14
Jun 19

The Raptors got clipped by the Clippers.  And, apparently, there were Big T.O. fans who would have gladly traded four Toronto losses on their road trip for one win against Kawhi Leonard's new team.  Yes, really. 

When will fans learn the word LOYALTY is now spelled $$$$$$$.  By both players and owners. 

At any rate, I give you this magnificently perceptive epic I wrote last June.  And don't accuse me of being too lazy to do something new on the Raptors.  Even if it's true. 

HOW THE RAPTOR FANS DROVE HIM TO LA

            Kawhi, They Hardly Knew You

By now you’ve undoubtedly had your fill of Kawhi Leonard.  As they say at Goldman Sachs when the traders are engulfed by a shit storm of wheeling and dealing:

         It’s Like Drinking From a Fire Hydrant.

So I’m going to give you two Mantras to wrap it all up.

MANTRA ONE—The Ignorant Raptor fans destroyed any chance of The Chosen One returning to Toronto

MANTRA TWO—It doesn’t matter anyway.  The Raptors wouldn't repeat even with him in the lineup.

Big T.O offered Kawhi free sushi, steak and seafood for life.  They offered him access to Warren Buffet’s bank account.  They dropped to their knees and offered him Jock Sniffing Reverie.  They offered him a paid up subscription to Sports Illustrated--plus the models from the bathing suit edition.  They offered him Icon For Eternity in Drake lyrics, for whatever that’s worth.

They slobbered over him insatiably.  They had the dignity and integrity of a meth addict throwing up on the cake at his daughter’s wedding.  Look in the dictionary under the word “Pathetic” and you’ll see a 3D pic of Raptor fans.

They were sycophantically living vicariously through a guy bouncing a basketball.

Idolatry.
Worship.

That should clinch the deal.  Everybody wants to be worshiped.  Right?  Think again.

                 A private man who had to endure the endless idiotic hype  

It was, in fact, precisely the wrong thing to do.  The Raptor fans not only know nothing about basketball.  They understand human psychology about as much as a two-year-old understands Quantum Physics.  No, I take that back.  A two-year-old is Einstein compared to Raptor Faithfuls.

Understand this.  Kawhi Leonard is as private a man as J.D. Salinger was after Catcher in the Rye exploded.  He loves to play basketball.  Period.  That’s it.  Basketball.  Not idolatry.  Not worship.  And the relentless, suffocating sucking up by ignorant fans and hopeless media undoubtedly made him feel like he was drowning in Lake Ontario.

All the Idolizing, all the endless Hype, all the Knee Deep Bull Shit was an enormous weight, as if Kawhi was carrying a five ton truck on his shoulders as he sank into a deep sea of quicksand.  He was The Second Coming who would lead the Raptors out of the wilderness and establish a dynasty lasting for decades if Kawhi could just keep draining jumpers and pulling it down off the glass until he was in his 60’s.

The expectations were so high he must have felt like a triumvirate of Santa Claus,  The Tooth Fairy and E.T.

Those expectations absolutely killed any chance of Kawhi camping in Big T.O.  He was smothered by Fake Love as Suffocating as a 600-pound Sumo wrestler sitting on his face.  He was strangled by Phony Adoration, the kind you give to someone just as long as they produce.  And no doubt he knew it.

Runaway, Kawhi, run like the wind. 

Living up to those moronic expectations was like competing with Joey Chestnut in devouring hot dogs without puking.

                                                      Sumo Suffocation

And Kawhi also undoubtedly understood MANTRA TWO.

The Raptors didn’t beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA final.  They didn’t play the Golden State Warriors.

With KD and Klay Thompson out of the GS lineup in game six Steph Curry was the only pistol the Warriors had left in their armoury.  So the Raptors reverted to the Box and One they used in game two.  With Fred VanVleet shadowing Curry like a pick pocket it was as stifling as playing 3-on-3 in handcuffs.  But Toronto still only prevailed by four points.  Four.

Four.  Yes, four.  I swear that’s true.  Four.  Yes, four.

With Durant and Thompson in drydock Toronto could barely win by a pair of jumpers.  And, if the Warriors could actually shoot foul shots, they’d have won going away.   With two injured superstars in the locker room.

So let’s put a mirror on it.  Let’s say KD and Klay were both on the floor and Kawhi and Kyle Lowry were gonzo for the Raptors.  How much do you think Golden State would have won by?

