series hanging in the balance, on the hells of a crazy deflected ball leading to a one run deficit and three errors making a tying run possible, Joey Bats got a 97mph fastball from Sam Dyson that be turned on and obliterated, sending it to the second deck of the outfield stands.  The ball left his bat at 106mph at a 23 degree angle and he sent it 431ft in just 5.5 seconds.  Roughly three seconds later the bat would leave his hand at roughly 65mph and a 72 degree angle and travel 43 feet* in what would become known simply as “The Bat Flip”.

*In case it is not obvious, I made the bat flip numbers up.

The benches would clear twice after that in what would eventually become a 53 minute inning and a trip to the ALCS for the Toronto Blue Jays.  Bomb planted and lit, queue the explosion …

Then there was a slide

Fast forward to May 15th of this year.  Blue Jays vs. Rangers, this time in Arlington, not Toronto, in their seventh meeting of the year, a series the Jays came into leading 4-2.  The tensions had been high all series, but led to no acts of aggression… Until the 8th inning, when Matt Bush, non-member of the 2015 Rangers who got burned and butt-hurt by both Joey Bautista’s season ending 3 run jack and the infamous bat flip, the latter of which, while a bit of salt in the wound, is really just something to point at and say, “Joey’s making fun of me, boo hoo hoo”, when really the three errors, 3-run bomb, and 4 run inning is the real catalyst of their collective frustration and anger, decided to bean Bautista.

That’s when Bautista charged the mound, pounded Matt Bush in the face, knocked out one of his own players and was instantly ejected.  Oh wait, that didn’t happen at all.  Bautista took it like a pro, and walked to first base.  The Rangers poked, but Jose didn’t bite.

Enter Justin Smoak, who is the real troublemaker here.  How dare he hit a ground ball up the middle?!?!?!  (I hope you feel the sarcasm).  Obviously, Bautista took off for second, and in what is admittedly a late, rough, but ultimately clean slide in which he slid directly over second base … not within reach of, not cleats high, not with obvious intent to injure … in an effort to break up a potential double play, which led to the fight.  A fight that the Rangers, and maybe Odor specifically, were looking to pick in the first place.

Upon an initial view of the play, you may argue that Bautista popped up from his hard slide and looked ready to fight.  I don’t think you would be wrong to make such an argument.  However, if you put that move of perceived aggression into context, you may think differently.  You see, only moments before, while hitting the dirt, Rougned Odor threw the ball directly at his face.  Fortunately for everyone involved and Major League Baseball, Odor’s point blank aim is not very good.  He threw the ball as hard as he could, side-armed, low, and the ball wound up 30 feet wide of first base.  The only conclusion, since he went largely untouched during the attempted break-up, although having made no effort to get out of the way, is that he is either the least accurate person to step foot on a big league field since 50 Cent threw out the first pitch prior to a Mets game a few years back, or it was totally intended to take out Bautista.  Being that 50 Cent is a rapper (arguably), and Odor is a major league second baseman on a playoff contending team, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was the latter.  The throw was intended for the face of Joey Bats.

Let’s get ready to rumble….

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Getting back to the rumble that was about to begin, Bautista pops up, Odor instantly turns around upon having missed shattering his face with a throw from 2 feet away at maximum velocity, and steps to Jose.  Clearly a fight was about to start, but Odor had already made his mind up.  Before Bautista could even make a fist, Odor landed a hard clean punch across Bautista’s jaw, sending his helmet and sunglasses flying off.   The punch looked like something Ali would be proud of, but the result was more like something Mayweather would land.  Nevertheless, Odor was the aggressor, and puts him in the wrong.

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What started 7 months ago with a homerun and bat flip, ended with a right-cross to the jaw of he who flipped the bat.  What would follow would be an 8 game suspension for Odor (who isn’t new to the world of fighting on a baseball field) and only 1 game for Joey Bats.  Clearly, MLB sees things more like I do than those who feel Odor’s suspension was too harsh, or that Bautista’s was too light. I would have given Odor 12 games, and Bautista none.  Zero.  Not a single missed plate appearance.

