On the other hand . . .

Javier Baez, J.D. Davis

The Good Javy (left, after scoring on J.D. Davis’s [center] two-run bomb in the seventh) returned from the injured list and doubled down against the Dodgers Sunday afternoon.

This time, J.D. Davis didn’t shrink. Either with one man on or with the bases loaded.

This time, too, trade deadline addition Javier Baez came off the injured list, swung like a pro, scored like a pro, and doubled down, literally. He put a small shot of rocket fuel into a team looking like the living dead too often this month.

This time, the Mets may have left eight men on but they also sent seven runs across the plate. They’ve now done that only twice since 21 July. And, this time, too, they didn’t let the Dodgers take a single lead all Sunday long.

The bad news is that Sunday’s 7-2 win to stop the Dodgers’ winning streak at nine probably won’t be enough to salvage the Mets’ 2021. They’d need a finish from here that you can describe politely as miraculous to do that. Losing eleven games in the standings this 6-15 doesn’t leave room for miracles.

But let’s worry about that later. Right now, let’s savour Baez cashing in Brandon Nimmo (leadoff full-count walk, on which he sprinted up the line to first) with one out, sending one ricocheting off the left center field fence in the top of the first, with Nimmo gunning home all the way from first.

Let’s savour Davis shooting one the other way up the right field line to send Baez home, and Jonathan Villar with two outs punching a quail into short center, Davis scoring when Cody Bellinger’s throw in brought Dodger catcher Will Smith well out in front of the plate.

Let’s savour Villar trying to take second on the throw in and Smith throwing wild enough to let Villar have third on the house, before a foul out caught by Dodger starter David Price ended the inning at three for the Mets.

Let’s savour the Dodgers getting only a pair back in the fourth, when Bellinger reached Mets starter Marcus Stroman for a two-out, two-run line single to right, making Stroman pay for walking the bases loaded ahead of Bellinger—whose season has been compromised badly by a couple of nagging leg issues and not having been able to recuperate properly from off-season shoulder surgery.

Let’s savour the Mets catching Bellinger in an inning-ending rundown out, catcher to short, Baez playing his old position in Francisco Lindor’s absence, feinting a throw toward third to keep A.J. Pollock from even thinking about a score before tagging Bellinger as he tried turning back toward second.

Let’s savour Stroman managing to keep the Dodgers at bay long enough for Baez to hustle a single into a double after two swift outs in the top of the seventh and Davis, right behind him, hitting the first pitch he saw from Dodger reliever Phil Bickford on a line over the left field fence.

Let’s savour the Mets loading the pads with one out in the top of the ninth off Dodger reclamation project Shane Greene—Nimmo’s base hit to right, Pete Alonso taking another plunk for the team, then Baez taking another plunk for the team.

And let’s savour Davis yet again, a day after he’d swung through a Max Scherzer meatball with the bases loaded for a strikeout. This time, Davis recovered promptly from falling into an immediate 0-2 hole. He wrung his way from there to a walk on four straight balls, resisting the temptation to pull the trigger on a sinker that sunk just a little too far below the strike zone floor for ball four and Nimmo trotting home.

But let’s not fool ourselves. These Mets may have a few energy reserves left, but there’s just a little too much still missing to give them much more than prayers. On paper, they’re only seven games out of first in the National League East. On the field and at the plate, Sunday’s showing is what they’ll need only every day from now on, practically, to have the prayer of even a prayer.

It may require what they may not have the rest of the way.

So just spend today thinking about Baez maybe playing his way into an extension that would keep him around the keystone with Lindor, when Lindor returns days from now.

Think about the Good Javy re-joining Lindor to turn the second base region into the swamp where base hits get sunk into ground outs. Lindor may have struggled at the plate this year but he remained a shortstop Electrolux. (Thirteen defensive runs above the league average shortstop before he was injured.)

Think about the Good Javy who turns the plate into his personal game-changing playpen, providing an energy jolt through this team that not even Con Edison could deliver, just the way he did Sunday afternoon.

Don’t think about the Bad Javy who chases pitches that deserve to escape, the one who tries a little too often to hit eight-run homers on pitches that provide the power just by the bat giving them a kiss. Not until or unless he shows up again, that is.

Think about the Good Javy outweighing the Bad Javy enough to convince Mets owner Steve Cohen it’ll be worth it to keep him around and use him as the perfect out to purge Robinson Cano, who’s due back for 2022.

Don’t say the Mets “will eat” Cano’s money for the final two years of his deal. That meal already went through the digestive tract and out the other end. They accepted him as part of the deal when they wanted relief pitcher Edwin Diaz that badly from the Mariners. Once his current suspension ends, Cano’s going to get paid whether or not he suits up for the Mets again.

Cano isn’t the defensive second baseman he used to be. He hasn’t been the hitter he once was since 2016, either. That’s something to ponder especially if wisdom finally prevails otherwise and the designated hitter finally becomes universal to stay.

