Steve Stone had a sobering admission about how he kept his arm sharp during the 1981 strike that lasted 50 days from mid-June to early August.
“I can’t remember I did,” recalled Stone, who won the American League Cy Young Award the previous season with the Orioles. “A neighbor happened to be a builder, and we’d occasionally play catch in the street.
“But this (current work stoppage) is a different scenario. I didn’t pitch to a catcher until 10 days before a major-league game (after play resumed).”
Major League Baseball suspended spring training on March 12 — two weeks before opening day — because of the rapid spread of the coronavirus, leaving teams, medical staffs and players forced to find ways to stay sharp with no definitive return date set.
“I have a net set up in the backyard I’ve been throwing into most days,” Cubs pitcher Tyler Chatwood wrote Wednesday in a text message. “I can get out to 150 feet that way. Then play long toss if guys want to throw.
“And I still throw bullpens once a week for now until we get more clarity on what’s going to happen.”
Reliever Rowan Wick, who is projected to play a larger role in the Cubs bullpen, said he has kept his arm in shape by playing catch with his father and recently started playing long toss with a friend in the Blue Jays organization. Weight and cardio equipment have supplemented his routine.
“Feeling good,” Wick wrote. “Hoping this is all over soon.”
Besides programs distributed by the training staffs, there’s no way of telling when workouts should be increased in anticipation of a resumption of spring training.
Cubs catcher Willson Contreras posted a video on social media on March 20 of him hitting balls out of a toy gun operated by his brother William, a catching prospect in the Braves organization, in front of a two-story house.
Since then, more videos have surfaced on social media of baseball-specific work, from former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster performing exercises and windups inside his home, to former Giants and Rangers great Will Clark hitting line drives off a tee inside a garage.
Agent Scott Boras, whose corporation posted a video of him hitting a ball off a tee as part of a fundraiser to combat the coronavirus, told ESPN-AM 1000 that 10 trainers from his sports institute stay in contact with their clients and trainers to keep track of their workout regimens and throwing programs.
“We’re able to report to the teams and able to make sure the players are communicated with so they are on track to be as (ready as) they can be when they return to spring training to begin the season,” Boras told the station.
Boras pointed to the strike that ended the 1994 season nearly seven weeks early and delayed the start of the 1995 season by about four weeks.
“We’ve got our pitchers pitching well in advance of the time they have to go to spring training,” he said, “and they had about a 3½-week spring training, but they were all throwing well within five, six weeks before the season began. And that’s certainly something we’ll try to anticipate here.”
Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis, however, raised concerns on his Instagram account about the proper time needed to be ready for the season during a three-week spring training — especially for those players without access to warm weather or a place to work out.
“That just screams injuries and (bleeping) baseball to me, to be honest,” Kipnis wrote.
Kipnis also raised the issue of a player testing positive for the coronavirus after play resumed.
With MLB agreeing to a $170 million advance through May, players have some income assurances for about one-third of a regular season.
That wasn’t the case during the 1981 strike, when former Cubs pitcher Mike Krukow recalls trying to make ends meet with a wife, a baby boy and a mortgage on a Highland Park home.
“(Former Cub) Bill Buckner was a big name, so we decided to run clinics,” recalled Krukow, now a television analyst with the Giants. Krukow said there was no communication between the players and teams once the strike started.
Krukow recalled Buckner would call several parks and recreation departments, charging about $5 for kids who would receive four hours of instruction.
Krukow estimated the clinics, usually held three to four times a week, would attract anywhere from 20 to 100 kids.
After the clinics, “it was game on,” said Krukow, who would throw live to Buckner, with a six-pack of beer to the winner.
“That’s how we stayed in shape,” Krukow added. “It was red-ass baseball.”
When play resumed, Krukow said he had only $500 left in his bank account. He allowed one run on six innings in his first start against the Mets, with the only run allowed occurring on a balk that still infuriates him.
But the showdowns with Buckner paid off. Krukow finished the abbreviated second half with a 6-3 record and 2.49 ERA in 13 starts.
“When we all came back, you could tell who did and didn’t do their homework,” Krukow said.
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