The Lonesome Cub: The Chalkboard -

The Lonesome Cub: The Chalkboard

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By: Bob Cyphers, Chicago Cubbie Tracker

ST. LOUIS -- So Jon Lester, who makes a living throwing the baseball 60 feet and 6 inches, has a difficult time lobbing it to first base.  Simply put, we're at the point where I could throw the Rawlings to first base more effectively than the guy making $150M.  Now that's absurd, because i have a hard enough time putting on matching socks in the morning.   We've seen this before with a couple of pitchers.

When I was VERY young, WAY back in the 70's, I remember Steve Blass of the Pirates.  He was the ace of a Pittsburgh team that won the World Series.  Come spring training of the next year, Blass couldn't throw a strike to save his life.  After going 34-16 the previous two seasons, Blass suddenly had an ERA of nearly TEN n 1973, with a WHIP over 2.0.  His BB/K strikeout was 27/ the wrong direction.  He only pitched 80 some innings that year (yes, a walk per inning).  Incredibly, despite throwing so few innings, he led the major leagues in hit batters with 12.  This would later become known as "Steve Blass Disease."  Sadly, Blass never got it back.

The only other comparable pitcher I can recall that lost it completely was Rick Ankiel of the Cardinals in 2000.  I was still a young man then, and Ankiel was an impressive young lefthander with the second highest strikeout ratio in baseball  behind Randy Johnson.  He started game 1 of the NLDS, walked the bases loaded, and threw five wild pitches. The Cardinals brought him back later in that series with similar results. Ankiel tried to fix things in the minors, but threw 20 wild pitches in 25 innings. It was over.  He was the incredibly rare player that could make it back to the bigs as an outfielder.

There are famous blowups among position players.  Steve Sax of the Dodgers, like Blass, had his yips named after him.  The "Steve Sax Syndrome," occurs when the second baseman inexplicably cannot lob the ball over to first base.  One year, Sax made 30 errors, nearly all of them on crazy throws.   But unlike Blass and Ankiel, Sax would recover, and get his career back on track.

Also at second base, Chuck Knoblauch of the Twins was an outstanding player.  But he also came down with a severe case of "Steve Sax Disease" while playing for the Yankees at the end of his career.  He never recovered, and was moved to the outfield.  Knoblauch had no problem throwing from the outfield to home plate, but couldn't throw from second to first.

There are a couple of catchers that come to mind.   Mackey Sasser became incapable of accurately throwing the ball back to the pitcher. This lasted for a long time.  It was painful to watch.  And a few years ago, Greg Zaun threw three straight balls back to the mound, and couldn't connect with the pitcher on any of them.  The first two were over the pitchers head, before the third one went straight into the ground.

To be sure, Lester's main job is to throw to home plate, not first base.  And although that is not off to a rousing start, my concern level there is zero.  He's top shelf, proven material, and a warrior on the mound.  He'll get that figured out.  The first base stuff?  I have doubts that will ever get fixed.  Lester has both hidden it and lived with it now for two years.  We're just going to have to see if opponents can take advantage of it.

And with full disclosure, I should admit there are many things in life I cannot do, and I tried to pretend nobody would notice.  For example, algebraic equations.  Couldn't do 'em if my life depended on it.  I could pretend I could do them and hope nobody would notice.  If the worst pain was a bad grade from Mr. Marcacci, but it was kept just between the two of us (high school report cards somehow never made it home), so I lived with my shame privately.  Except the one day Marcacci sent me to the chalk board (we had those back in the other century) and I had to show my skills to the entire class.  My gig was up.

One of these days, Lester is gonna be sent to the chalkboard when it counts.  And, speaking from experience, it won't be pretty.   
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