The Mets may not be that inclined to have back a 38-year-old millstone drydocked an entire season over actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances, his second such suspension in four years. The Good Javy showed up in time Sunday to start helping make that decision so simple for the Mets that even Joe Biden could make it without screwing the proverbial pooch into a blood bath.

How not to strip the naughty sauce

Max Scherzer

Max the Knife wasn’t quite ready to perform a full strip tease over his third stop-and-frisk Tuesday night . . . but but perhaps some pitcher will, soon.

Long before she surrendered the newspaper columnist’s life for life as a novelist and eventual periodic Newsweek columnist, Anna Quindlen observed cheekily (in her early New York Times column, “Life in the 30s”) that basketball allowed women a sublime extracurricular pleasure. It was the only sport, she wrote, in which women got to watch men run around in their underwear.

Let’s be kind and allow that Quindlen thought boxing was as much of a sport as Charles Manson was a family counselor. But she wrote when the NBA’s uniforms still resembled something as close to men’s underwear as you could get away with in public without filming a comedy movie scene.

That was also then, and this is now. Major League Baseball’s ham-fisted mid-season bent on enforcing foreign-substance rules long on the books and long un-enforced may yet give women another such sublime pleasure. Baseball may yet be the first American sport in which women at the ballpark will get to watch men perform strip teases on or around the pitcher’s mounds.

Don’t be afraid to bet the rent or the mortgage on it. There just might be a pitcher ready to coordinate with the ballpark’s public address people and have David Rose’s ecdysiastical  classic “The Stripper” cued up and ready to go, hard and loud, at the split second he hands his hat to an umpire under orders to stop and frisk for naughty sauce.

It nearly happened at least twice on Tuesday night. First, Nationals ace Max Scherzer finally decided too much was enough with Phillies manager Joe Girardi’s harassment in the fourth inning—and thrust his hat and glove to the ground before yanking his belt open savagely enough that you thought he would drop trou on the spot.

Scherzer didn’t, of course. But Athletics reliever Sergio Romo almost did out in Oakland after finishing the seventh. Romo dropped trou just enough that his almost knee-length uniform jersey still kept his hind quarters covered well and good. He bent forward just so, leaving you the impression Romo was trying to moon the fools who imposed the current crackdown without quite being too cheeky about it.

So neither Max the Knife nor El Machon felt confident enough to perform baseball’s first known on-the-field striptease. Somebody just might, though. It could take long enough for Jacob deGrom to make plans, coordinate, then sail into it to David Rose’s tune at the moment he’s accosted and handed the search warrant.

When deGrom had the dubious honour of being the first under the fresh crackdown (or should that be crackup?) to be stopped and frisked Monday afternoon, he couldn’t stop grinning wide when he wasn’t laughing his head right off his shoulders. Maybe if Scherzer had been the first he’d have thought it was funny, too. Maybe.

But do you think a fellow like deGrom, who’d laugh his way through one of his sport’s most ridiculous over-compensatory gestures, would find it hard to resist a shot at making the Chippendales resemble the Chipmunks in order to send a counter-message to baseball’s garbled and clumsy one?

Commissioner Rob Manfred is a man with a ten-thumbed touch and a pronounced cognitive inability to recognise the true roots of crises that spring from his apparent need to demonstrate that Rube Goldberg should have been a baseball executive.

But even Manfred and his gang couldn’t ignore the ridiculously sublime message sent if and when baseball’s best pitcher decides the way to start putting a stop to this is to channel his inner Gypsy Rose Lee. Could they? They already seem somewhat immune to the concept that there might have been a better way to address the naughty sauce than this.

Resisting Manfred’s Rube Goldberg side to experiment with the baseballs themselves would have kept this issue from getting sticky in the first place. Pitchers normally have enough trouble just keeping their arms, elbows, and shoulders from breaking and tearing, whether they’re throwing speeding bullets, voluptuous breaking balls, or slop.

Not to mention their sides, swinging the bats, in the National League at least, since the designated hitter is not yet permanently universal as it should be.

(Don’t even think about it. Just as Nolan Ryan was an absolute outlier for his 27-season career and insane in the brain work loads—though it’s oft forgotten that Ryan had physical issues very early in his career, including missing all 1967 with one—Jacob deGrom and his .407/.407/.444 slash line as of Wednesday morning is an absolute outlier among this years pitchers hitting a whopping .112/.153/.142 slash line thus far.)

Of course, resisting Manfred’s Goldberg side would also require—what do you know—the immediate disappearance of the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers and the free cookie on second base to begin extra half-innings. Don’t say it as though disappearing them would be terrible things.

What has Manfred thought about his precious pace-of-play improvement campaign now that the mandatory stop-and-frisking for naughty sauce has gone from the ridiculous to the deranged and has probably delayed games by a few more minutes apiece?

