Is Mickeygate Tribegate now?

How much did the Indians really know about Mickey Callaway’s pursuits?

It’s going from worse to impossible for Mickey Callaway. But it’s going from bad enough to far worse for the Indians, too. Callaway hasn’t worked for the Indians since 2017, but it looks as though they can’t really be shocked anymore.

Team president Chris Antonetti told the press in early February he was “disturbed, distraught, and saddened” by allegations of Callaway’s sexually-oriented misconduct. That was after The Athletic exposed his inappropriateness with five media women while he managed the Mets. It may have been only the first hints.

Come Tuesday morning, Athletic reporters Brittany Ghiroli and Katie Strang published that Callaway’s kind of behaviour not only traced back to his Indians years but that several key organisation members—including Antonetti and manager Terry Francona—seemed aware enough then that Callaway’s taste for pursing women inappropriately wasn’t a one-time wild pitch.

“Since the publication of The Athletic’s first article,” Ghiroli and Strang wrote, “more women have come forward to say that Callaway made them uncomfortable by sending them inappropriate messages and/or photos, making unwanted advances and more while they worked for the Indians.”

Additionally, in 2017, an angry husband repeatedly called the team’s fan services department to complain that Callaway had sent “pornographic material” to his wife. Those calls were brought to the attention of Antonetti, manager Terry Francona and general manager Mike Chernoff; the Indians spoke with Callaway about the matter . . .

Over the past month, The Athletic has interviewed 22 people who interacted with Callaway during his years in the Indians organization, including 12 current and former employees. They say that Callaway’s sexual indiscretions permeated the workplace to such an extent that it would have been difficult for top officials to not be aware of his behavior, and they push back against any assertion that Callaway’s actions, when made public by The Athletic last month, caught team executives or MLB by surprise.

“I laughed out loud when I saw the quote (in The Athletic’s original report) that said it was the worst-kept secret in baseball, because it was,” said one Indians employee. “It was the worst-kept secret in the organization.”

After the Mets canned Callaway as manager following the 2019 season, the Angels hired him as pitching coach for incoming manager Joe Maddon. Following The Athletic‘s initial report, the Angels suspended Callaway, pending the outcome of a joint probe between the Angels and baseball’s government. Assorted reporting since has said the only reason it’s a suspension and not unemployment was Callaway’s insistence he’d done nothing truly wrong.

Ghiroli and Strang say Callaway’s reputation as a huntsman traced back to his days as a high school pitching hero (“He was a high school celebrity,” they quote “one woman he frequently pursued”) and ran into his years at the University of Mississippi, his drafting and development by the Rays (known then as the Devil Rays), and past his short, three-team pitching career, and his 2001 marriage.

““He does have a way of making you — you kind of always thought it’s just you,” Ghiroli and Strang quoted a woman from Callaway’s Memphis hometown. “Until one day you sit down with a bunch of girlfriends and a glass of wine and realize you’re not.”

Callaway had the gift of working the room profoundly enough that a career as a pitching coach all the way up from the lowest minors to the Show itself seemed almost a given. In baseball terms, Ghiroli and Strang observed, his forward-thinking and ability to present complex metrics in simpler forms made him “a key conduit” for the Indians’ pitching program overhaul.

The trouble was, his reputation for hunting women aggressively paralleled the growth of his reputation as a thinking person’s pitching coach. One of his former minor league pitching charges told Ghiroli and Strang Callaway was given to too-frequent sexualising of women in his comments and often asked players regarding women, “Where’s the beef?”

The beef to which Callaway didn’t refer is now with him, with the Indians who may actually have known what Antonetti professed to be shocked to have learned, and with anyone in baseball who’d caught onto his predatory ways without moving to stop them. The same former pitching charge told the two Athletic reporters, ““It gets kind of awkward when he’s checking out players’ girlfriends” in the stands near the dugout.

Becoming the Indians’ pitching coach didn’t send him any message about maturity, either. He’d gaze, gawk, leer, and send messages to assorted women’s social media accounts. Ghiroli and Strang also said several Indians players’ wives noted him having an extramarital affair or two.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a Cleveland issue but a baseball issue,” one who worked for the Indians told the reporters. “As women, we feel like if we report something, we’ll be looked at like a tattletale or that if we talked, (the team) will figure out who reported it.”

Ghiroli and Strang didn’t have to hunt hard to find those women. When their first report emerged, and Antonetti said the organisation received no complaints about Callaway, those women sought the two reporters out themselves. The team was even willing to have Francona talk to the husband of a Callaway paramour who’d been calling the team incessantly for accountability.

All that was before Callaway was hired to manage the Mets, who’ve since been very public about their need to investigate prospective hires more deeply than in the past. What the Jared Porter sext scrum began, the revelation of Callaway’s sexually oriented misconduct exacerbated for them.

The aforesaid husband is thought to have contacted the Mets about Callaway’s sending his wife “pornographic” material, but the then-manager-to-be assured the Mets it tied to an extramarital affair that “dissolved,” and he was working things out with his wife.

It was bad enough the Mets and the Angels were forced to reckon with the possible full depth of Callaway’s misbehaviours. It looks worse that the Indians knew more than they let on when The Athletic first exposed them. Callaway isn’t helping himself, either, if a reply to a Ghiroli and Strang query the day before they published afresh is any indication:

While much of the reporting around my behavior has been inaccurate, the truth is that on multiple occasions I have been unfaithful to my wife, and for that I am deeply sorry. What I have never done is use my position to harass or pressure a woman. I am confident that I have never engaged in anything that was non-consensual. I feel truly blessed that my wife and children have stuck with me as the most personal and embarrassing details of my infidelities have been revealed. I will continue to work as hard as I can to repair the rift of trust that I have caused inside of my family.

How about the rift of trust he’s caused inside baseball, which has much more work to do when it comes to making women feel comfortable around the arterials of the game? How about the rift of trust he’s caused among those who knew but feared reporting it?

“Some who lived through Callaway’s time in Cleveland and were subjected to his aggressive advances,” Ghiroli and Strang wrote Tuesday morning, “questioned how the men who once supervised Callaway can be trusted to fix the culture that allowed him to operate so brazenly.”

How about even the further rift Callaway’s caused between a father and son already having a somewhat difficult relationship?

“This isn’t easy,” tweeted Nick Francona—son of Terry Francona, a son once fired by the Dodgers as player development assistant, after he sought an assessment by a Boston-based group helping combat veterans such as himself deal with the lingering effects, but who also refused to help cover up sexual misconduct among Dodger minor leaguers—“but it needs to be said.” “It” was a formal statement in which he said he couldn’t “say I am surprised” about Callaway’s behaviour, for openers:

When the news . . . first came out earlier this year, I confonted my father, Chris Antonetti, and others within the Cleveland Indians. I wanted to know why they didn’t say anything to me when the Mets hired Mickey Callaway and they gave him a strong endorsement. My father lied to me and said he didn’t know. Additionally, I think he and his colleagues fail to understand what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t.

