About Jeff Kallman

Member, Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and the Society for American Baseball Research.

The Guardians are coming

Jose Ramirez

The Cleveland Plain-Dealer imagines Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez as a Cleveland Guardian.

Cleveland’s Hope Memorial Bridge is named for stonemason William Henry Hope. He helped to build the Guardians of Traffic sculptures into the pylon columns at either end of the bridge that marries Lorain Avenue (west side) and Carnegie Avenue (east side). He helped build all eight such statues around the city.

He was also the father of comedy legend Bob Hope, once a partial owner of the Indians.

The bridge born as the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge was renamed for the elder Hope—and listed in the National Register of Historic Places—after local engineer Albert Porter threatened but failed to get the pylons and guardian statues removed as “monstrosities . . . we’re not running a May Show here.”

Naturally, the social media swarms who think they know an awful lot more than what actually do know were unamused to learn that the Indians—wrestling with the name change several years, from almost the moment they decided Chief Wahoo needed to go—decided to rename themselves the Guardians starting in the 2022 season.

They’re keeping the team colours. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer published a rendering of Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez as a Guardian. The new look is not unattractive. Neither is the new logo of a baseball with the stylised G on the meat of the ball and a wing flapping from the rear.

With exceptions you could fit in your living room, or maybe even in the Indians dugout, the swarms couldn’t figure out exactly what “guardians” had to do with Cleveland. It’s to wonder what they thought when they finally accepted that “guardians” have a singular meaning that isn’t confined to just the two on either end of the bridge leading traffic past Progressive Field.

Some of the swarms agonised that the team hadn’t renamed themselves the Spiders, as a different, ancient Cleveland franchise once did. Well, now. The Spiders existed in the National League from 1887 through 1899. Their franchise record: 827 wins, 938 losses. The Indians have been star-crossed quite enough without being renamed for a team that never won a single pennant. (And, for a team whose record in its final NL season was—wait for it!—20-134.)

Others thought the renaming should be after the Cleveland Buckeyes, who played in the Negro American League from 1942-1950. That might have been more plausible, not just to honour Cleveland’s entry into the game that is now recognised (long overdue, and by everyone except either recalcitrant racists or witless purists) as part of major league baseball. The Buckeyes played two Negro Leagues World Series and won one. (They beat the legendary Homestead Grays in the 1945 set.) If you must rename your team for another old, defunct team, best to rename it for a winner.

Still others thought the new name should be the Cleveland Rockers, tipping the beak toward the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame which is in Cleveland. (A song by rock and roll legend Ian Hunter, “Cleveland Rocks,” was the theme song of television’s The Drew Carey Show.) There were also those who thought the Colorado Rockies might have had an issue or three with that. But never mind.

Enough of the swarm thought the team’s introductory video for the new name had little enough business being narrated by Tom Hanks. Never mind that Hanks once featured in the baseball film hit A League of Their Own. Never mind, too, that Hanks started his acting career in Cleveland in the first place and has a particular affinity for the city.

“Cleveland natives are very defensive of their city,” writes Jim Swift of The Bulwark. “While I may have preferred the Indians, I will gladly be a Guardian against posers like [Senator] Ted Cruz, [National Review editor] Rich Lowry, [and former president] Donald Trump (who tried and failed to buy the Indians). Sad!”

It’s not as though the team just pulled a Guardian rabbit out of its hat. “We heard things like loyalty, pride and resiliency in being from Cleveland,” Indians president Brian Barren said to Plain-Dealer writer (and author of The Curse of Rocky Colavito) Terry Pluto. “They’re protective of our city. They’re protective of the land and everything about it. Those all became part of what Guardians really started to evoke from an emotional standpoint.”

Do we have a candidate for the single most asinine alternative name suggestion? Unfortunately, I do. Unless I see one even more ridiculous, the dubious winner goes to Don Wardlow. Renowned as the first successful blind broadcaster in professional baseball history, Wardlow is an active social media denizen, a still-irrepressible baseball fan and commentator, and a personally engaging man who’s prone now and then to demonstrating wisdom by walking the other way from it.

After acknowledging that “Guardians” make sense to people who live in Cleveland (“I guess”), Wardlow wrote this: “Everybody_ of a certain age, even people who don’t live in Cleveland has heard of Dime Beer night which is why I thought the name Dime Beers would be great. I don’t know if the phenomenon of the burning river is as memorable as Dime Beer night is.”

