About Jeff Kallman

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

L’affaire Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal (right), shown interviewing Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts for Fox Sports at All-Star festivities. MLB Network decided Rosenthal’s comparatively mild critiques of Commissioner Nero Goldberg were still a little too harsh for the bosses’ comfort–even if they were published elsewhere.

A very long time ago, the bellettrist Albert Jay Nock counseled a protege named Frank Chodorov about writing: “Frank, don’t pick your reader up by the back of his neck and throw him downstairs. Lead him gently.” Whether Ken Rosenthal is aware of either of those two quiet giants of libertarian thought, he has been that kind of baseball writer, observer, and commentator.

Though he’s not given to rapid and bundled shafts of mirth, Rosenthal rarely fails to inform, instruct, and delight. He was required reading for a very long time on the Fox Sports website; he has been required reading at The Athletic since just about the day that journal was born. His additional presence at the MLB Network simply meant that the network benefitted from a well-seasoned reporter going deep as a finely-composed sauce.

Until it didn’t, as of Monday. If you thought the government government can be petty with in-house critics, for once it looks downright sanguine about them compared to baseball’s government.

The owners of the MLB Network decided that they just can’t have a known non-rabble rousing reporter criticising baseball commissar Rob Manfred on their (read: his) dollar. Never mind that Rosenthal’s apparent thought crimes occurred in June 2020 and weren’t even committed aboard MLB Network.

Permit me to take you back to baseball in suspended animation during the early months of the pan-damn-ic. Manfred and the owners attempted to renege on a deal to pay players full pro-rated salaries for 2020 whenever it might begin, even as they still pondered whether there would be even an abbreviated season. From his roost at The Athletic, Rosenthal (with Evan Drellich, the reporter with whom Rosenthal blew Astrogate wide open upon Mike Fiers’s whistleblowing) was having none of that:

What he wants now, according to sources, is to stop bickering with the union, start negotiating and reach an agreement that will bring the sport at least temporary order.

Yet for a guy who suddenly is looking for peace, Manfred sure has a funny way of showing it.

He and the owners, supposed stewards of the game, are turning the national pastime into a national punch line, effectively threatening to take their ball and go home while the country struggles with medical, economic and societal concerns . . .

The best commissioners offer statesmanlike presence and superior vision. Few ascribe those qualities to Manfred, and few would argue baseball is in a better place since he took over for Selig on Aug. 14, 2014. Rather than simply enjoy the fruits of the 2016 CBA, a lopsided victory for the owners, the clubs have gorged on them, alienating the players. And once again, they are valuing their own short-term interests over the long-term interests of the sport.

As critiques of baseball’s government go, Rosenthal (and Drellich) were mild sauce compared to numerous lights of varying statures. God and His servant Henry Aaron only know that when I want to compliment Manfred I’ve called him Commissioner Nero, fiddling while baseball burns. Or, Commissioner Goldberg, citing Manfred as a man giving an excellent if troublesome impression of how Rube Goldberg’s evil twin might have been, if Goldberg had had one.

Mild, schmild, MLB Network says. It iced Rosenthal for close to three months, while still paying his agreed-upon compensation, until the 2020 trade deadline at August’s end. When Rosenthal’s MLB Network contract expired at the end of 2021, the network decided not to renew him. Just why it merely iced him almost three months, then waited until his deal with them expired to let him go, is for mere speculation for now.

Under normal if no less tasteful circumstances, dumping actual or perceived in-house critics doesn’t require eighteen months to execute. The truly cynical might suggest MLB Network wanted to sustain a pretense of objectivity, even if it meant keeping Rosenthal on hand rather than dump him at once while honouring his contract otherwise. The less cynical might agree that dumping Rosenthal at once would have left MLB Network with a far worse look than it has now.

“The timing of this news could not be worse for MLB,” writes Sports Illustrated‘s Dan Gartland of Rosenthal’s purge. “The league’s status as a villain and a bully has been cemented during the ongoing lockout, and so even if Rosenthal’s departure was due to, as an MLB spokesperson told the [New York] Post, ‘natural turnover in our talent roster that takes place each year’ and not his 18-month-old criticism of Manfred, just the perception that the league has punished a well-liked and well-respected reporter for a fair critique of a widely despised authority figure is damaging to the network’s credibility.”

As the Boston Globe‘s Chad Finn notes, purging Rosenthal inflicted an unwarranted stain on the numerous reporters working there who lack Rosenthal’s profile:

[T]he decision to dump Rosenthal did their reputations no favors. Major League Baseball executives, particularly original network president and CEO Tony Pettiti, have insisted since the beginning that they want MLB Network to be editorially credible and they would not interfere with the journalistic duties of the correspondents.

Then, because the commissioner cannot accept that criticism comes with his job, the network goes and dumps the popular and respected Rosenthal for what were accurate rebukes? The perception is not fair, but Manfred’s actions implicitly suggest that the reporters who remain are in lockstep with how the commissioner’s office wants the league covered. At the very least, they now know what the consequences are for being critical of the boss.

Or, the bosses, if you remind yourself that Manfred serves at the owners’ pleasure and can be dumped by the owners any old time they choose it—provided, of course, that they pay the rest of his contracted-for salary. You know, just as the Yankees paid off in full all those decades ago, whenever George Steinbrenner decided to throw out the first manager of a season.

