Pitch: A Review of “The Interim” and Dusty Baker’s Support of Aroldis Chapman

Al Luongo, like Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker, had to face the media after making an insensitive off-the-cuff statement. (screenshot from Episode 2)
Al Luongo, like Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker, had to face the media after making an insensitive off-the-cuff statement. (Screenshot from Episode 2).

Ginny Baker did not make another start in the second episode of Pitch. “The Interim” focused, instead, on the San Diego Padres clubhouse and the team’s manager–Al Luongo.

One of the first scenes of the second episode involves a frustrated Al venting to team captain Mike Lawson in the clubhouse. Al quickly rattles off a list of the pressures that he is facing.

“My team’s broke. I’ve got pitchers taking swings at centerfields. I’ve got a girl getting dressed in a closet. I got a pissy owner. And on top of that, now I have psoriasis on my elbows.” Al then deadpans a solution, “So, I’m gonna fix my psoriasis. Your gonna fix the other stuff.”

This conversation makes it clear that the old-school manager is overwhelmed. Al lost control of personnel decisions in the Pilot episode when owner Frank Reid called up Ginny to make her debut. In addition to losing control of personnel decisions, Al’s team was seemingly “broken” by the decisions of the Padres players who were resistant to having Ginny on the team.

Before the audience can start to feel bad for the frustrated manager, a breaking news story on MLB Network revealed Al made a controversial statement about Ginny two years earlier. Al nervously looked back at Ginny when the video clip was played on the team bus.

Al was very embarrassed by a video surfaced showing him make crude remarks about Ginny. (Screenshot from Episode 2).
Al was very embarrassed by a video that surfaced showing him making crude remarks about Ginny. (Screenshot from Episode 2).

Al told a scrum of reporters, “Yeah, Well I hope she makes it to The Show one day. I mean have you seen her? Easy on the eyes. Sure a lot of the guys would love to have her in the locker room.”

The statement Al made was absolutely inappropriate. It undermined Ginny’s talent as an athlete and objectified her beauty as something that would keep the major leaguers entertained.

Al ends up making a very genuine apology to Ginny and then reads a statement to the press. Al made a reference to his daughter in his private apology and also added, “I’m probably missing something here. The world kinda passed me by when they made the Internet. Anyway, it won’t happen again.”

Al’s statement to the media was more “boiler-plate” and seemingly ripped right out of a book by a professional PR agency. At the end of his statement he is barraged with questions about the state of affairs in his clubhouse and he relents, “Geez..can we just go back to talking about how pretty the girl is?”

These statement about the Internet and his slip at the end of the statement were both revealing. The statements show that although Al may be a good manager, he struggles with the added burdens of managing in 2016.

Managers may have been able to get away with speaking with more candor to the media during the early stages of his career. Less eloquent or poorly phrased statements may not have been printed. The times, however, have changed and managers are expected to be able to speak to the media with the knowledge that raw video of their statements will be released to the public.

This episode incident may have resonated with baseball fans who tuned into coverage of the 2015 Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee.

During a press conference with reporters, Washington Nationals manager Dusty Baker made a statement about Aroldis Chapman–a free-agent closer who was under investigation by Major League Baseball for a domestic violence incident.  

Baker, who was in his first months as manager at the time, is known for his years of experience in the sport as an All-Star outfielder and as a manager. He is very relaxed when he speaks and he speaks with candor. The relaxed nature of his interviews can be seen in his body language during post-game interviews where he can be seen scratching himself or adjusting his jersey while answering questions.

Baker defended Chapman, his pitcher from when he managed the Cincinnati Reds, from accusations that he “pushed” and “choked” his girlfriend during an October altercation. He said, “I don’t believe the reports,” and he questioned whether or not Chapman was the aggressor in the altercation.

Baker elevated his support by calling Chapman, a “heck of a guy.” He added, “I will go on the record and say I wouldn’t mind having Chapman.”

Baker who speaks off-the-cuff during his meetings would later walk back his comments and slip the same way Al did at the end of his interview by insinuating that African and Latin American players throw the ball harder than white players and that acquiring Chapman would help make the game more diverse.  

The fictional incident in Pitch is another great example of how the TV series is doing a great job at reflecting reality in Major League Baseball. Baseball is not like a movie script. Players and managers are fallible and Pitch continues to do a great job by not romanticizing the game.

The Completely Anticipated Anti-Climactic MLB Debut of Ginny Baker

Ginny Baker had an anti-climactic Major League debut. (screenshot from Episode 1)
Ginny Baker had an anti-climactic Major League debut. (screenshot from Episode 1)

Ginny Baker was not a phenom who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a sixteen-year-old. She was not advertised as “Baseball’s Chosen One,” nor was she drafted first overall in the MLB Draft.

