The Show will go on, but . . .

2020-06-23 ManfredBallsOK, so the universal designated hitter won’t be coming just yet. That ought to settle the more stubborn traditionalists, who forget often enough that there’ve been a few traditions baseball was better off without and moved to eliminate them appropriately.

But it looks like we’re going to have major league baseball this year, after all. It also looks like it’s going to be nerve wracking, not just because of a sixty-game season by itself but because the continuing coronavirus world tour may make a few more stops baseball isn’t going to like.

The Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays have had to close their Florida camps when five Phillies-organisation players and one such Blue Jay tested COVID-19 positive. As of Sunday, according to USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, forty players and/or team staffers have tested positive for the virus.

And when the Show teams return to work a quick-and-dirty delayed spring training, it looks like they’ll be doing it in their home cities instead of at their normal spring training camps in hard enough-hit Arizona and Florida. Which makes things perhaps a little simpler for most but a little trickier for the Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That assumes the players can handle such a brief spring training. The Major League Baseball Players Association has until five o’clock Eastern time today to let MLB know the players can report for such abbreviated and re-located spring training by 1 July, with a projected 24 July season opening. Not exactly the (all things considered) ideal Fourth of July season opening many thought would have been big enough.

While you ponder how not-so-great both sides in the MLB impasse have looked, ponder concurently why there was such an impasse in the first place. The owners and commissioner Rob Manfred tried to renege on a late March deal with the players, plain enough and simple enough, for all the complications that followed. If you want a thumbnail sketch here and now, you won’t get much better than NBC Sports’s Craig Calcaterra:

The terms of that basic framework: the players earned the right to receive prorated pay for however many games played and Major League Baseball would get to decide how many games would, in fact, be played. In light of that, one might’ve assumed that when it came time to set up a 2020 season, it’d be a pretty straightforward thing: the owners, per the March Agreement, would simply say “we’ll play a season of X games” and it’d be done.

Except when the owners first spoke, and proposed an 82-game season in early May, it came with a catch: a demand that the players give up their previously-negotiated right to prorated pay and accept different financial terms. Legally speaking the owners had no right to ask for that and the players were under no obligation to negotiate that. They declined to do so and, instead, countered with various proposals on season length and did not negotiate pay rate. The owners, nonetheless, spent more than a month asking for the players to abandon their rights to prorated pay, proposing multiple alternative schemes. It was not until June 17 — after the players said they would no longer negotiate if MLB kept including pay concessions in their offers and, instead, simply demanded that MLB impose a season and be done with it — that MLB came back with its first offer that complied with the March Agreement.

In shorter words, it took the Show this long to start setting a season because the owners tried—in the middle of a pandemic scaring the hell out of a country that needed the Show to help keep morale alive when nobody knows just when the coronavirus world tour will end at last—to use it as a shield to pull a fast one on the players whose previous inconsistent unity came together the moment they smelled this rat.

Calcaterra also reminds us that relations between the owners and the players weren’t exactly friendly before the pandemic forced baseball’s limbo in March:

The owners had been eating the players’ lunch in recent years, having negotiated a couple of owner-friendly labor deals and, on top of that, putting the screws to players in free agency. In light of that there was already a lot of mistrust and, with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire in December 2021, each side was already beginning to mobilize for labor battle. Reacting to the pandemic and coming to some sort of an agreement to deal with it would’ve been difficult in even the best of circumstances, and the owners and the players were nowhere close to being in the best of circumstances as the 2020 season was about to get underway.

The players’ lesser cohesion between 2016 and March may have seduced the owners into thinking that, with their continuous tries at reneging on the March agreement, they “could, once again, exploit rifts in the union and get a favorable deal as a result.” Oops. The players hollered foul and stuck to it. For now.

The questions to come include whether they’ll stay so cohesive when it comes time to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement after the 2021 season. Neither Manfred nor Players Association executive director Tony Clark come out of this mess looking better.

Manfred is exposed as a commissioner unwilling to translate his express power to act for the good of the game into acting as though that good is more than making or saving money for the owners . . . who also forgot what a horrible look it would be when they spent so much time trying to trash what they agreed to in March they were seen as ignoring health implications in MLB’s return.

