Sunday Notes: Father’s Day Meanderings

Kevin Gregg didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps. Eric Gregg — one of the first African-American umpires to work in the major leagues — called balls and strikes in the National League from 1975-1999. Kevin graduated from James Madison University with a degree in Sports Management, and is now the Senior Director of Media Relations for the Boston Red Sox.

While his late father plays a big role, he wasn’t the initial impetus when I approached Gregg for this story. Rather, I’d been thinking about how different people follow baseball in different ways. Not everyone has the same relationship with the game, nor the same perspectives on it.

When you’re in Gregg’s position, you watch a lot of baseball, and you do so studiously, through a unique lens.

“I’m at about 130 of the regular-season games, and I’m watching every single pitch,” explained Gregg. “I’m scoring the game, literally writing everything down. Being into every pitch is part of my job. I need to know what issues may come up for the players, or for the manager, who meets with the media on a daily basis. What were the strategies that worked and didn’t work? There’s also the baseball information side — getting game notes ready.”

When Gregg isn’t at the ballpark, he’s usually watching on TV. Fandom is one of the reasons — his love of the game has never waned — but again, his job demands that he stay on top of everything that’s happening. If a storyline is building, he’s better served to follow it in real time, not learn the details later.

Keeping up with what the local media are saying about the team is an integral part of his job. He pays attention to what’s happening nationally, as well. Gregg watches a lot of MLB Network programming, including Brian Kenny’s MLB Now. A strong understanding of analytics isn’t essential in his role, but it’s becoming increasing helpful.

“(Sabermetrics) have become more common, in practice,” acknowledged Gregg. “Statcast has its own realm, and there are other things, like WAR, Defensive Runs Saved, and Fielding Independent Pitching. We’re starting to get to the point where we can put them into our game notes, but they’re not understood by 100% of the people who consume them, so that’s something we need to balance. But the game is evolving, and as a student of the game, you have to evolve with it.”

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the line of questioning in post-game media sessions. Managers make decisions that determine outcomes, and they’re often second-guessed — sometimes pointedly. Having been around the block a few times, Gregg is empathetic.

“The more you do this, the more you appreciate how difficult a manager’s job is,” said Gregg, who worked for the Philadelphia Phillies before coming to Boston. “There’s certainly a lot of scrutiny, especially in a media market like we have here.”

The same is true for the men in blue. Umpires are put under a microscope, and it’s safe to say that their decisions aren’t always treated kindly. Gregg has seen that first-hand. Growing up, he often found himself rooting not so much for a team, but rather for his father to have a good game.

“In life, I try to put the shoe on the other foot as much as I can,” said Gregg. “Working for a team, you get upset when you see a call not go your way, but at the same time, you need to be understanding. You don’t bat 1.000 as an umpire. I couldn’t fathom standing behind home plate —literally standing — for three-plus hours, calling balls and strikes for 300 pitches. It’s a tough job. Let’s just say I’m comfortable with my decision to not become an umpire.”

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I recently asked Brad Ausmus if the type of questions he fields has changed in recent years, given the increased emphasis on analytics. His response was a little out of left field.

“With the explosion of Twitter, you get more intelligent, and invasive, questions,” opined the catcher-turned-manager. “Now, a lot of people in the media use Twitter as a source, to figure out what their questions are.”

Later on in the media session, another reporter asked Ausmus about the high number of foul balls Justin Verlander had been allowing in recent games (Twitter’s role in that question is unknown).

“We’ve been kind of diving into that,” answered Ausmus. “We’re looking at if anything stands out, but we haven’t come up with anything concrete. We’re comparing to previous seasons in terms of usage, break, spin rate, velocity. We’re comparing it to himself over the last few years, and we’re comparing across the league. Stuff like that.”

Ausmus added that he has a theory, but was keeping it to himself until he “can put it to the test.” Asked how he could go about doing so, Ausmus joked that he’d “test it out on lab rats first.” My suggestion that he was referring to Double-A pitchers elicited a response of, “That’s not fair.”

