Heartbreak Hotel, Cleveland

James Karinchak, rocking a Ricky Vaughn haircut, but having been rocked by Gio Urshela Wednesday night.

Bad enough: Cleveland having to host the world babyweight championship bout that was Tuesday night’s allegedly presidential debate. Worse: The Indians won’t get the chance to win their first World Series since the births of Israel, NASCAR, the Polaroid Land camera, and Scrabble.

Again.

They won’t even get to play a division series after the New York Yankees swept them out of their wild card series. But to lose an almost five-hour Wednesday night grapple extended by two rain delays totaling 76 minutes and finishing in a 10-9 Yankee win, after both sides threw everything including the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room sinks?

It’s not quite the same as losing Game Seven of the 2016 World Series after one somewhat long rain delay and an almost equally soul-wrenching back-and-forth. But it’s close enough. It isn’t quite the single most heartbreaking loss in Indians history. (Game Seven of the 1997 World Series still clings to the top. Barely)

But it’s close enough to have turned Progressive Field—in the city that also hosts the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—into Heartbreak Hotel.

The Indians unable to cash in for another tie at minimum in the bottom of the ninth—when Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman’s should-have-been game-ending strikeout turned into a wild pitch, enabling pinch hitter Orlando Mercado to take first on the house, before Chapman regrouped and struck out swinging another pinch hitter, Austin Hedges? It isn’t Edgar Renteria ruining Charles Nagy with a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the eleventh.

But it’s close enough.

The Show’s most reliable irregular season closer and one of the league’s better defenses handing the Yankees a re-tie and go-ahead in the top of the ninth? It isn’t Bryan Shaw surrendering a tie-breaking and a semi-insurance run, and the Indians able to get only one of those runs back, in the tenth inning in Game Seven, 2016 Series.

But it’s close enough.

While you’re at it, it won’t do any good to comfort the Indians by telling them the Yankees once lost a World Series Game Seven by a 10-9 score. Not even if you tell the Tribe the Yankees lost it when Hall of Famer Yogi Berra playing left field could only watch helplessly when Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski’s leadoff drive sailed over the left field wall in ancient Forbes Field.

Cleveland’s going to have a tough enough time trying to figure out which part hurt the most Wednesday night. They’ll have plenty of candidates. They’ll need plenty of salve.

“We had many different things and a lot of obstacles, but this group stayed together — by any means,” said Sandy Alomar, the Indians’ interim manager thanks to Terry Francona’s continuing health issues, who might yet get Manager of the Year votes just for getting the Indians to the postseason at all. “We had an eight-game losing streak, they came back. Today’s game reflected how much this team grinds and how much they fight.”

The candidates for the biggest hurt of the Indians’ now-finished season may only begin with Alomar deciding he needed a strikeout machine to handle Yankee third baseman Gio Urshela in the top of the fourth, with the bases loaded, nobody out, and the Tribe with a 4-1 lead they built with a pair of RBI doubles and an RBI single in the bottom of the first.

Alomar brought in James Karinchak to relieve starter Carlos Carrasco, cheated a bit by the rain delays The first pitch of the game was delayed by rain that hadn’t yet arrived. The second hit in the bottom of the first, and that time the rain lasted slightly over half an hour.

Until he entered Wednesday night, Karinchak’s young career showed 131 batters facing him and only one ever hitting anything out. It also shows him rocking the jagged-back haircut Charlie Sheen made famous as fictional flame-throwing Indians pitcher Ricky Vaughn in Major League. Now, Urshela and Karinchak wrestled to a full count.

The Wild Thing he wasn’t, but poor Karinchak’s young career now shows one postseason appearance and one disaster. With one swing and one launch into the left field bleachers, former Indian Urshela burned his old team four ways to eternity.

He also made Yankee history while he was at it. Thirteen Yankees have hit postseason grand slams, and Urshela is the first Yankee third baseman to slice such salami and the only Yankee anywhere to do it when the Yankees were behind.

Maybe it’ll comfort Indians fans to know that the Buffalonto Blue Jays got shoved out of the postseason earlier and likewise Wednesday. When the Jays’ best pitcher, former Dodger Hyun-Jin Ryu, faced Hunter Renfroe, a Ray who’d been 2-for-18 with seven strikeouts lifetime against him, in the second inning . . . and Renfroe sliced what amounted to season-ending salami for the Jays.

All night long, the Indians had answers for the Yankees. Let Giancarlo Stanton put the Yankees up 6-4 with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth, three innings after Stanton accounted for the first Yankee run with a home run? Why, they’ll just let Jose Ramirez whack a two-run double down the right field line to re-tie in the bottom of the fifth.

Let Gary Sanchez—the embattled Yankee catcher benched for Game One after he made Mario Mendoza resemble Mickey Mantle on the irregular season, and batted ninth for Game Two—smack a two-run homer in the top of the sixth to break the six-all tie? Why, the Indians will just send Jason Luplow to the plate, pinch hitting for Josh Naylor—their return from San Diego, after unloading pitcher Mike Clevinger a fortnight after he violated  COVID protocol violations.

