La Maquina, al finale?

Albert Pujols

That was last fall: Pujols tying Willie Mays on the all-time home run list. This is Mays’s 90th birthday, today: the Angels announced they designated the sadly-declined Pujols for assignment.

Late in February, Albert Pujols’s wife posted a social media message suggesting that, when his mammoth contract with the Angels expired after this season, so would her husband’s playing career. That option may not belong to him anymore.

The Angels jolted baseball when they announced Thursday that they designated the Hall of Famer in waiting for assignment. Once upon a time, timing was Pujols’s ally at the plate and beyond. Announcing the designation on Willie Mays’s 90th birthday, of all days, just made it sting that much more.

It had to. No less than Mays himself sent Pujols a text message last year saying, “It’s your time now. Go get it.” Meaning, go meet and pass Mays’s 660th lifetime home run. Pujols met 660 last September and passed it with 661 five days later. The Machine had six more bombs in him before the Angels finally gave up his ghost.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Pujols didn’t ask to have maybe the most heartsickening, prolonged decline in the game’s history.

It wasn’t his idea to have a down season his first time out as an Angel. (Codicil: a down season for Pujols in 2012 was still a career year for more players than you can fit aboard two Dreamliners.) He didn’t ask for plantar faascitis in his heel the following year to begin a punishing series of lower half injuries that drained everything he had left.

ESPN writer Alden Gonzalez, who’s covered Pujols for most of his Angels life, saw up close and personal what Pujols put himself through in what we now know was a futile attempt to find the St. Louis smash buried somewhere inside what was left of him now.

“I’ll remember,” Alden says, “that even though his lower half was shot and he wasn’t quick enough to get around on the devastating stuff pitchers throw these days, he still showed up early, still spent hours in the training room to get ready for games, still took batting practice with intent, still crouched really low on defense and still looked for any opportunity to take an extra base. He might not have been productive, but it wasn’t for lack of effort.”

The stubborn, proud spirit was too willing, but the body was likewise too ready to tell him where to shove it at long enough last. No recent play was more emblematic than the ground ball he hit to the hole at shortstop but didn’t run out—because he couldn’t. He’d have been better off taking a skateboard out of the box up the line; he was thrown out on a lob across the infield before he was even halfway up the line.

The only tool Pujols’s body left alone was his still-devastating long ball power. Gonzalez’s ESPN colleague David Schoenfield is right to observe that’s not enough to stay aboard a major league roster. Not even though Pujols remained mostly as difficult to strike out as he always was. (His average per 162 games: 74; or, a single punchout every other game.)

But he’s all but quit taking walks; he rarely hits for extra bases beyond home runs; and, no matter how ironed up his will is, he hasn’t been the first base defender he once was for what seems eons. His Cardinals era was off the charts enough to keep his lifetime statistics showing him a plus first baseman by 95 runs saved above his league average. Fortunately.

Aside from what it did to him as a man, Pujols’s injury-instigated and perpetuated decline robs him of sitting atop the rest of the Hall of Fame’s post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era first basemen according to my Real Batting Average. (Total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances.)

First Base PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Jim Thome 10313 4667 1747 173 74 69 .653
Jeff Bagwell 9431 4213 1401 155 102 128 .636
Albert Pujols 12486 5955 1334 313 115 111 .627
Willie McCovey 9692 4219 1345 260 70 69 .615
Harmon Killebrew 9833 4143 1559 160 77 48 .609
Orlando Cepeda 8698 3959 588 154 74 102 .561
Eddie Murray 12817 5397 1333 222 128 18 .554
Tony Perez 10861 4532 925 150 106 43 .526
HOF AVG .597

Had his career ended when his years with the Cardinals did, Pujols would have retired with a .708 RBA. Had he not been betrayed by his heels, feet, and most of the rest of his lower body as an Angel, he might still have finished with a higher RBA than Jim Thome did. And none of those Hall of Fame first basemen are as far above their league average for runs saved at the position as Pujols. (Eddie Murray’s +61 are 34 below Pujols.)

Pujols’s berth in Cooperstown is solely a question of when he retires as a player officially. No matter how sad his injury-instigated, protracted decline, he secured that in St. Louis to devastating effect. If the Angels don’t work a trade out now, and there’s no assurance they’d find a trading partner willing to part with viable talent in exchange for a ghost, there’s no guarantee another team would sign him for a pro-rated minimum salary as a free agent, either.

His longtime Cardinals manager Tony La Russa came out of his Hall of Fame retirement to take on the White Sox—but La Russa has already shown trouble handling today’s experimental rules as it is. No matter how much he still respects and loves Pujols, La Russa isn’t going to convince his bosses to take the ghost over young and establishing designated hitter Yermin Mercedes.

The DHs in Tiger uniforms are hitting this year at levels low enough to make Pujols continue resembling his Hall of Famer-to-be old self—but the Tigers have an aging incumbent themselves, named Miguel Cabrera. Hands up to anyone and everyone who thinks that even the current Tiger regime would hold with manager A.J. Hinch sending Cabrera to the pine in favour of Pujols now.