What does he think’s going to happen to the pace of play when an indignant pitcher finally gets beyond Max Scherzer’s or Sergio Romo’s kind of annoyance and goes as full Ned Braden as a baseball player can go on grass and dirt?

(Who’s Ned Braden? As played by now-retired actor Michael Ontkean, Braden was the anomalously non-violent minor league hockey player diverting the bloodthirsties’ howling blood lust during an on-ice championship game brawl by performing a gracefully-skated strip tease around the rink—provoking the high school band in the stands to make with “The Stripper” and the ladies in the arena to go bonkers with delight—in the Paul Newman film Slap Shot.)

In absolute fairness, it doesn’t seem as though the umpires are necessarily thrilled about being under orders to stop and frisk for naughty sauce, either. Understandable. They have enough trouble with their current reputations for being only too human, with the almost-pandemic blown calls and enough in their ranks believing fans pay their hard earned dough to come to the park to see them behave as laws unto themselves.

They need to be the Commish’s Elite Guard about as badly as deGrom needs two more miles an hour on his best fastball. No member of the crew working the Yankees-Royals game Tuesday night could have felt thrilled about having to stop and frisk Yankee reliever Jonathan Loaisiga after coming out of an eighth inning in which he was slapped silly for four runs on five hits.

Some of us call that adding insult to injury. Others of us wondered if the umps were trying to tell him that, if he did have a little naughty sauce at hand (or anyplace else on his assorted anatomy), there was no excuse for getting pinata’d like that.

The crew working the Nats-Phillies game that got Scherzer’s underwear in a twist has the likewise dubious honour of having thrown out the first manager because of the naughty sauce crackdown.

Girardi called for the third Scherzer stop-and-frisk, just because a) he could, and b) there’s a too-fine line between real cheating alarm and bad-faith gamesmanship (which the memo says can get a manager suspended, folks), but when he tried goading Scherzer and several hollering Nats coaches into a fight Girardi got sent to bed without his supper for the night.

Clayton Kershaw thinks that’s not enough. “I think there should be a punishment if they don’t catch anything on the guy,” the future Hall of Famer said after he saw Max the Knife get knifed in the fourth. “I think Scherzer, you know, he’s one of the best pitchers of our generation. To see him get checked . . . and mess up his rhythm . . . you better find something if you’re going to call him out like that.”

So who’s it going to be, ladies and gentlemen? Who’s going to be the first pitcher to decide too much is enough and go Ned Braden on or around the mound before Manfred gets the a-ha! and addresses the naughty sauce—and the baseballs themselves—reasonably? Who’s going to be the first likewise indignant umpiring crew to let him?

Maybe make the Girardis strip tease if they’re going to cross the line between reasonable doubt and trying not to pay the rent to live in a pitcher’s head. (Oops. Better be judicious about that, especially if you’ve seen Tony La Russa lately.)

I wonder if someone makes breakaway baseball uniforms. If this keeps up, he or she may soon find themselves making such Mets, Nats, A’s, or other uniforms. Unless entire teams decide to play with nothing on but their briefs, jocks, and socks. Nothing to see there! Move on! David Rose, wherever you are, cue up the band.

Stickum up!

Jacob deGrom

Jacob deGrom sets an unexpected precedent: first pitcher searched under baseball’s new rulebook crackdown against that new-fashioned medicated (and otherwise) goo . . .

History won’t quite record Jacob deGrom as the first pitcher in baseball history to be patted down on or departing the mound. Rare as it’s been, it’s happened before. Still-living Hall of Famer Gaylord (K-Y) Perry, the late Hall of Famer Don (Black & Decker) Sutton, and the late Hall of Famer Whitey (The Chairman of the Board) Ford could tell you from experience.

But on Monday afternoon, deGrom was the first to be stopped, stood for inspection, and also ordered to open his belt as though he was a holding-cell suspect about to be placed on suicide watch.

The fact that he beat the Braves in game one of a doubleheader seemed incompetent, irrelevant, and immaterial.

Welcome to Day One of the Show’s official crackdown on that new-fashioned medicated goo. Purely by an accident of timing, deGrom’s Mets were due to host the Braves in the first of Monday’s games. Purely by the same accident, deGrom himself had the dubious honour of first come, first frisked.

It almost seemed a by-the-way kind of thing when the tall righthander spent the rest of his working hours deGromming as usual. He struck six Braves out in five innings, surrendered one two-out double in the fifth inning that was good enough to let him lure Pablo Sandoval, that early-season pinch-hitting sensation, into a pop out to third for the side.

While he was at it, deGrom speared a leadoff line drive back up the pipe in the third with a swipe of his glove that looked so effortless he might as well have been swatting a pestiferous fly.

It makes you wonder how insect repellant escaped entry on baseball’s contraband list.

“I’m only surprised the umps didn’t think about having his glove checked for Krazy Glue right then and there,” said my friend Kenny Keystone, long-retired sub-minor league infielder, who rang my cell phone right off—well, I can’t say the hook with a cell phone, can I?

