Crazy Joey Gallo?

Joey Gallo

Calling for baseball to go to law to ban what he can’t traverse isn’t Joey Gallo’s best play.

I don’t recall any banners at Yankee Stadium making the connection last year, but Joey Gallo—the all-or-nothing corner outfielder/designated hitter the Yankees landed from the Rangers just before the trade deadline—shares a name with one of New York’s most legendary organised crime figures.

Some seeing Gallo’s recent comments on baseball’s defensive overshift epidemic (some think it’s a pandemic) might be inclined to hang the same nickname upon him as was once attached to his Mob namesake two decades before Gallo was born.

Crazy Joey Gallo the mafioso bragged about leading the four-man crew who assassinated  Murder, Incorporated boss Albert Anastasia one minute (“You can just call us the Barbershop Quartet,” Gallo is said to have quipped about the foursome who whacked Anastasia in his barber’s chair) and applied himself to studying letters, philosophy and watercolour painting during eight years in prison the next.

“Upon his return to Brooklyn in 1971,” wrote Selwyn Raab in Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires, “Gallo could quote and discuss the nuances of Balzac, Kafka, Sarte, Camus, and Flaubert . . . His pseudo-intellectual trappings were a con man’s camouflage.” (Balzac: Behind every great fortune lies a crime.)

Gallo was once described by a fellow inmate as “articulate and had excellent verbal skills being able to describe gouging a man’s guts out with the same eloquent ease that he used when discussing classical literature.” Picture him if he’d lived to become a godfather himself. The Renaissance Don.

Crazy Joey Gallo the Yankee hit man executes opposing pitchers with long-distance bombs every 15.1 plate appearances. But he strikes out every three plate appearances and draws walks every seven. When the coronavirus pan-damn-ic throttled baseball for half of 2020, Gallo set up a batting cage in his home. He did much swinging but might have been served equally by doing more serious thinking.

“I get the defensive strategies,” Gallo told The Athletic‘s Hall of Fame writer Jayson Stark. “I do. I am 100 percent not against that . . . But I think at some point, you have to fix the game a little bit. I don’t understand how I’m supposed to hit a double or triple when I have six guys standing in the outfield.”

This year’s edition of The Bill James Handbook shows a table indicating that, last season, 51 percent of all batted balls were hit right into the defensive overshifts. Baseball Prospectus writer Russell Carleton determined that lefthanded hitters such as Gallo saw more pitches with the overshifts on than without . . . for the first. time. ever.

The shifts took game-wide hold in this century (the Rays in 2008 began the contemporary trend) because they work, at least against batters at the plate who can’t hit other than dead pull and think they can or need to hit six-run homers with every swing. But they’re not a 21st century schizoid plot. Joe Posnanski gathered the evidence into mostly one place in 2014.

Decades before Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau deployed it against Hall of Famer Ted Williams, the New York Giants deployed it against the Phillies’s Cy Williams, who hit a ton in his home Baker Bowl (its field resembled Fenway Park in reverse, right down to its metallic, high, short-distance right field wall) but only ounces on the road. (In 1923, Williams led the Show with 41 home runs . . . but his OPS was 1.042 at home and .838 on the road.)

Thanks to Posnanski resurrecting a Fleer baseball card showing it, this was Boudreau’s shift on the Splinter:

The Boudreau shift on Ted Williams

The once-notorious Williams shift.

People who think pull hitting is purely a choice should ponder Posnanski’s observation, drawn from more tons of research than the tons Williams hit despite the shifts.

Williams did try to adjust somewhat with the help of [Hall of Famer Paul] Waner. He backed off the plate some, and he did hit a few more balls the other way. But not many. He could not stop being Ted Williams. If he needed a reason to pound balls the other way, he had one long before Boudreau shifted. After all, in left field at Fenway Park stands the greatest incentive for lefty opposite field hitting there is: The Green Monster. The wall made Wade Boggs a star and made Bill Mueller a batting champ. Williams, though, didn’t take much advantage of the Green Monster. He hit like he hit.