That was some cojones on Alomar pinch hitting for Naylor, who’d set a Show precedent with five hits in his first five postseason plate appearances. Good thing the Indians let Luplow smack a two-run double to the back of center field to re-tie the game at eight.

For good measure, they’ll even let Cesar Hernandez fight Chapman off to dump a floater of an RBI single into short center field to make it 9-8, Indians. Then, they’ll shake off Urshela’s likely game-saving double play start to end that eighth and bring in Brad Hand, who led the Show with sixteen saves and didn’t blow a single save opportunity all irregular season long while he was at it.

Hand picked the wrong night to open a save opportunity by walking Stanton. Urshela then singled Stanton’s pinch runner Mike Tauchman to second. Gleyber Torres beat out an infield dribbler to load the pillows, and Brett Gardner struck out, but Sanchez lofted a re-tying sacrifice fly to center field.

Up stepped American League batting champion D.J. LeMahieu. He called slider in the center pocket and cued it right up the middle and right through the Indians’ middle infield. And, alas, right under center fielder Delino DeShields’s down-stretched glove, enabling Urshela to score the tenth Yankee run.

The Indians ran out of answers in the bottom of the ninth.

One night after they punished American League Cy Young Award favourite Shane Bieber, the Yankees had to survive the elements and Indians tenacity to get themselves a division series date with the Rays, who beat them out of the American League East title and who lack both the Yankees’ star power and the meaning of the word “quit.”

“You don’t have to pour champagne on each other,” said Yankee manager Aaron Boone, whose winners stuck to the COVID protocols and exchanged mere fist bumps to celebrate, “to appreciate what an epic game that was and the fact that we’re moving on.”

Forgive Cleveland if the epic side of the game escapes for a good while. Embrace these Indians who fought the good fight against a Yankee team they never saw on the irregular season but had to get past excess familiarity with the medical profession for a second straight season.

So far as the Indians are concerned, these Yankees picked the wrong time to remember how to win on the road. And, the Tribe with the irregular season’s best pitching overall picked the wrong time to post an 11.00 ERA in two games against the Empire Emeritus with eleven walks in eighteen innings and seven home runs surrendered.

So far as these Yankees are concerned, they survived the best the Indians could throw at them to make it four times in the past four seasons they’ve sent either the Indians or the Minnesota Twins home for the winter early. But the Indians and their fans—already rubbing their eyes over Francisco Lindor, Franmil Reyes, and Carlos Santana going 1-for-23 at the plate this set—are going to wonder how their number one strength, their pitching, became their number-one vulnerability.

Don’t remind Cleveland that the same thing happened in the 1954 World Series, when another stellar Indians pitching staff—including Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn, Mike (The Big Bear) Garcia, and what still remained of Hall of Famer Bob Feller—led an 111-game winning team into a Series sweep by the New York Giants. It won’t make this one sting any more gently.

“That game is literally the definition of a rollercoaster ride right there,” said Indians relief pitcher Nick Wittgren after it ended Wednesday night. “It was amazing to see our guys fight back . . . We were fighting, battling the entire game. That was fun to watch. It would have been a little more fun to be playing tomorrow.”

Usque ad proximum annum expectare.

They were a little hard on the Bieber last night

Aaron Judge runs out the bomb he detonated off Shane Bieber on the fourth pitch of the game Tuesday night.

New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone is fond of saying his team can turn on a dime. He’d much rather they keep turning on the Cleveland Indians the way they did to open their American League wild card set. As a matter of fact, Boone’s wards were a little hard on the Bieber Tuesday night.

The Yankees and the Indians opened in Cleveland the same night the first debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden went down. Depending upon where you peeked, the country had a hard time determining which wildfire was worse—the allegedly presidential debate, or the Yankees’ 12-3 demolition. The jury may be out until Election Day.

The Yankees could be seen as having had less time to prepare for Indians starter Shane Bieber than Trump and Biden had to face each other. They hadn’t faced the presumptive American League Cy Young Award winner all irregular season long, anywhere. They also went in having lost six of their last seven irregular season games and compiled an 11-18 road record.

Bieber had twelve season starts and faced four postseason teams—three of whom had winning records—seven times. Nobody took him long in any of his starts. Only once all year did he surrender a single run in the first or fifth innings. Nobody scored on his dollar at home all year.

Then the Yankees caught hold of him Tuesday night.

They needed only four straight fastballs to rip two runs out of him in the top of the first. American League batting champion D.J. LeMahieu saw a third straight fastball and lined a single to right field. Aaron Judge started his first plate appearance to follow seeing a fourth straight Bieber fastball. He finished it with that fastball, too, sending it over the right center field wall.