Purely in baseball terms, designating Pujols for assignment makes too much sense. Especially with Jared Walsh standing in for injured right fielder Dexter Fowler but far better suited to play first base. Especially with Shohei Ohtani more than capable of holding a DH slot on the days he doesn’t pitch. Pujols’s designation means the Angels don’t have to let Ohtani bat on his pitching days; they can save him for the final role Pujols can’t handle anymore.

But in human terms, this is a heartbreak. Especially for a man so community and charity oriented that you could believe the Angels well enough, even committing boilerplate, when owner Arte Moreno’s formal statement praised Pujols in character terms, as a man whose “historical accomplishments, both on and off the field, serve as an inspiration to athletes everywhere, and his actions define what it means to be a true superstar.”

If only the announcement didn’t have to happen on the 90th birthday of Mays, a man Pujols respects and maybe even loves almost as much as he loved and respected St. Louis icon Stan Musial. This may have been the worst case of bad timing in baseball since . . .

Maybe since Brad Lidge’s bad timing hanging Pujols a breaking ball to demolish for a National League Championship Series Game Five-tying three-run homer in 2005. Or, the bad timing of Rangers relievers Alexi Ogando, Mike Gonzalez, and Darren Oliver gifting Pujols three meatballs to destroy beginning in the top of the sixth in Game Three, 2011 World Series.

When Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver was traded to the Reds from the Mets, following contract extension talks that went from difficult to scurrilous thanks to Mets management and certain sports columnists smearing him, A. Bartlett Giamatti—then president of Yale University, as opposed to his eventual higher calling as a baseball commissioner—wrote in Harper’s, “[A]mong all the men who play baseball there is, very occasionally, a man of such qualities of heart and mind and body that he transcends even the great and glorious game, and that such a man is to be cherished, not sold.”

If Giamatti had lived to see Pujols, he might have thought likewise, ending with “such a man is to be cherished, period.” Pujols wasn’t sold, but half his body sold him out. Whether you called him El Hombre (the nickname he hated, insisting there was only one Man and his name was Musial) or The Machine (La Maquina in his language), he didn’t deserve having his gears stripped into a long, painful, sad decline.

The first five days

Stop me if you’ve heard it before: Jacob deGrom pitched like a Hall of Famer, but the new Mets bullpen puked the bed like the old one did.

The fans are back in the stands, however limited by ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols, but the Nationals have yet to play a regular-season game thanks to a few players and a staffer or two testing positive. There went that Opening Day must-see match between Max Scherzer and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.

With their opening set with the Nats thus wiped out, deGrom had to wait until the Mets went to Philadelphia Monday. Oops. That and everything else seemed to play a support role to the horrid news out of San Diego.

The news that Fernando Tatis, Jr., the Padres’s new bazillion dollar shortstop, suffered a partial left shoulder dislocation on a hard third inning swing at the plate during a Monday loss to the Giants.

Padres manager Jayce Tingler told reporters he thinks team trainers and medical people were able to pop the shoulder back together, but the team isn’t taking chances. At this writing, MRI results aren’t available and nobody knows yet whether Tatis will spend significant time on the injured list.

If it’s more than a small shoulder dislocation, it may not be significant time. If it’s something like a labral tear, Tatis could miss six months—essentially, the rest of the season—according to one doctor who knows such shoulder troubles and spoke to the Los Angeles Times. Don’t fault the Padres if they’re saying to themselves, “Thank God for insurance.”

DeGrom could use a little extra insurance himself, alas. The good news for the Mets: deGrom was his usual self Monday night. Six shutout innings, seven punchouts, three hits, three-figure speed on his fastballs. The bad news, alas: the Mets are gonna Met, so far. At least out of the bullpen.

Their on-paper impressive offense found nothing more than two runs to support their ace. They got an inning of shutout relief from Miguel Castro relieving deGrom for the seventh, but the bullpen puked the bed in the eighth—including hitting Bryce Harper with the bases loaded. Not exactly a Rhodes Scholarship move there.

The Old Fart Contingency thundered aboard social media that Mets manager Luis Rojas blew it lifting deGrom after six strong—until they were reminded the added layoff after the Washington postponement put both deGrom and the Mets into caution mode.

“If that was [last] Thursday and I’m on normal rest,” the smooth righthander said postgame of the early hook, “I don’t think there is any chance I’m coming out of that game. We discussed it before what was the right thing to do. Long season and talking to them coming in, it felt like was the right decision.”

It was neither deGrom’s nor Rojas’s fault that, after Garcia took care of the Phillies in the seventh with just one infield hit within a fly out and two ground outs, the Phillies loaded the bases on the Mets’ new relief toy, Tyler May, in the eighth with one out, before Rojas went to another new Met bull, Aaron Loup. And Loup promptly hit Harper to push Miller home, before J.T. Realmuto singled home pinch runner Quinn, Mets late third base replacement Luis Guillorme threw home off line allowing Harper and Rhys Hoskins to score, and Didi Gregorius pushed Realmuto home with a first-pitch sacrifice fly.

The Mets had nothing to answer except a two-out ninth-inning stand that came up two dollars short against Phillies closer Alvarado. Kevin Pillar singled up the pipe, Francisco Lindor—the Mets’ own new bazillion-dollar lifetime shortstop—dumped a quail into shallow right that landed just in front of and then off the glove on oncoming, diving Harper, and Michael Conforto singled Pillar home while setting up first and third.

