Pregame interviews with a manager are now done via Zoom, as opposed to sitting in the dugout, his office, or somewhere else in the ballpark.
It’s a requirement of the times, but the layer of technology has turned what is often a casual conversation with occasional tangents and even a few laughs into what is usually a mundane rundown on the issues of the day.
But Astros manager Dusty Baker has still managed to teach a few lessons and spark some smiles during the postseason. A sampling of his wit and wisdom:
▪ On the importance of maintaining a good atmosphere in the clubhouse: "That’s what I learned as a kid when I had positive coaches. From high school to A ball to Double A, Triple A, the big leagues, the coaches that had the most impact on me were coaches that were positive, not coaches who got on you all the time — unless you needed it.
"When I was a kid, I was supposed to go out with Orlando Cepeda. I was like 19. I was so happy to be going out with Orlando. I showed up at his room and then he gave me a book by Norman Vincent Peale, ‘The Power of Positive Thinking.’ I was like, ‘Man, I don’t want to read no book. I want to go hang out.’ He told me to go read this book and then report back to him the next day and maybe I could go out with him.
“So I read that book, like, all night. I read it in one night. That book had a very positive impact on me.”
Baker said he also learned from NFL coach Bill Walsh, NBA coach Al Attles, and UCLA basketball coach John Wooden to be firm, but also fair and positive.
▪ On coming up with lineups: "I get these thoughts in the middle of the night. My wife bought me a flashlight years ago because I’d get these lineup changes in the middle of the night and I’d turn the light on and she’d get upset. I was like, ‘Honey, I’ve got a lineup change.’
“So she bought me a flashlight so I wouldn’t have to turn on the light. I always keep a pen and a piece of paper by my bed because when I get these thoughts I have to write them down. Because by the time I wake up in the morning I’m like, ‘Man, I had a hell of a thought last night and I can’t remember what that thought was.’ ”
▪ To one of the Astros beat reporters: “How come every question you ask me is always negative? I’ve been seeing this the whole year. You know who the French philosopher [Albert] Camus is? I want you to look him up. Camus was one of the most negative philosophers around. You’re too young to be that negative. I don’t want you to end up like Camus.”
▪ On the late Joe Morgan: “It so shocked me that he passed away so quickly. He meant a lot to us, a lot to me, a lot to baseball, a lot to African-Americans around the country, a lot to players that were considered undersized.
"He was one of the first examples of speed and power for a guy they said was too small to play. He was the first modern-day [Jose] Altuve. He was a heck of a person. He was good at whatever he put his mind to.”
▪ Comparing Morgan to Altuve: "They’re both little. They’re both second basemen. And they’re both very powerful. These guys are like twin Mighty Mouses. You know who Mighty Mouse is? Look up Mighty Mouse. Mighty was a bad little dude, man. Super strength.
“They didn’t let size hold them down, and I think that they are shining lights to anybody that’s short of stature. Baseball is a game where it shouldn’t matter, but it does to a lot of people. Size doesn’t show how much heart you have, how much intellect for the game, and how much love that you have for the game.”
▪ On the value of team meetings: “Real leaders listen to what other people have to say. I think, as a society, we meet sometimes too much. All you can do is state the obvious.”
Baker, 71, was hired in January after the Astros fired A.J. Hinch and handled a difficult job well. He’s under contract for next season and plans to return.
Houston overcame injuries to its pitching staff and the effects of the cheating scandal to make the playoffs, albeit with a losing record, then advanced to the ALCS.
“He just lets us play,” outfielder Michael Brantley said. “He tells us great stories of things in the past, what he went through along the way in his journey. He always has an answer to any question you have.”
Red Sox stay quiet on next manager
When it comes to who will manage the Red Sox next season, we’re like John Fogerty out on the highway pickin' up clues.
For instance, does it mean anything that the Sox are sending fast-rising center field prospect Jarren Duran to Puerto Rico to play in Alex Cora’s hometown of Caguas?
