The Miami Dolphins’ Approach to Team Building

By Ben Kelley

November 18, 2019

Ben is a first-year undergraduate BGSU student from Uniontown, Ohio. He is a sport management major and a journalism minor. His primary interests include professional and collegiate football.

Is there an approach to team-building synonymous with the 2016-2017 Cleveland Browns and the 2008 Detroit Lions? One might say ‘tanking’ and point to the historic amount of losses each team endured as part of a master plan to acquire higher draft picks. Higher draft picks usually equate to better players to choose from in the draft, and better players usually mean a championship squad. In 2008, the Lions would lose all sixteen of their games and were awarded with the first overall draft pick. The Browns used the same plan in 2016 and 2017, winning one game in two years and getting two first overall picks during that span.

With the 2019 Miami Dolphins showing an inability to remain competitive paired with a willingness to trade away talented players, sports media have pointed to the Dolphins as the most recent example of a team willing to ‘tank’ for future talent. One article makes no haste in proclaiming the tank: “The Dolphins organization is not trying to be a contender in 2019. Its goal all year has been to load up on cap space and draft picks in lieu of wins.” (Stites, 2019, para 3). Another article stresses the importance of a Dolphins’ loss to another winless team, the Washington Redskins: “We’re not going through this suffering to not get the first spot [of the 2020 NFL Draft]. Are we all in agreement that this loss must happen?” (Noa, 2019, para 2).

However, sports media is mislabeling the Dolphins intentions. The team is not trying to lose for the sake of draft picks – the Dolphins are trying to follow a blueprint that is not necessarily ‘tanking’ to build their championship core.

First, look no further than Dolphins’ head coach Brian Flores. Flores’ resume includes four championship-winning seasons as a coach for the New England Patriots, including the 2018-2019 season where he served as the defensive play-caller (Brian Flores, 2019). With his success in New England, Flores knows what kind of a team is needed to win, and he will most likely try to implement New England’s winning culture in Miami.

Second, Miami currently has a young core of players, including cornerback Xavien Howard and quarterback Josh Rosen. Howard, who made the 2018 Pro Bowl as a Dolphin, was recently extended to the 2024 season on a $76.5 million contract (Stites, 2019). Rosen, a first-round pick in 2018, was acquired via trade before the season for a 2019 second-round draft pick (Stites, 2019). If the Dolphins are trying to throw their own games, then why would the team spend big money and draft capital for a Pro-Bowl cornerback and potential franchise quarterback?

While the Dolphins’ 2019 season looks like a classic example of tanking, the team is not aiming to lose as many games as possible. The team is making calculated decisions to build a championship team – and is giving out big contracts and trading draft assets to do so. The team’s young core of players has already won two games this season and could win a few more before the end of the season.

References

Brian Flores. (2019). Miami Dolphins. Retrieved from https://www.miamidolphins.com/team/coaches-roster/brian-flores

Noa, K. (2019, October 10). Quite Possibly the Most Important Game for the 2019 Dolphins. The Phinsider. Retrieved from https://www.thephinsider.com/2019/10/10/20908650/quite-possibly-the-most-important-game-for-the-2019-dolphins

Stites, A. (2019, September 29). How the Dolphins are tanking the 2019 season, in 3 steps. SBNation. Retrieved from https://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2019/9/15/20861089/miami-dolphins-tanking-2019-draft-picks-cap-space


Igniting MLB’s Cold War: The Coming Battles on Labor

By Griffin Olah

November 12, 2019

Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a sport management major and a spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.

Last winter, the hot stove sat cold. Top of the line free agents like Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Dallas Keuchel waited and waited as minor signings and under-the-radar trades filled the feeds of baseball news. It stayed like that until March, when Machado and Harper both signed an excess of $300 million and a surprise Mike Trout extension broke the bank at $430 million. In a span of a few weeks, the hot stove heated back up to its former glory, then fell cold once again, leaving talented players like Keuchel and Kimbrel unemployed into the regular season.

Naturally, talk turned towards owner collusion and tanking. And that led to the biggest problem facing Major League Baseball in the coming years: Labor Strike.