Twenty?  Easy.
Thirty?  Of course.
Forty?  Probably.
Fifty?  Possibly, if they kept the throttle to the floor.

A slaughter.  Custer at Little Bighorn.  Stalin in his prime.

Unlike the Raptor Ignorants, I’m sure Kawhi is well aware of that.

      These two guys weren't playing and Toronto only won by four?  Really?

Coming back to Toronto with those ludicrous expectations hanging over his head like vultures waiting for the rot to set in and knowing in his heart the Raptors barely edged past a Warriors team on crutches was a gimme.  For the Clippers.

         Slithering Sycophantic Suckholing

Of course, the fans never realized they were driving Kawhi to LA with their Slithering Sycophantic Suckholing.

Kawhi is not an icon.  He is not Baby Jesus with a basketball in his cradle.  He’s a Down To Earth, Deeply Introverted Guy who is as interested in idolatry as much as Donald Trump relishes humility.  And, if you don’t understand how a famous dude in the spotlight can still be an introvert, try studying psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, who knew we are all born insecure and spend the rest of our lives trying to overcome it.

          He Just Wanted to go Home

Kawhi Leonard makes his living running around in his shorts playing a game for little boys and girls.  Call it basketball and try to put it into perspective.  It isn’t the cure for cancer.  It doesn’t save children from starving to death.  It doesn’t stop innocent rescue animals from being euthanized.  And global warming doesn’t give a flying bleep about a three-pointer.

Kawhi is pretty good at his job and he just wanted to go home to do it.  Without all the debilitating Toronto bull crap.

Maybe the Raptor fans should also find something they’re pretty good at rather than living their lives vicariously through a very private man who never wanted to be their Saviour.

They Fake Loved him out of Big T.O.  So maybe they should read a book on psychology.  If they can read.

 

                    THE NECTAR OF THE GODS

 

JOSH RIDGWAY LIVING THE DREAM

  Great Wine, Gourmet Food, Endless Summer

I don't drink a helluva lot these days.  But I love a glass or two of wine  when I’m eating.  Mostly these are Bottom Shelf reds or whites because that’s about all I can afford. 

So I’ve learned to uncover hidden treasures like a veteran scout devouring the bush leagues for flamethrowing arms.  I’m talking about good wines $15 and under.  I know that’s hard to believe but they actually exist.  But, then again, I don't have aficionado tastes.

So today It’s the opening kick-off for a weekly wine post.  And I’ve got a bona fide expert to be my quarterback. 

Josh Ridgway and I have about 25 years of history.  From the days when this 17-year-old shortstop from Richmond worked out with the North Shore Twins to the year I spent as his pitching coach when Josh was head honcho at Douglas College.

Josh Ridgway

I loved working with Josh.  And there are very few people on this planet I respect as much as him.

These days Josh is living the dream.

Imagine this.  Your home is the British Virgin Islands.  That’s already enough, right?  Year round splashing sunshine, blue sky forever,  pristine soft white sand saturating endless beaches, sipping rum and margaritas until sol slips into the ocean.  What more could you ask for?

Well, lots more.  Josh is General Manager of Proudly African, a company that distributes more than 250 brands of wine throughout the Caribbean.  And his wife runs two high class restaurants.  What’s more, one of his buds is former MLB star Jayson Werth, who just might help him generate a Virgin Islands baseball league.  How’s that for a trifecta?

But I’m not finished yet.  Josh is also a Level 2 Sommelier, which means he’s a wine expert, even if he humbly says he’s just a vino lover.

We’ll get into this more each week.  But, for openers, I love this recommendation.

            From Josh 

Wine is great because it’s individual. What one person says is best, may not be best for you.   I like PINOT NOIR and ITALIAN.  But I really appreciate French wine the most.

SHIRAZ is best with BBQ and MALBEC is great anytime. Try Shiraz from Australia or South Africa, where they learned from the French way back when and are one of the top producers.

Image result for Free pictures of Jayson Werth

                Jayson Werth with some unknown dude named Harper

I also love this anecdote because it combines three of my greatest loves--food, baseball and vino.

            From Josh 

Jeff Zielstra and I coached the French National Team from 2007-2009 and we had a great experience with the French culture. As you know, they are very passionate about everything.  But food and wine with family are probably the most important. And we were fortunate to get a very personal look at where that passion comes from.

