The wheeling, dealing, maybe stealing Padres

Mike Clevinger, from Cleveland outcast to the star of the San Diego Shuffle.

Entering the pandemic-truncated regular season, some thought the Show was going to be somewhere between dull and duller, not just by way of the rules experiments alone. They didn’t reckon with the San Diego Padres, of all people.

When not producing a youthful shortstop (Fernando Tatis, Jr.) who takes “let the kids play” to heart (and runs the boring old farts’ temperatures up the scale in the bargain), or hitting grand slams as if they’re going out of style, the Padres took what some presumed would be a sleepy trade deadline period and turned it into a bit of a thriller approaching Monday’s 1 p.m. Pacific time cutoff.

Landing Cleveland Indians pitcher/protocol violator Mike Clevinger and outfielder Greg Allen for a package including pitcher Cal Quantrill, infielder Gabriel Arias, outfielder Josh Naylor, and catcher Austin Hedges on Monday merely seems like what Duke Ellington once called “the cherries-and-cream topping to our sundae morning.”

Especially after the Friars already made four trades in a 24-hour period prior. The fourth of those trades looked like something of a nothingburger: on Sunday, the Padres sent a fringe relief pitcher from their 60-man roster (28 in Show; 32 at alternate camp), Gerardo Reyes, to the Los Angeles Angels for veteran catcher Jason Castro, who’s set to hit free agency after this season. And, who’s not much of a hitter but is respected for his abilities at pitch framing and new-rules plate blocking.

Now, look at what that deal followed doing the Slam Diego Shuffle:

* On Saturday, the Padres cast for and reeled in resurgent relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, sending the Kansas City Royals an outfield prospect (Edward Oliveres) and the proverbial player to be named later.

* On Sunday morning, the Padres more or less confirmed that the beleaguered Boston Red Sox were about to push the plunger on their season if not much of their roster, landing designated hitter/first baseman Mitch Moreland, a 2018 World Series hero, for a pair of prospects. (Hudson Potts, Jession Rosario.)

* And, a little later on Sunday, the Friars dealt big to the Seattle Mariners, sending two of their highest-rated prospects (pitcher Andres Munoz, outfielder Taylor Trammell) plus a pair of young sprouts with Show experience (catcher Luis Torrens, infielder Ty France) to land the Mariners’ best catcher, Austin Nola, plus relief pitchers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla.

The Mariners were thin enough in the backstop ranks that nothing could have pried Nola out of their hands unless it was enough to think they might finally, maybe, possibly begin building a real future, as a good number of published reports suggest. When the Padres landed Clevinger Monday morning, what started as jaw-dropping hope turned into jaw-dropping actuality: They’re going all-in to win now as well as later.

How surreal is this season already? The Indians put Clevinger on ice when it turned out he’d made a team flight after violating coronavirus safety protocols with fellow pitcher Zach Plesac but said nothing about it—even after Plesac got bagged—until after that team flight. The Tribe sent both to their Eastlake, Ohio alternate site.

And all of a sudden Clevinger—who had a sterling 2019 season but had a struggle or two in four starts this season before his night out of dinner and cards with Plesac and other friends—became the most coveted starting pitcher on a weird trade market that figured to feature such arms as Lance Lynn (Texas Rangers), Trevor Bauer (Cincinnati Reds), and maybe Josh Hader (Milwaukee Brewers relief act) moving to fresh territory.

This must be heady stuff for Clevinger, who’s just gone from a Cleveland outcast to the star of the Slam Diego Shuffle.

One minute, Clevinger and Plesac were still recovering in Eastlake over the denunciations of their selfishness for sneaking out after dark no matter what Mom and Dad ordered. The next, he, at least, has moved from one pennant contender on the banks of Lake Erie to another down by that glistening San Diego waterfront. Where he gets to reap the pleasures and benefits of having one of the left coast’s two true marquee talents having his back at shortstop and lightening his loads at the plate.

It was enough for the Padres to swing and fling their way into the postseason picture, sitting five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West but tied with the Chicago Cubs at three and a half games up in the wild card picture. They’re not just making noise, they’re making memories of the kind San Diego hasn’t seen in a very long time.

