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?

They stink the body electric

AlfredHitchcockMets

Some say this season came out of Stephen King. Others might think the Mets are Alfred Hitchcock Presents The Outer Limits of The Twilight Zone.

Dysfunctional organisations are about as alien to baseball as a pack of cigarettes rolled into a T-shirt sleeve once was to a 1950s greaser. But then there are the New York Mess—er, Mets—whose 58-year history has had several administrations that could give lessons in chaos to any given White House.

On Sunday, the Mets’ game against the Atlanta Braves had just gotten underway, seemingly, when a statement from the Mets hit the ground running like the Flash: Yoenis Cespedes, who’d homered for their only run in an Opening Day win against the same Braves, was AWOL.

As of game time, Yoenis Céspedes has not reported to the ballpark today. He did not reach out to management with any explanation for his absence. Our attempts to contact him have been unsuccessful.

In due course Sunday it transpired that Cespedes opted out of the rest of 2020. For COVID-19 reasons? For dwindling plate appearance opportunities as the Mets’ number one designated hitter this year? For both? Inquiring minds wanted to know and, seemingly, almost didn’t want to know, at the same time.

The only thing everyone in Mets Land and elsewhere seemed to agree with for long enough on Sunday was that Cespedes’s absence scared the Mets and their observers alike.

When Yoenis Cespedes didn’t show up today, the Mets sent security to his room,” tweeted ESPN writer Jeff Passan later Sunday afternoon. “They found it empty. He had taken his belongings, just up and left, and through his agent informed the team mid-game that he was opting out, according to Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen.”

UPDATE: Yoenis Céspedes has decided not to play the remainder of the season for COVID-19 related reasons,” tweeted MLB.com writer Anthony DiComo around the same time as Passan’s tweet.

The Mets-inclined Twittersphere wavered between wondering whether Cespedes’s none-too-glittering stats since that opening day home run were one factor, whether Cespedes possibly losing interest was another factor, and whether the Mets not exactly burning up the league was a third. One or two even contemplated aloud whether the injuries that originally took Cespedes down and cost him all 2019 were legitimate after all.

Already rehabbing on his Florida ranch after surgery to remove calcification on both his heels, Cespedes suffered multiple ankle fractures last May when he hit a hole on his grounds—revealed in due course to have happened while tangling with a wild boar he tried releasing from a trap.

Sure it sounded absurd on the surface. Haven’t enough baseball players and other professional athletes gotten themselves injured in some of the craziest, most hare-brained ways? Yes, they have. They’re funny to everyone except the injured.

A Hall of Famer, George Brett, once suffered a toe fracture . . . because, on a day off, he was just that anxious to get back to the television set to watch his buddy Bill Buckner take a turn at bat and smashed the toe against a door jamb. Another Hall of Famer, Rickey (The Man of Steal) Henderson, fell asleep with an ice bag on his ankle and woke up with a nasty case of frostbite. In August.

Once upon a time, last year’s World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg might have had murder in his heart if you’d known he struggled through a rough outing after getting a little Icy Hot balm on his family jewels accidentally. His method of your execution would have depended on whether you serenaded him with a certain Jerry Lee Lewis oldie.

Cespedes fracturing both ankles in multiple places after a tangle with a wild boar is nothing in the absurdity department compared to those. And that’s without remembering that freshly-crowned Cy Young Award winner Jim Lonborg, of the 1967 “Cinderella Red Sox,” tore up the knee on his landing leg when he was or wasn’t chasing movie star Jill St. John down the ski slopes that winter.

Lonborg’s mishap compromised his pitching career; when he returned, he inadvertently altered his motion to go easy on the landing knee and caused himself shoulder issues for the rest of his pitching days. It also inspired adding the “Jim Lonborg Clause” to the universal players contract enabling teams to bar players from “dangerous” off-field activities.

Whether the Mets looked askance out of the public eye about Cespedes’ battle of the boar is anybody’s guess. But the New York Post‘s Mike Puma and Joel Sherman say that, twice during this truncated regular season’s first nine games, Cespedes complained that he may have been kept out of the lineup a few times the better to block him from reaching certain incentive bonuses.

