What a long, strange trip it’s been . . .

Carlos Correa

Correa took a medicals-inspired, coast-to-coast trip back to the Twins in the end.

This much we should understand about today’s typical Met fan, and it’s not the first time this lifelong (theirs) Met fan has said so: Today’s typical Met fan is ready to push the plunger on a season over one bad inning—in April. The least shocking thing when Carlos Correa didn’t go from likely signing to donning a Met jersey at an introductory press conference was any Met fan surrendering 2023.

From the moment the Twins with whom Correa played last year came back into play for the shortstop, when the Mets proved as alarmed over Correa’s long-term health as the Giants had previously, many Met fans did. Social media was as crowded with them as a major subway transfer station is crowded during a New York rush hour. But there were voices of reason to be heard if you knew where to listen.

And what those voices said, from the top down, possibly including the fellow lifelong Met fan who owns the team now, was, If this guy’s rebuilt lower leg betrays him when the deal is halfway finished or less, he’s going to become a fan target and we are going to resemble the village idiots for signing him. At least, at the full thirteen and $350 million originally planned.

Now the Twins—who weren’t exactly circumspect about wanting to have Correa back longer term—have brought him back for six years and $200 million. ESPN’s Jeff Passan broke that news aboard Twitter Tuesday. The deal is now official with the physical passed.  Even if it took Correa two long stops aboard what sometimes resembled the crazy train to get there.

Remember: The Giants had landed him—until they didn’t. They quaked over something in Correa’s medical profile, enough to let him walk right into the Mets’ open arms on the day they expected to present him at a presser climbing into a Giants jersey. First it was thought to be Correa’s back. Then, as the Mets were ready to wrap him up for Christmas, the discourse turned to that now-notorious rebuilt ankle.

The Mets had Correa ready to place under New York’s Christmas tree—until they didn’t. They, too, quaked over something in the medical profile. Unlike the Giants, the Mets were willing to adjust. We know now they worked up an adjusted deal for six years and $157.5 million (were willing to go six assured at $175.5 million (roughly $27 million annually), with additional years up to six to follow based upon annual physical examinations.

The Giants’ prudence (if that’s what it was) about Correa in the end still leaves them with more holes to fill. The Mets’ such prudence doesn’t leave them with more than maybe a dent or two to fix. Remember: the Mets won 101 games last season before they collapsed in postseason round one. They’re not exactly in terrible 2023 shape, either.

But it looks as though Steve Cohen isn’t going to be the wild free-spender the rest of baseball world believed and maybe feared. It also looks as though he’s not willing to be as risky as people thought when it comes to players with injury histories no fault of their own but profound enough. Even players he says publicly, as he did about Correa, might be necessary pieces for a full-distance championship team.

Remember: Cohen once let a shiny draft pick (pitcher Kumar Rocker) walk rather than sign him over concerns about shoulder issues. He’s the owner who let Jacob deGrom, the arguable best pitcher in baseball when healthy (underline those two words), walk. (To the Rangers, for five years and $185 million.) If he was willing to let the game’s best pitcher when healthy (underline those words) walk, he wasn’t going to fear letting one of its best left-side infielders walk over similar alarms.

Is it unrealistic to think that the Astros, who raised Correa in the first place and saw him shine with them for seven seasons, let him walk into free agency in the first place because they, too, had long-term concerns about his long-term health?

Cohen may be willing to open the vault wider than any other major league owner, but it doesn’t mean he’s going to be that drunk a sailor. Remember: He had a plan and executed it regarding deGrom, signing seemingly ageless future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander for two years.

He also locked down late-game relief ace Edwin Diáz and outfield mainstay Brandon Nimmo. Extending first base anchor Pete Alonso isn’t unrealistic, either, especially after letting talented but too-firmly blocked Dominic Smith walk into the Nationals’ arms. The plan for Correa was moving him to third to play aside uber-shortstop incumbent Francisco Lindor. Without Correa? They have a pair of talented third basemen, veteran Eduardo Escobar and sprout Brett Baty.