“We had a big, long hitter’s meeting,” Judge said after the game, “about all sticking to the same plan and just trying to work counts, get pitches to drive and I think, as a whole, we did that. That’s when this team is dangerous, when we go out there and we can just grind out at-bats. Any mistakes that are thrown up there, we hammer them.”

Bieber’s fastball sat so easily up or under in the zone to open that LeMahieu wouldn’t exactly call a three-pitch plate appearance a hard grind when pitch three sat right in the middle. Then the slender righthander who hadn’t surrendered a home run at home all irregular season long made the same mistake to Judge over the middle of the plate.

“The first inning didn’t go as planned,” said Bieber, showing a gift for understatement lacking too vividly in the presidential debate hall. “I wish I would have been with my off-speed stuff in the zone, and challenged those guys a little more. I forced myself into some bad situations and some bad counts on top of not having my best stuff and making mistakes. No excuses. It was not good.”

Neither was the rest of Bieber’s outing on a night Gerrit Cole struck out thirteen Indians in seven innings while walking nobody, had only one truly shaky inning (the third) and escaped with only an RBI double by Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez, then surrendered his only other run an inning after that, when left fielder Josh Naylor hit one over the right center field wall.

Cole otherwise looked even better than the guy who didn’t let five walks stop him from beating the Yankees in Game Four of last year’s American League Championship Series. The guy the Houston Astros let walk into free agency and right into the Yankees’ $324 million arms last winter.

In case you were wondering, only one pitcher before Cole ever struck out thirteen without walking a man in a postseason assignment—the late Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, in Game One of the 1973 National League Championship Series, and that was a game Seaver lost to the Cincinnati Reds, 2-1.

When he blew away the Indians’ middle infield, Francisco Lindor and Cesar Hernandez, on swinging strikeouts, before convincing Ramirez his only recourse was to pop one out to Torres behind shortstop, Cole let the Indians know early enough and often enough that they weren’t going to have a simple evening’s baseball to play.

Only nobody paid as much attention to Cole’s work or his marriage with postseason history as they might have paid if the Yankees hadn’t turned Bieber and a couple of Indians relievers into their personal batting practise pitchers.

They slapped Bieber for a single run in the third, two each in the fourth and the fifth. In order, it was AL home run champion Luke Voit doubling Aaron Hicks home with two out in the third, Brett Gardner doubling home Gleyber Torres and LeMahieu catching the Indian infield asleep with an infield RBI single pushing Gardner home in the fourth, and Torres with Gio Urshela aboard hitting one out in the fifth.

That was the 105th pitch of Bieber’s evening, corroborating Judge’s observation of the Yankee game plan at last. By that point, Bieber was probably itching to tell the Yankees what Biden told Trump during one of the president’s more insistent of his nightlong harangues, “Will you shut up, man?”

Interim manager Sandy Alomar, filling in for ailing Terry Francona, was kind enough to lift Bieber after that 105th pitch of the outing traveled from Torres’s bat to the bleachers. He didn’t tell the Yankees to shut up, man, on a night nobody could. But Alomar—whose guidance of the Indians into the postseason in the first place may actually get him Manager of the Year votes despite his interim status—did speak kindly of his still-young pitcher.

“Seems to be he was too excited,” Alomar said after the demolition ended at last. “He was the best pitcher in the American League this year. He had a bad game tonight.” That was like saying the Japanese navy had a bad set at Midway.

Even injury-hobbled Giancarlo Stanton joined in the fun. After striking out twice in four previous plate appearances on the night, the Yankee designated hitter squared off against reliever Cam Hill with one out in the top of the of the ninth and tore a 1-0 fastball—also arriving in the meatiest part of the zone—over the left center field fence.

The Yankee assault and battery almost wiped Chicago White Sox pitcher Lucas Giolito out of the day’s memory bank, thirty-four days after Giolito pitched a no-hitter the too-easy way against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went into the top of the seventh threatening to become the only pitcher other than Hall of Famer Roy Halladay to pitch a regular-season no-hitter (that was Halladay’s perfect game) and a postseason no-no the same year.

Former Cardinal/Angel Tommy La Stella said not so fast leading off the bottom of the seventh in the Oakland Athletics’ ramshackle ballpark. With the White Sox up 3-0 already, La Stella took what he could get on a 2-2 service and snuck a base hit right through the middle.

Even playing without their best all-around player, Matt Chapman, the A’s made things a little too easy for Giolito and the White Sox. It only began when they were foolish enough to send lefthander Jesus Luzardo, young, gifted, but inconsistent, against a lineup so full of righthanded bats it’s a wonder the Oakland Coliseum didn’t list when they batted.

“Nothing against him,” said White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson when learning they’d face Luzardo, “but we have been doing good against lefties. I guess they haven’t done their homework so hopefully we can go out and continue to do what we’ve been doing against lefties.”

They did. They got six of their nine Game One hits off Luzardo and chased him in the fourth inning. In the third, they had Anderson on second with two out, Jose Abreu at the plate with a 2-0 count, first base open, and previous called strikeout victim James McCann on deck, and A’s manager Bob Melvin elected to let Luzardo keep pitching to Abreu.

