Former Cardinals minor leaguer Tyler Dunnington, who retired from the game during Spring Training 2015, tells Cyd Zeigler of Outsports.com that he chose to leave the game due to homophobic comments and clubhouse culture that made him “miserable in a sport that used to give him life.” Dunnington, who kept his sexual orientation private throughout his baseball career but has come out since retiring, explained that a college coach made a detestable joke about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, and such talk didn’t dissipate upon his arrival in pro ball. A minor league teammate mentioned having a gay brother, and a pair of teammates questioned, in earnest, how anyone could have a homosexual friend, let alone brother. Some went so far as to discuss killing homosexuals, Zeigler writes. The inexcusable behavior isn’t lost on GM John Mozeliak, who told the Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson: “This is very disappointing and our hope is that every player, staff member, and employee feels they are treated equally and fairly. Given the nature of these allegations I will certainly look into this further as well as speak with [MLB Ambassador for Inclusion Billy Bean] for further assistance on this matter…we will take this very seriously.”
Dunnington hopes to return to the game in a front office role, where he could help to take measures to prevent this type of culture and behavior. “After gaining acceptance from my friends and family I realized I didn’t have to quit baseball to find happiness,” Dunnington said. “I not only wanted to share my story but also apologize for not using the stage I had to help change the game.” Indeed, disturbing as Dunnington’s stories are, the sad reality is that the appalling comments he encountered are almost certainly not unique to the clubhouse he was in nor to the Cardinals organization.
Looking elsewhere in the division…
- Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that the Brewers won’t name a closer before Opening Day. Manager Craig Counsell asserted that there’s “no such position as Opening Day closer” and said that left-hander Will Smith and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress will both get cracks at closing games early in the season. Counsell feels that it will behoove the Brewers to take advantage of having two quality late-inning relievers — one right-handed (Jeffress) and one left-handed (Smith) — to create the most advantageous matchups possible in attempting to lock down close victories. Counsell said the ninth inning could “eventually” belong to one pitcher, but he sees no reason to place any sort of restriction on either reliever right now.
- Cubs prospect Willson Contreras looks more and more like the team’s long-term answer behind the plate with every passing day, writes Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. Wittenmyer spoke to catching coach Mike Borzello, manager Joe Maddon and infielder Javier Baez, each of whom raved about some combination of Contreras’ throwing, handling of the pitching staff and above-average bat. Borzello noted that Contreras would probably break camp with a club that had less catching depth than Chicago currently has with Miguel Montero, David Ross and Kyle Schwarber. Contreras’ emergence further calls into question Schwarber’s future behind the plate, as if Contreras is the two-way backstop that many in the organization believe him to be, there’s less of a reason to continue to try to develop Schwarber as a catcher, where many scouts believe he is inadequate from a defensive standpoint.
- While Spring Training stats are always taken with a grain of salt, a dominant outing from Pirates right-hander Juan Nicasio turned some heads today, writes ESPN’s Jayson Stark. “Dominant,” in fact, is selling the appearance short; Nicasio faced 14 hitters and allowed just one hit and recorded an incredible 10 strikeouts on Wednesday. Despite facing a strikeout-prone Orioles lineup, Nicasio caught the eye of manager Clint Hurdle, who says that his own experience managing at Coors Field made it easy to look past Nicasio’s lackluster career numbers when the Pirates added him on a one-year, $3MM deal this winter. Nicasio was originally signed to be a multi-inning reliever, but in light of his spring dominance, Hurdle wouldn’t rule out a rotation spot. Nicasio tells Stark that’s his ultimate goal: “I’m working hard for the rotation, but I can’t control all that.” As Stark writes, a well-known Pirates success story, Francisco Liriano, called Nicasio this offseason to sell him on the benefit of pitching coach Ray Searage. “Everybody talks about, ’You go here, you get better,'” Nicasio says to Stark. “I know why now.”