One of those came Saturday, when Cespedes first talked to [manager] Luis Rojas and then [general manager] Brodie Van Wagenen about his playing status and bonuses. Then Cespedes knew before the buses left for Truist Park on Sunday he was not in the starting lineup and he never showed for the game against the Braves, triggering a bizarre day even for the Mets.

Cespedes might have been struggling since his Opening Day launch, but this wouldn’t exactly be the first time a team has tried playing cute with a player over performance bonuses. It probably won’t be the last, either. But it doesn’t often happen when the team’s general manager just so happens to be the player’s former agent, either.

That same Saturday just so happened to be the fifth anniversary of the day Cespedes first arrived in New York and flipped the switch all the way up on the Mets’ season turnaround, the turnaround that took them all the way to the World Series they lost—thanks mostly to the porous defense they finally couldn’t out-hit—to the Kansas City Royals.

Cespedes may be rolling glandular dice with his opt-out. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at season’s end. It’s difficult if not impossible to fathom him getting even the kind of money he agreed to take for this year, after he and the Mets negotiated it from $20 million down to six. Even the Mets’ apparent dysfunction doesn’t leave him with a great look now.

“There is no way to defend Cespedes on this, at all, if we are to believe multiple sources,” writes another Post columnist, Mike Vaccaro, “and on two levels: Not just using the COVID opt-out as cover—think about that one for a minute—but also, given how much of a fiasco his four-year contract . . . has been, that he would make this kind of stand over money.”

Fair play: Cespedes’s mother is ill and at-risk. He does have legitimate health concerns. He also did say goodbye to several Mets teammates Saturday night, but he told his agency, Roc Nation, about his decision, and either Cespedes or the Roc Nation group didn’t tell the Mets’ brass right away. Is that so Mets, or what?

This coronavirus-truncated and mishap of a season has already been described by yet another writer as something straight out of a particularly literary Red Sox fan named Stephen King. I’m more convinced it’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents . . . The Outer Limits of The Twilight Zone. With the Mets’ latest mess (or is that the Mess’s latest mets?) as the episode called “I Stink the Body Electric.”

Quit the nonsense, Commissioner

2020-08-02 RobManfred

Rob Manfred, who doesn’t seem to grok the distinction between quitting and a strategic retreat.

The incumbent World Series most valuable player, who will hold that distinction until the next World Series is played, dealt with a nerve problem in his pitching hand, costing him one start but amplifying his sense of perspective. The long view matters as much to Stephen Strasburg as do such small details as whether to bust a fastball or a slider in on a hitter.

“To be frank,” the Washington Nationals righthander told reporters after his scratch against the New York Yankees, “this season is kind of a mess to begin with, so I got to think big picture here. It’s my career. I know that in the long run it’s important to try to make as many starts as you can, and by putting yourself in a compromising position now, I don’t really know if it’s the best way moving forward.”

A hand nerve issue in a normal regular season doesn’t cost a pitcher or his team as much as the issue does in a truncated, sixty-game season. Strasburg, however, isn’t an ordinary pitcher. He’s not just the defending World Series MVP, but he got to the career point where it became possible thanks to that “Strasburg Plan” that shut him down well before 2012 ended, in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.

With the Nats headed for that postseason it seemed most of the world demanded they man up, compel Strasburg to do likewise, because who knew when they’d get another shot, right? Strasburg and his team decided a) they weren’t going to die if they didn’t go to the Promised Land then, and b) they’d get there sooner or later and they’d kinda sorta like Strasburg along for the ride.

Now it may turn out to be that Strasburg missing a little more 2020 time because of that nerve issue is the least controversial portion of this Twilight Zone of a season. Submitted for your further consideration, in case you began considering before I sat down to write:

Since last weekend, twenty-one Miami Marlins and four St. Louis Cardinals have tested COVID-19 positive, while a few Philadelphia Phillies may or may not have returned false positives. The real positives stranded the Marlins in Philadelphia after last weekend’s series, until a bus delivered the Fish to their Miami home waters at last.

They also provoked fifteen to seventeen scheduled games canceled, including this weekend’s set between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers. The latter’s outfielder Lorenzo Cain joined the list of the opting-out during the week while we were at it. So did Marlins second baseman Isan Diaz on Friday. Diaz wasn’t a COVID-19 positive Marlin but seeing so many told him some things really do come before baseball, after all.

