“Some no-hitters are simply games that go your way”

Tyler Gilbert

Tyler Gilbert gets the congratulatory Gatorade shower . . . that he should have given his teammates, instead.

Tyler Gilbert had a night to remember Saturday, all right. He became only the fourth pitcher in National/American League/American Association history to pitch a no-hitter in his first major league starting assignment.

The company Gilbert joins includes Theodore Breitenstein (1891 St. Louis Browns, AA; the league folded at season’s end), Bumpus Jones (1892 Reds; he surrendered one run in a game in which he walked four), and Bobo Holloman. (1951 Browns, AL, and not the same franchise as the 1891 Browns.)

It took 62 years between Jones and Holloman, then 68 years between Holloman and Gilbert. Pitching a no-hitter is tough enough as it is. Pitching one in your first big-league start seems somewhere between finding the pillar of salt known as Lot’s wife and swimming the full Pacific solo. Right?

“Some no-hitters are pure dominance,” writes ESPN’s David Schoenfield, “and some are simply games that go your way and you get your name in the record books alongside two guys named Bumpus and Bobo.”

Let’s be real. On Saturday night, Gilbert had a game that went his way to get his name in the record books next to a couple of guys named Bumpus and Bobo. I’m not going to say Gilbert did bupkis to leave the Padres with bupkis, but he had more than a little help from his friends.

(He also had a lot of un-premeditated help from the Padres: Fernando Tatis, Jr. was still a day from leaving the injured list where that shoulder dislocation landed him. Gilbert didn’t even have to think about the biggest stick in the Padres’ lumberyard.)

Considering he was responsible for 23 percent of the outs directly, Gilbert had a lot of help from his friends. He faced 28 batters, struck five batters out, but walked three of them, the direct opposite of Holloman’s direct game performance. “[The Padres] a couple hard-hit balls, but I was glad somebody was there to catch them,” Gilbert admitted post-game.

A couple? Gilbert’s fielders took care of 77 percent of the outs (nine ground outs including a pair of double plays; thirteen fly outs); Holloman walked five, struck out three, and his fielders were responsible for 85 percent of the outs. (Twelve ground outs, eleven fly outs.)

And, since this was a National League game, with no designated hitter in the Diamondbacks lineup, Gilbert had to make four plate appearances in the game. He grounded out to the hole at shortstop once, struck out once, and dropped a pair of sacrifice bunts.

The first bunt set up second and third to be followed by a walk and an inning-ending double play. The second pushed Nick Ahmed to third after Ahmed opened the inning with a double. Ahmed scored the seventh Arizona run in due course on a long single down the left field line. That’s one wasted out, one push of a man to third to come home on a long single, and thus direct responsibility for a quarter of a run.

The Snakes did the bulk of their scoring early enough and often enough with a five-run first: an RBI double (Ketel Marte); an RBI single (David Peralta); and, a three-run homer (Drew Ellis). They added the sixth run with a leadoff single (Pavin Smith) and an immediate RBI triple (Josh Rojas) in the fifth.

All on the dollar of Joe Musgrove, who became the twelfth pitcher in Show history to pitch a no-hitter and have a no-hitter against him in the same season. Musgrove’s in pretty intriguing company himself that way—three of those twelve pitchers (Pud Galvin, 1880; Bob Feller, 1951; Juan Marichal, 1963) are Hall of Famers.

But are you really going to call a pitcher who takes care of only 23 percent of the other guys’ outs and does nothing other than a sacrifice bunt that pushed a runner to third base the guy most responsible for the triumph?

“For all of the consternation about the deluge of no-hitters in 2021,” wrote ESPN’S Jeff Passan after Corey Kluber nailed the season’s sixth no-hitter in late May, “the act itself—recording 27 outs without allowing a single hit—remains a miracle.”

In Gilbert’s case, just as in Holloman’s case, it also remains a testament to the efficiency of his defense and the evening potency of the Diamondbacks lineup. Kluber, Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, John Means, Wade Miley, and Spencer Turnbull did more to earn their no-hitters earlier this year than Gilbert did.

I recorded that after Kluber’s no-no, in May, but it’s worth seeing again, adding Gilbert for the full context. I include the fielding-independent pitching rates of each of those pitchers at the time they threw their no-hitters, indicating whom among them was the most likely to turn the trick. I also assign a Win Factor based on their strikeouts divided by the sum of the ground and fly outs in the game. Here they are:

Pitcher Game Score K GO FO WF FIP
Joe Musgrove 3-0 10 10 7 .588 2.88
Carlos Rodon 8-0 7 10 10 .350 1.91
John Means 6-0 12 3 12 .800 3.25
Wade Miley 3-0 8 15 5 .400 3.24
Spencer Turnbull 5-0 9 12 6 .500 2.77
Corey Kluber 2-0 9 9 9 .500 3.57
Tyler Gilbert 7-0 5 9 13 .227 2.79

Gilbert had the least direct responsibility for his no-hit performance among the seven, while Means had the most with Musgrove the second-most. Gilbert by FIP was more likely to pitch a no-hitter than four among the seven but less likely to do it than Rodon and Turnbull. On the other hand, Means lived almost as dangerously as Gilbert with those twelve fly outs in his game.

