The first five days

Stop me if you’ve heard it before: Jacob deGrom pitched like a Hall of Famer, but the new Mets bullpen puked the bed like the old one did.

The fans are back in the stands, however limited by ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols, but the Nationals have yet to play a regular-season game thanks to a few players and a staffer or two testing positive. There went that Opening Day must-see match between Max Scherzer and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.

With their opening set with the Nats thus wiped out, deGrom had to wait until the Mets went to Philadelphia Monday. Oops. That and everything else seemed to play a support role to the horrid news out of San Diego.

The news that Fernando Tatis, Jr., the Padres’s new bazillion dollar shortstop, suffered a partial left shoulder dislocation on a hard third inning swing at the plate during a Monday loss to the Giants.

Padres manager Jayce Tingler told reporters he thinks team trainers and medical people were able to pop the shoulder back together, but the team isn’t taking chances. At this writing, MRI results aren’t available and nobody knows yet whether Tatis will spend significant time on the injured list.

If it’s more than a small shoulder dislocation, it may not be significant time. If it’s something like a labral tear, Tatis could miss six months—essentially, the rest of the season—according to one doctor who knows such shoulder troubles and spoke to the Los Angeles Times. Don’t fault the Padres if they’re saying to themselves, “Thank God for insurance.”

DeGrom could use a little extra insurance himself, alas. The good news for the Mets: deGrom was his usual self Monday night. Six shutout innings, seven punchouts, three hits, three-figure speed on his fastballs. The bad news, alas: the Mets are gonna Met, so far. At least out of the bullpen.

Their on-paper impressive offense found nothing more than two runs to support their ace. They got an inning of shutout relief from Miguel Castro relieving deGrom for the seventh, but the bullpen puked the bed in the eighth—including hitting Bryce Harper with the bases loaded. Not exactly a Rhodes Scholarship move there.

The Old Fart Contingency thundered aboard social media that Mets manager Luis Rojas blew it lifting deGrom after six strong—until they were reminded the added layoff after the Washington postponement put both deGrom and the Mets into caution mode.

“If that was [last] Thursday and I’m on normal rest,” the smooth righthander said postgame of the early hook, “I don’t think there is any chance I’m coming out of that game. We discussed it before what was the right thing to do. Long season and talking to them coming in, it felt like was the right decision.”

It was neither deGrom’s nor Rojas’s fault that, after Garcia took care of the Phillies in the seventh with just one infield hit within a fly out and two ground outs, the Phillies loaded the bases on the Mets’ new relief toy, Tyler May, in the eighth with one out, before Rojas went to another new Met bull, Aaron Loup. And Loup promptly hit Harper to push Miller home, before J.T. Realmuto singled home pinch runner Quinn, Mets late third base replacement Luis Guillorme threw home off line allowing Harper and Rhys Hoskins to score, and Didi Gregorius pushed Realmuto home with a first-pitch sacrifice fly.

The Mets had nothing to answer except a two-out ninth-inning stand that came up two dollars short against Phillies closer Alvarado. Kevin Pillar singled up the pipe, Francisco Lindor—the Mets’ own new bazillion-dollar lifetime shortstop—dumped a quail into shallow right that landed just in front of and then off the glove on oncoming, diving Harper, and Michael Conforto singled Pillar home while setting up first and third.

Pete Alonso, their 2019 Rookie of the Year bomber, hit one to the back of right field that looked as though it had a chance to ricochet off the top of the fence if not clear it. It wasn’t quite enough to stop Harper from running it down, taking a flying leap with his back against the fence, and snapping it into his glove to stop a game-tying extra-base hit and end the game with the Phillies on the plus side, 5-3.

Marry the foregoing to deGrom going 2-for-3 at the plate including an RBI single, and no wonder May himself said post-game, “Jake shouldn’t have to do everything himself. That’s not what teams are, and frankly Jake did almost everything today.”

Just don’t marry that to things such as the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hitting 100+ mph on the mound and hitting a mammoth home run that flew out 100+ mph in the same inning last Friday night. Ohtani the two way player is an outlier among outliers; deGrom’s merely an outlier.

As of Tuesday morning— with the National League’s pitchers having to bat because Commissioner Nero simply couldn’t bring himself to keep the universal designated hitter this year at least, and Ohtani batting second in the Angel lineup the night he started on the mound, among other things—the pitchers have a .131/.157/.192 slash line and a .349 OPS.

