Since basically his debut on Opening Day, St. Louis Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks has been one of the most electrifying rookies in baseball thanks to his fastball velocity that rivals Aroldis Chapman. However, what you may not know about Hicks is that Cardinals closer Bud Norris has reportedly been “mercilessly riding” the rookie since spring training.
There might not be two relievers on the Cardinals with more different backgrounds than Norris and Hicks. Norris is the veteran and journeyman with a mediocre career as a starter, but has found new life as a closer. Hicks is the 21-year-old phenom, using his elite velocity to carve out a 2.56 ERA and an important spot in the Cardinals’ bullpen. However, that early success hasn’t stopped Norris from acting like Hicks needs his help.
Bud Norris’ treatment of Cardinals rookie Jordan Hicks
A report from Mark Saxon of The Athletic on Wednesday laid out Norris’ treatment of Hicks, which Cardinals manager Mike Matheny doesn’t seem to think Hicks will appreciate down the line.
The 33-year-old Norris has been mercilessly riding 21-year old rookie Jordan Hicks since spring training, reminding him to be at meetings on time and publicly calling him out when he is lagging in any of the details a visitor might not notice, but other players do. Perhaps Hicks will one day appreciate the treatment?
“Probably not,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny admitted with a chuckle. “But Bud’s going to do continue to do what he thinks is right as a veteran, so you respect that.”
Now, telling a rookie to be on time and criticizing him for perceived faults might sound somewhat harmless, but Hicks didn’t sound thrilled when the subject was brought up.
Hicks, the hardest throwing right-handed pitcher in baseball, isn’t a fan of the treatment. Asked if he thinks it will one day pay dividends in his career, he said, “I have no idea. No comment.”
Matheny has reportedly had conversations with Hicks to explain that Norris’ behavior is the closer trying to to show he’s invested in Hicks’ success. Because we’re dealing with Mike Matheny here, he also stumped for “the dying tradition of teaching younger players in the harshest possible ways,” adding “I think the game has progressively gotten a little softer.”
The report also mentions that Matheny has invited Norris to show his leadership by reporting his teammates’ infractions to Matheny.
Though Hicks is the most frequent target of Norris’ attention, he isn’t the only reliever who has sometimes prompted him to speak up. Matheny said he invited Norris to take leadership of the bullpen and he has responded by giving him occasional reports of pitchers not living up to the standards the team set in spring training. At times, Matheny said, he has levied team fines after Norris’ reports.
Why is Bud Norris targeting Jordan Hicks?
Why Norris has decided Hicks needs his help — whether Hicks likes it or not — reportedly comes down to multiple reasons beyond Hicks simply being a rookie.
For starters, Hicks’ young career is notable in that he skipped both Double-A and Triple-A on his way to the majors. Rather than pay his supposed dues as a major leaguer, Hicks made the majors by being able to repeatedly throw harder than 100 mph and making the Cardinals’ major league squad out of spring training.
Another issue mentioned in the report was that Hicks was originally optioned to minor league camp during spring training “for being late repeatedly,” until his talent eventually won out.
Doe Bud Norris’ behavior constitute hazing?
While the Athletic’s article doesn’t mention the word “hazing” once, everyone involved sure treats it like hazing. Norris and Matheny both recall how their own treatment as young players at the hands of veterans and seem to think doing something similar for Hicks, even on a much smaller scale, is helping the young pitcher.
Norris’ behavior may not meet some people’s definition of hazing, but he seems at least motivated to uphold the spirit of the old-school activity and that could be what matters in the end. Even if Norris truly believes he is helping Hicks by badgering him about his behavior as a major-leaguer, there is a line between helping and humiliating.
Norris and his career 4.44 ERA might not have a glittering career to look back when all is said and done, but he can at least rest on the knowledge that he did his best to preserve his personal vision of baseball.
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