- This week in Nine Innings we examine the "fake injury" comment by Derek Holland and what that illustrates in rebuilds across the game. We'll also reviist an old baseball card and one of MLB's never-ending rivalries.
Welcome back to Nine Innings, SI’s weekly look at what’s fun, cool, and somewhat stupid around the league. Today’s topics include: Derek Holland losing his cool; the Padres getting hoodwinked on Twitter; literally two minutes of nothing; and much more.
This Week In … Not Losing Gracefully!
The Giants’ 2019 season could be going better. At 17–23, they’re on pace to lose 94 games, and they’ve scored the third-fewest runs in the National League. None of the team’s veterans, meanwhile, are performing particularly well. That includes Derek Holland, who totes a 6.75 ERA through 34 2/3 innings across seven starts. His last outing—seven runs allowed in 2 2/3 frames against the Rockies—got him the boot to the bullpen. On Saturday, he made it clear just how unhappy he was about that.
“To be honest, I have no idea what they’re doing,” Holland told reporters. “And I don’t mean that by [manager Bruce Bochy] and them. It’s more the front office. We keep changing things. I get a fake injury, so I’m not happy about that. But at the end of the day, I’m going to do whatever they ask of me.”
Holland’s frustration is understandable. Both he and the Giants are off to poor starts, and the front office led by new general manager Farhan Zaidi is shuffling deck chairs as the ship takes on gallons of water. San Francisco is talent deficient compared to the rest of the league, and Zaidi’s approach is to cycle through as much major league detritus as he can to see if he can unearth gold.
That makes sense, but it’s inevitably going to lead to things like Holland getting steamed and complaining about fake injuries (in this case, a bruised finger that sent him to the injured list but that he probably felt he could pitch through). It’s also the predictable byproduct of a team that’s supposed to lose, creating a tension with no real solution.
A lot of the discussion around tanking centers on what it does to the fan—how it lowers and ultimately ruins the entertainment value of the team for years at a time, and conditions people to root for payrolls and prospects instead of on-field results. But equally notable is what this does to the players stuck in the situation, who have no recourse but to play out the string for a loser. It’s a rough spot to be in: Your production leads to nothing; your best hope is to be dealt eventually to a contender; your job is in constant jeopardy with a team that would rather start looking at who could help in the future as opposed to now. All the while, losses pile up, sapping morale and hurting chemistry.
It’s an unfair position to be put in. Yet professionalism is still expected from these folks even as the bosses who set them up to fail don’t get called to task for it. This isn’t to blame Zaidi for the Giants’ sorry state; he’s doing the best he can to clean up a Superfund site. But elsewhere around the league are plenty of front offices intentionally stripping teams of all that’s of use, leaving players in the lurch.
It’s all a reflection of what baseball is in 2019: a sport where wins and losses don’t matter as much as prospect rankings or how many millions of dollars below the luxury tax you are. It’s all about the lean efficiency the corporate world has preached for years and that’s now central to MLB’s ethos. And ultimately, it’s a bummer for everyone—especially those who have to do whatever is asked of them, whether it leads to wins or not.
This Week In … Vladimir Guerrero Jr.!
The SS Vlad Jr. was supposed to be an imposing battleship. So far, though, it’s been a dinghy tossed about in a massive storm. Now 13 games into his major league career, the Son of Vlad is hitting more like his uncle Wilton: .191/.283/.234, zero homers, twice as many strikeouts as walks, dreams dashed all over the greater Toronto area.
Vlad Jr. will get better, for sure. He’s too talented to be this bad, and every prospect, no matter how good, will struggle in the majors at one point or another. Still, it makes this particular section a bit tougher to write when The Prince That Was Promised remains a promise without results. And as Guerrero struggles to find traction, I can feel my heart being dragged toward MLB’s other wünderkind, who returned last week to bring joy to baseball’s shores once more.
No. No! I will stay faithful to my beloved large lad, Vlad Jr., and not succumb to the temptations of the brilliant Ohtani.
[calls editor to discuss how we can easily and quietly rebrand to “This Week In … Shohei Ohtani, Whom This Section Has Always Been About!”]
This Week In … Puig Vs. Bumgarner: The Ultimate Battle!