The pitchers at the plate from Opening Day through the end of Monday night collected thirteen hits in 149 plate appearances: nine singles, three doubles, and Ohtani’s Friday night flog a third of the way up Angel Stadium’s high right field bleachers. They also walked three times and struck out 56 times. And the OFC still insists the National League just say no to its own invention.

All around the Show, too, there was one home run hit every 35 plate appearances and fourteen percent of all 928 hits the season’s first five days cleared the fences. It took five outs to create a single run, with 5.3 average runs created per game and 631 runs created while 559 scored.

It was fun to hear the fan noises even in limited capacities, too, though the limits in Angel Stadium made Ohtani’s blast sound even more explosive at the split second he hit it. If only things had been more fun for the home crowds: the many themes for the Show’s first five days could include, plausibly, the blues classic “On the Road Again.”

The home teams’ slash lines: .225/.313/.374/.687 OPS. The road teams: .245/.328/.403/.731 OPS. The road teams drove in fifteen more runs, hit thirteen more home runs, seven more doubles, and had seventy more hits overall. They also took eleven more walks, though they struck out fifty more times and grounded into fifteen more double plays. The road rats also had a +29 batting average on balls in play over the home boys and 108 more total bases while they were at it.

Maybe the shocker among the opening road rats were the Orioles. The Woe-rioles. Taking three straight from the Red Sox in Fenway Park. Out-scoring the Olde Towne Team 18-5, including and especially an 11-3 battering on Sunday afternoon. Even those paranoid about ID cards might want to insist the Orioles show theirs, even after the Orioles got a brief return to earth from the Yankees beating them 7-0 Monday in New York.

Unless it was the Reds, taking two out of three from the Cardinals to open, including and especially a 12-1 battering Sunday afternoon that proved the best revenge against abject stupidity is to slap, slash, scamper, and smash your way to a six-run seventh when you’re already up three runs—thanks to Nick Castellanos ripping Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez for a two-out, three-run homer an inning earlier.

Castellanos got drilled by Cardinals reliever Jack Woodford Saturday . . . two days after he bat-flipped a home run. Then, when he dove home to score on a wild pitch, Castellanos got bumped by Woodford sliding in to bring down the tag Castellanos beat. Castellanos sprung up, barked at Woodford, and began walking away before trouble could arrive. Oops. Trouble arrived—when Yadier Molina shoved him from behind to spark a bench-clearing brawl.

Baseball government myopically suspended Castellanos two games for “provoking” the brawl. Who’s baseball’s official optician? Who couldn’t see what everyone else with eyes saw? And how long has Molina—handed only an “undisclosed fine” along with a few others in the scrum—been so privileged a character that he can get away with the actual kickoff of a brawl that was seeded in the first place because the Cardinals are one of the game’s self-appointed Fun Police precincts?

“I was pleased,” Cardinal manager Mike Schildt told the press after that game. “Our guys came out there. We’re not going to take it. I know Yadi went immediately right at him, got sidetracked by [Cincinnati’s Mike Moustakas]. Woody, to his credit, got up and was like, ‘I’m not going to sit here and be taunted.’ Good for him.”

Taunted? All Castellanos said when he sprang up, by his own admission, was “Let’s [fornicating] go!” Anyone who thinks Woodford lacked intent didn’t see that ball sailing on a sure line up into Castellanos’s shoulder and rib region. Nor did they see Molina very clearly shoving Castellanos without Castellanos having the benefit of a rear-view mirror.

Castellanos appealed the two-game suspension. The final result wasn’t known at this writing. But the Cardinals should be getting a message of their own: Defund the Fun Police. Pronto.

How about the Astros, who went into Oakland and swept four from the Athletics before ambling on to Anaheim and losing 7-6 to the Angels Monday night? That was despite dropping a three-run first on Angel starter Jose Quintana and yanking a fourth run out of him in the top of the fourth, before the Angels finally opened their side of the scoreboard with Mike Trout (of course) hitting Luis Garcia’s 2-2 meatball about twelve or thirteen rows into the left field seats.

The Angels pushed a little further back, the Astros pushed a little further ahead, until the Angels ironed up and tore four runs out of the Astros in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single (Dexter Fowler), a run-scoring force play (David Fletcher), a throwing error (on Jared Walsh’s grounder to first), an intentional walk (to Trout, of all people), and a sacrifice fly (Anthony Rendon).

Kyle Tucker’s ninth-inning solo bomb turned out more a kind of excuse-us shot than a last stand. The game left both the Astros and the Angels at 4-1 to open the season and what could be very interesting proceedings in the American League West. Now, if only the Astros could finally get past Astrogate.