The younger Francona said he “confronted my father” again Tuesday morning and believes further that the elder Francona “simply doesn’t get it,” while admitting father and son are not particularly close “largely as a result of disagreements about his conduct.” Terry Francona has declined comment so far.

After writing that standing up for what he believes right means acknowledging his father and the Indians are wrong, the younger Francona called their behaviour unacceptable, leaving it “hard to have faith” that they can improve when they seem more concerned about covering up.

I don’t think this is a problem that is unique to the Cleveland Indians and I think there needs to be a reckoning across Major League Baseball . . . Until a truly independent outside party is brought in and there is transparency and accountability, these problems will continue to plague the sport.

We love to see women enjoy baseball as much as men enjoy it. What’s wrong with asking that women be made as comfortable working in or around the game as men? What’s wrong with asking a firm, enforceable line be drawn between a man interested in a woman personally and a man believing he has the right to hunt her down sexually? What’s wrong with asking accountability when a man (or a woman, for that matter, and yes that happens, too) crosses that line?

The proper answer to all three questions should be absolutely nothing with any of those.

“Wins” aren’t everything . . .

If you still think the towering Met didn’t earn his back-to-back Cy Young Awards . . .

When Jacob deGrom won back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards despite ten wins the first time and eleven the second, enough of the Old Fart Contingent (OFC from here forward) went nuclear. They’ve really lost it this time, the OFC fumed over the award voters. They still fume, occasionally.

What was Max Scherzer with his three-way-tying eighteen wins, then? What was Miles Mikolas, with the least number of losses among the three with eighteen wins? (And the best winning percentage in the league.) That’s the OFC fuming. The proper question really is, what’s this continuing nonsense about judging pitchers first by their “wins?”

Well, maybe not. The truly proper question is: Name me one pitcher who got all 27 outs in the game all by his lonesome, with no help from the catcher calling his pitches or blocking pitches or spearing potential wild pitches; no help from the fielders behind him. (I could be a real rat and follow it with another question: Name me one pitcher who created and produced every run scored by his team during every one of his “wins.”)

While the crickets continue chirping from the OFC grounds, I’d like to show you a table of three 27-game “winners.” The only other thing this trio has in common is winning the Cy Young Award in those seasons. I’m going to show you their “won-lost” records first:

  W-L
Pitcher A 27-6
Pitcher B 27-9
Pitcher C 27-10

The OFC who looks at the “wins” and “losses” first will tell you Pitcher A was the best of the three when he had his 27-“win” season. Now, will the OFC have a look at the trio’s earned run averages, fielding-independent pitching (FIP; kind of your ERA when your fielders’ work is removed from the equation), strikeouts (screw Crash Davis, missing bats is not fascist), strikeouts per nine innings, and earned runs surrendered? (An [#] means leading the entire Show; a [*] means leading the league.)

  ERA FIP K K/9 ER
Pitcher A 2.95 4.19 127 1.7 78
Pitcher B 1.73# 2.07# 317# 8.8# 62
Pitcher C 1.97* 2.01# 310* 3.6* 76

Pitcher A’s 27-6 doesn’t look quite the leader of the pack now, does it? By the way, Pitcher A received 5.0 runs of support from his team while he was on the mound in his games that season. Pitcher B received 4.0 runs of support while he was on the mound in his 27-winning season. Pitcher C received 3.4 runs of support while he was on the mound in his 27-winning season.

The more runs a pitcher has to work with, the less stressful his day’s work will be, of course. Notice Pitcher A was a little too comfortable, surrendering the most earned runs of the trio while striking out the fewest. Pitcher C worked 26 more innings, approximately, than Pitcher B, and surrendered six more earned runs and struck out seven fewer batters. Pitchers A and C experienced fluke seasons overall; Pitcher B had just pitched his sixth straight season leading the entire Show in FIP.

Pitcher A is Bob Welch. Pitcher B is Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Pitcher C (perhaps appropriately) is Steve Carlton. Koufax and Carlton were the no-questions-asked best starting pitchers on their teams. Welch wasn’t. Not even close. As a matter of fact, two starters (including Dave Strewart) and two relievers (including Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley) had better FIPs than Welch in 1990, while the same quartet also had better ERAs.

So how on earth did the 1990 American League Cy Young Award voters give Welch the award? They saw the 27 “wins” and didn’t bother looking at the real indicators of a pitcher’s effectiveness. If they had looked that deep, they would have handed the 1990 American League Cy Young Award to Roger Clemens. (ERA: 1.93; FIP: 2.18; K/BB: 3.87—all of which led the entire Show.)

“In baseball,” wrote Keith Law in Smart Baseball, “team victories matter, but the idea of a single player earning full credit for a win or blame for a loss exposes a deep ignorance of how the game actually plays out on the field.”

If you’ve ever actually watched an actual game of baseball, you know that the sport doesn’t function this way: even a pitcher who throws a perfect game gets some help somewhere—from his defense, from his catcher, and of course from the offense that scored at least one run so he didn’t have to go out and pitch the tenth inning—which happened to Pedro Martinez in 1995 while he was still a Montreal Expo. Pedro threw nine perfect innings against the Padres, but the Expos couldn’t push a run across until the tenth inning; only after that did he qualify for the win despite retiring all 27 batters he’d faced to that point. As the pitcher, Martinez couldn’t have done any more to help his team win the game, but he didn’t “earn” the victory until his teammates scored. This is because the entire thought process that led us to this point, where a starting pitcher gets that credit or blame, is both out of date and very, very stupid.

Don’t you just love watching the OFC temperatures bursting the mercury tubes? Would you like to send them straight into the ionosphere? Let me give you two more pitchers, one of whom won the Cy Young Award in the season in question and the other of whom out-pitched him profoundly:

  W-L ERA FIP K K/9 ER
The Winner 21-8 3.48 3.75 157 6.3 86
The Shoulda Been 16-7 2.87 2.80# 238# 9.2* 74

The winner was Bartolo Colon, 2005. The shoulda-been 2005 winner (if you’re picking strictly starting pitchers) was Johan Santana.

The OFC will tell you those 21 “wins” which led the American League made Colon a no-brainer. (How about one more “loss” than Santana?) The Show-leading FIP and strikeouts, plus the American League-leading 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings and surrendering 12 fewer earned runs, should have told voters Santana was the best starting pitcher in the league that season.

