Platinum arm, platinum man, cast in bronze

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax with his wife, Jane Parucker Clarke, afront the statue unveiled at Dodger Stadium Saturday afternoon.

Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax’s least favourite subject has always been himself. It was to wonder, then, just how he’d handle things when he came to the center field plaza behind Dodger Stadium Saturday, when a statue honouring what he means to the franchise and to baseball itself was unveiled.

It turned out that Koufax knew how not to rise to even the bait of his capture in bronze, frozen in his once-famous high and broad right leg kick as his left arm prepared to deliver to the plate.

After a tribute film was shown to the gathering, he began by quipping, “I think the film said everything I wanted to say, so I’ll be leaving now.” The gathering, which included his protegé/friend Clayton Kershaw and Hall of Fame manager/former catcher-third baseman  Joe Torre, laughed heartily enough.

People who meet him testify that he’ll talk your ears off if the subject isn’t him, preferring to learn about them, but the moment the subject becomes him he makes Puxsatawney Phil resemble a 24/7/365 social butterfly.

His best biographer, Jane Leavy, has described him as a man who’d love nothing more than to be just another fellow in the neighbourhood. Just like any other fellow who has a plaque in Cooperstown and spent the bulk of his post-playing career living as a kind of renaissance man learning about things as diverse as flying, restoring houses, theater, music, and wine, and once carrying a business card identifying himself as “Peregrination Expert”—an expert at making a long, long journey.

Come Saturday, after opening with maybe the cleverest reimagining possible of Groucho Marx’s once-famous warble, “Hello, I must be going,” the peregrination expert talked for ten minutes. Getting him to speak that long in public is an achievement worthy of a combat decoration as it is.

But he talked about practically anyone except himself. Just as he had fifty years to the day earlier, when he was inducted as the youngest man ever elected to the Hall of Fame. A day intended to do him honour—and he did call it the greatest honour of his life—turned out to be the day Koufax preferred doing honour to about sixty people who had affected his life and career.

From the high school catcher whose father urged him onto the sandlot team the older man coached to the University of Cincinnati basketball coach (Koufax attended on a basketball scholarship) who also coached the baseball team and welcomed him there. From Jackie Robinson, the only other Dodger to be secured in bronze outside that center field plaza, whom he called a teammate and friend who “went out of his way to make me feel welcome and I’ll never forget his kindness on that,” to every pitching coach he had. (Both Robinson’s and Koufax’s statues come from the same sculptor, Branley Cadet.)

From his only major league manager, Hall of Famer Walter Alston (I’m not sure if he was happy with me as a bonus player, but we came to have a pretty good relationship through the years) to assorted roommates such as Doug Camilli (reserve catcher), Dick Tracewski (second baseman, and his roommate the morning he awoke to an elbow swollen so profoundly it turned into the arthritis diagnosis that ultimately put paid to his pitching career), Norm Sherry (the reserve catcher who helped him correct the hitch that kept him from greatness until 1961), and Carl Furillo (the Brooklyn legend with the steady bat and the throwing arm that got him nicknamed the Reading Rifle).

From all his teammates during his twelve major league seasons—particularly his longtime catcher John Roseboro but also the Dodgers’ all switch-hitting infield of 1965 (Jim Lefebvre, Wes Parker, Jim Gilliam, Maury Wills)—to his relief pitchers (particularly Ron Perranoski and Phil [The Vulture] Regan). From the trainers and clubhouse manager Nobe Kowano to Vin Scully. (GOAT used to be a bad thing, now it’s greatest of all time. Well, that’s the end of the discussion. Vin Scully is the greatest of all time.)

“I think my only regret today,” Koufax said near the finish, “is that so many are no longer with us and I’m unable to let them know how much I thank them and appreciated them. Thank you to all the fans who treated me so well, and tell them how lucky they are to have such a competitive team to root for for so many years.”