We needed to cut back a bit on expenses so we streamlined the meal plan.  Big mistake.  We’re at the 2008 European Championships in Barcelona and after lunch we’d usually get desert.  That was automatic.  I’m used to having it after dinner.  But in France it’s customary to have a little something sweet with a coffee or tea just after your extended lunch.

 I loved that part of it because in North America we tend to eat fast and not enjoy our company. Such a rush. It was natural to spend two hours at lunch time. There was no need to eat fast. And I really miss that.

          "You could hear the mumbled French cursing"

At any rate, one of our budget cuts was desert after lunch.  So Jeff and I get up after the bill was paid.  Usually that meant the players would follow us.  But this time they all remained seated like they were glued to their chairs.  We said “Allez” which means let’s go.  Nothing.  No movement at all.  Now the team captain takes control.  He asks “what about desert?”  But we didn’t respond.  Another big mistake.  You should have seen the look on their sour faces.  You could hear the mumbled French cursing under their breath.

We got steam rolled 11-1 in our opening game.  So Jeff and I suddenly found the money to put desert back on the menu.

Good move.  With desert back in the picture we came within an out of reaching the semi final.  But we blew it when we had to bring the infield in with the bases loaded and our shortstop froze on a routine groundball.  And then a double cleared the sacks on the next pitch.  Game over.  Season over.

Much more on wine next week.  Including the best price range if you want quality without having to take out a bank loan.  Stay tuned.

   

 

 

PROTECTING THE PITCHER’S ARM

 

THE DEMOLITION DERBY ON THE MOUND

        The Scourge of Tommy John Surgery

If your son is a high profile pitcher I have a word of wisdom.  Well, two words actually. 

Be afraid.  Make it three words.  Be very afraid.

That’s gross hyperbole, of course.  But is it?  Let’s just say I’m trying to get your attention.

Let me slide a few statistics into your cerebral cortex.  Stats that prove once again the utter incompetence of many MLB pitching coaches and trainers. 

Now that’s a pretty arrogant sentence isn’t it?  What the hell does Dave Empey know?  These MLB guys are far more tuned in than I am.  They must be.  They’re in The Show and I’m coaching kids in the hick town of Vancouver.  No contest.  

You be the judge.

 

Image result for Free pictures of Jordan Hicks

A national treasure named Jordan Hicks.  Until The knife sliced into his elbow.

Here’s some mind numbing numbers from a great story by Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated.

We’re talking about the cream of the crop, the top 11 pitching prospects  drafted out of high school in the past few years.  They signed for astronomical bonuses, more $$$ than 99 per cent of the human beings who stumble through life on this planet will ever see.

And, in the past two years, eight of them did not finish the season intact.  They were in dry dock.  Sitting at home staring into the abyss.  Wondering If they’d ever pitch again.

Eight out of 11.  Yes, EIGHT out of ELEVEN.  One more time.  EIGHT out of ELEVEN of the best prospects in the whole damn game were damaged goods.  So damaged they couldn’t throw a five ounce Rawlings 10 feet.

Does that sound like competence to you?

Here’s the sad list.

TOMMY JOHN SURGERY
Michael Kopech, White Sox
Jesus Luzardo, Athletics
Brent Honeywell, Rays
Alex Reyes, Cardinals
Hunter Greene, Reds

Image result for Free pictures of Michael Kopech

       Michael Kopech, who threw 102 before his UCL popped

SHOULDER INFLAMMATION
Mike Soroka, Braves
Sixto Sanchez, Phillies
Forrest Whitley, Astros, plus drug violation

Now I ask you this.  Let’s say you’re the CEO of a company manufacturing smartphones.  And 73 per cent of them keep breaking down in only a few months.  Would you continue handing out cheques to your techies?  Just keep on doing the same thing, guys.  Don’t change anything. 

 I think not.  In fact, I think you’d fire the whole damn lot of them and bring in a brand new crew.  A competent crew.

Not baseball.  This game just staggers along, eating its young.  It’s like the Powers That Be can’t read the Injured List.  As if they have no comprehension of the horrendous damage being done to young, vulnerable arms.  Arms worth hundreds of millions of dollars, because we always have to make it about money, don’t we?  Not the shattered dreams of a young man.

          19 out of 47 Under the Knife

This may be understandable when you realize how few GM’s actually played high level baseball.  After Billy Beane you need a magnifying glass to find anyone who got within 1,000 miles of the big leagues.

You crave more stats?  Sure, let’s feed your need.

