Hold on to your Grapefruits, it’s time for pitchers and catchers


The Philadelphia Phillies’ unassuming Spring Training home in Clearwater, Florida.Photo: Getty ImagesSpring training starts this week, with pitchers and catchers day arriving on Wednesday for eight teams, and the rest of the majors getting going on Thursday or Friday. Hopefully, this year’s ramp-up to the season will go more smoothly than 2020, when the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues had to shut down and all of baseball went on pause until summer.With coronavirus anything but under control in Florida and Arizona, the next month and a half are going to be a nervy time, at best. But there’s also a lot to wonder about aside from the pandemic as baseball gets ready for the 2021 campaign.The biggest question, one that faces all teams, is still pandemic-related. After a shortened season last year and having calendars thrown off in general, how will players’ health hold up? Lance Lynn led the major leagues last year with 84 innings pitched. Nobody had more plate appearances than Marcell Ozuna’s 267. The issue this season may be players hitting a wall in summer as they extend well past where they were a year ago, but players also will be showing up for spring training in different shape than they have in past years, because the recovery from last year was different. It won’t be a surprise at all to see a lot of early injuries, particularly with pitchers. You just never know who it’ll be.For the moment, at least, you know who it won’t be, because several key free agents remained unsigned, including Jackie Bradley Jr., Brett Gardner, Jake Odorizzi, Trevor Rosenthal, and Taijuan Walker.Justin Turner only over the weekend agreed to a deal to bring his infectious personality back to the Dodgers, who also added Trevor Bauer, and now we’ll all see if he can get through spring training and manage to avoid alienating his teammates and embarrassing himself and the organization before ever throwing a pitch in home whites at Chavez Ravine.G/O Media may get a commissionGenerally, the start of spring training is supposed to be as optimistic as it gets, but that’s not the case everywhere, especially with teams that have actively made themselves worse over the winter, like the Cubs and Rockies. Once they get to camp, how invested will players like Kris Bryant and Trevor Story be for clubs that aren’t doing everything they can to win? How quickly, if at all, do situations move from trying to make the best of things to actively seeking a way out via trade?And when it comes to bad feelings, will they extend across the exhibition fields? We have seen brawls in spring training before, both as a result of previous seasons’ bitterness and from happenings in the tuneup games themselves. This year, to reduce travel amid the pandemic (as if taking a chartered bus across Florida would be the straw to break the camel’s back on this whole thing), the spring training schedule has been rearranged into geographical pods. The Red Sox, for instance, will only face Atlanta, Baltimore, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay during Grapefruit League action, as part of the southwest Florida group.Best to keep cool heads, though, because another impact of the pandemic is that MLB’s safety protocols call for stern punishment for anyone involved in physical contact in a dispute. Even umpires are supposed to be given six feet of distance. And keep your masks on, everybody. There’s a long season ahead. .

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Texans releasing J.J. Watt offers peek into racially coded language — what’s ‘classy’ & who gets to be the ‘face of a franchise’?


