About Jeff Kallman

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

Pete Rose, without the other stuff

Pete Rose

Pete Rose, fresh young Red . . . without Rule 21(d) and the Cobb-chase circus, how was he really as a player?

Is it strange to think of Pete Rose at eighty years old? Of course it is, especially for those old enough to have seen half or better of his playing career. But eighty he is, as of Wednesday past, and he is also freshly employed by UpickTrade—to sell baseball predictions to subscribers for $89 a month.

“Picks provided for MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL, Tennis, Golf and major Horse Races. Grow your sports bankroll with the Hit King.” Thus Upick ballyhoos Rose’s prognostications. During a media conference on his birthday Wednesday, Rose insisted he wouldn’t be betting, merely picking based on his baseball experience and knowledge.

Baseball’s most notorious gambling exile this side of the Black Sox, tying himself to a Website picking events for bettors to bet, giving himself one more dubious look in a life full of them, is purely coincidental. Right? Rose wouldn’t exactly agree.

“For those people who are worried about the Hall of Fame,” he told that Wednesday presser, “you’ve got to remember I got suspended in 1989.”

That’s 32 years ago. I’m not going to live the rest of my life worried about going to baseball’s Hall of Fame.

If I’m ever bestowed that honor, I’ll be the happiest guy in the world. I don’t think me picking games—not betting on games, I have to keep saying that—picking games for customers will not in any way, shape or form hurt my opportunity to get to the Hall of Fame someday. I’m not the only guy that’s ever made a bet in the world of baseball. I probably bet today less than any of them.

“Suspended?” Have it your way, Pete.

I’m not going to re-argue the Rose “suspension” now. The mountain range of evidence, the long and pitiful record of the lies Rose told for decades, and especially the plain language of Rule 21(d) should have put paid to that argument long ago. So should the Hall of Fame itself deciding, quite appropriately, that those ineligible for standing in organised professional baseball had no business appearing on ballots through which they might be conferred baseball’s highest honour.

(To those who insist baseball’s recent agreements with certain legal gambling enterprises mean Rose should be un-banned, remember that just because it’s legal doesn’t mean your employer lacks the right to ban you from doing it when it involves your job.)

But I would like to do one thing. For argument’s sake, I’d like to make as though Rose’s violations of Rule 21(d) never happened, that he was never banished from the game for which he continues professing his deepest love, then ask and answer the following question: How absolutely great was Pete Rose as a player?

The eternal image of Rose the player is that of a junkyard dog clawing his way to whatever he gained on the field, at the plate, on the bases. His lifetime partisans hoist the near-constant image of headfirst slides and praise him irrevocably as evoking all that was once right and proper about the game. But his .375 on-base percentage ranks 215th all-time. And his percentage of extra bases taken on followup hits was yanked down to 49 percent thanks to his six-year decline while still chasing Ty Cobb’s hits record.

Speaking of which, let’s put the Hit King business to bed. Allen Barra tried, in his 2002 book Clearing the Bases: The Greatest Baseball Debates of the Last Century. Rose in his view was “an arrogant, shallow, self-centered jerk who hung around years after he had any value on the field simply to eclipse [Ty] Cobb’s [career hits] record. You’re a fan, you want to pay money to watch that kind of circus junk, then you pay your money. I stopped caring about the so-called record two years before Rose surpassed it.”

Was Barra out of line? From his Rookie of the Year season 1963 through the end of his first regular season with the Phillies, his first eighteen seasons, Rose collected 3,557 hits. He could have retired right then and there, after playing on the 1980 Phillies’ World Series winner, and had himself a very Hall of Fame worthy career, plus a hit total a lot of Hall of Famers might have envied still.

Rose’s most emphatic partisans will find ten 200-hit seasons among those eighteen years and insist that that plus eventually breaking Cobb’s career hit record make him the Hit King indeed. Barra didn’t have the stomach for that, and neither do I. Perhaps audaciously, he asked whom you think is baseball’s greatest hitter, ever, and lo! many of the answers to that turn up . . . well . . .

Many say Ted Williams, but Teddy Ballgame never had one 200+ hit season. Many say Mickey Mantle, and he never had one, either. Many say Willie Mays, and he had only one. Many say Henry Aaron, but he has something else in common with Babe Ruth: only three 200+ hit seasons. (And don’t many still say the Babe?) Many say Stan Musial; he had a measly six. Many say that Mike Trout is in their league—and he is—but the most hits he’s collected in a single season thus far is 190.

Those players one and all were (are, in Trout’s case) better batters than Pete Rose was. Says who? Says my Real Batting Average (RBA) metric: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances, says who:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Ted Williams 9788 4884 2021 243 57* 39 .740
Mike Trout 5514 2642 838 104 52 84 .675
Mickey Mantle 9907 4511 1733 148 47 13 .651
Stan Musial 12718 6134 1599 298 110* 53 .644
Willie Mays 12496 6066 1464 214 91 44 .631
Henry Aaron 13941 6856 1402 293 121 32 .624
Pete Rose 15890 5752 1566 167 79 107 .483

If you believe a lifetime .483 batter was better than a lifetime .740 batter, be my guest. But you say that doesn’t really prove anything? Well, now. How about the extra base hit percentages for each of these fellows? Be forewarned: Rose is going to come up smelling like a thorn.

Player H 2B 3B HR XBH XBH%
Mike Trout 1,396 264 48 306 618 .44
Ted Williams 2,654 525 71 521 1,117 .42
Mickey Mantle 2,415 344 72 536 952 .39
Henry Aaron 3,771 624 98 755 1.477 .39
Stan Musial 3,630 725 177 475 1,377 .38
Willie Mays 3,283 523 140 660 1,323 .35
Pete Rose 4,256 746 135 160 1,041 .24

By the way, since he spent so much of his late baseball life obsessed with catching and passing Ty Cobb, be advised that Cobb’s extra base hit percentage is three points higher than Rose’s.

Rose also doesn’t look like such a Hit King when compared to two more of his own contemporaries who both belong in the Hall of Fame and may well get there the next time the Golden Era Committee meets later this year:

Player H 2B 3B HR XBH XBH%
Dick Allen 1,848 320 79 351 750 .41
Tony Oliva 1,917 329 48 220 597 .31
Pete Rose 4,256 746 135 160 1,041 .24

There’s a guy whose career overlapped Rose’s by a few years before Rose retired as a player—a guy who’s a match for Rose’s skill set: an early-in-the-order batter with a little power and a near-surrealistic ability to reach base. (Barra once pointed out that, in each player’s fifteen best seasons, this guy reached base more often than Rose and used fewer outs to do it.)

