This is the 19th season in professional baseball for Rich Hill. He has played for 12 organizations and at 41 is the second-oldest player in the majors to Albert Pujols, who has him beat by 55 days.
New Tampa Bay Rays teammate Wander Franco wasn’t born when Hill graduated from Milton High in 1999 and went to the University of Michigan.
“Seeing a guy like that come in the clubhouse reminds me of how long I’ve been doing this,” Hill said during an interview at Tropicana Field.
He’s still pitching well, too. Hill is 6-2 with a 3.52 earned run average in 15 starts for Tampa Bay.
Hill thought his career was over in 2015 when he was released by the Nationals and his only opportunity to pitch came from the independent Long Island Ducks.
But he changed his mechanics, focused on how best to use his curveball and is since 49-24 with a 3.00 ERA despite throwing a fastball that rarely reaches 90 miles per hour.
“Back then, I thought that was it,” Hill said. “When I think back about it, I really have to stop and pause because I’m so into what’s going on now. But I’m glad it worked out the way it has.”
Here are Hill’s thoughts on some trending topics:
▪ On MLB cracking down on pitchers using substances on the ball: “The umpires, they’re in a really tough position. They didn’t sign up for this. We’ve got to continue to keep the dialogue open. They didn’t sign up to be monitors; they signed up to be umpires. I think that’s one thing that everybody can agree on. Pitchers are doing the best they can when they go out there. We need to continue to push forward as far as the Players Association and MLB, and work together as far as coming up with a better solution.”
▪ Should umpires be searching pitchers? “Everybody finds it dehumanizing if you get searched in front of tens of thousands of fans. It’s not on the umpires; it’s being mandated by MLB.
“This is not baseball. This is not what people buy a ticket to come see. We don’t want baseball turning into Jerry Springer. We need to get back to the game and all the great things going on in the game.”
▪ On potentially signing with the Red Sox before the season: “I really did think something was going to happen. I wanted to be on the East Coast somewhere close to home.
“I talked to Alex [Cora], I talked to Brian [O’Halloran]. I talked to a lot of people over there. It’s a great organization and I love the high stakes in Boston.
“Our son [Brice] now is 9. He’s starting to come into his own with his own schedule and playing Little League and stuff like that. I wanted to be able to get home as much as possible. I hate missing his games.
“I talked to a lot of people in their organization about it and I felt good about it. But they never made an offer, and the Rays did. There’s nothing I can do about that. There was never a negotiation.”
▪ When will he retire? “There are so many extenuating circumstances now. There are other things that go into life that you don’t account for until you experience it.
“You can tell me when you get older this is what you’re going to experience with family and friends. But I still have to go through that. I talk to plenty of guys who are Hall of Famers or teammates, but what they went through won’t necessarily be what I go through.”
▪ On being involved in baseball after he retires: “In some way, yes. I think there are things I can bring that would actually be beneficial. My experience over the years, that could help.
“I’ve had a lot of different thoughts, and sometimes I feel a sense of urgency about being prepared for what comes next and what the next step might be. I want to contribute in some way to the development of players and to help players get the most out of their careers.
“It’s not about a certain team. It’s about the player and helping him get the most he can out of his talent. Whatever shape or form that takes, I don’t know. Maybe I need further schooling and can become more qualified.
“I’ve been through the 162 games and the ups and downs. I know I can help people walk through that and ride those waves. It’s all encompassing and consuming when stuff isn’t going well.
“My family will be my priority. We just need to figure out what we want to do as a family. Maybe it’ll even be on the Little League level and doing mentoring with kids. I can only play so much golf.”
▪ On former Dodgers teammate Alex Verdugo: “You talk about a talent. In my opinion, I think what I saw was not so much the ability to hit the ball the other way. I could see that in batting practice.
“It’s his effort. He hits a ground ball to second, he gives a good 90. It’s just little things like that you see and it’s what fans appreciate all over [the] Major League, but especially in Boston.
“That’s why Dustin Pedroia had such a big following in Boston. He won but he also played his [rear end] off every time he went out there to perform. You can go 0 for 4 but it’s also how you go 0 for 4.”
▪ On another former Dodgers teammate, Kiké Hernández: “A great communicator. He can play nine positions it seems like. He can pitch and probably catch, too. He brings guys together in the clubhouse through ups and downs.”
▪ His impression of Franco: “It’s exciting to see a player like that make his debut and all that comes with that. I can see how special he is.”
▪ On the upcoming negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement: “I think I have a voice and I want every player to have a voice. We all need to be represented and I think we’ve missed the boat sometimes on that. Free agents with megadeals can lose sight of what it’s like to be somebody with one or two years. It’s about the group as a whole.
“It’s an individual sport inside a team concept, and the union is not that way. I look back and see what Tom Glavine did in 1994, standing up like he did. That will forever be remembered.
“I hope we can come to a deal that makes things better for everybody.”
▪ What has he learned with the Rays: “Watch them take infield. There’s a purpose for everything they do. There’s something behind everything that goes on here. It’s well thought out.”
Pedroia was one of a kind
The Red Sox, as usual, put together a memorable pregame ceremony to honor Dustin Pedroia on Friday. But no ceremony could ever capture the experience of being around him.
The 2010 season was my first on the Sox after covering the Yankees for years. I knew Dustin in passing from covering Sox-Yankees games, but not well.
I introduced myself in spring training and said I was looking forward to covering the Sox. We chatted a bit and Pedroia said, “Hey, man, do you have any kids?”
I said I didn’t.
“You should get some kids. That way you can tell them you covered me,” he said with a wink before walking away.
That was Pedroia.
