On Saturday, Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke called Trevor Bauer the biggest embarrassment in Dodgers history. Two days later, Plaschke’s fellow Times columnist Bill Shaikin called Max Scherzer cover for the Dodgers’ Bauer disaster.
Bauer’s 2021 season is over. With his legal status remaining in limbo, baseball’s government and the Major League Baseball Players Association decided it was the better part of valor that Bauer should remain on paid administrative leave through the end of the season.
“He will surely never pitch for the Dodgers again,” Plaschke wrote Saturday. “He may never pitch for anybody again. But the damage his brief presence wrought upon an organization built on strong community and smart baseball has been indelible.”
Signing Bauer last winter indicated only that the Dodgers were willing to gamble on a misogynist alone. Even vetting Bauer completely, the team couldn’t have foreseen his exposure as having crossed lines separating mere kink from downright abuse, making mere misogyny resemble virtuousness.
Dealing for Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner from the Nationals at the trade deadline may yet make the Dodgers’ Bauer embarrassment the footnote to a footnote in their long and storied-enough history. Especially if the deal turns out to have made the postseason and the pennant possible.
It’s not that Turner has been useless, far from it. He’s had more than a few moments since he swapped Nationals for Dodgers fatigues. (For one thing, he’s now the only baseball player known to have almost moonwalked his way back up and out of a safe slide across the plate.) But he can’t begin to measure up to Scherzer’s impact.
Nobody else could conceivably start eight straight games for a team and post a 0.88 ERA, a 1.26 fielding-independent pitching rate, five measly walks, and 72 strikeouts over those eight starts. Except maybe an uninjured Jacob deGrom, who actually did spend starts from 25 May through 1 July posting a 1.20 ERA, a 0.92 FIP, four measly walks, and 71 strikeouts.
But deGrom is more than a fair few seasons younger than Scherzer. DeGrom has slightly more than half of Scherzer’s lifetime 3,003 strikeouts. It would be foolhardy at best to predict that a day lurks in the future when deGrom will nail his 3,000th strikeout on the same day he pitches an immaculate inning and takes a perfect game into the eighth inning.
That’s what Max the Knife did Sunday. The Dodger Stadium crowd didn’t exactly pack the house, but it made noise enough that only a corpse on the Klingon home world couldn’t have heard it when Scherzer threw down and in on a full count and eluded Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer’s bat for the milestone swishout.
He pitches for a team that has an easier time keeping greatness on the mound from going unrewarded. Unlike deGrom, who pitches like a Hall of Famer for a team that knows how to snatch the proverbial defeat from the jaws of victory as often as not, the Dodgers have won every one of Scherzer’s eight starts since his arrival.
“None of Bauer’s teams,” Shaikin notes, “have won eight consecutive games in which he started.” That’s any eight consecutive starts, never mind the first eight he’s made with any of the four teams for whom he’s pitched.
(For those curious, this year the Mets did manage to win eight straight deGrom starts—but deGrom got win credit in only five of those games. On the other hand, one of his injury issues put a big time space between the first two of those starts. DeGrom’s ERA over those starts was four points lower than Scherzer’s over his first eight Dodger starts, and deGrom’s FIP was eleven points lower.)
Plaschke feared free agent-to-be Scherzer would be a rental only. But when Shaikin noted another future Hall of Famer, Clayton Kershaw, sitting a mere 347 strikeouts away from the Magic 3,000, he quoted Max the Knife about that: “Hopefully, I’m here, and able to watch his 3,000th as well.”
Could that have been a not-so-subtle hint that Scherzer would like nothing more than to stay in Dodger silks for the rest of his career? Could that have been a not-so-subtle suggestion that the Dodgers are thinking about the same thing as they begin to imagine a post-Bauer world for which Bauer bears the brunt of the blame?
Don’t even think about it: Merely because a judge denied a restraining order against Bauer regarding one of his victims, Bauer isn’t off the hook. Restraining order petitions address feared future acts. They don’t deny or acquit known previous acts.
“[T]he central truth of this entire affair — the stuff that Major League Baseball will look to regarding Bauer’s behavior, irrespective of whether [criminal] charges are brought — points pretty clearly to Bauer doing exactly what his accuser said he did,” wrote former NBC Sports baseball analyst Craig Calcaterra last month.
Everything else is secondary.
After 12 hours of testimony, his accuser said, under oath, “I did not consent to bruises all over my body that sent me to the hospital and having that done to me while I was unconscious.” There was zero evidence presented which explained how those bruises appeared in a way that was benign or refuted the idea that the woman was unconscious when Bauer inflicted them. That, in my mind, is all that matters.
Six days before the Dodgers pulled the trigger on the Scherzer trade, it became known widely enough that there wasn’t a Dodger to be found in the clubhouse who really wanted Bauer back among them.
Between that day and the day they landed Scherzer, the Dodgers fell from two to three games out of first in the National League West. They’re back to two and a half out of first with a few hiccups here and there, none of which involved Scherzer. But his one-for-the-books outing Sunday further exposed the upstart Padres (18.5 games out of first) as not ready for National League West prime time just yet.
Both Scherzer and Kershaw face free agency this winter unless the resources-rich Dodgers elect to stay their course with both pitchers. For Kershaw it would be keeping him in the only baseball family he’s known his entire career. For Scherzer it would be making sure he finishes his career with his fourth and final baseball family. Maybe with another World Series ring or two on his finger.
Remember: Enough of the world thought the Nationals made a huge mistake signing Scherzer to a long-term deal. Then Scherzer finished his Nats tenure with a) the most wins above replacement-level pitcher of any marksman during the life of the deal; b) struck more batters out than anyone else in the Show over the life of the deal; and, c) helped the Nats win an unforgettable World Series title.
Somewhere in there, Max the Knife also managed to win two of his three Cy Young Awards. Back-to-back while he was at it. He’s even in this year’s conversation as regards winning his fourth Cy Young Award.
After net results such as those, nobody would necessarily bet on the Dodgers just burning money if they elect to make Kershaw and Scherzer offers they can’t refuse to stay. Even four-year deals keeping them Dodgers for the rest of their baseball lives.
“Wasn’t it true,” Mario Puzo had Don Vito Corleone musing in The Godfather (the novel, not the film), “that sometimes the greatest misfortune brought unforeseen rewards?”
The Dodgers’ rewards are bound to be a lot happier with Scherzer aboard for his final acts than they’d be with even one more episode of the Bauer dope opera.