There are no game logs available to analyse Theodore Breitenstein’s and Bumpus Jones’s no-hitters, but we do have one to analyse Bobo Holloman’s. His yields a .125 win factor—three strikeouts, as noted earlier, but the Browns managed to divide the field labour evenly otherwise: twelve ground outs and twelve fly outs. Holloman’s 4.57 FIP also made him the least likely of any of the four rooks to throw a no-hitter in his first Show start. By far.

Gilbert on earth and Holloman in the Elysian Fields can still take heart that they did at least something on their own to produce no-hitters. They didn’t pitch no-nos in which they did nothing to earn them.

Ken Holtzman did, once, in 1969. Four years to the day after Cincinnati legend Jim Maloney’s oddity (a no-hitter with eleven strikeouts and ten walks), Holtzman’s Cubs beat the Braves, 3-0 . . . with Holtzman striking nobody out, walking three, and needing twelve ground outs and fifteen fly outs to get out alive, never mind with no hits against him.

Essentially, Holtzman did nothing direct to contribute to that win. (He didn’t even do anything at the plate to, ahem, pitch in, either: he went 0-for-3 with a pop fly out to the infield and a pair of ground outs.) But Holtzman took the headlines regardless, and his teammates congratulated him heartily when it should have been the other way around.

Congratulate Gilbert regardless. But once the ball left his hand and those bats, the job was out of his hands entirely. Gilbert should also thank God his fielders knew what they were doing out there to do the most at keeping the Padres off the bases.

There’s only one thing more weird than declaring a pitcher a “winner” in a game where he had little enough to do with his team’s scoring and the other guys’ lack of it. That’s declaring him a “loser” when a) he wasn’t responsible for his team’s lack of scoring; b) he didn’t throw the fat pitch that turned into a game-losing hit; c) he wasn’t in the game when the guy who reached base against him scored what proved the winning run; or, d) or his defense could have been tried by jury for criminal neglect in the field.

But there’s Gilbert with a no-hitter and a win on his record. A no-hitter and a win for which he did only 23 percent of the work needed to deliver without factoring his team’s batting on the night. A win toward which he contributed—without scoring or driving it in—to one fourth (it takes four bases to make a run, remember?) of fourteen percent of his team’s seven runs on the night when he showed up at the plate.

If that’s a “winner,” I’m the headless man in the topless bar.

Yes he did pitch a no-hitter. Wanna fight?

Madison Bumgarner

Bumgarner won’t get credit for his no-hitter because . . . seven innings, in a doubleheader now mandated as two seven-inning games. But he damn well should get it.

Repeat after me: Madison Bumgarner pitched a no-hitter Sunday afternoon. Madison Bumgarner pitched a no-hitter Sunday afternoon. See? Simple, and appropriate.

The carpers carp that MadBum won’t and shouldn’t get credit for a no-hitter because of the seven-inning rule applied to doubleheader games. That’s almost as bad as saying Bumgarner himself decided to help make the rule so let it be on his head and to his discredit. They’re both false, too.

Bumgarner worked his seven innings, struck out seven, and might have had a perfect game if not for Diamondbacks shortstop Nick Ahmed’s throwing error on Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies’s grounder leading off the bottom of the second. MadBum’s mates gave him a cozy five-run lead before he even had to throw a pitch, then tacked on single runs in the third and the sixth.

The lefthander with the 747 wingspan spread as he’s about to deliver is being cheated out of his propers because of a strange contradiction. A 1991 rules change declared no-hitters to be nothing less than nine innings with the pitcher finishing on the winning side. That was prodded by Yankee pitcher Andy Hawkins’s no-hit loss to the White Sox in Chicago, where he didn’t have to pitch the ninth.

The rule changers then didn’t ponder what didn’t occur to them, the wherefores of un-hit pitchers in official games made less than nine innings by future rule changes. Such as the pan-damn-ic safety protocols prompting makeup games required for any reason being parts of doubleheaders and going only seven innings each.

That doubleheader rule was held over for this season, of course. When last I looked, those between the commissioner’s office and the Major League Baseball Players Association who agreed to keep such doubleheaders this year didn’t include Madison Bumgarner.

So playing within both the 1991 no-hitter rule adjustment and the pan-damn-ic doubleheader innings limit does him no favours. He gets credit for a complete game but not a no-hitter. Bumgarner wuz robbed.

Let me go back on record right now to say again that I approve of doubleheaders with seven-inning games—because they make just plain common sense. Old Fart Contingency members who denounce them as just more kowtowing to candy-ass contemporary players are invited hereby to stuff those denunciations, then learn or re-learn a little baseball history.

In Game of Inches, Peter Morris—a baseball historian whose specialty is the earliest baseball generations and the debunking of longtime myths about them—recorded that the doubleheader actually predated the professional game, until it died awhile because when the game went professional team ownerships felt a little (ho ho) funny about two for the price of one keeping money out of their kitties.

