The right reason to send Vizquel to Cooperstown

Omar Vizquel leaping over Charlie Hayers to avoid getting clobbered while possible thinking double play turn in 1997.

Omar Vizquel’s Hall of Fame candidacy sometimes seems a product mostly of the perception that he was the second coming of a Hall of Fame shortstop whose career overlapped his for a few seasons. The perception comes mostly from Vizquel’s more voluminous presence on highlight reels.

It’s not that the Other Guy was obscure, of course, but the continuing metastasis of cable sports in the 1990s showed Vizquel’s acrobatics far more often than they showed the Other Guy’s—and the Other Guy got exposure enough by way of fans watching his teams play against three cable superstation teams, the Braves, the Cubs, and the Mets. (Not to mention a few World Series.)

When Sports Center and Baseball Tonight metastasised in the 1990s, so did the looks at Vizquel’s own acrobatics. They were real enough. And shown frequently enough, more so than the Other Guy got despite his teams’ contests against the superstation teams. That ubiquity of the highlight-reel plays made it simple to forget that Vizquel—who got to play in a few postseasons himself—had a modest throwing arm who made up for it with his field positionings and his marshmallow-soft hands.

What made him more delightful to watch, too, was that he was a not-so-huge guy (well, he’d resemble Hercules if positioned next to Jose Altuve) who played like a pest. He was at least as much fun to watch in the field as the Other Guy was, and it proved worth only two fewer Gold Gloves than the Other Guy won.

The perception of Vizquel also comes, I think, from people understanding how long it took the Hall of Fame and its voters to grok (with one or two exceptions) that preventing runs is just as important as producing them, and that Vizquel looked like one of the greatest run preventers you ever saw at his position. No point in your team putting up crooked numbers if they can’t keep the other guys from putting up just as many, right?

Right. And when it comes to what he did at the plate, Vizquel wasn’t exactly of the Cal Ripken, Jr. breed of big-hitting shortstops, but he was as close as you could get to the Other Guy. They were both slap-and-tickle hitters who knew how to reach base by hook, crook, and practically anything else available to them. They played with brains as well as arms, hands and legs.

Look at Vizquel and the Other Guy by way of their Real Batting Averages—total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances. (Sorry, sac bunts aren’t included: these two guys were smart bunters, but I don’t give credit for surrendering precious outs deliberately.) This pair could be fraternal twins, practically.

If you disallow that Vizquel played mostly in a far more hitter-friendly time than the Other Guy did, the Other Guy hitting his mid-30s by the time his career careened into that hitter-friendlier time, there’s only a hair between Vizquel and the Other Guy. (The Other Guy hit most of his career in a far tougher park for hitters, too.) They both used up just about the same number of outs to produce at the plate, even if the Other Guy was a little better at taking walks:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Omar Vizquel 12,013 3,727 1,028 25 94 49 .409
The Other Guy 10778 3,084 1,072 79 63 33 .402

I don’t care that Vizquel came up 123 hits short of 3,000 lifetime. For one thing, the Other Guy would have crossed the 3,000 threshold if he’d gotten to play 24 seasons. Bank on it. For another thing, how many hits you get matter less than what you and those hits really did to help your teams win. Vizquel averaged 72 runs created a year; the Other Guy averaged 73. They were practically the same batter.

Did you know that once he reached base Omar Vizquel was worth +8 runs lifetime but the Other Guy was worth +102? Did you also know that Vizquel took extra bases on followup hits 42 percent of the time . . . but the Other Guy did it 53 percent of the time? Did you know Vizquel has a .707 stolen base percentage . . . but the Other Guy has a .797?

And we haven’t yet gone deeper into the number one factor that keeps people comparing Omar Vizquel to the Other Guy—defense. Vizquel was an above average defensive shortstop in his prime, but we need to remind ourselves this isn’t the Hall of Above Average. (It sure as hell isn’t the Hall of the Gold Watch, either, Harold Baines’s election notwithstanding.)