My first reply was, “Something tells me people have been trying to FORGET Ten-Cent Beer Night for decades. But I suspect you knew that.” To which Wardlow rejoined a) not everybody; b) “many” minor league teams continue “Thirsty Thursday” dollar-or-two beer promotions; and, c) that the irrepressible humourist P.J. O’Rourke “coined a name for the kind of people who want to forget and destroy fun pursuits like dime beer night. He calls them ‘The FunSuckers’.”

Wardlow wrote like a man who didn’t remember what fun pursuits really made the original Ten-Cent Beer Night on 4 June 1974 so “memorable.” (It just so happened to be my late younger brother’s birthday in the bargain.)  It was a not-so-regular riot, Alice. The Indians might have done better to postpone the event for a different game.

The Indians hosted the Rangers in the old but hardly forgotten Municipal Stadium. (Known colloquially as the Mistake on the Lake.) A week earlier, the two teams played in Arlington and included a bench-clearing brawl among the festivities. Rangers infielder Lenny Randle plowed Indians pitcher Milt Wilcox coming to tag him on the first base line while running out a bunt to trigger the scrum; Randle steamed over nearly being hit by a pitch prior to the bunt.

Lingering bad blood between the two teams was probably not the best condition to proceed with a promotion bound to get around 25,000 people (the night’s attendance) bombed out of their trees before the second inning.

The Rangers led the game 5-1 in the middle of the sixth. When Indians left fielder Leron Lee hit a liner up the middle that nailed Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins in the breadbasket and laid him out on the ground, the already-bombed fans began chanting, “Hit him again! Hit him again!” That may have been the most benign behaviour of the night.

A woman hit the field and flashed in the on-deck circle. A naked man ran out to second base right after Rangers designated hitter Tom Grieve hit his second of two home runs on the night in the fourth. Fans ran onto the field continuously during the game, at one point firing hot dogs at mid-game Rangers first base insertion Mike (The Human Rain Delay) Hargrove. The plague of the locusts didn’t drive the ancient Egyptians half as crazy.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Indians tied the game at five, with two out and the potential winning run on second, and Indians second baseman Jack Brohamer due to hit. And all hell broke irrevocably loose.

A fan ran out to Rangers left fielder Jeff Burroughs bent on stealing Burroughs’s hat, and the hapless Burroughs tripped and fell trying to prevent the theft. Rangers manager Billy Martin thought Burroughs had been attacked and hustled his team out to help him. A larger mob of fans swarmed out to the Rangers, prompting Indians manager Ken Aspromonte to order his team out to help the under-siege Rangers.

Some of the rioters began throwing steel chairs and seats somehow ripped away from the stands. One of the chairs hit Indians relief pitcher Tom Hilgendorf in the coconut. Another rioter picked a fist fight with Hargrove. Other rioters were determined to be carrying knives and other weapons.

Finally, both teams helped each other off the field before they could have ended up like massacre victims. The drunks continued their mayhem, tearing up the bases, tearing up the field, and throwing cups, rocks, bottles, radio batteries, hot dogs, food containers, and folding chairs around. Even umpire crew chief Nestor Chylak was a victim: he was hit in the head when a rioter threw a stadium seat at him.

That game-long mistake on the lake resulted in the game forfeited to the Rangers. Indians outfielder Rusty Torres, who’d pinch hit safely in the ninth and stood as that potential winning run, had just survived his second of three fan riots during his playing career. He’d been a Yankee when heartsick Senators fans broke RFK Stadium in the top of the ninth, causing a forfeit to his team near the end of the final Senators game ever; he’d be with the White Sox for their equally infamous Disco Demolition Night in 1979.

Some fun. Wardlow’s thought that the Indians changing their name to the Dime Beers would have been “great” was written to a group devoted to baseball nostalgia. Forgive me if I simply can’t be nostalgic about the arguable most chaotically decadent and destructive night in major league history. If there’s a proper word for that kind of nostalgia, I probably can’t say it in civil company.

Can’t we teach the thugs a real lesson?

Alex Verdugo, Alex Cora

Alex Verdugo’s (left) generosity turned into a particularly nasty piece of Yankee fan foolishness.