“I remember one of the first times I got to sit down and speak to Sandy, it was on a flight to L.A. for Joe’s charity event,” Kershaw said before his longtime mentor and friend took his turn. “And I was sitting there, and I thought, Sandy and Joe, some old ballplayers, I’m just gonna have to sit through ‘Back when we played,’ or, ‘This is how I used to do it,’ and I thought I was going to have to sit through that the whole flight.”

Koufax would crack in due course, “Conventional wisdom has always said, ‘Don’t give an old man a microphone, he’s got too many years to talk about’.”

“But it was a far cry from that,” Kershaw continued. “I got to know Sandy on that flight and after that I thought, Wow, Sandy genuinely cares about how I’m going to do in this game. From then on I was able to talk to Sandy. He’d call me when good things happened and congratulate me. He’d call me when bad things happened to encourage me. He’d even call during the offseason to check in on Ellen and I and see how the chaos of our life had gone with our four kids.”

Koufax has no children of his own, but he has been remarried happily to his third wife, Jane Parucker Clarke, for almost two decades and counting. Once, appearing at the first showing of a documentary about Jews in sports, Koufax had a small chat with New York Times writer Ira Berkow. After Koufax seemed somewhat reserved when told most boys of his generation dreamed of striking out the Yankees and he’d done it in a World Series, Berkow asked what Koufax did dream about. Koufax pointed to his lady without missing a beat and replied, “Her.”

Those who knew him in his playing days continue to be solicitous without being obstreperous about his accomplishments. (“I have to be careful how I word things,” Torre told the Saturday gathering, “because I say I hit against Sandy Koufax, but I have to take that back: I faced Sandy Koufax.” For the record, Torre couldn’t hit Koufax with a hangar door: a pair of home runs but a .220/.233/.339 slash line against him.)

My own call is there’s a statistic that, even in the pitching-friendly era during which Koufax went from good to great to off the charts, says more about him than the 699 strikeouts he nailed in his final two, arthritic, overmedicated seasons. (Including the then-record 382 he bagged in 1965.)

Koufax’s fielding-independent pitching rate (FIP: you can see it as your earned-run average when the help from your defense is removed from the equation) for his final six seasons, the seasons that made him the ultimate peak-value Hall of Famer, is 2.18. Granting the stat applies retroactively, in his case, but ponder this: Sandy Koufax led the entire Show in FIP—the measure of what he himself was responsible for, including keeping the ball in the park, striking the other guys out, keeping the walks and hit batsmen to a minimum, everything he himself could control in a baseball game—for six consecutive seasons, and it averages out to 2.18 for the six. Even in a pitching-friendly era, that’s a surrealistic accomplishment.

So often compared to Koufax as a lefthanded pitcher, Kershaw preferred to honour Koufax the friend. “I was looking back at the time we were at [Scully]’s retirement ceremony on the field and something you said stuck with me, about Vin,” he said. You said that the thing you treasure most about Vin is that he allows you to call him a friend. And that’s the same for me. So, I’m grateful for that, Sandy. I know you don’t believe it, but there is no one more deserving of this honor.”

Kershaw had to hold tears back when he said it.

“Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Sandy,” Steve Garvey once told a reporter. “They’re the only ones that seem to grow bigger with the years.” It may depend upon how you define “big.”

Williams became a kind of cantankerous roving hitting instructor in his retirement, when not indulging his parallel passion for fly fishing, often still out to prove he knew best. DiMaggio presented himself as regal and demanded regal treatment. They seemed too aloof even in crowds on their own behalfs. Koufax guards his privacy powerfully but he’s considered accessible enough if you don’t treat him like a royal or a deity.

He’s probably been the least cantankerous or self-possessed baseball legend of his time, except perhaps for the late Yogi Berra. He’s turned up at Dodger and other spring camps over several decades to instruct and observe, to share but not “prove” his knowledge. “A lot of people look around to see how they can keep you from climbing up there with them,” the late fellow Hall of Famer (and longtime Dodger) Don Sutton once said. “Sandy has always gone out of his way to pull everybody up there with him.”