“When the National Association began in 1871, there were no doubleheaders. Nor were there any the next year,” noted The Hardball Times‘s Chris Jaffe in 2010. “Professional baseball had its first one in 1873, and it would prove to be the only one in the five-year history of the NA. It took place on the Fourth of July, which was fitting because this would quickly become one of the great days for doubleheaders in baseball.”

Fast forward. The ancient American Association challenged the National League as a major baseball league. By 1891, the upstarts finally so inspired the National League that, in that season, the NL played more doubleheaders than the AA.

Mostly a holiday occurrence at first (Jaffe notes Memorial Day 1883 as the first time all Show teams played doubleheaders on the same day), the full decade of the 1890s showed the National League—having it all to itself with the AA’s collapse—playing doubleheaders a quarter of the time all decade long.

Oh, yes. There was one distinctive trend within the NL’s growing doubleheader friendliness: the bottom-feeding teams played the most doubleheaders. “This was an especially important development, because it remained true for decades,” Jaffe observed.

That makes sense if you think about it. Poor teams need an added inducement to convince the fans to come out and see them. Perhaps more importantly, when they traveled on the road their opponents needed an extra bit of persuasion to convince rooters to see what promised to be some lackluster on-field performances.

After the American League formed and joined in the Show fun, times came when teams often played 25 doubleheaders a season and sometimes more. The doubleheader had far less to do with the good of the game than with making money for the owners—especially those owning the also-ran teams who needed whatever they could get to draw fans at home, and those owning the more powerful teams who needed to draw fans when the also-rans came to town.

The Great Depression really exposed that one. From 1930-34, the National League teams averaged 36 percent a year’s schedule in doubleheaders and the American League teams, 30 percent. During World War II, the NL’s teams averaged 46 percent of their schedule in doubleheaders and the American League’s teams, 45 percent—including AL teams playing practically half their schedule in doubleheaders in 1943 and the NL teams doing likewise in 1945.

If a National League team had played just one more doubleheader, it would have meant over half the league’s games being played in twin bills.

Naturally enough, nobody gave much thought to what it might take out of players to play so many doubleheaders in a season. Especially the 1943 White Sox. For whatever reasons, those White Sox alone played an unconscionable 44 doubleheaders. Those included eleven in July, eleven between September’s beginning and the 1 October regular-season finish, and 27 pairs of doubleheaders played either on back-to-back days or with an off-day between them.

Never mind Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’s fabled watchword, “It’s a beautiful day—let’s play two!” You try thinking about playing 36 innings of baseball in two or three days by design rather than by extra innings happenstance. You might be at least as exhausted thinking about it as the men who played those innings in that stretch must have been playing them.

Doubleheaders began fading away little by little by the end of the 1950s. But it’s to wonder why baseball’s overlords of the era previously discussed didn’t even think about considering seven-inning games for doubleheader days. The ’43 White Sox played 774 innings worth of doubleheaders before extra-inning games are considered (eight times a White Sox doubleheader game went to extras that year); if they’d been seven-inning games, they would have played 602 doubleheader innings.

Discussing in February the pan-damn-ically inspired rule changes that should be kept or dumped, CBS Sports writer Mike Axisa applauded keeping doubleheaders of seven-inning games:

Games are going to be postponed, potentially a lot of games, and they will have to be made up at some point later in the season. We saw teams play three doubleheaders in a single week at times last year. MLB has to assume something like that will happen again, in which case seven-inning doubleheaders are a necessity. You can’t ask players to run themselves into the ground like that.

. . . [O]f all the 2020 rule changes MLB and the MLBPA should consider for 2021, this is the one that most has to happen . . . It’s less wear and tear on the players, and less time at the park equals less exposure to the pandemic for players, coaches, stadium workers, and fans. Seven-inning doubleheaders are a must.

They should be a must even beyond the eventual end of the pan-damn-ic. Especially for the reason Axisa said primarily. Baseball players aren’t automatons who can play endlessly, no matter what the Old Fart Contingent thinks or maybe even wishes. They’re human beings, with human limitations, no matter how much baseball talent and skill they bring while it’s there for them to bring. (“By the time you finally learn how to play,” mammoth bombardier Frank Howard once said, “you can’t play anymore.”)

Forget how much money they’re earning. Forget Hall of Famer Willie Stargell’s memorable observation, during a long and arduously-traveled road trip, “The umpire doesn’t say, ‘Work ball’.” Professional baseball requires hard work to play. It’s not a question of just suiting up, going out to play seven or nine innings, then changing clothes with a shower and heading home.

Madison Bumgarner went to the mound Sunday in a lawfully-scheduled seven-inning game under rules he didn’t make . . . and didn’t surrender a single hit. He earned credit for the win. The 1991 no-hitter rule change didn’t account for arbitrarily but necessarily changed structures of doubleheaders, and Bumgarner didn’t ask for a seven-inning game to start half a twin bill.

Officially, MadBum gets credited with a complete game. Also officially, he gets no credit for a no-hitter. If you can tell me how much sense that makes without tripping over both of us, you’re a better manperson than I. Far as I’m concerned, the seven-inning doubleheader needs to stay beyond the pan-damn-ic . . . and Madison Bumgarner damn well did pitch a no-hitter.

