A small section of the story on Jason Neighborgall referenced how he tries to filter the advice he gets.
It's not easy.
Everyone Neighborgall meets has a suggestion. Really, he said, everyone. When he made mention of this, I don't think I could exactly fathom what he meant. In the hours after the story ran, I soon learned.
Some were based on a single photograph. (One which, being that it was snapped as Neighborgall was going through his motion in a bullpen, is not really indicative of anything.) Some were based on preferred methods of training. And some were based on "Bull Durham".
Maybe it's something mechanical that no one in the Diamondbacks organization has picked up on. Maybe he's just a latter-day version of Steve Dalkowski, who many believe was the hardest thrower ever. And maybe something will click soon and all of this will look silly in a year.
Either way, your e-mails on Neighborgall – and plenty of other subjects – were too good to cut this mailbag short. So buckle down. My responses, as always, are in italics.
NEIGHBORGALL ("Wild Thing," May 3, 2007)
I am a pitcher for an NCAA Division III university. I have the exact same problem as Jason Neighborgall. I tend to throw in on right-handers and, to overcompensate for my open front side, I speed up my arm and throw the ball into the dirt away. The mental problems involved with controlling the count and location are never-ending and relative to the particular pitcher, so I must deal with that on my own. I was wondering if you've had any feedback from this article regarding possible mechanical solutions to this problem.
Well, now that you mention it…
It seems that when he is landing on his stride leg he is landing on the heel of his left foot.
His left foot is coming down not lined up with his drive to the plate. Therefore, he will be off line.
Have they checked the length of both of this guy's legs? Maybe one is longer?
Arroyo Grande, Calif.
Has he tried practicing yoga? It would give him the control and understanding of his body.
Why don't they send Neighborgall to some ballet classes to improve his coordination?
Couldn't they put a corset on him and stabilize his body?
He needs to take up pool. I've coached for seven years in Little League and high school. So I say have Jason take up pool because it has so many of the fundamentals of pitching. Concentration, aim, body positioning, speed, spin, momentum and strategy for next shot.
He probably has ADHD.
Spring Grove, Ill.
Has anybody seriously considered giving this guy some Zoloft to squash his mind from running in all different directions?
Fort Worth, Texas
Neighborgall should consult with Tony Robbins.
Someone needs to have him wear a garter belt. It will help. Promise!
Has anybody looked at his middle ear? That is the center of equilibrium for our body, and it can mess up things in strange ways.
Sounds like he needs to go see a certified Rolfer.
Leave it to the good readers of Yahoo! Sports to teach us something new each day. And here, this whole time, I thought a rolfer was someone who had trouble holding down his food. Apparently, Rolfers try to harmonize the relationship among muscles in order to achieve a clearer state of mind.
A question for those in the know: Could Rowlf Rolf?
I once had a discussion with a friend about a hypothetical situation like this. You have guy A, who has ridiculous talent but no control, and guy B, who has mediocre stuff but great control. I always argued to take the control guy over the heavy arm. Guys like Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and a host of others have proven control is the better part of pitching.
There is a big difference between Glavine and Maddux and another guy with great control. Just because neither ever threw much harder than 90 mph doesn't mean their pitches weren't devastating. Maddux's movement and ability to change speeds with such efficacy was worth more than an extra 10 mph would have been, and Glavine's changeup is one of the best 10 pitches of this generation.
The reason executives flock to those with great talent is the path to a dominant pitch is so much shorter. Control, in some cases (Randy Johnson, Sandy Koufax and many others), just comes. Raw stuff rarely manifests itself mid-career. How many starters with impeccable control and fringe stuff have long major-league careers? Jamie Moyer. How many with great stuff and fringe control? Plenty. Why? Success, the ultimate separator, just skews that way.
Do you realize that Neighborgall's ERA has zipped past his mph? Scary!
BLACKOUTS ("Possible progress on blackout issue," May 2, 2007)
Your thoughtful commentary on baseball's regional blackouts was much appreciated. But there's another blackout that requires mention as well. As a subscriber to MLB.com, I have access to most games at most times. But they black out the video versions (not the audio versions) of all Saturday afternoon games, all Sunday evening games and all games that are broadcast "nationally" on Fox TV. I put "nationally" in quotes because, as you know, on a given day Fox often broadcasts different games in different regions. So even if there is no way for me to catch a particular game on TV (because in my region a different game is being shown), MLB.com blacks it out nationwide – not just in the relevant region. Is this policy defensible, and is there any realistic chance MLB would change it?
