Tatis and Bauer continue defunding the Fun Police

Fernando Tatis, Jr.; Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer (27) wasn’t thrilled about surrendering bombs to Fernando Tatis, Jr.—but Bauer didn’t mind Tatis trolling him over them, either.

If the Dodgers and the Padres are really brewing baseball’s best rivalry since the Dodgers and the Giants, or the Yankees and the Red Sox, you can count on one less Fun Police officer overloading the Tabasco sauce. Turns out that the sense of humour of Trevor Bauer, Dodger pitcher, includes taking his lumps in the troll department.

Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. accounted for the only two runs Bauer allowed Friday night with a pair of delicious looking home runs. He hit the first in the top of the first, sending a slightly hanging cutter clean over the left center field fence on the second pitch of the game.

After rounding first, Tatis put his right hand over his eye as he turned around toward the mound, then turned to continue running it out. When he hit the second bomb in the top of the sixth, following a six-pitch, full count wrestling match, Tatis crossed the plate with a move made familiar to UFC fans by Conor McGregor. It just so happens to be the move Bauer himself busts after he has a particularly controlling inning’s work.

By his own admission Bauer missed the hand-over-eye move, which referenced Bauer’s own one-eyed pitching against the Padres during a spring training contest, but he couldn’t help noticing the Padres dugout covering single eyes after Tatis’s second homer landed about three or four rows up the left center field bleachers.

Bauer didn’t mind any of the moves at all. In fact, talking to reporters after the game, which the Dodgers yanked out to win 5-4 despite Tatis’s mayhem, the righthander whose own trolling stones make him as controversial as he is colourful sent a message to every other pitcher on the third stone from the sun who thinks letting the kids play is tantamount to heresy.

“I like it. I think that pitchers who have that done to them and react by throwing at people, or getting upset and hitting people or whatever — I think it’s pretty soft,” Bauer told reporters after the game. “If you give up a homer, the guy should celebrate it. It’s hard to hit in the big leagues. So, I’m all for it. And I think it’s important that the game moves in that direction, and we stop throwing at people because they celebrated having some success on the field.”

Where was Bauer when the Cardinals got soft on Nick Castellanos a couple of days after Castellanos smashed a home run off Jack Flaherty? When Jack Woodford drilled him with a pitch, then bumped him as he crossed the plate beneath a sliding tag attempt, before Castellanos sprung up from his slide, barked a bit at Woodford, then started walking away from the plate area when Yadier Molina returned to the plate area and gave Castellanos a shove by his neck—when Castellanos wasn’t even looking behind him?

Rest assured, Bauer would have had a lecture to deliver Madison Bumgarner two years ago, after Max Muncy launched one of his first-inning services into McCovey Cove. “Don’t watch the ball—run!” Bumgarner barked. Rounding first and heading to second as he ran it out, Muncy by his own admission hollered back, precisely, “If you don’t want me to watch the ball, go get it out of the ocean.”

Perhaps if Bauer was a Dodger then, he’d have been the first to buy the blue T-shirt that hit the ground flying after that, with “Go Get It Out of the Ocean” emblazoned in white, over an upside-down reproduction of the flying baseball that’s part of the Dodgers’ official team logo.

Bauer knows Tatis has reasons enough to celebrate his handiwork lately. Friday night’s flogs came one night after the kid who’s must-see television did what no major leaguer had done before—hit a pair of bombs on the 22nd anniversary date of his father hitting a pair of salamis in the same inning against the same opponent.

Friday night also made Tatis the first player to hit a pair of bombs on back-to-back nights against Cy Young Award-winning pitchers, says the Elias Sports Bureau. On the anniversary of Pop’s pops, Tatis wreaked his two-bomb havoc on Clayton Kershaw’s dollar.

Tatis returned Bauer’s compliment, whether or not he’d actually heard Bauer say it immediately. “Payback time,” the lad told reporters, referencing Bauer’s one-eyed-jack pitching in that spring game.

It’s just fun. When you know you’re facing a guy like that — he’s doing his stuff, he’s having fun on the mound, and when you get him you get him, and you celebrate, too. He’s a hard guy to deal with.

