SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Bryan Price should be in Philadelphia right now as the pitching coach of the Phillies.
Instead, he is at a restaurant in Scottsdale eating burgers with me.
There are baseball games on TV in the background, but Price has no interest.
He spent his entire life in baseball, pitching at the University of California and then another five years in the minors. He was a major-league pitching coach in Seattle, Arizona and Cincinnati before managing the Reds for four full seasons. He took time off, sorted through several job offers, before becoming the Phillies’ pitching coach.
He signed a three-year contract on Oct. 31, 2019.
One year later, he walked away from the game, leaving more than $1 million on the table.
Two months into his season, and happily unemployed, he has no regrets.
“I felt like I was starting to get edgy,’’ Price tells USA TODAY Sports. “I felt like I was starting to become calloused by the sport and not appreciate it to the degree I should.
“I think we’re all hypocrites from time to time, but I didn’t want to be a hypocrite to be taking money and not doing the best possible job. I just think that was self-serving. Truthfully, that’s not really the way I would want to leave baseball, giving less than 100%.
“When you feel something’s wrong, or something you don’t like, there’s no reason to take money to do something that you’re not enjoying or respecting the process or respecting the people making the decisions.’’
Simply, he realized last year during the pandemic-shortened season that he lost his passion for baseball, so he walked. It no longer was the same game he grew up loving.
The sentiments are echoed throughout many in the industry, but few are bold enough to come out and admit it.
“There’s a lot of people in the coaching and scouting departments and front offices that are saying the right things,’’ Price says, “because they can’t afford to stop receiving a paycheck and get the benefits. There’s an awful lot of people that are working and not on board with what’s going on.’’
Price can’t stand watching the way the game is being taught. He scoffs at these training centers that claim they’re about pitching development, when it’s only about building arm-strength. Hitters are being taught launch angles with funky swings instead of, you know, actually learning how to hit.
“I think we better take a really good hard look at this Trojan horse that opened itself and emptied into professional baseball,’’ Price, 59, says, “and really take account of what the game looks like. It’s hard to watch.
“I’m not just some old guy saying this or saying that everybody has to go back to 1975. But I do think we have to appreciate what the people want to see. It’s not necessarily the bat flips or pitchers screaming at hitters when they struck him out. That may have some value with some of this generation, but the broad picture is that we want action. When there’s no action, it’s really easy to flip the channel.’’
And please, don’t get Price started on the micromanaging in today’s game.
“I long for the days where managers make out their own lineups and make their own decisions,’’ Price says. “I only think there’s a handful of those guys that do that now. Now, the front office is telling you who’s going to play, how you’re going to use your bullpen and pre-define your moves as a manager.’’
Price, who chose the Phillies over job opportunities with the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres, says he loved working alongside manager Joe Girardi. He relished being back with Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick after being together in Seattle. He had a wonderful relationship with the Phillies’ pitching staff.
“They are a first-class organization,’’ Price says, “and they embraced what I had to offer.’’
Yet, with his family not being with him during the 2020 season with the pandemic, and knowing he would be away from them most of this season, too, he couldn’t look himself in the mirror knowing he would be staying in the game only for a paycheck.
He called Gillick last October, and then Girardi, and abruptly resigned, knowing he likely will never wear a uniform again.
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Those who know Price aren’t surprised. He has always stood by his principles. When manager Bob Melvin was fired one month into the 2009 season by the Diamondbacks, Price quit, too, appalled by the decision. Price no longer was paid, and didn’t have another job, but his morals and loyalty meant more than money.
So, here we are more than a decade later, and the man who is widely regarded as one of the finest pitching coaches in the game, simply felt it was wrong accepting a salary when he no longer was in love with the game.
“I think the cool thing about the sport of baseball is that when most people get into it,’’ Price says, “they’re not doing it because of the money. You barely make it. But we do it because we love the sport so much, and have the passion to do it.
“Now everything is about velocity and launch angles and analytical type of play with shifts and no premium on defense anymore. That’s unappealing for someone like me and my generation.
“I don’t want to fight that fight. I’m too old to fight that fight. I can’t turn the game around by myself and get it back to some sense of watchability, and I thought I could.
“It’s just not as fun to be a part of.’’
And if something doesn’t change with the pitching philosophy, Price predicts, pitchers will have shorter careers.
“We’re very quick in the sport to turn pitchers with good arms into relievers,’’ Price says, “because we don’t focus enough on them throwing secondary pitches. We like arm speed or a hard breaking ball, and we get away from teaching them how to pitch, how to add and subtract velocity, how to throw a changeup, maybe a variance on two different breaking balls, or how to learn to sink and cut their fastball.
