Hold Cash accountable for the right reason

Blake Snell (center) leaving the mound. Cash should answer for bringing Anderson in, not taking Snell out.

I didn’t want to go here now. I thought I’d taken care of that two essays ago. But since it seems the mob won’t let go, I guess I’ll have to. Even if I have an audience of ten. So I’m going there: Lifting Blake Snell was not the biggest mistake Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash made in World Series Game Six Tuesday night.

He lifted the right pitcher but relieved him with the wrong pitcher. That’s what turned the Rays’ early 1-0 lead—on Randy Arozarena’s one-out-in-the-first smash into the right field seats—into the 3-1 Series-losing defeat.

If you are one of my ten readers, you’ve already read it, so bear with me just in case there’s an eleventh reader lurking. Snell was dealing through five full. The cards began getting just a little shaky in the bottom of the sixth, and it’s not as though Snell hasn’t been there before.

Over his entire career, Snell has been the way, oh, just about every starting pitcher worthy of the job has been: He’s easier to hit the third time around the order than he is the first. Makes no sense without the numbers? Here we go again:

Blake Snell Around the Order BA OBP SLG OPS
First Time .205 .280 .312 .592
Second Time .234 .316 .396 .711
Third Time .247 .329 .413 .742

Snell opened the bottom of the sixth getting Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder A.J. Pollock to pop out to short right center field, with Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe ambling out for the catch. Then, on 1-1, Snell hung a slider in the middle for Dodger catcher Austin Barnes to line off the middle into center for a base hit. But he’d started Barnes with a fastball that was slower than his peak speed just a couple of innings earlier.

Remember: Snell finished his evening with nine strikeouts, an awful lot of swing-and-misses, and having struck out the side in the first and the third. He also hadn’t gotten past the sixth inning all year long. And his third-time-around-the-order numbers, analyst Eno Sarris reminds us (just in case we’d known before), are 23 percent worse than the league average for starting pitchers.

And looming on deck as he dealt with and lost Barnes was Mookie Betts.

The Mookie Monster. The guy everyone else is still screaming struck out twice against Snell earlier in the evening and only hit .200 against lefthanders this year. This truncated, irregular-season year. (Which is why his mere 64 plate appearances against lefthanders this year don’t really mean all that much.) Betts is also the guy who hits .297 with an .888 OPS against lefthanders lifetime. It’s practically even-up in the splits with his numbers against righthanded pitchers: .302/.897.

Since the commentators during Game Six made such a point of mentioning it, it’s only right to mention it here, too: From his years with the Boston Red Sox, Betts had the most direct experience of any Dodger against Snell. Here’s the part they didn’t mention so far as I knew in the moment: Betts hit .304 with a .370 on-base percentage against Snell lifetime entering this postseason.

Cash wanted a righthander to match up with the righthanded Betts, even with Betts’s near-even split. He had righthander Nick Anderson up and throwing as Snell started the sixth. He was hoping for a return engagement by the Anderson who was lights out in nineteen irregular season gigs (0.55 ERA; 1.35 fielding-independent pitching rate; 0.49 walks/hits per inning pitched rate; 26 strikeouts and no walks in sixteen innings). Not to mention the Anderson who struck six Yankees out in four and two thirds division series innings.

He got, instead, the Anderson whose American League Championship Series ERA was a ghastly 8.31 while striking nobody out, walking three, and surrendering seven hits; and, whose postseason total entering Tuesday night was a 6.75 ERA and a 1.88 WHIP.

Cash should have thought sooner and better of Ryan Thompson, the rookie who’d been lights out in six ALCS and World Series games with his 1.93 postseason ERA (and zero ERA in the Series) and 1.18 postseason WHIP (and 0.38 Series WHIP), and who’d worked a one-walk, one-strikeout, fifteen-pitch ninth in Game Five two nights earlier. If not Thompson, then Diego Castillo would have been a viable option even with his 3.38 Series ERA, but Thompson really was Cash’s best hand among the Rays’ righthanded bulls.

Maybe you should listen, too, to Anderson himself. “Workload, 2020 season, the whole thing is just crazy, honestly,” he told reporters post-Game Six. “Not having a normal routine, lifting, the season, everything — it’s been crazy. I didn’t feel as good as I would have liked to, but it’s the big leagues; you’re not going to feel good every time. I was still confident. It wasn’t the situation, it wasn’t being in the World Series or anything like that. Not a lot of gas.”