Clark, though, is seen now as a union leader who doesn’t always read pulses properly and doesn’t always see the bigger picture, including the prospect of recent negotiations and owners’ maneuverings leaving free agency to face what some writers call a potential blood bath.

Or, as Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer tweeted Monday, “So we gave up shares of playoff money, eliminating the qualifying offer for 2021, paycheck advance forgiveness, Covid 19 protections, and protection for non guaranteed arb contracts for next year in order to hold on to our right to file a grievance.”

Bauer had tweeted earlier that the pandemic wasn’t the right time for a battle: “If there’s going to be a fight, the time for that fight is after the ’21 season when a new CBA is negotiated. … We’re doing irreparable damage to our industry right now over rules that last AT MOST 16 months. What kind of sense does that make?”

Nothing about 2020 has made any kind of sense so far. The owners looking terrible makes the same sad sense it always has. The players’ union looking foolish now doesn’t. Everyone in and around baseball knows that.

But at least they kept the universal DH from poisoning the pond, right?

Let it stay. Permanently.

2020-06-22 BartoloColon

Let’s not and say we did: Averaging 5,492 plate appearances a year from 2010-2019, Show pitchers averaged 23 home runs a year. Or, one home run per 239 plate appearances. Oh, funsie. (Newsday photo.)

I get the impression that the only baseball debates more bristling than those over the owners vs. the players in the current pandemic impasse are those bristling over the universal designated hitter that’ll be put in place for this year (if there is a this year) and next year at minimum. OK, you asked for it: Let the universal DH stay forever.

That’s my call and I’m sticking to it. And you’re dealing with a guy who would sooner have tried to pass the camel through the needle’s eye than insist the National League give up the ghost—and, by the way, the futility of 99.99 percent of those pitchers who bat in the number nine hole—and accept the DH.

I insisted on that refusal until some time between 2018 and 2019. Because reality has a way of knocking you down faster than any hitter ever got knocked down by Bob Gibson after hitting one out off the Hall of Famer. Sure as hell faster than it took (age 42 years, 349 days) for Bartolo Colon to hit the only home run of his major league life.

In my case, reality only begins with making note that, in 2019, major league pitchers posted a wonderful .128/.159/.163 slash line. (Batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage.)

Which was a mild improvement over 2018’s .115/.144/.149. Yep, last year’s balls might have been juiced, after all. Oho, but what about the eight seasons prior to that? What about them? Very well, as the man said on television once upon a time, you asked for it:

2017—.124/.156/.161.
2016—.132/.164/.171.
2015—.132/.160/.170.
2014—.122/.153/.152.
2013—.132/.164/.169.
2012—.129/.162/.166.
2011—.141/.174/.182.
2010—.141/.175/.174.

The slash line for pitchers at the plate all decade long? .130/.161/.165.

Now tell me how nuts Thomas Boswell to write a year and a half ago:

It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.

Tell me, too, how nuts an old magazine known as Sporting Life was to write thus:

Every patron of the game is conversant with the utter worthlessness of the average pitcher when he goes up to try and hit the ball. It is most invariably a trial, and an unsuccessful one at that. If fortune does favor him with a base hit it is ten to one that he is so winded in getting to first or second base on it that when he goes into the box it is a matter of very little difficulty to pound him all over creation.

That was written in . . . 1891. The year in which then-Pittsburgh Pirates owner William Chase Temple first proposed leaving pitchers to pitching strictly and having someone else who isn’t a pitcher bat in the lineup in his place.

The following year, after the collapse of the ancient American Association sent four teams into the National League, Temple’s fellow owners missed implementing the DH by four votes. According to Temple himself, the somewhat mythological Chris von der Ahe, owner of the former A.A. St. Louis Browns (I am der Boss Pressident of der Prowns) let him down by voting against it.