Money isn’t everything

2019-12-18 ToreyLovulloMadisonBumgarner

The electric horseman: Manager Torey Lovullo (left) welcomes Madison Bumgarner home.

Arizona the region and not necessarily the baseball team said something to Madison Bumgarner for long before he became a Diamondback at last. Enough to compel him to sign a new contract paying him less than he probably could have earned, even though he’s in the re-invention stage of his career. Sometimes there’s no place like a second home, too.

And more often than you think, money isn’t everything.

Time was when you couldn’t have pictured Bumgarner in anything other than the black-and-orange Giants hat and cream fatigues. When you saw the tenacity on the mound that turned him into a postseason myth in those fatigues and assumed, no matter what else came into play around him, that a Giant he was and a Giant he’d stay.

Madison Bumgarner and the Giants? Married even in the free agency era like Hall of Famers George Brett and the Royals, Tony Gwynn and the Padres, Chipper Jones and the Braves, Mariano Rivera and the Yankees, and Mike Schmidt and the Phillies. Not to mention future Hall of Famers Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers (so far) and Mike Trout and the Angels, plus Yadier Molina and the Cardinals, and David Wright—whom injuries obstructed from consummating a Hall of Fame career—and the Mets. Right?

But maybe you didn’t catch onto Bumgarner and his wife falling in love with something aside when the Giants hit spring training every year in Scottsdale, Arizona. Something like Arizona itself. The place means almost as much to Bumgarner as the heat of baseball competition and the chance for winning that, right now, the Diamondbacks present better than the Giants do.

“First and foremost, winning,” he said when the Diamondbacks introduced him as their newest Snake Tuesday. “That’s what the whole decision is based on, and being with a team that’s my brand of baseball. They play the way I like to play. They just play hard. They’ve got a bunch of grinders on this team, guys that don’t take any pitch off. They’re just a hard-nosed group of guys.”

That’s a terrific reason for a pitcher who doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit” to think about a new team, of course. But the lure of Phoenix and the surrounding ambience of Arizona itself was just as powerful, maybe the only presence that could hit Bumgarner for distance and get away with it.

The long-enough-time Giants horse becomes the Diamondbacks’ own Electric Horseman. The Bumgarners imported a few of their horses from Bumgarner’s native North Carolina to Arizona every spring. The Giants training there was so seductive to him that, once he knew the Diamondbacks were more than interested when he finally became a free agent, he was even willing to trade a fan base he came to love as deeply as he loves to compete to surrender.

“It’s tough,” he admitted about leaving them behind. “The fans in that city mean so much to me. I mean, shoot, it’s been ten years there and we won three world championships and have been through a lot together. They’ve always been as good as they could possibly be to me, and I’ll never forget that. I’ll always be thankful for it. That part of it was tough, but coming here, so far, this place has exceeded all my expectations, and like I said, I’m really excited about it.”

The fact that he still gets to have a few skirmishes a year with the Dodgers now that he’s staying in the National League West couldn’t possibly have eluded MadBum, either.

Stephen Strasburg re-signing with the Nationals, like Trout extending for life with the Angels last spring, said essentially that there’s no place like home, even an adopted home. (Strasburg is a native southern Californian; Trout is native to a region near the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border.) Bumgarner signing with the Snakes says there can be no place like the home you long for.

The Giants could have offered him everything including ownership of McCovey Cove, his own private cable car, free feed for the rest of his life at the Fisherman’s Wharf eatery of his choice, and an on-the-house lease to any piece he chose at Hearst Castle down Highway 1 in San Simeon. Once the Diamondbacks indicated they wanted him, you couldn’t pay him enough not to swap the Bay for the desert.

If you think that’s even just a slight exaggeration, be advised that assorted published reports say the lefthander with the Dreamliner wing span in the split second before he throws to the plate had nine-figure offers to ponder from elsewhere, but he instructed his agent, VC Sports’ Ed Cerulo, that Arizona was “the number one place for me.” And money wasn’t everything.

“We definitely left some money on the table,” the newest Diamondback said when the team introduced him formally Tuesday. “You can say that.” If the published speculation is true and Bumgarner looked at $100 million or better for five years in other offers, he’s left at least $15 million behind overall while agreeing to pitch—according to The Athletic‘s Zach Buchanan—for $6 million in 2020 before hitting $14 million for 2021, $18 million a year in 2022-23, and back to $14 million in 2024.

Essentially, Bumgarner gave the Diamondbacks a new-home discount. No, make it actually: Buchanan reported that $5 million a year is deferred from the 2021-23 annual salaries until the deal is finished. And general manager Mike Hazen—who traded a somewhat more expensive desert lover named Zack Grienke to the Astros in 2019’s marquee trade deadline swap—“plans to use that [2020 payroll] flexibility” to shore up the Diamondbacks for contention.

