Hocking Gives A Teammate The Finger, And Other Thoughts

added 10/7/2002 by John Lauck

Did you see the item on the wire on October 7? A teammate stepped on Denny Hocking's finger during Minnesota's celebration Sunday just after Hocking caught the final out of the Twins' 5-4 victory over the Oakland Athletics. Hocking's finger isn't broken, but it will reportedly take many stitches to heal, and it will probably keep Hocking and his valuable bat on the sidelines for the rest of the playoffs. Most interestingly, Hocking was quoted as saying that the teammate who stepped on his finger was "somebody I'm feuding with," but Hocking declined to say who that person was.

What a situation this is--comic, tragic, and enraging all at once. In celebration, the Twins are deprived of one of their best players, and yet beneath the surface of that celebration we may see conflicting emotions at work. You may recall the great game the Astros and the Brewers played back on July 24th this past season--the one in which pitcher Mike DeJean blew up at his manager, Jerry Royster, when Royster pulled him from the game. I wrote of the game of baseball that night:

"It's played for love and it's played for money, but it's also played because of something more basic still: the human need to run and jump and test our strength and skill; the urgent, irrepressible need to express the violent joy we often feel at being alive. The rules of baseball are there, says George Will, to make the game hard for the fun of it. But the lessons of play are broader and deeper than that. The rules are also there, drawn in the white dust to which we all return, to mark the boundaries of the passions we feel toward one another."

If anything, Hocking's injury may illustrate, more clearly than the entire Brewers-Astros game did, the truth to which I was pointing. Celebration is nearly always outside the boundaries, nearly always transgressive, of the rules by which we live our lives. As such, the excesses of celebration may frequently be forgiven, but what's fascinating here is the glimpse we get of the anger, the competitiveness, possibly the jealousy, that exists on every team in every season. These are the emotions that must be channeled and controlled anew with the start of every Spring Training by the work of the manager, the General Manager, and the players themselves if the club is to function as a unit of twenty-five men. It is a most difficult task even in the best of times, and much of that seven months' work of self-control remains hidden from a fan's view, just as our own daily efforts at self-control remain mostly hidden from those with whom we share a common life.

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Wherever Daryle Ward may wind up this winter, I know one place he won't be going. The Twins' DH David Ortiz strikes me as a Ward clone, which effectively removes the Twins as a trading partner for the Astros, at least as far as Ward is concerned. Houston's pattern in the recent past has been to trade with clubs that are more or less within its own middle-market payroll circle, but the early exit of the Yankees from the playoffs might change that track somewhat this year. In fact, New York's quick exodus might be the best thing that could happen for a sport whose owners still see "competitive balance" as an issue. While wholesale changes on the Yankees are not to be looked for, New York may be far more urgently searching for help in the OF than it would have been had the team gone farther in the post-season, and its need to get younger on the pitching staff tomorrow is now clear to all of those fans who somehow hadn't seen the need before. It may be a minority view, but I still think the Yankees will re-sign most of their free agents, including Roger Clemens, but some of those free agents, such as P Mike Stanton, may be of interest to Houston if the contract numbers are right. The Yankees may also be more open to trade talks with other clubs, like the Astros, who have the pitching and the OF help the Yankees need, than they have been in the past.

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Two free agents I would expect the Astros to contact this winter are OF Ray Durham and P Shawn Estes. Yes, I know Estes carries a big question mark behind his name, but I have a feeling that, with a little tender loving care, Estes could rebound in 2003 and do for some team what Pedro Astacio did for the Mets this past season after he left the Astros. He would also be less expensive--whatever his price may be--than Mike Hampton, whose mechanics are all messed up in Denver. Durham I have no similar instincts about, other than to say that I've always liked him as a player and that he may fill the bill in Houston. He may also be more readily available than other players would be because of Oakland's probable desire to keep more vital players under contract. There is little or no money in Houston's budget for free agent acquisitions headed into next season, but there might be some for guys like these two, and there might be even more if trades are made involving Nelson Cruz, Ward, or Richard Hidalgo, or if free agents Shane Reynolds, Doug Brocail, Flash Gordon, Mark Loretta and Dave Mlicki are allowed to walk.

Leaving aside for a moment the affection and respect that the Astros' organization and the fans have for him, the hard-headed and fiscally-correct thing to do might be to let Reynolds go, whether he can pitch or not. The uncertainty surrounding Carlos Hernandez and Tim Redding, however, makes that choice a difficult one, and the club may decide, in the end, that having Reynolds around as a possible third starter is worth carrying his high salary for another year.

I still think that Houston's 3B position is up in the air for next season. If it were up to me, I'd keep Geoff Blum there permanently and let Mark Loretta go if the payroll demands it, but it would not surprise me at all to see Blum traded somewhere and Loretta re-signed.

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If there is such a thing as a utility player having a career year, Jose Vizcaino had it in 2002. Do not look for this man to have anywhere near the offensive productivity next year that he had in this one. He'll still be helpful, particularly on defense, but Julio Lugo will be the man at SS. There's still some criticism of Lugo's lack of ability to draw walks on offense, but his improvement on defense (especially in the making of the routine play) was startling. He's a different player now from what he was in 2001.

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