Vizquel’s prime didn’t last quite as long as the Other Guy, and he spent his final four seasons as a utility man while the Other Guy was kept strictly as a shortstop even when he became a part-timer in his final three or four seasons. So let’s look at whether Vizquel really was the second coming of the Other Guy at shortstop.

Uh-oh.

Vizquel totals +128 putting total zone runs and defensive runs above average together—but the Other Guy totals +110 more. Vizquel’s range factor is 0.1 above league average—but the Other Guy is 0.44 above average. It isn’t even that close between Vizquel and the Other Guy, and close counts only in horseshoes, hand grenades, nuclear weapons, and bad plate umpire pitch calling.

It’s even less close between Vizquel and Mark Belanger, a shortstop whose prime preceded the Other Guy’s but whose all-time high of +241 total zone/defensive runs above average (113 more than Vizquel) still won’t put him into the Hall of Fame because of one problem: compared to Belanger, Vizquel and the Other Guy hit like Cal Ripken, Jr.

(It’s the same thing that keeps Clete Boyer out of the Hall of Fame: Boyer may have been the greatest defensive third baseman ever, even better than Brooks Robinson, but 1) Robinson could and did hit a lot more than a little; and, 2) Boyer couldn’t hit if you paid him by contact frequency.)

And I haven’t even thought about wins above replacement-level player until now. Well, now. Vizquel’s 45.6 career WAR are 1) 31.3 fewer than the Other Guy; and, 2) 21.9 below the average Hall of Fame shortstop. His 26.8 seven-season peak WAR are 1) 15.7 below the Other Guy; and, 2) 16.3 below the average Hall of Fame shortstop’s seven-season peak. (For the record: Vizquel broke into his league’s top ten WAR only once; the Other Guy did it six times.)

The Other Guy, of course, is Ozzie Smith.

(And we didn’t even think about Smith’s famous cartwheeling back flips out to his position for the home fans.)

I’m not arguing against Vizquel being elected to Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame should continue recognising run prevention as equal to run creation and run production. (If nothing else, it’s the number one reason Rabbit Maranville made it into the Hall of Fame on deep thought: he couldn’t hit if you set the ball on a tee for him, but Maranville was a reputed gazelle at shortstop.) Vizquel was the best defensive shortstop of the 1990s and the early Aughts.

But electing the Little O to the Hall of Fame on the grounds that he was the second coming of the Wizard of Oz would be false. There hasn’t been a shortstop yet who’s that second coming, and you don’t have to be the new Wiz to earn a Cooperstown plaque. Elect Vizquel for who he really was, not for whom you only think he was.

Kim Ng, inside the box

Kim Ng (right) with Don Mattingly, when Mattingly managed the Dodgers and Ng was their assistant GM. Ng is now, among other things, Mattingly’s new boss in Miami.

Whatever you do otherwise, please don’t call Kim Ng’s hiring as the Miami Marlins’ new general manager “outside the box” thinking. It’s an insult to hers and the Marlins’ intelligence, and it should be to anyone else’s, too.

Yes, Ng is the first woman and the first Asian-American to hold such a job. But yes, she also has three decades worth of experience in baseball operations which only began when she joined the White Sox as a front office intern and worked her way to becoming the team’s assistant director for baseball operations.

The Marlins hired her away from baseball government itself, where Ng just finished her ninth year as the Show’s senior vice president for baseball operations, focused specifically on tightening up and administering MLB’s international baseball reach and operations, working with MLB front offices and international organisations alike, and enforcing international signing rules.

In between her term with the White Sox and in the Show’s government, Ng became the youngest assistant GM (at 29) ever when she took that job with the Yankees, then joined the Dodgers as an assistant GM, her performances of which jobs plus her performance in MLB’s organisation itself put her on several team radars as a GM to be.

Outside the box? Ng is about as inside the baseball box as you can get with her experience and reputation. The only thing outside the box about her is that, well, she’s a lady, and she’s the daughter of a Chinese American father who worked as a financial analyst and a Chinese Thai mother who worked as a banker.