Buchanan thinks Bumgarner all but willed the new Diamondbacks deal into existence, sort of, but don’t dismiss Hazen—who once said that on the one hand he wasn’t exactly starving for starting pitching but, on the other hand, he wasn’t exactly going to say no to the chance for more—being just a little bit shrewd in his own right, either:

Hazen admitted that adding to his rotation wasn’t his top priority, or really any sort of priority, entering the offseason, but that Bumgarner made it plain early on that he preferred to end up in Arizona. Though Hazen stopped short of saying that affinity for Phoenix prodded him into engaging on the longtime Giants starter, the structure and overall value of Bumgarner’s deal—and Arizona’s lack of rotation holes before offering it—suggest the Diamondbacks were able to capitalize on a specific advantage they had over the 29 other major-league teams.

It also looked like the early speculation that made the Bumgarner deal a possible to-come trade scenario for incumbent starting pitcher Robbie Ray isn’t necessarily so. Bumgarner’s deal flexibility lets the Snakes shore up without having to invent payroll room. They’d rather save the invention for the field if they can help it.

And, more important, Hazen’s willing to gamble that Bumgarner continues re-inventing himself on the mound to the point where he’ll deliver better goods than he could with the Giants since 2017. “We just watched a guy leave here in the middle of last season who reinvented himself every year he was here,” Hazen told the Tuesday presser, referring to Greinke. “We feel like [Bumgarner] has that ability.”

The entertainment possibilities can’t be resisted, either. Assuming the Diamondbacks have a better sense of humour now than they had when the late Kevin Towers was their general manager, don’t be shocked to discover a hitching post outside the players’ entrance at Chase Field. Or, to see Bumgarner galloping up to the park aboard one of his horses, maybe hollering, “Hi yo, Tumbleweed! Away!”

Or (sorry, it’s impossible to resist), to see a staredown and bawl-out with an enemy batter (preferably a Dodger?) who’s just hit one over the right field fence in Chase Field turn into a cheerfully snarky “Go get it out of the pool!” T-shirt.

Life and baseball with Bumgarner could be mad fun for the Diamondbacks, even if Bumgarner isn’t yet ready to resign his Fun Police commission. Almost as much fun and soul embracing as life in Arizona for Lieutenant and Mrs. MadBum themselves.

MadBum hitches his horses to the Snakes

2019-12-16 MadisonBumgarner

Postseason legend Madison Bumgarner takes flight and gallops in Arizona now.

Picture the next time Madison Bumgarner surrenders a hefty home run in his home park and snarks over the bomber having fun with the blast. The bomber’s mates will be inspired to produce T-shirts saying not, “Get it out of the ocean” but, rather, “Get it out of the pool.”

Bumgarner has signed for five years and $85 million with the Diamondbacks, and the nearest body of water into which the opposition can hit is the pool behind Chase Field’s right field fence. Until Bumgarner gets to face the team for whom he served so well, mostly, for the first eleven years of his career, in his former playpen, that is.

A few years ago, Bumgarner’s asking price wouldn’t have been as low as $85 million for five years or more. A few injuries and, more important, a heavy workload have taken their toll, though at 30 years old Bumgarner isn’t exactly ready for Retirement Row. But yes, it does feel a little strange that you’ll see him for the next five in something other than Giants’ fatigues.

And, yes, Bumgarner really did prefer going to Arizona if the Giants weren’t going to be that interested in keeping the greatest postseason pitcher in their history. The Diamondbacks, admirably, have continued remaking/remodeling themselves without even thinking about tanking, and Bumgarner is nothing if not a competitor no matter how much his left arm doesn’t always obey his orders lately.

But The Athletic‘s Bay Area scribe, Andrew Baggarly, says it was personal as well: “Bumgarner told me in July that he and his wife, Ali, loved Arizona and he’d be interested in playing for the Diamondbacks. He gets his preferred destination from a life perspective, he’ll play for a team with way more near-term upside than the Giants, he still gets to hit (in a lively ballpark where he loves to take BP) and he still gets to stare down the Dodgers five or six times a year. What’s not to love?”

Thus does it make a little more sense that, yes, the Giants “were interested and engaged in retaining” the lefthander whose arm span as he’s about to deliver a pitch makes him resemble a Boeing Dreamliner with a bearded cockpit on takeoff; but, no, they weren’t exactly rolling the old red carpet for his landing, either.

Baggarly caught the drift at last week’s winter meetings. When he asked the Giants’ new manager, Gabe Kapler, how he was selling both himself and re-selling the Giants to their franchise World Series hero. When Kapler said he hadn’t talked to Bumgarner and (Baggarly’s words) “wanted to give him his space,” but would still reach out “if others thought it was a good idea.”

“And that was it,” Baggarly continued. “That was all I needed to know. There was no way that Bumgarner would continue his career with the Giants.” Because, of course, if the Giants wanted him to stay and thought they had a shot even at $85 million for five more years (they’re said to have offered four and $70 million), “you can bet that calls and meetings would’ve been set up. Kapler would have begun the back-channeling before he even got the job. The Giants would have tried to assuage Bumgarner’s every concern and dispel every bit of unease.”

