Old sexts mean new unemployment

Imagine for one moment an otherwise bright child who’s made mistakes as most children make, bright or otherwise. He comes home from whatever he was doing with his friends, but he discovers an old incident he thought passed without notice or consequence was now unearthed, and his father demands accountability.

Let’s say it was something like giving a push back to that cute but obnoxious little girl who decided the way to make friends and attract the opposite sex was to push, shove, or even punch. He took it long enough because he was taught young gentlemen do not push, shove, or punch young ladies, but he finally got fed up with this particular chick who didn’t know the meaning of the words “knock it off.”

Nobody was truly harmed. It’s not as though she’d shoved him out of third-story windows, it’s not as though he finally dragged her to the nearest open window on the sixth floor. But somebody, who knows whom, let the ancient push back slip within his father’s earshot, and Dad confronts him subsequently giving him minus two seconds to explain himself.

Aware that the conversation is about a comparatively ancient error, he gives the deets straight, no chaser, certain that no father in his right mind would even think about punitive action regarding such a cobwebbed misstep. But he discovers the hard way how wrong he is when Dad pounces, pronounces him grounded for the rest of the forthcoming month, and fans his behind rather mercilessly for an exclamation point.

The boy repairs to his room with more than just a chastened ego and a very sore bottom. He’s between rage and sorrow because it was only a foolish mistake, not exactly the crime of the season. He pushed back after taking it long enough, but it didn’t make him any less a young gentleman or prove he had murder in his heart.

You might want to contemplate that when you wonder whether the Mets went a few bridges too far firing general manager Jared Porter Tuesday morning—almost a fortnight after he and the Mets delivered the trade of the winter bringing Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco aboard—over infractions he committed while he was the Cubs’ director of professional scouting four years ago.

Our hypothetical push-back kid merely responded in kind at long enough last. Porter wasn’t pushed. He sent, shall we say, naughty/nasty sexual images among 62 text  messages to a young woman working as a reporter whose only provocation, if we can call it that, was exchanging business cards on the pretext of coming discussion about international baseball scouting.

The lady discovered the hard way that Porter had amorous designs upon her and didn’t readily take “no” for an answer or ignorance as a subtle hint.She was a foreign correspondent come to the United States for the first time, assigned specifically to cover the Show. She had no idea going in that she’d run into more than a few Porter screwballs on the low inside corner.

“The text relationship started casually before Porter, then the Chicago Cubs director of professional scouting, began complimenting her appearance, inviting her to meet him in various cities and asking why she was ignoring him,” say ESPN writers Mina Kimes and Jeff Passan. “And the texts show she had stopped responding to Porter after he sent a photo of pants featuring a bulge in the groin area.”

Kimes and Passan say ESPN knew of the Porter texts to her in December 2017 and thought about reporting them until she told the network she feared her career would be harmed. She has since left journalism, though Kimes and Passan say she’s kept in touch with ESPN concurrently and went public only under anonymous cover, fearing backlash in her home country.

“My number one motivation is I want to prevent this from happening to someone else,” she’s quoted as saying. “Obviously, [Porter]’s in a much greater position of power. I want to prevent that from happening again. The other thing is, I never really got the notion that he was truly sorry.

“I know in the U.S., there is a women’s empowerment movement. But in [my home country], it’s still far behind,” she continued. “Women get dragged through the mud [in my country] if your name is associated with any type of sexual scandal. Women are the ones who get fingers pointed at them. I don’t want to go through the victimization process again. I don’t want other people to blame me.”

The Mets hired Porter in December, from the Diamondbacks, for whom he worked as an assistant GM since 2017. On Monday night, Porter told ESPN that yes, he’d texted with her, but no, he hadn’t sent any pictures, until he was told their exchanges included selfies and other images, at which point he said, “the more explicit ones are not of me. Those are like, kinda like joke-stock images.”

Mets owner Steve Cohen isn’t exactly laughing, tweeting Tuesday morning, “We have terminated Jared Porter this morning. In my initial press conference I spoke about the importance of integrity and I meant it. There should be zero tolerance for this type of behavior.” Especially since, speaking metaphorically, the lady didn’t exactly push, shove, or punch Porter first all those years ago.

