Tuesday, May 14, 2013
Harper can learn from Pete Reiser
By Buster Olney
You can count four or five steps on the warning track by Bryce Harper before he crashes into the wall at Dodger Stadium in Monday’s game -- four or five steps on the warning track, which is called that for precisely the reason the name implies. Fielders can feel the change in their footing and are able to estimate, without looking down, how close they are to the fence.
So Harper either wasn’t cognizant that he had sprinted onto new ground or else, more likely, he simply ignored all the sensory information gathered in his pursuit of A.J. Ellis’ long fly ball. Harper collapsed onto the warning track and had to come out of the game and get 11 stitches. He was bleeding all over the place, his manager said.
Harper is one of the best young players we have ever seen, and his habit of going all out all the time is why he’s fun to watch -- and why the Nationals should be concerned, and probably already are.
If you read accounts of baseball from the last years just before World War II, the young players who were the Harper and Mike Trout of their time were Ted Williams and a Dodgers outfielder named Pete Reiser. Williams is in the discussion as the greatest hitter of all time; Reiser is mostly unknown to history, other than as a cautionary tale.
Reiser played in 58 games in his first season with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1940 at age 21, and the next summer, he won the National League batting title, hitting .343 with 70 extra-base hits; he led the NL in runs scored with 117, and he finished second in the MVP voting. Leo Durocher was Reiser’s first manager and, years later, was the first manager for Willie Mays. Durocher would speak of them, in so many words, as equals in their talent. "Mays had everything,” Durocher said. “Pete Reiser had everything but luck."
But much of Reiser’s luck was self-inflicted, because he had a tendency to run into outfield walls, in a seeming attempt to run through them in pursuit of the baseball. (He once fractured his skull running into the wall.) This was an admirable trait in some respects, because his effort was always at a maximum level. At the same time, the crazed pursuit of excellence essentially wrecked his career.
Mays didn’t run into fences in the way that Reiser did, nor did Williams or Joe DiMaggio. They’re all in the Hall of Fame. Reiser is not.
Earlier this year, Nationals manager Davey Johnson talked about the need for Harper to take down his intensity a notch or two, and the type of play we saw in Monday’s game is exactly what Johnson is talking about. It’s one thing to go full speed on every ground ball, to go first to third with all the zeal of a strong safety rushing to blast the running back coming through the hole. But it’s another thing to attack every play, regardless of the situation and the place on the field, as though making that catch is pivotal. Because not every play and situation is the same, and is worthy of reckless effort. At the moment that Harper barreled into the wall, the Nationals had a 6-0 lead in the fifth inning, with the game under complete control.
We had the "Sunday Night Baseball" game on the day last season when Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper with a pitch, and a few moments later, Harper stole home plate. I was positioned in the photo well next to the Nationals' dugout, and as Harper came off the field, his expression was something you almost never see on a baseball field. I remember Roger Clemens had something close to it the night he threw the bat in the direction of Mike Piazza, and occasionally Rob Dibble had it as he closed out games. But that frenzied I-must-break-you thing is more often seen on football fields, like in the eyes of Mike Singletary or Dick Butkus.
Harper can take it down a notch, play with more discretion and still be a great player. He may not have the opportunity if he keeps running into fences. Harper is a student of baseball history, admirably, and knows a lot about Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth and others, and if he’s too sore to play Tuesday, he might want to take a few moments to read about Pete Reiser.
Meanwhile: Jordan Zimmermann won again.
Around the league
• Nolan Ryan says he doesn’t think a job with the Astros interests him, in the aftermath of George Postolos’ resignation. Houston owner Jim Crane has reached out to Craig Biggio as he looks to reshape the team, writes Brian Smith.
This has been a wreck you could see coming long ago. When the new ownership group came on board, longtime employees were fired, at a time when the club was stripping the MLB roster to the bone in a draconian makeover. You can’t wound ties to the community and, at the same time, field what is essentially a minor league-level team and expect success.
The Astros are 10-29 after their latest loss and are on pace to finish this season with a record of 42-120 and a run differential of minus-357 (the run differential would be a post-1900 record). They may well turn around the team in the years ahead, given their annual position at the top of the draft.
But the most important question all along -- written here, and elsewhere, many months ago -- has been: How much lasting damage will be done to the franchise along the way, given the management strategy? The team’s per-game attendance is its worst in two decades.
• Justin Upton had a nice moment Monday, hitting a monster home run against the Diamondbacks, but the bigger-picture story for Atlanta continues to be the damage Brian McCann has done since being activated off the disabled list. He hit another homer Monday and has three in his first six games back with 10 RBIs.
