2022: Lockout to lucre to ludicrous and back

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge running out record-setting homer number 62. He didn’t know which of one of the three varying-density balls believed sent forth in 2022 he hit for the record. We don’t know—it should be scandalously— whether anyone will demand a formal investigation into the balls’ inconsistencies.

A year that began with an ongoing owners’ lockout ended with a decent pack of players obtaining long deals for the kind of money that could revive an economy . . . of a small island nation, or even a small American state. Remember that the next time the bulk of baseball’s owners demand the players stop them before they over-spend, mis-spend, or mal-spend again.

One who hasn’t signed such a deal yet remained in limbo when I sat down to write. First, the Giants looked like cheapskates for tendering then balking at thirteen years and $350 million for shortstop Carlos Correa. Especially after swinging and missing at Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, and Carlos Rodon over the past few years. Something about a difference of opinion about the medicals.

Then the Mets tendered, then hesitated on twelve years and $315 million. Something about being uncertain about the medicals. First the talk was Correa’s back. Then, it was the ankle he had repaired surgically before he made the Show in the first place.

At this writing Correa remains unsigned and in limbo. And it looks indeed as though that ankle might be problematic after all, never mind how long he’s played on it since. One of the Giants’ beat writers thinking at first that the Giants simply freaked and ran, Grant Busbee of The Athletic, said it better than I could in issuing a mea culpa:

If Correa had a plate put in his ankle in 2014, and if the integrity of that plate is looking much worse than it should eight years later, a contract offer as long as the Giants’ 13-year one would instantly become untenable. It would be the kind of problem that would make a gung-ho team like the Mets pause their high fives and offseason victory laps.

If Correa needs to address this ankle again, perhaps through surgery, it could affect his mobility.

If his mobility is affected, his defense could suffer.

A Correa without plus-plus defense is still a fine player, but he’s not a 13-year, $350 million player. He’s not especially close.

Mea culpa, too, say I. At this writing, too, it’s believed there remains a 55 percent chance Correa signs with the Mets in due course. But it’s also believed that Mets owner Steve Cohen, who thought nothing of opening his seemingly bottomless purse this winter, is in a bind: Take a chance on Correa despite the ankle issue, or withstand the usual brands of outrage from Met fans if he decides it’s not worth the risk of the deal cratering under Correa’s ankle before its time. Never mind that this swing and miss would come from Cohen actually trying, not former owners the Wilpons unable/unwilling to try.

Meanwhile, speaking of Aaron Judge, he smashed the American League’s single-season home run record by one, ran away with the league’s Most Valuable Player award, proved too spent from the season to help the Yankees past the early postseason round . . . and doesn’t know whether MLB’s continued monkeying around with the structure of the baseballs themselves meant he was or wasn’t afforded a little extra help—without his knowledge—in chasing, tying, and passing Roger Maris. Ballgate still has no formal investigation in the making. Shamefully.

The Astros finally won a World Series the old fashioned way, straight-no-chaser. They had to beat the upstart Phillies—who’d canned their manager early enough in the season, then picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and slipped into the postseason to snatch the pennant via Bryce Harper’s waist-deep-in-the-big-muddy eighth-inning home run in National League Championship Series Game Five—to do it. It climaxed a slightly convoluted mess the result of the Manfred regime’s insistence that more teams in the postseason equaled more fans in the stands and in front of the flatscreens. Astros outfielder Chas McCormick left the Series’ second-most lasting impression:

Chas McCormick

World Series Game Five: Chas McCormick left his imprint after a spectacular catch.

The Astros’ veteran Hall of Fame-bound pitcher Justin Verlander won the AL Cy Young Award—at Jack Benny’s age. Then he signed as a free agent for two years and $86 million to pitch for the Mets, after the Mets let uber-ace (when healthy) and two-time (back-to-back) Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom walk into the Rangers’ waiting arms and vault. (Five years, $185 million.) Reuniting Verlander with his former Tigers rotation mate Max (the Knife) Scherzer. Fred (The Crime Dog) McGriff, a classic borderline candidate and a class act, was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Contemporary Baseball Era Committee. Hall of Famer in waiting Albert Pujols finished his season and his playing career with 703 home runs—after having a mere six before the All-Star break, but hitting thirteen between then and the night he sent former Angel teammate Andrew Heaney’s service almost to the rear end of Dodger Stadium’s left field bleachers to join the 700 club in the first place.

Shohei Ohtani remained baseball’s unicorn. It would take an entire column to run down how he enhanced that status this year, but ponder this above just about all else: On 11 June, Ohtani threw a third-inning pitch at 101 mph and hit a fifth-inning home run that flew out at 104 mph. In the immortal phrasing of Babe Ruth, “I’d like to see some other sonofabitch do that!” (Most likely, Ruth did only the latter in his career.) But it takes only a few moments and words to remind you of the precedent Austin Hayes (Orioles) set: 0-for-4 on strikeouts one day, hitting for the cycle the next. (21-22 June.) In six innings, yet. Famine never went to feast that swiftly, did it?

