Friday, April 16, 2010

The Other Side Of The Spectrum

  • Batting practice with Jeff Suppan:

Just as I extolled the virtues of Joel Pineiro yesterday and presented the case for his transformation under Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan as a member of the Cardinals for being something more than a function of deployment and support; that it was a transferable foundation which would translate wherever he went after St. Louis, it's the opposite with Brewers pitcher Jeff Suppan.

While pitchers like Darryl Kile and Pineiro had the stuff to get people out regardless of the venue as long as their heads were on straight and executed their pitches and gameplan, Suppan is the epitome of a pitcher who was made by La Russa and Duncan. His stuff isn't even big league worthy anymore; even when he was at his "best" in his earlier years, he was what the big league hitters would refer to as a "cunnythumber".

A cunnythumber seen as a junkballer; a pitcher against whom the batters are embarrassed for having failed; walking back to the dugout gritting their teeth and shaking their heads for letting him get them out. There are cunnythumbers and there ar "comfortable-out" pitchers. For example, Tom Glavine, for almost his whole career, was a comfortable-out pitcher. Jeff Suppan is a cunnythumber. It's something on a level with a left-handed relief pitcher who's only in the big leagues or keeps getting chances because he had the good fortune to be born left-handed (Mike Myers, Ron Villone).

The term is explained neatly in Keith Hernandez's highly underrated diary of the 1985 season with the Mets, If At First on pages 262-263:

Two grounders, two strikeouts----and one each against Mark Thurmond, what we call a cunnythumber (lingo: junkballer). There are your "comfortable" 0-for-4s, guys like (Ed) Lynch, and then there are your cunnythumbers, guys who have the minimum required for survival in the big leagues. They throw junk, sometimes well-placed, and can be especially effective as relievers, because the hitters see their stuff only once in a game.

For the record, I think Keith was being kind to his friend and teammate Ed Lynch. Lynch's stuff (or lack thereof) was about on a level with that of Suppan.

It's as if Suppan's trying to trick big league hitters. His fastball----clocked at somewhere in the 80s----is testimony to the inaccuracy/"tweaking" of the radar guns; there's no chance he's throwing even that "hard". The truth is that his stuff hasn't declined all that much from what it was in his heyday with the Cardinals; it's about where it was then, but he was able to win games because he----like Storm Davis 20 years ago----hung around in games until the Cardinals got a lead and La Russa got him out before the hitters got a bead on his stuff and started teeing off.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with being a functional pitcher; having use, but not being a star; and no one can ever deny Suppan's money pitching in the post-season----specifically in 2006----but teams have to seriously determine whether they're getting a Pineiro or a Suppan when debating a lucrative contract offer.

The Angels are going to get their money's worth and more from Pineiro; the Brewers will have paid a guaranteed $42 million to a pitcher who's plainly and simply not worth it; for a pitcher who can be found on a Triple A roster (or in the Royals bullpen) to do exactly what it is Suppan does.

Just as Pineiro was misjudged in a negative way and many, many teams made a mistake in letting him slip through their fingers, the Brewers made an error in judgment by thinking they were getting a 15-game winning, innings-eater when they were, in reality, getting a cunnythumber.

Suppan's going to get released; and don't be surprised to see him end up in St. Louis again and actually be of use to La Russa and Duncan.

It's the way of the world.

  • Speaking of Keith Hernandez:

As engaging and politically-incorrect as he can be in the Mets broadcast booth, I don't think Hernandez maximizes his potential as he would if he related some of his stories from playing days. I'm not talking anything unsuitable for kids; I'm talking about stories of his years with Whitey Herzog in St. Louis; or his struggle to maximize his potential and early-career failures due to rampant emotionality and an absence of impulse control.

I've often wondered about his post-playing days relationship with his father figure/nemesis from the Cardinals, Whitey Herzog. Are they friends now? Do they look back on their days butting heads and laugh an understanding laugh?

The issues between the two reached critical mass when Herzog----tired of Hernandez's iconoclastic ways and quirks; and wanting to drop a bomb in his slumping clubhouse post the 1982 World Series win----traded his star first basemen to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. It's widely acknowledged as one of the worst trades ever made and was one of the main factors in the Mets return to prominence in the mid-to-late 80s.

Even with the troubled relationship, Hernandez often references the things that Herzog taught him as a player; and for someone with an ego the size of Hernandez to make such an admission, you can imagine that the respect and beneath-the-surface affinity that runs far deeper than just a baseball-related respect. Herzog was a fantastic manager and excellent judge of personnel.

I've always gotten the idea from Hernandez that he bought into the rules when he was a younger player because he had no choice (shaving his mustache for the disciplinarian Vern Rapp when he took over as Cardinals manager in the mid-70s) and was waiting until he fulfilled his potential to be himself. Once he achieved star status, if someone tried to tell Hernandez to shave his mustache; curb his after-hours activities; or proclivity for doing things his own way, he'd have told them to go to hell.

This, more than anything else, was the genesis of his feud with Herzog, which was probably never a feud at all; it was simply two strong-willed individuals who needed to part ways because they'd outgrown one another and couldn't co-exist.

I wouldn't be stunned to hear either, privately of course, say how much they respect the other as baseball people and as men. I bet they even like each other----to a point----under that simmering tension and competitiveness that both exhibited and was necessary to reach the heights that they did in the game.

  • An honorific goes over-the-top:

I'm all for giving Jackie Robinson his due, but am no fan of the practice of every player wearing uniform number 42 as they did yesterday.

