Phoenix rising—for one night in Baltimore

Over the entrance to old Memorial Stadium, it saluted Baltimore’s war fallen: “Time Will Not Dim The Glory of Their Deeds.” Over the entrance to Camden Yards, the temptation is powerful enough to hang a sign reading “Deed.” Singular.

This is how badly the Orioles wanted to snap their losing streak before it arrived into the Terrible Twenties: Catcher Austin Wynns had sage shipped to Camden Yards, which he and first baseman Trey Mancini paraded around the park before the game. Mancini bragged about his freshly-grown superstition mustache, and center fielder Cedric Mullins went the opposite way and shaved his beard.

You’ll do anything to break the spell. If you’d seen assorted Orioles conducting a clubhouse seance asking for kind permission to address Frank Robinson in the Elysian Fields, you wouldn’t have been terribly shocked—though you might have expected Robinson to pass the line to any St. Louis Browns who happened to be eavesdropping.

The Orioles entered Wednesday with the sixth-lowest season’s winning percentage of any team in franchise history. Of the other five, four were Browns . . . and one was the sadder-sack 2018 Orioles. The last thing these Birds wanted was to continue like cooked geese.

They finally put superstition, supernatural, and extraterrestrial to one side and decided the only way to do it was to play baseball. When Angels third baseman David Fletcher flied out to deepest right field in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, the ballpark audience already on its feet roaring let out a scream as though their Woe-rioles had just won the seventh game of the World Series.

That’s what ending a nineteen-game winning streak with a 10-6 win does for a crowd maybe half of whom actually came to the park to see the Angels’ two-way star Shohei Ohtani. As if they were half conceding the game before Orioles opener Chris Ellis threw his first pitch of the evening.

That’s what prying, pushing, and pounding a five-run eighth out of the Angels’ bullpen does, an inning after it looked as though the Orioles wasted their best chance to overthrow the Angels for good.

That’s what shoving back after an early two-run lead turned to a still-too-early four-run deficit closed back up to a pair does. That’s what playing in the end like anything but a team designed explicitly to go into the tank for who knows how long does, too.

That’s also what knowing damn well you need to atone for one of the least-timely wasted outs of the season when you have only six outs left to play with, which is just what the Orioles in the eighth had to do about the seventh. Two on, nobody out, is the time to shove with your shoulder, not nudge with your hip.

Damn lucky for the Orioles that they had an eighth-inning push, shove, and mind over matter with a pair of bases-loaded walks setting up a bigger shove and a punctuation mark to nail the win that would keep them short of the gates of infamy for the time being. They haven’t joined the 20+ loss in a row club occupied ignominiously by the 1961 Phillies (23), the 1988 Orioles (21), the 1969 Expos (20), the 1943 and 1916 A’s (20 each), or the 1906 Boston Americans (20).

Yet.

But when Orioles manager Brandon Hyde ordered Austin Wynns to sacrifice with Jahmei Jones (leadoff single) on second and Victor Gutierrez (plunked) on first, jaws should have dropped. And Hyde should have had his hide tanned. Why not reach for Jorge Mateo—hitting .356 as a part-timer—to pinch-hit for Wynns and take over at shortstop the rest of the game, and insert Pedro Severino behind the plate, when you might get a two-run base hit out of Mateo?

Oops. Wynns dropped his bunt right back to the box. The Orioles merely closed the deficit to a single run. They had a lot to atone for in the eighth.

Lucky for them Mancini greeted Angels reliever Jake Petricka with a base hit up the pipe. Lucky for them that Anthony Santander—he taking the American League’s best OPS in August into the game—doubled to the right field corner almost promptly for second and third. Lucky for them Petricka and the Angels decided to hand D.J. Stewart first on the house to load the pads.

Lucky for them Jose Urias and, one out later, Gutierrez caught Petricka unable to find the strike zone if he’d sent out a surveillance mission, sending Mancini and Santander strolling home with the tying and go-ahead runs. Very lucky for them pinch hitter Austin Hays introduced himself rudely to Petricka’s relief James Hoyt with a double off the left field fence, and that Mullins greeted yet another Angel bull, Sam Selman, with a sacrifice fly to left.

That all had to be far more satisfying than Mullins hitting Ohtani’s first pitch of the bottom of the first over the center field fence, or Santander sending an 0-1 fastball into the right field bleachers two outs later. Or, Stewart following Satander’s leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth with a blast over the left field fence.

The crash carts stayed on double red alert when the Angels tied at two with rookie Brandon Marsh lining a two-run single down the right field line. But after Marsh got thrown out stealing with Adell at the plate, and Juan Lagares lining out for the side, the game suddenly looked like a question of who’d outplay their own mistakes better.

