A rant and a rave as we start baseball's second season.
RANT: At least the Colorado Rockies now have something to put on their 2015 media guide.
With a fourth-straight non-competitive season wrapped up, and the threat of the franchise's first 100-loss season having passed, the parent club of the Modesto Nuts over the weekend executed a desperate move to salvage any vestige of a silver lining from yet another lost Denver summer.
When Pittsburgh third baseman Josh Harrison went 1-for-4 Saturday afternoon to drop to .318, and Pirates' teammate Andrew McCutchen went 1-for-3 to stand at .314, Justin Morneau arrived at Dodger Stadium for a night game with a National League-best .319 average.
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Rockies' manager Walt Weiss decided to sit Morneau, saying he wanted to give Kyle Parker a start. No problem there. You always want to give your young players as many bats as possible in September, especially when your team hasn't sniffed a race since June.
But on Sunday, when the Pirates game again finished ahead of the Rockies-Dodgers contest, and Harrison finished at .315 while McCutchen stalled at .314, Morneau again was held out of the lineup.
Weiss' reason this time? Well, at least he didn't lie.
"I've got him out of the lineup. It's my decision," Weiss told The Denver Post. "The way I look at it, the guy has experienced a career-threatening injury (he had neck surgery last year) and if he's in a position to win a batting title, I'm going to try to make sure he does. Anybody who has a problem with it, then their beef can be with me. People can talk about backing into it and stuff, but that doesn't bother me. It takes six months to win a batting title, not one day. So that's how I look at it."
Actually, in this case it took six months and help. On Sept. 22, Weiss indicated he was so aware of Morneau's shot at a batting crown that he told the Post he was "picking his spots" as to when the 33-year-old lefty swinger would be in the lineup, for the purpose of maximizing his chances for a Rockies' player to win a battle title in back-to-back seasons. Michael Cuddyer won the NL crown last year.
"I know it's real close," Weiss told The Post. "It'll probably come down to the wire. We're hoping to have another guy win a batting title. In back-to-back years, that would be pretty special."
It must be great to have a manager willing to reduce his team's chance to win a game simply to allow a player to reach an individual goal.
On the other hand, no. That's not how it's done when respect for the game is put ahead of respect for the individual.
Across the country in New York, the Houston Astros were poised to do the same thing. Jose Altuve was set to be benched for the final game of the season so that his batting average would hold up in the American League race. But 30 minutes before first pitch Altuve talked his way into the lineup and went 2-for-4, finishing at .341 to best Detroit's Victor Martinez, who went 0-for-3 to finish at .335.
Bravo, Altuve and the Astros.
At least this season you can't mock Coors Field for creating wild splits that allowed Morneau to ride the Mile High breezes to the batting crown. He hit .309 on the road, .327 at home, and both are solid. Harrison hit .319 at home, .312 on the road, while McCutchen hit .328 at home, .301 on the road.
Congratulations to Morneau for his comeback and his batting title. There's no need to demean his accomplishment.
But there is a right way and a wrong way to do things at all levels of baseball and the Rockies again find themselves on the wrong side of the summit.
And, by the way, will someone please buy Weiss a calculator? Morneau did not get a hit in a pinch-hitting appearance on Sunday, but had he been held without a knock in five at-bats he would have finished the season with a .3162 average, still ahead of Harrison's .3153.
RAVE: A.J.'s back in the dugout
I was very pleased to hear that A.J. Hinch had been hired as Houston's new manager. Everyone screaming about how the Astros reached out to grab a retread after Hinch's less-than-stellar managerial debut in Phoenix (89-123 in the 2009-10 seasons) simply has never met the man.
The 40-year-old Stanford grad, moving over from his position as Padres' vice president and assistant GM, might be the sharpest player I've ever had the pleasure to cover.
Hinch was Modesto's starting catcher in 1997, the first year I covered the team, and he saved my journalistic life on numerous occasions that summer.
While manager Jeffery Leonard refused to speak with the media on a regular basis, frequently and without warning leaving me hanging on deadline, Hinch not only stepped forward to offer comments, but encouraged his Li'l A's teammates to do the same.
What I found out later was that Leonard was fining players for talking to the media on many of the nights he offered "no comment," so because Hinch was willing to reach into his own pocket to help me I forever will owe Houston's new manager a beer.
I hope he hangs around long enough this time to collect.