Verducci points out that from 2011 to 2014 MLB teams drafted 47 high school hurlers in the first round.

And 19 of them went under the knife for elbow or shoulder surgery.  That’s right, 40 per cent.  Forty bleeping per cent needed operations on their arm.

 And here’s the left hook knockout punch.

Seven years ago there were 15 high school pitchers signed in the first round.  SEVEN of them suffered TJ or labrum surgery.  And get this.  Five of them were gone from pro baseball before their 25th birthday.

 

person holding smartphone beside tablet computer

          But, boss, you can't fire me just because I'm incompetent.

Verducci blames these abysmal numbers of lame, forlorn, tragic arm demolitions on the Cult of Velocity.  Yes, of course, kids are throwing harder than ever and The Gun is God to crosscheckers and Scouting Directors.  And the Growth Plates of teenagers are quivering in fear as they face the onslaught of the relentless need to pop 90 plus to even get a scout to glance your way.

But Velo has always been The Holy Grail.  And there’s far more to this than the Need for Speed when you’re 17.

Why are there so many MLB pitchers, very much grown men, visiting the IL as often as the bathroom?  Or recovering from Tommy John?  These guys are as sturdy as oak trees.  But they see the surgeon as often as that Trivago commercial repeats and repeats and repeats.  Some have even had TJ twice.  It’s like they’re aiming for a record.

          Have They Ever Heard of R&R?

Why were four of the Mariners starters, including James Paxton and King Felix, on the DL two years ago?  Why did an absolute phenom like Jordan Hicks, who sat on 102 to 104, surely the best flamethrower since Nolan Ryan, pop his UCL?

Obviously, the MLB Gurus don’t know What the Hell Their Doing.

Let me give you a Heads Up.  In our next visit to PROTECTING THE PITCHER’S ARM we’ll dissect, examine and toss around the ineffable need for Rest and Recuperation after you pitch or throw a bull pen.

Rest and Recoup are as crucial as sleep.  And it seems a whole slew of MLB managers, coaches and trainers can’t spell R&R.

Image result for free pictures of Nolan Ryan

The greatest right-handed pitcher who ever lived.
Blitzed 102 mph.  Struck out the world.
Threw seven no-hitters and 12 one-hitters.
One of those no-hitters at age 45.
Never needed Tommy John.
Obsessed with good mechanics and conditioning.
Did no one ever learn from him?

 

RANDOM BURSTS OF WISDOM

                                              (And how humble is that?)

                 Whatever Happened to Late Night TV?

I’m watching a couple of old Johnny Carson clips on YouTube.  His guests are legends.  Frank Sinatra.  Don Rickles.  Burt Reynolds.  Buddy Hackett.

The Boss himself, the ineffable Sinatra, and a parade of heavyweights.  Rickles as sharp as ever and Hackett, one of my favourite stand-ups.  I saw him in Vegas and you got the feeling he had so much material he could go in 10 different directions at once, like branches of a tree, adjusting to the reaction of the saloon crowd.  The ultimate pro.

Image result for Free pictures of Don Rickles

                                                 Rickles riffs

By comparison, I’m browsing the Guide to see who’s on the current late night lineup.

James Corden has Wiz Khalifa, Zach Wood and Sara Bareilles.  I’m not kidding.
Conan has Lil Rel Howery.  Yes, he does.
Colbert has Norman Reedus, Cynthia Erive and Miranda Lambert.  No joke.

Who are these people?  Do they just drag them in off the street?  Are they relatives of the producers?  Audience members?  Tourists from North Dakota searching for a washroom?

I know, I know, I looked them up.  They are actors and comics and singers.  Right up there with Sinatra and Rickles.  Stars for the Millennials, whatever that means.  Super stars, I’m sure.  Yes, they certainly are.

I don’t watch Fallon or Corden or Conan as much as possible.  They are pathetically lame and dull, as creative as a comatose telephone pole, and as interesting as watching bread bake.

          Carson and Dangerfield--15 Minutes of Joy

They have not the slightest understanding of the Blueprint of Carson, the King.  Make The Guests Look Good.  Feed them set-ups.  Play the straight man and let them riff.  Dangerfield was the classic example.  When Carson and Rodney hooked up it was 15 minutes of unequalled joy.

But I did tune in to Colbert one night when he had Paul McCartney.  And, of course, Colbert blew it.  McCartney was promoting a book.  So Colbert’s staff put together half a dozen fake book covers mocking his senior citizen old age.