If you want to know why baseball players come to see baseball fans with contempt, as some always have and always will, you can point to the Yankee Stadium doings Saturday night. Even knowing the eternal rivalry between the Empire Emeritus and the Olde Towne Team, this was above and beyond the call of insanity.

All Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo did before the bottom of the sixth started was see fit to toss a practise ball to a young Red Sox fan in the bleachers. The ball didn’t quite reach that young fan’s hands, but it did reach a Yankee fan to whom Red Sox generosity might just as well have been a home invasion leaving none alive.

That Yankee fan threw Verdugo’s should-have-been gift ball back to the field and hit Verdugo squarely in the back. Verdugo was anything but amused. He turned toward the bleachers hollering to the fans. Highly-touted Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran hustled over to pull Verdugo away. Umpires, stadium security, and Red Sox coaches sought only to find the miscreant.

Miscreant found. And ejected from the ballpark posthaste. Eliciting a few cheers and a few more boos among the fans in that section. Red Sox manager Alex Cora wasted no time pulling his team off the field after coach Tom Goodwin urged still-steaming Verdugo out of the outfield and toward the Red Sox dugout.

Cora even had to debate with the umpires over letting Verdugo have a few minutes to compose himself in the dugout. It shouldn’t even have been a debate point. This time, it was only Verdugo’s back. It could have been his head.

“I know my left fielder, I know Alex,” Cora said post-game. “He needed time to breathe and to get his thoughts.” Tell that to the umpires, as Cora ultimately did.

It seemed like nobody was listening to me. Like, imagine getting thrown at with an object in a sport and you’ve got to be out there right away because we have to continue to play the game — that part I didn’t agree. But Alex was OK with it. But you never know. What if he jumps the fence? What if he goes out there and attacks somebody? Whatever. That’s what I was telling them, just give us a chance to collect our thoughts, breathe a little bit and we’ll go out and play the game. That was the whole thing.

Verdugo knows the score only too well. Talk all the trash you want. Hammer all the family members you can think of. Chant your little heads off. Even holler “[Fornicate!] Verdugo” until your throat resembles a pair of sand blocks rubbing together. Throw a ball or other debris? Not so fast.

[T]he moment somebody throws — as players, we’re throwing balls in the stands to try to give people souvenirs, try to make little kids’ days and things like that. Just to hear people saying, ‘Throw it back’ and then someone actually throws it back and it felt like it was targeted towards me, it doesn’t sit right with me.

Throwing enemy home run balls back is a tradition almost as old as the live ball in some ballparks. Wrigley Field’s storied Bleacher Creatures have made it so much so that if you happen to watch a Cubs home game without a Creature throwing back an enemy home run ball (unless, of course, it’s a particular milestone mash with dollar value attached) it’s one step short of breaking-news bulletin time.

But no such Creature has ever been known to try separating an enemy outfielder from his assorted anatomy or his brains throwing a ball back. And not even the worst, most bombed out of his or her trees fan was ever been known (unless it just hasn’t been reported, until Saturday) to throw back a ball an opposing player tried to give a visiting fan as a souvenir.

Things weren’t hard enough between the Red Sox and the Yankees with the scheduled series opener last Thursday postponed after several Yankees—including right field star Aaron Judge—turned up COVID-positive? Things weren’t testy enough already Saturday, with a near-hour rain delay before the game and continuing rain during it?

Red Sox Nation should know that they now have an ally in Yankee manager Aaron Boone, who made no secret of his hope that the bleacher idiot ended up behind bars. Cora should also know that Boone would have acted the same as he did if the game had been in Fenway Park and a particularly brain-damaged Red Sox fan did likewise to one of his players.

It’s awful, embarrassing, unacceptable. My understanding is they did catch the guy. Hopefully he’s in jail right now. That’s just a bad situation. If I was Alex Cora, I would have done the same thing as far as going out and getting his guys off the field. There’s zero place for that in this great game, and in this great rivalry. Players should never feel like they have to worry about anything like that. I already reached out to Alex Cora, just to apologize, and to Alex Verdugo that, you know, that’s just a terrible, bad, sad situation. And sorry about that.

This during a season in which Reds first baseman Joey Votto—after getting ejected early in a game over an argument with an umpire, then learning a little girl named Abigail was heartbroken that she wouldn’t get to see her favourite Red play for just about all game long—reached out and sent Abigail a ball he signed, “I’m sorry I didn’t play the entire game. Joey Votto.”