Cora’s brother-in-law, Jesus Feliciano, is the team’s general manager. Red Sox coach (and Cora confidant) Ramon Vazquez will manage the team.
The Sox also announced that most of the coaching staff — all of whom were hired while Cora was manager — would return for next season. That includes hitting coach Tim Hyers and pitching coach Dave Bush. Only bench coach Jerry Narron and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson were let go.
Sox officials have sent mixed messages on Cora, with Chaim Bloom suggesting he was against the idea, but Sam Kennedy not closing any doors. The team has been otherwise quiet about the decision.
I’m told Cora remains a popular choice within the baseball operations staff below Bloom and among the core players.
Beyond the baseball implications, the organization needs a positive development after alienating many fans with a series of blunders dating to raising ticket prices a year ago after a third-place finish.
Cora’s suspension ends after the World Series, which could be as soon as Saturday. This could all come together fairly soon.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ MLBTradeRumors.com does an excellent job of projecting the salaries of arbitration-eligible players, of which the Red Sox have nine.
Matt Barnes, Rafael Devers, and Eduardo Rodriguez seem like obvious bets to either agree to a deal or go through the process, although Barnes could be a trade candidate.
Depending on how the 60-game season is taken into account, Barnes and Devers are roughly in the $4.5 million range. Rodriguez, who missed the season because of COVID-19 and complications, is likely to remain at $8.3 million.
Ryan Brasier and Kevin Plawecki wouldn’t cost much via arbitration, a bit over $1 million or so, and showed enough to stick around.
Austin Brice, Zack Godley, Jose Peraza, and Ryan Weber wouldn’t be significant losses, although Brice and Weber could be worth keeping so they can compete for a bullpen spot in spring training.
▪ Did you know that Whitey Ford had a son who was a Red Sox prospect?
Eddie Ford was a switch-hitting shortstop at South Carolina (where he played for Bobby Richardson, his father’s former teammate) and was a first-round pick in 1974, one spot ahead of Rick Sutcliffe.
Ford played four seasons in the minors for the Sox, hitting .236. He made it to Pawtucket in 1977, then retired.
▪ David Ortiz’s annual celebrity golf tournament has been postponed because of the pandemic. He hosted the event for 12 consecutive years in the Dominican Republic and Florida, raising millions to fund life-saving heart surgeries for children in his native country and the Boston area.
His foundation is raising funds online. Go to davidortizchildrensfund.org for information.
Yankees ponder a disappointing season
The Yankees, heavy favorites to get to the World Series, lost in the Division Series against the Rays, and some changes could be coming.
Owner Hal Steinbrenner issued an apology to fans for not winning the World Series and said manager Aaron Boone would return.
General manager Brian Cashman, unprompted, defended Boone a day later, saying he was no puppet of the analytics staff.
“None of that’s true," Cashman said. “I’ve never ordered a manager to do anything specifically, and Aaron would be able to testify to that, as well as Joe Girardi and Joe Torre.”
The Yankees, Cashman said, will evaluate what to do at catcher after Gary Sanchez’s latest poor season.
“I think it’s certainly a fair question, obviously the way Gary Sanchez’s season transpired, and then the way it ended with [Kyle] Higashioka actually starting in the postseason as many games as he did,” he said. “I think it’s one of the discussion points we’re going to have to focus on.”
Cashman also acknowledged that the “best strategy” for Giancarlo Stanton would be limiting him to DH duties to guard against further injuries.
Stanton, who turns 31 next month, is signed for seven more years at $218 million. The Marlins are on the hook for $30 million of that once Stanton officially decides not to exercise his opt-out clause later this offseason.
Aroldis Chapman is an issue, too. He has allowed only three runs over 10 postseason innings the last two years, but all three runs sent the Yankees home for the winter. Houston’s Jose Altuve ended the 2019 ALCS with a two-run walkoff homer, then Tampa Bay’s Mike Brosseau ended the Division Series this season with a solo shot.
