Cease and desist!

Huascar Ynoa

Braves pitcher Huascar Ynoa looks like Hall of Famer Henry Aaron hitting this grand slam. But he’s not a reason to oppose the DH.

I thought I’d seen every possible absurdist argument against the designated hitter going universal to stay. (It won’t happen until after this season, if baseball’s government can quit its foot-dragging over it.) Then I read Jayson Stark in The Athletic Friday. It wasn’t Stark making such an argument but, rather, a couple of his respondents.

Stark is a Spink Award Hall of Fame writer with as much passion for mulcting “Weird and Wild” baseball moments as I have for learning about them. How could he resist White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease having a day during which he struck eleven Reds out . . . and, having to make plate appearances himself for the first time in his major league life, nailing three hits?

How could Stark resist noticing the last American League pitcher to go 3-for-3 at the plate in his first Show game (Boo Ferriss, 1945) came 76 years before Cease fired? Or, that the only National League pitcher to do that in his premiere between 1945 and now was then-Met Steven Matz (2015)?

How, too, could Stark resist making note that of those three pitchers Cease is the only one who’d never shown up at the plate to bat in his entire professional baseball life until that fine day in Great American Ballpark? And Cease’s refusal to desist happened when (Stark’s words) “a few guys who hit for a living” hadn’t had a three-hit game all season yet: Mookie Betts, D.J. LeMahieu, Charlie Blackmon, Francisco Lindor.

Then there’s Braves pitcher Huascar Ynoa, hitting a home run each in back-to-back pitching starts, with the second one—off Nationals pitcher Tanner Rainey, with the bases loaded and Ronald Acuna, Jr. on deck—going over the almost-straightaway center field fence.

It was the first time any Braves pitcher hit home runs during back-to-back starting assignments, Stark points out, since June 1961—when Lew Burdette and his running-mate in the comedy department, Hall of Famer Warren Spahn, did it in the same week, never mind the same season.

Ynoa can claim to be only the third pitcher to homer at the plate in back-to-back starts during which he also surrendered an earned run total of (wait for it!) zero. And whom might the other two be? Stark has your answer: Don Larsen, 1958; and, Rick Ankiel, 2000.

Now, repeat after me: All the foregoing are what such creatures have always been—outliers. Extreme exceptions. Non-habit forming. Hope Diamonds versus glass. Henry Aaron for one day compared to Hank Conger lifetime. Nolan Ryan pitching 27 seasons worth of major league baseball. Get the picture?

More than a few of Stark’s commenters didn’t. “Screw the DH! Let pitchers hit (at least in the National League),” read one, to which another gentle reader replied, “I don’t get why so many people want to take pitchers hitting out of the game.”

Yes watching pitchers hit is painful but getting these types of moments with Cease and Ynoa are so worth it. It’s fun! Just think about the most memorable baseball moment in the past 5 years. What is it? Bartolo’s home run. Take away pitchers hitting and we’ll never see anything like it again. Let pitchers hit!

The first sentence by the second such reader is dismissed almost too easily. Fair disclosure: I did so, posting that as of Saturday morning, the cumulative slash line for pitchers at the plate this season is .108/.136/.146, for a mighty .284 OPS. And, I wrote further, that the cumulative slash line for pitchers at the plate from the end of the 20th Century’s first decade through the end of the 21st Century’s first decade is .158/.207/.199, for a big fat .406 OPS.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again the way I said to that gentle reader: Show me a position player with a slash line like that, and I’ll show you a guy who won’t get past the minors even if he’s the next Mark Belanger with the leather. Even Belanger slashed .228/.300/.280. And he only got to play major league baseball for eighteen years because he was a human Electrolux at shortstop, who finished his career worth one defensive run saved above league average less than Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. (Belanger: +238; Smith: +239.)

Bartolo Colon’s 7 May 2016 home run in San Diego is baseball’s most memorable moment of the last five years? It was a regular riot, no question about it. But if I called it the most memorable moment in 2016-2021 baseball, it would expose me as having slept through a small truckload of moments that were far more memorable if not half as laugh-and-a-half funny. Games Seven of the 2016 and 2019 World Series come to mind at once, for openers.

