Objections overruled

2020-01-05 DomingoGerman

Slapping his girl friend at CC Sabathia’s charity gala last fall means Domingo German won’t be pitching in Yankee pinstripes again until early June.

Domingo German’s 81-game suspension under baseball’s domestic violence policy is only the fourth longest such drydocking among players. Former Braves pitcher Hector Olivera beats him by a game in that regard, Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera lost the final 85 games of 2019, and Padres pitcher Jose Torres lost 100 games in 2018.

None of which stopped the word “unprecedented” from circulating around it or some Yankee fans from screaming “We object!” To the suspension, not the act that provoked it. The general gravamen among that subset of Yankee fans is that, since German wasn’t hit with any criminal charges after all, he should therefore face nothing but spring training and the 2020 season. The general problem with that view is that there’s a major league policy in place saying oh no he shouldn’t.

The actual policy allows baseball’s commissioner to put a suspected player on administrative leave for up to seven days while investigating the accusation, and it covers domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse alike. There’s no minimum or maximum punishment involved formally, though the commissioner can suspend, reinstate, or defer judgment until after criminal proceedings are done.

Which means commissioner Rob Manfred was within his rights under the policy to suspend German even though the September 2019 incident in question—German was seen slapping his girl friend, who happens to be the mother one of his children, after a charity gala by retiring pitcher CC Sabathia—ended up not going to criminal charges. The incident itself was bad enough without the witnesses perhaps including someone from the commissioner’s office.

Likewise was Manfred within his rights to think as he seems to have done that further such incidents forward after, say, Addison Russell’s to get him a 40-game suspension (2018-19), or Roberto Osuna (75 games, 2018), or to Giants chief executive officer Larry Baer (almost four months last year), haven’t delivered the message yet that there are some things baseball as a franchise employer simply refuses to suffer gladly.

Formal legal criminal charges or no, neither the Major League Baseball Players Association nor the Yankees objected to German going on administrative leave from the day after his final 2019 mound appearance through the end of the postseason. Yahoo! Sports columnist Hannah Keyser says the team and the union aren’t expected to appeal the final suspension, either.

German’s suspension will take him out of the 2020 season’s first 63 games since it was made retroactive to the administrative leave onto which he was placed 19 September 2019. And while the pitcher’s missing the rest of the regular season and the entire postseason didn’t exactly help the Yankee cause, it tells you something when you fear those Yankee fans hollering against the suspension seem oblivious to its provocation.

One such response, specifically to Keyser’s column, went like this: “I have no objection to a player being suspended for domestic abuse. But I do object to it when a player was never even charged and there is no real proof that they did anything.” As if the point of witnesses having seen German slap his girl friend now equals, “It depends on what your definition of ‘witness’ is.”

It’s something comparable to saying no, you don’t object to a president of the United States being impeached for abuse of power, but yes, you object when he hasn’t been charged according to criminal law construct. Therefore, whether the House impeaching the president or baseball the employer enforcing its behavioural rules, they done you wrong, somehow. I say it that way because sports fans in their most extreme moments take certain things personally and regard them as crimes of another sort.

Let their team lose a key game down the stretch and they just about would treat it not as a hard loss but, rather, a bloody crime for which heads must roll. Let a pitcher surrender a potential game, set, and pennant-losing home run, and it’s not that the hitter was the better player in the moment but that the pitcher committed the heinous act of throwing the pitch that got bombed.

Those are bad enough. But when some Yankee or other fans all but demand baseball lighten up about suspending domestic abusers in such cases as don’t even go to court (German, fellow Yankee pitcher Aroldis Chapman in 2015, Russell) or become resolved without further ado in court (Osuna), they suggest an employer has no business disciplining an employee merely because his misbehaviour didn’t result in a court case at all, never mind a conviction or time behind bars.

The Astros fired assistant general manager Brandon Taubman, after almost a week worth of the team administration trying to cover up and smearing the reporter who revealed he’d thanked God they’d [fornicating] gotten Osuna within earshot of three female reporters one of whom wore a domestic violence awareness bracelet at the time. If a team can fire an executive over seeming to ignore if not applaud domestic violence, why can’t a team or baseball’s administration suspend someone for committing it?

It’s to baseball’s credit that it says domestic violence is intolerable among those who make the game their profession. And it should be thus elsewhere in sports, as said another respondent to Keyser’s column: “As a Dad, and yet a lifelong Yankee fan, I know domestic violence cannot and should not be tolerated. That is a given. Yet in other sports, the punishment seems to be somewhat less. Time for the other pro sports, or even college sports, to step up and take a stand also.”

All that’s accomplished by those Yankee fans saying baseball done them wrong by suspending German is to make their breed look even worse than they already look to a lot of baseball fans. A lifetime’s experience with the breed (I’m Bronx born, Bronx and Long Island bred, but a Met fan since the day they were born) informs that the main reason it’s uncomfortable to think nice things about the Yankees is their fans.