Back when Greg Maddux won his 300th game, probably more than half of the country didn't get to see it because it was a Fox regional game, and it wasn't available on Extra Innings, either. I can't tell you how mad I was last weekend when I missed my Cubs play the Cardinals because our Fox affiliate stuck us with the overhyped Yankees-Red Sox series. If the NFL Sunday Ticket can show the out-of-market Fox games on its package, why can't MLB do the same thing for Extra Innings?
Up until this weekend, the Fox blackout never really had affected me. I don't have a particular rooting interest, so the worst thing I've been denied was a good pitching matchup I might have watched, and I understood that Fox pays a lot of money for its Saturday rights and deserves some kind of exclusivity.
And then Chien-Ming Wang was perfect through six innings.
I had caught the box score sitting in the Turner Field press box. I clicked on MLB.TV to open the game. Sorry, it said. Blackouts.
OK. I figured Fox certainly would switch over to it. I asked Mark Bowman, the crack MLB.com reporter, if he'd mind switching the TV to Fox. He did. And what greeted us? Phillies vs. Giants. Now, I understand Barry Bonds had hit No. 744 that day. Fine. Switch back during his at-bats if they're that important. But if there is a perfect game going – and Wang made it into the eighth inning, still with no sign of it on Atlanta's Fox affiliate – there is an obligation to switch it. Yankees or Red Sox, Pirates or Royals, that's history.
Suffice to say, in the coming weeks I'll be speaking with folks from Fox and trying to figure out the official stance on their reason for demanding blackouts.
If you thought the MLB blackout rules couldn't get any more ridiculous, consider this: We here on Oahu – 3,000 miles from the nearest MLB stadium – are blacked out from seeing any game that the Mariners, Padres, Giants, Dodgers, A's or Angels play in, regardless whether they're playing at home or on the road. Today, I missed seeing my beloved Red Sox beat the A's at Fenway due to this insane rule. Unless the rule is changed, I stand to be unable to watch 35 of the Sox' 162 games – more than one-fifth of their scheduled games.
I used the Extra Innings package for several years, but finally I stopped due to the extensive blackouts. I am a Cleveland Indians fan. In St. Louis, Extra Innings blacked out all White Sox games (19), all Royals games (19) and all Reds games (six). I ended up spending money for a year of programming but had more than one-quarter of the games blacked out – some of them against the key teams I really wanted to see the Indians play. When MLB gets rid of the idiotic blackout rules I will go back to Extra Innings, but until then there is no way.
You mention that some fans miss 40 percent of the games, but where I live, that would be acceptable, because in Japan, every single game for all 30 teams is blacked out. I've never heard a decent explanation for why this is. Japan is very far out of range of all 30 teams' traveling distance as well as their TV stations' reception. Many Yankees, Mariners and Red Sox games, which feature Japanese-born players, are shown on satellite TV here, and I can almost understand not making those games available online (though one must wonder what a small subset of Japanese fans have enough English to understand these broadcasts as opposed to the ones on Japanese TV). I'm a Chicago Cubs fan who is willing to pay the annual fee to see his team play. If the camera has to cut off every time So Taguchi pinch hits for the Cardinals, fine. But at least let us enjoy the otherwise-completely-unavailable games involving American, Dominican and Venezuelan players. What is Mr. Selig thinking?
Whether it's 22 percent like Tom, 27 percent like Aaron or 100 percent like Mark, none of it makes sense now, and none of it will until Major League Baseball commits to ending this stupidity.
As far as MLB not making money if they correct the issue, I beg to differ, as I am holding off from buying MLB.com's package due to the blackouts. I'll wait until September and get a monthly rate.
My point: Baseball won't make beaucoup bucks like it did by signing the Extra Innings deal. Sure, it's bound to gain thousands of subscriptions if blackouts are lifted, but at around $200 apiece, even if 25,000 fans sign up, that's only $5 million a year. Divided among 30 teams, that's around $167,000 – not even half the salary of a rookie.
MORNEAU ("Northern exposure," April 16, 2007)
Three or four years ago, I was a bartender here in Rochester at a place that Justin and many of the Red Wings players would come to. They would watch the Twins games on our satellite. Opening day that year, Justin came up with bases loaded in the eighth and hit a deep shot about a mile. It was foul by about a foot. I was sitting on the first-base side down along the field and can tell you that as it went by the foul pole it was about 15 feet above the entire pole and still going up. If the ball had been fair, people would have talked about Morneau's grand slam in Rochester for the next 100 years. About two weeks later, I was working and went over to Justin and told him that it was the furthest I had ever seen a ball hit. He smiled, looked at me and said: "Strike two."
Sounds about right. And just like last year, the Twins need Morneau to carry them through some rough patches. With Joe Mauer on the disabled list and Michael Cuddyer banged up with a bad back, the Twins' lineup thins precariously.
