The Elephant on the Mound

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Dave Barnes is a New York Yankees fan residing in Philadelphia. He is also just a huge fan of the game and a baseball purist. Today he makes his debut on Diamond Hoggers. Expect a column from Dave from time to time.

For anyone who has been following the world’s greatest game closely over the past decade, there has been one story that has been more puzzling than any other. No, it’s not broad PED use. No, it’s not how the hell Nelson Cruz didn’t catch that World Series clinching fly ball in 2011. No, it’s not even how Jose Bautista went from being a decent utility player to a homerun hitter with Superman like bat speed in the MIDDLE of his career. While all of these certainly make one scratch their head, it is undeniably the Tommy John (Ulnar Collateral Ligament) surgery that has been the most puzzling, even to professionals. To understand this issue it is important to understand the surgery itself, as well as potential causes of the injury from both a physical and cultural perspective. Finally, some possible changes that could be made as well as some of the financial and procedural complications of these changes will be discussed. Simply put, the problem is not only complex but also deeply rooted in the athletes and even more importantly, all of us.

Before diving into a more abstract discussion of the issue, let’s take a look at what this medical condition really is. Before continuing, I must state that I am not a medical doctor (my graduate degree is in psychology) but over the years I’ve been able to scrap together a somewhat cohesive schema of the anatomy and physiology of the problem. The Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL/Tommy John Ligament) is a ligament that is responsible for stabilizing the elbow during overhead movements. Pitching, being the violent overhead motion that it is, strains this ligament. There are two separate types of injury, chronic (gradual) and traumatic (acute). The chronic condition can be treated more conservatively through activity modification, cessation of throwing, rest and a throwing program to (hopefully) strengthen the area back up to performance ready levels. The more acute “pop” situation is one that most often results in UCL reconstruction surgery. Simply put, humans did not evolve to throw things violently from an overhead angle, especially not 100-130 times within 2-3 hours. With that said, the sport of baseball has been played professionally for over a century, so the main question is where did all of this come from? Let’s take a look at some common responses that have been discussed in the media.

Perhaps the two causes that we have heard most commonly are kids throwing too much at a young age and excessive weight training of MLB pitchers. While I agree that these two circumstances may be correlated to the problem, I believe that the problem results from a much broader issue; the fusion between sports and the increasingly aggressive drive for money in western culture.

In 1930, if a kid was noticed to have a good arm he would be encouraged to “keep at it.” He would continue to play with his friends and perhaps even a local team. When he came of age, he could be invited to try out for the professionals and if he was good enough he would make the team. Nowadays, the moment that a child is recognized as having a good arm he becomes an instant financial asset that needs to be “nurtured” and “educated” in the art of pitching. Private pitching coaches are instantly employed and the child is treated like a professional athlete with the primary goal of cashing in on a potential 5yr/125 million dollar contract with the New York Yankees someday. The child is treated more like a mechanical device than a human being. Over time, this mechanical device gets closer to breaking down as the innings pitched and private pitching sessions begin to add up over the middle school and high school years. By the time that college and the potential of professionalism comes knocking, the UCL has been stretched more by the age of 20 than most old school pitchers may have used in their career.

Speaking of body mechanics, let’s take a closer look at weightlifting. Pitcher physiques today are unique to any other time in baseball history because of their size and power. I’m not talking about Bartolo Colon or Peter Griffin big either. They are physical specimens with one goal in mind – get your arms and shoulders as strong as possible with lean muscle so you can attempt to hit 95mph on the radar gun to get noticed. While this drive may seem intuitive to many, it undermines the situation because strength training is for muscle building, not ligament building. These ligaments are fragile and the amount of torque that these modern day monsters are creating is absolutely unsustainable for the long term athletic health of the performer. While this is being made more explicit as of late, it isn’t having that much of an impact because the bottom line is the dollar bill and the way to obtain wealth is by having a Clemens like fastball. I have a family friend who recently met Cy Young Award Winner Sparky Lyle at an American Diabetes Association dinner in New Jersey and asked him about this very issue. Lyle responded by saying “in my day, pitchers went out and got burgers and beer after games. Now, they go and hit the gym after games that they performed in when their bodies are obviously in the need of rest.” All of this makes a lot of sense but is negligible next to the drive that these players have to stay in “good shape” to eventually get the big payday. The drive for money has once again overshadowed reason and wisdom. Of course, we can’t blame these players, their families, and their 3-5 private coaches (one for each pitch type, I’m sure) fully because that is the world we now inhabit in the 21st century. Western capitalism, by and large, has disembodied the mind from body to an extent that primitive impulses (like drive for money, resources, or to look exceptional) have suppressed the ability to think holistically about the long term.