The only American League starter that year who got close to Santana’s ERA was Kevin Millwood, whose 2.86 led the league. But Millwood’s FIP (3.73) was only two points lower than Colon’s; he didn’t miss as many bats as Santana or Colon (146 strikeouts; 6.8 K/9); and, his K/BB ratio (2.81) wasn’t even Colon (3.65), never mind Santana (5.29).

Let’s look in another direction. In 1965, Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game. Koufax struck fourteen batters out, including striking out the side in the ninth. The remaining thirteen outs came through the courtesy of three ground outs and ten fly outs. It’s absolutely fair to say Koufax himself took care of one more out than his fielders did. It’s absolutely fair to say that Koufax did more to win the game than the rest of the team did.

A year before Koufax’s jewel, Hall of Famer Jim Bunning pitched the National League’s first perfect game of the World Series era. (1903-present.) Bunning struck ten batters out. The remaining seventeen outs came by way of eleven fly outs and nine ground outs. Bunning needed more help than Koufax needed to consummate the game. So did a lot of other perfect game pitchers.

There are 21 perfect games in the World Series era, including one that was pitched in a World Series. Nineteen have available game logs, beginning with Charlie Robertson’s perfecto of 30 April 1922. We’ll see their strikeouts, ground outs, and fly outs. I’ll assign each pitcher a win factor (WF) based on his strikeouts (which he got by himself) divided by the sum of ground and fly outs (for which he needed more than a little help from his friends). I’m also including their fielding-independent pitching rates for those seasons.

Pitcher Score K GB FB WF FIP (Yr.)
Charlie Robertson (1922) 2-0 6 7 14 .286 3.85
Don Larsen (1956)* 2-0 7 6 14 .350 4.27
Jim Bunning (1964) 6-0 10 6 11 .588 2.75
Sandy Koufax (1965) 1-0 14 3 10 1.077 1.93
Catfish Hunter (1968) 4-0 11 7 9 .688 3.46
Len Barker (1981) 3-0 11 9 7 .688 2.46
Mike Witt (1984) 1-0 10 13 4 .588 3.16
Tom Browning (1988) 1-0 7 10 10 .350 4.50
Dennis Martinez (1991) 2-0 5 17 5 .227 3.17
Kenny Rogers (1994) 4-0 8 7 12 .421 4.55
David Wells (1998) 4-0 11 6 10 .688 3.80
David Cone (1999) 6-0 10 4 13 .588 4.28
Randy Johnson (2004) 2-0 13 7 7 .929 2.30
Mark Buehrle (2009) 5-0 6 11 10 .286 4.46
Dallas Braden (2010) 4-0 6 7 14 .286 3.80
Roy Halladay (2010) 1-0 11 8 8 .688 3.01
Philip Humber (2012) 4-0 9 5 13 .500 5.77
Matt Cain (2012) 10-0 14 6 7 1.077 3.40
Felix Hernandez (2012) 1-0 9 8 7 .800 2.84

Notice that only two of those perfect games have a pitcher win factor one or higher. They just so happen to be tied for the most strikeouts in a perfect game while we’re at it. On the other hand, Koufax got ten outs in the air and three on the ground. Still, Koufax and Cain were equal keeping the ball in the yard for a little help from their friends.

“How about we just de-emphasise the win?” —Clayton Kershaw.

So why shouldn’t Cain be regarded as Koufax’s equal? Aside from the obvious (Koufax is a no-questions-asked peak value Hall of Famer; Cain is maybe the 282nd best starting pitcher of all time), Koufax’s game kind of proved that practise makes perfect: he’d thrown one no-hitter in each of the three previous seasons. Cain’s perfecto was the only no-hitter of his career, and he had the most runs to work with of any of these perfect game pitchers.

Koufax also had a lot less to work with. He also pitched with the anomaly of his mound opponent, Bob Hendley of the Cubs, coming thatclose to pitching a no-hitter on the backside of the game. The lone run of the game scored on a walk, a sacrifice, a steal, and a throwing error on the steal; the only hit of the game was a double after which the batter was stranded without another baserunner.

The closest to the Left Arm of God was the Big Unit: Hall of Famer Randy Johnson had only two runs to work with while striking thirteen out. Johnson is also the only one of the perfecto pitchers to divide the work among his teammates evenly between the infield and the outfield.

Don Larsen’s opponent in Game Five of the 1956 World Series was Dodger nemesis-turned-teammate Sal Maglie, who’d thrown a no-hitter of his own during the regular season while helping make the final Brooklyn pennant possible. Decades later, Maglie told Peter Golenbock (for Bums: An Oral History of the Brooklyn Dodgers), “I wish we had played in Ebbets Field the game that Larsen beat me, ’cause we hit some mighty long balls that were caught. In our ballpark, I don’t believe they would have beat me.”

Sour grapes? Among the above perfecto pitchers, Larsen tied with Charlie Robertson and Dallas Braden for the most fly outs. These are the flies from which Larsen benefited:

Duke Snider—liner to right field. (1st.)
Jackie Robinson—liner to third. (2nd.)
Sandy Amoros—pop fly around second base. (2nd.)
Carl Furillo—right field. (3rd.)
Sal Maglie—liner to center. (3rd.)
Jackie Robinson—deep right field. (5th.)
Gil Hodges—deep left center field. (5th.)
Carl Furillo—pop fly around second base. (6th.)
Roy Campanella—short center field. (6th.)
Pee Wee Reese—deep left center field. (7th.)
Duke Snider—fly to left field. (7th.)
Gil Hodges—liner to third. (8th.)
Sandy Amoros—deep left center field. (8th.)
Carl Furillo—right field. (9th.)

Maglie was probably right about Hodges in the fifth, Reese in the seventh, and Amoros in the eighth. Balls hit in Yankee Stadium’s impossible deep left center field just might have meant extra-base hits or home runs in Ebbets Field’s shorter dimensions. Robinson’s fifth-inning fly might have hit Ebbets Field’s higher, beveled right field wall. Hodges, Reese, or Amoros, maybe even all three, just might have had home runs if Game Five was played in Ebbets.

Dodger Stadium in 1965 was no hitter’s paradise, either, but Koufax surrendered only one deep fly out—Byron Browne’s high liner toward the back of right center field in the top of the second—that might have been extra bases or a possible home run if the game was played in Wrigley Field.

So what’s the point of all that? Maybe the point is that, even if you pitch a perfect game, you didn’t win it all by your lonesome unless you struck out every one of the 27 men you faced to get there without your catcher having to hold onto a foul tip or throw the batter out at first after bobbling or losing the ball on strike three.

Among the perfecto pitchers, Koufax and Cain got the closest. But if you also measure by each perfecto pitcher’s FIP in the season he turned his trick, Koufax was the most likely to pitch a perfect game the year he did it among any of the nineteen listed who did it—and Philip Humber was the least likely to do it.

