NEW YORK — Jimmy O’Brien’s mind began racing.
The clock on this mid-July afternoon was ticking past 5 p.m. He needed to work fast. His first thought? This will be big. REALLY BIG. Get something to the masses as quickly as possible. They’ll devour it.
With his brain flipped into hyperdrive, the 30-year-old New Jersey man and full-time New York Yankees fan started digging into his bag of software editing tricks. He sensed a duty to help explain to those who followed him — and even to those who didn’t — just what exactly happened during one incredibly bizarre scene at Yankee Stadium.
Check screen No. 1. Rewind. Listen. Read lips. Listen harder. OK, got it. Cut the clip. Check screen No. 2. Fast-forward — no, wait, rewind back a little more. What in the hell was Brett Gardner doing with his bat? Cut the clip. Go back to screen No. 1. Fast-forward again. Wait. Stop. Stop. Stop. Did Aaron Boone just say what it sounded like he said?! Listen hard. Read lips. Wow. He did.
Cut the clip.
Some 15 minutes after Boone, the Yankees’ second-year manager, was tossed from the first game of New York’s July 18 doubleheader with Tampa Bay, O’Brien — better known on social media by his Twitter/YouTube handle of “Jomboy” — had shared with the world a simple subtitled 21-second video that would become a defining piece of the team’s season.
It’s all because of what Boone said in the now-viral video to first-year umpire Brennan Miller as he bemoaned what he believed was a missed call. The rant, one of the more memorable in recent baseball history, ultimately fired up the Yankees fan base, leading to the now-infamous “Savages in the Box” rallying cry.
However the Yankees’ season ends, this saying will carry them throughout. They can thank O’Brien for that.
“My guys are f—ing savages in that f—ing box, right?” Boone said to Miller in the second inning of the game. “And you’re having a piece of s— start to this game. I feel bad for you. But f—ing get better. That guy is a good pitcher, but our guys are f—ing savages in that box. Our guys are savages in the f—ing box. Tighten it up right now, OK? Tighten this s— up.”
O’Brien’s video [WARNING: Sensitive, uncensored language] gave the Internet a rare up-close glimpse of what life on the field sounds like. All season, he’s found similar peeks into on-field baseball life at other ballparks too, thanks in large part to an ambient-sound feed provided by Major League Baseball.
When O’Brien — who has turned his passion for sports into a full-time gig — sits down each night as first pitches are thrown around the country, he does so in front of an elaborate multiscreen setup. He has two computers and one television, all tuned in to baseball — typically that night’s Yankees game. On the television: the live feed of the game. On the computers: the local streaming feeds — YES Network for the Yankees and the regional broadcast partner for their opponent. When he happens to spot a quirky moment he thinks could be enhanced by the ambient-sound feed, he switches over to that. All of these streaming feeds are easily accessible to anyone with an MLB.TV package.
“If I see or hear anything that can damage someone’s reputation I usually shy away from it, but to be honest, that really hasn’t happened so far. I think, in most of the dustups, the overwhelming reaction is that the players and umpires are human and get swept away in frustration and emotion the same way all of us do.”
Jimmy “Jomboy” O’Brien
Once O’Brien sees action he considers worth sharing, he goes to work, using his self-taught method of cutting, splicing and editing digital video.
“You know the scene in ‘The Social Network’ when the decoders go at it? With him, it’s about two hours — of that,” said Jake Storiale, O’Brien’s longtime friend and Talkin’ Yanks podcast co-host. “The hard work is what people kind of don’t get about what he’s doing. It’s not, here’s some video, here’s some audio. It’s not that.”
O’Brien’s video editing background isn’t the only thing that’s helped his creations take off. So too has his and Storiale’s belief that they can create a groundswell of fresh interest in the sport.
From brawls, to contentious back-and-forth at-bats, to pitching mechanics, to random ballpark machinations across the league, O’Brien, with the help of Storiale, plus an intern and an army of volunteers, offers what he calls “breakdowns,” which feature mostly humorous, sometimes obscene and often easy-to-digest commentary. His longer, two-minute, 23-second breakdown of the Boone ejection came later in the evening.