Saturday’s game was supposed to be about Duran’s major league debut. (He went 1-for-2 with a base hit and a run scored, both in the top of the second.) And, about a pitching duel between Nathan Eovaldi (five innings, one earned run) and Gerrit Cole (six innings, one earned run, eleven punchouts).

The nasty weather ended the game after six in a 3-1 Yankee win. (Back-to-back solo bombs from Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres in the bottom of the sixth took care of that, on Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura’s dollar.) The nasty weather in the left field bleachers became the story of the game, unfortunately.

The Yankees travel to Boston for a set in Fenway Park starting this coming Thursday. Red Sox Nation, beware: don’t even think about trying any similar stupidity if any Yankee decides to toss a practise ball to a visiting Yankee fan before an inning begins.

Maybe the thing for baseball government and the players union to consider together is mandating a forfeit to the opposing team, when a team’s own fans get as thuggish as the thug who thought Verdugo’s reward for generosity to a visiting young fan should have been a ball attack upon the left fielder’s back.

Once upon a sad October 1971 time, umpires awarded the Yankees a forfeit after heartsick Washington Senators fans—with Second Nats reliever Joe Grzenda one out from saving what should have been a win, and the Senators playing their final game before moving to Texas—stormed the RFK Stadium field. Grzenda never got to throw a single pitch to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke.

Those fans didn’t blame the Yankees or try to mangle, bangle, or dismember anything in a Yankee uniform. They’d have preferred decapitating duplicitous Senators owner Bob Short. (Banners with his initials proliferated in the stands.) Absent that, they took it out on RFK Stadium.

If you can forfeit to the visitors over breaking an entire ballpark, you ought to be able to forfeit to the visitors when a home fan decides a baseball offered a visiting fan should be the instrument for spontaneous back surgery upon the visiting player who offered it. Maybe (big maybe) that’ll teach the jackasses a few lessons.

Roots and Blues

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. takes Corbin Burnes across the Colorado state line in the All-Star Game. Manfred wants baseball back to its roots? How about also knocking off these hideous All-Star uniforms and letting the All-Stars represent their teams in their own uniforms again? It was good enough for the Home Run Derby, it should stay good enough for the All-Star Game.

Who are the faces of baseball today? Put the current injured lists to one side. Barring unforeseen complications or corollary issues, one and all on those lists now will be back either this season or next. Barring, too, one player of extraterrestrial achievement—you should spot the one most likely to produce it the rest of the year, too—it shouldn’t really be a singular face.

They should be players like Ronald Acuna, Jr., Pete Alonso, Mookie Betts, Shane Bieber, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Jacob deGrom, Rafael Devers, Freddie Freeman, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Clayton Kershaw, Trey Mancini, Shohei Ohtani, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Mike Trout, Brandon Woodruff.

Instead, the face of the game, singular, seems to be its ten-thumbed, two-left-feet, too-lawyerly-for-his-own good commissioner, a man who seems almost never to let pass a chance to let the stars shine in baseball’s sky without sending up a homemade cloud.

On Home Run Derby Night, the Coors Field audience and baseball nation transfixed upon Ohtani (the prohibitive favourite), Soto, Mancini (the sentimental favourite), Guerrero, and Alonso (the eventual winner), among others. During the All-Star Game—which the American League won, 5-2—Ohtani and company were at least as watchable and discussable as those missing in action due to health concerns might have been.

So, perhaps naturally, Rob Manfred stepped all over himself yet again. Asked whom he thought the face of baseball is today, Castellanos named Manfred. Informed of that designation, Manfred said no. Then, he dropped a few matters to indicate his lips said no-no but there was yes-yes in his eyes.

He told a Baseball Writers Association of America meeting the day of the All-Star Game, “I think anything that distracts from the attention being on what goes on in the field is a bad thing.” Unfortunately, Commissioner Nero—who’s spent too much of his commissionership fiddling while baseball seems to burn—went on to do just that.

Manfred could well enough have waited until after the All-Star Game, confined his remarks to the BBWAA to just his thought on “distraction” from the All-Star field, then said he’d talk a little more the day after if they were willing to listen. (And who wouldn’t have been?)