Bauer didn’t even mind when Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer got even in the sixth for what Bauer did in the fourth. Hosmer struck out awkwardly in the fourth and Bauer delivered his pulling-the-sword-out bit, “sword” considered contemporary baseball lingo for the broken swing a hitter often delivers when he’s been fooled like a rookie on a pitch. In the sixth, though, Hosmer nearly drilled a hole in Bauer with a hard liner up the pipe, then pulled a sword of his own out after reaching first.

Once again, Bauer had no intention of ducking into a nearby phone booth and changing from your everyday not-so-mild-mannered pitcher into the Fun Cop ready to clunk all miscreants with his nightstick and drag them off to the hoosegow.

“That’s what it is to be a competitor,” the righthander said. “I’m gonna go at you. I’m gonna get you sometimes, and you’re gonna get me sometimes. We can have fun, we can celebrate it while we’re still competing at the highest level. I just thought that was important to note tonight.”

I’ve been saying for how long that pitchers need to start thinking, “Hey, you got me good this time. Have your fun. I’ll get you out the next time, and I’ll have my fun?” I’m not even close to the only one. There was Sean Doolittle two years ago, when he was still a hard-toiling and popular National. “If a guy hits a home run off me, drops to his knees, pretends the bat is a bazooka, and shoots it out at the sky, I don’t give a shit,” he said emphatically in an interview I cited at the time.

When you’re in the backyard as a kid playing and falling in love with the game and you crush the ball? You do a celebration. You stand and watch it like Ken Griffey, Jr. You don’t hit the ball and put your head down and run as fast as you can. That’s not fun. It’s okay to embrace that part of a game.

To which I wrote, myself, “I hope a lot of hitters drop to one knee and point their bats to the sky like bazookas when they hit one out. I hope a lot of pitchers start channeling their inner Dennis Eckersley and start fanning pistols after they strike someone out. I’d kill to see a hitter moonwalk around the bases after hitting one out. Let’s see more keystone combinations chest bump or make like jugglers after they turn a particularly slick and tough double play.”

The new Murphy’s Law ought to be, “Celebrate!” Said Dale Murphy himself, in one of his first essays as a contributor to The Athletic. It must have sent the Fun Police to the whiskey bottles when Murphy called out Bumgarner over that Muncy waterball:

Admiring a home run is OK. Bat-flipping is OK. Emotion is OK. None of that is a sign of poor sportsmanship or disrespect for an opponent. It’s a celebration of achievement — and doing so should not only be allowed, but encouraged. Pitchers can shout excitedly after an important out. They can pump their fist after a clutch strikeout. Players, fans—and basically any rational-thinking human—will understand that no harm is intended by these spontaneous expressions of joy.

Wouldn’t you love to know what Bauer thought, when the Rangers decided it was right and proper to wait, until near the end of the final game of their final season series against the Blue Jays in May 2016, to repay Jose Bautista for an epic bat flip the previous October?

Bautista hit a monstrous three-run homer in the seventh to give the Jays a 6-3 lead that held up to send them to the previous American League Championship Series. He flipped his bat whirlybird style as he left the plate to run it out. Rogers Centre went nuclear. The Rangers pitcher who surrendered that bomb, Sam Dyson, spoke as a Fun Policeman after the game.

“Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more,” Dyson said after the game. “He’s a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game, and I mean he’s doing stuff that kids do in Wiffle ball games and backyard baseball. It shouldn’t be done.” (I couldn’t resist rejoining, “That’s how many kids playing Wiffle ball who grow up to hit postseason-advancing skyrockets?”)

Bautista was hit by a pitch late in that mid-May 2016 game. Then, he delivered a hard slide at second to let the Rangers know he didn’t appreciate the too-long-delayed “message.” Then he had to bear the brunt of the followup brickbats when Rougned Odor swung on him. Pretty soft? The Rangers were squishy cowards in tough guy clothing behind Mommy’s dress when Matt Bush—a relief pitcher who wasn’t even a Ranger in October 2015—delivered that seven-months delayed drill.

Bauer has his faults. Misogynistic harassment of women online is known to be one of them. But he’s never been accused of being physically abusive with any woman he’s dated or associated with. The Dyson who demanded Bautista “just kind of respect the game a little more” is the one who got suspended for this season for abusing his former girlfriend.

