The Bronx is broken

2019-04-21 YankeeStadium02I don’t want to be too much of a wise guy, but if you thought the Mets had headaches and other ailments over their disabled list a couple of years ago, the Yankees would like to inform you that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The DL is known now as the more politically correct “injured list.” The Yankees as of today have thirteen players on theirs.

Their front office may be fool enough to succumb to political correctness and banish Kate Smith (on recording, anyway), but that’s not the players’ fault. And they’re probably not in the mood for PC when they think of their wounded. When the Yankees mash it’s supposed to mean long balls, not M*A*S*H.

They’re about ready for drastic measures, like maybe calling in Hawkeye Pierce’s Yankee Doodle Doctor. Complete with Trapper John wielding the butcher’s mallet for the anesthetic. These days a mallet on the coconut couldn’t possibly hurt as bad as the Yankees do.

Thirteen. As a uniform number, 22 Yankee players have worn it, from pre-World War II pitching star Spud Chandler all the way up to the back on which it was seen last, Alex Rodriguez. Considering their incumbent roll on medical leave, the Yankees may be tempted to retire the number. Not in any player’s honour, but on behalf of not pushing their luck.

Welcome to St. Elsewhere, Yankee Stadium. Where you shouldn’t be shocked if someone hangs a big white flag with a big red cross over the main ballpark entrance behind home plate. With the following advisory sewn in beneath the cross: “Players Enter at Their Own Risk.”

That the Yankees are only 2.5 games out of the top in the American League East may be as much a miracle of medical science as a baseball miracle. Just because the Red Sox helped them for a change by sweeping the Rays this weekend doesn’t mean the Yankees have been ushered to safety.

These days you can’t pick up a newspaper story or click on an online story about the Yankees without being tempted to wonder, before the coming week expires, whether two relief pitchers, a utility player, the bullpen coach, the field-level stadium vendors, and the late Hall of Famer Yogi Berra will go on the injured list.

Bad enough that too-often injured veteran outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury missed all 2018 with hip and foot injuries and opened this season on the list. His entire Yankee career has been an ill-fated injury morass, and none of his injuries were incurred in any way other than playing the game.

Forget the big contract Ellsbury signed as a free agent to become a Yankee in the first place. This is one guy you actually have to feel sorry for. He didn’t ask to spend half or better of his Yankee life as a recurring episode of House.

Worse: The former Red Sox sparker has enough company on the IL that, in theory, you could win a division and maybe even a pennant with those on the list since spring training ended if they were healthy, prime Ellsbury (who won two World Series rings as a Red Sox) included:

Didi Gregorius (shortstop)—Tommy John surgery on his elbow; out until after the All-Star break at minimum.

Ben Heller (pitcher)—Missed last season and won’t be re-activated until some time in July. Tommy John surgery.

Jordan Montgomery (pitcher)—Tommy John surgery recovery; isn’t expected back until some time in August.

Luis Severino (pitcher and staff ace while we’re at it)—On the IL until the second half of the season at minimum thanks to rotator cuff inflammation and a lat muscle injury.

Giancarlo Stanton (outfielder)—Out three weeks or better with a Grade One strain in his left biceps. He could return a shade sooner but nobody’s said anything in that direction as of this writing.

Miguel Andujar (shortstop)—Gregorius’s substitute needs a fill-in himself until “at least some time in May,” as puts it: small labrum tear in his right shoulder.

Dellin Betances (bullpen bull)—Shoulder impingement. Out until the beginning of June at minimum.

Greg Bird (first baseman, bombardier when his swing is right)—Left plantar fascia tear (it’s a foot injury, folks) and, as of 17 April, expected to miss from four to six weeks.

Aaron Hicks (center fielder)—Don’t put him in, coach: his lower back stiffened up on him and he won’t be cleared to play again until some time in May at least.

Troy Tulowitzki (infielder)—Left calf strain. Not expected back until the end of April.

Gary Sanchez (catcher)—He’s had enough trouble keeping himself honest behind the plate even as he can flat out hit, but a 20 April calf strain sent him to the IL until possibly this coming Wednesday, against the Angels.

Aaron Judge (right fielder, ICBM launcher)—The Leaning Tower of the South Bronx strained his left oblique while swinging at the plate against the Royals this weekend. On the ten-day IL but it could be a little worse, considering the Yankees’ press people called the injury “significant.” Could.

The foregoing may be why some might consider it miraculous enough that the Yankees just took three straight from even the lowly Royals after dropping the series opener Thursday. Even if they had to overcome a bullpen immolation to win in extra innings Sunday.

“There’s a couple guys that are irreplaceable here,” said catcher Austin Romine after Sunday’s ten inning, 7-6 survival, “but we’ve got to find a way to do it. We’re still winning games. We’ve got guys stepping up left and right.”