The question now becomes what to do about this situation? In Japan, where it seems a lot less of these injuries occur, they give pitchers more rest time between starts. The prospect of a six or seven man rotation may make sense from a medical perspective but will the finance driven Major League organizations try this out? Will the Dodgers fear losing ratings and attendance if generational talent Clayton Kershaw throws ten less starts per season? Will the MLBPA be pleased when teams are spending less money to get big pitching stars because that player will only make 20-22 starts instead of 30? What about an increasing education on maintenance and a little bit less of an emphasis on performance? After all, these guys have a pretty damn good idea how to pitch and obviously no clue on how to keep their instrument fine tuned and healthy long term. A lot of questions loom large but in my view something will have to be done to adjust to the amazing rate in which these injuries are occurring.

In closing, it must be said that arm and elbow injuries are nothing new in baseball. Some say that Sandy Koufax and Steve Dalkowski could both have been saved by Tommy John surgery. In the old days there were plenty of times when people couldn’t pitch anymore because of “dead arm” or “chronic sore arm.” The point here is not to say that it never happened before, but to say that the rate in which it is happening now is incredible. This incredible rate of overuse leading towards deterioration also parallels the state of mind of a culture that is sick with ignorance, greed and psychological disembodiment.

All in all, I really do believe that the quality of play in today’s game is better than it ever has been. Much of this can undoubtedly be related to the shape, skill, and size of the players. The main point that I’m trying to make is that these guys should at least open their eyes as they continue to walk off the cliff. There needs to be a balance between the desire for mountains of cash, the perfect physique, and proper rest for the Ulnar Collateral Ligament of which only exists to maintain the integrity of the elbow joint.

Jay Bruce’s nightmare season continues

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Jay Bruce was moved to the bereavement list today for reasons still unknown. As a person who loves Jay Bruce, this is incredibly sad and concerning within a season that has been particularly difficult to sit back and watch him struggle through.

Bruce is down to .215 now, with 10 home runs and 42 RBI. This was supposed to be Bruce’s greatest season ever. It’s going to end up his worst. At least in 2009 when he hit a career-low .223, you knew he was on the way up. You knew his day of redemption would come. If you knew the game at all – you knew that it was all still out ahead of him.

This has a different feel to it. This time, we’re not so sure what it is, or how the story ends. Some knowledgeable fans are actually questioning if Jay Bruce ever finds it again. While we wouldn’t bet against him – we want to point out something that has it’s place in this.

Back at the beginning of this month (a month that has been Bruce’s worst of the season in terms of OPS), Jay Bruce sat down with Eno Sarris at FanGraphs to discuss hitting and his approach. It was a phenomenal piece, and many fans remarked that with a work ethic and approach like that; it was a matter of time until Jay Bruce found his way.

We didn’t say it at the time, but that actually wasn’t our thought. Not as well as we know this player. Our actual thought was ‘Wow, Jay Bruce is doing an awful lot of thinking right now. That can’t be a good thing in a game you want to keep as simple as possible’. Bruce has always been a player who slumps and surges to the extremes. This is because even with all his immense physical talents, Bruce has never truly mastered the mental aspect of the game. That’s why to us, it wasn’t a good sign to learn the guy is so deep in his own mind he might as well be Syd Barrett.

It’s the same game it’s always been. Bruce is a better hitter – we think – when he keeps his approach as simple as possible. See the ball, hit the ball. Don’t think too much in the box. Certainly do not attempt to work on or try new things during the game you’re playing in. We aren’t a big league hitting instructor, but whatever the Reds right fielder has tried this season has been a miserable failure. It’s time to ‘dumb’ it down a bit and do what he did when he came out of the minor leagues. He was a better hitter then.

