Thursday, August 13, 2009

There Are Still Positive Stories in the MLB, I Promise

For fans of the Brewers like me, yesterday was a pretty shocking day. In the span of about ten minutes, the front office announced the firing of rookie pitching coach Bill Castro, the demotion of All-Star shortstop and fan favorite J.J. Hardy, and the release of senior Brewer Bill Hall. David Pinto called it the "Massacre in Milwaukee". Needless to say, everyone was buzzing (you should've seen all the tweets flying over on Twitter).

Reading through the news stories, a few things popped out: Bill Hall's reluctant acceptance, J.J. Hardy's seeming excitement to get "three day's off", and the sad tale of Bill Castro. From Brewers Beat:
"The GM did address Castro's dismissal in a statement.

"We appreciate and admire the dedication and tireless work ethic put forth by Bill Castro over the last 18 seasons," Melvin said. "A move like this is never easy to make, especially given Bill's longevity with the organization and considering how hard he worked to reach this position."

Castro pitched in the Brewers organization from 1970-80, then returned to the club as a Minor League coach from 1988-91 before taking a job on the big league staff. He was the bullpen coach for six different managers from 1992-2008 before realizing a long-time goal and being named pitching coach on Nov. 7, 2008. "
It's just another reminder that these business transactions - and the game we watch seven days a week with joy - involve a lot more of the human element than we tend to remember. Castro worked as a coach/instructor for the club for over twenty years before finally getting a chance at his dream job and now that same organization has summarily dismissed him after less than a year on the job. To make it worse, there's a good case to be made that, with the injuries the staff received and the lack of depth it had in the first place, Castro wasn't really at fault here. He did take it well, though, saying all the right things:
"This is a business, and I was the face of the pitching staff so I was the one to go. That's how it works in baseball."
"I always wanted to be a big league pitching coach, and it was especially special that it happened for me in Milwaukee," he said. "This is the only organization that I've known, basically. Everything I have done in baseball is thanks to the Brewers. But they had a make a change, and I was the guy."
No matter what he says, though, it's hard not to think about how he and his family must feel after yesterday's news. It's a shame it takes these kinds of stories to remind us of that. Craig, over at ShysterBall, was thinking about the same thing the other day, only his was sparked by the trade that sent David Weathers from Cincinnati to Milwaukee. I guess we all need reminding of it every now and then.

With that in mind, then, here are a couple of quick positive stories that I think about everytime I see these guys play. I promise to stay away from the schmaltz. I hope I do them justice. (And, yes, they are about Brewers players... that's who I watch every night, though. What do you expect from me?)

Mark Difelice
I'm not the only one to be writing about Difelice this year, and the recent performance of the Brewers bullpen as a whole keeps him from being as great of a story as he was a couple of months ago, but he's still worth mentioning. Difelice made his major league debut on May 18, 2008. It was his eleventh year as a pro and he had already pitched in over 250 games in the minor/independent leagues before it happened. The 31-year-old could have easily given up on his dream five years earlier than that, but he kept going and now he is a valuable member of the Brewers bullpen. According to this story, he was actually on the verge of retiring from the sport when the Brewers gave him a call. Instead, he gets to put that uniform on everyday, he gets to cash those checks, he gets medical insurance for the rest of his life, and he gets to live his dream everyday. You can't ask for a better story than that and, every time I see him sprint in from the bullpen, I root for him to do well enough to stay on the roster for as long as he wants. It's working so far.

Casey McGehee
This is another story of a cast-off, but it might be even more remarkable. In 2008, McGehee was wallowing in the Cubs' farm system. Late in the year, the Cubs finally called him up and started giving him at-bats. In September, he played in nine games, starting four of them. His numbers were not good (he batted .167 with a .160 OBP in 25 plate appearances) and the Cubs put him on waivers after the season. Picked up by the Brewers, he still didn't know what would happen to him once the season started. But he played well enough to make the roster and has been playing as a regular ever since. So far in his rookie year, Casey is batting .305/.359/.507 (126 OPS+) with 9 homers and 35 RBIs in 70 games. If it wasn't for the media market he's in or the recent Brewers' ineptitude, he might have a good case for Rookie of the Year (not that I'd say yet that he was deserving of the award).

The best story about Casey McGehee happened a few weeks ago. With his two-year-old son (who has cerebral palsy) throwing out the first pitch at Miller Park, it was already an exciting day for Casey. He didn't start the game, but was called on in the sixth inning with two outs in a one-run game. Fighting the pitcher to a 3-2 count, McGehee finally got ahold of one and launched a two-run bomb, putting the Brewers ahead for good. "Good hit, daddy!" his son said.
"That was about as good a 'congratulations' as I could get," Casey said. "You can't help but smile when you see him. He makes the bad days a little easier and the good days that much better. You just can't help smiling when you see how he reacts. As young as he is, he gets it a little bit."
It's a great story.

I know there are hundreds of stories like these in the majors every year and that the local newspapers do a pretty decent of doling out the sappiness, but I still think we don't give them enough attention. It's so much easier to read and complain about the negative stories that we see everyday, but that doesn't mean that they're the only ones out there. We should do a better job of finding and promoting them. It's a much more positive vibe than the incessant complaints. Let me know of any other great stories that I may have missed.


Bill said...

Those are great stories. Thanks.

I just can't believe they couldn't trade Hardy. I've wanted the Twins to pull that off since the offseason. I figured the fact that it didn't happen meant that they'd keep him, benefit from the whole fan favorite thing, move him to second or third when Escobar pushed through...but demoting him? What good can that possibly do for them at this point? I don't get it at all.

lar said...

I don't know what to say, Bill. I think everyone's shocked about the Hardy thing, especially considering that he could've been traded less than two weeks ago. I don't know exactly what Melvin was thinking. There's definitely the chance that he's just trying to shake things up and let everyone know the gravity of the situation. and there's also the theory that Melvin is trying to screw around with JJ's service time. I suppose that's possible, but I don't really believe it. I just think it's a little bit of a panic move that they were really hoping they wouldn't have to take.

He's definitely a major league caliber SS this year, even with the crappy offense. the problem the Brewers had, really, is that they had another SS in Craig Counsell who should definitely have been getting JJ's at-bats. His offense is way better this year and his defense is still plenty good. yes, he'd have to be spelled some by JJ, but that's not a terrible thing. But they weren't doing that (and probably still won't, since they brought up Escobar). Instead, they rotate through McGehee and Counsell at third while Lopez plays second. The way this season has unfolded, McGehee, Counsell, and Lopez have proven they deserve the starting spots.

We'll see what happen with JJ. I suspect he'll be back up by the end of next week, well before the service time thing kicks in. I still don't think it makes much sense, though.

Ryan said...

I cant believe at one point in my life I said I'd trade Cain for Hardy! What a loser! Have fun in triple A! And he said "I'm looking forward to the 3 days off!" I need to go to the Brewers front office and teach some communication tactics....