Strasburg Done, Fix the Damn Draft!

August 28, 2010

Steve Strasburg is going to have Tommy John surgery…which means he’ll either never play again or he’ll come back throwing 150mph. My guess is it’s probably 70%-30% in favor of never playing again. So for the sake of this blog, let’s say he never steps on the bump again.

Here’s the wacky thing. This guy never has to work another day in his life! Strasbug signed for around 15 million, right? Take away half for taxes and 5% for Boras, and you’ve still got around 7 left. That’s a nice number to have in the bank. That will pretty much do it. I’m not sure that he’ll be flying around in his own private jet, but he’ll never have to work another day in his life if he doesn’t want to.

Does that seem slightly out of whack to you? It sure does to me. What did this guy do to deserve a free pass for the rest of his life? Less than half a year in the big leagues, an impressive amateur career at SDSU, probably dominant career in Little League? Is that all it takes? Something is wrong and needs to be fixed.

I don’t know the answer, but I know the draft thing needs an overhaul. I’ll tell you one thing, I don’t ever want to hear another owner cry poor until all of the head honchos get together and figure out a way to fix this money pit. As far as I know, the players union has no say in the matter, so what exactly is the hang up? Why are they willing to throw heaps of money at kids who, according to the odds, will probably never put on a big league uniform?

Odds are, Bryce Harper will never make it to the Bigs; however, he'll still never have to work.

Look, I’m all for ballplayers making as much money as they can. If you put in the time, be it in the minor leagues or major leagues, get what you can while you can. But something is wrong when a kid like Strasburg spends a third of a season in the show and walks away with significantly more dough than a guy who caught in big leagues for 15 years. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying.

Glove Drive?

August 25, 2010

Back from Italy. Good to be home, but not so happy about the jet lag. Anyway, the post about how to break in a glove got me thinking. Is anyone interested in starting a glove drive? Basically it’ll work like this…you dig through your garage and send me your old gloves and I’ll put them on the hands of kids in need. I’ve had a few inquiries from various leagues and organizations, some local (Compton, Santa Ana), and some from out of the country (Mexico, Nicaragua.)

I think this could work. It doesn’t have to be a huge event, I’m sure anything will help. If you’re interested please write a comment or just send your old gloves to:

The Art of Catching                                2701 Harbor Blvd. E-2, #203                         Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I know it’s not much, but in return I’ll send stickers and signed baseball cards to all those who participate. I’ll keep you posted on the glove count and where they go. Thank you.

Example of a kid with a cardboard glove.

Social Misfits

August 17, 2010

I’ve been spending a lot of my off the field time reading here in Italy. Just finished a great baseball book by Frank Deford called The Entitled. I highly recommend it. Anyway, in the book, there’s a passage talking about the immaturity of ballplayers…

A part of you never grows up when you stay in the game. This doesn’t affect you so much when you’re still playing, because nobody around you has grown up either. It’s away from the game, where playing a child’s game makes you different.

Which got me to thinking. After I got out of the game for a little while and had a chance to get my bearings, it became evident that I was (am) basically a social misfit. I’m recovering. And I highly suspect there’s quite a few ex-big leaguers (and current one’s too) who are in the same boat.

And here’s why. For the most part, for as long as you are in “the show,” you’re basically cut off from real life. You exist in a controlled bubble that doesn’t involve a whole lot of social interaction…except with your teammates and those within the tight circle of the traveling circus.

Yes, you’re in front of 40 thousand people a night, but for all intents and purposes they might as well be cardboard. For the most part, the fans are just a background. You’re there to do a job and they’re part of the workplace. Even if you’re signing 8,000 autographs a day, you’re not really having a lot of interaction. And even if you are interacting, it’s a strange type of interaction. Not like two normal people. I mean, one person is paying to see the other one. I don’t care how grounded a person you might be, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’re on a different level than the guy on the other side on the fence.

So the ballplayer goes through his days shuffling from a bus to a chartered plane (right on the tarmac, not through the airport mind you), to the hotel, to the cab, to the ballpark, back into the cab, back to the hotel, back to the bus, which starts the whole cycle again. Repeat for 15 years or so. Then the off season comes and you’re so sick of the traveling and miss your family so much that all you want to do is be alone, take the phone off the hook, and hunker down.

Like I said, you don’t need to talk to anyone outside your tribe if you don’t want to.

How many big leaguers retire every year? Let’s say that number is 100. Basically MLB is spitting out 100 or so social misfits into society annually. A bunch of 16 year olds trapped in 40 year old bodies. If you’re one of those guys, the only smooth transition is if you can land a gig on the MLB network and can continue to yuck it up with other ex-players. Or stay in the game as a coach. Other than that, it’s gonna be bumpy.

The funny thing is, nobody warns you. Nothing at all. No de-briefing like the CIA, no schooling on how operate a washing machine or, God forbid, direction on how to go through an airport alone. Really? I have to wear a seatbelt and turn my ipod off? You’ve gotta be holy-cowing me. Never did it that before and we never crashed. Tell me again why I can’t sit in the cockpit.

Bert Blyleven...enough said.

So whats my point? I don’t know, I’m just talking. Definitely not complaining, just sharing my experience. I do know is it’s fortunate that there’s only a few of us out there at any given time. In the whole scheme of things, a few social misfits trying to adapt probably isn’t hurting the world too badly.