Pete Alonso, their 2019 Rookie of the Year bomber, hit one to the back of right field that looked as though it had a chance to ricochet off the top of the fence if not clear it. It wasn’t quite enough to stop Harper from running it down, taking a flying leap with his back against the fence, and snapping it into his glove to stop a game-tying extra-base hit and end the game with the Phillies on the plus side, 5-3.

Marry the foregoing to deGrom going 2-for-3 at the plate including an RBI single, and no wonder May himself said post-game, “Jake shouldn’t have to do everything himself. That’s not what teams are, and frankly Jake did almost everything today.”

Just don’t marry that to things such as the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hitting 100+ mph on the mound and hitting a mammoth home run that flew out 100+ mph in the same inning last Friday night. Ohtani the two way player is an outlier among outliers; deGrom’s merely an outlier.

As of Tuesday morning— with the National League’s pitchers having to bat because Commissioner Nero simply couldn’t bring himself to keep the universal designated hitter this year at least, and Ohtani batting second in the Angel lineup the night he started on the mound, among other things—the pitchers have a .131/.157/.192 slash line and a .349 OPS.

The pitchers at the plate from Opening Day through the end of Monday night collected thirteen hits in 149 plate appearances: nine singles, three doubles, and Ohtani’s Friday night flog a third of the way up Angel Stadium’s high right field bleachers. They also walked three times and struck out 56 times. And the OFC still insists the National League just say no to its own invention.

All around the Show, too, there was one home run hit every 35 plate appearances and fourteen percent of all 928 hits the season’s first five days cleared the fences. It took five outs to create a single run, with 5.3 average runs created per game and 631 runs created while 559 scored.

It was fun to hear the fan noises even in limited capacities, too, though the limits in Angel Stadium made Ohtani’s blast sound even more explosive at the split second he hit it. If only things had been more fun for the home crowds: the many themes for the Show’s first five days could include, plausibly, the blues classic “On the Road Again.”

The home teams’ slash lines: .225/.313/.374/.687 OPS. The road teams: .245/.328/.403/.731 OPS. The road teams drove in fifteen more runs, hit thirteen more home runs, seven more doubles, and had seventy more hits overall. They also took eleven more walks, though they struck out fifty more times and grounded into fifteen more double plays. The road rats also had a +29 batting average on balls in play over the home boys and 108 more total bases while they were at it.

Maybe the shocker among the opening road rats were the Orioles. The Woe-rioles. Taking three straight from the Red Sox in Fenway Park. Out-scoring the Olde Towne Team 18-5, including and especially an 11-3 battering on Sunday afternoon. Even those paranoid about ID cards might want to insist the Orioles show theirs, even after the Orioles got a brief return to earth from the Yankees beating them 7-0 Monday in New York.

Unless it was the Reds, taking two out of three from the Cardinals to open, including and especially a 12-1 battering Sunday afternoon that proved the best revenge against abject stupidity is to slap, slash, scamper, and smash your way to a six-run seventh when you’re already up three runs—thanks to Nick Castellanos ripping Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez for a two-out, three-run homer an inning earlier.

Castellanos got drilled by Cardinals reliever Jack Woodford Saturday . . . two days after he bat-flipped a home run. Then, when he dove home to score on a wild pitch, Castellanos got bumped by Woodford sliding in to bring down the tag Castellanos beat. Castellanos sprung up, barked at Woodford, and began walking away before trouble could arrive. Oops. Trouble arrived—when Yadier Molina shoved him from behind to spark a bench-clearing brawl.

Baseball government myopically suspended Castellanos two games for “provoking” the brawl. Who’s baseball’s official optician? Who couldn’t see what everyone else with eyes saw? And how long has Molina—handed only an “undisclosed fine” along with a few others in the scrum—been so privileged a character that he can get away with the actual kickoff of a brawl that was seeded in the first place because the Cardinals are one of the game’s self-appointed Fun Police precincts?

“I was pleased,” Cardinal manager Mike Schildt told the press after that game. “Our guys came out there. We’re not going to take it. I know Yadi went immediately right at him, got sidetracked by [Cincinnati’s Mike Moustakas]. Woody, to his credit, got up and was like, ‘I’m not going to sit here and be taunted.’ Good for him.”

Taunted? All Castellanos said when he sprang up, by his own admission, was “Let’s [fornicating] go!” Anyone who thinks Woodford lacked intent didn’t see that ball sailing on a sure line up into Castellanos’s shoulder and rib region. Nor did they see Molina very clearly shoving Castellanos without Castellanos having the benefit of a rear-view mirror.

Castellanos appealed the two-game suspension. The final result wasn’t known at this writing. But the Cardinals should be getting a message of their own: Defund the Fun Police. Pronto.

How about the Astros, who went into Oakland and swept four from the Athletics before ambling on to Anaheim and losing 7-6 to the Angels Monday night? That was despite dropping a three-run first on Angel starter Jose Quintana and yanking a fourth run out of him in the top of the fourth, before the Angels finally opened their side of the scoreboard with Mike Trout (of course) hitting Luis Garcia’s 2-2 meatball about twelve or thirteen rows into the left field seats.