“We go, ‘OK, he has a 100-mph fastball, or a really good slider or split, and we’ll just focus on that pitch and we’ll just use him as often as we can when needed.’
“These guys are definitely going to have shorter life expectancy as big-league pitchers. You can’t continue to have starters average four to five innings per start without crushing the bullpen. If you’re a big-league relief pitcher now, and you’re pitching in 70 or 80 games a year, and [warming up] in another 30 or 40 games, enjoy it while you’re there because it’s not going to last.’’
Maybe one day he’ll be in a role where he can make a difference. Maybe teams will understand what experience means to an organization. If not, it was a wonderful ride, he’ll savor the relationships and memories, and let someone else worry about where the game is headed.
“I remember the pride you’d have working in player development for 15 or 16 years before they get their first chance to coach,’’ Price says. “Now, so many people get into the sport that get top positions that never really learned the craft.
“I think best thing you could do as a young, first-time professional baseball employee would be to shut up and listen to what smarter people have to say. Now, some of the people that have the loudest voices in this sport are the guys that have the least amount of experience.
“That’s just not right.’’
MLB is expected to issue protocols to every team in the next couple of days on their crackdown of foreign substances with umpires frequently checking pitchers and potential suspensions.
“I think guys are going to stop,’’ Angels pitcher Alex Cobb says. “There are still going to be a few guys that find a way to probably do it, but I think most of the guys are going to stop. If not, you’re going to see two-thirds of the guys suspended, probably. I don’t know if anyone’s going to call the bluff on this one.”
And as far as the pitchers who have been using stuff?
“I don’t blame the people who are using it,’’ Cobb says. “It’s just like the steroid era. Everybody else was using and if you’re not, you’re living ethically but you’re not going to be around this game very long. I’m glad that guys won’t have to be put in that position.”
The greatest pitcher of this generation continues to boggle the mind every start he makes.
You want numbers, we’ve got them.
Jacob deGrom now has a 0.56 ERA, the lowest in the first 10 starts by any pitcher in history.
He is the first pitcher in history to give up one earned run or none in each of the first 10 starts of a season, with a scoreless streak now of 22 consecutive innings.
DeGrom, who’s hitting .400, has driven in more runs (5) this year than he’s allowed (4) which has never happened before in a 10-start span in baseball history.
He has made 86 starts since 2018, and 54 times (62.8%) he has yielded one or no runs.
The man should be a multiple 20-game winner, but has never won more than 15 games in a season.
He is 72-6 in the 103 career starts he has permitted one or fewer runs, meaning 35 times he had a no-decision in those starts.
“Jake’s from another planet, honestly,’’ Mets closer Edwin Diaz says.
Certainly, nobody can pitch like deGrom on this one.
Dr. Lawrence Rocks, the world-renowned chemist, isn’t so sure that the foreign substances pitchers are using actually helps their control at all.
“If the ball is sticking to the hand,’’ Rocks says, “the release point will be off. The spin will be increased, which statisticians like, but the release point will be greatly affected.
“There’s so much changing of the release point, maybe that’s why so many players are getting hit.
He’s got a point.
There have been more hitters hit by pitches this year than any time in history through the first two months of the season.
“They’re losing their release point control because the ball is sticking to their fingers,” Rocks says.
Boomer Scott’s legacy lives on
George Scott III wants to make sure that no one ever forgets his father, George “Boomer’’ Scott, and is trying to resurrect memories as one of the talented and lovable players in Boston Red Sox history.
Scott was a three-time All-Star and eight-time Gold Glove first baseman who once tied Reggie Jackson for the American League home-run lead in 1975 with his career-high 36 homers. He was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006, seven years before he passed away at the age of 69.
Now, Scott and his son are launching a 12-card NFT project with Hasbro artist Clark Mitchell to let this generation know about Scott’s greatness. There are animated clips and portraits, designed by Robert Caulk and Dan Goldstein, honoring his father’s career.
“I just want to spread the word about his legacy,’’ Scott says. “I don’t want anybody to forget my Pops.’’
Those who knew Scott will tell you it’s impossible.
“I have a huge spot in my heart for him,’’ Jackson told USA TODAY Sports. “I knew him very well. We were great friends.’’
The stories Scott told his son will resonate forever, talking about the days of picking cotton as a youngster in Mississippi, to being a star football and basketball player in high school, but turning to baseball when the Red Sox offered an $8,000 signing bonus.