They’ve been playing and winning through numerous catcalls, howls, and even a few inflatable and actual trash can sightings in Oakland and Anaheim. Jose Altuve—who’s looked more like his old self at the plate so far—seemed mildly amused when an inflatable trash can fell to the warning from those high Angel Stadium right field bleachers.

Astrogate was and remains anything but amusing. The Astros could keep up their torrid opening and overwhelm the AL West this season, but the scandal won’t go away entirely (nor should it) until the absolute last Astrogater standing no longer wears their fatigues. Yes, you’ve heard that before. That doesn’t make it any less painful for Astro fans or less true for everyone else. The Astros, nobody else, wrote the script that made them pariahs. Bang the cans slowly, fans.

Will off-field-based illegal electronic sign stealing disappear at all? Players got same-game video access back this year. There are three security people in every team’s video room at home and on the road. League cameras have been installed in those video rooms. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to add guard dogs?

The players union agreed last year: there’ll be no more players getting away with murder even in return for spilling the deets—the commissioner can drop a lot more than a marshmallow hammer on the cheaters from now on. All by himself. He can demand answers without plea bargaining. And he doesn’t need a permission slip.

“But one of the prevailing lessons from the electronic sign-stealing era is that even if a scheme sounds far-fetched, someone might give it a whirl if they believe they can get away with it,” writes The Athletic‘s Evan Drellich, one of the two reporters (Ken Rosenthal was his partner) who helped break and burrow deep into Astrogate. “This holds true no matter what MLB does. Even a total ban on electronics, which the players would never agree to, would not be enough. In that case, a player or staffer could simply go rogue.”

In other words, boys will be still be boys, if they can-can.

Fun Police lives matter?

Even after Yadier Molina (left) shoved him from behind after he objected to Jack Woodward’s (left) driller, Nick Castellanos (second from right) would still ask Molina for a signed jersey. A little cray-cray?

I guess the Cardinals showed him. Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos sure knows who the men around here are now. Right? Wrong.

For the crime of flipping his bat after hitting an Opening Day home run with his team trailing the Cardinals two days earlier, Castellanos got himself first-pitch drilled, wild-pitched home, and ejected in the fourth inning Saturday afternoon.

He also got shoved from behind by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for his trouble, but—rather inappropriately—nobody sent Molina to his room for that.

Apparently, it’s not nice to call out the Fun Police’s St. Louis division.

All that began after Castellanos seemed to let Reds pitcher Jack Woodford covering at the plate how little he thought of taking one in the ribs two days after he hit a two-run homer off Jack Flaherty in the third inning—two outs after Flaherty opened the inning by hitting Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart with a 1-1 pitch.

With Castellanos on third after the drill, Mike Moustakas at the plate watched Woodford’s wild pitch sail up, up, and away, off Molina’s mitt. Castellanos shot home and dove across the plate. Woodford hustled to the plate to cover as Molina scrambled for the ball and tossed high to him.

The pitcher slid on one knee trying for a tag as Castellanos beat the play and began to pick himself up, barking at Woodford about . . . who knew precisely what? Was it umbrage over getting drilled? Was it saying he just had to score by hook, crook, or anything else the Reds could come up with (it was a base hit by Joey Votto to send him to third before the wild pitch to Moustakas) after taking an unwarranted plunk like that?

No. It turned out almost precisely the way the Reds’ broadcast team suggested: “I said ‘let’s [fornicating] go! and then I walked off,” Castellanos told the press post-game.

That’s when Molina hustled over as the benches began to empty and gave Castellanos an apparent shove while Castellanos still had his back turned to him. The Reds separated Castellanos from Molina while Moustakas tried to keep Molina from charging Castellanos further.

The lone ejection was Castellanos, though it wasn’t known until the Reds sent Aristedes Aquino out to play right field in the top of the fifth. Woodford got only a warning, apparently, after throwing the driller in the first place. Molina, whom some fans with troths not plighted to the Cardinals believe receives special dispensation even when he behaves like an ass, got nothing.

Cardinal teammates kept holding Woodford back from further attempts to settle Castellanos’s hash. Then the bullpens emptied, providing room for Cardinals relief pitcher Jordan Hicks to enjoy a brief shove upon Reds infielder Eugenio Suarez before the bulls returned through a little more shoving all the way to the pens.

Then, the Reds—who’d dropped a third-inning six-spot on Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, including Castellanos himself singling and then scoring on another base hit—got to finish the 9-6 win they’d started. Putting the only damper that really counts on the day Nolen Arenado, the Cardinals’ new third base toy, parked Reds reliever Sean Romano’s full-count, one-on pitch in the left field seats.