Marlins relief pitcher Richard Bleier entered 2022 with no balks in his career but committed three in a single Mets plate appearance in September. Reid Detmers (Angels) pitched a no-hitter despite allowing 25 balls put into play. Pirates pitcher Wil Crowe set the sad precedent of surrendering both Judge’s 60th home run and Giancarlo Stanton’s walkoff grand slam—in the same inning . . . after a reported 20,000 fans left Yankee Stadium following Judge’s blast.

Rockies rookie Brian Serven fouled a pitch off on his first major league swing, and the fan who retrieved it handed it to the couple sitting near her—Serven’s parents. Matthew Acosta of the Fort Wayne TinCaps singled into a triple play against the Great Lakes Loons, the first such professional singling since 1886. (8-6-2-4-5 if you’re scoring at home.) Before he finally made himself persona non grata in Yankee pinstripes, reliever Aroldis Chapman walked the bases loaded in back-to-back appearances and was brought in the following day—with the bases loaded. Some wondered if Yankee manager Aaron Boone was loaded himself.

The sad-sack Reds no-hit the sadder-sack Pirates in mid-May—and still lost. Fourteen times did a team score ten or more runs in the White Sox’s Guaranteed Rate Park. Thirteen times, it was the visitors doing it. The Yankees led the 2022 Show in walk-off wins (sixteen) and walk-off losses (eleven). The Mets collapsed from NL East runaways to wild-card holders . . . and were hit by a record 112 pitches along the way. Royals infielder Whit Merrifield refused to take a COVID vaccination shot before the team traveled to Toronto, said he’d get the shot on condition that the Royals trade him to a contender, and the team accepted the challenge—trading him to the Blue Jays.

The Padres ruled the trade deadline by dealing for Nationals’ superman Juan Soto and the Brewers’ relief star Josh Hader. Half a month later, the Padres’ superman Fernando Tatis, Jr. returned from the injured list . . . and got himself an eighty-game suspension when turning up positive for the banned substance clostebol after using (he insisted) a medication to treat ringworm. Reds president Phil Castellini got fed up with fans hammering him and them over last winter’s talent purge and told them to sit down, shut up, and, ahem, deal with it. Arte Moreno announced he plans to sell the Angels, prompting speculation that the most popular oldie on southern California radio might be “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Maybe.

Clayton Kershaw, Blake Grice

Young Blake Grice got to tell the Dodgers’ All-Star Game starter/future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw how much his grandpa loved the lefthander, and Kershaw gave the boy some deserved appreciation.

Clayton Kershaw picked Ohtani off first, struck Judge out, and made the year for a kid named Blake Grice, who turned up at Kershaw’s post All-Star Game outing presser on behalf his late grandpa. A Blue Jays fan in Rogers Centre, Mike Lanzilotta, made the year in May for Toronto kid Derek Rodriguez, whose idol is Judge, by handing the boy a ball Judge had just clobbered for a home run—and triggering Judge’s own personal meeting with the boy the following day, after video of the gift went viral and caught Judge’s attention. For a second straight season, this time in late June, young southern California fan Abigail Courtney wept over one of her Reds/former Reds heroes’ early ejection—this time, Jesse Winker of the Mariners—and landed herself a signed ball and other swag.

Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax began addressing a gathering at his Dodger Stadium statue unveiling by quipping, “Hello, I must be going.” (That’s a joke, Mr. K.: Koufax actually began by quipping, “I think the film said everything I want to say, so I’ll be leaving now.” On the way out, he spoke for ten minutes.) Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa’s post-retirement assignment managing the White Sox ended when his pacemaker caused alarm and he announced his final retirement, possibly before he could be fired. “Genius playing with mental blocks” was a polite way to describe La Russa’s past two years on the White Sox bridge. Aging, fading Dallas Keuchel, his pitcher left in to withstand an early ten-run beating in an April game, might describe La Russa in terms unsuitable even for a stevedore’s quarters.

“When the One Great Scorer comes/to mark against your name,” sportswriting legend Grantland Rice once wrote, “He writes not that you won or lost/but how you played the game.” The One Great Scorer welcomed a few too many home to the Elysian Fields, as always, this year. Curt Simmons was the last surviving member of the 1950 Phillies’ “Whiz Kids” pennant winners. The military draft kept Simmons from pitching in that World Series (the Yankees swept the upstart Phillies), but the lefthander made up for it on a Series-winning team of Cardinals . . . fourteen years later.

Ralph Terry surrendered a World Series-winning home run (1960) to Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski, then stood the winning Yankee pitcher when Hall of Famer Willie McCovey’s torpedo was snared by Bobby Richardson at second base to end the 1962 Series, then took a post-baseball stab at professional golf. Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter closed out the Series-winning game for the 1982 Cardinals to crown a career in which his split-fingered fastball helped revolutionise the relief pitching craft. Homer was ancient Greece’s Roger Angell and Cicero was ancient Rome’s Vin Scully.

Tom Browning was part of the 1990 Reds’ World Series winner and known as Mr. Perfect for pitching the National League’s first perfecto since Koufax in 1965—but his defense took care of 65 percent of the outs. (Ten ground outs, ten fly outs.) Tommy Davis won the NL’s 1962 batting championship, then had his career compromised by a frightening ankle fracture on a 1965 baserunning play. Dick Ellsworth pitched with some success, much hard luck, and was victimised by the single most grotesque mishap in baseball card history: his 1966 Topps card showed not him but Ken Hubbs, the Cubs’ 1962 Rookie of the Year second baseman killed in a February 1964 plane crash.