You can hear the Old Fart Contingent [OFC] who didn’t or don’t play the game fuming about Respect For The Game, too. Most of the same OFC want to see players treat baseball like Serious Business on the field or at the plate or around the bases—but they  become the first to scream, “It’s a [fornicating] game!” when it’s free agency contract time.

Bauer and Tatis have just fired off significant shots in what should be a continuing, baseball-wide campaign to defund the Fun Police. The defunding shouldn’t be limited to players alone.

Jack Smith, RIP: Haircut, shave, and pension throat cut

Jack Smith

Jack Smith, when he was a Dodger following seven years in their minor league system.

One of the last entries by longtime newspaper humourist Lewis Grizzard before his death in 1994 involved a haircut. Specifically, the one he received from “an old-school barber” whom he suddenly recognised as a one-time pitcher he’d seen with the 1960s Atlanta Crackers.

“THAT Jack Smith,” wrote Grizzard. “Hard to believe. There I was getting a haircut from a barber who was also a boyhood idol.”

Smith was a righthanded relief pitcher who’d bounced around the Dodgers system for seven years before he got a call-up in September 1962, when injuries sidelined reliever and former World Series MVP Larry Sherry temporarily. By his own admission, he was a hard thrower no matter what the pitch, but his number one issue was wildness.

He died at 85 on 7 April at the Westbury Health and Rehab facility in Conyers, Georgia, after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was also one of the now 612 short-career major leaguers between 1949-1980 who were frozen out of baseball’s pension plan when the owners and the Major League Baseball Players Association re-aligned the plan in 1980.

That re-alignment changed pension vesting to 43 days major league time and health care vesting to a single day—excluding Smith and other short-career players during the time frame noted above. Their sole redress came by way of the 2011 deal between then-commissioner Bud Selig and then-players union director Michael Weiner: $625 per quarter for every 43 days major league time up to four years worth.

Weiner’s death in 2013 took further chances to get better redress for those players off the table, where the issue still remains, and where today’s players union director Tony Clark seems too little interested in revisiting it.

Once again, I find it unconscionable and morally repugnant that [the MLBPA] is turning its back on older men and their families,” said A Bitter Cup of Coffee author Douglas J. Gladstone, whose book first exposed the pension freezeout. “I’d love to know if Frances Clark and her three kids, Kiara, Jazzin and Aeneas, know how badly Tony is treating the men who ushered in free agency?”

A year after he won the Southern Association (AA) earned run average title with the Crackers, Smith appeared headed for another such title with Omaha (AAA) when the Dodgers called him up after Sherry’s injury. He appeared in eight games, finished two, saved one, and posted a 2.42 fielding-independent pitching rate that belied his 4.50 ERA.

The lone save was part of the Dodgers’ effort to stay in the pennant race and, in due course, force a playoff with the Giants. Smith relieved Hall of Famer Don Drysdale for the ninth. After walking Cubs second baseman Ken Hubbs and giving up a single to Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, he retired Hall of Famer Billy Williams on a fly out, surrendered a run on pinch hitter Nelson Mathews’s ground force out to shortstop, and shook off a second walk to get George Altman out on a pop foul near third base.

The effort sealed Drysdale’s 24th credited win of 1962, en route his only Cy Young Award, which kicked off a streak of five straight Cy Young Awards (then strictly a major league award) awarded to Los Angeles pitchers: Drysdale, fellow Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax thrice (1963, 1965-66) and Angels righthander Dean Chance (1964).

Smith appeared in the first two of the three 1962 pennant playoff games. In the first game, he got the sixth inning-ending double play after Sherry surrendered back-to-back home runs by Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda and pitched a shutout seventh, in a game the Dodgers lost 8-0. (Still struggling for a rhythm after a long layoff due to a finger circulation issue, Koufax himself got hit for a two-run homer by Mays in the first and a solo by Jim Davenport in the second.)

But Smith wasn’t quite so successful in the second game despite the Dodgers’ win. With the Dodgers up 7-5, he took over for Ron Perranoski after back-to-back singles (Davenport and Mays) opened the Giants’ eighth. He surrendered an RBI single to Ed Bailey and lost Cepeda when Frank Howard playing right field misplayed Cepeda’s fly.

