Welcome to the second edition of “Around the Horn.” Throughout the season, this will be a recurring op-ed that riffs on whatever’s noteworthy in baseball, except it will have a more satirical slant. Think a stripped down Last Week Tonight or Daily Show in a column format, except all about baseball. There will be recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s Pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
We’ve got a lot to talk about as well as Part II of a killer two-part interview with former Giants prospect and rising Twitter legend Eric Sim, where we talk about what really goes on in pro locker rooms; batting practice with Hunter Pence, Buster Posey, and Brandon Belt; catching 102 mph from Ray Black; what he would do if he were the dictator of baseball; and the best hitter he ever played with (the answer may surprise you). So let’s get right to our first “segment”:
(Our Main Story)
Rule changes – you knew the winds of change were coming eventually. Sure, maybe you’re a baseball purist, and you thought you’d just stay inside for the weekend while all the millennials enjoy those winds and fly their National League DH kites. Thing is, those winds have quickly evolved into gale-force, and change is a’ comin’, my friends. MLB is hell-bent on speeding the game up to attract a younger generation of viewers. The average game time in 1979 was two hours and 35 minutes. Today’s game is about half an hour longer. Somehow, MLB missed the memo that they could easily cut down the length of ballgames by simply devoting less time to television and radio ads.
Ah, now we’ve uncovered the REAL blasphemy… because we both know how that turns out. Trying to take away ad revenue from MLB is like taking away an Xbox from this kid:
Ok, maybe that’s being too hyperbolic. After all, MLB actually agreed to shorten commercial breaks by 33%, going from three-minute breaks to two-minute breaks. Before you get excited, you better believe the split screen ad model is coming to a living room television near you eventually, but until then, it’s nice to see the league being willing to do their part to be the change they’d like to see in their world, as Gandhi would say.
But mostly, we’re going to have to deal with changing the game itself instead. Setting the National League DH aside for a moment, let’s take a look at each proposed rule and decide if any are good for baseball, even if they are probably all ulcer-inducing heresy to purists everywhere.
Rule Change #1: 20-second pitch clock
Ok, I don’t think fans would mind speeding up the time between each pitch. Does the batter really have to leave the box, go through some kind of metaphysical ritual that involves rubbing dirt between his hands, scratching his nuts, re-adjusting his helmet, and undoing and redoing the Velcro on his batting gloves between every pitch? We all know ballplayers are a superstitious lot, but it can easily be argued that part of the excessive time from one pitch to the next can be attributed to the hitter doing his own private song and dance as much as the pitcher taking an afternoon stroll around the mound. Honestly, if batting routines looked like this, perhaps I wouldn’t mind:
Instead, we get deep breaths, compulsive air hockey cup action, and a lot of apparel and equipment nonsense. Granted, the pitchers aren’t exactly fond of the pitch clock idea, judging by the disdain some like David Price and Jon Lester have expressed. MLB initially tinkered with the idea of pitch clocks by first rolling it out with literally no enforcement, because apparently, that works somehow. Next, umpires are supposed to remind pitchers and hitters of violations, but they won’t issue ball and strike penalties. Nothing like the “Do what I tell you or else” threat when everybody knows there is literally no “else.” Eventually, penalties will be assessed in meaningless Spring Training games if MLB and the MLBPA actually come to an agreement. All of this amounts to a heaping helping of nonsense since the pitch clock will have such a marginal impact on game times, but if the concern is that grumpy ballplayers won’t abide, they will. Rules are rules, and it’s human nature to adapt and conform, however reluctantly. The pitch clock has been successfully implemented across the college, Minor League, and Independent League settings, so if MLB wants it, it will soon be commonplace in the Majors as well.
Rule Change #2: Adding a 26th roster spot
This one I think we can all dig. Managers get more flexibility and 30 more full-time jobs open up to players. Apparently, the rule would also include a 12-pitcher limit for non-September games. The goal here is obviously to deter teams from deploying specialized bullpens that literally bring in three pitchers per inning past the 6th just to exploit platoon advantages. No one is opposed to exploiting matchups to gain an advantage, but the strategy has gone awry to the point that it does more to hurt the spirit of competition rather than help it. Specialization of bullpens means enhancing singular skills in pitchers rather than developing them to be more complete pitchers that can handle full innings on their own. Fans shouldn’t have to watch five guys warm up in two innings just so teams can feel better about the chances their logarithms say they’ll have to get the final seven or eight outs. If the goal is to cut down the wasted between action, the 26th roster spot and limitation on pitchers seems like a logical place to start.
