Paid in full to Club 700

Albert Pujols

Could you blame Albert Pujols for spreading his wings with the biggest grin on the planet after number 700 flew out?

It took Albert Pujols 98 home runs before he finally caught hold of one in Dodger Stadium the first time, off a sophomore Dodger import from Japan named Kaz Ishii. Ishii spent four years in the Show before returning to pitch again in the Japanese leagues until age 39. He retired as he began, the walk (almost six per nine innings) being his wounding flaw.

Pujols at age 39 had 656 major league home runs on his resume and would meet and pass Hall of Famer Willie Mays on the all-time bomb list, before his injury-laden decline as an Angel finally finished with a brief but memorable tenure in a Dodger uniform last year. He couldn’t possibly imagine then that his final major league wish, a 700th home run, might come in the Dodgers’ venerable venue.

But the designated hitter, the only slot available to enable Pujols to play major league baseball one more season, finally became universal this year. And the Cardinals, the team with whom Pujols arose, starred, and became a baseball immortal in the first place, were more than willing to bring La Máquina home to try. Not just because they respected what he did, but because they genuinely believed in whatever he had left in the tank.

He wasn’t going to win a National League home run title. There wasn’t that much left of his power stroke. But whatever he had to give, the NL Central leaders would accept gladly. It turned out he had just enough to give until Friday night. Not just some key hits and key big blows, but history. And key stretch drive wins.

Pujols had only six home runs before the All-Star break but thirteen from then until he checked in at the plate the first time Friday night. All of a sudden, it didn’t seem just a dream that he could get to within two freeway exits worth of sight of 700.

The Cardinals couldn’t have scripted this one better if they had Paddy Chayevsky, Budd Schulberg, and Ring Lardner, Jr. collaborating on it.

In the top of a scoreless third, with Tommy Edman aboard on a one-out walk, Pujols fell behind to his lefthanded former Angel teammate Andrew Heaney 1-2 before catching hold of a fastball practically down the pipe and drove it almost to the rear end of the left center field bleachers. Appreciating his effort in his brief time in their team’s silks, the Dodger Stadium crowd exploded.

When the Cardinals put first and second aboard after two quick outs in the top of the next inning, with Pujols about to check in at the plate, Dodger manager Dave Roberts decided not to let Pujols get a second shot at making Heaney’s night any more miserable. Roberts brought righthander Phil Bickford in. With La Máquina sitting one blast from history, the manager wasn’t going to let him have a lefthanded treat.

He was going to make Pujols earn it the hard way. Except that Bickford has a 4.26 fielding-independent pitching rate this year, and Pujols lifetime has been almost as solid against righthanders (.295/.372/.532) as he’s been against lefthanders (.301/.381/.574). On the other hand, Pujols against righthanders this year has looked like the old man he is in baseball terms.

Roberts had to know Pujols’s .209/.297/.384 against the starboard siders made it the safest bet on the planet to bring in a Bickford. When Bickford had Pujols even at 1-1, Roberts could be forgiven if he signed in contentment knowing history wasn’t going to be made on his dollar. Then Bickford threw a third straight slider just a shade down and a shade in.

Pujols may be a living ghost of his old self no matter how much history he chased this year, but he still knows what he’s doing at the plate. The mind and the eye remain intact even if the body might still be hurling obscenities toward him. He swung at Bickford’s gift right as it knocked on his door.

This one only cleared about four rows of the same left center field bleachers. But it didn’t matter how far it traveled, just that it traveled to the right place in the first place. He joined the 700 Club at last. And there wasn’t a teammate, opponent, or fan in the house who’d have denied him his right to spread his wings and grin all the way around the bases.

As he’d done so often during the peak of his Hall of Fame-in-waiting career, Pujols singlehandedly handed the Cardinals a lead, 5-0 if you’re scoring at home, and it turned into an 11-0 demolition of the ogres of the NL West.

The fun continued in the top of the fifth when—abetted by Juan Yepez with one out reaching second on a Max Muncy throwing error across the infield—Dylan Carlson smacked an RBI double, and Lars (Sometimes You Feel Like a) Nootbaar followed Carlson with a two-run homer a third of the way up the right field bleachers.

Yepez thanked the Dodgers for that fifth-inning present with a one-out blast of his own over the left field fence in the seventh, after which Carlson doubled again but Nootbaar had to settle for sending Carlson home with a mere single. Then, come the top of the eighth, Alec Burleson pinch-hitting for Pujols thanked La Máquina for the memories with a leadoff blast off Dodger reliever Hanser Alberto to finish the Cardinals’ demolition.

But this was still Pujols’s night. Lots of former teammates and opponents and watchers have been remembering some of his biggest blasts of the past.

Mike Trout, his longtime Angel teammate and a future Hall of Famer himself, can’t forget how Pujols joined the 600 Club. “The grand slam, when he hit 600,” says Trout.