In the meantime, Jay Bruce the person is in our prayers. He’s a good guy, and the bereavement list typically never means anything but heartache. It’s easy to forget while watching these guys each night that: they are human. They have emotion too. They feel things.

If this is indeed the beginning of the end of Bruce in Cincinnati, it’s been a pretty remarkable run at times. We aren’t ready for that yet, so let’s hope a day of redemption awaits Bruce Almighty somewhere just over the pass.

Report: MLB Teams have had it up to here with the Mariners trade offers

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We all know the feeling – well, those of us that play fantasy baseball anyways. There’s that one owner who can’t help himself in every league. He just can’t stop offering his shit for your good players. He’s convinced it’s a win for both sides.

Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik is that guy.

“He has made offers and then pulled back after we have said, ‘This is something we would do,”‘ one executive said. “He responds (by saying) it wasn’t an offer and that he will need to discuss it with his guys.”

Another executive added, “I don’t always get the sense that he knows what he wants to do. One day, he’s interested in one thing. The next day, he’s interested in another. That’s what makes it challenging.”

A third executive said, “They (the Mariners) don’t set out on a trade saying, ‘Here’s what we need. Let’s do what we can to get him.’ They think, ‘Who can we give up that will never be any good?’ They don’t want to give up anyone who will haunt them. That’s just flat-out fear.”

Zduriencik has responded to the criticism by saying this is just a normal course reaction of teams trying to do business. We have a feeling he really is this bad, possibly worse.

This is a stark contrast to former Mariner’s GM Bill Bavasi – who would fucking trade anyone for a flavor of the month type player or fringe prospect! I don’t know what’s worse really.

The Perfect Game for a Return to the Ballpark

Capture2As a baseball fan(atic), it is difficult being a displaced fan. Sure, there is MLB.tv if you want to fork out $150 for lag and a buffering screen. But it is nothing like being surrounded by the community that fully supports that same team colors that you do. It is nothing like being able to simply turn on the TV at game time, sit back with family members or friends, grab some snack food and enjoy the game on the boob tube. It is nothing like being at the ballpark of your hometown team and basking in it’s surroundings. Last week, I was able to make the pilgrimage back into friendly territory, and I got to expose my two young children to the place where my love of this game began.
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Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine enter the Hall of Fame

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This year’s baseball Hall of Fame class really had a special meaning to me. I grew up loving to watch Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and especially Frank Thomas.

On summer night’s a lot like this one, Thomas would fill the box scores I so often would cut out of the morning paper because he homered and drove in five. I remember being in the car with my uncle as a kid and him mentioning to me that ‘there are some people around baseball who think Frank Thomas could end up an all-time great with the start that he’s on’. I came back in amazement with a ‘really’ as most kids do – I had no idea what it took for a player to have Hall of Fame credentials at that point – I just knew that Frank Thomas was my idea of greatness. My uncle came back with some stat about Frank Thomas’ on-base average. This was long before WAR was a thing, and on-base percentage wasn’t viewed as the statistical goldmine it is today.

All these years later, the guys who seemed so great to me as a child and adolescent really were that special. Today is a day to remember them for their unique qualities and attributes.

I could look at the Hall of Fame plaques of each and every Cooperstown member all day long. If you want to see the new inductee plaques, head over to Hardball Talk.

Breaking down the American League Standings

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A quick look at the American League standings reveals that we’re about to see some late season drama that makes this sport so tremendous.

Lets assume a few things: the Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers, and Baltimore Orioles are going to be division champions for 2014.

My Top Sportsbooks predicts that the Detroit Tigers are a -600 favorite to win the division. Their oddsmakers are basically telling everyone that the Indians are dead in the water even if they don’t realize it yet. We agree.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are an interesting team because they have the second best record in the American League at 62-41, but they are the first wildcard team due to being in Oakland’s division. They hold a commanding eight-game lead in the wildcard with Yankees (54-49) and Blue Jays (55-50) tied for the second wildcard spot.