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Pete Mackanin doesn’t want his pitchers to be wimps. He wants them to have an attitude, and if they happen to buzz an opposing batter, so be it. The Phillies skipper made that clear in a recent sit-down with members of the media.

“I talk to the pitchers all the time about their mound presence,” said Mackanin. “The way they appear on the mound. For example, if you throw a pitch up and in to a hitter, you don’t want to say, ‘Hey, sorry.’ Make them think you might be throwing at them. Keep that determined look about you.

“I look at a guy like (Casey) Fien. He’s pitched twice for us now, and he looks like he’s got no fear. He’s going right after you. You look at some other pitchers — not necessarily on our team — and you can see how they look nervous. When you’re a hitter, you can smell when a guy is nervous. That gives you a psychological edge.”

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Brett Cumberland is the Brandon Guyer of minor league baseball. Since the beginning of last season, Guyer has 35 HBPs, in just 405 plate appearances, while playing for the Cleveland Indians. Cumberland, a 22-year-old catcher in the Atlanta Braves organization, has 34 HBPs, in 416 plate appearances since being taken in the second round of last year’s draft.

Earlier this week, I asked the former California Golden Bear about his proclivity for getting plunked.

“It’s kind of funny, because I’m not on the plate at all,” Cumberland told me. “I think guys just try to get in on my hands, and they miss, so I end up wearing a pitch. But I’m not a guy to get out of the way. If it’s coming at me, I’m going to roll with it and let it hit me.”

Getting hit isn’t new for Cumberland. He “got hit by quite a few pitches in high school,” and the trend continued at Cal. Much to his chagrin, the bruises haven’t always been rewarded with a trip to first base.

“Several times in college, I got called back for not moving out of the way,” admitted Cumberland. “Apparently, in college, they’re making it a thing where you have to make an attempt to move out of the way, and some (umpires) don’t think rolling counts.

“It’s happened once so far this year, and it did once last year, as well. I got hit by a pitch and the umpire told me to stay here. I was like, ‘are you kidding me?’ I know it’s their call, but I believe a hitter should be able to wear it and take his base if the pitch is coming right at him. I mean, it might hurt for awhile, but I just want to get on base.”

The hard-nosed backstop feels there’s an art to taking one for the team without undue injury risk.

“Rolling with the pitch is the (safer) way to do it,” explained Cumberland, who has a .929 OPS (and 23 HBPs) with low-A Rome. “When you try to avoid pitches, you open up and expose the areas that hurt the most. If you just roll with it, the ball is likely to feel a meaty part of your body. My dad kind of taught me that.”

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Texas Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara is a talented young hitter. By all accounts, he’s also a good teammate. The 22-year-old native of Santo Domingo is lauded for for his maturity and comportment, which are traits he inherited from his father, a former general in the Dominican Navy.

“He taught me how to treat people,” said Mazara. “He taught me how to respect people, and how to take care of life. You never know what’s going to happen; you never know if you’re going to be here in the future. That’s how I approach life. If someone needs help, I’m always there for them — especially my teammates. That’s the kind of person I want to be.”

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For Yomar Valentin, hanging out in big-league clubhouses was a “good experience (with) good memories.” When his school year ended, he would travel from his home in Manati, Puerto Rico to whichever city his father, former infielder Jose Valentin, was playing in. It was there he would spend his summers.

Ten years after the father retired, the son is forging his own career. Nomar Valentin is now 19 years old and playing for Boston’s short-season affiliate, the Lowell Spinners. Not surprisingly, he learned the game at an early age.

“All my family are baseball players,” Valentin told me. “We’ve all been playing baseball since we were young. When I was two years old, my dad gave me a glove and a bat, and I started swinging at balls, and throwing balls. Since that day, he’s been pushing me hard to be like him.”