SOSA ("Fallen Sosa stuck in the past," April 18, 2007)
You got me. I was never going to read you again after your tirades regarding Barry Bonds prior to last season. But I had to read about your views on Sammy Sosa. Once again, your vindictive prose skewers a player with innuendo, one who by your own admission has never tested positive for anything more than a bloated ego. You think Sosa was juiced. You are certain McGwire and Bonds were. You want them to be remembered for cheating, not competing, even if that is exactly what they were doing during an era of rampant performance enhancement not only in baseball, but in many other sports as well. Mr. Passan, rather than make a living at the expense of an over-the-hill gas bag at the tail end of his career, try doing a story that highlights the career of someone who exudes the type of spotless virtue you believe will make the game of baseball once again, our national treasure. The steroid era is dead. Let it rest in peace.
San Jose, Calif.
At a certain level I share your outrage against Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and other folks who pretty obviously used steroids to get their records. On another level, though, I think it's pretty rough to flog for week after week just two of the likely hundreds of athletes who used illegal substances around that time just because they're still playing. I guess if your point is to get them to retire through embarrassment, perhaps it's a valid way to go about it. But certainly as any sort of "punishment" or "justice" it falls way short, simply because of the likely hundreds of others who used in the '90s, and then retired, got injured or just plain didn't break records and aren't in the spotlight. In some sense, Bonds and Sosa are trying to prove that they are good players even without steroids, an opportunity which I'm sure many, many players who used didn't take. I honestly think it takes more courage to go out there and play, knowing what people think of you, to show the world you can do it without the possibility of juicing, than to retire. The Giambis, Sheffields, and other players you don't bash every third week shouldn't get off the hook, either. The bottom line I've taken from this whole thing is that the entire era, and most of the players, records and stats from it, are tainted, and unless George Mitchell comes back with something crazy, we're just going to have to live with it.
Two good letters.
To Dana: I am certain McGwire and Bonds used some kind of performance enhancers. There is just too much evidence to think otherwise. Also, I don't think the steroid era is close to dead, and even if it were, letting it rest in peace is so opposite to all of our historical precedent. Forgetting the past is bad enough. Ignoring it is simply irresponsible.
To Richard: It is not my job to mete out punishment. History will do that. But people should not forget what McGwire and Bonds (and, in that vein, Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield) did. The reason the Bonds-McGwire-Sosa triumvirate gets all of the ink is because they directly assaulted the single-season – and soon enough, in Bonds' case, career – home run record. Sometimes, though, we forget that Giambi won an MVP while allegedly juiced to the gills. He apologized (as did Sheffield). Neither Bonds nor McGwire ever has.
Sammy Sosa was delusional and egocentric when he was relevant. Now it's just an exercise in boneheaded elitism at its best. I'm a screenwriter and a film producer working on a baseball film and guys like him are making it harder and harder to write fiction. Hilarious and sad.
Remembering the run in 1998, I was in Japan on business for two weeks in September of that year. With the 13-hour time change, each time McGwire or Sosa hit a home run the "night before," our business hosts would politely stop the morning's meetings to give us an update. It became a running joke for two weeks – was the meeting being interrupted for coffee refills or because someone hit one out?
When I wrote that McGwire and Sosa saved baseball, I don't think it was an exaggeration. They were what the game needed at the time. It's a sad indictment on the state of the game, and the length to which its keepers went to ignore the changes in the players, but maybe, in the end, it was necessary.
In your article on Sammy Sosa, you mentioned that the revelation of steroid use in baseball made everyone want to throw up. I, for one, totally disagree with you. I could care less if these guys are/were juicing. I have never looked to sports as any kind of moral compass. It is entertainment, and frankly, anyone who expects jocks to be role models is delusional. I am bothered more by the fact that Babe Ruth is still held up as the greatest player of all time, despite the fact that he played in a segregated league. If the steroid era gets an asterisk next to it, so must the segregation era.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
A-ROD ("Eye of the storm," April 21, 2007)
In your article on A-Rod, you mention the record for RBI in a month as 53 by DiMaggio and Wilson. I'm a member of the SABR Records Committee, and, a year or two ago, I verified that Sam Thompson had 61 RBI in August 1894. The only real difference between the game in 1894 and now is that foul balls weren't counted as strikes. Just thought you might want to know about the "all-time" record.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
For anyone with a couple hours to spare, go to sabr.org and have fun.
Until a sportswriter raises the question of whether A-Rod is using steroids to fuel the best offensive month ever, should we just assume that all of those apologies we heard from the media for being complicit in the Bonds-McGwire-Sosa juicing were just a joke? In a contract year, no less. I'm asking you (instead of someone else) because you had the best column I read about steroids and you seem independent enough from the rest of the media to actually give an honest answer. Despite wishful thinking by the media, the specter of 'roids stills hangs over baseball, nowhere more than in A-Rod's suspicious performance.
