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.

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