If we must retire one more Yankee number . . .

Gil McDougald

Gil McDougald, the infield jack-of-all-trades for the 1950s Yankees. If we must have yet another retired Yankee uniform number, let it be his. 

My rejoinder to Dr. Paul Semendinger’s argument to co-retire Yankee uniform number 9 in honour of Hank Bauer (it’s already retired for Roger Maris) provoked a pleasant enough debate, when Dr. S. republished it on his Yankee blog Start Spreading the News a couple of days ago. Well, it was pleasant until some comments.

Nobody attacked me, but some of the arguments addressing retired Yankee uniform numbers went from the ridiculous to the more ridiculous. Now there came calls from one or another place to think about retiring the numbers of such Yankee ghosts as Spud Chandler, Tommy Henrich, Graig Nettles, Willie Randolph, and Roy White.

Let’s just say for openers that the Yankees have so damn many retired uniform numbers that they’ve made the honour almost meaningless. I’ll say it again: Be not surprised if you live long enough to see the middle of this century featuring all active Yankees wearing triple digits on their backs.

But let’s say, too, that in the cases of Chandler and Henrich, there’s more than one number to ponder. Presumably, Chandler’s likeliest target for uniform retirement would be 21, which he wore for the bulk of his Yankee career. Oops. Paul O’Neill’s getting the honour of number 21 retired.

Henrich wore four numbers in his career. Of those, he wore 7 from 1939-42, when he went into World War II service; and, 15 from 1946 until his retirement after the 1950 season. Ol’ Reliable’s 7 was taken in due course by Mickey Mantle. And 15 is retired already—for Thurman Munson. Whoops.

Semendinger has no apparent issue with co-retiring uniform numbers as it is. He thinks (erroneously) that there’s nothing wrong with declaring 9 co-retired between Maris and Bauer, not to mention Nettles who wore it as a Yankee. I’ll answer that again soon, promise. But I’d like to see him come right out and argue that Chandler ought to be part of O’Neill’s number retirement or, even better, that Mantle should share 7’s retirement with Henrich or Munson should share 15 likewise.

Not even the most casual of the casual among Yankee fans would stand for that without a rip-roaring fight. (Or would they?)

Chandler was a tough righthanded pitcher for three Yankee World Series winners (1941, 1943, 1947). Much of his reputation rests on a fluke 1943, when he posted both the lowest ERA (1.64) and fielding-independent pitching rate (FIP: 2.54) of his major league career. Credited with a league-leading 20 pitching wins, Chandler was named the American League’s Most Valuable Player even though the award probably should have gone to Cleveland’s Hall of Fame shortstop Lou Boudreau. (Boudreau: 8.1 wins above replacement-level, leading the league; Chandler: 7.3.)

Why call Chandler’s 1943 a fluke? Easy: 1) Baseball was already depleted of enough prime talent by World War II. (The Yankees themselves lost Henrich, Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, and Red Ruffing, not to mention a catching prospect named Yogi Berra.) 2) His ’43 ERA was 1.20 below his career mark. 3) His ’43 FIP was 75 points under his career mark. He did get a late major league career start thanks to several minor-league injuries, and the injury bug also kept him out of a few World Series pre-1941.

Chandler himself was pulled into the Army after the ’43 Series, though his injury history kept him from combat. He returned near the end of the 1945 season, posted two more solid seasons in 1946 and 47, but age and injuries compelled the Yankees to release him at 39 in April 1948.

He was a good pitcher who was probably held back by his minor league injuries in the 1930s (he didn’t throw a major league pitch until he was 29) and a few more injuries as a Yankee, where he was respected for a toughness that sometimes bordered on recklessness. But if you’re even thinking about retiring or co-retiring the uniform number of the 377th starting pitcher of all time, who isn’t even one of the ten best Yankee pitchers ever, you should quell that thought post-haste.

Henrich was a terrific player whose travel over the top of the mountain toward his decline phase was rudely interrupted by World War II—Ol’ Reliable lost three seasons to the war. He was one of the solid men when he returned, too; somehow, he remained much the same player after the war as he’d been before it.

As a matter of fact, my Real Batting Average places Henrich (.558) just behind Paul O’Neill (.565 as a Yankee) and way ahead of Hank Bauer (.500), while the defensive metrics show Henrich pretty much a match for both those men, whom Dr. Semendinger think deserve equal uniform retirement. Well, now. Henrich is ranked as the 58th best right fielder ever; Bauer, the 88th best. Case closed.

But you’re not even going to think about compelling Munson or Mantle to share a uniform retirement even with Henrich. You’re not going to compel a shared uniform retirement between the second-best catcher in Yankee history, the arguable greatest all-around player ever to wear the Yankee uniform, and the guy who isn’t quite one of the Yankees’ top ten right fielders. Not unless you require psychiatric evaluation.