Just the situation. I mean it was a big spot in the game, and everyone was thinking the same thing. “This is for 600. This is gonna be sick right here.” And then he hit it. He loves the moment. And that’s the thing—people kept asking me, “Hey, do you think he’s going to get it [700]?” For sure. The way Albert prepares himself—he doesn’t change his approach, doesn’t try to hit a homer. He’s just trying to put a good swing on the ball. That’s big.

Manny Machado was a year away from first wearing an Oriole uniform when he saw his signature Pujols attack: Game Three, 2011 World Series, when Pujols wrecked the Rangers with three homers—all starting in the sixth inning. “That,” the Padres’ gazillion-dollar third baseman says, “was just incredible.”

I mean, he was not missing. You could throw him whatever and he was going to hit it. You could even throw the rosin bag and he was probably going to hit it out. Just that sweet swing. Even all his homers, going back—his first home run. I just admire that swing, how smooth it is, how long it stays in the path. It’s impressive.

Just don’t ask former Astros reliever Brad Lidge. When the Astros were still in the National League and playing the Cardinals for a trip to the 2005 World Series, Lidge got the worst possible taste of Pujols. It only proved to delay the Astros’ sweep out of the Series by that year’s White Sox, but Lidge still can’t forget.

“I made a mistake,” Lidge says now of the hanging ninth-inning slider Pujols demolished so thoroughly that only the roof braces of Minute Maid Park kept the ball from landing in the streets behind the building. “And it wasn’t super-surprising that he didn’t make a mistake.”

With a little help from his Astros pitching staffmate Roy Oswalt, Lidge by then knew that Pujols had evolved into a Ph.D. student of the game and its pitchers. “All of a sudden,” he says, “t started to feel like he knew what you were going to throw before you did. You felt like you had to be perfect . . . He had so much plate coverage, whether you’re throwing a 97 mph fastball or a slider down and away, you had to be perfect.”

“My game plan for him,” says Hall of Fame pitcher Greg Maddux, who once threw Professor Pujols a repeat changeup and saw it fly onto Chicago’s Waveland Avenue, “was to give up a single or less.”

But that was then. This is now. The greats normally approach such milestones in decline as it is. Pujols’s injury-smashed decline was a shock long before he rejoined the Cardinals. His Angel tenure started well enough. Then the body regions below his hips began attacking him like fresh meat under attack from the wolves past which he once hit lamb chops almost at will.

None of that matters now. Baseball players don’t always get to make their dreams, never mind their final wishes, come true. The only thing better than the 700 Club for Pujols now would be the Cardinals going all the way to the World Series and coming out with what would be his third lifetime Series ring. Just ask La Máquina himself.

“[D]on’t get me wrong,” he begins. “I know what my place is in this game.”

But since Day One, when I made my debut, it was never about numbers, it was never about chasing numbers. It was always about winning championships and trying to get better in this game. And I had so many people that taught me the right way early in my career, and that’s how I’ve carried myself for 22 years that I’ve been in the big leagues. That’s why I really don’t focus on the numbers. I will one day, but not right now.

“He talks the talk and walks the walk with saying those things,” says his Cardinals teammate Nolan Arenado. “And I really believe him.”

On Friday night, making history with a two-bomb evening, Pujols made believers all over again as he joined the club heretofore populated only by Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron, and Babe Ruth. Even for one night, nobody could take that resurrected belief away.

Vin Scully, RIP: We did need him more

Vin Scully

Vin Scully waving to the crowd as his wife, Sandra, stood by him in the Dodgers broadcast booth at the end of his final season on the job.

Football is to baseball as blackjack is to bridge. One is the quick jolt. The other the deliberate, slow-paced game of skill, but never was a sport more ideally suited to television than baseball. It’s all there in front of you. It’s theatre, really. The star is the spotlight on the mound, the supporting cast fanned out around him, the mathematical precision of the game moving with the kind of inevitability of Greek tragedy. With the Greek chorus in the bleachers.

Vin Scully, 1976.

When Bryce Harper grew up in Las Vegas, where he could watch the Dodgers on television and listen to Vin Scully, he noticed readily what most of the world knew for decades. It wasn’t just about the game to Scully. “It was about the beauty of the game, the beauty of the fans, how much he could bring the fans together and the Dodgers together, things like that,” Harper told the New York Times once. “When you think of the Dodgers, you don’t just think about all the greats that played for the Dodgers, you think of Vin Scully, as well.”

There was a time when that was said about the man who brought Scully to the Dodgers in the first place, Red Barber. How long ago was that? Put it this way: On April 1, 1950 (this is no joke, folks), future Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was born in New Jersey; surgeon Charles Drew, who invented the concept of the blood bank, died; the number one song in the country (Billboard) was Teresa Brewer’s “Music, Music, Music.” (That was from my ootsy-poo period she said years later, when she transformed into a respected jazz singer.) Milton Berle was numero uno on television, Jack Benny was radio’s king (nobody out-rated him in 1950 except for the rotating ensembles anthologised by Lux Radio Theater), and the Dodgers prepared to break spring camp and get a season going.

