Yes, it feels like just yesterday when Mr. Clutch and millions of others got their baseball news on Saturday afternoon watching the great show "This Week in Baseball" hosted by the legendary Mel Allen. Who won the Met game? You either called "Sports Phone" (976-1313 if memory serves me correctly), or waited for the daily news to be delivered to your house by a "Paperboy". Extinct of course is the Paperboy, and the newspaper is not too far behind it. To keep with the anthropology terms, the newspaper is an endangered species.
Now, the news is instant. Tweets come in about a walk off home run as the player in question is still rounding the bases. You can read a pitcher's MRI before Dr. Andrews does. It's just the nature of the times we live in. Not only does the public want news and information immediately, they want to know everything about everybody. The concept of "Following", "Friending" and "Linking" to strangers to know their every move is just commonplace.
The point of all this and it's relevance to baseball is that the sport has gone from checkers to chess. What? It's all about strategy based upon gathered information and data and no longer about just playing the game. Case in point, MLB teams now send a stat nerd on the road with teams. They crunch numbers and literally call down to the dugout to tell the manager to move the left fielder two steps in or out, left or right. This is because the data analytics tells him so.
What ever happened to instinct, feel, a whim or good old using of the noggin to figure these type of things out. We are not too far away from their being no reason to actually play the games. Just run the lineups through a simulator and spit out the results. Kind of like the MicroLeague computer baseball game from back in the day. You set the lineup and the game played itself. Or in an analog world, the great Strat-o-matic.
It's just a matter of time until the machines totally take over. It's Cyberdyne systems in the making. John Connor where are you?
This blog originally started in the next paragraph, or depending how long I ramble on here it’s probably easier if I just say the paragraph that starts with “This year is 2017”. Well, now the year is 2018 and probably the same month and I’m just refreshing the blog, particularly because it was a “Time sensitive” piece. Not time sensitive in the traditional meaning, but it was just about how much time has passed since a certain lousy event in Met’s history.
For the record, and see told you so on the rambling before getting to the “Start” of this blog, I’m refreshing all the baseball blogs this year. What? OK, here goes. Last year, around this time, I started quietly writing a weekly baseball blog. I posted 34 blogs in total during the course of the long baseball season. I say quietly, because though the blogs were public, they weren’t advertised and really only sent off to about five people to read. This year I’m going to reissue the blogs one at a time while trying to go viral with an audience.
The blogging evolved over the season and started with this short one on Kazmir, which was OK at best. As the blogs went on they got better, longer and some of them are flat out phenomenal. That said, I find it very necessary to “Clean up” each weekly blog before the reissue. This will include adding some new content, refreshing ones that have the sensitivity around the time and just some general polishing. The blogs will be released on the same cadence of last year, which is around once a week.
Real quick, it’s now 2018 and Scott Kazmir is still pithing in the major leagues! Granted he had an injury plagued season last year, but he’s still going and now it’ with the Atlanta Braves. He’s down in camp as we speak battling for a spot in the starting rotation. Who cares? Well, his longevity it’s the basis and crux of this blog! Enjoy, and I hope to see you for the next 30 weeks or so.
The year is 2017 and spring training is in full swing. The Dodgers just reported that starting pitcher Scott Kazmir will be out the next few weeks nursing a quad injury. The time-frame to recovery and actual injury might not be exact, but close enough. What’s remotely interesting about this is that Kazmir is another example of a Met trade gone terribly wrong.
The in depth part will be a look back at what went wrong, how and why. Depending how old you are there is a reasonable possibility that you had no clue that Kazmir was once part of the Met’s organization. It’s reasonable because you may not have born yet. If you’re reading this you probably were, but you get the Clutch point.
On the surface, and without digging our heels into the details this doesn’t seem like too big a deal. Back a couple of decades ago the Met’s traded away the jewel of their farm system for a veteran. It happens all the time, and usual around a pennant race. There is typically nothing to see here other than the team getting the youth giving up a little more with the aged proven player. This is often because the old guy is at the end of contract and holds less than comparable value.
On the flip side of that, the team obtaining the youth is the team usually taking the larger gamble. The minor league asset is almost always unproven, even if they are considered a high prospect. That’s because the key word there is prospect. Until that player does it at the major league level they are an unknown. There are, of course, exceptions to that rule where the player is a lock or guarantee to succeed at the next level. In Kazmir’s case he was closer to the lock than the risk.
For time capsule purposes it is March of 2017 and Scott Kazmir is still an effective pitcher on a major league baseball team. He is currently in the midst of his second run with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a starting pitcher. This will be his 14th year in the bigs, which is quite an accomplishment for any professional athlete in any sport. Kazmir spent many seasons with the Rays, and how he got there is the crux of this blog, and then a few southern and western teams.
