From mile-high madness to St. Louis serenity

Like should-be Hall of Famer Scott Rolen before him, Nolan Arenado’s a top third baseman the Cardinals will take happily off an unappreciative team’s hands.

More often than Joe and Jane Fan think, baseball players and those playing other team sports discover that all the money on their paychecks isn’t quite as handsome as winning. It’s the reason such ballplayers otherwise wedded to the teams who reared them swallow pride and paychecks and look out of town when winning isn’t going to happen soon.

The Cardinals are only too willing to show more than cursory interest in such men. They’re baseball’s Emma Lazarus; they might as well engrave the top of Busch Stadium’s entrance with, “Give us your sick-and-tired, your not-so-poor, your huddling supermen yearning to breathe free and win championships.”

They’ll even take your money gladly to take him off your hands.

They’ve just gotten the Rockies to give them sick-and-tired, not-so-poor, huddling super third baseman Nolan Arenado for an apparent bag of mixed nuts. They even accepted the Rockies sending along $65 million dollars for the privilege of taking Arenado off their hands and books.

And, with a few former glitterati due to come off the payroll books after 2021, a couple of big moves that plain didn’t work out for the Cardinals will be gone as well. It’ll make the Cardinals the National League Central favourites and perhaps the only club in the division who can hold up against the monsters of the East and West if they reach the 2021 postseason.

It turns their formerly unassuming off-season into a bristling one. It might make them tempted to think about extending Arenado further depending on what he does with two opt-outs his deal has after 2021 and 2022. And, it adds Arenado to a rather distinguished roll of prior tired, huddling supermen who found baseball a lot more agreeable when they got to play adjacent to the Gateway Arch.

Once upon a time the Padres got fed up with their high-and-wide flying shortstop’s agent and decided to deal him. Then-Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog went to San Diego to talk to the man personally. That kind of personal touch got the Cardinals a Hall of Fame shortstop whose defensive value was equal to his acrobatics and good for big parts of three pennants and a World Series ring. You still know Ozzie Smith as the Wizard of Oz.

Not long after that, Jack Clark bristled over the Giants’ brittle Candlestick Park and their dismissals of him as just too fragile to play major league baseball. They dealt him to the Cardinals, where they moved him to first base for his health’s sake. Jack the Ripper hit the home run that sent the Cardinals to the 1985 World Series and swung big for their 1987 pennant winner until an ankle injury kept him out of that Series and helped keep them from winning it.

Should-be Hall of Famer Scott Rolen got sick and tired of the Phillies’ seeming lack of winning interest and dismissing him despite his play saying what he didn’t like trumpeting on his own behalf. The Cardinals said, “Give us your sick and tired third baseman.” They traded for and signed Rolen to a new deal. They also sent him to four All-Star teams and won a World Series with him.

One fine day Matt Holliday, traded from Colorado to Oakland, discovered the Athletics decided they couldn’t afford his like and traded him to the Cardinals. He shone enough in left field and at the plate for the Birds on the Bat that they made sure he couldn’t take a free agency hike just yet. And, like Rolen, Holliday went to four All-Star teams and won a World Series in St. Louis fatigues.

Another fine day, for the Cardinals at least, the Diamondbacks decided two years ago that they couldn’t or wouldn’t afford to keep franchise-face first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The Cardinals channeled their inner Monty Hall—Let’s make a deal! They landed Goldschmidt for Luke Weaver and a pair of bodies and signed Goldschmidt in due course to a succulent nine-figure extension. They’ve been to a pair of postseasons with him, too.

Landing Arenado means the Cardinals want a little more than just postseason entries. And Arenado isn’t as treacherous looking going into what’ll be his age-30 season as you might fear. He has five years left on his Colorado-signed extension. He might lose a couple of counting stats weighted heavily on the home side but he might even things out with road performances enabled better by not playing at ionosphere level.

He’ll be able to keep swinging smoothly for extra base hits and doing things at third base unseen since Rolen, Adrian Beltre, Mike Schmidt, and Brooks Robinson, a human vacuum cleaner who no longer has to worry whether his bag will explode in the middle of a flying leap, a running throw, or a swan dive across the line.

Among active third basemen, Arenado is second only to Evan Longoria (thirteen seasons) for total defensive runs saved above his league average, but Arenado has an excellent chance to surpass Longoria at the hot corner and at the plate by the time he reaches his fourteenth major league season.

Matter of fact, let’s look at that pair plus Manny Machado, the $300 million plus man in San Diego, according to my Real Batting Average (RBA): total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches divided by plate appearances:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Nolan Arenado 4558 2227 362 58 50 22 .597
Evan Longoria 7380 3108 645 81 89 69 .541
Manny Machado 4989 2211 387 41 36 21 .540

Arenado also has an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) 83 points higher. (I’ll bet you didn’t think Longoria and Machado were that similar at the plate, either.) Arenado’s OPS is also 65 points higher than Machado, who’s only 17 defensive runs behind him.

What he won’t have is Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich to kick, jerk, or slap him around anymore. Arenado bristled when Bridich treated his old infield partner Troy Tulowitzki like a chump over trade rumours, failed to include Tulowitzki in any such discussions, then dealt the shortstop to the Blue Jays. (Where he went to a pair of postseasons before injuries ended his career out of town.)