Beyond that, I doubt the shift took away 15 points of batting average from him or anything like it. It probably didn’t take away any points in the long run. From 1939-1946, Williams was a .353 hitter. From 1947 to 1957—even with his career again interrupted by war and with his body aging—he was a .348 hitter. The shift maybe have had its subtle effects on his hitting. I suspect it had a much larger effect on his psyche and on the story people told about him.

From 1947 through 1957, according to my Real Batting Average metric (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances), Ted Williams was (wait for it!) a .750 batter. He also averaged 47 strikeouts and 153 walks per 162 games during that span. Even though, as Posnanski observed, “the shift became his constant companion.” Taking a mere five points off his hitting average.

In other words, once he accepted the overshift as part and parcel of his way of life in the batter’s box, Ted Williams pretty much remained Ted Williams. He wasn’t the only all-but-dead-pull hitter of his time, either. According to one Joe DiMaggio biographer, Maury Allen (in Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?), when the righthanded Hall of Famer was offered the thought that he might put a few more home runs on his resume if he tried aiming toward Yankee Stadium’s fabled short right field porch, he dismissed the thought in a huff.

“I could piss those over that wall,” the Clipper harrumphed. “That’s not hitting.” That kind of stubbornness wasn’t born with the three-true-outcomes generation.

Hall of Famer Stan Musial became a pull hitter after a few major league seasons. But he once observed, “[O]nce in a while you’ve got to give in to the pitcher,” he once said. “You just can’t, you know he’s out there thinking just like you are, and he has some idea about what he might want to do of course, and so a lot of times you’ve got to go with the pitch [hit it to the opposite field]. Which most hitters can’t do.”

The shifts finally came into game-wide play because they work against hitters who can hit only one way, whether consciously or by natural inclination. Did you really think a team was just going to line themselves up against a wall to be machine-gunned without even thinking about doing something to keep the assassins from bringing their guns to bear?

I suspect the opposite syndrome might take hold, in time, if a team is bedeviled by a guy who’s killing them hitting almost strictly the other way. Try to imagine lefthanded, other-way shooting Boney Boxorocks—or even Hall of Famer Wade Boggs (who probably should have seen such shifting: almost half his hits went up the middle or the other way to left)— seeing the opposite of the Williams/Gallo shift: third baseman, second baseman, and first baseman crowding the left side of the infield, shortstop out a few feet onto the left field grass.

Gallo the Yankee is no Teddy Ballgame, Yankee Clipper, or Man. Formal rule changes in baseball, as in legislation, are undertaken and consecreated best after long, careful thinking and not under the lash of hysteria. Citizens demand those making law make it without thinking longer term. Baseball players such as Gallo think much the same style. But they might wish to go to their own batting minds first. They might want to think about . . .

Yep, I’m going there yet again. The bunt.

I’ve argued even recently that there are only two or three times a team should even think about bunting, and one of them is if you should be fortunate enough (or your analytics-overdriven team fell asleep on draft day) to have the next Brett Butler in your lineup. (Butler dropped 337 bunts in his long playing career, and 85 percent of them were for base hits.) Sacrifice bunts, I repeat, waste outs with almost no real scoring return for their trouble.

But if you see the defensive overshift on, you should be crazy enough to think with the pitcher even more. He’s not going to try throwing you something away when he knows he’s got more protection against a pull hit than a gangster with a bought-and-paid-for cop by his side. But pitchers make mistakes, too, from the merest raw rook to the most well done Hall of Famer in waiting.

When he makes a mistake to your outside, and if you’re not half as prideful as Ted Williams, just drop your bat to bunt, then just tap the ball onto all that delicious, open, free real estate. Even if they left the corner baseman at his base, or have that corner outfielder playing only a few feet short of the infield dirt, they’re not going to reach that ball in time to get you out. Bartolo Colon could beat such a bunt out.

The second most precious commodity a team at bat has behind outs to work with is baserunners. If outs to work with are rhodium, baserunners are platinum. Let a few batters fed up with the overshifts think about bunting onto the open expanses they’re gifted, and the shifts will fade back on their own. Teams won’t deploy what won’t work.