If the truest cliche about the Yankees is that they don’t like to lose, the truest about Yankee fans is that they think their heroes are entitled (underline that) to be in every postseason, if not to win every World Series, and that if they don’t get either it’s either grounds for a complete housecleaning or somebody else’s fault. But even that is bearable compared to the pockets of extremes that make even normal Yankee fans quake.

Last October came three grotesque examples from that small contingent of Yankee fans who travel first crass. Two happened in Game Three of the American League Championship Series. When Edwin Encarnacion was beaten on a slightly off-line throw forcing Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel to a spinning sweep tag on Encarnacion’s shoulder, fans in Yankee Stadium’s right field stands threw debris on the field. When Yankee reliever Luis Cessa unintentionally hit Alex Bregman with an inside pitch, there was only too audible cheering.

The third, as Game Four was about to get underway, made those two resemble accidents. A group of Yankee fans above the visitors’ bullpen in left field taunted the Astros’ Game Four starter, Zack Greinke, over his known enough battle with anxiety and clinical depression, and the medications he’s prescribed to control those very real conditions. Rather diplomatically, Greinke said after the game that he didn’t hear the taunts, which makes them no less inexcusable.

Some of the taunts exposed the miscreants in question as further half-witted and baseball dumb, namely those taunting Donald Zachary Greinke for going by his middle name as many people do. Clearly they’d forgotten if they ever knew such Hall of Famers as Henry Louis Gehrig, James Hoyt Wilhelm, George Thomas Seaver, and Lynn Nolan Ryan, for openers. Not to mention a one-time Yankee prospect who ended up traded and beating them thrice in one World Series, one Selva Lewis Burdette, Jr.

Taunting Greinke concurrently over his mental illness and his preference to go by his middle name was merely grotesque. Objecting to German’s suspension, never mind that slapping his girl friend with witnesses present damaged her and cost the Yankees his arm the rest of the stretch, the postseason, and for two months plus to open 2020, knocks on the door of degeneracy.

The Yankees aren’t baseball’s only team with a contingent of fans about whom degeneracy applies. And more Yankee fans know and shiver over it than you might think. One such fan—he didn’t identify himself as such, but his avatar is a piece of an ancient tile identifying a Lexington Avenue subway station (the el train running behind Yankee Stadium just before ducking into a tunnel is known officially as a Lexington Avenue Express)—responded to Keyser and knocked the degeneracy contingent among his brethren over the center field fence:

MLB is not a court of law. It can discipline its employees and coaches how it sees fit with input from players union, who did not contest the suspension. If a player doesn’t like the ruling, find another place to play baseball.

There are also those who think baseball’s domestic abusers should be suspended longer, like for an entire season and postseason to follow. That’s not exactly unsound thinking.

Goodbye, good riddance, good luck

2019-10-25 BrandonTaubman

Now-former Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman.

Some time during the 1980s, I remember picking up a magazine story and seeing a university president quoted from a board of trustees meeting. Exactly how it came up escapes my memory, but his remark doesn’t. He told his board that, dammit, he wanted a school his football team could be proud of.

It’s not unreasonable now to think it’s possible that those who play baseball in Astro uniforms might like a front office their players can be proud of. One that knows better than to shoot the messenger who exposed an assistant general manager as clueless about domestic violence.

Astro fans are in the discomfiting position of rooting for their team while clutching their stomachs over the Brandon Taubman affair. Much the way they were when the Astros acquired relief pitcher Roberto Osuna while he was still under suspension for a domestic violence incident that was yet to be resolved legally at the time of the deal.

They don’t have Taubman to trouble their stomachs any longer, at least. Perhaps getting ahead of baseball government’s investigative curve, the Astros fired Taubman on Thursday.

All that remains of the affair now, seemingly, is for the Astros’ administration to fire those in the team’s public relations department who decided upon initial exposure of Taubman’s brain damage that it was all the fault of the Sports Illustrated reporter who exposed it in the first place. And, for that administration to learn at last that winning doesn’t sweep some things under the proverbial rug.

In a near-empty Astro clubhouse, following their surrealistic pennant clinch last Saturday night, and with no Astro players known to have remained at the moment, three female reporters including SI‘s Stephanie Apstein stood adjacent to Taubman when he let fly with, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so [fornicating] glad we got Osuna!”

Osuna was rocked in the top of the ninth of American League Championship Series Game Six when Yankee first baseman D.J. LeMahieu hit a two-run homer off him to tie the game at four. Astro second baseman Jose Altuve won the pennant in the bottom of the ninth with a more electrifying two-run homer—ironically enough, off Aroldis Chapman, the Yankee closer with his own domestic violence history.

A team executive looking to console or brace up a pitcher humiliated in a moment like Osuna’s on the mound wouldn’t necessarily thunder like that but, rather, take the pitcher aside privately to reassure him how glad the team was to have him. Or, say it while his teammates were still in the clubhouse celebrating the pennant win.