To me, the uniform choice is going too far over-the-top to the detriment of the games of the day. When I'm watching a game, I like to actually know who's doing what; which relief pitcher is warming up; who's playing the field. Some players are easy to identify; others not so much. What would be wrong with putting a prominent and well-designed patch on everyone's uniform above the heart or on the sleeve?

People will disagree with me (or privately agree----in this case, you can comment anonymously without me losing my cool), but I just see it as diminishing what it was Jackie accomplished and the sacrifice he undertook by handing out uniforms with the same number on it for a particular day like the stuff that comes out of a sausage factory. There are other ways to give him his due that won't distract from the game and be more appropriate to what Jackie was.

Jackie was such an intense, old-school competitor (he defiantly made sure Bobby Thomson touched all the bases in the Shot Heard 'Round the World game; and retired rather than wear a Giants uniform after the Dodgers traded him) that I think he'd agree.

Author and rabid Yankee fan Jane Heller wrote what amounted to a love letter to promote my book in her blog posting today at Confessions of a She-Fan.

I don't think there's a nicer person in the world than Jane; she does things out of pure kindness without being sappy and asks nothing in return; and unlike most writers of what would be considered "chick-lit", she can actually write. She's one of the few people in the world that I'd ungrudgingly acknowledge as being a better writer than me and I'm lucky to count her as a friend.

  • Viewer Mail 4.16.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Javier Vazquez:

It's weird about people booing Vazquez. Fans have every right to boo their own players (they paid good money, blah blah), but as much as I scream at the TV and on Twitter, I just couldn't bring myself to boo a guy at the ballpark. What purpose does it serve other than to release frustration and disappointment? It's certainly not going to make the player go, "Oh, right. They're booing me. I'll do better now."

To me, the only reason to let a player from your own team have it is if he's not putting forth the proper effort or does something stupid. With Vazquez, as I said yesterday, I think it's blowback from 2004 and will fester into a frenzy of jealous fans trying to get attention and break the spirit of a person in whose position they would desperately love to be.

What would concern me----aside from Vazquez's mental state----is that he pitched quite serviceably in the game. What if he gets shelled in his next home outing? It's going to get worse and worse unless he's perfect, and we already know that he's not.

Jeff (Acting Boss) at Red State Blue State writes Family Business and the Yankees:

I'm ready to start sluggin' away if ya need it, Prince.

And don't the Yankees boo everybody?

I got that handled and will continue to deal with it until it no longer amuses me; then I'll let you delegate to a lower-level soldier----unless you want to get your hands dirty with it for a bit like a cat playing with a mouse before putting it out of its misery. I'm thinking (and I'll leave this decision to you as Acting Boss) that it might be something for Isaac to make his bones if you think he's ready. It'd be a perfect assignment (though slightly beneath him) for that psychopath in Arizona if he'd agree to come under the Prince of New York auspices as Southwest Underboss; he's remarkably stubborn, but his skills at dismemberment are undeniable.

Aside from that, it's at your discretion.

With the Yankees, they're being abusive to a pitcher that they're going to need to perform in the playoffs; and they're going to regret it unless they hit the brakes. Now.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger writes RE the Yankees booing:

Javy was kind of cornered into answering the question regarding getting boo'd. It really wasn't that bad. But if getting boo'd is something that's on his mind, he's already in for a tough season. If the fans are in his head already, he hasn't heard anything yet. This town, Yankee fans, boo'd Mantle, Jeter, Mo. Mets? We boo'd Reyes, Beltran and Johan in his very first game at Shea...etc etc.
Javy, you better get thicker skin. Is the boo'ing right or wrong or misguided? It doesn't matter. In baseball, everyone gets boo'd. Get over it and pitch.

There's having a thick skin and there's getting abused. Guys like Bobby Bonilla asked for it with his "you're not gonna knock the smile off my face"; and "this is where I always wanted to be" rhetoric. What did Vazquez do to deserve this relentless and unfair attack aside from pitching poorly in 2004? It's six years ago.

This is going to be a problem for the Yankees. A big one. I don't think they accurately calculated the possibly fallout when bringing Vazquez back.

Check out Jane's luminous review in her posting here.

Pick up a copy on Amazon and I-Universe in paperback and E-book. And now on Barnes and


theBrooklynTrolleyBlogger said...

If you'll allow me to stray a little off goes.
Ed Lynch? C'mon, have some more love for him. He was as much a part of the 80's build into '86 as anyone. I'm glad they gave him a full share.
Tom Glavine(and Maddux)never had to throw a strike. You know I say that in jest, but there's truth to it. And Neil Allen was a very valuable chip the Mets had. A motivated Herzog allowed the Mets to sell high because we know Allen fizzled out like a bottle-rocket. Rick Ownbey wasn't a bad prospect to take a chance on as a throw in. But he too amounted to nothing. Bout time someone else got Jim Fregosi.

She-Fan said...

Yes, I am a better writer than you and I'm going to prove it by correcting your grammar right now. It should be...."as being a better writer than I" not "me!" That said, I'm thrilled to be worshipped.

Jeff said...

Being worshipped ain't all that's cracked up to be. Case in point: Jesus of Nazareth. That dude was not only crazy, but he also got killed 'cuz he was crazy.

Anyway, yes, I think Isaac would be perfect for this task. Go get 'em, young man!

I'd like to hear some of those Whitey/Hernandez stories too. I really enjoy the Mets broadcasters... Ron Darling is one of my favorites.