Abreu elected to hit the next pitch, a fastball Luzardo intended to sail toward the outer edge of the plate but disobeyed orders and arrived smack dab in the middle. The ball disappeared smack dab over the left field fence. “Obviously,” Luzardo said post-game, “the guy’s an MVP-caliber type hitter, so you’ve got to be careful. I made a mistake. That’s not where I intended to put it.”

An inning before that, Luzardo intended to throw Adam Engel an 0-2 fastball up and in, and the ball disobeyed orders then, too. That disobedient ball went up, out, and into the bleachers.

It’s been that way for the Billy Beane-era A’s every time they reach the postseason. His A’s have been a second-guesser’s delight. This time, the second-guessers get to guess why Melvin insisted on starting Luzardo instead of rested righthander Mike Fiers against the starboard-hitting White Sox. Saying as the manager did that the White Sox hadn’t seen a lefty with Luzardo’s kind of stuff all year won’t fly half as far as Engel’s and Abreu’s home runs did.

This year’s bizarro-world postseason is barely a game old and the A’s and the Indians face elimination games Wednesday. So do the American League Central-winning Minnesota Twins after the 29-31 Houston Astros beat them 4-1 in Target Field Tuesday. So do the Buffalonto Blue Jays (third) after the AL East-winning Tampa Bay Rays edged them 3-1 in Tropicana Field.

The only solace for the A’s, the Twins, and the Jays is that none of them suffered anything close to the assault with deadly weapons the Indians suffered. Those three aren’t presumed to be half as cursed as the Indians—the last time the Indians won the World Series was during the Berlin Airlift.

With the same pairs playing Wednesday, plus the National League’s wild card sets beginning the same day, it’s to wonder only what further strange brews are liable to boil and which boils get lanced. At least there won’t be a presidential schoolyard argument to detract from the main events.

The wheeling, dealing, maybe stealing Padres

Mike Clevinger, from Cleveland outcast to the star of the San Diego Shuffle.

Entering the pandemic-truncated regular season, some thought the Show was going to be somewhere between dull and duller, not just by way of the rules experiments alone. They didn’t reckon with the San Diego Padres, of all people.

When not producing a youthful shortstop (Fernando Tatis, Jr.) who takes “let the kids play” to heart (and runs the boring old farts’ temperatures up the scale in the bargain), or hitting grand slams as if they’re going out of style, the Padres took what some presumed would be a sleepy trade deadline period and turned it into a bit of a thriller approaching Monday’s 1 p.m. Pacific time cutoff.

Landing Cleveland Indians pitcher/protocol violator Mike Clevinger and outfielder Greg Allen for a package including pitcher Cal Quantrill, infielder Gabriel Arias, outfielder Josh Naylor, and catcher Austin Hedges on Monday merely seems like what Duke Ellington once called “the cherries-and-cream topping to our sundae morning.”

Especially after the Friars already made four trades in a 24-hour period prior. The fourth of those trades looked like something of a nothingburger: on Sunday, the Padres sent a fringe relief pitcher from their 60-man roster (28 in Show; 32 at alternate camp), Gerardo Reyes, to the Los Angeles Angels for veteran catcher Jason Castro, who’s set to hit free agency after this season. And, who’s not much of a hitter but is respected for his abilities at pitch framing and new-rules plate blocking.

Now, look at what that deal followed doing the Slam Diego Shuffle:

* On Saturday, the Padres cast for and reeled in resurgent relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, sending the Kansas City Royals an outfield prospect (Edward Oliveres) and the proverbial player to be named later.

* On Sunday morning, the Padres more or less confirmed that the beleaguered Boston Red Sox were about to push the plunger on their season if not much of their roster, landing designated hitter/first baseman Mitch Moreland, a 2018 World Series hero, for a pair of prospects. (Hudson Potts, Jession Rosario.)

* And, a little later on Sunday, the Friars dealt big to the Seattle Mariners, sending two of their highest-rated prospects (pitcher Andres Munoz, outfielder Taylor Trammell) plus a pair of young sprouts with Show experience (catcher Luis Torrens, infielder Ty France) to land the Mariners’ best catcher, Austin Nola, plus relief pitchers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla.

The Mariners were thin enough in the backstop ranks that nothing could have pried Nola out of their hands unless it was enough to think they might finally, maybe, possibly begin building a real future, as a good number of published reports suggest. When the Padres landed Clevinger Monday morning, what started as jaw-dropping hope turned into jaw-dropping actuality: They’re going all-in to win now as well as later.

How surreal is this season already? The Indians put Clevinger on ice when it turned out he’d made a team flight after violating coronavirus safety protocols with fellow pitcher Zach Plesac but said nothing about it—even after Plesac got bagged—until after that team flight. The Tribe sent both to their Eastlake, Ohio alternate site.