When the Angels took the 6-2 lead in the fourth, it looked like the answer would be them. Ellis’s evening ended when Jared Walsh hit his inning-opening meatball into the right field bleachers. Reliever Marcos Diplan carried a 1.80 ERA over his past seven days in from the Oriole bullpen. Jose Iglesias was so unimpressed he whacked a double into the right field corner. Stassi was even less impressed, letting Diplan fail to find the strike zone even with a GPS and taking a leisurely walk up to first.

Up came Marsh, who resembles a young man with the life ambition to star in any future reboot of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. He cared about Diplan’s impressive week’s ERA the least, sending his first career home run over the left center field fence. Making him the sixth Angel to hit his premiere Show bomb in Camden Yards.

I’m rooting for the Orioles to lose two more games,” tweeted an Oriole fan, “not because I don’t like them, but because at this point it’s like, why not go for the history books?”

“”There was tension in our dugout, there was pressure,” Hyde told reporters after the game. “Everybody was on the top step. “Our guys just really wanted this one. We’re tired of hearing, tired of seeing it on TV. Everybody’s tired of it.”

“”It’s electric in there,” Mullins said of the post-game clubhouse, after Wells got Fletcher to hit the game-ending fly out and took a hug with (read carefully) ninth-inning catching insertion Severino, while their mates celebrated more casually on the playing field than the fans in the stands.

Conner Greene relieved Diplan after ball one to Lagares and got rid of him, Ohtani, and Fletcher almost in a blink. On a night the Orioles couldn’t afford too many blinks. As if to remind his mates, Stewart followed Satander’s leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth with his own launch over the left center field fence. And Greene kept the Angels quiet in the top of the fifth.

Yet another Oriole bull, Cole Susler, shook Marsh’s leadoff single off in the top of the sixth to lure Adell into forcing him out at second before striking Lagares and Ohtani out swinging. At minimum, the Orioles might at least brag that they sent Ohtani’s season ERA up to three after five full innings.

Dillon Tate picked up where Susler left off in the Los Angeles seventh. Oriole fan kept telling him- or herself that a two-run deficit wasn’t equal to trying to climb the Transamerica Tower in beach sandals. Tate shook a two-out walk (to Walsh) off and lured Iglesias into an inning-ending ground out to third. Nine outs left to close and overcome.

Tate got rid of Stassi on an inning-opening ground out in the top of the eighth, then yielded to Tanner Scott. Scott struck Marsh out and got Adell to ground out to third. Swift enough inning. The Orioles still had six outs to play with, with three reasonably loaded weapons—Mancini, Santander, and Stewart—due up in the bottom of the eighth.

Wynns ought to buy Hays chateaubriand for dinner for the rest of the year, after Hays performed his penance for that seventh-inning bunt. The Orioles might want to send Ohtani a bottle of wine—Wednesday was the first time any team hit two or more home runs off him in the same game.

“These guys have dealt with a lot,” said Hyde. “Call it rebuilding or what you want, but it’s not fun to lose. You want to show your fans that the big league club is going to be fun to watch and there’s pieces coming. That’s what’s been disappointing.” If only Hyde could pound that into the thick skulls of the Orioles’ ten-thumbed ownership and by-design-hobbled front office.

No. We’ve already made that argument. It’ll be made again come the off-season and the talks for a new collective bargaining agreement. Tanking is a disgrace. It’s fan abuse and unworthy of the game. Even Oriole fans know the difference between this year’s model and the team that opened 1988 0-21 is that that team, at least, wasn’t built to tank.

Let’s push that all away for other days. There’s no percentage or pleasure in it now. On Wednesday night, the Orioles played and stood beyond. They played like . . . anybody but the Orioles.

Sure they caught a few breaks and damn near wrecked their own cause themselves late. But they took fair advantage of the breaks they caught, atoned for their self-near-ruination in fine style, and looked for once in their lives like something resembling their well-storied forebears.

Cooked geese the night before, the Orioles became a phoenix for one night. For the first time in nineteen games, and maybe all season long, these built-for-failure Orioles found a way to play better than the way they were built.

How long can the Shotime really go on?

Shohei Ohtani

Shohei Ohtani hitting his 32nd home run of the season. How long before his two-way life compromises him one or both ways?

Baseball’s flavour of the month, if not the season, is a 27-year-old fellow from Japan about whom The Sporting News once cited unnamed major league scouts saying he’d never be able to hit American big-league pitching. Some say that now compares to the British Decca Records executive who dismissed the Beatles’ manager with, “Groups of guitars are on the way out.”

That fellow is now half way on the way to hitting more home runs in a single season than Babe Ruth and Roger Maris ever hit. (Number 32.) He even has an outside but not unrealistic shot at hitting more home runs than the tainted Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds ever hit in a single season. (McGwire: 70, in 1998; Bonds: 73, in 2001.)

Shohei Ohtani awoke this morning leading the Show with his 32 home runs and his .700 slugging percentage, not to mention leading the American League with four triples. He also performs reasonably at his baseball hobby, pitching: he has a 3.49 earned run average and a 3.58 fielding-independent pitching rate.