Kenny blew up my phone the moment home plate umpire Ben May flagged deGrom down as he strode off the mound after punching two out of three Braves out in the first.

“You seeing this?” he hollered wildly.

“I’m seeing it, Ken,” I replied. “I’m not exactly believing it, but I’m seeing it.”

“Whaddya mean, you’re not exactly believing it?”

“Easy,” I said as the frisking began. “How many times has baseball government threatened a crackdown on this, that, or the other thing? How many times have those crackdowns amounted to, ‘If we catch you doing that again, we’re going to be . . . very, very angry at you’?”

Ken was about to answer when I cut him short. “Wait,” I said. “Here it is.”

There it was. DeGrom strode off the mound, and May flagged him down. It looked at first as though May tossed the last ball deGrom pitched in the inning to either one side or to third base umpire and crew chief Ron (Mea) Kulpa, whichever came first.

May said something illegible to lip readers watching on television. DeGrom waved his right arm away, flashing the kind of grin that in another time and another place might have been the grin of a guy whose well-timed hotfoot was about to explode right up the victim’s heel—not to mention his Achilles tendon and his calf.

Then Kulpa arrived. “Never mind the dental work, buster,” he seemed to say, “hand over the glove.”

Kulpa had his back on the camera view, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that too many indignant fans wouldn’t know the meaning of when real cheaters get caught on the spot and then cuffed and stuffed. He inspected deGrom’s glove almost as though he’d found the tape that fell off the lock at the Watergate.

The only thing missing was the Citi Field P.A. people cuing up and playing the famous theme from The Pink Panther.

“Glove, hat, and belt,” is what turned out to be the instructions to deGrom from the men in blue-black and gray. In the moment, if you weren’t in the ballpark, a half educated guess might have the exchange like this as deGrom handed his gear over:

DeGrom: Here. Nothing to see here, Ron.

Kulpa: Don’t tempt me to say you had nothing upstairs.

DeGrom: You’d have laughed your head off saying it.

Kulpa: Then you’d have been tempted to throw one at me upstairs!

DeGrom: Where it has plenty of room to bounce around?

I did say half educated. DeGrom’s not one of those guys who’s going to let a little thing like baseball’s government imposing and enforcing on-the-spot inspections and searches kill the mood.

For all anybody knows, behind that prankish looking grin of his deGrom was humming the theme to CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: “Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?”

Next, Kulpa moved a little to his right. Then, deGrom moved his right hand to the front of his almost non-existent stomach. And the next thing anybody saw, deGrom loosened his belt.

“Are you seeing that?” Kenny whooped. “Why the hell don’t they just have him drop his drawers right then and there while they’re at it?”

At the same moment, May moved left and deGrom had his hat back. After re-fastening his belt and accepting his glove back, too, deGrom moved to his own left, toward the dugout, and never once stopped grinning big and wide—except when he was laughing his own not-so-fool head off.

I had to laugh, too.

“Kenny,” I said, “You know better than me that if they drop his drawers there, it’s going to be tough to decide which is worse—the umps strip-searching a player right there on the field, or that Citi Field audience going you-know-what-shit nuts. And nobody will be able to tell if they’re going you-know-what-shit nuts because of the outrage of the strip search or because the women in the park think deGrom’s got the best legs in baseball.”

“If they were gonna frisk him and search him,” Kenny replied, “why the hell didn’t they just march him into the dugout, move him up against the wall, and pat him down the old fashioned way?”

“Because they were making history, too.”

“History?”

“Purely by an accident of timing,” I said, “deGrom’s the first pitcher to get searched for syrup, stickum, SpiderTack, or other kinds of blends we don’t even know were invented yet. Even if half of baseball world thinks half or better of the pitchers out there today spend as much time in their private laboratories as watching the videos of their most recent pitching turns.”

“Yeah?”

“Well,” I said, “May and Kulpa have become the first umpires to perform searches for syrup, stickum, SpiderTack, and other kinds of blends we don’t even know were invented yet.”

“Who cares about those guys” Kenny asked indignantly.

“I’ll name you two,” I said. “I’m willing to bet half deGrom’s salary that Joe West and Angel Hernandez are steaming mad because the Elysian Fields gods couldn’t bring themselves to arrange it so that one of them would be the first to approach some pitcher with a search warrant.”

Rookie Braves pitcher Kyle Muller was stopped and frisked likewise after working the bottom of the first. Over in Texas, Rangers starter Kyle Gibson and Athletics starter Frankie Montas got stopped and frisked after working each half of the second.

By then it was about as funny as a strip search warrant for a nudist colony. And who cared about them, anyway? They didn’t get to make history. The guy with the 0.50 ERA on the season after his day’s work was done did. He passed inspection with flying colours. Who says deGrom isn’t leading a charmed life this season?

“You can’t bet half deGrom’s salary,” Kenny shot back.