“To the extent that he removed himself from public view,” Leavy wrote in her biography, “it was not so much because he believed there are no second acts in American life as because he was determined to have one. He does not disavow who he was or what he accomplished. He is proud of it. He simply refuses to exist in cinders and ashes. He doesn’t speak of himself in the third person, but he does think of ‘Sandy Koufax’ as someone else, a persona separate from himself. If he was seeking refuge from anything, it was that.”

Having pulled everyone else up there at his own statue-unveiling ceremony, there was but one way for Koufax to conclude, and he did just that. “For all of you who came out,” he said, “thank you. To my family and friends, I love you one and all. I’m done.”

Bauer outage: suspended two years

Trevor Bauer

Bauer’s two-year suspension won’t ease his victims’ pain or his way back to baseball—and in that order.

In considering Trevor Bauer’s unprecedented two-season suspension Friday for violating MLB’s domestic violence protocols, under which he won’t be paid and the Dodgers will be off the hook for the rest of his salary, I can’t help harking back to something pointed out last August. That’s when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Dianna Gould-Saltman lifted a temporary restraining order against the pitcher.

During the hearings preceding that lift, the victim in the case testified for twelve hours. Bauer’s legal team may have drawn some inconsistencies from her regarding secondary items, but as Cup of Coffee writer and former NBC Sports analyst Craig Calcaterra wrote then, they never discredited “the central claim that he assaulted her in horrible ways.”

Maybe that makes it harder for the accuser to recover any money from him in a civil suit. Maybe that makes a prosecutor less likely to bring a criminal claim against Bauer for fear of the case being difficult. But the central truth of this entire affair—the stuff that Major League Baseball will look to regarding Bauer’s behavior, irrespective of whether charges are brought—points pretty clearly to Bauer doing exactly what his accuser said he did. Everything else is secondary.

After 12 hours of testimony, his accuser said, under oath, “I did not consent to bruises all over my body that sent me to the hospital and having that done to me while I was unconscious.” There was zero evidence presented which explained how those bruises appeared in a way that was benign or refuted the idea that the woman was unconscious when Bauer inflicted them. That, in my mind, is all that matters. (Emphasis added.)

This past February the 31-year-old righthander found himself off the purely legal hook, after Los Angeles County prosecutors decided not to press criminal charges against him. “Those words don’t say the evidence is false,” I wrote at the time, “as much as they say getting a criminal conviction at trial would be tougher than hitting an outside slider over the center field fence.”

The Dodgers knew Bauer was a mere misogynist when they signed him as a free agent in February 2021. “The Dodgers didn’t know Bauer would be accused of sexual assault,” writes Los Angeles Times columnist Dylan Hernández. “However, they knew he was always in some sort of trouble.

They knew how respected baseball people such as Kevin Towers and Terry Francona wanted nothing to do with him. They knew he sliced open his pitching hand repairing a drone.

They knew he threw a ball over the centerfield wall instead of handing it to the manager when he was taken out of a game. They knew of his online harassment campaign against a female college student . . . The question was never about whether Bauer would get into trouble; the question was about what kind of trouble he would get into.

But almost from the moment Bauer’s suspension was announced, defenders sprang up all around the social media universe to decry justice denied. He was cleared of all wrongdoing by a court of law! Well, not exactly. Wrongdoers aren’t always compelled to answer for their wrongdoing in the courts.

Employees from the most obscure clerk, warehouse worker, or line worker, to the highest-powered executives do get suspended and even fired from their jobs over wrongdoings that won’t get them into legal trouble at all, never mind prison time or fines. They are no less wrongdoings for lacking the weight of the law’s punishments.

Why would baseball suspend Bauer two full seasons if prosecutors decided they couldn’t get a criminal conviction against him? ESPN writers Alden Gonzalez and Jeff Passan asked and answered:

The standards in criminal and civil cases differ from those of a private business. The judge dissolving the temporary restraining order and declining to issue a permanent one does not absolve Bauer of liability within the joint policy. Neither does a prosecutor passing on pressing charges.

