White Sox

Major League Baseballs social media revolution

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Major League Baseballs social media revolution

MESA, Ariz. Two years ago, Lou Piniella had one reaction when reporters told him about Ozzie Guillens latest move: What is Twitter?

The White Sox manager at the time needed less than 24 hours to pick up more than 7,000 followers. Once Piniella found out messages are limited to 140 characters, he dismissed the idea with a laugh line: Ozzie needs more space than that.

Hands in his back pockets, Piniella liked to pace back and forth beneath the Arizona sunshine and tell stories. Yet somehow, a slow game played without a clock would find a match in a head-spinning outlet that goes 247 nonstop. The former Cubs manager had no interest.

Im not really a Facebook or Twitter guy, Piniella said that day. Im a prime rib and baked potato guy.

Its impossible to ignore now. It certainly caused tension within the White Sox organization. It has definitely changed the way the game is covered. Major League Baseball and the players union had to recognize this trend in the latest round of labor negotiations.

While theres no explicit social media policy in the new collective bargaining agreement, a source said the labor deal did allow MLB to distribute a policy memo to players. The Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to handle any grievances that may come out of it.

The memo distributed this month set social media guidelines, which prohibit players from: releasing confidential information; promoting banned substances; posting sexually explicit material; making derogatory remarks; and criticizing umpires. Those are just a few of the bullet points. A major-league source doubted that the possible disciplinary actions have been formalized on paper yet.

Randy Wells had to shut down one Twitter account last August, the day after the Cubs announced Jim Hendry was fired as general manager. Someone hacked into Wells account and blasted the bloggers who used to rip Hendry.

Wells had no idea until a team official told him it was spreading across the Internet. The Cubs pitcher mostly uses it to follow the Red Dirt music scene.

I dont think that Twitter is a place for somebody to speak out about an issue that theyre having, Wells said. Baseballs always had that unwritten rule: What happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse. Even if I felt the urge to act out, I wouldnt even feel like Twitter was the right place to do it.

Guys should be smart enough not to put dirty laundry out there.

This spring, Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson got heat for posting ex-teammate Mike Napolis phone number on Twitter as a prank, which was not appreciated by the Rangers catcher.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer who once restocked the Padres system by dealing Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox has laughed about the bio for the (Fake) Jed Hoyer Twitter account: I love trading All-Stars for prospects any chance I can get.

Over the winter, Paul Maholm broke the news of his signing with the Cubs on Twitter. The ex-Pirate also got into it with some Pittsburgh fans after the Steelers lost an NFL playoff game to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. But mostly Maholm uses it as a platform for his faith and charity work.

Im from a small town. Im a pretty quiet guy, Maholm said. Im not going to sit here and start throwing Bible verses (in) your face. Thats me I try (to) be a faithful husband and good father and follow the values of being a Christian.

Thats how I want to live and thats how I strive to live. But as far as me looking down on somebody or trying to say something thats going to offend somebody, youre not really going to get that out of me. Im not perfect. Im not going to say Im perfect. But that kind of comes with the territory.

In the labor negotiations, both sides recognized the opportunities to connect with fans, grow the game and build their brands. Thats another point of emphasis in the new social media policy.

I like interacting with people, Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart said. I was a huge baseball fan growing up. Me and my buddies would send letters to different guys in the clubhouse and just see who we could get responses from. (It) would do wonders for us.

(Now) its cool because if someone says, Hey, its my birthday today, I just wanted to know if you could retweet this, you just write happy birthday. People will be like, Oh, my gosh, I cant believe you actually responded to this! Its like the best birthday present ever!

It makes me happy that I can do that for somebody, (something) as little as that that took no time.

All it takes is one click. Thats why another MLB memo this month reminded players that a tweet is a public statement to a mass audience, not a private text message to a friend. And if you wouldnt feel comfortable saying it at a press conference, you shouldnt post it on social media.

Once something is posted, you will not be able to retract it, the memo read. Once you hit send, your message becomes public information that can be forwarded and reported by the media.

In the age of Google and camera phones, its difficult enough for an average person to protect his privacy, much less a millionaire athlete.