The Angels pushed a little further back, the Astros pushed a little further ahead, until the Angels ironed up and tore four runs out of the Astros in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single (Dexter Fowler), a run-scoring force play (David Fletcher), a throwing error (on Jared Walsh’s grounder to first), an intentional walk (to Trout, of all people), and a sacrifice fly (Anthony Rendon).

Kyle Tucker’s ninth-inning solo bomb turned out more a kind of excuse-us shot than a last stand. The game left both the Astros and the Angels at 4-1 to open the season and what could be very interesting proceedings in the American League West. Now, if only the Astros could finally get past Astrogate.

They’ve been playing and winning through numerous catcalls, howls, and even a few inflatable and actual trash can sightings in Oakland and Anaheim. Jose Altuve—who’s looked more like his old self at the plate so far—seemed mildly amused when an inflatable trash can fell to the warning from those high Angel Stadium right field bleachers.

Astrogate was and remains anything but amusing. The Astros could keep up their torrid opening and overwhelm the AL West this season, but the scandal won’t go away entirely (nor should it) until the absolute last Astrogater standing no longer wears their fatigues. Yes, you’ve heard that before. That doesn’t make it any less painful for Astro fans or less true for everyone else. The Astros, nobody else, wrote the script that made them pariahs. Bang the cans slowly, fans.

Will off-field-based illegal electronic sign stealing disappear at all? Players got same-game video access back this year. There are three security people in every team’s video room at home and on the road. League cameras have been installed in those video rooms. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to add guard dogs?

The players union agreed last year: there’ll be no more players getting away with murder even in return for spilling the deets—the commissioner can drop a lot more than a marshmallow hammer on the cheaters from now on. All by himself. He can demand answers without plea bargaining. And he doesn’t need a permission slip.

“But one of the prevailing lessons from the electronic sign-stealing era is that even if a scheme sounds far-fetched, someone might give it a whirl if they believe they can get away with it,” writes The Athletic‘s Evan Drellich, one of the two reporters (Ken Rosenthal was his partner) who helped break and burrow deep into Astrogate. “This holds true no matter what MLB does. Even a total ban on electronics, which the players would never agree to, would not be enough. In that case, a player or staffer could simply go rogue.”

In other words, boys will be still be boys, if they can-can.

Is Mickeygate Tribegate now?

How much did the Indians really know about Mickey Callaway’s pursuits?

It’s going from worse to impossible for Mickey Callaway. But it’s going from bad enough to far worse for the Indians, too. Callaway hasn’t worked for the Indians since 2017, but it looks as though they can’t really be shocked anymore.

Team president Chris Antonetti told the press in early February he was “disturbed, distraught, and saddened” by allegations of Callaway’s sexually-oriented misconduct. That was after The Athletic exposed his inappropriateness with five media women while he managed the Mets. It may have been only the first hints.

Come Tuesday morning, Athletic reporters Brittany Ghiroli and Katie Strang published that Callaway’s kind of behaviour not only traced back to his Indians years but that several key organisation members—including Antonetti and manager Terry Francona—seemed aware enough then that Callaway’s taste for pursing women inappropriately wasn’t a one-time wild pitch.

“Since the publication of The Athletic’s first article,” Ghiroli and Strang wrote, “more women have come forward to say that Callaway made them uncomfortable by sending them inappropriate messages and/or photos, making unwanted advances and more while they worked for the Indians.”

Additionally, in 2017, an angry husband repeatedly called the team’s fan services department to complain that Callaway had sent “pornographic material” to his wife. Those calls were brought to the attention of Antonetti, manager Terry Francona and general manager Mike Chernoff; the Indians spoke with Callaway about the matter . . .

Over the past month, The Athletic has interviewed 22 people who interacted with Callaway during his years in the Indians organization, including 12 current and former employees. They say that Callaway’s sexual indiscretions permeated the workplace to such an extent that it would have been difficult for top officials to not be aware of his behavior, and they push back against any assertion that Callaway’s actions, when made public by The Athletic last month, caught team executives or MLB by surprise.

“I laughed out loud when I saw the quote (in The Athletic’s original report) that said it was the worst-kept secret in baseball, because it was,” said one Indians employee. “It was the worst-kept secret in the organization.”

After the Mets canned Callaway as manager following the 2019 season, the Angels hired him as pitching coach for incoming manager Joe Maddon. Following The Athletic‘s initial report, the Angels suspended Callaway, pending the outcome of a joint probe between the Angels and baseball’s government. Assorted reporting since has said the only reason it’s a suspension and not unemployment was Callaway’s insistence he’d done nothing truly wrong.

Ghiroli and Strang say Callaway’s reputation as a huntsman traced back to his days as a high school pitching hero (“He was a high school celebrity,” they quote “one woman he frequently pursued”) and ran into his years at the University of Mississippi, his drafting and development by the Rays (known then as the Devil Rays), and past his short, three-team pitching career, and his 2001 marriage.

““He does have a way of making you — you kind of always thought it’s just you,” Ghiroli and Strang quoted a woman from Callaway’s Memphis hometown. “Until one day you sit down with a bunch of girlfriends and a glass of wine and realize you’re not.”

Callaway had the gift of working the room profoundly enough that a career as a pitching coach all the way up from the lowest minors to the Show itself seemed almost a given. In baseball terms, Ghiroli and Strang observed, his forward-thinking and ability to present complex metrics in simpler forms made him “a key conduit” for the Indians’ pitching program overhaul.