MLB’s imposed discipline is based on its own investigation, separate from the criminal proceedings. The league’s investigation into Bauer’s case lasted 10 months. Details about MLB’s findings have not been released, but the league’s investigators considered more than just the sexual assault allegations of the San Diego woman from last year. They looked into at least one other allegation, from an Ohio woman who sought a temporary restraining order against Bauer in June of 2020, details of which were reported by the Washington Post.

Hours after Bauer’s suspension was announced, the Post published a story about another Ohio woman who accused Bauer of choking her unconscious without consent during sex on multiple occasions over the course of a relationship that dated back to 2013. Bauer strongly denied those allegations, as he did the allegations by the other women. But the two Ohio women told the Post they cooperated with the league’s investigation, and we don’t know if others were involved as well.

What kind of sex you enjoy is irrelevant so long as it’s with a fellow human and under mutual, conscious consent. What you do while your partner is unconscious and thus unable to consent any further is very relevant when you’re being investigated formally after accusations of sexual assault, whether it’s a legal investigation or one by your employer.

There are those among Bauer’s defenders who raise the question as to why it should have been Bauer and not other known domestic violence violators to be hit with a hammer as heavy as the one with which he’s been hit. (Bauer said at once he’d appeal the suspension.) That’s not an unfair question.

Among others, Yankee relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman was suspended thirty games in 2016 for choking his girlfriend and possessing a firearm he fired into a wall. Then-Cubs infielder Addison Russell was suspended forty games in 2018—after the Cubs lost the National League wild card game—for beating his now-former wife. Braves outfielder Marcel Ozuna was suspended twenty games retroactively in November 2021 over what proved to be trying to choke his wife before throwing her against a wall and hitting her with the cast on his broken left hand.

Those were letting such crimes off the hook too easily, even allowing that those players “accepted responsibility” for their acts. But then free agent reliever Sam Dyson was suspended for the entire 2021 season after his former girlfriend accused him of rape, battery, and psychological abuse.

Some of Bauer’s defenders think commissioner Rob Manfred came down heaviest upon Bauer because Bauer’s been an outspoken critic of of Manfred’s administration in the past, before his sexual assault issues came forth. A very few of those defenders even implied Bauer’s entire domestic violence issue might have been ginned up as a way to try shutting him up.

Even Manfred isn’t that foolish. You’d have to have precisely the imaginative mind Manfred lacks to forge that kind of plot just to push a particulaly outspoken critic to one side. Even if you’re a commissioner who can be accused of abuse of power. But there is a way for Manfred to show he doesn’t care what his in-game critics say or think when it comes to certain very grave matters.

Get with the Major League Baseball Players’ Association and adjust the domestic violence protocol to allow for suspending any player found violating baseball’s domestic violence policy for one full season’s worth of games minimum from now on. I phrase it that way because they won’t all come forth before a season begins, as Dyson’s did.

The bad news is that even that won’t ease their victims’ pain. But it would send forth a more powerful affirmation that baseball suffers no domestic violence benignly and that, no, Bauer wasn’t just singled out for particular punishment, for any corresponding reason.

“But . . . history, dammit!!!”

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw pitching in Target Field, against the Twins, Wednesday. He was lifted after seven perfect innings and the world went nuclear.

Finally, Steven Kwan went hitless. It took his sixth major league game before somebody’s pitchers finally found ways to get him out all day long, if you don’t count the bases-loaded walk he took in the second to start the scoring in a 7-3 Guardians win.

Then Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. smashed three home runs against the Yankees in the south Bronx, including a pair off Yankee ace Gerrit Cole, en route a  6-4 Blue Jays win, a performance that had even the Yankees dropping their jaws in amazement.

Those might have been the top stories Wednesday if not for Clayton Kershaw and Dave Roberts.

Kershaw pitched seven perfect against the Twins in Minneapolis. Despite his having thrown “only” seventy pitches while striking thirteen Twins out including striking the side out in the sixth, Kershaw didn’t come back for the eighth inning. Roberts ended Kershaw’s day knowing both men agreed he’d be on a limited leash in his first season’s start at all, never mind pitching in temperatures in the thirties.

The world went nuclear over it.

