One of the most interesting stories in Major League Baseball history is the three-way relationship between the team, the player and their fanbase.
The uneasy partnership varies from love/hate to sometimes toxic. One of the more recent examples was in Oakland when the team set franchise records in futility for attendance with crowds between 2000-3000 fans at the beginning of the season.
While the most publicized storyline of the season resides in New York where MLBbro Aaron Judge decided to leave a $230 million extension on the table and is currently leading baseball in homers.
But the most intriguing storyline is in Minnesota surrounding the playing time of their superstar and our MLBbro, Byron Buxton. Not only is he the undisputed best player of the Twins, but he is also the best baseball player in the world if you ask his teammate Carlos Carrera via the New York Times.
“He’s the best player in the world, no doubt about it,”
The Twins have played close to a quarter of their 2022 schedule and their fan base, despite their team projected to hit close to triple digits in wins this season, are getting more and more frustrated by each passing series.
Fans want to see Buxton in the lineup everyday while the team plans to play him approximately 100-110 games this season to monitor and protect the right knee patella tendinitis that has limited him to an average of 54 games the last four seasons.
It’s really easy to understand the frustrations from the fan perspective. When Byron Buxton plays, this team wins and wins a lot. Since 2019, Minnesota has the best winning percentage at .634 in team history with a 130-75 record. To put this in perspective, the 1965 pennant winning team is next in line at .630. The narrative is clear here. When our MLBbro, Byron Buxton plays, the Twins are exciting to watch and win games at a high clip.
On the other hand, the pendulum swings the other way when Buxton is out of the lineup. Minnesota has a 96-110 record when he’s sidelined.
Now the discussion goes to the franchise that signed our MLBbro to a seven-year, $100 million contract with a “no trade” clause. The Twins medical staff requires him to take days off for therapy and rest on his knee. Putting Buxton in the lineup at DH is not a viable option because swinging aggravates his knee. With aspirations of a World Series in sight, the team is making sure that Buxton’s knee is not problematic during the postseason.
Plus, the Twins have a long list of injury issues with their superstar. Since 2015, Buxton has had injuries to his left thumb, both wrists, left big toe, groin, left shoulder and right hip. Throw in migraines and a concussion, it’s easy to see why the franchise have been ultra-careful with their biggest prize in Byron.
Whether he’s called the best or injury prone, our MLBbro just wants to get healthy and play to the best of his abilities which leads to wins.
“That doesn’t matter to me, either,” Buxton said. “For me to do that, I’ve got to go out there and prove that. I know I haven’t played enough games, but I know I can be that, which is fun to me. That’s what keeps me on my toes – something’s always gonna happen. There’s that anxiousness. For me that’s a challenge, and I like challenges.”
The challenge for the Minnesota Twins for the rest of the season is selling to their fans that resting Byron Buxton for periods throughout the season is a necessary evil to make a deep postseason run.
Why? Because the fans have the mindset of Carlos Carrera when it comes to our MLBbro.
“Nobody has more talent than him. Nobody throws harder. Nobody runs faster. So when you talk about talent and you talk about tools, this is the most gifted out of all of them out there.”
The question surrounding the organization now is…How much do Minnesota fans get to witness going forward this season?
When the Milwaukee Brewers signed outfielder Lorenzo Cain to a five-year $80 million contract back in 2018, the team wanted to capitalize on the production the Kansas City Royals MLBbro was providing over several seasons. The peak of that incredible run was in 2015, when Cain finished third in the MVP race and helped the Royals to a World Series Championship.
Things were still on a high note for Lorenzo in his first couple of seasons in Milwaukee. In his first season, Cain was an All-Star and followed that up with his first career Gold Glove award in 2019. Then everything changed.
After opting out of the 2020 COVID season, multiple injuries have dogged him as he approaches the final season of his contract. 78 missed games due to a left quad strain and a right hamstring strain brought looming questions of Cain calling it quits when his contract is up.
Despite Cain’s slow start at the plate, he is still dominant on defense which shows his Gold Glove winning abilities have not eroded. He is tied for the MLB lead in Defensive Runs Saved among center fielders, with a 92 percentile in Outs Above Average. It shows the level of commitment to the offseason work this MLBbro put in after a season derailed by leg injuries.
“I did a lot of running. I did everything possible to make sure these legs are ready to go,” he said. “A lot of conditioning, a lot of running, a lot of working out. Even went to see the PT on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the morning to make sure my knees and everything else is good.
“Now it’s about going out here on the field and hopefully all of the work pays off and we go out here and get it done.”
The Milwaukee Brewers are currently in first place in the National League Central Division. This will buy some time for Cain to improve on his uncharacteristic slash of .182/.247/.216 at the plate. If not, he could be stashed on the IL to get him ready for the post season. At this point, Cain is 14 dingers away from 100 for his career and 55 RBI from an even 500, so he has some milestones to look forward to.