Crazy Joey Gallo the self-styled renaissance racketeer didn’t live long enough to become a Renaissance Don. In likely retaliation for ordering the hit attempt that left Don Joseph Colombo “vegetabled” (in mob parlance) in front of the don’s own family, the renaissance racketeer was hit in front of his own family ten months later.

Crazy Joey Gallo the Yankee might live a longer, healthier baseball life if he forgets asking baseball to whack defensive shifts with its law and, instead, helps sends them toward a death due to natural causes. The causes of hitters doing some real thinking at the plate while playing, still, the thinking person’s sport.

No bunts about it

Joey Gallo

This is the way to bunt—not wasting an out to move runners who aren’t as likely to score from there as you think,  but for a base hit . . . especially when you’re handed enough free real estate to build the Ponderosa upon. Pushing a man on third home? Gravy.

If it isn’t in the textbooks yet, it should be. And it was executed by a man considered far and wide enough as maybe the single most classic avatar of the big bomb/big strikeout/ big nothing-much-else hitter seen, often incorrectly, as the typical major league hitter of today.

With the Rays putting a now-classic defensive overshift to the right side, and Giancarlo Stanton on third with one out in the ninth, lefthanded Yankee bombardier-or-bust Joey Gallo faced Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge. The split second Kittredge began to throw the ball, Gallo dropped out of his power stance and showed bunt.

He put the bat on the ball. It shot hopping up the third base line, onto and through that entire unoccupied expanse of yummy free real estate, pushing Stanton home and threatening to leave the American League East-champion Rays with an omelette on their faces en route a potential last-minute loss.

Gallo’s sneak attack cut a Yankee deficit exactly in half, to 4-2. Gio Urshela singled to right almost at once, Brett Gardner singled Gallo home, and it looked for the moment like the Yankees would hang on a little more firmly in the wild card race if they could push just two more in.

Not quite. Kittredge ironed up and struck out Gary Sanchez and Rougned Odor (that little stinker) back to back for the side and for the hard-secured 4-3 Rays win. With the Red Sox holding on to beat the Nationals in Washington, 4-2, the Yankee advantage for the first American League wild card fell back to one over the Red Sox.

But Gallo struck a blow on behalf of every baseball watcher and analyst who’s fed up to the proverbial teeth with the yammering from the Old Fart Contingency demanding what just about amounts to a return to dead-ball baseball. The contingency that forgets, assuming it ever really understood in the first place, that under customary circumstances sacrifice. bunts. waste. outs.

Especially when you’re up against the number one scoring team in the league.

You’d only think that the out-wasting sac bunt would do your team a big favour by pushing a runner or two forward and making it easier to score. But you really have to watch the game more closely to see the actuality. Keith Law (in Smart Baseball) saw it, tabled it, and probably ran a few temperatures up the scale.

There are six common scenarios in which you’d see a sac bunt. Here they are, with the actual result and value, the probability or scoring at least one run or more before the bunt, and the probability of scoring at least one run or more after that bunt. (I’ve indicated it with RP.) Law’s tabulation comes from the 2015 season, but it’s generally applicable—give or take a percentage of a percentage point—in just about any season:

Bunt Situation Pre-bunt RP Post-bunt RP Better/Worse Off?
Man on first, 0 out 0.50 0.45 Worse
Man on first, 1 out 0.36 0.26 Worse
Man on second, 0 out 0.66 0.67 Push
Man on second, 1 out 0.45 0.27 Worse
Men on first and second, 0 out 0.65 0.70 Better
Men on first and second, 1 out 0.45 0.26 Worse

Think about that. Six possible sacrifice bunt situations and four of the six leave a team worse off, one leaves them better off, and one is pick ’em at best. With the best case scenario being a sac bunt with first and second and nobody out.

Gallo wasn’t batting in any of those situations Friday night. He had a man on third with one out—and absolutely no Rays infielder on the left side of second base. The third base ump or the Yankee third base coach each had a better chance of fielding Gallo’s sneaky squirt than any Ray did. The Cartwright boys could have built the Ponderosa with room to spare.