The faithful in Brooklyn were as likely to talk about and think about Barber as they were about Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Don Newcombe, Carl Erskine, or Roy Campanella. Little did Barber know that his protege would eclipse even him in recognizability, prestige, and affection after the Dodgers went west.

In Barber’s day and for well enough after, the thought of a farewell tour wasn’t even a topic. Joe DiMaggio didn’t take one with the Yankees; he simply retired, feeling he and especially his bothersome back no longer had it, after the 1951 season. Robinson — despite a hilarious bid to trade him to the New York Giants — simply made his quiet promise of retirement permanent in 1956, standing by an article in Look explaining why.

Ted Williams asked nothing more than a chance to go out like a champion — and punctuated his Comeback Player of the Year season with a poetic home run at the end of 1960. Stan Musial didn’t exactly take the tour, though he was saluted in a few cities in 1963. In 1966, Sandy Koufax—who once told Scully it was almost as much fun listening to him calling a game as it was to pitch a game—confided in one reporter that it would be his final season, then went out, pitched above and beyond even his own extraterrestrial level, and retired formally after the season.

And, in 1973, Willie Mays—by then a further aging Met—simply made you weep for your own mortality when he told a packed Shea Stadium on Willie Mays night, “I look at these kids over there, the way they are playing, and the way they are fighting for themselves, and it tells me one thing: Willie, say goodbye to America. Thank you very much.”

These days, some farewell tours by baseball’s greats have been sublime. Some have been ridiculous. But when was the last time you heard of a team’s announcer getting the farewell tour? For that matter, name any baseball broadcaster who stayed in the booths for a single team from April Fool’s Day to the day 67 years later that British violinist/conductor Neville Marriner died.

Not that Scully was feted in person in some cities in 2016. As the Times observed wryly, the farewell tour came to him all season. Players and staffers from teams visiting Dodger Stadium made the pilgrimage to the stadium press box, long since named for him, to visit and salute Scully. And he cherished every such visit. Even the umpires. “They look up to the booth and they see me,” said Scully’s Dodger radio broadcast partner, Charley Steiner. “They kind of doff their caps, but they hold their palms upward as if to say, ‘Where is he?’ I’ll say, That’s the best I can do!”

Near the end of August 2016 the Dodgers gave their longtime voice an amusing tribute. When players, coaches, manager, and front office staffers joined up for a team photograph, they hoisted Scully face masks in front of their own mugs. The lone holdout? Scully himself, seated front and center, grinning appreciatively, appropriately, and perhaps just a little mischieviously, before shrugging in mock fatalism.

When ESPN conducted its 2007 polling to determine the face of each major league franchise, with each team’s fans voting, Dodger fans voted Scully in a walk. That sweet man of sonorous voice, impeccable diction, insurmountable knowledge, impeccable wit, and inviolably calm strength, was the only non-player/non-coach/non-manager/non-executive so voted.

It’s rare for a man or a woman to excel at something for the normal career span. Scully excelled at it for almost seven decades. Even his old employer Barber, who was legendary for his understatement and his anecdotal style, seems now to have been an amateur by comparison. Barber gave you a profile of a player while he batted. Scully told stories. Barber was the pleasant horticulturist next door who didn’t mind if you eavesdropped. Scully opened the door, invited you in to pull up a chair (he said it often enough opening his broadcasts, anyway), and poured you a cold, tall one, right before the first pitch.

He meant it when he spoke as though talking to friends, just as his listeners meant it when they told anyone who’d listen that they felt him a friend. Numerous stories about him noted that when people met him for the first time and address him as “Mr. Scully,” he’s quick to offer a handshake and say, “Forget the Mister. I’m Vin.” A few years ago, doing a game that coincided with the anniversary of D-Day, he started a mid-game talk about it thus: “I don’t want this to be an intrusion, but I think we’ve been friends long enough, you’ll understand.”

Vin’s genuine warmth cooled down the most boiling baseball hotheads while inviting viewers to smile with him as he ordered a camera pan to capture a very young child in the park and spoke about that child with a truly fatherly affection. “Hello, sunshine,” he said at one such pan of a baby in her father’s arms. “Sleeping the sleep of the good child.” A man who survived the accidental death of his first wife and (in a helicopter crash) his oldest son, but remarried happily (and remained so) and extended his own family, appreciated and celebrated the ties that bind families, to baseball and otherwise.

Vin Scully, Sandy Koufax

Scully with Hall of Famer Koufax on Vin Scully Night.

On the rare occasion did he editorialise, understated, while observing and discussing less commendable acts on the field. As often as not he was unafraid to keep the microphone unoccupied and let the moment deliver its own message, preceding the silence with something such as, “You really ought to see it and hear it for yourself, so I’m just going to keep my mouth shut.”