“This has been a decision that I have discussed with my family, and I feel it’s the best one for me and my overall well-being,” he said in an Instagram post. “I will deeply miss my teammates and competing on the field. I wish my brothers the best and look forward to taking the field again with them soon!!”

Meanwhile, commissioner Rob Manfred, who rarely misses the proverbial opportunity to miss an opportunity, has channeled his inner Richard Nixon and harrumphed against quitting on whatever’s passing for this truncated major league season. “We are playing,” Manfred told ESPN’s Karl Ravech on Saturday. “The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”

In one sweep of his tongue Manfred implied the players who opted out of playing this season as they were granted the right to do were a bunch of quitters and implied players were to blame for the COVID-19 outbreaks among the Marlins and the Cardinals. As if the players scheduled the Fish for that final exhibition game in Atlanta, a city in a state where the coronavirus now is about as rare as oppressive July heat in Las Vegas.

Yes, a few Marlins went out on the town while in Atlanta. Not too bright if they weren’t masked and sanitising, but who put that game on the schedule and didn’t even think about calling it off when Georgia’s coronavirus presence metastasised? And who are the bubbleheads who couldn’t even think about finding an appropriate “bubble” in which to play major league baseball this year?

(Not to mention, who couldn’t even think about taking better steps to assure the Toronto Blue Jays wouldn’t have become the Show’s first strictly road team.)

For a couple of decades the Show has strained to get into what it thinks must be step with other leagues such as the National Basketball Association. The problem has been that it’s paid closest attention to the wrong things (championship-diluting, everyone-a-cookie playoffs) and ignored the right ones.

Once upon a time, knowing he’d be impeached over Watergate if he did otherwise, Nixon announced he’d resign the presidency by saying, among other things, “I have never been a quitter.” Which was jarring enough coming from the man who accepted his defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial race by quitting politics altogether (so we thought), saying, “Gentlemen, you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

Manfred’s in no position to proclaim himself a non-quitter. He quit on the off-field-based, illegal electronic sign-stealing scandal, baseball’s biggest running story until the coronavirus world tour arrived in America in earnest, giving the cheating Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox players immunity to spill instead of ordering them to spill or be spilled no matter what Players Association grievance might have been filed.

He suspended two managers (one who’d been the Asterisks’ 2017 bench coach before managing the 2018 likewise World Series-winning Rogue Sox) and a general manager, and fined one owner what amounted to tip money. He might have bagged the Astro Intelligence Agency co-masterminds, as also the replay room operator in the Rogue Sox Reconnaissance Ring, but he still let the cheaters skate.

Maybe he thought public outrage—from victimised opponents to Astro and Red Sox fans alike who had to come to terms with their heroes being exposed as high-tech cheaters— would be punishment enough. Then the coronavirus world tour knocked Astrogate and Rogue Soxgate both into the yesterday’s news morgues.

Until Manfred dropped an eight-game hammer on Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly for doing in spirit if also extreme action what the commissioner failed to do, a quarter of brushback pitches holding at least Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa to account. You don’t have to agree with Kelly throwing near Bregman’s head to get that.

The commissioner still hasn’t pressed the New York Yankees to obey a judge’s ruling that the detailed letter of reprimand over the illegal dugout phone and possible network camera sign-stealing be made public, either.

Manfred also quit on the people whom the fans normally buy tickets to see at the ballpark when, under the impetus of his bosses, the unimpoverished owners, he tried to strong-arm the players out of agreed-upon fully pro-rated 2020 salaries, for whenever a season might begin, then failed to help develop a far more reasonably safe way for the season to be played.

He quit on the game’s integrity with his bread-and-circuses rules experiments such as the free runner on second to open each extra half inning and the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. When both collide in the extras, it can be (and has been, here and there) murder for the poor sap on the mound and his manager who can’t do a thing to stop the execution until after batter three.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Nero keeps fiddling while the health of the game—in the game’s actual playing terms and the physical health of enough of its players—keeps burning. No wonder Dodgers pitcher David Price, who opted out of pitching in 2020 before the truncated season began, fumed last week:

Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first. Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.