She’s Indianapolis born but New York raised, and she grew up among other things playing stickball on the Queens streets before going to the University of Chicago, earning a degree in public policy, and, oh yes, winning a Most Valuable Player award as an infielder on the university’s softball team.

“[I]t is the honor of my career to lead the Miami Marlins as their next General Manager,” Ng says in a formal statement. “We are building for the long term in South Florida, developing a forward-thinking, collaborative, creative baseball operation made up of incredibly talented and dedicated staff who have, over the last few years, laid a great foundation for success.”

When was the last time you heard terms like “forward-thinking” or “collaborative” or “creative baseball operation” applied to the Marlins? OK, so that might be outside-the-box—the Marlins’ box, that is.

“This challenge is one I don’t take lightly,” she continues. “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a Major League team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals. My goal is now to bring championship baseball to Miami. I am both humbled and eager to continue building the winning culture our fans expect and deserve.”

It’s a recent enough expectation, of course, but one that doesn’t lend itself to gags now that manager Don Mattingly was named the National League’s Manager of the Year for shepherding the Fish to a second-place irregular season finish in the National League East and as far as a division series in the postseason.

Ng has knocked on history’s door more than a few times in her career. With the White Sox, she was the first woman and youngest human to present and win a salary arbitration case, for pitcher Alex Fernandez. When the Yankees hired her as an assistant GM, Ng became one of only four women ever to hold the position, joining Elaine Weddington Steward and Raquel Ferreira of the Red Sox and fellow Yankee Jean Afterman.

She started showing up on team radars as GM material in 2005, when the Dodgers interviewed her. They handed the GM job to Ned Colletti, but Colletti almost immediately kept her as an assistant GM. She’s since been interviewed for such jobs by the Angels, the Giants, the Mariners, and the Padres.

When she left the Dodgers to take her MLB job, there were those pondering aloud whether Ng had a chance to become the first woman ever named as baseball commissioner. So much for that idea, so far. She’s content to have gotten where she is now. But would you really object to the idea down the road apiece?

Ng won’t exactly be wading into virgin territory with the Marlins. Chief executive officer Derek Jeter was en route his Hall of Fame career as a Yankee shortstop while Ng worked in their front office. Mattingly’s playing career ended a few years before the Yankees made her an assistant GM, but he was a coach for them while she was there. And, he managed the Dodgers while Ng was still their assistant GM.

Jeter’s own formal statement cites Ng’s “wealth of knowledge and championship-level experience.” The Yankees won three straight World Series while she worked there; the Dodgers challenged for or won a few NL Wests while she worked in their front-office brain pool. As a front-office executive Ng has gone to eight postseasons total.

“Her leadership of our baseball operations team will play a major role on our path toward sustained success,” Jeter continues. “Additionally, her extensive work in expanding youth baseball and softball initiatives will enhance our efforts to grow the game among our local youth as we continue to make a positive impact on the South Florida community.”

The lady is a champ who just might deliver when it comes to making the Marlins champs. Just don’t accuse the Fish of going that far outside the box by hiring her in the first place.

Two Miracle Mets committed to one major pension repair

Rod Gaspar and Bobby Pfeil, as shown on their 1970 baseball cards. Proud to be ’69 Mets, they’re determined to see redress for pre-1980 short-career major league players frozen out of baseball pensions.

When new Mets owner Steve Cohen met the press Tuesday afternoon, he spoke of making the Mets meaningful again, and not just for another isolated period. “I’m not in this for the short-term fix,” he insisted in his low-enough-keyed manner. “I’m not in this to be mediocre.”

As he spoke of commitments to excellence, and emphasised people making the difference from the field to the front office, a reporter asked Cohen—like me, a Met fan since the day they were born—to name his outstanding Mets memories. God knew I had a warehouse worth of them myself, so this should have proven interesting.