Sometimes during the uproar it seemed nobody wanted to listen when Kershaw postgame explained, among other things, “I knew going in that my pitch count wasn’t going to be one hundred. It’s a hard thing to do, to come out of a game when you’re doing that. We’re here to win. This was the right choice.”

He’s Clayton Freaking Kershaw and he should have been entitled to finish that perfect game!

“Those are selfish goals. We’re trying to win,” said the lefthander who pitched a no-hitter in 2014 and whose black ink from ages 23-29 has already secured his reservation in the Hall of Fame.

That’s really all we’re here for. As much as I would’ve wanted to do it, I’ve thrown 75 pitches in a [simulated] game, and I hadn’t gone six innings, let alone seven. Sure, I would’ve loved to do it. But maybe I’ll get another chance.. . . I would have loved to have stayed, but bigger things, man, bigger things . . . Earlier in my career, I’d be built up to a hundred pitches. Blame it on the lockout. Blame it on me not picking up a baseball until January. My slider was horrible the last two innings. It didn’t have the bite. It was time.

Whaddabout history?!? Whaddabout entertainment?!? This is the way baseball brings the fans back?!?

What about the injury history of a 34-year-old pitcher, working in that 30-degree temperature range in crisp Minnesota, after an owners’ lockout-imposed badly abbreviated spring training, and coming off a season ended by forearm/elbow inflammation, accompanied by speculation he might even face Tommy John surgery? To say nothing of Kershaw not picking up a ball until January because of continued recovery from that forearm issue?

Goddam analytics!!!!!

Protecting a pitcher’s health—which is exactly what Roberts did, presiding over a starting rotation about whose long-term health Roberts has said on the record is the key to the Dodgers’ long-term seasonal health and success—has absolutely nothing to do with analytics. All the analytical information available to managers and players about their own and their oppositions’ tendencies isn’t going to tell you whether or when a player’s liable to incur injuries. Analytics aren’t that smart.

“It was a short spring training after a lockout,” reminded no less than Aaron Gleeman, who covers the Twins for The Athletic. “He’s not fully built up. Nothing to do with analytics.”

Nolan Ryan wouldn’t have come out after only seventy [fornicating] pitches, and his manager would have had a fight on his hands if he tried to lift Ryan!!!!

Any time any starting pitcher gets the early hook for any reason in any circumstance—never mind that most managers now have their starters on pitch limits in an admirable bid to compensate for the too-short spring training preparation and assure their long-term season’s health as best as possible—there still comes even one ignorant Ryan name-drop. This one delivered truckloads of them all around social media.

I’m going to let Athletic analyst Keith Law say it for me as I also did when reviewing the book in which he said it, The Inside Game: Bad Calls, Strange Moves, and What Baseball Behaviour Teaches Us About Ourselves, two years ago:

The center square on your [Pitch Count Bingo] card is Nolan Ryan, whose name is certain to come up in any attempt to discuss the limits of the human body to throw a projectile at 95 mph repeatedly over a three-hour span . . .

Nolan Ryan was a physical marvel, and an extreme outlier when it came to durability, although most discussions of the latter ignore the part where he missed 1967 and 1968 with persistent arm trouble. Ryan did things we will probably never see again, not now that pitchers throw harder than ever and play more than ever as kids, while teams work to keep their most gifted pitchers healthy until they reach the majors . . .

Nolan Ryan is the ultimate survivor, the survivor ne plus ultra, the übersurvivor when it comes to survivorship bias. Yes, Ryan defied everything we know now about pitch limits, and shouldered (pun intended) workloads that no MLB would ever allow a pitcher to carry [now], whether in individual games or entire seasons . . .

He is . . . an outlier, a great exception—not one that “proves” the rule, but one that causes many people to discard the rule. Most pitchers can’t handle the workloads that Ryan did; they would break down and suffer a major injury to their elbow or shoulder, or they would simply become less effective as a result of the heavy usage, and thus receive fewer opportunities to pitch going forward. Teams did try to give pitchers more work for decades, well into the early 2000s, but you don’t know the names of those pitchers because they didn’t survive: they broke down, or pitched worse, or some combination of the above. (Emphasis added.)