Upton went 4-for-5 in his first game back in Arizona, and it had to mean a lot to him, Nick Piecoro writes. It was the Justin show, says teammate Chris Johnson.
• It turns out that Chris Sale pitched his near-perfect game with an abscessed tooth.
• The Cubs made a quick decision on Anthony Rizzo’s value, writes Paul Sullivan.
Dings and dents
1. Wei-Yin Chen is headed to the disabled list.
2. Shane Victorino has been cleared to play.
3. A Mets pitcher has an achy elbow.
4. Jonny Venters’ elbow is still bothering him.
5. Jason Heyward will continue to rehab in Triple-A, writes David O’Brien.
6. Colby Lewis is dealing with tendinitis.
7. Austin Jackson landed on the disabled list.
8. Looks like Coco Crisp could be activated Wednesday.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Indians sent Lonnie Chisenhall to the minors, Paul Hoynes writes.
2. Rickie Weeks was benched, and it’s a wait-and-see thing, writes Michael Hunt.
3. Rick Ankiel signed with the Mets and fit right in, writes Andrew Keh.
4. Curtis Granderson could be back in the Yankees’ lineup Tuesday.
5. Zack Wheeler will be arriving soon.
6. Ryan Jackson could be a middle-infield option for the Cardinals, writes Bernie Miklasz.
7. Jarrod Dyson is back on top of the Royals’ lineup, writes Bob Dutton.
8. Brett Pill was called up.
9. The Dodgers say they aren’t sure what’s going to happen with Zack Greinke.
10. Albert Pujols is really struggling to move.
1. Justin Masterson was The Man, as the Indians split a doubleheader.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Masterson won:
A) Painted the corners. Threw 95 pitches on the inner/outer third of the plate, and Yankees hitters were a combined 0-for-21, including eight of his nine strikeouts in at-bats ending with a pitch in those locations. Yankees hitters were 4-for-9 in at-bats ending with a pitch in the middle third of the plate.
B) For the first time this season, Masterson did not allow a "well-hit" ball, as judged by the Inside Edge scouting service. Masterson allowed no well-hit balls in a start twice in the previous two seasons combined.
C) Threw 38 sliders out of 118 pitches (32.2 percent), his highest percentage in a start this season. Yankees hitters were 0-for-6 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending with a slider.
2. Travis Wood has eight straight quality starts, and the Cubs have a winning streak.
3. Aaron Hicks did almost everything right, writes Mike Berardino.
4. Matt Holliday pummeled the Mets.
5. Oakland has a good thing going against the Rangers, John Shea writes.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how A.J. Griffin beat Texas:
A) He kept the ball down. He threw 65 of 108 pitches (60.2 percent) down in the zone or further below, the highest percentage in a start in his career. Rangers hitters were 2-for-15 (both singles) in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location, including seven of his eight strikeouts.
B) Rangers hitters were 0-for-6 with men on base against Griffin. Only one runner reached scoring position (Nelson Cruz -- fourth inning). Griffin threw 63.0 percent of his pitches down in the zone or below with men on base.
C) Griffin threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 24 hitters (79.2 percent), the second-highest percentage in a start in his career. Griffin went to a 2-0 count in only one plate appearance and did not reach a 3-0 or 3-1 count in the game.
6. Joe Blanton is 0-7.
• Dan Connolly writes about how Manny Machado stacks up with baseball’s other great young players.
• R.A. Dickey is still searching for his groove.
• J.P. Arencibia isn’t worried about his strikeouts.
• James Loney has a quiet determination.
• Matt Moore will be looking to make history Tuesday night.
• For the Red Sox, long relievers are a thing of the past, writes Brian MacPherson.
• Ryan Raburn was drilled by an ex-teammate and doesn’t know what to make of it.
• Billy Butler and the Royals broke out.
• Jesus Montero is still learning, writes Ryan Divish.
• The Marlins are on pace for historic lows.
• The Phillies’ relievers have been pretty average.
• The Donald Lutz story is growing, writes Tom Archdeacon.
• Jordy Mercer’s time might come in 2014.
• The Rockies must play better against good teams to be legitimate, writes Troy Renck.
• Josh Beckett is 0-for-5.
• Jeffrey Loria’s business decisions will haunt all of Major League Baseball, writes Armando Salguero.
• Goose Gossage has some great San Diego memories, writes Jay Paris.
• Here’s a nice piece on Waite Hoyt from Mike Dyer.
• Justin Verlander’s brother is thriving at Old Dominion.
• The Mantle family contested the whole issue of whether Mickey corked a bat.
And today will be better than yesterday.