And all of a sudden Clevinger—who had a sterling 2019 season but had a struggle or two in four starts this season before his night out of dinner and cards with Plesac and other friends—became the most coveted starting pitcher on a weird trade market that figured to feature such arms as Lance Lynn (Texas Rangers), Trevor Bauer (Cincinnati Reds), and maybe Josh Hader (Milwaukee Brewers relief act) moving to fresh territory.

This must be heady stuff for Clevinger, who’s just gone from a Cleveland outcast to the star of the Slam Diego Shuffle.

One minute, Clevinger and Plesac were still recovering in Eastlake over the denunciations of their selfishness for sneaking out after dark no matter what Mom and Dad ordered. The next, he, at least, has moved from one pennant contender on the banks of Lake Erie to another down by that glistening San Diego waterfront. Where he gets to reap the pleasures and benefits of having one of the left coast’s two true marquee talents having his back at shortstop and lightening his loads at the plate.

It was enough for the Padres to swing and fling their way into the postseason picture, sitting five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West but tied with the Chicago Cubs at three and a half games up in the wild card picture. They’re not just making noise, they’re making memories of the kind San Diego hasn’t seen in a very long time.

These are fun days to be a Padre. And, a Padre fan. So much so that a Twitter wag couldn’t resist wondering if their trade deadline wheeling, dealing, and possible stealing didn’t set at least one weird record: most players sharing the name Austin (including Moreland: it’s his middle name) moving to one team or another in a series of trades made by one team in the same deadline period.

Well, what’s baseball, too, if not the still-singular repository for silly records? Now the Padres hope their wheeling, dealing, and possible stealing produce the kind of record that’s not so silly, if you don’t count the semi-Mad Hatter style postseason to come. The kind of record that gets them to the postseason in the first place.

All they have to do is make sure Clevinger can’t be too seduced by that delicious waterfront to break the safety protocols again.

A terrible anniversary

2020-08-17 CarlMays

Carl Mays, demonstrating his submarine-style delivery. This was once the most famous photograph of him. (National Baseball Library.)

Tomorrow we ought to win pretty easily. I can’t hit this man Mays, but the rest of the team sure can.
—Ray Chapman, Cleveland Indians shortstop, 15 August 1920.

On 20 September 1920, New York Yankee pitcher Carl Mays was scheduled to appear in traffic court on a speeding charge levied three weeks earlier. Mays didn’t appear, but a Yankee secretary named Charles McManus did on his behalf, entering his guilty plea and paying his $25 fine.

Events three days earlier, and a hundred years ago today, compelled Mays to stay out of sight for what proved a full week: the death of Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman, 29 years old, fifteen hours after a Mays pitch caught him in the head with a sickening crash leading off the top of the fifth in an overcast New York.

On the same day Mays was due in traffic court, a priest named the Rev. Dr. William A. Scullen presided over the Chapman funeral that crammed St. John’s Cathedral in Cleveland and backed up traffic and crowds outside the church. After commemorating Chapman’s skill, character, and faith, all of which made him beloved in Cleveland and liked around baseball, Scullen turned his attention to the pitcher whose service felled him.

May there be no hostility in any heart to the man who was the unfortunate occasion of his accident. He feels it more deeply than you, and no one regrets it as much as he. This great game we play, that is our national pastime, could not produce anybody who would willingly do a thing like that. Remember those would be the words of him who lies here. Do not hold any animosity.

The priest may have been too late for his words to have any impact on Mays’s behalf. Mays wasn’t exactly Mr. Popularity even before the tragedy. Even Chapman’s opponents testified to his sterling self. Even Mays’s teammates and managers often testified to his less-than-agreeable self.

The Indians weren’t the only team demanding a boycott of subsequent games in which Mays was scheduled to pitch. Yet their Hall of Fame player-manager Tris Speaker was the only member of the team not to sign a letter calling for such a boycott. Nothing could bring Chapman back, and Speaker wasn’t about join the chorus calling an accident murder.

A Kentucky-born, Missouri-raised son of a Methodist minister himself, Mays was known for a submarine-style delivery, an oft-remarked reputation for head-hunting on the mound, and a then-legal spitball at least as effective as the other pitches through which he lived mostly on ground balls.

A few years after the Chapman tragedy, Mays had so alienated Yankee manager Miller Huggins that Huggins used him sparingly until finally starting him against the Indians, of all people. On a day Mays didn’t have his best, the Indians jumped him for twenty hits, thirteen runs, and a 13-0 final. Asked why he wouldn’t change pitchers, Huggins didn’t flinch.

“He told me he needed lots of work,” the manager said, perhaps with a tiny sneer, “so I gave it to him.”

As likeable and respected as Chapman was, the shortstop was known concurrently for crowding the plate, which would have made him prone to a plunk even if a pitcher wasn’t trying to hit him. That didn’t stop only too many from stopping just short of calling for criminal charges against the suddenly hapless Mays.