Since the lockout began, MLB Network has limited its live programming. MLB.com notoriously purged players’ faces from their stat pages. The site also published an FAQ on the collective bargaining agreement negotiations on day one of the lockout . . . entirely through the eyes of Manfred and his bosses, the owners.

Thus the most significant issue with professional sports leagues establishing their own media networks. They can be valuable resources for fans during off-seasons. But they can also become a league’s version of Izvestia. “No one is expecting Rosenthal to be allowed to bash Manfred on MLB Network,” writes Gartland, perhaps forgetting for the moment that Rosenthal’s bash wasn’t aboard the network, “but it’s refreshing when league-owned media outlets publish less-than-flattering stories.”

Weep not for Rosenthal, whose roosts at The Athletic (as a writer) and Fox Sports (as an on-air reporter/commentator) are at least as secure as a bank vault. Weep instead for the thinking person’s sport that’s been used, misused, and abused by a commissioner and his paymasters for whom genuine thinking proves beyond their pay grades.

2021: Wanted—a Laundromat

Rob Manfred, baseball’s version of Rube Goldberg’s evil twin.

Once upon a time, when you could be sure . . . if it was Westinghouse, that once-ubiquitous home appliance maker trumpeted its angular front-loading washing machine thus: “You’ll love your Laundromat more every day!” There are those, and they may be legion, who think baseball today needs a Laundromat it can love more every day, too.

But the game may first need to remember where 2021’s laundry hamper is located. “[Major League Baseball]’s dirty laundry,” writes the irrepressibly irreverent Deadspin, “was only forgotten by the general public when some newer, shinier scandal made its way onto the scene.”

Deadspin thus began its proclamation of commissioner Rob Manfred as the eighth biggest idiot in 2021 sports. By the time you finish reading just that particular bill of particulars, you may come to think it’ll take an entire Laundromat—those vintage, Westinghouse-stocked,  self-service laundry versions of the very vintage self-service Horn & Hardart Automats, that is—to get MLB’s washing done.

Thanks to baseball’s owners and their off-season lockout, the keys to the Laundromat can’t and won’t re-open it for badly needed business. Thanks to Manfred’s determination to leave a legacy as having been baseball’s version of Rube Goldberg’s evil twin, baseball has continued calling the repairmen to fix what wasn’t broken while calling the dentist to set the limbs that were.

Manfred has dropped more balls than ever eluded the grasp of legnedary first base fumbler Dick (Dr. Strangeglove) Stuart. From almost the moment he succeeded Bud Selig in the commissioner’s chair, Manfred has seemed to administer baseball even further down the line Selig and his then-fellow owners once engineered while ignoring blissfully their roles laying the tracks: Baseball sucks! Bring the wife and kids! 

The Astros caught red-handed in an elaborate and illegal off-field-based electronic sign-stealing operation? The Red Sox caught using their replay room for sign-stealing reconnaissance assuming men on base to receive and transmit the purloined letters? By the rules, Manfred could only fine Astros owner Jim Crane $5 million, “which is roughly the price equivalent of a Nachos Bell Grande at Taco Bell to you or I,” Deadspin snarks. He couldn’t quite hit the Red Sox like that over turning what MLB itself provides each team at home or on the road.

But he could have imposed far more stern measures than stripping the Astros of a pair of key draft picks. He could also have imposed something more grave upon the Red Sox than letting them skate by suspending their manager and banishing their video room operator. As one presidential candidate once purred about the other’s party, in debate and on the campaign trail, he had his chance but he did not lead.

That was in 2020. Over a year later, all of that was almost (underline that) forgotten by your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Tack. As in, that new old-fashioned medicated goo pitchers deployed the better to get a grip on something upon which Manfred lacks a grip—making baseballs that are as viable for pitchers to throw as for hitters to hit. The inconsistent surfaces of the balls today compelled enough pitchers to seek medicated help. That some of them saw it as a fine shield for chicanery should have been anticipated, but wasn’t.

So Manfred cracked down . . . about a couple of months after he should have done so. It simply reinforced the suspicions of too many that this commissioner picks and chooses when to enforce particular rules. It also provoked them to ask why Manfred was more alarmed about potentially cheating pitchers than he was about the continuing lack of umpire accountability.

He certainly wasn’t all that alarmed about cheating baseballs. You read that right: after the season, it came forth from Business Insider that two types of balls were used during the year. One was a little more on the dead side, the other a little more on the lively side. The magazine cited an astrophysicist who analysed the balls, found them suspicious, and even spoke to an unidentified pitcher who thought, as I wrote elsewhere early this month, that baseball’s government might have engaged a little game chicanery of its own:

This pitcher thinks MLB was also looking to manipulate particular matchups with the variable balls: send the slightly more dead balls to such lesser sets as, say, the Detroit Tigers versus the Kansas City Royals, since nobody was going to be interested in them, but send the slightly livelier balls to the marquee sets such as the Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees.

If you’re looking for a thorough MLB investigation into what we might call Ballgate, save your vision. It hasn’t happened yet. Whether it will happen is only slightly more difficult to guess than it once was to guess which one among about eight different leg kicks and about sixteen different windups Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal was likely to use to throw the next pitch your way.