“It’d be the easiest $17.75 million I ever made.”

“I’m coming to Vegas on the morning plane,” he said. “I’ve got two words for you and I’m saying them to your face.”

“And what might those two words happen to be?”

“Stickum up!”

Enough is way beyond enough, already

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty in discomfort after fouling off an outer-edge pitch in the sixth Monday. He grimaced with gritted teeth as he swung—and could face IL time with an oblique strain.

Bad enough: Someone had to drag it out of Jacob deGrom that his freshly-ended stay on the Mets’ injured list came because he strained his side while . . . swinging the bat. Worse, now: Jack Flaherty could miss a start at minimum for the Cardinals now that he’s got an apparent rib cage injury after he dinged it . . . swinging the bat.

As if the overall futility of pitchers swinging at the plate isn’t enough reason to implement the universal designated hitter. (Anyone who says deGrom with his .450 hitting average isn’t an outlier is either blind or willfully ignorant.) The injury risk isn’t just someone’s equally perverse fantasy.

Flaherty was pitching well enough against the Dodgers Monday evening when he batted against Trevor Bauer in the top of the sixth. He swung with a slight lunge at an outer-edge pitch on 0-1 and fouled it off, a clenched-teeth grimace very visible on his face as he swung. Then he hopped around the plate area in plain discomfort.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt took no chances. After Flaherty struck out looking, Shildt lifted him from the game at once. With a 2.90 ERA, a 9.7 strikeout-per-nine-inning rate, and a 1.03 walks/hits per inning pitched rate, Flaherty is the one Cardinals starting pitcher above all whom Shildt cannot afford to lose for any length of time.

The good news was the Cardinals dropping a three-spot on Bauer in the inning: Justin Williams leading off with a home run off the right field foul pole; then, after Tommy Edman reached on a throwing error, Dylan Carlson hitting one over the center field fence.

The bad news was the Dodgers jumping the Cardinals bullpen for four in the bottom of the sixth to re-take the lead. Max Muncy’s one-out double against reliever Ryan Helsley was followed a base hit later by another Cardinal reliever, Genesis Cabrera, walking Cody Bellinger to load the pads, then walking Will Smith to re-tie the game at three, striking Gavin Lux out looking, but surrendering a three-run double on the fifteenth pitch to Chris Taylor before . . .

Well, now. What was that Thomas Boswell wrote two years ago about getting tired of watching rallies killed by the cop-out of pitching around competent number eight hitters to strike out the opposing pitcher? Cabrera put Dodger second baseman Zach McKinstry aboard and then struck Bauer himself out for the side. “In the AL,” Boswell wrote then, “you must pitch your way out of a jam, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Flaherty’s batting injury threw a stone into Shildt’s gears. The righthander working in front of a hometown crowd had surrendered two runs on back-to-back solo bombs but checked in at the sixth-inning plate after wiping out eight straight Dodgers including one string of five straight strikeouts. Then Flaherty went from cruise control to road hazard with one swing.

Barring unforeseen circumstances there was no way the manager wanted to go that early to the bullpen that leads the entire Show with 120 walks this season. They’ve also walked more batters with the bases loaded (fifteen) than they’ve surrendered hits (fourteen) with ducks on the pond.

“I felt a little tightness, and it was more just felt we should check it out more than anything,” said Flaherty during a post-game press conference. “A little bit of tightness I felt, and thought it was something to bring up. More just to be safe . . . I’m sitting here just fine. I’ll get up out of this chair just fine. I’m moving around all right. I don’t ever leave games. I don’t ever come out of games. It was just something just wanted to check out.”

That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it, never mind that averaging five and two thirds innings per start this year he comes out of games, all right, just never during a working inning. He felt the little bit of tightness first while pitching the fifth. Then after swinging on that foul tick it looked like enough that Shildt decided enough was enough.

“The tightness is in the torso,” wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Derrick Goold, “and the concern will be that Flaherty has an injury to the oblique that could lead to a lengthy absence. He was being re-evaluated late Monday night, and it’s likely the team will have scans taken of his torso.”

If those scans show further damage than just a little tightness, it’s disaster for the Cardinals as well as for Flaherty. They’re in second place and half a game behind the Cubs in the NL Central despite the Cubs leading the Show with their current injured list population.

We’re not exactly talking about one of the great hitting pitchers here, either. Flaherty’s hitting average is .125 this season. Jacob deGrom he ain’t. Not on the mound, of course, as good as he is out there, but especially not at the plate.

The entire Cardinal pitching staff is hitting .070 this season to date. The team is fifteenth in Show for runs scored and runs allowed, but you might see them a little higher for runs scored if they didn’t have to waste plate appearances with those .070-hitting pitchers.

