Injury bug bites baseball man, leaves mark

A crazy number of major leaguers have been bitten by the injury bug in the first week of the 2021 season. I know this because nearly half of my fantasy team have already been day-to-day, on the injured list (IL), or are already done for the year. This includes two of the pitchers I drafted fairly high, James Paxton of the Mariners (who is looking at Tommy John surgery which will end his season) and Trevor Rosenthal of the A’s (who is having thoracic outlet surgery that will put him out at least a couple of months if not longer).

While my lineup has been affected pretty hard, fortunately I don’t take it all that seriously. Fantasy baseball – and football in the fall – mostly gives me a reason to keep up with who the players are. I like baseball a lot, but if I don’t have a reason to follow other teams’ lineups, I probably wouldn’t have much of an idea who they were.

For example, I don’t play fantasy hockey and watched the Red Wings play Nashville the past few nights (due to COVID protocols, the NHL is playing mini-series instead of one-off games, as is traditional). After two nights, I still don’t know who most of the Predators are. Come to think of it, there are a lot of Red Wings I’m not too familiar with, too.

What’s the reason for all of these baseball injuries? I suppose it could be over-training, or under-training, or just bad luck. But my guess is it’s how players are handled these days, and it has a lot to do with the amount of money teams have invested in them. When a guy was making $40K per season back in the 1970s and he strained a muscle or tweaked an ankle, he probably would just play through it, partially because he didn’t want to lose his job to the next guy in line and partially because rehabilitation techniques weren’t as sophisticated. Spit on it, rub some dirt on it, and keep playing was the attitude when I played ball in high school. (Full disclosure: I was terrible.)

These days, if a player has a minor injury, he gets held out for a game or two, and if it doesn’t improve right away it’s off to the ten-day injured list. When you’re paying someone hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars, you’re going to protect your investment. Understandable, but frustrating to fans – and fantasy players.

Les cadets crient «M’aider!”»

The things you learn when you’re learning another language

The international voice distress call is “mayday,” used to call for help in both in the air and on the water. The word is a phonetic transliteration of the French m’aidez or, in its infinitive form, m’aider, literally “help me!”

The term was coined by the radio officer at Croydon Airport in London, F.S. Mockford, in the early 1920s. Since most air travel was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris at that time, Mockford figured that a word that was easy to remember but had an underlying meaning in at least one of the two languages would be ideal, and “mayday” was born.

I learned the origin of the second word this morning reading a translation of a golf article in Le Journal de Montréal. My iPad translated “caddie” as “cadet,” which it turns out is the French source word for caddie. A cadet is more commonly a trainee military rank, but the Scots borrowed the word in the late 1600s to mean someone who did odd jobs, and eventually it was applied to the person who carried a golfer’s clubs. Incidentally, the derogatory term “cad” also is derived from this Scottish borrowing of “cadet.”

UPDATE: Tigers will not go 162-0. Could go 161-1, trend is now 108-54, though.

The Tigers lost today to the Indians, but ended up winning two of the three games in their opening series. But there goes the perfect season. Rule 5 draftee Akil Baddoo hit a home run in his first major league at bat today, a remarkable thing in itself, but he also did it on the first major league pitch he had ever seen in a regular season game. His parents, who were at the game, we’re very excited. And so was I.

Tigers maintain pace for 162-0

The Tigers beat Cleveland again today, this time 5-3. They’re 2-0 to start the season for the first time since 2016 – I know, it feels like a lot longer than that. Julio Teherán pitched five strong innings to get the win and the bullpen looked good again, with Derek Holland, Michael Fulmer, and Bryan Garcia in control of their innings of work. Tyler Alexander struggled a bit but was able to right the ship before things got out of control. Garcia picked up a very efficient four-out save, not something we’ve been accustomed to very often over the past few seasons. He looks like a closer to me; I think Soto has the stuff to do that, too, but I like Garcia’s sense of calm. In any case, it’s nice to have two legitimate options for the ninth inning.

Other positives over the first two games include Robbie Grossman’s patience at the plate. He’s walked six times so far, the first Tiger hitter ever to do that in the first two games of a season (Norm Cash held the record with five until today). Jeimer Candelario seems to be locked in as well, with a nice, short batting stroke that allows him to put the ball where he wants it to go, as he showed today with his sharp opposite field hitting.

Best of all, we’ve beaten Cleveland twice already in 2021. Considering what a pain they’ve been over the past couple of seasons, that’s a reason for optimism. This is still a very young team in most ways, and is likely to get younger as some of the prospects make their way to the major league roster as the season moves along, but they’re fun to watch so far, with a lot of small ball hustle and two strong starts from the front end of the rotation.

Place your bets now: Tigers to go 162-0 this season

The Tigers launched the 2021 season yesterday at home with a 3-2 win over the Cleveland Baseball Team. It was snowing during the first few innings, becoming nearly a whiteout blizzard a couple of times, including when Miguel Cabrera hit the first MLB home run of the season but couldn’t see that it went out so he slid into second:

Kirk Gibson: “Look at the confetti!” LOL.

Matthew Boyd started for Detroit, and while he wasn’t as flashy as Cleveland starter Shane Bieber, who struck out 12 Tigers, he also didn’t give up any runs and got the victory. The Tigers’ bullpen looked pretty good, too, with José CIsnero and Daniel Norris throwing scoreless innings. New closer Gregory Soto gave up a two-run homer to Roberto Pérez in the ninth but still got the save.

So the trend line is obvious: The Tigers have a perfect record after one game, and therefore will finish the season 162-0. Where do I buy playoff tickets?