Such an executive wouldn’t wait, as Taubman did, until he was almost alone with three women doing their jobs, one of whom (who insists her name be kept out of coverage of the affair) wore a purple domestic violence awareness bracelets worn by lots of people to whom domestic violence is a grotesque crime, to holler that kind of remark about a player who was guilty of it at the time the Astros acquired him.

Apstein was one of the women on the job. And to her credit, she first sought comment from others in the Astros’ front office apparatus before writing her original story about it. Only after getting none did she publish her story early this past Monday, the day before the World Series began.

A formal team statement played the fake-news card at once, calling her story “misleading,” “completely irresponsible,” and written by someone trying to “fabricate” it. But as radio host Larry Elder would say, the fit hit the shan not just from the moment Apstein’s story hit the Internet running but from when it transpired that others aside from the three women reporters happened to be there, happened to see, and happened to hear.

Including two Houston Chronicle reporters, Chandler Rome and Hunter Atkins. “The three female reporters were approximately eight feet away and one was visibly shaken by the comment . . . eyewitnesses said,” wrote Rome. “There were no players in the area and no interviews were being conducted at the time.” Atkins pounced on the original Astro denunciation after the “fabricate” accusation emerged. “I was there,” he tweeted. “Saw it. And I should’ve said something sooner.”

The Astros hit the damage control button faster than Altuve’s pennant-winning homer flew off the barrel of his bat. The office of commissioner Rob Manfred jumped immediately into investigating the Taubman incident, as well it should have considering the game’s domestic violence policy in place since 2015 and the controversy when the Astros dealt for Osuna in the first place at the July 2018 trade deadline.

Finally, come Thursday, the Astros had no more choice. Their formal statement probably has no better description than that by Deadspin‘s Gabe Fernandez:

While the statement offers a meager apology to Apstein, and acknowledges that the organization was wrong with its initial response, noticeably absent is any explanation for why Houston released a strongly worded comment decrying the legitimacy of the Sports Illustrated report, allowed an employee to pull the “as a father of daughters” card while offering a non-apology of his own, and based these decisions on an investigation whose conclusion proved to be far from reality. Who were those “witnesses” who lied to smear Apstein and the other reporters present as fabulists? Who crafted that first statement? What consequences will they face?

Osuna was available in the first place because the Blue Jays couldn’t wait to be rid of him when he was hit with his domestic violence suspension, involving an assault on the woman with whom he has a now four-year-old son. Astro players, particularly ace pitcher Justin Verlander, were not exactly comfortable with the acquisition when it happened.

What a surprise. Verlander himself thundered on Twitter after Astro minor leaguer Danrys Vasquez was shown on video attacking his girl friend on a staircase, for which the Astros released him post haste. And now the Astros dealt their own beleaguered closer Ken Giles to acquire Osuna?

And, yes, Chapman caused a few temperatures to run the scales when the Yankees first acquired him, then dealt him to the Cubs in 2016 (for Gleyber Torres), then re-signed him as a free agent, all after Chapman’s incident with his lady that prompted the Dodgers to back away from a deal acquiring him during winter 2015-16.

Before you suggest that the Astros simply had no choice considering Giles’s ongoing troubles with the team creating the immediate need for an available reliever who could close, be reminded that they actually had a choice if they wanted it, at or just before the 2018 non-waiver trade deadline. (The deadline is now a single one, waiver and non-waiver alike, for all season.)

Giles’s frustrations in the 2017 World Series carried over into the 2018 season and the Astros needed to move him for his own and the club’s sake. At the same time, the Orioles going into rebuild mode were shopping Zack Britton, rehorsing after forearm issues bothered him in 2017.

The same Zack Britton who pitched to a 1.91 regular-season ERA this year and performed respectably in five ALCS appearances against the Astros, surrendering no runs to them despite walking five batters while still striking five out. Compare that to Osuna’s 2.63 ERA this season, his 3.60 ALCS ERA, and getting credit for the Game Six win as a gift from Altuve despite surrendering the game-tying bomb.

The Yankees would acquire Britton instead. Osuna’s ERA was 2.63 when the Astros traded Giles to get him from the Jays. Britton’s was 3.45 when the Yankees dealt for him, but he actually looked closer to his old self in his final eight gigs as an Oriole—his ERA in those eight single-inning gigs was 0.00. And he’d had only two appearances thus far in which he surrendered any runs all season until the trade.

The Astros could have dealt for Britton easily enough without any baggage, domestic violence or otherwise, instead of Osuna whose domestic violence case was far enough from being resolved in the Canadian courts when he finally signed a legal document in which he agreed to have no contact with his victim for a full year to follow.

But they went for Osuna. He was a “depressed asset,” as so many stories about l’affaire Taubman have described. Making the Astros look to too many people as though they, too, put baseball ahead of moral and ethical considerations. Verlander was put in the discomfiting position of straining to be diplomatic about the deal, and it was also known that the Astro front office wasn’t exactly unified about the deal, either.