When Bridich told the Denver Post early last week that nothing came of the Rockies “listening” to other teams about Arenado, the third baseman slapped back. “Jeff is very disrespectful. I never talk trash or anything,” he told a Denver television station. “I play hard, keep my mouth shut. But I can only get crossed so many times.”

Kind of reminds you about Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins two years ago. He’d signed a then record-dollar thirteen-year deal a couple of years before that only to watch the Fish swimming wild and directionless like killies scrambling to escape the incoming sharks. He spoke publicly of that, then called them a circus when they decided he could just suffer along no matter what. Then they dealt him to the Yankees.

Nobody knows whether the 2020 irregular season that ended with the Marlins in second place in the NL East was as fluky as the rest of baseball, but Stanton did get as far as back-to-back postseasons with the Yankees and missed reaching the 2019 World Series by one ALCS-winning home run courtesy of Houston’s Jose Altuve.

The Rockies weren’t half as crass as the Marlins if no less dismissive. When they signed Arenado to his extension, they promised that wouldn’t stop them from tooling up all around. By the end of a losing 2019, following back-to-back seasons good for nothing more than wild cards and too-early postseason exits, though, Arenado smelled a coming rebuild, if not a coming tank.

Bridich awoke Saturday morning to a roasting by Denver Post baseball writer Mark Kiszla. “[S]o insecure he tries to bully every conversation with Ivy League arrogance as thin as his college baseball resume,” Kiszla wrote, “[Bridich] got ripped off by the Cardinals in a trade that appears so lopsided that Commissioner Rob Manfred should consider voiding the deal before it becomes official.”

Once upon a time, Arenado wanted nothing more than to stay a Rockie for life, the way should-be Hall of Fame first baseman Todd Helton was. “I want to win,” he has told Sports Illustrated. “If we win here, that’s why I signed, right? To win here. But if we’re not gonna win, I’d rather play for a winner. I don’t care where it is. I’d rather win a World Series than have my number retired.”

More than a few eyes are now cast upon Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, who may also have noticed too much of the treachery around Arenado and begun to wonder whether that mile-high baseball air has vaporised common baseball sense even further.

If he’s not careful, Kiszla warned, Story “could be the next knucklehead to be fooled by this team’s hollow promise to build a champion around him. My advice? Story demand a trade ASAP to a major-league city where winning matters.”

A city like St. Louis, perhaps. It wouldn’t be past the Cardinals to ponder a shortstop upgrade, take note of the Rockies leaving Story to waste, and deal a couple of sacks of mulch for him while deciding Kolten Wong is more than worth keeping at second base and moving Paul DeJong to the bench or onward.

You don’t want to relieve your sick-and-tired, your not-so-poor, your huddling Hall of Fame supermen to be (assume he keeps his health following that shoulder injury last year and Arenado’s on the Hall track), allowing them to breathe free and win with you? The Cardinals are only too happy to take them off your hands, relieve your headaches, and cause you a few when you meet them in mortal combat.

They might not even be adverse to keeping their eyes upon the West Coast. That’s where  baseball’s still-best all-around player, loyal as he is to the franchise that raised him, may start thinking in a couple of years while he’s still young enough that knocking Hall of Famers out of the record books or off the WAR charts isn’t enough. He may ask at last what can compensate for being a Trout out of water with no winning to show for his extraterrestrial efforts.

Nobody with a brain would put it past the Cardinals to think about reeling that Trout in. Just don’t expect them to include painkillers in the deal.

A few ways to fix the Hall of Fame vote

This year’s Hall of Fame vote by the Baseball Writers Association of America is troubling, for more reasons than just Curt Schilling falling short by sixteen votes and Schilling’s demand to be removed from the writers’ ballots. Something is wrong, drastically so, with the vote. For the sake of the Hall of Fame, it needs to be fixed. But how?

The answer isn’t simple. But there’s one sub-issue to consider at once: the blank ballots. How many the writers submitted is less relevant than the thought that, perhaps, if you submit a blank ballot, you should lose your Hall vote for a spell.

Voting for the Hall of Fame isn’t exactly a right. The Hall conferred the privilege upon the writers almost a century ago. With privilege comes responsibility, no matter the controversies that do or don’t surround a particular year’s candidates. The responsibility includes the one holding the privilege to do his or her job, think hard, and vote.

If assorted BBWAA members thought it was difficult to impossible to resolve certain questions around certain players while considering their Hall ballots, they don’t always seem to find it too difficult to write magnificent ravings about those questions and players when the occasion arrives.

As a life member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, I cast votes for the IBWAA’s Hall of Fame roll every year since becoming such a life member. Such votes are neither simple, cut, dried, or prenatal surgery. Last November, I voted, citing why I voted for this player or didn’t vote for that player. If a man can do that in what amounts to a symbolic Hall election, surely the BBWAA can do theirs in a real one.

The writers might consider that blank ballots are simply not acceptable regardless of the moment’s controversies. They might also consider that those submitting blank ballots should have their Hall vote privileges suspended. It might convince the blankers to think twice, thrice, as much as it takes.

The Hall of Fame itself should step up, step in, and decide the writers have played enough games for long enough, it’s time to broaden the Hall of Fame vote. You can pick numerous instances if you like, this year and in years past, but perhaps it’s time the BBWAA and the Eras Committees are no longer the only groups privileged to vote for the Hall.