That makes him the ace of an Angels pitching staff that hasn’t seen a genuine ace since the first Obama Administration, when Jered Weaver laid claim to the title. That was a decade ago; this is now: The Angels’ starting rotation has a 5.41 ERA; the entire pitching staff, 4.97. With Ohtani in the equation. Without him, the rotation would be 5.90.

So many baseball people, employees, fans, writers alike, rush to anoint Ohtani the 21st Century’s Babe Ruth. But Ruth’s career began on the mound and went from merely impressive to out of this galaxy when he exchanged the mound for right field full-time.

In five more or less full-time seasons as a pitcher, Ruth showed a 2.16 ERA and a 2.74 fielding-independent pitching rate—a period in which the American League’s ERA was 2.88 and its FIP, 2.91. Ruth’s ERA was .72 below the league average and his FIP was .20 below the league. Except for 1916, when his ERA was better than 1.00 below league average (and his only ERA title), Ruth wasn’t exactly the best pitcher in the league—or even the best pitcher on his team. (In 1916, Dutch Leonard had a lower FIP and a better K/BB ratio.)

Really, it’s Ruth’s 1919 that stirs the blood toward comparing Ohtani to him. Well, now. On the mound Ruth posted a 2.97 ERA/3.58 FIP—while leading the American League at the plate in on-base percentage (.456), slugging percentage (.657), and OPS (1.114) in his first season playing 130 games as an outfielder.

Ohtani’s 3.49 ERA thus far is .84 below the American League through this morning; his 3.58 FIP, .66 below. Like Ruth, Ohtani is a good pitcher who can be great now and then. Unlike Ruth, Ohtani can be a strikeout machine on the mound; his 11.7 K/9 is far, far, far beyond Ruth’s 3.7 from 1915-1919. But also like Ruth, Ohtani negates both that and the league hitting a measly .195 against him this year with a 4.9 walks-per-nine rate. (The Babe in 1919: 3.9 walks per nine.)

Ruth pitched in a time when pitchers were still, generally, trained to pitch to bat contact instead of trying to miss bats. (Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson were outliers in that regard.) Of course, Ruth’s entire career took place in an arbitrarily limited game in terms of the available talent pool. A young Japanese man such as Ohtani would have been persona non grata in Ruth’s Show.

But he didn’t become The Babe until he changed jobs. He was a good pitcher with very occasional moments of greatness, but if he’d remained strictly on the mound he wouldn’t have become a Hall of Famer. He was a great (in 1919), then glandular hitter (just about the rest of his career), the absolute best of the pre-World War II/pre-integration/pre-night ball era position players.

It begs a serious Ohtani question. Co-hosting MLB Now for the MLB Network a few days ago, Brian Kenny—author of Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolutionsuggested it was time to think about restricting Ohtani to one or another role. Either make him a full-time pitcher, or make him a full-time designated hitter/periodic outfielder.

That suggestion sent apoplectic the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman, co-hosting the program with Kenny. “Why,” Sherman demanded, “would you stop him from doing one or the other?” Because, Kenny replied, “one could damage the other.”

Kenny was willing to acknowledge that it’s “great” if you can get an ERA under four and a slugging percentage beyond the tenth dimension, but he reminded Sherman audaciously enough that Ruth only really became Ruth when allowed to flourish (Kenny’s word) full-time with a bat in his hands.

“So,” Sherman shot back, “you would like one of the fifteen to twenty best starting pitchers in baseball to stop starting because you’re worried about something that could happen?” You can look it up: By his ERA and his FIP, Ohtani isn’t even one of the twenty-five best starting pitchers in this year’s Show. (ERA: 34th; FIP: tied for 30th.) What could happen, of course, is an injury determining Ohtani’s future employment one or the other way.

Stop snarling, Joe and Jane Fan. It happens. It has happened. Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher in baseball for several seasons, missed time enough this season due to a couple of injuries to his side incurred . . . swinging the bat. A few years ago, deGrom suffered a hyperextended pitching shoulder . . . from a hard swing-and-miss at the plate.

Adam Wainwright’s pitching life was compromised irrevocably by a torn Achilles tendon . . . running the bases. Before Steven Wright ran into trouble over domestic violence, his 2016 was ruined when he injured his pitching shoulder . . . diving back to second base. Chien-Ming Wang’s career was compromised irrevocably when he injured his right foot, the one with which he pushed from the pitching rubber . . . while running the bases.

Who’s to say a particularly hard swing or baserunning move won’t compromise an Ohtani body part whose health is required for even one of the top thirty starting pitchers in the game this season? Who’s to say a particularly hard or off-line throw from the mound won’t compromise the parts he needs to swing and hit balls into earth orbit?