One week after Chapman’s funeral, The Sporting News published an editorial that barely stopped short of calling Mays a murderer, while Mays continued to stay out of sight in the tragedy’s immediate aftermath:

Mays knows what all the world is saying. He can not dodge the finger of accusation by keeping himself from public view. Nor is it “hysteria,” as his defenders would charge, when critics everywhere remind us of frequent previous complaints against his style of pitching and recount the disputes it has caused on the ball field.

No one accuses Mays of a direct intent to injure any batter, living or dead, but there are few who do not feel that Mays took the chance and made the batter take the chance, and there are many who wag the head and say such a thing as has happened was bound to happen some day.

Mays stayed in seclusion for a week after the tragedy, while talk of boycotting games Mays was due to pitch crawled all around the Show, except to talk to a Manhattan prosecutor the day after Chapman died, according to both the Society for American Baseball Research and Mike Sowell’s The Pitch That Killed: The Story of Carl Mays, Ray Chapman, and the Pennant Race of 1920.

He thought at first that the pitch ricocheted off Chapman’s bat, fielding it properly and throwing to first for what he thought was an inning-opening out. Not quite. Chapman was down in a heap. The next day, a Yankee employee knocked on Mays’s apartment door. Sowell:

2020-08-17 RayChapman

Ray Chapman. (National Baseball Library.)

Mark Roth, one of the ballclub’s secretaries, did not bother to identify himself.

“Carl, I’ve got some bad news for you. Ray Chapman died at five o’clock this morning.”

The words hit Mays like a sledgehammer. He stood there stunned, then slowly shut the door in Roth’s face.

The next few hours were a blur to Mays. He did not know how long he sat in his apartment in a daze. Finally, he was jarred back to reality by the ringing of the telephone. It was a police inspector, offering his sympathy and a police guard if Mays felt one was needed to ensure his privacy. Mays accepted.

Later that day, a Yankee attorney, Frederick Grant, escorted Mays to a police station where he met an assistant Manhattan district attorney identified only by the surname Joyce.

“It was a little too close, and I saw Chapman duck his head in an effort to get out of the path of the ball,” Mays told the A.D.A. “He was too late, however, and a second later he fell to the grounds. It was the most regrettable incident of my career, and I would give anything if I could undo what has happened.”

When Mays returned home, Sowell learned, his wife told him she received two threatening telephone calls, one of which threatened that her husband would be shot when next he drove his car across a viaduct on 155th Street in the Bronx. When he returned to action and beat the Detroit Tigers, the fury continued apace.

Set the Chapman tragedy to one side for a few moments. Mays’s pitching record includes that he led the American League with fourteen hit batsmen in 1917, when he pitched for the Boston Red Sox. He hit eleven and ten in each of the next two seasons. You’d be hard pressed to suggest that Mays hadn’t earned a head-hunting reputation on that record alone. Even in a time when baseball players weren’t exactly renowned for couth.

But Mays never again hit batters in double figures in any season, hitting as many as nine in a season only once, and that was the year after the Chapman tragedy, when he also led the Show with 27 wins.  His final career total of hit batsmen was 89 in a fifteen-season major league career, and an average of seven per 162 games.

He isn’t even in the top 100 all-time drillers. (He’s tied at number 128.) Mays having committed the notorious hit batsman in Show history singles him out. (Two minor league players, Tom Burke and Johnny Dodge, died in 1906 and 1916, respectively, after being hit in the head by pitches. Those pitchers, Joe Yeager and Tom [Shotgun] Rogers, didn’t earn a fragment of Mays’s infamy.)

Mays wasn’t exactly an outlier among pitchers when he once said, “Any pitcher who permits a hitter to dig in on him is asking for trouble. I never deliberately tried to hit anyone in my life. I throw close just to keep the hitters loose up there.”

Chapman’s death shattered the Indians to a man—until it didn’t. Speaker swore the team would grind it out and win the pennant in his memory, the way they believed he wanted.

Abetted in no small part by the end collapse of the Chicago White Sox, when the Black Sox scandal graduated from rumour to explosive fact and eight White Sox were suspended by the team post haste, the Indians won the pennant and beat the Brooklyn Dodgers (then known as the Robins) in the World Series.

Absent Chapman’s death, Mays might have been remembered best as a tough pitcher who was lost for explaining why his personality rubbed enough people in baseball the wrong way. “When I first broke into baseball, I discovered that there seemed to be a feeling against me, even from the players on my own team,” he once said. “I always have wondered why I have encountered this antipathy from so many people wherever I have been. And I have never been able to explain it, even to myself.”

He didn’t always seem to think that questioning his managers’ intelligence or his teammates’ play behind him on rough days might have had a hand in it.

If you believe in karma’s bitchcraft, you should know that life after baseball wasn’t always kind to Mays. Sowell exhumed that he lost his life’s savings ($175,000) in the 1929 stock market crash and his wife to complications from an infection in 1934. That left him to raise his two children alone, until he met and married the former schoolteacher who came to him at first as his housekeeper.