After the big dance around the plate area, Woodford walked Moustakas to load the bases and hit Jonathan India with a 1-2 pitch to nudge Votto home with the eighth Reds run before striking Tyler Naquin out for the side at last.

Aquino at least had something else to say about his unlikely mid-game insertion under such troublesome circumstances. He led off the sixth against Andrew Miller, the former Indian who still hasn’t really regrouped too well following his heralded, almost entirely effective, but still unconscionable overuse in the 2016 postseason. Aquino looked at a strike down the pipe before timing a second such pitch and sending it over the left field fence.

The good news is, Castellanos didn’t take Molina’s shove from behind personally. As C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic tweeted after the game, Castellanos said of Molina, “That guy could punch me in the face and I’d still ask him for a signed jersey.”

Maybe Castellanos does know who the men around here are, including the one who smiles back to him from the mirror while he trims his beard. How would Molina sign that jersey, then—“Fun Police Lives Matter?”

Halt right there, Mr. Mayor

Hall of Famer Joe Morgan with Cincinnati mayor John Cranley.

Spare us, please, the political (lack of) class and its hyperbolic weigh-ins when sporting events transcend the particular sport itself, for better or worse. Or, when a sport legend passes on to the Elysian Fields. Mourning the death of a Reds legend, Cincinnati’s mayor proclaims concurrently a standing for the Reds’ arguable greatest team that the evidence rejects.

Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan’s death Sunday provoked an outpouring of loss and grief to be expected of a player whose performance equaled his gifts and who was at least as good a man as he was a baseball player. It also provoked Cincinnati mayor John Cranley to amplifying knowledge and wisdom by standing athwart both.

“We all know the Big Red Machine was the greatest baseball team of all time,” Cranley tweeted upon the news of Morgan’s death, accompanied by a photograph of himself and Morgan at an outdoor event. “Joe Morgan was the MVP of both back-to-back ‘75 and ‘76 Reds World Series wins, making him the greatest second baseman of all time. This is a devastating loss to the MLB and Cincinnati. RIP to a legend.”

What do you mean we, white man?

Let’s get the second hyperbolic out of the way first. Back-to-back Most Valuable Player awards are staggering achievements in their own right. If those alone illustrate a player’s cumulative greatness, Roger Maris (1960-61)—whose greatness was short-enough lived, thanks to six parts injuries and half a dozen parts the searing the 1961 Babe Ruth home run chase left upon him—would have reached Cooperstown in a walk. So would Dale Murphy (MVP, 1982-83), if injuries hadn’t hastened and turned his decline phase into a cliff dive.

Back-to-back MVPs alone didn’t leave Morgan as the arguable greatest second baseman in Show history. His all-around play at the plate, on the bases, and at second base, to say nothing of the most wins above replacement-level player for any second baseman playing a truly integrated game, accomplished that. You could remove Morgan’s MVPs and he would still shake out as being that great.

Now to the first. The Big Red Machine was the greatest team in the National League in its time. No questions asked. If you measure by consecutive World Series wins, the 1970s Reds were the only NL team to do it. Two American League teams did it, too: the Bronx Zoo Yankees (1977-78) and the Oakland Athletics earlier in the decade.

Oops. The Swingin’ A’s won three straight Series (1972-74) in the middle of winning five straight American League Wests. Including their beating the Machine in seven in 1972.

If you’re going by Hall of Famers on those teams, be careful. The Machine had three Hall of Famers (Morgan, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez) and might have had a fourth (Pete Rose) if he hadn’t had a problem with, you know, all that other stuff. Oh, all right, let’s give the Machine the four Hall of Famers just for argument’s sake.

For much of the 1960s the San Francisco Giants had five Hall of Famers in their ranks: Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Willie Mays. One of them (if you have to ask) is considered the arguably greatest all-around player who ever walked the face of the earth when fellow Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle isn’t. Here’s how many World Series those great Giants teams won: none.

They only reached one World Series and lost in six games to the last of the vintage Yankee teams. Those Giants had a little problem on their hands known as the Los Angeles Koufaxes to thwart them at their peaks. They weren’t the only Hall of Fame-packing team of that time to fall short, either.

Quick: Name the team with four Hall of Famers and not even a single shot at the Promised Land. Hint: Their manager burned them out down the stretch in the one season they almost won the National League East. Since you had to ask: the four Hall of Famers in question are Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, Ron Santo, and Billy Williams.