Think of Monument Park as the Yankees’ team Hall of Fame. That’s where you honour the Chandlers, the Henriches, the Bauers. Strike their Monument Park plaques. (While we’re at it, do likewise for Nettles and White; Randolph already has his plaque there.) That’s it. They don’t quite deserve uniform number retirements.

Co-retired numbers are also unwarranted insults. Yogi Berra didn’t deserve to be co-retired with Bill Dickey; Berra was ten times the catcher Dickey was and he’s a hair’s breadth ahead of Johnny Bench as the greatest all-around catcher who ever strapped it on. And Roger Maris was insulted without warrant more than enough in his Yankee career without handing him one more by compelling him to share retired number 9, even with Hank Bauer.

You want to think about a Yankee uniform retirement that a) hasn’t been done yet (believe it or not) and b) would do honour to a truly underrated Yankee great? I’ll give you one. Number 12. It’s the only number Gil McDougald wore in his entire Yankee life. Of all the not-quite-Hall of Famers to play for Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel under his platoon-and-multiples system, McDougald was the best of the group.

He was a fair hitter (he led the league with nine triples in 1957) and a 1951 American League Rookie of the Year. (Even though Minnie Miñoso really deserved the award.) But he was a defensive virtuoso at the three toughest infield positions, finishing his career in double figures on the positive side for defensive runs above his league average at all three. (Second base: +46. Shortstop: +16. Third base: +13.)

Maybe McDougald gets short shrift even among Yankee fans because he wasn’t exactly one of the most glittering Yankees of his time. Maybe, too, he gets such short shrift because of Cleveland pitching legend Herb Score.

You know, the line drive McDougald cracked off Score’s face in 1957 that people to this day believe ruined the Cleveland lefthander’s career. False. Score returned in 1958, had a shaky season’s start before he began to find his proper form again . . . then blew his left elbow out pitching eight innings on a damp night. That, and not the McDougald liner, ultimately put paid to Score’s effectiveness and, soon enough, his pitching career.

McDougald tried to visit Score in the hospital but was blocked by hospital personnel. Yet Score’s sister disclosed decades later that their mother told her, “It’s bad, but he’s got the finest doctors in the world and they will do everything that they can. You need to go down to the church and say your prayers for Herb, but more than that to pray for Gil McDougald. That man is a hurting man.”

Indeed. McDougald wouldn’t quite be the same player after the Score incident, even though Score’s mother herself reached out to him as her son did to tell him the injury was nobody’s “fault.” (McDougald in gratitude visited the older woman regularly for the rest of her life as well as swapping holiday cards with Score himself.) The Yankees left him open to the American League’s first expansion draft but he elected to retire, instead.

“The way that Stengel used him,” Bill James has written of him (in The New Historical Baseball Abstract), “kept him from becoming a star . . . But then, Gil McDougald wasn’t born to be a star. He was born to be a Yankee.”

The sad irony is that McDougald suffered an almost Score-like injury in spring training two years earlier, when a batting practise line drive caught him behind his ear while he was chatting with coach Frank Crosetti. The ball fractured a hearing tube; in his baseball retirement, successful with a dry cleaning business and a building maintenance business, as well as coaching Fordham University baseball, McDougald went completely deaf by the mid-1970s.

New York Times writer Ira Berkow told the story in “McDougald, Once a Quiet Yankee Star, Now Lives in a Quiet World” in 1994. Not long after, McDougald received a cochlear implant that restored his hearing. (“They’ve turned the music back on,” he said happily.) Both Berkow’s original story and the happy followup (“For McDougald, the Miracle of Sound”) were republished in 2009’s Summers in the Bronx: Attila the Hun and Other Yankee Stories.

McDougald got to live another fifteen years with his restored hearing until his death at 82 in 2010. Like too many honours it should have been done while he was still alive to appreciate and accept. But if there’s one more Yankee who really does deserve his uniform number retired, McDougald does.

On Kapler, the Anthem, and the atrocity that provoked him

Gabe Kapler

Kapler’s intended National Anthem protest hasn’t provoked a flood of outrage—yet.

This time, a funny thing happened after Giants manager Gabe Kapler said the atrocity in Uvalde, Texas moves him to stay in the clubhouse until “The Star Spangled Banner” finishes playing before games, because he’s “not okay with the present state of the country.” The funny thing that happened was . . . nothing.

No flood of outrage. No choking social media to death with demands for Kapler’s termination, if not execution. No threatened boycotts of Giants games. No politicians from the top down demanding Kapler be run out of a job, run out of town, run out of the country. No mass demonstrations around AT&T Park. No thunderous editorials calling for a Giants organisational shakeup.

This time, the country seems very much united across all lines of race, ethnicity, and even political belief in outrage that nineteen Uvalde police officers were in or around the Robb Elementary School building and did nothing to thwart the eighteen-year-old shooter who killed nineteen young children, a pair of teachers, and whose murders may have caused the fatal heart attack of the husband of one of those slain teachers.