These are fun days to be a Padre. And, a Padre fan. So much so that a Twitter wag couldn’t resist wondering if their trade deadline wheeling, dealing, and possible stealing didn’t set at least one weird record: most players sharing the name Austin (including Moreland: it’s his middle name) moving to one team or another in a series of trades made by one team in the same deadline period.

Well, what’s baseball, too, if not the still-singular repository for silly records? Now the Padres hope their wheeling, dealing, and possible stealing produce the kind of record that’s not so silly, if you don’t count the semi-Mad Hatter style postseason to come. The kind of record that gets them to the postseason in the first place.

All they have to do is make sure Clevinger can’t be too seduced by that delicious waterfront to break the safety protocols again.

That’s the way the cookies crumble

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I’ve heard of Bark in the Park but this was ridiculous, sort of: Cardboard cutouts of (left to right) Griffey (belonging to Michael Conforto), Kali (also Conforto’s), and Willow (belonging to Jeff McNeil), watching from the right field seats in Citi Field Saturday . . . moments before Adam Duvall’s home run caught Willow right in the snoot.

So you’re still not thrilled about those new rules this year about the free runner on second to open the extra inning or the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers? You’re not alone. Cleveland Indians righthander Mike Clevinger is on your side. (And mine.)

You could say Clevinger has solid reason. In the Indians’ second game of the new truncated season, after his rotation mate Shane Beiber came up one short of the Opening Day strikeout record, Clevinger saw his seven-inning Saturday start (ruined only by a pair of Kansas City Royals homers back to back in the first) laid waste by the cookie on second.

He also got to see the Royals’ new manager Mike Matheny roll serious dice and come up boxcars. The Royals got what proved the game-winning run without a single official at-bat on the ledger. We tried to warn you this kind of mischief was possible.

It went like this: Since the free cookie on second is the guy who batted last for the team, Kansas City veteran Alex Gordon opened the top of the tenth on second. Until he didn’t; Matheny sent reserve outfielder Brett Phillips to run for him to open. He ordered Erick Mejia to bunt Phillips to third, before Matt Franco sent Phillips home with a sacrifice fly to break the two-all tie.

After Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez walked, he got thrown out stealing with center fielder Bubba Starling at the plate. Then Greg Holland—the prodigal Royals reliever, far enough removed from the days he anchored their once-feared H-D-H bullpen (Holland, Wade Davis, Kelvim Herrera)—shook off plunking Indians center fielder Bradley Zimmer leading off and struck out the side in the bottom of the tenth.

Clevinger thought it was all about as amusing as a boom box aboard a hearse.

“This isn’t travel ball,” he told reporters after the game. “You know how hard it is to get a runner on second base off the back end of any bullpen, how incredibly hard that is? I’m not happy about it. I’m sure when other teams face the situation and this happens to them, you’re going to get similar reactions.”

Calling the New York Mets. They got burned but good Saturday afternoon. It was bad enough that closer Edwin Diaz followed an excellent save on Opening Day with having the Atlanta Braves down to their final strike—after he fell behind 3-0 on Marcell Ozuna—only to have Ozuna send one over the right field fence to send the game to the tenth tied likewise at two.

Then Mets manager Luis Rojas, knowing the three-batter minimum, sent Hunter Strickland (erstwhile Giant and National) out to pitch the tenth. This was something like naming Mrs. O’Leary’s cow the official mascot of the Chicago Fire Department.

The good news was that, unlike on outings past, Strickland didn’t have long balls to serve, a la carte or otherwise. The bad news was that, since the Braves didn’t exactly have bunts on their minds, Rojas didn’t think to order Strickland to put the inning’s leadoff hitter, Dansby Swanson, aboard—with Adam Duvall, the last Brave to bat in the ninth, as the free cookie on second—to set up a prompt double play.

Instead, Rojas let Strickland pitch to Swanson and the Braves’ shorstop lined a Strickland slider just above the middle floor of the strike zone into center field, sending Duvall home promptly with the tiebreaking run. Johan Comargo, the Braves’ lesser-hitting third baseman, bounced one up the middle that Mets late-insertion second baseman Andres Gimenez couldn’t spear to send Swanson to third.