Not everyone is thrilled about these videos. Some in the sport think they could be dangerous. But others see them as a burst of joy amid baseball’s marathon nine-months-long season.
“I know fans want to be involved as much as they can,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said. “They like seeing the inside part of the game, because a lot of times they don’t get to see that stuff.”
For O’Brien, that’s precisely the point of everything he’s done since he revived his once-dormant Twitter account two years ago.
“To educate the fan base sounds lame and like I’m an old-school teacher, but that’s how you get the entertainment going,” O’Brien said. “Fun, with a little bit of education.”
O’Brien is no stranger to wanting to be part of the action on the field at Yankee Stadium. Family members still lovingly tease him about the night when, as a 7-year-old, he ran up to his big-screen TV and pretended he was jumping into the dogpile on the screen as the Yankees celebrated winning the 1996 World Series. A couple of years later, while briefly living in Australia, he’d watch World Series games on VHS tapes. Since the games came on when he’d be heading to school in the morning, his mom — under constant threat of being muzzled so she wouldn’t spoil the results of the game — would record them for the family to watch later in the day.
Recording game video goes back a long way in the O’Brien household.
And it has borne a few surprising consequences.
For starters, last month’s glimpse into Boone’s in-argument persona led to a burgeoning boom for startup companies like O’Brien’s Jomboy Media group, which has nearly 300,000 subscribers on YouTube, up from just 2,000 two months ago. There are at least three different versions of “Savages in the Box” T-shirts, all created by different entities. Some have even been worn regularly by players at Yankee Stadium, where there are now similarly branded T-shirts and hats for sale at the team store.
Along the way, Boone has earned an added measure of respect from many in the Yankees fan base, thought he’d prefer to have earned it in a different way.
“I had some choices of words that weren’t great, especially in a public setting where kids are going to get a hold of that stuff, so you’re not necessarily proud of that,” Boone said the day after his tossing from Miller. The manager, whose cap made contact with Miller’s, was suspended for a game.
“If I was Major League Baseball, I would actually consider hiring him. Because I’m sure with their resources he’d have even more material to work with, and have him pump out the same kind of videos for them, but be able to do them at even a higher technological level.”
YES Network play-by-play announcer Ryan Ruocco on O’Brien
Regardless of how remorseful Boone was in the immediate fallout from his ejection, his players and staff still loved every minute of what they later saw on O’Brien’s “Jomboy” Twitter feed.
“Boonie had some mixed thoughts about it right away, because there obviously are some things that you don’t want out there,” Yankees assistant hitting coach P.J. Pilittere said. “Sometimes mantras for teams can happen organically that way, and that’s kind of, I guess, the social [media] world got to see behind the curtain a little bit of what we really believe that we are.”
Pilittere was so struck by O’Brien’s wit and baseball savvy in the few breakdowns he’d seen, he decided to reach out. He wanted O’Brien to know that he and a few others in pinstripes were watching — and approved of what they were seeing.
Whether it was Boone’s eruption, Trevor Bauer‘s tossing of the ball from the pitcher’s mound over the center-field wall in Kansas City or the Pirates-Reds pre-trade-deadline brawl, Yankees players have joined their coaches in glancing at O’Brien’s videos when they hear, by word of mouth, of something they need to check out.
“When you do something that creates a stir within the principles in the sport, usually that means people outside of it are going to enjoy it too,” said Ryan Ruocco, YES Network play-by-play announcer and co-host of the R2C2 podcast with Yankees starter CC Sabathia.
Ruocco said it was Sabathia who first put one of O’Brien’s original “breakdowns” on his radar.
“All the stuff he does is different and funny,” Sabathia said.
Two years ago, as the Yankees were making a somewhat unexpected run toward the postseason, they embraced the thumbs-down sign. It was a nod to the Mets fan who went viral after being caught on camera showcasing his displeasure at a Yankees home run during a Yankees-Rays game that had been moved to Citi Field as Hurricane Irma struck Central Florida.