Player H 2B 3B HR XBH XBH%
Tim Raines 2,605 430 113 170 713 .27
Pete Rose 4,256 746 135 160 1,041 .24

Now, let’s look at Allen, Oliva, Raines, and Rose according to RBA. (You may also find yourself breaking the grip longevity alone might have on you, since you’re going to see a very wide difference between Rose’s career longevity and career value.)

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Dick Allen 7315 3379 894 138 53 16 .612
Tony Oliva 6880 3002 448 131 57 59 .537
Tim Raines 10359 3771 1330 148 76 42 .518
Pete Rose 15890 5752 1566 167 79 107 .483

Remove, too, that business about Rose playing in “more winning games than any player, ever.” Saying it almost implies that his teams absolutely wouldn’t have won without him. His actual offensive winning percentage is 67 percent as a Red through 1978 and 55 percent for the rest of his career. Frank Robinson’s OWP as a Red is 74 percent; Joe Morgan’s as a Red is 76 percent.

Which leads to a point I can’t remember people talking much about: whether Rose was the absolute best player on his teams during his absolute prime, the first eighteen seasons of his playing career during which he played on three World Series winners and several division winners and reasonably high in other pennant races.

I ran down Rose’s wins above replacement-level player (WAR) in each of those seasons, from his Rookie of the Year 1963 through 1980, when he ended the Phillies’ World Series win with that staggering foul catch. Except for two of those seasons, Rose was one of his teams’ top ten players and thirteen times one of his teams’ top five. But my guess is that you’ll have one of two reactions to the deets, disbelief or an overwhelming desire to shoot the messenger:

Year Pete Rose WAR/Rank Team Leader/WAR Team Finish
1963 2.4 (8) Vada Pinson (6.4) 5th
1964 1.3 (15) Frank Robinson (7.9) 2nd
1965 5.6 (2) Jim Maloney (9.0) 4th
1966 4.1 (2) Jim Maloney (7.4) 7th
1967 4.8 (4) Gary Nolan (6.0) 4th
1968 5.5 (2) Tony Perez (5.9) 4th
1969 6.6 (1) 3rd
1970 4.8 (4) Johnny Bench (7.4) 1st
1971 5.1 (2) Lee May (5.4) 4th
1972 6.1 (3) Joe Morgan (9.3) 1st
1973 8.3 (2) Joe Morgan (9.3) 1st
1974 5.9 (4) Joe Morgan (8.6) 2nd
1975 4.1 (5) Joe Morgan (11.0) 1st **
1976 7.0 (2) Joe Morgan (9.6) 1st **
1977 2.9 (7) George Foster (8.4) 2nd
1978 3.4 (6) George Foster (4.9) 2nd
1979 3.1 (5) Mike Schmidt (7.9) 4th
1980 -0.3 (20) Steve Carlton (10.2) 1st **

Once. Only once did Pete Rose lead his team in WAR for a season, only once was he the absolute best player on his team, and that was a season in which the Reds stood on the threshold of becoming the Big Red Machine despite their third-place finish.

Twice Rose was the best position player on a team where WAR determined the team’s best player period was a pitcher, and those teams finished in fourth and seventh place. And, in five straight seasons of the Big Red Machine’s heyday, Rose finished second twice, third once, fourth once, and fifth once to Joe Morgan, the overwhelming best player the Machine had.

Rose was a well-established, well-seasoned veteran when Morgan came to the Reds, but it’s absolutely arguable that those Reds would not have won without Morgan. Remember that Morgan’s offensive winning percentage as a Red is 76 percent. For the same seven seasons they were Reds teammates, Rose’s OWP is 68 percent. The Big Red Machine had better chances of winning races because of Morgan than because of Rose.

Which reminds me: what was Rose doing winning the 1973 National League’s Most Valuable Player award (the only MVP of his career) when Morgan was that much better? Easy: Rose led the league in “batting average” while playing on a division winner. So help me, if they’d known about and measured according to RBA they’d have seen the pair a lot differently:

Player, 1973 PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Joe Morgan 698 284 111 3 4 6 .585
Pete Rose 752 297 65 6 0 6 .497

I saw Rose play often enough during his entire career. I saw the headfirst sliding, the running to first base on walks, the hard-nosed style that so often crosses lines to bull headed (or beyond reasonable bounds, as in blasting Ray Fosse at the plate in the 1970 All-Star Game without even thinking of a mere takeout slide) and wasn’t exactly something on which Rose held the franchise.

He was very lucky that playing the game that way didn’t shorten his career by about ten seasons and maybe more. Baseball is littered with similar players who played their bodies right out of the game long before Rose finally did, playing themselves out of providing too much further real value to their teams before their bodies or their brains finally told them to retire or else.

If you remove the issues that sent Rose to organised baseball’s Phantom Zone, and compelled the Hall of Fame to enact a rule denying that men considered persona non grata should be considered for the game’s highest honour, this is how I see him:

Pete Rose would have been a Hall of Famer even if he hadn’t clung to and consummated the pursuit of Ty Cobb’s career hits record, though I also think his 44-game hitting streak in 1978 really kick-started the final discussions about his true or reputed status as a legend. (So did making good on his once oft-stated oath to become baseball’s first million-dollar singles hitter.)

There’s no shame in Rose being a 76 percent singles hitter; so was Tony Gwynn. But I’m going to tell you Tony Gwynn was more valuable at the plate than Pete Rose was. (It isn’t Gwynn’s fault that he lacked the caliber of teammates in his career that Rose enjoyed in his.) Says who? You guessed it: RBA, says who:

PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Mr. Padre 10232 4259 790 203 85 24 .524
Charlie Hustle 15890 5752 1566 167 79 107 .483

Rose wasn’t close to being the greatest all-around player of his or any era. Yes, he was a multi-position player who played 500+ games each at five different positions. Except for the 673 games he played in left field, he was double-digits below average for run prevention while being worth 52 runs saved above his league average in left field. For nineteen percent of all the games he played.