Ohtani dodged such a bullet against the Red Sox two nights ago. He got hit on his surgically-repaired left knee (that’s on his landing leg for pitching, folks) when he fouled an Edwin Rodriguez pitch off his foot. One opposite foul later, Ohtani hit one halfway up the right field bleachers to pass Yankee legend Hideki Matsui for most single-season home runs by a Japanese-born Show player.

Lucky for him that he only had to jog around the bases. You still think the risk is just speculation? That time, it was just a foul off his foot and his knee. The next time, he could get blasted upside his head or his right shoulder (his pitching shoulder) with a pitch. Or, his brains blown out by a line drive on which he can’t get his glove.

I pondered the entire Ohtani phenomenon this morning in an essay for the International Baseball Writers Association of America’s Here’s the Pitch subscription newsletter. “I get the hungering and hankering for someone like Ohtani the so-called two-way player,” I wrote therein.

I get that baseball has done such a terrible job finding and promoting its stars that Ohtani presents a brilliant opportunity entirely on his own. That’s great for the gate and the press. “Shut up and let us enjoy the ride,” Joe and Jane Fan holler at the Brian Kennys.

But it isn’t smart baseball.

Smart baseball requires the maximum placement of a player into the maximum position to do the best he has to help his team win with the least risk possible. It requires Shohei Ohtani to spend his complete days at the serious work of play at the plate. Do you really want a roll call of outsize talents ruined because the gate and the hype were allowed to override if not steamroll the game?

A man walking four batters per nine innings on the mound is a phenomenal risk that really reduces his value from eleven to seven strikeouts per nine. The same man with a .745 real batting average in 2021 so far (total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) is a man who can out-hit your pitching staff’s liabilities.

Go right ahead and keep up the two-way hype if it makes you happy.

With the incomparable Mike Trout still out with a calf injury, Ohtani is indeed just about the only reason Angel fans have to celebrate what shapes up to be yet another season lost.

The Angels can hit tons. They’re third in the American League for team hitting average and OPS; they’re fifth for OBP and second for slugging. Trout before his injury and Ohtani still have a lot to do with that. But they have a team administration that still seems to think building a viable pitching staff is beyond its pay grade.

So the bad news is that Ohtani, their best among (shall we say) modest starting pitchers  and their best damned hitter period, must continue going both ways, regardless of the prospective detriment to his career. He may well end up the new single-season home run champion and the league’s OPS leader. He may even get to both pitch and hit in the All-Star Game.

Wowie zowie, as Frank Zappa once sang.

Ohtani is the Rosetta Stone at the plate. He’d be the number four or five starter on another staff. There’s danger in that thar two-way business. There usually is danger when you put the gate and the hype ahead of the game. There’s better gate when you field winning baseball than a single outlying Shoman. (Just ask the 2002 Angels—the only World Series winner in the franchise’s history so far.)

Enjoy Shotime while you can, ladies and gentlemen. But if danger becomes actuality, and it costs the Angels either the most viable starter on a pitching staff hitters pray to face, or their most dangerous hitter (or maybe both at once), don’t say nobody warned you.

“They want to get to the bottom of it.”

Los Angeles Angels

For their first home game after Tyler Skaggs’s death, the Angels wore his uniform and beat the Mariners in a combined blowout no-hitter, before laying the uniforms around the mound. Skaggs’s widow and parents have now sued the Angels for negligence over the pitcher’s death.

Two days before the second anniversary of his death, Tyler Skaggs’s family struck in court. His widow, Carli, filed suit in the Texas county where Skaggs was found dead of an opioid overdose; his parents filed in Los Angeles. Texas law allows only a spouse to claim damages for wrongful death or negligence.

ESPN writer T.J. Quinn says both Carli Skaggs and her in-laws are suing the Angels’ former communications director Eric Kay, who admitted to buying the drugs for Skaggs, and Kay’s former boss Tim Mead. Skaggs died at 27 1 July 2019 of asphyxiation provoked by fentanyl in his system, on the night the Angels arrived in Texas for a road set with the Rangers.

“The crux of the lawsuit is that the Angels were negligent in allowing Kay, a longtime opioid abuser, to have access to players, and that Mead failed to properly supervise him,” Quinn writes.

Kay told U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents that he also had provided oxycodone for five other players at Skaggs’ request. No other players have been publicly identified. The lawsuit claims that the Angels had a culture that pushed players to play through injury and that the club knew or should have known about Skaggs’ use of opioids.

The Angels didn’t respond to Quinn directly when he contacted them, he added. But the team issue a statement saying the suits’ accusations “are entirely without merit . . . baseless and irresponsible,” promising a “vigorous” court defense.

In 2019, Angels Baseball hired a former federal prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation to comprehensively understand the circumstances that led to Tyler’s tragic death. The investigation confirmed that the Organization did not know that Tyler was using opioids, nor was anyone in management aware or informed of any employee providing opioids to any player.

The Angels alone? One of the worst-kept secrets of professional sports for decades, including baseball, has been teams pushing players to play through their injuries before those injuries are healed completely. Who knows how many teams either looked the other way or feigned ignorance when injured players turned or were turned to addictive substances to get back out there faster?

