Believe it or not, it’s almost that time of year again. No, not March Madness (although that is right around the corner), but rather, spring training. Pitchers and catchers for all 30 MLB teams will report in the coming weeks.
The St. Louis Cardinals report Feb. 19, with the full squad to follow Feb. 24. Manager Mike Matheny expects his team to show up in great shape – despite jokes from, say, Matt Holliday that the Cardinals’ offseason workouts aren’t all that challenging.
“These guys are so disciplined now,” Matheny said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “It’s fun to just try to get them into baseball shape – because the days of Babe Ruth are gone. These guys show up extremely disciplined. Their diet and their workout – they’re ready to rock.”
Which is why Doug Gottlieb thinks it’s laughable to say that today’s athletes aren’t better than those of previous generations. Today’s athlete eats better, trains better and studies the game more than athletes from back in the day ever did.
But why, Gottlieb wonders, has pitching suddenly been so dominant? Yes, the Steroid Era ended, but did anyone think it would become this lopsided? And so soon?
“I think there’s so much that goes into that,” Matheny said. “Look at every organization now. Every organization, almost every minor league team, has one kid, maybe two – they’re almost hitting 100 miles per hour, which is just unheard of.
“Now as far as comparing (this generation to previous generations), that’s a hard statement to make just because everybody has their longtime favorite,” Matheny continued. “It’s hard to believe anybody threw harder than Bob Feller. And it’s hard to believe anybody could hit it further than Hank Aaron. I think that’s great for the game just to make sure they’re so set in stone as icons. I’m not ever going to say anything to get in the way of that.”
Still, even Matheny, 44, sees a difference between today’s ball player and the guys he played with when he was a big leaguer. Matheny, a former catcher, played for the Brewers (1994-98), Blue Jays (1999), Cardinals (2000-04) and Giants (2005-06), winning four Gold Gloves in the process.
“Guys are bigger, stronger, faster than ever before,” Matheny said. “And that usually results in changes in numbers.”
Spring training, however, is about more than just getting into shape. It’s also about building team unity. This month marks the first time that the Cardinals will be together since the death of Oscar Taveras, who was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic last October. Taveras, who was 22, played right field for St. Louis in 2014.
How will the Cardinals deal with Taveras’ death now that they’ll finally be together?
“We’re just really going to keep doing it kind of as we already have,” said Matheny, who recently came out with his first book, The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life. “Kind of one-on-one and realize that each one of these guys is going to deal with loss and suffering in an individual way. There’s no real template. So we’ve tried to stay in contact, even though our club’s spread out all over the world right now. Guys did a nice job of kind of rallying around each other even though the distance was there. But spring training is going to be an opportunity to talk about issues like that and to have people there and available to continue deep discussions. But also to try and learn and try and make sure that we’re doing the things (that we need to do so) that something like this doesn’t happen again.”