(Which reminds me that the splendid staffers at Baseball Prospectus, in their book Extra Innings, once posited with splendid evidentiary supposition that the era of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances might have been at least as much the era of actual or alleged performance-enhancing baseballs. So Commissioner Goldberg didn’t start ball chicanery, but it’s possible he’s presided over its current tricks and treats.)

After a few comical responses to on-the-spot Spider-Tack and other substance searches that could have and almost did provoke strip teases by the suspects under potential arrest, Manfred and his administration provided further evidence that today’s baseball handles scandal by engaging one somewhat worse than the incumbent. This time, the name was Trevor Bauer.

This time, Bauer was place on administrative leave over sexual misconduct  accusations described politely as salacious, with each period of leave extended going, going, going, until he was gone, goodbye, for the final two-thirds of the season. His Dodgers—who’d signed him big without doing complete due diligence last offseason; who won 106 games and still had to win the wild card game for postseason advancement (because their historic and division rival Giants won one game more)—almost went to the World Series without him.

Meanwhile, Manfred persisted with his COVID-shortened 2020 season’s tinkerings over the full 2021. On behalf of his often-questionable or at least mis-directed alarm over the length of baseball games, Manfred persisted with the free cookie on second base to open each extra half inning. He persisted with his rule that relief pitchers must face three batters at minimum before they can be relieved. The former remained a mere nuisance. The latter could have gotten someone killed.

That would be Bryce Harper, now the National League’s defending Most Valuable Player, but then taking an errant fastball off his nose and onto his batting-side wrist courtesy of Cardinals reliever Genesis Cabrera—on the first pitch of the top of the sixth. It could have knocked Harper’s block off. It did knock his batting helmet off. It scared the hell out of both teams and the Busch Stadium audience.

The next pitch Cabrera threw hit Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius. The three-minimum rule still prevented Cardinals manager Mike Schildt from lifting a pitcher whose lack of control was obvious to all but the blind. Harper ended up suffering a terrible slump while he struggled to play through the wrist compromise yet recovered to post an MVP season. He also texted Schildt after the fateful game to say he knew Cabrera wasn’t trying to decapitate him.

“Whoever’s a fan of Bryce Harper, whoever has children that are fans of Bryce Harper, support that guy,” Schildt told reporters postgame. “Because what he sent over in a message today was completely a class act.” It was the diametric opposite of the commissioner’s act.

Commissioner Goldberg has also sought, ham-handedly, to make the game pay through the nose for any agreement to make the designated hitter universal. He wants a trade-off: I’ll give you the universal DH, but you give me an agreement that you lose your DH if you lift your starting pitcher sooner than six innings or thereabout. If you think he’s learned nothing from his three-batter relief minimum, wait until you see him flunk this one.

Just as relievers might enter a game having nothing left, for assorted reasons, starting pitchers often enough begin a game on the vulnerable side. If Manfred really thinks he’s doing the game a favour by forcing a team to sacrifice a game’s designated hitter, because the manager got his roughed-up starter out of there early enough before getting the guy killed to death, I think I may have found a buyer for that cut-rate Antarctican beach club.

If and when the owners and the players return to the negotiating table on behalf of ending this lockout, the players should give the owners and their barely-trained seal one answer to that:

Don’t even think about it. It’s long past time for the DH to be universal. Pitchers overall have never been hitters; those very few who were were outliers, and everyone with a brain knows it. We’re tired of wasting pitchers at the plate and watching rallies die. We’re really tired of losing pitchers to the injured list when they get hurt at the plate. The DH is long overdue in the National League, one of whose ancient owners dreamed it up in the first place. Deal with it. End of subject.

Manfred’s alarm at the length of baseball games has yet to address the truest of the culprits, broadcast advertising. You can look it up: Two minutes worth of commercials between half innings equals 36 minutes per nine-inning game. That’s before the commercials during in-inning pitching changes. (You might notice it takes less time for a relief pitcher to come in from the bullpen and throw eight game-mound pitches than it does to run the first minute’s commercial.) And, before extra innings, which are the two second-loveliest words in a true baseball fan’s vocabulary. (The loveliest, of course, are, “Play ball!”)

The next time you watch a game on television or listen on radio or online, make note of every commercial played during the broadcast from the first pitch to the final out. When you add the times of those commercials, you can’t say you weren’t warned that you might have seen a mere two hours’ worth of baseball for your trouble. Thus persists Manfred’s likeliest definition of the common good of the game: making money for it.

Thus, too, were soiled such luminous matters as the emergence of Shohei Ohtani as an international two-way major league mega-star. (And, the American League’s Most Valuable Player.) Such matters as the Braves picking themselves up from the loss of their franchise player-in-waiting Ronald Acuna, Jr. for the second half of the season, dusting themselves off with a trade deadline array of outfield-remaking deals, then wrestling their way to a sixth World Series game in which one of those newly-acquired outfielders, Jorge Soler, led the way bludgeoning the Astros home without another lease to the Promised Land.