The current CBA for the MLB is set to expire in 2021, and negotiations have been nearly nonexistent so far. Not since 1994 have players sat out of regular season baseball action, and the threat is imminent. After the last offseason, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) is closely watching the market for this coming offseason. After small changes done by owners -such as a luxury tax, a cap on international free-agent spending and the proposal to cut down the number of minor league teams- they now have a plethora of excuses to answer why they don’t want to give away massive free-agent payouts. The MLBPA, however, is ready for a fight.

That fight might have already started. On November 5th, Atlanta Braves GM Alex Anthopolous, on a conference call, divulged that he was already in contact with 27 other teams and knows what their free agent goals and trade targets are (Nightengale, 2019). As soon as this went public, sirens went off at the MLBPA offices. Here, a current GM is possibly admitting to collusion on the part of owners. The next day, MLBPA Chief Tony Clark announced the MLBPA would be investigating Anthopolous’s statement. (Nightengale, 2019). Following Clark’s announcement, Anthopolous “walked back his words, saying he misspoke, didn’t discuss free agents or the free-agent market, and that he apologized for the confusion” (Passan, 2019, para. 12). 

Like any situation regarding the complicated labor structure of an industry, this is just the start of an incredibly complex issue. The media, however, seems to be in agreement: the owners are greedy and just looking to keep their own money. Some point to the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays, with the league’s lowest payroll, made the playoffs, or that St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt said that owning a team in baseball isn’t as profitable as many people think while his team, that he bought in 1995 for $150 million, is now valued at $2.1 billion (Stephen, 2019). These proponents of players’ rights believe that the owners make enough money to share it with the players they employ and have no right to suppress the market as they have the past two offseasons. It’s understandable that not every team is in a market like Los Angeles or New York or Boston where money comes rolling in from TV deals, sponsorships, and other sources, but teams like the Cardinals have the money. They can afford to bump the luxury tax line and flirt with crossing it. This makes the fact that Red Sox owner John Henry wants his team to slash payroll even more egregious (Shaikin, 2019). If a team that historically pays out the top salaries in the league wants to cut payroll to save money, maybe something is amiss among the owners.

In a complex issue, however, there are two sides, and one is not recognized. What about the owners and the teams’ perspective? Do all the players agree with Tony Clark coming after the people that write their checks? Sure, there will always be a vocal section of dissenters for any topic, but do they represent the ideas of all the players? The media only focuses on what’s wrong with the owners and why they need to change. Instead, how can the system be fixed? Yes, the trend of increasing revenue and decreasing salaries is concerning to anyone on the players’ side, but in the age of superstar mega-contracts like Harper, Machado, and Trout, can teams afford to pay anyone else? Owners are not the only ones in the wrong in this situation, and that needs to be recognized by the media and the MLBPA in order to create a CBA that can help everyone in the game, not just the owners or the players.

References

Nightengale, B. (2019, November 6). MLBPA launches investigation into Braves GM Alex Anthopolous after free agency comments. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2019/11/06/mlb-alex-anthopoulos-free-agents-mlbpa/2513159001/

Passan, J. (2019, November 7). Union chief’s rebuke of GM heats up baseball’s cold war over free agency. ESPN. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28025583/union-chief-rebuke-gm-heats-baseball-cold-war-free-agency

Shaikin, B. (2019, October 19). MLB’s next collective bargaining agreement could reward younger players sooner. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2019-10-19/mlbs-next-collective-bargaining-agreement-reward-younger-players-sooner

Stephen, E. (2019, November 7). Tony Clark’s statement on collusion was a necessary stand against MLB. SBNation. Retrieved from https://www.sbnation.com/mlb/2019/11/7/20953616/tony-clark-mlbpa-statement-collusion-mlb-labor-war

Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Carrasco wins prestigious Roberto Clemente Award

By Pershelle Rohrer

November 3, 2019

Pershelle Rohrer is a first-year BGSU student from Logan, Utah. She is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. Her primary sports interests are football, basketball, and baseball, both at the professional and collegiate levels.

Cleveland Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco was selected as the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award on Friday, October 26. The award is given annually to the player who “best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field” (“VOTE: Balloting underway,” 2019, para. 1). Carrasco was presented with the award before game 3 of the World Series in Washington, D.C. He is the third Indians player to win the award, joining Jim Thome (2002) and Andre Thornton (1979).

Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia in late June and missed over three months of the season while receiving treatments. However, that did not stop him from making positive contributions to the community, both in the United States and around the world. He provided box lunches to the homeless in Tampa, Florida during the offseason, awarded scholarships to single mothers, traveled to Africa to distribute clothing and school supplies, and donated toys and money to his native country of Venezuela (Axisa, 2019). He also visited cancer patients in hospitals, even as he was undergoing his own treatments, and “received the 2018 MedWish Humanitarian Award,” along with his wife, Karry, in November 2018 (Noga, 2019, para. 8). His contributions to the community led to his fifth-straight nomination from the Indians and his ultimate selection for the Clemente award.

Each team nominated one player for the award in September, and they were recognized on Roberto Clemente Day on September 18 (“VOTE: Balloting underway,” 2019). The selection process occurred through a panel that included MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred; media members from MLB Network, FOX Sports, ESPN, TBS, and MLB.com; and Vera Clemente, Roberto Clemente’s widow. A fan vote took place through September 29 and counted as one vote cast alongside the panel.

Carrasco’s selection is viewed highly by the media. Media members select the winner of the Clemente Award and saw his contributions as meeting the criteria for representing Clemente and his own philanthropy. Roberto Clemente was a 15-time All-Star who was killed in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972 while delivering supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Originally called the “Commissioner’s Award,” the accolade was created in 1971 and renamed in Clemente’s honor in 1973 (Justice, 2019). 

Carrasco began his career with the Philadelphia Phillies. When he was a player there, Sal Artiaga, Philadelphia’s director of Latin American operations, told Carrasco, “You could be Clemente” (Brown, 2019, para. 11). Carrasco’s selflessness followed him to Cleveland when he was traded there in 2009, and he continued his involvement in the community through hospital visits, autograph signings, helping veterans, and giving to the underprivileged. Tim Brown (2019), who writes for Yahoo Sports, shows the impact of Carrasco through the headline of one article: “In a world with many problems, it also has selfless people like Carlos Carrasco.”

One of Carrasco’s sayings regarding his cancer diagnosis is “I may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me” (Carrasco, 2019, para. 47). He wants people to see that they can rise above their circumstances and defeat any problems they may be facing. 

Carrasco returned to the mound on September 3 and pitched as a reliever for the remainder of the 2019 season. His goal is to be ready for spring training in early 2020.

References

Axisa, M. (2019, October 25). Indians’ Carlos Carrasco wins 2019 Roberto Clemente Award. CBSSports.com. Retrieved from https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/indians-carlos-carrasco-wins-2019-roberto-clemente-award/

Brown, T. (2019, October 25). In a world with many problems, it also has selfless people like Carlos Carrasco. Yahoo Sports. Retrieved from https://sports.yahoo.com/in-a-world-with-many-problems-it-also-has-selfless-people-like-carlos-carrasco-185646178.html

Carrasco, C. (2019, September 27). I may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me. The Players’ Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/carlos-carrasco-cleveland-indians

Indians’ Carlos Carrasco honored with Roberto Clemente Award. (2019, October 25). ESPN.com. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/27927326/indians-carlos-carrasco-honored-roberto-clemente-award

Justice, C. (2019, September 12). Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco nominated for Roberto Clemente Award. news5Cleveland.com. Retrieved from https://www.news5cleveland.com/sports/baseball/indians/indians-pitcher-carlos-carrasco-nominated-for-roberto-clemente-award

Noga, J. (2019, September 12). Carlos Carrasco earns fifth straight Cleveland Indians nomination for MLB’s Roberto Clemente Award. Cleveland.com. Retrieved from https://www.cleveland.com/tribe/2019/09/carlos-carrasco-earns-fifth-straight-cleveland-indians-nomination-for-mlbs-roberto-clemente-award.html

VOTE: Balloting underway for Clemente Award. (2019, September 12). MLB.com. Retrieved from https://www.mlb.com/news/2019-clemente-award-vote-nominees-announced

Kelechi Osemele and a Power Struggle in the NFL

By Griffin Olah

October 29, 2019

Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.