The DH didn’t cross the mind of any American League owner, apparently, until 1906, when Connie Mack got fed up with his pitchers swinging at the plate as though their bats were made of papier mache. (The 1906 Philadelphia Athletics’ main pitchers hit for a collective .201 that year. Don’t even think about it: in the dead ball era pitching wasn’t quite as tough or hard as it became much later.)

The Tall Tactician’s proposal didn’t go anywhere. Neither did a 1928 proposal to introduce the DH—by National League president John Heydler—that the American League rejected. Not until several minor leagues including the AAA-level International League adopted the DH in the 1960s did the idea get traction again, and then because maybe the single most despised owner in baseball at the time took it up.

Charlie Finley noticed the DH’s staying power in the minors. He also noticed two more things in 1972: 1) The National League out-drew the American League when the AL’s run production shrank. 2) His Oakland A’s pitchers couldn’t hit if you set the balls up for them on tees: their slash line was .165/.198/.203. (The very outlying exception: relief pitcher Rollie Fingers. His 1972 slash line: .316/.316/.474.) The American League’s pitchers overall in 1972: .145/.184/.182.

That’s when the American League—with commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who usually took anything Finley said as a declaration of war, giving his blessing—turned to the DH. (Year One A.D.H., aka 1973: the American League out-hit the National League.) The National League took it up again in 1980 and 1982 and it lost.

Without the DH, but with the remaining cop-out of pitching around the number eight hitter to strike out the opposing pitcher, Boswell wrote, “some weaker pitchers survive in the NL But survival-of-the-unfittest isn’t good for the evolution of a league. Over time, high-quality hitters migrate to the AL, where they can have longer, richer careers by finishing as a DH. That is the main reason the AL has dominated interleague play in this century.”

Actually, from before this century. Since regular-season interleague play emerged in 1997, the American League has a .522 winning percentage. (3,166-2,898; or, the AL has won 268 more games.) And only in five seasons has the National League won more interleague games than the American League. Sure, they did it last year and the year before, but that snapped a fourteen-season American League winning streak.

I don’t like a lot of the possible temporary 2020-2021 rules proposed for the Show’s return. Especially the idea of starting extra innings with each team getting a man on second to open the tenth inning.

I’m not as wild about the three-batter minimum for pitchers as I thought I might be. I don’t like the pack of television commercials for each pitching change, either. I’m also tired of things like that reviving meaningless and usually mal-informed debates about the death of the complete game, too.

(News flash: Complete games began dying off after the dead ball era ended. Damn right you can look it up. And thank God for it, unless you love the idea of ruining arms prematurely and ignoring the concept that pitchers like Warren Spahn and Nolan Ryan  were and remain anomalies. Or, that Robin Roberts was so worn down from his passel of early ’50s complete games and 300+ innings seasons he had to remake himself as a junkballer to stay in the Show as long as he did. I love complete games, too—but I’d rather see pitchers have longer, more productive, less injurious careers.)

But you know what I like even less?

1) I don’t like managers and coaches paying so little attention to warmup activity in the bullpen (more than you think don’t) that they don’t realise the guy they’re about to bring in might have thrown the equivalent of a quality start’s worth of pitches before he got into the game, with about a better than 50 percent chance of being gassed—and battered—going in.

(And if he’s been throwing that much in the pen before coming in, why the hell are we still letting him throw eight more pitches on the game mound before facing his first hitter?)

2) I don’t like the thought of some poor soul—who may or may not have been overworked in the pen before coming in in the first place—coming in with less than his best stuff and getting killed to death because his skipper can’t lift him until he’s faced three batters minimum.

But I like the idea that a National League lineup spot won’t be wasted anymore by the single most automatic out in baseball. I like the idea that National League managers might come to enjoy having, among other things, the option American League managers have: you could, in theory, use that number nine hole for either an extra cleanup-type or an extra leadoff-type. Quite a few teams have.

From 2010-2019 the Show’s pitchers averaged 5,492 plate appearances a year and, for those who insist it’s worth the wait to see a pitcher hit one over the fence, 23 home runs a year. One bomb per 239 plate appearances. If you watched a team’s regular lineup hit one homer per 239 plate appearances on a season, you’d call it the Second Dead Ball Era. Oh, funsie.