Let’s remove the Machine’s should-have-been Hall of Famer now and leave it with three. Well. The 1967-68 St. Louis Cardinals had a trio of Hall of Famers. (Cepeda, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson.) They went to back-to-back Series and won one of them. The 1969-74 Baltimore Orioles packed a trio Hall of Famers. (Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson, and Frank Robinson in 69-71.) They won five of six American League Easts and one World Series in three straight trips. The Seattle Mariners of the mid-1990s had a Hall of Fame trio, too. (Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez.) They’re still looking forward to their first World Series appearance, never mind conquest.

A few days before Morgan’s passage, Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford passed away while watching his Yankees play the Tampa Bay Rays in an American League division series. Ford could have told Cranley plausibly that several generations of Yankee teams, including the ones for which he pitched, make the Big Red Machine resemble the Little Red Caboose.

Ford became a Yankee smack dab in the middle of their five-year World Series-winning streak. That provokes me to compare the first seven seasons of those Casey Stengel Yankees to the first seven seasons of the Machine. Allowing for the lack of divisional play in those Yankees’ time and the shorter seasons (by eight games), this is the result:

Team Won Lost Pennants World Series Titles
New York Yankees (1949-55) 686 389 6 5
Cincinnati Reds (1970-76) 683 443 4 2

The Machine is almost dead-even in the wins column but 54 ahead in the loss column. If you were to add eight games a season to the 1949-55 Yankees, it’s not implausible that they’d have totaled 700 wins or better and 400 losses or better.

Those Yankees do have a claim the Machine wouldn’t have wanted: a 103-win season in which they finished second—by eight games, yet, to an Indians team that picked 1954 to have their career year, so to say. (The Machine had three 100+ win seasons and won the NL West in all three.)

Did I forget to mention that those Yankees had four Hall of Famers aboard at a time a few times? The 1950 Yankees (Ford’s rookie season) included Ford, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, and Phil Rizzuto. When Ford returned from military service in 1953, they had Ford, Berra, Rizzuto, and Mickey Mantle. Don’t go there, Mr. Mayor. They’ll match their questionable Hall of Famer Rizzuto to your questionable Hall of Famer Perez.

(Their primary National League rivals, the Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers, had to settle for three, too: Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, and Duke Snider. Sandy Koufax was a beyond-marginal 1955 rookie.)

Fair enough. It’s not entirely fair to compare the Machine to the Berra-DiMaggio-Ford-Mantle Yankees. It’s a lot more fair to compare the Machine to a more contemporary aggregation:

Team Won Lost Pennants World Series Titles
New York Yankees (1996-2002) 685 445 5 4
Cincinnati Reds (1970-76) 683 443 4 2

The Machine is almost dead even to the Derek Jeter-Mariano Rivera Yankees. (They, too,  might have packed three Hall of Famers, if Roger Clemens hadn’t been considered persona non grata from Cooperstown because of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance suspicions that have yet to be proven once and finis.) Almost.

Those Yankees, however, won five pennants and four World Series—including three straight—playing in slightly more difficult postseason conditions. I don’t need a lot of convincing that the Machine would likely have done just as well if they’d played in a three-division league having to plow through two postseason sets to reach the World Series. But the Yankees did have to play in such conditions to win one more pennant and two more leases on the Promised Land.

There are lots of teams who would kill for a piece of the Machine’s five division titles, four pennants, and two World Series conquests in seven years. There are also teams who would kill for a .686 single-season winning percentage. The Machine teams never posted a winning percentage quite that large. (Its best: 1975’s .667.) But one of their ancestral teams did.

Wait for it—the 1919 Reds. The ones who could damn well have beaten the infamous Black Sox in a straight-no-chaser World Series. There’s a cause for you if you’re interested, Mr. Mayor. How about a little agitation on behalf of removing the Black Sox taint from the 1919 Reds’ claim on the Promised Land? Your forebears wuz robbed.

Joe Morgan, RIP: The Machine’s main man

A portrait of the artist as a young Astro.

In terms of watching and following and loving baseball, I went back a very long way with Joe Morgan. In the early years of the Houston franchise, from the Colt .45s to the Astros, Morgan was one of the three Astros I knew immediately, the others being his middle infield partner Denis Menke and pitcher/eventual manager Larry Dierker.

At the plate Morgan was already something of an on-base machine whose smarts with a bat, not to mention unusual power for middle infielders in the 1960s, got challenged only too often by the cavernous-enough Astrodome. Around second base Morgan and Menke were as sleek and coordinated a double play team as you ever saw.