The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal says the lady had an ally in a baseball player from her home country, who helped her create a rather forceful message to Porter back when that Porter didn’t exactly heed at first: “This is extremely inappropriate, very offensive, and getting out of line. Could you please stop sending offensive photos or msg.” He’s said to have apologised to her much later.

“Colleagues of mine who are women use words such as ‘tired’ and ‘exhausted’ to describe their daily struggle to be treated the same as men, to command the same respect when they walk into a clubhouse, to do their jobs without facing sexual provocation,” Rosenthal adds. “They are professionals, not playthings.”

It’s one thing to ask a lady for a date. It’s another thing to try your best to change her mind if she says “no.” But turning from there to hot pursuit sexting is something entirely different and disturbing.

The Mets were unaware of Porter’s sexually explicit hot pursuit until Monday. They cut Porter loose early enough the morning after. A 7:30 a.m. Eastern time firing happens when enough New Yorkers have barely finished coffee at the breakfast table before rumbling out  hoping for just a little more snooze on the subway before work.

Some think the Mets could have been aware of Porter’s old lewd hot pursuit sooner. Some think Cohen and company have surrendered to cancel culture, to which Cohen had a reply when one indignant tweeter demanded to know Porter’s path to redemption “now that his life has been ruined.”

“I have no idea,” Cohen replied, though surely he knows Porter’s redemption is likelier to come away from baseball than within it, as second chances so often do. “I have an organization of 400 employees that matter more than any one individual. No action [taken] would set a poor example to the culture I’m trying to build.”

A subsequent tweeter isolated a parallel point addressed directly to the demand for a path to redemption: “As someone who is 100% opposed to cancel culture, this is a ridiculous thing to say. Jared brought this on himself. His path to redemption is on him. This has nothing to do with cancel culture.”

Others think the Mets in the Cohen era have now become the essence of decisive action when made aware of such wrongdoing. The joke is kinda like on Porter now. But nobody’s laughing.

The Padres shop at Woolworth Bay and Tiffany-Mart

Yu’re kidding, right?

They may not necessarily shoot the wounded in baseball, not much, anyway. But show me one or two teams hurting actually or allegedly and I’ll show you one team standing ready with a bag of salt for those wounds.

The American League champion Tampa Bay Rays prefer to continue as baseball’s version of Woolworth’s, a bargain-basement store with a bargain-basement approach. The Chicago Cubs seem to prefer being Tiffany on the outside but Wal-Mart on the floor inside. The San Diego Padres don’t mind going to either store.

The Padres went to Woolworth’s and spent a pair of major league youths and minor league prospects to walk home with lefthanded pitcher Blake Snell—last seen pitching in the 2020 World Series, of course. He’ll have elite rotation company in San Diego silks for 2021, too.

The Rays also went to Tiffany-Mart and tricked a salesperson into taking a moderately successful major leaguer and four teen prospects several years from maturity for the privilege of walking home with righthander Yu Darvish and his personal catcher Victor [Beta] Caratini.

In both transactions the Padres came away with gems. In one they surrendered a pair of young Showmen who could go either way and a couple of minor leaguers who could go likewise. In the other, they fleeced in broad daylight as it’s become more evident that, whatever the Cubs want to call it, there’s something suspicious in Wrigleyville.

“This,” tweeted ESPN’s Buster Olney, “is what a salary dump in a pandemic looks like. The Cubs aimed to transfer debt.

Debt? The gigarich Ricketts family? Let’s give them the momentary benefit of the doubt, as Bleed Cubbie Blue writer Sara Sanchez is willing to do for a moment. “The pandemic hit just as the Wrigley Field renovation, the team’s investments in Wrigleyville, and Marquee Sports Network came together,” she writes. “Everything was finally open for business to recoup some of the estimated $750 million the Ricketts family had invested in the neighborhood – and then, it was all shut down.”

Then, she says, more or less, halt right there: “Let’s not kid ourselves — neither the Ricketts nor anyone else in baseball has opened their books, which is unlikely to change in the near future, and none of us know if those losses are actual losses or just falling short of projected revenue . . .”

