Results tagged ‘ Rick Ankiel ’

Miami In A Vice

They have gone out and spent the money on what looks like a fabulous and distinctive new ballpark.

They have gone out and spent the money on what is an often fabulous and always distinctive new manager.

They are evidently willing to go out and spend the money (“in the range of five years, $18-$20 million a year,” per Buster Olney on ESPN) on Jose Reyes and might be able to snare Albert Pujols as well.

They even went out and spent the money on rebranding themselves as a city, not a state, and on some decent looking new uniforms (although the basic premise of the attire struck me as an adaptation of the original 1977 Toronto Blue Jays’ unis, with orange substituted for powder blue).

And I think it will all end in disaster.

As the 20th season of Marlins baseball looms, there is still almost no evidence that South Florida is a major league baseball community, or that it wants or needs big league ball. The entire dynamic could be changed by the new roofed stadium, but the certitude about that – and the willingness to wager literally hundreds of millions of dollars on that certitude – is, to me, unjustified. With the caveat that I know from sopping-wet experience that Joe Robbie/ProPlayer/Whatever Stadium was a miserable place to watch a ballgame, I still think that it’s mortifying that the Fish averaged 37,838 fans per game in their inaugural season of 1993, and 33,695 in 1994 – and never came close to that figure again.

I mean, not close. The World Champions of 1997 played before an average house of 29,190. Otherwise they have had just five seasons of more than 19,007 paid admissions per game, and four that were below 15,766 a year.

Team president David Samson thinks some improvement on the squad and the ballpark will convert a city that has for two decades been saying ‘you fill me with inertia’ will suddenly convert into producing “30 to 35,000 every single game.”

This was a city that could not support AAA baseball in the ’50s, and never again tried higher than A-ball. And I don’t buy the idea that a high-priced indoor facility in Miami proper rather than it a remarkably hard-to-get-to corner of Fort Lauderdale is now going to entice 37,000 fans away from everything else the city offers, especially at night. Pujols and Reyes would be hard to resist. Then again the Marlins fans of nine seasons ago resisted the 2003 World Champions (except for 16,290 of them each game). I’m not even sure how a $95,000,000 investment in Reyes and lord knows how much in Pujols would translate into profitability or even break-even status.

Reyes alone will not do it – ask the Mets.

As if these doubts were not enough, late last night the impeccable Clark Spencer of The Miami Herald tweeted something to make Miami fans shiver:

Source: H. Ramirez is not at all pleased at prospect of changing positions if #Marlins sign Reyes; the two aren’t the friends many portray.

When the Reyes rumors first started, Spencer had quoted Hanley Ramirez with words that bring honor to the role of wet blanket: “I’m the shortstop right now and I consider myself a shortstop.”

One can easily see where all this will go if a) Ramirez and Reyes squabble; b) Reyes gets hurts again; c) the Marlins don’t sign enough new talent to compete in a daunting division; d) the fans don’t show up; or e) all of the above, in any order you choose. When the ’97 Marlin World Champs did not yield a new stadium, 17 of the 25 men on the World Series roster were gone by mid-season 1998 and three more by mid-season 1999.

Imagine Jose Reyes being traded in a fire sale in the middle of 2013. Or Albert Pujols.

SPEAKING OF ALBERT…

A quick thought about the new Cardinals’ manager.

I met Mike Matheny during the nightmarish 2000 NLCS when Rick Ankiel was hit by the same psychological trauma – damage to a close male relative or friend who had taught him the game – that befell Steve Blass, Chuck Knoblauch, Steve Sax, the ex-pitcher-turned-author Pat Jordan, and others. Matheny had cut up his hand opening the odd gift of a really big hunting knife, and had to turn over Cardinals’ catching to Carlos Hernandez.

Matheny was devastated, but less for himself and far more for what his absence meant to Ankiel. I don’t know that this has been reported since the time Ankiel’s problems crested (I know I put it on our Fox broadcasts of the Cards-Mets playoffs), but Matheny told me that several times during the season Ankiel had begun to spiral out of control the way he did in that heart-stopping start against New York. “But I could calm him down, I was able to stop him. Last night, watching it, I felt helpless. Worse, I felt paralyzed. I could’ve talked him out of it.”

