Mike Trout is widely regarded as baseball’s best player, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a player who is more universally liked than Trout. He seems to have a running banter with almost everyone when he plays, from opposing catchers to infielders to umpires.
It was during one of those chats with a veteran umpire earlier this spring that Trout offered a thought: As the experienced umpires work their way back into game shape in spring training, just as the players do, why not have them work five or six innings and turn over the last innings to umpires who would normally work minor league games on back fields?
The idea is simple, but it has a lot of helpful layers, beyond allowing an older plate umpire a little more time to work into condition to see 350 or so pitches in a given game. It is extraordinarily difficult for young umpires to advance in the industry because there is little annual turnover among umpires in the big leagues. For a young umpire slated for Class A or AA to get a few innings in a major league exhibition -- with the packed ballpark and major league players -- would be something of a reward, as it is for the minor league players.
One evaluator noted that this would also give baseball officials another chance to see the young umpires at work, under conditions closer to those they experience in the higher levels.
When Trout’s idea was conveyed to baseball officials over the past week, they loved it. "It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons," one official said.
Added another: "That’s Trout: He’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing."
Giants hitting coach Meulens is the breakout star of the WBC
One longtime executive noted one of the benefits of the World Baseball Classic: Some players who would not normally have the opportunity to play on a big stage this spring -- or even this year -- got the chance to play in packed ballparks, under pressure, with high stakes.
"They get a chance to show something," the executive said.
This is true for some of the staffers as well. It might be that we remember the 2017 WBC as the time that Hensley Meulens, the San Francisco Giants hitting coach who served as manager of the Netherlands, became a serious candidate to manage in the big leagues.
Officials from some major league teams singled out Meulens as being particularly organized and communicative in the way he handled MLB players, developing plans and making sure those with a vested interest were aware of how each member of his squad was deployed. The Netherlands advanced all the way to the semifinals before losing to Puerto Rico. Meulens seemed very comfortable in his role, getting his players to buy in with text messages, working with his coaches in strategy meetings and showing his comfort with media members from around the world, partly because of his mastery of language. He spoke Korean with reporters while the Netherlands played games in Korea and Japanese when his team shifted to Japan.
Meulens has a relaxed personality, as Giants players will attest, but his competitiveness came through when he pushed for mercy-rule wins and beat Team Israel in a return match. Meulens has spoken about how he would like to get the chance to manage a big league team someday, and he has probably helped his chances through the WBC.
Banister's fight with his pitching coach
Texas Rangers manager Jeff Banister had his neck broken in a home plate collision while he was catching for Lee College, so he did not take it well when he was playing for Class A Macon Georgia against the Charleston Rainbows in 1987 and again was run over on a play at the plate. A fight erupted, but Banister was not ejected. When he walked to the plate for his next at-bat, he knew there was a chance that he would get thrown at by the opposing pitcher.
The catcher for Charleston happened to be Mike Basso, who had grown up with Banister in Texas. Banister warned his friend that if the pitcher hit him, he would charge the mound. The first pitch was behind him, and as Banister told the story the other day, he then turned to Basso and told him that if he was hit by a pitch, he would go after Basso and the pitcher.
The next pitch hit Banister, who made good on his promise, charging the mound and punching the pitcher.
That’s the first time he met Doug Brocail, who now serves as his pitching coach for the Rangers.
Banister and Brocail each told their side of that story on Friday's podcast, with some laughter.
Baseball Tonight Podcast
Friday: Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star on the Toronto Blue Jays' lineup concerns, Karl Ravech and Justin Havens on the greatness of Clayton Kershaw, and Bryce Harper.
Thursday: Mike Napoli about Adrian Beltre, his unexpected departure from the Indians and losing two of MLB’s most memorable games. Kansas City Royals GM Dayton Moore on rebuilding the team’s rotation in the aftermath of Yordano Ventura's death and the impending free agency of Eric Hosmer and others. Keith Law on Theo Epstein’s ranking as the No. 1 World Leader, with mid-podcast input from Theo, and the WBC.
Wednesday: Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the St. Louis Cardinals' makeover and Kolten Wong; Pedro Gomez and Tim Kurkjian on the WBC.
Tuesday: Jayson Stark on taking the WBC to the next level, Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Logan Forsythe talks about his trade to L.A. and Corey Seager, and ESPN.com's Scott Lauber on David Price and Pablo Sandoval.
Monday: The Pittsburgh Pirates' Gerrit Cole goes rapid-fire, Pedro Alvarez discusses his move to the outfield, Jerry Crasnick on the Boston Red Sox's pitching depth and Todd Radom ranks the 28th greatest logo of all time, before his uniform and logo quiz.
And today will be better than yesterday.