DeGrom’s Mets are rock bottom in the entire Show for runs allowed. They’re also at rock bottom for runs scored, alas. Think they might have a few more runs on the board if their pitchers didn’t have to drag their happy hides to the plate? The Mets’ pitchers are hitting .167 as of this morning’s stats. Remove deGrom and it wouldn’t be that high by a long shot.

You tell me which is more important to the Mets or any team—a .450-hitting pitcher who’s a too-obvious outlier among his breed? Or, a pitcher whose 0.71 ERA (with a 1.08 fielding-independent pitching rate) could hold up all season long and leave him in a league of his own? (DeGrom isn’t shown atop the leaderboards for ERA and FIP only because—with the Mets having played only 46 games, plus his IL turn—he’s pitched only 51 innings so far; or, just shy of seven innings a start.)

Commissioner Nero decided last year’s universal DH wouldn’t be this year’s at minimum. The issue will return to the table when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after this season. Some say the days of NL pitchers hitting will end there. Some say not quite yet. Those days deserve to end permanently at last.

From the end of the 20th Century’s first decade through the end of the 21st Century’s first decade, pitchers overall have hit .155. They’ve made Willy Miranda resemble Willie Mays. Do Nero and the chump contingent insisting that pitchers taking turns at the plate means “real” baseball need more evidence on behalf of ending the National League’s “traditional” refusal of the designated hitter? (Which really amounts to refusing an idea that was first hatched by one of its own owners before the turn of the 20th Century.)

Try just two items to start:

* Continuing regular-season interleague play makes a further mockery of that NL “tradition,” since pitchers have to bat when such games are played in the NL team’s park but NL pitchers get a breather at the plate when the games are played in the AL parks.

(Incidentally, 2020’s pan-damn-ically inspired irregular season was the first time the leagues tied in regular-season interleague play. Since the interleague virus was introduced in 1997, the American League has fanned the National League’s behind: 3,315-3,047. The National League has led in interleague play only four times since 1997 and not once since 2003.)

* This season’s slash line at the plate for all Show pitchers as of this morning is .108/.145/ .140. The slash line for National League pitchers at the plate as of this morning: .107/.145/.137. Now, remove deGrom from the picture—the NL’s pitchers would be hitting .101.

Go ahead, call for continuing to send outlier deGrom to the plate for a lousy six-point hike in the pitchers’ overall hitting average. In a year where nobody can really decide what to think about offense and how declined it is in the first place.

In a year when deGrom has spent time on the injured list because of a plate appearance,  Flaherty is now in danger of spending likewise because of one, and Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gallen is missing “weeks” due to an ulnar collateral ligament strain he first incurred during late spring training . . . taking batting practise.

You want to continue risking pitcher health through non-pitching injury? You really want to continue watching pitchers not named Jacob deGrom (or even further-outlying Shohei Ohtani—who doesn’t bat on his pitching days normally and damn well shouldn’t) wasting precious outs at the plate? You really want to keep watching rallies die when the opposing pitcher pitches around your good number eight batter to strike your pitcher’s ass out?

Be my guest. If “traditionalists” don’t care about exposing themselves as baseball bigots by rejecting real evidence on behalf of lamely-excused prejudice, neither do I.

———————————-

Situation update: Jack Flaherty did indeed hit the ten-day injured list Tuesday—with an oblique strain that may keep him out more than ten days or “just a couple of weeks.” Was it worth it for a foul tick followed by a called strikeout?

Baseball’s strategic non-command

Warren Spahn

That was then: “Hitting is timing. Pitching is destroying timing,” said Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. This is now: “Pitching is timing. Timing is supposed to make Nolan Ryan resemble a junkballer. Batter down? Oops!”

When Steve Dalkowski died a little over a year ago, the legends and myths about the nine-season minor league lefthander arose from the dead one more time. Howitzer arm? Dalkowski threw fastballs like cruise missiles.

Fans with seats behind the plate said no thanks when he was going to pitch—they didn’t want to come away with holes in their heads. He was that fast. And that wild.

Dalkowski finished his professional pitching career with 37 hit batsmen. That’s an average of four drills a year. The wildest pitching oat of his and many eras was kale compared to what’s going wild today, when as of this morning the Cubs pitching staff has hit a Show-leading thirty batters. (One batter drilled by a Cub every 44 plate appearances against them.)

At that rate, the Cubs staff is liable to do in less than two full months what Dalkowski took nine years to accomplish. The last I looked, there isn’t a Cub on staff whose fastballs inspire the kind of thing Red Sox utility infielder/pinch hitter Dalton Jones said of Dalkowski’s gas: “Hearing him warm up was like hearing a gun go off.”

Yet.

The outlier Dalkowski was in his time has become the norm in our time, and with about 200 percent more batters taking it on the chin . . . and anyplace else today’s uncontrollable fastballs can reach. As of this morning 476 major league batters have been hit by pitches—one drill every 80 plate apperances.

They’re not just free-floating knuckleballs or curve balls that break inside unexpectedly, either. These days, for whatever perverse reasons that only begin with the misuse of analytics, baseball organisations hunt and capture human howitzers who can throw lamb chops past entire packs of wolves—and practically nothing much else.