Smith yielded to Stan Williams, who walked Felipe Alou and surrendered a sacrifice fly to John Orsino with the run charged to Smith, before getting Jose Pagan to ground out to third and getting the Giants out in order in the ninth. Ron Fairly won the game with a sacrifice fly. (The Giants won the third game and the pennant, 6-4.)

Jack Smith

Smith as a Brave; when they sent him down to the Atlanta Crackers, he decided to trade pitching for barbering after a final baseball season in 1965.

He made the Dodgers out of spring training 1963 and posted his arguable best major league effort on 28 April, against the Cardinals, with 4.1 innings of shutout ball, after the Cardinals jumped Johnny Podres for two in the first and reliever Ken Rowe for five in the second. The Dodgers managed to close the deficit to 7-4 while Smith was in the game; the Cardinals went on to win, 9-5.

After he relieved Pete Richert for the sixth, with the Dodgers in the hole 8-0 to the Pirates, the Pirates tore four runs out of him before he got the side out, a sacrifice fly by Smoky Burgess and a three-run homer by Bob Bailey. It was the last inning Smith pitched in a Dodger uniform; he was sent back to the minors, where the Milwaukee Braves claimed him in the subsequent Rule V draft.

He had a decent 1964 with the Braves, making 22 appearances, finishing nine games, and posting a 3.77 ERA and 3.70 FIP, but the Braves sent him down to the Denver (AAA) in the Pacific Coast League. In 1965, the Braves moved him to the Crackers, who’d moved to the AAA International League and become a Braves affiliate since he’d pitched for them last.

Smith had a solid 1965 in Atlanta (the Braves themselves, of course, moved there for 1966), but he decided he was tired at last of flying around the country playing baseball. He’d gone to barber college in the off-seasons and even brought some of his gear to the Braves clubhouse.

Smith opened an Atlanta barber shop, Smitty’s Bullpen, in a Marriott hotel while with the Crackers his second time. The place was so successful (then-Braves manager Bobby Bragan was a semi-regular customer) he decided to stay with it full time, retiring from baseball after the 1965 season, and finally retiring as a barber in 2016.

Some of those who follow the short-career player pension issue believe one reason they were frozen out was that they were viewed as little more than September call-ups. Smith was one in 1962, but he was on Opening Day rosters with the Dodgers in 1963 and the Braves in 1964.

His major league life didn’t last long enough to be part of the players union’s emergence as a serious force in the game. His career ended before a committee led by Hall of Fame pitchers Robin Roberts and Jim Bunning, plus veteran pitcher Bob Friend and outfielder Harvey Kuenn, led to Marvin Miller’s hiring as their first independent executive director.

Smith wasn’t there to be part of the Players Association pushes and actions that led in due course to Curt Flood’s courageous but failed reserve clause challenge; the bidding war that followed Catfish Hunter’s free agency after Charlie Finley reneged on a contracted-for insurance payment; and, Andy Messersmith’s pitching without signing a 1975 contract, then taking it to arbitration and winning the end of the reserve era, finishing what Flood started.

But Smith and his fellow 1949-80 short-career players weren’t allowed to pass the monies provided by the Selig-Weiner deal of 2011 on to their survivors after their passings. Smith is survived by his wife, Susan, three children, two stepchildren, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. He may not have received grand dollars from the Selig-Weiner deal but they were something, after all. If any remained yet to come, they stopped with his death.

“It’s worth contemplating a reassessment of this,” wrote New York Post columnist Ken Davidoff, in an early February profile of a Smith contemporary, former Yankee reserve outfielder Jack Reed, “because these guys are part of the game’s tapestry and history that make it so special.”

When Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel skippered the calamitous Original Mets, he once told his barber, “Haircut, shave, and don’t cut my throat, I may want to do that myself.” Smith’s post-baseball success as a barber doesn’t change the fact that he and his fellow short-career pre-1980 players had their throats cut.

Let Bauer be on the Dodgers’ heads

The Dodgers want last year’s Bauer over a full season and without the concurrent social media migraines.

“Talented, antagonistic.” That’s how The Athletic‘s Pedro Moura describes Trevor Bauer in two words. Lots more words under either of those could be and have been written about, shall we say, the controversial enough righthander. They run the gamut from forward thinker to bully, from student of the game to misogynist.