The outrage deepens when learning as we have that those Uvalde police even tried thwarting efforts by the adjacent Border Patrol and federal marshals to stop the massacre. “As sickening as it is,” writes Reason‘s Robby Soave, “this is worth repeating: With the children wounded, bleeding, dying, and frantically–quietly–calling [9-1-1 on cell phones] for help, the police stood by, waiting for even more assistance. They told the Border Patrol to hold off, and they actively restrained parents outside the school who begged them to help and even volunteered to do so themselves.”

“Second Amendment supporters often counter, ‘The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.’ Except the hallway of Robb Elementary School had no shortage of good guys with guns, and yet they did not stop the massacre until it was far too late,” fumes an editorial by National Review, a publication not known to suffer criticism of law enforcement without a fight. “Perhaps that slogan should be revised, ‘The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun and the willingness to act.’ No Uvalde cops acted when it could have made a difference.”

From the atrocity of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minnesota police to the atrocity of Salvador Ramos at Robb Elementary, Kapler—one of baseball’s most articulate and genuinely sensitive managers—looked upon the state of these United States and discovered he simply couldn’t partake of a dubious pre-game ritual because Uvalde slams an exclamation point down upon a country in self-inflicted peril.

“When I was the same age as the children in Uvalde,” wrote Kapler in a blog entry last Friday, “my father taught me to stand for the pledge of allegiance when I believed my country was representing its people well or to protest and stay seated when it wasn’t. I don’t believe it is representing us well right now.”

About the only truly pronounced demurral Kapler incurred came from Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa, who came out of retirement to take the White Sox bridge last year. “I think he’s exactly right to be concerned . . . with what’s happening in our country,” La Russa told reporters before a game against the Cubs. “He’s right there. Where I disagree is the flag and the anthem are not appropriate places to try to voice your objections.”

Apparently, La Russa forgot the anthem’s line about “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The brave were thwarted actively and incompetently at Robb Elementary, the only people Ramos set free were nineteen children and two adults from their earthly lives, and those Uvalde, Texas pays to be brave in the presence of evil—to put it in the absolute most polite language available—didn’t exactly do what they’re paid to do last Tuesday.

We can debate La Russa’s demurral and Kapler’s quiet outrage all day long. La Russa thinks Kapler’s intended protest disrespects the men and women of the military who defend what the flag and anthem purport to mean. I fear La Russa dismisses the prospect that those very men and women would think, appropriately, that they didn’t put their hides on the line to defend either police becoming criminals or police doing nothing to prevent mass murder while blocking others from trying to prevent it or while allowing it to continue inexplicably.

Some of Kapler’s fellow skippers get it. “[He] is very passionate about things he believes in and that’s his way of protesting,” says his downstate rival, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “I don’t think any of us are happy with what’s going on in our country. I do respect people using whatever platforms they have to address that.”

Alex Cora, who played with Kapler on the 2005-06 Red Sox and now manages the Red Sox, gets it, too. “He’s a good friend of mine and the kind of guy I respect from afar for what he’s doing,” Cora says, “and if this is what he’s doing, good for him. I understand his reasons. He was very open about it and I know there’s a lot of people that are going to support him.”

One of those people is also Chris Woodward, the manager of the Rangers. “I think we’re all frustrated, especially in this country,” he says. “Nobody’s happy. It’s not about which side you’re on. It’s just we’ve got to get better as a society . . . I’m not going to really make comment either way on whether I would or wouldn’t do what he did.”

Kapler made a Memorial Day exception to his intended protest before today’s game against the Phillies. “While I believe strongly in the right to protest and the importance of doing so,” he said, “I also believe strongly in honoring and mourning our country’s service men and women who fought and died for that right. Those who serve in our military, and especially those who have paid the ultimate price for our rights and freedoms, deserve that acknowledgment and respect, and I am honored to stand on the line today to show mine.”

Maybe now it’s time to revisit an argument I made a few years ago: It’s time at last to re-think “The Star Spangled Banner” before sporting events.

What began as a spontaneous show of respect by a Red Sox third baseman, as a Navy band played “The Star Spangled Banner” during the seventh-inning stretch of a 1918 World Series game, has become at once a ritual of habit and—since the NFL’s Colin Kaepernick over police brutality in 2016—a flash point whenever professional athletes seize upon its playing to protest quietly, usually by kneeling, over assorted outrages.

The song wasn’t even the sanctioned National Anthem when Fred Thomas (on leave from the Navy to play in the 1918 Series) turned and saluted the flag. That didn’t happen until the 1930s. But the song’s playing before every last sporting event regardless of day, evening, or calendar significance, renders it meaningless except as pressuring crowds into a patriotic gesture.

I’ve suggested it before, but it’s worth repeating yet again: An everyday anthem during baseball season means nothing but false patriotism, compulsory patriotism, the sort of patriotism you see in countries unworthy of it but likely to execute those who say or behave so.