If Rojas ordered Swanson a free pass to open the inning, Gimenez might instead have speared that bouncer for either a step-and-throw double play or a quick flip to shortstop Amed Rosario to dial Area Code 4-6-3. Leaving the Braves no recourse but a base hit to get Duvall home.

And the inning would have gone 3-2 to the bottom of the tenth, and the Mets’ run would have tied the game. Sending it to the eleventh and . . . oops. Free cookies on second and three-batter relief minimums to open each half inning there, too, if each skipper reached for a fresh bullpen bull.

Stuck now with Strickland having to face a third batter at minimum by current law, Rojas could only watch helplessly when Strickland got the Braves’ late-insertion center fielder Endier Inciarte to bounce one right back to the box but bobbled the ball before having to take the sure out at first. Now it was 4-2, Braves, and Rojas had all the legal room on earth to get Strickland out of there before playing with another match.

Oops.

Even with Drew Smith up and ready in the Mets’ bullpen, Rojas stuck with Strickland. And Strickland played with another match. William Contreras, the younger brother of Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, smashed a first-pitch slider to the back of right center for an RBI double.

Then Rojas brought in Smith. And Smith promptly got Ronald Acuna, Jr. to look at strike three before Ozzie Albies grounded out to first base for the side but a 5-3 deficit the Mets couldn’t overthrow in the bottom of the tenth. Not even with free cookie Jeff McNeil on second to open and Jake Marisnick (erstwhile Houston Astro) and Pete Alonso singling up the pipe to load the pads for pinch hitter Dominic Smith.

That was last year: Smith returning from the injured list for the Mets’ final regular season game, pinch-hitting with two on in the bottom of the eleventh, and hitting a game-winning three-run homer. This was Saturday afternoon: The best Smith could get this time was a measly sacrifice fly. Not enough. Mets catcher Wilson Ramos grounded to short to force Alonso at second for the game.

It only takes one game to make a manager go from resembling a genius, which Rojas resembled when the Mets beat the Braves on Opening Day, to a nut, which Rojas resembled trusting the top of the tenth—after his closer blew the ninth in the first place—to a once-decent relief pitcher whom the eventual world champion Washington Nationals practically ordered held hostage out of sight after he surrendered three homers in last year’s division series.

But if Braves manager Brian Snitker thinks he’s liking the extra-inning free runner and the three-batter relief minimum now, wait until his Braves get burned likewise by it in a game. He may have something different to say about it then.

I have something to say about it now: if commissioner Rob Manfred is still foolish enough to insist on using the free cookies on second to start the extra innings this season, then he should declare the three-batter-minimum for relief pitchers void for those innings. No questions asked.

At least there was one amusement for both sides before the game ended. Duvall smacked a home run off Mets starter Steven Matz in the top of the second. With Citi Field empty beyond a smattering of cardboard cutouts in the seats, Duvall’s blast sailed into the right field seats . . . where it smacked the cardboard cutout of one of McNeil’s dogs, an Alaskan Malamute puppy named Willow, sitting next to cutouts of outfielder Michael Conforto’s dogs, Griffey and Kali.

Right in the snoot.

If you’ll pardon the expression, the wags said it was the easiest game of fetch Willow played all year so far. The game result, however, had some thinking the poochie took such postgame requests as “Willow Weep for Me.”

“At least the Reds are trying”

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Mike Moustakas (8) sharing a World Series win commemoration with Hall of Famer George Brett. The Reds hope Moustakas helps them to a Series in the next four years.

It’s not that he’ll be the biggest off-season free agency signing, but Mike Moustakas landing four years and $64 million from the Reds made quite a bit of noise to open the week. On the surface, the Reds seem to be shifting into win-now gear, after remaking their starting rotation last year. Below it?

It may prove a mixed bag. May.

“The Cincinnati Reds finished twelfth in the National League in on-base percentage (OBP) in 2019, ahead of two teams in strong pitchers’ parks and the underpowered Miami Marlins,” writes Smart Baseball author Keith Law for ESPN. “So of course, the Reds just committed four years to a 31-year-old hitter without a position who has posted a .320 or better OBP twice in seven full seasons in the majors.”