There were Cub fans uncomfortable with the idea of Chapman having a role in their staggering World Series run. There remain Yankee fans uncomfortable with his presence now. But no Cub or Yankee executive was ever heard, so far as is known for certain, to have thanked his Maker for acquiring a woman beater, in listening range of any reporters.

And the Cubs were caught completely flatfoot after shortstop Addison Russell’s wife, with Russell’s domestic violence suspension carrying from the end of the 2018 season into the beginning of the 2019 season, gave a December 2018 interview in which she described the gory details of what she’d suffered at his hands.

They stood by their man regardless, though with a few qualifiers, and looked just as ridiculous. And Russell’s 2019 season, identifiable by injuries and less than stellar performances when he did play, may end up making him an ex-Cub after all. Not exactly the same thing as sending a powerful message against wife beating.

Remember: there’s no inherent, God-given right to play professional baseball. And there’s no concurrent obligation for any baseball team to tolerate crimes like domestic violence for the sake of winning, whether committed by a player or appearing to matter little to those who hire him.

Firing Taubman only begins resolving the Astro dilemna. The front office isn’t anywhere near off the hook yet. And with the Astros about to face World Series Game Three in Washington and in the hole 2-0 to the Nationals, the absolute last thing the organisation needs is a front office that looked for too long this week as though domestic violence was just a nuisance instead of a very real issue.

And, like it or not, Osuna is still an Astro. Even though the way the Series has transpired so far he hasn’t poked his nose out of his bullpen hole once yet. It’s still possible that the Astros won’t go down to the Nats without a battle, and that Osuna will yet be seen loosening up in the pen for a late-game entry.

And, that Astro fans will be torn as they didn’t have to be between rooting for their team with Osuna on the mound and wishing the front office didn’t lack the common sense God gave a turnip when dealing for a woman abuser when they could have had a late-game reliever who wasn’t one.

“It would be great if this was a case of the Astros committing to an organizational overhaul in response to not just what Taubman did, but also what others around the ballclub did to protect this employee,” Fernandez observes of the Taubman firing. “But considering how much blowback had to occur before anything of substance happened, the Astros’ delay in acting responsibly should be remembered at least as much as the fact that they eventually did.”

Should be? It probably will be. Especially by Astro fans who wish with all their hearts that they had a front office their team can be proud of.

The Astros trip on their own banana peel

2019-10-22 BrandonTaubman

Brandon Taubman.

For an organisation as intelligent as the Astros’ organisation, even they trip on banana peels now and then. But what do you think when one of their own drops the banana peel on which they trip?

Assistant general manager Brandon Taubman dropped this peel, apparently, toward the end of the Astros’ pennant-winning celebration Saturday night. And it exploded into a small firestorm when Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein revealed it Monday night.

With three female reporters in earshot, at least one of whom wore a bracelet promoting awareness of domestic violence, Taubman hollered, “Thank God we got [Roberto] Osuna! I’m so [fornicating] glad we got Osuna!” He may or may not have aimed his outburst at those three reporters directly. But this is more than just a terrible look. “Grotesque” may only begin to describe it.

The Astros got Osuna when the Blue Jays couldn’t wait to be rid of him while he was under suspension for domestic violence in mid-2018. The case was withdrawn after the trade to the Astros, when the woman—with whom Osuna has a now four-year-old child—refused to return from Mexico to testify against him and Osuna signed a legal document agreeing not to have contact with her for a year to follow.

“The three female reporters were approximately eight feet away and one was visibly shaken by the comment, the eyewitnesses said,” writes Houston Chronicle reporter Chandler Rome. “There were no players in the area and no interviews were being conducted at the time.” And one Astro staff member reportedly apologised for Taubman’s quick rant.

Taubman’s outburst might seem somewhat bizarre even if Osuna didn’t have a domestic violence case in his recent past. With the Astros leading and hoping to avoid a seventh American League Championship Series game, and thus avoid burning Gerrit Cole in favour of him starting the World Series, Osuna surrendered Yankee first baseman D.J. LeMahieu’s game-tying two-run homer in the top of the ninth.

It took Yankee manager Aaron Boone electing to let his faltering closer Aroldis Chapman try to finish what he started—pitching to Astros second baseman Jose Altuve on 2-1, with outfielder George Springer aboard and a late insertion good-field/spaghetti bat on deck—to get Osuna off that hook. Altuve hit the shot heard ’round Astroworld and sent the Astros to the World Series.

“If [Taubman] wanted to offer support for Osuna, he would tell Osuna,” writes ESPN’s Jeff Passan, “not yell it in front of reporters and cameras.” He’d have taken Osuna to one side, put an arm around him, and reminded him, listen, we wouldn’t have gotten here without you in the first place, and, hey, we won the pennant, my friend, now let it out and shake it away, because we still need you in the World Series.