“I ain’t never had a job, I just always played baseball”  -  Satchel Paige

How to Break in a New Catcher’s Glove

August 11, 2010

I’m here in Italy doing the European Baseball Academy and having a lot of fun. The kids are all working hard and making improvements. About 6 of the 10 catchers are repeat offenders (been here before) so I’m not having to start from scratch. I get to build on the foundation we built last year. It’s also nice to see the strides they’ve made in a year of implementing the “Art of Catching” style.

Anyway, for some reason I’ve been getting quite a few questions about how best to break in a catchers glove. Because there’s gotta be a quicker way than just catching with it, right? Unfortunately, wrong. Outside of the suggestion I made of using pine tar, I don’t have a whole lot for you. I’d love to share some super secret big league trick to speed up the process, but the truth is, in my opinion, the best way to break in a catchers glove is just to catch with it.

Catchers glove from 1905.

For that reason, I always had a little rotation going on. I’d estimate that I’d use up about a glove and a half a season. So, I always had three gloves in various stages of brokeninness. I’d have a gamer, a glove that was close to a gamer (but could definitely be used in a pinch), and a glove that was just getting started. When the gamer would die, the second one would rotate in – and on and on.

Catchers glove from 1940.

I’ve heard that the rich British back in the day (maybe still) used to have their butlers break in their new shoes for a them. You know, get that new shine off and skip the blister stage. Well, kind of like a wealthy Brit, I’d sometimes have the bullpen catcher get a few bullpens with my new #3 glove. Just to kind of get it started. But just for a bullpen or two. I definitely didn’t want the new glove to take on the habits of the bullpen guy. God forbid he clanked a few. You don’t want a glove to get used to that sort of thing. What if it thought that sort of behavior was acceptable? I had a few gloves like that and I got rid of them quick. Keep them away from the rest.

I also didn’t want the glove to take on the characteristics of his hand. And everybody’s got different preferences for how they like the shape of the glove. I wanted it my way.

So, the moral of the story is…to break in a catchers glove the right way, play catch. A lot of it. I think I’ve seen just about every method known to man, and that’s the best way I know.

A fairly modern day unit.

Carlos Santana’s Collision at the Plate

August 4, 2010

I’m in Italy right now doing MLB’s European baseball academy. This is the third year I’ve done it and it’s a lot of fun. Some of the future blogs will feature a few of my adventures here…keep checking in. Anyway, I’ve been out of the loop for a week or so and just got a chance to check in…and I’ve got about 19 messages asking my thoughts on Indian catcher Carlos Santana’s injury during a collision at home plate. For those who didn’t see it and wish too, click here.

Alright, so here’s my take. Collisions at the plate are part of the game. It’s every catcher’s responsibility to figure out a way to deal with this play safely and effectively because it’s inevitable. Eventually, someone’s gonna run into you – like it or not.

You don’t want to be a catcher who is scared of getting injured and you don’t want to be that guy who pulls the rip cord and bails when things get dicey. Whether you actually are a tough guy or not, you want to at least appear like you’ve got the balls to hang in there. This may sound goofy, and for sure it’s an intangible thing, but your team needs a strong presence behind the dish. Having toughness in that position contributes in a big way to the fabric and make-up of a team’s personality. Simply put, a guy who shys away from contact (in my opinion) isn’t helpful.

So what to do? Well for one, DON’T do what Carlos Santana did. Or what I see Russell Martin do all the time. Throwing that left leg out into the baseline like a hockey goalie is poor technique, dumb, and a recipe for disaster. Don’t believe me? Watch that video clip. It’s a miracle the same thing hasn’t happen to Martin yet (look at the photo.)

Russell Martin playing with fire by getting his left leg in a weird position.

In order to gain enough confidence to hang in there and complete this play, the first thing you need to do is buy my book. I’m serious. Buy it now. You’re still gonna be terrified when a tattooed giant like Josh Hamilton is bearing down on you at full speed, but at least you’ll have a plan and will be in a good position if the worst case scenario happens. And that might just give you enough guts to hang in there. Or maybe not…he is pretty big, fast, and tatooy.

Amongst the key points you’ll learn in the book: How to get low (if you’ve ever played football, you know that the lowest guy usually wins in a collision.) How to actually have some momentum going into the play so you’re not just a sitting duck. How to get your joints (knees) in safe positions…positions that, if hit, bend in the direction God intended them to bend. Maybe most importantly, how to move into the play at the appropriate time so that you maintain as much peripheral vision as you can for as long as you can. This last one really cuts down on the surprise hits.

So in summary, I guess my point is the play is GOING to happen. It’s inevitable. Trying to avoid contact is kind of like driving on the freeways of southern California or the streets of downtown Manhattan defensively. Your best bet is to be aggressive and mix it up. Or maybe a better analogy would be a football player playing soft and trying not to get injured…his odds of getting hurt are actually increased. Simply take control, be aggressive, and learn how to make this play the right way. Your team will love you for it and if you’re anything like me (and you probably are if you’re masochistic enough to catch) you actually like getting your bell rung once in a while.

Good luck and lets all hope Santana makes a full and speedy recovery.

The master of disaster Mike Scioscia.