Week of May 7, 2021

Happy 90th Birthday to the greatest ballplayer of all-time!

Update: Drew Robinson, the Baseball Player Who Survived a Suicide Attempt Last Year, Makes the Giants’ AAA Roster

Honestly, this is unbelievable. In February, we wrote about Drew Robinson. On April 16, 2020, Robinson tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. He survived the blast, and then the next 20 hours alone, before finally deciding to call for help. The fact he’s alive is miracle enough, but on some level I believe it – these things do happen. But Robinson lost his right eye as a result, and there is no scenario I could imagine wherein Robinson would ever play professional baseball again. And yet! 

That was the Sacramento Rivercats’ roster in their season debut this week in Las Vegas, Robinson’s hometown. WHAT. I will be honest, when Robinson’s story was published in February and it talked about his comeback attempt, I thought, “Well, that would be cool, but c’mon.” But here’s what his doctor had to say about it:

He no longer needs baseball in an elemental way. This is a test. Of his strength and resolve and willingness to flirt with failure. Hitting major league pitching with two working eyes is extraordinarily difficult. Doing so with one, and the rear eye at that, only increases the degree of difficulty. Only one man has lost an eye and played in the major leagues: Whammy Douglas, who threw 47 innings for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1957.

Myint, the eye surgeon, says that the binocular vision two eyes provide matters for up-close depth perception. But hitters typically decide to swing when the ball is about 45 feet from home plate, where depth-perception issues, Myint says, would not necessarily manifest themselves. And because, as a baseball player, Robinson’s brain has already exhibited a unique ability to track high-speed movement, the aptitude he had been showing in all these batting-practice sessions, Myint says, could be very real.

Obviously, doctors know more than I do. Because Robinson is back. He hit a couple dingers in spring training, including a 450-foot bomb. And now he’s almost back to the major leagues. -TOB

Source: Drew Robinson Makes San Francisco Giants’ Triple-A Roster After Losing Eye in 2020 Suicide Attempt,Jeff Passan, ESPN (05/05/2021)

PAL: To see him in a big league game would be one of the most incredible baseball moments. I mean, can you imaging how powerful it would be for all the people who’ve attempted suicide, had ideations, or know someone who has been impacted by suicide? It already is a remarkable story – for him to make a AAA roster is phenomenal. 


Baseball’s Going In The Wrong Direction

There’s a section in Jayson Stark’s April review of the MLB season that got me texting Rowe and TOB. Something’s going on in baseball that’s pretty alarming, and after reading this, I understand why they are trying a bunch of odd shit in the minors, including moving the mound back a foot and limiting defensive shifts. Per Stark: 

STRIKEOUTS: 6,924

HITS: 5,832

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the single largest strikeouts-to-hits differential in any month ever. And it wasn’t even close.

Largest K/H differentials by month

April 2021: 1,096

Sept. 2019: 705

April 2019: 529

Sept. 2020: 496

What’s more, until May 2018, there had never been a month where there were more strikeouts than hits. Now we have 1000 more strikeouts than hits! 

With this in mind, we can assume pitchers are throwing harder (and with a higher spin rate, causing unhittable movement thanks to the OK to put substances on the fingers), hitters trying to hit bombs and OK with the K’s. With that, singles and doubles are heading for the endangered species list due to higher strikeout rate, smarter infield shifts, less ground balls with launch angle, but the doubles seems a little more complicated. 

I think anyone who semi-regularly watches baseball can agree that the games have become a lot more strikeouts and fly balls. I just didn’t know the rate of change has been so steep. Baseball has a real problem on its hands. Home runs aren’t the highlight they used to be, and neither are strikeouts or seeing 100 on the radar. – PAL 

Source: “What We Learned in April — Offense is at 1968 Levels (or Worse), But Must-Watch Performances are Everywhere”, Jayson Stark, The Athletic (05/03/21)


The Lady Behind The Lady Byng Award

https://admin.defector.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2021/05/Lady_Byng_HS85-10-39387.jpg?resize=1080,1325

This is one of the more oddly engrossing stories we’ve posted about. Every year, the NHL hands out a sportsmanship award. Yep, just like your middle school teams did. The cup-shaped trophy (always a fan of cup-themed trophies) is given to the most effective player who essentially doesn’t get a lot of penalties. Despite some historic players winning it (Gretzky is a five-time winner, Pavel Datsyuk’s won it a bunch, too), I can’t think of an award that people care about less. 