Washington Nationals fans, who comprise the greatest amount of my readers, have been fortunate to see many of the team’s first round draft picks breeze through the minor leagues and have seen them have an almost immediate impact in “The Show.”

Prodigies like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, who were drafted first overall in their respective MLB Drafts in 2009 and 2010, are not typical. Most players don’t even make the majors.

The chance of making the Major Leagues after being drafted after the 21st round of the 40 round draft is only about 7 percent, according to an article on Bleacher Report. The chances of making the Major Leagues for a player getting drafted out of high school, like Baker, is even slimmer.

Baker, the audience learns during a tense moment with catcher Mike Lawson, took much longer to develop before her Major League debut. She pitched in the minor leagues for five years and even played two years of winter ball.

The audience learns that Baker pitched in the minor leagues for five years during a tense moment with catcher Mike Lawson. (screenshot from Episode 1)
The audience learns that Baker pitched in the minor leagues for five years during a tense moment with catcher Mike Lawson. (screenshot from Episode 1)

In addition to not having “Strasburg-like” talent to breeze through the minors, Baker also had to cope with the expectations of having to perform well to meet the expectations of women and girls who followed her career.

Katie Nolan, the host of FS1’s Garbage Time, weighed in on Baker’s anticipated debut in a cameo. Nolan takes a defensive position as she weighs in on Baker’s talent and the iconic nature of her debut.

Nolan can be heard saying, “If you want to say she’s only getting her shot because she is a woman go ahead…bitch and moan all you want gentleman, but tonight a girl is going to be the lead sports story in the world and if that upsets you, maybe you’re just getting your period, go get him Ginny.”

Other national sport media personalities including Colin Cowherd, Matt Vasgersian and Joe Buck also all weighed in on Baker’s debut. It was also clear from their comments that they too were more focused on the social implications of her start than her talent.

Instead of living up to the anticipation the way Strasburg did when he struck out 14 batters without allowing a walk, Baker crumbled.

It was painful to watch her struggle to throw a single strike and then “surrender” when she begs to be taken out of the game by her manager.

As I watched, Baker struggle I began thinking about the major league debut of another pitcher. Julio Urias who made his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers this season when he was just 19-years-old.

Urias’ start was anticipated by the national sport media. Most pundits were able to speak knowledgeably about his discovery by the Dodgers as a 16-year-old in Mexico. Expectations were high for Urias. The LA Times panned him as a “phenom” who was making a start for the team who despite having the highest payroll in the division was floundering.

Julio Urias' anticipated Major League debut was also anti-climactic. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings.
Julio Urias’ anticipated Major League debut was also anti-climactic. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings. (photo from Newsday)

Urias struggled mightily in the national spotlight. I cringed as the New York Mets had their way with him. He threw 36 pitches in the first inning and gave up three runs and four hits.

Urias exited the game after throwing just 81 pitches in 2 ⅔ innings in a Dodgers walk-off loss to the New York Mets.

He looked a lot like Baker on the mound. Urias was under a tremendous amount of pressure in a very similar way that Baker was under pressure.

Baker’s anti-climactic debut was a dramatic viewing experience that was well captured by the show’s writers. An immediate “Bakermas” performance tantamount to “Strasmas” would be too unrealistic.

It will be exciting to see how quickly the writer’s have Baker’s performance improve and whether she will in fact be demoted the same way Urias was after his spot start.

Pitch: Thoughts From The Gallery

Nats Gallery Blog is adding a blog post series about Pitch--a new FOX drama about the first woman to play in the majors.
Nats Gallery Blog is adding a blog post series about Pitch–a new FOX drama about the first woman to play in the majors.

The George Washington University has a mandatory “University Writing” requirement for all undergraduates where students learn to refine their writing skills while exploring a topic of their interest. The University offered classes about Jackie Robinson, Asian American culture, video games and a whole lot more. 

I, desperately, did not want to take a class with required readings that along the likes of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. I, instead, enrolled in Dr. Caroline Smith’s Mad Men class. The assignments, readings and discussions were all based on the themes from Mad Men–the Emmy Award winning TV show on AMC.  The class was terrific and it made me a more active TV viewer. It also provided me with experience as a blogger. 

Fox premiered a new TV drama on September 22, 2016 called Pitch which follows the life of Ginny Baker–a fictional rookie pitcher who is navigating the pressure of pitching in the majors as the first woman player. 

The show caught my interest with its ads that played all summer long and I am excited to have something to write about after the Washington Nationals finish their long playoff run.

These posts will not summarize the shows. Instead, they will focus on one or two of the prevailing themes of the episodes which I will analyze from the perspective as a baseball fan (not an academic).

Enjoy the series and leave your comments at the end of each post!