Is it possible? Of course. Are there signs? If you consider a power spike one, then yes, but haven't we learned that performance-enhancing drugs don't necessarily mean a big jump in home runs? Do I think he is? Absolutely not.
Look, if there is any sign that Alex Rodriguez took anything illegal or banned from the game, or if he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, no one would hesitate to report it. But this, sadly, is what the actions of some have begat: An environment in which anyone can be presumed to be using, even without an iota of evidence. That's dangerous.
MATSUZAKA ("The Red Sox's 'Empire' destroyer," April 26, 2007)
Fact is, Dice-K is a good pitcher and has the potential to be a really great pitcher. He is adjusting to the American League and also adjusting to pitching every fifth day instead of once a week. The Red Sox need him to beat the Yankees, yes, but they need him to stay healthy and help pitch them into October.
Right now, Dice-K is not a good pitcher.
Some splits worth noting:
With no runners on, opponents are hitting .221 with a .605 on-base-plus-slugging. With runners on, it's .221 and .728. Runners in scoring position: .297 and .738. And runners in scoring position with two outs: .353 and .765.
Which says two things. One, and this has become the book on him: He doesn't work well with runners on base. And two, which, to me, is a bigger deal: He has trouble bearing down in tough situations.
The Red Sox acquired him to improve the overall pitching staff and to make them a better team. If he loses every start to New York, but wins every other start, that will be a success. Knowledgeable Red Sox fans (and there are a lot of them) are quite pleased with his performance so far, his first month into MLB. Only the foolish expected him to show up and start mowing everyone down his first few months. He'll have to adjust first. He's doing just fine.
Sorry. For $103 million, he is supposed to be an ace. Beating the Yankees is not just part of the job. It's imperative.
That said, I still think by the end of the year he'll be one of the 10 best pitchers in baseball.
Could someone tell these guys on ESPN that Dice-K does not throw a gyroball?
BROCAIL ("Heart of a survivor," April 25, 2007)
At 28, I experienced a one-in-a-million instant heart attack (random blood clot in my heart with 100 percent blockage). With no history of blood clotting in the family and in perfect health, I was mentally and physically drained of the how and why. Stories like this remind me how lucky I am for modern medicine and the evolution of the stent. Despite the unfortunate occurrences where life may try to take you down, we can always make better by following our dreams and staying positive. I recently moved from San Diego back to the East Coast, and at age 29, I have gotten the OK to run next year's Boston Marathon. Thank you, Doug Brocail, for showing people that it can be done. The road to recovery is a path you can help choose.
Gary Thorne is a fool. If he doesn't understand the need for baseball to have legends, myths and heroes, then he doesn't deserve to be an announcer. Who cares if there is really blood on Schilling's sock? It is still one of the greatest stories ever told. If some idiot tests that sock now because of this mess and we find out it is a fake it will not be a good thing for baseball, despite the fact that the Red Sox still came back to defeat the Yankees after being down three, sock or no sock!
DALE MURPHY ("Murphy's message," April 30, 2007)
All of my five children are physically active and have or now are playing sports or other challenging activities. They are aware of the dangers that drugs can do to a clear mind and healthy body. They will pass those ideals on to their children with the hope of continuing that legacy. That is the best way to assure honesty, integrity and strong character in all aspects of life. Cheaters may win the battle, but they will lose everything they thought was important, as well as the things that are important. I salute Dale Murphy and pray his program will challenge the minds and hearts of our youth to not do just the right thing but to do the best thing.
"He wants 'I won't cheat' to resonate like 'Just say no.' " Dale must mean echo as in an empty room. We have had kids take D.A.R.E. oaths for two decades that they will never use illegal drugs nor drink underage. With near 100 percent failure rate, we are teaching kids early to take oaths they will not honor.
This self-righteousness from Dale Murphy is pretty damn funny. How much money is he making off this foundation? How much money is the Utah High School Activities Association putting in his pocket? And if cheating is so terrible, why is it that he can't turn in his teammates? Enabling people to cheat while you benefit from their "sins" is just as bad, if not worse.
From what I understand, the foundation is a non-profit, so he won't get money from it or the UHSAA.
As for not turning in his teammates, culture – and not just sports culture – persecutes people who turn in others. Why are kids taught not to tattle? Why are there Stop Snitchin' videos and T-shirts? For the same reason baseball players don't rat on their teammates: No matter the benefit – and surely there would be one – the kinship among players is too strong for even the game's integrity to break.