J.J. Watt was more than just a football player for the city of Houston.Image: Getty ImagesWhen the Texans decided to release J.J. Watt on Friday, it marked the end of an era in Houston — and the continuation of an era in media’s use of coded language.NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that while Houston might have been able to get a “solid draft pick” back in a Watt trade, the Texans “decided to do it this way, handling the face of their franchise with class.”First of all, this is stupid. If the Texans could have gotten a draft pick back for Watt in a trade, they should have done so, because the team is in dire straits already without its first-round pick this year — the No. 3 overall selection, at that. And it’s not as if the Texans couldn’t have done right by Watt by asking him where he might want to go (the Steelers, perhaps, to join his brother T.J.?) and then working out a trade with that team. It happens all the time, throughout sports, namely when a team wants to trade someone who has a no-trade clause.The Texans simply could have gone about making a Watt trade by involving him in the process, and it would have been the best result for everyone — albeit perhaps not for salary cap purposes, as Watt is now simply released rather than carrying a $17.5 million hit. Is that what “handling the face of their franchise with class” means?In the annals of racially coded language in sports, the idea of acting in a “classy” fashion is a long-running dog whistle. It’s not universally synonymous with whiteness, as Albert Pujols, Al Downing, and Andre Johnson all are among those who have have been tagged as such, but in general, you’re far more likely to see discussions of “class” applied to fitting a behavioral archetype that satisfies a white sense of propriety. One way to see this is how it’s applied in a nearly all-white situation, like a reporter who sits atop a peak of white privilege saying, “Way to keep it classy,” to fans in Winnipeg because they had the audacity to chant “Flyers suck” — as if that’s somehow language that would offend the delicate sensibilities of Philadelphians.G/O Media may get a commissionBut there’s another phrase in Rapoport’s tweet that stands out: “the face of their franchise.” There’s no arguing about this when it comes to Watt, who has been even more impactful off the field in Houston than he was on it, raising millions for Hurricane Harvey relief and lending a hand amid the coronavirus pandemic. In another situation, Deshaun Watson might be described as the face of the franchise, and now he is — at least until he’s not-classily traded — but it’s not controversial in the least to describe Watt that way.The fact that it’s inarguable with Watt, though, is a good entrance point to examine the use of “face of the franchise,” and whether it’s applied disproportionately to white athletes — not because of specific malice, but because of the racial privilege that has been baked into our culture going back long before any of these franchises even existed.One usage that stands out is a 2014 Sporting News piece that I wrote headlined “Ace of Cards: Wainwright is face of the franchise in St. Louis.” At that time, Yadier Molina already was a five-time All-Star and two-time Platinum Glove winner with a pair of World Series rings. The headline was based on a quote from Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller, and it’s not like Wainwright hadn’t also been successful in St. Louis for years, but it’s weird that the thought of who would get that tag for the Redbirds in this era would be anyone but Molina.My most recent usage of the phrase in a piece was last month, when I applied it to the newest member of the Cardinals, the former face of the franchise in Colorado, Nolan Arenado. That tracks, and the way that Arenado came to be that in Colorado is instructive: there’s a requirement of high performance, an idea that the player will be part of the team for many years to come, and ideally that player being marketable. In some ways, then, perhaps the “face of the franchise” becomes self-fulfilling, because who’s assumed to be marketable outside of obvious superstardom is subject to the same elements of privilege that lead to such players being labeled as classy.For instance, in 2016, when the Jets drafted Christian Hackenberg in the second round, he was hailed as a “new face of the franchise,” even though the Jets also had a first-round pick in that draft, which they used on Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee. Meanwhile, an actual future face of a franchise, who certainly got no ballyhoo as such, Dak Prescott, didn’t come off the board until the fourth round of that draft, maybe because of something to do with his face.Some other recent faces of their franchises, as mentioned by media? Anthony Rizzo with the Cubs, Matthew Stafford with the Lions, and Ryan Zimmerman with the Nationals. But also Ke’Bryan Hayes with the Pirates, Lamar Jackson with the Ravens, and Tim Anderson with the White Sox.It’s a pleasant surprise to find diversity in the way “face of the franchise” is used, but it’s still worth noting that players like Stafford and Zimmerman can ascend to such a level without being outright superstars, and when the time comes that Hayes is due to make real money, he’ll follow every other by-default “face-of-the-Pirates-franchise” right out of Pittsburgh.Until then, it’s worth being careful with using a phrase that’s got a lot of connotations and is hard to establish concrete criteria around. That, always, is territory ripe for language to develop troublesome patterns. Remaining vigilant and thoughtful with the way we use words is the classy (ahem) thing to do. .