By the way, the Dodgers did finish the victory they began while Kershaw was in the game. They led 3-0 when he came out. With one out in the top of the eighth, Cody Bellinger, Gavin Lux, and Austin Barnes smashed back-to-back-to-back home runs off Dereck Rodriguez working his fourth inning of relief. Then Max Muncy greeted Rodriguez’s relief Griffin Jax by leading off the top of the ninth hitting a full-count fastball over the right field fence.

They also lost the perfecto when Kershaw’s relief Alex Vesia surrendered a one-out line single to former Yankee Gary Sanchez in the bottom of the seventh. Nobody saw Kershaw complain. If anything, he looked about as jovial and hail-fellow in the dugout as a man can look after being “robbed” of a shot at “history.” A man who knows his baseball immortality is already assured is far more sanguine in such circumstances than the world going nutshit about his “robbery.”

There were 233,345 major league baseball games before Wednesday, and only 23 of them were perfect. Thirteen (57 percent) were pitched by men who’d get to the Hall of Fame as visitors only. Only one—Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax’s jewel of 9 September 1965, after Koufax threw mere no-hitters in each of his three previous seasons—actually proved that practise makes perfect.

Should the Dodgers fail in their quest for one full-season World Series championship while Kershaw remains among them, it won’t be because he was lifted after seven perfect innings in his first season’s start. Should they succeed in that quest, it will be in considerable part because Roberts placed his pitcher’s long-term, season’s health—with his pitcher on board entirely—ahead of “history.”

“But who is a perfect game for, anyway?” asks Sports Illustrated writer Emma Baccelieri, who answers promptly. “It might be just as easy to conceive of it as selfless rather than selfish: a great communal gift as much as a great individual achievement. Everything on Wednesday made sense. But perhaps it is not selfish—not unreasonable—to wish that everything did not have to make so much sense all the time.”

Would I have loved to see Kershaw consummate a perfect game? You might as well ask if I still enjoy being alive. Just don’t ask me to list the roll of Hall of Fame pitchers who never got to pitch perfect games, either. They’d only begin with Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Juan Marichal, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, and, yes, St. Ryan himself—who threw seven no-hitters but was never perfect even once.

You’re worried about “entertainment?” The single most entertaining things in baseball other than actual games and even World Series triumphs are arguments liable to last as long as baseball itself will last. Even when those arguments are as witless as the day is long.

Brothers in baseball and bereavement

Jose Iglesias, Freddie Freeman

Iglesias mourned his father after his first hit of the season Friday; Freeman hugged and empathised with him.

José Iglesias signed with the Rockies in March. For the first ten seasons of his career, his father, Candelario, who’d played professionally in Cuba, saw over three thousand of his plate appearances. The elder Iglesias died a few weeks before Opening Day; the son still grieves even as he plays the game father and son loved together.

The son tagged his first base hit against Dodgers starter Walker Buehler in the bottom of the second Friday. He couldn’t fight his emotion as he arrived, nor could he resist a gesture heavenward. And the Dodgers’ new first baseman, Freddie Freeman, wouldn’t let him fight or resist either.

Freeman asked what was wrong. The Rockies shortstop acknowledged his grief over losing his father. Freeman—the defending World Series MVP with last year’s Braves, who has never been shy about his own grief following his mother’s death when he was ten—hugged Iglesias by his head, leaned it against his shoulder a moment, then gave him a few fraternal pats on the shoulder and head before play continued.

Iglesias had just knocked a run home to stake the Rockies to an early 2-0 lead (he went 1-for-4 on the day) that would turn into a 5-3 Dodgers win, with no small help from Freeman, who struck out, was hit by a pitch, then had a hand in the Dodgers’ five-run fourth by walking, going first to third on an RBI base hit, and scoring on a wild pitch, before he beat out an infield hit in the sixth (he was stranded) and looking at a third strike in the eighth.

But in the second inning, Freeman and Iglesias weren’t opponents but brothers in parental bereavement. “There’s nothing harder than losing a parent,” Freeman said to Iglesias before the game resumed.