But Mays also became a longtime baseball scout and teacher who mellowed as the years went by and who made a particular point of teaching his charges to play the game as safely as possible within reason. One of his charges would become a major figure on his former team, the Red Sox: shortstop Johnny Pesky.

The Chapman tragedy caused two major rules changes. Change one: the Show outlawed the spitball officially, while allowing pitchers already throwing the pitch (including Mays and, more famously, Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes) to continue until their careers ended.

Change two: fresh, clean baseballs in play at all times. (Mays showed an umpire a scuff on the ball that hit Chapman as well as how wet the ball still might have been from light rain earlier that day, indicators that Chapman may not have picked up the flight of the ball until it was too late.)

Harry Lunte pinch-ran for Chapman played shortstop the rest of the game, which the Indians held on to win, 4-3. Then, a rookie named Joe Sewell, swearing to anyone who’d listen that he’d become the next Chapman, became the Indians’ regular shortstop—all the way to the Hall of Fame, after playing his final three seasons with the Yankees, of all people.

Mays had the credentials for the Hall of Fame when it was born in 1936, but he never made it. Not because of the Chapman tragedy, but—according to Sowell and numerous other researchers—because of suspicions never really proven that he’d tanked in the late innings of two 1921 World Series games didn’t dissipate easily. (Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis actually investigated, hiring detectives as part of it, and found the suspicions to be just that.)

It didn’t stop Mays from going to his grave believing in his heart of hearts that Ray Chapman was the number one reason he was kept out of Cooperstown. Mays was elected to the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2009; that Hall notes among other things that not only did Mays stay close to his roots but often brought grosses of used major league baseballs home to give to local children.

Mays picked himself up, dusted himself off, started all over again, and finished his pitching career with a kind of stubborn courage that might have been lacking in another pitcher who might also have caused such a tragedy without malice aforethought.

Yet when he told San Diego sportswriting legend Jack Murphy the Chapman tragedy wasn’t “on my conscience, it wasn’t my fault,” the sense was that Mays said it not because he believed it in the depth of his heart of hearts but because, from the same depth, he still couldn’t bear that a sickening accident caused a death that marked him for life.

Chapman actually planned to retire after the 1920 season, having married before the season started, and having planned to enter his father-in-law’s business. He was buried  in Cleveland’s Lake View Cemetery—four miles north of Calvary Cemetery, where his wife and daughter were buried eventually. A plaque in his memory now hangs on a wall in Progressive Field’s Heritage Park.

Mays finished raising his children before living an uncontroversial life to follow with his second wife, stubbornly continuing to hunt and fish despite age forcing him to walk with a cane due to arthritis and depriving him of some of his hearing.

Much as he loved his Missouri roots, Mays was buried next to his first wife in Portland, Oregon’s River View Cemetery. His headstone mentions not his baseball career but his military service in World War I. He once ran an Oregon baseball school whose students included a young Oregonian who became a Red Sox legend, shortstop/manager/coach Johnny Pesky.

Living well enough is usually the best revenge. But it’s also the next best thing to an absolution that’s only God’s to give when men and women can’t or won’t. That as well as the dozens of used Show baseballs and other kindnesses Mays gave children back home may help to brighten his memory. Even a little.

Ray Chapman didn’t deserve to die playing the game he loved. Carl Mays, who loved the game likewise, didn’t deserve to be stricken with the next worst thing to the mark of Cain for a terrible accident.

Plesac: The press made the media do it.

2020-08-15 ZachPlesac

Zach Plesac, future politician.

Once upon a time, the late William Safire—New York Times columnist and language maven (his even more famous “On Language” essays)—drew the line. “When you like us, we’re the press. When you hate us, we’re the media.”

Well, the press reported Cleveland Indians pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger violated the team’s and the Show’s coronavirus health and safety protocols, so Plesac at least hates the media.

He must be bucking for a future in politics. He already has down pat the politician’s go-to excuse when caught with his or her hands in the proverbial cookie jar: The devil press made the devil media do it.

Name the scandal. Teapot Dome? The Profumo affair? Vietnam? The sad Thomas Eagleton affair? Watergate? The botched Iran hostage rescue mission? Abscam? Iran-Contra? Monkey Business? Whitewater? Crimes covering up extracurricular White House nookie? The Iraq war? Abu-Ghraib? Hurricane Katrina? The IRS singling out and targeting conservative groups? Benghazi? Continuing (four administrations and counting) executive order abuse? Two presidential impeachments in three decades?

It wasn’t the perps’ fault. The presidents who abetted, helped cover up, tried to help cover up, or at least approved such malfeasances? (Or, in George McGovern’s case, throwing the hapless Eagleton under the proverbial bus instead of standing by his man.) It wasn’t their fault, either. The presidents who faced impeachment but ducked removal when two Senates refused to try them seriously? Not their fault, either. It was the press’s fault, because the media exposed, investigated, and embarrassed the political (lack of) class.