(If only we had the game log for Cy Young’s 1904 perfecto! Pitching in the dead ball era, when pitchers were still encouraged to let the batters make contact as best they could, Young’s 1.83 FIP made him look like a candidate to pitch a perfect game, but with a 4.7 K/9 ratio you’d also think he needed a lot more help from his friends than Koufax [10.2 K/9 ration in 1965] did to nail one.)

The five pitchers who struck 20 or more batters out in a single nine-inning game did more to win those games than even the perfecto pitchers did.

Pitcher Score K GB FB WF FIP
Roger Clemens (1986) 3-1 20 3 4 2.86 2.81
Roger Clemens (1996) 4-0 20 8 4 1.67 3.43
Kerry Wood (1998) 2-0 20 5 3 2.50 3.16
Randy Johnson (2001) 4-3 20 3 6 2.22 2.13
Max Scherzer (2016) 3-2 20 3 10 1.54 3.24

Five starters in major league history struck out 20 in a nine-inning game and only two of them (Clemens, Wood) threw shutouts. Wood usually gets the big enough edge because a) he had half the runs to work with that Clemens had; and, b) only three balls hit off him traveled skyward. But Clemens needed one fewer out overall. That’s while pondering that, based on FIP, Johnson may have been the most likely of the quartet to punch out twenty in a nine-inning game.

If by now you’re beginning to think that maybe pitching wins aren’t everything for a pitcher, perhaps you’d like to have a look at a game illustrating that maybe pitching losses aren’t exactly everything for a pitcher, either:

Pitcher Score K GB FB WF FIP
The Hardest-Luck Loser? 1-0 8 14 16 .267 3.40

That was Harvey Haddix’s thirteen-inning heartbreaker in 1959. When he pitched twelve “perfect” innings only to have it broken up in the thirteenth for the loss. (The game is said to have inspired Lew Burdette—the Braves pitcher who went the distance to get credit for the win—when he talked contract before the following season: That guy pitched the greatest game of all time and he still couldn’t beat me—so I must be the greatest pitcher who ever lived. The prankish Burdette got his laugh . . . and his raise, so the story goes.)

There’s no question Haddix worked his tail off to get the game as far as he got it, but a combine of thirty ground and fly outs means he got a lot of help from his friends. Pitchers always do, when all is said and done.

The only friends from whom Haddix got no help were in the Pirates lineup, unable to push runs across the plate despite twelve hits including first and third in the top of the ninth. (They went 0-for-2 with men in scoring position and hit into three double plays while they were at it, too.)

Back to Jacob deGrom. We’ll have a look at his work during his two Cy Young Award seasons, the ones the OFC still believes shouldn’t have gotten him the awards because he didn’t “win” enough. Using the same win factor formula as I used to review the perfecto pitchers, this is the towering Met in 2018-2019:

Pitcher K GB FB WF FIP
Jacob deGrom (2018-2019) 524 360 331 .758 2.33

DeGrom’s win factor shows he pitched more than well enough to earn more “wins” than he actually earned over those two years and to avoid more “losses” than he was charged with in the same period. But enough of the OFC will insist deGrom’s 22 “wins” in 2018-19 mean he wasn’t even a winner, never mind Cy Young Award worthy.

There’s an active three-time Cy Young Award winner who could have been charged with heresy by the OFC for a remark he made during an interview with MLB Network at the 2012 All-Star Game. He actually said, more or less, that pitching “wins” aren’t everything.

Well, he was asked if the pitching win ought to be sent the way of the 78 rpm record. (Well, not quite in those words.) According to Ahead of the Curve author Brian Kenny, one of the three interviewers, this pitcher “said he thought there were many more important categories and thought the W-L was frequently misleading. [Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac] groaned, lamenting a missed opportunity to crush me.”

I seized on it, asking, “Can we then count on you for the Kill the Win program?” [This pitcher] answered diplomatically, “How about we just de-emphasise the win?”

I’ll take it, Clayton.

That’s Clayton as in Kershaw, he with a pair of 21-game “winning” seasons and the lifetime 175-76 “won-lost” record. The pitcher who nailed back-to-back Cy Young Awards with a 1.91 FIP, a 1.96 ERA, and a mere 16 “wins” in the second of the two seasons. (The first: 21 “wins.”) The fellow who struck out 530 batters over those two seasons, against 418 ground outs and 235 fly outs—for an .812 win factor.

When a man winning back-to-back Cy Young Awards with a win factor higher than those seasons’ “winning percentage” talks, it might be wise to listen.

If it’s any comfort to either himself in the Elysian Fields, or to the OFC any old place you choose to place them, Harvey Haddix’s 1959 FIP says he was more likely to pitch and consummate a perfect game than eight pitchers who actually did pitch and consummate them. Including the million-to-one shot who did it in a World Series.

Brian Snitker hates to bunt. He’s right

This gentleman despises bunting. So should you.

Brian Snitker will not have to worry about putting food on the table for an extra two years. The Braves have extended their manager two more seasons, through the end of 2023, and with an option for 2024. He’s worth it not just because he’s returned the Braves to National League East excellence, but because he hates the bunt.

In 605 opportunities during the pan-damn-ic truncated 2020 season, the Braves tried exactly one sacrifice bunt. Partly because last year the universal designated hitter rendered the bunt superfluous, mostly because a bunt to Snitker is about as useful as a diving board aboard a Boeing 787.

Two seasons ago, Charlie Culberson attempted a bunt against Washington reliever Fernando Rodney. Culberson squared to bunt with his bat up high enough that the foul bunted ball caught him right in the kisser. That may have convinced Snitker even more that bunting should go the way of the streetcar. Though it’d be more fun to see streetcars come back than bunts to metastasise again.

An injury such as happened to Culberson is rather rare. But bunts would be entirely rare if Snitker has anything to say about it. Speaking for myself, I can think of only three times I’d really want a man at the plate dropping a bunt anymore, and I’ll get there in due course.

Essentially, baseball’s bunt is somewhat like football’s punt. Hands up to football fans who think it’s ridiculous for teams to punt on fourth down without at least a cursory stab at going for it when they’re a) inside enemy territory with seven or less to go; b) inside the enemy 33 with ten or less; or, c) fourth and four or less anywhere. (University of California-Berkeley economist David Romer thought of those scenarios, answering “yes.”)

In football—punt ball, surrender ball. In baseball—bunt ball, surrender out. “With even a successful bunt,” wrote Brian Kenny in Ahead of the Curve, his remarkable study of baseball foolishness, “you are giving up an out. It feels good—you can actually see your baserunner move closer to scoring. What you don’t see is that one-third of your resources have been spent.”