No matter if he leaves the game this year or not, he always has time for the fans. He bought drinks for the fans during the Marlins series a week ago in the “This Ones On Me ” tour.
No matter what happens, our MLBbro, Lorenzo Cain will be leaving on his terms which is a great thing within itself.
“If it’s my last year, it’s my last year. “I’ve had a great career,” Cain reflected. “I’ve done everything possible that I can think of throughout my career and I have accomplished a lot. So, I’m happy if it’s my last year.”
For the last couple of seasons playing with the Pittsburgh Pirates and now Washington Nationals, questions about our MLBbro, Josh Bell’s future always dogged him. The narratives of what he wanted in his career and the priorities of the team he was with drew headlines just as much as his power at the plate.
Bell was the star of a Pirates team that seemingly couldn’t get out of the rebuilding stage which brought questions of Josh’s willingness to be a long-term participant. On the other side of the equation, would the team try to avoid the financial responsibility and make a deal for future prospects which the organization is known for?
When the latter happened and Bell moved on to the Nationals, his first season was decidedly up and down to say the least. A serious bout with COVID-19 and a slump through mid-May frustrated our MLBbro with constant strikeouts and double-play grounders.
But his final numbers of 27 homers, 88 RBI with an .823 on-base-slugging percentage reflected a dominant second half of the season. But despite his strong finish, the same questions of Josh Bell possibly being moved persist. A situation that Josh discussed during spring break via the Washington Post…
“I feel like I’ve been traded, I’ve been quote-unquote the face of the franchise, and there are times I’ve been in the big leagues where I feel I’m not going to be here for long, Bell said toward the end of spring training. “I’ve been on the roller coaster ride for a long time now, so I know the most important thing for me to focus on is whatever I’m doing in the moment, the next at bat.
“I know that sounds cliche. But I can only control not having any regrets about what I do, right? If I put in all the work, I’m going to be in a good place. I love the Nationals and D.C. It’s been a lot of fun and really refreshing, and I’ve always thought I’d like to be here. I just have to do my part, and it will work out.”
This quote is saying our MLBbro made some adjustments with plans to start the season on fire because Josh Bell’s numbers are as astounding as his 261-pound muscular frame.
First off, our MLBbro changed the trajectory of his swing plane and launch angle allowing him to hit ground balls to the opposite field in the right center gap as a right-hand hitter. This small adjustment cut down on not only his strikeouts, which he collected over 100 in his first four seasons, but double play opportunities for the opponent.
His strikeout pace at this point is projected at 71 for the season (He currently stands at 17) with a strikeout rate of 10.9 percent. A massive improvement from last season’s 17.8 percent and a 2020 rate of 26.5 percent.
Nats manager Davey Martinez gave a favorable comparison to his former teammate, the “Big Hurt” Frank Thomas, who was also an imposing figure who understood the science of hitting in the past via MASNsports.com.
“I played with a guy that it looked like he struck out a lot, but the guy hit .345-.350 every year: Frank Thomas,” Nats manager Davey Martinez said, citing one of the most physically imposing hitters in history. “He put the ball in play.”
The “Big Hurt” explained in 2014 the mechanics that led him to a hall of fame career, the same mechanics Bell is trying to master.
MLB Network’s Mark Derosa breaks down Bell’s early season struggles last year and how his adjustments have allowed Bell to thrive this year.
This week marks one year when Josh Bell broke out of his horrible hitting slump. Since May 13, Bell slashed .299/.389/.513 with 28 home runs with 99 RBI that has included his monstrous offensive start this year.
With a complete turnaround from last year’s start batting .333 with five homers and 21 RBI along with an impressive 23 runs scored, our MLBbro is working hard not to over-analyze things, but trust the work he has put in.
“If I was struggling, I’d probably be looking for answers, Bell said. “And right now, it’s just trusting the mentality. I know if I have a swing that I like, it’s kind of looking at where the pitch was. But for the most part, my swing itself has stayed the same, even on different contact points. That’s where I want to be.”
In this day and age, sports figures are identified more by their contracts than their play and overall impact to the team that pays them.
One of those players is our MLBbro, Jason Heyward, who may have an unfair legacy of not living up to the eight-year, $184 million contract the Chicago Cubs handed him before the 2016 season.
After Heyward’s 2015 season with slashes of .293/.359/.439 at the plate and second-straight Gold Glove Award in the field, the Cubs and their fanbase thought they had stolen a franchise player from their division rival, the Cardinals.
Our MLBbro aka “J-Hey”’s combination of solid hitting and better defense in the outfield was supposed to be the cornerstone of Chicago’s North side success for years to come.