"I think it’s also important to note just how still close we are to being the last team standing,'' Boone said. “I understand the frustrations of the fan base, but I think if you really look at it, it’s razor-thin, the difference between us and say the team that’s going to win the World Series this year.”
Second baseman D.J. LeMahieu and righthander Masahiro Tanaka are the most prominent free agents.
The Yankees have the starter depth to withstand the loss of Tanaka. Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia, Domingo German, and Jordan Montgomery are candidates to join Gerrit Cole in the rotation, and Luis Severino should return from Tommy John surgery in the first half of 2021.
The Yankees have a two-year, $27 million option on reliever Zack Britton. They also have option decisions on lefty J.A. Happ ($17 million) and outfielder Brett Gardner ($10 million).
The loss of revenue this season will affect those decisions.
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan, who died Sunday, was a dichotomy in that the full impact of his playing career could best be appreciated with the modern statistics he so disdained. Morgan had a .271 career batting average but the scope of his skills as a hitter, base runner, and defender is best encapsulated by his 100.5 WAR. That’s 31st all time, and most analysts regard him as no worse than the second-best second baseman in history behind Rogers Hornsby, if not the best. But as a broadcaster, Morgan stubbornly dismissed analytics and leaned on outdated notions of value to a point that he was often mocked for it . . . Astros catcher Dustin Garneau went 42 days without seeing his wife and three children until they were reunited in San Diego at the ALCS. MLB had players on contending teams in a modified bubble for much of September, and their families had to quarantine for a week before they could be together. For Josh Reddick, it was the first time his 1-year-old twin sons, Ryder and Maverick, were able to see him play in person. “It was an amazing feeling seeing them in the suite,” Reddick said . . . MLB finished the regular season having rescheduled 45 games for coronavirus-related issues and played 56 doubleheaders (the most since 1984) to make it all work. Only two of the 900 scheduled games weren’t played, and that was only because they had no bearing on the postseason. MLB should be applauded for getting through the season as well as it did, given the shaky ground it was on in early August. But allowing crowds of approximately 10,700 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, for the NLCS and World Series feels like a mistake. COVID-19 cases in Tarrant County are climbing, and having so many people gather, even with social-distancing guidelines, is irresponsible. It’s inevitable that positive tests will arise from fans attending the games . . . The Baseball Writers' Association of America was quite the haughty bunch years ago. Bob Gibson received only 84 percent of the vote when he was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1981, and Whitey Ford actually needed two elections before he made it. The belief at the time, at least among some writers, was that only the best of the best deserved a first-ballot election, and 64 people didn’t vote for Gibson. That’s shameful . . . Zack Greinke usually doesn’t say much, but when the righthander does speak, he says what he really thinks. “For me, it’s nice not having fans in the stands,” Greinke said. “Because then there’s no one trying to talk to you and ask for autographs and wanting pictures and all that stuff. I don’t like any of that stuff. It’s nice not to have them there for me. Most people like it. I don’t like it.” . . . The lead executives of the Astros (James Click), Braves (Alex Anthopoulos), and Rays (Erik Neander) all worked for Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman at some point in their careers . . . Tony La Russa, who is 76 and hasn’t managed since 2011, is indeed a legitimate candidate to return to the White Sox dugout. Joe Biden is 77 and Donald Trump is 74, so why not? La Russa would need to run a bullpen, not an entire country. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf will hire whom he wants, and he is fond of La Russa. But a young team on the rise would seem like a better fit for A.J. Hinch. It’s an attractive job, given the talent base . . . Happy 50th birthday, Doug Mirabelli. He still holds the unofficial record for quickest rush-hour trip between Logan Airport and Fenway Park. David Murphy is 39. A well-regarded prospect, he played only 23 games for the Sox before being traded for reliever Eric Gagne at the 2007 deadline. Gagne blew three saves, lost Game 2 of the ALCS to Cleveland, and allowed 17 runs in 23 innings for the Sox. Murphy played parts of 10 seasons, seven for the Rangers, and had a .777 OPS.