Week of April 16, 2021

Happy Birthday, TOB!

Another Side of Jackie Robinson Breaking the Color Barrier

After reading this story, the look on Branch Rickey’s (left) face seems fitting.

Thursday was Jackie Robinson Day in MLB, and alongside all of the tributes is this fantastic story from Andrea Williams that shows another side of Robinson breaking the color barrier. I can’t recommend this story enough. 

Many of us know the story of Robinson on the Dodgers, but I had no idea that Rickey’s approach to signing Robinson laid the groundwork for the toppling of the Negro Leagues. 

Per Williams:

As it was, Negro league owners, including Thomas Baird and J.L. Wilkinson of the Monarchs, learned about their player’s signing like the rest of the world: from breathless radio broadcasts and blaring newspaper headlines. There had been no negotiations with Rickey; years later, Baird would remark that the Dodgers’ boss never responded to the letters he wrote to discuss the matter.

Still, there could be no recourse. In the name of advancement, there would be no lawsuits or outright condemnation of Rickey’s tactics. Together, the Negro league owners agreed to take one for the proverbial Black team in hopes that future transactions would be more favorable.

They didn’t know it then, but Rickey had no plans of letting up.

After WWII, Rickey and other executives could see that integration would be coming. It had been discussed since the 30s, and the idea that Black men could fight in WWII but not play ball in the Major Leagues wouldn’t stand much longer. So Rickey began looking for players, and he didn’t care with what team the players had contracts. 

A surprising white owner came to the defense of the Negro League owners: Clark Griffith. The owner of the Washington Senators called bullshit on Rickey. One might think a white owner holding a fellow MLB executive accountable would’ve helped, but it was not the case. Tap the link below to read why Griffith’s words carried such little weight. – PAL

Source:Jackie Robinson’s Signing Caused a Financial Dispute”, Andrea Williams, The New York Times (4/14/21)

You’re a Weird Guy, Moppo. Weird Guy.

One of my favorite moments in Ace Ventura is near the end, as the rush to the Super Bowl, having saved Dan Marino and Snowflake. Marino asks Ace if he has any more gum. Ace says, “That’s none of your damn business and I’ll thank you to stay out of my personal affairs.” Marino responds, “You’re a weird guy, Ace. Weird guy.”

That line has always stuck with me. Dan says it earnestly and appreciatively. Really, it’s a decent piece of acting. And that line kept popping into my head while reading this article, which can only and bizarrely be described as an oral history of Joey Votto. 

The article paints Votto as part baseball player, part Renaissance Man, part odd duck. I recommend you read the whole thing – it’s a quick and fun read. But this part made me laugh the most:

Dickerson: Joey Votto loves to mop, he loves to mop his house so much to the point where we tried to convince him to make him create an Instagram account called Joey Moppo and it would just be Joey mopping the floor.

Guevara: He’ll send a random video of music and there’s nobody on the screen and I’m like, “What the hell is this?”

Dickerson: He’ll send me random videos of him mopping the house while he’s listening to Kendrick Lamar.

Guevara: And then here he comes across, doing a little dance and mopping. Then he goes off the screen. It’s just that. That’s all I get.

Man, that’s not funny-for-a-baseball-player funny, that’s straight up funny. A very good bit. I also loved him pulling a Michael Scott, singing James Blunt’s “Goodbye My Lover” to a departing teammate. Derivative? Yes. Do I care? No. Again, a good bit among many others. Good baseball guy, good read. -TOB

Source: Joey Votto is Playing Chess, and the Rest of Us are Playing Checkers,” C. Trent Rosecrans, Rustin Dodd and Jayson Jenks, the Athletic (04/13/2021)

Another Way to Find an Ace

The premise of this Michael Baumann story hooked me right away. It’s one of those ideas that just sounds like plain common sense once you think about it a second, and he sets it up perfectly:

The scouting and development of pitchers is a multimillion-dollar industry. The amount of computers, cameras, and sensors employed by MLB franchises, college teams, youth clubs, private tutors, and coaches to track and assist pitchers would’ve been sufficient to run an aerospace company a generation ago. Other sports—and other positions within baseball—utilize high-speed cameras and tracking data in scouting and coaching. But no position is scrutinized to the millimeter-precise level that pitchers are.

On a very basic level, though, it’s not worth anywhere near that type of fuss.

All that money, all that technology, all that scouting – none of it was needed to see Gerrit Cole had ‘ace’ potential. Dude threw high 90s with electric stuff. They knew the same about Kershaw and Verlander, too. That kind of raw ability is pretty easy to spot. Don’t need much more than a radar gun and two eyes. The same can be said for international studs, too.

Future aces get into the American professional baseball pyramid primarily through one of two avenues: the first round of the draft, or seven- or eight-figure international free agent deals. Most of them don’t pan out…The survivors of that system don’t generally surprise anyone.

There is a different path to the front end of a rotation. It’s the path of Jacob deGrom and Shane Bieber. While they have 3 Cy Young awards between them, neither of them were highly touted prospects out of high school. 

We’re learning that the very traits that make Gerrit Cole a first round draft pick twice (28th overall out of high school, first overall out of college) – velocity and stuff – can in fact be learned. What’s harder to pickup in a couple years of minor league ball is pinpoint accuracy, especially in high-stakes situations. 

A guy that throws gas in high school or has a wicked breaking ball doesn’t have to learn how to paint the corners until he gets to AA and all of a sudden 95 isn’t anything new. For Bieber, he never threw extremely hard, so he had to throw strikes from an early age in order to succeed. He never walked anyone, and that didn’t change once he added 5 MPH to his fastball through some mechanical tweaks to his motion. All of a sudden the pitcher from the Big West is pumping low-to-mid 90s and can place it wherever he wants. And then learns how to throw a “hellacious core-of-a-spinning-gas-giant curve” and there’s a Cy Young winner never highly recruited out of high school. 

Raw pitchers with good stuff can learn how to pitch in the low minors, where they get regular innings in situations where the results matter less than the process. But pitchers who already learned the craft and can hit their spots consistently enter pro ball with far less to learn, regardless of what the radar gun says.

Same goes for the offspeed. A guy with an electric arm is far less eager to tweak his mechanics or try something new: what he has already works…until the hitters catch up. Guys that aren’t christened high draft picks by junior high are more open to trying different pitches, messing around with a cutter or tweaking the grip on a slider. 

There is so much more compelling stuff in here. A great deep dive into pitching. Baumann is an excellent baseball writer with fresh ideas. – PAL

Source: Which Pitcher Will Be the Next Shane Bieber—and Where Will They Come From?”, Michael Baumann, The Ringer (04/15/21)

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Song of the Week – The Avett Brothers – “Smithsonian”

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