Today's MLB pitching protection plan driving me batty


Mike Scioscia has me on word count so I'll make this short: big league managers have become like Kindergarten crossing guards.

Everything is about protecting the precious kids—making sure they get safely across the street.

Ever notice how Scioscia, manager of the Angels, looks both ways every time he goes out to make a pitching change?

The modern game is really starting to annoy me. Because of instant replay, managers can’t even spit on umps anymore, or rip third base out of its moorings.

Billy Martin, Earl Weaver, Lou Pinella and Tommy Lasorda would be zoo animals in today’s environment, trying to chew the locks off the dugout bars.

You could get the night manager at Chuck E Cheese to operate today’s day-to-day. All you need is two years of junior college and a pocket protector.

Today’s game is being launched angled, spin-rated and micro-managed beyond recognition.

Tuesday night, well, I threw up my hands. For the third time in a week, Scioscia meddled into a perfectly fine game and removed a proven known—a starting pitcher, pitching well, with a lead--for a reliever of unknown stuff that particular night.

The Angels lost all three games.

Tuesday was a microcosm of everything that is wrong with modern thinking. Angels starter Jaime Barria was absolutely cruising against the world-champion Houston Astros. He had a 3-1 lead through seven innings. Barria’s crime, it appeared, was throwing his 96th pitch.

Dr. Scioscia had seen enough so he opted for lefty Jose Alvarez, who promptly cleared the bases he loaded by allowing a three-run hit to mighty-mouse Jose Altuve.

This is the sickness going around the league. Scioscia removed a guy pitching great for someone who may, or may not, have his stuff that night.

I’m still not sure when it became a crime for a pitcher to throw 100 pitches in a game, especially on a staff that now is operating in a six-man rotation!

The Angels continue to treat Shohei Ohtani, this year’s rookie pitch-hit sensation, like the most delicate flower in Mercurial Mike's managerial garden.

When did everyone become pansies?

Monday night, Andrew Heaney became the first Angel starter to pitch into the eighth inning this season--I almost fell on the floor. One night later, though, Scioscia was back to being Mother Hen.

The game has changed, I get it, but not for the better. The money being paid today's players has made owners much more interested in protecting their investments.

No one in today's Angel higher office is going to allow what happened in the 1970s, when Frank Tanana pitched 14 consecutive complete games for Halos.

But can’t we come to some sort of compromise?

We all know why this happened: money.

box score
Check out this box score from 1974.

Years ago, I interviewed Nolan Ryan for a 1974 look-back story on the night he threw 235 pitches in a 13-inning, no-decision effort against the Boston Red Sox.

I called Ryan and asked him if he remembered the game.

He asked me to send him a Fax (remember those?) of the box score and call him the next day.

Ryan thought he remembered one aspect of the game: “I think I struck out Cecil Cooper six times.”

He did.

Ryan was a freak, but plenty of pitchers in the 1970s were allowed to pitch complete games. In that 1974 game, Boston starter Luis Tiant hurled 14 innings in a complete-game loss.

Ironically, what changed baseball was partly Ryan’s fault: free agency. In 1980, Ryan became baseball’s first million-dollar player when he signed with the Houston Astros. It was not long after that the Astros started putting Ryan on a pitch count.

Houston was trying to protect its investment.

Before free agency:

"When we were on one-year contracts and you went down, I can remember they tried to cut people 20%, or they wouldn't sign you," Ryan told me for that L.A. Times story. "All they did was lose a starting pitcher, they didn't lose a starting pitcher and still have to pay him 8 to 10 million over a three- or four-year period."

Free agency changed the paradigm.

Ryan said front-office men seeking to protect the bottom line began to think that pitchers would last longer if they pitched fewer innings per start.

This put more emphasis on the role of relief pitchers, whose increasing roles led to rising salaries that also needed to be justified.

Ryan says this led to the modern-day "setup man" and "closer."

"Now, if you sign a guy for an exorbitant amount of money and you guarantee his contract, you have locked yourself into that person," Ryan said. "You have committed to that person that he is going to play."

Baseball has thus become now, in many cases, unnecessary games of chess. Bridges are now built to the ninth inning. Many times these bridges are too far.

Interestingly, the pampering of pitchers has not led to healthier arms. The Angels, in fact, seem to lead the league in Tommy John surgeries. What gives?

Mike Scioscia, I think, knows better. For the Dodgers, he was a workhorse catcher for Dodger teams that featured Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, two bulldog starters who combined for 181 complete games in 35 seasons.

Scioscia is just a pawn in today's game. He likes his job and does what he is told. There are too many millions at stake, too many Shohei jerseys to sell.

Mike would be a fine L.A. Cop in that, when it comes to managing and pitching, he protects and serves.