Come to think of it, the former Veterans Committee really put its own foot in it (hardly for the first time) when they enshrined former comimssioner Bud Selig. We should have expected certain ramifications and after-effects, when players indulging actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances pre-testing still tie the BBWAA up in knots but the old Veterans Committee elected the commissioner who let the so-called Wild West Era run wild.

Who else should be invited to vote for the Hall of Fame? I have a few ideas:

1) The living Hall of Fame players themselves. No one should feel funny about allowing such as Jeff Bagwell, Johnny Bench, Craig Biggio, George Brett, Dennis Eckersley, Ken Griffey, Jr., Rollie Fingers, Vladimir Guerrero, Rickey Henderson, Randy Johnson, Chipper Jones, Sandy Koufax, Greg Maddux, Willie Mays, Mike Piazza, Tim Raines, Nolan Ryan, and Ozzie Smith, to name a few, voting for successors worthy of joining their fraternity.

Some of them get to be part of assorted sixteen-member Eras Committees, of course, which also include “executives, and veteran media members” according to the Hall itself. We can adjust that: The Hall of Famers should have to choose whether to vote concurrent to the BBWAA or as members of one or another Era Committee considering overlooked/snubbed BBWAA candidates—but not both.

Why shouldn’t such Hall of Famers as Ken Griffey, Jr., Johnny Bench, and Rollie Fingers, among others, have Hall votes?

2) The living Ford C. Frick Award winning broadcasters and those currently working in the broadcast booths. They see as much of the games as the writers do. The Hall would not be disgraced by the like of Marty Brennaman, Chip Caray, Bob Costas, Ray Fosse, Jaime Jarrin, Jim Kaat, Buck Martinez, Tim McCarver, Jon Miller, Vin Scully, Bob Uecker, or Suzyn Waldman, among others, having a vote.

3) The established statistics mavens, since statistics remain the life blood of baseball.  Please tell me you don’t think it would be a travesty for Allen Barra, Bill James, Rob Neyer, or the folks at Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Reference, retrosheet, and The Elias Sports Bureau to be included in the Hall of Fame vote. If much of their work has provoked re-assessments of several subsequent Hall of Famers, they should not be regarded as voting interlopers.

4) Those writers/historians who were never admitted to the BBWAA but who’ve established themselves long and with particular distinctions as blessings to the game. Find us a valid reason for ageless Roger Angell, Peter Golenbock, John Helyar, Donald Honig, Richard Goldstein, George F. Will, or plenty of the fine excavators of the Society for American Baseball Research, just for openers, to be excluded from the Hall vote. You’ll have a simpler time finding Atlantis.

5) Umpires with above-average ratings. (God and His servant Doug Harvey only know you don’t even want to think of bringing Angel Hernandez or Country Joe West into the voting fold.) Those folks had the second-best views of Hall of Fame candidates for themselves. (The first-best is probably a tossup among several.) The best umpires didn’t just call the pitches or the plays, they developed particular appreciation for players who strove for and achieved Hall of Fame-level excellence.

They would not lack credibility as Hall voters if allowed the chance. Should a voting umpire lose his (or her, in due course?) above-average rating, their Hall vote can be suspended for that year.

6) How about the IBWAA? As in, members not concurrent BBWAA members but whom the IBWAA leadership deems by their actual works to be worthy of a Hall of Fame vote to exercise wisely and diligently. (Fair disclosure: I’m not an IBWAA leader or officer yet.) The IBWAA is not just another gaggle of fans ranting our heads off. We’ve got some excellent observers/analysts/commentators among us who have earned the chance.

7) Establish a Pioneer Committee. This would be a group considering and giving due to those people—players, executives, statisticians, others—whom we’d consider to have changed the game profoundly in ways other than how they played or managed or administered the game. (It wouldn’t have let Marvin Miller wait until death did he part for his well-deserved Cooperstown enshrinement, either, if it lived while he did.)

The Pioneer Committee could begin with considering Curt Flood, who kicked the door to free agency open just enough with his reserve clause challenge. And, Andy Messersmith, who shoved the door open all the way by finishing what Flood started and prevailing. And, Tommy John, who enjoyed a long, distinguished second act after undergoing the first of the ligament-replacement elbow surgeries that’s long since borne his name.

They didn’t quite post Hall of Fame playing careers, but they all changed the game profoundly, and irrevocably. There should be a place in the Hall of Fame for all three.

This Pioneer Committee should also consider those such as Allan Roth, arguably the godfather of deep statistics; and, Bill James, who picked up where Roth left off, all but invented sabermetrics, and sired subsequent generations of deeper analysts many of whom came to play key roles in re-developing baseball organisations. If those are unworthy of Hall consideration, remember that my Antarctic beach club has yet to find a buyer.

The BBWAA should also re-consider the ten-vote maximum on the Hall of Fame ballot. The max was imposed in the first place out of concern to do whatever the writers could think to keep those nefarious suspected users of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance from getting through.

Aside from that jet taking off decades ago (greenies, anyone?), they shot themselves in the foot with the limit. The bullets traveled far enough to delay or torpedo entirely more than a few legitimate Hall of Fame cases thanks among other things to several instances ballot jam. Kenny Lofton surely isn’t the only man wondering why the number ten center fielder ever to play major league baseball can’t be in Cooperstown (pending a future Era Committee consideration) except as a visiting customer.