[W]hether you believe the Ricketts’ claim that they had actual losses, or the [Major League Baseball Players Association]’s claim that those are projected revenue losses, it really doesn’t matter because the front office has clearly been given a mandate to shed costs. It does not matter that you cannot balance a multi-hundred million (or billion, as Kaplan claims) dollar loss on the backs of peanut vendors or even Cy Young contenders. Believing in that financial frame is how you get a deal like this.

FanGraphs’s Craig Edwards is a little more blunt, in an essay titled “Padres give up prospects for Yu Darvish while the Cubs give up”: “[W]hile even a Darvish-less Chicago should still contend in a weak NL Central, there are only two players on the roster under team control beyond next season who project to be worth more than two wins: [pitcher Kyle] Hendricks, who turned 31 last week, and [outfielder] Ian Happ. The Cubs’ payroll for next season has now dropped below $140 million with no signs that ownership plans on increasing it; if there is another championship window on the horizon, it’s unclear when it will open.”

The Rays have been such a basement operation that some wags believe they’ve been living on salary dumping or at least taking to extremes the time-tested maxim that it’s better to deal a year or two too soon than a year or two too late. But it doesn’t get them off the hook entirely for dealing a former Cy Young Award winner to the team that promptly hit Tiffany-Mart and snatched what some call the National League’s should-have-been 2020 Cy Young Award winner.

Trading Snell, The Athletic‘s Keith Law writes, “only further underscores the fact that the situation in St. Petersburg is untenable.”

The team’s owner will not spend on players. He has said the stadium situation is the cause, limiting their revenues, and that argument has some merit; they don’t draw, and the stadium — ugly and hard to access — is at least a large part of their problem. Perhaps a new stadium on the Tampa side of the bay would help, but the team and/or MLB would have to pay for it — as they should, since it would profit the Rays and indirectly profit the league as a whole (or at least the teams that pay into revenue sharing). Perhaps they need to relocate to Nashville or Portland. But the current situation isn’t working. The Rays went to the World Series and immediately traded their best pitcher, a recent Cy Young winner, rather than paying him what amounts to fourth starter money in 2021. The MLBPA shouldn’t stand idly by and watch one of the few employers of major-league players all but refuse to pay them major-league salaries. The Rays made a damn good baseball trade here, but baseball is worse off for it.

Law isn’t exactly kinder or gentler about the Cubs dumping their best pitcher and his personal catcher, either. “Why the Cubs are operating on a shoestring is beyond me,” he writes, “but I can’t believe this was a baseball operations decision.”

It was likely forced by ownership, even though the Cubs were a playoff team this past season and had a very good chance to be a playoff team in 2021, even with their offensive flaws. This move makes them less expensive but not better now, and not better for several more years. What a swift, shocking fall for a team that less than five years ago seemed primed to compete for not just one but multiple championships.

And what a clearer picture it presents as to why Theo Epstein took a hike toward taking 2021 off to regroup himself.

Which isn’t to say that the Padres aren’t rolling some serious dice of their own, of course. Walking home from the shopping spree with Snell and Darvish has legions of fans drooling over the possiblity that the world champion Los Angeles Dodgers aren’t the only powerhouse in the National League West now.

But the Padres have been there, done that before, and not necessarily come up smelling as sweet as the San Diego waterfront air. They may be behaving like a West Coast discipleship of the New York Yankees, but even the Empire Emertus hasn’t been immune to big moves imploding on them, either.

Remember 2015? Padres acquired James Shields and Craig Kimbrel to go with additions of [Wil] Myers, [Matt] Kemp, & [Justin] Upton,” reminds Halo Life, a blog customarily dedicated to the Los Angeles Angels. “Big moves at the time. They were the talk of the winter. 74-88 record following season.” Halo Life says, Deja vu. It says here we’ll know when we get there.

Put a meal and a stewardess on that flip

You’re not seeing things. That’s Willson Contreras’s bat in flight after the Cubs’ DH sent a three-run homer about that high en route the right field bleachers Friday night.

If you’re taking tallies to determine the bat flip of the year, Chicago Cubs designated hitter Willson Contreras should be among your top finalists. His Friday night flip in the ballpark formerly known as Comiskey Park, in the top of the third, was an absolute work of art. Enough to make Tim Anderson, Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper, and Tom Lawless resemble nursery school finger painters.

