MLB players hear the criticism from former pros. Here’s which comments irritate them most

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When The Athletic conducted its annual MLB Player Poll this season, our writers asked an open-ended question to veterans and young players alike:

What is the most irritating criticism you hear from former players?  

Their answers did not disappoint. To quote the late Jerry Stiller as Frank Constanza in “Seinfeld,” these current players “got a lot of problems with you people. Now, you’re gonna hear about it.”

A lot of the player responses — 82 overall — fell into familiar categories: former players critiquing the unwritten rules, on-field celebrations, the use of analytics and the general toughness of players these days. (We’ll get to those.) Some responses were just weird: (“One-knee catching,” according to one catcher.) But by far the most common responses fell into one of two buckets:

1. Today’s hitters venting that former players don’t respect how difficult it is to hit modern pitching

2. Today’s pitchers venting that former players say modern pitchers do not know how to pitch and need to throw more strikes

Let’s start with the hitters:

“(People say) guys don’t care about putting the ball in play,” one National League infielder said. “Do you watch the (old) games on TV? The skill level of the game is (so much better now). The infielders are great. They have arm strength. Those pitchers (back in the day) stink. One of our Triple-A guys would have been like the best closer in baseball 15 years ago.”

Added a second National League infielder: “I don’t think former players appreciate how difficult hitting is now in today’s game. Not that it wasn’t hard back then, and not to discredit them. But it’s different. The state of the game is different.”

Said a third National League player: “We also have to face 100 mph every night.”

Many hitters were clearly of the belief that former players don’t understand how hard modern pitchers throw, how pervasive 100 mph fastballs have become, and how new technology has resulted in nasty breaking balls.

“They had three guys in the league who threw 95 and now the first guy in from the bullpen throws 100,” said a National League infielder.

Added another National League outfielder: “Every generation has unique things about it. … You can take a superstar of any generation and put them in a (different) generation and they’re going to figure out a way to do it. But obviously, we’ve seen a boom in velocity and a boom in certain stuff. … Comparing eras, it’s never apples to apples.”

Added another player: “I think the (most) irritating thing is, like, when some guy swings at a pitch in the dirt or chases a pitch, and they’re like, you know, ‘What was he looking for?’ Like, it’s a hard game. Sometimes … you see something and (the ball) does something different.”

Or as An American League player put it: “Do you think Babe Ruth ever saw a slider?”

One National League infielder said there was a clear “lack of respect for difference in pitching quality.”

GettyImages 2151498662 scaled

Current players stated that they don’t believe retired players have a sense of just how good contemporary pitchers — like the Athletics’ Mason Miller (pictured) — really are. (G Fiume / Getty Images)

It was a point echoed by another National League outfielder, who noted that hitters are not trying to strike out so much.

“If you could put the ball in play every time,” he said, “you’d still be playing.”

Of course, today’s pitchers were also clearly vexed by criticism about not going deep into games, not throwing strikes, or not understanding the art of pitching. Among the responses:

“The zone has never been close to this small,” a National League pitcher said. “You can’t pitch up and can’t pitch in. You watch older guys’ 12- to 15-strikeout games, and it’s insane the calls they got.”

Said an American League starter: “You hear a lot of former starting pitchers say, ‘We used to go eight innings, nine innings every five days.’ I get it. I would love to do that. But the game has changed. There’s more strategy attached to building a pretty solid bullpen that is going to seal you the opportunity for a win. It’s a different strategy.”

Added a second National League pitcher: “The old guys just (say), ‘Just throw strikes.’ They had expanded strike zones. And, ‘Guys are walking too much, striking out too much.’ Well, it’s pretty hard in today’s game as far as velo and hitters striking out — the pitchers are just good now.”

“’Just throw strikes,’” a National League reliever mused. “Their strike zone was three times the size.”

Or, as another American League pitcher put it: “Just someone saying, ‘Throw strikes,’ like it’s automatic. Like yeah, no s—.”

Another common theme in the generational divide between today and yesterday was the use and presence of analytics. One player specifically mentioned the dismissal of plyo balls and other technology. One NL pitcher said some former players “view the game through a lens that’s archaic at this point.”

“There’s no malice behind it,” the pitcher said. “But (there’s) no attempt to understand training methods and analytics that exist today that didn’t exist back then.”

Not surprisingly, other responses will sound familiar to any longtime baseball fan:

“Complaining about pimping home runs.”

“The bat flips.”

“We’re having too much fun.”

“I think a lot of them say some guys don’t run hard. I think guys are a little bit better at managing their bodies.”

As with any cross-section of society, there was no unanimity in the responses.

One American League player was flummoxed that former players would even consider critiquing today’s players.

“I don’t even know what they would criticize,” he said. “I think the game is better.”

But other players were more forgiving.

“I kind of like some of the criticisms,” one National League infielder said. “I think I like some of them too much to say anything.”

Added another player in his early 30s:

“I agree with most of them,” he said. “The game is soft now.”

(Top photo: Matt Thomas / San Diego Padres / Getty Images)

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