Kelechi Osemele is an eight-year NFL veteran offensive lineman. He has suited up for the Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders and the New York Jets with great success, making two Pro Bowl teams. This season, he experienced something a lot of NFL players go through: an injury. In training camp, Osemele suffered a labrum injury, but continued playing. He then reinjured the same labrum in a September 22 matchup against the New England Patriots. Still, Osmele continued to play. On October 2, however, he was diagnosed with a torn labrum after his injury against the Patriots. Here is where the story of Kelechi Osemele diverts from the path of normalcy in the NFL.

On October 2, Osemele decided he wasn’t healthy enough to practice. He was nursing a torn labrum, an injury to the shoulder that made moving 300 pound lineman incredibly difficult and painful. He sat out that week, and on Saturday October 5, the Jets fined their offensive lineman. Osemele continued to sit out of practice as he considered options for his shoulder. The Jets felt Osemele “could’ve played through” his injury and had surgery in the offseason if it was necessary (Cimini, 2019, para. 11). Osemele went to see other doctors and get other opinions, with two separate doctors recommending surgery. On October 25th, Osemele underwent surgery on his torn labrum and a cyst that developed near the injury without the team’s permission. Throughout Osemele’s absence, the Jets fined him for conduct detrimental to the team, taking away each week’s game check, the maximum amount possible under the current CBA. With his contract, this amounted to a $579,000 fine each week, simply for missing practice and doing what he believed was the best option for his body (Cimini, 2019). Finally, on October 26, the Jets released Osemele outright.

The media as a whole has sided with Osemele on the issue. Many news outlets point to the lack of comment from the Jets, who “have yet to comment since the dispute came to light” (Cimini, 2019, para. 7). Having a team embroiled in a conflict with a player surrounding his body is a bad look, and not releasing a comment on the situation can make the team look even worse. Others have taken the opportunity to bash the archaic rules of the NFL about player safety and player power. They talk about how “players have little reason to trust teams,” even after the NFLPA got players the right to a second opinion (Powell, 2019, para.17). For years, the NFL only allowed contracted players to speak to team doctors, and in the instance of Kelechi Osemele, that only led to more injury and a greater problem. 

In this instance, the media is on the right side of the battle. Kelechi Osemele is a football player, but he is also a person and deserves control over his own body. If he doesn’t think he is healthy enough to play and has unaffiliated doctors recommending he go under the knife, he has the right to that surgery to better his own life. This is a point that the media rightly does not dispute as they champion for player rights and fair treatment. The problem, however, lies in the lack of exposure. This is not a headline story, though it should be. A player is taking on the NFL over injury treatment in the league, and possibly taking legal action. Sure, it isn’t a concussion or other brain injury that draws the attention of the masses, but it deserves the same, if not more attention. The NFL is treating its players poorly, and the media needs to make that known. Articles can be written from many perspectives and attack various levels of the league, but without constant exposure and the knowledge of the public, the story of Kelechi Osemele’s fight will go unheard and the NFL can continue with its detrimental ways.

References

Cimini, R. (2019, October 26). Jets cut Kelechi Osemele amid injury dispute, surgery. ESPN. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/27934491/jets-cut-kelechi-osemele-amid-injury-dispute-surgery

Powell, M. (2019, October 28). A player with shoulder pain, and a league happy to turn its back. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/26/sports/football/jets-osemele-injury.html

Joe Maddon hire signals new hope for Los Angeles Angels

By Pershelle Rohrer

October 24, 2019

Pershelle Rohrer is a first-year BGSU student from Logan, Utah. She is a Sport Management major with a minor in Journalism. Her primary sports interests are football, basketball, and baseball, both at the professional and collegiate levels.

The Los Angeles Angels hired Joe Maddon as their new manager on Wednesday, October 16. Maddon returns to Anaheim after previously spending 31 years with the Angels organization as a player, coach, and manager. He will receive $4 million a year as part of a three-year deal as the Angels look to rebound from a 72-90 season, their worst since 1999. 

Maddon was the bench coach for the Angels when they won their lone World Series title in 2002. He managed the Tampa Bay Rays from 2006 to 2014 – leading them to the playoffs four times, including their only World Series appearance in 2008. He was hired as the manager of the Chicago Cubs in 2014, led them to the playoffs in 2015, and brought them their first World Series title in 108 years in the 2016 season. The Cubs made the playoffs in four of Maddon’s five years as manager, but after finishing 84-78 in the 2019 season, Chicago decided to move in a different direction. 