One of the worst-kept companion secrets, of course, is that players smart enough to know when they’re not quite healed up, insisting they’re not going to be fool enough to get back out there before they’re fully healed, often get dismissed as fragile hypochodriacs most politely—and as feline euphemisms for a woman’s vagina most impolitely.

Skaggs underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014. “[O]pioid abuse often begins after surgeries, when the drug may be prescribed to the patient,” wrote Halos Heaven‘s Jessica DeLine three months after Skaggs died. “Per the Mayo Clinic, opioids are highly addictive and your risk of addiction is increased after taking the drug for just a few days. Skaggs had TJ Surgery in 2014 and didn’t pitch at all in the 2015 season.”

DeLine cited an Outside the Lines report suggesting Skaggs and Kay had a shared opioid history of over four years: “Did Skaggs manage to keep this a secret from all his teammates over the years? Was his TJ surgery in 2014 an inciting event for his opiate abuse? That would seem to fit with the timeline Kay provided.”

“As the federal grand jury indictment made plainly and painfully clear, were it not for the fentanyl in the counterfeit pill provided by Angels employee Eric Kay, Tyler would be alive today,” said Skaggs family attorney Rusty Hardin in a statement following the lawsuit filings. “And if the Angels had done a better job of supervising Eric Kay, Tyler would be alive today.”

Maybe. Maybe not. We’ll never know for dead last certain.

What we should know is that this business of dismissing players injured in the line of play as mal-constructed vaginas should have ceased and desisted a very long time ago.

“Leaving it all out on the field” works both ways. Would you like a litany of players from most eras who left it all out on the field and had to leave it before their times thanks to injuries in the line of duty?

Dizzy Dean, Pistol Pete Reiser, Rex Barney, Monte Irvin, Herb Score, Ralph Kiner, Roger Maris, Wally Bunker, Jim Bouton, Sandy Koufax, Tony Conigliaro, Frank Tanana, Mark (The Bird) Fidrych, Pete Vuckovich, Joe Charboneau, the entire Oakland starting rotation of 1981-83, Bo Jackson, Eric Davis, Don Mattingly, Kirby Puckett, Darin Erstad, Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, Jason Kendall, Justin Morneau, Grady Sizemore, Ryan Howard, Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Mark Mulder, David Wright, Prince Fielder, and Jacoby Ellsbury are just a few who should ring a few bells for having gotten their bells rung in various ways.

They didn’t get hurt showing off slam-dunk techniques on the street, hauling a heavy side of deer meat up the stairs, trying to rip Manhattan-thick phone books apart with their bare hands, or staying too long on tanning beds, to name a few examples. (Those really happened. In order, to Cecil Upshaw, Clint Barmes, Steve Sparks, and Marty Cordova.)

Few players in any era took the abuse Ellsbury took for the multiple injuries he incurred playing baseball. As if a nine-figure Yankee payday could turn Clark Kent into Superman. Even before he became so ill-fated a Yankee, Ellsbury finally couldn’t wait to high-tail it out of Boston in free agency, where he’d been an often-injured Red Sox star with two World Series rings on his finger. Too many whisperings that he took too much of his sweet time recovering from injuries.

Thank God they also don’t all get hooked on opioids or other drugs out of surgery or because of doctors administering or prescribing them.

Uh-oh. Remember Denny McLain? Now, forget everything else you know about his post-baseball history, and maybe some of his career history, and think about this. McLain felt something pop in his shoulder during a 1965 start. By 1967-68, he’d hooked himself on cortisone. He used it practically the way most of us drink coffee at the breakfast table. Used to excess—and sound medical opinion has long since determined you should have no more than ten cortisone shots in your entire lifetime—cortisone can weaken the areas where it’s administered.

Now are you surprised that McLain’s shoulder was shot to hell by the time he ended up a very disgruntled Washington Senator in 1971? When, somewhat insanely, he was allowed to start 32 games anyway, and was charged with two more losses in one season (22) than he’d been charged with in his previous three? Or that he only got to pitch in twenty more games the following year before he called it a career?

Or that he eventually said, emphatically, “The name of the game back then was you gotta win one for the Gipper. [Fornicate] the Gipper!”

“The myth that baseball players were tougher and more resilient back in the day, that they were willing to endure anything for the sheer love of the game, is just that—a myth,” wrote Sridhar Pappu in The Year of the Pitcher four years ago. “In truth, they were victims of terrible medical advice, merciless management, and unforgiving fans who believed that a worn-out, hurting arm signaled a kind of moral weakness.”

The grief over Skaggs’s unexpected death was very real. So was the staggering joy when the Angels returned home following his death, memorialised him movingly (including the team all wearing his uniform number 45), and beat the Mariners with a combined no-hitter and a 13-0 final launched when his buddy Mike Trout smashed a two-run homer in the first inning.