Law thinks, therefore, that Moustakas might have fit “a lot of clubs” but not the Reds. They needed an upgrade at the plate, finishing twelfth, too, in 2019 runs scored despite their delicious home hitters’ park. And whenever Moustakas played in Great American Ballpark until now, he wasn’t exactly a game buster: he’s hit a buck ninety-eight with a .578 OPS in the big bat-embraceable park to date.

The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark demurs from Law: he thinks the Reds “love the bat, love the fit and love the edge this guy plays with. They’re not more talented than the Cardinals, Brewers or Cubs as currently constituted. But in the times we live in, we should all be applauding any team that is trying to win. It sure beats the alternative.”

As a Brewer in 2019, Moustakas posted a career-high .845 OPS, a career-second .329 OBP, and a career-second 270 total bases. He also hit the second-highest season home run total of his career (35) and was able to drive in the second-highest number of runs in any of his nine seasons. The Reds like power and reaching base about equally, but Moustakas gives them far more of the former.

Since it looks as though Eugenio Suarez has a vise grip on the Reds’ third base job the plan seems to be shifting Moustakas to second base. Not a terrible thought, since he’s played the position before and shaken out as about the league average in the 47 games he did play there. He won’t injure them around the keystone.

He’s had an odd journey to this deal. When he first hit free agency, nobody but his incumbent Royals seemed to want him—and he settled for a single-season $6.5 million deal with the team he helped win two pennants and a World Series. And they traded him to the Brewers in 2018 while they were at it. He looked good enough for the Brewers to want him back; last winter’s mostly dead market turned into a single season and $10.5 million.

But the Reds are also buying a player who earns respect in his clubhouses, takes a few burdens off his managers that way, and also fits with manager David Bell’s penchant for double switching when the games get hot and tight, and a two-position infielder is a fine fit for it.

Banking on Moustakas’s power (he doesn’t walk much, he can be double play prone, and he has little basepath speed despite a satchel full of basepath smarts), defensive steadiness, and personality—including his postseason experience (two World Series, three League Championship Series, and this year’s wild card game)—may show the Reds mean business for 2020. And since they say they’re willing to spend a little more, Moustakas won’t be the only card the play this winter.

“When a team spends to sign a good player to aid their chances to win, it merits acknowledgment, if not applause,” writes another Athletic scribe, Andy McCullough. “At least the Reds are trying. And at least Moustakas got paid.” Right there that could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Joe Keough, RIP: A Royal hit

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Joe Keough near the Royals dugout: “Those were some of the best times of my life.” (Kansas City Royals photo.)

Unless you’ve been a Royals fan since the day they were born, you wouldn’t recognise Joe Keough immediately. If you’re my age, you remember (maybe) that he was the kid brother (by twelve years) of longtime major league utility man Marty Keough. Or, that his nephew is ill-fated former Athletics pitcher Matt Keough.

But if you are a Royals fan since the day they were born, Joe Keough—who died at 73 on 9 September in Miami—is a name you should and probably do know. The Royals began life winning their first two regular season games, ever—both on walk-off hits. Keough nailed the first one . . . as a pinch hitter.

He became an Original Royal in the first place because the A’s made him available for the American League’s second expansion draft after 1968. He’d gotten a second-half call-up to the A’s and debuted in Yankee Stadium 7 August, in a game featuring one Hall of Famer approaching the end (Mickey Mantle) and another Hall of Famer (Reggie Jackson) who’d only just begun to wreak havoc.

Keough was sent up to pinch hit for A’s reliever Jack Aker against the Yankees’ respected veteran reliever Lindy McDaniel to lead off the top of the eighth. There are worse times to take your first trip to the plate in a major league game, but Keough made the most of it and headlines for it. He yanked one into the right field seats to tie the game at three. Sweetening it was the game going to extras and Jackson’s RBI single in the top of the twelfth holding up for a 4-3 A’s win.

A kid with a .590 OPS wasn’t exactly what the A’s seemed to have in mind, alas, so they exposed Keough to the expansion draft and he became a Royal. He made the Opening Day roster as the Royals began in Municipal Stadium, the former playpen of the A’s before their move to Oakland.

The Royals faced the Twins to begin their new life. Keough spent most of the game watching on the bench, until a three-all tie went to the bottom of the twelfth.”I came out of spring training wanting to start very badly,” he told an interviewer in 2011. “Our manager that year . . . decided not to start me and I was a little upset about that.”