The media looks at Maddon’s hiring as a positive for the Angels. Given Maddon’s previous accomplishments with Chicago and Tampa Bay, the Angels have expectations that he will be able to replicate that success with a team led by one of baseball’s best all-around players, Mike Trout. Maddon is “credited with changing the culture” in Chicago, transforming a young rebuilding Cubs team to championship contenders in just a year (“Joe Maddon agrees,” 2019, para. 12). David Baumgarten (2019) of The Atlantic describes Maddon as positive, nurturing, and charming, citing his willingness to allow young players like Javy Báez to play through their mistakes along with the witty stories he shared with the Chicago press. Descriptions of Maddon in such a positive manner emphasize the media’s belief that he has the potential to revive an Angels team that has struggled for over a decade.

When Maddon was hired in Chicago, the team was nearing the end of a rebuild, something that the Angels have avoided for years. Dave Sheinin (2019) from The Washington Post explains Los Angeles’ winning approach that replicates the Cubs’ mentality through their hiring of Maddon in 2014: “The Los Angeles Angels, by hiring Maddon on Wednesday to be their manager for the next three years, appear to be placing a similar bet on the now-65-year-old skipper – minus the rebuild” (para. 3). The Angels have missed the playoffs for five straight years, including four straight losing seasons, and they haven’t won a postseason series in ten years. Sheinen also suggests that hiring Maddon could put the Angels in the race for Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole this offseason. Similar to the Cubs’ signing of Jon Lester in 2014, Maddon could become an attraction for Cole, who is from Orange County, California, bringing them another star to play alongside Trout. The parallels between the 2014 Cubs and the 2019 Angels highlight the potential for Maddon to bring new life into the team where he spent the first 31 years of his career. 

Overall, the media looks at the Angels’ hiring of Joe Maddon as a move that could transform them from a struggling team to a contender. His history of success in Chicago and Tampa makes him a promising hire, and after thirteen years away, the Angels hope for an exciting homecoming and the return of a winning culture in Anaheim.

References

Baumgarten, D. (2019, October 10). Joe Maddon was doomed by his own success. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/10/joe-maddon-cubs/599731/

Bollinger, R. (2019, October 21). Angels to introduce Maddon as skipper Thursday. MLB.com. Retrieved from https://www.mlb.com/news/joe-maddon-angels-manager

Joe Maddon agrees to be new manager of Los Angeles Angels. (2019, October 16). ESPN.com. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/27859727/joe-maddon-agrees-new-manager-los-angeles-angels

Kepner, T. (2019, September 29). Joe Maddon will not return to Cubs next season. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/29/sports/baseball/joe-maddon-cubs.html

Sheinin, D. (2019, October 16). By hiring Joe Maddon as manager, floundering Angels hope to replicate Cubs’ rise. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2019/10/16/by-hiring-joe-maddon-manager-floundering-angels-hope-replicate-cubs-rise/

Mismanagement and Curses in Dodgers’ Playoff Woes

By Griffin Olah

October 16, 2019

Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major with a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are the gold standard for success in the National League in recent years. They’ve been to the World Series in 2017 and 2018, and followed that up with a franchise record 106 wins in 2019. After losing two straight World Series, the Dodgers revamped their roster this past offseason, bringing in outfielder A.J. Pollock, righty reliever Joe Kelly and lefty reliever Adam Kolarek. Walker Buehler turned into a bona-fide ace and star shortstop Corey Seager was back healthy. They were heavy favorites, as usual, going into the postseason, led by the same cast of characters that always got them there: Dave Roberts and Clayton Kershaw.

The NLDS against the Washington Nationals was a roller coaster ride leading to a winner-take-all Game 5 in Los Angeles. Walker Buehler toed the rubber for the Dodgers, and red-hot ace Stephen Strasburg faced him. The Dodgers jumped out to an early 3-1 lead, and Buehler’s gem ended when Roberts lifted him in the 7th with 2 outs. Coming in from the bullpen was none other than three-time Cy Young winner and generational pitcher Clayton Kershaw. 