Paul was not amused.  That’s the ticket.  Book one of the most iconic performers in the history of the planet and embarrass him.  Way to go, Jackass.

What’s that?  You’re a Millennial and you’re wondering who the hell Paul McCartney is?  Just ask Zach Wood, the legendary long snapper.  Or his friends at EA’s Madden 20.

Hell, they may have even heard of some band called The Beatles.  And isn’t that a ridiculous name.  They’ll never sell a record.

Image result for Free pictures of Rodney Dangerfield

           "My mother never breast fed me.  She said she liked me as a friend."

A CALL SO BAD IT’S HALL OF FAME

 The Moment the Astros Rolled Over and Quit

There was an indelible moment in the eighth inning last night when I knew the Astros were done.  Kaput.  Gonzo.  Screwed, blued, and tattooed.

Trailing 4-2 with one gone Carlos Correa is called out on strikes on a fastball at least eight inches inside.  It’s as if the umpire is delusional on acid and the plate has suddenly doubled to 34 inches wide.  A call so terrible it should earn a plaque in the Hall of Fame.  And what made it worse, the ump was directly in line with the pitch as he rang Correa up.

Correa argued briefly but his heart wasn’t in it.   

I waited for the explosion from the Houston dugout. 

But…

Nothing.  Zilch.  Nada.  A library. 

At that moment the Astros should have gone as ballistic as Godzilla with an electric prong shoved up his butt.  Off the wall.  As enraged as a Brahma bull about to gore the prima donna asshole in the tights waving his sword around.

Image result for Free pictures of Carlos Correa

          Correa listens for the explosion that never came.  I know, I know...

That call was so awful there should have been a visceral, emotional, testosterone outburst strong enough to light up a Black Hole.

But A.J. Hinch, the master of dead pan, staring straight ahead, I’m Not Going to Show any Emotion, did absolutely nothing.  Neither did his coaches.

One of these dudes should have charged from the dugout screaming like a police siren.  And been joyously ejected.

But the Astros were as comatose as teenagers listening to desultory rap that sucks out their blood like a voracious vampire.

          The Message from Martinez

Compare this to the night before when Dave Martinez lost it after Trea Turner was called out for running directly to first base instead of sprinting outside the line even though the bag is inside the line.  If you can make sense of that moronic rule you should be on the Supreme Court.

Martinez sent a message, I am as passionate about this as you are, 100 per cent, so deeply involved I can’t control my anger over the stupidity I just saw. 

By contrast Hinch showed the emotion of a totem pole.  At a time when the Astros desperately needed juice, desperately needed righteous anger, desperately needed a kick in the testicles, desperately needed RELEASE, RELEASE, RELEASE of stultifying tension, they got…nothing.

And that was the moment I knew it was over.  The Astros had quietly given up.  Quit.  Rolled over.  They were dead meat, as washed out and whipped as a cuckold husband.

If you can’t go ballistic on a call that egregious there’s no blood left in your veins.  And you are losers.

Bravo, Stephen Strasburg.  You deserve it.

Image result for Free pictures of A.J. Hinch

BUILDING A BETTTER HITTER

 

DEVELOPING A 3-HOLE BOMBER

             Michael Brantley and Iron Mike

The Astros have Monsters in their lineup.  Springer.  Altuve.  Bregman.  Gurriel.  And a dude named Michael Brantley, who fits the three hole like butter fits bread.  Like Lucy fits Desi.  Like boots fit cowboys. 

Brantley is a Gap to Gap line drive banger with power who can also steal a bag.  What’s not to like. 

He is also a product of one of the most intelligent approaches to BP since Ted Williams hit .406.  Yes, he did.

Image result for Free pictures of Michael Brantley

Michael is the son of Mickey Brantley, who played four years for the Mariners before spending time with the Blue Jays and Mets as a hitting coach.  Which means his son was impregnated with an alien virus called the Louisville Slugger.

As Michael grew up taking his rips in their backyard batting cage pop had one basic rule.  “We can do this all day if you’re serious about it,” Mickey said.  “But, if you want to go out and start fooling around, your dad doesn’t have time for that.”

Michael was no fool.  So he never fooled around. “My dad never forced me to go hit,” he says.  “He always told me to enjoy it. Whenever I came off the field he asked me if I had fun. He never embarrassed me, never yelled at me from the stands.  Not once.”