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Wendy’s just murdered the Tampa Bay Rays on Twitter


 So pulling Blake Snell in Game 6 of the World Series continues to be a bad move recognized by all. Including fast food joints.Image: Getty ImagesIt’s National Roast Day (whatever that is) and Wendy’s delivered the beef.Oooh, that’s one’s gonna leave a mark. If you’ll recall (you should) in the 2020 World Series, which only seems like it was 20 years ago, Rays manager Kevin Cash pulled ace Blake Snell in the sixth inning of a dominant Game 6 World Series start. The Rays promptly went on to lose the game and the Series to the Dodgers, giving Cash a prominent spot on the list of all-time worst managerial blunders (and costing Tampa a shot at a trifecta of trophies in 2020-’21).G/O Media may get a commissionSnell, a 28-year-old Cy Young Award winner, was amused by the burn:Snell is now on the loaded San Diego Padres because Tampa’s goal isn’t to get back to the World Series, but to try to run an experiment on how little they can pay their players and remain a viable franchise. Snell joins Fernando Tatis Jr. Manny Machado and Mike Clevinger on the most exciting team in baseball.Whoever that Wendy’s social media manager is should get a raise for coming up with that amazing tweet in just five minutes, earning 12K likes in an hour. It probably won’t happen, though, because like most American corporations, Wendy’s (worth about $5 billion) likes to pay its 12,000 employees as little as possible. Last month, Wendy’s employees joined other fast-food workers in a walkout to demand higher wages. .

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MLB safety’s plan for 2021 has a major minor hole in it


We don’t know how Alternate Training Sites are supposed to work, and Rob Manfred doesn’t either.Image: APFor all the trouble that the NBA and NHL are having with their current seasons, it’s all the more remarkable what Major League Baseball was able to achieve outside of a bubble last year.While baseball was rightly hammered at the start of its shortened season, as coronavirus outbreaks ravaged the Marlins and Cardinals, among others, MLB and the players’ union made adjustments, and went 59 days without a single positive test… right up until Justin Turner’s idiotic misadventure at the World Series cast everything in a bad light all over again.So, it makes sense that the health and safety protocols for the upcoming season, announced on Tuesday, are for the most part running it back on what MLB and the MLBPA agreed to in 2020.The problem is that, even as successful as last year’s model was, Turner still did get COVID, and had the Dodgers not won Game 6 of the World Series to wrap up the title, the league would have had a nightmare on its hands about what to do with Game 7. One of the tricky things with the virus is that you can follow protocols to lower risk factors, but the only way to ensure no one gets sick is to keep everyone at home and not do things like, say, have a baseball season.This baseball season has two key differences from the last one. First, MLB is no longer going with a geographic-based schedule, which means more travel — and transcontinental travel — for everyone. Also, the plan is for minor league baseball to be back, although its schedule remains to be determined.G/O Media may get a commissionLast year, the lack of a minor league season made it easy for MLB teams to get reinforcements in the event of injuries or coronavirus. All they had to do was call down to the Alternate Training Site, and someone fresh could come right up, having already been participating in the safety protocols.The Alternate Training Site remains part of the framework of the 2021 protocol, with the plan being that players from the ATS will be used to fill out the Taxi Squad when teams go on the road. Teams are responsible for ensuring safe travel for players between the ATS and where they meet their teams, but this is where the non-geographic schedule comes into play.The rule on the ATS is that it must be “located sufficiently close to the location where the club will play its home games during the championship season that commercial air travel is not required.” So, while the Yankees could keep their ATS last year in Scranton, where they have their Triple-A team a two-hour drive from the Bronx, the White Sox, whose top affiliate is in Charlotte, needed to use the facility of an independent league team in Schaumburg, Ill.Further complicating things is that there is no minor league schedule yet, minor league spring training won’t start until the major league season is underway because its trying to keep the spring training facilities uncrowded, and the Alternate Sites from last year were a mix of minor league stadiums, independent league facilities, and colleges. MLB plans to continue with the ATS program because there’s no guarantee that the minor league season will go smoothly, but MLB could not provide clarity on how Triple-A and an ATS program could exist simultaneously, other than that the plan is to have both.There’s still time to figure out the logistics of it all, especially since it’s unlikely that minor league baseball will be played — or, in the MLB legalese, it probably won’t be until well into April, if not May, that “the commissioner commences the Class AAA championship season,” in which case “Clubs may be required to change the location of their Alternate Training Sites.” And exactly who’s playing daily competitive Triple-A baseball and who’s grinding out intrasquad workouts at an ATS is going to be a tricky needle to thread.These are the questions that MLB needs to figure out the answers to, though, because just having had 59 straight days last summer without a positive test doesn’t mean that the whole operation is foolproof. Turner was the fool who proved that, and in the days following the World Series, other Dodgers got coronavirus, too.The weak points of MLB’s plan for 2021 are one that existed last year — the possibility of members of someone’s household bringing in the virus — and this new one, coronavirus getting into baseball through the minor leagues, along with the extra air travel that will be a necessary part of playing out the new year’s schedule.MLB has a shot to pull it off again, but the best shot remains the COVID-19 vaccine, and the sooner everyone gets that, the better off we’ll all be. .