 

Having a wild Wednesday

2020-06-18 NationalsPark

Nationals Park.

What a Wednesday. It only began when MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweeted, “Breaking: MLB and players union are closing in on an agreement to play the 2020 season, via players. Deal expected to be for prorated pay and include expanded playoffs.”

Heyman kicked off what was possibly baseball’s most exciting day since the Washington Nationals shook, rattled, and rolled their way to winning Game Seven of last year’s World Series.

The difference is that the excitement had nothing to do with a gutsy pitching performance, or one manager having to hook a bold starting pitcher whose tank reached empty after surrendering a two-run homer, or another manager calling for a play review so his next pitcher might have a little more warmup time, or the first manager’s best relief option being reached for a foul-pole ringing, coffin-forming home run.

It had to do with baseball itself being exhausted of the unconscionable standoff between owners to whom the good of the game means making or saving money for it and players who don’t like people trying to renege on agreements but whose itch to play the game can be ignored for only so long before they have to scratch it.

On Tuesday came the word that commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark met up and talked. Come Wednesday, once Heyman hit the merry-go-round switch the horsies galloped almost all over the place.

Some said the deal might be a 66-game season with a postseason expansion from ten to sixteen teams. Others said a 60-game season. Jayson Stark of The Athletic tweeted get your kicks on route 66: “12 games each vs 4 division opponents. 3 games each vs 4 interleague opponents. 6 games (home and home) vs interleague rival.”

Halt right there, tweeted NBC Sports’s Craig Calcaterra: “16 playoff teams is a joke. As it is I have made a mental distinction between the season and the postseason, considering them different things but if they go to 16 the season starts hurtling toward meaninglessness.

Slow down, returned Stark, who ran down a quick list of teams who’d have made last year’s postseason in a 60-game season for a sixteen-team field: the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Chicago Cubs, the Atlanta Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, the San Diego Padres, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Colorado Rockies in the National League; the Houston Astros, the Minnesota Twins, the New York Yankees, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Texas Rangers, the Boston Red Sox, the Cleveland Indians, and the Oakland Athletics.

You may have noticed, as Stark couldn’t resist noticing, that among the missing in that scenario would have been 2019’s world champion Nats.

Then came the first chink in the chain pulling the merry-go-round in its circles, from Heyman’s fellow MLB Insider scribe Robert Murray: “Two sources with direct knowledge do not expect Major League Baseball’s latest proposal to the MLBPA to get a deal done. If a deal will be agreed upon, as [ESPN’s] @JeffPassan said, it needs to be for more than 60 games.”

Around 5 p.m. Pacific time USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale elucidated on the new proposal also including a universal designated hitter for this year and next. Shortly before that, former major league general manager Jim Bowden noted a likely deal would mean both the owners and the players foregoing grievances-to-be.

Then Heyman weighed in again, around 5:20 PDT: “The framework of the deal between Manfred and union chief Clark included: 60 games at 100% full prorated pay, waiver of grievances, 16-team expanded playoffs for 2 years, universal DH, more. Owner sources say it was agreed to pending constituency approval, meaning owners, players

Two hours and ten minutes later, Murray slipped another chink into the merry-go-round’s motor chain: “People familiar with players’ thinking believe that they are seeking more games because they don’t feel a 60-game season is worth losing their right to file a grievance. ‘The ability to file a grievance,’ one agent said, ‘is almost worth letting the owners cancel the season’.”

What seems still to be another key is that the players don’t want a too-short season and a too-convoluted postseason but, as Athletic writer Ken Rosenthal posited, they may be willing to settle for 65 games. May. For a nation starved for major league baseball that may yet prove as good as major medical relief. May.

A day earlier, Yankee president Randy Levine, a man not necessarily renowned as a moderate among baseball administrators, struck another bull’s eye when he isolated one key issue other than dollars tied to that March agreement: “From what I’ve discovered, the holdup is not about the number of games or money at this time,” he said.