One showing of video from the play says, and I quote, “Joey Gallo singles on a bunt ground ball to third baseman Yandy Diaz. Giancarlo Stanton scores.” It would be accurate if Diaz was actually playing third base proper in the moment.

Diaz was in a fourth-outfielder array for the shift. Second baseman Joey Wendle came running over from about half a mile beyond second base, unable to do anything more than watch the ball pass the infield grass and the infield dirt on the third base side, before he finally caught up to it on the extremely short left field grass. The Feds had an easier time nailing Al Capone than Diaz would have had nailing Gallo at first.

It would have been sweet justice if the Yankees had followed up properly and done right by their too-often-shortfalling import bombardier. (They acquired Gallo from the Rangers at the trade deadline.) And it’s not as though Gallo is exactly virginal with such a play.

He’s done it before. A few times. One was a near-equal to the beauty he nudged Friday night: on 25 April, leading off the bottom of the second, against the Athletics. This time it was Kendall Graveman on the mound and Gallo facing the first pitch of the inning.

Again, Gallo dropped out of his normal stance the moment Graveman actually began to throw. Again, he pushed a bunt the other way, even slower and closer to the third base line. Graveman scampered to get the ball sliding almost onto the line but couldn’t throw Gallo out in time. (The Rangers didn’t score in the inning but went on to win, 4-2.)

Now, Gallo could have tried swinging for the Grand Concourse against Kittredge. He’s only faced him once and made an out; it’s not as though Kittredge owned a particularly fat file against him. But he saw Stanton on third, the entire left side about as crowded as a desert, and a chance to sneak shrink the Yankee deficit by half in a game the Yankees absolutely had to win.

It wasn’t Gallo’s fault the Yankees got only one run to follow his ploy RBI. But it should open the eyes of every batter and manager despairing of reducing the overshifts to periodic elements rather than semi-permanent table options.

The only thing wrong with Gallo’s kind of bunt is that more of those batters and managers don’t think of it more often. But, boy, they’ll still think about wasting outs with those mostly futile sacrifice bunts now and then. You tell me what’s wrong with that picture.

Entering 9/11’s anniversary losing . . . 9/11

Gary Sanchez, Jonathan Villar

Sanchez’s bail-and-reach tag attempt on Jonathan Villar only started the Mets’ scoring Friday night.

Even if you hate everything Yankee because it’s everything Yankee, this is the kind of cruel symbolism to which the Empire Emeritus didn’t deserve to awaken on the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities. Even the Yankees didn’t deserve to awaken on 9/11 having lost . . . 9/11, if you look at it one way.

If all you know of Friday night’s game against the crosstown Mets in Citi Field is the line score, it looks on the surface as though the Mets pasted the Yankees 10-3, even with three errors charged to the visitors.

But if you saw the game itself, you know the Mets did benefit from more than a little inadvertent Yankee generosity.

“Just a poor performance, period,” said Aaron Boone, the Yankee manager for whose head Yankee fans have called since, oh, the first Yankee loss of the season. That’s the painful reality of wearing the fabled Yankee pinstripes.

Of all the cliches around the Yankees and their fans, the truest is that they don’t like to lose. Of all the sub-cliches to that, the truest is, alas, “To err is human; to forgive must not become Yankee policy.” If one loss draws calls for heads to roll, nine losses in eleven games probably calls for public executions.

“It’s a bit of a broken record,” Boone said, speaking of the game itself even though he could have been speaking about Yankee fans and their expectations and demands. “We got to keep grinding at it. We got to keep working at it and we will, and trust that it will turn, but it’s obviously going to take everyone and, obviously, that starts with me and making sure we’re ready to roll.”

The Yankees seemed to get a roll going early Friday night, with Brett Gardner scoring on Aaron Judge’s ground out up the middle to second in the top of the first and Joey Gallo—the trade deadline import from Texas, who walks a ton, hits home runs a ton when he hits them, and does little else otherwise—hitting Mets starter Tylor Megill’s first one-out service into the right center field seats in the second.