Careful with those steps, Eugene. All things considered, you never know which of those guys stepping up left and right is liable to slip and ding a foot or an ankle.

The Yankee farm system is plenty deep enough right now, but you might understand if the Yankees aren’t in that big a rush to move a few of them up to the Bronx for relief. How would they explain breaking any more players? Even Gregory House himself might be stuck for an answer no matter how many diagnostics he and his team rummage.

They’d better find a way to exterminate the injury bug and soon. Their opponents may be tempted to face them wearing lab coats, not jerseys, just to try psyching them out.


Rays Blue Jays Baseball

If it comforts Blake Snell any, his broken toe from a falling bathroom decoration pole probably isn’t baseball’s weirdest injury . . .

The American League’s defending Cy Young Award winner is learning the hard way how unforgiving certain heavy objects are when not handled appropriately. When Blake Snell decided a granite decorative stand didn’t look quite right in his bathroom, he decided to move it—forgetting it was a four-piece structure weighing eighty pounds total.

A piece landed on Snell’s right foot. The foot on which the lefthander lands when he throws a pitch. The fourth toe on his foot got fractured. Ten days on the injured list at minimum. Snell is only mildly amused.

“It’s like a three-piece set with a bottom base and this pole that comes up like 2 1/2, 3 feet,” he told reporters including The Athletic‘s Josh Tolentino. “It’s right outside the shower. I was like, ‘I’m moving this, it looks stupid.’ I went to move it, I lifted it up and it wasn’t glued to the pole. And the pole came crashing down. Really dumb. That’s what happened.”

Snell getting poleaxed by his own bathroom structure is merely the latest in a longer-than-you-think list of injuries to baseball players that run the entire field from the ridiculous to the bizarre and back to the surreal. Tolentino runs a fair survey of them that merely begin to explain the syndrome.

He missed a few real jewels among the warping wounded, from Sammy Sosa sneezing himself into a ligament sprain in his back to Hall of Famer Tom Glavine breaking a rib while throwing up aboard a flight. And, whether Hall of Famer John Smoltz tried ironing or steaming a shirt while he was in it. Stop right there—Smoltz didn’t exactly do what the urban legend persists in claiming.

“I didn’t steam it while it was on,” he said in 2008. “I set the steamer down, and when I set it down, water popped out and caught me on the chest.” Leaving him a nice little burn mark that his teammates mistook for a hickey, prompting Smoltz to try explaining.

Which prompted a reporter overhearing it not to let the fact get in the way of a delicious story that threatened to have writers ringing Smoltz’s phone off the hook from then on whenever another player incurred an injury from somewhere out of a Saturday Night Live sketch.

The story I cited regarding Smoltz came forth when Hunter Pence, then with the Astros, walked into a sliding glass door. “It’s pretty silly to have this kind of freak accident happen,” he told the Houston Chronicle at the time. “I didn’t really think I would go through a glass door. Normally it wouldn’t shatter. But somehow it shattered and I was in the middle of a bunch of broken glass. I was actually very fortunate because none of the glass was stuck into my wounds.”

Superman usually limited himself to busting through brick walls, not glass doors. Pence thought he was walking through an open door toward his bathroom and hadn’t realised his roommate closed the door first. He’d hopped up a small ledge to go through what he only thought was an open door. Oops. He was lucky to come out of it with only a sizeable number of lacerations.

Those join a pretty fair roll of bizarre injuries, with five more Hall of Famers on the list, too. The mishaps include but are surely not limited to:

Bite Me Dept.—1923: Nondescript pitcher Clarence Bethen put his false teeth into his hip pocket, thinking he looked meaner on the mound when they were out. His lifetime 7.32 ERA thinks otherwise. But in one game he actually hit a double, slide hard into second—and took a bite in the butt from the pocketed choppers. That wasn’t what they meant by putting your teeth into your work.

Jim and Jill Went Down the Hill Dept.—1967: Cy Young Award-winning Red Sox pitcher Jim Lonborg went skiing after the season. That’s where he suffered the torn left knee ligaments that cost him half the 1968 season and left him far less than the pitcher he was in 1967. It’s said Lonborg’s companion on that trip was actress Jill St. John, of whom he may or may not have been in hot pursuit down the slope. Lonborg’s happy ending: he became a respected New England dentist after his pitching career ended. (He retired from dentistry in 2017.)

Chumpionship Ring Dept.—1970: Braves closer Cecil Upshaw thought demonstrating his slam dunk technique by way of an awning on the street was a clever idea . . . until it cost him the entire season, after his ring got caught and he damaged ligaments in his hand.

Back, Back, Back Dept.—1980s: Pitcher Jamie Easterly once took up a backward-running exercise as part of his workout routines and injured his back while running backward and hitting a gopher hole. Easterly had a lot less to worry about when it came to gopher balls: he only surrendered 48 in a thirteen-season career.