“I didn’t have the mind that I could go to college,’’ Scott told his son, “and see my mother struggle for another four or five years.’’
Scott played baseball, bought his mom a new house, and a baseball legendary figure was born.
“Everyone loved the Boomer,’’ Scott, 51, says. “He was a funny guy. Everyone embraced him in Boston. It was tough on the road for him, that’s why he always wore a helmet on the field, but in Boston, there were great memories.
“He’s gone now, but I tell you, everywhere I go in Boston, people still talk about him.
“They still love him.’’
– The Boston Red Sox are 10-15 when allowing five or more runs this season. The Yankees, Blue Jays and Orioles are a combined 10-67.
–The Orioles are 0-24 when they don’t score at least three runs.
– Sandy Koufax had a 2.93strikeout to walk rate. Jacob deGrom is at 3.01.
– It has been 624 days and counting since the Toronto Blue Jays have played a real home game.
– Stephen Strasburg has pitched a total of 26 ⅔ innings since signing his seven-year, $245 million contract in December, 2019.
– You think Reds outfielder Jesse Winker’s eyes light up every time he sees the Cardinals?
He is hitting .421 with an .842 slugging percentage with five homers and 10 RBI in eight games against the Cardinals this season.
– Giants starter Anthony DeSclafani had one shutout in 115 career starts entering the season. He has two shutouts in 13 starts with the Giants, and is now 6-2 with a 3.09 ERA.
– The Tampa Bay Rays haven’t lost a game by more than two runs since May 8, the longest streak in the American League.
– Jorge Soler of the Royals has reached base six times already on catcher’s interference and is on pace to break the MLB record of 12 – set by Jacoby Ellsbury in 2016.
Around the basepaths
– The Major League Baseball Players Association and the owners have quietly exchanged a few economic proposals in their labor negotiations. It may surprise you, but neither side believes they are even close to being realistic.
– Two veteran scouts’ observations on the Yankees in the first two months?
They don’t have a left-handed bat. Don’t have a center fielder. They have only two players, right fielder Aaron Judge and third baseman Gio Urshela, who are above average defensively. And, oh, yes, this is the most unathletic Yankees team they’ve seen in decades.
– Kevin Gausman is going to get P-A-I-D this winter. He wound up taking the Giants’ $18.9 million qualifying offer last year, believing no team would top it as a free agent. He is now 7-0 with a 1.27 ERA, yielding just 43 hits while striking out 93 batters in 77 ⅔ innings. He may have virtually every team in baseball bidding on his services.
– The acquisition of Lance Lynn this winter was a stroke of genius for the White Sox. He has been everything the White Sox could have possibly imagined. He is 7-1 with a league-low 1.23 ERA and 72 strikeouts, with six starts of at least six innings.
“You try to take the ball every five days and go as long as you can and help the team,” Lynn said. “When you leave, you gave your team a chance to win that day. That’s always been my motto since, heck, as long as I can remember, even back when I was a little kid.’’
– The best team in the American League, several scouts and executives insist, is not the Tampa Bay Rays, but the Astros.
The Astros entered the weekend leading all of baseball with a .271 batting average, .343 on-base percentage and .437 slugging percentage, with their top seven hitters all having an OPS higher than .800.
“We’re even better than we’re hitting,” Astros manager Dusty Baker says. “We haven’t really had everybody kind of hot at the same time.”
– The Diamondbacks, who lost 19 consecutive games on the road, are just three shy of the major-league record, set by the 1943 Philadelphia A’s and 1963 New York Mets.
They’ve got a chance to shatter it considering they don’t play a team with a losing record on the road until July 27.
Then again, if they slip up and win a game on the road, there are the Texas Rangers, who entered Saturday with a 16-game road losing streak.
– Josh Hader is 15-for-15 in save situations with a 0.73 ERA, and has struck out 43 batters in 24 ⅔ innings. He has always had an electric fastball, but now he’s mixing in a changeup. He no longer is just a fastball/slider pitcher.
“Every time we have a close game and we see Hader,’’ Brewers catcher Omar Narvaez says, “it’s over.
– The Red Sox’s biggest acquisition at the July 30 trade deadline won’t cost them a thing.
Chris Sale, who hasn’t pitched since Aug. 8, 2019, undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, is tentatively scheduled to return in late July or early August.
“We know what Chris Sale when he’s 100% looks like,’’ Red Sox GM Chaim Bloom says. “He’s one of the best pitchers in the game. When he’s ready to roll, I’m sure we’re not going to have trouble finding a spot for him.”