If you’re taking concurrent tallies to determine the most brain-damaged delayed over-reaction to Dali-esque flips, Chicago White Sox pitcher Jimmy Cordero should hold a place among the finalists likewise. He threw a pair of high inside pitches to Contreras and the second caught Contreras flush enough in the back, just off the C that begins the spelling of Contreras’s surname on his uniform back.

Flipped his bat high in the air? Contreras’s flip off the three-run homer he smashed on White Sox starter Dylan Cease (and Desist)’s dollar was the only flip yet where you were tempted to say what you used to holler watching a titanic home run fly out: “Put a meal and a stewardess on that one!”

If you’re going to be Fun Police enough to want retribution for a bat flip that looked as though it took off from O’Hare International and not Contreras’s hands, the time to go for it was Contreras’s next plate appearance in the top of the fifth. Cease walked Contreras on ball one up and a little in, ball two up and away, ball three inside middle, and ball four down and away.

There was no way Cease wanted to feed Contreras anything resembling the fastball that arrived just off the middle of the plate and flew the other way into the right field bleachers two innings earlier.

There was also no way Cease was trying to throw one through Contreras’s assorted anatomy, even if you could make a case that ball one up and in might have been a subtle nastygram reminding Contreras it’s not nice to channel your inner Michelangelo when you’ve already hit a ball through the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Might.

Maybe Cease got it when Contreras defended himself after the game. “I’m not going to change anything,” he told reporters. “I play hard for my team. I always want to do the best for my team. But if they don’t like me, that’s fine. I don’t play for other teams to like me, anyways. And if I have to do it again, I will do it again.”

But there was every way the White Sox—clinchers of a postseason berth at least, hopefuls toward snatching the American League Central title, even in this pandemic-truncated season of surreal—were feeling just a little over-punished on the night.

You tend to feel that way when Yu Darvish and company are shutting you out, Darvish not quite so nail driving as he’s been most of this season—during which he’s redeemed himself to the tenth power and into the Cy Young Award conversation—but effective enough to keep you to three hits and one walk and only two runners getting as far as second base under his command.

You feel even more that way, after Contreras’s bomb flip put the Cubs up 4-0 and Javier Baez’s leadoff launch over the left center field wall made it 5-0 in the top of the fourth, after Victor Caratini wrestled your relief option Gio Gonzalez to a seventh-pitch sinker that didn’t have enough weight to pull it quite to the bottom, and Caratini sunk it into the same bleachers Contreras reached three innings earlier. Not to mention Kyle Schwarber’s second-inning blast, making for the Cubs a four-bomb evening.

“The dog ate his homework,” pleaded White Sox skipper Rick Renteria. “Detention!” replied the umps.

When Contreras got drilled, the Cubs got riled. They hollered mightily from their dugout, enough to get the umpires into a confab that resulted in Cordero, White Sox manager Rick Renteria, and pitching coach Don Cooper the rest of the night off for bad behaviour.

Renteria tried the dog-ate-my-homework excuse after the game. A second-grade child had a better chance of making it stick. “The ball got away from him,” he insisted of Cordero’s cone job. “We couldn’t convince [the umpire] of that . . . There was no warning. They just gathered and ejected him.” As if a second straight up-and-in pitch was inadmissible evidence.

Cordero tried the same excuse. “It was just a bad pitch, a bad pitch to him,” he said after the game. “The ball sunk a lot, and that happened.” Sorry. Attempted sinkers that rise enough to get a man in the back don’t sunk a lot. Detention for you.

Understand that Cubs manager David Ross is just old school enough that it wasn’t programmed into his own playing software to deliver as Contreras did after hitting a hefty home run. But the man whose first major league home run came off an ex-Cubs first baseman named Mark Grace in Arizona late in a blowout, and whose last major league home run put the Cubs up by three in an eventual World Series-winning Game Seven, wouldn’t throw his man under the proverbial bus for his exuberance.

“It wasn’t to disrespect the other group,” Ross told reporters after the Cubs finished what they started, a 10-0 shut-and-blowout. “It was because we’ve been struggling offensively and he brought some swagger. He brought some edge. I loved every second of it. I don’t think he deserved to get hit at all.”