Manfred presenting the Braves with the World Series trophy (you know, the one he once called a mere piece of metal) and Soler with the Series MVP award carried all the duplicity of Dmitri Muratov winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his fight to restore and enhance freedom of expression in Russia—and the Norwegian Nobel Committee enlisting Vladimir Putin to present it to him.

Is it going to take a one-hundred-washer Laundromat to clean up this mess? You can be sure . . . if it’s Manfredhouse.

Renaming the Spink award, revisited

Claire Smith

Claire Smith at her Hall of Fame induction. The Spink Award deserves a better re-naming than “Career Excellence.” Smith would be one viable candidate for whom to re-name the award appropriately.

The good news, in case you missed it as I did, is that the Baseball Writers Association of America last February removed the name of J.G. Taylor Spink from the award that enshrines baseball writers in the Hall of Fame. The bad news is that the BBWAA re-named it the Career Excellence Award.

That’s the kind of name you affix to a retirement party and a gold or platinum watch to someone who’s spent his or her life with the company without having been particularly above and beyond the simple call of duty. It’s not the kind of name by which you honour the best of your best.

When first we learned the writers were considering the purge of Spink’s name from the award, I was (and remain) all in. Spink may have published The Sporting News for almost half a century, but he also opposed “organised baseball’s” racial integration. Ironically enough, the Spink Award was established in 1962—the year in which Spink himself passed away but Jackie Robinson was elected to the Hall of Fame.

“In August 1942,” noted Daryl Russell Grigsby in Celebrating Ourselves: African-Americans and the Promise of Baseball, “[Spink] wrote an editorial saying that baseball did not have a color line, but that segregation was in the best interests of both blacks and whites because the mixing of races would create riots in the stands . . . Spink’s defense of segregation was largely not based on fact but on fear and prejudice.”

There have been fan riots in the stands, of course, but unless I’ve missed one the customary causes seem to have been copious alcohol (Ten Cent Beer Night is only the most notorious of that lot) or large enough contingents of opposing teams’ fans in the home ballparks.

You’re far less likely to see a fan brawl inspired by race than you are by, say, a not-so-friendly argument between Cub and White Sox fans during interleague play. Heaven help Chicago if the Cubs and the White Sox ever tangle in a World Series for only the second time in their history. (The first: 1906—when the Hitless Wonders, the White Sox whose .230 team hitting average was the American League’s lowest, beat the 116 game-winning Cubs in six.)

When the BBWAA first announced they would remove Spink’s name from the award in question, I noted a Spink Award Hall of Famer (oops! now we call her a Career Excellence Award Hall of Famer), Claire Smith, telling USA Today baseball columnist Bob Nightengale the previous summer, “If this is the time of introspection, if Mississippi can change the flag, and Confederate statues can be removed from state capitals, we can do this.”

They did half of “this.” The other half should be considered un-tenable. Those baseball writers deemed worthy of Cooperstown enshrinement deserve far better than being called mere Careers of Excellence. (While we’re pondering, when will now-retired Thomas Boswell receive his due election to the Hall of Fame?) For whom, then, should the award really be re-named?

I thought almost a year ago that re-naming it for any of the following would be proper. I haven’t changed that thought since. Let’s revisit, in alphabetical order.

Roger Angell—The first non-BBWAA member elected to the Hall. He wasn’t a daily baseball beat writer, which blocked him from BBWAA membership. It took San Francisco Chronicle writer Susan Slusser, when she was a BBWAA president, to nudge and push the BBWAA into recognising Angell’s oeuvre as long overdue for honour. Yet again, with the same feeling: Angell isn’t baseball’s Homer; Homer was ancient Greece’s Angell.

Alison Gordon—The first lady to be sent onto the baseball beat, in 1979, covering the Blue Jays for the Toronto Star. Said she, a well regarded humourist when handed the Blue Jays, and who died in 2015: “You had to have a sense of humour to cover the Blue Jays, at least in the first few years.” Said one-time Jays outfielder Lloyd Moseby: “A lot of women that are in the profession right now should be very thankful for what Alison did and what she went through. She took a beating from the guys. She was a pioneer for sure.” She also went on to write some fine crime novels hooked around baseball.

Sam Lacy—One of the first black members of the BBWAA. Lacy was to the Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro-American what Wendell Smith was to the Pittsburgh Courier, a consistent but prudent pressure point upon major league baseball to end segregation in the game once and for all. It’s a shame that he could and did write a fine memoir but his baseball journalism, so far as I know, remains un-collected.

Jim Murray—The Los Angeles Times fixture (1961-1998) was what Fred Allen would have been, had Allen chosen to become a sportswriter instead of a transcendent radio comedian. Murray was actually awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1990, about which he rejoined the committee gave it to the wrong man: he said the award belonged to one who brought a corrupt government down, not one who quoted Tommy Lasorda correctly.

Shirley Povich—The grand old man of Washington sports journalism. Which is very good for a grand old man who became the Washington Post‘s sports editor at the ripe old age of 20 and raised that sports section all by himself. “Shirley Povich is the only reason I read your newspaper,” Richard Nixon once told then-Post publisher Katherine Graham. Well.