Anderson himself admitting he wasn’t feeling a hundred percent or maybe even seventy-five percent. Cash read Snell properly as Snell began tiring but he read Anderson not at all. Thompson wasn’t even a Game Six rumour, never mind a topic.

The screamers roasting Cash for hooking the hot hand didn’t stop think about the hotter hand. Not in the moment, not when Betts ripped a double down the left field line, not when Anderson wild-pitched Barnes home with Series MVP Corey Seager at the plate, and not when Betts slid home ahead of a throw down from first on Seager’s hopping ground out.

Please, let’s not go there again about “heart” and “character” and “fortitude.” Do you really want to be reminded how often men and teams stand and play proud, with all the heart, character, and fortitude you can ask for, and then some . . . and still get sunk crossing the Jordan to the Promised Land?

Do you still really want to let Snell hang in there to face the Mookie Monster? The net result might tell you yes, but the deepest and most objective look says no. Cash’s mistake was Anderson. Lucy, that and only that is where the manager and his front-office overseers got some splainin’ to do.

The Boys of Pandemic Summer

The Mookie Monster, after hitting his eight-inning Game Six blast.

They don’t have to say “wait till next year!” for the eighth straight year. Crowning a season that once threatened not to hit the field at all, the Los Angeles Dodgers have reached the Promised Land—for the first time since the near-end of the Reagan Administration.

They threw several mountains off their shoulders while Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, whose club fought the Dodgers gamely and exuberantly, assumes one that may or may not take three decades plus shake away. No, it’s not exactly the one you think it is.

But first, the credit where due. To the Dodger bullpen whole and Julio Urias especially for turning the Rays off Tuesday night, after Randy Arozarena—the rookie whose season was delayed fighting COVID-19, who arose first in September, then made this postseason his personal possession—hit the first pitch of his one-out, top-of-the-first plate appearance the other way into the right field seats.

Credit Mookie Betts—Mr. Everything, whom the Boston Red Sox decided they could ill-afford, for reasons that may make sense in worlds of flight and fancy but not necessarily on the third stone from the sun—with seizing the moment once Cash made his right-to-wrong move in the bottom of the sixth, doubling to set up second and third—for Austin Barnes to come home on a wild pitch and Betts to have third with eventual Series MVP Corey Seager at the plate.

And, with running home like a thief ahead of Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi—the guy who split and leaped his way into whatever Tampa Bay hearts still beat—throwing down the line on Seager’s hopping ground out up that line.

Credit the Mookie Monster again with leading off the bottom of the eighth by catching hold of Rays reliever Pete Fairbanks’s 0-2 slider hanging just enough under the middle of the zone and hanging it over the center field fence.

Credit Urias, the seventh pitcher on the night of the running of the Dodger bulls, with two and a third’s closing relief so spotless the young man would have a future making and advertising disinfectant if he didn’t have such a splendid one as a major league pitcher.

Now hold the Rays responsible for spending too much of this Wild Series forgetting how to hit with runners in scoring position, including and especially their 0-for-4 and leaving six men aboard total in Game Six.

And, now hold Cash to account for the bottom of the sixth.

Yes, his lefthanded starter Blake Snell was dealing big through five and a third. Including two hits, no walks, and nine strikeouts that including striking out the side in the first and the third. Yes, Snell looked none the worse for wear opening the sixth getting A.J. Pollock to pop out on the inning’s first pitch and surrendering a followup base hit to Barnes.

Remember what you were taught about looks not being everything? Snell’s entire career shows he’s less effective by a considerable distance when he faces a batting order the third time around. The first time, they other guys have hit .205 against him. The second time, they hit .234. The third? They’ve hit .247. The OPSes against him are .592 the first go-round, .711 the second, and .742 the third.

Betts may have hit only a .200./313/.218 against lefthanders in 2020, but for his career he hits .297 against them with an .888 OPS. Want to know the difference when he hits against righthanded pitching? Five points in the batting average, nine in the OPS. You may not have known those things off the bat, but Cash probably did. He probably also knew that Betts—the Dodger with the most previous experience facing Snell—hit .304 with a .370 OBP against the lefthander prior to this postseason.