Raise the ballot max back to fifteen. Maybe that wasn’t perfect, either, but it might return the writers a little more of the proverbial wiggle room to cast thoughtful, reflective votes that, among other things, won’t leave enough of the Loftons as baseball’s wronged men to be done right at some future date if at all.

While they’re at it, they should dump once and for all the prejudice against first-time votes. If you think a player belongs in the Hall of Fame, vote him on the first ballot. You don’t need reminders of how many Hall of Famers you’d assumed Cooperstown locks waited five or more ballots to get their due, or how often you wrote fuming over that very sad fact.

(People still think it’s more than a little surreal, if not insane, that Cy Young, Lefty Grove, Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Craig Biggio, and Vladimir Guerrero aren’t first-ballot Hall of Famers. Even if things worked out well enough for Ford that he got in on his second try, the following year—next to his old running mate Mickey Mantle, on Mantle’s first.)

So why not invite Joe and Jane Fan into the Hall of Fame voting discussion yet? There’s a very good reason not to. They’ve turned All-Star Game voting into ballot box stuffings or gold watch honoraria. (The All-Star Game vote system needs a complete overhaul, but that’s another day’s subject right now.) Do you really want to know how much worse they might make the Hall than did the Today’s Game Committee that decided Cooperstown should be Harold Baines’s gold watch?

On Schilling wanting off the Cooperstown ballot

Why should members of a profession for whose lynching Curt Schilling once called want to vote him into Cooperstown?

The Hall of Fame pitching a shutout in this round of Baseball Writers Association of America voting wasn’t really that big a surprise. Curt Schilling’s post-results tantrum after he fell short by a measly sixteen votes was, somewhat. What to make, then, of Schilling’s demand that the BBWAA remove him from its ballot for what would be his final bid for Hall of Fame election by them?

The bad news, for those who’ve come to consider him poisonous entirely by way of about 95 percent or more of his infamous tweets, is that neither the BBWAA nor the Hall of Fame can just send him off the ballot with a single finger snap. Yet. The BBWAA’s ballot rules enjoin against it, and the Hall of Fame may be likely to reject it on those very grounds, no matter what Schilling has asked of the Hall in that regard.

But perhaps the BBWAA should find a way to amend its rule and grant Schilling his request. Maybe the best thing would be for a future Eras Committee to contend with his candidacy. If Schilling thinks his “peers” would be more likely to elect him, someone might remind the former righthander that one of his own general managers (Ed Wade, Phillies) once called him “a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.”

Schilling’s rant included referencing his own having won a few humanitarian awards during his pitching career, but there have also been references over the years to his not quite having been the most popular or respected man in his clubhouses, too. When he teamed with Hall of Famer Randy Johnson on the 2001 World Series-winning Diamondbacks, a member of the organisation told baseball writer Joe Posnanski, “[W]ith Johnson, teammates hated him on the day he pitched, loved him the other four days. And with Schilling, teammates loved him on the day he pitched, hated him the other four days.”

I’m not a member of the BBWAA. I don’t have an official Hall of Fame vote. I am a life member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, however, and every year we, too, conduct votes symbolically for our own Hall of Fame. Sometimes, we’ve elected people before the BBWAA. We pitched a shutout this time around, too.

Back in November I wrote about my own IBWAA ballot choices and what the thinking was behind it. My choices did include Schilling. (For the record, I also voted yes on Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner.) In the passage I wrote on behalf of that vote, I concluded, “I don’t have to love or respect Schilling as a person to respect what he did on the mound. When you take your children to Cooperstown, and you see Schilling’s plaque, just tell them he isn’t the first and won’t be the last to be a Hall of Famer at the ballpark and a Hall of Shamer away from it.”

Immediately preceding that, I cited Jay Jaffe’s essay on Schilling in The Cooperstown Casebook: “I wouldn’t invite Schilling into my own home, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to view him as a role model, but in my view nothing in his career leaves a doubt that he belongs in Cooperstown. He ranks among the all-time greats via his run prevention skill, his dominance in the game’s most elemental battle of balls and strikes, and his repeated ability to rise to the occasion when the on-field stakes were highest.”

Jaffe has since changed his mind, and not just because he knows that those who think denying Schilling his Cooperstown plaque comes purely from his support for Donald Trump aren’t thinking. Mariano Rivera made no secret of his own support for Trump before his own unanimous election to the Hall, but neither is The Mariano on record as supporting among other Schilling positions the lynching of journalists.

“[A]s a first-time [Hall of Fame] voter,” Jaffe wrote after Tuesday’s Hall shutout, “I avoided invoking the character clause . . . on the grounds that the clause was conjured up by a commissioner (Judge Landis) who spent his entire 24-year term upholding the game’s shameful color line. I viewed my omission of Schilling as a protest against the notion that he’s owed any deference for his hateful post-career conduct; if he’s ever elected, it won’t be in my name. More than ever, I stand by that decision.”

Writing as I am about to write is painful enough. I watched Schilling pitch over many years of his career. I saw how great he was on the mound, I saw the way he dominated batters whether pitching for also-ran teams or World Series champions. I saw the ways he lived for and triumphed in the biggest of the big games, sometimes despite his body attempting sedition. I also knew Schilling had (and has) a love of the game so deep he never forgot being awed at Frank Robinson managing him early, or getting to pick the brains of Hall of Fame pitchers, or admitting he’d watch Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez when they were teammates “because any day they pitched could be history.”

