The Wang place, the Wang time

Is there any athlete more pampered than the American League starting pitcher?

Chien-Ming Wang, the Yankees’ best starting pitcher (at least until the Joba machine is fully cranked up), suffered a fluke injury running the bases, and some of the reactions to this event have bordered on the absurd.

Mike Mussina, always willing to share a whine, contributed this pity-party-inspiring quote: “We don’t hit, we don’t run the bases. You get four or five at-bats a year at most, and if you happen to get on base once or twice, you never know. We run in straight lines most of the time. Turning corners, you just don’t do that.”

Hey, Pussina, you also get paid several millions of dollars per year to work every fifth day. Let’s be serious, now. Is running the bases different from running in a straight line? Sure it is. But you’re supposed to be an athlete. And unlike the athletes who play every day (or, in the case of relief pitchers, who have to be prepared to play every day), you guys have four days between starts to work on little things like running the bases.

Plus, if Wang would have gotten his bunt attempt down successfully, he wouldn’t have been on base in the first place, but he did a poor job at the one thing pitchers are asked to do at the plate, so a runner was forced at third instead of both runners advancing.

It’s not like the decision to make pitchers hit was made with a pregame coin flip. The rule since interleague play started in 1997 has been that pitchers hit in National League parks. The last time I checked, the Houston Astros were in the National League.

Here’s another gem from loose-cannon Yankees owner Hank Steinbrenner: “My only message is simple: The National League needs to join the 21st Century. They need to grow up and join the 21st Century. Am I [mad] about it? Yes. I’ve got my pitchers running the bases, and one of them gets hurt. He’s going to be out. I don’t like that, and it’s about time they address it. That was a rule from the 1800s.”

Smokin’ Hank needs to brush up on his baseball history. The designated hitter was added to the American League in 1973, which, the last time I checked, was not part of the 1800s.

I mean, seriously, how about a little perspective here? Wang was asked to run 90 feet, make a left turn and run another 90 feet. He scored easily on the play even after hobbling most of the way between third base and home plate, so it’s not like he was asked to duplicate the base-running skills of Rickey Henderson or Lou Brock.

I’m a Yankees fan, and I like Wang a lot. I don’t mean to sound like I’m trashing him. This injury is unfortunate, and it saddens me. But injuries are part of the game.

The point is: It’s time to stop babying American League pitchers, and it’s time for American League pitchers to stop acting like a bunch of sallies.

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