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MLB’s biggest question answered as Twins add promising pitcher; also, Dodgers sign jerkwad Bauer


Oh yeah, this guy signed too.Image: Getty ImagesThe wait is over, and one of baseball’s top contenders can move toward spring training confident that its new addition to the pitching staff will be just the man to put them over the top.It has been a long offseason of wondering where the former Pac-12 star might wind up, with seemingly every team in play for his services. Now, though, it’s settled.Ian Hamilton is a member of the Minnesota Twins.Hamilton, an 11th-round draft pick of the White Sox out of Washington State in 2016, had been claimed on waivers by the Mariners in late September. Two and a half months later, Seattle waived the right-hander, and he was claimed by the Phillies. Then, when Philadelphia re-signed catcher J.T. Realmuto and needed to free up a 40-man roster spot, Hamilton was designated for assignment, and now once again has been claimed, this time by the defending AL Central champions.Hamilton isn’t just a promising pitcher who dominated hitters with a 1.74 ERA and 62 strikeouts in 51.2 innings between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018, he’s someone that you can’t help but root for. Having gotten a cup of coffee with the White Sox in 2018, Hamilton was ready to compete for a roster spot the following year, but suffered a shoulder injury in a car accident. He made it back to pitch in 16 struggle-filled games for the Sox’s top affiliate in Charlotte, but was hit in the face by a line drive, suffering multiple fractures that ended his season.Last year, Hamilton made it back to the majors, and worked 3.2 scoreless innings over his first three appearances, with four strikeouts. His fourth and final outing of the season did sour things, as Hamilton walked the first two Tigers he faced, got one out, then threw a wild pitch and gave up an RBI single to Harold Castro before being pulled — he was charged with two runs in one-third of an inning as Steve Cishek allowed one of the inherited runners to come home.G/O Media may get a commissionNow, Hamilton goes to Minnesota to try to help hold off his old Chicago teammates in the Central, which figures to be an intriguing race to see who can beat up the most on rebuilding Cleveland, Detroit, and Kansas City.Hamilton does not appear to have a Twitter account. Instead, he’s just focused on baseball and doing all he can to improve and help his team win.In other baseball news, the defending world champion Dodgers agreed to a deal with Trevor Bauer, the human paraquat who has had one season in his career above three wins above replacement, owns a 3.90 lifetime ERA and 3.85 FIP, and had been inaccurately reported by USA Today’s Bob Nightengale to be on his way to the Mets on Thursday night. The deal is worth $102 million over three years, which is just silly for a guy who’s maybe — maybe — LA’s third-best starter now. Bauer won the 2020 National League Cy Young by posting a 1.73 ERA over 11 starts, but it’s his other kind of posting that’s troublesome, in addition to his career resume suggesting that while he’s capable of flashes of brilliance like his less-than-a-dozen starts in a pandemic year, he’s really quite average. .

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