The holdup, as I understand it, is about resolving the other items in the March 26 agreement. They include final agreement on all of the health and safety protocols, deciding what happens if a season is interrupted by a second wave of the virus, which players can opt out and under what circumstances can they, and a host of issues like that.

Exactly. The owners often behave as though they forget it won’t be them at risk if baseball returns while the coronavirus’s world tour continues. The players—you know, the ones the fans pay to see play—will be at risk. So will fans once they’re allowed to return to the ballparks. So will the stadium workers, from the concession stand workers and hawkers in the stands to the grounds crews, stadium maintenance, and scoreboard personnel.

The owners also behave as though getting into baseball is a guaranteed financial bath. As though Jerry Reinsdorf didn’t buy the White Sox for $100 million in 1981 but has a team now worth $1.7 billion. As though David Glass—who’d helped Reinsdorf push for the 1994-95 strike—hadn’t bought the Kansas City Royals outright for $96 million in 2000 (he’d been the team president up to that point) and sold them for $1 billion last year. To name two.

Small wonder the players don’t want to surrender their right to a grievance without a battle, and small wonder the owners want them to agree to such a surrender.

So perhaps when all was said and done on Wednesday’s merry-go-round, the best news was the likelihood of the universal DH for this year and next. Unless there’s a codicil somewhere that isn’t yet known, bank on the universal DH remaining universal. At long enough last, the National League will have what a slightly pre-20th century Pittsburgh Pirates owner first proposed for sound reasons and last year’s collective pitchers’ batting average (.125) justifies: the end of a wasted lineup slot and too many rallies aborted in the womb.

There may be a deal to get a 2020 season, any 2020 season, played yet. Maybe by the end of this week, maybe by the end of the coming weekend. But while we’re at it, there is a suggestion we might make to the players who have, otherwise, done a better job than normal of making Joe and Jane Fan understand just who’s done the most to try hustling them.

The MLBPA’s Player’s Trust has committed $1 million to minor league players whose leagues may not play this year because of the coronavirus’s not-so-grand world tour. Yet there remain a little over six hundred former major league players who played before 1980 whose careers were short for assorted reasons—and who were frozen out of a pension plan re-alignment that year which gave full pensions to players with 43 days major league service and full health benefits upon one day’s MLB service.

Longtime MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller eventually said that not revisiting that mistake was his biggest regret. His successor once removed, Michael Weiner, collaborated with Manfred’s predecessor Bud Selig in getting those players $625 per quarter for every 43 days’ major league service.

It was a beginning, but there were two problems. One is that the players in question can’t pass those monies on to their families upon their deaths. The other is that the ill-fated Weiner—who loved baseball deeply, left no doubt about it, and earned a reputation for reasonableness even in his hardest negotiatings—died of brain cancer before he could have the chance to think about pressing the matter further.

Others have tried prodding Clark toward giving those pre-1980 short-career players a second look and building upon what Weiner and Selig began. Himself a former longtime first baseman, Clark has disinclined thus far. Even when New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden acknowledged, by way of a source inside the MLB apparatus, that Clark “isn’t gonna have any appetite for siphoning money from his rank and file. That’s why he won’t even talk to these old players.”

Legally, neither MLB nor the players’ union is obliged to send another dollar their way. (Neither, for that matter, is the separate Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, likewise disinclined, especially after forcing three of the 600 plus—former pitchers David Clyde and Gary Niebauer, and former first baseman Eddie Robinson—off its pension services committee.) Morally is something else entirely, when you remember that those 600+ players were Players Association members who stood with their fellows during the moves and pickets that pushed open the door toward free agency and all its riches.

If the Players Trust can send drydocked minor leaguers $1 million for openers, surely the MLBPA can find a way to do further right by those 600 plus who were frozen mistakenly out of the 1980 pension realignment. Assorted current players sort-of strong-armed their teams into taking better care of their drydocked minor leaguers. Such players might want to think about their wrongly frozen-out major league predecessors a little more.

Even a commitment to revisit and readjust the pension plan for those pre-1980 short-career players when the Show gets back into business would be a serious step toward resolving Miller’s regret and finishing what Weiner and Selig started.