Yasiel Puig and Madison Bumgarner: They’re the baseball equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys. It’s an enmity that’s blood-deep and has grown stronger over the years, and one day it will boil over into an honest-to-God tussle that will shake the very earth. But even though Puig left the Dodgers for redder pastures, he still remains committed to getting under Bumgarner’s skin. Case in point: Sunday’s Giants-Reds game, in which a newly blonde Puig got all of a Bumgarner fastball and punctuated it with slow walk out of the batter’s box, a good, long stare at his handiwork, and a perfectly executed bat toss.
Was that Puig’s most emphatic flip? Not even close. But consider just where his bat ends up:
That’s halfway up the first base line! He carried that lumber for a while and then gave it a nice heave once he was ready. That’s some solid disrespect.
Then again, for all of Puig’s theatrics, Bumgarner came out ahead, as his Giants rallied to beat the Reds—and the big lefty even got the last laugh with this neat burn.
Bumgarner on Puig’s homer on a fastball in: “He’s a quick study. It only took him seven years to learn how to hit that pitch.”— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) May 12, 2019
I hope these two never stop the fussin’ and a-feudin’.
This Week In … Obscene Baseball Gestures!
There’s nothing quite as satisfying sometimes as flipping the bird. Sending your middle finger into the sky can be a true rush: It’s a direct message, full of force and impossible to misinterpret, signaling clearly your disdain and hatred.
That as much seems to be behind this display from Joc Pederson toward Nationals second baseman and former teammate Brian Dozier, who robbed him of a hit last week and earned an emphatic gesture in response.
(For those who can bear the sight of [gasp] an uncensored digit, here’s a GIF of Pederson letting Dozier know that bird is the word.]
I see no malice here, just Pederson being a goof. So on a scale of 1–5 Old Hoss Radbourn Birds—the official scale of Baseball Middle Fingers—I give this one a solid 3.5. Good execution, unabashed display, and worthy of a chuckle.
This Week In … Stealing Identities On Twitter!
Mother’s Day isn’t just the official annual Sunday of belatedly calling your mom late in the day or tossing a card in the mail. It’s also a day when MLB can lean into the spirit of it, from the pink bats to the treacly commercials about How Much Mom Means To Me to [checks notes] social media jokes that backfire horribly.
In this case, that honor belongs to the Padres—aka the Fathers—who decided that a fun Mother’s Day goof would be to rebrand on Twitter as the Madres—aka the Mothers (all as part of some #sponsoredcontent). All well and good, until an enterprising sort realized that San Diego going from @Padres to @Madres had left the team's old Twitter handle unclaimed (or at least unfrozen, as those accounts are apparently supposed to be in moments like this). Naturally, then, this was the result:
East County Ricky is, in fact, Ricky Padilla, a 22-year-old baseball player at Calvin College who briefly became the Padres. Whether or not doing that caused a surge of brown-and-yellow energy to flow through Ricky, ala Thanos with the Infinity Gauntlet post-Snap, is unknown. But clearly there were unintended consequences.
All of these mentions are making it REAL hard to study for my four finals in the next 3 days...— Ricky Padilla (@RickyPadilla22) May 12, 2019
As you can imagine, Padilla eventually lost @Padres, though his prank did actually turn out pretty well.
Hi Ricky, thanks for keeping @Padres safe this morning. We'd love to invite you and your Madre and Padre to a game when the team is back in town. Check your DMs!— San Diego Padres (@Padres) May 12, 2019
Crime (or at least, very mild social media crimes) does actually pay.
This Week In … Glacial, Infuriating Pace Of Play!
Do you want to stare into an abyss, slowly sinking into its inky black depths? Do you want to feel the world melt around you, time losing all meaning as you drift into the void? I’ve got the perfect substitute for you: Two minutes and seven seconds of baseball where nothing—literally nothing—happens as Zack Greinke and Ozzie Albies face off.
Here’s a question for those of you who intentionally subjected yourselves to what was essentially 127 seconds of throat-clearing: At what point in this video did you slump over, hand on head, into bemused defeat? When did you first involuntarily mutter “Oh, come on” to yourself? How angry do you think Rob Manfred got when this video eventually floated into his inbox? When did you first make this face?