It did. And how. The first such memory Cohen named named was left fielder Cleon Jones, two hands upraised, waiting for and hauling down future Mets manager Davey Johnson’s 1969 World Series-ending fly out, bringing his hands between his legs as he kneeled to finish what God as played by George Burns (in 1977’s Oh, God!) would call His last miracle.

Funny that Cohen should mention that first. This week I had the pleasure of speaking with two 1969 Mets: Rod Gaspar, the fourth outfielder, and reserve infielder Bobby Pfeil. Both still cherish their days as ’69 Mets. Both also care passionately about another baseball cause.

Gaspar and Pfeil want to see redress for short-career major league players such as themselves who were frozen entirely out of a major pension plan realignment in 1980 itself. The new plan changed pension vesting to 43 days major league service and health care vesting to a single day’s major league time. But the change excluded players with short careers who played between 1949 and 1980.

Both men live in California today. Neither are financially distressed themselves. They’ve both been successful in their post baseball lives, Gaspar in the financial services business, Pfeil as a builder/co-administrator of apartment complexes in California and other states.

Both are delighted to talk of their 1969 Mets and of the game in general. Get these two friendly, accommodating men talking about the pension freeze-out for short-career major leaguers, and they become just as passionate as they were as reserves always at the ready for the 1969 Mets and the manager they still admire, Gil Hodges.

The pension re-alignment affected over 1,100 short-career players originally. Life’s attrition has long since reduced the surviving number to 619. The ranks diminished to that number Sunday when Ray Daviault—a righthanded pitcher whose only major league time after nine seasons in the minors was 36 games as an original, 1962 Met—died at 86 in a pool accident at his Quebec home.

“They have no guts at all when it comes to running my particular game, baseball,” Gaspar says of the owners and players who agreed on the 1980 pension change and those today who bypass or ignore it. “I love baseball. I don’t like what they’ve done with the pension, eliminating guys who didn’t have the four full years, there’s a lot of guys out there who are hurting.”

In 2011, then-commissioner Bud Selig and then-Major League Baseball Players Association director Michael Weiner developed a small redress. They agreed the pre-1980 short-career players would get $625 a quarter for every 43 days major league service time, up to four years. Though it was a beginning, it didn’t allow the players to pass those monies on to their families upon their deaths, and those players were still not allowed into the players’ health plans.

Marvin Miller is known to have regretted not revisiting the pension re-alignment before he retired as the union’s director. Several of the frozen-out pre-1980 players have suggested the freeze-out tied to a perception that enough of the players in question were September call-ups who didn’t always make their major league teams out of spring training.

“I don’t think we’re important enough to pay attention to,” Pfeil says of the game’s attitude toward those short-career players. “We didn’t really have a unity, or a group, that was pursuing any changes. It kind of went away with nobody [pursuing] the reform of it.”

It may have taken until journalist Douglas J. Gladstone first wrote A Bitter Cup of Coffee, in 2010, before the freeze-out registered to even small degrees with people outside baseball. (Gladstone published an updated edition in early 2019.) Gladstone and others including New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden have written since about both the union’s and the Major League Baseball Players’ Alumni Association’s post-Wiener lack of interest in addressing any degree of the freeze-out.

“[T]hey . . . didn’t hesitate one bit taking my dues when I was a major league player,” former pitcher David Clyde told me of the union’s lack of response last year. “But as soon as you’re no longer a major league player, they basically don’t want to have anything to do with you.”

Pfeil says he once contacted the Alumni Association’s then-leader, former Expos pitcher Steve Rogers (who is still on the group’s board), leaving a voice mail to which he got no answer. That lack of response, too, is not atypical among their fellow freeze-outs.

“I’m not real happy that they left out players who actually played in the big leagues,” says Gaspar, who made the 1969 Mets out of spring training and ultimately scored the winning run in the tenth in Game Four of the 1969 World Series. “But think about it. They have so much money, the owners, the players’ union, they have so much money, how much money would it cost them to give the guys who are still alive the pension?”