Elbow Greased Dept.—1980s: Flaky Indians relief pitcher Ernie Camacho signed autographs for charity one spring, then stopping after about a hundred signatures and heading right for his team doctor complaining about pain in his pitching elbow. I’ve heard of tennis elbow, but . . .

Take Him Out of the Ball Game Dept.—1983: On an off day for the Royals, Hall of Famer George Brett broke his toe running from . . . his kitchen to his living room, to continue watching a Cubs game, specifically to see his buddy Bill Buckner hit.

Rolling Blunder Dept.—1985: Vince Coleman, the Cardinals’ road running base thief, got his foot caught in a tarp-rolling machine at Busch Stadium before Game Four of the National League Championship Series. Incurring a bone chip in his knee and a foot bruise, Vincent Van Go—who set a rookie record for stolen bases that year—was stopped for the rest of that postseason.

Cowboy Down Dept.—1986: Hall of Famer Wade Boggs once missed a week with a back strain suffered when . . . pulling on a pair of cowboy boots. This gave pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps a bad name.

Oh, What a Mangled Web Dept.—1990: Then-Blue Jays outfielder Glenallen Hill fell out of bed and right into a glass table—suffering bruises and cuts on elbows, knees, and legs—as he . . . awoke violently from a nightmare about spiders. Calling your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man . . .

Ice, Ice, Baby Dept.—1993: Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson fell asleep with an ice bag on his foot . . . and the Man of Steal suffered a nasty case of frostbite, which froze him out of three August games.

Sorry, Wrong Number Dept.—1994: Relief pitcher Steve Sparks once thought that just because a motivational speaker he’d seen could rip a thick phone book in half he could do it—until his dislocated shoulder told him, “No, you can’t.”

Dog Bites Cone Dept.—1998: Pitcher David Cone once took a bite from his mother’s Jack Russel terrier, Veronica. The finger injury Cone suffered meant Yankee manager Joe Torre sending a rookie out for his first major leage start: Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez. We’ll presume the pooch didn’t act on Mom’s command.

Bed Sore Dept.—2002: Outfielder Marty Cordova once suffered a bad sunburn across his face . . . on a tanning bed. Never a bottle of Coppertone around when you need one.

Oh, Deer! Dept.—2005: Promising Rockies rook Clint Barmes was given some choice deer meat by elder teammate Todd Helton. The venison won the battle when its weight caused Barmes to fall and break his collarbone. He went from leading National League rookies in most offensive categories to journeyman after recovering. We’ll presume Bambi isn’t exactly one of his favourite films.

The Nutcracker Dept.—2006: There was the time Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr.’s protective cup pinched his testicle. At least Junior had a sense of humour about those things: when he and Hall of Famer in waiting Adrian Beltre were Mariners teammates later on, Griffey arranged to have Beltre—returning from a testicle injury of his own—serenaded with Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

While My Guitar Hero Gently Weeps Dept.—2006: Few were as snakebitten by injuries as Tigers relief pitcher Joel Zumaya, but the legend of his wrist sprain while playing Guitar Hero may be just that: a legend, one Zumaya himself rather enjoyed letting ride—he was delightfully flaky—while admitting to frustration that his career was compromised and then ended after six surgeries yet to come.

Pie in the Sky Dept.—2010: Marlins utility man Chris Coghlan tore the meniscus in his left knee when . . . he fell while trying to smoosh a pie in the face of Wes Helms, who’d just won a game for the Fish with a game-ending bases-loaded single. It might have been a good thing Helms didn’t win it with a grand slam—Coghlan might have been tempted to try hitting him with a whole bakery.

Jump for Joy Dept.—2012: Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain dislocated his ankle while . . . jumping on a trampoline with his five-year-old son.

Honey, I Forgot to Look Dept.—2012: Jonathan Lucroy reached under his bed for a sock and didn’t see his wife fiddling with suitcases on the bed. One of the suitcases fell over the bed and onto Lucroy’s hand. He hit the disabled list after trying but failing to hide that he couldn’t grip his bat properly.

Hold the Mayo Dept.—2012: Mark Buehrle, then pitching for the Marlins, sliced his finger opening a mayonnaise jar a few hours before a scheduled start. He made the start but had a horrid first inning.

Baggage Claim Dept.—Royals catcher Salvador Perez punished his knees enough in thousands of squats behind the plate without blowing the opening of the 2018 season when he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee . . . while carrying a heavy suitcase up some steps. He’s missing this season entirely thanks to a torn elbow ligament during a spring workout that demanded Tommy John surgery.

I suppose, though, that the ones which might claim the top or at least the hottest prizes for bizarre injuries would go thus:

Hot Nuts Dept.—2012: Stephen Strasburg suffered a rough four-inning outing before then-Nationals manager Davey Johnson lifted him mercifully. Apparently, Strasburg inadvertently got some Icy Hot balm on his jewels. That’s a mishap that usually (though maybe not exclusively) happens when being pranked in a high school locker room or while you’re away at summer camp.