And I couldn’t stop reading this story of Marie Evelyn Byng—the Lady!— from Maitreyi Anantharamn. Byng was this rich lady (I mean, in case you didn’t gather that from the distinction of being a “lady”) from England. Her husband was a general in the army, and the British crown gave him the role of “governor general, the British Crown’s representative to Canada”. If you think it sounds like a gig that comes with a big house in Ottawa, then you’d be right. 

Caption: I mean, look how happy Gretzky looks here! Proud as a peacock! 

With no good theater scene—she described the lack of good plays as “grievous”—and no real art scene, she turned to the sport all of Ottawa was obsessed with: ice hockey. She enjoyed the athleticism, and she could see the artistry in it, but she found the rough-and-tumble parts of the game (and the fans) to be unbecoming. Lady Byng wrote a letter to the NHL president, Frank Calder (who also has a hockey trophy in his name).

Per the Ottawa Citizen from 1925:

Feeling a great desire to help your effort to “clean up hockey” and eliminate the needless rough play that at present is a threat to the national game, and also to leave a tangible record of the enjoyment I personally have had from the game during our sojourn in Canada, I am writing to ask you if you will let me offer a challenge cup for the man on any team in the National Hockey League, who, while being thoroughly effective, is also a thoroughly clean player.

I am convinced that the public desires good sport, not the injuring of players, and if, by donating this challenge cup, I can in any way help towards this end, it will give me a great deal of pleasure.

SIGNED) Evelyn Byng of Vimy

And you can put together the rest. I don’t think this would be nearly as interesting of a read if it wasn’t for the the fact that stiff, rich Lady Byng also appears to have possessed a real love for her adopted home to go with a pretty dry sense of humor. While the full story is definitely worth your click, I’ll leave you with this from from Anantharamn:

For someone best known for prizing gentlemanly conduct, she had a surprisingly arch sense of humor. Maybe that was her way of coping with a lonely childhood or with the upheaval of a life lived through two world wars. This was a woman who heard planes overhead and screaming sirens in Essex during the Blitz, and mused that at her advanced age, “a bomb would have been a good solution.” If the trophy she gifted to NHL president Frank Calder in 1925 to help “clean up hockey” has become a league-wide joke, know that Lady Byng, an original Sens Sicko, would be the first one laughing.

Good read. – PAL 

Source: Who Was Lady Byng, And What Was Her Deal?”, Maitreyi Anantharamn, Defector (05/05/21)


Taking Lessons From John Means’ No-Hitter to Improve My Golf Game

This week, Orioles and Ron Popeils pitcher John Means threw a no-hitter (thank you for the 40-spot, John!). Later in the week, Eno Sarris tweeted an old story he wrote about how Means improved the movements on his pitch by just…thinking about it. Means had been taught to throw his changeup like his fastball, but his changeup was too fast. It didn’t have enough speed differential from his fastball. 

“How I was taught it was to throw it like my fastball, and got behind it, and it was too hard,” Means said. “It looked like my fastball, but it was too close to my fastball. Holt told me to think about pronating more.”

Pronating is basically a move of your wrist and hand toward the thumb near the end of release. Everyone naturally pronates when they throw, possibly as a result of releasing the ball off the dominant fingers, but by focusing on pronating, Means ended up deadening the pitch and removing velocity. Now only six changeups have a bigger velocity gap than Means’ does.

It’s amazing that one little piece of advice could do that, but Means insists there weren’t that many drills, that this was really all there was to it.

As Eno says, it is easy to see the link “between how a player thinks about a pitch and the resulting movement is when the cue is mechanical.” But Eno gives another example, when the connection is more “nebulous.” His example? Whaddayaknow, another Ron Popeil – Walker Buehler.