The trouble is that the newest generation of speedballers has about as much control as a politician’s mouth. The further trouble is that someone has the potential to become the next Tony Conigliaro—if not the next Ray Chapman. And the poor soul doesn’t even know it.

“Starting at the amateur level,” writes The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal, “the baseball industry has come to value stuff over command, velocity over artistry. According to baseballsavant.com, the average velocity of a four-seam fastball in 2008 was 91.9 mph; this season, it’s 93.6. The trend is not just a threat to the health of hitters, but to that of pitchers as well.”

Threat to their health? How about the night Cardinals reliever Genesis Cabrera opened an assignment by hitting Bryce Harper in the face-then-wrist—knocking his helmet right off his head between face and wrist, too—and Didi Grigorius in the back . . . back-to-back. Harper and Grigorius may have been lucky they weren’t beheaded back-to-back.

Cabrera wasn’t trying to relieve either man of a head or another part of their assorted anatomy. He looked and acted positively pained when Harper went down and Grigorius spun on the back drill.

Both players knew it, Harper going so far as to send Cardinals manager Mike Schildt a text message saying he knew Cabrera wasn’t trying to leave his head on the ground separately. Cabrera apologised after the game, too.

But you couldn’t ignore what Harper’s former Nationals teammate Ryan Zimmerman told the Sports Junkies podcast, either. “A couple years ago, these guys would be in Double-A or Triple-A for another year trying to learn how to pitch, but these teams just call them up to see if they can kinda hit lightning in a bottle,” Zimmerman said.

“If not, they send them back down. They don’t care if they hit four guys on the other team. What does it matter to them? The [general manager] of the other team is not in the box, so he doesn’t care. It’s a different kind of game but it is what it is and that’s where we’re at.”

This past Saturday night, Ronald Acuna, Jr. got hit in the hand by Phillies reliever Sam Coonrod, on a pitch that would have been ticketed for reckless driving and traveling 32.8 mph above the highway speed limit. After gripping his limb in obvious pain, Acuna managed somehow to return to the Braves lineup the following day and score their first run. Coonrod and everyone else in baseball were lucky Acuna’s X-rays showed nothing but a contusion on his left pinkie.

One particularly interested observer was a Hall of Fame pitcher, John Smoltz, working the Fox Sports One broadcast of the game. Not only does pitching inside have elevation now that it didn’t always have in his day or past generations, Smoltz told his viewers, matching velocity with elevation equals playing with fire if your control panel goes AWOL.

“To pitch inside waist-down, there’s nothing really bad that can happen to a (batter),” said Smoltz, who hit 57 batters himself in a 21-season career for an average three a year. “And there’s nothing really bad that can happen to a pitcher, other than you maybe leave it over the plate and it’s a homer. Now everybody through analytics is trying to get it to the letters. You throw that at 98 mph, there are not a lot of pitchers who know where that pitch is going.”

Nobody’s blaming Coonrod, either, not the Braves or anyone else. Not even knowing Acuna tied an early April game against Coonrod by reaching for a slider going away and hitting it out. All Coonrod wanted to do was pitch Acuna to the inside of the zone, which pitchers must do to stay in command. The problem was Coonrod’s lack of command.

When Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton threw the pitch that blasted Tony Conigliaro in the face, the horror of Conigliaro going down caused too many people to believe Hamilton was nothing more than a reckless headhunter. And Hamilton didn’t pitch in a time when organisations and scouts lived by velocity uber alles without a thought of anything else.

To the day Conigliaro died there remained a considerable crowd remembering Hamilton as a hard thrower who was borderline careless. To anyone who’d give him a reasonably fair shake, Hamilton would say he couldn’t have been a headhunter if he tried—he didn’t have the kind of control to make it possible.

Indeed. He pitched eight major league seasons and actually hit only thirteen batters—short of two a year lifetime. (Charlie Morton hit thirteen in 2017 alone and he’s averaged sixteen a year in his career—including leading his league three times with sixteen, thirteen, and sixteen, and the entire Show once with nineteen.) If that’s a headhunter, watch me paste this pathetic palooka with a powerful paralyzing perfect pachydoimis percussion pitch.

Carl Mays took it on the chin for just about the rest of his life after one of his submarine spitters coned Ray Chapman in 1920. Not only did it provoke baseball to make the spitter an illegal pitch, it left Mays with a slightly unfair reputation as a headhunter—he retired with 89 hit batsmen in a fifteen-season career (average: seven a year) . . . and he’s not even among the top one hundred drillers of all time.

With the relief pitchers there’s an issue a few more have started thinking about. Normally, a manager who sees his pitcher wild would have gotten him the hell out of there before he got an opposing batter clobbered or his own team facing retaliation. Then came the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers, the sole exception being if they come in during a jam and get out of it facing less than three men.