A more disturbing trend in baseball, and sports in general, is the rapid encroachment of gambling into the broadcasts and the stadiums themselves. Once upon a time, a connection with known gamblers or gambling interests was enough to even get baseball legends like Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle banned from baseball back in the early 1980s for working for casinos in public relations capacities.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a law that outlawed sports betting in most states in 2018. Since then, all of the leagues have started to get into the gambling business, initially by accepting sponsorships from sports books and gambling companies, and now actively allowing solicitation of all types of bets in their live broadcasts and on their websites and mobile apps. It’s hard to avoid a pop-up asking you to “bet now” if you visit MLB.com or watch a live telecast; yesterday, ESPN’s coverage included sidebars asking how many runs the Dodgers and Rockies would score after the seventh inning, along with a betting website and a code to use to win $5,000.

The Tigers’ broadcast partner, Fox Sports Detroit, become Bally Sports Detroit on March 31. The name change was needed anyway, as Fox no longer owned the regional sports networks that bore their name, having been bought by Sinclair Broadcasting a couple of years ago. They continued to use the Fox name under license, but needed a new one and the deal was made with Bally’s Corporation, a casino, horse track, and online gaming company (and which started as a manufacturer of pinball machines back in the 1930s). The connection between the games and the gaming is now complete.

Personally, I don’t care what they call the network (I still miss PASS Sports, myself). Sports has always had gambling, legal or not. In some ways, maybe having the whole thing out in the open is better. We’ll see. I’m not opposed to gambling, though I don’t do much myself, an occasional lottery ticket when the jackpot gets ridiculous and some penny ante and no stakes fantasy football and baseball. And people have noted that baseball has long been associated with other less-than-virtuous vices, including tobacco and alcohol.

The difference, as noted by Craig Calcaterra in his excellent “Cup of Coffee” newsletter today, is that baseball is now producing gambling-related programs and content for their websites and channels, which is a far cry from the days of baseball’s cleaner-than-clean Mantle and Mays bans:

I’m concerned, but I’m not going to let it get me down. I love baseball. Yesterday’s game was a joy to watch, especially Cabrera’s homer and his remarkable diving play at first base, where he hadn’t played since 2019. Detroit manager A.J. Hinch claims Cabrera is the best defensive first baseman on the team and that he’ll get to play there a few times per week. We’ll see if his troublesome knee will allow that, but for one day, anyway, it was all smiles for the big guy.

1-0! First place, baby! Enjoy it while you can.

Mather wasn’t the exception in MLB – He’s the rule

Kevin Mather had to go, of course. But his resignation doesn’t really change how awful the sport of baseball has become.

Mather was, until today, the president and CEO of the Seattle Mariners, the only major league franchise never to have played in a World Series. Founded in 1977, the Mariners have somehow avoided making the championship series for 44 years and haven’t even made the playoffs since 2001, which is actually pretty difficult to do considering how many teams get to play in the postseason these days.

Unless you’re intentionally trying not to be competitive, that is. Which it appears the Mariners were – and probably still are – doing. Don’t take my word for it… take Mather’s:

  • If the Mariners had needed players in 2020 due to COVID, “there was no chance you were going to see” top prospects Jerred Kelenic, Logan Gilbert, and others “at T-Mobile Park. We weren’t going to start the service-time clock… You might have seen my big tummy out there in left field” instead.
  • Talking about prospect Julio Rodriguez, Mather admitted the team had no plans to let him make the major league squad this year, extending the team’s control over him an additional year: “Everybody says he’ll be here in 2021. He won’t be here ’til 2022 or 2023.” Service-time manipulation by major league teams is one of the worst-kept secrets in the sport, so give Mather credit for being so up front about how being uncompetitive is part of the plan.
  • Mather also decided to go down the xenophobia trail, commenting that former Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma’s English “suddenly got better when we told him” that Mather was “tired of paying his interpreter.” And this shot at the aforementioned Rodriguez, who speaks English quite well, thank you: “[He has] a personality bigger than all of you combined… He is loud. His English is not tremendous.”
  • He also called veteran third baseman Kyle Seager “overpaid” and said it would be Seager’s last year in Seattle, which seems to indicate (well ahead of time) that the team has no interest in his 2022 option year. Seager has been one of the team’s few dependable players over the past decade.

Which local chapter of QAnon or the John Birch Society was Mather addressing with these comments? Surely this must have been a secret meeting among close friends that Mather was confident wouldn’t leak a video of his idiot remarks, right? Nope. It was the monthly meeting of the Bellevue, WA Rotary Club.

Beyond the compelling evidence that the way the Mariners have been running their operations is broken – and they’re hardly the only team that runs their business this way – I’m stunned by the sheer arrogance on display here. Was Mather trying to be funny? Trying to ingratiate himself with some local town leaders? Did he think they’d actually agree with his methods?

He apologized last night, saying his remarks didn’t reflect the actual positions of the team, but since he was the president and CEO, actually they were. But not any more, since as I noted, he resigned today.

The Mariners’ level of futility approaches that of the Detroit Lions, except that the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and league rules mostly even out team revenues league-wide so no one’s at a competitive disadvantage financially and therefore every team has an incentive to try to win. MLB doesn’t work that way, so the smaller market teams have decisions to make that often are in opposition to trying to put a winning team on the field each season (the Padres’ recent contract extensions and free-agent signings to the contrary).

People like Kevin Mather certainly make it difficult to care about their product. The fact that baseball is considered a “product” in the first place was probably a warning sign in itself.