Damon Runyon—He may or may not be remembered more on Broadway, but Runyon is actually a Hall of Fame baseball writer (elected posthumously in 1967) who’s credited with being perhaps the first to highlight the unusual, the eccentric, the weird, and the surreal, on field or in the stands. (If you don’t believe me, you might have a gander at Guys, Dolls, and Curveballs: Damon Runyon on Baseball.)

Claire Smith—The Padres tried to manhandle her out of their clubhouse after Game One of the 1984 National League Championship Series. Padres first baseman Steve Garvey said not so fast, then buttonholed Smith to give her an interview. It provoked then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth to rule equal clubhouse access for writers regardless of gender. From the Hartford Courant (the first woman assigned to the daily Yankee beat, in 1983) to the New York Times, from the Philadelphia Inquirer to ESPN (she was a news editor before the network included her among 300 staff cuts in 2020), Hall of Famer Smith’s career can be described in two words: baloney proof.

Red Smith—He may have been as close to a poet laureate among daily baseball writers as the art got. Winning his Pulitzer Prize in 1976 helps his case. So does being big enough to do what the comparative few have done, admit when he got things wrong in the past, whether it was coming to see baseball’s owners weren’t exactly among the pure or whether it was seeing the International Olympics Committee was (and too much remains) a 19th Century relic.

Wendell Smith—He was the first black member of the BBWAA, not to mention the first black sportswriter to be enshrined in Cooperstown. His writings for the Pittsburgh Courier carried the heaviest water on behalf of ending baseball segregation. He also planted the name of Jackie Robinson into Branch Rickey’s ear, when Rickey seized upon Kenesaw Mountain Landis’s death to put into motion what he’d long wanted, bringing black players to the “organised” game. Smith’s criminally un-anthologised; the Hall of Fame has a considerable collection of his thanks to his widow’s donation, but this Smith deserves far deeper recognition and honour.

That might be a far tougher group from whom to choose renaming the BBWAA’s Hall of Fame award. But on this we might agree once and for all: “Career Excellence Award” simply swung and missed.

For the Mets, the Buck starts here

Buck Showalter

Can the smart, well-prepared, clubhouse-cohesive Showalter proved he’s learned from his most egregious mistake?

All fairness: I want to give both the Mets and Buck Showalter the benefit fo the doubt. The Mets, because they did go through a deep enough hunt before making him the 24th manager in their history. Showalter, because you don’t get to manage two decades’ worth of major league baseball without doing more than just something right.

Even if you did something so egregiously wrong once upon a time that it would stain an otherwise solid reputation for smarts, preparation, cohesion, and long-haul steadiness. Four things the Mets need abundantly and Showalter has proven he provides well enough that one terrible mistake really shouldn’t mark your entire career.

But oh, what a mistake it was. And heaven help the Mets and their new skipper if he and they should find themselves facing a comparable scenario when they arrive at the postseason and he makes the same mistake. Will George Satayana prove a baseball prophet, too?

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” Satayana wrote immortally in The Life of Reason. Baseball sometimes tries but always fails to forget the past. That can be good and bad, of course. And you’ll have little trouble finding people who’d like to forget the 2016 American League wild card game.

Let’s first put the Big One into proper perspective. It didn’t cost Showalter’s Orioles a World Series. But it cost them a chance to get into a division series from which they might, maybe, have begun a postseason journey there.

Leaving both his and baseball’s best relief pitcher in the pen while a lesser arm surrendered an eleventh-inning, wild card-losing three-run homer has left Showalter second-guessed at least as often as Gene Mauch was over the 1964 Phillies’ pennant race collapse.

That relief pitcher, Zack Britton, holds no grudge. Now with the Yankees, but facing a 2022 season away from the game while he rehabs from elbow reconstruction surgery, Britton doesn’t flinch. Ask him if he’d play for Showalter again given the chance, as The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal has, and his answer is an emphatic yes. One hundred percent, Britton began.

Showalter knew he’d blown it. And when he reconvened his Orioles during spring training 2017, he let them know it, Britton says.

We always had this spring training thing, which I thought was cool — off-site, get together in a movie theater, kind of show you the highlights of the previous season, just a bonding moment for the team. During that meeting, he got up there and said, ‘Before we start, I just want to address the elephant in the room.’ He apologized to me, which I didn’t think he needed to do. I think there were some guys on the team that were frustrated by the move. He just said: ‘That’s my bad. I messed up.’ And it was done with.

But was it, really?

Britton told Rosenthal Showalter “had his reasons. I’m not 100 percent sure why, but it didn’t matter. I always knew Buck was thinking through it. He always had a plan. Maybe it didn’t go according to his plan, and then it kind of backfired. But he was willing to take that risk, sticking with the plan.”

That’s the thing, though. Often enough, things happen enough that The Plan needs to be set to one side in the moment. “I don’t know his exact reasoning,” Britton admits. “But I truly think he was trying to do right by me and not hurt me. I’m going to be honest: I don’t think he thought we were going to score. And he didn’t want me to have to go out there for two or three innings.”

That game was tied at two in the bottom of the eleventh when Edwin Encarnacion checked in against Ubaldo Jimenez, a starter pressed into relief after Brian Duensing opened the inning by striking Ezequiel Carrera out. Jimenez surrendered a 1-1 base hit to Devon Travis and a first-pitch single to Josh Donaldson.

