By HAL McCOY
UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, sitting in my La-Z-Boy next to my wife’s shiny new Lincoln Nautilus as my bank account shrinks.
—Major League Baseball had to mix in a $1 million stipend into the Home Run Derby to entice players to compete.
In the final round last year Bryce Harper beat Middletown’s Kyle Schwarber, 19-18. If Harper participates this year and wins, his cash flow goes from $330 million to $331 million.
That’s a million bucks for one evening’s ‘work.’ Johnny Bench made $400,000 for each of the last five seasons he played.
There will be one major rules change for this season. There will be only one trade deadline, the non-waiver deadline on July 31. After that date, teams can no longer trade players. But they still can claim players who are put on waivers or designated for assignment.
The most significant changes come in 2020. A relief pitcher must face three hitters before he can be removed, eliminating the changing of pitchers three times to three hitters.
That means if a pitcher comes in and gives up back-to-back home runs, he must remain in the game and see if he can complete the home run trifecta.
The other changes are good. Rosters will be expanded from 25 to 26 during the season. And come September, teams can only add four players. The old rule was that teams could add up to 15, giving them a 40-man roster.
That was absolutely absurd. Championships often are decided in September and how fair was it that teams could add 15 players, completely changing their roster and the way managers could run the game — more pitchers and more bench players.
—QUOTE: Former Dodgers first baseman Gil Hodges on home runs hit by Ernie Banks: “He usually passes me at first base, never stops there to say hello.”
—They say that in addition to no crying in baseball, there are no ties in baseball. Well, not during the season.
Spring training is different. Amazingly the Cincinnati Reds have had four ties this spring. Why is that?
Well, visiting teams only bring so many pitchers with them for road games. By the end of nine innings they usually have used them all. So if the game is tied after nine or ten innings, they stop.
The Reds have almost as many ties as wins this spring — five wins, four ties, 10 losses.
They had another tie Thursday, 3-3, against the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the big news of the day was that starting pitcher Sonny Gray pitched three perfect innings.
On the sour side, Alex Wood continues to have back miseries and may not be ready for Opening Day. If so, the odds-on favorite to take his spot in the rotation is Tyler Mahle.
Back to the positive side, Phillip Ervin hit his fourth home run this spring and is hitting .345 as he tries to squeeze himself if not into center field at least as one of the extra players on the roster.
Scott Schebler, another center field candidate, is hitting .375. The Reds wanted Nick Senzel to win center field and he is making it a three-way battle with a .320 batting average.
Left field is one-sided so far. Matt Kemp is hitting .375 while Jesse Winker is off to a plodding start at .179.
—QUOTE: From former three-sport legend Dave Winfield, who made his living with a baseball bat: “These days baseball is different. You come to spring training to get your legs ready, your arm loose, get your agents ready and your lawyer lined up.”
—Good for Zion Williamson. He missed several games at the end of the regular season when one of his Nike sneaker exploded, causing a knee injury, several people, including some NBA players, said he should shut it down, prevent more injuries, and take his game to the pros.
To his credit, Zion said no and was in the lineup Thursday night when Duke playe Syracuse in the NCAA tournament.
Said Williamson, “For the people who think I should just stop playing in college, thanks, but no thanks. When I’m out on that rectangle (they taught him what a rectangle is at Duke) nothing else matters. It’s just poetry in motion. It is what I love to do.”
And he did it Thursday with pizzazz. He had 20 points by halftime and finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds. He made all 13 shots he took, an ACC tournament record and a Duke record.
He had five dunks and one three-pointer and after the game he said, “I come to kill every game.” He killed it on this night, still wearing Nike sneakers, but a different model, presumably a pair with no explosives in them. Without Zion, Duke proved ordinary. With him? So, so dangerous. Syracuse fell Thursday, 84-72.
—QUOTE: From Zion Williamson’s teammate, Javin DeLaurier: “One of our athletic trainers put it best. He said to us, ‘All of you guys hit the genetic lottery. Zion hit it twice.”
—Speaking of the lottery, the Cleveland Browns had the right numbers in acquiring superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham, the master of the one-handed catch.
Five minutes after the trade was announced, fans were snapping up Browns jerseys with No. 13 and Beckham’s name on the back.
How often with Browns radio announcer Jim Donovan and Doug Dieken say, “Baker Mayfield to Odell Beckham. . .touchdown!”
Does the road to the Super Bowl go through Cleveland? Nobody can say they aren’t trying.
—QUOTE: From Odell Beckham: “I don’t care what people think, I’m just gonna do what I want and follow my dreams.” Until the Browns emerged from the graveyard last year, playing for the Browns would have been Beckham’s worst nightmare.