          North Shore Twins Story Time

Mickey also knew exactly how to use the pitching machine that lurked in their cage like an armed robber.  It’s name was Iron Mike and it was a venerable, wise old dude with many secrets locked into its machinery.

I will tell you those secrets in a moment.  But first…Story Time.

Many moons ago when I was coaching the North Shore Twins we were getting two or three players drafted almost every year.  We had one strapping young guy who stood about 6-4, packed with 220 pounds of muscle.  But when he came out for early work he couldn’t hit a lick.  Limp, dribbly groundballs.  Weak anemic pop ups.  He was as frustrated as a guitar without strings.

Which was strange because he told me he’d been hitting all winter.  Off a pitching machine.  Sirens went off.  Hitting off a pitching machine. Bingo.  Of course.

Unless you know precisely what you’re doing hitting off a machine is a disaster waiting to strike like Darth Vader.

Star Wars, Darth Vader, Villain Action Figure, Toy

              The Star Wars two wheel pitching machine sells for $630 million.

There ain’t nothing that will bleep your timing faster than a damn pitching machine.  Why? You ask and I applaud your choice of words.

Most pitching machines are two wheelers that shoot the balls out of a hole like a pistol.  They get up on you like a stalker and I’m not talking about the radar gun.  Whoosh. And the damn thing is past you.

But you have to see a pitcher’s Delivery to time him.  His Arm Action ignites your Load and  your Stride.

You are halfway through your stride at the pitcher’s release point.

Try to time that when you're hitting off a machine that bursts bullets without any arm action whatsoever.  You can't find the rhythm.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“I wanted to hit home runs, and he told me no.  He told me to learn to hit and the power will come.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Without seeing Arm Action there’s just no way to Load.  It’s like trying to hit in a closet with the lights off.  If you take your Full Stride with a two wheel machine you are lost.  Your timing is as screwed up as walking on one leg.  So you have to make a major adjustment.

You Hit From Load. 

Before the ball goes into the machine you take your Full Stride and Load onto your back leg. Then, when you see the ball, you just pick up your stride foot an inch or two.  And hammer.  This simulates the same timing you’d have hitting off a pitcher.

The two wheel monsters are great for curveball BP.  You simply adjust the angle of the wheels and then run them at two different speeds to get the break you want.

Image result for Free pictures of Mickey Brantley

                                                  The Guru                                                                        

But you have to Hit From Load, especially for fastballs.

Unless…

You’re using a simulator with a video of a pitcher in synch with the machine and ejecting the ball at release point.  Hitting World sells them for $7,000 U.S.  No, sorry, that’s $6,995.  Way better deal.

Or…

Our good buddy Iron Mike.  The new ones cost any where from $1,450 for the starter to $3,985 for the pro version that can pop 85 mph.  The old ones are yesterday, even if they’re better than most of the two wheel machines today.

The Brantley cage was Iron Mike’s home ground, courtesy the New York Mets.  The same machine Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry once used in spring training.  It was a decade old and, when the Mets were throwing it away in favor of a newer model, Mickey Brantley yelled Whoa, hold on, I’m coming.  So he adopted Mike like a proud father.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
“We talked about driving the ball to the left center gap.  I got very comfortable on fastballs away.”
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

That Iron Mike was a box the size of a large refrigerator with a decrepit, cranky rotating metal arm that fired fastballs.  Yes, an Arm.  Just like a pitcher.

It vibrated and clanged and whirred, but Mickey knew it was far superior to the modern two-wheelers because the hitter saw actual, real, essential, mandatory Arm Action.  Which means a normal stride and Rhythm.  

 What’s more, it was unpredictable.  Iron Mike spewed out heaters in, out, up, down, everywhere but loose...like real baseball.

“The one with the wheels will mess up your timing,” says Michael.  A hitter needs timing like a baby needs mama’s milk.  "Timing is everything,” says Mickey.  Amen.

Image result for Free pictures of Barry Bonds

Bonds choked up an inch or so.
He crowded the plate.
And he had the bat speed
of a lightning streak.

Mickey coached a lot of great hitters and Michael’s swing became a synthesis of their best qualities.  The extreme head turn of Barry Bonds, allowing him to track pitches with both eyes on target.  “Most guys are peekers,” says Mickey.  Or John Olerud’s ability to start to swing, only to lay off at the last moment if it wasn’t a hitting pitch.

