Saturday Notebook: Exuent Sandman, Defections & No More Defections, Unwritten Rules, and More.

Mike Stobe

Today's Saturday Notebook talks about Mariano Rivera's retirement, a documentary about Yunel Escobar and defecting from Cuba, the talks that Cuba will no longer restrict their players from having to escape in order to play for MLB teams, and the Braves getting upset twice this month over the unwritten rules.

If you were to ask me for my most hated baseball teams, I'd rattle off only two names.

The second name has only been on my "Most Hated" list for 5 years, and that is the Chicago White Sox. Simply put, it's for only two reasons: Beating the Twins in Game 163 of 2008 and for employing Hawk Harrelson. However, that other team is one that has killed me for years and that's the New York Yankees. Ever since I was a kid, I was always upset that they would buy their rosters and go to the playoffs all the time. I would root for the Red Sox and started a 3-year trend of buying caps of the World Series-winning team when the Yankees were walked off by the Diamondbacks in 2001. All the sports media outlets wouldn't stop talking about Derek Jeter and how amazing he was, and it infuriated me to no end when he entered MVP talks not necessarily on the merit of his statistics from a single season, but rather as a "lifetime achievement award." (Fortunately, the voters were wise and instead nearly unanimously voted Joe Mauer as MVP instead.)

Despite all this hatred for the Evil Empire, I always had two exceptions. For Jeter, although I felt he received far more attention than necessary from the media outlets, I knew that I would be starstruck if I met him and I would treat him with the utmost respect. The other was that I would never, ever say a bad thing about Mariano Rivera.

Sure, I could totally understand how some might be annoyed to no end over Mo being able to dominant players with only a single pitch. Now, he's not alone in that regard, as there are players such as Kenley Jansen, Jake McGee, and even Bartolo Colon as a starter that threw a single pitch about as often as Rivera threw his cutter. Still, no pitcher had a reputation like Rivera's in that you'd know exactly what he would throw to you and yet you still couldn't hit it.

Rivera pitched in his final home game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, culminating a season in which he has received gifts ranging from awesome to cringing - the Twins' rocking chair of broken bats and the Rays' sand sculpture, respectively. Returning to Yankee Stadium for his final homestand, he was given a live performance by Metallica playing his intro music "Enter Sandman." Plus, in a touching final appearance, he was removed from Thursday's game with 1 out remaining, not by manager Joe Girardi, but instead by longtime teammates Jeter and Andy Pettitte.

Despite the storybook ending, this is not a movie and Rivera's tearful embraces are not the end. Instead, the Yankees travel to Houston to finish their season against the worst team in the league. Nevertheless, that isn't stopping the Yankees from throwing about one of the most radical ideas in major league history: Giving Mariano Rivera a chance to play in the outfield for a major league game.

While it sounds absurd, once you know the details everything starts to make sense. Rivera has long stated his desire to be an outfielder if he had not become a pitcher, and he has regularly shagged fly balls with reckless abandon during batting practice. In fact, his knee injury that knocked him out for most of last season was caused by him landing just slightly off with his leg while attempting to make a running, leaping catch of a fly ball at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

It is this idea that makes me love baseball. Last year, it was the Marlins giving Adam Greenberg an at-bat, after his only major league plate appearance ended with him getting beaned in the head. Yes, the circumstances were difficult as he had to face knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and he struck out on 3 pitches, but it didn't stop Greenberg from smiling ear-to-ear after he returned to the dugout. Similarly, Rivera would be given the challenge of manning Minute Maid Park's vast center field, while also contending with Tal's Hill, an outfield fence ~440 ft. from home plate, and a flagpole that is in play.

Whatever happens to Mo, it will be a shame that he will no longer be pitching. Like some of the greats before him, such as Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, and others, he likely could continue pitching for at least a couple more years if he wanted. Alas, he has decided that the time has come for him to hang up his jersey, thus bringing to a close the career of the greatest closer ever, and also ensuring that Jackie Robinson's #42 is now permanently retired.