Facebook is getting out of hand, Wells said. Only friends can have pictures. Well, I was at one point where I thought I was cool. I was accepting everybody, trying to get as many fans as I could.

And then you have a couple bad games and somebody takes a picture of you and steals it right off your Facebook and uses it in a blog, and its like: What the (expletive)?

I dont think thats stuff that should be taken away from people or frowned upon, but at the same time, you just have to be smart. You have to be an adult about it and be careful who you let in.

Like it or not, you better get used to it. One night last August, Mike Quade sat seething inside the managers office at Turner Field.

Once Quade was done burying Carlos Zambrano in Atlanta His lockers empty. I dont know where hes at. I heard he might retire the ex-Cubs manager spit out two words for the reporters punching their BlackBerrys, right there in front of his face.

Nice tweets.

Lucas Giolito’s streak comes to an end, and now comes true test of his transformation

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USA TODAY

Lucas Giolito’s streak comes to an end, and now comes true test of his transformation

Mama said there’d be days like this.

I’m not entirely sure whether Lucas Giolito’s mama told him that or not. But you don’t need a baseball-lovin’ mama to know that even the best pitchers in the game can get lit up sometimes.

If Giolito is truly that now, one of the best pitchers in the game, he’ll prove it with what follows, not with what happened Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.

A year after struggling to the tune of seven walks and three wild pitches in a Crosstown game he still won, Giolito entered the second of the two North Side rivalry games as a surefire All Star, a completely transformed pitcher who currently sits as one of the best Cy Young candidates in the American League. But you might not have known that watching him give up three homers worth a combined six runs in his 4.1 innings Wednesday.

This wasn’t exactly shades of the 2018 version of Giolito, who gave up more runs than any pitcher in baseball, had the highest ERA and WHIP of any qualified starting pitcher in baseball and walked more batters than any pitcher in the AL. No, Wednesday he still managed to strike out nine Cubs hitters and walked only three. But the Cubs hit him hard, with three balls leaving the yard, the back-breaker of which was a first-inning grand slam off the bat of White Sox killer Willson Contreras.

It doesn’t compare to some of the worst outings Giolito had last season, but it was shocking to see considering the incredible run he came in on. Entering Wednesday night’s contest, Giolito had won eight straight starts, with a 0.94 ERA during that stretch. He had given up as many runs after facing five batters Wednesday as he had in his previous five starts combined.

That stretch is now over, and it’s up to Giolito to make this a blip rather than a turning point.

What he’s done so far this season would lead you to believe that’s very possible. One of the biggest talking points for Giolito, as well as catcher James McCann, when it comes to describing the difference between the 2018 and 2019 versions has been Giolito’s ability to turn the page. That’s typically been discussed as something that happens within games: A bad first inning hasn’t led to a complete meltdown like it did too often last season.

“The physical stuff has always been there,” McCann said before Wednesday’s game. “There's a few tune-ups he did, shortened his arm, all that stuff. But obviously, it's the mental approach.

“I can point to multiple occasions this season where he's had a rough first inning. In Toronto, he gave up three base hits to the first four hitters, and then the next thing you know he's hasn't given up another base hit and we're in the eighth inning. He gave up a three-run homer to the Royals in the first inning, and all of a sudden it's the eighth inning and those are the only three runs he's given up.

“So that's kind of been the most impressive thing to me. His last outing, he gave up the solo homer in the first and really didn't have his best stuff, and next thing you know it's the sixth, seventh inning and that's the only run he's given up. Last year, some of those outings turn into bad outings where he gets chased in the fourth inning. This year his mental approach, his determination, his grit is a little different.”

Now he’ll have to do something he’s rarely had to in 2019, and that’s flush a bad start. Wednesday night’s outing was Giolito’s shortest of the season, matching the 4.1 innings he threw against the Seattle Mariners on April 6 and not including the 2.2 innings he logged before being removed with an injury against the Kansas City Royals on April 17. Wednesday marked the first time Giolito gave up multiple home runs in a start this season.

The bottom line is that Giolito has been so good in 2019 that he hasn’t had to deal with the fallout of a bad outing. Giolito has credited his turnaround to the improvement in his routine. That will be tested now, and it’s no surprise that he’s confident enough in it to be ready for anything.