Seven years later, some fans and media members have given up on Heyward’s worth to the team.
His slash line of .248/.280/.347 with 281 RBI over 710 games doesn’t add up to his salary. But what gets overlooked by many in professional sports is his veteran leadership behind the scenes. Some of it balances out the struggles that fans see on the field.
Nothing illustrates this point more for Jason Heyward and the Chicago Cubs than Game 7 of the World Series back in 2016. J-Hey called a team meeting during a rain delay to rally his teammates to the Cubs’ first World Championship in 108 years.
Just think of how much his teammates respected our MLBbro to lock in after his speech – despite Heyward batting .104 (5-48) over 16 games in the postseason. This is the example of leadership and respect he provides in the dugout as a liaison between the manager, coaches and players. Championship teams need that one player. Heyward has been one for years.
Social Media As A Team-Building Tool
With the Cubs stumbling out of the gate at 11-19, Heyward has used social media to keep his teammates inspired through this rough patch.
“He’s a guy who had a lot of [veteran] players that influenced him as a young player in Atlanta, and he kind of pays it back now,” Hoyer said, referring to, among others, his current manager, David Ross. “He’s really good with those [young] guys. Everyone always talks about Jason being such a pro, how he handles all of his business off the field, how he prepares for games, how he prepares in the offseason. Everything he does is kind of first class in that regard.”
With Jason’s career winding down, his latest message to his peers: don’t take baseball for granted.
“And be on winning teams for the most part. I’ve done a lot of that,” he said. “Enough to appreciate what it’s like to have winning seasons and to feel what it’s like to lose. To see transitions happen. I’ve been a part of three of those now, in Atlanta, in St. Louis and then of course here.”
“We’ll see what happens,” Heyward said. “I know I have less years ahead of me than I do behind me, and I’m grateful for that.”
The Oakland A’s started their season on a record-breaking pace that no sports franchise much less a baseball one would want. They finally snapped a nine-game losing streak, but based on home attendance, it seems most of the fanbase doesn’t care.
Barring the games that had COVID-19 attendance restrictions, the A’s have made the news for all of the wrong reasons due to the apathetic fans in Oakland. Last month against the Baltimore Orioles, attendance was announced at 3,748, which at the time was the lowest recorded amount since Sept. 9, 1980 in a game that Oakland faced the Texas Rangers.
Then the team played a home game in front of only 2,703 fans. Not surprisingly, even though attendance has improved, the A’s have the worst attendance in Major League Baseball.
With the Oakland A’s defeating the Detroit Tigers 2-0 on Monday night, maybe MLBbro, Tony Kemp can not only spark a rally in the standings but a possible reunion between the fans and his team. Against the Tigers, Kemp hit his first home run of the season in the third inning to get the team off to a good start offensively.
Fromhis statement to ESPN, Kemp shows that he is one of the clubhouse leaders who wants to turn things around for this franchise.
“I just saw a changeup and I got my foot down and tried to put the best swing on it I could,” Kemp said. “I’m just happy (Austin) Meadows didn’t rob a home run for me. Feels good to contribute to the team.
“When you’re on a losing streak, it feels like it’s never going to end. So to slap hands with guys today felt really good.”
Even though Kemp has started slowly at the plate with a batting average of .217 with one homer and four RBI, baseball fans know that this MLBbro’s calling card is in the field at second base and left field every once in a while.
But to win back the fanbase, Kemp can continue his outstanding work in the community which includes giving back through thePlayers Alliance program. The organization is made up of major league players creating a culture promoting racial equality and extra opportunities for the black community in the surrounding areas of Oakland.
The program is also working to create a buzz for more Black players in baseball which has declined sharply since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Our MLBbro talked about his passion working with the program…
“We’re trying to get Black players to mentor kids who can’t afford equipment to play baseball,” Kemp said. “Black kids look up to us and we’re trying to help these kids understand that they can succeed in Major League Baseball.”
Not only is he trying to introduce the game of baseball to Black kids, Kemp is stressing the importance of education as well.
“I got out a book and a baseball. I asked the kids to stand on each one and see which one provided more stability, they got the message. I told them that getting a degree is always the end goal.”
Kemp’s baseball introduction is important based on the lack of Black players in professional baseball.
According to the information tallied by the Society for American Baseball Research, the percentage of Black players which peaked at 18.7 percent in 1981, had declined to less than 10 percent in the new millennium bottoming out at 6.7 percent in 2016. There were 7.2 percent Black on 2022 Opening Day rosters.
With the A’s currently in last place in the AL West due to their long losing streak, our MLBbro Tony Kemp’s leadership could be key in getting the A’s back in the thick of the playoff race and back in the hearts of their fans.