Mike McCormick, RIP: Mr. 500’s battles

2020-06-17 MikeMcCormick02

A Comeback Player of the Year-winning perseverance probably helped Mike McCormick win the first National League Cy Young Award in 1967.

Ask who was the first Giant (New York or San Francisco) to win the Cy Young Award and some might answer with either Tim Lincecum (who did win twice) or Hall of Famer Juan Marichal (who didn’t win even once).

Now, drop a hint: He’s the only pitcher in the 500-home run club. OK, we’re getting technical. But Mike McCormick did hit home run number 500 . . . by any major league pitcher.

The bad news is that he also surrendered Hall of Famer Henry Aaron’s 500th home run. So put McCormick into the membership-of-one 500-home run club on both sides of the ball.

McCormick was also the first pitcher to win the National League’s Cy Young Award, after the prize was divided for each league following Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax’s retirement, ending Koufax’s ownership (three in four seasons, the last two back-to-back) of the original major league award.

Until Lincecum won the Cy Young Award back-to-back, McCormick was also the only Giant ever to win the prize.

You’d have spotted McCormick on the road in a heartbeat if you knew some of the foregoing. His personalised license plate read “Mr. 500.” Mr. 500 died at 81 Saturday at his Cornelius, North Carolina home after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.

Native to California, the lefthanded, hard-throwing McCormick had ideas about going to the University of Southern California with his high school all-star teammate Ron Fairly before scouts from all but one major league team began showing him the bonus money in 1956. When the New York Giants showed the 16-year-old $50,000, McCormick didn’t hesitate.

“I realized that fifty thousand dollars will buy me a lot of education,” he once told SF Giants: An Oral History author Mike Mandel, “and it’s an opportunity I may never get again, so I accepted it.”

The bonus rule of the day that required such signings to be kept on major league rosters for two full seasons before they could be farmed out. McCormick spent much of his first two in the Giants bullpen as the team moved from New York to San Francisco. Though numerous writings cite the elder Giants treating him decently, McCormick spent an awful lot of time walking the New York streets alone.

His roommate knew only too well how the kid felt: the late Johnny Antonelli, the first of the bonus babies under that old, silly rule. Antonelli was treated often enough as a pariah during his early years with the Boston Braves–until such veterans as pitcher Johnny Sain parlayed Antonelli’s fat bonus into their own salary hikes, and until Antonelli was drafted into the Army and then traded to the Giants.

In 1959 McCormick stepped forth as the Giants’ third starter. In 1960, he led the National League with a 2.70 earned run average and struck out twice as many as he walked. He fell off somewhat in 1962, but the Giants had reason to believe McCormick and Marichal were about to become the core of a youthful and powerful pitching staff.

They didn’t bargain on one little wrinkle. McCormick threw over a thousand major league innings before his 23rd birthday. At 19 he threw 178.1; at 20, 225.2; at 21, 253; at 22, 250. In 1962, his shoulder went AWOL and his manager Alvin Dark accused him of malingering.

“I couldn’t throw the ball 60 feet without getting tears in my eyes,” he once told Mandel. The pain was so serious McCormick admitted to hoping his catchers wouldn’t throw the ball back after a pitch. He spent the 1962 World Series on the bench and was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in the same deal that also made an Oriole out of relief specialist Stu Miller.

With the Orioles McCormick worked as a spot starter in 1963 but was sent to the minors in 1964—his first taste of minor league service. In the interim, Johns Hopkins doctors ruled he’d suffered a torn muscle in his shoulder that may or may not have been his rotator cuff.  Despite pitching well enough on the farm the Orioles traded him to the Washington Senators for another minor leaguer before the 1965 season opened.

Two seasons in Washington enabled McCormick to reinvent himself as a control-oriented pitcher with a lively screwball who looked and worked better than his won-lost records with the Second Nats. (He also took a single cortisone shot each spring from then on, nothing as insane a volume as other pitchers were administered far too often.)

When they traded him to the Giants for outfielder Cap Peterson and pitcher Bob Priddy in December 1966, the Giants hoped McCormick would just help balance the rotation as its only lefthander. They got better than they expected.