Bumgarner isn’t the only one now shouldering into a Diamondbacks jersey who’s a bounceback candidate. The incumbent Snakes ace, Robbie Ray, is looking to make a comparable comeback from a somewhat dismal 2019, and much analysis has suggested the team hoped for enough of a comeback to make him attractive at next summer’s trade deadline. Bumgarner’s signing may have made Ray look positively glittering as a trade topic and positively assured of bringing back a haul of delicious enough prospects sooner.

MadBum is almost as renowned for the pleasures he takes in hitting as he is for that lifetime 2.11 postseason ERA, including a transdimensional 0.25 lifetime World Series ERA. He’ll fume at or bawl out enemy hitter taking a little too much pleasure in a monster mash on his dollar, but he enjoys hitting one for distance as much as the next man. Even if he admits he just can’t bring himself to let the kids play, or play with the kids, when he’s the bomb victim.

A shame, too. Two Opening Days ago I had a little mad fun with MadBum’s hitting a pair out, against the Diamondbacks of all people, one a leadoff blast against Zack Greinke in the top of the fifth, the other a one-out shot against reliever Andrew Chafin in the top of the seventh.(In between, then-Diamondback/now-Dodger A.J. Pollock hit one out off Bumgarner in the bottom of the sixth.)

I wrote a puckish column pondering the dialogue between the then Cy Ruth Award candidate and the Giants’ then-manager Bruce Bochy, leaning a little heavily off the day Bumgarner and then-Dodger Yasiel Puig tangled verbally after a ground out, with Bumgarner—who loves Puig about as much as a small child loves liver (after Puig joined the Reds and took Bumgarner deep, Bumgarner cracked, “He’s a quick study. It only took him seven years to learn how to hit that pitch”)—hollering, “Don’t look at me!”

Forgive me, MadBum, but I couldn’t resist looking at you on that Opening Day:

Bochy: Bum, it’s not that we don’t need the runs, but would you kindly remember that your job with this team is not to do your impersonation of Henry Aaron every other time up?

Bumgarner: Skip, don’t look at me!

Bochy: Bum, I know you were p.o.ed about losing the perfect game in the sixth. But you’re not getting paid the gigabucks to beat baseballs into earth orbit. You’re getting paid the gigabucks to throw them, preferably down the throats of enemy batters. Think you can remember that while you’re bucking for the Cy Ruth Award?

Bumgarner: Skip, just don’t look at me!

Bochy: Bum, you’re embarrassing our hitters. Hitting one 410 feet over the left center field fence on 1-2. You realize how many guys around here can’t hit on 1-2? You bucking to get our hitting coach fired?

Bumgarner: Skip, just don’t look at me!

Bochy: Okay, I’ll give you this one, Bum. That shot you hit in the seventh with one out. 2-0. Now, that’s a more reasonable count to swing on. And you did bust a three-all tie while you were at it. But c’mon, you don’t have to do everything yourself. Even if you’re the one who let them tie it up at three-all in the first place. Well, okay, it was A.J. Pollack, and even you can’t keep him from hitting one out now and then, you’re only human, after all.

Bumgarner: I’m only what?!?

Bochy: I knew that’d get your attention, Bum! Now, about those eleven strikeouts … that’s why you’re getting paid the gigabucks. Wait a minute — hey, Denard! Not a great way to open, getting yourself arrested for attempted grand theft second!

Bumgarner: Don’t look at him, Skip!

Bochy: Anyway, you’re getting paid to strike those emereffers out, not hit them into the Cove, buddy. There’s no Sandy Mays Award in baseball. I need you to start and when necessary close your own games, so far, depending on how much of an improvement this bullpen’s gonna be over last year’s bullpen. Christ, last year we couldn’t get save a thing if we’d had the Red Cross coming out of the pen.

Bumgarner: Rowrowrowrowwwrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

Bochy: What’s eating you, Bum?

Bumgarner: What’s with this Hoover? Who does he think he’s fooling with that slop? Why doesn’t he go back and make his vacuum cleaners where he belongs?

Bochy: He just struck Pence out after Hunter fought him back to 2-2.

Bumgarner: That ain’t exactly beating as you sweep as you clean, Skip.

Bochy: Where’d you learn your history?

Bumgarner: I play Trivial Pursuit just like any normal guy.

Bochy: Normal! Normal! Any normal guy who gets paid the gigabucks to pitch and strike out the other guys but who gets up to the plate and thinks he’s Mike Schmidt. You call that normal?

Bumgarner: Do I look like Mike Schmidt, Skip?

Bochy: Only when you hit.

Bumgarner: When did he ever strike out eleven guys in a game? Hey! We got first and second. Buster walked and Craw singled him to second. Who says I’m the one who has to do it all?

Bochy: Nunez just lined out to right, in case you weren’t looking.

Bumgarner: Looks like Hoover needs to change his beater bar brushes.

Bochy: Come on, Bum, give the guy a break, you had to squirm a couple of times too, you know.

Bumgarner: I twist and shout, I do not squirm.

Bochy: Have it your way, buddy. Look at him. Throws two balls to Hernandez, then strikes his ass out on three straight pitches. Looked like he took a couple of lessons from you.