This was more than an empathetic executive trying to comfort a subordinate whose best-laid plans exploded in his face. And in the middle of the purely baseball mayhem it was too easy to forget one domestic abuser in an Astro uniform got thatclose to blowing the game for the Astros in the top of the ninth while another domestic abuser in a Yankee uniform threw the pennant-losing pitch in the bottom.

Taubman barking his support for Osuna in earshot of others and in the words that he chose was a horror. Not for standing by his man after he’d been humiliated on the mound, but for the implication that in acquiring him in the first place the Astros put a game ahead of a moral and ethical issue.

The Astros responded to Apstein’s story by denouncing it in a statement as a “misleading and completely irresponsible . . . attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.” (That would be “fake news” in today’s lingo.) When Apstein tweeted the story and the Astros offered that response, another Chronicle reporter, Hunter Atkins, tweeted in response that it wasn’t misleading at all: “I was there. Saw it. And I should’ve said something sooner.” He wasn’t alone in what he saw.

Neither are the Astros alone in putting the game ahead of moral and ethical issues.

That was the same implication attached to the Cubs when they dealt for Chapman for the Yankees in 2016 and the Yankees for first acquiring, then trading (for middle infielder Gleyber Torres), then re-signing him as a free agent. The Yankees traded Chapman to the Cubs as the Bombers slipped out of contention; they got him in the first place after the Dodgers backed out of a deal with Chapman’s original team, the Reds, upon Chapman’s domestic violence suspension the previous winter.

Chapman’s presence and contribution to the Cubs’ staggering 2016 World Series win put the Cubs on the proverbial horns of a dilemna. Even Cub fans had a difficult time reconciling the 108-years-in-waiting return to the Promised Land to the fact that a pitcher accused of domestic violence helped get them over the mountaintop at last.

The Cubs’ dilemna was resolved only partially when Chapman returned to the Yankees. Forgotten were the small details of Chapman’s case: police didn’t press formal charges against him because of “contrasting stories” as well as concerned of evidence. Also forgotten, alas, was Chapman initially apologising only for having a gun, not necessarily for the incident itself.

Dealing for and eventually re-signing Chapman left the Yankees with a bad look, too. It left them looking as though morality and ethics could just step aside when there were baseball games and pennant races to plan. But unless some New York beat writer is sitting on it even now, nobody in the Yankee organisation to anyone’s knowledge ever hollered, “Thank God we got Chapman! I’m so [fornicating] glad we got Chapman!” and got away with it, either, with or without reporters female or otherwise in earshot.

Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner spoke about forgiveness and second chances. So did the Cubs, though with a lot less sanguinity, after shortstop Addison Russell’s case exploded last offseason, when—as Russell’s suspension for domestic violence was to carry into this season’s beginning—his former wife gave an interview in which she ran down the details of love turned to infidelity, suspicion, and finally violence.

Chapman’s case dropped for lack of evidence and clashing stories was nothing compared to Russell’s ex-wife delivering the gory details. But standing by Russell even with qualifiers didn’t do the Cubs any favours this season. After returning from his suspension, Russell had an injury-marred season and may not even be a Cub for 2020 after September callup Nico Hoerner made a big impression.

That won’t be the same as it would have been if the Cubs had rid themselves of Russell when the details about his abuse came to light. The Blue Jays knew enough about Osuna to want him out of their sight, the sooner the better; the question of how soon and how much the Cubs really knew about Russell remained open. And Steinbrenner told reporters about Chapman, “He admitted he messed up. He paid the penalty. Sooner or later, we forget, right?”

That’s sort of what the Mets said, too, when relief pitcher Jeurys Familia returned after his brief 2017 suspension for domestic violence. They traded him to the Athletics in July 2018, then re-signed him as a free agent last winter.

Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said the Osuna deal might actually help raise awareness of domestic violence in due course. And, in fairness, as Apstein herself observed, the Astros have since “made some gestures to demonstrate how seriously they took domestic violence, referencing in a statement their “zero tolerance policy,” donating $214,000 to various shelters and hanging fliers with hotline numbers in every women’s restroom at Minute Maid Park.

Few spoke up about one flip side of those coins—that there’s no such thing as an inherent right to play professional sports.

Maybe the Astros, the Yankees, and the Cubs should have asked former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice about that. He lost his career after he was caught on video attacking his fiancee. In due course Rice’s fiancee became his wife. And the couple together sat for interviews in which Rice candidly admitted he had the end of his football career coming.

When the Astros first acquired Osuna, it put several Astros on the spot, particularly pitcher Justin Verlander. The future Hall of Famer has been outspoken against domestic violence. Two months before Osuna’s acquisition, Verlander tweeted angrily when an Astros minor leaguer named Danry Vasquez was caught on video hitting his girlfriend several times.

“I hope the rest of your life without baseball is horrible. You deserve all that is coming your way!” Verlander thundered. The Astros released Vasquez and he joined the independent Lancaster Barnstormers. The Barnstormers released him when they saw the video. He now plays in the Mexican League for the Rieleros de Aguascalientes.