Between 1993 and 2010, Kenny observed, you could actually expect less than a run bunting with a man on first and no outs or a man on second with one out. (Man on first, no outs, and a bunt: 0.94 runs expected; man on second, one out, and a bunt: 0.72 runs expected.) In the same time frame, bunting with a man on first and nobody out and bunting with a man on second and one out accounted for less than half of the scoring.

“Even when the bunt moves the runner over,” Kenny wrote, “it lessens your chance of scoring a run. You are working against your own goals.” Managers bunted witlessly for decades, Kenny wrote, because of three benefits: ducking blame for failure, getting credit for success, and looking like geniuses doing it. Even if the next men up couldn’t cash in the run. Even though the manager handed the other team a gift.

That’s bad enough early in the game. In the late innings, if you haven’t emptied your bench yet, and you’ve got a comparative spaghetti bat due up to hit, you’d better pinch hit for that spaghetti bat with someone who isn’t on the payroll to bunt. (Keith Law, in Smart Baseball: “I have yet to meet the fan who bought a ticket to a major league game because she really wants to see guys drop some sac bunts.”)

If you don’t have a spaghetti bat on deck but you’ve got a solid hitter who can do some clutch hitting, you’re not sending him up there to bunt . . . unless you’d like to try the impossible and get yourself beaten senseless by someone with two brain cells for which to arrange a dinner date. Why impossible? Because nobody can be beaten into a pre-existing condition.

If you’re foolish enough to send that solid hitter up with orders to bunt, and you have another solid bat behind him, that solid bat behind your bunter is liable to be put aboard on the house to set up a double play prospect. Unless you have a lineup of nine Mike Trouts, it forces you to hope that the lesser hitter to follow all that gets you the unlikely clutch hit. It’s not unheard of, of course, but it’s usually as likely as Alcoholics Anonymous opening a wet bar after a group meeting.

There are only three times to want anyone up there even thinking about bunting:

1) Against one of those defensive overshifts. Leaving your guy at the plate acres of virgin frontier, why not let him bunt? Hell—why not order him to bunt? Tell him you’ll shoot him doornail if he doesn’t bunt when presented with that.

Show me a bunt onto that delicious wilderness, I’ll show you a man on first at minimum, on the house. If they’re fool enough to open those plains with a man on, it’s first and second or better on the house. Show me enough bunts like those, I’ll show you the pending end of the overshifts.

Don’t be afraid of such a bunt even if the other guys have a no-hitter going in the late innings. They want to give you presents even with a no-hitter, take them. Let it be on their heads. If they want to arrest you for breaking one of the Sacred Unwritten Rules, tell them you’re not above a little Fun Police brutality.

2) Against infielders with weak throwing arms or concrete for hands. If the other guys have such infielders, you should really wonder whether their GM was kidnapped and replaced by Mr. Magoo.

Bunting against them may not be the kindest or gentlest play, and reaching on an error won’t do a thing for a batter’s final seasonal resume, but he’ll reach base of it. If there’s a man on, you’ll get someone closer to home if not coming home without wasting an out.

3) Against the other guys smelling bunt and putting the old wheel play on. Baseline fielders shoot down the lines, middle infielders run away from second base to cover the baseline pillows. If they put it on, show bunt, watch them shoot down and toward the lines—then pull back the minute the pitcher comes to the plate and just put the bat on the ball.

It was just such a fake bunt that Mets relief pitcher Jesse Orosco made into a six or seven hop single up the abandoned pipe to drive a second insurance run home in the bottom of the eighth in Game Seven, 1986 World Series. (Don’t start jumping up and down hollering “let the pitchers hit!”—Orosco was a lifetime .161 hitter who was probably lucky to average 22 plate appearances per 162 games in the first place.)

Now, if only Snitker would start or continue agitating for the universal designated hitter. Once and for all, let’s be done with all those pitchers at the plate making Mario Mendoza resemble Mickey Mantle. Let’s have Snitker and his peers relieved of the burden of watching their rallies getting murdered because their number eight bats got pitched around so the other guys’ pitchers can strike their peers out for side retired.

The Man of Steal flew like Superman on the bases—mostly without bunting his way aboard, either.

Myth busted, by the way: You can have speed on the bases without bunts. You usually try to bat the swiftest you’ve got leadoff, right? You can also have smarts on the bases without bunts. Put the swiftest and smartest man you have in the leadoff spot. Let him swat or walk his way aboard, then turn his tail loose. You don’t have to waste outs to do that.

Consider: Rickey Henderson. The arguable greatest leadoff hitter of the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era. The greatest speed merchant and larcenist the game may ever have seen. Not exactly one of the world’s most passionate bunters. (I calculated his batting average on bunts—BuBA—by dividing the bunts he beat out for hits by his total bunt attempts.)

Player Bunt Att. Bunts Outs Hits BA
Rickey Henderson 49 30 26 4 .082

You’d think a Hall of Famer who could fly like Superman up the line and around the bases might try more, right? Wrong. The Man of Steal wasn’t going to get all that much to bunt with in the first place. A man with 3,055 lifetime hits didn’t earn his bread and butter because he let anyone convince him, “Let’s work on those bunts, brah.”

Let’s not go there about “productive outs,” either. The only true situation where an out’s as good as a hit is a sacrifice fly. No batter’s going up to the plate with a man on third thinking to himself boy, those fools who said I couldn’t hit, I’ll show them—with a nice neat sacrifice fly. No fans pay their way into the ballpark to chant Sac fly! Sac fly! either.

The ground out pushing a runner or two closer to home? Sure, it’s nice. If and when it happens. That, too, gives you one less out to work with, and that wasn’t in your plans. Now tell me you wouldn’t rather have a base hit or a walk. If your answer’s yes, tell me you’d rather have two than three outs to work with in the ninth.

If your answer’s yes to that, you might be one of those thinking baseball was never better than when the ball was dead. Well, now. Let me show you the Show’s all-time bunt leader.  (512 lifetime in 25 MLB seasons.) Let me show you what he did in a verifiable fifteen-year span. And, let me show you what it was really worth with that available record.

Player Bunt Att. Bunts Outs Hits BA
Eddie Collins (1916-30) 222 184 168 16 .072

Yep, I threw you a ringer. But bunt lovers deserve it. (Stathead Baseball, my source for Collins and Henderson, goes back only as far as 1916.)

Collins played almost two-thirds of his career in the dead ball era. Maybe from force of habit he kept up his bunt happiness as the live ball era kicked into overdrive, never mind that bunting just might have been more viable and effective in that dead ball time when among other things fielders’ gloves had about as much pocket as a pillow mattress and most pitchers threw about as hard as as bowlers.

Think about it. Collins remains baseball’s all-time volume bunter. With a .914 out percentage on his bunts, bunting with men in scoring position almost half the time he bunted, and an .072 bunt hit average. Want to know how many runs were added to his teams with those 184 bunts?  How does -20 strike you?