On the mound for the Twins was Joe Grzenda, in relief of former longtime Dodgers relief bellwether Ron Perranoski, after former World Series hero Moe Drabowsky (he of the eleven strikeouts in relief in Game One, ’66 Series) retired the Twins in order in the top.

Former Angel Ed Kirkpatrick led off with a line out to Twins center field fixture Ted Uhlaender but former Red Sox Joe Foy singled and took second on a passed ball while Grzenda worked to Chuck Harrison. The Twins then elected to put Harrison aboard to set up a double play prospect with Bob Oliver, a rookie power hitter, coming up to the plate.

But Grzenda wild pitched Foy and Harrison to third and second, then the Twins elected to re-establish the double play possibility and put Oliver aboard with Royals catcher Ellie Rodriguez, generally a defense-first player with little power at the plate, due to hit next.

Enter Royals manager Joe Gordon—you guessed it. The same Joe Gordon who once shone at second base for the Yankees. The same Joe Gordon whom, managing the Indians in 1960, would be swapped, essentially, for Tigers manager Jimmy Dykes. The same season during which the Indians began life without slugging right fielder Rocky Colavito, whom their capricious general manager Frank Lane dealt to the Tigers for aging outfielder Harvey Kuenn before the season.

Gordon now decided he had a better shot if he inserted Keough, whose rookie 1968 produced a .590 OPS, to pinch hit for Rodriguez, whose cup of coffee with the 1968 Yankees delivered an OPS .085 points lower. And Gordon was right. Keough pulled a line single to right to send Foy home and win it, 4-3. “It was a very cold, cold day,” Keough told Fox4KC last year. “I got a good pitch to hit and I hit it.”

Maybe Keough put a little mojo into the Royals. Because they won the second game of their existence the next day in extra innings, too. This time, it took seventeen innings. And this time, the game-winning RBI single came through the courtesy of future Yankee fixture, World Series-winning Reds manager, and record 116 game-winning Mariners manager Lou Piniella.

The bad news is that’s about as far as the embryonic Royals’ mojo went, even if Piniella became American League’s Rookie of the Year. They finished 28 games out of first in the newly established American League West. The only reason it wasn’t bad enough for a cellar finish is because the White Sox (29 games out) and the Royals’ fellow expansion team, the Ball Four Seattle Pilots (33 out), happened to be much worse.

An outfielder whose habits included climbing the steep Municipal Stadium steps every day with a few teammates during homestands to help stay in shape (“It was a great workout for us”), Keough managed to keep his mojo working long enough to make the Royals’ everyday lineup in 1970 as their leadoff hitter.

He owned a .398 on-base percentage by late June. Then came the second game of a doubleheader against the Angels at home. The good news: the Royals turned a close enough game into a 13-1 blowout. The bad news: Keough’s mojo broke along with his leg three innings earlier.

Somehow a mini-legend has arisen over the decades since that Keough was injured trying to score a run the Royals didn’t really need by the time he scored it. Legends may be stubborn but those pesky facts are more so. Keough was on second in the bottom of the fifth, with the Royals having just taken a 2-1 lead, when their center field star Amos Otis rippled a single to right.

Keough gunned it home and collided with Angels catcher Tom Egan on the play, scoring the third Royals run but fracturing his leg and dislocating his ankle in the collision. The run put the Royals up by two; they’d score six in the eighth to finish what became the blowout. But Keough’s scoring injury killed his season and, for all intent and purpose, his career, just when it began solidifying.

He winced when reminded of the play during that Fox4KC interview. “Those are things you don’t want to remember,” he began, allowing himself a chuckle of regret, “but yes I do remember breaking my leg. It was a lot of pain. It changed my life, but it changed in a lot of different ways that’s good.”

Keough would play three more none-too-impressive major league seasons before calling it a career before the 1974 season. A northern California native, he raised four children and made a post baseball life out of Texas in marketing and real estate development for such companies as Fotomat, 7-Eleven, Burger King, PayLess Shoe Source, and EyeMasters, while enjoying golfing and cooking and his five grandchildren.