The Dodgers pushed a big bet to the center of the table that Bauer over a full season on the mound will be what he was for the Reds in last year’s short, irregular season. The Mets were thought ready to push the biggest chips forward but let him walk into the Dodger embrace.

The Dodgers are also betting the talent will neutralise the antagonism by signing Bauer to a three-year deal that includes record-setting single-season salaries in the first two. The Mets are also betting they’ve dodged a howitzer shell by not signing Bauer to even the purely single-season deal the pitcher is known to prefer.

A starting rotation that already features Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, and David Price, plus two starter-capable swing pieces named Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, just became a repository of depth approaching a season in which pitching depth is going to matter phenomenally.

Last year’s short irregular season left baseball’s pitching corps short enough of full-season regular work that there is and should be even more true alarm about pitcher health than usual approaching a more complete season. Bauer’s history of innings consumption wedded to May’s and Gonsolin’s availabilities gives the Dodgers room to manage the 2021 workloads of Kershaw, Buehler, Urias, and Price prudently.

Especially if they think the Bauer signing has indeed sent the message ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez says it sent: “There’s us, and then there’s everybody else.” And how. Not just in the pennant race. Bauer’s going to earn in one season than the entire payroll of the tanking Pirates. ESPN’s David Schoenfeld warns, though, that that isn’t exactly something new other than the dollar amounts in question.

Look, is it “fair”? No. But we haven’t had a repeat World Series champ since those 1998-2000 Yankees, low-payroll teams like Tampa Bay and Cleveland both reached the World Series in recent seasons, Kansas City won one, and even Pittsburgh had a nice little run there a few years ago. Yes, it’s a challenge for the Pittsburghs and Clevelands of the world, but good luck on finding a better system that satisfies the rich teams, the “poor” teams AND the players.

(There was such a system once upon a time, in fact. Then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn murdered it when he blocked the infamous Charlie Finley fire sale of three Athletics stars and imposed a $400,000 limit on cash sales of players. Kuhn didn’t stop to think that that now kept the “poor” teams from profiting on developing younger players without losing their abilities to return to competitiveness within shorter periods.)

It’s the other message the Bauer signing sends that has no few people alarmed, too. No, not the one about Bauer’s 2020 being a fluke even inside a fluke, which might be alarming enough. He only had one full season remotely comparable to 2020, back in 2018. He built his Cy Young 2020 almost entirely with bricks provided by weak competition: he faced .500+ teams only three times, and ten of his starts were against teams whose offenses were called “anemic” in charitable moods.

No, the other message alarming people is the antagonistic side. Bauer’s reputation isn’t exactly radar proof. His presence on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube has made him a social media star somewhat out of proportion to his career results despite his talent and his deep studies in how to maintain his health and develop his pitches. And he isn’t exactly Mr. Congeniality across those platforms.

“[H]e will need to both own up, and put an end to, social-media tactics that include harassment when he responds aggressively to fans and reporters on Twitter, particularly women, prompting his followers to attack those who challenge him,” another Athletic writer, Ken Rosenthal, observes.

Bauer has pledged to wield his platform more responsibly in the past, only to engage in such conduct again. Those around him say he cannot control the behavior of his followers, an empty claim that does not absolve him of responsibility. Frankly, he should have been capable of seeing the impact of his actions long ago.

He has made it clear he wants to be active on social media and cultivate a large audience, which he says is because he wants to help make baseball more exciting for younger fans. But by lashing out at his critics, he fails to recognize the power he has over that audience and its desire to defend him. Continuing that behavior is inexcusable.

Bauer’s prior written nastinesses toward women just might have backed the Mets away in the end.

Yes, the Mets might have made for their own super-rotation—plugging Bauer into a rotation featuring two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom plus Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, and returning Noah Syndergaard. But their recent upendings involving ex-general manager Jared Porter’s and former manager Mickey Callaway’s sexual harassment text messagings past mean the last thing the Mets needed was a pitcher with a history of misogyny compromising their work toward improving conditions for women around the team.

Bauer won’t have things simpler in Los Angeles, even if he is native to the area. The Dodgers’ media market is almost as large as New York’s. He’ll be viewed with magnifying glasses and under microscopes at least as acute and relentless as he would have been in New York.