The Mets aren’t hurting without Correa. The Twins are risking that they won’t be hurting if and when Correa begins hurting. As it was, Correa on his 2022 deal—three years, $105.3 million, and three opt-outs, the first of which Correa exercised to play the market in the first place this winter—proved a second half godsend, when the Twins became injury riddled enough but Correa managed to stay the distance.

The Twins also liked Correa’s clubhouse leadership and prodding teammates to improve. “The vision he has,” assistant pitching coach Luis Ramirez told The Athletic, “the awareness, the anticipation about what is going to come next. When he needs to talk to a teammate about an adjustment that needs to be made, or just, to like, picking up a teammate, or paying attention to small details in the game that others don’t see—he makes us better in everything, in the field, everywhere.”

They’re also banking on Correa maturing further and further away from his Astrogate past. Correa was once the staunchest public defender of the Astros’ 2017 World Series title. Yet he said not so fast, more or less, at that notorious February 2020 word salad-bar presser; their illegal, off-field-based, electronic sign-stealing Astro Intelligence Agency was “an advantage. I’m not going to lie to you.”

If you know what’s coming, you get a slight edge. And that’s why [then-general manager Jeff Luhnow and then-manager A.J. Hinch] got suspended and people got fired because it’s not right. It’s not right to do that. It was an advantage. But . . . it’s not going to happen moving forward.

Correa also took the Astros’ superstar second baseman José Altuve off the Astrogate hook, insisting—and the evidence since brought forth backs it up—that Altuve not only declined to work with stolen signs transmitted to him but actively objected to the infamous trash can banging of the pilfered intelligence while he was at the plate.

“The man plays the game clean,” Correa insisted, after then-Dodger Cody Bellinger fumed that Altuve should return his 2017 American League MVP award. “That’s easy to find out. [Astrogate whistleblower] Mike Fiers broke the story. You can go out and ask Mike Fiers: ‘Did José Altuve use the trash can? Did José Altuve cheat to win the MVP?’ Mike Fiers is going to tell you, straight up, he didn’t use it. He was the one player that didn’t use it.”

That’s what SNY’s Andy Martino said, too, in his Astrogate book, Cheated. It’s what Evan Drellich—one of the two Athletic reporters (with Ken Rosenthal) to whom Fiers blew the Astrogate whistle—is liable to reiterate in his forthcoming (next month) Winning Fixes Everything: How Baseball’s Brightest Minds Created Sports’ Biggest Mess. It’s what too many fans continue to ignore.

Without Correa, and placing their shortstop present and future into Gold Glove-winning rookie Jeremy Peña, last year’s Astros were down to only four or five remaining from the notorious 2017-18 Astrogate roster, including Altuve. The facts didn’t stop fans from hammering Altuve along with the others with chea-ter! chea-ter! chants—all the way into the World Series they won straight, no chaser at last.

The Twins bring Correa back with a front-loaded deal that includes no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause. They’re still taking a big risk on his health even for six years. God help Correa if his ankle or anything else breaks down and reduces him to journeyman status if he can play at all. Fans never let facts get in the way of fuming rants against what they think are fragile goldbrickers. Ask any Yankee fan when it comes to Jacoby Ellsbury.

But would a cynic suggest that, maybe, just maybe, in his heart of hearts, Correa was happy enough in Minnesota to let this weird coast-to-coast, medicals-scripted swing bring him back there in the first place, for a few more dollars than the Mets were willing to go on the same six guaranteed years? Maybe a cynic would. Maybe enough Met fans would. Did I just repeat myself?

The realist knows that, as fine as he’s still going to be, Correa’s ancient ankle repair did cost him in the long run. That, and not his controversial uber-agent Scott Boras, wrote this costly script. Costly for Correa. As The Athletic also points out, he lost seven years and $150 million compared to the original Giants offer, ended up with a lower offer from the Mets (half that $315 million over half the time), and signed with the Twins for four years and $85 million less than the ten/$285 million they first offered.

But realism isn’t half as much fun as ranting your head off about a season blown because of a signing blown, is it? Such is one of the major headaches of being a Met fan since the day they were born.

The Dodgers purge Bauer at last

Trevor Bauer

Bauer’s a former Dodger at last. Would another team chance surviving his baggage and its justifiable blowback?