The 29-year-old McCormick wasn’t the National League’s most dominant pitcher in 1967 (Hall of Famer Jim Bunning actually was), but getting credit for a league-leading 22 wins and rolling a sub-3.00 ERA, after four seasons in which it looked as though he’d be another shoulder-wrecked casualty of youthful overwork, did him more than a few favours. He had above-league-average run support and his bullpen only blew one of his starts after he left the game.

McCormick probably won his Cy Young Award two ways: those 22 wins and his too-obvious Comeback Player of the Year Award-winning revival. Sometimes voters reward the effort a little more than the actual results. “He left the Giants’ employ five years ago as a fastball pitcher,” wrote then-San Francisco Chronicle writer Ron Fimrite. “He returned this year as a craftsman.”

It would be his final shining moment. In 1968—the year he surrendered Aaron’s 500th— his screwball took a powder and, despite a briefly shining 1969, McCormick’s pitching days were all but finished. Further injuries, further ineffectiveness, bounding from the Giants to the Kansas City Royals to the New York Yankees and back to the Giants, with a few minor league stops along the way.

McCormick found retiring easier said than done when he tried it first in 1972. But he finally called it a career in 1973. “I was a victim of bad pitching,” he once said. “My own.”

He wasn’t exactly left high and dry after baseball. He’d worked as a stockbroker in many offseasons and eventually became a Bay Area office equipment salesman and worked in promotions for the Giants as well. Divorced from his first wife, the father of three re-married happily, had a fourth child, and eventually retired to North Carolina.

“I loved the competing,” he told the Chronicle in 2002. “I’d play every day if I could, and that’s probably part of the reason I hurt my arm. I’d never say no. I’d say, ‘Fine, give me the ball. I’ll go get ’em.’ I loved it.” If only those who coached and managed Mr. 500 knew how to love his arm back.

This commissioner’s time should be done

2020-06-16 RobManfredBaseballsThat was last week: Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred saying there would absitively, posolutely be major league baseball in 2020. This was Monday, to ESPN: Manfred saying, “Not so fast.” Never mind that the March agreement the owners are trying to walk back gives Manfred absolute authority to order the season to go.

“I’m not confident,” he told ESPN’s Mike Greenberg for a special called The Return of Sports.  “I think there’s real risk; and as long as there’s no dialogue, that real risk is gonna continue.”

Not long from there, Manfred said . . . of course! It’s the players’ fault, for ending “good faith negotiations” that anyone with two brain cells to rub together knows really means “on the owners’ terms” coming from his lips. Anyone with the same two brain cells also knows that the owners crying “good faith” equals Donald Trump closing his Twitter account.

Want to know what the players really turned down over the weekend, with an emphatic harrumph of, “Seriously?”

The owners wanted a 72-game season at 70 percent pay per game played, 80 percent if the one-time-only (we think) expanded postseason (the owners wanted the players to say yes to 22 more such games) was played to the end. The players would get a 64.5 percent pay cut taking 100 percent of the safety risks—there’s still the coronavirus on its grand tour, you know.

Ken Rosenthal, writer for The Athletic, half the team (with Evan Drellich) who blew open the Astrogate/Soxgate illegal sign-stealing scandals, thinks plausibly that Manfred—whose powers include acting in the game’s best interest but who’s employed purely by the owners to whom the game’s best interest involves making money for them first—would rather incinerate the forest than see it for the trees.

Rosenthal also thinks Manfred is beginning to get one thing: strike a deal with the players who aren’t buying the owners’ Kickapoo Joy Juice or see his legacy as a baseball commissioner go into the tank.

The threat of a billion-dollar grievance from the [Major League Baseball] Players Association has forced Manfred to reconsider exercising his right to set a schedule for the 2020 season and return to his original mission of reaching a deal that is acceptable to both sides. What he wants now, according to sources, is to stop bickering with the union, start negotiating and reach an agreement that will bring the sport at least temporary order.

Yet for a guy who suddenly is looking for peace, Manfred sure has a funny way of showing it.