With Betts scheduled next following the Barnes single, and Seager right behind Betts, Cash didn’t want Snell getting murdered on the spot at his most historically vulnerable if he could help it. No matter how good Snell looked getting to this point. Even Snell knows it through his obvious disappointment at being hooked.

“I felt good,” the lefty said postgame. “I did everything I could to prove my case to stay out there, and then for us to lose, it sucks. I want to win, and I want to win the World Series, and for us to lose, it just sucks. I am not going to question him. He’s a helluva manager, so I am not going to question him. And I can only look forward to what I am going to accomplish this offseason. But we came up short, and the only thing I can focus on is what I can be better at next year.”

The real problem wasn’t Cash hooking Snell but whom he had ready to follow. If he wanted the righthander-to-righthander match with Betts possibly feeling a little too familiar with Snell by this moment in a World Series elimination game, Nick Anderson—who’d been lights out on the irregular season but vulnerable enough this postseason (6.75 ERA, 1.88 walks/hits per inning pitched rate entering Game Six)—wasn’t his best choice.

Cash would have been better served with Ryan Thompson, who’d worked an efficient ninth in the Rays’ Game Five loss and who hadn’t surrendered a single run in three appearances and two and two thirds innings Series work entering Game Six. But Thompson didn’t seem to be a rumour, never mind a topic Tuesday night.

Sometimes you throw the book into the fireplace. Sometimes you stay with it. Sometimes you make the right move and get blown up. Sometimes you make only half the right move. Lifting Snell was the right half. Prepping and bringing Anderson in showed only too clearly how the wrong half died.

Yes, I regret the decision because it didn’t work out. I thought the thought process was right,” Cash said postgame, knowing he’ll be second-guessed for it for the rest of his life and then some. “I totally respect and understand the questions that come with it. Blake gave us every opportunity to win. He was outstanding. They’re not easy decisions . . . Didn’t want Mookie or Seager seeing Blake a third time. There was no set plan. As much as people think, there’s no set plan.”

It was only half right.

And it wasn’t even close to the worst managing decision any postseason ever saw. It wasn’t Charlie Dressen picking fastballing Ralph Branca over curve balling Carl Erskine with fastball-hitting Bobby Thomson checking in at the plate and the 1951 pennant playoff on the line. It wasn’t Tommy Lasorda deciding it was safe to pitch to Jack Clark with first base open and the Dodgers one out from forcing the 1985 National League Championship Series to a seventh game.

What was all right was the Dodgers in their triumph exorcising eight previous seasons in which their regular-season, National League West-owning dominance got cut off at the postseason pass every time, including back-to-back World Series losses that began to make even those among themselves and their fans who don’t believe in extraterrestrial trickeries begin wondering if they were . . . you know . . .

No. Let’s not go there. Not now. Let’s stay with the current program. With Hall of Famer to be Clayton Kershaw pitching like a Hall of Famer this postseason, his manager making bloody well sure he couldn’t be left in a position to get blown up after stout effort, and savouring that brief postgame spell of heavy, hard breathing relief before joining the party.

With the entire team’s pick-up/dust-off/start-over approach to Game Five after that Three Stooges-meet-Hitchcock Game Four loss at the eleventh-last second in the eleventh hour. With the exuberant Betts and Seager leading the Dodger packs at the plate and stolid Justin Turner keeping them glued, focused, and ready to rumble.

With Betts, period, hell bent to cross the Jordan after the Dodgers dealt for him and David Price in February. “I was traded for to help get us over the hump,” Betts told reporters, “so I used that as my fuel.” He put whatever was left of the Rays’ fire out with gasoline, is all. Seager may have won the Series MVP award. Betts probably made himself the Series MVP in hearts and minds.

Now let’s hold Turner to account for a phenomenal mistake when the Dodgers finally crossed the Jordan.

He had to be lifted from the game in the eighth inning when the Dodgers got word he’d tested COVID-19 positive Tuesday, after a prior test on Monday’s off day proved inconclusive. Assorted officials league and team asked him to isolate himself for prudence and safety sake. Turner wasn’t going to let a little thing like a COVID-19 positive keep him from the party.

Not brilliant. Hadn’t baseball put itself through enough contortions from the sublime to the ridiculous to get anything resembling a season in at all? How brilliant did it look for one of the Dodgers’ signature leaders to come out that irresponsibly and possibly put an entire band of world champions and their families at risk?