While embracing the thumbs-down, the Yankees posed for a clubhouse picture. O’Brien ended up offering his lighthearted take on how various players were sporting their thumbs in the picture.
“I zoomed in and I was like, ‘[Tyler] Wade, good form, tight fist.’ I was like, ‘Clint [Frazier], looking the wrong way, not ready, just got called up,'” O’Brien recounted. “I kind of just made jokes. One was like, ‘Judge, your knuckles are loose, buddy. You’ve got to tighten those knuckles up.’
“And then on the next R2C2, they talked about it. And I was blown away. You don’t realize the Internet can go far. CC was like, ‘I keep telling Judge to keep tightening those knuckles up.’ That was like heart eyes for me.”
There has been some concern in the upper levels of the Yankees organization about what might happen if the ambient-sound mic catches players or coaches on any big league team saying something more regrettable and less funny than “f—ing savages in the box.”
On at least one occasion, weeks before Boone’s blowup scorched the Internet, Yankees officials contacted MLB to inquire about how it might better legislate the way O’Brien or anyone else uses audio from the games — particularly games in which players, coaches or umpires are not specifically miked up.
The league has yet to respond to the Yankees’ inquiry.
When ESPN reached out to MLB regarding the way its broadcast feed has been used for the types of videos O’Brien has been making, the league declined comment.
O’Brien has been given permission by those running the league’s social media channels to continue posting his content, but they could claim certain videos for their own if the situation arises, since he’s technically using their broadcast footage. He’s fine with that.
As generally mum as the league has wanted to stay on this issue, its disciplinarian and chief baseball officer, Joe Torre, did address the growing hot-mic concerns Tuesday when he was at Yankee Stadium promoting his foundation.
“It is part of growing the game. But again, when there isn’t that type of oversight and you’re just kind of floating out there without a parachute, that’s some really treacherous, dangerous ground that could be really personally damaging to a player, and also for the team — and for the league, for that matter.”
Yankees vice president of communications and media relations Jason Zillo on hot-mic videos
“It wasn’t supposed to be that clear,” Torre, the former Yankees manager, said of the ambient-sound feed fans can access. “It shouldn’t happen. That’s just crowd noise and stuff.” Added Torre, who was recently surprised that a 37-year-old video of one of his own profanity-laced managerial tirades surfaced: “[Arguments are] not something you’re proud of. There is an entertaining value when you go nose to nose, as long as it ends there. … When it starts getting personal, that’s dangerous.”
In his capacity with MLB, Torre spoke to Boone during his visit about keeping his composure, as well as the hot-mic issue.
Still, Yankees vice president of communications and media relations Jason Zillo says the team wants the league to do more about what O’Brien has been creating.
“[I] certainly appreciate and respect where we are in 2019, where part of growing the game is giving some of that personal and intimate dialogue and baseball give-and-take over a nine-inning game through mics,” Zillo said. “But there has to be some type of guardrail to mitigate or eliminate what could become a very dangerous situation, where if players or teams aren’t made aware that there is the potential of some type of live mic picking up any and all sound throughout the game, that could really become a slippery slope and it could be damaging to a team. It could be damaging to a player’s career.
“Again, I appreciate, and we effort to acknowledge that intimate moments, when used with discretion and with oversight — whether it be Fox or ESPN and/or [Major League] Baseball — clearly there’s a window for that and it should be pursued by all parties involved because it is part of growing the game. But again, when there isn’t that type of oversight and you’re just kind of floating out there without a parachute, that’s some really treacherous, dangerous ground that could be really personally damaging to a player, and also for the team — and for the league, for that matter.”
Boone echoed Zillo’s sentiments, saying just this week he believed the hot-mic videos to this point have been executed fairly and without malice. But he did also think more could be done by all parties involved to ensure that continues to happen.
“There’s a responsibility to be careful with it and careful with how do you use that, and how do you protect certain things,” Boone said. “For the most part [it’s being handled responsibly], but everyone could probably do a little better job of making sure.”