He and the owners, supposed stewards of the game, are turning the national pastime into a national punch line, effectively threatening to take their ball and go home while the country struggles with medical, economic and societal concerns.

Baseball’s better commissioners have been remembered among other things for appearing the next best thing to statesmen. Find me someone with skin in baseball’s game—a fan, a player, an owner (even), an analyst, a broadcaster, an historian—who’d call Manfred a statesman, and I’ll find you the last sworn-in government of the lost continent of Atlantis.

It’s been hard enough to think of Manfred as someone who genuinely loves the game after he made such remarks as the World Series trophy being just a piece of metal, trying to explain why it was one thing to discipline three 2017 Houston Astros while taking owner Jim Crane off the Astrogate hook but something else to strip their World Series championship.

Now Manfred has little choice other than that between finding and striking a deal with the players to get a 2020 season at all, or let it go and watch as nobody but the most stubborn among the tunnel-visioned takes Manfred or the owners seriously as stewards of the game any longer.

Remember: The owners are talking through their domes if they think anyone with an IQ higher than half (.064) the collective batting average (.128) of MLB’s pitchers last year buys their poverty cries. As Thomas Boswell pointed out early Monday, the average major league team value jumped by over $1 billion in the past six years—from $811 million to $1.9 billion.

Manfred’s contract as baseball commissioner is extended through the end of 2024. Assuming he doesn’t do anything else to implode the game between now and then—even assuming he finds a way, somehow, to be as Rosenthal describes, “the adult in the room, a leader with a sense of the game’s place in our society, the caretaker of the sport”—maybe it’s time at last to think of a better way to choose his successor.

There’s no reason on earth that the commissioner should be hired by and beholden to the owners alone. There’s no reason on earth a plausible candidate shouldn’t stand for election by the owners and by the Players Association through the thirty team player representatives. The commissioner should be beholden to neither faction but the consensus choice of both.

“Players come and go, but the owners stay on forever,” then-American League president Joe Cronin once told the late Marvin Miller, early in Miller’s tenure as the union’s executive director. Let’s just see about that. The owners stay only until they designate successors (think of the New York Yankees’ Hal Steinbrenner or the Detroit Tigers’ Chris Illitch) or sell. Fans don’t wear team jerseys with the names of owners on their backs.

The game stays on forever. And with very few exceptions the first thing you think about when you think about the game is the men who’ve played it. You don’t think of Joe Cronin as a meaner-than-a-junkyard-dog league president before you think of him as a Hall of Fame shortstop and even a manager. You don’t think of Joe Torre as baseball’s top cop before you think of him as an outstanding catcher/third baseman and a Hall of Fame manager.

You don’t always think of Bill White as the first African-American (and next-to-last) president of the National League before you remember him as an outstanding first baseman who also helped shepherd the St. Louis Cardinals through their racial growing pains. You don’t think of Nolan Ryan as a baseball executive (including a term as the president of the Texas Rangers) before you remember him as a Hall of Fame pitcher with seven no-hitters on his resume.

You don’t think of the late, ill-fated Mike Flanagan as a Baltimore Orioles executive before you remember him as a Cy Young Award-winning pitcher. You don’t think of Eddie Lopat as a snake-in-the-grass baseball executive (when a Kansas City Athletics player reminded him about a promised salary raise, Lopat the general manager shot back, “Prove it!”) before you think of him as a pitching star on five straight Yankee World Series winners.

You don’t even think of Al Rosen as the baseball executive who put a shot of rocket fuel into player salary inflation when he was the San Francisco Giants’ general manager (the once-notorious Bud Black deal), before you think of him as a powerful third baseman who swept the first-place votes as the American League’s Most Valuable Player in 1953, but whose career was torpedoed by back and leg injuries.

But you probably think Manfred wouldn’t be able to tell you any of that. You’d probably be right. He has to go. And, among numerous other lackings, the owners need to own up and agree—whether or not they’d accept that their duplicities brought us here in the first place—that baseball needs a better way to choose a better steward. A steward to whom the good of the game isn’t always the same thing as making money for it.