Bumgarner: OK, give you that one. Poor Gork, forget the breeze, I could feel the hurricane.

Bochy: C’mon, Bum, you did more than your share today. Take the rest of the day off. Law can handle these guys.

Bumgarner: Okay, Skip, but remember who would have hit second in the ninth. For all you know I had another home run in me.

Bochy: Bum, let’s not get into that again, shall we? Can’t you settle for being the only pitcher in baseball history ever to hit two bombs on Opening Day and let it go at that?

Bumgarner: Well, look at poor Law, Skip. Two hitters, two singles, and Goldschmidt coming up. Whoa! Two straight strikes he throws on Goldschmidt. Now balls one and two.

Bochy: Gimme a break, Bum, I didn’t want Pollock to pounce on you again.

Bumgarner: You’re all heart, Skip.

Bochy: Damn! The bastard tied it up with a single.

Bumgarner: He fought the Law and won.

Bochy: Forget it. Jerry Seinfeld you ain’t. Hold on, I gotta get Law out of there.

Bumgarner: Good call, Skip. Blach got the double play. And Strickland got the strikeout. Now I know you’re gonna miss me hitting in the ninth!

Bochy: You gonna start that again?

Bumgarner: Who’s the genius who decided I could take the rest of the day off when I might have had another home run in me?

Bochy: I dunno.

Bumgarner: Well, don’t look at me, Skip!

Bochy: Hey, look who’s pitching the ninth.

Bumgarner: It’s old man Rodney! And Panik triples off him to open! C’mon, Skip, I could have gotten him home without hitting one out.

Bochy: See? Gillaspie got him home! Sacrifice fly. So it’s not like you hitting your third homer of the game, just shoot me.

Bumgarner: Don’t start with me, Skip!

Bochy: Now I got to get Melancon in there. The season isn’t even three hours old for us and already we’ve got a blown save. Thirty last year wasn’t enough, we gotta buck for forty already? Damn, how could we load up the pads on old man Rodney and not cash those guys in? How could we get Span thrown out at the plate to end that inning? Coulda had a two or more run lead.

Bumgarner: Well, Melancon isn’t getting paid the big gigabucks to go up to the plate and hit grand slams, Skip. Damn, Skip! Two outs, he gives up a double to Mathis and an RBI single to Daniel Freaking Descalso!! And Owings sends home the winning run! Why are we paying Melancon the big gigabucks? I told you you should have had me available to hit in the ninth! You ever heard of an insurance run?

Bochy: Don’t look at me, Bum!

The word is that the man who’s been a horse for the Giants even when he wasn’t pitching at his peak performance level owns horses in the Phoenix area and, with his wife, loves the horses as much as the area and as much as baseball. The man who doesn’t want you looking at him when you recover from a knockdown pitch or take him out of your shared baseball real estate isn’t averse to a little horsing around.

But wouldn’t it be something if baseball could give him dispensation for Opening Day, lets him keep a horse adjacent to the batter’s box, then—if he hits one out—lets him mount and gallop around the bases?

All the Diamondbacks have to do otherwise now remind Bumgarner the only body of water into which the other guys can hit is small, behind the fence, and features a hot tub off to one corner. And, keep him away from dirt bikes.

Defiance yields dividends

2019-09-13 Mets911Shoes

You can do anything but lay off the Mets’ 9/11 commemorative shoes . . .

Baseball’s unwritten rules are ridiculous enough. Some of the written or at least known-to-be rules are even more ridiculous. Which is why Mets rookie star Pete Alonso’s 9/11 defiance ennobles and should elevate him and shame baseball’s government.

When the Mets played their first home game following the original 9/11 atrocity, they wore hats brandishing NYPD, NYFD, and other first responders with their uniforms. They defied baseball government then, too. And ever since, baseball government has shot down subsequent similar bids to honour the rescuers and the fallen. And others.

As the Mets pondered violating the edict on 9/11’s tenth anniversary (they ended up obeying baseball government orders for nothing more than an American flag on their caps), the Nationals had ideas about wearing Navy SEALs caps during a game around the same time, honouring those SEALs killed in Afghanistan that August. Baseball government said sure—pre-game only. During the game, don’t even think about it.

Alonso—a first grade Florida kid when the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11—wasn’t having any of that nonsense.

If baseball was going to shoot down his original idea for custom hats featuring New York police, fire, and assorted first responders* and others, Alonso was going to shoot his own weapon—he got his teammates’ shoe sizes and footed the bill himself for Adidas, New Balance, and other top athletic shoemakers to make special 9/11 commemorative game cleats.

“I’ve just been thankful and gracious for this opportunity,” Alonso said to Yahoo! Sports‘s Mike Mazzeo, referring apparently to both his surrealistic rookie season and his chance to do honour to 9/11’s victims and responders.

“For me, this season has been an absolute fantasy. I just want to give back. I want to help. I don’t just want to be known as a good baseball player, I want to be known as a good person, too. And I just want to really recognize what this day is about. I don’t want it to be a holiday. I want it to be a day of remembrance of everything that happened. It was an awful day.”