O’Brien understands those concerns.
“If I see or hear anything that can damage someone’s reputation I usually shy away from it,” O’Brien said, “but to be honest, that really hasn’t happened so far. I think, in most of the dustups, the overwhelming reaction is that the players and umpires are human and get swept away in frustration and emotion the same way all of us do.”
Judge contends that’s why, whether the dugout microphones are hot or cold, he’s going to play with the same level of fire, emotion and passion.
“I’m working. So if I say something that’s not supposed to be out, I mean, I’m competing out there,” Judge said. “Sometimes when you’re competing — and this is our livelihood, so we’re out there trying to compete as best we can — things are going to come out. F’n savages or things like that, a couple of cuss words and stuff like that, but that’s part of it. We’re working. I never want to shield what I’m saying.”
A link with content creators like O’Brien could be an opportunity for MLB as it seeks to bring the game back to prominence among younger generations — the same generations subscribing to O’Brien’s YouTube channel at an accelerating pace.
“That’s the thing that’s crazy about the YouTube channel and tying it all to baseball,” Storiale said. “The people that subscribe to the YouTube channel are the young, target demographic. And if one of those gets posted, it’s going to get six-figure views — at minimum.”
O’Brien’s channel in fact received more than a million views for each of his breakdowns of Boone’s ejection vs. the Rays, as well as the ejection Gardner got just last week in Toronto. It also got about 550,000 views for a video O’Brien did tracking the epic and entertaining 13-pitch at-bat last Sunday between flamethrowing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman and Blue Jays rookie Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
MLB’s video of the Chapman-Guerrero battle earned just shy of 170,000.
“If I was Major League Baseball, I would actually consider hiring him,” Ruocco said. “Because I’m sure with their resources, he’d have even more material to work with, and have him pump out the same kind of videos for them, but be able to do them at even a higher technological level.”
Ruocco believes O’Brien has left his imprint firmly on this Yankees year — even if some with the club are uneasy about that.
“He will forever be tied to the 2019 season,” Ruocco said. “When we look back at 2019, we’re always going to think of Jomboy blowing up and creating entertaining content for us to enjoy.”
Indians’ Carlos Carrasco to undergo testing for discomfort in right leg
The Indians are expected to provide an update on Carrasco, the American League Comeback Player of the Year in 2019, on Friday.
Last season, Carrasco was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in early June, missed three months while undergoing treatment and returned to the Indians in a relief role in September. He finished with a 6-7 record and 5.29 ERA in 23 appearances (12 starts).
In October, the 32-year-old right-hander from Venezuela won the Roberto Clemente Award, presented annually by Major League Baseball to recognize a player’s high character, community involvement and positive contributions.
Pennsylvania Little League district to drop ‘Astros’
Just 60 miles east of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, one Little League director is sending a clear message to his 4,000 players about the Houston Astros and their sign-stealing scam.
“Right now, in our leagues, the Astros are suspended,” said Bob Bertoni, head of District 16/31 Little League.
Bertoni is recommending that no teams in the 23 leagues he oversees use the Astros name this season after it was discovered Houston took a live camera feed to steal signs en route to a 2017 World Series title. He said a few teams used the name last year.
“I think about our Little League pledge; that’s the first thing that comes to my mind. Part of the pledge is, ‘I will play fair and strive to win,'” Bertoni said.
“Our kids emulate and idolize major league players,” he added. “I don’t think we as an organization should be idolizing teams that have decided not to play by the rules.”
The Orange County Register reported last week that two Little League communities in Southern California banned the Astros team name for the upcoming season — a matter of ethics, but also a reflection of frustration after Houston beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. The Central Amherst Little League in Buffalo, New York, has also dropped the team name this year.
Commissioner Rob Manfred addressed the decision by the California leagues in an interview with ESPN’s Karl Ravech on Sunday.