The trouble was, his reputation for hunting women aggressively paralleled the growth of his reputation as a thinking person’s pitching coach. One of his former minor league pitching charges told Ghiroli and Strang Callaway was given to too-frequent sexualising of women in his comments and often asked players regarding women, “Where’s the beef?”

The beef to which Callaway didn’t refer is now with him, with the Indians who may actually have known what Antonetti professed to be shocked to have learned, and with anyone in baseball who’d caught onto his predatory ways without moving to stop them. The same former pitching charge told the two Athletic reporters, ““It gets kind of awkward when he’s checking out players’ girlfriends” in the stands near the dugout.

Becoming the Indians’ pitching coach didn’t send him any message about maturity, either. He’d gaze, gawk, leer, and send messages to assorted women’s social media accounts. Ghiroli and Strang also said several Indians players’ wives noted him having an extramarital affair or two.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a Cleveland issue but a baseball issue,” one who worked for the Indians told the reporters. “As women, we feel like if we report something, we’ll be looked at like a tattletale or that if we talked, (the team) will figure out who reported it.”

Ghiroli and Strang didn’t have to hunt hard to find those women. When their first report emerged, and Antonetti said the organisation received no complaints about Callaway, those women sought the two reporters out themselves. The team was even willing to have Francona talk to the husband of a Callaway paramour who’d been calling the team incessantly for accountability.

All that was before Callaway was hired to manage the Mets, who’ve since been very public about their need to investigate prospective hires more deeply than in the past. What the Jared Porter sext scrum began, the revelation of Callaway’s sexually oriented misconduct exacerbated for them.

The aforesaid husband is thought to have contacted the Mets about Callaway’s sending his wife “pornographic” material, but the then-manager-to-be assured the Mets it tied to an extramarital affair that “dissolved,” and he was working things out with his wife.

It was bad enough the Mets and the Angels were forced to reckon with the possible full depth of Callaway’s misbehaviours. It looks worse that the Indians knew more than they let on when The Athletic first exposed them. Callaway isn’t helping himself, either, if a reply to a Ghiroli and Strang query the day before they published afresh is any indication:

While much of the reporting around my behavior has been inaccurate, the truth is that on multiple occasions I have been unfaithful to my wife, and for that I am deeply sorry. What I have never done is use my position to harass or pressure a woman. I am confident that I have never engaged in anything that was non-consensual. I feel truly blessed that my wife and children have stuck with me as the most personal and embarrassing details of my infidelities have been revealed. I will continue to work as hard as I can to repair the rift of trust that I have caused inside of my family.

How about the rift of trust he’s caused inside baseball, which has much more work to do when it comes to making women feel comfortable around the arterials of the game? How about the rift of trust he’s caused among those who knew but feared reporting it?

“Some who lived through Callaway’s time in Cleveland and were subjected to his aggressive advances,” Ghiroli and Strang wrote Tuesday morning, “questioned how the men who once supervised Callaway can be trusted to fix the culture that allowed him to operate so brazenly.”

How about even the further rift Callaway’s caused between a father and son already having a somewhat difficult relationship?

“This isn’t easy,” tweeted Nick Francona—son of Terry Francona, a son once fired by the Dodgers as player development assistant, after he sought an assessment by a Boston-based group helping combat veterans such as himself deal with the lingering effects, but who also refused to help cover up sexual misconduct among Dodger minor leaguers—“but it needs to be said.” “It” was a formal statement in which he said he couldn’t “say I am surprised” about Callaway’s behaviour, for openers:

When the news . . . first came out earlier this year, I confonted my father, Chris Antonetti, and others within the Cleveland Indians. I wanted to know why they didn’t say anything to me when the Mets hired Mickey Callaway and they gave him a strong endorsement. My father lied to me and said he didn’t know. Additionally, I think he and his colleagues fail to understand what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t.

The younger Francona said he “confronted my father” again Tuesday morning and believes further that the elder Francona “simply doesn’t get it,” while admitting father and son are not particularly close “largely as a result of disagreements about his conduct.” Terry Francona has declined comment so far.

After writing that standing up for what he believes right means acknowledging his father and the Indians are wrong, the younger Francona called their behaviour unacceptable, leaving it “hard to have faith” that they can improve when they seem more concerned about covering up.

I don’t think this is a problem that is unique to the Cleveland Indians and I think there needs to be a reckoning across Major League Baseball . . . Until a truly independent outside party is brought in and there is transparency and accountability, these problems will continue to plague the sport.

We love to see women enjoy baseball as much as men enjoy it. What’s wrong with asking that women be made as comfortable working in or around the game as men? What’s wrong with asking a firm, enforceable line be drawn between a man interested in a woman personally and a man believing he has the right to hunt her down sexually? What’s wrong with asking accountability when a man (or a woman, for that matter, and yes that happens, too) crosses that line?

The proper answer to all three questions should be absolutely nothing with any of those.

The Machine is winding down?

Albert Pujols, hitting the 661st home run of his major league career last September to pass Willie Mays. His wife says he’ll call it a career when his contract ends after the 2021 season.