You Gotta Have Bra Dept.—1980s: Giants manager Roger Craig suffered a gash on his hand while . . . unhooking a bra strap. Let’s be nice and presume the bra belonged to his wife.

Wile E. Coyote, Genius Dept.—1985: Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan could throw the proverbial lamb chop past the proverbial wolf, but the Express couldn’t throw either his vaunted fastball or himself past . . . one of a pair of coyote pups he found while driving around the countryside, when the pup bit his finger. It cost Ryan one start and the pups. Wile E. Coyote, there’s hope for you yet. Beep-beep!






On the Yankees purging Kate Smith

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Kate Smith, American icon now accused of racism, at a CBS microphone with a certain Yankee (and American) icon . . .

“Kids who grew up to the sound of Kate Smith’s voice,” the television critic Tom Shales once wrote about the Songbird of the South, as she was known, “privately felt that this is what Mom would sound like, if only Mom could sing.” Smith’s eternal image otherwise became what radio historian Gerald Nachman called “a sort-of singing Statue of Liberty” thanks to her recording of “God Bless America.”

Today the singing Statue of Liberty faces a purge from Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have decided to put Smith’s “God Bless America” into the proverbial mothballs, thanks to having discovered Smith recorded, in 1931, a song called “That’s Why Darkies Were Born.” The hefty Virginian who was once one of broadcasting’s most formidable presences is now to be sent to the Phantom Zone as a racist.

I didn’t grow up to the sound of Kate Smith’s voice, but I did have a mom who, God rest her soul in peace, liked to sing in the shower now and then and sounded like she was being tickled on the soles of her bare feet. As for Smith being an actual racist, I’ve just discovered (by reading a copy at that she didn’t talk about race at all in her long-out-of-print 1960 memoir, Upon My Lips a Song. The mere absence of a topic doesn’t necessarily suggest an author’s view one way or the other on it. you wouldn’t presume that Roger Angell has an opinion one way or the other about Olympic bobsledding even though he’s never written about it so far as you know.

But to judge by the hoopla around her until-now-obscure 1931 hit—it wasn’t even close to being one of her signature songs—the answer seems a resounding yes, Smith was indeed a racist. Until you plumb a little further and a) remember that racism wasn’t exactly obscure in the era’s entertainment, unfortunately; but, b) “That’s Why Darkies Were Born” explicitly satirises it. Uh, oh. We know how instantly understood satire often is, don’t we?

A Seattle Post-Intelligencer critic, Eric D. Snider, isolated the point in a 2011 piece reviewing a film that was made and released two years after Smith’s hit, the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup, which wasn’t exactly a hit in its own right upon release but has long since earned stature as perhaps their absolute best film in many minds. How does Duck Soup connect to “That’s Why Darkies Were Born?” A joke cracked by Groucho Marx, Snider answers:

One of Groucho’s jokes that is obscure (and probably offensive) to modern ears is this: “My father was a little headstrong, my mother was a little armstrong. The Headstrongs married the Armstrongs, and that’s why darkies were born.” Haha– wait, what? The reference is to “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” a hit song from the 1931 Broadway revue George White’s Scandals that was famously recorded by both Kate Smith and Paul Robeson (whom you’ve heard singing “Old Man River”). The song presented a satirical view of racism, though actual racism wasn’t exactly rare in plays or movies in the 1930s.

Groucho uses the line simply because it was famous at the time and it sort of fit his train of thought. 

(Emphasis added.)

Contemporary sensibilities (or lack of sensibility) advises that there were probably those who saw Mr. Snider’s piece and concluded (erroneously) that Groucho Marx was therefore a racist.

Baseball itself observed a strictly enforced colour line in those years, which was broken at last in 1947, though it took long enough for all teams other than the Dodgers and the Indians (with Larry Doby shortly after Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn) to get and act on the message. We live with our pasts to learn from them, but how often and how far in the future should we be punished for them if we’ve long since renounced and transcended them?

Remember last year’s skirmishes about some baseball players having tweeted racist remarks as callow teenagers, views they’d long since rejected and renounced? There were those suggesting they should have been suspended at minimum or banished at maximum for having held those views at all regardless of whether they changed those views.

A decade ago, the Yankees purged the Irish tenor Ronan Tynan from singing “God Bless America” during their post-9/11 seventh inning stretches, as Tynan had been very popular doing, when it came forth that he’d made an anti-Semitic remark involving a prospective renter in his New York apartment building. That was a far more verifiable incident upon which the Yankees acted than the presumed attitude behind recording a satirical song that is now 88 years old.

If the Yankees are ready to expunge Smith’s recording of “God Bless America” from their seventh-inning stretch revelries, they should at least understand that the ancient record that prompts them was indeed intended as satire and taken as such both in its own time and in the eyes and ears of critics writing three quarters of a century later about films that referenced it just as satirically.