Bob Miller was a lefthanded relief pitcher of early promise and not much else—until he turned up as one of two Bob Millers (the other, a righthander) on the 1962 Mets . . . and one of the two Bob Millers who shocked a television audience when To Tell the Truth host Bud Collyer intoned, “Will the real Bob Miller please stand up”—and both rose accordingly. Another brief Met relief pitcher, Ed Bauta, was one of the short-career pre-1980 players frozen out of the 1980 pension realignment . . . and the only player to appear in both the last major league game played in the Polo Grounds and the first played in Shea Stadium. Joe Pignatano ended his playing career as a 1962 Met and hit into a triple play in his final major league plate appearance, then became the Mets’ longtime bullpen coach—remembered for his bullpen vegetable garden and for having one job according to Miracle Mets outfielder Art Shamsky: “to keep control of the pitchers in the bullpen who were out of control.”

Gaylord Perry

Gaylord Perry—putting out the fire with Vaseline?

Mark Littell was a fine 1970s relief pitcher whose unfortunate fate was to serve the ball Yankee first baseman Chris Chambliss belted for a pennant-winning home run in the 1976 American League Championship Series. Pete Ward was a promising third baseman until neck and back injuries in a 1965 auto accident reduced him to journeyman status—but not before he was supposed to be a Sports Illustrated cover boy . . . until he was knocked out of the cover by Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight rematch with Sonny Liston. Lee Thomas was a serviceable outfielder who graduated to become a successful general manager who built the Phillies’ 1993 pennant winner.

Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry lived rent-free in hitters’ and managers’ heads by either greasing his pitches or letting them think he was, or maybe both. Joining such actual or reputed fellow scofflaws as Jim Brosnan, Lew Burdette, Dean Chance, Tony Cloninger, Carl Mays, Preacher Roe, Schoolboy Rowe, Bob Turley, and fellow Hall of Famers Don Drysdale, Whitey Ford, and Don Sutton, it would be mad fun, I repeat, to ponder eavesdropping on such a meeting of the Salivation Army. Look that up in your Gunk & Wagnalls.

All dressed up and no place to go

Carlos Correa

The Giants’ hesitation on sealing the deal sent Correa—the arguable best shortstop on this winter’s free agency market—into the Mets’ unhesitant arms for a twelve-year deal.

Well, now. A lot of teams this winter approached the free agency market like the proverbial children in the candy stores granted permission to raid the stock as they please until they can’t carry any more out. A lot of very wealthy ownerships have made a fair number of players of most ages very wealthy men going forward.

But at least one reasonably wealthy ownership, the group that owns the Giants, led by Charles Johnson but operated by his son, Greg, resembles Olympic hurdles champions who leapt and bounded their way to the gold medals without contact with even a single hurdle but tripped walking upstairs on their ways home.

They had erstwhile Astros/Twins shortstop Carlos Correa on board for thirteen years and $350 million. Then they didn’t. They had Correa in San Francisco, all dressed up and no place to go, instead of being at an Oracle Park podium ready to shoulder into a spanking new Giants jersey.

Over a week after the Giants and Correa agreed to the deal, the Giants quaked over a medical question and thus postponed the scheduled Tuesday introductory press conference. They said, essentially, “Not so fast.” The Mets, with single owner Steve Cohen bearing dollars unlimited and anything but shy about spending them, said, essentially, “Not fast enough.”

The Mets now have Correa for a mere twelve years and a mere $315 million. The Giants blinked. The Mets pounced.

The Giants pleaded a “difference of opinion” over Correa’s physical exam. Correa’s agent, Scott Boras, pleaded that the Giants got edgy over ancient medical issues, not present or coming ones. Enter Cohen, with Correa unexpectedly back on the open market, once Boras worked the phones and tracked Cohen down in Hawaii, where he and his wife are spending the Christnukah holidays.

Exit Correa from San Francisco. Enter Correa to New York. What began in San Francisco and continued with Boras and Correa over lunch probably telling each other, “Relax, brah,” ended at fifteen minutes past Simon & Garfunkel time.

That’s the time Correa agreed to become a Met, with his only immediate issue likely to have been jet lag from such a short turnaround in back-and-forth bi-coastal flights. Also pending a fresh physical, but without any apparent paranoia on Cohen’s or his organisation’s part over . . . just what, precisely?

“You’re talking about a player who has played eight major-league seasons,” Boras said. “There are things in his medical record that happened decades ago. These are all speculative dynamics. Every team has a right to go through things and evaluate things. The key thing is, we gave them medical reports at the time. They still wanted to sign the player and negotiate with the player.” Until they didn’t.

“It sounds as if there was a very old Correa injury—pre MLB—that was raised as a potential issue. It has not cropped up again,” tweeted Susan Slusser, the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Giants beat writer. “None of Correa’s other physical issues have required medical intervention or ongoing treatment.” She added that if it became cold feet, that’s usually on the owners and not their front office.