(Exeunt Sandman.)

  • Seemingly every year we hear about Cuban players that defect from the island in order to play baseball in the major leagues. In fact, recent examples include Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes. One of the many players that have defected from Cuba is Tampa Bay's Yunel Escobar, who is going to be featured in a documentary about his escape. As I mentioned in the past with Yasiel Puig's failed attempts to defect, the experience truly is harrowing but the benefits of succeeding usually outweigh the risks. You can check out the documentary's fundraising page, where they are a little under $2,500 short of their goal with only 3 days left.
  • Although virtually all Cuban-born players in MLB had to defect from the island, it appears as though Cuba is going to lift the restrictions of having its local players sign with foreign leagues, provided those players "fulfill their commitments at home." These commitments include playing for the Cuban national team in international competitions, along with Cuba's baseball league that runs from November to April. The former restriction sounds like it would be easy to accomplish, but it's the latter that sounds difficult to me. This would likely mean that any Cuban-born player would be required to play baseball year-round, whereas right now it's only the on-the-cusp players that typically play winter ball. While this would be a huge change for MLB, and the prices for Cuban players likely to skyrocket once this new rule is in place, I just can't see how the year-round baseball rule would benefit the players. Certainly they'd be willing to attempt it, but I have to imagine that the increased injury risk might discourage some players from doing it. Regardless, this is a huge development and it will be interesting to see what happens this offseason.
  • Carlos Gomez always rubbed some people the wrong way, so perhaps it wasn't too surprising to see him getting into it with a few Atlanta Braves after hitting a home run off Paul Maholm. Gomez knew it was gone immediately and walked slowly after hitting his bomb, admiring it the whole way, and that just set off seemingly the entire Braves infield. Gomez got into arguments with Maholm, first baseman Freddie Freeman, and then was stopped short of home plate by Brian McCann, who got into a screaming match with Gomez as the benches cleared. Gomez was ejected, along with Freeman, and for some reason the run still counted even though CarGo never touched home plate (perhaps the umpires decided that McCann was guilty of obstruction and they awarded Gomez home plate anyway). However, it was odd and wrong that McCann wasn't ejected from this game as he was the one that escalated the situation the most. For what it's worth, a similar thing happened 2 1/2 weeks ago when Jose Fernandez of the Marlins admired his home run, then spit in the direction of third baseman Chris Johnson and finally got into an argument at home plate with, guess who? Brian McCann. Benches cleared in that one too, although no one was ejected from the game, so I think it's become clear that the Braves - and McCann especially - will not allow you to admire your home runs. However, McCann is currently out with a right adductor strain, so opponents better get their home run gazing in before he comes back for the playoffs.
Finally, we have reached our Lightning Round of GIFs (actually, no GIFs it appears), tweets, and whatever else I found interesting after they were fired through the Internet.
  1. I think the White Sox clubbies are ready to be done with the season too as they gave Jake Petricka's jersey the left-justified treatment.
  2. Vin Scully continues to be awesome as he poses with Gumby - er, Yasiel Puig.
  3. Johnny Hellweg of the Brewers posted the worst K/BB ratio in the past 30 years with a minimum of 30 innings. Somehow he got 7 starts while posting a 9/26 K/BB ratio, 6.75 ERA, and .313 batting average allowed. These numbers look even worse when you realize that he also hit 8 batters and threw 4 wild pitches in only 30 2/3 innings.
  4. You've probably seen this before, but even if he plays for the Tigers, it's always fun to see Max Scherzer celebrate a playoff berth by wearing his two-tinted goggles, which are appropriate as he has heterochromia iridum (two different colored eyes).
  5. Oh Chris Archer, you slay me.
  6. BEES!?
  7. Scott Kazmir getting stuck in an elevator is a metaphor for his major league career, probably.
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