MLB agreeing with me isn’t what makes me right though.  What makes me right are the facts.

  • Jose Bautista’s bat-flip, while undesirable in the minds of many, was not intended to be taunting or show boating or another adjective you want to assign to it.  It wasn’t a homer in the 4th inning of a game that had a six run differential in mid-June.  This was the late innings of the final game of an ALDS, with the game tied.  Anyone who has ever played sports at any level would surely understand that if you do something great in any sport in a moment of pressure you will experience true and honest excitement.  That bat flip was just that.  Yes, it appears on the surface to be one of those moments that was made for SportsCenter, but in fact, the man just did something great, and he was ecstatic.  He lived the dream and in that moment, was completely ensconced in it.  I applaud the passion.
  • The Rangers waited for the last at-bat in the last meeting of the season to hit Jose Bautista.  This is just plain cowardice, and evidence of instigating a fight.  With Bautista keeping his cool and shrugging it off, the Rangers likely just became that much more infuriated.
  • The slide was clean.  Rough, but clean.  No intent to injure Odor can be ascertained from any angle of any video of that play.  Odor was basically untouched.  Retaliation was not what was witnessed.  It was an excuse to fight a fight that the team had been waiting for ever since they walked off the field in Toronto last October as post-season losers.
  • The punch was premeditated by Odor.  Whether or not Bautista would have thrown the first punch, will never be known.  What we do know is that Odor DID throw the first punch, and that Jose didn’t even have a fist made at the time.  The fight was both instigated and executed by Odor.

So where is the fault in anything Jose Bautista has done on any of these occasions?  There simply isn’t any evidence of any wrong doing.  In the legal world, the DA wouldn’t even bother issuing an indictment, because the case would be a loser and there is hardly any circumstantial evidence, let alone hard evidence.

Odor is a punk.  The Rangers are sore losers who instigated the entire incident.  bautista_batflipThat’s pretty much the sum of it.

Verdict on Bautista: Innocent of all charges.

 

 

Jason Greco, @thatbaseballer1

 

How So-lo Can You Go? Bombers Bomb in The Bronx

With 5 solo shots by the Bronx Bombers, the Yankees take their fourth of the last six games, and continue to pick up steam.  Aroldis Chapman also made his 2016 and Yankees debut and recent call-up Ben Gamel picks up his first major league hit in his first major league at-bat.

The Bronx, NY, bottom of the first, no-one on, one strike, one ball, two outs, Brian McCann at the plate.  The 12th pitch of the game delivered by Chris Young of the Kansas City Royals, and so begins the night of the one-run homer. A high and outside 88 mph fastball gets sent over the right-centerfield wall, into the first row, and just out of reach of a leaping Lorenzo Cain‘s glove.  1-0 Yankees.

Seven bases empty home runs between the two teams would be the story of the night, with the Yankees dropping five of those long balls, including three in the third, and the Royals adding two, including one in the top of the second when Alex Gordon hit a solo shot off Ivan Nova to tie the game at one a piece.

The Yankees would take the lead right back in the bottom of the second, with Carlos Beltran‘s fifth dinger of the year sailing over the fence.  Once again it was to right-center, and once again, it was a fastball, except this time, it was only 87mph, and right down the gut. The Yanks wouldn’t relinquish the lead again, on their way to their fourth victory in six games.

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Carlos Beltran watching one fly into the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, Credit: AP Images

Even more fireworks erupted in the bottom of the third, when Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and once again, Carlos Beltran, would each drive the ball beyond the confines of the Yankee Stadium outfield wall.  Gardy and the switch hitting Hicks would go back to back, with Beltran following a few batters later with his sixth of the year.  Gardner and Beltran would again smash not-so-fast fastballs out of the park, while Hicks took advantage of a hung slider for the longest of the Pinstripers round-trippers of the night, putting the Yankees up 5-1.

They would go on to tack on one more run in the bottom of the seventh with an Aaron Hicks sacrifice fly, only to have Eric Hosmer get it back in the top of the eighth with the seventh and final single-RBI bomb of the night; Yet another blast to right-center, this one coming at the expense of Chasen Shreve, and Hosmer’s 6th of the 2016 campaign, but not enough to come back against the Yankees, who won the game 6-3.