How brilliant, too, would it have been if the Rays somehow found one more dose of eleventh-hour unreality and forced a Game Seven—would Turner’s action have delayed that for who knows how long until the rest of the Dodgers plus the Rays tested clean? Remember the irregular season, when even single positive COVID-19 tests meant for postponements.

Remember, too, as The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and other commentators do, that enough with the Dodgers are higher risk. Manager Dave Roberts has survived cancer; relief pitcher Kenley Jansen—who fought and beat COVID-19 in July—has a heart condition; at least one Dodger player has a pregnant wife.

Dear Lord, wasn’t it hard enough for the Boys of Pandemic Summer even in a pandemically-truncated irregular season to get back to the Promised Land at long enough last without that? Nobody forgets Turner the longest-tenured Dodger who isn’t Kershaw or Jansen, Turner who played on six previously-frustrating NL West champions. But tenure usually carries responsibility with status.

The Dodgers’ ancestors of 1955, winning at last what proved the only World Series triumph Brooklyn would ever know, had nothing on this. This may be the first time in the long, glory-to-surreality-and-back history of the World Series, in which the winners needed as many prayers after they returned to the Promised Land at last as they did in the three decades plus it took them to get there.

The Blake and Brandon Show

Blake Snell, meet Sandy Koufax.

Realistically, the Tampa Bay Rays didn’t have to come into World Series Game Two wearing hazmat gear Wednesday night. Losing Game One didn’t mean rolling over and playing dead for the Los Angeles Dodgers no matter how formidable the Dodgers looked winning.

Especially on a comparative off night for the Mookie Monster, an on-night and then some for slumping Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe blasting his way out of the funk, an off-night for the Dodgers’ bullpen, and an off-the-charts night for Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell concurrent to a kind of typical night for the Rays’ bullpen.

All of which collaborated on a Series-leveling 6-4 Rays win in Globe Life Field that inspired the pandemically-mandated sparse live human crowd to make enough noise that they sounded like 111,000 instead of the approximate 11,000. Didn’t  that sound refreshing after an irregular season full of cardboard cutouts in the seats and canned noise in the ballparks?

Snell, the tall lefthander who sometimes resembles a tree waving in the heavy wind when he delivers, made World Series history in Game Two. He became only the second pitcher ever to pitch four no-hit innings with eight or more strikeouts in a Series game. He joins a Hall of Fame lefthander named Sandy Koufax, who did it in Game One of the 1963 Series. Rather splendid company to join.

What else did Snell have in common with Koufax? Going four and two-thirds innings before surrendering their first hits and staked concurrently to a 5-0 lead.

Koufax struck Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle out and got Roger Maris to pop out behind the plate. Then, he surrendered three straight singles before striking Hector Lopez out pinch-hitting for Hall of Famer Whitey Ford. This being 1963, the days of wine and roses, and nobody thinking pitchers threw inhuman pitch volumes, Koufax went all the way, struck a then-Series-record fifteen out, and probably threw about 160-180 pitches or so before he was finished.

Snell got Cody Belllinger to ground out to third baseman Joey Wendle behind shortstop in an infield shift and struck A.J. Pollock out swinging on one of his biting sliders. Then, he walked Enrique Hernandez, threw a 2-1 pitch to Chris Taylor that disappeared over the right field fence, walked Mookie Betts, and surrendered a base hit to Corey Seager on a hanging slider.

This being 2020, the days of whine and coronavirus, and especially about thirty times more smarts about pitching and what individual arms and bodies will or won’t allow, Rays manager Kevin Cash remembered his usual script and got Snell out of there in favour of Nick Anderson.  Anderson struck Justin Turner out after starting behind 2-0 for the side.

And more than somewhere in this favoured land, the sun is shining bright, the band is playing somewhere, even in isolation. But the old-school grumps fume not just over the “early” lift of Snell—whose 88 pitches in four and two thirds a) might have been 189 pitches if he’d gone nine in theory; and, b) were less efficient than Clayton Kershaw throwing ten less in an inning and a third more in Game One—but the “early” arrival of Anderson.

Isn’t he the actual or alleged closer? Who the eff brings his closer in in the goddam fifth? An older grump, to whom purists were as anathematic as bunts when it came to trying to, you know, win, has your answer.