Kershaw got Adam Eaton out quickly to end the 7th, and then came out for the 8th. The first Nationals’ batter, Anthony Rendon, golfed a down and away pitch over the left field fence. 3-2 Dodgers. Lefty-killer Adam Kolarek sat in the bullpen as Kershaw stared down young phenom Juan Soto. Kolarek had great success against Soto throughout the series, not allowing Soto to reach base. Kershaw stayed on, however, and Soto took him deep to center field. Tie game. 

The entire dynamic of the game changed, and instead of cruising to a win, Kershaw let up two runs and now the Dodgers were fighting for their lives. Kershaw got out of the inning, and Roberts called on Joe Kelly to pitch the 9th. He sat down the Nationals in order, going 1-2-3. The game moved to extra innings, and Joe Kelly came out in the 10th. Joe Kelly. Not Kenley Jansen, one of the league’s premier relievers. Not Kenta Maeda, starter turned playoff reliever who has been lights out all postseason. Joe Kelly, who gave up nine runs in 12 ⅓ innings of multi-inning outings (Baer, 2019). Kelly loaded the bases, and then Howie Kendrick launched a moonshot through the night sky at Chavez Ravine and through the Dodgers’ hearts. A grand slam, game over.

The media looked at this collapse and talked mismanagement immediately. Blame was laid on the shoulders of Dave Roberts for his bullpen mismanagement. Critics pointed to Roberts’ “lack of confidence in the rest of his bullpen” (Baer, 2019, para. 6) as the main reason for the loss. Roberts had one of the best overall bullpens in the league, yet stuck with a starter carrying postseason demons and a reliever who struggled in multi-inning appearances all year. Others looked to the man who let the game get tied in the first place: Clayton Kershaw. It seems every season someone “write[s] about [his postseason] failure” (Baumann, 2019, para. 11). Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in MLB history, and has had his share of success in the postseason. Sure, he hasn’t won a World Series, but he is still one of the best we have ever seen. 

Many in the media want to push the narrative that Clayton Kershaw cannot pitch in the postseason, and this latest collapse is a major piece of evidence to support that point. Where is the talk of his dominant performances, though? Where is the talk surrounding his reign of dominance over the last decade, with only injuries and a few bad starts holding him back? Justin Verlander got shelled by the Rays in the ALDS, but he is still heralded as a great postseason pitcher. Both had bad outings, but only Kershaw’s is considered a problem across his entire career. Kershaw may have had some bad postseason outings, but he is not the reason that the Dodgers’ season came to an untimely close. That is Dave Roberts’ problem.

Dave Roberts severely mismanaged the end of the game, and that’s the main problem. The media likes to focus on a pivotal point in the game that swung the outcome one way or the other, and Kershaw’s meltdown fits the bill. The real issue, though, is Kershaw staying on to face Soto, or Kelly’s second inning of work. There was a capable bullpen, a fact many articles ignore, and Roberts left the game in the hands of two relievers that struggled mightily in the game. Will this mishap cost Roberts his job? No, and it shouldn’t but media members looking for a scapegoat point at both Roberts and Kershaw as the problem, and think they should be removed from the team.

References

Baer, B. (2019, October 10). Dodgers’ NLDS Game 5 loss is on Dave Roberts. NBC Sports. Retrieved from https://mlb.nbcsports.com/2019/10/10/dodgers-nlds-game-5-loss-is-on-dave-roberts/.

Baumann, M. (2019, October 10). NLDS Game 5: The Clayton Kershaw playoff narrative will never go away. The Ringer. Retrieved from https://www.theringer.com/2019/10/10/20907661/nlds-game-5-nationals-dodgers-clayton-kershaw-playoff-choke.

Is Acuna Jr.’s Hustle a Problem for the Braves and Baseball?

By Griffin Olah

October 13, 2019

Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.

Game 1 of the NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves was entering the bottom of the 7th with the Braves up 3-1. The first game is always among the most important, and the Braves had the ability to add to their lead. Ronald Acuna Jr., the Braves’ young phenom and leadoff hitter, stepped into the box. He worked the count to 2-2, and then unleashed a long fly ball off of Cardinals pitcher John Brebbia. The ball flew down the right field line, nearly leaving the confines of Sun Trust Park and extending the Braves’ lead. However, it came up short and careened off the wall. 