I’ve already discussed his thought that the doubleheader of seven-inning games might disappear after this season. (And, why I think keeping the idea is sound as a nut.) Manfred also spoke of disappearing the free cookie on second base (known to wags as “Manfred Man”) to open each extra half-inning, a disappearance devoutly to be wished. As would be the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. (Unless they enter during a jam and get rid of the side before batters two, three, or both appear.)

Unfortunately, Manfred didn’t address that third part, so far as I know. He must have been asleep at the switch the night Bryce Harper and Didi Grigorius got hit back-to-back by a fresh Cardinal reliever whose control took the night off but whose manager couldn’t relieve him legally until he faced his third batter.

The law of unintended consequences too often escapes Manfred’s lawyerly ways.

He also suggested he’d like to ban defensive overshifting, formally, as part of what he says is part and parcel of returning baseball “to its roots.” He suggests the owners are all in on that return, though long experience tells you that with most owners changes or restorations have less to do with the game itself and more to do with whether something means making money for it, which usually means for themselves.

Never mind that the shifts could and would be neutralised if teams start instructing their batters to take advantage of all that free real estate. Screw the unwritten rules. Just hit the ball onto it. Take first base on the house before the shifters can scramble for the ball. Even if the other guys have a no-hitter going to the final outs. I’ll say it again: you hand me that free territory with a no-hitter going, let your pitcher hold you to account when I show up on first on the house.

I’ll say it again: that, or an infield you know to be full of butchers enabling such base hits, should be the only time you want to see a widespread return of bunting. In all other situations, a bunt is a wasted out. Outs to work with are precious. Why waste a third of your inning’s resources and do the other guys such a favour?

You guessed it: I’m all in if Manfred really does bring the universal designated hitter back to stay in 2022. Guess which defensive position sports the Show’s worst slash line this year? (.109/.149/.142.) The worst OPS? (.291.) The most wasted outs? (No other positions show more than the catchers’ 40; these guys show 221.) A real batting average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by plate appearances) of .167?

Hint: Since the final decade of the dead ball era, they’ve hit a collective .166. Tell me how long a catcher, an infielder, or an outfielder would survive in the Show—if he was lucky enough to get to it at all—with that kind of hitting. Even if he was the defensive second coming (based on runs saved above their leagues’ averages at their positions) of Ivan Rodriguez, Keith Hernandez, Bill Mazeroski, Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson, Barry Bonds, Andruw Jones, or Roberto Clemente.

Manfred should consider the Pirates owner of 1891 who first proposed what we know now as the DH. About whose proposal a journal of the time, The Sporting Life, said in concurrence:

Every patron of the game is conversant with the utter worthlessness of the average pitcher when he goes up to try and hit the ball. It is most invariably a trial, and an unsuccessful one at that. If fortune does favor him with a base hit it is ten to one that he is so winded in getting to first or second base on it that when he goes into the box it is a matter of very little difficulty to pound him all over creation.

It wasn’t an invention of that nefarious American League. And if it hadn’t been for Chris (I am der boss pressident of der Prowns!) von der Ahe, reneging on a previous commitment to support William Chase Temple, when the idea came up at the next National League rules meeting, the NL would have had the honour of introducing what Pirates catcher-turned-Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack tried but failed to introduce to the AL fifteen years later.

If you want to see a little more leveling out between pitching and hitting, be advised that when the DH is used this year (by AL teams, and by NL teams playing interleague in the AL Park) the DHs have the best OPS (.767) in Show at this writing. If you want more “strategy”—and you won’t throw things at me when I remind you that 95 percent of all “strategy” is plotted before the game begins—you should prefer that number-nine batting order slot go to either a second cleanup type or an extra leadoff type.

“Returning baseball to its roots” can be tricky. Even if it suggests Manfred might finally be willing to quit trying to prove that the birth child of that backstreet affair between Rube Golberg and the Mad Hatter should be a baseball executive.

It depends on the roots to which you want to return. How about eliminating regular-season interleague play? How about eliminating the wild card system that’s produced the thrills and chills of teams fighting to the last breath to finish . . . in second place?

How about a best-of-three division series with each league’s best first-place finisher having a bye while the other two winners slug it out? How about returning the League Championship Series to the best-of-five of its birth and childhood? How about thus eliminating October saturation and restoring the World Series to its proper primacy?

Unfortunately, those beg one further question right now: Since Manfred can’t seem to find the right way to make serviceable, field-leveling baseballs (easier to look into an acceptable stickum for pitcher grips, as he’s also doing), how far above his pay grade would those and other reasonable moves really prove?

