Picked-up pieces while waiting for baseball …
▪ There’s considerable push to ban defensive shifts in baseball because, well, hitters are too stubborn to make adjustments. An excellent analysis in The Athletic found many baseball people who want to legislate where a manager can position his defenders.
I say no. There have been nine defensive players on the diamond for more than 150 years. Put ‘em anywhere you want. It’s up to the hitters to figure it out. In the words of Wee Willie Keeler, “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
Add Fred Lynn to the chorus of those who think today’s hitters need to stop crying and make some adjustments.
“I believe they shifted on Ted Williams and didn’t he hit .406?” Lynn tweeted this past week.
Lynn’s remark was a response to Joey Gallo’s sob story in The Athletic.
“I think at some point, you have to fix the game a little bit,” Gallo told Jayson Stark. “I don’t understand how I’m supposed to hit a double or a triple when I have six guys standing in the outfield.”
Reached by phone in California, Lynn amplified his Twitter thoughts.
“I watch baseball, too,” said the man who hit .331 and was MVP in his rookie season in 1975. “When I played, shortstops and second basemen, if they were going to shift on you, they would wait until the last second. Now they don’t even disguise it. They’re telling you, ‘We’ll give you that, but we’re taking away this.’
“As a hitter, it’s up to me to make an adjustment. They’re not going to adjust the way they play defense if you just do the same thing. I can be hitting the ball on the screws and my exit velocity is great, cool, but they’re outs.
“I have to adjust my thinking. There’s a big hole over there, so how about me going the other way? The onus is on the hitter. It really is. Learn how to hit off-speed stuff the other way. Bunt.”
Former National League MVP Freddie Freeman countered Lynn’s suggestion with, “I’m trying to cover five pitches. They’re all moving. One is like 98 m.p.h. And I’m going to be able to do whatever I want and hit the ball to the left side? It’s not that easy. I wish it was.”
Back to you, Fred.
“That’s a good point,” said Lynn, who turned 70 this month. “But when I hit against Nolan Ryan, I didn’t pull him very often. His fastball I hit the other way.
“It’s got to be a learned process. You have to teach yourself to go the other way. How do you do that? You practice it. You can get in the cage and turn that machine up pretty fast.
“I was a dead pull hitter before I got to Fenway Park. That’s literally hitting the ball before it gets to the plate. To go the other way, you bring your hands in … you hold back so that the barrel of the bat is in the hitting area for a longer period of time. That’s a foot of coverage. Just make contact and the ball is going to shoot off to the left side. You can make that adjustment, but it takes some work.”
No need to ban the shift.
“Baseball is meant to be played a certain way,” said Lynn. “And the guys that invented the game were pretty sharp.”
▪ Quiz: Name Five Hall of Famers who played for both the Angels and Dodgers. (Answer below. Don’t beat yourself up. If you get three, you’re doing great. Four makes you HOF-worthy yourself. If you get all five, you can write next week’s column.)
▪ The horrible situation in Ukraine reminds some old-timers of the Bruins’ “Uke Line” of Johnny Bucyk, Bronco Horvath, and Vic Stasiuk, formed in 1957. All three forwards are of Ukrainian heritage and are enshrined in the Ukrainian Sports Hall of Fame.
The trio skated for the Edmonton Flyers in 1954-55 in the Western Hockey League before uniting with the Bruins. Over four seasons, they scored 265 goals for Boston. In 1959-60, the Uke Line combined for 84 goals and 200 points.
Horvath died in 2019 at the age of 89. Stasiuk is 92. Hockey Hall of Famer Bucyk, at 86, is still a regular around the Garden.
▪ Dwight Evans is too classy to say anything, but he has to be bewildered hearing that the Yankees are retiring Paul O’Neill’s No. 21. Seriously? O’Neill played only nine seasons for the Yankees, hitting .303 with 185 homers and 858 RBIs. He never won a Gold Glove.
Playing the same position as O’Neill (right field), Evans gave the Red Sox 19 seasons (2,505 games!), hit 379 homers, registered 1,346 RBIs, and won eight Gold Gloves.
O’Neill will be the 23rd Yankee to have his number retired.
▪ Can’t remember a stretch of easier games than what the Celtics have faced during their “surge.” Can’t punish the Green for taking care of business, but it would mean so much more if they actually beat a good team that had one or two of its starters.
Was hoping for a challenge after the All-Star break, but the Celtics kick-started their post-break against Brooklyn’s JV: No Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons, Joe Harris, or Goran Dragic.
What are we supposed to learn from this? How are we supposed to know how good the Celtics are?
Next up were the 14-45 Pistons. What a league.
▪ Fortunately, there was some good stuff to accompany the NBA’s All-Star Weekend in Cleveland. The best of it was the TV shots of the 75th Anniversary Team standing around a reception, posing for photos and swapping stories hours before a “game” that featured 121 3-point attempts.
Best of all was Shaquille O’Neal’s heartfelt homage to the all-time greats on TNT’s pregame show. In his humble four-minute tribute, Shaq said, “When I look at myself play, I was not as good as Hakeem [Olajuwon]. I wasn’t even as good as Chief [Robert Parish]. I was not even as good as Bob McAdoo.”
Great stuff at a “Look At Me” event traditionally lacking all humility and perspective.
▪ Ever off-the-rails Hall of Famer Rich Gossage said he may boycott this summer’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony because of David Ortiz’s enshrinement.
“If we start letting guys in that used steroids, you’re saying it’s OK for our kids to do it then because the stars did it,” Gossage told USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “We never should let [Barry] Bonds or [Roger] Clemens in, either.”
▪ Kemba Walker’s “homecoming” with the Knicks ended when Walker and the team agreed to shut things down for the season after the All-Star break. It amounts to a dramatic descent for the veteran guard, who was an All-Star with the Celtics just two years ago. It looks like the Celtics got the last good basketball out of Kemba.
▪ Baseball players and owners are floating the notion of performance-based bonuses practically tied to a player’s WAR. Swell. If this becomes part of the new basic agreement, we’ll have real dollars being rewarded (or withheld) on the basis of a nerd invention that no one truly understands.
▪ More betting shows, less news content. Cheapo NESN at its worst.
▪ According to Boston Sports Info, David Pastrnak, Phil Esposito, and Mark Messier each scored 277 goals in the first 488 games of his NHL career.
▪ The signature moment of Beijing’s 2022 Winter Games forever will be the sad saga of 15-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva, who should never have been allowed to compete after her positive test surfaced, then was publicly scorned and mistreated by her own coach and officials after melting down on the ice in her long program. It was nothing short of child abuse.
▪ When you are watching the Florida Gators on TV, the “Billy Donovan Court” logo on their home floor appears to be larger than the Citgo sign.
▪ We all lost Nick Cafardo three years ago. It never goes away.
▪ Quiz answer: Frank Robinson, Don Sutton, Rickey Henderson, Eddie Murray, Hoyt Wilhelm.