Rule Change #3: Reduce the number of mound visits
This one makes sense, especially since many mound visits have little purpose other than a means of stalling so a reliever can get in more warm-up pitches. Currently, MLB imposes a limit of six visits to the mound per game, and that number is expected to be reduced further to five or even four. Again, the effect will be marginal, but since a lot of these mound visits happen during stress innings later in games, reducing them can help speed up the innings where baseball seems to lag most. I have yet to hear a compelling argument against this rule change.
Rule Change #4: The Three-Batter Minimum
Oh, boy. If there is a rule that is causing controversy, it’s this bad boy right here. Look, there are benefits to this rule. No more innings with two or three pitchers and their warm-ups as analytics departments try to game each other. Just bring your guy in, and it’s his responsibility to get those outs. Critics will say it reduces the strategy of the game, but how long have specialized bullpens been a part of “the game’? I mean, seriously, who was bringing in a LOOGY to get Willie McCovey out, let alone George Brett, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, or even Ichiro and Griffey Jr.? Nowadays, we get a LOOGY to get the guy out batting in the 6-hole. The game was intended to be played a certain way, and it doesn’t involve 15-minute half-innings thanks to three pitching changes and extensive mid-innings breaks. The strategy doesn’t die with this rule. A manager will still have to decide whether to bring in the better overall pitcher or the ace-in-the-hole LOOGY to prioritize getting the most dangerous hitter out. Now, I do see the complaint that sometimes a reliever is just off, and a manager shouldn’t have to sit back and watch as his guy gets pummeled and not only gives up the lead, but lets the game get entirely away because he can’t pull him. I can see an amendment to this rule that if the reliever gives up, say two or more runs, the manager resumes the right to pull him. That being said, if your guy can’t get lefties and righties out, then how good of a pitcher is he really, and is that pitcher more deserving of a roster spot than a pitcher with the arsenal and delivery capable of getting through at the bare minimum, a single high-stress inning? Perhaps he is given his ability to get a team’s most dangerous hitter out, but if so, his stuff should play well enough that it’s not a complete surrender the second an opposite handed-hitter steps into the box.
Rule Change #5: Changing the Mound
No. Just stop it. Get outta here with that nonsense. 10 inches high, and 60 feet six inches from home. Leave. It. Alone. Listen, everyone knows velocity is up, and that has led to an increase in strikeouts. There was a time where anything over 95 mph was a novelty you saw on a handful of teams. Now, every team in the league has players that throw gas. MLB wants more offense, but this feels like a cheap way to manufacture it, and in the Hard-Hit% era of dingers, is this really necessary? The mound was lowered once before, from 15 inches to 10 inches, in 1969 after pitchers held the National League to a .243 average and the American League hit a disgusting .232 in 1968. Of course, this was a direct result of increasing the strike zone after 1961, which in turn was a response to the influx of home runs that had baseball and its fans worried its record books would be experiencing as much turnover as Uber drivers. Nonetheless, the dimensions of the field haven’t changed in over 120 years. I’m all for revisiting lowering the mound or moving it back slightly when the average pitch speed far exceeds today’s average of 91 mph. Velocity has become the biggest predictor of success for a pitcher, but there was a time where command and control mattered just as much, arguably if not more. And the harder pitchers throw, the more we’re seeing arm injuries. It’s like getting Tommy John surgery has become a badge of honor, and many of the top pitching prospects in baseball have either had the surgery or will probably end up getting it at some point in the near future. So we have to ask ourselves, does velocity come with a price? And is messing with the mound truly the right answer? When Jordan Hicks velo starts to become garden-variety, we can resume this convo. Until then, let the pitchers keep slingin’ and the hitters keep mashin’ from where they do – 60 feet and six inches from home.