This is no spaghetti bat, either. This is a Hall of Fame infielder who was a road runner on the bases, had six top-ten MVP finishes in seven shots (and won an MVP once), was a .333 hitter with a .400+ on-base percentage lifetime, and played on six pennant winners and five World Series winners. It wouldn’t be out of line for you to ask how much better his team’s scoring and chances to win might have been if he’d hit away instead of wasting those outs.

One more time: Outs to work with in baseball are commodities equal in value to jadeite on the mineral exchanges. (Yes, you can look it up: Jadite’s worth $3 million per carat now.) Bunting is waste enough by itself. Bunting in the late innings is worse. Bunting in the ninth inning when the value of outs to work with makes jadeite’s value resemble Reynolds Wrap’s should be cause for psychiatric evaluation.

Casey Stengel used to manage his Yankees according to the philosophy if you have an opening, shove with your shoulder. If you’re given the opening, as in the still-to-be free cookie on second base, you shouldn’t be thinking of nudging the runner along with a dinky,  out-wasting bunt—you should be shoving with your entire body.

Swing away right out of the chute. Get that run home fast as you can. Make the other guys work to re-tie and win if they can. It’s easier to bust a tie than to overthrow even a one-run deficit, kiddies.

If teams do that often enough, maybe the free cookie on second to open the extra half-innings will go where the bunt should be except for the other three instances enunciated above. Into the same place where the Edsel reposes.

Sixty springs later

Roger Maris, driving Babe Ruth to one side, 1 October 1961.

Met fans since the day they were born, among whom you’ll find me, may forget they had Roger Maris to thank for one-third of the Mets’ original broadcast team. When Maris teed off against future Met pitcher Jack Fisher to hit his 60th home run in 1961, nineteen thousand fans in Yankee Stadium were joined by one grandmotherly society matron listening at home over her radio.

Bob Murphy was behind the Orioles microphone to call the blast. Hearing Murphy call Maris tying ruthsrecord (yes, that’s really how they said it in 1961), Joan Payson invited him to join Lindsey Nelson and Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner as the broadcast team for her embryonic Mets. Bless his soul, Maris may or may not have had a clue. It was probably the least important thought on his mind as that season wound to its finish.

Exactly sixty years ago, there was Maris in spring training, his first as the defending American League Most Valuable Player and his second as a Yankee. It may have been the simplest time of the season to come for the plainspoken right fielder who suffered few fools gladly and broke a revered sports record to earn the violent lash of the superstardom he never sought.

It took Maris eleven games and 42 plate appearances before he faced Tigers reliever Paul Foytack in the top of the fifth, with the Yankees holding a three-run lead, and hit one into Tiger Stadium’s right field seats.

If you want to get technical about it, let’s re-set Maris’s 1961 home run clock to begin with that 26 April game, and he broke ruthsrecord in two games less than a commissioner with a conflict of interest—and a New York sportswriter who ignored the conflict while offering as disgraceful an idea as baseball ever broached—proclaimed must be done for the new record to be “legitimate.” (Maris also needed five fewer plate appearances than Ruth did to hit number 60. Yes, you can look that one up, too.)

I grew up hearing the controversies and arguments around Maris even though I wasn’t a Yankee fan. Then and now, the Yankee fan’s sense of entitlement put me off. I respected what the team accomplished. I admired particular Yankees. (Not just Maris and Mickey Mantle but Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and pre-ruthsrecord manager Casey Stengel, whose final baseball act was managing the early, calamitous Mets.)

But we Met fans knew straight from the crib what too many non-Yankee fans knew for otherwise full lives. You’re entitled to nothing, no matter how deep in resources, no matter how broad in reach. Even the Almighty Yankees proved only human (every American League season from 1903-1920; 1923-25; 1929-31; 1940; 1944-46; 1948; 1954; 1959) in at least 31 seasons prior to Maris’s season in the broiling sun.

You’re certainly not “entitled” to break a revered sports record, either, though with different intentions that’s just about what then-commissioner Ford Frick and enough Yankee fans believed in 1961.

Frick would rather have been caught en flagrante indicto with Medusa than see the man for whom he once ghostwrote knocked out of the record book in any way, shape, or form. Dick Young—the longtime New York Daily News sports emperor, who would do his level best to help run Tom Seaver out of New York a decade and a half later—would rather have been caught likewise than fail to suggest the infamous asterisk that Frick had no power to impose* except in the public imagination, when he spoke of it on 17 July.

Yankee fans believed that, if Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record must fall in due course (and they couldn’t bear to utter those final three words), it was nothing less than Mickey Mantle’s birthright.

Because, you see, among other things, Mantle was the face of the Yankees and had been since just about the beginning of the Korean War, even if he wasn’t always beloved. Mantle’s pre-1961 was one of grand achievement and the concurrent sense—inadvertently provoked by Stengel, who always thought and said aloud that Mantle’s raw talent should have made him Superman (Can you imagine what John McGraw would have said if he could have seen this kid? Stengel once mused)—that he wasn’t quite great enough, and the fans let him know it.

But in 1961, Mantle could and did tell reporters at last, “It’s a new feeling and it’s nice. Those fans, they’ve changed.” By mid-summer, abetted by Frick, Young, and others, they’d had a new Yankee to despise. To them, Mantle earned his stripes. He was a “true Yankee,” born and bred.

Who was this interloper from the Kansas City Athletics (from whom Maris was traded near the end of 1959) and where did he get off horning in on Mantle’s entitlement? Maris had the inadvertent effect of making Mantle as beloved at last as he’d always been impossible to miss.

Even Maris’s particular hitting style became part of the outrage. He didn’t hit the Ruthian or Mantlesque parabola. He had in common with Ruth being a powerful lefthanded pull hitter but the similarity ended there. Maris’s specialty was the booming line drive, not the outrageous ICBM, made to order for reaching the Yankee Stadium short right field porch that was built on behalf of Ruth in the first place.

(The porch didn’t quite do Maris so many favours in 1961. Yes, you can look it up: Maris hit one more bomb on the road than at home.)

You almost didn’t want to know what those people would have thought if any one of such concurrent baseball bombardiers not in Yankee pinstripes—Henry Aaron, Rocky Colavito, Eddie Mathews, Jim Gentile, Frank Howard, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Frank Robinson—had smashed ruthsrecord. Which was set in the first place by the “true Yankee” who became a Yankee in the first place following a controversial purchase from the Red Sox.

I don’t know if Maris actually said, commiserating with Mantle in a hotel conversation on the road, “Why can’t they have room for two heroes?” as portrayed in Billy Crystal’s film about the 1961 ruthsrecord chase, 61*. It would have been a very valid question if he had.