Fan friendly and rarely missing from events involving the ’69 Royals for decades to follow, Keough aged gracefully in retirement, looking more like a slim, composed, kindly small town storekeeper than a former ballplayer who ran the steepest stadium stairs to stay in game shape and never forgot his years on the Royals’ earliest teams.

“Those were some of the best times of my life,” he said with a smile.

No tank you very much

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So far, the 2017 Astros are one of a couple of  exceptions to the rule thus far that tanking is not a world championship guarantor.

When February got underway in earnest, I asked what you’d say if you knew each major league baseball team, rich and poor alike, is guaranteed about $60 million into its kitty before the regular season even begins. And without having to do a blessed thing to earn it other than existing in the first place.

Not to mention that each major league team would pull down about an average additional $100 million during a season through sources that only include the gate.

At that time the Major League Baseball Players Association thought aloud about pushing for imposing a tax on teams that seemed not to care less about putting even a mildly entertaining product on the field, a product showing the teams had even the mildest concern about trying to win. The MLBPA pondered such a tax costing tankers prime draft pick positions if they continued losing, or at least not trying to win all that much, beyond particular thresholds over certain periods.

Everybody with me? So far, so good. Because the redoubtable Thomas Boswell, the Washington Post‘s longtime baseball sage, has things to say about it. When tanking teams call their tanking “strategy,” Boswell calls it fan abuse:

The idea of trying to lose 100 to 115 games, while claiming it’s a long-term plan for glory, always has been a long-shot notion, seldom born out in actual baseball experience. Of the current 30 teams, 20 have never in the past 50 years lost more than 200 games in consecutive seasons, at least not after you exclude their early expansion-team days. Yet those 20 teams have won 33 of the past 50 World Series, exactly the ratio you’d expect if there was no difference between having a Horror Era and never being truly awful at all.

In other words, the back-to-back 2016 and 2017 World Series winners, the Cubs and the Astros, were outliers when they went into the tank to rebuild from the guts up, over three or four seasons previous, rather than retool on the fly and continue trying honest competition along the way.

Reality check: Unless you’re certain comic-opera teams of legend, or the Washington Generals, losing isn’t entertaining. Boswell notes six teams at this writing on pace to lose 98 games or more this season. In ascending order: the Mariners (98), the Marlins (101), the Blue Jays (101), the Royals (103), the Tigers (111), and the Orioles (111).

They’re about as entertaining as root canal work, southern California traffic jams, and today’s politics of demeaning. Actually, I’ll walk that back a little bit. Southern California traffic jams have occasional amusements.

Among other things the tankers are competing for that ever-popular number one draft pick. “[W]e’re watching a bull market in stupidity,” Boswell writes, perhaps unintentionally offering the emphasis on bull. “And cupidity, too, since all those teams think that they can still make a safe cynical profit, thanks to revenue sharing, no matter how bad they are.”

Since the draft began in 1965, there’ve been 55 number one overall picks. Four became Rookies of the Year, seventeen became All-Stars even once, and three became Hall of Famers. Historically, the draft more often becomes a case of good things coming to those who wait, on both sides of the draft tables.

In today’s terms it only begins with the game’s greatest player. Mike Trout waited until round 25 before the Angels chose him in 2009, and it took him two years to become listed by anyone as a number one prospect. And they’re already trying to figure out the language on his Hall of Fame plaque even though he has one more season to become minimally eligible.

His aging but no-questions-asked Hall of Fame teammate Albert Pujols waited until round thirteen before the Cardinals pounced in 1999. Guess who else went from the thirteenth round of the draft (in 1989) to the Hall of Fame? Does Jim Thome ring as many bells for you as he rung pitchers’ bells?

Those aren’t the only Hall of Famers incumbent or to-be who went well enough below the first round: Wade Boggs (1976)—seventh round. Goose Gossage (1970)—ninth. Andre Dawson (1975)—eleventh. Nolan Ryan (1965)—twelfth round. Ryne Sandberg (1978)—twentieth. John Smoltz (1985)—22nd.