Rule Change #6: Only One Trade Deadline
The August waiver shenanigans were always an unnecessary complication. Hopefully, this rule will lead to more action on and leading up to July 31st. The NBA and the NFL have seen an increase in trades, and fans eat in-season moves up. Whether you’re a playoff contender looking to add some key pieces or a team in the dumps hoping to sell off assets for prospects, everybody loves trading season. Why? Because it brings the hope of a better tomorrow no matter what condition your team is in at the deadline.
Rule Change #7: All-Star Game gimmicks
It’s hard not to love the $1 million dollar Home Run Derby. Sure, the guys that will participate in the contest make that ten-fold, but it’s still an added incentive in an era where player compensation is a hot-button issue. What strikes me as a leaky bag of ridiculousness is the way the top three players at each position will be put on a ballot for Election Day, and a one-day online vote will determine who starts the game. Baseball has been trying to make this mid-summer classic more relevant and exciting for a while now, and for what it’s worth, it’s always been far more exciting than the Pro Bowl, a football game that is about as interesting as pulling weeds. Nonetheless, it makes sense for MLB to find a way to make its stars more marketable, but I wonder if it wouldn’t make more sense to take a cue from the NBA and maybe make the selection process an event with two team captains picking their own rosters. A nationally televised event where we get to see ballplayers in a light we’ve never seen them before. If you want to go full NBA, let fan votes account for 50% of the vote, while the nominations of MLB players and members of the baseball media account for 25%. The captains could be the players who received the most fan votes from the AL and NL. The All-Star Game has the potential to not only be a rousing affair, but the lead-up and selection process itself can be drama as well. It’s a far better process than letting fervent fan bases of certain teams push often undeserving players onto rosters, making it more of a viral popularity contest to determine which teams’ fans can vote most often. There’s nothing worse than watching a deserving player get snubbed because some other team’s homer fans are willing to spend two hours every day clicking “Vote Here” to select the hometown regulars.
Out of the Park
(A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week)
While we’re still being treated to it, enjoy the pure gold of a mic’d up Mookie Betts during Spring Training:
The Red Sox outfield is straight comedy 🤣 pic.twitter.com/69FFMgZ0xu
— ESPN (@espn) March 7, 2019
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention again that it would probably do a world of good to mic up players more often during games. It remains the best way to bring fans closer to the game and introduce new fans to the personalities that make it so colorful and fun.
A special memoriam for the Christmas gift that never came for Joey Gallo.
This is all I want for Christmas… https://t.co/vebxUMwFFo
— Joey Gallo (@JoeyGallo24) December 5, 2018
And since Gallo and Hunter Pence together is priceless, plus the fact Game of Thrones is nearly back, here’s an extra bag for you.
— Tim Dillard (@DimTillard) March 12, 2019
It’s about time to get to Part Two of our interview with former San Francisco Giants prospect Eric Sim (@esim3400). Eric has developed a prolific social media following with his often NSFW and candid tweets, and he was recently the subject of an article by Eno Sarris over at The Athletic. Be advised: some crude language is used in this interview.
Here’s the pitch:
Me: In your experience, is it really true that only 5% of locker room talk in pro ball actually revolves around baseball?
Eric: Of course. It’s actually probably less than that. If you go into a minor league locker room, you’re not going to go in there and people will be like, “Oh, dude, your swing yesterday…” No, [expletive] it’s all about 95% girls or 110%, and the rest of it is [expletive] bull— or you’re talking [expletive], but yeah, it doesn’t work like that.
Me: I have some player-specific questions for you. What was it like hitting BP with Hunter Pence in Spring Training?