But his widow and his parents may be out to prove that he and too many other players are still victims of terrible medical advice or practise, and merciless or at least ignorant management. In more ways than one.

Callaway’s ban shouldn’t be the end

Mickey Callaway

Mickey Callaway, shown here during aborted 2020 spring training—on MLB’s ineligible list through the end of 2022 for his sexual harassment across three organisations.

Mickey Callaway finally got his, sort of. His rather incessant sexual harassment of women while employed in three major league organisations, as exposed by The Athletic‘s Brittany Ghiroli and Katie Strang, landed him unemployment after the Angels fired him as their pitching coach—and a place on baseball’s ineligible list through the end of 2022. The question is why only that long.

Callaway’s penchant for sending suggestive and lewd text messages, shirtless photographs, and requests for topless images and drinking dates to five media women at minimum, was exposed at February’s beginning. “The worst kept secret in baseball,” one of the women was quoted as saying of his predations.

The Angels suspended Callaway post haste and agreed to cooperate with a full investigation by baseball’s government. The full details came forth almost immediately after the first revelations, showing Callaway’s telecommunicative tomcattery spread over a five-year period from his pitching coach days with the Indians to his self-immolating term managing the Mets to his very brief Angels tenure.

This wasn’t a man who made a couple of isolated bad mistakes. This was a man who sank himself into a morass of abasement from which he saw women as impressionable targets.

At least once Callaway was affirmed as having offered to share inside information about the Mets’ doings and undoings with one of his media women targets in exchange for getting drunk with him, possibly for openers. At least once otherwise, Indians manager Terry Francona and general manager Chris Atonetti were compelled to defend Callaway to the outraged husband of a Callaway target, before a team attorney suggested Francona himself speak to the man on behalf of making amends.

“Some of it was laziness,” writes Yahoo! Sports‘s Shalise Manza-Young, “since Callaway was hitting on women he came in contact with on a day-to-day basis, in what is supposed to be a professional setting, women who dutifully reported to the ballpark to do their jobs, to share with their respective audiences what was happening within and around the teams they were covering.”

But Callaway knew he had information he could give those women that would help them advance in their careers, and he tried to exploit that . . . You’re put in the position of saying yes and potentially getting yourself into a dangerous, compromising spot at worst, and journalistically unethical position at best; if you say no, you’re potentially burning a critical source. Few people know more about the ins and outs of a team than its manager. If you’re not breaking stories or getting fresh information, you may not be on the beat for long.

Given that woman after woman in The Athletic‘s story said Callaway’s propensity for inappropriate behavior was well known throughout MLB, it’s a stretch to believe his predation was limited to the five women who were brave enough to share their stories with the outlet.

Indeed. If at first it seemed the commissioner’s office moved a little slowly upon the original and damning revelations, putting Callaway on the ineligible list as announced on Wednesday now seems an inevitability. But Manza-Young surely isn’t the only one suspecting Callaway’s future in baseball is limited to non-existent not because he was shown to be even a virtual sexual predator but because his once-vaunted abilities as a pitching coach were belied by the Angels’ continuing inability to find and build viable pitching staffs.

“In a perfect world,” she goes on to write, “Callaway’s suspension would just be a formality and he’d never work for another baseball team again, though history tells us differently. This is a league that saw the Houston Astros trade for and celebrate relief pitcher Roberto Osuna while he was on trial for domestic assault.”

Not to mention the body that saw the Astros try first to throw under the proverbial bus the Sports Illustrated reporter, Stephanie Apstein, who exposed then-assistant GM Brandon Taubman’s post-2019 ALCS whoop about being so fornicating glad they’d gotten Osuna in the direct earshot of three women reporters. It took days for the Astros to smarten up at least to the point of canning Taubman, himself put on the ineligible list until after last year’s World Series.

Callaway can be disposed of readily enough. But the toxin of sexual harassment remains. Writing about Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar’s entry onto baseball’s permanently ineligible list over sexual misconduct in 2014 (three years after Alomar was elected to Cooperstown), Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiMinno pondered how much of the Alomar incident and the Blue Jays’s intended vaporising of his presence passed the proverbial smell test while adding that, yes, she wasn’t exactly a stranger to sexual misconduct, either:

I wish there were more details disclosed about the alleged incident, which surely could have been done without identifying the complainant . . . [and that] comes from someone who was once called a [fornicating (four-letter euphemism for ‘vagina’ starting with ‘c’)] by a player in the Jays clubhouse; who, on another occasion, had a player simulate pelvis thrusting from the rear while I was bending over to conduct an interview with another player at his stall. These were not incidents I reported to the club or to my employer. I’m just not that delicate a flower.

A woman need not be a delicate flower to work with reasonable assurance that the men with whom she deals in her line of work see and act upon her as something and someone above and beyond a target to be plucked. Callaway’s harassment was out of line whether his targets were jasmines or nerium oleanders.