But you still require a facility the size of a university video archive to line up the absolute best of Scully because nearly everything he delivered qualifies for the distinction. Which doesn’t mean there weren’t a single wall full of Scully moments that transcended even that actuality. Moments such as 1 May 1959, before an exhibition game between the Dodgers and the Yankees in the Los Angeles Coliseum, as Los Angeles did honour to the Hall of Fame catcher whom an off-season automobile accident left quadriplegic before he could play even one game on the west coast:

Friends, right now the Yankees have been asked to leave the field, and the Dodgers are not out on the field. For right now, the Coliseum, all of the lights will be turned out, as Pee Wee Reese wheels the chair that holds Roy Campanella across the first base foul line, and heads him toward the pitcher’s mound. The lights are going out, this final tribute to Roy Campanella, the lights will be lowered, and everyone at the ballpark, 93,000 people, are asked in silent tribute to light a match to Roy Campanella.

And we would like to think that, as 93,000 people light the match, it would be 93,000 prayers for a great man. The lights now are starting to come out, like thousands and thousands of fireflies, starting deep in center field, slithering around to left, and slowly the entire ballpark lighting up with individual lights. And Roy Campanella, as the years go back, standing off to the right is Pee Wee Reese. A sea of lights at the Coliseum. Perhaps the most beautiful and dramatic moment in the history of sports.

Let there be a prayer for every light. And wherever you are, maybe you in silent tribute to Campanella can also say a prayer for his well being. Roy Campanella, who thousands of times made a trip to the mound, to help somebody out, a tired pitcher, a disgusted young pitcher, a boy who’s perhaps had his heart broken in a game of baseball. And tonight, on his last trip to the mound, the city of Los Angeles says hello to him. Listen . . .

Moments such as the ninth inning of the game in which another Hall of Famer, Sandy Koufax, proved that when it came to an annual no-hit, no-run game, practise makes perfect:

There are 29,000 people in the ballpark and a million butterflies . . . He is one out away from the promised land, and Harvey Kuenn is coming up. So Harvey Kuenn is batting for Bob Hendley. The time on the scoreboard is 9:44. The date September the ninth, 1965. And Koufax working on veteran Harvey Kuenn.

Sandy into his windup, and the pitch—fastball for a strike. He has struck out, by the way, five consecutive batters, and this has gone unnoticed. Sandy ready, and the strike one pitch—very high, and he lost his hat. He really forced that one. That was only the second time tonight where I have had the feeling that Sandy threw instead of pitched, trying to get that little extra, and that time he tried so hard his hat fell off . . . One and one to Harvey Kuenn. Now he’s ready—ball two.

You can’t blame the man for pushing just a little bit now. Sandy backs off, mops his forehead, runs his left index finger along his forehead, dries it off on his left pants leg. All the while, Kuenn just waiting. Now Sandy looks in, into his windup, and the 2-1 pitch to Kuenn: swung on and missed, strike two. It is 9:46 p.m. Two-and-two to Harvey Kuenn—one strike away.

Sandy into his windup. Here’s the pitch—swung on and missed! A perfect game! [Long pause for the crowd noise.] . . .

And Sandy Koufax, whose name will always remind you of strikeouts, did it with a flourish. He struck out the last six consecutive batters. So, when he wrote his name in capital letters in the record book, the K stands out even more than the O-U-F-A-X.

Moments such as the bottom of the fourth, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, 8 April 1974:

He means the tying run at the plate now, so we’ll see what Downing does . . . Al at the belt now, and he delivers, low, ball one. And that just adds to the pressure, the crowd booing. Downing has to ignore the sound effects and stay a professional and pitch his game . . . One ball, no strikes, Aaron waiting, the outfield deep and straight away. Fastball — and a high drive into deep left center field, Buckner goes back, to the fence, it is gone!!! . . . [long pause during crowd noise and fireworks] . . .

What a marvelous moment for baseball, what a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia, what a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A black man is getting a standing ovation in the deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol. And it is a great moment for all of us, and particularly for Henry Aaron, who was met at home plate not only by every member of the Braves, but by his father and mother . . . It is over, at 10 minutes after nine in Atlanta, Georgia, Henry Aaron has eclipsed the mark set by Babe Ruth.

There were Games Six and Seven of the 1986 World Series, when Scully worked concurrently for NBC. There was Fernando Valenzuela’s no-hitter (If you have a sombrero, throw it to the sky!), Kirk Gibson’s pinch homer winning Game One of the 1988 Series. (In a season full of improbables, the impossible has happened!) And, his hilarious 2012 interpretation of Dodger-turned-Rockies manager Jim Tracy’s expletive fuming after a shallow sinking line out—or was it?—married on the spot to an argument for instant replay, which finally arrived long overdue two years later.