The Hall of Famer who’s widely considered the greatest all-around second baseman ever to play the game died Sunday at 77 in his Danville, California home after a long battle with leukemia developed from myelodysplastic syndrome and with a form of polyneuropathy.

We don’t know yet whether Morgan died watching his one-time, long-time Astros opening the American League Championship Series with a loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, as Hall of Fame pitcher Whitey Ford died at home watching his Yankees tangle with the Rays last Thursday.

But one thing we do know is that the Astros handed the Cincinnati Reds the keys to the kingdom, not to mention two leases in the Promised Land, when they included Morgan—the final but most important gear in the Big Red Machine—in an eight-player swap with the Reds after the 1971 season.

The question is, why. The answer is, most likely, Harry Walker, the last Astros manager for whom Morgan played.

Aside from Walker tending to treat his non-white players like children with the brains of turnips, Harry the Hat had a habit from hell. He fancied himself a great hitting guru (he wasn’t) who’d had one unlikely success that he couldn’t live without trying to lather, rinse, repeat, repeatedly, in the years to come of his managing career.

The unlikely success was Matty Alou. He let Walker—newly installed to manage the Pittsburgh Pirates for 1966—convince him to marry a heavier bat to choking up and slap-and-tickling his way on base. Just the way Walker himself did in his own playing career. Then Alou made a huge mistake. He won the 1966 National League batting title with one of the emptiest .342 hitting averages you ever saw. He’d finish his career as one of the emptiest .300 hitters you ever saw.

Alou also finished his career with practically the same average run production per 162 games lifetime as Walker did: 120 for Harry the Hat, 117 for Alou.

When Walker took the Astro bridge, he went to work at once. He saw a pack of smart, solid hitters with decent power and able to reach base reasonably enough and failed to see them. Because what he really wanted to see was a lineup full of Matty Alous. He wanted to repeat his striking success with Alou (his batting average in ’66 was 82 points higher than his lifetime average going into that season) in the worst way possible.

And the worst way possible is exactly what Harry the Hat got for his trouble.

He tried to convince Morgan to channel the inner Matty Alou he didn’t have. He tried turning Bob Watson into the all-fields hitter he wasn’t and, while he was at it, turning Watson from a first baseman (which he was, more than capably) into a catcher (which he wasn’t, less than capably). He also tried to convince Jimmy Wynn to barrel up less and worry about his batting average more, never mind Wynn being one of the National League’s most consistent power hitters.

The fact that Wynn was an on-base machine himself by way of his smarts working out walks when need be didn’t turn up on Walker’s limited radar. Walker seemed to believe being smart enough to take the base on balls when the pitches didn’t look too hittable equaled laziness, lack of hustle.

Morgan was self-assured enough to stand athwart Walker regardless. Wynn couldn’t convince Harry the Hat that his strikeouts were an awful lot better than hitting into double plays. And neither Little Joe nor the Toy Cannon were exactly shy about letting the skipper know just that.

They tangled with Walker. (Jim Bouton, whose Ball Four covered his short stint with the 1969 Astros, remembered Wynn holding an empty rifle to Walker’s hotel room door just to blow off steam.) They lost.”The pruning of ‘troublemakers’ is a yearly project with the Astros,” snarked The Sporting News in 1971, “particularly so since Walker has been manager.”

More important, when Reds general manager Bob Howsam offered Lee May, Tommy Helms, and Jimmy Stewart to the Astros for Morgan, Menke, Ed Armbrister, Jack Billingham, and Cesar Geronimo, Astros GM Spec Richardson pounced. Richardson couldn’t yet admit that his malcontents had good reason for their malcontent and that his manager’s inveterate search for a lineup of Matty Alous did the Astros exactly one favour: none.

It did the Reds the biggest favour in their history. For the first five seasons of Morgan’s life as a Machinist, the Reds won four National League Wests, back-to-back pennants, and back-to-back World Series. The back-to-back Promised Land leases were accompanied by Morgan’s back-to-back National League Most Valuable Player awards. For the first five seasons of Morgan’s all-around, elbow-flapping, nail-driving tenure as a Machinist, he was the absolute best player on the team.

He was worth 47.8 wins above a replacement level player in just those five years. No other Red was close. Not Johnny Bench (32.4), not Pete Rose (31.4), not Tony Perez (18.3). The pain in the neck opponents saw at the plate or playing second base wasn’t just in their eyes. The objective and deeper measurements say the Big Red Machine would not have been at peak efficiency and would not have won without him.