“He’s a horse every fifth day and a horse’s ass the other four.”—Ed Wade, Schilling’s GM with the Phillies.

I was too willing to overlook too much simply because by the record alone, the eye test and the deepest statistical look alike, Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame. He may be the greatest or at least the toughest big-game pitcher who ever took the mound. I’ve seen a boatload of pitchers, Hall of Famers and otherwise, who stood tall and delivered big when the biggest of the big demanded it; I’ve seen a boatload of pitchers, Hall of Famers and otherwise, who didn’t. (Conspiracy theorists, if you still believe the Bloody Sock Game was fraud, you can still buy my beach club in Antarctica.)

But I’m familiar, too, with the wisdom projected in 1949 by an essayist not remembered much today outside the intellectual circles of those who believe, as I do, in something not much discussed or pondered over the past decade plus: freedom. The essayist was Frank Chodorov, today unsung often enough as a bellwether of the freedom philosophy. Writing in his one-man broadsheet analysis about the leaders of the Communist Party USA brought to trial under the Smith Act, in May 1949, Chodorov demurred from such a prosecution, despite being a staunch anti-Communist himself:

The danger, to those who hold freedom as the highest good, is not the ideas the communists espouse but the power they aspire to. Let them rant their heads off—that is their right, which we cannot afford to infringe—but let us keep from them the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right.

Schilling’s political opinions are one thing. So is criticising journalism with which he disagrees. His approval of lynching journalists (recanted swiftly enough, but hardly forgotten), and for things that would indeed amount to depriving others of their rights or at least compromising them in broad sweeps, are something else entirely.

There are journalists who dishonour their profession and our intelligence in ways too numerous. I’ve had a career as a journalist in regional daily newspapers, regional daily news radio, and trade journalism. I’m too well aware that there are and have always been such journalists. They didn’t begin or end with, for one grotesque example, Walter Duranty’s notorious use, misuse, and abuse of his New York Times berth to propagate on behalf of one of history’s bloodiest tyrannies.

There’s no such thing as the perfect, fault-free journalist, whether a straight reporter, an analyst, or a commentator. The day I claim to be one now or to have been one then, just shoot me dead. But the flip side to the precept that “fake news” is news someone (usually in authority) doesn’t want to hear or doesn’t want known is that there has been fake news as long as there’s been news at all.

If it was purely a matter of rejecting Schilling’s political opinions that would be simple business. He has the same mere right to be wrong as anyone else, regardless of what today’s “cancel culture” left, right, or over-under-sideways-down would argue to the contrary, regardless even of some of Schilling’s own remarks that imply merely being wrong should be a punishable crime.

“To be sure,” Chodorov also wrote, “our history is not free of political efforts to put limits on what people may think . . . authorities [have] sought to get at ideas by inflicting punshment on those who held them . . . It is to the credit of the American genius for freedom that ultimately the right to think as one wishes prevailed, even though too often some were made to suffer for it.”

Hall of Fame debaters, who are legion, remind others that the Hall itself hardly lacks for honourees of dubious character or thought. Such honourees are not generally known to have called for the execution of the journalists with whom they often disagreed, sometimes appropriately, sometimes inappropriately, sometimes violently. Baseball players have never been immune to testy relations with writers who covered them. Testy relations didn’t exactly equal wanting to speed the writers’ deaths, either.

It’s not just Hall of Famers incumbent or in waiting who’ve found the baseball press equal to a castor oil over the rocks. But even Jason Vargas threatening to knock a writer the [fornicate] out for daring to question then-Mets manager Mickey Callaway over a dubious non-move that cost the Mets a ball game late wasn’t quite threatening to knock the writer the [fornicate] into the cemetery.

Let Schilling rant his head off, wherever he pleases, to whomever he pleases, from whichever forum allows, until or unless he violates that forum’s rules flagrantly enough. That is his right, which we cannot afford to infringe, and his right to rant his head off holds hands with anyone else’s concurrent right to ignore or denounce his rants. Let us just keep from him the political means of depriving everybody else of the same right.

Let us also not insist that a certain group of journalists should yet confer upon him an honour for which they have the privilege of voting since he is on the record as approving their profession’s dates with lynch mobs. Not even if giving him 71 percent of their Hall of Fame vote this time equals their telling him, “Thank you, sir, and may I have another.”

The players spurn the universal DH—for now

Marcell Ozuna is just one DH-type player in a tough 2020-21 market with the universal DH still off the table.

No, the Major League Baseball Players Association didn’t shoot themselves in the proverbial foot when they spurned the universal designated hitter this time. They want it, as should every rational baseball fan. But it’s wise to wish they’d spurned it for the best reason.

The owners were willing to let the universal DH remain permanent and not just a 2020 irregular season experiment—if the players would agree to permanently-expanded postseasons. How very big of them. The players told the owners to stuff that trade.

“Both the league and union seem to agree a universal DH is a good idea, in part because pitchers, if prevented from hitting, no longer could get injured swinging for a hit or running the bases,” observes The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal. “But the league, viewing the creation of fifteen DH jobs as an economic gain for the players, wants a tradeoff. It initially suggested enacting the universal DH in exchange for the players agreeing to an expanded postseason for 2021, a concept the union rejected.”