It was [expletive] awesome. I think there was like a video recently of him hitting BP or inside the cage or something, and he’s [expletive] going all out, like 110%. People are like, “What the [expletive]?” I’m like, dude, that’s exactly what he does and I did BP with him, and so, usually when I hit with big leaguers, they usually take it really nice and easy. Say, like 50%. Just nice and easy. Oppo, and then [expletive], they’ll let loose on a couple, you know? But Pence went up there swinging like 110% every [expletive] swing. So I’m like, what the [expletive] is this guy? Like, he actually popped up… the first one didn’t even get out of the cage. The second ball, he popped up to short. The third one or whatever, he tanks, man. Like, the ball still hasn’t even landed yet. I was like, holy [expletive] hell, that’s insane. I asked him, “How the [expletive] do you do that? I’ve met all the big leaguers. Like, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt. They’ll swing all nice and easy. You’re just like going all out, so why?” And he’s like, “I do it in the game. Why would I do anything else?” He’s got a bunch of years in the big leagues, and he was successful at it too, right, so that’s pretty crazy to know that everyone is different. Even at the big league level, not everyone is [expletive] cookie cutter and everyone’s the same. No, everyone does it different. Like Brandon Belt will just swing nice and easy, and all of a sudden, you’ll see him hit a ball, and you’re like what the [expletive], how’s that happening? And Pence will just go all out. Everyone’s different.
Me: What does 102 in the glove from Ray Black feel like?
Eric: That sucks. That [expletive] sucks. (laughs) Actually, no surprisingly, Ray Black throws more around the zone. I’ve caught some [expletive] that are way [expletive] off. I’m talking, like,
bounce one [expletive] 10 feet up in the air kind of thing. Ray’s actually closer to the glove. Doesn’t really get ahead, but he’s around the glove, which is actually not that bad to catch, but man, when he throws the ball, man, you can hear the difference. And a lot of people won’t ever know until you catch it, but it’s like, 90 miles an hour will make take the “shhh” sound, right? And 95 was like, it’s pretty quick. Like when Ray throws a ball, it’s like “tsuk” right? (laughs). That’s it. The ball’s in the glove. I’m like, what the [expletive]. Hardest pitcher I’ve ever caught. Nastiest [expletive] I’ve ever caught. It was insane, man.
Me: So you said Matt Duffy was the best hitter you ever played with? What do you think made him so skilled?
Eric: He was the smartest human being. Like, talk about discipline. He was actually very analytical. He’s very smart in his approach and he’ll be reading a [expletive] book all the time and [expletive]. Like he’ll always be studying, and I’m like, dude, like [expletive] take a day off kind of thing, you know, but that’s why he was successful. He’s not a high draft pick. He’s like a 13th round pick or some [expletive]. He never was a high round pick, and then, all sudden, first year he hit .300. Everyone’s like who the [expletive] are you? And the next year, he hit .303, .330. It’s like what the [expletive]. He just dominated every league he had been to, really, and I played with him for two or three years. Low-A mostly, and then High-A and then a little bit in Double-A. He was probably the best hitter I’ve ever played with, you know? Not like power or anything like that, which he’s got some sneaky pop, but yeah, he was the best hitter I ever played with.
Me: I want to get in just a couple here on your thoughts on the game in general. In one of your most fascinating tweets, to me, you responded with your thoughts on what it would be like if you were the dictator of baseball. Among other things, you said that you would raise the minor league salary to $40k year. You’d cut 162 games down to 142. You’d eliminate long term contracts and force players to play on one-year deals based on performance, and you’d add cheerleaders to the dugouts like the KBO.
Eric: [expletive] yeah. That’s the most important one right there.
Me: That’s a lot to unpack. Raising minor league salaries fits in line with your belief that these athletes deserve better compensation, but I am curious about some of these other ones. Could you expand a bit on why you would limit contracts to one-year deals and make everything performance based?