He was foolish for behaving practically as though he was entitled to take a shot at breaking Cobb’s record despite the fact that, for his final six seasons as a player, his real value to his teams was below that of a replacement-level player. Whether you’re in your prime or a veteran looking to boost your legacy, there’s no such thing as being “entitled” to break a record, revered or otherwise.

Cal Ripken, Jr. put up with a large load of crap pursuing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak. Yet Ripken didn’t behave as though it was his entitlement, unless you think saying often enough that it was part of his profession to show up and play every day equals entitlement. Ripken also had far more value to his teams while chasing and passing Gehrig than Rose did while chasing and passing Cobb.

Injuries reduced Albert Pujols to barely replacement-level player after his first year as an Angel. It’s been sad to see for anyone who remembers when he was a Cardinal. But Pujols doesn’t seem to behave as though he was entitled to achieve certain milestones,  the last of which was passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list.

The circus surrounding Rose’s pursuit of and passing Cobb did exactly as Allen Barra described: it “overwhelm[ed] discussion of Rose’s other qualities and deficiencies as a ballplayer.” He’s the Hit King by accumulation alone. He wasn’t close to being the greatest hitter of the post World War II-post integration-night ball era; he wasn’t the best player on his teams in his prime with one exception.

Should I go one step beyond? OK, you talked me into it, and please remember we’re still discussing as though violating Rule 21(d) hadn’t banished Rose to the Phantom Zone. With a  circus-less look at his record as it was, Rose might (underline that, ladies and gentlemen) have had to wait one or even two tries before getting his plaque. He wouldn’t have been either the first or the last of the genuine, Hall of Fame greats to enter as a slightly overrated player.

Remember, too, that slightly beats the living daylights out of being very overrated, or being in Cooperstown despite having little to no business being there in the first place. Just ask Harold Baines, Clark Griffith, Chick Hafey, Waite Hoyt, Travis Jackson, George Kelly, Freddie Lindstrom, Tommy McCarthy, and Phil Rizzuto. (The Scooter does belong in Cooperstown—as a broadcaster. Really.) Among others.

It would have been mad fun to have that discussion involving Pete Rose. Absolutely. I’d imagine the passions on all sides of that argument would have been brought to as much of a boil as those on all sides of the argument about, you know, that other stuff.

Unfortunately, only one man was and remains responsible for that other stuff.

————————————————————————————————–

* Recall if you will from a previous essay: The sacrifice fly wasn’t made an official statistic until the 1954 season. Several Hall of Famers including Ted Williams and Stan Musial played a third or more of their seasons prior to the rule coming on line. I took Williams’s and Musial’s (and the others’) recorded sac flies, divided them by the number of seasons they played after the rule took force, then took that result and multiplied it by the number of Show seasons they actually played.

In simple math, the formula is SF/SRS [sac fly rule seasons] x MLB seasons. It was the best I could develop for getting the total sac flies you could have expected Williams and Musial (and the others) to hit all career long.

** World Series winners.

Stop wearing 42 ubiqitously on Jackie Robinson Day

Jackie Robinson

Only one Show team really has the call to wear 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. But he can still be honoured by the rest of the Show on his day . . .

Before he was anything else once he broke baseball’s disgraceful colour line, Jackie Robinson was a Dodger. A Brooklyn Dodger. A Dodger as the first major league Rookie of the Year (the award became one for each league in 1949), a Dodger when the Boys of Summer finally made this year next year (the 1955 World Series), and a Dodger when he retired at 37.

My friend Howard Cole, a splendid baseball writer who created the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America (and very kindly lured me into life membership), tried to remind people of that point around Jackie Robinson Day 2013.

“Truth be told,” he wrote for L.A. Weekly then, “while I understand the reasoning behind it, I’m a little jealous of the teams that get to share in the holiday. They didn’t do anything in particular, and some made things as difficult for Jack as can possibly be.” Not to mention that not every team other than the Cleveland Indians (with Larry Doby) and a third Show team got the near-immediate hint.

“I’d kind of like to see just the Dodger players wearing the number 42 on their jerseys,” Cole continued, “with the rest of teams bowing in reverence.”

Retiring Robinson’s uniform number baseball-wide is one thing, but my friend Cole is right. On Jackie Robinson Day—whether everyone’s playing on the actual day or whether, as this week, it covers two days since several teams were off Thursday—only one team has the proper call to wear 42 on their backs.

That team is Robinson’s team.

It’s not that the entire Dodger team necessarily welcomed him with open arms and hugs when he first arrived in 1947. There were teammates who did so. There were others who didn’t. There were those among the latter who petitioned to push the Dodgers not to bring Robinson up from the Montreal Royals, where he’d won the International League batting title and helped lead them to the league championship.

Robinson had to change hearts and minds the hard way. In a Dodger uniform. He had to change hearts and minds on both his own team and the rest of the league. It was easier to convince a barracuda to think about a strictly vegetation diet. Maybe the toughest mind he had to change was the man said to have petitioned the Dodgers to block Robinson’s advent in the first place.

But there the Dodgers were clinching the 1947 pennant. And there in The Sporting News was a remarkable quote: No other ballplayer on this club, with the possible exception of Bruce Edwards, has done more to put the Dodgers up in the race as Robinson has. He is everything Branch Rickey said he was when he came up from Montreal.

That was Dixie Walker talking. The same Dixie Walker who’d once said he’d sooner stay home and paint his house than play with a black man on his team. The same Dixie Walker who eventually made a reputation as a coach for helping young black players adjust and improve their swings at the plate. Though he’d be one-upped by a southern white teammate named Bobby Bragan.

When Branch Rickey called his southern Dodgers to ask about the Walker petition and their real feelings, Bragan said right out he’d been raised to segregation. Rickey agreed to trade Bragan but never made the deal. Bragan’s heart and mind could be changed by only one man. Robinson.

Rickey asked Bragan if he’d play his best with Robinson on the team. The reluctant Bragan said yes, he would. Then, little by little, piece by piece, Bragan found himself drawn to Robinson. They’d talk baseball, on the team train and in the dugout, maybe sharing a joke or two. Before long, as a remarkable profile by Joe Posnanski said, Bragan found himself dissenting from his own family’s dismissal of Robinson. “Wait a minute,” he told his family, “you don’t know him.”