Last winter, the Twins signed Correa as a free agent to three years and $105 million, with an opt-out clause enabling Correa to terminate the deal after the 2022 or the 2023 season, his choice. He chose to exercise it after the 2022 season. They whispered about back issues last winter, until Correa had himself checked by one of the nation’s top spine surgeons, Robert Watkins, M.D.

“He said, ‘This dude is as stable, as healthy as he can be’.” Correa said then.

Hearing that from the best back doctor in the world, it was reassuring. I knew that already because I’ve been feeling great. But to get that expert opinion, after an MRI and the work I’ve been putting in . . .

This is what I tell people. There’s no way you can go out and win a Platinum Glove if your back is not right. There’s no way you can put up an .850 OPS if your back is not right against the elite pitching we’re facing nowadays. There’s no way you play 148 games—and I could have played more, but the COVID IL got me—if your back’s not right. There’s no way you sign a $105 million deal for three years, go through physicals for insurance and for the team if it’s not rightthere are a lot of people who make decisions when it comes to the Giants.

“Almost all of the small [decisions for the Giants] are no doubt made by [team president] Farhan Zaidi and/or [chief executive officer] Larry Baer,” writes Craig Calcaterra at Cup of Coffee.

When things get big—and a $350 million commitment is pretty big—I would guess that a lot more people have a say in that and I can’t help but wonder if there was some buyer’s remorse re: Correa on the part of the partnership at large in the past week. If so, it would not be hard for someone in-house to suggest, order, or otherwise put out there in the ether the notion that Correa’s medicals are scary as a pretext for scuttling things.

“The owners didn’t want to pay the contract,” Slusser added. “All this ‘we almost got Bryce [Harper] we almost got [Aaron] Judge’ is just cover for the owner to pretend he wanted to spend. He didn’t. He’s a cheapskate. How pathetic.”

Some think Cohen is channeling his inner George Steinbrenner, minus that George-bent toward turning the Mets’ atmosphere into a hybrid between the Mad Hatter’s tea party and a psychiatric ward. Those owners to whom spending is about as agreeable as a colonoscopy may think Cohen’s ignited a new, slow-burning slog liable to culminate in a future owner-provoked stoppage that translates, almost as usual, to a demand someone else (namely, the players) stop the owners before they overspend, mis-spend, or mal-spend yet again.

But then there’s the thought of a secondary method to Cohen’s apparent madness. While he puts a major league product on the field that glitters while going for the gusto, he has room aplenty to continue his oft-proclaimed intent to remake/remodel the Mets’ entire system.

Be reminded, please, that it’s not as though Cohen just went nuts on the sales floor when he went to market. He locked down incumbent relief ace Edwin Díaz to the largest deal ever for his Díaz’s line of work. Then he lost Jacob deGrom to free agency and the Rangers but replaced him with (so far) ageless future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander. He locked down incumbent center field centerpiece Brandon Nimmo and signed Japanese pitching gem Kodai Senga.

Now, pair Correa with his longtime friend Francisco Lindor on the left side of the infield, Correa slotting over to third, in a combination not alien to either player in other places. Thus, too, Cohen bumped the Mets’ offense up a few more rungs (they were good at working counts last year and Correa gives them extra there, too), behind a solid pitching staff and with a reasonable bench behind them.

The expectations now will be the Mets going deeper into the postseason next year than a round-one disappearing. Not to mention becoming first in line to shop at the booth of a certain unicorn wearing Angels silks until he reaches his first free agency next winter. The expectations for the Giants, by comparison, may only begin with a wisecrack from The Athletic‘s Giants writer, Tim Kawakami. “[L]et me suggest,” he writes, “that the Giants probably need a crisis manager as much as they need a general manager these days.”

They once said that almost annually about Correa’s new employers. But these are not your grandfather’s Mets. Sixty years ago, the Mets’ original owner told a writer that their maiden season of 120 losses begged for serious improvement. “We are going to cut those losses down,” insisted Joan Payson. “At least to 119.”

One of their fans was a Long Island kid named Steve Cohen. With the financial power to support it, he now behaves as though the Mets have just got to get the wins (regular and postseason) up at least to 119. (That’s a joke, son. Sort of.)

For eight departed, with one sad thing in common

Ed Bauta

Ed Bauta, the only MLB player to appear in both the final game played in the Polo Grounds and the first game played in Shea Stadium.

See if you can guess what the following players who left this island earth for the Elysian Fields in 2022 have in common, other than having particular moments in very brief major league playing careers.

These are only a few such players. Some had exemplary moments; some had moments they might have preferred to forget; but they, too, cracked the Show, however briefly.

Mike Adamson (RHP; died 7 May.) A relief pitcher who went directly from college to the Orioles after they drafted him in July 1967. He went directly from there to two innings’ relief against the Indians with the Orioles down four. A scoreless debut inning led to a pair of runs the next,  including Indians outfielder Chuck Hinton stealing home. Two more very short up and down seasons before a shoulder injury wrecked his pro career.

Ed Bauta (RHP; died 6 July.) A Pirate signing who went to the Cardinals in the 1960 deal landing the Cardinals their second baseman of the ’60s, Julián Javier. Knee issues got in his way; his lone full season was 1963. Bauta was the only player to appear in both the final major league game in the Polo Grounds and the first game in Shea Stadium, as a Met. The Mets sent him down for keeps in 1964; he pitched in the minors and the Mexican League until 1973.