Uh-oh. Uhhh-oh. The [umpires] meeting looks like they’re going to call it a trap, and Jim Tracy . . . [crowd noise] . . . He caught the ball, Jim says. He caught the ball. He caught the blinkin’ ball. He caught the darn ball . . . [crowd noise, as Tracy pulls his hat off and slams it to the ground two-handed] . . . oh, oh, you’re gone. Heeee’s gone . . . [crowd noise] . . . That is blinkin’ fertlizer! I’m doing the best to translate . . . you’ve gotta be blinkin’ me! . . . The ball, he caught the ball! . . . It’s unbelievable! Blinkin’ unbelievable! . . . No way! No blinkin’ way! No bloody way!

Jim’s gone, so he’s spending house money now . . . [crowd noise] . . . [brief, slow-motion replay of the outfielder’s original attempted off-the-grass catch] . . . take another look, looks like it’s in the glove . . . what’s a shame, really, we have this [replay] equipment, and no one takes avail of it. I mean, they say it would slow up the game, what did that do? They could have had someone upstairs, or an umpire go and look at the tapes. Instead, big argument, the manager’s kicked out of the game, the umpires have to reverse.

I’m not second guessing the reversal, they’re doing the best they think, but I’m just saying here we are, with all that equipment to show it. Want to show it again, Brad? Dustin? Take another look. How do you call it? [The play is shown again, semi-slow motion.] There’s the glove, there’s the ball, it’s in the glove, isn’t it? Didn’t it hit the webbing?

And there was future World Series-winning Red Sox manager Alex Cora, at the plate for the Dodgers against the Cubs’ Matt Clement, 12 May 2004, with future World Series-winning Dodger manager Dave Roberts then a teammate, and Dusty Baker managing the Cubs:

. . . The crowd now is really into the pitches . . . and still two and two. Nobody out. Big foul . . . wow! . . . It’s a sixteen-pitch at-bat, and the crowd loves it, and look at Dave Roberts. They’re all enjoying this battle. Matt Clement and Alex Cora. Coming into the game, Cora was hitting .400 against Clement, he is oh for two tonight. So the game within the game here.

So here’s the sixteenth pitch. What an at-bat! . . . [foul ball] . . .  Seventeen pitches . . . it is the rare time that you can be in the ballpark and everyone is counting the pitches, and it’s gonna be a seventeen-pitch at-bat, now, at least. We, I don’t know, you know, they don’t keep records of pitches in at-bats, but it’s kind of special. This will be the seventeenth pitch. Grabowski’s exhausted, and Mike Ireland reminds me how about if Grabowski had been running on every pitch? Time . . . ohhh, the crowd is loving it . . . Ever see so much excitement? And nothing’s happened, that’s what’s really funny about it.

All right, here’s the seventeenth pitch—and, it’s foul. Foul ball by a hair! So that means that it will be at least an eighteen-pitch at-bat . . . Clement has made more pitches to Alex Cora right now than he has made in any inning but the third . . . the eighteenth pitch—high fly ball into right field, back goes Sosa, way back to the gate, it’s gone!! Home run, Alex Cora, on the eighteenth pitch, and the Dodgers lead, four to nothing.

What a moment! 9:23 on the scoreboard if you want to write it down for history . . . what an at-bat! And Dusty Baker says, “We’re gonna stop the fight.” And Dusty’s going to bring in a fresh horse. That’s one of the finest at-bats I’ve ever seen. And, then, to top it off with a home run, that is really shocking. Yeah, take a bow, Alex, you deserve it and then some. Oh, by the way, that also means the Dodgers have homered in six straight, but it took a whale of a job to do it. Stay where you are, four-nothing Dodgers, and look at the ball club.

Somehow the writers and director of the 1999 film For Love of the Game captured the Scully style when casting him as himself, with Kevin Costner cast as a veteran Tigers pitcher in Yankee Stadium threatening a season-ending perfect game while his backstory was told adjacent to the game: the career, the star-crossed romance seeming to end before he arrived at the ballpark, the autograph on a ball telling the Tigers owner he would retire after all.

When Costner’s Billy Chapel consummated the perfecto, with his estranged love watching in an airport bar, Scully crooned, “The cathedral that is Yankee Stadium belongs to a Chapel.” On script, unless—considering his Koufax, Aaron, Valenzuela, Gibson, and Cora calls among thousands—the director crossed out any written comment and substituted, “Let Vin Scully be Vin Scully.”

“I mean, how do you come up with that? It’s completely off the top,” said Gary Thorne, a longtime baseball broadcaster who’s been the lead for the Orioles since 2007 .” It’s completely because you have the talent and ability to do it.”

Vin Scully, Barack Obama

Scully receiving the Medal of Freedom from then-President Barack Obama.