Jimenez may have been lucky that Donaldson—proud possessor of 37 regular-season home runs that year—hadn’t ended the game with something longer than a single to set up first and second. And Showalter in the moment didn’t think an 89 game-winning team that hit .256 on the regular season could put even one more run across the plate?

Both teams drained their bullpens by the time Jimenez and Encarnacion squared off. Except that Showalter still had Britton to call upon. The Jays already burned their closer Roberto Osuna, and Francisco Liriano wasn’t likely to stay in the game should the Orioles get it to the top of the twelfth. Everything favoured the Orioles.

Or would have, if Showalter brought Britton in. Now, of course this is baseball, where anything can happen—and usually does. There was always the outside chance that Britton could get tagged, too. But what’s another old saying? Oh, yes: If you’re going to go down, at least go down while you gave yourself the absolute best possible chance to survive and then triumph.

Whole book chapters have been written about the save rule wreaking more havoc then health. Showalter holding Britton because he wouldn’t be coming into a “save situation” can be found there. Possibly Exhibit A; at least, among the top three. Because that game needed to be “saved” right then and there for the Orioles to get one more chance at minimum to win.

So Jimenez stayed in the game. This time, neither he nor the Orioles escaped. Encarnacion hit the first pitch about ten tons into the second deck in left and sent the Jays to the division series.

Now, I’m going to give Showalter all credit on earth for manning up and apologising to his team during that spring movie house confab. Just the way Mauch deserves all credit for holding his team back on the plane, landing home following the end of that ’64 Phillie Phlop, a crowd awaiting them, and telling the players he’d step off the plane first: “You didn’t blow the pennant. I did.”

Just the way Tommy Lasorda—who only thought it was safe to let Tom Niedenfeuer pitch to Jack Clark with first base open and the Dodgers an out away from forcing a seventh 1985 National League Championship Series game—apologised to his players in the clubhouse after Clark’s three-run homer carried what proved a Cardinal pennant to the rear of the left field bleachers.

The New York Post‘s Steve Serby gave Showalter a chance to explain the whole thing in a 2020 interview. “You just have to wear some things,” Showalter replied, “and I can sit here and tell you ten things you may not know about that situation, but nobody wants to hear it. I’m at peace with that.”

Well, now. I’ve written before but it bears repeating. The Britton non-decision being one of baseball’s most often second-guessed, I suspect people would love to hear about the ten things that stopped Showalter from reaching to baseball’s best 2016 reliever in his bullpen other than it not having been a by-the-book “save situation.”

Rosenthal himself, a colleague of Showalter’s at MLB Network, says Showalter “has never explained the full reasoning behind his decision. But he viewed his apology the following spring as an important step in holding the team together.”

Showalter’s strengths have always including holding teams together despite periodic moments that could have driven wedges enough into them. He’s been known to handle the aftermath of bench-clearing brawls by reminding his players—without singling any one out by name—that if you’re going to fight, do it for the right reason, not just because your ego got bruised a few moments.

“[T]here’s nothing worse than supporting something you know is wrong,” Showalter said of one such Oriole incident. “That tears a club up. It’s: ‘Your actions reflect on everyone. Let’s make sure we’re fighting for a just cause’.”

Let’s assume the Mets asked Showalter about the Britton non-decision while they interviewed him for his new job. Let’s assume Showalter went back, broke it all down, reassembled it, all to the Mets’ satisfaction, and that was that.

Put the positives together and the Mets now have a manager who knows how to keep clubhouses from dissembling, who plans well, who isn’t a martinet but whose insistence on accountability doesn’t stop with his players or even with himself. His former Orioles outfielder Adam Jones has spoken of Showalter insisting on acountability from above as well as from under his command.

This is the guy who preferred to walk away from the Yankees rather than let George Steinbrenner fire his hitting coach Rick Down after the Yankees lost a tough division series to the Mariners. A man who won’t suffer The Boss’s impulses without a fight should have no trouble with Steve Cohen, the Mets’ owner whose fan friendliness often betrays tendencies that remind too many of some of Steinbrenner’s, shall we say, crazier ones.

Let Cohen rip his players in public aboard social media? Showalter might have something to say about that. He won’t quite wire himself into Cohen’s electric chair by doing so, but he won’t handle player mistakes or shortfalls quietly only to let the owner make it public and above and beyond reality, either.

He’ll have a team full of sharp veterans and maturing youth on his hands. Assuming Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer can stay healthy, he’ll have a top two in his starting rotation to die for even if Max the Knife begins showing his age at last. He isn’t likely to let his players get themselves trapped into surrealistic nonsense or unrealistic distractions.

Just be very wary if and when Showalter brings his Mets back to the postseason, if and when their postseason advancement depends on whether he reaches for his absolute best pitching option regardless of The Plan or The Role because the immediate moment demands it.

Pray that, this time, Showalter seizes the moment to give the Mets their absolute best chance to survive and/or triumph, Plan be damned. Sending him a copy of The Life of Reason might not hurt, either.

Miñoso, O’Neil reach Cooperstown, but Allen’s still excluded

Minnie Miñoso, Hall of Famer at long enough last—but posthumously.