Gaspar answered his own question quickly. He says that if a combination of the owners and the players’ union wanted to offer even the minimum $10,000 a year pension to the still-living, pre-1980 short career players, it might cost a little over six million dollars a year. “What is that to baseball?” he says. “A drop in the bag, probably.”

“All we hear about is the money that’s in the game,” Pfeil says, “and I think we’ve been a forgotten group that helped them get to where they attained this.”

Both former Mets think the issue might have gotten further redress if Weiner—who died of brain cancer in 2013—had lived instead. Why wouldn’t Tony Clark, the former first baseman who succeeded Weiner and is the first player to serve as the union’s director, take more interest in aiding former players whose major league careers didn’t endure?

“I think he’s working on things that he thinks are more important,” Pfeil says, “and we’re easy to forget about.”

“You think the players union cares about these retired ballplayers? You think the owners care? No, they don’t care,” Gaspar says. “I’m probably better off than most, and I feel badly for these guys. I know a number of them. I’ve been back to reunions and stuff, most of them have done fine . . . if it changes, to me that’d be wonderful for the guys who are still alive. I don’t see it happening because it’s a non-issue for the baseball players union and the owners.”

Gaspar and Pfeil are no strangers to collaboration. On 30 August 1969, they collaborated on one of the season’s strangest double plays in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. With the Mets’ defense shading Hall of Famer Willie McCovey to pull to the right side, McCovey hit a long double to left in the bottom of the ninth.

Gaspar had to run from his positioning to try flagging it down, settling for extracting the ball when it landed and somehow became stuck in deep left. He dislodged the ball, wheeled, and threw home. “I threw it blind,” he still insists of the Hail Mary-like throw.

Blind or not, the throw hit Mets catcher Jerry Grote in textbook style to bag Giants right fielder Bob Burda with what would have been the winning run. But the usually heads-up Grote suffered a momentary brain fart: he thought Burda was the third out and rolled the ball back to the mound. An alert Mets first baseman Donn Clendenon charged, pounced on the ball, and whipped a throw to Pfeil at third to bag McCovey trying to advance on the mishap.

“I was playing like left center field, [center fielder Tommie] Agee’s over in right center, [right fielder Ron] Swoboda’s down the right field line,” Gaspar says. “McCovey’s a dead pull hitter. But he hit it about 300 feet down the left field line. It was about, I don’t know, two, three, or four feet fair. As soon as he hit it, I took off, because I knew [Burda] was going to try to score. And I got to the ball, right in front of the warning track, I think down the line it was 330 . . . I just pivoted and threw from that point. That was probably the best play I ever made.”

The 7-2-3-5 double play sent the game to the tenth inning, where Clendenon—with two out and, ironically enough, Gaspar and Pfeil batting on either side of him in the lineup—tore what proved a game-winning solo home run out of Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry.

Both Gaspar and Pfeil say they’re impressed with the way Cohen has put himself forth soliciting fan input and declaring his commitment to turning the Mets around for the longer haul. Is it possible, then, to get Cohen himself to think about the pension issue and seek a way to make things right at least for still-living, short-career, pre-1980 Mets players? Could Cohen, acting himself or soliciting help for those players from the team he’s rooted for since its birth, start a team-by-team snowball toward that redress.

“I think he sounds like a person that would be willing to do something like that,” says Pfeil, mindful that, if he could or does, it wouldn’t happen overnight. “I think he’s got bigger fish to fry for a couple of years, he’s got a few other issues to get in place in the next six months.”

Perhaps Cohen’s equally philanthropic and enthusiastic wife, Alex, whom he’s designated to administer the Mets’ foundation for community and charitable outreach, might be receptive to entreaties on behalf of just such pre-1980 Mets as Gaspar and Pfeil.

Both players cherish their memories as 1969 Mets and the friendships that remain among various members of the team, but they hope for the pension mistake to be redressed. “I believe in miracles,” Gaspar says. “I’m a Miracle Met. But some things just don’t get to happen and I believe this is one of those things. But I wish I was wrong, I really do.”