Casey Stengel thought absolutely nothing of reaching for fresh pitchers as early as needed if the other guys got ornery enough. He did it with Joe Page to send that skintight 1949 pennant race to the absolute final day; he did it with Bob Turley in Game Seven of the 1958 World Series. “Casey’s reasoning,” his biographer Robert W. Creamer recorded, about that’ 49 game when Allie Reynolds walked his way into third-inning trouble before surrendering an RBI hit, “was that it was a ninth-inning situation. He needed a stopper, right now.”

Just ask Buck Showalter and Mike Matheny. Showalter blew a trip to a 2016 American League division series and Matheny lost a 2014 National League pennant because you were “supposed” to save your closer for the “save” situation. Even if he’s damn well the best pitcher on your staff that year.  Edwin Encarnacion’s Toronto Blue Jays and Travis Ishikawa’s San Francisco Giants would still like to thank Showalter and Matheny for going by The Book.

Koufax got off a lot more easily than Snell. Taylor’s blast made Game Two’s score the same as Koufax’s final score, 5-2. The ’63 Dodgers staked Koufax’s lead in the second inning with a double, two singles, and a three-run homer (John Roseboro), and in the third with an RBI single.

STATS Perform records that Snell was the 62nd pitcher in World Series history to take a no-hitter into the fifth and only the second who didn’t make it out. The first? Ralph Branca,  in 1947 Series Game One. After four no-hit innings of his own, the Brooklyn righthander got pricked by Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio with a leadoff single. Then it was walk, hit batsman, two-run double (by Johnny Lindell), walk, and day over for Branca as the Yankees went on to win.

The Rays Wednesday night had Snell in the black right out of the chute, especially against this year’s collection of Dodgers who make a normal point of abusing lefthanded pitching to the point of human rights violations. They had a .990 team OPS and one home run every 14.7 at-bats entering Game Two.

Tighten your slack, dial long distance.

Lowe picked an even better moment to break himself out of the horrific postseason batting slump that belied his standing as possibly the Rays’ best irregular season hitter. He batted with one out in the top of the first, got himself into a juicy 3-1 count against the Dodgers’ rookie opener Tony Gonsolin, and hit one over the center field fence.

If Dodgers manager Dave Roberts’s plan was to get two innings out of Gonsolin, the Rays reminded him of the best-laid plans that go to waste in the second. Manuel Margot walked on five pitches, stole second with Joey Wendle at the plate, tagged to third on Wendle’s deep center field fly out, and Roberts went to the pen sooner than probably planned.

Dylan Floro escaped trouble the hard way. Margot running on contact when Willy Adames grounded one to short was a dead pigeon at the plate. Floro really dodged trouble when Adames took off for second as ball three to Kevin Kiermaier went down and well enough away, heaving heavy relief when Seager kept the tag on Adames as he came off the base in his slide and the initial safe call was overturned.

Floro held fort in the third with a lot of help from Seager, who threw Kiermaier out on a grounder and caught Mike Zunino’s pop back in shallow left field. Roberts played the matches then and brought lefty Victor Gonzalez to take care of lefthanded Rays designated hitter Austin Meadows, who popped the first pitch to shallow left where Turner and Seager ambled out to short left but Seager raced past Turner for the catch.

The Rays struck again in the fourth. A one-out walk to Randy Arozarena, whose home run bat seems to have cooled off considerably over the first two Series games, and a force out at second thanks to Dodger second baseman Enrique Hernandez bobbling Ji-Man Choi’s first-pitch grounder. Roberts lifted Gonzalez for rookie Dustin May, and Margot more or less snuck one through the open right side away from the infield shift for a base hit.

But there was nothing sneaky about Wendle banging a two-run double past Betts and off the right center field wall. Then Lowe wrecked May and the Dodgers again in the fifth. With two outs, and Joe Kelly throwing in the Dodger bullpen, Meadows lined a long line single to right center and Lowe launched an 0-2 fastball off the top of the left field fence and gone.

The middle infielder carrying a grotesque 6-for-56/19-strikeout slump into Game Two couldn’t have broken out of that mire better if he’d sent three line drives right down Dodger throats. “Yeah, those felt really good,” he told reporters post-game. “It felt great to kind of get back and contribute to the team. They’ve been doing so well for the past month. It felt really good to get back and actually start doing stuff again.”

“Lowe” in his case rhymes with “wow,” which is what his bombs induced out of teammates and spectators alike. All he had to do to fix himself was touch base with his longtime hitting counselor Hunter Bledsoe and heed Bledsoe’s reminder to take the slack out of his batter’s box posture.