Why, Grandpa Rossy even had the pleasant audacity of comparing Contreras’s orbital flip to the one Anderson delivered a year ago April. When Anderson ripped Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller’s canteloupe over the fence and made of his bat a helicopter rotor while he was at it, got drilled in the rump roast by Keller his next time up, and objected vociferously. Drawing his teammates out of the dugout, getting both Keller and Anderson ejected by Country Joe West—who may or may not have remembered Anderson zapping him over an unwarranted ejection the previous season.

“All the hype is on the guy on the other side when he bat-flipped, right?” said Ross. “I thought Tim Anderson’s bat flip last year where he flipped it and looked in his dugout, that’s what you want. That’s what Willson did.”

Making the White Sox resemble hypocritical flip-floppers is also what Willson did. Their Andersons can flip until the flock flies home, but the opposing flock better not even think about it. The Fun Police are now reduced to the dog eating their homework. The dog looks better than the White Sox.

Practise makes perfect

Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax poses after the perfect game he pitched 55 years ago tonight. Said Cubs pitcher Bob Hendley, who almost no-hit the Dodgers on the backside of the game, “It’s no disgrace to get beat by class.”

Now and then the best story of a particular baseball game doesn’t happen during the game itself. I can think of one that happened four decades after the fact, a story Sandy Koufax’s biographer Jane Leavy exhumed when writing her remarkable book, which wrapped  around the perfect game he pitched 55 years ago tonight.

Leavy had just written that Koufax remains proud of his accomplishments while refusing “to exist in cinders and ashes” when she described him as a good friend who remembers birthdays and has an open heart. She also observed, almost insistently, that Koufax would love nothing more than to be another regular guy if only people would let the man come before the legend—as he strives to do even now.

“He does not disavow who he was or what he accomplished,” she wrote. “He is proud of it . . . He doesn’t speak of himself in the third person, but he does think of ‘Sandy Koufax’ as someone else, a persona separate from himself.”

Her immediate example of the open heart from there was Bob Hendley, the righthanded Chicago Cubs pitcher he defeated in the perfecto. Earlier in the same chapter, Leavy noted that Hendley’s youngest son, Bart, clipped a local article about Hendley and the game and sent it to Koufax. Koufax returned the clip autographed and included a note saying, “Say hello to your father.”

Then, around the actual anniversary, Hendley received an unexpected package. Inside was a clean baseball hand-inscribed, “What a game.” Included was a handwritten note: “We had a moment, a night, and a career. I hope life has been good to you—Sandy.”

Koufax’s path to the Hall of Fame includes that he threw no-hitters against the embryonic New York Mets in June 1962, the San Francisco Giants in May 1963, and the pennant-contending/ultimately collapsing Philadelphia Phillies in June 1964. It looked then as though among the other achievements that placed him somewhere in his own quadrant, a Koufax no-hitter was likely to become an annual ritual.

Then he squared off against Hendley in Dodger Stadium that Thursday night 55 years ago. Except for Dodgers outfielder Lou Johnson in the bottom of the seventh, Hendley himself would have pitched a no-hitter on the backside of Koufax’s jewel. Surrealistic as it still sounds, Johnson accounted for the game’s only hit and the game’s only run but never the twain did meet.

With two out, Johnson blooped one behind second, eluding both Cub second baseman Glenn Beckert and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks running over from first. By the time Banks reached the ball, Johnson had second, credited with a bloop double. Dodgers right fielder Ron Fairly grounded out to shortstop Don Kessinger for the side.

The irony was Johnson scoring the game’s only run two innings earlier. He led off with a walk, took second on Fairly’s bunt, then stole third with eventual 1965 National League Rookie of the Year Jim Lefebvre at the plate and scored when Cubs catcher Chris Krug’s throw sailed past Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo.

Of all the cliches about the mid-1960s Dodgers, the most enduring one is that they were so weak at the plate the leadoff batter working out a walk, taking first base clean after a strikeout pitch was lost by the opposing catcher, or getting hit by a pitch was equivalent to starting a rally with the bases loaded and nobody out.

The pitching win has become devalued in the decades since Koufax’s time, mostly because you can count on half your hand how many pitchers really do the bulk of the work needed to win. Koufax was one of those pitchers when all was said and done.