Using outliers to support arguments is as fatuous as making memes out of Ryan and fellow Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, as someone did aboard Facebook last week, showing the two righthanders sharing a laugh during a Shea Stadium event, with “Pitch Counts?” above Ryan’s head, “Innings Limits?” above Seaver’s, and “#SMH” under Ryan’s and “#LOL” below Seaver’s.

The head smacks and laughs out loud should be aimed at those witless to comprehend that, for every Ryan and Seaver there are 1) probably a hundred or more hard-throwing pitchers who didn’t have a third their career longevity; and, 2) definitely not any single pitchers otherwise blessed with the exact or equivalent physiology to that pair.

Those same head smacks and laughs out loud should also be aimed at those who think Cease, Ynoa, and Colon are mic drops for keeping the National League immune to what they think is the taint, if not the virus, of the DH. By the end of the regular season—when the still-batting pitchers overall are unlikely to finish with a slash line higher than that .108/.136/.146 thus far—Cease and Ynoa will likely remain the outliers they are at the plate, assuming they do get any more base hits the rest of the way.

Hitting this season’s tough enough, seemingly, without further wasting precious outs on behalf of an anti-idea whose time really left the building long before Elvis ever did. If you’ve got a rally in the making, or you pushed a run or two across the plate with the promise of more to come before the inning’s over, do you really want to watch the enemy pitcher bury it alive by finding a way around your serviceable number eight batter to strike your pitcher out for the side? Or, to lure your pitcher into a rally-killing, inning-ending double play?

Don’t even think about countering with “sacrifice bunts—strategy!!” either. Unless you see the other guys put the old wheel play on (corner infielders down the line; middle infielders to the corner bases) so you can fake a bunt for a base hit, send four pairs of cement hands out to the infield, or present yet another defensive overshift yielding open prime real estate, bunts waste outs. (“I have yet to meet the fan who bought a ticket to a major league game,” Keith Law wrote in Smart Baseball, “because she really wanted to see guys drop some sac bunts.”)

Unless you think managers in any era made their lineups out by rolling dice, turning cards, playing eenie-meenie-mienie-moe, calling the Psychic Hotline, or tossing coins and interpreting the I Ching, here’s a scoop that shouldn’t be a scoop: most baseball strategy is plotted before the game begins.

Make the DH universal and give National League managers the options American League managers have enjoyed for decades without having to move a pitcher above the number nine slot in the order: maybe a second cleanup hitter or an extra leadoff-type in that slot.

Relieve them, too, of the brain-bending decision (and yes, I’ve seen it happen) to remove a hot starting pitcher before his gas goes AWOL because his spot in the order’s due up early enough with men on base and a chance—especially down the stretch of a pennant race or with postseason survival at stake—to tie a game or bust it open as long and wide as the Chunnel.

Of course it’s fun to see the very occasional Ceases, Ynoas, and Colons*. But I’ll Cease and desist those in half a heartbeat, on behalf of putting a permanent end to the historic and overwhelming majority of pitchers killing my rallies because the historic and overwhelming majority of the lot of them hit as though they swing swimming pool noodles at the plate.

Instead of thwarting the universal DH, how’s about we kill the free cookie on second base to open each extra half inning and the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers? (Somebody might get killed because of the latter.) Or would that cause Commissioner Nero and his mouse-like employers to think, “Nope, makes too much sense?”

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* It took Bartolo Colon nineteen years of major league baseball, only two and a half of which were National League seasons, and 248 previous major league plate appearances, before he finally hit James Shields’s 38th pitch of the game into the left field seats.

It didn’t even take Mark Belanger that many plate appearances to hit his first of twenty lifetime home runs—Belanger did it in his seventh plate appearance of 1967. And Belanger wasn’t a tenth as funny running his out as the portly Colon who ran like a cement truck with the rear tires deflating en route.

Put a meal and a stewardess on that flip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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