“The reason Brandon has a cool moment like this is because of the fact that he’s unwilling not to,” Bledsoe himself told ESPN’s Jeff Passan. “People can pout. They can blame. He just works, man. And at the end of the day, regardless of what happens, it’s a hard game. And you can trust in that. It might not be on the time schedule we want, but eventually it will pay off.”

Wendle’s sixth-inning sacrifice fly off Kelly provided the sixth Rays run. Dodger catcher Will Smith made it 6-3 when he rocked Anderson for a one-out launch over the left field fence in the bottom of the sixth. Seager spoiled Pete Fairbanks’s otherwise fine relief outing with a leadoff blast in the bottom of the seventh. But Rays lefthander Aaron Loup cleaned up with two outs the second of which caught Bellinger, of all people, looking at strike three just above the dead middle of the plate.

Loup got the first two outs of the ninth without breaking a sweat. He struck late-game entry Edwin Rios out and retired late-game Dodger catcher Austin Barnes on a fly out to left. Then Cash went to Diego Castillo and Taylor looked at two strikes before swinging for strike three and the game. Did you know this was the first time a relief pitcher ever nailed a one-out World Series save coming into the ninth with two outs and nobody on?

Dodger fans spent a lot of the evening wondering why Roberts didn’t open with Julio Urias. That’ll be Urias completely fresh to start Game Four, after Walker Buehler starts against Charlie Morton in Game Three. Roberts has had his blindspots during his postseason managing life but he’s not entirely addlepated.

Before anyone else gets any more ornery about Cash lifting Snell in the fifth, listen to Snell himself. “I’m not gonna be mad at Cash. He’s got to manage. I’ve got to play,” he said post-game. “But I know I have to do things better, to make it harder for him to come out and pull me. I made it easy there with the walk, the homer and then the walk. You know, you can’t blame him for that. He’s trying to win a World Series game.”

If Cash ends up having to try winning a Game Six, that’ll be Snell fresh and ready to go. That’ll also be Roberts and the Dodgers likely, for now, to face a choice between opening with Gonsolin or with May. Think about that, too.

Blake Snell’s hidden plea

2019-12-07 BlakeSnell

Blake Snell was not amused by the Rays trading Tommy Pham.

Within Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell’s gutteral emission upon the trade of Tommy Pham to the San Diego Padres, you could find a plea pondered almost as long as professional baseball’s been played. If you wanted to.

On the surface, Snell fuming aboard the social media outlet Twitch was negative amazement that Pham would be surrendered for lesser elements: “We gave Pham up for [Hunter] Renfroe and a damn slap[penis] prospect?” And he has a pretty point, since the Rays may or may not have received equal value in return.

Baseball administrators are nothing if not men and women seeking the maximum prospective performance at the minimum prospective cost, of course. Pham earned $41. million in 2019 and was liable to earn more next season following salary arbitration; Renfroe earned $582,000 in 2019 and isn’t eligible for arbitration until after next year. And the damn slap[penis] prospect, Xavier Edwards, was ranked number five on the Padres prospect list before the deal.

Renfroe in 2019 was the Clete Boyer of outfielders, hitting 33 home runs against a .289 on-base percentage, rather companionable to the longtime Yankee third base legend’s 1967 with the Braves, 26 home runs and a .292 OBP. And Renfroe is a promising defender in his own right. But the Rays are renowned for mulcting large results out of small costs and the words “salary dump” come to mind for some, surely.

Snell apologised almost post haste. “[J]ust saying I’m sorry I’m just upset we’re losing a guy like Tommy who helped our team in so many ways!” he said. “Didn’t mean any disrespect to Edwards who I didn’t know who he was until after I said that. I was just sad to lose Tommy . . . It’s tough losing someone you respect so much and enjoy being around.”

Thus does Snell invite deeper examination, where you may find the unenunciated very present plea for loyalty and the noticeable absence thereof. Except that when you do enunciate it, you provoke another tirelessly tiring debate on where the loyalty disappeared among, well, the players, who need to learn a thing or three about loyalty while they pursue their unsightly riches, yap yap yap.