Morgan even got to make a return engagement with the Astros after the Reds began dismantling the Machine rather than accommodate to the new free agency era. The Astros brought Morgan home on a free agency signing and he got to be part of the Astros’ surprise but engaging run to the 1980 National League Championship Series.

He even got to help the 1983 Philadelphia Wheeze Kids into the postseason. Not to mention joining the Giants and hitting the season-killing blow for the Dodgers, a two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh putting the game out of reach and assuring the Dodgers of a second-place NL West finish.

In later life Morgan became a popular and respected baseball announcer, providing insight astride Jon Miller’s play-by-play for years of ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. He also became a member of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors. He was friendly and open, talking to anyone with a brain and discouraging people from calling him anything more formal than Joe, especially fellow former players.

His aplomb could be disarming, such as when he and Miller were at the mikes when the Loma Prieta earthquake rudely interrupted the 1989 World Series. “Well, I grew up in the Bay Area,” he said dryly, “so I’ve been in earthquakes before.” He wasn’t exactly bragging about it.

He was engagingly candid and realistic about his on-air presence and style. “I don’t see myself as a Larry King or somebody,” he once said. “When you do interviews, sometimes it turns to interrogations. I’m more of a conversationalist, not throwing hardball questions.”

Yet even he could never entirely avoid the mistreatment to which black people remain subject. He was once detained roughly in 1988, at Los Angeles International Airport, by undercover police assuming him a drug courier.

“Over the next hours, the nightmare deepened, and it was all because I was just another black man,” he wrote in his memoir. “No longer a celebrity, as anonymous as any other black man, I was exposed to whatever fury was going to be meted out.” He proved his identity at police headquarters and was also exposed to a $796,000 settlement in his favour by the Los Angeles City Council.

Morgan’s most wounding flaw as an analyst was his war against sabermetric analysis. This engaging man, with one of the finest minds his sport has ever known, dismissed the very idea of deep analysis of his sport, of which statistics are the very life blood, in the kind of shrillery and incoherence you’d sooner expect of an office seeker rejecting what was plain to see in front of him as an illusion, if not fake news.

Even when sabermetrics rated Morgan the greatest second baseman ever to play the game, ahead of Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby. To Morgan, Hornsby’s .358 lifetime batting average reigned supreme. Hornsby’s lackings as an all-around second baseman, and his compiling outrageous batting stats in a heavily hitter-friendly, all-daytime, non-integrated game, didn’t even register.

This was the same man whose gracious Hall of Fame acceptance speech included, “I take my vote as a salute to the little guy, the one who doesn’t hit 500 home runs. I was one of the guys that did all they could to win. I’m proud of my stats, but I don’t think I ever got on for [those].”

So let us remember Morgan the strong-willed little big man, flapping his left arm in the batter’s box before ripping a screaming line drive or a high-lining home run, turning basepaths into guerrilla warfare turf like his hero Jackie Robinson, making second base a place for the death of an enemy rally, the field lieutenant absolutely sure he’ll clear out the thickets for himself and his troops to neutralise all opposing weapons.

Let’s also remember Morgan the family man, raising two daughters who became college athletes, divorced when he and his first wife drifted apart but remarrying happily and having twin daughters with his second wife. Morgan makes the sixth Hall of Famer we’ve lost to the Elysian Fields this surrealistic season, but their loss can only be deeper.

Waste not, want not

Like Trevor Bauer in Game One, Luis Castillo’s Game Two effort was wasted by the Reds’ absentee bats and futile running.

Joey Votto said going in that his Cincinnati Reds in the postseason, however rough and tumble things had to be to get them there, would be a “[fornicating] nightmare.” He just didn’t bargain on every man in a Red uniform at the plate or on the bases being their own worst nightmares.

If the Reds wish to remain postseason competitive, waste management means waste avoidance. Because if you don’t avoid waste, no matter how efficient your pitching might be, you’ll get wasted the way the Atlanta Braves wasted the Reds late but imperatively Thursday afternoon.

The Reds’ irregular season’s grind just to claim one of this year’s ten wild cards got wasted, too, even worse than Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall wasted relief pitcher Raisel Iglesias’s canteloupes.

Nobody wants to take anything away from the National League East-winning Braves. They clung stubbornly in their wild card set, held on to win Thursday, 5-0, and didn’t let the Reds’ stellar starting pitching blow the spirit out of them no matter how long it took. The Reds made it a little too simple for them in the end.

