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Bullpens full of sad animals

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles, CEO Sports Network


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The old adage used to be, in words more or less, "Pitching isn't the only thing, it's everything." To some degree, that is true. Offensive-minded fans, players, managers, and broadcasters who are not discussing those on the mound all the time, might tend to disagree since, without runs, what is there for any pitcher to protect? So, it is a combination of offense and pitching with the latter intended to protect the former and set the tone for the game. Accepted.

But, unlike games "back in the day," where there was a starting pitcher and bullpen reliever that donned his appropriate comic hero outfit and came into the game to save the day, today's stalwarts in the bullpen are the technicians one would normally find in industry or in the medical profession. In other words, thank goodness for general family practitioners who actually attend to all of your aches and pains instead of a right toe, left thumb, ache in the back, headache, upset stomach, and so forth. Yes, of course, specialization is necessary for many aspects of illness, but get there first.

Get to the point where you have to make the call to the bullpen, not because someone with a clicker is counting pitches. The entire 100-pitch business is insanity. It boggles the mind and insults the game, not to mention the pitchers themselves. You have a no-hitter going but you have thrown 100 pitches so it is time to pass the ball to another?!?!? You have to be kidding me!

The late Paul Richards, known as a pitching guru, is generally credited for paying attention to the pitch count in the middle 1960s, and establishing the importance of 100. Richards, a former big league catcher, was the general manager of the Houston Astros and wanted to protect Larry Dierker, who had signed out of high school. So, because of that, a small item escalated and blown completely out of proportion, we now have critical mass achieved in baseball for athletes that have every benefit, resource and advantage known to man to increase their physical prowess. And, yet, their abilities are questioned, their stamina seemingly put to the test, their endurance on the edge, and their staying power debated in the shadow of the 100-pitch clicker that prompts the dialogue.

Did anyone ever count how many pitches are thrown when one warms up, pre-game, or in the bullpen? Are they considered as well, or are they noted as demeaning and lessening one's talent? Do you know how many practice balls Tiger Woods hits a day? How many he hits before the US Open gets underway compared to how many he will hit once off the first tee? How about how many laps Michael Phelps swims in practice or warming up? How many miles does Lance Armstrong cycle in preparation for a race? You have the idea. They do it to be ready.

The entire concept of 100 pitches being the paradigm, the red light, the call to 911, is incredible. Pitchers are better conditioned than ever before and their predecessors of years past were capable of tossing 200 per game, as well as over 300 once or twice back in the Twenties. That's right, 200-300! It is not a typo. Then it came down to 125-150. Still, not 100 and panic setting in.

Before becoming one of the greatest closers in the game, Mariano Rivera was the 8th-inning specialist for the Yankees.
Which brings us to the bullpen. That is where the phone once rang to save a game, to replace a pitcher that was admittedly warn out. To accept the ball from someone that had just been used for batting practice by the other team. Not because of a clicker.

We have an eighth inning pitcher, these days, the set-up man. Perish the thought that the man on the mound, with a one- or two-hitter, is asked how he feels. Then comes the closer, the man being paid millions, tens of millions, to pitch one inning, maybe two. And, for many teams today, with rare exceptions, the bullpen is overflowing with sheep and wusses that come in and immediately blow the lead their team had until moments ago. If they do not do that, they make it a heart-wrenching experience. The team at bat welcomes their entry into the game with jubilation and mental applause.

The Yankees' manager, Joe Girardi, is still holding tryouts and has the imagination of an elephant in a stampede. He just looks straight ahead and charges, by the book, the one that says the starter comes out and we toss in another batting practice entry that should be selling hot dogs in the stands...with rare exceptions out there. They, the New Yorkers, are not the only team with this malaise and a manager who works with a vacuum between his ears.

The requirement is to pitch one inning, maybe to only one or two batters, to be a heart specialist at that precise moment and, all too often, the patient perishes. That is when a wuss makes his entrance, not a bull. And, the starter has to sit in the dugout and watch his efforts fall apart because he went over the magic number by three or four.

There are lots of reasons to remove a pitcher from the game - getting shelled, exhaustion, injury, losing his "stuff" that was working so well - but doing so due to a pitch count and then applying an even lesser number to someone from the bullpen has denigrated the sport and those that participate in it.

Since there is little likelihood of the 100-pitch guideline going away, the supporting option is to fill the bullpen with bulls, not sheep and wusses. Will there, on the other hand, be someone out there, some GM that will put down the clicker and just let the games go on; let the pitcher call his own tune regarding his physical being, march to his own drummer? You gotta be kidding!