You didn’t get the memo? Did you get the one reminding you that “fake news” (the catch phrase is Donald Trump’s, but the concept is almost as old as journalism itself) is the news the newsmaker doesn’t want you to know and you don’t really want to hear?

The Indians finally sent Plesac and Clevinger to their alternate site in Eastlake, Ohio, after a team meeting Friday morning at the Birmingham, Michigan site where they stay when playing the Detroit Tigers in the Tigers’ house. The two pitchers were in the cauldron for a night out in Chicago last weekend, involving a restaurant dinner and a card game at a friend’s home.

On the surface, a night out to dinner and playing cards with friends isn’t exactly the scandal to end all scandals. But the Indians, like most major league teams, take the coronavirus seriously enough to impose rules including that nobody can leave the team hotel without the team clearance Plesac and Clevinger failed to get.

The Indians sent Plesac back to Cleveland in a privately-hired car. They had no clue Clevinger was involved until after the pitcher flew back from Chicago with the team. The unamused Tribe compelled each man to issue a team-authored statement. It might have stayed calm and collected otherwise if Plesac hadn’t gone to his Instagram account and schpritzed.

Plesac got the aforementioned memo. He created a video message filmed in his own moving car. Oh, sure, he owned up to violating the protocols, but by God it wasn’t so much his fault for violating them but the media’s fault for having discovered and reported them.

“The media is really terrible, man. The media is terrible,” he fumed. “They do some evil things to create stories and make things sound better, make things sound worse. Truthfully, I’m disgusted the way the media has handled the whole situation surrounding our team.”

Tell us more, Mr. Plesac. If you’ll pardon the expression, inquiring minds—including this long-enough-time member of the working press in the media—want to know. (Yes, Virginia, I’ve been a small city/regional daily newspaper reporter, a regional daily news radio reporter and anchor, and a trade/Internet journalist since almost the birth of the online journalism era. I’m not just another blogger-come-lately.)

We’d like to know if several 1919 Chicago White Sox tanked a World Series because the press made them do it or the media was going to blow the lid off the whole thing in due course.

We’d like to know if The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant! because the press handed Leo Durocher reserve infielder Hank Schenz’s Wollensak spy glass or the media sent it with coach Herman Franks to the Polo Grounds clubhouse above center field to steal opposition signs for the stretch drive comeback that forced the famed pennant playoff.

We’d like to know whether the rest of the press other than the Cincinnati Enquirer aided and abetted the 1957 All-Star ballot-box stuffing scandal on behalf of the Reds, or whether the media compelled commissioner Ford Frick to yank the All-Star starting lineup voting out of the fans hands, where it didn’t return for almost a decade and a half.

We’d like to know whether the press sent Pete Rose’s gambling habit across the line to betting on baseball, or whether the media sent him across that line to bet on his own teams and bet himself right out of the game and out of Hall of Fame consideration.

(We’d like to know what you think about the press covering up the first whiffs of Rose’s gambling or the media unable and maybe unwilling to nudge then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn into the investigation he wouldn’t sanction but which came almost a decade after his exit.)

We’d like to know whether the press poured actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances into baseball or the media handed those players the pipelines to the stuff.

(Well, ok. You have us there. Sort of. Thomas Boswell was prepared to expose Jose Canseco as a juicer decades before Canseco wrote his inconsistent tell-alls, but the press didn’t really want to know until the late Ken Caminiti took it to the media, specifically to Sports Illustrated.)

We’d like to know whether the press compelled Aroldis Chapman, Jose Reyes, Hector Olivera, Jeurys Familia, Derek Norris, and Steven Wright to domestic violence scandal and suspension, or whether the media compelled Jose Torres, Roberto Osuna, Addison Russell, Odubel Herrera, Julio Urias, and Domingo German to likewise.

We’d like to know whether the press cooked up the Astro Intelligence Agency and the Rogue Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring or whether the media encouraged them to graduate from theory to real cheating.

We’d like to know whether the COVID-19 outbreaks that waylaid the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals came from a couple of players being not so smart going for nights on the town or from the press insisting that the media raise enough of a hoopla that it damn near ended this coronavirus-truncated season described in best shorthand as Alfred Hitchcock Presents the Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone.

We’d like to know whether fellow Indians pitcher Adam Plutko spoke of his own free mind when he fumed, over whether Plesac and Clevinger could re-earn their teammates’ trust, “They lied to us. They sat here and publicly said things that they didn’t follow through on. Those grown-ass men can sit here and tell you guys what happened and tell you guys what they’re gonna do to fix it. I don’t need to do that for them.”

And, whether the Indians’ all-but-franchise-face, Francisco Lindor, said of his own free mind, “We have to sit and look ourselves in the mirror. And it’s not about the person we see in the mirror. It’s who’s behind you. It’s not about that one person. It’s about everybody around you.”

Or did the devil press make the devil media make them say it?