The players know that further expanded postseasons equal further contracted competition for player signings and even trades. They know further expanded postseasons equal the next best thing to a de facto salary cap. They know further expanded postseasons equal more excuses for tanking.

So the players sacrificed something short distance that would mean a little more money in their pockets, in order to prevent something else that might take a lot more money out of players pockets long distance. Enough of the owners exposed themselves, yet again,  as refusing plain common baseball sense on behalf of continuing to make money for themselves regardless of their product’s viability.

Those owners are witless to comprehend the continuing dilution of championship play that postseasons already long expanded brought before last season’s dismal experiment of sixteen-team league postseason entries. How can we expect them to comprehend the value of the permanent universal designated hitter?

They might not be terribly impressed with arguing, well, forget the payroll question a moment and consider the play on the field. You know, the thing you’re selling in the first place. But the players and the game’s real fans should be.

This winter’s snail’s pace free agency market was a drag enough without a small but considerable group of men past their fielding prime but still loaded with hits in their bats augmenting it. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s indecisiveness on consecrating the universal DH for all time helps leave those men in limbo and those owners’ teams bereft of fortified real offense.

With the permanent universal DH off the table for one more year at least, players such as Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, and Marcell Ozuna couldn’t draw a bead on their real market values this winter. Among other league-wide dilemmas, the Mets still have to juggle to keep both Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith in the lineup. As MLB Trade Rumors writer Steve Adams noted, “NL teams are left to build a lineup and a roster without knowing whether they’ll have a spot for an extra hitter.” They know now.

According to NBC Sports, six teams including three National League clubs have eyes on Ozuna. “[M]aybe one of the biggest reasons the Braves are balking on [trying to re-sign] Ozuna at the moment,” writes Jake Mastroianni of the FanSided journal Tomahawk Take, “is because his defense was even worse than they thought when they signed him last offseason.” Other NL clubs would feel a lot more comfortable adding him as a DH since Ozuna at best is a replacement-level defender.

The owners need less poison pills and more vision.

Never mind the American League teams playing this market slow enough when they’ve had the DH since the Nixon Administration. You’d think National League owners in need of more men on base or more men to drive in the runs would have stepped up and decided taking every chance to get more runs on the board than the other guys is worth ending the tradition one of their own ancestors wanted to end the year Carnegie Hall opened.

You’d think NL owners would be relieved at last not to have to risk their pitchers’ health on the rare occasions they reach base or their pitchers’ subsequent effectiveness in games during which they reach base, somehow. You’d think the money-conscious owners would want to preserve their seven-figure annual investments in good pitchers by enabling the rule that would let them sign still-useful veteran bats for half that much.

You’d also think those owners would be sick and tired at last of watching Jello bats hogging the number nine lineup slot to hit about .166 over the past century worth of Show baseball. Bad enough the so-called purists also continue whining about not just one of the nebulous sides of “tradition” but the nebulous side of preserving “strategy” that means keeping a batting order spot available for the most automatic out in baseball this side of Mario Mendoza.

Quick: Ask them how swiftly they’d sign a .166-hitting position player even if he could play the field like Keith Hernandez, Bill Mazeroski, Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, Barry Bonds, Andruw Jones, or Roberto Clemente. According to how many defensive runs saved above their league averages they were, those are the greatest fielders at all non-battery positions in baseball history. All but one of whom could hit a bit. A few of whom could hit a lot.

Want the answer? See you in about a hundred years, if that soon.

Belanger was the worst hitter among the foregoing group of defensive virtuosi. No questions asked. He had 22 intentional walks in his eighteen-season career and nineteen of them came when he batted eighth in the lineup. Guess I have to come right out and say it. Opponents didn’t hand him first base on the house because he was liable to hit a three-run homer and they’d rather have chanced lesser bats doing the clutch hitting.

They put Belanger on so they could rid themselves of the Jim Palmers, Mike Cuellars, Dave McNallys, and Pat Dobsons for side retired. In Year One B.D.H. (1972), that redoubtable Oriole starting rotation hit a death-defying .161 together and—for those who still think strikeouts are worse than hitting into double plays—struck out 151 times between them.

Palmer was the most consistent hitter of the group with a whopping .224 traditional batting average. Unless you’ve got that man who’s a human Electrolux in the field, or unless you’re a tanking masochist, you’re not going to sign .224 hitters for the rest of your batting order or bench any time soon if you can help it.

So why would you insist on keeping a group that hit .166 over the past century in that number nine slot? I say again: you want “strategy,” why wouldn’t you want that spot opened up for a possible second cleanup-type hitter or a possible extra leadoff-type hitter? It’s been tried before and, when you put the right bats in in those roles, it pays off handsomely enough.

I’d rather the players spurned a deal of the universal DH for permanent further expanded postseasons because the already-expanded postseason has already diluted real championship competition. Because they were sick at the sight of even an irregular season sending six second place teams, three third-place teams, one fourth-place team, and two teams with losing records to the championship rounds.

“[I]f the bar to reach the postseason is lowered, some clubs won’t feel as compelled to spend for an extra couple of wins to push themselves over the top,” Adams observes, appropriately. “The margin for error is much greater when nearly half (or even more than half) of the teams in the game qualify for postseason play than it is when only a third of clubs do. That’s especially true when at any given point, there are a handful of teams tanking and actively doing everything they can not to win games.”