“I'd say now I'm just on the same mental routine, the same physical routine day in and day out. Nothing changes,” Giolito said Tuesday. “It's just like my last start or future starts, I'm going to go out there with the same good, positive outlook going into the game. Whereas last year, I think I was searching for things a lot, so it was a little more up and down. Now it's much better.”

One rough start won’t change Giolito’s status as an All Star or put a damper on what’s been a season worth celebrating. But how he responds will be the true test of whether the transformed Giolito is here to stay.

 

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Cubs refuse to push the panic button on inconsistent offense

Cubs refuse to push the panic button on inconsistent offense

Any time the Cubs offense scuffles, there's always a dichotomy between the fanbase and the clubhouse.

Many fans believe the sky is falling while inside the home clubhouse at Wrigley Field, the Cubs continue to stay the course and try with all their might not to ride the roller coaster of the season.

That's especially true right now, with the wounds from last season's second-half offensive breakdown still fresh. 

It's easy to sweep a slump under the rug after a four-game series against the Dodgers in L.A., but the lineup issues came to a head Tuesday night at Wrigley Field when the Cubs faced the pitcher with the second-worst qualified ERA in baseball (Ivan Nova) and managed just 1 run — on the first pitch of the game, no less. 

Yet the Cubs insisted there was no panic inside the clubhouse about the cold bats and to a man, they talked about simply riding the wave and waiting for things to break their way.

So naturally, the Cubs came out Wednesday night and battered around the American League ERA leader Lucas Giolito thanks to a barrage of homers — including Willson Contreras' first-inning grand slam. Contreras' second homer of the night made him the fifth different Cub to reach 15 dingers this season (no other MLB team had more than three players eclipse the 15-homer threshold).

Still, the Cubs know they need to get the offense on a more consistent trajectory and find ways to score beyond just the longball.

"We have to be able to somehow find enough runs to win a game like [Tuesday]," Joe Maddon said. "That's where the run [of wins] is. We have to win some games where your pitching isn't as good that night and we have to score one more. And then when our pitching is that good, we have to score two or three. We just have to be able to do that in order to get on that run."

Wednesday's Contreras-led offensive explosion marked the first time in a week that the Cubs had scored more than 3 runs, but again, much of that was due to facing the Dodgers, owners of the best pitching staff in the NL.

After Tuesday night's loss, Maddon and the Cubs took solace in the fact that they didn't expand the zone too much or get themselves out. They only struck out 5 times against Nova and the White Sox bullpen.

"It's a long season," said David Bote, who homered Wednesday night after not starting Tuesday's game. "It's hard to not be caught up in a couple game stretch where it's not falling. But a lot of hard hits; we're not chasing out of the zone. 

"[We know we can't] push a panic button and stress. If you do that, then all of a sudden you start spiraling even more. You trust it and if there's nothing crazy wrong with what our approach is or anything like that, you just find a way to get runs in and get on a nice little hot streak and roll with it."

The Cubs began the season firing on all cylinders offensively, but cracks have started to show in the foundation over the last few weeks as their season record fell to 39-33 after Tuesday's loss.

They're not going to the opposite field with enough authority and situational hitting (or "opportunity hitting," as coach Anthony Iapoce calls it) is still a problem area — the Cubs woke up Wednesday morning with the worst batting average with runners in scoring position (.243) in the NL.

Maddon talked at length about the Cubs' situational hitting before Wednesday's game and was blunt in his assessment:

"We gotta start figuring those moments out," he said. "We were good coming out of the shoot, I thought, and then we've gotten away from it. We've just gotta get back to that moment. There's still time to be able to do that. But that also speaks to why our record is as pedestrian as it is."

But why has the offense taken a turn for the worse after such a hot start? Much like the "broken' stretch in the last couple months of 2018, the Cubs can't really put a finger on it.

"I don't have a strong answer to that," Maddon said. "It's guys in the moment in the game situation and we just have to continually remind them to stay [in the middle of the field and not try to pull the ball.] That's it. It's one of those things to remind. Our guys are definitely capable of readjusting back to that. ... We just have to go out there and get 'er done."