Personally, for what would make a dramatic baseball storyline for the die-hard fan, we’re hoping the Yankees find a way to grab that second Wildcard spot.

Imagine it now: you’ve got the Anaheim Angels and their cornerstone Mike Trout in the first year of his brand new contract hosting the Yankees at Angels Stadium. There has been a little history between the Yankees and their courting desire of Mike Trout in the recent past. We just think it would make for a great one-game dramatic scene.

Barring an epic collapse – and it does happen – much is already spoken for in the American League and we can see who will represent our field of five in October.

The Night the Reds offense Put me to sleep at the Ballpark

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[Box Score]

[Cincinnati.com]

I went down to Cincinnati last night with my buddy Joe to see Bryce Harper take some cuts. I was one of the 38,812 last night in a stadium that seemed packed to the rafters. A stadium that was so very quiet all night long because the Reds collected just four hits and as they so often do when the stadium is a sell-out; they just let down.

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Jayson Werth didn’t get any knocks last night, here he is after reaching base on a walk.

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One of the cool parts of the game was a Bald Eagle flying in from center field after the National Anthem. I think his name was Sam the Eagle.

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Alfredo Simon just didn’t have it last evening. He went 4 and 1/3, gave up nine hits and three earned runs. Denard Span owned the Reds last night, tuning them up for four hits on his own.

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Man, Jay Bruce is really struggling. He didn’t really sting anything all night long, and he’s down now to .219 on the season. I don’t know what is wrong with him. I hate to say it, but perhaps he just needs a change of scenery. There’s no reason for a player of his caliber to be having a season like this. Star players simply do not struggle in this matter. It’s painful to sit back and watch him endure.

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The biggest thing that Bryce Harper did last night was robbing Billy Hamilton of extra bases with a web gem, top-ten catch. It appeared that he re-injured himself at first. Always the fear with Harper. We’ve got video of the catch below:

Harper went 1 for 4 with a hit off Alfredo Simon, a walk, and a run. I didn’t realize during the game that he actually tweaked his stance again.

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Here is the Budweiser Party Deck out in Right Field. It was a happening spot last night on a beautiful Friday evening just off the river. One of the only spots that Reds fans could generate any excitement. One of my friends who texted me while I was at the game remarked that ‘beer sales were probably up last night’. He had to have been correct. I had six on my own in about forty minutes. That combined with the Reds offense made me feel really tired.

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Baseball Gods: help Jay Bruce turn this thing around.

Your Saturday Baseball Post

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There’s nothing better than a Saturday with some baseball on tap for your day.

Yasiel Puig made a little history late last night with three triples (four hits in total) in a big Dodgers win out in San Francisco.

As always, everyone is in play today in baseball. And as always, we do this post to remind you that baseball is the greatest sport on earth. Even with football starting.

Thank you for your continued support of Diamond Hoggers.

On Breaking Bad…

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NON-BASEBALL POST ALERT: I’ve finally found something that can interest me in the summer evenings when the Reds aren’t hitting or when my fantasy team is shitting the bed.

I will never forget this summer of 2014, a summer in which I traveled on a magical journey to Albuquerque with Walt, Jessie, Hank, Hector, Gus, Tucco and a whole other magical cast of characters.

I will likely finish the series tonight – if not a day or two later – but likely tonight since when I start watching, I simply can’t stop. And I’ve found something else that parallels baseball season in that; I wish Breaking Bad was another five seasons longer than it’s going to be, because I’m not really ready for it to wrap up.

Never before has television; or a series for that matter been so beautifully and artistically done. If you’re one of those people who has briefly heard about it and has delayed watching it; please do yourself a favor and get Netflix or watch it by any means necessary. I didn’t think it was possible to be as good as people made it out to be. The truth is, it’s probably better. You’ll get hooked like Skinny Pete on some blue persuasion meth (just watch the damn show).

I usually watch baseball like a madman from 7:00 until the last pitch is thrown well after midnight in the eastern time zone. I am grateful to Heisenberg and family for welcoming me in this summer and creating a distraction that I desperately needed. It’s truly the greatest television I’ve ever enjoyed and I only fear that nothing like it will ever come again in my lifetime. It can’t possibly.