“For me, personally, one of the most troubling pieces of all this was the message that we sent to young people about the game,” Manfred said. “I do believe that our game is special in that it teaches values to young people, whether they become baseball players or not, and when you hold that belief and you see what happened here, you have to accept the fact that this was a step backward for us, one that we’re going to have to work really, really hard to correct.”
Little League International, the Williamsport-based governing body for baseball and softball leagues around the world, said in a statement it won’t restrict districts or leagues from barring the Astros name.
“Local Little League programs have long used Major League Baseball club names for their local teams,” it said. “The volunteers operating those programs have the authority to name their teams, which often reflect the interests of their community and its baseball fans. This unfortunate situation has taught Little Leaguers an important lesson about playing by the rules.
“We value our relationship with Major League Baseball and its efforts to expand opportunities for youth baseball and softball, and the best thing that Little League International can do for MLB and the entire baseball community is to teach children how to play the sport by the rules and with a high-level of sportsmanship.”
Bertoni said his district, which covers all of Luzerne County in northwest Pennsylvania, was already considering outlawing the Astros name when he saw those headlines.
He doesn’t think he will be the last district administrator to take such action either. Little League heads from around the country are set to meet in Hartford in two weeks, and Bertoni anticipates the Astros will be a top talking point.
“I think you’ll see it on a larger scale,” he said.
Bertoni said he is concerned that impressionable players might try to mimic parts of Houston’s scheme, in which players watching the catcher’s signals via a video feed near the dugout would bang on a trash can to relay to hitters whether the pitcher was throwing a fastball, breaking ball or changeup.
“That is the reason for the first initial step,” Bertoni said. “If we did nothing, that opens the door to allow these kids to do that.
“We’re going to educate our managers and coaches to say, ‘Stealing signs, pounding on a trash can, that nonsense is not what you do when you play baseball or softball. Cheating should never come into play.'”
Bertoni said feedback from parents has been positive and that some communities couldn’t buy Astros uniforms this year if they wanted. At least one supplier — Athletic Image in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania — told Bertoni his company won’t be selling replica Astros hats or jerseys this season in protest.
“Is it crazy? Yes,” Bertoni said. “But I think in today’s world there has to be consequences for everybody’s actions.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
MLB Stock Watch — Where all 30 teams stand as spring training games begin
Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby isn’t remembered as having the cheeriest of personalities, but his Kierkegaardian demeanor has always channeled the wintertime ennui of the baseball fan. Hornsby’s most-repeated quote went, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”
Spring won’t be officially sprung for a few more weeks but in baseball, we get a jump start on it when teams head south in February to prepare for the approaching season. The time for staring has ended, Rogers. Baseball is back. Well, mostly.
Of course, this year, the game has arrived in the outposts of Florida and Arizona with a bit more baggage than usual. While each day seems to offer up a fresh log to throw on the fire engulfing the Houston Astros, teams are nonetheless getting ready to play actual games on the field. There is no telling when the baseball world will be ready to collectively move on from the scandals and disputes swirling around the majors. But games will be played. At least that much should give us solace.
The first “official” exhibition game is scheduled for Friday, when the Kansas City Royals and Texas Rangers square off at their shared facility in Surprise, Arizona. The stakes are nil, yet that first spring training game, between two teams in actual big league uniforms, will be a time to rejoice. That’s especially true this year, more than usual. If and when the game heals itself, as it has always done, that’s where it happens. On the field.
Eventually, we’ll be able to refocus on how teams are shaping up for the coming season. Which rookies look ready to hit the ground running? Who will win that third-base battle? Does that aging slugger having anything left? Does that lefty look fully recovered from his arm trouble? These are the type of questions that we prefer to dwell on, at least when those mortals who populate the game allow us to. Don’t we?
That’s where our focus is in the latest Stock Watch — on the field. We’ll be zeroing in on one key issue to watch for in each team’s training camp. The clubs are ordered by their current power rating, per my projection and tracking system. The rating simply represents the baseline forecasts for each team. Those forecasts are then run through a Monte Carlo-style simulator of the 2020 schedule 10,000 times to yield the win predictions for each team.
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