Eric: I mean, a lot of people are having a tough time [expletive] signing with teams right now too, right? There’s a bunch of free agents that haven’t signed yet. They obviously demand a lot of money, and vice versa teams don’t want to pay that [expletive], you know, so I’m not on the team’s side. I’m on the players’ side always, you know, and I respect that, but, at the same time, if we just make it easy, like… If you hit like Mike Trout, you know, like you hit .330 with [expletive] 30 dingers, you should get paid at least $20 million a year. That’s what I’m saying, but if you [expletive] hit .160 and go back and forth from Triple-A and [expletive] like that, you shouldn’t get paid $20 million a year. You’re not worth that money, you know what I’m saying? So I thought it would make sense, really, to get everything performance-based and obviously, there’ll be a lot of other things that will come into it, too, like how good of a clubhouse guy are? All that bull—- or whatever, but if you play well, who the [expletive] cares, you know? You hit .330 with 30 dingers, I mean, you deserve to get paid more than whatever Trout was getting paid at the time. If you’re the best players in the game, just pay them, and if you’re [expletive] and you don’t deserve that money, you shouldn’t get the money. Those ten year contracts, yeah, those are great for the players. They give you guarantees or whatever, but for me, I’m like dude, if you’re [expletive] 33 and then you [expletive] suck [expletive], do you really deserve to get paid $20 million? I’ve seen Barry Zito get paid $20 million the year he was with me in Rookie Ball. He threw like [expletive] five innings. He was hurt the whole year. He got paid like $20 million. It was a joke. I love Barry Zito because he was awesome, and he bought us dinners all the time. He was very giving, you know, but at the same time, [expletive] $20 million to hang out with us in Arizona. You’re not helping the team win is what I’m saying, so why the [expletive] should you get paid that much?
Me: So, I gotta ask. Cheerleaders?
Eric: [expletive] yeah. Watch a KBO game, man. It’s [expletive] awesome. They actually have a hype man, which I think is more important than cheerleaders. Cheerleaders are awesome, but there’s a hype man, and they dress up in uniform and stuff like that. And they have a whistle, and it’s really [expletive] cool what they do. There are cheerleaders on the dugouts dancing the whole game, getting the fans in it. They do a lot of beer chugging contests and stuff like that. The cheerleaders and the hype man kind of lead that, and they have a [expletive] blast, you know? That’s what it’s for, and you have a good [expletive] time. You watch Dominican winter league or Mexican winter league or something, their games are packed. It’s a party. They have a good [expletive] time. You watch an MLB game, it’s mostly silence when you think about it. It’s mostly silence, and then a ball gets hit and wow, that’s about it. Make it more exciting. [expletive] hell.
Me: The league is trying to really engage younger, younger viewers. Speed up the game and so on. What would you say it all the purists who would look at 162 games down to 142 and say that’s just going to mess up every record in the books?
Eric: Well, I mean, I get that. That’s more so for players. And even like, again, like you play 162 in like [expletive], what, four months? Five months? It’s [expletive] insane, right? So even in the minor leagues, we had maybe three off days, plus All-Star break if you don’t make it. You know, like, I mean [expletive] three off days a whole year, man. It’s every single day, and it’s very taxing. And, you know, people say like, you guys get hurt all the time. Well, no [expletive], we play every single day. And we’re traveling. Like, you don’t know the lifestyle. What do you know about [expletive] playing in Augusta in the [expletive] hundred-degree heat with 100% humidity, and then the game’s done at [expletive] 11 pm. And then you take the bus to [expletive], you know, Hagerstown [expletive] bump up nowhere. And it’s a 13-hour drive. So we’ll go from 11 to [expletive] literally 2 pm the next day. And then we’ll check in the hotel. And we’ll take a nap for 30 minutes, and we’ll show up to the field around four. And then we’ll go through our bull— routine again, and then they make us play that night at seven o’clock. So why don’t people know that, you know? Like, the travel part is the worst, really. So yeah, again, a little less taxing for the players, less taxing on their bodies, and that means healthier players.
Me: You recently said that if you ran an Independent team, you’d have a policy where fans can pay for tickets at a certain price or gamble on the team to lose.
Eric: How sick is that, though? You’re telling me you didn’t get excited reading that?
Me: Well, hear me out on this. You’re saying you’d have a policy where fans can pay to watch or gamble on the team to lose, and if the team lost, you’d watch for free. But if they won, you pay double. Legality and morality aside, that’s absolutely one of the most entertaining baseball ideas I’ve ever heard.
Eric: So the team wants to [expletive] win because we want to get paid, right? If we don’t win, we don’t get paid. So we’re gonna [expletive] do whatever it takes to win. So that gives fire to the players. And also, how fun is it for, like… (pauses) people gamble all the time, right? Why? Because it’s addicting. How addicting is that? You can literally just chill at the ballpark and you can watch for free or you can pay double. If there is a chance for me to pay a $10 ticket and a chance for me to double it down and do whatever I just said, like, I’ll do that every single time because it’s more fun. And people will choose more fun every single time.