“Bragan and Robinson became friends, real friends, the sort who would go to each other’s houses for dinner occasionally, the sort who would happily embrace whenever they came across each other,” Posnanski wrote. “And Robinson was always proud that Bragan became known as a man who would treat people fairly, honestly, no matter the color of their skin.”

Bragan went further. He became a manager in the minors and the majors and developed a bigger reputation for helping young minority ballplayers—including turning a frustrated kid in the Dodger system into a switch hitter and shepherding his path to the Show, a kid named Maury Wills.

“I think it’s just a matter of becoming acclimated to the thing by association,” Bragan ended up writing in his memoir, Baseball Has Done It. “I was exposed to integration daily under the shower, in the next locker, on the bus, in the hotel and many conversations . . . All this adds up to a tolerant attitude, a little more understanding of the situation than if we’d never left Alabama.”

If only today’s Bragans in and out of baseball were that open. And not just when it comes to black players, black people. When the Indians’ Yu Chang—a middle infielder by trade placed at first base, and a Taiwan native—made an unfortunate ninth-inning throwing error (instead of stepping on the pad for the second out, his throw to second trying for a double play hit Yasmani Grandal in the helmet, allowing the White Sox to score the winning run), he was hit with particularly racist Twitter messages.

“Maybe fix those slanty eyes and you can throw the ball straight jerk off,” said the nastiest of the messages and probably the one above all that hit Chang between his eyes. “Exercise your freedom of speech in a right way,” he tweeted, “I accept all comments, positive or negative but DEFINITELY NOT RACIST ONES. Thank you all and love you all. #StopAsianHate.”

I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed that that happened to a member of the team that followed the Dodgers’ lead almost immediately, when the Indians’ then-owner Bill Veeck bought Larry Doby from the Newark Eagles of the Negro National League and Doby broke the American League colour line in July 1947.

Hank Thompson

Hank Thompson—the St. Louis Browns became baseball’s third integrating team when picking Thompson and Willard Brown in 1947.

Would you like to know or be reminded how baseball’s re-breaking of the colour line (there’d been black and Latino players in the pre-20th Century game, however scattered or short lived before the colour line was imposed in earnest) actually progressed? Here you go:

After Robinson in Brooklyn and Doby in Cleveland, the next team to admit black players in 1947 was the St. Louis Browns, with infielder Hank Thompson and outfielder Willard Brown. Brown at 32 played one season with the Browns but became a Hall of Famer by way of the eventual Negro Leagues Committee in 2006; he’d been a solid slugging player for the legendary Kansas City Monarchs.

Also 1947—the Dodgers brought up pitcher Dan Bankhead, whose Show career didn’t amount to much. From there, here are the first black/minority players with each major league team of the time:

1949—Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, the outfielder who broke the New York Giants’ colour barrier.

1950—Sam Jethroe, outfielder, Boston Braves. Anyone who says Boston just wouldn’t have accepted black or minority players in those years should be called a liar. The Braves welcomed black players as liberally as the Tom Yawkey Red Sox wouldn’t.

1953—Ernie Banks (shortstop, Chicago Cubs), Bob Trice (pitcher, Philadelphia Athletics), Carlos Bernier (outfielder, Pittsburgh Pirates). Bernier was a black Puerto Rican; a year later, the Pirates welcomed African-American second baseman Curt Roberts. Inexplicably, Show historians tend to consider Roberts and not Bernier the first black Pirate.

1954—Tom Alston (first baseman, St. Louis Cardinals), Nino Escalera and Chuck Harmon (outfielder, infielder-outfielder, respectively, Cincinnati Reds—both players debuted in the same game), Carlos Paula (outfielder, Washington Senators).

1955—Elston Howard (catcher, Yankees).

1956—Ozzie Virgil (catcher/infielder, Tigers).

1957—John Kennedy (infielder, Phillies).

1959—Pumpsie Green (infielder, Red Sox.)

If you want to be absolutely technical about it, only three teams in today’s Show really have any business thinking about wearing 42 on Jackie Robinson day: the Dodgers, the Indians, and the Orioles, who’d moved from St. Louis in the first place after 1953 but who thought nothing of bringing two black players to the major league team in the same year as Robinson premiered.

What should the other teams do on Jackie Robinson Day if they have no call in certain ways to wear 42? I have an idea: Let the teams in both leagues who were there before expansion wear the numbers of their first black players.

Let the Braves wear Sam Jethroe’s number 5. Let the Red Sox wear Green’s number 12. Let the Cubs wear Ernie Banks’s 14 and the White Sox wear Minnie Minoso’s 9. Let the Tigers wear Ozzie Virgil’s 22. Let the Giants wear Monte Irvin’s 20. (He debuted with 7 but changed his number in 1950.) Let the Yankees wear Elston Howard’s 33. Let the Athletics wear Bob Trice’s 23, let the Phillies wear John Kennedy’s 8. Let the Cardinals wear Tom Alston’s 10, let the Twins (the original Senators) wear Carlos Paula’s 31. (Paula wore 31 for two of his three Washington seasons.)

Let the subsequent expansion teams wear the numbers of significant black players who played contiguous to their areas unless we know whom their first chosen black players might have been:

Los Angeles Angels—Julio Becquer, 19. The first black player the Angels picked in the 1960 expansion draft that created the team.

Texas Rangers—Since they were born as the second Washington Senators, maybe they could wear Homestead Grays legend Buck Leonard’s 32.

New York Mets—Martin Dihigo, Hall of Fame pitcher for the New York Cubans, 17.

Houston Astros—This is a stretch: the Newark Eagles moved to Houston in 1948, by which time the team’s most notable players were either going to the Show or gone. Maybe Ray Dandridge, the Hall of Famer who wore 38 as an Eagle.

Kansas City Royals—This one’s a no-brainer: Satchel Paige, who wore 25 as a Kansas City Monarch.

Milwaukee Brewers—The erstwhile Seattle Pilots have a kind of choice: they could wear Luke Easter’s 9, since Easter once played for the Seattle Steelheads; or, they could wear Henry Aaron’s 44, since Aaron was the first black player signed by the Braves after they moved to Milwaukee and played his final MLB season with the Brewers.

Julio Becquer

Julio Becquer, the first black player to be selected by the Angels in the expansion draft creating the team.

San Diego Padres—John Ritchey, the first black player in the Pacific Coast League, who played as it happened for the Padres of that old venerable PCL. Uniform number: 1, I think.