Faithful readers (all three of you) may remember my saying this in prior writings on the matter: I don’t write lightly about this. I’m the paternal grandson of a New York police officer, and I’m an Air Force veteran. My grandfather would have fumed over Uvalde police doing nothing and trying to stop others from doing something, anything to save those children and teachers. And though I wasn’t in a job requiring direct combat, I wore the Air Force uniform knowing well that I had sworn by implication to die if it came to that on behalf of defending these not always so United States.

I accepted and lived it proudly. And I damn well didn’t spend four and a half years of my life in a military uniform, doing a military job, on behalf of those engaged to protect us from the criminals either becoming the criminals themselves or living down to the admonition, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Neither did the men and women we commemorate today who died in actual combat.

So, one more time. Save “The Star Spangled Banner”—and, while we’re at it, “God Bless America” in the seventh-inning stretch—for baseball games played on such national holidays as Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, and Labour Day. Save it otherwise for Opening Day, the All-Star Game, Game One of the World Series, and even Game Seven if the Series gets that far.

The rest of the season, can it.

We can live quite well without the National Anthem before every last game without losing the only patriotism that truly matters, that in and of the heart. Even when that patriotism is challenged as murderously as it was in Uvalde, Texas last week. A challenge so murderous that the manager of the Giants prefers no compulsion to false or diluted patriotism when his country is compromised by evil.

Note: The foregoing essay was written originally for publication by Sports Central.

Paul O’Neill vs. Hank Bauer?

Mickey Mantle, Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer

Hank Bauer (far right) with (left to right) Mickey Mantle, Casey Stengel, and Yogi Berra, in 1954. A key element in Stengel’s platoon system, Bauer was immortalised by a comic as a man “with a face that looks like a clenched fist.” (UPI photo.)

My Friday morning e-mail included a copy of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America’s Here’s the Pitch newsletter. Fair disclosure: I contribute to that newsletter once a month at minimum, sometimes more if called upon, and no one has requested my assassination over anything I’ve written there. Yet.

Further fair disclosure: Paul Semendinger, Ed.D., is an educator, elementary school principal, enthusiastic Yankee blogger, and author of The Least Among Them. He has even been agreeable enough to republish a few of my own writings on his blog Start Spreading the News.

Dr. Semendinger may not be so agreeable about my demurral from this: he says in this morning’s HTP that Hank Bauer deserves a Yankee uniform retirement number just as the forthcoming Paul O’Neill does. (O’Neill’s 21 will be retired this season.) Until this morning’s e-mail, and nothing against O’Neill himself, I’d never considered him a candidate for uniform retirement.

Not just because the Yankees have retired a few too many numbers already (21); not just because eight of the 21 don’t belong to Hall of Famers. (Thurman Munson’s 15 is retired, but he deserves a plaque in Cooperstown and will get one in due course from the Hall’s Classic Era Committee covering pre-1980 players.) Yankee players may be wearing triple-digit uniform numbers exclusively by the time this century is half over.

O’Neill was as solid a ballplayer as you could ask. So was Bauer. They have much in common. They were both right fielders with good throwing arms and route instincts; they both hit for extra bases as often as not; they both played on multiple World Series winners. They were both the kind of men to whom teammates looked in the clubhouse as well as on the field.

They also both played in high-offense eras though O’Neill’s was somewhat higher than Bauer’s. Neither is close to having been a Hall of Famer, but Dr. Semendinger thinks Bauer was the better ballplayer by margin enough. I’m no more convinced of that than I am that either man deserves a number retirement, however excellent they happened to be.

The traditionalists might care to note that O’Neill has a higher batting average as a Yankee than Bauer: .303 vs. .277. Even allowing the righthanded Bauer some slack for having to hit to that cavernous left center field in the old Yankee Stadium, that’s a big river between them. Bauer hit only a couple of points higher at home while slugging a few points less at home.

O’Neill was a lefthanded batter who hit better at home in two cavernous ballparks (Riverfront Stadium, the remodeled old Yankee Stadium which kept the shorter right field porch) than on the road. But the splits aren’t as wide between the two as you might think.

So we should take a look at the two right fielders as Yankees according to my Real Batting Average metric: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, dividing that sum by their total plate appearances. Dr. Semendinger may or may not like this:

Hank Bauer 5375 2123 491 24 19 33 .500
Paul O’Neill 5368 2313 586 51 69 13 .565
Paul O'Neill

Paul O’Neill at the plate during his Yankee seasons.

How could Bauer have only nine more plate appearances than O’Neill despite playing three more seasons as a Yankee than O’Neill did? Simpler than you might think if you know where to look.

Bauer has been remembered as one of the near-typical elements of Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel’s platoon system, usually in hand with fellow outfielder Gene Woodling. He averaged 117 games a season as a Yankee. O’Neill wasn’t a platoon player in the Joe Torre era and averaged a percentage point short of 140 games a season in the pinstripes.