Consider this in the later context. Ankiel was collapsing under the weight of his father – who had driven him throughout his youth and into his career – going to prison for drug-running. The problem would run Ankiel out of the majors the next year and make him an outfielder two years after that. Yet Matheny was somehow able to encourage him, reassure him, or simply bullspit him, into overcoming this set of complex psychological phenomena.

Put that into a skill set that includes good game judgement, an ability to easily relate to everybody from batboys to announcers who wouldn’t give anybody a hunter’s knife as a present in a million years, and all the other non-healing powers a manager is supposed to have, and I think it’s safe to infer Matheny will be a pretty good big league skipper.

2010 Forecasts: AL Central

Having picked Tampa Bay to upend the Yankees in the East, we move to the AL Central.

I’m less
confident about assessing CHICAGO than I am about any other team in the majors.
Here is a team with the terrific burgeoning talent of Gordon Beckham and Carlos
Quentin – yet its success will depend much more on virtual castoffs like Andruw
Jones, Juan Pierre, Alex Rios, and Mark Teahen. Here, if Jake Peavy rebounds,
is a four-man rotation as good as any in the game, but a bullpen where only one
guy (Matt Thornton)
does not
start
the season as a question mark (how could you possibly get as many ex-studs in
one place as Kenny Williams has in Scott Linebrink, J.J. Putz, and
Tony Pena?). The White Sox could
easily win the division, but I would hesitate to bet on it.

Everybody
scratches their head at the quick demise in CLEVELAND – except I appear to be
the only one who’s doing the scratching in surprise that everybody else is so
confused. What do you suppose happens
to a team that is just one game from going to the World
Series, and then fire-sales Cy Young Award winners in consecutive season – and also
gets rid of their
catcher (who just happens to be the second-best offensive weapon at his
position in the game)? While the Indians may see some pay-off from these deals
this year (LaPorta at first, Masterson pitching, and, at least for the moment,
Marson catching), there is no reason to assume that the Indians have simply
corrected a temporary two-year blip. It is plausible that returns to form from
Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner could propel this team to the
flag, but it is just as plausible that the bullpen will again be its undoing.
Remember, this is a team that has not had a reliable closer since Joe Borowski
in ’07 (and this requires you to believe that Joe Borowski was a reliable
closer). There is the one wildest of wild cards: the chance that the Kerry Wood
injury is the ultimate blessing in disguise – that it shelves Wood and his
not-so-awe-inspiring 20 saves of a year ago and forces Chris Perez to live up
to his talent. Of course as Winston Churchill answered that cliché 65 years ago,
“if it is a blessing in disguise, it’s very effectively
disguised.”

What if
Dontrelle Willis really is back? What if Miguel Cabrera’s career flashed before
his eyes over the winter? What if Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson are actual
major leaguers? If Jim Leyland and Dave Dombrowski come up trumps with those
four names, DETROIT should walk away with the division, because the rotation
seems outstanding, and the Tigers may have created its best bullpen (mostly by
default, and even though they’re about to find out what the Yankees did late
last year: Phil Coke can’t really get good lefties out). There are reasons to
suspect Johnny Damon will not be the kind of all-purpose threat he’d developed
into in the Bronx; 17 of his 24 homers in 2009 were hit at Yankee Stadium. It’s
possible Ryan Raburn or Wilkin Ramirez might have to be rushed into the
line-up. Then again it’s possible Alex Avila may force himself into it, behind
the plate.

When the
A’s still played there KANSAS CITY was the club on whom the Yankees palmed off
the guys they didn’t want any more. Funny that this year’s Royals start Chris
Getz and Scott Podsednik, and have Josh Fields on the
bench and Brian Anderson in the convert-to-pitching Skinner Box. The excuse that the Royals are the quintessential victim of the small market/big
market divide is nonsense: according to the Forbes figure filberts, the Royals
profit about ten million a year, gain at least thirty million more from revenue
sharing, and the franchise is worth three times what David Glass paid for it a
decade ago. So the free agents brought in to surround the American League’s
best starter, second or third best closer, fifth or sixth best first baseman,
and third or fourth best DH – are Rick Ankiel and Jason Kendall? It’s pitiable:
with a little investment from management the Royals could contend in this
division.