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Chapman making his Yankee debut, Credit: AP Images

Overshadowed, but not lost in the plethora of solo gopher balls hit into the right-center bleachers, was the return of Aroldis Chapman, having completed his 30 game suspension for some off the field legal issues during the winter break.  He would toss one inning, give up one earned, and strike out two, throwing over 100mph with regularity.  The Chapman filter should return to a @statcast near you any day now.

Ben Gamel also made his first ever plate appearance in his third official major league game, and picked up the first hit of his professional career, hitting a chopper to the left side of the infield off the glove of Alcides Escobar.  Gamel, who has hit .286 in AAA this year is now batting 1.000 in the big leagues.

In one final footnote, since it relates to the theme of “can anyone hit anything other than a home run”, Yankees #2 prospect, Aaron Judge, also dropped a one man four-bagger, when he launched one over the fence in the bottom of the seventh of the RailRiders 6-0 win.

Jason Greco, @thatbaseballer1

Yankee Injuries A Blessing?

No one wants to see a pro-athlete suffer an injury.  They can, however, lead the way to improvement, and force the hand of the front office or manager to make moves they didn’t have the stones to make when a player is healthy.

Jacoby Ellsbury and C.C. Sabathia are among some of the latest injuries the Yankees have suffered.  Ellsbury left yesterday’s game in the first inning with a right hip injury that a subsequent MRI would reveal was a strain.  He is currently listed as day-to-day. Aging veteran C.C. Sabathia was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left groin strain.

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Credit: Kathy Willens/AP

The 40 year-old Alex Rodriguez also recently hit the 15-day DL for the second time this season, but even while being limited to a role as DH, it is to be somewhat expected.  He is, after all, one of the few players in the league older than I am.

These are not season ending injuries such as the one the young first base prospect Greg Bird suffered during the off-season, when he had to undergo surgery to repair his torn right labrum, but they do open the door to possibly getting a glimpse of some AAA talent.

The bad news …

The timing is very “2016 Yankees”. Though they won on a controversial couple of 9th inning pitches by Andrew Miller to David Ortiz, which led to a strikeout of Big Papi with the bases loaded, a John Farrell ejection, and a game ending K versus Hanley Ramirez, timing has not been something the Bombers have excelled in this year, batting just .207 with runners in scoring position.  C.C. is coming off two of his best starts in recent memory, and although the first of the two, in Texas, resulted in a Yankees loss and wasn’t exactly pitcher of the week material, it did show signs of the old [read: much younger] C.C. His last start, May 4, in Baltimore was very promising, having pitched 7 innings, with 6 K’s and no earned runs in an all-to-rare Yankees victory.

Likewise, Ellsbury has been coming on stronger of late, pulling his average up from near the Mendoza Line in mid-April when it sat at .213 to its current .260, and has a slash line of .400/.526/.600 over the last 5 games.  Even ARod has started to come around recently, with a slash of .368/.400/1.000, with three home runs and 3 doubles in his last 6 games.

The less than great but not quite bad news …

While these injuries could present opportunities to get a glimpse of some young talent, even if it is brief, the Yankees instead optioned to call up Ben Gamel, a lesser known prospect who had a solid 2015 season with Scranton/Wilkes Barre, and Phil Coke, who is a solid 32 year-old pitcher that has spent most of his career coming out of the bullpen, so expect to see Ivan Nova fill the #5 spot in the rotation.

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Credit: Associated Press

I’m actually alright with the move to bring up Gamel, letting the highly anticipated debut of Aaron Judge wait a bit longer, but I would have liked to have seen maybe Chad Green (1-3, 1.45 ERA, 1.16 WHIP) brought up from AAA for a couple of starts, or even Tyler Webb (1-0, 1.88 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) if you want to back fill Nova’s spot in the bullpen while he fills in for Sabathia.  Nova has been in that role, and proven he can’t handle it, not to mention he has given up 8 earned runs in just 14 inning so far in 2016, so I’d personally rather see a starter called up.