His father is a good role model. Not only did Jose Valentin have a long and productive MLB career, he’s been prominent in the Puerto Rican baseball community for a number of years. As the proud son put it, “he’s doing pretty good stuff back home, representing baseball.”

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It is said that Tigers don’t change their stripes, and in Nicholas Castellanos’s case, that means he’s going to stay aggressive. When I asked the Detroit Tigers third baseman about his free-swinging ways, he told me he’s “never even thought about changing.” He added that he’s “always just been (himself).”

So far this season, that “self” is half Jekyll, half Hyde. Castellanos boasts a 49.7% hard-contact rate, which is bested by only Miguel Sano among qualified hitters. Conversely, he has a 35.1% 0-Swing rate, and a 25.8% strikeout rate. Castellanos will take a walk — he’s an acceptable 7.9% on the year — but he’s clearly prone to chasing.

It bothers him far less than it does most Tigers fans.

“Sometimes I’ll swing and the pitch will be out of the zone,” acknowledged Castellanos. “And sometimes it’s out of the zone and I hit it. That double I hit off of Chris Sale last night wasn’t exactly in the zone. Before we came here, I hit a home run off of JC Ramirez on a pitch that was above, and out of the, zone. I’m just ready to hit, man. If I swing and miss, I swing and miss. Then I get ready to hit the next pitch.”

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JUNE NEWS AND NOTES

On Wednesday, Houston’s Derek Fisher recorded the first two hits of his MLB career in the sixth inning of a game against Texas. The last player to record the first two hits of his career in the same inning was Atlanta’s Adam Laroche, in 2004.

This past Tuesday, Minnesota and Seattle pitchers combined to allow 40 hits before walking a batter. The Twins went on to beat the Mariners 20-7, logging 28 of the game’s 42 hits. Despite the offensive onslaught, the game was played in a time of 3:04.

Seattle’s Ben Gamel is slashing .347/.414/.474 in 199 plate appearances. If Gamel had one more game’s worth of PAs, he’d be officially leading the American League in batting average.

Gift Ngoepe has a .222 batting average and a .429 BABiP. Joey Votto has a .303 batting average and a .280 BABiP.

Ivan Nova has walked seven batters in his 13 starts this season. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Babe Adams is the only other Pittsburgh pitcher since 1900 to walk seven or fewer batters in his first 13 starts. Adams turned the trick in 1920 and 1922.

Since the start of last season, the last 80 batters who have faced Andrew Miller with runners in scoring position are 12 for 76 (.158) with no walks and 40 strikeouts.

Earlier this week, the Cincinnati Reds dedicated a bronze statue of Pete Rose at Great American Ballpark. Previously honored with statues are Johnny Bench, Ted Kluszewski, Ernie Lombardi, Joe Morgan, Joe Nuxhall, Tony Perez, and Frank Robinson.

The Red Sox will officially retire David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s number this coming Friday.

Rockies prospect Ryan McMahon, who was featured here in May, has slashed .460/.493/.825 since being promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque at the beginning of this month.

The Milwaukee Brewers have spent 28 days in first place so far this season, and currently lead the National League Central by 2.5 games over the Chicago Cubs. Feel free to rub your eyes and read that sentence again.

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Dick Schofield, Jr. was a big-league shortstop from 1983-1996, mostly with the California Angels. His father, Dick “Ducky” Schofield had an even longer career, playing for seven teams from 1953-1971, mostly as a utility infielder. He played for a pair of pennant winners, the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates and the 1968 St. Louis Cardinals.

Last summer, I asked the younger Schofield about his father, who is now 82 years young.

“He talks about riding the train, back in the day” Schofield told me. “His first few years, the farthest west (team) was St. Louis. Just being on the trains and… I can’t tell you some of the stuff he talks about, but there are the encounters with the players he played with — the great players — and the differences in the game. From generation to generation, things really change.”