Ethan Blackaby (OF-PH; d. 16 January.) He signed with the Braves in 1961, played in six 1962 games and nine 1964 games. He pinch hit for catcher/flake/broadcast legend Bob Uecker and swatted a double in his first major league plate appearance in September 1962, but he picked up only two singles the rest of his Show time.

Blackaby also played 1,073 games in the minors. Later, he was the part-owner and general manager of the Triple-A Phoenix Giants.

Carl Boles (LF-PH; died 8 April.) Major league career begun and ended in 1962. He came up to the Giants 2 August; he pinch ran for veteran catcher Ed Bailey and scored a tying run in the second game of a three-game pennant playoff between the Giants and the Dodgers. (The Giants lost the game 8-7.) Boles went from there back to the minors before playing in Japan from 1966-1971 and showed himself a power hitter, but never got another Show shot.

Bill Burbach

Bill Burbach—pitched the first no-hitter in Puerto Rico’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium during winter ball 1969-70 while trying to stay a Yankee.

Bill Burbach (RHP; died 20 July.) The first player picked by the Yankees in the first amateur draft in 1965. In the minors he faced ageless pitching legend Satchel Paige; Paige pitched one inning, Burbach struck out twelve—but walked eleven. Often pitching in hard luck, Burbach finally reached the Yankees in spring 1969. Second major league start: a five-hit shutout against Denny McLain and the Tigers on 20 April that year.

He pitched the first no-hitter ever delivered in Puerto Rico’s Hiram Bithorn Stadium that coming winter, but he only totaled 37 Show appearances (28 starts)—including a mere four in 1970 and two in 1971. Traded twice from there before deciding his baseball future had passed, he retired to work in the industrial lubricant business.

Leo Posada (OF; died 23 June.) A multi-sport star in Cuba before the Castro takeover. He arrived with the 1960 Kansas City Athletics and nailed his first major league base hit against Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, followed by a pair of three-hit games before the season ended. Had a somewhat solid 1961 (including leading the entire Show with twelve sacrifice flies), but manager Hank Bauer sent him down to the minors in 1962.

Posada never returned to the Show. But he played a few more years in the minors before becoming a respected minor league coach and manager whose charges including such future major league presences as Cesar Cedeño, Cliff Johnson, and John Mayberry. He also went on to spend sixteen years in the Dodger organisation . . . and, in due course,  he became his more fabled nephew’s personal swing doctor. You may have heard of that nephew: Yankee catching bellwether Jorge Posada.

Costen Shockley (1B; died 30 May.) If he’s remembered at all, Shockley is remembered for being sent (with pitcher Rudy May) from the Phillies to the Angels in the deal that sent legendary lefthanded pitcher/playboy Bo Belinsky to Philadelphia after the 1964 season . . . and for leaving baseball rather than keeping his wife and young child uprooted and nomadic on the West Coast.

“I took my family over baseball,” Shockley once said. “Do I think I could have played in the big leagues? Sure, I think I would have done well.”

Sad irony: 17 July was also the 1964 date Shockley made his first Show appearance, as a Phillie against the Reds, singling and scoring later in the seventh against Joey Jay. The following day, he hit his first of three major league home runs off John Tsitouris. After surviving the infamous Phillie Phlop, but realising the Angels planned to make him a minor league nomad, Shockley left the game in 1965 to work in construction and coach his son’s team to the Senior Little League World Series championship in 1981.

Bill Short

Bill Short’s Show career didn’t endure, but he made the International League’s Hall of Fame.

Bill Short (LHP; died 2 February.) The International League (AAA) Most Valuable Pitcher award winner, Short had an up-and-down, all-or-parts six-season Show life, including his only major league shutout (as an Oriole) on 1 July 1966, in the nightcap of a doubleheader against the Twins. That was the highlight of a 73-game Show career . . . but Short was inducted into the International League’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

What did those gentlemen have in common? They were among what are now about 505 short-career major leaguers who were frozen out of the 1980 pension plan realignment, a realignment that vested players for pension benefits after a mere 43 days’ major league service time and health benefits after a single day’s worth.

Various such pre-1980 short-career players to whom I’ve spoken over the past few years have told me the reason for their freeze-out may have been the perception that they were nothing more than September call-ups. As if that should have mattered, but these players saw major league time in months prior to September, even making teams out of spring training.

The only thing Adamson, Bauta, Blackaby, Boles, Burbach, Posada, Shockley, and Short received for their Show time while alive was a stipend swung between then-Major League Baseball Players Association director Michael Weiner and then-commissioner Bud Selig in 2011. It gave them and their fellow pre-1980 short-career men $625 per 43 days’ major league service time, up to $10,000 a year before taxes.

Last year’s owners’ lockout ended with those former players getting a fifteen-percent hike over five years to come in the Weiner-Selig stipend. Not only is it still insufficient, however grateful those players were to receive something, anything, but none of them—not Adamson, not Bauta, not Blackaby, not Boles, not Burbach, not Posada, not Shockley, not Short, not any of the remaining such short-career players, or others who went to the Elysian Fields this year—could pass the dollars on to their families upon their deaths.