The good news …

There is a light at the end of the tunnel … or so it would seem.  The Yankees have a middle of the road farm system right now, but it is one of the best they’ve had in years.  Prospects such as Aaron Judge, Jorge Mateo, and Gary Sanchez, provide a lot of hope for replacing some of our aging players such as Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, and ARod (if Mateo can make an adjustment and play third base), and don’t forget about Greg Bird, who will hopefully be able to replace Mark Teixeira.

I do expect both Judge and Sanchez to be seen in The Bronx at some point this season, although with the less than ballsy moves by Cashman and company, I wouldn’t expect to see it prior to the September roster expansion.

There is hope Yankees Nation.  We may just have to be, dare I say it …. patient.

Jason Greco, @thatbaseballer1

Header image credit: YES Network

The Curse of Donnie Baseball

Could it be true?  Could the most potent and powerful curse in all of major league history belong to a man beloved by New York Yankees fans everywhere?  The greatest Yankee to never win a World Series, may just be doomed to never get that ring.

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Don Mattingly’s 1982 Police Columbus Clippers Baseball Card

Donnie Baseball. The Hit Man. 1985 AL MVP. Don Mattingly.Donald Arthur Mattingly, out of Reitz Memorial High School in Evansville, Indiana, was drafted as the 25th pick in the 19th round of the 1979 amateur draft, by the New York Yankees. For those of you keep tracking at home, that’s 493rd overall, which is to say, a long shot to ever make The Show. However, a little over three years later, the man who would be best known as “Donnie Baseball”, would make his major league debut with the parent club that drafted him. As of September 8, 1982, Don Mattingly had made the big leagues.

The Yankees were in the World Series just the year before, losing the series to the Los Angeles Dodgers. In their third meeting in five years, the Dodgers would take home the championship in six games, after dropping the first two games to New York. This was the eleventh (and still the last) time these two teams had met in the WS, including back to back titles for the Yankees in 1977 and ’78 (which as luck would have it, were also the first two years of my life).  The stage seemed set for the Yankees to enter yet another of their seemingly predestined runs of postseason glory … but that was not to be.

His late season call-up in 1982 led to a 91 game/305 PA season in 1983, batting .283 while being used as a utility player primarily at first (where established star Ken Griffey played), which was enough exceed the rookie limits, and earn a full-time gig in the Bronx in 1984, where he would be a gold-glove winning staple at first base for the Yankees until his retirement after the 1995 season.

In his 1984 season he exploded onto the major league scene batting a league leading .343, and led the league in hits (207) and doubles (44) while pounding 23 long balls and driving in 110. The Yankees, however, only finished third in the AL East.  The next year was more of the same, with The Hit Man hitting .324, while leading the league in both doubles (48) and RBI’s (145), while being named to his second All-Star team, winning his first gold glove, first Silver Slugger, and taking home his one and only MVP award.  The Yankees improved to 97-64, and a second place finish in the AL East, coming up two games shy of the division winning Toronto Blue Jays in an era that only had two divisions per league, no wild card, and no division series. No October for the Yanks once again.

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A Poster from the mid-1980’s featuring The Hit Man in a pinstriped suit, holding a bat like a tommy gun in a clear play on words to reference 1930’s style gangster culture.

It would be more of the same from Mattingly over the years, and the Yankees went downhill from there including 5 consecutive losing seasons (they only have 21 all-time), from 1988 – 1992.  In 1994, the Yankees finally seemed primed for a playoff run, which would have been Mattingly’s first, but the players strike ended the season short, with a 70-43 record, second best in all of baseball to the Montreal Expos mark of 74-40. It would be only the second time in MLB history that there would be no World Series, and for the first time since 1904, nobody would be crowned champion, and the postseason would elude Donnie Baseball yet again.

In his final season as a player in 1995, Don Mattingly finally got a taste of October baseball.  With the recently added division series being added to the playoffs, the Bombers squeaked into the ALDS after finishing second in the division to the Boston Red Sox and squared off against the young and upcoming star whose father Mattingly had played with 12 years prior, Ken Griffey, and the Seattle Mariners.