It was a foolish rule to begin with even before Cabrera’s fateful drills of Harper and Grigorius. (Harper’s wrist injury kept him from playing in seven of the Phillies’ following eight games.) That relief minimum kept Schildt from taking Cabrera out of the game until after he faced a third Phillie, on a night he had absolutely no control. How long will Commissioner Nero and his head-up-their-you-know-what bosses let this stupid rule continue before someone does get killed?

And who has to have a career compromised or destroyed a la Conigliaro before the analytics mavens in today’s front offices quit chasing speed elevation uber alles and start chasing or developing pitchers who can learn how to control what they throw and think as well as thrust on the mound?

I don’t ask that question lightly. I’m an analytics maven myself. I believe more deeply than the deepest pennant contender that statistics are what Allen Barra has called them, the life blood of baseball. I can’t and never could watch every single baseball game ever played in my lifetime, so I look at the deepest of the deep stats when I want to know who really made the difference in those games and who really was (or is) as great as his Hall of Fame plaque suggests (or will suggest).

Those deepest-of-the-deep stats can also tell me whom among non-Hall of Famers actually belongs in the Hall of Fame (Dick Allen and Tony Oliva, anyone?) and whom among the Hall of Famers had no business being there except as a visitor. (Harold Baines, anyone?) One of the things those deeper stats can also tell me within all reason is which pitcher had Dalkowski-like heat or voluptuous breaking balls but had the kind of lack of control that might have made Dalkowski resemble the mature Sandy Koufax.

If I’m running a baseball organisation, and I see a young pitcher who can throw a ball through a cement wall but has no idea where it’s going, I should be crucified if I let that kid get anywhere near a major league mound before he gets the idea. Not before someone teaches him all the speed on earth means nothing if you don’t know where the ball’s going—or the one you get within the zone in spite of yourself gets hit into the Delta Quadrant.

Because one thing will remain true no matter the era: Show me a kid who’s got a sound barrier-breaking fastball, I’ll show you a major league hitter who’ll catch up to that fastball soon enough if the kid hasn’t got much of anything else to show that batter. Assuming he lives long enough after he gets coned by one of those speedballs.

Some of the old-school should still prevail. “Hitting is timing. Pitching is destroying timing,” said Hall of Fame lefthander Warren Spahn, whose fastest fastball would resemble a Lockheed Constellation compared to today’s Dreamliners. Today, hitting is still timing but pitching seems bent on making Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan resemble a junkballer. Batter down? Oops.

Spahn also had solid breaking stuff, a screwball he developed later in his career, and the kind of control an android would envy. Want to know how many batters Spahn hit in a 21-season career? Try 42—an average two a year. He also averaged only four wild pitches a year. Today’s impatient front office would deem him unsuitable for major league competition.

His fellow Hall of Famer Koufax once tied a single-season record for wild pitches—before the flaw in his delivery got spotted at last and corrected in spring 1961. Koufax had a fastball that exploded upward as it arrived at the plate and a curve ball voluptuous enough to make Jane Russell resemble Olive Oyl.

In twelve Show seasons Koufax hit only eighteen batters—an average two per year. But he didn’t just fix the hitch in his delivery in ’61. (He’d previously reared back far and hard enough that he cut half his strike zone sight off as he threw.) He learned at last how to think while he pitched. He knew what he was doing on the mound. Today’s front office would probably write him off for thinking too much and destroying radar guns too little.

It’s taken baseball’s best pitcher today eight seasons to hit twenty batters, an average of four per year. The last time he hit one was two years ago. This season he’s been shown throwing three figure speed—at almost any time of the game while he’s on the mound.

But he has something the rest of the pack with a couple of exceptions lacks: He knows what he’s doing on the mound and he also knows there’s an awful lot of real estate to cover within the perimeter of the strike zone. He also has more than just cruise missiles to throw—he’s got a wipeout slider and a changeup that could be accused plausibly of embezzlement.

You won’t see Jacob deGrom on the mound again until 20 May or later, thanks to an issue in his side that started with a lat muscle strain. Did he get it throwing one or two pitches a little harder than even he can throw them without great physical effort? Did he get it swinging the bat and/or running the bases? (DeGrom the Outlier is 7-for-15 as a batter this year.)

If the former, rest assured deGrom knows better. If the latter, it’s yet another argument for the defense on behalf of the universal designated hitter.

It might be fun watching deGrom bop hits but there’s no fun watching him get hurt swinging the bat or running the bases. Especially when you’re not paying deGrom (a converted shortstop) to get up there and slap his mound counterpart silly with his bat. But that’s an argument for another hour.

“[W]hy are pitchers such as Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer at the top of the sport?” Rosenthal asks, then answers. “It’s not simply because they throw hard. It’s also because they know how to locate. More of that, please, before more players get hurt.” Letting the kids play isn’t supposed to mean letting them blow someone’s brains out.