The Dodgers phenom came into the big leagues with a devastating hammer and great velocity, and has since been searching for the right slider to pull it all together. Last year, he changed the grip on the pitch and found success, but late in the year it started to drop less, and he thought it could have another gear if he reversed the trend. You can guess how he did it.

“Just a thought,” Buehler told me in early June. “I’m trying to throw it so it goes down. The grip and mechanics are the same, just a different cue.”

The difference is obvious in movement and outcomes so far this year.

Timeframe Slider Velo Slider Drop Slider Whiff%

Sept. 18-April 19 87 0.0 16%

June 19 to now 87 -1.5 25%

In his last two starts, Buehler has thrown more sliders in back-to-back starts than he has all year, and as a reward he has 21 strikeouts in his last 14 1/3 innings. All he had to do to improve his slider is to think about the movement he wanted.

Pretty interesting, really. And that brings me to golf. My game is very inconsistent, and I don’t hit it as far as I’d like. So, people, send me your thought tips. I want ‘em all. What should I be thinking in order to hit the ball longer and more consistently. Thank you. -TOB

Source: How to Change a Pitch by Changing Your Mind,” Eno Sarris, the Athletic (08/06/2019)


BP Pitchers Always Get It In

I love a good lede, and this story on MLB bullpen pitchers has one:

Fear not, citizens of Rancho Cucamonga. That paunchy, 61-year-old man you might have seen over the winter, throwing a baseball over and over against the exterior walls of various empty warehouses in your Southern California town—he means no harm. He is Mike Ashman, perfectly innocuous and gainfully employed by the Angels for a skill in which he takes great pride. Ashman is a professional batting practice pitcher. That is, he takes the field two hours before each Angels game to throw 60-mph strikes to Mike Trout and the rest of the lineup, to help them find their groove.

It’s all he does, but as narrow as his job description is, Ashman can’t just show up at spring training and throw 500 pitches a day, every day for nine months straight. He must build toward that workload. So there he is each winter, pelting those poor buildings with “fastballs” every five seconds, replacing the ball every few days once it disintegrates, until he can throw for 20 minutes straight. Only then will he be ready for the gantlet ahead.

Great imagery. The entire article has that – great imagery, romanticizing a mostly anonymous but important role for each baseball team. Some of it, I suppose, is cliche, but it works. Here are a few of my favorite passages:

Batting practice, then, is like therapy, a wordless, two-person conversation intended to build the confidence of the man about to enter the arena.

Forget pitch counts or precautionary shutdowns, Ashman throws at least 500 pitches a day, with a goal of just five sailing outside the strike zone. His performance reviews happen in real time, each thwack of wood on rawhide representing a thumbs-up from his higher-paid coworker.

A good BP pitcher learns where every hitter on the roster likes the ball. Then he puts it there. And nine times out of 10 won’t do. If “throw strikes” is the cardinal rule for real pitchers, it’s the papal rule for BP hurlers, who must possess Greg Maddux–level marksmanship above all else. Balls thrown outside a Group 1 hitter’s sweet spot can earn you a glance of mild annoyance, or the ol’ step-out-of-the-box-lean-back-and-reset move (those sting) or an impatient query about whether you’re all right. Too many will get you a clap on the shoulder and a somber, two-person stroll on the outfield grass that ends with “Best of luck.”

But the story also gets into the wear and tear these guys go through, as you can imagine happens when they throw 600 pitches every day for 6 months, and how the increased technology in pitching machines is creeping in on the job. But pitching machines will never replace a BP pitcher:

It will be more difficult to replace the camaraderie and the well-timed insult or Attaboy! that can help ward off slumps hiding just around the corner. No robot can supplant Ebel’s “four-seam fastballs as straight as you can send ’em, so you can make ’em feel good.” Much less his raspy laugh.

Fun read. -TOB

Source: Meet The Unsung Heroes Who Keep Baseball’s Sluggers in the Zone,” Michael McKnight, Sports Illustrated (05/06/2021)


Video of the Week

Tweets of the Week

Song of the Week

Eddie Vedder – “Rise Up”


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Italians don’t wear pockets.”

-Michael Scott