It’s been that way ever since the advent of free agency, of course. Once upon a time it amused, if only because those bellowing against the lack of player loyalty were only too obvious in their ignorance, willful or otherwise, regarding the lack of team loyalty even to Hall of Famers. In both the so-called Good Old Days and the days, years, decades to follow. It’s still somewhat amusing, even when it gets somewhat annoying.

Referencing Hall of Famers was something I did about a decade ago, for another publication, when pondering the “loyalty” question. (That publication ceased to exist not long after I published my old finding.) It began then and now with there having been but one single-team player (Walter Johnson) among the inaugural five players enshrined in 1936. The first single-team Hall of Famer to follow: Lou Gehrig, in 1939.

It goes from there to those whose careers were entirely or mostly reserve era. Thirty-six single-team Hall of Famers played all or mostly in the reserve era; eighteen (allowing the prospect of at least Derek Jeter and Thurman Munson being elected for 2020 induction) played all or mostly in the free agency era. Out of all 232 Hall of Fame players (Jeter and Munson included), it means 54 players—23 percent, not even one quarter of all Hall of Fame players—were single teamers.

The reasons vary as much as their playing or pitching styles do. Age is one. The chance to bolster or reconstruct a roster, hopefully without downright tanking, is another. Issues off the field, which didn’t begin with Rogers Hornsby’s trade after winning a World Series (as a player-manager) because he was a horse’s ass so far as his team (and a lot of baseball) was concerned and didn’t end with the Phillies’ barely conscionable mistaking of a slumping should-be Hall of Famer Scott Rolen for lacking heart or passion, are others.

Still others are organisational philosophy changes, and economic hardship real (think of Connie Mack’s fire sales breaking apart two separate Philadelphia Athletics dynasties) or alleged. (Think of M. Donald Grant’s capricious purge of Tom Seaver in 1977, to name one, or Charlie Finley’s capricious practically everything around the dynastic-turned-rubble Oakland Athletics of the 1970s. Among others.)

The loyalty issue has been with us since the signature dried on the Messersmith-McNally ruling that ended the reserve clause’s abuse in 1975 and provoked the immediate firing of arbitrator Peter Seitz, who heard the evidence real or imagined and ruled properly on behalf of Andy Messersmith. (The intending-retirement, non-playing Dave McNally, technically an unsigned player, signed onto the action as an insurance fallback in the event the refusing-to-sign Messersmith wavered during the 1975 season.)

And almost invariably it begins with rare diversions forward with player loyalty. The fact that owners pre- and post-free agency felt little if any comparable “loyalty” to their players remains underrated if not undiscussed if not untouched at all. The millionaires-versus-billionaires debate is an exercise in fatuity; the loyalty-versus-disloyalty debate exercises a lot of plain nonsense by people who’d impress you otherwise as being old enough and smart enough to know better.

This week Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner said plainly that the team could afford to keep only one of two now-free agent World Series heroes/homegrown Nats, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon, but not both. Lerner’s are economic reasons by his own proclamation, never mind that between himself and his father they’re baseball’s second-richest owners at this writing. Warble not about “loyalty” when Strasburg and Rendon—neither now under binding contract, each free to negotiate on a fair and open job market—are told, pending an unforeseen change of mind or heart, that the team who raised them can’t afford to keep both.

Last March Mike Trout looked at two seasons to come before his first free agency and no small speculation as to whether he’d stay where he was or move elsewhere, and as to how many teams would prepare to mortgage the gold reserves to bring him aboard. That talk included a certain freshly-signed, $350 million Phillie whispering sweet nothings toward Trout regarding keeping the City of Brotherly Love very much at the front of his mind.

Then Trout and his Los Angeles Angels agreed mutually to make him an Angel for life to a $450 million extent, the major talk of which surrounded how richly he deserved the dollars while there seemed little enough appreciation for Trout himself proclaiming publicly, without sounding sirens or fireworks, that he was plenty enough content where he was. And, by the way, hoping more than kinda-sorta that the Angels, maybe, finally, might reconstruct themselves into a team their and baseball’s best player could be proud of.

That was a mutual exercise in loyalty by player and team that went noticed to a glandular level over the fact that Trout would earn the equivalent of a small country’s economy for the rest of his playing career and to a dust bunny’s level over their hard-earned loyalty to each other. Remember it the next time you eavesdrop upon or partake in yet another exercise in the just plain nonsense that baseball loyalty debates become, at least as often as Trout steals a home run from over the center field fence, or hits one there.