In 1965 he was probably lucky to average three runs to work during the games he pitched. Marry that to the league hitting .179 against him while he led the entire Show with a 2.09 earned run average and a 1.93 fielding-independent pitching and Sandy Koufax earned every one of his Show-leading 26 wins and the second of his three major league Cy Young Awards.

Perfect games aren’t usually the sole work of the pitcher who performs them, either, but Koufax again is an outlier.

When he no-hit the Mets in June 1962, he struck out thirteen but walked five while facing thirty batters, accounting for 43 percent of the game outs himself. Against the Giants in May 1963, he struck out only four and walked two while facing 28 batters, accounting for 14 percent of the outs himself. Against the Phillies in June 1964, he struck out twelve and walked one while facing the minimum 27. (He walked should-be Hall of Famer Dick Allen with two out in the fourth, but Allen was thrown out stealing while Koufax pitched to Danny Cater.) That meant he accounted for 44 percent of the outs himself.

But when he pinned the Cubs 55 years ago today, Koufax struck out fourteen including nine straight in the final two innings. He was responsible for 52 percent of the outs directly. Breaking Bob Feller’s record of three career no-hitters, Koufax did what Feller couldn’t—he proved that practise makes perfect.

Only one other pitcher has struck out as many as fourteen batters in a perfect game, and that was Giants pitcher Matt Cain striking fourteen out in 2012. Unlike Koufax, Cain didn’t strike anyone out in the ninth. It also took half a century before another no-hit pitcher struck out the side in the ninth, when two pitchers—the Giants’ Chris Heston and the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta—did it in 2015.

Koufax is also the only pitcher to consummate two no-hitters against two separate teams by retiring the same batter. He did it to grizzled veteran Harvey Kuenn to finish his 1963 no-no, with John Roseboro behind the plate for him, getting Kuenn to ground out right back to the box. Then, finishing the 1965 perfecto, with Jeff Torborg behind the plate for him, he got Kuenn—traded by the Giants to the Cubs with Hendley himself in May 1965—on a swinging strikeout.

The 1965 strikeout climaxes Vin Scully’s much-anthologised call of the ninth inning, often under the title, “29,000 People and a Million Butterflies.”

He is one out away from the promised land, and Harvey Kuenn is coming up. So Harvey Kuenn is batting for Bob Hendley. The time on the scoreboard is 9:44. The date September the ninth, 1965. And Koufax working on veteran Harvey Kuenn.

Sandy into his windup, and the pitch—fastball for a strike. He has struck out, by the way, five consecutive batters, and that’s gone unnoticed.

Sandy ready, and the strike-one pitch—very high, and he lost his hat. He really forced that one. That was only the second time tonight where I have had the feeling that Sandy threw instead of pitched, trying to get that little extra, and that time he tried so hard his hat fell off. He took an extremely long stride toward the plate and Torborg had to go up to get it. One and one to Harvey Kuenn. Now he’s ready—fastball, high, ball two.

You can’t blame a man for pushing just a little bit now. Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries it off on his left pants leg. All the while, Kuenn just waiting.

Now Sandy looks in. Into his windup, and the two-one pitch to Kuenn—swung on and missed, strike two. It is 9:46 p.m. Two and two to Harvey Kuenn, one strike away.

Sandy into his windup. Here’s the pitch—swung on and missed, a perfect game!

When the game ended, Koufax faced reporters, one of whom asked, “Who gave you the most trouble?” Still spent from his evening’s work, Koufax quipped, “Torborg.” The rookie catcher lingered to get a Koufax autograph on something as a memento. The joke went past the scribes faster than Koufax’s final fastball shot through Kuenn’s swing.

The same home plate umpire who called Koufax’s 1964 no-hitter against the Phillies worked behind the plate for the perfecto. “He had a perfect game, too,” Hendley said of Ed Vargo. “Except for getting hit by a foul ball,” Koufax said. So call Vargo the only umpire in major league history to be hit by a foul calling two no-hitters by the same pitcher when he was behind the plate.

Koufax didn’t let Vargo’s work go unheeded, Leavy recorded. When the tumult and shouting dissipated in the Dodger Stadium clubhouses, Koufax handed Vargo a ball signed, “Thanks for a second great game, Eddie.” To which Vargo could reply, appreciatively, “The game called itself.”