Kazmir was drafted mid first-round by the Met’s in 2002 and was touted as the next great pitcher to come up the ranks in the organization. There are only a few things finer than having a left-hander with a 90+ MPH fastball and variety of other useful pitches in the wings. Scott moved up in the minors relatively quickly, certainly quicker than most, and was posting great numbers in AA ball in the spring of 2004. Yeah, that was just a short 13 seasons ago.
The unfortunate fact of the matter is that most players in the minor leagues never make it. It’s nothing against them or their abilities, but more of a numbers game. There are only so many major league baseball jobs available, and only a select few will fill those positions. The others will be in perennial tryout mode, hoping to make it until the dream finally fizzles. As mentioned, certain players rise above and the minors are considered more practice than a tryout.
Many coaches and scouts believe that AA ball is “The next best thing” to major league baseball. Though technically it’s one level below AAA ball, AAA is sometime touted more as a dumping ground for players who are just not good enough to make it one more level up to the big leagues. That said, I you can perform well in AA you are likely a candidate to one day play on a major league roster. If you perform really well in AA then you are probably ready to go to the big club on a days’ notice.
As we all know, and if you don’t you will now, the Met's traded the then “Phenom” minor-leaguer in 2004 for Victor Zambrano to help with a playoff run. They (The Met’s) needed an extra starting pitcher to help with the pennant race, and thought the obtaining one would increase the possibility of making the playoffs. It’s the old “Win now” mentality that caused a trigger to be pulled.
“Win now”, besides the obvious definition, is a policy of sorts where a team feels they are in position to win in the current season if they add a last piece to a puzzle. Why it’s even a thing, let alone a policy, is that in major league baseball it is flat-out hard to win. Making the playoffs is tough, and sifting through that to the World Series is even tougher. If a team is feeling like they are in position to make it – they do whatever it takes to push that through.
Before we get going on why this particular “Win now” transaction was not a good one, let’s note that Victor Zambrano, the key cog of the trade to the Met’s, wasn't even the best "Zambrano" in the league that year, let alone a really good pitcher. The better one was Carlos, who was a fire-baller for the Chicago Cubs. Now If the trade was for Carlos Zambrano, the Met’s would have been hailed as heroes, though it is notable that his career would be shorter than that of Scott.
So let’s go – the Met’s traded Kazmir to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, now affectionately known as just the “Rays” because someone(s) were upset that a team had the word “Devil” in it, for V. Zambrano. The Tampa Bay team name change, and reason for it, will possible be the subject for another blog another day. The reason the “Win now” required this trade was that the Met’s felt that Kazmir, though a budding star, wasn’t ready to pitch effectively at the major league level.
1. The Rays (Devilrays back then) called Kazmir up from the minors immediately. Why didn't the Met's just do that? Kazmir won 2 games in 2004...Zambrano? "0".
2. Kazmir through a gem yesterday for the Dodgers...12 years later. Zambrano? Had a sub-par year in 2005 and then pitched 40 more innings combined in 2006/7 before hanging up his cleets. Where he is now? Parts unknown, weight unknown.
3. General note on the quirks and misunderstandings of baseball (This might be my next book). In ALL other major sports (NBA, NFL, NHL, etc.) a player competes in the big leagues when selected in a draft (either out of college, or high-school these days). They are ready to compete there and then. The only exception is MLB - where players need to be groomed for several years in the minor leagues, especially pitchers. I never quite understood that. The only recent exception to this is the NBA D-League where un-drafted players and castaways can fight their way to or back into the light. Even there, the D league is not pre-school for future NBA players. It's just a place to keep some reasonable talent fresh in the event that a current player twists an ankle. For the NBA - the pre-school is called college. That's another Clutch rant for another day.
Mr. Clutch’s last blog post ramble on about “The End” and the excitability about going on a virtual vacation from baseball, blogging and maybe some other things that start with a “B”. Well, that was as short lived as the executive career of that Pope that got poisoned. Mr. Clutch speaks is back for extra innings! The Ali like return to the ring is partially because it’s hard to get away from something one likes doing and partially because there is more to report.
First, and quickly, two of the Clutch top-10 movies are referenced in the above paragraph. You are challenged to figure out what movies they are. The guess from Clutch laboratories is that a few of you (maybe one) will get one of the two, nobody will get both of the two and likely most will get none. Many movie references are name dropped into these blogs – but it’s rare to see two in the same paragraph. Feel free to leave a comment with your guess(es). There is a third bonus question – which there is 100% certainty that nobody will guess the answer to – even if you guess the two movies. There is an actor who played a very small supporting role in both films. Guess that and you will be deemed as almost as film critic worthy as Mr. Clutch himself.