The Major League Baseball Players Association continues to act as though those players no longer exist. The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association continues to act likewise. Most of today’s major league players, several of whom earn the equivalent of a small island nation’s economy, are unaware of those pre-1980 short-career players and their freeze-out.

Legally, neither the MLBPA nor the MLBPAA are required to do a blessed thing. (Don’t get me started on the owners, most of whom didn’t own their teams in 1980.) Morally, of course, is another matter entirely.

Who dares call it cheating?

When Gaylord Perry passed away as December began, there were almost inevitably those who snarked about his actual or reputed virtuosity with the illegal-since-1920 spitball—or, in his case, the grease, wax, petroleum jelly, or even oil ball. (Maybe even a lard ball, since Bobby Murcer once sent Perry a gallon of the stuff as a gift.) Who knew for dead last certain?

Show me someone outraged that such a cheater got to pitch 22 major league seasons, never mind go to the Hall of Fame, and I’ll show you one who still ROFL over this or that story of Perry’s subterfuge. Maybe he used one, some, or all those substances on his pitches. Maybe he merely planted enough suggestions to live rent-free in over half of baseball’s heads, at the plate and elsewhere.

But when further evidence is adduced that baseball’s government not only can’t but seemingly won’t settle on a consistently-manufactured ball, and doesn’t think anything’s untoward about sending certain livelier balls to be used for certain games—or even on behalf of certain milestones—the response is about the size and volume of a wounded amoeba.

Oh, they howled over pitchers trying to get a grip on inconsistently-covered balls with that good new-fashioned medicated goo. Will anyone howl likewise over the balls themselves having more than inconsistent covers . . . like inconsistent insides that impact the likely play of the game even more?

It’s almost a full week since Insider‘s Bradford William Davis, by way of astrophysicist and Society for American Baseball Research member Meredith Wills, Ph.D.’s research, revealed that MLB enabled baseballs of three differing weights for official game usage, even before commissioner Rob Manfred swore to God and His servants in the Elysian Fields that this, folks, is a one-ball season.

Players who noticed and were unamused by the differences were either waved away (Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, to name one) or all but ordered to sit down, shut the hell up, and be done with such nonsense. At minimum. When Giants outfielder Austin Slater wanted to collect balls for Wills to analyse, Slater was answered with a memo from the Major League Baseball Players association saying baseball’s government threatened to fire anyone sending aiding and abetting him. 

A year earlier, Davis disclosed Wills’s research revealing the 2021 season featured two balls of differing weights, not to mention the possibilities that a set between two tankers might get a lead ball while a set between two contenders or longtime rivals might get a Super Ball. This year, with the third ball apparently in play, a ball somewhere between 2021’s deader and livelier balls, MLB still can’t play ignorant and get away with it, though not for lack of trying.

“[W]e do know that the league keeps track of information that would permit it—if it wanted—to know which balls get used in each game,” Davis wrote last week. “According to two sources familiar with MLB’s ball shipment process, the league not only directs where its balls are sent, it also knows which boxes its game compliance monitors–league employees tasked with ensuring each team adheres to league rules–approve and use before each game starts.”

There’s a word for that kind of subterfuge. You know it. I know it. Few if any dare say it in this context, though they love to deploy it in others.

Assorted batsmen have been caught with or confessed to using doctored bats, usually but not exclusively corked. Albert Belle, Norm Cash (who copped to using a loaded bat winning the 1961 American League batting title), Wil Guerrero, Billy Hatcher, Amos Otis (another confessed scofflaw), Graig Nettles (master of the Super Mini-Ball stick), Chris Sabo, and Sammy Sosa were a few denounced with that word.

Assorted pitchers not named Gaylord Perry have been suspected powerfully or caught outright putting more on their pitches than their fingers. Some got laughs first: Lew Burdette (tobacco juice swamp next to the rubber, applicable when he bent over to adjust his shoelaces), Whitey Ford (late-career mud balls and ring balls, the latter balls cut on the rasp in his wedding ring), Mudcat Grant (soap balls, until he rubbed too much soap inside his gray road jersey and the sun finked on him), Joe Niekro (emery board balls), Don Sutton (sandpaper and other things, plus notes he left in his glove fingers for umpires frisking him: “You’re getting warmer, but it’s not in here”). Some avoided the laughs: Ross (Skuzz) Grimsley (greasy hair), Kevin Gross (sandpapered glove pocket), Michael Pineda (pine tar balls), Phil (The Vulture) Regan (sweat balls), Mike Scott (sandpaper). They all got denounced with the same word, too.

Assorted actual or alleged users of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, on both sides of the ball, didn’t get half the laughs drawn by the second-story men at the plate or the embezzlers of the mound. But such actual or alleged users—Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramírez, Álex Rodríguez, others—did (and still do) get hammered with that word, too.