The Reds won’t live this one down too readily. They’re going to have to try explaining how they became the first team in Show history to be shut out for an entire postseason set, 22 innings worth, even if it was a mere best-of-three.

They’re going to have to try explaining how Trevor Bauer in Game One struck out twelve Braves without walking a soul or surrendering a run, without getting credit for a win, but with the Reds losing in the thirteenth inning on the game’s only run—on a measly RBI single by likely National League Most Valuable Player Freddie Freeman.

They’re going to have to explain how Luis Castillo’s first-ever postseason start produced seven strikeouts in five and a third innings, only one run surrendered, only one batter walked, and Iglesias getting blown up in the eighth after Lucas Sims spelled Castillo with an inning and two-thirds of spotless relief.

Ronald Acuna, Jr. doubling home Austin Riley off Castillo with two out in the fifth only made it 1-0. But Iglesias walking Freeman to open the eighth was flirting with death. Death accepted the invitation when Ozuna found a 1-0 meatball so irresistible he yanked it into the empty left center field seats.

Walking Ozzie Alibes after striking Travis d’Arnaud out following that launch wasn’t advisable, either. How inadvisable came too clear when Duvall licked his chops at an even meatier, 0-2 meatball, and sent it out down the left field line.

“Such a professional hitter,” Braves rookie starting pitcher Ian Anderson said of Ozuna after the game, calling Ozuna the life of the club all year long. “Loves the big moment. And I know it was getting to him a little bit, the way his at-bats had unfolded up until that point. Yeah, he couldn’t have been happier, and we couldn’t have been happier for him. That was a huge hit for the team. You could kind of sense that the dugout relaxed then, just a little bit.”

The Braves now wait to see who wins the win-or-be-gone game between the Miami Marlins and the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, which might have been played Thursday but for the rain saying “not so fast.”

The Reds are also going to have to explain why they couldn’t find more than two hits off Anderson but found their way to nine strikeouts against the rook making his first postseason start following six irregular season assignments and a shimmering 1.95 ERA.

Those thirteen runners the Reds stranded need some explaining, too. So does having nothing to show against three Braves relievers from the seventh through the ninth.

They’re also going to have to explain why a team with baseball’s worst collective batting average (.212) despite a few offensive upgrades last winter couldn’t find ways to avoid becoming baseball’s first to be shut out of an entire postseason series.

How many times did the Reds answer opportunity’s knocking with “Go away, we gave at the office?”

When they greeted Max Fried in Game One with back-to-back singles giving them first and third and nobody out, only to see Votto—Mr. On-Base Machine—ground out to first, Eugenio Suarez line a badminton shuttlecock to Ozzie Albies at second base, and Mike Moustakas ground out?

When manager David Bell thought he could get away with a play that even the Little League won’t try all that often, having Kyle Farmer on first and Aristedes Aquino on third try a double steal the Braves could smell from about five minutes prior to attempt, with Aquino bagged in an even more kiddie-looking rundown?

When Bell sent spaghetti-bat veteran Freddy Galvis out to pinch hit for Shogo Akiyama with two out and two on in the top of the twelfth, despite Akiyama hitting well enough down the stretch to earn the opportunity, and Galvis rewarded Bell for his unexpected faith by looking at strike three right down the middle?

When they spent Game Two with no non Venezuelan-born Red getting a single base hit, and no Red from any geography reaching base between Galvis’s walk in the second and his off-the-pillow base hit up the first base line in the fifth? When no Red from there got so much as a hit by pitch to reach base and seven out of the final thirteen Red batters struck out?

Their number one irregular season issue, their inability to hit in multiples in most innings, swallowed them deeper than the Braves’ own pitching turned out to do.

“You can look at the defensive positioning, you can look at hard-hit balls that didn’t go for hits,” Bell said after the Game Two loss. “But, it’s something we have to take a closer look at because all teams are really good at defensive positioning and can hit into bad luck at times. Why did that happen for us? We just have to really take a close look at it. We did all year. Yeah, I say, we absolutely do believe in our guys, we made adjustments as much as we possibly could. But we have to find a way to get better.”

Right he is. Every Reds position player except for three will be back in 2021, and enough of them will be on the far enough side of thirty years old. They’ll still have most of their solid pitching, though the Braves didn’t get to see Sonny Gray this week, but Bauer could walk into the free agency market this year with as many potential suitors as a debutante.

Another, older Ian Anderson, leading a British band known as Jethro Tull, sang the epitaph for this year’s Reds a little over half a century ago: It was a new day yesterday, but it’s an old day now.