Bart Hendley, the same son who sent Koufax the commemorative newspaper clip, looked at the ball and accompanying note Koufax sent around the 35th anniversary of the game. “Dad,” he said, “this ball is from that era.” It was, indeed—a 1965 Rawlings ball, showing the official signature of then-National League president Warren Giles.

Koufax and Hendley squared off again later that September. That time, Hendley beat Koufax, 2-1. The two pitchers posed for pictures at Wrigley Field before the game. An Internet search shows a copy of one showing Hendley to Koufax’s right, Hendley in his home Cubs uniform and Koufax wearing a Dodgers jacket over his road uniform. Koufax autographed the picture—on Hendley’s side.

Hendley became a physical education teacher and high school baseball coach near his home in Macon, Georgia, after his pitching career ended. He told Leavy he would have liked doing better in his own pitching career, but that he wouldn’t have wanted to be Koufax. Not even if the roles could have been reversed and he’d thrown the perfect game while Koufax settled for just missing a no-hitter on its backside.

“I am who I am,” Hendley said. “I’m from where I’m from. I understand he has a problem wherever he goes, he’s swarmed. I don’t want to switch places.” He admitted to Leavy he’d have liked to have something like a signed ball to pass to his grandchildren, but he didn’t expect something like that.

Then came the autographed newspaper clip to his youngest son, and that 1965 National League ball with the accompanying, handwritten note. “I’d often been asked what it was like to be the other guy,” Hendley told Leavy. “I wrote Sandy a note and I said I always responded, ‘It’s no disgrace to get beat by class’.”

What a game.

Dark are baseball’s video rooms

Javier Baez wants his and other players’ in-game television back.

The following program is not brought to you in living colour, on NBC or elsewhere around the Show. Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs shortstop, is not amused.

Baez is having less than an exemplary season at the plate as it is without being frustrated because a valuable tool he and most players use during games is denied them this year.

They can’t duck into the video room during games this season to review their prior plate appearances or pitching turns during games, spot mistakes, and adjust accordingly when they check in at the plate or on the mound next.

“To be honest, it sucks because I make my adjustments during the game,” Baez told ESPN writer Jesse Rogers Monday, and that was after he picked up three hits while his Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 5-1. “I watch my swing. I watch where the ball went, where the contact was. I’m mad. I’m really mad about that we don’t have it.”

Baez thinks, not without reason, that it simply wasn’t right for baseball’s government to put the entire Show on video restriction simply because of the malfeasance of two known teams at least. Think of Mom and Dad grounding all the kids because one broke into the liquor cabinet while the others were nowhere within two miles of the scene of the crime.

As Rogers writes, “In-game video was taken away this season in the wake of the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal.” But the culprit wasn’t Astrogate alone.

Bad enough: the Astros either adjusted an existing camera illegally or installed another one just as illegally to enable off-field-based sign stealing. Nowhere near as bad, though enough Astro fans think otherwise, of course: the Boston Red Sox didn’t adjust or install cameras, but they did develop off-field-based sign-stealing reconnaissance by way of their existing video room.

Video rooms are in all ballparks behind both dugouts. The Rogue Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring involved someone deciphering pitch signs on existing screens, then signaling a baserunner to send the sign to the hitter. The Rogue Sox exercised a sophisticated if sneaky variation of old-fashioned gamesmanship, but doing it by way of the video room was a major no-no.

Unlike the Astros’ extracurricular installations or adjustments, whichever they were, MLB itself installing the video rooms handed the Red Sox and every other team surrendering to similar temptations the keys to the liquor cabinet expecting they’d be good little boys and not even think about drinking unlawfully.

“[P]rotocols put in place during the coronavirus pandemic all but assured that there would be no way to monitor usage properly,” Rogers writes. “Now players can’t watch their at-bats until after games.”

The old-school old farts would remind you, of course, that once upon a time, in the dark days before technology advanced at warp speed to destroy Life As We Knew It When the Going Was Good, coaches and managers observed batters and pitchers and suggested adjustments accordingly, if not necessarily astutely, all by their own selves. With no subversive help from God or those subversive technocrats from General Electric, RCA, Bell & Howell, IBM, Wollensak, or others.