After watching the ball, Braves fans willing it to stay in the air and go over the wall, and seeing it land just short of a home run, attention turned to the bases. There, Ronald Acuna Jr was inexplicably on first base. After launching a ball 331 feet down the right field line, Acuna was stranded at first. He moved to second on a groundout by 2B Ozzie Albies, and was then doubled up after a Josh Donaldson lineout. 

It’s easy to see that something went wrong on the base paths with Acuna, though. While the double play was bad, it was almost inevitable. The real issue was his single to lead off. Acuna hyped up his long ball, as usual, but this time it came up short of the fence. Acuna stood in the box, his bat raised to the sky in celebration, for two seconds as the ball was in the air. After that, he jogged to first only for Cardinals OF Dexter Fowler to play the ball off the wall and fire it into the infield. If Acuna came running out of the box as soon as the ball left his bat, he would have easily made it to second. He would have then moved to third on Albies’s groundout and the double play would have been much more difficult to turn. Acuna could have scored. 

After the game, the Braves were understandably frustrated. Veteran 1B Freddie Freeman pointed back to when Acuna was benched in August for not running out a foul ball, believing you only need to “have that conversation once” (West, 2019, para. 4). Albies believes that Acuna “probably scores that inning if he’s on second” (West, 2019, para. 8). Acuna was a problem for the Braves in that moment, but what about the rest of baseball?

Media attention on Game 1 revolved around Acuna’s lack of hustle, much like it did last season with Manny Machado’s lack of hustle and possibly dirty play in the playoffs for the Los Angeles Dodgers. This time, however, the actions of Acuna are perceived as more representative of the entire league. New outlets point to Acuna’s hustle as evidence that “the game has changed” into something selfish and immodest (Mushnick, 2019, para. 10). While people in the game – GM’s, managers, coaches, players – have excused the actions of players like Machado and Acuna, the media feeds off of it and turns it into something it’s not. Is Acuna not hustling a problem? Sure, he might have cost the Braves a key run that would have factored heavily in the 7-6 loss. Is Acuna’s hustle emblematic of baseball as a whole falling into bat flipping ruin? No, it probably isn’t.

The traditional media – old players, managers, and GMs sitting in broadcast booths – like to talk about how baseball as a whole is changing into some unwatchable mess of strikeouts, home runs and bat flips. Former pitcher Goose Gossage said of the sport “it’s not baseball. It’s unwatchable,” (Nightengale, 2019, para. 7). Hit king Pete Rose said the game has turned into a “home run derby every night” (Nightengale, 2019, para. 14). And former manager Lou Piniella derided the shift, claiming he “won a few games without having to shift” (Nightengale, 2019, para. 14). While that is up for debate and interpretation of each person watching the game, Acuna’s hustle is not some overarching issue like the media is making it out to be. It’s a key mistake in an important playoff game, but not some egregious pattern of error that needs to be corrected. With this miscue, the focus on Ronald Acuna Jr. has shifted from his near 40-40 season and his 1.579 OPS in the Postseason so far to his inability to hustle and his selfishness (“Baseball Reference,” 2019). Acuna put together an amazing season, shouldn’t the focus be on marketing one of the league’s best young players instead of his relatively small faults?

References

Baseball Reference. (2019). Ronald Acuna Jr. Stats. Baseball Reference. Retrieved from https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/acunaro01.shtml

Mushnick, P. (2019, October 5). Braves’ Ronald Acuna is doing his part in ruining baseball. New York Post. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2019/10/05/braves-ronald-acuna-is-doing-his-part-in-ruining-baseball/

Nightengale, B. (2019, August 19). MLB lifers decry the state of the modern baseball: ‘Unwatchable’. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2019/08/19/mlb-baseballs-old-timers-decry-state-modern-game/2047025001/.

West, J. (2019, October 4). Braves critical of Ronald Acuna Jr. for lack of hustle in NLDS Game 1 loss. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved from https://www.si.com/mlb/2019/10/04/ronald-acuna-jr-lack-hustle-braves