If player health was paramount, Manfred and whatever’s passing for his brain trust—if canceling the 2020 season outright wasn’t to their taste—would have found a healthier mileu than just regionally based games where certain areas in the Show are COVID-heavier than others. And he wouldn’t have slapped even by implication those players who opted out of the season for the sake of their health and their families’ health as quitters.

Manfred may want to revisit his rhetoric if not necessarily reconfigure his mind. He may not have a choice but to cancel this truncated, surrealistic, Twilight Zone-meets-penny arcade season. There’s a difference between quitting outright and making a strategic retreat, which is exactly what canceling the rest of this loopy but risky season would be.

The moment Manfred sees and understands that distinction, the less he’ll look like the  man who misread the signposts up ahead. Less like the commissioner who fiddles while baseball burns, in . . .

DumbassZone01

 

 

Commissioner Nero fiddles while MLB burns

2020-07-28 MarlinsPark

Marlins Park, which won’t host the Marlins vs. the Baltimore Orioles for a second day in a row after the Fish were flogged with COVID-19.

A month and a half ago, I wrote that Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred had to go. The grounds already were several. Now, you can add that Manfred won’t even think about closing the Show for the season unless the coronavirus infects enough players on a team to rule it out of competitiveness.

Just when you thought you’d seen and heard everything from Manfred, the spectre of several Miami Marlins COVID-19 positive, of the Philadelphia Phillies’ clubhouses infected, and of games cancelled over positive tests, prompted this commissioner to put the competition ahead of health and safety.

MLB Network interviewer Tom Verducci, who normally writes for Sports Illustrated, asked Manfred just what it would take to close the Show, whose early performances have already run the gamut from farce to foolery and back under several Manfred-pushed rules experiments.

Those weren’t what the interviewer addressed, though. The issue was COVID-19 outbreaks among one team at minimum. Forget dropping the ball. Manfred threw it from the mound over the outfield wall. It only began with the commissioner saying the Marlins’ outbreak wasn’t “a nightmare,” before four more Marlins tested positive, raising the total number to seventeen—fifteen of whom are players.

“A team losing a number of players, making it completely noncompetitive, would be something we would have to address and have to think about making a change,” he said. “Our first concern is the health of the players and their families. And making sure we do everything possible to minimize the spread of the virus to our employees.”

Do you really need me to suggest that Manfred spoke out of both sides of his mouth while making clear enough that a team rendered futile on the field took even a slight priority over that “first concern” about player health and that of their families?

The Marlins outbreak, which may or may not have been seeded in Miami, prompted the Phillies to test en masse on Monday, while the same day’s scheduled Marlins home opener against the Baltimore Orioles was cancelled, as was the Phillies’ scheduled game against the New York Yankees. Tuesday morning came word that the tested Phillies tested negative. Their Tuesday game against the Yankees is postponed anyway. So is the second scheduled game between the Marlins and the Orioles.

Four of the Marlins’ infected were pulled away before the Sunday game against the Phillies, including scheduled starting pitcher Jose Urena. Manfred could and should have stepped in to cancel it if the Marlins’ administration didn’t. He didn’t, either. Indeed, that the game got played not after a call from competent medical and health observation but in a group text-message vote.

Last Friday, around the time the Fish began to flail, and two Atlanta Braves catchers were sent home showing symptoms but testing COVID-19 negative, Thomas Boswell fumed over the sense that Manfred already put the coffers of his bosses, the owners, ahead of the good of the game with his gimmicks such as a sixteen-team postseason, a free man on second to open each extra half-inning, and a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers.

Concurrently, though, Boswell hammered Manfred’s apparent lacking when it comes to his sport’s taking the pestiferous pandemic seriously enough to be the adult in the room when need be.

“You don’t measure disaster for a country — with refrigerator trucks lined up with corpses — the same way you measure it for a pro sport,” he wrote. “But how do you measure it for a sport? I don’t know . . . League bosses, who are not at risk, and athletes, who think they are invulnerable, are both going to be tempted — to keep playing chicken with the virus until it makes them stop.

“As most of the world already knows, by then it is usually disastrously too late.”