So do 617 more former players asking only that the game they love forget no longer that they, too, played the game in more ways than one.

The Nats extend an Opening Day first-pitch invite

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill, in Phillies gear, watching a game at Citzens Bank Park.

When Donald Trump first took the job he will vacate in January, the Washington Nationals hastened to invite him to throw out a ceremonial Opening Day first pitch. At least, the team and the White House were in “talks” toward arranging it. The then-new president seemingly hastened not to accept the invitation thanks to a “scheduling conflict.”

That was then, this is now. Trump is on the threshold of departing office as only the second sitting American president not to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at any major league baseball game since William Howard Taft introduced the practise in the first place. Who would have thought Trump shared common ground with Jimmy Carter?

President-elect Joe Biden is known to be a longtime Philadelphia Phillies fan but not otherwise sinister on a personal level. (He likes to joke that being a Phillies fan allows him to sleep with his wife.) That didn’t stop the Nationals from extending him a post-victory invitation to come to Nationals Park, just about any old time he chooses, Opening Day preferably, and throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

Spotting the invitation on Twitter myself during a Saturday visit, I couldn’t resist replying to the Nats as I’d replied to Jesse Dougherty, the Washington Post‘s Nationals beat writer: Biden should do well throwing out such a first pitch. He won at last by standing on the mound with the bases loaded, two out, and a full count in the bottom of the ninth, and freezing Trump with a called strike three on the low outside corner.

“[Biden] was up by 4 million+ runs, so not a save situation,” tweeted one respondent. No, but I probably should have made clear that Biden and Trump dueled in a complete game that went to extra innings before Biden finally delivered the game-ending strikeout.

Complete games have become baseball outliers over a longer period of time than stubborn baseball “traditionalists” want to admit or care to research. (The last time half or more of a season’s games were complete games: 1922; the last time forty percent or more were such games: 1946; the last time thirty percent of more were such games: 1959.) So don’t fault the respondent for not knowing one when he saw one.

Biden/Trump wasn’t quite analogous to the most fabled extra-innings complete game, between Harvey Haddix and Lew Burdette in 1959, but the Biden/Trump game in presidential politics is even more of an outlier than was Haddix taking a perfect game to the bottom of the thirteenth.

Trump, of course, pitched the extra innings under protest. No few of his arguments compared to the kind a frustrated 1960 Yankee fan might have made, when he or she noticed the Yankees out-scored the Pittsburgh Pirates (55-27) in the World Series the Pirates won and proclaimed thus that those Yankees were the true Series winners. Well, no, they weren’t.

Those Yankees weren’t exactly outliers, either. Eighteen other teams in World Series history have out-scored the opposition while losing the Series. The Yankees themselves had three other such Series, in 1957 (they out-scored the Braves by two), 1964 (they out-scored the Cardinals by one), and 2003. (They out-scored the Marlins by four.) They’ve also been outscored in three Series (1962, 1977, 1996) they won.

But I digress. Give Trump credit where due: he may have performed the most unusual first-pitch ceremony of all time in September 2004. Invited to throw out the first pitch for the Somerfield (NJ) Patriots, Trump audaciously landed his corporate helicopter in center field, then strode to the mound to wind up and throw. For the record, he threw something arriving just under the floor of the strike zone that might have meant a swinging strikeout in actual competition. Might.

Trump did interrupt a coronavirus briefing from the White House in July to say he’d be throwing a first pitch out at Yankee Stadium come 15 August, before a game between the Empire Emeritus and the Boston Red Sox. The president spoke about an hour and a half before Dr. Anthony Fauci threw one out at Nationals Park on baseball’s pandemically-delayed Opening Day. (We do mean “out”: Fauci’s pitch would have been a strike . . . if the low outside corner was more adjacent to the on-deck circle than the plate.)