(Oops. Wollensak’s and other hand-held spyglasses and telescopes ended up in the hands of such off-field sign-stealing cheaters as the 1940 Detroit Tigers, the 1948 Cleveland Indians, and—especially—the 1951 New York Giants, to name a few.)

What brass balls on early 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers manager Charley Dressen, then. Dressen once helped Gil Hodges break out of a ferocious batting slump by commissioning a filmmaker to shoot hours of footage of the beleaguered first baseman at the plate. Then, he showed Hodges on extensive film the backward mis-step he’d take in the box—his back foot pulling himself and his swing off line—and gave a successful suggestion on how to keep that step from hurting his swing. Career saved.

The nerve of such people as the now-late Lou Brock. In the mid-1960s, he first took up the practise of filming enemy pitchers to study everything he could about their mound  tendencies and how he might exploit them for more efficient basepath crime. (I don’t want to be in your goddam movies, Brock!—Hall of Fame pitcher Don Drysdale.) From Kodak to Cooperstown.

The gall of such people as the late Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn. In the early-to-mid 1980s, Gwynn started carrying a video recorder and player around with him, at home and on the road, while his wife shot and captured his plate appearances so he could study them as a rabbinical scholar studies the Talmud, during and after games alike, and correct any mistakes or flaws he happened to catch.

Today’s baseball player can normally survive a tough plate appearance or turn on the mound, duck into the video room at next opportunity, and observe and adjust on the fly. Or, have a successful turn, then study and retain what he did right. Argue against such legitimate helpmates? You might as well argue the American family never had it so good as when they had to beat the dust and dirt of the rugs and slipcovers hanging on clotheslines, instead of reaching for the Electrolux.

This is not to suggest that a batter or a pitcher has lost the capability to think hard enough on their own and figure necessary adjustments. Minds greater than baseball minds rarely say no to all the sound help they can get from all the sound sources they can find, technological or otherwise.

Try to convince yourself that even such a Hall of Famer as Ted Williams would have said no to seeing some film of himself at the plate and catching the occasional kink or further refining the betters. When he met and befriended Gwynn late in life, Teddy Ballgame surely approved of Captain Video’s private television production operation on behalf of (the horror) improving himself at the plate.

Set to one side the temptations that manifest because boys will be boys, in Houston, Boston, and anywhere else, and video lacks what even the best managers and coaches have no matter how well they train themselves or get themselves trained otherwise. Video doesn’t lie, or at least surrender to coaches’ biases based on how they swung or pitched back in their Good Old Days.

(How many coaches ruined how many players by trying to bend them to their own former playing ways or toward presumed styles? Possible racial considerations to one side, the Cubs traded Lou Brock after they couldn’t make him into the pure slugger he really wasn’t. The Mets once thought their phenom pitcher Dwight Gooden needed to stop trying to miss bats and add off-speed pitches he couldn’t throw comfortably though their pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre once did. Hall of Fame talent ruined: Gooden’s confidence and in due course his shoulder and his career were compromised.)

After the Astrogate/Soxgate kerfuffles, baseball’s government decided the video room’s future would include specially hired and trained security the better to keep the game’s grand theft felons from even thinking about future replay room reconnaissance cheating. Baez doesn’t exactly object to the idea. He just didn’t think the future wouldn’t be right now.

“We didn’t cheat. We’re not cheating, and we got to pay for all this,” he told Rogers. “It’s tough . . . but a lot of players are struggling, too. A lot of stars are struggling, and I’m just one more. The way that it is is not the way we play baseball. And I need video to make adjustments and during the game. It doesn’t matter who is there to watch us. It doesn’t matter if we have all the police the MLB wants to send over here.”

In this pandemically truncated season played in conditions unheard of in previous seasons, many players aren’t struggling but many players are. The reasons are varied widely. And it isn’t as though Baez is crying out from the subterranean depths. His Cubs at this writing have the best record in the National League Central and the fourth-best in the entire league. Somehow.

Once upon a time, in 1980, the hits on the music charts included a ditty called, “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The lack of video in this Quiet, Please! Geniuses Playing with Mental Blocks season isn’t going to kill the baseball star. (Shane Bieber, Jacob deGrom, Yu Darvish, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis, Jr., and Mike Trout, call your offices.)

But it’s not making their serious work of play simple, either.