From afar, his personality and cockiness seemed like bluster to some. But having been around him for the better part of a decade, it was real. It helped make him into one of the best players in Sox history.
A lot of fans ask if Pedroia will ever manage the Sox. I don’t think so. He’s made plenty of money and managing is an all-encompassing, everyday job for eight months.
I’m also not sure he could relate to the players as a manager. As a player, Pedroia was in full uniform three hours before first pitch and gave everything he had physically and emotionally into winning that night. There were times his body looked like he had been hit by a car and he still played.
Only a handful of players make that commitment and I think he’d get frustrated that not everybody cared as much as he did.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ As the Wander Franco Era begins in Tampa Bay, the Sox wonder what might have been.
Rafael Devers signed with the Sox in 2013 after being developed at an academy in the Dominican Republic run by the late Rudy Santin near Santo Domingo. Devers told the Sox to keep an eye on Franco, who was only 14 but showing great promise.
Red Sox assistant GM Eddie Romero, who was director of international scouting at the time, saw Franco and was impressed enough to have then-assistant GM Mike Hazen come in to watch Franco.
“Wander’s special talent and high baseball IQ were evident,” Romero said.
But the Rays had put in a lot of time, too, and eventually signed Franco to a $3.8 million bonus.
Franco, 20, is the first player in the majors born in 2001.
▪ The Garrett Richards signing is starting to look like a bad one, for several reasons.
It was widely known in baseball that MLB was going to crack down on pitchers using sticky substances to improve the spin rate of their pitches.
The league sent a memo to teams in 2020 saying that was their intent, and soon after the Angels fired visiting clubhouse manager Bubba Harkins for selling a homemade goo to their pitchers and others across the league.
Richards was with the Angels from 2011-18.
No substance can turn a bad pitcher into a good one. But it does improve performance and Richards was valued for his ability to spin the ball.
Richards now appears disconsolate over the idea of trying to pitch without using something on the ball. It’s uncertain how useful he will be moving forward.
The Sox should have used the $10 million they invested in Richards on a pitcher less vulnerable to the rules being enforced.
▪ Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier had some interesting comments following the walkoff wild pitch on Thursday.
Once Manuel Margot got to third, he thought the Rays had an edge.
“I told the coaches this just got real interesting, because now Matt Barnes, their closer, he loves that curveball,” Kiermaier said. “And there’s times where he spikes it. It still starts above your head and a lot of guys swing at it.
“So, I didn’t think he was going to make that mistake of doing that. But when you have a very good curveball like that, those things happen. And thankfully he did that.”
Barnes wants to throw his curveball in the dirt sometimes and it’s up to the catcher to block it. Having a closer who does that presents a challenge.
▪ Lefty Brian Johnson, who asked the Sox for his release last season, is now with the Angels in Triple A Salt Lake City.
He was a free agent before signing with the independent Milwaukee Milkmen of the American Association earlier this month. The Angels picked him up after seeing two games.
MLB should rethink All-Star uniforms
One of the fun traditions at the All-Star Game is players representing their teams by wearing their usual uniforms. It was fun to watch the game and see a player in a Red Sox jersey celebrating with a teammate in Yankees pinstripes, or Dodgers and Giants uniforms in the same team photo.
But this season, in a bad decision that should be changed, MLB has introduced two-button pullover jerseys for the game that will leave everybody looking largely the same. The NL will wear white and the AL navy blue.
In the past, players wore special All-Star Game jerseys only for the workout on Monday and the Home Run Derby.
MLB should be able to manufacture merchandising opportunities without wrecking tradition.
MLB held its first draft combine last week in North Carolina. New England prospects on hand included RHP Ben Casparius (UConn), RHP Owen Kellington (Montpelier, Vt.), OF Jackson Linn (Cambridge Rindge & Latin), RHP Tyler Mattison (Bryant), OF/LHP Jon Santucci (Phillips Academy), RHP Emmet Sheehan (BC), and C Pat Winkel (UConn) … For the first time in nearly two years, a knuckleballer took the mound in the majors when 33-year-old Mickey Jannis pitched in relief for the Orioles on Wednesday at Camden Yards against the Astros. It didn’t go well — seven runs on eight hits and four walks over 3⅓ innings — and Jannis was designated for assignment on Friday. The funny part was that the umpires twice checked Jannis’s hat and glove for sticky substances that promote more spin. The entire point of a knuckleball is to keep the ball from spinning. But Jannis played along … Cleveland opened the season with a rotation of Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Logan Allen, and Triston McKenzie. Now Bieber, Civale and Plesac are on the injured list, and Allen and McKenzie are in the minors … Brewers pitcher Eric Lauer had three sacrifice bunts last Sunday. That was one fewer than the Astros, Rays and Red Sox have had all season … Best wishes to Royals vice president of communications and broadcasting Mike Swanson, who will retire after the season following 41 years in baseball. Swanson also had stints with Arizona, Colorado, and San Diego, and throughout his career successfully balanced looking out for the interest of the team and helping reporters do their job … Mike and Daz Cameron are the first father and son to steal bases off Yadier Molina … Folks on the Cape sure missed baseball. The first day of the Cape Cod League season drew 10,808 fans, a 124 percent increase from 2019 … Happy birthday to the great Rico Petrocelli, who is 78. He signed with the Red Sox out of high school in 1961 and played his final game in 1976 after appearing in 1,553 games (ninth in team history) and hitting 210 home runs (10th). Petrocelli had a Fenway Park swing and his 40 home runs in 1969 were an American League record for shortstops until Alex Rodriguez hit 42 in 1998. Petrocelli also caught a popup to secure the ’67 pennant. Jackie Gutierrez (61), Chris Woodward (45), and current Sox reliever Yacksel Ríos (28) also are celebrating.