Back to baseball’s roots? Be gone, hideous 2021 All-Star uniform! The threads (especially the American League’s “road” blue) made the horrific 1970s single-colour pajamas of some teams resemble something from Pierre Cardin. If players wearing their own uniforms, representing their teams, is good enough for the Home Run Derby, it’s still good enough for the All-Star Game.

Where have you gone, Bart Giamattio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

On disappearing the seven-inning-game doubleheader

Rob Manfred

Commissioner Rob Manfred at the draft day podium. He wants to end doubleheaders of seven-inning games. He’s wrong.

Granted, the terms “good news” and “Rob Manfred” are too often oxymoronic. But in the immortal words of a once-legendary radio commentator, Gabriel Heatter, there’s good news tonight. (Well, this morning, when I sat down to write.) The free cookie on second base to open each extra half-inning, Manfred promises, will disappear after this season.

The bad news is that, when it comes to Manfred’s commissionership, for every piece of good news you risk the presence of five or more pieces of bad. This time, it’s the seven-inning doubleheader. That, too, will disappear after this season.

This commissioner oversees baseball with the mindset of a man believing the offspring of a back-street affair between Rube Goldberg and the Mad Hatter should be a baseball executive. Now, on Tuesday, Manfred told the Baseball Writers Association of America that the free cookie on second and the seven-inning doubleheader will bedevil them no more.

Reaching further for the good news, Manfred didn’t quite upstage the Home Run Derby in Coors Field. Even he couldn’t possibly upstage that event, nebulous as it might be. Not when Derby participants wore number 44 on their uniforms in tribute to the late Hall of Famer Henry Aaron.

Not when Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, winning a second consecutive Derby, repeated something else after blasting 74 into the seats or beyond: as in 2019, he earned more for one night’s work than he earned in an entire season’s worth of his Mets salary.

Not when Shohei Ohtani—the Angels’ flavour of the season with the incomparable Mike Trout missing enough of it with injuries so far, and the prohibitive favourite to beat the Derby into submission—proved exhausted enough that the Nationals’ outfield star Juan Soto sent him to an early rest-of-the-night-off in a round-one swing-off.

Not when Trey Mancini usurped Ohtani as a sentimental favourite thanks to his courageous conquest of cancer and his return thereafter, sending the Derby into a final-round showdown with Alonso that came up a bomb short.

Not when Alonso audaciously proclaims himself the best power hitter in baseball today when a) he’s not even in the top ten among the Show’s 2021 slugging percentages; b) he’s not even in the top ten among the Show’s 2021 OPSes; and, c) he’s not even in the top ten among the Show’s 2021 double, triple, or home run hitters.

Manfred may say now as then that the cookie on second to open each extra half-inning and the seven-inning doubleheader were motivated by pan-damn-ic health concerns. But those might have been valid reasons which just so happened to offer him cover to indulge his itch to experiment and his inability to distinguish between what does and doesn’t require repairs.

To the “purist” the doubleheader of seven-inning games is about as palatable as a Kaeopectate on the rocks. But if the Good Old Days Powers had pondered the idea in those alleged Good Old Days, the doubleheader might not have gone the way of the Duesenberg in the first place.

What I wrote in April is worth revisiting: if we must have doubleheaders, the doubleheader of seven-inning games makes perfect sense. And you Old Farts yammering about it being just more kowtowing to today’s candy-assed players are hereby invited to stuff it.

“We saw teams play three doubleheaders in a single week at times last year,” wrote CBS Sports’s Mike Axias then. “MLB has to assume something like that will happen again, in which case seven-inning doubleheaders are a necessity. You can’t ask players to run themselves into the ground like that.”

There’ve been 37 doubleheaders played through the All-Star break this season. There are ten more scheduled for the rest of the seasons, and that’s before any that should crop up as a result of single-game postponements. There are also serious side issues to ponder.

When Madison Bumgarner pitched a no-hitter in one half of a late-April doubleheader, he collided with a pair of colliding rules. The no-hitter was defined officially, a long enough time ago, as nine no-hit innings. Well, now. The doubleheader’s seven-inning game still counts as a complete game if you happen to pitch all seven innings. Does it make sense to award Bumgarner a complete game but not a no-hitter, since he pitched the game entirely under a rule he didn’t exactly help to enact?