For the most part, I find Manfred’s fixation on pace of play to be overdone; the game has far bigger problems, mostly financial, which the Commissioner’s office seems content to ignore. But I also understand that moments like this one are the opposite of an advertisement for baseball. They encapsulate perfectly the inactivity that tends to overtake a good chunk of the game, until you’re screaming for something—anything at all—to happen. It’s a yawning chasm so huge that you could practically fit an entire other sport into it—and, in fact, you literally can.
This isn’t entirely fair to baseball: Horse racing is fast by practice (and features plenty of its own interminable standing-around and waiting). But it’s also not a great contrast: The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports meets its ultimate match.
This Week In … Who Needs Craig Kimbrel?
Every week until he’s signed, I’ll take a look at which teams need free agent Craig Kimbrel, one of the best relievers in baseball, the most, and declare one the winner.
Undone by injury and poor performance, the Braves are throwing everyone against the wall to see what sticks. That includes Josh Tomlin, who has somehow emerged as one of manager Brian Snitker’s late-inning stalwarts. There’s probably no better way to say “We’re in dire, desperate need of help” than giving Tomlin a setup role in 2019 (after registering a 6.14 ERA last year), yet here the Braves are.
It’s even more worrisome at closer, with Arodys Vizcaino out for the year and A.J. Minter down in the minors after getting shelled all season. Anyone can get saves, the analytics crowd says, but Atlanta is doing its best to prove otherwise. Given the team’s true contender potential, the time is now to bring in someone like Kimbrel, who can lock down the role and ideally create a cascading stability.
The Braves won’t do this, either because it costs too much or because Kimbrel would require draft pick compensation or something else. Consider, though, how much those explanations hold up against the sight of Tomlin trying to navigate eighth-inning jams. As Anton Chigurh so memorably put it, “If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?”
Also receiving votes: It’s amazing that there are other teams in situations just as bad as Atlanta’s, yet none of them have done anything? Why? Why? Why?
This Week In … Good Reads Around The Web!
• “On Hyun-jin Ryu and ‘functional athleticism’” | Peter Gammons, The Athletic
The best ever to do it with a nice look here at how some of baseball’s most unconventional bodies—like the chubby Ryu—nonetheless are some of its best athletes.
• “The inside story of the viral 7-year-old Mike Trout fan and his Troutfits” | Jeff Passan, ESPN
This is truly heartwarming, but my favorite part of it is when Trout, forever on brand, talks about the weather with a first-grader.
• “Hunter Pence’s pinch-hit grand slam was a supernova, and the fallout was a Rangers win” | Levi Weaver, The Athletic
This is mostly about this incredible turn of phrase re: Pence and his unorthodox approach: “Pence’s swing is like the secret language of twins.” I’m going to put that sentence on a banner and fly it over the entire country.
This Week In … Old Baseball Cards!
Each week, I’ll pluck a random baseball card out of a pile of 1980s, 90s and 2000s cards I have at my desk, then write a quick little take on the player in question. This week’s entry: Atlee Hammaker, pitcher, San Francisco Giants (Topps 1989).
As far as funny baseball names go, Atlee Hammaker is a solid one, though it would feel better suited to a Civil War general. Instead, the Atlee Hammaker of our universe was a lefty pitcher who spent eight of his 12 years in the big leagues with the Giants, bouncing between rotation and bullpen, occasionally great but generally fine.
But Hammaker is likely best known for the hits he gave up on the biggest stages. The first was in ’83, when he made that lone trip to the Midsummer Classic and was promptly demolished, giving up seven runs against just two outs and allowing the first grand slam in All-Star Game history.
The other was more impactful and probably painful. In the decisive Game 7 of the 1987 NLCS against St. Louis, it was Hammaker making the start and who gave up four runs in the first two innings, including a three-run homer to light-hitting reserve Jose Oquendo (home runs that season: one), in a 6–0 San Francisco loss. Given that the Giants had led that series three games to two, there were many other culprits for the team’s ultimate failure. Yet Hammaker played his part too—a link in the chain breaking alongside the rest.
Perhaps out of some small mercy, neither event is included on the back of Hammaker’s card; it’s stats all the way down. But maybe that’s fair. A career in baseball is more than stories, happy or sad. It’s a whole bunch of numbers that add up to something more than individual moments.