There’s a bit of poetic justice in the first black player for the White Sox and the first black coach in the entire Show with the Cubs becoming Hall of Famers together. But only a bit. Minnie Miñoso and Buck O’Neil should have been voted the honour while they were still alive, not posthumously by the Early Baseball Committee.

So should Dick Allen have been voted the honour while he was still alive. But Allen missed out by a single vote with the Golden Days Era Committee on Sunday. The committee elected Allen’s great contemporary Tony Oliva, but Oliva is still alive to accept the honour.

Miñoso died at 89 in 2015; O’Neil, at 94 in 2006; Allen, at 78, almost a year ago. Nobody ever said things were entirely fair even disallowing the races of these three men, but it’s not so simple to say better late than never for Miñoso and O’Neil; or, for Allen, who’ll surely be voted the honour in due course without having lived to accept it.

Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Miñoso didn’t get his chance in the Show until he was 25, thanks to baseball’s segregation until Jackie Robinson emerged. When the seven-time All-Star finally arrived in 1951—eight games with the Indians before his trade to the White Sox—Miñoso posted a season that should have earned him both the league’s Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honours.

Award voters in those years had already come to terms with non-white players, but they were still distant enough from the idea that a league’s most valuable player didn’t necessarily have to be on a pennant winner. Miñoso’s season eclipsed the two Yankees who won those respective awards, Gil McDougald (Rookie of the Year) and Yogi Berra (Most Valuable Player), at least at the plate.

Berra’s award probably came as much for his handling of the Yankee pitching staff as for his team-leading runs scored and runs batted in. McDougald had a solid season, but Miñoso out-hit him, out-scored him, and out-stole him. (Miñoso led the league with 31 stolen bases and could be argued as the real father of the Show’s stolen-base renaissance his eventual Hall of Fame teammate Luis Aparicio kicked off in earnest later in the decade.) He also walked more often, struck out less often, and played more field positions competently than the multi-positional McDougald did.

Miñoso put up a lot of MVP-level seasons without winning the award, even though he might plausibly have won three such awards if voters then looked beyond assuming pennant winners automatically carried the league’s most valuable players. He was also (read very carefully) the first black Latino to crack the Show.

In the years that followed after his career ended, there came a few who looked deeper and concluded that Miñoso might have been the most deserving player not to reach Cooperstown for a very long time. When Allen Barra wrote Clearing the Bases in 2002, he devoted an entire chapter to Miñoso and drew that very conclusion, even if he had Miñoso’s age as a Show rookie wrong. (Barra said 29; Miñoso was 25. But still.)

“His 1951 season,” Barra wrote, “taught a lesson to Latin players for the next forty-odd years: you will have to do better than the non-Latin player just to be noticed, and far better to win an award . . . Minnie Miñoso was a better ballplayer than several white players of his time who are in the Hall of Fame. He was also better than [several] black players from his era that are in the Hall of Fame.”

He was also an effervescent personality who used it to win White Sox World over emphatically, while he played and for decades to follow. Chided once because his English was rather halting, Miñoso is said to have replied, “Ball, bat, glove, she no speak English.” At least as classic as the day black Puerto Rican first baseman Vic Power, told by a Southern server that the restaurant didn’t serve black people, was said to have replied, “That’s ok, I don’t eat black people.”

John Jordan O’Neil won one Negro Leagues batting title, made three Negro Leagues All-Star teams, and was known to be swift and slick at first base, but his stronger metier was as a leader and a manager. In fact, O’Neil managed the legendary Kansas City Monarchs to three pennants before baseball’s integration began to mean the death knell for the Negro Leagues themselves.

Buck O’Neil—pennant-winning Negro Leagues manager, groundbreaking Cubs coach, nonpareil baseball ambassador—and Hall of Famer at long enough last, albeit posthumously, too.

As a Cubs coach and scout O’Neil was immeaurable in his mentorship of Hall of Famers such as Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. In due course, he discovered Hall of Famer Lou Brock and World Series hero Joe Carter. As a baseball ambassador, both concurrent to his work with the Cubs and beyond it, O’Neil was even more immeasurable for helping to keep the Negro Leagues legacy alive.

This friendly, soulful man who was a people person first and foremost told all who’d listen that, regardless of the disgrace that kept himself and his fellows from their warranted tastes of what was then considered the only major league baseball life, those who played Negro Leagues baseball managed to have fun, live reasonably, and savour the good in life.

I once wrote that getting O’Neil to shut up about baseball would have been like trying to take the alto saxophone out of Charlie Parker’s mouth. “People feel sorry for me,” O’Neil once said. “Man, I heard Charlie Parker!” Referencing, of course, the virtuoso alto saxophonist who helped change jazz irrevocably with his running mates Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Thelonious Monk (piano, composer), and Kenny Clarke (drums, the first to shift timekeeping to a ride cymbal away from the bass drum) by inventing the smaller-lineup, freer-wheeling style known as bebop.

O’Neil was a jazz nut who linked the musical art to baseball unapologetically and seamlessly. “Music can’t be racist. I don’t care what,” he told Joe Posnanski for the invaluable The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America.