Just as Joe and Jane Fan forget or ignore that pitching injuries are as old and as widespread as pitching itself, they forget that there was a time when the old nine-inning-game doubleheader wreaked as much havoc as health upon the game they profess to love.

Once upon a time, the bottom-feeding teams played the most doubleheaders. “Poor teams need an added inducement to convince the fans to come out and see them,” wrote Chris Jaffe in a 2010 Hardball Times doubleheader study. “Perhaps more importantly, when they traveled on the road their opponents needed an extra bit of persuasion to convince rooters to see what promised to be some lackluster on-field performances.”

During the Great Depression, from 1930-34, National League teams averaged 36 percent of their seasons’ scheduled playing doubleheaders and American League teams, 30 percent. During World War II, the NL’s teams averaged 46 percent and the American League, 45 percent. The National League fell one twin-bill short of playing over half its games in doubleheaders in 1945.

Of course, nobody thought (or gave a damn) what playing that many doubleheaders of nine-inning games might take out of the people you paid your money to see at the ballpark in the first place. (Hint: It wasn’t the owners.) The 1943 White Sox would probably love to disabuse you.

For whatever perverse reasons, those White Sox alone played an unconscionable 44 doubleheaders that year. They included eleven in July, eleven between September’s beginning and the 1 October regular-season finish, and 27 pairs of doubleheaders played either on back-to-back days or with a single off-day between them.

The hell with Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’s fabled catchphrase, “It’s a beautiful day—let’s play two!” How would you like to play 36 innings of baseball in two or three days straight by design rather than by extra-innings happenstance. Quit fooling yourself. You’d be more exhausted thinking about it than the men playing those innings in such a stretch were playing them.

Writing in Doubleheaders: A Major League History, Charlie Bevis—English instructor at Rivier College, Society for American Baseball Research member and author—devoted an entire chapter to Banks and “Let’s play two!” and came up . . . almost as unable to decide its veracity than could most who knew Banks during his Hall of Fame career and beyond.

Banks may have intended the phrase to signify nothing more than his genuine love for the game and his place in playing it. Bevis suggested plausibly that, whenever the idea first occurred to him, Banks may well have deployed it especially as a way to fight back against cantankerously careless Cubs manager Leo Durocher, who seemed almost as bent on showing Banks up as a washed-up veteran as he was on just about anything else.

But “Let’s play two!” took on too much life of its own at a time when the doubleheader became seen far more deeply as a burden than a blessing. “Banks’s attitude,” Beavis wrote,

helped to establish the romance surrounding the doubleheader as the concept entered its demise phase in the 1980s, when players and fans alike rapidly fell out of love with the seven-hour marathon that the doubleheader had become. “I’ve never heard anybody say they like doubleheaders, except Ernie Banks,” Mike Hargrove said in 1991. “And I think he was lying.” Just ten years after Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the doubleheader was nearly extinct on the major league baseball schedule.

When he isn’t baseball’s version of Professor Pepperwinkle, Manfred’s barely able to conceal that his core belief is the common good of baseball equaling making money for the owners. Well. The old style doubleheader ended up turning into the separate-game, day-night doubleheader, because the owners weren’t making as much money with the single-admission twin-bill as they used to think they did.

What does Manfred wish to secure after 2021? Don’t be terribly shocked if the doubleheader of nine-inning games returns to the separate-game, day-night doubleheader. Don’t be terribly shocked, either, if such mundane corresponding issues as player health don’t matter a damn. To Manfred, and even to Joe and Jane Fan.

The doubleheader of seven-inning games was one of Manfred’s few sound ideas, whatever its impetus. It should be retained. Single admission. For the sake of those who, you know, play the games in the first place, and those who buy the tickets, even if those who buy the tickets don’t always know what’s good for themselves or for the game.

Good luck trying to “replace” Acuna

Ronald Acuna, Jr.

Three Braves trainers help Ronald Acuna, Jr. onto a medical cart, after Acuna landed awkwardly and tore his ACL trying to catch Jazz Chisholm’s high liner Saturday.

It can happen any time, any place. There’s no particular rule about when a simple running down of a drive to the back of right field will turn into a completely-torn anterior cruciate ligament that takes you out for the rest of a major league season.