It proved to be news to the Yankees, more or less; they told reporters the president hadn’t actually been given an invitation for that date. Trump countered that he’d gotten the invite straight from the Yankees’ team president Randy Levine, who’d once been rumoured to be on Trump’s list of candidates for his White House chief of staff.

Levine didn’t affirm or deny, but another Yankee official said subsequently that the invite was on. The invite may have been on but that Trump first pitch ended up not happening.

Biden has said since his win that he’d like to work in a bipartisan spirit as best as possible in (speaking politely) contentious Washington. I have a suggestion for the president-elect and the Nats that might show he means business when Opening Day arrives next April.

He could do as then-president George W. Bush did when major league baseball returned to Washington in 2005. Bush was presented a unique baseball to throw for the ceremonial first pitch, owned by the late Washington Senators relief pitcher Joe Grzenda, who’d saved it from the final Senators game, ever.

Grzenda intended to throw that ball to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke at the plate, with two out and the Senators looking to say farewell with a 7-5 win on 30 September 1971. Thanks to heartsick Senators fans bursting the fences, swarming the field, leaving the RFK Stadium field and scoreboard resembling the remains of a terrorist attack, and forcing the umpires to forfeit the game to the Yankees, Grzenda never got to pitch to Clarke.

But he kept the ball and, at long enough last, got the invite to throw it as a first pitch in RFK in 2005 before the freshly transplanted (from Montreal) Nationals opened for new business. Instead, he handed the ball to Bush, likewise clad in a Nationals jacket, and Bush—ironically, a former co-owner of the Texas Rangers that the Senators became—threw a neat breaking ball up to the plate.

Nats catcher Brian Schneider caught the Bush pitch. He had ideas about keeping the ball until Grzenda asked to have it back and the memorabilia-happy catcher obliged.

Grzenda died in July 2019. (Clarke passed away three months ago.) Assuming his family still possesses the ball—which Grzenda pitched to get Bobby Murcer on a grounder for the second out before being unable to pitch to Clarke—Biden’s people might think to ask them for the honour of throwing that ball out for the Opening Day first pitch.

The Nats might also think about making that particular ball an annual Opening Day first pitch tradition. They don’t have to worry about weird mojo attaching to the ball. Their 2019 World Series triumph took plenty of care of that.

If Biden jinxes or fouls his own presidency, it won’t be because he throws the last ball of Washington Senators baseball. Just be sure he doesn’t get any bright ideas about arriving at Nationals Park to do it by way of landing Marine One in center field.

Advisory and consignment

Once upon a time, they played baseball just south of the White House. On a large, circular field with four baseball diamonds, known as the White Lot. (The Ellipse sits there now.) They did it first in the year Abraham Lincoln was elected to the White House on the threshold of the Civil War.

Some today think the presidential election finally done and affirmed was a spiritual equivalent of a civil war. Some also thought it would take longer to settle the election than it took for the Cubs to win their first World Series since the deaths of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Now that it’s been decided at long enough last, first I place President-elect Joe Biden on notice: Your presidency to come will be judged first and foremost by your positions on the four most serious issues facing these United States today.

Mr. Biden, your first order of business is acceding to plain sense and supporting the universal designated hitter. Your next is standing athwart the free cookie on second base to begin each extra half inning, the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers, and the permanently-expanded postseason.

Now, I bid advance farewell to the departing president whose early life included playing a little high school first base and, for whatever reasons lost to history long enough, reputedly attracting a little attention from the Philadelphia Phillies. He grew up (spoken facetiously) to use the presidential bully pulpit for pointing the way to sports wisdom by taking positions that ran, not walked, in the opposite direction entirely.

It didn’t begin with a February tweet in which Mr. Trump demanded, and I quote, “Pete Rose played Major League Baseball for 24 seasons, from 1963-1986, and had more hits, 4,256, than any other player (by a wide margin). He gambled, but only on his own team winning, and paid a decades long price. GET PETE ROSE INTO THE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME. It’s Time!