And it’s also wise to remind ourselves that you could probably fill Yankee Stadium several thousand times over with those who were likewise so callow in our youths but learned and behaved better when we stopped being callow youths and started becoming  men and women.

Smith recorded another song some say satirised racism, “Pickaninny Heaven,” in the same decade as that in which she cut “That’s Why Darkies Are Born.” She also endorsed an Aunt Jemima-style “mammy” doll at decade’s end. That was the 1930s, for better or worse, and Smith, who died in 1986, had miles to go before her limousine slept. Unless I chance to read a full biography of Smith that reveals otherwise, I don’t think it’s fair of me to suggest that she held racist views herself at any time, never mind in the 1930s, or that if she did then she didn’t change and transcend such earlier views.

And if she did hold racist views once upon a time in her life, should I demand her purging as many demanded the purgings of, say, Josh Hader or Trey Turner after their earlier but long since renounced views were exhumed last year?

The aforementioned Paul Robeson  had other issues, of course, including and particularly his Stalinism (it didn’t begin with his public approval of the Soviet Union’s suppression of the 1954 Hungarian revolt), but it’s reasonable to think that the legendary African/American bass/baritone who spoke often and loud against racism wouldn’t have recorded “That’s Why Darkies are Born” if he, too, didn’t think it was satirical.

Without knowing whether Kate Smith was a genuine racist when recording a satire of racism, or began as a racist but transcended it as her life went forward, the Yankees may be jumping the proverbial gun on helping to destroy the reputation of an iconic recording made by—yes, she was, to an awful lot of people in another time and place—an iconic singer.

“The Yankees take social, racial and cultural insensitivities very seriously,” an unidentifed Yankee spokesman was quoted as telling the New York Daily News. “And while no final conclusions have been made, we are erring on the side of sensitivity.” A lot of errors are committed while erring on the side of sensitivity, too.

Depends on whose kids play, I guess

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Tim Anderson, a milli-second from making breakfast out of Brad Keller’s full-count grapefruit . . .

It’s beginning to look a little more like letting the kids play, which baseball wishes to push as its watchword, is going to have more exceptions as the season ambles forward. And, it isn’t just from those players still wedded till death do they part to the Sacred Unwritten Rules.

Apparently, baseball’s most notorious umpire wants to have his say about it, too. Apparently, too, there are teams who don’t mind their own kids playing but are ready to rumble if their opponents play.

Come Wednesday baseball’s incumbent hottest hitter, Tim Anderson, learned the hard way about what happens when you’re one of the kids who wants to play but Joe West decides in the moment that he’s your daddy, and Daddy needs to send you to your room for objecting vociferously though not violently over being hit by a pitch your next time up after hitting one out.

Oh, yes, Tim. You came to play, and—with Eloy Jimenez on second and two out—Royals’ starter Brad Keller threw you a full count grapefruit. And just like any major league hitter who happens to be heated up well enough, you saw that grapefruit and knew it meant one thing—breakfast. And oh, did you feast on it. You drove it so far into the left field seats there should have been coffee served with it.

And, considering you’d just had such a yummy breakfast courtesy of a pitcher against whom you’d been (read carefully) 0-for-13 with five strikeouts and not a base on balls on the ledger otherwise, there shouldn’t be a jury on earth that would consider you out of line for striding moderately out of the batter’s box watching it fly, then throwing your bat toward your own dugout as if momentarily in the javelin event at the Olympics before running out the breakfast bomb.

Neither you nor Keller have any clue, probably, that Cy Young’s unrelated namesake is still the only American man to win Olympic gold in the javelin throw, or that Babe Didrikson was the first American woman to win Olympic gold in it. All you know, Tim, is that you’re not staring Keller down, you don’t look into his team’s dugout, you don’t do anything in any way to show the Royals up, unless the Royals suddenly believe firing your bat toward your own dugout shows them up.

You probably care, Tim, only that your next time up Keller throws the first pitch of the plate appearance into your can, and that he probably wishes it was a shot put, not a baseball. And it’s very possible that Keller cares deeply about the little fact that you’ve hit eight home runs off Royals pitching in your career, two more than you’ve hit against any other team.

So right after you got canned, you take a step or two toward the mound and Royals catcher Martin Maldonado—who has the job because Salvador Perez, the catcher who thinks you have no right to have fun until or unless you’ve won a World Series ring, is out for the season with an injury—slithers into your presumed path.

You talk to Maldonado while then giving Keller a well-earned glare. You’re not thinking about charging Keller, like a bull or anything else. You even give Maldonado two pats on the shoulder as you both stride up the first base line, and it looks as though it’s going to be no big deal. Looks aren’t everything, alas.

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. . . then, flinging his bat like a javelin toward (underline this, gang) his own dugout . . . 

