OBSERVATIONS: From Lawyer to Baseball GM

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, anxiously awaiting New Year’s Eve when Ohio State destroys The Great Georgia Myth, 35-31.

—FROM LAW TO BALL: There is a Dayton native who loves baseball more than affidavits, torts, briefs and depositions.

He is a lawyer who tossed it all aside and started at the bottom of the baseball pecking order. And he is now general manager of the Seattle Mariners.

His name is Justin Hollander, a graduate of Northmont High School and The Ohio State University.

While he was practicing law in San Diego in 2008, he arranged his schedule so he could gather stats for ESPN at San Diego Padres games. The pay was enough to buy a couple bags of peanuts.

But he stayed with baseball, starting at age 28, and worked his way up, up and up. And in October, he was named Seattle’s GM, inheriting a team named the best organization in baseball with the number one minor league system by Baseball America.

The Mariners made the playoffs last season, the first time in 20 years, which made Seattle’s citizenry delirious. Hollander isn’t content with that accomplishment.

As he told Marc Katz in the Dayton Jewish Observer, “I was disappointed this year when we didn’t win the World Series. I thought we had a chance. We want to win the World Series. That absolutely is our goal next season. We’re not doing this for participation trophies.”

—FROM ISRAEL TO GABP: Alon Leichman pitched for Israel in the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo and now he is the new assistant pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds. He is the first Israeli-born athlete to make it to the major leagues.

There was not a single baseball field in Israel in 1983 when his father, David, a baseball lover, cut off a slice of the wheat crop in the Kibbutz Gezer and built a baseball field. Why not? His father was in charge of constructing the kibbutz in the 1970s.

That’s where Leichman learned the game and now the 33-year-old coach will help the Reds’ staff with mechanics, pitch selection and game preparation. Perhaps he can teach them that strike one is the best pitch in their arsenal.

—PEACHY START: The inventor of basketball, James Naismith, wrote his rules on a piece of paper in 1891 and hung it on a YMCA wall. The baskets were true baskets. . .peach baskets.

Until recently, the Naismith family possessed that paper with the original rules.

James Naismith later became the first basketball coach at Kansas University and his legacy lives. The KU playing surface is Naismith Court, the street in front of the basketball venue is Naismith Drive and there is a Naismith Hall on campus.

Because of Naismith’s connection to Kansas, when the family put that paper of rules up for auction, some KU alumni banded together and bought it. . .for $4.3 million to put it where they believed it belongs.

Whomever invented baseball — Abner Doubleday, Alexander Cartwright or
Tony La Russa — would recognize today’s baseball (Until Rob Manfraud finishes his revamping). But it is pretty certain Naismith would wonder what those guys were doing on that wooden floor.

—OUT OF POSITION: From Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark’s annual Strange But True column:

In the 1990’s decade, 48 position players were used as pitchers in blowout games. A lot? Nope. Last season alone, teams used position players 132 times.

Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell did it six times, three appearances by second baseman Alejo Lopez. He pitched to a 6.75 earned run average, which just about matched the ERA of last season’s real pitchers out of the Reds’ bullpen.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts used infielder Hanser Alberto 10 times in relief. And the Dodgers were 8-and-2 in those games.

And the strangest of all? On the day Los Angeles Angels pitcher Reid Detmers pitched a no-hitter against Tampa Bay, left fielder Brett Phillips came on to pitch for the Rays.

So the Angels’ Anthony Rendon decided to bat left handed, something he had never done in his previous 4,258 plate appearances. And he hit a home run. Of course he did.

—LUCAMATIC: When did the NBA begin using robots in games. Luca Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks was as robotic as it gets this week. . .60 points, 21 rebounds, 10 assists. That was in one game.

He was born in Slovenia, but obviously raised on Mars because he is out of this world.

—RE-SIGN HIM: So somebody actually did like one of the Cincinnati Reds’ free agents. Catcher Austin Romine signed a minor league deal.

With whom? Oh, the Cincinnati Reds. Never mind.

By the way, whomever came up with the name free agent needed a dictionary for Christmas. There is nothing ‘free’ about these guys signing monster contracts. Just ask the New York Mets and their $800 million investment in ‘free’ agents this off-season.

—TEN-HUT: The Military Bowl was contested between Duke and Central Florida in the Navy-Marines Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.

The Military Bowl? Shouldn’t at least one team be Army, Navy, Air Force, Virginia Military or The Citadel? Or how about the Coast Guard Academy (3-7) and the Merchant Marines (6-3), two Division III schools.

OK, so the Coast Guard beat the Merchant Marines, 41-33. . .but Ohio State and Michigan could meet again, right?

—DEAD RED: ESPN’s baseball power rankings listed the Cincinnati Reds as a team unplugged. They ranked them No. 30 among 30 MLB teams. They projected their 2023 record will be 60-102 and said:

“The Reds lost 100 games last year and yet the players that they lost, led by Kyle Farmer, Mike Minor and Donovan Solano, profile as a hair better than the group of pickups, led by Kevin Newman, Nick Solak and Luke Maile.”

—SOUR GRAPES: Zion Williamson scored a career-high 43 points to lead the New Orleans Pelicans to a come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, 119-118.

Williamson grabbed the game by the throat, picking up all the loose change, to scored his team’s final 14 points in the last 2:44.

As teammate CJ McCullom described the team’s late game-plan: “Get the ball to Z and get the (expletive) out of the way.”

Said Minnesota’s D’Angelo Russell after Williamson shot 19 free throws, “He plays football and we play basketball. You can’t touch him. Good for him.”

Wonder if Russell wants any cheese with that whine?

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