The hard to get away part is tied more to writing than it is baseball. The Clutch creative writing division has many works in different stages of development. First, there is “Paranoid”, the critically acclaimed book published back in 2001. It’s available at amazon.com and more info is available there and on paranoidbook.com. “Paranoid” was put in front of a Hollywood producer back in the day and was almost optioned to become a major motion picture. It was also Pulitzer prize eligible in 2001 and ranked high on amazons book sales listing in the first quarter of 2002. It makes a perfect Christmas gift, and the author himself will sign any purchased copies and offer a 90-day “Answer” period where he will respond directly to a reader who has questions about the content.
Other books in the Clutch pipeline include “Year on the Felt” which documented a complete calendar year of Clutch’s poker play, and include much insight, philosophy and good stories about wins and losses. It’s in the editing stage at the moment. Then there’s “Hill 260” (working title) which is a non-fiction look at Clutch’s old man’s frontline experience in World War II. The content was strung together through interviews and research. This one is partially done, but mostly still in a virtual state. This one is probably a little more destined to be a movie than “Paranoid” and will likely star Ben Affleck as the current Mr. Clutch and Tom Hanks as his old man. Hopefully this will be coming soon to a theater near you.
The last work in the archives is this. It’s certainly the poster boy of a “Work in progress” as this group of blog posts is the skeleton or outline of the next great book on baseball. It’s pretty simple in that the 33+ blog posts will be chapters, and the current content of each blog post is the outline. All that needs to be done now is beef up each chapter by adding 3-7 pages of content to what’s there now. The end result will be a 300+ page book on the baseball adventures and thoughts of Mr. Clutch. Yes, writing a book *is* sort of kind of that easy.
The other reason for the extra frame is that Mr. Clutch himself stepped onto the diamond for the big annual wiffle-ball tournament held over in Jackson. It’s the one time of year that instead of speaking and writing that actual doing goes on. It’s a great day of fun, food, booze, banter and of course the kids American pastime “Wiffle-Ball”. Wiffle-ball perhaps was the easiest way for two friends or enemies to play the closest thing to baseball with a yellow plastic bat and white ball with holes in it as the equipment needed. A garage door would usually come in handy along with a pole or tree to indicate boundaries.
The annual pilgrimage to Jackson gives each of the 32 adults a periscope look back into the past. It’s a few hours of trying to do your best despite physical and aged limitations, when back in the day as a kid with a rubber arm and unbridled enthusiasm doing your best was just a day in the office. A player leaves all his problems at home that day and focuses solely on throwing strikes, banging out homeruns and having the time of his life. This particular tournament has been going on for around 15 years with Mr. Clutch being a participant for around the past eight or so.
The tournament, which incidentally is what it’s called, is like the NCAA basketball March Madness in that many “Teams” are invited though only a handful of those signed up actually have a chance to win. For every Kentucky and Louisville in the tournament there are many Belmonts, Murray States and Iona’s. Unfortunately, and despite the abilities as a youth, Mr. Clutch represents East Tennessee State and not North Carolina.
The tournament is stacked with phenomenal athletes an ballplayers. Let’s see, for starters there is former Major League baseball player with 9 years as a pro and World Series ring. Then there is the guy who played AA ball for the Met’s before becoming an agent. And let’s not forget the pitcher who played college ball and the infielder who represented Italy in the World Baseball classic. Once guy spent many years as the Met’s bullpen catcher, which though you are an “employee” and not a “player” on the team, it’s still a position reserved for a great athlete who maybe was just a hair shy of being good enough to play on the team. There are also many “Amateurs” in this thing who throw gas, hit for power and make the wiffle-ball dance in the wind before reaching the batter’s box. It’s just too much for a guy who once, but no longer, has it to overcome.
The playing area is setup with four perfectly manicured and designed fields. This includes a plank of wood with a hole in it for the strike-zone, chalk fair lines down first and third, a homerun fence literally made out of fence material, and lastly beautifully erected fair poles (thanks Tim McCarver otherwise they would be referred to as “Foul” poles) out in left and right field. The distance from the mound to home is the industry standard for wiffle-ball, with the final touch being a set of carefully thought out rules for the first round point system. 16 make it out alive after four games, and then from that point on its head to head games just like the old days. The day works its way down to two players – who play for the title.
Though winning the tournament and getting to sign the professional baseball bat in sharpie and carry it for a year “Stanley Cup” style is the goal, there is nothing out there better than just the feel, smell and overall excitement associate with stepping into the batter’s box or on the mound for the first of many times that day. Of course that great way of it gets reversed the next day (or two) when the elders are typically in pain from head to toe due to using muscles that laid dormant for close to 12 months. The pain, extreme at times and lasts longer the older a player gets, is well worth it’s safe to say that none of the 32 would ever give up that day regardless of the physical price paid.