Tagging Up – Harper vs. Hamels, Rivera’s Injury, Hustling Overrated?

Welcome to this week’s edition of Tagging Up where we will cover:

  • Cole Hamels & Bryce Harper
  • Mariano Rivera’s Injury
  • And Why Hustling is Overrated

The Beaning of Bryce

When Cole Hamels hit Bryce Harper with the first pitch of his at bat this weekend, he sent a message, both literally and figuratively. His literal message came after the game, when Hamels admitted that he hit Harper on purpose and that it was his old school way of welcoming him to the big leagues.  Hamels said, “That’s something I grew up watching, that’s kind of what happened. So I’m just trying to continue the old baseball because I think some people are kind of getting away from it,” I remember when I was a rookie the strike zone was really, really small and you didn’t say anything because that’s the way baseball is. But I think unfortunately the league’s protecting certain players and making it not that old-school, prestigious way of baseball.”

Hamels’ figurative message might not have been as easy to decipher as his post-game press conference but we read it loud and clear. Hamels is jealous.  I’m all for hitting a batter if he deserves it.  If he shows you up after a home run, if he crowds the plate and won’t back off, if he breaks any of the dozens of unwritten rules of baseball, go ahead and hit him.  Teach him not to stand in the batters’ box to watch where his home run lands and then slowly jog around the bases.  Teach him that the pitcher has just as much a right to the inside part of the plate as you do.  Teach him with a fastball to the ribs.  What was Cole Hamels teaching Bryce Harper by hitting him this time around?

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Sure Harper might seem a little cocky. I mean, he’s 19 years old and already playing baseball at a level most professionals can only dream of.  He might be touted as the chosen one, a five tool player, god’s gift to baseball.  But hitting him to welcome him to The Bigs is just stupid.  Hamels would not have hit a 28 year old who had spent the last decade bouncing around the minors and finally got his chance at the plate. In fact, I would venture to guess that this is the first time that Hamels has intentionally hit a rookie in their first plate appearance against him.  All this goes to show you is that Hamels is jealous of Harper’s skill, talent and ability.  He is jealous that the national spotlight wasn’t on him when he made his first start, that his minor league games weren’t making it onto ESPN, and that this kid, who has a lifetime of baseball ahead of him is already being treated like a first ballot Hall of Famer.  Get over yourself Cole, what you did was classless and petty.

Exit Sandman

As athletes age, injuries become more frequent and significant.  While the recovery time for a particular injury might be a couple weeks when you’re in your 20’s, it could be at least double that as you enter your 30’s and 40’s.  With Mariano Rivera at age 42, and already holding every accolade a relief pitcher could want, it is highly likely that we have seen Rivera close out his last game.    Last week, Rivera tweaked his knee while shagging balls during batting practice.  Later that day, tests confirmed Yankee fans’ worst fears – a torn ACL and meniscus which could potentially be season-ending.

Rivera had hinted during Spring Training this year that this might be his last season, thereby making this potential season-ending injury that much more impactful.  Rivera has said that he will return and that he “won’t go out like this”, but at his age we aren’t exactly sure whether a comeback will even be possible.  Yankee fan or not, you have to look back at Rivera’s career and call him one of the best closers of all time.  Nobody got the job done night after night quite like Rivera, relying for so many seasons on just one pitch – the cutter.  I’d love to see him come back for one final game. To see him jog out of the bullpen, Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blaring over the loudspeakers.  One more broken bat, one more weak ground ball, one more save.

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Hustle & Flow

Baseball, just like many things in life, take hard work and determination.  You don’t have the be the smartest, the fastest, or the strongest to have success at the major league level – most of the time giving it everything you have night in and night out is enough to do well.  When we think of baseball hustling, we picture Pete Rose diving headfirst into second, speedsters legging out a drag bunt, outfielders crashing into the wall, and infielders getting dirty just trying to make a play.  In today’s game, however, hustling is overrated.

Bryce Harper (referenced above) is one of the hardest playing kids I’ve seen in a while. He is a relentless fielder and a determined baserunner.  At this pace, he will wear out by the All-Star break.  Baseball is a grind.  It’s 162 games played over 190 days, which doesn’t leave much time for rest.  Smart ball players learn how to take advantage of situations to give them reprieve.  Some players take this too far and are perceived as lazy.  Failing to run out ground balls and nonchalantly tracking down gappers that turn from doubles into triples is the sign of a lazy player.  Knowing your limits and how to pace yourself is the mark of a smart, seasoned player.

I love to see players like Harper treat every play like it’s their last, but eventually even Bryce will learn that a body cannot sustain a 162 game season at that pace for very long.  Playing that style means more days off, greater risk for injury, and loss of production down the home stretch when the team needs it most.  And for that reason, hustling in baseball is overrated.