Clay Buchholz has been rejuvenated in Arizona. Signed off the scrap heap in early May — the Royals had released him — the 34-year-old righty is 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA in 12 starts since joining the Diamondbacks. He twirled a complete-game gem on Thursday, holding the Padres to a lone run.
Health had been holding him back. Buchholz has battled numerous injury bugs over his career, particularly in recent seasons. Cast aside by the Red Sox after a tumultuous 2016 — a 4.78 ERA and a six-week banishment to the bullpen — he made just two appearances for the Phillies last year before landing on the disabled list and staying there for the duration. Frustration was clearly at the fore.
Truth be told, he’d rarely been his old self since a sparkling 2013 that saw him go 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA — and even that season was interrupted by injury. Given his travails, one couldn’t have blamed him had he thrown up his hands and walked away from the game.
That wasn’t in his DNA.
“No, this is what I do,” Buchholz told me earlier this summer. “I wasn’t ready to give it up. And while this offseason I told myself I wasn’t going to go through the whole minor league deal again, I swallowed my pride and did that for a little bit. It was for the best, because it helped me get to where I’m at now. It feels good to be able to go out there and throw without anything going on, mentally or physically.”
Buchholz made five starts in the minors before being called up, and he did so with a glass-is-half-full attitude.
“For the last 8-10 years I’d been the big leagues, but it didn’t feel like being demoted. It felt like a restart,” said Buchholz. “I know that I’m a major league pitcher. I’m also a better pitcher than I was six, seven years ago. Early in my career I relied on pure stuff. Now I’m able to navigate through big league lineups better, because I’m a smarter about what I’m doing out there.”
To say that Buchholz has matured over the years would be an understatement. Not only in terms of his mound acumen, but also in the way he approaches life.
“You live and learn, and most of all you learn from failure,” said the older-and-wiser hurler. “Before you face adversity, you don’t know how to handle it. And I’ve faced a lot of it. All in all, the bumpy roads and bad times have helped me. They’ve propelled me forward.
“Pitching through some health issues, and second-guessing a lot of things… and that carries over to your personal life. Whenever stuff isn’t going well on the field, you talk about it all day, every day, to the people in here. Then you get home and your wife, or your mom or dad call, and they want to talk about it all over again. It’s a never-ending conversation, and that wears on you a little bit.“
Listening to Buchholz — a player I first met shortly after he broke into pro ball in 2005 — speak so candidly about what’s been through only increased my level of respect for him. It also prompted one final question: Is it easier to pitch in Arizona than it was in Boston?
“It’s still the big leagues, but it’s not as magnified,” responded Buchholz. “Everyone here expects to win, and they should expect to win. This is a good ball club. But as for Boston, it was probably time for a change. That’s why they traded me to the Phillies. Obviously, the elbow stuff happened, but yeah, it was time for me to venture off and play somewhere else. Now I’m here, and this has been a good change for me as well. It’s all good.”
Once upon a time, not all baseball broadcasts were done live from the ballpark. Some were done in-studio, with the play-by-play announcer following the action via teletype and using sound effects to augment his play-by-play. Ronald Reagan is among those to have done done so. Long before he became the 40th President of the United States, Reagan re-created Chicago Cubs games from a remote location in Des Moines, Iowa.
Decades later, Jesse Goldberg-Strassler is keeping the tradition alive in the Midwest League. This past Tuesday, the radio voice of the Lansing Lugnuts did a re-creation game for the 10th consecutive season. The following day, I asked him how he goes about it.
“I set up my computer, and the rest of my equipment, in the open press area,” explained Goldberg-Strassler. “That way there’s no way I can see the field. It’s the magician’s way, right? Nothing up my sleeves; no view of the game whatsoever. I’ve previously recorded how the ballpark sounds — the hum of the crowd — and I loop that.
“Every single time I come back from break, I say — this is with total silence, just my voice — ‘It’s game-re-creation night; here’s our canned crowd noise.’ Then I start back up. I have my phone in my hand, and my broadcast partner — this year it’s Dante De Caria — messages me what’s happening: This pitcher pitching, this batter hitting. Struck ball. And off we go.”
Goldberg-Strassler calls the entire game standing up, with his props on a chair to his left. When he sees that a pitch was a ball, he pounds a baseball into a glove. If the ball is put in play, he strikes two bats together, or sometimes a bat and a croquet mallet. Windows Media Player is open on a computer, enabling him to supply appropriate crowd reactions, such as cheering, loud cheering, and sometimes even booing.
His initial re-creations predated his arrival in Lansing.
In 2005, Goldberg-Strassler was working for the Brockton Rox in the independent Can-Am League. In search of publicity, the team president decided that a game re-creation would be a good idea, and he assigned Goldberg-Strassler and Matt Meola to tackle the task. The primary broadcaster — now the TV voice of the Texas Rangers — was given the day off.