And in nine fewer Yankee plate appearances O’Neill has 190 more total bases, drew 27 more walks, and was handed 27 more intentional walks. I submit the last indicates the pitchers in Bauer’s time feared him at the plate less than the pitchers in O’Neill’s time feared him.

Dr. Semendinger points to Bauer’s 29.3 wins above replacement-level as a Yankee and O’Neill’s 26.7 WAR as a Yankee as further evidence. Well, now. If you got to play three more Yankee seasons than the next guy even if you were almost the same kind of player, of course you’re going to have 2.6 more WAR.

Bauer also has one leg up for being a slightly better defensive right fielder than O’Neill was, but have a look at their offensive WAR as Yankees: O’Neill (29.9 oWAR) has Bauer (24.0 oWAR) beaten by a decent distance. Bauer’s seven-year peak WAR is 25.7 . . . but O’Neill’s is 27.4.

Dr. Semendinger made a point of noticing Bauer’s 158 home runs in a Yankee uniform. I did mention both men had some power. But I forgot to mention O’Neill hit 185 out as a Yankee. It’s not exactly Bauer’s fault that Stengel saw him as the kind of player who’d shine in his platoon system as a platoon man, though Bauer did get remarkable enough playing time for a man made a key part of that platoon system.

But O’Neill wasn’t considered a platoon player, and I submit the final numbers say O’Neill was just that much more valuable to his generation of Yankees than Bauer was to his. Not so fast, Dr. S. might rejoin.

“If O’Neill deserves credit for being a leader on four championship teams, Bauer also deserves that same credit, and then some,” he writes. “Bauer was a leader on seven World Championship Yankees teams.” It’s O’Neill’s fault that he didn’t have the full caliber of teammates Bauer had?

Let’s see. Bauer played with three full-time Hall of Famers: Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle. O’Neill as a Yankee played with two enshrined full-time Hall of Famers (Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera) and a third who belongs in Cooperstown (Roger Clemens) but isn’t there yet thanks to continuing suspicions (as opposed to, you know, evidence) about involvement with actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances.

Bauer’s teams had the slightly better role and platoon players. (Imagine if O’Neill’s Yankees could have had their own Gil McDougald, to name only the most versatile.) They also had Berra behind the plate doing what almost no other catcher in major league history did: helping their pitchers pitch better as Yankees than they did a) with any other Yankee  behind the plate and b) on any other team in their careers.

Bauer also played in the pre-division era where you finished in first place or you went home for the winter a couple of weeks early. He got to play in nine World Series and on seven Series winners, of course, and he finished with a .245/.279/.399 career postseason slash line. O’Neill played in seven division series, six League Championship Series (five as a Yankee), and six World Series with five rings (four as a Yankee) to show for it . . . and his career postseason slash line is .284/.363/.465.

Does this mean Hank Bauer doesn’t deserve Yankee recognition? Of course not. But if you’re going to even think about retiring his uniform number, too, you’re going to have a problem. Dr. Semendinger thinks it’s not that big a problem:

[H]ere’s the beautiful thing—retiring Hank Bauer’s number wouldn’t change anything uniform wise. His number 9 is already retired for Roger Maris.  By retiring the number in Bauer’s name as well, the Yankees would simply be recognizing another great Yankee.  The fact that this is so easy and obvious makes me wonder why this hasn’t been part of the plan already.

Hank Bauer

Bauer managed after his playing days and skippered the Orioles to their franchise-first World Series championship in 1966.

He’s kidding, right? There’d be nothing beautiful about co-retiring number 9, it’d be a downright insult—to Roger Maris, for whom it was retired in the first place, a man who was probably the single most insulted and disrespected Yankee great of them all.

Maris busted the single-season home run record held by an all-time Yankee idol and received more opprobrium than praise for doing so, for not being the glib, movie-star-handsome idol just about every Yankee fan prayed would break it if it had to be broken. And if you insist on going there, Maris was a better man than both the guy whose record he smashed and the guy Yankee World prayed would do it instead.

What might have been regarding Maris’s career remains unknown; he was ground down first by the unwarranted attacks for pursuing and breaking ruthsrecord (that’s how they said it back then, folks) and then by numerous injuries.

The Yankees have also insulted one great with a co-retired number already. There was no way they should have retired number 8 for anyone other than Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra . . . but the Yankees made it a co-retirement with Bill Dickey, the pre-integration great who mentored and taught Berra the fineries of the position. (Surely you’ve seen Yogi’s observation, “Bill is learning me all his experiences.”)

Dickey on the surface resembles a better hitter than Berra, but Dickey played in an even higher-offense era than Berra did, and Berra shook out as the far better receiver and handler of pitchers behind the plate. (Yogi also caught the same number of World Series winners as Dickey while catching one more pennant winner, by the way.)

