By In Stuff

Picking Up Baseballs

This fascinating interview of Tino Martinez by Kenny Rosenthal reminds me again that I planned years ago to write a book called “Moneyball.” Obviously it was going to be nothing at all like Michael Lewis’ classic. The idea was to write about the late 1990s Kansas City Royals and their, um, rather awkward efforts to win.

The name Moneyball in my title came from a game that George Brett introduced at training camp one year. Players would take batting practice with no fielders. Then, at the end of the session, players would run to the outfield and collect the baseballs. One of the baseballs were specially marked by Brett — and whoever found it would get 100 bucks of Brett’s money.

It was awesome and hilarious to watch those players race to the outfield to find the Moneyball — moreso because there in the group, running as hard as anyone, was George Brett himself. “I’m going pay myself!” he yelled as he ran to the outfield.

Of the many traditions and quirks of baseball, I think my favorite is that baseball players — no matter how good or unknown or famous they might be — collect and return baseballs after batting practice. I love this tradition beyond words. I don’t mind baseball players getting hundreds of millions of dollars, not at all. They are fantastic athletes who play more games than anybody in any other sport, and they provide wonderful entertainment — they should get as much as anyone is willing to pay them. I also understand the money will change athletes like it changes everyone and baseball will never be quite as intimate as it used to be.

But I hope that they always pick up their own baseballs. It’s a small thing, I know — we’re not exactly talking about the days when baseball players had to get winter jobs. But it represents something to me. Every time a coach shouts out, “OK, get ‘em up,” and you see Barry Bonds or Derek Jeter or Chipper Jones or Dustin Pedroia or Miguel Cabrera go pick up baseballs and put them back into the bucket, I feel great. It is something that ties them to the game’s history. It is something that says, “No matter what I get paid, I’m a ballplayer — and while I might have yachts and sports cars and five homes, like all the little kids playing, I have to pick up my own baseballs.”

I don’t know if the Tino Martinez saga really comes down to a couple of Marlins players refusing to pick up baseballs like he says now. As you know, Martinez resigned under pressure as Marlins hitting coach because players said he had been verbally and physically abusive. This was surprising because Martinez had a reputation as a pretty decent guy as a player. So Martinez fought back with this Ken Rosenthal interview, and this is where he talked about guys refusing to pick up baseballs. I don’t know if that’s the story.

But it’s all complicated. This question of where the line between severe demanding coaching and abuse continues to baffle America — it wasn’t so long ago that Martinez would have been fired for NOT being verbally (if not physically) abusive for a Marlins team dead last in runs, hits, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.

In fact, in reliving the Martinez story, my friend Chardon Jimmy remembered a football coach who yelled at him: “If you ever do that again, I will reach down your throat and pull out your heart.” And I remembered a little league coach who would throw baseballs (somewhat lightly) at me in order to teach me to not bail out as a hitter. Both of us sort of laughed about it. I’m pretty sure both qualify as abuse, at least by today’s standards.

And I don’t really know what Martinez did or did not do, how far he went, whether he really grabbed a players throat or his jersey, whether that matters, how over-the-line his comments were. Heck, it’s harder all the time to know where the line is drawn. But what Martinez said about two players refusing to pick up baseballs struck a chord with me. I don’t want a generation of players who think they’re too important to pick up baseballs. I realize that’s a silly and probably dumb thing to worry about. But I worry about it anyway.

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17 Responses to Picking Up Baseballs

  1. I don’t like to clean my own dishes, but I still have to do it.

  2. Shawn Weaver says:

    Yeah, Tino’s story sounded a little odd. I think the truth is somewhere in between the two stories.

  3. nickg says:

    Regarding this comment: “Martinez had a reputation as a pretty decent guy as a player.”

    Here in St. Louis, when this story broke, almost every media guy who covered the Cardinals during Martinez’ time here said something to the effect of, “This doesn’t surprise me.” He has a terrible reputation here, and not just because he didn’t produce, but based on personal interactions from his earliest moments with the team.

    • djangoz says:

      I’m surprised by Joe’s comments. I’d bet more than $100 that Tino was a royal ass and well over the line.

      I appreciate nostalgia as much as the next person, but I have no fondness for coaches being physically and verbally abusive. It wasn’t good back then and it isn’t good now.

    • Rob Smith says:

      I’d say its a rare coach that is abusive and successful. Terror tactics can work in the short term, but usually they have unintended consequences. My son is on a team with a verbally abusive coach. One consequence is that more than half the team has quit. Somehow the stupid AD isn’t making the connection as to why the team is imploding. My son puts up with the abuse and doesn’t seem to mind it. But the coach is always giving him a hard time for not listening to him…. Guess what? My son puts up with the verbal assaults, but he does it by going into “yes sir” mode and really just stops listening. This is the stuff that happens when young athletes are forced to endure these sad excuses for human beings.

  4. Dave says:

    Who knows if we’ll ever have the full story here, but, at least by Tino’s own comments, you have to wonder if it was not the request, but the approach, that led to these issues. One thing to ask a guy to pick up balls for the good of the team; another to do it in a confrontational way in which you’re inviting a guy to defy you. Certainly seems like the latter is a distinct possibility.

    • Rob Smith says:

      If the Marlins had veteran leaders, then the coach should never have to say anything. The players would police it and make sure the young players know their place, and learn how things are done. The fact that the Asst Batting Coach has to tell anyone to pick up the balls is telling. It’s a sign of a losing culture….or at least an ignorant one.

  5. You weren’t going to title a book, “Moneyball”, Joe. Just stop it. And even if you were, that doesn’t belong in the first sentence of this post. Who cares? “You know, I actually had the idea for the iPod but then BOOM, Jobs beats me to it…anyway, here are some thoughts on global warming…”

  6. shaggy says:

    Best part is we got the great George Brett story. Can you imagine how over hyped he would have been had he played for NY? Even that team had a healthy fear of his talents.

  7. Marco says:

    I’d pay good money to see a video of Brett et al playing “moneyball”

  8. shaggy says:

    Why not do the book, and call it something else, …

  9. Rudy Gamble says:

    I am still waiting for you to release this book on the Royals of the 2000’s:

  10. KCJoe says:


    I’m glad I’m not the only one.

    I live in Kansas City but was in Minneapolis for the Royals game Tuesday with my wife and 2 boys (10 and 7). While watching batting practice, I made the point to my boys that even major leaguers pick up baseballs after BP. It is a great little tradition.


  11. KCJoe says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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