But when Osuna joined the Astros, Verlander said on the record, “It’s a tough situation. I think the thing for us to remember here is that the details have not come to light. We don’t know the whole story. Obviously, I’ve said some pretty inflammatory things about stuff like this in the past. I stand by those words.”

So far, Verlander’s been right about the actual details never coming to light. But baseball government knew enough to slap Osuna with what was the third-longest domestic violence suspension since its policy was born three years earlier.

Taubman gave the Astros a grotesque look with his late Saturday outburst, which those who were there seem to believe came entirely out of nowhere and without being asked. With the World Series about to begin the timing is worse, but the Astros can and need to do more than just wipe the egg off their faces.

They were foolish enough to lock themselves into a cage over their hair-trigger defense of Taubman and their likewise hair-trigger accusation that Apstein’s story was nothing more than a hit job. There’s also no inherent right to work in a major league baseball organisation off the field, either, whether you’re an assistant general manager or a peanut hawker in the stands.

When then-Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa was caught red-handed hacking into the Astros’ scouting computer database, commissioner Rob Manfred slapped the Cardinals with the maximum allowable $2 million fine and banned Correa from baseball for life, while Correa was sentenced to more than three years in prison.

Acquiring Osuna in the first place discomfited more than just Astro players. Assorted published reports say that not everyone in the Astros’ organisation was thrilled, either. You wouldn’t be wrong if you think those same less-than-thrilled Astro people wish Taubman would go away and fast. I’m betting a boatload of Astro fans feel likewise.

Because those same Astro people now must ask whether the organisation and baseball itself really wants to say computer espionage deserves a lifetime banishment but a man so publicly ignorant about domestic violence, by comparison, is no great shakes.

UPDATE, 11:41 pm Pacific time: Brandon Taubman and Astros owner Jim Crane released statements:

2019-10-22 AstrosTaubmanCrane

Note the phrasing: “if anyone was offended.” There’s no “if” about it. At least three in direct earshot and who knows how many more reading all about it were offended. And, there’s no appropriate language in which to thank your Maker for a man known for domestic violence.

On patriotism in its proper baseball place

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Kate Smith at the height of her radio career.

The skirmish over the Yankees turning Kate Smith’s version of “God Bless America” off, until they can verify she wasn’t the racist a particular 1931 recording of hers has people today believing, should also have us thinking about things aside from dubious retroactive punishment for dubious retroactive charges of racism. Whether it does, of course, is something else again.

Let’s get this one out of the way: Kate Smith has never been a particular music interest of mine. My taste (and preference as the musician I just so happen to be, as a guitarist and lately, too, as a self-teaching vibraphonist) inclines far more to blues and jazz, and Smith was about as much of a blues or jazz singer as Miles Davis was a pan flute virtuoso.

When I wrote about the hoopla a couple of days ago I cited the television critic Tom Shales, who observed that kids who grew up hearing Smith “privately felt that this is what Mom would sound like, if only Mom could sing.” It prompted me to remember my own late mother singing in the shower and sounding as though being tickled on the soles of her bare feet while doing it, which is just about the way Smith’s voice sounds to me whenever I hear it.

As a concurrent lover of classic network radio from its infancy through the era’s commonly acknowledged death in 1962 (I have a personal collection of sixteen thousand plus surviving such radio shows), I’m aware of Smith’s popularity on the air, though little enough of her radio work seems to have survived the era in the way that such as Fibber McGee & Molly, Jack Benny, Lux Radio Theater, Suspense, and Gunsmoke have done. Those and more such survivals than you might believe allow the curious and the enthusiast alike to listen, learn, and, yes, stand athwart nostalgia, yelling “Art!”

But I’m also aware that Smith leveraged her own popularity during World War II to become one of radio’s most effective at delivering the goods when it came to promoting war bonds buying. She’s believed responsible for inspiring around six hundred million dollars worth of war bonds buying, never mind that no one has written a book addressing it specifically as compared to the delightful offering by Mickey Cohen (no relation to the mob legend), How Fibber McGee & Molly Won World War II.

Clearly Kate Smith has patriotic cred to burn. Just as clearly, the very idea of purging her signature recording of “God Bless America” from anywhere equals replacing Washington, Jefferson, (Theodore) Roosevelt, and Lincoln atop Mount Rushmore to an awful lot of people.

That the Yankees elect to think about it on the so far unverifiable ground that she was herself a racist—it’s based on her 1931 recording of “That’s Why Darkies Were Born,” a song known to have satirised racism—falls into place with the contemporary itch to punish and purge ancient disgraces regardless of whether the offender renounced or transcended them in later years.

Last year, in light of the still-festering take-the-knee protests upon sounding “The Star Spangled Banner” before football games, and the National Football League’s then-announced formal rule requiring players to stand for its playing, I wondered aloud whether “The Star Spangled Banner” and even “God Bless America” have been and still are so overdone before sports events as to render their meaning, well, meaningless.