Dickey deserved a plaque in Monument Park more than he deserved a uniform retirement. Yogi deserved the uniform retirement exclusively. Bauer absolutely deserves the Monument Park plaque (O’Neill has one), but that’s it. (For that matter, so does another Stengel Yankee, Gil McDougald.) But number 9’s retirement deserves to belong to Maris alone.

Bauer was an underappreciated ballplayer, generally. He could hit leadoff, hit third, hit almost anywhere in the order and deliver. He was also underappreciated for his World War II service as a Marine in the Pacific. That service didn’t exactly harm him as a player; he’d played only one minor league season in 1941, then enlisted at age eighteen after Pearl Harbour. (His father had to sign his enlistment papers. “I traded a bat for a rifle,” he once said.)

He saw action among the Marines who invaded New Georgia, Emirau, Guam, and Okinawa, taking shrapnel in his thigh that stayed for life because it was considered too dangerous to remove. He also battled malaria while he was at it in the middle of all that. He returned to the Yankee system and didn’t get his call to the parent club until 1949; he might (underline that) have made it about two seasons sooner otherwise.

But as Bauer settled into his fine Yankee career, according to Bill James (in The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract), he endured a nastier insult than even the time comedian Jan Murray immortalised him as a man “with a face that looks like a clenched fist”:

A Congressman trolling for publicity published a list of athletes who had gotten “soft duty” in World War II, and put Bauer’s name on the list. This didn’t get the distinguished gentleman the kind of publicity he had been hoping for. “Did I say Bauer?” said the Congressman. “I meant Sauer, Hank Sauer.” Sauer had also seen combat, although not as much as Bauer, so that didn’t help much.

Paul O’Neill looked the military type (you could see him just as readily in an Air Force uniform as a Yankee uniform) but he never saw military service, never mind combat. He was 27 and six years into his baseball career when Saddam Hussein’s takeover attempt of Kuwait stirred Operation Desert Storm. As much as O’Neill looked the part, the military might not have wanted to recruit a fellow his age, anyway.

Where Votto sits

Joey Votto

Father Time may have something to say about Joey Votto’s major league days soon enough. But Grandfather All-Time has wonderful things to say about Votto’s career as a Red.

Earlier this month, Cincinnati magazine published an audacious looking article proclaiming Joey Votto the greatest Red of all time. The hype of that headline alone was probably enough to bring Votto’s critics to a boil, and that was before such social media cracks as:



In your Dreams!!

Frank Robinson Pete Rose Johnny Bench Joe Morgan Concepcion just to name a few not even mention the pitcher.

They were All Much Better ballplayers and Definitely More Valuable to Their team! I might take Tony Perez at first before Votto!

Way too many crack smokers out there.

Against my better judgment, I responded to that next-to-last one first, reminding the entrant it wasn’t Votto’s fault that he didn’t (and doesn’t) have the caliber of teammates Perez had. That was after mentioning that Votto’s 63.7 wins above replacement-level (WAR) as a Red are 18.1 higher than Perez’s.

The article’s author, Chad Dotson, mentioned that since Votto’s Show premiere in 2007 only two players have more WAR than Votto: Mike Trout, and Robinson Canó. (Canó may or may not be compromised by two suspensions for actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, of course.) When you’re third in the WAR race since 2007 you’ve got a powerful case as one of your time’s genuine greats.

Votto has been an on-base machine for the most part; his seven league OBP titles are matched only by Hall of Famers Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Ted Williams, plus should-be Hall of Famer Barry Bonds. Votto’s also done something only Hornsby, Williams, and Hall of Famer Wade Boggs have done: win four straight OBP titles.

Which doesn’t impress the Votto critics—including his former general manager Walt Jocketty—who think he walks too much and passes by too many chances to put a ball in play, including (as Dotson observed) taking pokes at pitches out of the strike zone. Oh. The hor-ror. Taking pitches out of the strike zone. Didn’t they used to call that a great batting eye?

“[J]ust on the surface, it’s clear that there is more to Votto than standing in the batter’s box, bat on shoulder, waiting for ball four,” Dotson wrote. “After all, the guy has led the league in slugging percentage, doubles, and OPS and has pounded 24 or more homers in nine different seasons . . . He’s a well-rounded player who has been one of the game’s best for a long, long time.

There’s more to Votto than just those league leaderships and his career average 28 home runs per 162 games, too. Wait until you see Votto measured by way of my Real Batting Average metric. The Votto critics will discover that, among the top six WARriors as Reds, Votto looks a lot better. Not that they’ll pay attention.

One more time: Real Batting Average (RBA) does what the traditional batting average fails to do to the point of it being a fraudulent statistic. The oldest fart among baseball’s statistic traditionalists should be made to answer why we should continue living by a stat that a) treats all your hits equally and b) determines its champion by a minimum number of plate appearances even though it goes no further than dividing all hits regardless of value by official at-bats alone.