“He was everything to me,” Iglesias said of the father who’d once played shortstop, too,  but would come home to play ball with his son after long post-baseball days labouring in a factory for $10 a day in Castro’s Cuba. [The younger Iglesias defected in 2008.] “His dream was to watch me in the big leagues. He told me once ‘If I can watch you play for one day, I’ll be good to go after that.’ He watched me play for ten years . . . he’s in a better place now, watching me play every day.”

“We’ll never know what any of us are going through in life,” Freeman told reporters postgame.

I think it just kind of reminds you to just have some compassion, some humility, and just be kind to others. That’s what’s so special about baseball too is you get to be around so many great people and so many people that just care about and love the game of baseball. His father was shining down on him to be able to get that single.

“You never forget your dad. All I could do is give him a hug. You know, when you lose a parent, all you can do is just give that person a hug. There are no words. No word is really going to be enough. Just let that person know you care about him.

“It was a beautiful moment,” Iglesias said, “beyond baseball, we’re human beings. That was very nice of Freddie.”

Freeman’s mother, Rosemary, died of melanoma in 2000. The son who was ten at that time can never forget climbing aboard her hospital bed despite his size for his age just to stay close to her, believing to his ten-year-old soul that she’d recover.

“Her pain was a twenty out on a scale of ten and she never said one word,” Freeman told ESPN’s Buster Olney for a profile a year ago. “She let us crawl in bed and she tried to be as much as she could to us, even though she had to lay there. And she was more than that, a mom, even in those times. We obviously thought she was going to beat it . . . She did everything she could to beat that disease.”

So Freeman eventually held on to his father. Now, an opponent pulling up to first base let his grief over his father’s death, over his father no longer seeing him play except from a heavenly perch, overcome him. Freeman more than most understands such loss, no matter what age parental bereavement comes, and cares. He cares enough not to give a damn who’d object to his comforting a stricken opponent.

“We have different uniforms on,” Freeman said, “but you take the uniforms off and we’re all friends in this game. That’s the key. That’s the beauty of this sport. We all switch teams throughout our careers so you get to come across a lot of amazing people. From the looks of it, [Iglesias’s] family loves baseball just as much as we do, so I’m just glad to be able to be a part of anything I could do for him.”

Bet that Rosemary Freeman and Candelario Iglesias sat together in the Elysian Fields exchanging hugs and agreeing that there’s one word for what Rosemary’s son did for Candelario’s in the second inning. The word is class.

Freeman gets the sixth year he wanted—from the Dodgers

Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman, crossing the plate after hitting what proved last fall’s NLDS-winning home run gainst Josh Hader and the Brewers. The Dodgers now give him what the Braves wouldn’t.

Freddie Freeman got what he wanted most . . . from the Dodgers. A sixth year on his next contract. The dollars are nothing to dismiss at $162 million total and $27 million annual value. And Freeman now has the pleasure of playing for the team stationed about an hour away from where he grew up in southern California.

The Dodgers weren’t the only team in play for Freeman if the Braves inexplicably and falsely decided they couldn’t afford to give him the sixth year he wanted. The Padres had eyes for him. So did the Blue Jays. So did the Red Sox. Aside from the benefits the Red Sox would have reaped from Freeman’s hitting and leadership style, there’d have been another mad fun factor.

The Yankees re-upped Anthony Rizzo after all on a fresh deal. Rizzo and Freeman have a long-standing friendship that translates now and then to deliciously hilarious moments on the field together. Especially Rizzo, sent to pitch to Freeman while the Braves were blowing the Cubs out last April, striking Freeman out swinging on five pitches in the bottom of the seventh last April.

The laughter between the pair was priceless. In the thick of the usual Yankee-Red Sox rivalry, it would have been much needed levity if the Yankees might be blowing the Red Sox out and Red Sox manager Alex Cora could have ordered Freeman to the mound to pitch to Rizzo; and, if Freeman could have exacted friendly revenge by striking Rizzo out.