Because Jose Abreu leads your teammates out of the dugout and the Royals come pouring out of theirs. It’s going to take about seven or eight minutes and a couple of scrums between a couple of coaches and managers, yours and theirs, to get the whole thing settled, even as—rather intriguingly—the mob ended up not around the mound or the plate but near first base.

And all the while, Tim, you’re doing something rather remarkable with a little help from your friends, much as Keller is. You’re both staying away from the rhubarb.

The Royals may be chirping like canaries toward you, and a few of your mates might be chirping likewise toward Keller, but you two aren’t even near the crowd. Even if your coach Joe McEwing has his arms around you from behind just in case, but you sure don’t look like you’re ready for a piece of anyone in Royals fatigues.

Your manager Rick Renteria may be barking at Royals manager Ned Yost to get his kids off the field unless they’re playing in its positions, and Yost may be barking back that there’s no way he’s going to let your boss or anyone bark at his boys. But you and Keller, with a little help from at least a couple of your friends, are actually behaving yourselves during this little danse d’absurdio.

Far as you know, Tim, Keller should be the only one who gets a ho-heave, and maybe your mates should get at least one chance to send the Royals a message in return. Maybe. You’re all about having fun while you play. You know that word “play.” Even if you’re not aware of Hall of Famer Willie Stargell’s wisdom: “The umpire doesn’t say, ‘Work ball’.” Even if you’ve never seen Bull Durham and heard Crash Davis remind his teammates, “This game’s fun, okay?”

Yet you may forget one small detail, Tim.  You may forget that Joe West, one of the base umpires for the game, doesn’t forget.

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. . . then, getting drilled his next time up by the pitcher off whom he’d never hit one out until his previous time up.

Last year, you asked him about whether he or anyone else saw you get touched when Javier Baez of the Cubs slid rather hard into you trying to break up a double play in the making. And Country Joe sent you and your skipper to the showers. And you said, quote, “I don’t have much to say about him. Everybody knows he’s terrible. But I didn’t say much. He threw me out. It’s OK.”

Well, it turns out not to have been OK. Because once things settle down Wednesday, Country Joe rounds up the umpires and decides Keller, Renteria, Royals coach Dale Sveum, and . . . you should be sent to your rooms.

You get Keller. You get your skipper. You get Sveum. But you? The original victim? This is like a father learning the neighbourhood bully beat the hell out of his son for no reason and deciding his son needed to be spanked for it.

And you, the son, are diplomatic enough not to reference Daddy’s previous unwarranted punishment over the Baez slide debate, such as it was, when Mother asks what the hell you are doing in time out with a sore bottom for the rest of the day. (You may wish to wonder whether Mother reminded Daddy that, thanks to these punishments he’s now number three on the all-time umpires’ ejections survey thanks to passing Hank O’Day.)

And when the White Sox send someone from their media relations department to ask what Daddy and his fellow umps thought when Daddy laid down the law, all they say in reply is, “Because of the language that was used on the field, the umpires declined comment.”

Somewhere in the middle of the scrum, Tim, Country Joe Daddy actually put his hands on your manager trying to usher him the hell out of it. Now, if you wonder, Tim, where the hell West gets off with that kind of contact—when you and every other fool knows there’d be hell to pay if it had been your manager putting hands on Country Joe Daddy or any other umpire in like circumstances—you’re hardly alone, I’m sure.

Even diplomatic you, Tim, can’t be blamed if your spontaneous thought about that and your ultimate day’s punishment is, “You’ve gotta be joking.” What’s not a joke is that of course the Royals deny any intent on Keller’s part to teach you a lesson about play. Of course Keller himself says he wasn’t trying to put a hole into your left butt.

And of course you and me and everyone else watching that game knows it was about as not-trying as the day Hunter Strickland nailed Bryce Harper on the first pitch of an at-bat, over a pair of home runs almost three years old.

We also know the Royals are a little on the hypocritical side when it comes to these things. They have no problem with one of their own remembering the umpire doesn’t say, “Work ball.” (That one of their own last year, Alcides Escobar, is now in the minor league system of . . . the White Sox. Just sayin’.) They just don’t like it when one of the opposition remembers.

Go back out and have fun today, Tim. Your manager has your back, too. As he says, wisely, about home runs like yours and spontaneous celebrations like yours, “You want him not to do that? Get him out.” What a concept.

And as for you, Brad Keller, I have this: Instead of throwing at the guy who ate your grapefruit for breakfast the next time he faces you, get him out . . . and have a little celebration of your own.

Strike him out. Make your hand into a pistol and fire it (just like Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley used to do), or fan it. (Just like the late Joaquin Andujar used to do.) Or, make like you’re firing an old fashioned tommy gun. Or, drop to a knee and fire an imaginary bazooka toward him as he slinks back to the dugout. If hitters can have fun, why can’t pitchers?