Not to mention a passel of All-Stars who made distinguished careers even if they fell shy of being outright Hall of Famers, including but not limited to: Sal Bando (sixth, 1965), Tim Hudson (sixth, 1997), Jamie Moyer (sixth, 1984), Willie Randolph (seventh, 1972), Jim Edmonds (seventh, 1988), Eric Davis (eighth, 1980), Fred McGriff (ninth, 1981), Jack Clark (thirteenth, 1973), Dave Parker (fourteenth, 1970), Jake Peavy (fifteenth, 1999), Orel Hershiser (seventeenth, 1979), Kenny Lofton (seventeenth, 1988), Don Mattingly (nineteenth, 1979), Andy Pettitte (22nd, 1990), Roy Oswalt (23rd, 1996), and Mark Buehrle (38th, 1998).

And don’t get me started on the number one overall draft picks who barely (if at all) made the Show or didn’t quite survive for assorted reasons. Steve Chilcott (injured severely in the minors), David Clyde (rushed to the Show for two box office-minded starts, then mal-developed and injured), Al Chambers (couldn’t hit with a garage door, couldn’t field with a vacuum cleaner), Brien Taylor (injured defending his brother in a fight), call your offices.

While you ponder all that, ponder something else Boswell points out: A complete team dismantling and rebuilding is only justifable now and then, when it “may be the best of the available rotten options.” But even that runs a risk any team looking to put an honest product on the field should duck: “Rebuild in a few seasons — well, maybe . . . if you’re very lucky. But more likely, you’ll just stink for years and pick the public’s pocket.”

Once upon a time the Red Sox were as long-suffering as the season was long. The cause wasn’t any curse (of the Bambino or otherwise) but boneheaded (and, once upon a time, bigoted) organisational management. But even they’ve had only one season since 1934 in which they lost more than even 93 games.

Even the Cubs—the just-as-long-suffering Cubs, once upon a time—have only three 100+ loss seasons in their history. The third one happened in 2012. Three years later, they were division winners; a year after that, they won a World Series; they’ve since remained pennant competitive if not without a few hiccups that haven’t come within the same solar system as their formerly star-crossed past.

The incumbent Reds franchise has only one 100-loss season to show since they joined the National League—in 1882. Between them, Boswell reminds you, the Dodgers and the Angels have 121 seasons in or near Los Angeles . . . and only two squads between them (the 1968 and 1980 Angels) that ever lost more than 95 in a season. The Yankees haven’t had a 100-loss season since the year the Titanic sunk. The Cardinals haven’t lost more than 95 in a season since Grand Central Station’s first rebuild—a year after the iceberg.

The fictitious New York Knights of The Natural once employed a carnival hypnotist whose sole qualification seemed to be telling the hapless players, hypnotically, “Losing . . . is a disease.” In baseball, it doesn’t have to be terminal, no matter what today’s tankers do or don’t think. Though it seems that way in a place like Baltimore, where the Orioles went unconscionably from an organisation with one of the game’s most admirable cultures to one with one of the game’s most abhorrent.

As Boswell reminds us, the Orioles lost 202 in 1987-88 and went into complete rebuild; practically the only surviving incumbent proved to be Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. They’ve only won 90 or more games in any season three times since that teardown and had a fourteen-season streak of losing seasons. The franchise that was once the truly hapless St. Louis Browns only ever had a losing-season streak as high as twelve in their St. Louis decades.

The Oriole brand, Boswell knows, became so badly battered that it was no wonder major league baseball finally returned to Washington: “[T]here was nothing for MLB’s other 29 owners to protect by keeping a team off Baltimore’s doorstep.”

“Now it is all different,” wrote one-time New York Post sportswriter and recent editor of Ball Four, Leonard Shecter, after the crazy Mets were crazy enough to win a division, pennant, and World Series in their mere eighth season of play. “Casey Stengel is gone. The players, who try no harder than the old Mets, succeed more often and as a result are indistinguishable from baseball players all over. There is stuffiness in the front office. There is great concern about unimportant things . . . And, worst of all, when the Mets lose, there is nothing funny about it at all.”

Beware the tanking teams saying they’re just looking to the future. They’re nowhere near as entertaining in defeat as the 1962 Mets, the last era of the Browns (when Bill Veeck owned the team), or the 1930s Dodgers.

Ask any Mariners, Marlins, Blue Jays, Royals (never mind the rude interruption of their 2015 World Series conquest), Tigers, or Orioles fans. They’ll tell you. Losing is about as funny as a screen door on a submarine.