Almost the full two weeks from his suspension’s lifting were needed for the Dodgers to declare Trevor Bauer persona non grata in their colours. Notwithstanding a wi-fi disruption and power outage in Dodger Stadium causing its further delay Friday, the team announced they designated Bauer for assignment. Even those who believe the Dodgers did the right if delayed thing at last can’t and shouldn’t claim to be happy about this entire business.

There’s nothing happy about what one woman testifying under oath said was his bruising her after she fell unconscious and thus unable to extend any further consent. There’s nothing happy about two other women saying he’d taken rough sex too far and into plain assault upon them, too. There’s nothing happy about Bauer jeopardising if not ending a major league pitching career because his sport determined he violated its domestic violence policy.

In that order.

Arbitrator Martin Scheinman cut Bauer’s original suspension from 324 to 194 games. Even at 194 games, it remains the longest suspension yet under baseball’s seven-year-old-plus policy, and Bauer remains the only player disciplined under the policy to appeal his suspension. Baseball’s government investigated as thoroughly as conceivable before imposing the original suspension.

The Dodgers, we thought, had time enough during the suspension to decide it was time to mop the egg off their faces and let Bauer go whenever the suspension might end. We know by way of USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale that, after Scheinman reduced the suspension late last month, the Dodgers tried to find a trading partner willing to take Bauer off their hands first.

Assuming there is a team immune enough to outrage to take Bauer on willingly, such a team would likely prefer waiting for Bauer to clear waivers (it takes seven more days), then sign him to the major league minimum salary. Leaving the Dodgers still required to pay the rest of Bauer’s salary, minus the fifty games worth Scheinman docked him when lifting the suspension.

The Dodgers won’t “eat” what they still owe him. They swallowed and digested that dinner when they signed Bauer in the first place. (His original contract, like all MLB contracts, was guaranteed unless he exercised either of two opt-outs, chances his suspension denied him.) Paying him seven figures to beat it is child’s play compared to all the other head and heartaches Bauer inflicted.

Well before he was suspended by MLB, the Dodgers resembled due diligence failures for signing him despite a too-well-evidenced image as a misogynistic man no matter how good he was as a pitcher. We hark back to Dodger president of baseball operations Andrew Friendman, speaking after the Dodgers signed Bauer after the pan-damn-ically shortened 2020 season, during the press conference introducing Bauer as a Dodger. “[W]e’re all gonna make mistakes,” he said.

What’s important for me … is how we internalize it, and what our thoughts are about it going forward. From our standpoint, it was important to have that conversation. And we came away from it feeling good about it. Now, obviously, time will tell. But I feel like he is going to be a tremendous add, not just on the field but in the clubhouse, in the community, and that’s obviously why we’re sitting here.

Time, alas, told an awful lot more than Friedman or the team imagined. They chose to believe Bauer learned from prior, mere misbehaviours. He made them resemble fools. Not quite as profoundly as NFL quarterback Deshaun Watson makes the Cleveland Browns look, with 24 sexual misconduct suits against him, twenty of which were settled confidentially. But horrifying enough.

ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez cited one unnamed player agent saying “nobody’s touching” Bauer now but another unnamed player agent saying, discomfitingly, “I think there will be teams that will at least be interested.” Gonzalez also notes an unnamed team executive saying the challenge of taking Bauer on would be “unique.”

As he described, it isn’t just the stain on an organization’s reputation or the backlash from its fans or the general negativity that would surround it — it’s that Bauer hasn’t shown an ounce of contrition throughout this process. In fact, he has taken the opposite approach, fighting every allegation vehemently.

“If you sign someone with that type of baggage,” one agent noted, “you have to walk him through the reclamation tour. And I don’t think he’s coachable for that.”

Bauer himself released a statement after the Dodgers announced his DFA, posted first by the Los Angeles Times‘s Bill Shaikin:

While we were unable to communicate throughout the administrative leave and arbitration process, my representatives spoke to Dodgers leadership immediately following the arbitration decision.

Following two weeks of conversations around my return to the organization, I sat down with Dodgers leadership in Arizona yesterday who told me they wanted me to return and pitch for the team this year.