Or, if the next time up the circumstance allows you to lure him into a double play grounder, make sure your infielders are ready to mime a juggling act. If hitters and pitchers can have fun, why can’t the fielders?

“Remember when you were a kid and you’d skip supper to play ball?” should-be Hall of Famer Dick Allen, near the end of his career, once reminded pressing young Hall of Famer-to-be Mike Schmidt. “You were having fun. Baseball’s supposed to be fun. Enjoy it. Be a kid again.”

Sound counsel for both Tim Anderson and Brad Keller, the latter of whom happens to be two years younger than the former, but who chose instead to behave like a scolding old get-off-my-lawn fart. And, for Joe West, who’s old enough to know better, still young enough to enjoy it, but may think he was born a scolding old get-off-my-lawn fart.






Danger, Will Callaway

2019-04-16 MickeyCallaway

Mickey Callaway, after the Mets beat the Phillies the hard way Monday night.

If you don’t ask your best bullpen bull for a four-out save in April, it doesn’t normally matter. Don’t want to burn a reliever too early, too often, right? But it might be just a little different if you’re trying to stake an early claim upon your division, as the Mets were against the Phillies Monday night.

It’s smart long-term strategy to be sure your bulls stay healthy enough for a stretch drive and then a postseason. But now and then you just have to ask for a four-out save. Especially, when the guy you want most to give it to you—unless you were foolish enough to warm him up a few times in the interim without using him—hasn’t pitched in a game in three days.

And if you don’t do it against one of your top division rivals now and then before the stretch drive, there’s a fair chance you may not do it when it might mean the last barrier between triumph or disaster down the stretch or in the postseason if you get there.

Mets manager Mickey Callaway, formerly a respected pitching coach who should know better, didn’t do it Monday night, when his Mets had a grand chance to bump into first in the National League East at the Phillies’ explicit expense. And unless he’d warmed Edwin Diaz up over the three days prior during which Diaz didn’t see game action, he had a fresh enough resource to do it.

Callaway says he won’t ask Diaz for a four-out save or bring him into a tie game unless it is the postseason. That’s not exactly unsound thinking, but it’s not exactly unwise to test it now and then before the stretch and be absolutely sure Diaz can handle it at all. He didn’t get the chance in Seattle last year, but then last year’s Mariners weren’t exactly like this year’s early-season threshing machine.

Not testing it Monday almost cost Callaway a game he could have won without having to escape a gasoline fire. Oops. The fire was burning already in the bottom of the eighth, after the Mets wrestled back to a 6-5 lead, but prodigal erstwhile closer Jeurys Familia allowed a hit, a walk, then lured a double play ball—before two more walks to set up Philadelphia ducks on the pond.

Callaway instead reached for Robert Gsellman, his 4.00 ERA, and his 1.66 walks/hits per inning pitched rate. And with Bryce Harper on deck, Gsellman walked Jean Segura unintentionally on four straight pitches to tie the game at six. Gsellman was probably lucky to catch Harper off guard swinging into an inning-ending pop out to shortstop.

But he did get through the ninth unscathed to send the game to the extra innings that might have been avoided if Callaway had reached for Diaz instead. And the Mets yanked the lead back in the top of the eleventh with a little derring-do aided by a little Phillies derring-don’t: Juan Lagares, atoning for an earlier baserunning blunder on an earlier Phillies error, shot home on a Rhys Hoskins error for the seventh and ultimate winning run.

Then Callaway reached for Diaz. And Diaz struck out the side to save it for Luis Avilan, who’d pitched a scoreless but slightly bumpy tenth. It brought Avilan’s 2019 ERA down to 10.80.

“They kept trying to give us the bleepin’ game,” said Larry Bowa, the former Phillies shortstop and manager who now works as a senior advisor to the team. And every time the Phillies tried giving it back, the Mets tried giving it back again, when they didn’t have to.

Fair is fair: the game did get to that 6-5 lead in the first place thanks to both starting pitchers, the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and the Phillies’ Aaron Nola, playing with matches before five innings were in the books. And the Mets should have heard some alarm bells there, too, considering Syndergaard complained after the game that he couldn’t grip the ball properly.

But it was hard to escape the feeling that Callaway played with a little fire himself. Especially when he reiterated after the game that Diaz wouldn’t be a topic until the ninth inning. “I think we’ve said this before,” Callaway told one reporter. “He’s not going to get four outs.”

Congratulations, Elliot Ness. You’ve just sold the Mob some explosives.

Callaway should be reminded that a lot of baseball’s grounds are scorched, and still have debris from, similar late game reluctance by managers who could have or should have known better than to cling to The Book in their hours of deepest need:

Tony La Russa—Twice in the 1990 World Series his Athletics led in the eighth inning. Neither time did he think of bringing in his Hall of Fame closer, Dennis Eckersley, who’d had more than one outing of more than three outs on the year. (And, was notoriously stingy with inherited runners when he entered with them.)