A president who thinks (erroneously) that Article II of the Constitution granted him the license to do as he damn well pleased as president isn’t a president on whom the rules make any great impressions. I remind you first of the precise language of baseball’s rules and defy you, concurrently, to find one syllable suggesting the prescribed punishment for Rose and any other such gambler on baseball is contingent on whether he bet on his team to win:

1. Any player, umpire, or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.

2. Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

Second, I remind you that the Hall of Fame itself, an independent body in actual fact, enacted a rule declaring that those on MLB’s permanently ineligible list were likewise ineligible to stand for election to the Hall of Fame.

The Hall enacted the rule when it looked very much as though Rose would be elected despite his banishment. In effect, the Hall asked itself whether the game’s highest known honour could and should be conferred upon those considered persona non grata in the game itself.

Mr. Trump’s February revival of an argument he enunciated a time or two in the past (especially when commissioner Rob Manfred denied Rose’s reinstatement in 2015) wasn’t even close to the only time he showed his faith that the rules don’t mean a thing if they ain’t got that swing toward his preferences.

Almost a year earlier, he decided that disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security was a victim of—wait for it!—political correctness.

The Kentucky Derby decision was not a good one. It was a rough & tumble race on a wet and sloppy track, actually, a beautiful thing to watch. Only in these days of political correctness could such an overturn occur. The best horse did NOT win the Kentucky Derby – not even close!

The best horse in that Derby broke the following rule to enable the victory of the 65-1 longshot Country House: “If a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey, or to cause the same result, this action shall be deemed a foul . . . If, in the opinion of the stewards, a foul alters the finish of a race, an offending horse may be disqualified by the stewards.”

Perhaps the best wisecrack in the immediacy of Mr. Trump’s pronouncement came from a CNN reporter, Ana Navarro: “Apparently one horse won the popular vote and another horse won the Electoral College.”

When Mr. Trump appeared in Nationals Park during Game Five of the 2019 World Series, two things stood out especially: 1) He hadn’t attended a single Washington-area sports event since he assumed his oath of office. 2) The seventh inning found a considerable contingency in the stands chanting “Lock him up! Lock him up!” a la his 2016 campaign crowds chanting likewise for his opponent Hillary Clinton.

Those who thought the chanting was aimed at Mr. Trump might have been disappointed to know they were really aimed at home plate umpire Lance Barksdale, whose dubious ball-and-strike calls—especially the ball four Barksdale called strike three on Nationals center fielder Victor Robles—left you unable to determine whether Nats fans or Astro fans were more outraged.

Mr. Trump had to settle merely for being booed. Many of his minions were not amused. Some among them thought it was unprecedented disrespect to a sitting president. Herbert Hoover (Prohibition-weary Philadelphia Athletics fans booing when not chanting “We want beer!” at the 1931 World Series), Harry Truman (booed on Opening Day, 1951, after throwing out the first commander of U.N. Forces Korea), the first George Bush (he got his at the 1992 All-Star Game not long after breaking his no-new-taxes promise), the second George Bush (at the Nats’ 2008 home opener, from perhaps a war-weary and economically nervous audience), and the only Barack Obama (he got his in St. Louis when he threw out a ceremonial first pitch before the 2009 All-Star Game for wearing a White Sox jacket), might have argued against the lack of such precedent.

This week’s protracted election vote counting and state calling provoked Mr. Trump and the Twittersphere alike to round after round of remarks ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous and all the way back to the you-had-to-be-there. The most popular might have been Mr. Trump hereby declaring himself the winner on more than one premature occasion, and the Twitterpated hereby declaring all manner of previously-decided sports contests decided otherwise.

I couldn’t resist joining the fun on one online forum and declaring the St. Louis Browns the winners of the 1944 World Series. As the week plodded onward, though, I was almost convinced it would take more time to declare a winner between Messrs. Trump and Biden than it took for the Dodgers to return to the Promised Land. Almost.