Manfred chose the media platform MLB itself owns to say he’d close the Show first and foremost if any team loses enough players to leave it non-competitive. (Resist the temptation to remind him of a pre-existing condition, Marlins fans.) He put that ahead of “our first concern” of the health and safety of players, their loved ones, and other MLB team employees.

A certain American president of dubious repute is often seen and even heard believing the coronavirus world tour has been nothing more (and nothing less) than a plot cooked up somewhere, anywhere, to thwart his re-election campaign. Now a baseball commissioner of dubious repute can be seen as possibly believing the pandemic has been a plot cooked up to keep the owners from making money.

Dave Martinez, the manager of the defending world champion Washington Nationals, looked upon the Marlins outbreak and shivered. “I’m going to be honest with you, I’m scared. I really am,” Martinez told Washington’s ABC news affiliate.

I go from here, home, back here every day, that’s all I do. I wash my hands, I went from 47 times a day to probably 99 times a day. Wear my mask everywhere I go. But there’s always that concern, you know. You don’t know, because of my heart condition, what happens to me if I do get it. I have to be extra careful. With that said, sometimes I tend to put myself aside and worry about other people more than me. I think that’s why I’m here, because I worry about those guys before I put myself first.

Martinez’s Nats were scheduled to travel to Miami to play the Marlins this coming weekend. “He says the players are his family, and he’s already lost a lot of sleep this month,” tweeted the Washington Post‘s Nats beat writer, Jesse Dougherty. “When asked about whether he has doubts about going to MIA this weekend: “Hopefully they make the right decision. That’s all I’m going to say.”

And, from among the players who opted out of playing this season over the pandemic, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price is probably more secure in believing he did the right thing. Especially considering baseball’s health and safety protocols have had issues and hiccups tracing back to the beginning of that delayed spring training called “summer camp.”

Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first,” the lefthander tweeted after the Marlins news exploded Monday. “Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.”

That and more is what the commissioner says isn’t “a nightmare.”

Manfred and only too many within and without MLB thought any COVID-19 hits would strike maybe one, two, three players or MLB employees in just a sixty-game season. “Time to blow up that assumption,” Boswell wrote this morning.

If half of the Marlins team can test positive within a few days, then the scale of danger to health — the number of people who may get sick and the severity of the damage they may suffer, including prime-of-life pro athletes — just shot through the ceiling.

Our assumptions, while well-intentioned, have been blown to pieces. And in short order, so will the season of one, or perhaps several, of our sports.

So has been Manfred’s reputation, what’s left of it. The commissioner showed what kind of leader he was operationally, factually, and even morally before the coronavirus went on world tour. It wasn’t a great showing.

He’s never been able to bring himself to address complete umpire accountability. He slapped the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox on the wrists over illegal dugout phone and AppleWatch sign-stealing cheating in 2017 and handed down a nebulous directive rather than demand an immediate rule book change and clarification.

He let Red Sox and Houston Astros players walk in return for information rather than bring the powers of his office to bear on them over their off-field-based, illegal sign-stealing cheatings. He suspended two managers for this year (Carlos Beltran, a 2017 Astros player, was forced out of managing the New York Mets before he managed even a spring training game for them) but never even thought of holding the teams’ ownerships to real account.

The cheating players skated, their owners paid what amounted to tip money (for them) in fines, their fan bases were forced (sometimes kicking and screaming) to come to terms with chicanery that compromised each’s recent World Series titles, and Manfred dismissed the World Series championship trophy—which many thought should be stripped from both the Astros (2017) and the Red Sox (2018)—as just a hunk of metal.

He never quite suggested he might be interested in investigating whether the Astros and the Red Sox might be right in suggesting they weren’t exactly the only ones willing to flout rules against off-field-based electronic sign-stealing, either.

Nor did he demand the Yankees explain why they’re so desperate to challenge a judge’s ruling that a disciplinary letter over their 2017 sign-stealing cheating be made public, either, or said anything else about the letter itself. “[I]f the infractions cited by Manfred [in the letter] were as minor as originally claimed,” asked Beyond the Box Score writer Sheryl Ring in mid-June, “why are the Yankees so reticent to turn the letter over?”