Me: New Giants president Farhan Zaidi brought in Matt Daniels to potentially institute some Driveline protocol. I was curious what your thoughts were on that?
Eric: It’s [expletive] awesome. First of all, Matt is a great [expletive] guy and he trained me too when I was training there for the offseason in 2015. He’s [expletive] one of the smartest dudes and he deserves every minute of it. I really hope he fits in there. I think he will, you know, and it looks like the Giants are kind of changing their older style of coaching to more of a new school per se, right? So again, Matt’s awesome. It’s great. But for me, when I played, Driveline was banned, you know? So funny and it sucks that they’re doing it now and not then. But at the same time, I’m now happy for them. Driveline is so big now; I mean, pretty much most of their employees are with big league teams now, you know, so it’s really cool to see where they’re at. But you know, when I played, I’m telling you, in 2015 even, that’s a few years ago. I could not do my weighted PlyoCare balls. They hated it that much. They’d be like, “Oh, we can’t do that here.” I’m like, “Well, why the [expletive] not? That’s a program that I’ve invested in. You know, you don’t invest [expletive] for me. So I invested in it.” But they’re like, “No, we can’t do it.” So I actually did it in the showers and I told Kyle at Driveline – he’s a founder – and I’m like dude, I’m doing the [expletive] Plyos in the shower. He [expletive] loved it. You know, he’s like, “That’s [expletive] awesome.” Again, it’s game-changing. And you either adjust to it or you don’t.
Me: Eric, thanks for the time. I have one parting question for you here. I think everybody loves to ask pro athletes what they would tell the younger version of themselves if they could, but I want to bend that backward. Now that you’re onto a very new chapter in your life, where do you see yourself in ten years?
Eric: Hopefully, I’m not dead from drinking or whatever. (laughs) I don’t care, but actually, I drink way less now than I did when I was playing. It’s interesting. I have like 30 [expletive] bottles. 40 bottles of booze in my house, and I barely drink, which is interesting, you know? When you’re in the lifestyle, I guess, it’s less attractive, I guess. I don’t know, like in ten years I don’t care. I just want to be more stable. That’s been my biggest thing. I’ve never had the stability in my life, you know? I was traveling and [expletive] getting paid like [expletive], and literally, when I got done with playing, when I got released in November, I was 27. I had $500 bucks in my bank account. How real is that? That’s some serious [expletive], you know, so I’m just happy where I’m at now, and in ten years, who the [expletive] cares. I don’t care just as long as I’m alive. Bring some good wine or whatever whiskey. Just give it to me. For younger generations, if I could say one thing, don’t listen to [expletive] everybody. Just kind of do you. A lot of people, kids especially, like “Oh yeah, you know, he told me this, he told me that.” Just do what the [expletive] you believe in, you know. The best advice I’ve got? I was in… (pause) I hit .350 the year before, and I hit .190 the year after in Low-A, okay? And I was all struggling like [expletive] hell. So the next year, one time I had four coaches in the cage with me because I was a pretty good catcher, so people wanted to kind of make some kind of hitter out of me or whatever. I had four coaches telling me all different [expletive]. I’m like what the [expletive]. I was struggling [expletive] and an ex-big leaguer was walking by. He’s like, “What are you doing?” I’m like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “Why the [expletive] are you listening to [expletive] four coaches right now? You can’t do that.” And I’m like, “Dude, what do you want me to do? They’re telling me what to do.” He told me “[expletive] them.” That’s what he told me. It really woke me up. He’s like, “Do what you believe.” You can’t do 20 things. You gotta just do one thing that you believe in and [expletive] just work your [expletive] off on that, I guess. So that’s what he said that actually really hit me pretty hard. If I can say one thing for younger kids, it’s do what you believe in. [expletive] do it. Not half-ass it. Don’t [expletive] do it 10%, you know, do it a hundred percent. Don’t be a [expletive]. That’s what I got, man.
Me: Well, I appreciate your candor. Thanks for everything, Eric.
Eric: Thank you.
Be sure to check Eric Sim out on Twitter and Instagram (@esim3400) for some more honest baseball talk. And that’s the ballgame for this week.