“Since the time he was a child, [he] would eat, sleep, and breathe this sport,” wrote Deidre Pujols on Instagram Monday. Right after she announced that that day would be day one of her husband, Albert’s final season as a major league baseball player. The loving husband responded to his wife’s post with three heart emojis.

The game and those who love it are liable to respond with a lot more than that. Tears included. Not just because of what Pujols was and the no-questions-asked Hall of Fame greatness he personified, but because of what injuries—almost all involving his feet and legs—made of the second half of his career.

But will he retire after this season, really?

Mrs. Pujols subsequently updated the post. “Today is the first day of the last season (based on his contract) of one of the most remarkable careers in sports!” it now reads. Then, she updated it again, saying she wanted only to send him into this season with blessings.

His ten-year, gigabucks Angels contract expires after this season. His tenure has been so injury addled that there came times Angel fans wondered if the Cardinals, who declined to re-sign the first baseman after the 2011 season, hadn’t slipped a whoopee cushion under their tails.

Under normal circumstances nobody likes to see the greats hit their decline phases. Were there more heartbreaking sights than Babe Ruth as a feeble Boston Brave? Walter Johnson, Warren Spahn, Satchel Paige, Robin Roberts, Whitey Ford, and Henry Aaron showing their ages at last?

Those men at least enjoyed the shorter declines. Pujols’s body turned his into a decade. Willie Mays’s kicking-and-screaming decline lasted seven years, heartbroken that he could no longer play the game he loved the way he did for so long. Steve Carlton spent almost half a decade jumping from team to team trying to find the left arm that went AWOL after almost two decades of Hall of Fame excellence. Pujols beat him and everyone else by almost double.

Last year, Pujols finally met and passed Mays on the all-time home run list. Earlier that pan-damn-ically truncated season, Pujols received a text from Mays: “It’s your time now. Go get it.” On 13 September, Pujols finally got it to tie. He turned on Rockies reliever Carlos Estevez’s 1-1 fastball and drove it just the way he did it in the truly glory years, half way up the left field seats on a parabola down the line.

Five days later, Pujols turned on Texas reliever Wes Benjamin’s fastball right down the chute on 1-2 and drove it into the visitors’ bullpen in Angel Stadium to pass Mays.

For a few brief, shining moments, Angel fans were reminded of treasures not really theirs to know, and Cardinal fans from a distance were reminded of what they were so fortunate to see for eleven transdimensional seasons. Watching a transdimensional talent who never stopped believing he absolutely had to get better.

The three-run detonation off Brad Lidge in the 2005 National League Championship Series, kept inside Minute Maid Park only by the retractable roof bracing wall. The reverse cycle of homers in Game Three of the 2011 World Series, every one of them after the sixth inning: the three-run homer, the two-run homer, the solo blast. The deadly lifetime postseason record. All those seasons as the game’s greatest righthanded hitter as well as a very run-preventive first baseman.

And, the sweet way Pujols paid tribute to the Cardinals legend who’d long befriended him, when Hall of Famer Stan Musial died in 2013. “I know the fans call me El Hombre, which means The Man in Spanish,” Pujols insisted, “but for me and St. Louis there will always be only one Man.”

Pujols was so emphatic about it that, when he became an Angel and the organisation festooned southern California with billboards announcing El Hombre‘s arrival, El Hombre blew his sombrero. He insisted very publicly that only one player should ever be called The Man, and his name wasn’t Albert Pujols. It takes longer for mob hit men to disappear their victims than it took the Angels to dispose of those billboards.

You think that was for showing and not for blowing? Few players have had as deep a reverence for baseball’s history as Pujols has had. That depth enabled Pujols to befriend Musial and mentor Mike Trout, “who might be the only position player this century to match [Pujols’s] level of peak greatness,” says The Athletic‘s Fabian Ardaya.

When Pujols said of Trout last year, ““We have the best player in the game, and five or six years from now, he’s going to be making history, too,” he didn’t have to be told Trout’s already made some history of his own. He knows it. He respects it. He mentored Trout into becoming the Angels’ team leader not by way of claiming the role for himself but by what he does on the field and how he lives off it.

Pujols himself lives a well-apportioned life away from baseball. Among other things, when not raising his own family, he and his wife have worked arduously with Down’s syndrome children—among whom is their own daughter, Isabella—and against human trafficking.

His lower body ruined what should have been a kinder, gentler, simpler decline phase. It’s left him prone to as much criticism under ordinary, non-milestone circumstances as he received high praise whenever the vintage Pujols made the periodic cameo. If the Angels looked foolish for signing him long-term and extraterrestrial salary after the injuries began to chip him down, they never once doubted Pujols was giving the best he had with whatever he had left.

““He plays through discomfort,” former general manager Billy Eppler told MLB.com after he tied Mays. “He endures a lot and doesn’t talk a lot about it. But I can tell you that he’s definitely someone that wants to play and fights through a lot of adversity to make sure he’s out there and contributing to the club.”

Even those whose admiration for him didn’t crumple the way his injuries forced him to crumple hoped somewhere, somehow, several times the past few years, that Pujols would swallow his formidable pride, leave the rest of his formidable money on the table, let nothing further tarnish his near-singular legacy, and sink into that ten-year services contract he still has with the Angels following his retirement.