Don’t forget Manfred’s push on behalf of his bosses, the un-impoverished owners, to try reneging on that March agreement and gaming the players out of their full pro-rated 2020 salaries if and when the season got underway.

Now that COVID-19 has taken out about half the Marlins’ playing team, Manfred is slightly more concerned for teams’ competitive ability—which can also be viewed as making money for the owners—than their health?

Here’s something on which the owners and the players might unite if put to them properly. Manfred’s successor, and every commissioner to follow, should be anyone except another owner, his hand-picked successor, or other baseball official. The successors should also be elected by representatives of all ownerships and by the players through their team player reps.

But I’m convinced even more that Manfred must go. Commissioner Nero’s been fiddling while MLB and the country that loves it burn. His music is cacophonous.

Be prepared for Show over

2020-07-27 MiamiMarlins

The Marlins players—not team management, not health/safety experts—elected to play Sunday despite COVID-19 already hitting some of them. Now eleven players at least plus two coaches are COVID-19 positive. Where were the adults in the room?

MLB and the players’ union,” tweeted ESPN’s Buster Olney early Monday morning, “made the mutual decision to try to play a season this year, and those two entities share the ethical responsibility of pausing, postponing or cancelling if that’s what is in the best interests of players and staffers. The Marlins’ situation tests this.”

The Miami Marlins’ situation is that fourteen people with the team, mostly players but a few coaches, tested COVID-19 positive while the Fish opened the truncated regular season in Philadelphia. Including their scheduled Sunday starter against the Phillies, Jose Urena. The team has postponed at least their Monday home opener against the Baltimore Orioles.

A series postponement may not be unlikely. Which might disappoint the Orioles purely on baseball terms, having just accomplished the unlikely feat of beating the Boston Red Sox two straight (7-4, 7-2) on opening weekend, after getting their brains beaten in 13-2 to open the set.

Exactly where the Marlins so affected caught the infections is still, pardon the expression, up in the air. They played an exhibition against the Braves in Atlanta the day before the regular season finally began, and the infected players and coaches could have been hit either in the Truist Park clubhouse or in the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse.

The New York Yankees were supposed to open in Philadelphia Monday night and station themselves in the same visitors clubhouse the Marlins just vacated. Says ESPN, “Sources told . . . Marly Rivera that the Yankees have been informed that the visitors’ clubhouse has been completely fumigated several times. The Yankees also brought their own clubhouse personnel down from New York City to work the game, if it happens. No decisions have been made yet, sources said.”

That was early Monday morning; now as I write it’s later Monday morning. A season postponement? It may happen. Major League Baseball convened an “emergency meeting” Monday in the wake of the Marlins’ situation. The Yankees-Phillies game for Monday is postponed, too. And, yes, this is getting quite out of hand.

But a season postponement may not happen yet, either. USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reports, “There will be additional priority testing for teams who have an outbreak, MLB officials say, but no serious talks as of yet cancelling or pausing the season. In the words of one owner on the conference call: ‘Obviously, the situation is fluid’.”

How brave and bold of them.

With the coronavirus world tour still playing and only too many people still treating it from somewhere between carelessness and ignorance, getting a major league baseball season going from any point this summer was going to be tricky enough. We knew that right out of the proverbial chute, when young Washington Nationals star Juan Soto tested COVID-19 positive on Opening Day, though he’s asymptomatic just yet.

For all the fun and folly accompanying the season’s long-delayed opening, it’s no kind of fun when fourteen Marlins test positive over opening weekend. That followed two Braves sent home after testing positive but no symptoms showing yet.

When the Nats hosted the Yankees to open the delayed season, there was commissioner Rob Manfred sitting on national television talking more about . . . his sixteen-team postseason array. The designated hitter wasn’t even a millionth of the gimmick that idea is. It only begins with removing more than half the urgency of a regular season whose competitive urgency was already diluted by its wild card system.

Sure we’ve loved it when wild-card winners turn up the last team standing with the World Series trophy hoisted high. Including the Nationals, who did it last October after a staggering regular-season comeback. But we’re not fools. We know damn well that the wild card system has equaled asking fans to sit on edge over the thrills, spills, and chills of teams fighting to the last breath for . . . second place.