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Fred Thomas, who knew about patriotism from the heart, not habit. Presumably he’s hitting here during the 1918 World Series.

Baseball itself actually has no formal rule covering either song’s playing, which is rather intriguing considering the whole thing started during a baseball game in the first place.

Specifically, it was during Game One of the 1918 World Series, with World War I on the threshold of its end and semicircular American flag bunting lining the fences in front of the field-level seats. A Navy band was present at the game. (It was common for military bands to offer music at sporting events in those years.) With or without a plan to do so, the band broke into “The Star Spangled Banner” during the seventh inning stretch.

Quite spontaneously, Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas, himself on leave from the Navy to play in the Series, turned toward the flag in Comiskey Park (the Red Sox played the Cubs but it was thought the Cubs’ own playpen wasn’t big enough to accommodate Series fans) and saluted.

Thomas’s spontaneous gesture prompted players in both dugouts (including Babe Ruth, then a Red Sox pitcher and en route a six-hit shutout to open the Series) to salute likewise, and the ballpark crowd joined just as spontaneously. For the rest of the Series the song was played at the seventh-inning stretch. Gradually, other baseball teams and other teams in other sports leagues took it on, too.

All that before “The Star Spangled Banner” became America’s official national anthem. (It became so in—what do you know—1931.) The practise moved to playing the song before games continuing through the end of World War II and beyond, but only the NFL after the war ended made it mandatory before games.

“God Bless America” during the seventh inning stretch took hold in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity but has since receded to periodic playings, not the constant thing it was for a few years to follow. Baseball government never made it mandatory any more than it ever formally mandated “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Compulsory patriotism is empty patriotism. You probably don’t need me to tell you about those countries where patriotism was (and still is) enforced at actual or implicit gunpoint. Do you need me to remind you that there have been times enough in our own history where there’ve been those in the land of the free and the home of the brave who’ve favoured something as close to gunpoint patriotism as they could get away with?

I’d like to think the ridiculous Kate Smith kerfuffle might have been avoided if what I suggested last year might have come about: Knock it the hell off with playing “The Star Spangled Banner” before every last American sporting event all season long. And, for that matter, with “God Bless America” during the periodic seventh inning stretch. Save them for such days as Opening Day, games played on major national holidays (Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labour Day, etc.), the All-Star Game, and the first game of the World Series.

I’m not saying it lightly. To this day I’m charmed by the story Casey Stengel’s biographer Robert W. Creamer told “that I hope is true” (Creamer’s words): On his death bed, Stengel had a television broadcast of a game beginning in his room, and as “The Star Spangled Banner” began (as late as 1975 fans watching on television could hear and see the ballpark with it before game time) he slid out of bed, picked up the Mets cap he kept at bedside, put it over his heart, and muttered to himself, “I might as well do this one more time.”

But the charm in that is also that the Ol’ Perfesser did it spontaneously, from his heart, on the threshold of losing his battle with lymphatic cancer, and not because there was any edict requiring him to do so. Mandate it whether by formal edict or entrenched behaviour, and you reduce patriotism to habit. And patriotism—as Fred Thomas and his fellow 1918 World Series competitors understood without being told—is just too valuable and precious for that.

Addison’s disease the Cubs’ nightmare

2018-12-20 MelisaReidyAidenRussell

Expanded Roster displayed this photograph of Addison Russell’s former wife/ victim, Melisa Reidy, and their son, Aiden. Russell’s abuse was worse than first believed.

To err may be human, and to forgive may be divine, but both have their limits and liabilities. Addison Russell is both, and the Chicago Cubs may have reached their limit.

Russell already faces the final 29 games of a forty-game suspension that began in September, thanks to the domestic assault his now former wife described in a September blog post. It embarrassed the Cubs no end especially after manager Joe Maddon said at first that he hadn’t read the post. But it’s gone from embarrassing to worse.

The shortstop who was a significant element in the Cubs’ 2016 World Series championship season may face worse now that the former Mrs. Russell, Melisa Reidy, has given an interview (to Expanded Roster) detailing what she suffered from him in further, harrowing detail. What began as a sweet love devolved too quickly into suspicion, infidelity, and finally violence.

The suspension notwithstanding, the Cubs tendered Russell a 2019 contract anyway. Fansided writer David Hill is hardly the only one to wonder just how much of the nightmare Reidy describes now the Cubs knew going in. “Or,” Hill continues, “how many of the details given in the interview were known to Major League Baseball when Russell was handed his 40 game suspension. Then again, how much did the Cubs, or MLB for that matter, truly want to discover?”

Chicago Sun-Times writer Gordon Wittenmyer has an answer. “The specifics were not news to either MLB or the Cubs, who reached out to Reidy and others in the aftermath of the league investigation in their own fact-finding efforts and to seek input for their decision on how to proceed internally with Russell,” he writes.