Washington Nationals—Born as the Montreal Expos, well, nobody could top Jackie Robinson who’d been a Montreal Royal. But since they’re ensconced in Washington and won their franchise-first World Series as the Nats, they could go for a Homestead Grays immortal since the Grays played most of their games in Washington: Hall of Famer Josh Gibson, 20.

Seattle Mariners—Artie Wilson, who integrated the ancient Seattle Rainers of the ancient PCL and was the last Negro Leagues player known to hit .400. I haven’t been able to unearth his Rainers uniform number, but when he made it briefly to the New York Giants he wore 15.

Toronto Blue Jays—Charlie White, relief pitcher, Hall of Famer as a Negro Leaguer, and one of the first two black players signed to the longtime minor league Toronto Maple Leafs after Jack Kent Cooke bought the team in 1951. I can’t find his Negro Leagues uniform numbers, but he did wear 24 as a brief mid-1950s Milwaukee Brave.

Colorado Rockies—Middle infielder Bubbles Anderson. The only Negro Leaguer known to have been born in Colorado. Played for the Negro minor league Denver White Elephants, whose schedule often included games against white Colorodan minor league teams. Later played for the Monarchs and the Birmingham Black Barons. Number: 22.

Florida Marlins—Herbert Barnhill, a catcher for the Jacksonville Red Caps, Florida’s only-ever entry in the Negro American League. The Red Caps lured Barnhill from the Atlanta Black Crackers. Number: Possibly 18.

Arizona Diamondbacks—Ford Smith, pitcher and the only native of Arizona ever to play in the Negro Leagues, with four seasons as a Monarch before the New York Giants signed him to play in their organisation. Smith never made the Giants. I can’t unearth his uniform number, either, so since he was the first from Arizona let the D’Backs wear 1 with his name on the back.

Tampa Bay Rays—Walter Lee Gibbons, pitcher, who played for the Tampa Rockets of the Florida State Negro League before joining the legendary Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League. Number: 19.

If the foregoing has been a bit of a sprawl, I apologise. But it just doesn’t seem right that every Show team should wear 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. Not when only one team in the Show has the true right to claim Robinson as their own pioneering Hall of Famer, not when only two other teams took the same-season hint.

That team is the Dodgers. Everyone else, please ponder the foregoing and do your best to make it so. But don’t stop there, either. It would make everything Robinson stood for and believed meaningless if baseball can’t convince more of today’s generations of young black and other American minority people to embrace and feel at home playing Robinson’s game as their game, too.

He almost killed the Mets

Citi Field

Met fans at Citi Field earlier this month. Bernie Madoff, the man whose grand ripoff made Charles Ponzi resemble a piker and nearly destroyed the Mets, has died.

There’s a 34-story building in Manhattan known as the Lipstick Building. Not because it ever housed a particular cosmetics company but because of its look. It resembles a glass-and-girder lipstick tube. The co-designers were John Burgee Architects and Philip Johnson, the latter a once-fabled disciple of modern architecture’s “White God No. 2” (Tom Wolfe’s phrase) Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

The Lipstick Building seems an appropriate place to have housed the working offices of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. That firm’s founding father only thought he’d applied enough lipstick to the $65 billion pig exposed as the single greatest ripoff in Wall Street history in 2009, a ripoff that made Charles Ponzi resemble a piker.

As one Tweeter phrased it Wednesday morning, “RIP Bernie Madoff, the man who made Bobby Bonilla day possible.” For openers.

Madoff’s death at 82 was reported earlier Wednesday, the federal Bureau of Prisons saying nothing more other than to confirm the financier’s death. The bureau wouldn’t disclose the actual cause “for safety, security and privacy reasons,” though it was known that Madoff suffered end-stage kidney disease and other maladies.

He was an equal opportunity defrauder, nicking and draining the rich and the modest alike. The reputed 37,000 victims around the world include Nobel Peace laureate Elie Wiesel, film legend Steven Spielberg, Yeshiva University, a Syracuse local of the plumbers’ union, the charity for Jewish leukemia and lymphoma patients despite his younger son’s fight against lymphoma, and an Afghanistan war veteran.

They also included Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax and a few other sports figures such as former Mets middle infielder Tim Teufel and New York Islanders hockey dynasty wingman Bob Nystrom. And, especially, former Mets owners Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon, and Saul Katz.

The elder Wilpon invested with Madoff beginning in the mid-1980s, not long after he became the Mets’ co-owner and, in time, very likely unaware that promised massive returns were illusory at best. Those promised returns enabled the Mets in 2000 to agree to a buyout of veteran but fading Bobby Bonilla’s remaining contract.

The actual remaining value was $5.9 million. The Mets instead agreed to pay him $1,193,248.20 a year for the coming 25 years at eight percent interest. Bonilla gets that check every 1 July. Wilpon believed that double-digit returns on his Madoff investments would cover the Bonilla buyout and deliver glandular profits above and beyond whatever they’d be paying their former player. Not quite.

The Mets will be on the hook for the Bonilla buyout until 2035. The Wilpons found themselves on the hook for $65 million in loans to meet the Mets’ payroll after Madoff admitted to prosecutors that he’d ripped off billions of his investors’ monies while financing a lavish lifestyle for his wife and family.

Were the Wilpons plain victims like most of Madoff’s clients? Did they know more about Madoff’s bloated ripoff than they let on? One bankruptcy trustee named Irving Picard thought so.

Tasked with recovering monies lost in the Madoff scheme, Picard sued the Wilpons to compel them, as Crain’s New York Business described, to “return $300 million in ‘fictitious profits,’ paid out to their family, their associates, and businesses by Mr. Madoff ’s firm over many years.”

The New York Times called that a “novel claim,” noting Picard “was initially seeking an extra $700 million because he says, the Mets’ owners looked the other way while they benefited from Madoff’s fraud.”

It wasn’t that simple to determine whether the Wilpons and Katz were victims like the others or whether they looked the other way because their investments with Madoff became more of a part of the Mets’ business model than once intended.

“Clearly, Wilpon ignored the warnings because it benefitted him to do so,” argued Sports Are From Venus writer Zachary Diamond in September 2019. “He did not go against Madoff and his fraud at any point because of how financially important it was to his business. Had it not benefited him, Wilpon most likely would have stopped investing with Madoff, as one should do after learning something was fraudulent.”