“It has been so hard to watch one of the greatest players in the history of baseball fade like this,” wrote another Athletic scribe, Joe Posnanski, almost a year ago. “Each year, I hope against hope for Pujols to be Pujols one more time. Sadly, that just isn’t how time works. He is 40 now and a decade past his prime. It hasn’t been a sad career, though; far from it. It has been extraordinary. It has been an inspiration.”

It’s not unfair to say Pujols’s contract hamstrung the Angels when administrative tunnel vision didn’t when it came to re-tooling the team back to contention. Neither is it unfair to say that spending that much for a well-established Hall of Famer who hadn’t yet been hit with his physical issues didn’t have to mean the Angels ignoring their other issues, either.

Like his final Cardinals regular season, Pujols’s first Angel season was solid, if below his former standard. His 2011 postseason and how he helped the Cardinals win that outer-limits World Series may have deked people into thinking he’d only had one off year but plenty of petrol left in reserve.

Then plantaar fascitis in his heel kept him to 99 games in 2013 and a staggering enough fall from even that 2012 performance. Further injuries below his waistline made sure he’d look like an imitation of himself from then on, despite a few shining hours, a few significant milestones, a few moments in which he looked exactly the way he did over those impeccable St. Louis years.

But he didn’t hold a gun to the Angels’ heads and tell them to waste their remaining resources, either. The Angels have been an anti-model franchise during most of Pujols’s tour with them. If Pujols calls it a career after the season to come, the Angels, their fans, and their critics won’t have Pujols to blame for what wasn’t his fault in the first place.

This is Pujols according to my Real Batting Average metric (TB + BB + IBB + SF + HBP / PA):

PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Career 12,394 5923 1331 312 115 108 .628
With the Cardinals 7433 3893 975 251 68 77 .708
With the Angels 4961 2030 356 61 47 31 .509

That’s what the injuries did in turning what should have been a natural decline phase into a hard-lived one.

Albert Pujols was a .708 batter as a Cardinal. His career RBA with a normal decline phase should have lined him up to finish at the top of the heap of Hall of Fame first basemen who played their careers in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era. If his .628 holds by the end of this year, it’ll plant him in between Jeff Bagwell and Willie McCovey, and Pujols was the better all-around first baseman among those three plus first base RBA leader Jim Thome.

Pujols’s other nickname has been The Machine. Unfortunately, even machines have finite lives to do what they were built to do. They don’t all decline as sadly as this one did. Even if this one’s going make what promises to be a singular Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2027. With Stan Musial smiling broadly upon him from the Elysian Fields, if not blowing him a chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on his ubiquitous harmonica.

“Why did he quit?” Joe DiMaggio’s brother, Tom, once said when asked why the Yankee Clipper would call it a career after thirteen war-disrupted seasons and a persistent heel issue that turned into back trouble. “He quit because he wasn’t Joe DiMaggio anymore.”

Maybe the gigabucks Pujols earned as an Angel kept him from quitting precisely when he wasn’t really Albert Pujols anymore. Maybe his pride did it. Maybe both. Maybe, come the next off-season, it’ll be impossible at last for Pujols to tell himself he can be day-in, day-out great again. Maybe he’ll tell himself at last it’s time to let his whole record take him out of the box and into Cooperstown.

And maybe the Angels will find ways to a) make the game’s best player since Pujols joined the team proud; and, b) reach the postseason to send Pujols into retirement in a blaze of glory.

We can dream, can’t we?

Mickey’s monkey business

If the Angels fire pitching coach Mickey Callaway over a five-year pattern of sexual harassment, it’s the least of baseball’s problems with the issue.

The man who was in over his head as the manager of the Mets seems in further over his head when it comes to ladies in the sports media. As in, five years or more worth of pursuit involving five young women, with “lewd” barely covering what he’s accused of doing.

Outside baseball’s innards, we didn’t know Mickey Callaway was any kind of sexual harasser. Inside those innards, alas, there’s a real chance that such suspicions were as one woman speaking to The Athletic says, “the worst kept secret in baseball.” If she’s right, Callaway’s head on a plate shouldn’t be the only consequence.

The Athletic‘s detailed story by Brittany Ghiroli and Katie Strang hit the Net running Monday evening. “Los Angeles Angels may be hiring a new pitching coach,” said one Facebook baseball group member in posting the article to the group. Needing a new pitching coach should be the least of the Angels’s worries. Or baseball’s.

Three organisations for whom Callaway’s worked should stand up for account. The Indians, for whom he was a respected pitching coach; the Mets, whom he managed clueslessly enough in baseball terms; and, the Angels, who probably did get caught with their own pants down about Callaway’s behaviours but probably have no choice but to fire him now.

As Los Angeles Times writer Bill Shaikin says of Callaway, “This is not a he-said, she-said story.” Not with five shes saying Callaway went considerably beyond being merely tactless in expressing his apparent interests in the five.

On baseball grounds alone there wasn’t a jury on earth that would have ruled the Mets unjustified if they’d fired Callaway months before the execution finally arrived after the 2019 regular season. In human terms, it’s now to wonder whether the Mets were half asleep when hiring him in the first place.

His reported sexually-implicit approaches to media women ran for five years across three different major league teams and in multiple cities, write Ghiroli and Katie Strang. “Two of the women said they were warned about his behavior – from fellow media members and others who worked in baseball,” they say. “An additional seven women who worked in various MLB markets said that, although they had not been approached by Callaway, they had been cautioned about him.”