Mickey was all about developing a gap to gap line drive bomber.   He insisted Michael drill shots into the back end of the cage and never into the top of the netting.  “I wanted to hit home runs, and he told me no,” Michael says.  “He told me to learn to hit and the power will come.”

There were tee drills like bottom hand only, using a short, heavy bat, nicknamed Fat Albert, to work on bat path.  Or two hand swings with the tee elevated to the top of the zone.

But Iron Mike was always the star.  Take your hacks for real, Michael, with Arm Action and Load and Stride and hammer that sucker into the back of the net like Ronaldo. 

Michael learned to go Oppo with power, Ph.D time, and he graduated with honors.  “We talked about driving the ball to the left center gap,” he says.  “I got very comfortable on fastballs away.”

I have no idea why the old Iron Mike machines disappeared like morning mist.  Maybe too erratic or hard to sell.  After all, the manufacturers  are more interested in making money than building a Michael Brantley.

But kudos to Father Power.  And a guy named Mickey who understands how to develop a 3 hole hitter.

Image result for Free pictures of pitching machines

 

The JUGS two-wheeler is great for curveballs.   Hit from LOAD.

Before Game 3 a good friend who is also a very knowledgeable baseball guy sent me this text:

"Nats in four, Dave." 

Here is my response: 

"You r very wrong.  If the Astros win tonight, and I think they will, they'll take the Series." 

I'm not much for predictions.  I've been going to the racetrack since I was 11 years old so I've learned a lot about sure things that finish fifth. But that's my prognosis.  Don't bet on it.  

 

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          This guy is so flexible he makes a pretzel look like a laser beam 

DISSECTING THE BRYCE HARPER DEAL

Most Powerful (and Hated) Man in Baseball

Scott Boras has often been called the Most Hated Man in Baseball.  Or the anti-Christ.  Or Satan.  Or Evil Incarnate.  Or a Serial Killer.  Or That *&%#$% SOB.

If you own an MLB team (You do? Really?) you probably view Boras as the scum pickpocket who keeps stealing from the billion dollar nest egg you earned the hard way by inheriting it.  Or by selling real estate or digging oil wells or creating a mutual fund.  With your own hands.

Scott Boras is The Most Powerful Man in Baseball.  By far.  By miles far.  By many kilometres far.

He’s the most potent dude since Babe Ruth kicked off the Home Run Derby.  Since commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis axed the 1919 Black Sox.  Since George Steinbrenner ruled the Big Apple.  (And who names their kid “Mountain”? I like it.)

Boras is the Uber Super Agent of All Time, the Head Honcho of the four per centers, the Main Man of the Blood Suckers Fraternity.  In other words, he’s damn good at it.

He collects his endless fees like De Niro in Taxi Driver.  Click.  Click.  Click.

Image result for Free pictures of Scott Boras

Take a look at just a few of the guys Boras reps these days.

ASTROS--Gerrit Cole, Jose Altuve
NATIONALS--Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto
RED SOX--JD Martinez, Xander Bogaerts
DODGERS--Hyun-jin Ryu, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager
CUBS--Kris Bryant, Nicholas Castellanos
PHILLIES--Rhys Hoskins
ATHLETICS--Matt Chapman
BRAVES--Dallas Keuchel

And, oh, yeh, some dude named Bryce Harper.

He negotiated Harper’s con job $330 million deal.  And Cole is so sizzling, searing, flamethrowing hot he could well be the first $300 mill pitcher.  Strasburg has opted out of his contract to join the Hit Parade of $$$$ rolling down the hill.

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          The Bottom Line
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How much does the Boras Corporation siphon off from this largesse?  Well, it may come as a surprise but I’m not privy to their books.  There is no MLB restriction on agent fees so the going rate would usually be somewhere between three and 10 per cent.

But this I can tell you.  In 2017 Scott’s company collected $108 million from approx $2 billion in MLB contracts.  My very rough, very quick long division says that’s around 5.7 per cent.  (Okay, smart ass, do your own math.)

These transactions are as intricate as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity but that looks like $18 mill from the Harper deal and a projection of $17 mill when Cole autographs a contract.    Over the long run, of course.

And that doesn’t even come close to the money from endorsements where agents often charge 20 per cent.

Image result for Free pictures of Gerrit Cole

                   How does it feel to be worth $300 mill?

So why is Boras so disliked by the powers that be?  Simply because he negotiates like Jaws.  Nothing is left to chance.  Every dollar is trench warfare.  This just seems like good business to me.  But some owners and GM's get so roughed up they are loath to sign one of his clients and won't draft a high school or college kid he represents.