Throwing it Around

It’s a glorious and muggy Monday evening in July – to state the obvious. We hope the beginning of your work week wasn’t as busy as ours. Here are the best baseball reads of the day:

-Joe Posnanski has an outstanding article on who will be the face of baseball when Derek Jeter retires. [NBC Sports]
-The Angels have rebuilt their bullpen, and they’ve done it to win now. [FanGraphs]
-The eyes of baseball focus on Cliff Lee this evening (he’s getting hit). [CSN Philly]
-The Giants signed Dan Uggla. Why? [Deadspin]
-Walt Jocketty is shopping the trade market to try to help the Reds. [Cincinnati.com]
-Tommy Milone is demanding the A’s to trade him. [Ken Rosenthal]
-Anthony Rizzo, killin’ it. [Chicago Sun Times]

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have some serious Magic Working Right now

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[Box Score]

[Seattle Times] [OC Register Angels Blog]

The Angels – if you watch them each day – they’re that team this year that is high on character. That team that never seems to be out of a game. They are a gritty, grimy bunch (not without their fine items) that just seems to hang around and never actually be dead.

Today they did it again. Another day in which Mike Trout filled the stat sheet and hit an incredible home run, his 23rd of the year. Trout literally willed his team to a win today. He added a single, and a walk at a critical juncture, scoring three runs.

Josh Hamilton had three hits, Kole Calhoun added three more including a home run.

But the memorable part of this game will be when Fernando Rodney blew the save – and possibly shot his arrow a bit too early on the Angels. This isn’t a team to be declaring that you shot Jesse James on until you’re certain that he’s dead.

And the Angels had a little fun with it. We’re so glad that they did. If you’re a baseball fan, and you’re not taking the time to stop and smell the roses and enjoy what the Angels are doing this year for their fans and for all of us that follow baseball, you’re missing out.

It was their league leading 30th come-from-behind win in baseball. That says a lot about the group.

Another really good baseball blog out there

I found another baseball blog I’ve ventured to several times in the past, but for the first time the other night I spent some significant time hunting around. It’s the Joy of Sox blog, and there’s a ton of Red Sox focus but also just some really good baseball commentary.

It’s updated almost daily – and it’s been around since 2003 (and we thought this blog was old!). It’s operated by Allan Wood who has authored a couple of Red Sox books.

If you’re a Red Sox fan it’s one of the better stops on the net, and as a baseball fan it’s about as good of a model as there is out there if you’re starting a blog and doing daily baseball commentary. Very organized, concise and easy to read. There is a lot of history on the blog.

Did you ever wonder what happened to Tom Emanski?

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This is a must-click link that will lead you over FOX Sports, as Eric Malinowski ran a popular story he did the other day on good old Tom Emanski.

If you grew up in the era that we did, you long for the old Emanski commercials to just play late night one more time, but like anything else in life they quietly faded away off television and are no longer seen.

Time catches up to everyone – even Fred McGriff who was always seen in that hideous ‘Baseball World’ trucker hat in the commercials.

Before everything in business was dot com, there was Tom Emanski and his VHS tapes. You’ll enjoy this read.

Last night had to be the longest game in the Mike Trout Angels era

On the night they traded for Huston Street (they gave up some nice pieces that would have been a big part of their future), the Angels played a five hour, 14 minute game in which they outlasted the Mariners in 16 innings to win 3-2.

I saw most of it – and I have to give the Angels bullpen credit. The last three pitchers who appeared; Fernando Salas, Cory Rasmus, and Hector Santiago all got out of jams where I said to myself ‘they’re going to blow it right here’. As a whole, the Angels pen threw ten innings of shutout baseball after Jered Weaver left the game.

Mike Trout had three hits and scored the winning run. At almost 3:00 AM EST, I woke up to see good old Efren Navarro hit his seeing eye single back up the box to score Trout from second.

The Angels have some serious magic going this year. On Sirius MLB Network Radio this morning the host – and forgive me for not knowing his name – said if the Angels could just add one more starting pitcher he would pick them to be a World Series team out of the American League. I don’t know about that, but they’ve caught my interest this year.

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