It’s one thing for a man not restricted by a marital or relationship commitment to ask a woman for a date, but it’s something else entirely for a man—whether single, committed, or married—to pursue even one woman, never mind five or more, on terms that might be considered obscene even in the editorial offices of Hustler.

Callaway was a coach and manager and a man in considerable formal authority, but players wield their own kind of authoritative influence, too. His banishment should mean the overdue beginning and continuing of a reasonable remaking/remodeling of the professional baseball work atmosphere. Whether “should” graduates to “does,” alas, remains to be seen.

Call him anything, but don’t call him a thief

Albert Pujols, Mike Trout

This wasn’t just a celebratory hug after Pujols walked a win off with a sacrifice fly; Albert Pujols made Mike Trout a friend as well as a protege.

When the Angels decided it was time at last to let Albert Pujols go as gently as possible into that good gray baseball night, I wasn’t the only baseball observer to say it was heartbreaking. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, either, to say his decline following his first Anaheim season was just as heartbreaking.

But I’m still astonished, if not sickened to my stomach, from seeing assorted social media denizens speaking as one such baseball group member did after the Dodgers dropped more than a few jaws by signing Pujols as a bench and very occasional role player for the rest of the season.

“Where are they going to put him? There’s [sic] no [designated hitter] in the NL, and hopefully there never will be one,” said one in particular. “He can afford a rocking chair with all the money he stole from the Angels.”

Stole?

Bad enough the gentleman writing those words clings to one of baseball’s most nebulous and negative traditions. (Pitchers overall have hit .158/.207/.199 from the end of the 1910s until the end of 2020, for a big fat .406 OPS. As of this morning, they’re hitting .102/.136/.137 in 2021, for a whopping .273 OPS.)

But “all that money he stole from the Angels?” Rest assured, this gentleman probably isn’t even close to the only fan who feels that way. He just so happened to put it into cold print,  and I just so happened to catch it in cold print.

What he and anyone else thinking like that is really saying is that a player ground down as Pujols was because of injuries is nothing but a common thief. Well, I heard and saw Yankee fans and observers say similar things about now-retired Jacoby Ellsbury, too. As if they held their teams at gunpoint for x number of seasons.

If you thought Joe and Jane Fan believe losing is practically mortal sin, there are times that seems nothing compared to what they seem to think about being injured on the job.

When the Yankees gave up the ghost and elected to pay Ellsbury the $26 million left on his contract not to play for them any longer, I wondered aloud what it might have done to a man knowing he couldn’t do his job because his body kept him from doing it no matter what his heart and mind desired—and, because it made him a hate object among the witless.

“It’s as if being injured on the job at all equals a character flaw, especially if you happen to be paid a phenomenally handsome salary,” I wrote then. “On the flip side, it’s as if being paid a phenomenally handsome salary equals some sort of immunity to earthly harm. Here’s a bulletin for you: Handing Clark Kent a nine-figure payday doesn’t make him Superman.”

Ellsbury was talented and tenacious (and a two-time World Series champion) when he could play. He wasn’t a Pujols-level talent, but he could and often did break a game open with his own skill set, too. Yet one of the reasons Ellsbury wouldn’t even think about returning to the Red Sox when he hit free agency was because, appropriately, he was fed up over incessant clubhouse whispers that he took too much of his own sweet time recovering from injuries.

“It’s hell if you do and hell if you don’t for a professional athlete,” I wrote then, too. “Return too soon from an injury and you risk re-injury; return not soon enough (in whose sound medical opinion?) and you risk being dismissed as a fragile goldbrick.”

For Joe and Jane Fan, the paradox which is borderline hypocrisy is that they put on pedestals ballplayers who play through injuries regardless of whether that might lead to further injury, as it usually does—but then Joe and Jane Fan become the first to denounce the big jerks for playing through the earlier injuries only to incur bigger and more costly ones.

Pujols’s problems in Anaheim began when he developed plantar fasciitis in one of his heels during spring training 2013. He’d had a first season with the Angels in 2012 that resembled a down season on his terms but a career year for mere mortals.

Then, in late July 2013, he suffered a tear to that bothersome area during a game against the Athletics, while running out a ninth-inning base hit off Grant Balfour. He rehabbed the foot and heel as best he could until the Angels, out of contention by then, shut him down for the rest of that season.

It never got better for him. What nobody outside the Angels clubhouse really knew was that if his feet and legs could drain him, nothing and no one could drain Pujols’s iron will.

“He could easily have shut down a couple of these years. But just the toughness is off the charts,” said Mike Trout to The Athletic‘s Fabian Ardaya in 2019. “A lot of guys would have shut it down for good. He plays banged-up, doesn’t complain. I think that’s what people don’t see.”

“I’ll remember,” said ESPN writer Alden Gonzalez, after the Angels finally designated Pujols for assignment, “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.”