When teams set up off field-based sign-stealing operations—from buzzers underground (the 1899 Phillies) to telescopes behind the outfield (the 1951 Giants most notoriously), inside the scoreboards (the 1948 Indians, the 1961 Reds), and high behind the ballpark (the 1910s Philadelphia Athletics); from rifle scopes in the seats (the 1941 Tigers) to illegal real-time cameras feeding an extra clubhouse monitor next to which the pilfered intelligence is signaled to batters (the 2017-18 Astros)—they got denounced for that word. Even if only one got disciplined by baseball’s government while the predecessors got disciplined merely by history.

If those ex-cons real or alleged can be judged accordingly, why the hell can’t baseball’s government be judged likewise over the Three Ball Blues? Hitters altering bats and pitchers scuffing balls earn the verdict. Teams engaging off field-based electronic intelligence gathering earn it. Why can’t baseball’s own government and the official ball manufacturer it co-owns earn it for inconsistent manufacturing and seemingly willful, selective deployment?

Some dare call it what then-Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti denounced when he ruled that Gross’s appeal of his ten-game suspension wasn’t all that appealing:

Unlike acts of impulse or violence, intended at the moment to vent frustration or abuse another, acts of cheating are intended to alter the very conditions of play to favour one person. They are secretive, covert acts that strike at and seek to undermine the basic foundation of any contest declaring the winner—that all participants play under identical rules and conditions. Acts of cheating destroy that necessary foundation and thus strike at the essence of a contest. They destroy faith in the games’ integrity and fairness; if participants and spectators alike cannot assume integrity and fairness and proceed from there, the contest cannot in its essence exist . . . Cheating is contrary to the whole purpose of playing to determine a winner fairly and cannot be simply contained; if the game is to flourish and engage public confidence, cheating must be clearly condemned with an eye to expunging it.

Aaron Judge went to the plate last season unaware he’d be swinging at three different-consistency balls, unaware that he might have been given a little surreptitious assistance, en route breaking the American League’s single-season home run record. Now-retired Hall of Famer in waiting Albert Pujols went to the plate last season unaware he, too, might be swinging at differing balls, en route finishing his career with over 700 lifetime home runs.

They and everyone else at the plate last season deserved to know they were being pitched consistently made baseballs, not balls of differing makeup depending upon whom was at the plate reaching for which potential milestones. The pitchers who faced them deserved likewise to know going in that the games’ integrity was unimpeded, and to know that they or the other guys were just better, not that they were unknowingly throwing lead balls or Super Balls at any given time.

If you’re looking for denunciations of cheating toward the Manfred administration for its Three Ball Blues, from the same fans, observers, and chroniclers who would have and did scream bloody murder when confronted with actual or alleged cheating players and teams, save your energy for the time being. At this writing, their overall silence is louder than a heavy metal concert.

Three-ball blues

The Ball

This is the baseball I landed during batting practise before Opening Day at Angel Stadium this year. (I gave it to my son who attended with me.) Who knew if it was juiced or drained?

Signing with the Mets for two years and $86 million was good with and for Justin Verlander. But it may not be the most important thing he did outside pitching the decisive World Series Game Six. The most important thing the future Hall of Famer did this year was buttonhole a baseball official before a game against the Yankees in June and demand, “When are you going to fix the [fornicatin’] baseballs?”

It’s not the first time he complained. In 2017, Verlander was just one of several who noticed and complained that balls used that postseason were a little too smooth for comfort. And it got worse instead of better. By 2021, Major League Baseball had two kinds of baseballs, one slightly heavier than the other, and thus containing a little more life than the other.

With a lot of help from Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist and baseball fan whose passion is examining the makeup of baseballs and who’s discovered the Show can’t get it straight or consistent, Insider exposed 2021’s two-ball tango. The Insider reporter who delivered Dr. Wills’s discoveries and alarms, Bradford William Davis, has now seen and raised: in 2022, baseball played its own version of “Three Ball Blues.”

That vintage blues song discussed pawn shops, the traditional sign for which is three golden balls. The lyrics include the old joke inside the pawn business: “It’s two to one, buddy, you don’t get your things out at all.” Baseball’s three-ball blues may mean it’s two to one on getting its integrity back after engaging its own kind of cheating—still inconsistent and often juiced balls.

Not necessarily in the final game scores. Davis and Wills suggest powerfully that baseball’s government wanted a little more oomph on behalf of a lot more hype, with certain events such as the Home Run Derby, the postseason, and maybe even Aaron Judge’s chasing and passing Roger Maris as the American League’s new single-season home run king.

Verlander was far from the only player to complain. Davis says Giants outfielder Austin Slater fell upon that 2021 Insider story, sought to collect balls to send Wills for analysis, and was ordered by “a top executive in the commissioner’s office” to back off.

“The warning,” Davis says, “sent in the form of text messages that Insider reviewed, came via a [Major League Baseball Players Association] official who was relaying the league executive’s displeasure.” Displeasure over what? Being caught red-handed delivering inconsistently-made baseballs about which the game’s own commissioner seems distinctly under-alarmed?

Rob Manfred told reporters before the All-Star Game that, yup, we had two balls in 2021, but it was the fault of a pandemic-times issue in Rawlings’s Costa Rica manufacturing plant: closues and supply chain issues, as Davis translates, meant MLB’s plan to stay with a new, lighter, deader ball was compromised when it had to “dip into a reserve stock of the older, heavier, livelier balls for some 2021 games.”