Manager
Ron Gardenhire of MINNESOTA knows 447 times more about baseball than I do. But
there is one fact that has been irrefutable since Tony LaRussa began to use
relievers on schedule, rather than when needed: Bullpen By Committee Does Not
Work. Gardy steered out of the skid just in time last night, designating Jon Rauch as his closer after weeks of saying he’d try the committee route. 
Do not be fooled by
reminiscences of the “Nasty Boys” – the 1990 Reds had 50 saves, 31 by Randy
Myers, 11 by Rob Dibble, 4 by Rick Mahler, 2 by Tim Layana, and 2 by Norm
Charlton. The Reds would trade Myers within a year and Charlton within two.
Minnesota’s committee could have been Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado, and
Al Worthington, and it still wouldn’t have worked. There are reasons to fear this team might not be competitive -
the tremendous home field advantage that was the Metrodome is gone (although
depending on how the wind current works – see “Yankee Stadium, 2009″ – it could
turn Joe Mauer into a 50-homer man). The new double-play combo is also symbolic
of some serious problems. It is made up of two very nice men named J.J. Hardy
(who was run out of Milwaukee even before the ascent of Alcides Escobar), and
Orlando Hudson (who has been run out of Arizona and Los Angeles and who somehow
lost his job to Ronnie Belliard in the middle of the pennant race last
year).
It is also
the direct result of what must be viewed as two disastrous trades (Jason
Bartlett and Matt Garza to Tampa for Delmon Young, and Johan Santana to the
Mets for Carlos Gomez – now swapped for Hardy – and nothing of even impending
value). Nothing would please me more than to see the Team They Tried To
Contract rear up and fulfill its potential. I don’t think they have the front
office personnel to pull it off.

PREDICTIONS:
I like Detroit to get more lemons out of the slot machine of chance that is
this division, than I do Chicago. Thus, the Tigers, close, over the White Sox.
Minnesota and Cleveland will spar for third place and whether the Twins get it
will largely depend on how Target Field “plays” as a new home. Kansas City is
last again, which offends me, because there is as little excuse for this
perpetual state of suspended animation as there would be in Cincinnati or
Milwaukee or maybe even Denver and Tampa.

 

No Mike Pelfrey Disease

With Mike Pelfrey following his three-balk night of the “Yips” with nothing more worrisome than forgetting to get off the rubber at Fenway before asking umpire Joe West if he could blow on his fingers, it appears the list of Major League victims of “Steve Blass Disease” and its related maladies will remain at 17.