They led Game Two 4-3 in the eighth . . . and lost. They led Game Four 1-0 in the eighth . . . and lost. Guess what both games had in common? La Russa didn’t bring in Dennis the Menace to start the eighth. And instead of the Series being tied at two games each, the upstart Reds swept the Series.

Grady Little—He stayed with Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez’s heart while ignoring Martinez’s tank, on which the needle was past E. Trouble was, it was Game Seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series.

Little had Mike Timlin and Alan Embree ready in the pen after Martinez surrendered a one-out RBI single. Staying with Martinez cost him Jorge Posada’s game-tying two-run double. Then Little went to Embree for one out and Timlin for a pair, interrupted only by a walk for which Aaron Boone entered the game as a pinch runner.

And it ended up in an extra-inning thriller with Timlin and then Tim Wakefield going scoreless against Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. Until Wakefield’s first knuckleball of the bottom of the eleventh flew into the left field seats off Boone’s bat with a Yankee pennant attached.

Dusty Baker—Bad enough he’d sent a hard-ridden and now spent Mark Prior out to start the eighth of Game Six, 2003 National League Championship Series, with the Cubs six outs from the World Series.

Worse: Leaving Prior to surrender a one-out double, throw a wild pitch, endure the infamous Bartman Foul, give up a walk, give up an RBI single, and watch in horror when the double play ball bounced off shortstop Alex Gonzalez’s chest, before serving the two-run double that tied the game.

Then Baker reached . . . for Kyle Farnsworth; for a sacrifice fly, an intentional walk, and a three-run double; and, for Mike Remlinger, and for an RBI single. And, an eight-run Marlins eighth.

Far worse: Baker’s closer Joe Borowski, the one Cub bullpen bull he could have and should have trusted that year, wasn’t even a topic. Especially since Borowski hadn’t seen game action since Game Three. The Cubs might have returned to the World Series fourteen seasons before they finally did if Baker asked Borowski to start the Game Six eighth.

Mike Matheny—Bottom of the ninth, Game Five of the 2014 NLCS, the game tied at three as the inning began. The Book told him don’t bring in your closer unless there’s something to save. So Matheny stayed with Michael Wacha with one out and two on but still rusty after a late-season injury layoff. His then circuit-breakers-off closer Trevor Rosenthal wasn’t even a subject.

Not until the postgame interviews. Because Travis Ishikawa couldn’t have cared less what The Book said. And Ishikawa backed up his disdain with the noisiest three-run homer in Giants history since Bobby Thomson in 1951. The ball and the National League pennant landed atop Levi’s Landing.

Buck ShowalterHis power-station closer Zach Britton, the best in the business in 2016, nowhere to be found in the bottom of the eleventh, that year’s American League wild card game. Ubaldo Jimenez, normally a starter but now the fifth Orioles reliever of the night, staying in the game much to everyone’s surprise—including his own, he said later.

“We wanted to have a strong Zach and have him there in case the game goes to extra innings,” Showalter said. With two on and one out the thought that he needed a true stopper right then, no matter how well Jimenez had pitched of late, didn’t cross his mind.

Not until Edwin Encarnacion drove the first pitch Jimenez threw him so far into the Rogers Centre second deck it said there goes that idea on its way out.

You’re not necessarily going to have to think about things like that two straight nights, and that’s probably a good thing. And there’s no written guarantee that the move won’t blow up in your face. But you’ve got to try it now and then. Better to lose if the other guys overcome your best weapon than if they don’t.

Last October Dodgers manager Dave Roberts asked Kenley Jansen for six-out saves in consecutive World Series games. The first one Jansen surrendered the homer Jackie Bradley, Jr. hit to send Game Three to its eighteen-inning marathon; the next, he got two quick outs before Steve Pearce began his Series MVP destruction in earnest with a shot into a fan’s glove in the left field bleachers.

Both times Roberts made his best move. The first one he came up roses even if it took almost to sunrise for Max Muncy to hand him the bouquet; the second, he got nuked. But he went down playing his best prospective hand. And Jansen in fairness was pitching with offseason heart surgery on his calendar, too.

But Callaway may have been lucky that the Mets pulled Monday night’s game out. And luck is something these Mets haven’t had for a few years. The next time he has a prime need for more than a single-inning save from his man Diaz, but stays by his Book even on the road and even in an eighth-inning tie, his and the Mets’ luck may run out.

“We got away with stuff,” Callaway said after the Mets banked the 7-6 win the hard way. “But we still came up with a win. That says a lot.” It’ll say even more if and when Callaway’s luck runs out at the wrong time while clinging to The Book too hard.

All he has to do is remind himself about La Russa, Little, Baker, Matheny, and Showalter. And learn not to sell explosives to the Mob.