RBA accounts for just about everything a man does at the plate and uses the sum of the following parts:

Total bases (TB), which treats your hits with the unequality they deserve. (If you still think a single’s equal to a double’s equal to a triple’s equal to a home run, get thee back to sixth grade math and that may be giving you too much credit.)

Walks (BB). The only thing insulting about a walk should be that you read the strike zone better than anyone else in the park. If that’s a crime, Votto should be only too happy to plead guilty and serve sentence—namely, a trip to first base. The last I looked, one of your most valuable assets in a batting inning is baserunners.

Intentional walks (IBB). You deserve to be credited separately for the other guys preferring—for whatever reason, whether it’s your formidable swinging or the lesser man behind you they’d prefer as the easier out—that you take your base instead of their pitchers’ heads off.

Sacrifice flies (SF). Unlike the sacrifice bunt—in which you’re giving up a precious out to work with on purpose, on behalf of an advance that gives you team a better scoring chance after your bunt than before it in only one of six known “sacrifice bunt” situations—you’re not trying deliberately to make an out here. You didn’t check in at the plate thinking boy, I’m gonna hit that slop all the way for . . . an out, but your fly out brought him home. And you should damn well get some credit for it.

Hit by pitches (HBP). Their pitcher puts you on first the hard way? Let it be to your credit and on his head. You didn’t ask to get drilled, but—assuming you didn’t start a bench-clearing brawl over it and get thrown out of the game—there you are on first base. You just gave your team that much more shot at, you know, scoring.

We take the sum of all the foregoing and divide that sum by total plate appearances to get your RBA. And this is Votto as a Red according to RBA, and compared to the five other franchise WAR leaders (none of whom happens to be Tony Perez):

Player (as a Red) PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Frank Robinson 6410 3063 698 129 53 118 .634
Joey Votto 8241 3523 1309 147 48 69 .618
Joe Morgan 4973 1885 881 39 52 22 .579
Johnny Bench 8674 3644 891 135 90 19 .551
Barry Larkin 9057 3527 939 66 67 55 .514
Pete Rose 15,890 5752 1210 167 79 107 .460

Think about that. RBA places Votto as the number two Red in the history of the franchise and shows him as one of only two players among the franchise WAR leaders with a .600+ RBA in in Cincinnati uniform. The only thing missing on his resume is beyond his control. It isn’t Votto’s fault the Reds have never reached, never mind won a World Series with him.

The only alarm that ought to be raised over Votto now is whether age (he’s 38) is overtaking him for keeps at long enough last. (His .407 RBA for 2022 as of this morning is 211 points below his career mark.)

The Reds didn’t exactly look like the Dreads hosting the Cubs at Great American Ballpark Thursday afternoon. Not when they beat the Cubs 20-5 with a twenty-hit battering after the Cubs held a 3-0 lead following an inning and a half. Not with a two-run second, an eight-run third, a single-run fifth, a two-run sixth and seventh, and a five-run eighth.

Votto had only a small hand in the Reds’ destruction, scoring on a two-run single in that third. He walked twice, struck out once otherwise. But if he’s always been the kind of player who cares about improving his craft, he’s also been one of those men who couldn’t care less about his own numbers so long as his team wins.

The wins these days are about as easy to come by for the Reds as summoning up his longtime brio has been for Votto this year. About the only thing remaining intact from his younger years is Votto’s continuing passion for the game.

Remember: This is the guy who got thrown out of a 2021 game early, arguing a check swing call against him, then learned a young fan in San Diego at her first live major league game was disappointed at not being able to see him, her favourite player—and sent her a ball he signed that also said, “I am sorry I didn’t play the entire game.”

The spirit remains willing even if the reflexes are no longer fresh and the swing is no longer swift. Even if he admits to being embarrassed by the Dreads’ 14-30 season’s record thus far. Father Time may be starting to tell him that his major league days might be numbered at long enough last. Grandfather All-Time says Votto may not be the greatest ever to wear a Reds uniform but he’s at least the number two man at the plate in their long, long, storied, long history.

You tell me who needs to retire the crack pipe now.

Legit enough not to quit

Luis Gonzalez

Luis Gonzalez—the first Giants position player to pitch in back-to-back games since 1906 wasn’t exactly just thrown to the Mets wolves in the ninth  Monday night. The Mets didn’t exactly abuse a patsy, either.

They’ve been without uber ace Jacob deGrom all season thus far. They’ve lost Max Scherzer for six to eight weeks thanks to an oblique strain forcing him to pull out of a start against the Cardinals last Wednesday. Hands up to everyone who thought the Mets would fold the way they did often enough when the injury bugs swarmed in the recent past.

Guess again. Without deGrom the Mets sit 29-15 and a very healthy eight games in front of the second place Phillies in the National League East. Since Scherzer went down, they’re 5-1, including the game from which Max the Knife removed himself after feeling it a little too hard on the left side.

And, especially after they demolished the stumbling, likewise injury-plagued Giants 13-3 in San Francisco Monday night, a fifth straight loss for the Giants leaving them third in the NL West and with a 3-7 record in their last ten games.