Contrary to most coverage of those unfortunate big leaguers who have suddenly lost the ability to do something extraordinarily fundamental, there appears to be an explanation that covers about a quarter of the sufferers, and maybe more.
The mystery was unlocked after the most recent full-fledged case: Rick Ankiel, who suddenly started throwing pitches for the Cardinals in the 2000 playoffs that veered off the plate by ten or fifteen degrees. Pat Jordan profiled Ankiel in The New York Times Sunday Magazine and revealed Ankiel’s father had been sentenced to prison on drug charges. Ankiel had essentially learned baseball from his father.
Earlier the same year, of course, Chuck Knoblauch’s version of “The Disease” culminated when he hit my late mother with as errant an infield throw as you could make, in 2000. It was well-known that his father had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, and he had just deteriorated to the point where he no longer recognized his son. Knoblauch had not only learned the game from his father, but his father had been one of his coaches, and had traveled to literally dozens of his game every year, even in the pros.
As the Knoblauch nightmare reached its end, I was working for Fox Sports, and one of our cable baseball analysts was Steve Sax. In 1983, of course, he too had lost the ability to make the easy unpressured throw to first base. Sax revealed that throughout his crisis, his father’s health was deteriorating, and that he incorrectly believed his Dad had suffered a heart attack. Sax said he’d learned baseball from his father.
If the trend isn’t evident by now, a few months after Jordan wrote the profile on Rick Ankiel, he revealed that his own baseball career – he was a flame-thrower in the Braves’ system in the late ’50s – had really collapsed when he lost all control of his pitches. Jordan told me that he had finally decided that he lost the ability to throw strikes after a falling-out with his domineering older brother, who had taught him the game, and whose relationship with him was predicated almost exclusively on baseball.
Armed with this thread in the Ankiel, Knoblauch, Sax, and Jordan stories, I asked a psychologist friend what she made of this. It wasn’t at all implausible, she said. The pain of loss – emotionally, physically, or mortally – could easily show up in something like baseball. If a player associated baseball from childhood with an older male relative or authority figure, and something terrible happened to the male relative, or to his relationship with that relative, the unconscious could easily rebel. Part of these guys presumably couldn’t bear to play baseball during these illnesses or traumas, because baseball meant Dad or Brother. And the unconscious would try to stop them from playing by taking the easiest thing – a snap throw to first base for an infielder, an ordinary strike from a pitcher – and making it the most difficult.
The first player recognized as suffering from the “disease” – Steve Blass – suddenly lost his ability to throw strikes in the spring of 1973, after nearly eight years in the Pirates’ rotation, including a hero’s role in the 1971 World Series. His career-ending wildness has never been satisfactorily explained, although one of the theories that dovetails neatly with the psychological suggestion of an unconscious desire to stop playing baseball because baseball was a deep reminder of a lost or unavailable male role model, was that Blass was deeply affected by the death of his teammate and good friend, the all-time great Roberto Clemente, on January 1, 1973.
The psychological and family conditions of the other victims generally associated with “Blass Disease” have never been fully explored, to my knowledge. The first recorded case was catcher Clint “Scrap Iron” Courtney, who, in 1953, inexplicably lost the ability to throw the ball back to the pitcher. Courtney, an eminently pragmatic guy who probably would’ve laughed or swung at anybody suggesting a psychological explanation, addressed his “yip” by simply throwing the ball to the third baseman instead. Within a week, the problem had vanished. Courtney played in the bigs until 1961 and the problem never recurred.
Mackey Sasser’s identical problem in the ’90s followed a bone-rattling collision at the plate with Jim Presley of the Braves (later as a college coach, Sasser had similar troubles throwing batting practice to his team). Dave Engle, an outfielder converted to part-time catching by the Twins in the ’80s, developed the same problem, apparently after he inadvertently broke a pitcher’s nose with a return throw. Mark Wohlers, the onetime Braves’ closer, got Blass-like after an injury.
The others with sudden loss of simple skill, haven’t been analyzed psychologically, at least not within my frame of reference. As a minor league catcher, former number one draft choice Mike Ivie had trouble throwing to the mound and in pursuit of base stealers, and wound up being moved to the infield. Dale Murphy had an exaggerated version – his throws to second would often land closer to the centerfielder than either middle infielder.
The others I’ve seen included in the lists of the victims were all pitchers: Joe Cowley, Mark Davis, Clay Kirby, Sam Militello, Bruce Ruffin, Kevin Saucier, and Steve Trout (I’m on the fence on Cowley – he was wild before and after his modicums of success with the White Sox and Yankees in the mid-’80s). To my knowledge there’s also no data on the conditions of their families or their minds.
It is fascinating, though, that of all the players mentioned, the only one I know of to address the problem by seeing a sports psychologist was the old Met catcher, Mackey Sasser. And that was when the batting practice problem arose, in the job he still has, as head coach at Wallace Community College in Alabama. Sasser explained in 2007 that after eleven years dealing with it, he had finally received professional help. There he discovered that his baseball anxieties dated back to his parents’ divorce when he was ten, and how the collision with Jim Presley exacerbated them – and, his complicated relationship with… his father.
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