Scully also had a flair for overcoming his extremely rare mistakes with self deprecating wit and grace. In June of his final season’s work, Scully inadveretently described a Dodgers-Nationals pitching matchup as Clayton Kershaw versus Stephen Spielberg. Nat-for-life Stephen Strasburg’s reaction is unavailable, assuming someone made him aware of it, but a couple of days later Scully owned the mistake: “The other night, I think I said Stephen Spielberg. But I regret to say he is unable to pitch.”

Vin’s ability to put those who met him at immediate ease was equaled perhaps by his parallel ability to put the pompous in their immediate place, my absolute favourite such incident being described by Keith Olbermann, a man about whom much has been written and said that’s not exclusively flattering (including “pompous” as one of his least self-immolating attributes) among those who’ve concurred with his positions, writing in GQ in 2016:

Legendary is the story of the blustery political commentator who years ago had ‘his people’ advise the Dodgers he wanted to meet Scully because Scully was “number one” in his field. “Everywhere I go, Mr. Scully, I try to meet whoever is Number One because I’m Number One in what I do and it’s important to recognize and salute those of my own stature, and you’re Number One here!” The man bellowed on like this for several moments as the crew in the Dodger booth squirmed. When he finally paused, too impressed with himself to sense Scully’s anger, Scully quietly, politely, and efficiently cut the blowhard into little pieces. “Well then, you’ll want to meet Arthur here, who is our Number One stage manager.” The commentator found himself unwillingly shaking hands. “And of course, you’ll want to meet Debbie, she’s our Number One makeup artist.” Another unhappy handshake. “And Don, our Number One cameraman—who, coincidentally is on Camera Number One.” Again with the handshake. “And in the row behind you, that’s Antonio, our Number One intern . . .” Witnesses disagree as to how many Numbers One Scully introduced before the man angrily muttered “I gotta go”—but all agreed he was several feet shorter when he went.

In his final decade’s work, Scully often wavered about returning for the following season and without wavering his fans all but begged him to say it wasn’t so. “The people have responded so well—so touchingly—that it will be very difficult for me to just suddenly walk away,” he said in 2014. “It’s the human relationships I will miss when the time comes. Like everyone in life, I’ve had my tragic moments, and the crowd has always got me through those moments. That’s why I’ve said ‘I needed you far more than you needed me.’ I rarely use the word ‘fans.’ I realize the origin is ‘fanatics,’ but I always use the word ‘friends’.”

“If my math is correct, I’ve known Vin Scully now for sixty years,” said Sandy Koufax to a Dodger Stadium throng on Vin Scully Night in 2016.

More than sixty years. Growing up in Brooklyn, the Dodgers had a redheaded announcer by the name of Red Barber. And he was good. Then, a few years later, another redhead showed up. And I thought he was very good. I’m not sure I realised how good he was until 1958, when the Dodgers from Brooklyn became the L.A. Dodgers, and moved into the Coliseum. It was a very strange phenomenon, to be on the field and hear the broadcast coming out of the stands. The people of Los Angeles, even though they were at the game, didn’t enjoy it without listening to Vin tell them about it. He entertained and he educated.

I knew before that night how right Koufax was. I saw it for myself the first time I took my then-young son to Dodger Stadium. By then, Scully would do all nine innings solo on television and be heard on radio in a simulcast for the first three innings. I’d been to several major league ballparks and a few minor league parks in my life to that point, but I’d never seen so many people in those parks holding small portable television sets in their laps, the pictures turned off and the sound turned up. And it struck me that, whatever they saw on the field, they still wouldn’t believe it actually happened until they heard it from Scully.

But they also heard a man who respected the whole game and didn’t allow himself to become just a home team shill. “For all the years that I heard him,” Koufax continued, “he used the Dodgers as a word. Never the word ‘we’.” Scully’s respect for the game and those who played and managed it extended to the World Series in a way you can’t imagine many other broadcasters bearing.

“Before the World Series, Vin would go to church and pray,” Koufax said. “Not for a win, but there would be only heroes in the World Series, no goats. He didn’t want anybody in the future to be tarnished with the fact that they lost the World Series for their team.” Maybe the Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award, honouring the game’s greatest broadcasters (Scully himself was so honoured in 1982), should be renamed the Vin Scully Award.

No volume of clips preserved and stocked aboard YouTube or archive.org atones for knowing that we were without Vin since 2017. But we knew he was still among us, savouring his life, his family, the fans he made friends, and even doing what he could to reassure us when the coronavirus pan-damn-ic struck in earnest in early 2020.

I never had the honour of meeting the man and spending even two minutes in his company, and it feels as though I’ve shirked my duty to remember that once, as a boy myself, I queued up with fellow day campers on a trip to Shea Stadium to get the autograph of . . . Mets broadcaster Lindsey Nelson, affable in his own right and yet to make the habit of wearing his once-well-remarked multicoloured blazers. Now, I wonder: Knowing Scully’s from-boyhood love of baseball and dream to become one of the men who called the games on the air, did he ever queue up for autographs from such radio voices of his formerly beloved Giants as Arch McDonald, Garnet Marks, Mel Allen, Connie Desmond, Don Dunphy, Jack Brickhouse, or Russ Hodges?