Manfred and his Major League Baseball Players Association counterpart Tony Clark have a genuine burden on their hands trying to navigate the sport through a terrible pandemic that’s yanked their country and half the world over, under, sideways, down. And the big thing for Manfred opening was a postseason array that might, maybe, probably see the sport’s best teams knocked out early and often.

“If Manfred’s judgment is this bad or if he is this pliant to the money lust of his bosses,” fumed the Washington Post‘s most valuable player, Thomas Boswell, “then what chance is there that he will have the backbone or the leadership skills to shut down this season if needed?”

Backbone? Leadership skills? Like the New York Police Department brass who sooner sent a few flunky cops to trial rather than root out the bottom-top corruption it took Frank Serpico and David Durk going to The New York Times to even try rooting it out, Manfred didn’t have the backbone to bring the powers of his office to bear and drop real hammers against the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox over their caught-red-handed, off-field-based, electronic sign-stealing cheatings.

Manfred slapped three managers and a general manager—whose teams executed them without Manfred—but the owners allowing it on their watches and the players availing themselves of it got away with it. You think that’s the Manfred who’s going to have the backbone to stop the season if the viral infections metastasise among the troops?

At his bosses’ behest, Manfred forced Clark and his charges to fight a ridiculous-sounding counter-battle against the owners using the coronavirus tour’s shutdown of spring training and the regular regular season to shove a de facto salary cap for the season down the players’ throats. That’s Manfred’s idea of backbone.

“The scary core of MLB’s predicament — and soon the NBA’s and NHL’s, too — is: Playing our sport is what we do, who we are and how we make our money,” Boswell wrote. “We’re going to try to do it until the virus stops us.”

From all over the world we’re learning the lesson that this is a terrible basic assumption. You get ahead of this virus before it even looks like a problem, or it ends up crushing you. South Korea, Japan, Australia, Canada and Germany, with a combined population of 325 million (the United States has 330 million) had 15 deaths Thursday. Arizona, with 7.2 million, had 89 dead.

You don’t measure disaster for a country — with refrigerator trucks lined up with corpses — the same way you measure it for a pro sport. But how do you measure it for a sport? I don’t know . . . League bosses, who are not at risk, and athletes, who think they are invulnerable, are both going to be tempted — to keep playing chicken with the virus until it makes them stop.

As most of the world already knows, by then it is usually disastrously too late.

You saw it yourself watching the games that finally arrived. Enough players, coaches, managers were playing chicken. Please. There’ve been how many ballplayers who played through injuries, “manning up,” earning their praises, and ultimately hurting their teams because they were fool enough to play through injuries? What’s trying to play unmasked and unsafe through a pestiferous pandemic, then? Supermanning up?

That was before the depth of the Marlins’ infections emerged. And now emerges, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, that deciding to play Sunday’s game in Philadelphia wasn’t decided by MLB, by Marlins team leadership, by the union, by health and safety experts, but by . . . Marlins players, by way of a group text message. Fish playing chicken. Bet the Phillies clucked, too, if not necessarily with unanimous approval.

I admit it. It was easy enough to bask in the Show’s return and either forget or keep as an aside the risk that the coronavirus would have innings enough to play among the games and the teams. Even while some of the worst ramifications of baseball’s gimmicky 2020 season experiments—the free runners on second to start each extra half-inning; the three-batter minimum for relief pitching appearances—delivered things uncomfortably between the rock of disaster and the hard place of farce.

Taking a few small but profound safety precautions doesn’t exactly mean the end of the world as we know it. No matter how many would-be God, Juniors in government from the top down really do want to use it as cover for their next nefarious real attacks on what remains of our freedom.

What a country. We were the “can-do” people for so many generations. When somebody told Ben Franklin to go fly a kite, Ol’ Ben said, “Hell, yes. Who cares if it looks like rain?” And lightning struck.

We gave the world the lightning rod, swivel chairs, automatic flour mills, suspension bridges, fire hydrants, compression refrigeration, coffee percolators, circular saws, dental floss, lathes, doorbells, lock-stitch sewing machines, combine harvesters, solar compasses, Morse code, circuit breakers, sleeping cars, ice cream makers, rotary printing presses, jackhammers, safety pins, dishwashers, fire alarm boxes, elevator brakes, burglar alarms, breast pumps, and submarines.