In a playoff series best remembered for Griffey’s slide into home for the winning run in the bottom of the 11th, and likely saving baseball in Seattle, Mattingly would bat .417 with 4 2B’s, a HR and 6 RBI’s.  The Yankees had led the best-of-5 series 2-0, taking both games in The Bronx, including a 15 inning thriller in Game 2, before dropping three in a row on the road in The Kingdome.  Don Mattingly’s hopes of ever wearing a World Series ring would end watching “The Kid” (who also never won a World Series) take that dream away with a slide into home plate.  It was over.  The 6-time All-Star, 9-time Gold Glove winner, and 1985 AL MVP, who amassed 2153 career hits, with 222 home runs, and a career .307 batting average, would never play in the playoffs again.  he would never trot out to first base in the World Series, and he would never raise the Commissioner’s Trophy above his head in triumph.  He would, in fact, never play Major League Baseball again.

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Boggs and Mattingly, circa 1986

The rest, as they say, is history.  The Yankees would go on to win their first championship in 17 years in 1996, ending their longest drought since winning their first title in 1921. As if that weren’t enough, long time Boston batting rival, Wade Boggs, who joined the Yankees in 1993, would win a championship in the front of the home crowd in Yankee Stadium.  Wade Boggs, who had a solid season batting .311 over 132 games, was simply in the right place at the right time, and the fan-favorite Don Mattingly, simply never was.  Roger Clemens taking home two rings while wearing pinstripes in 1999 and 2000, was just more salt in the wound.

Coincidence?  Maybe.

Mattingly would return to baseball in 2004, as a hitting coach with the same team with whom he had spent his entire career.  After another solid season that had become all too routine, the Yankees made history.  With Mattingly in his first season back in the clubhouse, the Yanks would have a monumental collapse in the ALCS, losing a 3 games to none lead to the Red Sox, and fall in seven; The first and [to date] the only team to lose a seven-game series when leading 3-0. The Red Sox would go on to win their first championship in 86 years.

Bad luck?  Perhaps.

He would remain hitting coach until 2006, when he moved into the position of Yankees bench coach in 2007.  The Yankees would win another World Series only two years later, in 2009.

Cursed?  I think so.

He would go on to manage the Dodgers from 2011-2015, leading the highest paid team in baseball history to a 446-363 record over 5 seasons, and a less than enviable 8-11 postseason record.  He is currently the manager of the Miami Marlins.

Greater players than Mattingly have failed to reach the pinnacle of baseball success.  Ted Williams and Ernie Banks immediately come to mind.  The difference is that their teams were “cursed”.  The “Curse of the Billy Goat”, placed on the Cubs in their last World Series appearance in 1945 (last won in 1908), allegedly by owner Billy Sianis for denial of entry to his goat, and the far more infamous “Curse of the Bambino”, which the Red Sox inadvertently placed on themselves by selling babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919.

“But the Curse of the Bambino was broken”, you say.  Indeed it was.  For a curse can only be broken by a more powerful curse, and in this one particular case, the Great Bambino was no match for Donnie Baseball.  Cubs fans should pray for his return to the American League. It seems Don Mattingly has won something after all.

~ Jason Greco, @thatbaseballer1

 

 

Time to Panic in The Bronx?

thatbaseballer

Don’t pull that ripcord just yet.  Yes, the Yankees had a dreadful April, and while losing is not something we’re accustomed to as Yankees fans, I wouldn’t start thinking about the 2017 season just yet.

The Yankees ended April in the cellar of the always competitive AL East, with a W/L record of just 8-14, which is far from acceptable amongst Yankee fans. The lack of scoring and run support resulted in 8 losses when allowing 5 runs or less, 3 of which the opposition was held to 3 or less.  They’ve lost their last 4 in a row, concluding April with an embarrassing 8-0 loss at the hands of the rival Boston Red Sox.

April was only slightly kinder in Yankee Stadium than it was on the road, with the Yankees going 5-7 in The Bronx, while 3-7 on the road.  Generally poor hitting and the inability to…

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