“He benched Dave Raymond,” recalled Goldberg-Strassler. “Dave listened to us from the parking lot as we recreated the game from the studio.”
Three years later, Goldberg-Strassler was with the Windy City Thunderbolts when a storm knocked out the internet in the press box. As Frontier League games were aired over the internet, and the opposing team didn’t have a broadcaster, a rabbit would need to pulled out of a hat.
Goldberg-Strassler knew how to pull a rabbit out of a hat. Internet was available in a nearby office, so Goldberg-Strassler had someone message him what was happening on the field, and just like he does today, he used bats, balls, and a glove for sound effects.
The game turned out to be unique in more ways than one.
“Isaac Hess threw the first no-hitter in the history of the Windy City Thunderbolts franchise,” explained Goldberg-Strassler. “We interviewed Isaac after the game, and it was great asking him about a game that I really didn’t have much chance to watch.”
Nolan Gorman has been supreme since being selected 19th overall by St. Louis in this summer’s draft. The 18-year-old out of Phoenix’s Sandra Day O’Connor High School is slashing .322/.411/.611, and he’s gone deep 13 times in 209 plate appearances. Much of that damage was done at rookie-level Johnson City, but Gorman has played his last ten games with low-A Peoria, where he’s among the youngest players in the Midwest League.
Shortly after his promotion, I asked the young third baseman if he views hitting as more of an art or more of a science.
“For me, it’s both,” responded Gorman, who takes his cuts from the left side. “A lot of science goes into hitting, but you also have to be able to see the ball and hit the ball; you have to let your natural ability take over. So, there’s really no clear cut one way or the other. I’d say it’s both an art and a science.”
The precocious Cardinal had an equally measured take on the degree to which his swing is natural versus learned.
“It’s pretty similar to what it’s been my whole life, so I think you could say it’s a natural swing that I’ve built around,” reasoned Gorman, who received tutoring from a former big-leaguer during his days as a prep. “I’ve had good coaching. Damian Easley has given me valuable tips, like when you go up in levels of competition and are facing harder pitching, you need to quiet things down.”
As loud as his bat has been, he doesn’t necessarily see himself as a bopper.
“I’m looking to hit the ball on the barrel as hard as I can, and if it goes in the air that’s a bonus,” Gorman told me. “If it’s hard hit through the infield, off a barrel, that’s good as well. I’m mostly just trying to stay through the ball, on the inside part of the ball, and trying to drive it somewhere.”
Gorman’s weapon of choice when he steps up to the plate varies, but only slightly. Depending on how he’s feeling on a given day, it will be between 33.75 and 34 inches long, and will weigh between 31 and 31.5 ounces.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Bobby Mitchell has seen a lot of talent come up the ranks over the years. Currently at the helm of the Yankees Triple-A affiliate, the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders, Mitchell has coached and managed in the minors for nearly three decades. He played with a lot of young talent as well. As an outfielder for the Minnesota Twins in the early 1980s, Mitchell shared the field with several stalwarts who at the time were in their early 20s.
“We had a special group with Kent Hrbek, Gary Gaetti, Frank Viola, and a couple of the other guys who were breaking in,” Mitchell told me earlier this summer. “You run into that at times, where the talent level is really high, and that’s especially true in this organization. Being young isn’t an issue when you’ve got talent and a work ethic.”
Prior to coming to the New York organization in 2016, Mitchell managed talented teenagers who are now big-league phenoms.
“I worked with the Braves for two years, so I had Albies and Camargo,” explained Mitchell. “Acuna had just signed. They’re all the same. Not only are they naturally talented, they worked their tails off. They paid the price and now it’s their time. They’re ready to play.”
“I spent nine years in the Angels system and got to see just how special Mike Trout is,” Mitchell said with an appreciative smile. “I’d have to say he’s the best player I’ve ever worked with. Amazing talent.”
The Oakland A’s announced this week that the inaugural class of their Hall of Fame will include Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Charlie Finley, Rickey Henderson, Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, and Dave Stewart. The seven will be honored on September 5.
Jim Thome had his number 25 retired by the Indians yesterday. The Hall of Famer played 13 seasons in Cleveland, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in home runs and walks. Earl Averill, Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Bob Feller, Mel Harder, and Bob Lemon have previously had their numbers retired by the Indians.
Brandon McCarthy announced earlier this week that he’ll be retiring after the season. The cerebral righty, who has been featured here at FanGraphs numerous times, will finish his career having pitched for seven teams over 13 seasons.
On Friday, the owners of the Pawtucket Red Sox announced their intent — tradition be damned — to relocate the team to Worcester, Massachusetts beginning with the 2021 season. The Triple-A “PawSox” have been a Red Sox affiliate since 1973.