Sometimes the players, too, have to remind themselves that the common good of the game is more than just making money for or in it. Maybe while negotiating the next collective bargaining agreement they’ll push for the universal DH for all the right reasons. While they’re at it, maybe they’ll tell the owners and Commissioner Nero not to even think about making it contingent upon what’s good for the owners but bad for baseball.

Universal DH: Enough foot dragging

Pud Galvin, a Hall of Fame pitcher who looked like a mustachioed Babe Ruth but was part of a rotation that made Mario Mendoza resemble Mickey Mantle at the plate with or without the mustache. (Hall of Fame photo.)

Two fetuses gestated in 1891 America and both had impacts on baseball. William Mills Wrigley, Jr. carried his company to term and, in due course, from scouring soap and baking powder to chewing gum and himself to buying the Chicago Cubs. William Chase Temple’s fetus, the designated hitter, ended in a miscarriage.

His concept had nothing to do with extending the careers of great hitters who’d lost it (or never really had it) in the field, but because he was fed up with wasting a batting order position.

Temple owned the Pittsburgh Pirates. One group of five hitters on his 1891 team went to the plate 510 times and collected 78 hits between them in 473 official at-bats. Their collective batting average was .165. A group hitting like that should make you wonder what on earth they were doing within ten nautical miles of a major league roster.

OK, I just threw you a spitball. The quintet in question were pitchers: Hall of Famer Pud Galvin, plus Mark Baldwin, Silver King, Harry Staley, and Scott Stratton. Knowing that plus the foregoing, are you truly surprised now that Temple impregnated himself with the idea we know as the designated hitter?

Fair disclosure requires mentioning that the 1891 Pirates weren’t exactly a prehistoric Pittsburgh Lumber Company. They also finished dead last in the National League pennant race. Their worst-hitting regular position player still hit 49 points higher than that pitching staff. Connie Mack (catcher) is another Hall of Famer, but he didn’t exactly get there because he was a terrorist at the plate.

The Boston Beaneaters, ancestors of today’s Atlanta Braves, won the pennant . . . and their main pitching staff actually hit worse (.127) than the Pirate staff did. Temple had little trouble convincing fellow owner J. Walter Spalding, whose New York Giants pitchers actually could hit a little bit, that pitchers at the plate were worth as much as catchers on the mound.

The 19 December 1891 issue of The Sporting Life includes a short article citing Temple and Spalding in agreement: pitchers had no business hitting. Temple said aloud he wanted a designated hitter replacing a pitcher in the batting order. Today’s reactionary old farts would demand Temple’s impeachment and removal, preferably yesterday.

They should only know how Spalding wanted to see and raise: eliminate pitchers from batting orders entirely, without replacement, and let the batting lineups be eight men in. If you would wish Temple’s removal in irons and chains, you might wish Spalding’s public hanging.

“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,” said Sporting Life in agreement with Temple.

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.

Temple didn’t face impeachment, merely the turn-down of his proposal in a very close vote by the National League’s rules committee of the time. The vote seems to have been tipped against by Chris von der Ahe, owner of the St. Louis Browns. (Refugees from the ancient and freshly folded American Association, and starting National League play in 1892, von der Ahe’s Browns have been known since 1900 as the St. Louis Cardinals.)

Once and for all let us dispense, then, with the prejudice that the designated hitter is a product of that nefarious American League who’ve conspired since 1973 to turn the Show into a high-price softball league. The American League didn’t even think about the idea until 1906.

That’s when Mack—Pirates catcher grown up to manage (and in due course own) the Philadelphia Athletics—raised the DH seriously, after watching and tiring of his own pitching staff swinging at the plate as though their bats were made of cardboard paper roll tubes. Those 1906 A’s pitchers who got into 22 games or more—including Hall of Famers Chief Bender, Rube Waddell, and Eddie Plunk (er, Plank)—hit a collective .201.

Being only slightly better hitters than Mack’s 1891 Pirates didn’t stop the Tall Tactician from proposing a DH for the American League at season’s end. The league turned him down, too. Twenty-two years later came the next in vitro of the DH, by John Heydler—president of the National League. This time around, the American League caused the National League’s miscarriage.

None in Show would try again until the 1960s minor leagues, including the AAA-level International League, brought the baby to term successfully. That caught the eye and ear of a later, far more controversial A’s owner, Charlie Finley. The rest, of course, you know, unless you forgot that the National League tried once more to bring the fetus to full term, in 1980.

Five NL teams voted no; four voted yes; three abstained. The National League miscarried again.

It’s not that I haven’t written about the designated hitter’s true history before, but I raise it once again because at this writing Show fans still don’t know whether Commissioner Rob Manfred and the Major League Baseball Players Association will get off the proverbial schneid, get onto the same page, and consecrate the permanent, universal DH.

Manfred seems more determined to keep more abominable ideas such as the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers, the free cookie on second base to open each extra half inning, and a permanently expanded postseason. He still seems unable to grok that leaving the permanent universal DH in the air did few, if any favours, for a lot of free agents more suited to designated hitting than earlier in their careers. Or, for a lot of teams who’d love to have their bats without sending them out into the field with gloves that could be tried by jury for sedition.