Trout was right. Showing up at the ballpark early and spending hours in the training room despite the physical sappings is what Joe and Jane Fan didn’t see. Maybe they didn’t want to see. Maybe they couldn’t believe the guy who’d played as off the charts as Pujols did as a Cardinal was forced into a far steeper decline phase to his career than he should have been.

Maybe they still clung to the illusion that a nine-figure payday in and of itself could keep a man Superman despite his body turning him into Clark Kent.

In only one way did Pujols have himself to blame for the outside perception that he was just going downhill at warp speed no matter how much money he was paid. He wasn’t the type to lament continuously over his lower body’s continuing betrayals. So much so that, when he finally did speak up about it, in the same 2019 Athletic piece, Joe and Jane Fan didn’t and wouldn’t listen.

“It’s made my move here so tough,” Pujols said to Ardaya then. “I don’t wish that anyone would have had those lower-half injuries, because I know that when I’m healthy, I know what I can do. To come over here and just be pounded by injury after injury, year after year . . . This game is tough when you’re at 100 percent with no injuries. Then imagine dealing with knee, heel, elbow, everything. It’s just tough, man.”

Pujols isn’t the only baseball player who ever kept believing to his soul that all he had to do was return to reasonable health to be what he once was. He isn’t the only player who’s learning the hardest way possible that there comes a time when the badly compromised body married to your age just wouldn’t let you be that anymore.

But not all such players get paid $255 million over ten years, whether they’re future Hall of Famers or future Hall of Shamers.

Nobody held the Angels at gunpoint, either, to offer Pujols that deal in the first place when nobody else was considering it, including the Cardinals (who didn’t until Pujols was practically taking measurements for his Angels uniform), or to keep him on the field when his body was clearly and cruelly draining him faster than a proper decline phase should have done.

Writing in The Inside Game last year, Keith Law came right out and said the Angels were foolish to keep suiting Pujols up even as a designated hitter, despite that iron will, because his body compromised him too deeply.

“If you have already paid for something,” Law wrote, nodding toward the guaranteed deal, “your choice of whether to use it should be a function of whether you want or need to use it, not a function of the money that is already gone regardless of what you do.” Don’t even go there about “eating money” if that’s what the Angels had elected to do. “Major league baseball player contracts are guaranteed,” Law wrote. “[T]here is no way to un-eat that meal.”

It’s one thing to argue against guaranteed long-term baseball contracts in all but the most unique circumstances. It’s something else entirely to argue against one retroactively because the player who signed one got hit unexpectedly with one of the worst injury bugs in baseball history a year after he finished his first season under such a deal.

The clumsiness with which the Angels parted with Pujols speaks only further ill of a team whose administrative culture makes a pratfalling putz resemble Joe DiMaggio roaming center field. The Dodgers’ willingness to bring him aboard even as a part-time bench player, perhaps an occasional first base fill-in, would look a lot better if there wasn’t even the momentary sense that it was a concurrent chance to stick it to their down-freeway rival.

It won’t cost the Dodgers a dollar beyond the pro-rated minimum major league salary to give Pujols one more chance at possible postseason triumph and a possible third World Series ring that the Angels couldn’t. (The Angels’ chronic inability to build a viable pitching staff has harmed them several years; if the Pujols deal tied their hands financially, the Angels haven’t been brilliant at drafting pitching or even acquiring low-cost/high-enough-performance arms, either.)

Personally, I’d hoped Pujols would surrender to his body’s betrayals and call it a career sooner, if only because he wasn’t really Albert Pujols anymore and hadn’t really been for too long through no fault of his own. I wanted him to be as close to Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt as possible, Schmidt having retired in May 1989 because, essentially, he didn’t believe he was Mike Schmidt anymore.

Such Hall of Famers as Willie Mays and Steve Carlton couldn’t do it, either; we saw their baseball ghosts a little too long. Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax did do it when he was still ten dimensions beyond the top of his game: “I don’t regret one minute of the past twelve seasons, but I might regret the season that was one too many.” Even more so than Schmidt, Koufax left the world wanting more, not less.

Whether mere mortal or Hall of Fame immortal, not every player is as self-aware as Koufax and Schmidt. But there’s another kind of self-awareness that imposes a cruelty of its own. It’s the kind Pujols has, the kind that kept him grinding his way back in search of the trans-dimensional greatness he once evoked. The kind that guaranteed him a berth in the Hall of Fame before his body left him nothing but his will.

Knowing what we should know now of that stubborn will no matter what Mother Health and Father Time declared otherwise, we should accept that Pujols earned the chance to leave the field with whatever remains of his professional dignity intact. Maybe he has one more game- or set-changing swing left in him. Maybe he doesn’t.

But calling him the thief who stole all that money from the Angels, however, is way out of line, Joe and Jane Fan. It exposes you as the couple too witless to comprehend just what Pujols put himself through to live up to that contract no matter how often his body told his heart and mind where to shove it.