While I am disappointed by the organization’s decision today, I appreciate the wealth of support I’ve received from the Dodgers clubhouse. I wish the players all the best and look forward to competing elsewhere.

“There is zero chance whatsoever,” Craig Calcaterra of Cup of Coffee tweeted in response, “that anyone with actual decision-making authority with the Dodgers told Trevor Bauer, yesterday, that they wanted him back.” Indeed. “Dodger officials declined to go into details of their conversation,” Nightengale has written since, “but privately revealed that they didn’t hear any remorse, apologies or anything in the slightest from Bauer to change their mind.”

Gonzalez cited another unnamed team executive saying, “Some teams will just take the arm, and they’ll deal with the blowback later.” Too many have done that, in baseball and other sports. They forget playing professional sports is a privilege they can revoke for moral as well as performance cause. They forget athletes’ rights (indeed, responsibilities) to rehabilitate and redeem themselves don’t carry automatic rights to do it under their umbrellas.

They forget what Gonzalez and his ESPN colleague Jeff Passan observed when Bauer was hit with the original 324-game suspension in the first place: “The standards in criminal and civil cases differ from those of a private business. The judge dissolving the temporary restraining order and declining to issue a permanent one does not absolve Bauer of liability within the [domestic violence] policy. Neither does a prosecutor passing on pressing charges.”

They get their tails waxed in the public mind, in the press, and aboard the social media scrawl for forgetting the common good of their games doesn’t end on the scoreboard or at the bank.

Those are the parts the Nationals must have understood, without having to say so, during the 2021 season, when faced with veteran infielder Starlin Castro’s suspension for violating baseball’s domestic abuse policy. They said they’d cut Castro loose when his suspension concluded. They did just that. Castro’s full suspension was fifteen percent of what Bauer ultimately served. The Nats looked as decisive as the Dodgers didn’t look.

What time told Friedman and the Dodgers also, and especially, includes just the first known of Bauer’s victims, testifying during hearings to decide a restraining order against him. And, as Calcaterra observed, reiterating—without one word spoken by Bauer’s legal team trying to refute or discredit it—her number one charge: I did not consent to bruises all over my body that sent me to the hospital and having that done to me while I was unconscious.

That, and the scars upon her psyche, are the parts no formal discipline can undo.

When will it be “practical” to decide about Bauer?

Trevor Bauer

The Dodgers must decide whether to re-admit pitcher Trevor Bauer after what’s still the longest suspension a player’s served for violating baseball’s domestic abuse/sexual assault/child abuse policy.

From the moment Trevor Bauer’s suspension was lifted, I’ve waited for the Dodgers—who said when informed of the lifting that they would comment “as soon as practical”—to decide when it would be practical. Almost twelve days later, I’m still waiting.

At which point, I wonder along with (I’m sure) scores of others, would a team with omelette all over its face over a player signing that turned upside down from the player’s own doings decide it was “practical” to be done with them, and him?

Bauer was suspended, recall, for violating the joint policy on domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse to which baseball’s government and the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed in 2015. That was after Bauer missed 99 games on paid administrative leave in 2021.

The original suspension was 324 games. Bauer appealed, and arbitrator Martin F. Scheinman reduced it to 194. Essentially, Scheinman called it time served. It still remains the longest such suspension served under the policy. Longer than the single full season for which then-Twins relief pitcher Sam Dyson was suspended over domestic violence against his former girlfriend.

The Dodgers were handed fourteen days to decide whether to keep or cut Bauer. Surely Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke wasn’t the only one to say, “It should only take them fourteen seconds.” They had far longer than that to think and plan for the prospect of Bauer’s reinstatement. They may yet use the entire 1,209,600 seconds worth to decide.

That would satisfy the contingency to whom Bauer is actually innocent on no grounds further than that the Los Angeles County District Attorney elected against filing criminal charges against the righthander almost a year ago. That contingency won’t be satisfied fully, alas, until Bauer is suited up in a Dodger uniform again.

But it’s worth a reminder that electing not to file such charges doesn’t mean “not guilty,” it means only that the D.A.’s office believed getting a criminal conviction would be difficult, not that it believed the evidence was false or non-existent. It’s also worth a reminder that the MLB/MLBPA joint policy enables baseball’s commissioner to suspend players believed or found violating the policy regardless of any criminal charges, court trial, or trial conviction.