But we do know that another long-time myth has long been debunked: Mantle and Maris weren’t exactly mortal enemies, either. “Mickey liked and admired his shy, reserved teammate,” wrote Mickey and Willie author Allen Barra in The Atlantic, “and the two actually shared an apartment in Queens with reserve outfielder Bob Cerv. Late in the season, Mantle, suffering from an abscess in his hip joint, pulled hard for Maris to beat Ruth from his hospital bed.”

After ten seasons of making his bones and coming to terms with New York’s somewhat capricious sports press, Mantle learned how to be glib and let his own wit (mulcted by his odd-couple, Astoria Queens-bred running mate Whitey Ford) join his matinee-idol looks to make him a media star. “Maris was in all ways pronounced deficient,” Thomas Boswell wrote, upon Maris’s death. (First in the Washington Post; it was republished in his 1989 anthology The Heart of the Order.)

With his flattop haircut, he looked more Hessian than handsome. At twenty-six, the introverted, proud young man from Fargo, North Dakota, did not have a fraction of the charm, sophistication, or patience to deal with becoming one of the most famous and controversial figures in America.

It might help our sleep to believe Maris was a reculsive oddball figure, uniquely ill-suited to fame. For years he was portrayed as an antisocial grouch. With time, a contrary profile emerged. Now, as eulogies roll in, he’s painted as a family man, a loyal friend, a modest down-to-earth guy proud of his unselfishness as an all-around ballplayer.

The idea of cultivating and managing fame existed long before Maris began taking his swings at ruthsrecord and cringing at the idea that he’d become any kind of star.

Ruth himself mastered the earliest art of public relations, even if it was as much self-preservation as anything else. (The Babe wasn’t exactly a model citizen, something today’s fans fuming over athlete malfeasance forget or ignore.) Mantle learned how to accommodate it. Until his early off-field San Francisco experiences seared him, Willie Mays all but basked in it.

When another Daily News writer, Joe Trimble, broke the ice and asked Maris in June 1961 (when he had 27 home runs already) whether he could break ruthsrecord, Maris answered, “How should I know?” It was a blunt, honest answer. Exactly the answer even those who’d rather have had a castor oil cocktail than see ruthsrecord fall didn’t want to hear.

Maris had at least one fan who didn’t mind him breaking ruthsrecord—in the White House.

Aaron would experience far different, far more grotesque furies when he approached, met, and passed Ruth on the career home run list. Maris in all fairness didn’t require the FBI’s attention over the kind of hate mail he received in 1961. The racists came out in force to try driving Aaron off the course. The merely brain-damaged tried with Maris.

The product of a difficult childhood himself (his parents’ marriage was described most politely as “turbulent”; they divorced a year before the ruthsrecord chase), Maris found one way to relieve some of the pressure: he started refusing to answer non-family mail unless it came from children.

With his own children, Maris did his best to be the father his own parents’ incendiary marriage often denied him. His trade to the Yankees from Kansas City meant longer separation from his young family because he didn’t want to uproot them. (The family eventually moved to Florida.)

Saying so honestly didn’t exactly endear him to Yankee fans, either. To his teammates, and numerous sources back it up, Maris was straight, no chaser, more articulate and accommodating with those he considered friends. “He had been burned too often,” Peter Golenbock wrote in Dynasty: The New York Yankees 1949-1964, “to trust any strangers.”

“I was extremely proud of my father, in every way,” his oldest child, Susan, told a reporter fifty years after the chase heard ’round the world. She remembered the man who was away a little too often for comfort but who did his best to make life special for his children when he was home. “He was a good ballplayer, a great man, a great father . . . The ’61 season meant more to me in later life.”

It was a stricken child who inadvertently provoked one of Maris’s uglier mishaps that season, one that was interpreted vividly but with too much missing in 61*. The film showed New York Post reporter Milt Gross (named Milt Kahn in the film) bawling out Yankee PR leader Bob Fishel over Maris standing him up for a promised interview and, for once, showing Maris little of the empathy he’d been one of the only reporters to show that season.

Mantle’s best biographer, Jane Leavy, uncovered the actuality: Maris spent the morning of Game 154 visiting the son of a former teammate, a boy dying of cancer. Doing so meant standing up Gross. The furious Gross ripped Maris a few new ones in the next day’s editions; the boy died two days after the rip job.

Mantle dropped out of the home run chase after a “vitamin” shot from a doctor named Max Jacobson left him with a hip abscess that ended his regular season days before Maris broke ruthsrecord. (Jacobson would be run out of the medical profession in 1972, after The New York Times exposed his dubious at best drug-making practises.)

After Maris hit the big one at last, he and his wife, Pat, went to a Roman Catholic mass—and walked out within minutes, when the priest told the congregation Maris was there. From there, they visited Mantle in Lenox Hill Hospital and then went to dinner with Maris’s friend Julius Isaacson. And, with Gross, burying the hatchet over the Baltimore snub.

“A little girl approached their table [Leavy wrote] to ask Maris for an autograph.”

“Would you put the date on it too, please?” she asked.

“The date?” Maris asked. “What is today’s date?”

“The date is the one you did what nobody else ever did,” Big Julie replied.

From 1960-1962, Maris played like a Hall of Famer, even if the numbers raw and deep even suggest Mantle and not Maris should have been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1961. In 1963 began the injuries that would sap Maris’s line drive power and reduce him to a journeyman-level player who’d finally find some baseball peace (plus two more pennants and another World Series ring) when he was traded to the Cardinals for 1967.

After two seasons in St. Louis, where he was long past his prime power seasons but still a study in right field (he’d retire with 39 defensive runs saved above his league average and had only two seasons that showed him a run or two below the average), Maris retired to Florida and a lucrative Anheuser-Busch distributorship until his death of lymphoma at 51 in 1985.

The injuries ruined his chances of making a full Hall of Fame case. The insanity battering him regularly in 1961 kept him from consistent pleasure in breaking baseball’s most revered single-season record. Nobody really stopped to ponder the raw guts it took for Maris to survive long enough—and he had moments enough where he wanted to surrender—to hit Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard’s fastball into the right field seats.

When Golenbock actually got Maris to talk for Dynasty, outside a club where he was enjoying drinks with his old teammate and longtime friend Clete Boyer, a woman asked Boyer to pose for a photo. Boyer assented gladly and invited Maris to join them. “Do you know who Roger is?” Boyer asked the lady. When she said she never heard of Maris, Maris replied with a smile, “That’s just the way I like it.”

“Heaven protect us,” Boswell wrote, “from achieving a greatness that the world decides we do not deserve . . . Mortal men can be crushed by immortal deeds. Wasn’t that the moral of Roger Maris’s career?”