In between, in the bottom of the first, the Mets offered up a leadoff single (Jonathan Villar), a one-out single up the pipe (Michael Conforto), and a two-out RBI single (Javier Baez, one of the Thumb Bunch) off Yankee starter Jordan Montgomery. The trouble on that hit was Gallo throwing home almost perfectly from left field but Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez bailing on the throw that had Villar a dead duck twenty feet from the plate.

It took a replay review to confirm it: plate umpire Ted Barrett’s initial out call was overturned. Inexplicably, Sanchez stood, bailed backward just enough, and reached up on the play, letting Villar get his foot on the plate before Sanchez got the tag on his helmet.

“He got in between Gary’s legs,” Montgomery said postgame. “It was unfortunate.” Alas, it’s par for the course for the hapless Sanchez this season. Only Baltimore’s Pedro Severino has been as bad behind the dish as Sanchez—each is worth -8 defensive runs saved, the worst mark in the American League.

Still, Gallo’s go-ahead bomb in the second gave the Yankees every right to think they’d hold the Mets off yet. They just didn’t bargain upon their own further misbehaviour starting in the bottom of the third.

Villar opened again with a base hit. Montgomery walked Thumb Buncher Francisco Lindor to set up first and second, then wild pitched that pair of Mets to third and second before walking Pete Alonso to send Villar home with the tying run. Then Baez whacked a feeble grounder up toward third. Uh, oh. Yankee third baseman Gio Urshela picked the ball slickly enough as he hit the ground sliding, but he threw it past Sanchez enabling Lindor to score.

Then Jeff McNeil, spotting the Yankee infield playing a little too deep, dropped a bunt past the mound on the second base side, catching every Yankee around the infield by surprise enough that Conforto came home unopposed. Kevin Pillar of the Thumb Bunch sent Gallo back to the track to haul down his sacrifice fly making the proceedings 5-2, Mets, and counting.

One busted double-steal bid later, McNeil taking second but Baez thrown out at third, Mets catcher James McCann, not exactly one of their more threatening hitters, sent a line double bouncing into the left field corner to score McNeil with the fifth Met run of the frame. Lucky for Montgomery that his next batter was a guaranteed out—even after opening Magill with two balls before striking him out swinging on three straight to follow.

And if the Yankees weren’t able to find bullpen relief for Montgomery just yet, the Mets thought nothing of making his night miserable even further in the fourth. With one out, Lindor going the other way kind of snuck a home run past the right field foul pole. Then the Yankees went to the pen, but an infield hit and a fly out later off Joely Rodriguez, Baez bounced an RBI double off the right center field fence. Making it 8-2, Mets.

The Yankees were mostly futile against Megill (ten strikeouts in seven innings) and the Mets’ defense from the second forward. But they weren’t finished being generous to the crosstown rivals. With the bases full of Mets in the seventh—after a one-out single (Baez) and back-to-back plunks (on McNeil and Pillar)—Yankee reliever Michael King fed McCann a ball that had inning-ending double play stamped on it.

Uh, oh, again. Yankee second baseman D.J. LeMahieu picked it and shoveled it perfectly to shortstop Gleyber Torres on the run. But Torres threw on about two stories above first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s glove, and home came the two plunk victims unmolested. By the time Rizzo whacked his own leadoff bomb in the top of the ninth, likewise sneaking it inside the foul pole, there were few real thoughts of any Yankee comeback.

Mets reliever Yennsy Diaz made sure those few thoughts disappeared swiftly enough from there with two swift air outs, before Sanchez tried to battle him from an 0-2 count: two balls, a foul, ball three, and then the game-ending fly out to deep right.

“It gives me all the confidence in the world,” Megill said post-game, “just to throw the ball over the plate in a way and attack hitters more confidently knowing I have, I guess, room for mistakes pitching. The offense killed it today. It’s awesome, they’ve been playing really well.” The Empire Emeritus went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded four on the night, including Gardner after a two-out single in the third when the Yankees still had that 2-1 lead.

The Mets needed only Diaz and Heath Hembree before him out of the pen Friday night. They’ll need all pen hands on deck the rest of the weekend. Especially if the Yankees are only too conscious of losing 9/11 entering the twentieth anniversary of those atrocities.