So much for fields of dreams. Right now that sound you hear is Dodger fans crowing, “We had him all the way!” From the moment Freeman hit his first free agency after his Braves won last year’s World Series, you couldn’t swing a bat without it smashing into the hind quarters of a Dodger fan believing to his or her soul that a Dodger uniform would be the next wardrobe addition for the native of Villa Park, California, just a few miles east of Anaheim.

From the same moment, though, you couldn’t swing a bat with it smashing into the hind quarters of a Braves fan praying from his or her soul that the Braves, somehow, some way, would do right by the franchise face who’d done nothing but right by them from the moment he first turned up at first base in Braves’ silks.

Then, during the owners’ lockout, when Braves owner Liberty Media’s 2021 financials were released as mandatory for a publicly-traded corporation, you saw just the Braves’ considerable 2021 revenues and very considerable 2021 profit. And you realised any talk of the Braves being “unable” to afford to make Freeman a Brave for life was a shameless lie.

This Braves ownership couldn’t bring itself to do what a previous Braves ownership did whenever Hall of Fame third baseman/former franchise face Chipper Jones came to within striking distance of free agency, get him extended or signed to a coming new deal before he could hit the market, knowing Jones’s baseball heart remained with them.

This Braves ownership preferred to spend less on an import first baseman, four years younger than Freeman, dealing for him a day before extending him eight years and $168 million worth. Matt Olson won’t earn per season what Freeman will, and he may well shake out as essentially the Braves having swapped a Freeman for a Freeman Redux. May.

But the Braves’ corporate overlords sent the message clear enough and shameful enough: The only ones in baseball expected to be loyal are the players. Just the way they always were. This isn’t purely a free agency era thing, and anyone who says otherwise either needs a refresher in baseball history or is too willfully blind to allow it.

Have a good gander at the roll of Hall of Famers whose careers were entirely or mostly in the reserve era, the era before Andy Messersmith finally finished in 1975 what Curt Flood began in 1970. Those would be players elected before 1980. There are 127 of them. Now: 89 played for two teams at minimum; fourteen played for five teams at minimum. That would leave you with (count them) 24 single-team Hall of Famers from the reserve era.

Let’s look at the Hall of Famers elected after 1980, men whose careers careened into the free agency era or who played all or most of their careers during the era. There are sixteen such single-team Hall of Famers—including Jones. The free agency era has yet to surpass the reserve era for length, so it’s fair to say that both eras sent an equivalent portion of single-team players to Cooperstown.

What Joe and Jane Fan and no few writers (who really ought to know better) still forget is that, during the reserve era, players had absolutely no say in where they played, and owners could and did trade or sell them at will, and not always for reasons that made purely baseball sense.

Fans and writers alike have broadened their view in recent times, appropriately. You could see more than the fans and writers fuming over the owners’ lockout before it was finally resolved and baseball could get back to the serious work of play.

You could see them fume over the prospect that the Braves would do exactly as they did, declaring expendable the guy who stayed the course from the lows to the competitive highs, all the way to their first World Series triumph since the Clinton Administration. If the Braves wouldn’t give Freeman the sixth year he wanted, the Dodgers were only too willing.

That’s going to be some packed Dodger lineup coming your way. With a small pack of All-Stars including five-timer Freeman. With a small pack of MVP winners, including Freeman, apparently resurgent Cody Bellinger, and Mookie Betts. With Trea (The Slider) Turner acquired at last year’s trade deadline now able to play his natural position at shortstop following Corey Seager’s free agency departure to Texas. With aging but still effective future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw re-upping for 2022 at least.

If Olson gives the Braves both solid performance on the field and at the plate, and proves to be a solid clubhouse presence, that might take some of the sting of losing Freeman away. Some. Olson knows he might “succeed” Freeman without truly “replacing” him. Returning Ronald Acuna, Jr. knows he, too, might “succeed” Freeman as the Braves’ face without truly replacing him.

But if the Dodgers tangle with the Braves in the postseason to come, the Braves may learn the hard way what their ownership’s concept of “loyalty” can cost in more ways than one. May.