The Mets rode a solid start from David Peterson, freshly recalled from the farm, to a five-run third, a four-run eight, a three-run ninth, and a single run in the sixth. They laid fifteen hits on legitimate Giants pitching and three more against Luis Gonzalez, a right fielder by trade asked to pinch hit in the eighth before taking one for the team in the ninth.

More on that soon enough. Peterson’s shakiest inning was the second, when Brandon Crawford tore a two-run homer out of him on 2-0, but then he got stronger for the next four innings before handing off to the Mets’ pen. Of course, the Mets’ bats made Peterson’s life almost comfortable enough that he could have pitched to the Giants from a lounger and kept them quiet.

That was Francisco Lindor with two out and the bases loaded on Giants starter Alex Cobb in the top of the third, bouncing a ground-rule double into the left field stands, before Pete Alonso sent a first pitch the other way over the left center field fence for a three-run shot.

The game stayed manageable enough for the Giants over the next several innings, before J.D. Davis—whose recent plate struggles had Met fans’ side of the Twitterverse demanding his replacement, if not his execution—sent Jeff McNeil home with a flare double on two outs into left in the top of the sixth.

That ended Cobb’s evening and turned the Mets fast and loose into the Giants’ bullpen, and in the top of the eight they got faster and looser. Alonso opened beating out an infield hit, McNeil hit a two-run homer to the top of Levi’s Landing, and Mark Canha followed almost immediately with a launch over the left center field fence, all on Giants reliever Mauricio Llovera’s dollar. One out and a Davis double later, Mets catcher Patrick Mazeika doubled Davis home with a shot all the way down the right field line.

Giants manager Gabe Kapler elected to waste no further pitching from there. He sent Gonzalez out to the mound for the top of the ninth. Prowl the social media world and you’ll find plenty harrumphing against the Mets’ lack of “sportsmanship” for the way they treated Gonzalez. It might be a fine thing to ask in reply whether it’s sportsmanlike to ask the other team to tank because you don’t want them to waste legitimate pitching.

Closing seven-run deficits or larger in the ninth inning isn’t unheard of, either. The Tigers looked doomed trailing by nine at 13-4 in the ninth on 25 April 1901 . . . and beat the ancient Milwaukee Brewers (about to become the American League edition of the St. Louis Browns) 14-13.

The same year, Cleveland trailed Washington by eight coming to the bottom of the ninth of a May game—and won, also 14-13. The 1934 Indians trailed the Philadelphia Athletics by eight in the top of the ninth in an August game and scored nine before holding on to win, 12-11. And the 1990 Phillies trailed the Dodgers by nine coming into the top of the ninth of another August contest—and won, too, also 12-11.

You get Kapler not wanting to burn a relief pitcher, but you also remember baseball doesn’t have a mercy rule yet. Suppose the Mets had cut Gonzalez and the Giants a break and played dead in the ninth. What was really to stop a) the Giants from mounting a seven-run comeback in the bottom of the ninth; or, b) anyone else from accusing the Mets of—dare we say it?—tanking for a game?

On the other hand, quit your yammering, social media meatheads. Gonzalez wasn’t just thrown to the Met wolves, either, and the Mets didn’t just pile on against a puny position player. He had a pitching record for the season entering Monday night and it wasn’t exactly a record to be ashamed of, either.

He’d had two previous relief outings before Monday night with a zero ERA to show for it. And, a very respectable 3.11 fielding-independent pitching rate to match it. He surrendered no runs and a hit to the Cardinals for an inning while the Giants got blown out 15-6 in St. Louis on 15 May. He surrendered no runs and a hit in two and a third while the Giants got blown out by the Padres 10-1 at home the night before the Mets came to town.

Come Monday night, Kapler and the Giants just might have had a reasonable hope that Gonzalez—whose only known pitch seems to be an eephus that goes up to the plate in a floating parabola—really could keep the Mets from any further damage in the top of the ninth.

The Mets must have scouted him on the mound somehow. Gonzalez may have gotten two quick ground outs to open, but he walked McNeil on 3-1, surrendered a clean base hit to Canha on 1-1, a two-run double to Eduardo Escobar on 1-0, and a first-pitch RBI single to Davis. He threw ten strikes out of nineteen pitches but four built three more Met runs.

Alas, Monday ruined Gonzalez’s chance to inspire waxings about the bullpen’s answer to Shohei Ohtani. He’s got a nifty .372 on-base percentage, an .825 OPS, a respectable 137 OPS+, and a 2022 Real Batting Average (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) of .523 so far.

But he only has two home runs on the season thus far, too. (Ohtani has nine, not to mention a 2.82 ERA/.2.14 FIP on the mound.) The Giants may continue using him to mop up on the mound when they’re getting blown out, but that’s probably all. They’re probably hoping Monday night was his exception, rather than his rule to come.