The commissioner’s office investigated Bauer starting in 2021, after a San Diego woman accused him of taking rough sex far too far into assault during two encounters and obtained a restraining order against Bauer that was lifted in due course. But almost a year ago, two other women told the Washington Post they, too, had been victimised by Bauer while taking rough sex too far into assault; hence, the suspension.

When the first victim’s restraining order was lifted, it followed hearings in which Bauer’s attorneys isolated inconsistencies in her based on secondary items, but—as Cup of Coffee writer Craig Calcaterra observed—the woman’s central claim of terrible assault wasn’t discredted even once.

“[T]he central truth of this entire affair—the stuff that Major League Baseball will look to regarding Bauer’s behavior, irrespective of whether charges are brought—points pretty clearly to Bauer doing exactly what his accuser said he did. Everything else is secondary,” Calcaterra wrote.

After 12 hours of testimony, his accuser said, under oath, “I did not consent to bruises all over my body that sent me to the hospital and having that done to me while I was unconscious.” There was zero evidence presented which explained how those bruises appeared in a way that was benign or refuted the idea that the woman was unconscious when Bauer inflicted them. That, in my mind, is all that matters. (Emphasis added.)

After Scheinman ended the suspension, Calcaterra tweeted, “[W]hen Bauer fanboys try to claim his reinstatement as some sort of victory or vindication, remember: Bauer has been adjudged to be the worst sexual assault offender in Major League Baseball in the era of the Joint Policy. Worse than anyone else.”

Before the Dodgers signed him to a three-year, $102 million contract as a free agent, Bauer was merely problematic and known concurrently as a misogynist. It should have put the Dodgers into more powerful due diligence mode when pondering his signing. Such a failure puts one in mind of Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog’s observation (in You’re Missin’ a Great Game), “Does a [player] with personal problems and holes in his game merit that kind of money? . . . Off the field, will his PR kick you in the ass?”

Bauer’s PR has kicked the Dodgers in the ass, the head, the spine, and the stomach,  several times over. They may have a genuine baseball need to bring him back to their pitching staff, but they have a far more serious human need not to bring him back.

It’s grotesque enough when a ballplayer loses it after a bad game or a bad season and takes it out violently (physical, psychological, both) on his wife or significant other. What should we call it when a player faces domestic violence discipline not because he lost his temper but because he didn’t know or care where the line between consent and abuse is drawn when practising rough sex?

I did not consent to bruises all over my body that sent me to the hospital and having that done to me while I was unconscious. 

Bauer’s deal would pay him $32 million for 2023 regardless of whether he suits up to pitch for the Dodgers, minus fifty games’ pay Scheinman docked him when ending the suspension. “By releasing him,” Plaschke wrote, “they will owe him his final year’s salary minus those fifty games, but it will be the best $22.5 million they ever spent.”

It would also begin sending two long overdue messages. One is the message that the common good of the game can’t stop at making money for or in it. The other is the message not sent when players suspended under the domestic abuse/sexual assault/child abuse policy are readmitted to their teams, or signed by new teams, without more than perfunctory, boilerplate apologies:

If you’re a domestic or sexual or child abuser, you’ve lost your place in major league baseball. Such a place is a privilege, not a God-given right. Now, you have every right and every responsibility, especially, to atone for your abuse[s]. You have every right and every responsibility, especially, to rehabilitate yourself as a man, as a human being, and to earn your keep anew. You’ll deserve every credit on earth for doing that if you do. Your chance simply can’t happen in baseball any longer.

As of midnight tonight, the Dodgers will have 259,200 seconds to decide. It adds up to about 1,209,599 seconds more than they should have had to decide.

2022: Lockout to lucre to ludicrous and back

Aaron Judge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If his mobility is affected, his defense could suffer.

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

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

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

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

Chas McCormick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clayton Kershaw, Blake Grice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaylord Perry

Gaylord Perry—putting out the fire with Vaseline?

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

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

All dressed up and no place to go

Carlos Correa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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