“Madoff promised and delivered consistent, high, and ultimately false returns of as much as 12%-18% of their investments, which is why the Wilpons and Katz had such an extensive relationship with him,” writes AMNY‘s Joe Pantorno.

Of course, they didn’t know that; relying on Madoff for quick, extra cash as needed to help bolster the Mets’ roster in the late 90s and early 2000s, for example.

But the Wilpons used money made from Madoff as collateral on other loans, so when Madoff went bust, Mets ownership had to borrow $430 million against the team and an additional $450 million against their regional television network, SNY.

It created massive debts that forced the Wilpons to pay over $100 million per year alone, created alongside the annual $43 million payment on Citi Field.

That was why Mets fans’ wishes of their favorite team going out and signing that big-name free agent didn’t happen often enough. That was why a club that plays in the largest sports market on the planet was being run like it played its games in Kalamazoo instead of New York City.

“The fallout shrunk the [Mets’] payroll, from $140 million in 2011 to $95 million in 2012 to $85 million in 2014 as salaries rose across the game,” writes ESPN’s Joon Lee. “Subsequently, the Wilpons slowly lost power and financial stake in the team.”

In 2012, federal judge Jed Rakoff ruled that Picard overshot his target by a glandular distance. “After careful consideration,” Rakoff proclaimed, “the court concludes that the trustee has entirely failed to demonstrate the kind of extraordinary circumstances that would warrant this court in granting his motion,” saying Picard hadn’t proven the Wilpons and Katz “willfully blinded themselves” to Madoff’s chicanery. The Wilpons and Picard settled in due course for $162 million.

When the depth of Madoff’s ripoff was exposed, hedge fund titan Steve Cohen bought a $20 million stake in the Mets. Today Cohen is the Mets’ owner, after buying the Wilpons and Katz’s majority stakes last September. The Mets have since begun behaving like the large market team the Madoff ripoff throttled them from being in its wake.

As of today, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, victims of the Madoff ripoff have recovered roughly eighty percent of the estimated total $65 billion out of which they were swindled in the first place. The Wilpons and Katz made off with $2.4 billion when selling the Mets.

“Bull or bear market, recession or recovery, Madoff’s clients were always guaranteed a great year,” writes New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro.” At the very least [Fred] Wilpon — a man who was his own self-made success story in business — was grossly and almost irresponsibly naive.”

Signing of shortstop Francisco Lindor to a ten-year, $341 million contract extension just before the current major league season began, would have been unthinkable so long as the Wilpons and Katz remained the Mets’ majority owners while still having to pay over $143 million to retire the loans compelled by the Madoff ripoff.

Madoff’s investment victims weren’t his sole victims, of course. His oldest son Mark committed suicide two years after Madoff’s arrest; his younger son Andrew died of lymphoma in 2014. Mark and Andrew Madoff had listened to their father confess to the racket in December 2008, with the father promising to get things straightened out within the next 24 hours. They didn’t give him the chance, going to their lawyers and then to the authorities.

Ruth Madoff, broke off all contact with her husband after the suicide; their grandchildren are said to have changed their names hoping to escape what Town & Country called “the family shame.” Mrs. Madoff was allowed to keep $2.5 million in return for forfeiting all her other assets, the magazine said, and must report any spending over $100 to a bankruptcy trustee.

New York City mayor Bill deBlasio, a man who normally shows wisdom by standing athwart it, says Madoff’s death doesn’t mean it’s time to dance on a grave. “[B]ut let’s just be honest: Many, many people were hurt by his actions,” deBlasio told the press. “It’s time to hopefully turn the page and move forward.”

The victims may first turn to the page on which they’ll see Clarence Darrow saying, “I have never wished a man dead, but I have read a great many obituaries with a great deal of pleasure.”

Paul Lo Duca learns the hard way

Paul Lo Duca, Billy Wagner

Paul Lo Duca and Billy Wagner share a high-five after nailing down a Mets win. Claiming Joe West’s strikes could be bought with Wagner’s classic Chevy sends Lo Duca from high five to out five hundred large . . .

You can accuse one of baseball’s two most notorious umpires of anything you like. Call him a craven self-promoter. Say his strike zone behind the plate is more flexible than politician’s policy positions. Tell the world he’s a meathead for complaining about the length of a baseball game between two certain teams over whom he appoints himself judge and jury.

Those won’t get you hauled into court to answer for defamation. But say on the air that Joe West’s strikes could be bought for the price of using your pitcher’s classic automobile and it’ll cost you six figures. Especially when West wasn’t even behind the plate in the games in question when you caught that pitcher.

Former major league catcher Paul Lo Duca is learning the hard way after losing a defamation lawsuit West filed in 2019. That year, Lo Duca accused West, the single most notorious umpire this side of Angel Hernandez, of being very generous calling strikes with relief ace Billy Wagner on the mound, after Wagner agreed to let the chunky umpire use the lefthander’s 1957 Chevrolet any old time he chose whenever they were in town together.

That’ll cost Lo Duca $500,000 plus interest paid to West after a decision in Manhattan Supreme Court Monday, during a session to determine damages for which Lo Duca didn’t even show up according to numerous published reports.

Lo Duca claimed on a 2019 sports betting podcast that he talked to Wagner after a game in which Wagner both advised Lo Duca to set up a little more inside on the hitters and suggested West would give Wagner the inside corners a little more generously. Why? Here’s Lo Duca himself aboard that podcast:

We’re playing like a really tight game against the Phillies and Billy Wagner comes in from the bullpen. I used to go to the mound every time and like, ‘What’s going on?’ and he’s like, ‘Hey, Joe’s behind the plate. Set up a couple more inches inside. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Joe hates me.’ He’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, no, no. Joe loves me.’

I go, ‘He hasn’t given us the corner all day.’ He’s like, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ He literally throws 10 pitches and strikes out three guys. Joe rings up all three guys. Eight out of the nine pitches were at least three to four inches inside, not even close. Guys were throwing bats and everything. Joe walks off the field.

I get back into the clubhouse and I’m like, “What the [fornicate] just happened just right now?” And Wagner just winks at me. I’m like, “What’s the secret?” He’s like, “Eh, Joe loves antique cars so every time he comes into town I lend him my ’57 Chevy so he can drive it around so then he opens up the strike zone for me.”