Brock Deatherage is making a name for himself in the Detroit Tigers system thanks to his sprinter speed and the fast start he’s gotten off to in pro ball. A 10th-round pick this year out of North Carolina State University, the 22-year-old outfielder is hitting .332/.388/.528, with six home runs and 16 stolen bases. On Friday, he was promoted from low-A West Michigan to high-A Lakeland.
We’ll hear more about, and from, Deatheridge on these electronic pages in the week to come. Today we’ll touch on who he is away from the baseball field.
“I’m a country boy from North Carolina,” is how Deatherage described himself when we spoke on Wednesday. “I grew up on a dairy farm. My grandparents still have the farm — we have about 500-600 cows — and it’s been going for three generations. I’m a big-time go-getter — I work my ass off with everything I do — and I thank the farm for that.”
Deatherage earned a degree in agricultural business management at NC State, and he aspires to follow in the baseball-cattle footsteps of a prominent big-leaguer from his home state.
“Madison Bumgarner is from North Carolina, and he’s got a big old farm,” Deatherage told me. “That’s what I want. When baseball ends one day — hopefully that’s a long time from now — farming is what I plan to do for the rest of my life.”
Paul Molitor contributed to charitable causes during his playing days, and that didn’t change once he became a coach, and eventually a manager. I asked the Minnesota skipper if he could share with us some of the ways he gives back to the community.
“One Heartland is an organization I got involved with back in 1996,” Molitor told me last weekend when the Twins visited Detroit. “We opened up a camp facility for kids with HIV and AIDS, in Minnesota, and while we’ve changed a little bit of who we bring in each and every summer, it’s still doing very well. I’ve given a lot of my time. There’s even a Molitor Field up there as part of the program.
“I was involved with the MACC (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) Fund, in Milwaukee, when I was in Wisconsin, and I’ve stayed connected with them. And although it’s not directly related, I spend time in the offseason trying to get down to the children’s hospitals in Minnesota, trying to pick up the kids as much as I can.”
One of Molitor’s daughters works for a non-profit in Minneapolis called Appetite For Change, and he’s also involved in their efforts. As for any charitable endeavors undertaken by his players, while not part of his purview, he certainly endorses them.
“I think a lot of the guys here understand the platform a major-league athlete can have,” said Molitor. “We have a couple of charity events in spring training every year, and as part of my opening remarks I talk about the opportunities we have. When you can, you should try to give back. It usually takes a small effort to make a big difference.”
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Over at MiLB.com, Andrew Miller explained how the Florida State League’s Palm Beach Cardinals have gone through this season with a schedule that never was.
Meredith Willis, an astrophysicist and frequent saberseminar presenter, studied seams, blisters, and home runs. Jim Allen talked to her for The Kyodo News.
Forty years ago, Sports Illustrated sued MLB to allow female sportswriters access to clubhouses. Melissa Ludtke was front and center, and she wrote about the experience for Global Sports Matters.
Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News talked to Blue Jays broadcaster Ben Wagner, who has been on a whirlwind since getting called up to the big leagues.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
The Red Sox have an MLB-best plus-218 run differential. The Kansas City Royals have an MLB-worst minus-216 run differential.
The Nationals, Giants, and Pirates went into Friday with identical 61-61 records. Washington had a plus-66 run differential, San Francisco a minus-34 run differential, and Pittsburgh a 0 run differential.
Nolan Arenado is slashing .334/.409/.633 in 929 career plate appearances with runners in scoring position. This season he’s slashing .323/.429/.583 with runners in scoring position.
Elvis Andrus leads active players in sacrifice hits, with 100. Clayton Kershaw is second, with 91.
On this date in 1969, Chicago Cubs left-hander Ken Holtzman threw a no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves. He did so without recording a strikeout, making him the first pitcher since Sad Sam Jones (in 1923) to toss a K-less no-no.
On this date in 2006, John Hattig became the first player born in Guam to appear in a big-league game. He did so with the Toronto Blue Jays.
On August 21, 1976, Jack Brohamer became the first, and only, MLB player to hit a home run while wearing shorts. His round tripper helped lead the White Sox to an 11-10 win over the Orioles at Comiskey Park.
In the second game of an August 24, 1993 doubleheader, Kevin Reimer went 6 for 6 and scored the winning run in the bottom of the 13th inning as the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Oakland A’s 7-6. The contest featured a ninth-inning brawl that led to numerous ejections.
In 1904, Philadelphia A’s left-hander Rube Waddell led all pitchers with 349 strikeouts (an American League record that stood for 69 years, before being broken by Nolan Ryan). No one else had more than 239 that year.
Closing on a personal note, this is my 230th Sunday Notes column, and more notably, my 1,000th FanGraphs column overall. I thank all of you who choose to read my work, and hopefully there are another 1,000 to come.
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