It’s like baseball. Baseball is not racist. Were there racist ballplayers? Of course. The mediocre ones . . . They were worried about their jobs. They knew that when black players started getting into the major leagues, they would go, and they were scared. But we never had any trouble with the real baseball players. The great players. No, to them it was all about one thing. Can he play? That was it. Can he play?

O’Neil made his way into his country’s complete consciousness once and for all time when he factored large in Ken Burns’s 1994 documentary, Baseball. Others of his generation who endured with him made fans, but O’Neil made friends. He became what Pete Rose only claimed himself to be, the single best and most effective ambassador for the game ever seen—and that’s saying a lot.

He missed being elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, by the Committee on African-American Baseball. There was much speculation that his exclusion then had to do with a dispute between O’Neil and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s original research director, Larry Lester, over policy issues. But I’ve never forgotten the sweet grace with which O’Neil accepted the result.

“I was on the ballot, man! I was on the ballot!” he exclaimed, while saying it showed America itself was growing up and getting better even if the growing pains continued to be  too profound.

God’s been good to me. They didn’t think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s the way they thought about it and that’s the way it is, so we’re going to live with that. Now, if I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that’s all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don’t weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.

O’Neil accepted when invited to induct the seventeen in Cooperstown. His speech evoked living history, deep love, and concluded when he got the Hall of Famers on the podium and the crowd on the lawns to hold hands and sing a line from his favourite gospel song, “The greatest thing in all my life is loving you.”

Three months later, that irrepressibly active and life-affirming man died under the double blow of bone marrow cancer and heart failure.

Dick Allen, who should have been elected to the Hall while alive, and fell one vote short posthumously by the Golden Days Era Committee Sunday.

I have long argued that Tony Oliva deserved to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and I’ve found no evidence to change that conclusion—but Dick Allen, whose career dovetailed completely to his, was over twice the player Oliva was, especially at the plate.

I saw both of them play while growing up and beyond. Oliva was a smart batsmith and run-preventive right fielder. Allen was a wrecking machine at the plate and a brain on the bases in all regards; his Rookie of the Year season compared favourably to Joe DiMaggio’s and he didn’t just hit home runs, what he hit should have had not meals and stewardesses but astronauts on board.

I once did an analysis that concluded a fully-healthy Allen might have finished his career with about 525 home runs, while a fully-healthy Oliva might have finished his with about 315. Neither man reached the Sacred 3,000 Hit Club; hell, neither of them reached 2,000 lifetime hits. But the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about greatness, not mere longevity or compilation. Allen and Oliva were Hall of Fame-great, but only one is now a Hall of Famer.

Allen’s unwanted war with 1960s Philadelphia’s racial growing pains, the city’s carnivorous sports press, and isolated bigots on his own teams too often eroded the memory of just how great he really was. So did the injuries that kept him (and Oliva, in all fairness) from having a more natural decline phase than he (and Oliva) should have had.

But I’m going there again. Line them up by my Real Batting Average metric—total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances—and Tony Oliva’s going to be holding Dick Allen’s coat, in peak and career value.

First, their peak values:

Player, peak PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Dick Allen, 1964-72 5457 2592 685 120 33 11 .631
Tony Oliva, 1964-70 4552 2090 303 82 38 36 .560

Now, their career values:

Player, career PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Dick Allen, 1963-77 7315 3379 894 138 53 16 .612
Tony Oliva, 1962-76 6880 3002 448 131 57 59 .537

I wrote more extensively about Allen when he lost his battle with cancer last year. And it’s also fair to mention that, in his later years, Allen not only made peace with the Phillies organisation but became one of the most popular members of the team’s speakers’ bureau.

But one more time, here, I’ll hand Jay Jaffe the last word—the best short summary of the hell through which Allen was put so unconscionably in his Philadelphia years by a Philadelphia sports press and population uncertain or unthinking about the city’s racial growing pains, and by some teammates likewise uncertain or unthinking—from The Cooperstown Casebook:

[C]hoosing to vote for him means focusing on that considerable peak while giving him the benefit of the doubt on the factors that shortened his career. From here, the litany is sizable enough to justify that. Allen did nothing to deserve the racism and hatred he battled in Little Rock and Philadelphia, or the condescension of the lily-white media that refused to even call him by his correct name. To underplay the extent to which those forces shaped his conduct and his public persona thereafter is to hold him to an impossibly high standard; not everyone can be Jackie Robinson or Ernie Banks. The distortions that influenced the negative views of him . . . were damaging. To give them the upper hand is to reject honest inquiry into his career.

The next Golden Days Era Committee meeting will be five years from now. Allen waited long enough while he was alive. He damn well deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, even if his family alone can now accept on his behalf.

It’s an absolute wonderful thing to see Minnie Miñoso and Buck O’Neil get their due even posthumously. It’s a wonderful thing to see elected Bud Fowler (arguably the first black professional baseball player); Gil Hodges (the great Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman/Miracle Mets pennant-winning manager); and, Oliva plus his great Twins teammate Jim Kaat, pitcher, whose Hall case is really a) borderline at beat and b) could be seen by re-arranging his best seasons. (Kaat tended to pitch his best baseball too often when someone else was having an off-chart career year.)

But Dick Allen’s continuing exclusion remains a disgrace.