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          In the beginning...
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Boras kicked off 36 years ago repping Mike Fischlin and Bill Caudill, who both work for him now.  Along the way he’s inked more firsts than Michael Phelps.  First $50 mill deal, Greg Maddux.  First for $100 mill, Kevin Brown.  And first to touch $200 mill, A-Rod himself.

Of course, Boras, who is 67, doesn’t scoop all this gravy personally.  Overhead at his Newport Beach HQ in SoCal includes 75 employees with everyone from an economist to a computer engineer to five personal trainers to the perfunctory sports psychologist to a coffee klatch of attorneys, and, finally, a punch drunk dude or dudess who has to watch every MLB game played that day and file a report.  The job from hell.

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          The Anatomy of a Major League Deal
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His negotiating technique is simple but deadly, like wrapping a python around your neck and praying it’s well fed and not too pissed off.

Five years in MLB.  Free agency.
No extensions.  None.
Ask for the keys to the city of Miami.  Or LA.  Or Chicago.
Nurture Social Media rumours, gossip, conjecture.
Drive up the price like Bernie Madoff.
Sit back and wait.  Wait.  Wait.
Until somebody panics.
Go to the jugular.

The Harper Deal is a classic example.

Harper has posted exactly one humongous MLB season.  One.  Not two.  One.  In 2015 he hit .330 with 42 jacks and 99 RBI’s.  His career BA is .276 and he averages 27 bombs per season.  If that’s worth $330 mill then Joe Pepitone is a Hall of Fame first baseman.

Money wise he is surely the most overrated player in history.  He leaves the Nats and they're in the World Series.  He signs with the Phillies and the city goes nuts, devouring his jersey and conjuring images of a dynasty.  Only to sputter like a VW running out of octane.  Fire the manager.  Welcome Joe Girardi.

So why $330 mill?

Image result for Free pictures of Juan Soto

            And what will this Juan be worth five years from now?

Washington GM Mike Rizzo manned up to accept some of the blame for Harper’s departure.  Some say the Nats sucked up to Harper without accountability, which is always a Chernobyl.

Were other teams interested?  Harper is a good bud of Freddie Freeman and apparently the Braves were choice Numero Uno but they didn’t value Bryce enough to empty their bankroll.

The Dodgers were on board.  They offered a record amount of bread per season but only for four or five years.  And the Giants fit perfectly into the Boras Game Plan when they upped the ante to 12 years in the very friendly neighbourhood of $310 million.

Time to finesse the Phillies.  Or is that “fleece” the Phillies?

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          "I may have said five minutes worth of words."
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Boras must have salivated when Philadelphia owner John Middleton admitted his team had copious amounts of $$$$ and “we may even be a little bit stupid about it.”  Analytics be damned, this had become a Sale by Emotion.

Of course, there was the obligatory video featuring Philadelphia’s finest imploring Harper to join Mr. Balboa for another charge up the Rocky Steps.

It all came to a head when Middleton and Harper took their wives to dinner with Boras there to supervise.  Apparently, it was as convivial as two Democrats discussing impeachment.

“I may have said five minutes worth of words the entire time,” Boras said, later.  “John and Leigh, Bryce and Kayla, they just talked.”  He didn’t mention who paid the bill.

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“The reality is the greatest and most successful aspect of Hollywood are the stars,” Boras says. “George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper … whatever movie they are in is about them. People identify with the greatest of great people. In sports you think about Michael Jordan and Tom Brady. What is best for baseball is what the fans tell us: when you have the greatest, most iconic players, the fans will come.”
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Finally, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, who is in better shape than his players, met with Bryce to talk training and nutrition.  “They hit it off,” Boras said, despite some reports to the contrary.  “They were two peas in a pod.”

Case closed.  Contract signed.

Now it would be easy to conclude Middleton and the Phillies got taken for a ride like Jimmy Hoffa.  But that would be foolish.  Season ticket sales went to Mars, merch flew off the shelves, and it remains to be seen what the Girardi Era will do for the franchise.

As far as Boras is concerned it was just another notch on a belt with more dents than Wild Bill Hickok.

He may be hated by some but that’s hard to understand.  Nobody forces an owner to sign a contract.  And this is just Free Enterprise.  Even if free costs a fortune.                                                

13
Jun 19