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On Father’s Day, 2014, Brett Siddall hit a walk-off home run while playing summer ball in the Northwoods League. As you’d expect, his father — Toronto Blue Jays broadcaster Joe Siddall — was plenty proud. He still is. The chip off the old block was drafted by the Oakland A’s two years ago, and he’s currently manning the outfield for the high-A Stockton Ports.

Dad hit a memorable home run of his own. In August 1998, Joe Siddall went deep for the only time in his brief big-league career. He did so as a member of the Detroit Tigers — at old Tiger Stadium, no less — which made it even more special. The Siddalls hail from Windsor, Ontario, which is connected to Motown by a bridge and a tunnel. The Siddalls are proud Canadians, but their baseball allegiances have dwelled across the Detroit River. As Brett put it, “My entire family rooted for the Tigers, and having him play there only solidified that passion.”

The youngster doesn’t remember dad’s shining moment — he was just three years old at the time — but the subject comes up from time to time, often with humor.

“We like to get on him a little bit about that,” said Siddall. “I’ll ask, ‘How many homers did you hit in the big leagues?’ He’ll answer back, ‘One more than you.’”

The Siddall clan would love nothing more than to see that change. Brett, who admits there are mixed allegiances now that his father is in Toronto, is doing his best to make that happen.

“It’s cool having him in the booth,” said Siddall. “He tells me that maybe he’ll be doing one of my games some day. That’s the dream.”

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

John Trautwein’s teenage son committed suicide in 2010, and since that time, the former big-league pitcher has striven to help prevent similar tragedies. Cam Smith wrote about Trautwein’s Will To Live Foundation at USA Today.

Over at The Los Angeles Daily News, Jay Berman looked at Don Newcombe’s lost interview, which delved into the breaking down of barriers.

At Bless You Boys, Brandon Day opined that Tigers reliever Francisco Rodriguez picked a bad time to rip his coaches.

At CSN Philly, Jim Salisbury wrote about how Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrara once got a hitting lesson from David Ortiz in the middle of a busy restaurant.

Hitters are often better off swinging-and-missing than making contact. Mike Petriello explained why at MLB.com.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

The last MLB team not to get shutout for an entire season was the 2000 Cincinnati Reds.

On June 18, 1975, Boston’s Fred Lynn went 5 for 6 with three home runs and 10 RBI against Detroit, at Tiger Stadium. The Red Sox won by a score of 15-1.

Travis Shaw has a higher career OPS (.790) than Pablo Sandoval (.786).

Lance Berkman had a higher OBP (.406 to .369), a higher adjusted OPS (144 to 135), and more home runs (366 to 317) , than George Brett.

Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown won 20 or more games for the Chicago Cubs each year from 1906-1911. He logged 37 saves over that stretch, and he had two seasons where he led the National League in both complete games and saves.

Bob ‘Fats” Fothergill slashed .337/.379/.482 for the Detroit Tigers from 1922-1930. He finished his career with the Chicago White Sox and Boston Red Sox retiring with a .325 batting average.

Leon Wagner was a defensively-challenged, hard-hitting outfielder for five teams from 1958-1969. By all accounts, he was also a bit of a character. His SABR Bio Project biography includes the following line: “Cleveland teammate Bob Chance said of Wagner, “Daddy Wags is a good storyteller. It’s not that Daddy Wags don’t tell the truth. It’s just he embroiders it.”

We hoped you liked reading Sunday Notes: Father’s Day Meanderings by David Laurila!

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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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John Autin
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John Autin

Fothergill hit over .300 in 9 of his 12 seasons, but only qualified for the batting crown once (by today’s standard). That year, his 6th, he hit .359 with 114 RBI. He hit a combined .338 in his first 5 years, and .305 in his last 6.

He was a poor outfielder, on a team with Ty Cobb and Harry Heilmann. Also keeping Fats out of Detroit’s pasture at various times were Bobby Veach, Heinie Manush, and Al Wingo’s random .370 season.

In 1929, Fothergill hit .354 in 115 games. The next year, Detroit let him go for the waiver price. Outfielders with high BAs were a dime a dozen in 1930.