The last words Scully ever delivered through the mike and the set as a broadcaster, including the affectionate Irish prayer he offered, passed by soon enough and too damn soon.

Many years ago, a little redheaded boy was walking home from school, passing a Chinese laundry, and stopped to see the score of a World Series game posted in the window. The Yankees beat the Giants, 18 to 4, on October the second, 1936. Well, the boy’s reaction was pity for the Giants, and he became a rabid Giants fan from that day forward, until the joyous moment when he was hired to broadcast Brooklyn Dodger games in 1950. Ironically, October the second, 2016, will mark my final broadcast of a Giants-Dodger game. And, it will be exactly eighty years to the day since that little boy fell in love with baseball.

God has been very generous to that little boy, allowing him to fulfill a dream of becoming a broadcaster, and to live it for sixty-seven years.

Since 1958, you and I have really grown up together, through the good times and the bad. The transistor radio is what bound us together. By the way, were you at the Coliseum when we sang “Happy Birthday” to an umpire? Were you among the crowd that groaned at one of my puns? Or, did you kindly laugh at one of my little jokes? Did I put you to sleep with a transistor radio tucked under your pillow? You know, you were simply always there for me. I’ve always felt that I needed you more than you needed me, and that holds true to this very day. I’ve been privileged to share in your passion and love for this great game.

My family means everything to me, and I’ll now be able to share life’s experiences with them. My wife, Sandy; our children, Kevin, Todd, Erin, Kelly, and Katherine; along with our entire family, will join me in sharing God’s blessings of that precious gift of time. You folks have truly been the wind beneath my wings, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for joining me on this incredible journey of sixty-seven years of broadcasting Dodger baseball.

You know friends, so many people have wished me congratulations on a sixty-seven-year career in baseball, and they’ve wished me a wonderful retirement with my family. And now, all I can do is tell you what I wish for you:

May God give you for every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

You and I have been friends for a long time, but I know in my heart that I’ve always needed you more than you’ve ever needed me, and I’ll miss our time together more I can say. But you know what—there will be a new day, and eventually a new year. And when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, rest assured, once again it will be time for Dodger baseball. So this is Vin Scully, wishing you a very pleasant good afternoon, wherever you may be.

Forget the Dodgers; forget Los Angeles; forget baseball, for a moment. Knowing Vin Scully wasn’t at the mike, calling a game, telling the stories within the stories around the stories behind the stories, just like knowing Yogi Berra no longer lives among us on this island earth, America sometimes wasn’t America anymore.

Now he’s gone to the Elysian Fields. Reunited serene and happy with his beloved Sandra, his beloved son Michael, with numerous players who had the honour of their highest triumphs immortalised and their lowest shortfalls given empathy and respect, not opprobrium. From God’s Little Acre in Brooklyn to God’s big ballpark. As was said by one world leader to a fallen other, Shalom, chaver—peace, friend.

The All-Star Game was Clayton’s place

Clayton Kershaw, Blake Grice

National League All-Star starter Clayton Kershaw with fan Blake Grice, who touched Kershaw by telling the future Hall of Famer he was meeting him for Grandpa’s sake.

By right, this year’s All-Star Game start for the National League should have belonged to the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara (he leads the Show’s pitchers with 5.3 wins above replacement level and his 1.76 ERA). And if the game were played someplace other than Dodger Stadium, it might have been Alcantara’s to start.

Braves manager Brian Snitker, managing the NL All-Stars as the previous season’s World Series skipper does, had his own idea. Especially since this was the first All-Star Game in Dodger Stadium since Jimmy Carter was still in the White House, and a Dodger icon was having an All-Star worthy season himself.

So Snitker elected to hand the opening ball to Clayton Kershaw. A Hall of Fame lock, approaching the sunset of an off-the-charts career, starting the All-Star Game in his home ballpark. You could imagine Snitker thinking to himself that you couldn’t pay to pre-arrange more serendipitous circumstances. Even with his own All-Star Max Fried among his pitching options.

It was a class gesture by the defending World Series-winning manager. Only one thing could have seen and raised, and that one thing was Kershaw himself. By most reports, one of the first things the 33-year-old lefthander did when Snitker called him to say the opening ball was his was to call Alcantara himself.

“He was awesome about it. I was really thankful about that,” Kershaw said, after the American League hung in for a 3-2 win through no fault of Kershaw’s own.

He let himself take the entire atmopshere in, even foregoing his usual pre-start intensity that compels teammates, coaches, and even his manager Dave Roberts to say nothing much more than “hello” to him. (He even let Roberts share lunch with him on Tuesday.) About the only thing Kershaw did remotely work-related was study some American League scouting reports.

