It took all of five pitches for Mets manager Jerry Manuel to pull starting pitcher John Maine from yesterday’s start.
Maine has battled shoulder injuries in recent seasons, and has been far from effective this year, with a 1-3 record and 6.13 ERA. When the coaching staff reportedly saw him struggling to break 80 mph as he was warming up, they got reliever Raul Valdez ready even before Maine threw his first pitch.
Why? Because Maine makes a habit of upholding one of the unwritten rules: When a manager asks an ailing pitcher how he feels, the pitcher lies.
“John is a habitual liar in a lot of ways as far as his own health,” said pitching coach Dan Warthen in the Newark Star-Ledger. “He’s a competitor and a warrior and he wants to go out there and pitch. But we have to be smart enough to realize this guy isn’t right. The ball isn’t coming out of his hands correctly.”
Five pitches is hardly time to gauge anything, but Warthen’s assertion that Maine is a liar places the pitcher firmly in the same category as nearly every one of his colleagues.
“All guys worth their salt probably do it,” said ex-Yankees pitcher David Cone about pitchers refusing to admit to injury or fatigue. “That’s why it’s hard for a manager to go out there. This is a lost art. Managers used to go to the mound and really talk to their pitchers and get a read before they make up their mind. Now, a lot of managers make up their mind before they go to the mound.”
Like, say, after five pitches.
There is a contrary argument to be made, of course, such as the one Buzz Bissinger uses to describe Tony La Russa in his book, Three Nights in August.
He had been around pitchers long enough to know what egotistical creatures they had to be because of the very nature of what they did, alone on that little hill with the outcome of the game in lockstep with their performance. “They’re starting pitchers,” he said. “They need to be heroes.” Now he didn’t even bother to ask a starter how he was feeling when he visited the mound, as the only one he had ever encountered in a quarter century who didn’t flat-out lie, admitted to being out of gas if he was out of gas, was Tom Seaver. The rest said they felt great even if they no longer had any feeling left in their arms.
For his part, Maine decried any possibility that he should have been removed from the game at that point, despite some soreness. “I feel something all the time,” he told the Star-Ledger. “We’re pitchers. Every pitcher does.”
Even if Manuel doesn’t enjoy hearing Maine take his gripes to the press, he has to appreciate one aspect about his disgruntled pitcher: the guy cares.
Jim Barr, who pitched in the big leagues for a dozen seasons in the 1970s and ’80s, and who currently serves as the pitching coach at Sacramento State University, explains the concept.
“If you start hearing a player say, ‘I’m done, I’m getting tired,’ it tells you he’s mentally giving up and he’s not real strong. I’d rather have a guy tell me, ‘Coach, I can get this guy.’ . . . That’s only going to help you later. If you’re always trying to find an out, then you’ll always say, ‘Yeah, my arm’s a little tight, better take me out.’ Then pretty soon you’ll find excuses for everything.”
If Maine was on such a short leash—based at least in part because the coaches didn’t believe him when he said he was ready to go—he likely had no business being on the mound in the first place.
According to some people, that is. John Maine is certainly not among them.
Update (May 22): The Mets placed Maine on the 15-day disabled list, calling up Elmer Dessens from Triple-A to take his roster spot, even before Maine was examined by a doctor.