His career, not his life.

—————————————

* (pun intended) From Allen Barra:

Amazingly, the mythical asterisk has survived even Ford Frick’s denial. Practically no one remembers that Frick wrote an autobiography published by Crown in 1973, Games, Asterisks and People. “No asterisk,” he wrote, “has appeared in the official record in connection for that accomplishment.” Frick, though, couldn’t resist reminding us in his book that “[Maris’s] record was set in a 162-game season. The Ruth record of 60 home runs was set in 1927 in a 154-game season.” Since practically no one read Frick’s book, his denial of the asterisk did nothing to erase it from the collective memory of American baseball fans.

In a bizarre postscript to the asterisk story, in 1991 Commissioner Fay Vincent issued a statement indicating that he supported “The single record thesis,” meaning that Maris held the record for most home runs in a season, period. The Committee on Statistical Accuracy, appointed by Vincent, then voted to remove the asterisk from Maris’s record. Thus, a commissioner of baseball voiced his support for removing an asterisk that a previous commissioner denied ever having put there in the first place. Probably nothing did more to enhance the myth of the existence of the asterisk as Vincent’s “removal” of it.

When Billy Crystal made 61*, the final scene shows an overhead shot of Maris (portrayed by Barry Pepper, whose physical resemblance to Maris remains astonishing) hitting the Big One out, then fading with Red Sox catcher Russ Nixon and home plate umpire Bill Kinnamon (actors uncredited) into slow invisibility.

Over it, near-eternal Yankee public address announcer Bob Sheppard—immortalised by Reggie Jackson as “the voice of God”—referenced Vincent’s statement before finishing: “Roger Maris died six years earlier . . . never knowing . . . that the record . . . belonged to him.”

“The sooner one side blinks, the better”

Chris Davis and the Orioles remain locked in an expensive dance.

Two seasons ago, Chris Davis finally cried out from the wilderness of his ionosphere-salaried decline. A few months after the eyes of the nation fell upon the grace with which he handled and finally ended an unconscionable hitless-game streak, Davis finally boiled over following a low throw across the infield that he couldn’t handle at first base.

He had words with his Orioles manager Brandon Hyde, after Hyde apparently made a remark about the errant scoop attempt. Hyde may have been as painfully unaware of Davis’s own internal estimation of his own self-deflation as Davis was in the moment that the skipper had enough trying to stir accountability within a mediocre team.

The Orioles had the next day off. Davis spent it the best way he knew, regrouping with his wife and children. “That’s really the only way that I know kind of how to escape, is just to be a dad, and be a husband,” he said. “I enjoyed the time with them, but I look forward to coming back in there and getting back to work with these guys.”

When he returned to work the first thing Davis did was report to Hyde to apologise and talk frankly. He told reporters he thought both himself and his skipper “had an off day. I think it was probably best that we did, just to kind of give us a little bit of time. I didn’t think about it a whole lot. I tried not to. I think he was kind of in the same boat.” Hyde for his part said nothing suggesting he’d hold the meltdown against Davis.

Davis spoke of “a couple of weeks” worth of frustration, but the suspicion was that he really meant more than a couple of seasons. His collapse after signing a lucrative seven-year deal has been nothing short of surrealistic.

Bravery when you lead your league in home runs two out of three seasons running is simple. Leading the league in striking out two consecutive seasons makes bravery a lot less simple. Then, when your OPS (.539, 2018)  is lower than the lowest team OPS in the league (the 2018 Tigers: .697), bravery isn’t even a topic. Not when you might be tempted to say, as a button given Frank Robinson while he managed a murderous Oriole losing steak decades earlier, “It’s been lovely, but I have to scream now.”

Barring either Davis or the Orioles or both deciding at long enough last that the proverbial jig is up, they’re stuck with each other until the end of the 2022 season. “Davis and the Orioles,” Baltimore Sun writer Jon Meoli wrote last month, “are in a staring contest over the remainder of his career that neither seems to be willing to blink in.”

On pure baseball terms, things look simpler. Trey Mancini is recovered from cancer and looking to be the regular Oriole first baseman; they have a little juggling to think about in the designated hitter slot with Renato Nunez absent for the time being, but bank on it. That won’t be Davis’s full-time job, either.

What does it do to a man who has tasted greatness at one point in his professional career only to taste harder-sustained failure elsewhere during the same career? From 2013-2016 Davis was a no questions asked great hitter who looked like a classic late bloomer. (He was 27 in 2013.) His past four seasons have made that spell resemble a protracted flash in the proverbial pan.

Enough players have had such long enough terms of greatness followed by far longer terms of invisibility. Baseball is more crowded than the busiest airport or railroad station by those players whose careers were nondescript but who had blinks when they resembled men who stepped forth from the lands of the giants.

For every Dick Radatz (three years: the nastiest reliever in baseball; five injury-pushed years of low-fi pitching later: career over) there’s a Moe Drabowsky. (Game One, 1966 World Series; nothing much otherwise but beloved pranksterism—and surrendering Stan Musial’s 3,000th career hit.) For every Roger Maris (busting ruthsrecord in the middle of three Hall of Fame-like seasons; injury-abetted fall over six years to follow), there’s a Pablo Sandoval. (Game One, 2012 World Series; nothing much otherwise beyond his roly-poly Kung Fu Panda image.)

Former Orioles infielder Mike Bordick, once a Davis teammate and now an Orioles broadcaster, thinks Davis has people rooting for him to re-emerge from his protracted collapse even if such re-emergence may never happen. He’d had a good spring training before baseball shut down over the coronavirus pan-damn-ic last year, but he had less than a stellar “summer camp” before an injury curtailed a mediocre enough irregular season for him.

A Davis comeback is “never going to happen because of his work habits,” Bordick told NBC Sports Washington in December.

He proved that after he left spring training [last year] because when he came back he wasn’t the same. He didn’t have the same explosive bat speed. He didn’t even have the same mental attitude. He thought he could repeat that without the repetition of the work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen in baseball. Period. I don’t care what age you are, but as you age in this game, you actually have to work harder, not less.

One of the most human of impulses is the belief that, because you did it and sustained it once before, you can do it again, at will. Davis isn’t the only ballplayer to learn the hard way how that can veer between difficult and impossible. Even for those who work harder as elders than they did as live youth.

Just ask Hall of Famer-to-be Albert Pujols, who may yet retire after this season after a decade worth of his feet and legs betraying him to the point where he looked a sad impersonation of his once off-the-charts-formidable self. And Pujols, one of the proudest of men ever to play the game, never stopped working hard.

“The sooner one side blinks,” Meoli concluded of Davis and the Orioles, “the better for all involved.” Whichever side does blink at last, it’ll take a glandular swallow of pride.