I’m like, “This guy’s been throwing me out for the last 10 years of my life and all I needed to do was rent him a ’57 Chevy?”

'57 Bel Air

A 1957 Chevrolet, the kind of car Billy Wagner didn’t use to buy strikes from Joe West.

There were two problems with Lo Duca’s revelation, as things turned out. Problem One: West countered, and the records support him, that he was never behind the plate when Wagner was on the mound with Lo Duca catching in either 2006 or 2007, the two seasons Lo Duca spent with the Mets. Problem Two: Wagner himself submitted a December 2020 affidavit denying he talked to Lo Duca about buying West off with a vintage Chevy or anything else.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge John Kelley found it too simple to rule in West’s favour when Lo Duca didn’t show up Monday or respond directly to West’s suit otherwise. As of this writing, Lo Duca hasn’t responded to the court ruling and Wagner hasn’t spoken publicly about the case or the critical conversation he denies ever happened.

West remembers working only one Mets-Phillies game behind the plate in the 2006-2007 time frame and Wagner wasn’t on the mound at any time during the game—which ended on a home run, not three straight punchouts. Unlike on a lot of occasions when he calls strikes balls, balls strikes, outs safe, and safes out, West was dead right about that.

You can look it up. In 2006-2007, the Mets played 27 games that ended in walk-offs. Their record in those games: 18-9. (That’s a .667 winning percentage in those games, for those scoring at home.) They included two walk-off games with the Phillies in each year; the Mets won only one of those games:

9 May 2006—Final score: 5-4, Phillies. The walk-off blow: Mets reliever Aaron Heilman’s throwing error on Bobby Abreu’s grounder, allowing David Delluci (two-out triple) to score the winner. Billy Wagner: didn’t pitch. Paul Lo Duca: caught and batted second in the lineup. Home plate umpire: Doug Eddings.

23 May 2006—Final score: 9-8, Mets, sixteen innings. The walk-off blow: Carlos Beltran’s leadoff home run off Phillies reliever Ryan Madson. Wagner: pitched the 11th; fly out, two swinging strikeouts. Lo Duca: caught the entire game and batted second. Home plate umpire: Jeff Kellogg.

28 August 2007—Final score: 4-2, Phillies. The walk-off blow: Ryan Howard’s two-run homer off Guillermo Mota. Wagner: didn’t pitch. Lo Duca: caught and batted seventh. Home plate umpire: Joe West. Most likely, this is the game West himself remembers.

30 August 2007—Final score: 11-10, Phillies. The walk-off blow: Chase Utley’s RBI single through the hole at second, after Tadahito Iguchi singled to tie the game and stole second. Wagner: pitched the ninth and surrendered the tying and winning runs. Lo Duca: entered the game in the eighth taking over for Mike DiFelice and batting eighth. Home plate umpire: Ed Hickox.

Four times the Mets and the Phillies played games ending in walk-off hits in 2006 and 2007. Joe West was the plate umpire for one of those games, in which Wagner didn’t pitch but Lo Duca caught. In the two games in which Wagner did pitch, he struck out two of his three batters in the first game but struck out none of the batters he faced in the second game.

As a matter of fact, Wagner was credited with the pitching wins in three Mets walk-offs in 2006 and two in 2007. So we should have a look at those, too:

9 April 2006, vs. the Marlins—Final score: 3-2, Mets. The walk-off blow: David Wright’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth. Wagner: pitched the top of the ninth, worked his way out of a two-out jam by inducing a ground out to second base, no strikeouts. Lo Duca: caught the entire game and batted second. Home plate umpire: Ed Montague.

1 May 2006, vs. the Nationals—Final score: 2-1, Mets. The walk-off blow: Lo Duca’s grounder to relief pitcher Gary Majewski on which Majewski’s throwing error trying to start a double play allowed Endy Chavez to score the winner. Wagner: pitched a spotless ninth with two swinging strikeouts and a ground out right back to the box. Home plate umpire: Chris Guccione.

19 May 2006, vs. the Yankees—Final score: 7-6, Mets. The walk-off blow: Wright scoring Lo Duca with a fly single off Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. Wagner: struck the side out swinging in the top of the ninth. Lo Duca: of course, caught the entire game and batted second. Home plate umpire: Alfonso Marquez.

23 June 2007, vs. the Athletics—Final score: 1-0, Mets. The walk-off blow: Wright’s RBI double. Wagner: shook off a leadoff single in the top of the ninth to get a bunt ground out, a fly out, and a swinging strikeout. Lo Duca: started the game but came out for a pinch hitter in the sixth. Home plate umpire: Marvin Hudson.

21 August 2007, vs. the Padres—Final score: 7-6, Mets. The walk-off blow: Luis Castillo’s RBI single. Wagner: pitched the ninth and surrendered a game-tying run on Kevin Kouzmanoff’s sacrifice fly, during a rough inning in which he surrendered a single, a walk, and a hit batsman to load the bases for Kouzmanoff. Lo Duca: didn’t play. Home plate umpire: Angel Hernandez.

Five times between 2006 and 2007 Billy Wagner ended up the pitcher of record in walk-off wins by the Mets; only once did he get credit for the win when the Mets walked it off after he’d surrendered a tying run. Paul Lo Duca was behind the plate for Wagner in three of the five. Joe West didn’t call balls and strikes in any of those five games, including the one such game in which Wagner did strike out the side—against the Yankees, not the Phillies—with Lo Duca behind the plate.

West plans to retire after this season. Trying to bring Lo Duca to account, West’s legal team pressed his fear that the Lo Duca podcast appearance would injure his chances to be elected to the Hall of Fame, especially considering he stands to break Hall of Fame umpire Bill Klem’s record for games umpired. As The Athletic points out, umps elected to Cooperstown earn a lot more on the rubber chicken and autograph circuits if they have the Hall of Fame on their resumes.

Never mind whether or not you think West belongs in Cooperstown. Lo Duca forgot one of the key lessons we learn at ages younger than Lo Duca’s when he first made the Show: Look before you leap. The tide may have receded.

Don’t blame replay for Bohm staying safe

Travis d'Arnaud, Alec Bohm

Repeat after me: Alec Bohm was out at the plate . . . Alec Bohm was out at the plate . . . (Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo.)

The arguments against using replay to determine close plays included that it would take a big, big, big piece of the human factor out of a game. Well, what the hell was that we saw in Atlanta Sunday night?