It happened to Ronald Acuna, Jr. in Miami’s Ioan Depot Park Saturday. All he did in the bottom of the fifth was draw a bead on and run down Marlins second baseman Jazz Chisholm’s one-out, high liner toward the back of right field, take a leap trying to catch it before it hit the track near the wall, and land on his right knee hard and awkwardly enough to tear that ACL.

Acuna hit the track and the wall after the ball that eluded him by inches ricocheted back to the outfield grass as Chisholm finished running out an inside-the-park home run. Chisholm was anything but thrilled about getting it that way.

“For it to come at that expense, it kind of sucks for me and him, because the way that I got my home run is because he got hurt,” Chisholm told reporters following the 5-4 Braves win—and that was before he knew just how badly Acuna was injured on the play. “The baseball world is going to miss him if he’s out for long.”

The baseball world in general, and the Braves in particular. So sit down and shut up, you social media miscreants who think the same as one poster who said, ignorantly, “Sorry don’t feel sorry for any injury everyone gets them, next man, up.

If you think it’s that simple, let’s see you try to replace an effervescent clubhouse presence, and a guy who actually has as much fun playing the game as the Braves are going to sweat trying to replace a .900 OPS at the plate and twelve defensive runs saved above the National League average for right fielders this year so far.

Three Braves trainers tended Acuna on the track. He tried to get up and walk but could barely limp before the pain became too much. The trainers plus first base coach Eric Young, Sr. helped Acuna aboard the medical cart that drove out to him. Teammates talked to him like a fallen brother.

“It was more just trying to let him know that we love him and that we care about him, and we’re obviously with him throughout it all,” said shortstop Dansby Swanson post-game. “He didn’t really have anything else to say other than thank you for those words.”

This wasn’t a case of a player getting himself badly hurt doing what he wasn’t supposed to be doing. This wasn’t a baseball player attacking the game with a football mentality or playing the outfield as though the fences either didn’t exist or were there purely to surrender when he came barreling through.

This was a right fielder, maybe the best in the game this season, running down and leaping for a high liner he thought he had a chance to catch, landing with unexpected awkwardness followed at once by disaster.

This is also the game’s most dynamic leadoff hitter now gone for the year. Not to mention one of the classic current examples of reminding the Old Fart Contingent how foolish they look demanding players play the game like a business but remember it’s only a game when it comes down to its business.

“In his case,” writes The Athletic‘s David O’Brien, “there is even more substance than style, which is saying a lot considering he has style and swagger coming from his pores every moment he’s on the field . . . Though Freddie Freeman has been the undisputed captain of the Braves and the face of the franchise since Chipper Jones’ retirement, Acuna rivals him not just in terms of popularity among Braves fans but also in all-around performance and standing in the baseball world.”

Before Saturday night the only issue for Acuna seemed to be the Marlins having a particular penchant for hitting him with pitches. Acuna may like to take a couple of liberties with his batter’s box positioning, but the Marlins who’ve hit him with pitches twice this year and six lifetime—the most by any opponent in his career—have looked like headhunters when facing him.

It couldn’t possibly be that Acuna has more total bases against the Marlins (147) than any other team he’s played against in 50+ games, could it? It couldn’t possibly be that Acuna has a lifetime .736 real batting average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) against the Marlins versus his .617 career mark to date, could it?

“This is actually the fourth time Acuna has had to make an early exit from a game this season due to an injury,” writes MLB Trade Rumors‘s Mark Polishuk, “but while those previous instances resulted in just a couple of missed games, [Saturday’s] injury appears to be much more serious in scope.”

That was just before how much more serious in scope came to pass. With a recovery time up to ten months, the Braves may well begin the 2022 season without Acuna for a spell, too.

“The only thing I can say,” Acuna himself said on a Sunday Zoom call, “is that I’m obviously going to put maximum effort to come back stronger than ever. If was giving 500 percent before, I’m about to start giving 1,000 percent.” The spirit is certainly willing. Unfortunately, the body may have other things to say about that. May.

“Acuna will be missed throughout baseball and especially by the Braves and their fans,” O’Brien writes. “Those fans scooped up Acuna jerseys and stood in line for Acuna bobbleheads and celebrated his every home run and bat flip, every stolen base and blazing dash from first to third—or home—and every cannon-armed throw to cut down a runner trying to take an extra base.”

Good luck trying to “replace” all that.