MLB claimed random distribution between the two 2021 balls. Davis’s 2021 reporting via Dr. Wills brought forth suspicions that MLB wasn’t just doing it randomly, that at times they were sending balls to certain places for certain series depending on what they thought might be the gate: say, a game between a pair of also-rans might get the deader ball but a game between a pair of big rivals or contenders might get the livelier ball.

Now Manfred told that July conference think nothing of it, we’ve got it knocked, we’re sticking to the deader ball, and every ball made for 2022 will be consistent. Not so fast, Dr. Wills discovered, according to Davis: “Major League Baseball did not settle into using a single, more consistent ball last season, Wills’ research suggests: the league used three.”

By the time Manfred made that statement in July, Wills had already found evidence that at least a handful of those older, livelier, “juiced” balls — the ones that the “new manufacturing process” purportedly replaced — were still in circulation. Though these juiced balls are from 2021 or earlier, according to manufacturing markings, they were in use in 2022; Insider obtained two of them from a June 5 Yankees match against the Tigers.

Over the next few months, Wills and Insider—with whom Wills exclusively shared her research—worked together to collect game balls for her to painstakingly deconstruct, weigh, and analyze. What she found was striking: In addition to that small number of older juiced balls and the newer dead balls, Wills found evidence that a third ball was being used at stadiums across the majors.

Davis says Wills’s data indicates production on the third ball began six months before Manfred promised 2022 as a single-ball season. “This new third ball’s weight,” Davis writes,

centers somewhere between the juiced ball the league phased out last season and the newly announced dead ball: It is, on average, about one-and-a-half grams lighter than the juiced ball and one gram heavier than the dead ball. According to the league’s own research, a heavier ball tends to have more pop off the bat, meaning the third ball would likely travel farther than a dead ball hit with equal force.

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge had no clue whether he’d be pitched a dead, lead, or Super Ball while chasing Roger Maris this year.

Wills calls it “the Goldilocks ball: not too heavy, not too light—but just right.” But this isn’t the Three Bears we’re talking about here. This is about the possibility that hitters didn’t know going in when one hefty swing would send a ball over the fence but another such hefty swing with the same square, powerful contact might result in a sinking line drive, a dying quail, or a long out.

In other words, Judge—who’s just signed a nine-year/$360 million deal to remain a Yankee, after betting big on himself during his contract walk year—had no clue just what he was going to hit, and I don’t mean fastball, curve ball, slider, cutter, or sinker. Nobody knows for certain whether or how many such Goldilocks balls Judge sent into the Delta Quadrant. And that’s allowing for him being strong enough to hit a clump of seaweed into the second deck.

“But we do know,” Davis writes, “that the league keeps track of information that would permit it—if it wanted—to know which balls get used in each game. According to two sources familiar with MLB’s ball shipment process, the league not only directs where its balls are sent, it also knows which boxes its game compliance monitors–league employees tasked with ensuring each team adheres to league rules–approve and use before each game starts.”

Baseball government people were handed the net results of Dr. Wills’s reseach and all but waved it away with an all but run-along-girlie-you-bother-me statement:

The 2022 MLB season exclusively used a single ball utilizing the manufacturing process change announced prior to the 2021 season, and all baseballs were well within MLB’s specifications. Multiple independent scientific experts have found no evidence of different ball designs. To the contrary, the data show the expected normal manufacturing variation of a handmade natural product.

Rawlings itself, co-owned by MLB since 2018, issued a similar statement:

This research has no basis in fact. There was no ‘3rd ball’ manufactured and the ball manufactured prior to the 2021 process change was fully phased out following the 2021 season. All balls produced for the 2022 season utilized the previously announced process change.

While storage conditions during research can easily impact ball weight measurements, a one-gram difference in ball weight would be within normal process variation. We continue to produce the most consistent baseball in the world despite the variables associated with a handmade product of natural materials.

Davis demurs. “While lighter and less bouncy than the balls used before Rawlings switched up its manufacturing in 2021,” he writes, “the Goldilocks balls have a weight profile that makes them livelier and more batter-friendly than the dead balls that the league says it now uses exclusively.”

To which Manfred says, essentially, Integrity of the game? Shut up and get back to shortening the times of games without even thinking about cutting down the broadcast commercials. Any time Manfred comes up with something reasonable—the universal designated hitter, slightly larger bases, the advent of Robby the Umpbot—he comes up with or allows about five or more unreasonable things to counteract.

Differing baseballs aren’t just “unreasonable.” They strike at the very core (pun intended) of competition at least as profoundly as something like Astrogate did, on both sides of the ball. Pitchers who don’t know whether they’ll be given a grippable ball to pitch have just as much skin in this game as hitters who don’t know whether they’ll square up a dead, lead, or Super Ball.

The men who play the game, the fans who pay to see them play, the team builders  tasked with putting the teams on the field, and the managers who have to run the games and make the moves that mean distinction or disaster, deserve as level a field as possible.

The era of actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances was considered criminal for undermining the level playing field. Tanking teams are considered criminally negligent for providing something less than truly competitive product. Likewise, when it comes to honest competition, inconsistently-made baseballs should be considered weapons of mash  destruction.