Mike MacFarlane Talks Free Agency, Rule Changes, Fantasy Camp and Martin City
By Brad Lucht
Mike MacFarlane is the Royals all-time leader for games caught, and is one of two catchers in franchise history to hit 20 home runs in a season. In 2014 he was inducted in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and is the co-owner and instructor at Mac-N-Seitz Baseball and Softball in Martin City. MacFarlane sat down with the Telegraph to talk some baseball.
Free Agency (and the “C-word”)
Jake Arrieta. Won 14 games while striking out 163 batters in 168.1 innings.
Lance Lynn. Threw 186.1 innings and allowed just 151 hits while starting 33 games.
Mike Moustakis. Hit 38 home runs with 85 RBIs
Greg Holland. Led the National League with 41 saves
What do these players have in common, aside from their stellar performances last season?
All are unemployed. [Moustakis just re-signed with the Royals since the publication of this story.] No major league team has a need for any of these free agents.
“It’s probably the weirdest free agent year I’ve ever seen in my professional career,” MacFarlane observed. “It’s a combination of teams paring back, perhaps waiting for the big free agent class of next year, and the large contracts that some agents are seeking.”
What about collusion?
“The “C-word” has been bandied about, but I don’t think the owners are that dumb to do it again. They suffered some huge consequences from the first one.”
MLB team owners were found to have colluded against players by limiting free-agent contracts during the offseason from 1985-1987. They were fined $280M for their actions.
“Usually you hear some ripples about potential offers, but you’re not even hearing that,” MacFarlane continued. “It’s weird. And it really has an effect on the mid-level free agents. Those are the guys I feel worst for. You’re looking, and going, what the heck? They’re the ones that are starting to panic, because it’s hard to sign when you don’t even have an offer.”
Major League Baseball announced rule changes in February with the stated effort to increase the pace of play. The most significant change relates to mound visits. Under the new rules, mound visits will be limited to six per team per nine innings. Any manager, coach or player visit to the mound will count as a mound visit.
MacFarlane caught major league pitching for 17 years. How will this change affect the game?
“With a young team, it’s really going to affect the pitchers,” MacFarlane replied. “The bench coach can deal with the position players between innings. But if I have a young pitching staff, and we’re butting heads on pitch selection, I’m going to go out there and talk.”
“You hear that it’s the player’s fault for making this game longer, yet you never hear them shortening up Sunday Night Baseball commercials,” MacFarlane observed. “Take a 30-second spot out of that. I can’t tell you how many times that you’re sitting there, done with your warmup pitches, and the home plate umpire doesn’t get the clearance from the TV guys to come out of commercial break. I understand that’s the revenue-driven side of things, but there has to be some give and take on both sides.
“Now, are there some catchers out there having too many conferences? Absolutely.
“Are there some pitchers that like to pick up the rosin bag, kick at the rubber, walk around the pitcher’s mound two times. Yes. That stuff can get clipped. And if it does, that’s fine.
“There’s no need for four-hour baseball games,” MacFarlane concluded. “It sucks the life out of everybody, including baseball players. I think the talent level dictates that the game should be three hours or less, based on that. As a fan, when I go to a baseball game, I expect to be there for three hours.”
Over the past 12 years catchers have been placed on the DL (Disabled List) 77 times due to concussions.
In 2011 MLB and the players’ union announced a new set of protocols deal with concussions, including the creation of a seven-day disabled list that gives team doctors and the injured players more flexibility to address head injuries.
What is MacFarlane’s take on this?
“The catchers are the main proponents of this, with the foul tips,” MacFarlane explained.
“The advancements made with face masks, whether it’s the shock absorbers or the new lining that they’re using to take that off, I’m all for,” he continued.
In 2014 MLB introduced what is known as the Buster Posey Rule, in an effort to reduce how often catchers get bowled over by base runners.
“The fact that they took out the ability for runners to bulldoze catchers, I think that’s a good thing,” MacFarlane said.
“I think they could have worded it different,” he continued. “Collisions are a part of plays at home plate. But that’s a safety factor that I’m OK with. In fact, I’m surprised there haven’t been more injuries to base runners trying to avoid contact. They get their cleat caught, or twist a knee or fall awkwardly at home plate. But that’s besides the point. Anything that makes the game safer, I’m all for.
“Especially from a youth standpoint, youth baseball and softball players are playing more games than ever before in the summer. The less exposure to those types of things the better.”
Every year the Royals hold a fantasy camp in Surprise, AZ. The participants use the same fields and the same locker rooms as the Royals use in spring training. MacFarlane is one of many Royal alumni that take part in the camp.
“Fantasy camp is an absolute blast,” he said with a smile. “It starts with having your Hall of Famer George Brett there. And the number one attraction is Big John Mayberry, who is probably the funniest human being alive, or at least former Royal. He is phenomenal, with his interaction, to his stories, to just his busting the chops of every camper there. If you have left fantasy camp and Big John hasn’t thrown a cinder at you, you haven’t had your full camp experience.
Men and women from ages 30 to 80 have participated in the camp.
“After the first day it looks like a civil war reenactment scene,” MacFarlane said with a laugh.” You go out to stretch in the morning and there’s bodies in blue jerseys and white jerseys laying all over the ground. So we try to do our best to inform them, make sure you are in some semblance of shape.”
The fan favorite is the kangaroo court, run by Mike Sweeney. He levees fines to these that take the camp a little too seriously, which goes to Royals Charities.
“We’re not talking exorbitant sums, but it’s just enough for a guy to get called out on the carpet when he asks for his 25th George Brett signature on day two, along those lines, to some of the bonehead things that they do,” MacFarlane explained. “It’s pretty fun.”
MacFarlane is grateful to the Royals for allowing the alumni to run a fantasy camp.
“It’s a tremendous experience that, quite honestly, there are just as many alumni as campers that would like to be a participant in it. Dina Blevins, John Wathan’s daughter, just does a phenomenal job in organizing it and getting it going. She runs our alumni department and is just very, very good at what she does.
The Academy has an open door policy for any minor league or professional players that want to come in and work out.
“They come in this time of morning (9 a.m.), get their workouts in before we get swamped at 3 o’clock when school gets out,” MacFarlane shared. “The Royals have been very, very good to former players, allowing us to do a lot of things with them.”
MacFarlane feels the longer free agents go unsigned, the better the chance the Royals will be able to sign one or two of them, even if it is for just one year.
“If the Royals can get another arm to go into that rotation, and then you sign some of these bats…” MacFarlane said hopefully.
“I’m excited for opening day, like I am every single year. The problem is, you just want to see what team you are going to be able to root for. You want to be able to follow these guys in the spring training box scores and see how they’re doing.”
Calling Martin City Home
MacFarlane has enjoyed watching Martin City grow over the past 20 years. He appreciates his fellow small business owners and the feeling of ‘we’re all in this together.’
“Just love this little city of ours and am very proud of it,” he concluded.
Mac-N-Seitz Baseball and Softball is located at 13705 Holmes Road. For more information about their youth programs, call 816.942.9992.