The five Callaway’s believed to have pursued received anything from inappropriate photographs and requests for nude images in return to unsolicited messages, “uncomfortable” comments about their appearance, and his crotch “thrust . . . near the face of a reporter as she interviewed him.”

This emerges barely a fortnight after now-former Mets general manager Jared Porter lost his freshly-minted job over unsolicited explicit texts messages he sent a woman reporter while he worked for the Cubs.

The Indians issued a statement in response to the story saying they were “made aware for the first time tonight” that Callaway behaved like a predator toward women. “We seek to create an inclusive work environment where everyone, regardless of gender, can feel safe and comfortable to do their jobs,” the team said.

When Ghiroli and Strang contacted the Mets, the team told the two reporters they learned in August 2018 of “an incident” that occurred before they hired Callaway to manage them. “The team investigated that matter, a spokesperson said, but declined to reveal the nature of the incident, the outcome of that probe or whether Callaway was disciplined. Callaway continued managing the rest of the season.”

Mets owner Steve Cohen, who bought the team over a year after Callaway was fired, handed down a terse but unequivocal statement after seeing The Athletic‘s report: “The conduct reported in The Athletic story today is completely unacceptable and would never be tolerated under my ownership.”

Cohen had better mean that. Especially since the Porter firing and now Callaway’s exposure have the team’s personnel vetting procedures under serious question. Cohen’s owned the Mets short of three months and he’s had two nasty sexual harassment scandals to clean.

“I was unaware of the conduct described in the story at the time of Mickey’s hire or at any time during my tenure as General Manager,” said team president Sandy Alderson in his own statement. “We have already begun a review of our hiring processes to ensure our vetting of new employees is more thorough and comprehensive.”

Alderson has to do better than that. It was Alderson as GM who hired Callaway to succeed Terry Collins; it was Alderson as president who hired Porter. If he was really unaware that he’d hired a pair of sexual harassers, Alderson needs to exercise a top-down remodeling of the Mets’ vetting process.

The Angels were almost as terse as Cohen in their own statement. “The behavior being reported violates the Angels Organization’s values and policies,” the team said. “We take this very seriously and will conduct a full investigation with MLB.”

Six years ago the Angels stood on values and policies—and botched completely the Josh Hamilton incident, when he relapsed to substance abuse during a Super Bowl gathering but reported the relapse to the team promptly as required. Angels owner Arte Moreno could hardly wait to run Hamilton out of town on a rail despite the outfielder obeying the protocol.

If they were that willing to purge Hamilton without so much as a by-your-leave over “values” after Hamilton voluntarily reported his relapse straight, no chaser, the Angels better not take too long dispatching Callaway.

Hamilton’s relapse hurt no one but himself. Callaway can’t claim the same. The Angels had to find about about his predations the hard way, not by way of Callaway approaching them to say he’d been caught with everything but his pants down as a semi-serial sexual harasser.

“Rather than rush to respond to these general allegations of which I have just been made aware, I look forward to an opportunity to provide more specific responses,” Callaway said in an e-mail to The Athletic. “Any relationship in which I was engaged has been consensual, and my conduct was in no way intended to be disrespectful to any women involved. I am married and my wife has been made aware of these general allegations.”

Consensual relationships don’t generally provoke what Ghirolil and Strang describe, his pursuits putting the media women in question “in a difficult position at work given what they perceived as a stark power imbalance. The women were forced to weigh the professional ramifications of rebuffing him.” Not to mention his wife now forced to weigh the marital ramifications of her husband’s pursuits.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking Callaway and Porter before him remain isolated instances. Who can forget then-Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow rebuffing the opinion of his entire office, practically, in trading for relief pitcher Roberto Osuna at a time Osuna was still under suspension for domestic violence?

Or then-Astros assistant GM Brandon Taubman making sure three women reporters heard him loud and clear when—celebrating their 2019 American League Championship Series triumph despite Osuna surrendering an almost-game-winning home run to Yankee second baseman D.J. LeMahieu—Taubman hollered, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so [fornicating] glad we got Osuna!”

You don’t need to be a feminist to get that trading for an abuser of women or being so fornicating glad the team got him isn’t going to make women covering your team feel comfortable that they can do their jobs in the proper professional atmosphere.

You don’t need to subscribe to an automatic MeTooism to agree that a man taking “no” or “not interested” for an answer when he shows certain interest in a woman is simply plain sense and decency. For that matter, a woman taking “no” or “not interested” for an answer when she shows certain interest in a man is likewise.

Neither do you need to subscribe to cancel culture to agree that sending unsolicited shirtless selfies and asking for nudes in return, shoving your crotch in a woman’s face, continuous sexual implications in compliments about looks, near-incessant pressure to socialise together, or promising to share team information if she agrees to get drunk with you, among other things attributed to Callaway, are not the ways civilised men old enough to know better behave.

Baseball’s government is investigating the Callaway incidents. It needs to take an all-levels look into how rampant are the atmospheres in which women doing nothing more or less than their jobs feel discomfited by men taking too much more than professional interest in them, and refusing to take “no” for an answer to interest above and beyond the game.