Indeed, Wittenmyer cites Cubs president Theo Epstein as suggesting Russell’s days as a Cub may be numbered according to certain factors. “Before he can play another game in a Cubs uniform,” Epstein says, “we need to know that he’s serious about self-improvement and has grown to the point where he can represent the club well.”

Russell is in an MLB-mandated program of therapy and “re-education” (Wittenmyer’s word) and has even hired a personal therapist. If his former wife’s recollections are true he’ll need more than that. A man who explodes against his wife while she holds their infant son, or tears the infant out of her arms after kicking down a door, or throws her to the floor while holding the infant and missing her head hitting a coffee table by inches, needs more than routine therapy.

And he may yet need to find another line of work. The Cubs already took a hot water bath when they added Aroldis Chapman for their 2016 championship run, but that was after Chapman served a domestic violence suspension with the Yankees (to whom he’s since returned), and in Chapman’s case prosecutors refused to take the case forward citing conflicting accounts and insufficient evidence.

When the Astros dealt for Blue Jays reliever Roberto Osuna for their run back to the postseason, Osuna was in the middle of a domestic violence suspension. The suspension ended 5 August and the case in court was withdrawn after the woman refused to travel from Mexico to testify.  The Astros were broiled in the sports press for making the trade, but as with Chapman the case was thwarted in the end.

But Russell’s former wife speaks in too harrowing detail of what she suffered, even though the couple is divorced and no known court action pends in their instance. It’s worse than what torpedoed the football career of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was caught on an elevator video attacking his then-fiancee and released by the Ravens when the video became too widely circulated. Rice didn’t have an infant son in the middle of that fateful rage.

Rice hit the news again this season when the Kansas City Chiefs cut running back Kareem Hunt, the NFL’s leading rusher last year, after a video surfaced of Hunt attacking a woman last February, an incident about which the Chiefs said Hunt lied to the team. Rice’s then-fiancee is now his wife. And they sat for a CBS This Morning interview together in which Rice spoke candidly about how he was purged from football and came to have no regrets about the purge.

“One of the underlying issues for me,” said Rice, who admitted to having too many personal problems—including witnessing several similar incidents in which his mother was a victim—even before he began his football career, “was—I never wanted to ask for help. Football, for me, was my counseling. It was my therapy. It was my psychologist. It was my everything.”

It was the proverbial recipe for the disaster of attacking his future wife. The acclaim Rice received in his football life, from college All-American to a Super Bowl ring, couldn’t immunise him from his self or his misdeed. He’s aware that Hunt has apologised for his crime but he knows that isn’t even close to enough, nor is merely expressing remorse for domestic violence survivors. “I’ll continue to do that,” said Rice, referring to remorse over domestic violence, “because I know now from doing the work, how gruesome it is.”

Rice was genuinely contrite as things turned out. (The NFL looked foolish for docking him a mere two games before the video emerged; commissioner Roger Goodell was compelled to apologise for such leniency.) When Rice was finally released from the Ravens, he never once thought he didn’t have it coming. He’s never tried to return to football since, other than to work as a youth coach.

“My job is to lead my family, my job is to lead my wife, my job is to lead in whatever I do,” he said with Janay at his side after his original suspension. “And if I’m not being the example, then my family crumbles.” Ask him today, as CBS This Morning did, and he’ll say of himself then, “I hate that person.” It’s very fair to say that if his contrition and his work since, on himself and on behalf of domestic violence eradication, wasn’t sincere, Mrs. Rice wouldn’t still be Mrs. Rice.

Russell issued a written statement through his attorneys in which he spoke of “a lot of work ahead for me to earn back the trust of the Cubs fans, my teammates, and the entire organization . . . work that I am 110 percent committed to doing.” He didn’t place his family (his young son with Reidy, plus a child he fathered with another woman prior to having a son with Reidy) at the top of that order. He said only that “after gaining a full understanding of the situation” did he accept the suspension and “wish[ed] my ex-wife well and hope we can live in peace for the benefit of our child.”

It was language as impersonal as Rice’s was direct and very personal, and Rice wasn’t yet a husband, never mind a father, when the crime he wishes he’d never committed  happened. The Cubs ought to keep that very much in mind as Ms. Reidy’s newest, more in depth revelations of just what she and their little son suffered at Russell’s hands take hold.

The right to work doesn’t equal the right to a particular line of work. That was one argument levied against the Astros when they traded for a still-suspended Osuna, and they’re still not entirely off the hook until or unless Osuna proves he’s a very changed man regarding his treatment of women.

It’s an argument the Cubs shouldn’t dismiss considering how very much worse Russell’s case is. The optics, as they call it, looked bad enough when they tendered him a 2019 contract despite his suspension. They look worse in the light of his former wife’s harrowing revelations since. Some call domestic violence a disease instead of a crime. If that’s true, Addison’s disease is the Cubs’ nightmare as well as his former wife’s.