We gave it condensed milk, light bulbs, mass-produced toilet paper, electric stoves, escalators, vacuum cleaners, motorcycles, refrigerator cars, air brakes, fire sprinklers, mimeographs, synthesisers, air brushes, phonographs, cash registers, metal detectors, electric irons, electric fans, thermostats, photo film, electric mixers, fuel pumps, stop signs, smoke detectors, and zippers.

We gave it medical/surgical gloves, mufflers, remote control, batteries, the assembly line, hearing aids, air conditioning, offset printing, the powered airplane, automatic transmission, traffic lights, toggle light switches, hydraulic brakes, toasters, polygraphs, garage doors, radio arm saws, audiometers, instant cameras, electric razors, freon, sunglasses, car audio, electric guitars, bug zappers, and the Richter scale.

We gave it programming languages, fluorescent lamps, digital computers, fiberglas, xerography, Teflon, deodorant, cruise control, microwave ovens, space observatories, Tupperware, credit cards, transistors, defibrillators, supersonic aircraft, cable television, and correction fluid, a.k.a. Liquid Paper. (Hey, hey, she was a Monkee’s mother!)

We gave it bar codes, the artificial heart, voltmeters, lasers, LEDs, weather satellites, jumbo jets, personal computers, microprocessors, e-mail, cell phones, the Heimlich maneuver, digital cameras, ethernet, stealth aircraft, and the Internet.

For openers.

We fought and beat dreaded diseases past, and we made a few of them extinct while we were at it. We also fought and won a couple of world wars and finally defeated the most ruthless and bloody tyranny ever to rule anywhere on earth. We also invented baseball as the world’s known it roughly since the year before one of us invented pressure tape.

You’re telling me that the “can-do” people are now the “don’t-even-think-about-it” people? You’re telling me the people who invented all the above now consecrate and abet leadership and neighbourly luddism that tries to rule us without knowing a coronavirus from a computer virus?

All of a sudden it looks easier for the Cleveland Indians and the San Diego Padres to think about winning a World Series than it did for us to beat smallpox and polio. (You don’t want to know the bureaucratic loop-de-loops Edward Jenner and Jonas Salk would be put through today to get their vaccines to, you know, the people who need them.)

God forgive me, it was too easy to get lost in the thought that the Show was really back no matter what. Even with the piped-in crowd noise. Even with the cockamamie-looking empty ballparks other than cardboard cutouts of humans and other living creatures. It was even easier to laugh our fool heads off when Adam Duvall’s home run Saturday bopped the cutout of Jeff McNeil’s Alaskan malamute puppy right in the snoot.

Well, it was just as easy to anticipate the return and itch for major league ball no matter the lingering risks. It’s not so easy or funny anymore. As much as I might enjoy the games themselves, for all the gimmickry and all, I’d rather wait till next year than continue the risk that more than just a school of Marlins have to fight the damn virus.

Mr. Manfred, Mr. Clark, show some real backbone and be ready to just say no to the rest of the season. To pay the players their pro-rated 2020 salaries, thank them for giving it the old college try, and call it sick pay. Then—assuming more of them haven’t tested positive in the interim—to send them home to safety and their loved ones.

Don’t even think about how the owners can’t possibly afford it. Everyone from the rock-bound coast of Maine to the smoggy shores of California knows that’s only slightly less of a lie than anything out of a politician’s mouth.

We went almost four months without the Show. If we have to, we’ll survive without it the rest of the year. Because too many people still aren’t wising up and living safe just yet, and too many leaders are still using it as an excuse to play Gods, Jr. And, from the early look of it, too many players, coaches, and managers still do think or act as though they’re invulnerable.

In more than one way, the Marlins just told baseball world otherwise. “[H]ere we have it,” writes a rueful Stephanie Apstein for Sports Illustrated, “the least surprising possible outcome of MLB’s decision to fly some 1,500 people around the country, from one coronavirus hotspot to another, buttressed by a hope and a prayer and instructions not to spit, in service of playing baseball: They have to stop playing baseball.”

We have to have adults in the room. Now.