It was the human factor getting it wrong despite having what Braves pitcher Drew Smyly called five different angles on a nationally televised game.

It was home plate umpire Lance Barrett missing a call on a bang-bang play at the plate in the top of the ninth but the replay review crew out of New York essentially doubling down on the wrong call, despite how right Smyly was and having five or even more angles to review.

It was Phillies third baseman Alec Bohm colliding with Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud as he arrived sliding as d’Arnaud with the ball lunged to block the plate, forcing Bohm to slide just offline enough to miss touching the plate even with his lead foot.

It was the Phillies winning 7-6 when the Braves went three-and-three in the bottom of the ninth and Bohm saying almost nothing but, “I was called safe. That’s all that matters.” Note that “I was called safe” isn’t exactly the same thing as saying, “I was safe.”

Even the Mets weren’t that coyly disingenuous about Michael Conforto elbowing his way to a blown call in his favour and a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch walkoff against the Marlins last Thursday.

With one out in the top of the ninth Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius lofted a fly the other way to left. Marcell Ozuna strode in toward the line to catch it. As Bohm tagged at third, Ozuna fired a two-hop strike down the line that hopped into the crouching d’Arnaud’s mitt. In the same split second d’Arnaud turned right, his folded leg across the plate with the tag on the sliding Bohm’s back leg.

D’Arnaud did bump Bohm in front of the plate for a moment. Bohm’s left foot, his lead foot, never touched the plate, flying just over it, and neither did the rest of his body parts, before he sprang up in a bent-knee pirouette and turned another one upright, waving his arms, including one wave that looked as though he were making a safe call.

If you want to give Barrett a benefit of the doubt you could say plausibly that d’Arnaud sprawling across the plate after the bumping tag on Bohm might (underline that) have obstructed his full view of Bohm’s slide.

“We saw it,” insisted Phillies manager Joe Girardi standing by his man and the review crew at once. “It looked like his big toe kind of hit the corner of the plate is what we saw when we saw a lot of the angles.”

I saw it, too, from a lot of the angles. For Girardi to say that, Bohm’s big toe must have been on his heel. On the angle his foot flew over the plate, his heel was actually a hair or two closer to hitting the plate than his big toe was.

Smyly didn’t pitch all that well Sunday night—he surrendered five runs on five hits in five innings’ work, including a two-run homer to Ozzie Albies in a three-run first and a leadoff solo to Freddie Freeman in the bottom of the fifth. But his perspective on that play at the plate was anything but impaired.

“[I]t’s clear that his foot didn’t touch the plate, that it was on the chalk,” Smyly told reporters post-game. “Everyone saw it and sees it, everyone knows it. And for MLB not to overturn that, it’s embarrassing. Why even have replay if you won’t overturn that? That’s the way I feel about it. I think everybody feels that way. There’s five different angles. It’s clear, he didn’t touch the plate.”

#HeDidntTouchThePlate became a Twitter hashtag almost as fast as the original play went down in the first place. Better that than the Truist Park audience throwing debris down onto the field. They had every right to be outraged, but better chanting (as they did) Bull-[sh@t]! Bull-[sh@t!] than throwing junk and at least one bottle kept from doing damage by, ironically, the netting hoisted to protect fans from bullet-fast foul balls.

Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, himself native to Atlanta, may have felt his team got jobbed, but he wasn’t too thrilled about the fans’ display, either. “It’s an embarrassing representation of our city because I know from being from here, that’s not how we act,” he said after the game.

And then probably the worst part of it all, I don’t think people realize we have families here. There are kids that are here, kids that are sitting in the front row, and you’ve got bottles whizzing by their heads. Just endangering kids that may not be able to protect themselves is downright embarrassing, and it should never happen again. It just can’t happen, and it never needs to happen again.

It spoiled a night on which both teams brought their bats to town and swung them with authority. From Albies in the first and Freeman in the fifth to Ronald Acuna, Jr.’s fourth-inning sacrifice fly and mammoth seventh-inning home run. From Rhys Hoskins’s leadoff bomb in the fourth and Gregorius’s three-run homer two outs and back-to-back singles later, to Bryce Harper’s opposite-field leadoff launch seven or eight rows into the left field seats in the sixth.

When The Athletic queried the New York replay crew about the Bohm safe call, the journal received an e-mail reply: “After viewing all relevant angles, the Replay Official could not definitively determine that the runner failed to touch home plate prior to the fielder applying the tag. The call STANDS, the runner is safe.” How many angles was “all relevant angles?”

“It makes me not even want [replay review] anymore,” d’Arnaud said. “Honestly, it just slows the game down. It took like five minutes for them to decide that and, to me, they got it wrong. So I’d rather just not have it and get the game going.”

Some plays take a little longer than five minutes to decide, some take a little less. D’Arnaud’s frustration is the most understandable among any Brave. When Conforto was ruled a hit batsman as plate ump Ron Kulpa changed his strike call in the bottom of the ninth last Thursday, Mets broadcaster Ron Darling asked why have replay if the review umpires can’t get it right.

Kulpa admitted his mistake the following day. (He got a lovely ovation from the Citi Field audience Saturday for his admission.) Barrett hasn’t weighed back in at this writing. But the issue isn’t replay itself. The issue is that there’s still a human factor in baseball games, major league or otherwise, and that factor can still get it wrong even with every potential angle showing otherwise.

Even a major league player or two ripped the call. Padres third baseman Will Middlebrooks tweeted, “How do you watch that replay and say he’s safe. Hahaha this is a joke.” Of all people, Angels all-everything center fielder Mike Trout tweeted, “So bad…” followed by an emoji showing a smiley face in tears laughing. D’Arnaud’s brother Chase, himself a former major league utility infielder, tweeted back to Middlebrooks and Trout, “the guy makes that call in New York should be interviewed just like players who get interviewed after games.”

Not just by reporters but by baseball’s government, too.

It’s far too early in the major league season for a game and a call like that to wreak real havoc on a pennant race, of course. If the safe call was overturned as it should have been, it would have meant the Braves and the Phillies each at 5-4 and tied for first in the National League East this morning.

But if a replay review crew can still blow what angle after angle showed them wasn’t a runner safe across the plate in mid-April, how egregiously will they blow a similar call down the stretch in a game that weighs like a bank vault on the races?