One he didn’t have to study was Shohei Ohtani (Angels), whom Kershaw retired thrice when pitching last Friday. Wary of opening the All-Star Game with one of his signature breaking balls, Kershaw pumped a fastball that doesn’t have its former speed and Ohtani—interviewed before the game, promising to swing on the first pitch—smacked a broken-bat floater up the pipe into short left center for a leadoff single.

Then, having Aaron Judge (Yankees) 1-2, Kershaw suddenly couldn’t think of what to throw next. Some described him as buying time when he lobbed a throw to first. He bought more than he bargained for. He’d caught Ohtani having a snooze. Ohtani had drifted away from the pad and Kershaw’s lob turned into the first All-Star pickoff in fourteen years.

The two-way Angel could only laugh. Kershaw could only grin after first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals) tagged Ohtani out. Dodger Stadium went nuclear. Kershaw finished striking Judge out, walked Rafael Devers (Red Sox), and lured Vladimir Gurrero, Jr. (Blue Jays) into an inning-ending ground out. The man who wanted to take it all in from start to finish then ducked out of sight and to a press podium under the ballpark.

Shohei Ohtani, Clayton Kershaw

All they could do was grin and laugh after Kershaw (right) picked Othani off first while working to Yankee bombardier Aaron Judge.

While the National League took an early 2-0 lead with Mookie Betts (Dodgers) singling home Ronald Acuña, Jr. (Braves; leadoff double off AL starter Shane McLanahan [Rays]) and—after a double play grounder by Manny Machado (Padres)—Goldschmidt hammering one into the left center field bleachers, Kershaw finished his press conference with a ten year old boy raising a hand.

“What’s up, dude?” Kershaw asked pleasantly.

The boy introduced himself as Blake Grice and told Kershaw how much his late grandfather loved both him and the Dodgers’ long-enough-retired broadcast deity Vin Scully and had wanted to meet them both. (His family had passes courtesy of MLB itself.) “So this moment is important to me,” the boy continued, “because I’m meeting you for him.”

The father of four children himself, Kershaw couldn’t resist when he heard that and saw the boy’s tears of likely gratitude for getting to do something for his grandpa in the presence of a Dodger icon who’s been the closest the Dodgers have had to longtime eminence Sandy Koufax.

“Come here, dude,” Kershaw beckoned. He hugged the boy, gave him a clap on the back, and said, “Great to meet you. Thanks for telling me. That took a lot of courage to tell me that. Your grandad sounded like an awesome guy.” When Kershaw asked Blake if he had a parent with him, the boy’s father held up his cell phone. Kershaw beckoned him forward and he snapped a photo of the pitcher and the boy speaking for Grandpa.

It was more than enough to atone for the prayers thousands of fans in the ballpark and perhaps the millions watching on television must have had that, despite going down to its ninth straight All-Star loss and 21st such loss in 25 such games, the National League didn’t tie the game in the bottom of the ninth.

That’s because the latest to emerge from baseball’s apparent laboratory of mad science would have had the game decided in favour of the Home Run Derby winner’s league if nine full innings ended in a dead heat. (On Tuesday it would have been the National League, thanks to Juan Soto [Nationals] winning the Derby.) Thank God and His servants Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson that that didn’t come to pass.

The AL overthrew the NL lead with one out in the fourth when Giancarlo Stanton (Yankees) batted with Jose Ramírez [Guardians] aboard (leadoff single) and took Tony Gonsolin (Dodgers) far into the left center field bleachers. Byron Buxton (Twins) following at once found himself ahead in the count 2-1 when he caught hold of a Gonsolin fastball up and drilled it into the left field bleachers. Just like that, Gonsolin had surrendered 882 feet worth of home run travel.

Buxton admired game MVP Stanton’s blast from the on-deck circle and thought to himself, “I ain’t matching that.” Until he damn near did. “I don’t even know if you can put it in words how hard [Stanton] hit the baseball,” Buxton said after the game.

It made all the difference when the game otherwise became a pitching duel of sorts between eleven American League pitchers (including Framber Valdez [Astros] getting credit for the “win” despite striking nobody out in his inning’s work) and nine National League pitchers including the hapless Gonsolin tagged for the loss and, officially, a blown save.

For just the sixth time in four decades an All-Star pitcher got to start the game in his home ballpark. And for a few shining moments on the mound, Kershaw gave his home park’s audience a thrill topped only by the one he gave a ten-year-old boy looking to do his grandpa in the Elysian Fields a favour that couldn’t be done while the older man still lived on earth.

None of the highest highs or the comparatively few lows he’s endured in fifteen major league seasons have let Kershaw forget that baseball at core is about rooting, caring, loving. He had the parallel chance to remind a Dodger Stadium audience about it and to affirm it for a ten-year-old boy. He didn’t flinch at either opportunity.

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.