Baseball government at least had the Mets, the Diamondbacks, and other teams wear patches on their caps showing MLB’s official logo converted to an American flag backdrop, a red-white-blue ribbon behind the logo, and “We shall not forget” embroidered into one side of the surrounding blue circle. Royalties from replica sales will go to three national 9/11 memorial groups.

That’s something commendable, but the idea that Alonso—who gave ten percent of his Home Run Derby prize money to two 9/11-related charities, the Wounded Warriors Project and the Stephen Stiller Tunnel to Towers Foundation (Stiller was a New York firefighter killed during 9/11 rescue efforts)—should have had to defy his game’s governors to honour those killed in America’s arguably worst single-attack atrocity, is grotesque.

Maybe the Mets being one and all on board with Alonso’s footwear helped keep the Manfred regime from slapping the team with a fine or other disciplinary measures. Or maybe the sense that fining or otherwise disciplining Alonso and the Mets for it would bring the regime more negative publicity kept it on its better behaviour.

And maybe the Mets’ defiance delivered them a little favour from the Elysian Fields gods.

First, they flattened the visiting Diamondbacks Wednesday, 9-0—nine runs on eleven hits including a five-run first. Then, as if to prove that some good deeds go unpunished, the Mets finished a four-sweep of the Snakes Thursday with an 11-1 battering.

Again, the Mets used eleven hits, including a single-game team record six clearing the fences, including center fielder Juan Lagares doing it twice, while Marcus Stroman nailed his first genuinely quality start on the mound since becoming a Met shortly before this year’s new single trade deadline.

Lagares’s first blast was only the biggest blow. Todd Frazier’s second-inning leadoff blast against Diamondbacks starter Alex Young and J.D. Davis’s two-out RBI single in the third off Young opened the game 2-0 Mets. A base hit and a walk loaded the pads for Lagares in the third when he wrestled Young to a full count.

Then Young threw a fastball arriving under the floor of the strike zone, and Lagares picked the perfect moment for his first career salami, hitting the equivalent of a five-iron shot into the left field seats.

The center fielder joined the long ball party in the bottom of the fifth, too. Aging second baseman Robinson Cano opened the inning with a line drive into the right field bullpen at Snakes reliever Robby Scott’s expense. Michael Conforto drew a one-out walk and, a strikeout later, exit Scott, enter Jimmie Sherfy, and exit another Lagares launch, this one landing in the seats near the right field foul pole.

Mets catcher Tomas Nido—the backup to Wilson Ramos, and the receiver half the Mets’ starting rotation seems to prefer throwing to (the Mets’ team ERA with Nido behind the plate: 3.68; with Ramos: 4.46), but who doesn’t hit enough to enable them to cement that preference—batted next. He didn’t give Sherfy a chance to breathe after Lagares’s second blast, lining one off the back left field wall above the thick orange line marker that denotes a home run.

Two innings later, and after pinch-hitter Ildemaro Vargas doubled home the only Arizona run in the top of the frame, Conforto punished reliever Kevin Ginkel for a third straight four-seam fastball, driving the down-and-in service into the upper deck in right.

Nothing, however, made even half the impression Alonso’s defiance in tribute to 9/11’s fallen and heroes made. The rook plotted the subterfuge for weeks and, by all known accounts, got the Mets’ team leaders including defending Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom on board with the plot.

Threats of fines or other disciplinary measures against Alonso or the Mets have proven unfulfilled, so far.

The fact that such a threat was made or implied and even had to be taken seriously tells you plenty of what you need to know about why baseball’s government has such a rotten public image while the game itself and most of those who play it have one of simple beauty.

Thus does baseball remain very much like its country—our government has a rotten image that’s very well deserved, but our country and most of those who call it our own have one of simple beauty.


* In my college years, briefly, I dated a Long Island nursing student named Kathy Mazza. It never became serious between us, but we had a few pleasant dates including a couple that ended with an all-night hunt for bialys—they differ from bagels in being smaller and based in flour, not malt—which I remember were a particular favourite snack of hers at the time.

Kathy eventually became an operating room nurse turned Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police officer whom, her eventual police officer husband once swore, became a cop to show him how policing was really done. In due course, she became the second woman to earn captain’s bars on the PAPD and the first to command its police academy.

Her achievements there included convincing the Port Authority to install portable heart defibrillators in the airports it oversaw and training the 600 PAPD officers posted to those airports on how to use them. She also taught emergency medical procedures at the PAPD academy.

And, she died in the 9/11 atrocity.

Joining PAPD responders at the North Tower, she shot out the glass walls of the North Tower’s mezzanine enabling hundreds to escape; the tower ultimately collapsed while she and fellow PAPD officers tried leading more out of the tower. Her body was found a month later, I believe.

Kathy Mazza was one of 37 PAPD officers including its then-chief killed on 9/11. She’s still the only woman ever killed in the line of duty on the PAPD, which suffered the largest single-event loss of life of any single law enforcement agency in history on 9/11.

This column is dedicated to her and their memory.