Not knowing whether they’d have the DH option may have factored as heavily as their current economic folderol when the Cubs decided to non-tender Kyle Schwarber. The Nationals did sign Schwarber, of course, which tells you how unafraid they are of finding him plate appearances while the most polite description of him as a defender is “suspect.” But not every National League team is quite that risk-willing.

Don’t make the mistake of believing Schwarber is just another contemporary phenomenon. There have been DH types in baseball all through the live ball era now 101 years old. They didn’t exactly begin with Dick (Dr. Strangeglove) Stuart, whose butcher shop at first base was tolerated for eight of his ten major league seasons because he could and did hit baseballs across county lines.

The so-called purists merely forget or can’t bear to think about it. But ponder this: What would you do with a second baseman who can flat out hit but has limited enough fielding range and averages eighteen errors charged per year at the position in a seventeen-season playing career? Today you’d want a DH slot available to you because you don’t want to lose a bat that would lead the league in OPS six straight seasons and OPS+ seven. Shake hands with Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby.

Ponder this, too: Ted Williams—arguably the greatest hitter who ever lived and, if you didn’t believe it, you could have asked him—hated fielding. He has the career defensive statistics to back him up, too: enough below his league’s averages. Now, put Williams in today’s game as a DH and turn him loose at the plate. You’re really going to get an earful about who’s the greatest hitter who ever lived and, if you don’t believe it, you’d better ask him.

Let’s give Manfred and the MLBPA a little more historic reference. The following table shows decade by decade how Show pitchers have hit beginning with 1920 (for the 1910s) because that seems the first year in which league splits by defensive positions are available:

Year BA OBP SLG OPS BA +/- MLB AVG
1920 .202 .247 .254 .500 -74
1930 .214 .254 .285 .539 -82
1940 .179 .218 .222 .441 -88
1950 .178 .231 .227 .459 -88
1960 .155 .206 .194 .401 -100
1970 .146 .188 .192 .380 -108
1980 .156 .192 .197 .390 -109
1990 .138 .172 .169 .341 -120
2000 .148 .185 .192 .377 -122
2010 .141 .175 .174 .348 -116

Notice the numbers for 1940, representing the 1930s. That was a decade in which batting statistics overall were off the charts, with the Show’s sixteen teams averaging about five runs per game and batting .267 with a .726 OPS.

Do you really want this lifetime .101/.126/.152 slash line hitting or wasting outs? (Yu Darvish.)

Now, ask yourselves whether those or any other decade’s pitchers’ batting statistics would show you a major league level hitter if you didn’t know those numbers belonged to pitchers at the plate. Instead of asking and demanding why pitchers aren’t taught “to play the whole game,” too, ask and demand to know, too, why you’d really want pitchers with valuable arms and talents wasting strength and stamina, risking their health even further when you (damn well should) know pitching itself is a health risk going in.

So pitchers can drop sacrifice bunts? Wonderful. Glad you can afford to waste outs for the nebulous sake of “strategy.” I’d rather see real hitters think about bunting against those defensive shifts for base hits a time or two during games and putting the kibosh on those shifts post haste. A few have, and there should be more. Show me all that delicious free real estate, and I’ll show you a little bunt on an outside pitch and me on first base before your alarm clocks ring.

Glad, too, that it’s little of the proverbial skin off your teeth that an effective pitcher showing no early fatigue yet might be scheduled to hit with two out, at least one man on, batting stats making Mario Mendoza resemble Mickey Mantle, and side retired with no further profit.

You want “strategy?” The universal DH might actually add some. Think about a second cleanup hitter or an extra leadoff-type batting in that number nine slot. Some teams have. Who’d you rather have batting ninth with a man or two aboard? Who’d you rather have batting in the nine spot if it leads the next inning off? Hint: In either case, it won’t be Yu Darvish.

One more time, hand it off to Thomas Boswell, because he’s still right as rain: “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.”

By the way, in full-season 2019 Show batters struck out 42,823 times. Would you like to know which non-pitching batters struck out the least that season? You can look it up: the designated hitters. They struck out a mere 2,652 times, compared to none of the other non-pitchers striking out less than 4,093 times. Joe and Jane Fan bitching about all those strikeouts should love the DH, no?

The owners are said to be more than willing to let the players have the universal DH—if the players agree in turn to permanently expanded postseasons. The players should tell them to stuff that idea. We’ve had a long enough era of the thrills, chills, and spills watching teams fighting to the last breath to finish the season . . . in second place.

We got close enough to a pair of losing teams in last year’s World Series, too. Allow that 2020 was a pandemically-imposed freak season. But remember that the 29-31 Astros got all the way to the American League Championship Series. Are you really ready for the prospect of a losing team over a full season getting the chance to play their way to the World Series or even win the Series?

The universal DH really would remove a blemish from the lineup while helping still-effective bats find fresh jobs. The so-called purists, the reactionary old farts, fight harder to stop that than to stop the continuing dilution of championship play. I could tell you another word for that kind of thinking, but then you’d have to kill me. And my fountain pen (yes, I still write with one) has light years to go before it sleeps.

Update: After this essay was published, news arrived that the MLBPA rejected the universal DH—because the owners offered to allow it contingent upon their accepting permanently-expanded postseasons. Before you say “damn fools,” remember that further dilution of championship play should not be accepted.