– Remember when the Padres were giddy acquiring former Cy Young winner Blake Snell from the Rays, while the Rays were being ripped for trading him?
Who’s laughing now?
Snell is just 2-3 with a 4.97 ERA, and only twice has he lasted longer than 5 1/3 innings. He is averaging just 4 1/3 innings a start, just crushing their bullpen.
– Who’s on first? Well, if you’re a Pittsburgh Pirate, the answer is nobody.
Two weeks ago, first baseman Will Craig chased Cubs shortstop Javier Baez towards home plate instead of touching first base for the final out, in one of most boneheaded plays in MLB history.
And this week, Ke’Bryan Hayes had a home run erased when he missed the bag while rounding first base.
“They’re two plays I’ve never seen before,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “You stay in the game long enough, you see everything.”
– This was supposed to be Brandon Crawford’s final season with the Giants. Instead, Crawford, who became the Giants’ all-time games leader at shortstop, is having the greatest season of his career. He’s hitting .261 with 14 homers, 41 RBI and a career-best .903 OPS in the final year of his six-year, $75 million contract.
– The boos weren’t directed at Red Sox manager Alex Cora this past week as the Fenway fans taunted the Astros, but he sure felt the pain.
“On a personal level, tough to swallow, tough to hear it, because at the end, I was part of that,’’ Cora said. “I was part of the 2017 Astros and I was part of the whole sign-stealing situation. And them being booed and screamed at the way they did, I was part of that, too.
“I know there’s a lot of people in this town who are fans of the Boston Red Sox that they don’t agree that I’m the manager. There’s others that yeah, they’re OK with it and others, they’re just happy that we have this record. But that was something I was wondering for a while, how people were going to treat them, because at the end, we were part of it.’’
– Pretty cool that Chicago White Sox outfielder Adam Engel had his jersey taken out of the laundry just so he could get manager Tony La Russa to autograph it after his 2,764th career victory, second-most in MLB history.
– The Padres are making it no secret that they badly want Rangers slugger Joey Gallo at the trade deadline, loving his power and on-base skills.
– Remember when Randal Grichuk had no place to play and the Blue Jays were hoping to dump him during the spring? Well, he has started every game this season, and has been a savior considering that George Springer has played only four games.
– Friendly reminder with the draft around the corner, there are no locks. Riley Pint, selected by the Rockies with the fourth pick in the 2016 draft, receiving a $4.8 million signing bonus, just announced his retirement, unable to get out of Class A because of control issues.
– While Ronald Acuña Jr. is stealing the spotlight in Atlanta, third baseman Austin Riley quietly has been saving their season, too.
Riley is slashing .313/.395/.536 with 11 homers, 27 RBI and 32 runs scored. In the past 42 games, Riley has hit .351/.430/.642 with 11 homers, 10 doubles and 26 RBI. “He’s starting to become the player, we all envisioned ’’ Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said.
– Cleveland has won 26 consecutive games and are 32-1 in Shane Bieber’s career when scoring at least four runs.
– The exodus from MLB to the college ranks continue as Jose Cruz Jr. leaves the Tigers to become Rice University’s head baseball coach and Willie Bloomquist leaves the Diamondbacks to be Arizona State’s head coach.
– It’s amazing the Brewers are tied for first place in the NL Central when their first base and third base positions have a combined negative 1.6 WAR.
– You know there’s a deep distrust between the players and the owners when Mets first baseman Pete Alonso accuses MLB executives of changing the game balls to manipulate the free-agent and arbitration classes.
– Oakland A’s president Dave Kaval is trying to tell folks that if they get a new ballpark, they will go from one of the five lowest payrolls in baseball to among the top 10.
The only trouble with the theory is that it’s wrong. History has shown that it barely makes a difference.
There are four teams who built new ballparks since 2010 — the Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Miami Marlins and Minnesota Twins — and none are among the top 10 spenders this year with Atlanta topping the list at No. 14.
– Prayers go out to D-backs GM Mike Hazen, who took a leave of absence to be with his wife, who’s battling brain cancer, and Washington Nationals assistant GM Doug Harris, who stepped down as he battles leukemia.
– Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez, who already has three multi-homer games this month with 16 homers for the season, is also doing his best impersonation of Yadier Molina these days. He has started every game this season as either the catcher or DH – 48 games as a catcher and 14 as the DH – and his goal is to start all 162 games this season.
“It’s something I want to do before my career is over,’’ Perez says. “Every night I talk to God to keep me healthy, give me the opportunity to be in the lineup every day.’’
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bryan Price, longtime coach, happily stepped away from modern MLB