When the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman wrote two days ago that he wouldn’t sign Bauer but if the Mets must it should be just a single season worth, he had in mind that a single season would be simpler for the Mets to escape any damage to their brand inflicted by Bauer’s way of building his own.

Bauer’s behavior does not rise near the malfeasance that Porter copped to and is alleged against Callaway. But Sandy Alderson hired both Porter and Callaway. He said in the aftermath of both disturbing revelations that had he known prior, he would not have hired Porter or Callaway. He knows what he knows about Bauer. Now. Today.

. . . Bauer might be a terrific big personality for the Mets. But there is enough risk and concern that they should offer $40 million for one year to learn for themselves.

The defending world champion Dodgers also know what they know about Bauer. They’re taking a bigger chance against it exploding in their faces during a three-year deal—from which Bauer can opt out after either this season or next—than the Mets would have taken on a strictly single-year deal.

The Mets have it simpler now. Any money they might have spent on Bauer could now apply toward landing Jake Odorizzi, whom several analyses proclaim the best starter left on the free agency market, for the back of their rotation. Odorizzi isn’t a world-beating starter but he could be the right number five man for the Mets. Could.

They might apply some of that money, too, toward Jackie Bradley, Jr., whose bat hadn’t exactly been a world beater until showing signs of life last irregular season (Real Batting Average has him .484 lifetime) but who’s still a plus defender in center field with a knack for throwing runners out from center field and turning double plays, and enough defensive runs saved.

Bradley has room to improve as a hitter, too: he’s not a big home run threat historically (he averages eighteen home runs per 162 games lifetime), but 41 percent of what he does hit goes for extra bases. And he’s a road runner on the bases: he has an .811 lifetime stolen base percentage and has taken extra bases on followup hits almost half the time he’s reached base.

Let the balance between Bauer’s talent and his headaches be on the Dodgers’ heads. The Dodgers may be deep enough that Bauer’s headaches wouldn’t make a huge impact, but they could leave the Dodgers with as many migraines off the field as their presence on it will leave for the rest the National League West, at minimum.

Don Sutton, RIP: Craftsman (har, har)

Don Sutton only looked like a surfer dude.

Last year’s sad parade of Hall of Famers going to the Elysian Fields waited at least until spring to begin. This year’s began with the year a mere seven days old and the nation battered by the Capitol riot a day earlier. Tommy Lasorda died of heart failure on 7 January; one of his pitchers, Hall of Famer Don Sutton, died of cancer Tuesday night.

Sutton got to the Hall of Fame by way of his unique durability. In 23 major league seasons he didn’t miss a starting assignment until his last season, 1988. He earned credit for 324 wins despite having a 20-win season only once (in 1976, winning 21). He led his league three times in strikeout-to-walk ratio and four in walks/hits per inning pitched but never led in strikeouts while leading his league in earned run average only once.

That’s despite spending his career in pitcher-friendly home ballparks. Sutton wasn’t too gapingly different on the road; enemy batters hit .247 against him on their home turf and .226 against him on his home turf, with a .606 OPS on his grounds and a .678 OPS on theirs. His forte was workman-like speed changing, smarts, and guile, heh heh heh.

As of this morning, Baseball-Reference lists Sutton as the number 73 starting pitcher of all time with the most-similar pitcher being fellow Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry. Most similar doesn’t exactly mean equal value, of course; Perry is slightly above the peak and career value averages for Hall of Fame pitchers and Sutton is somewhat below those averages.

All aboard for fun time? Like Perry, Sutton was suspected very frequently of, shall we say, extracurricular craftsmanship on the mound. Like Perry, Sutton knew how to ride the suspicions well enough, even if he wasn’t half as dedicated to psychological warfare as Perry was.

Both men had mischievous senses of humour about the suspicions versus the actualities. If Perry titled his memoir Me and the Spitter and went through a famous series of motions from head to torso when he wanted hitters just to think he was going to grease them, Sutton didn’t have any particular trademark suspect gestures.

Perry looked like the Carolinas peanut farmer he was in the off-season; Sutton, despite his Alabama sharecropping roots, resembled the classic California surf rat from his rookie season to his Hall of Fame induction speech. Perry preferred to live rent-free in a hitter’s head; Sutton preferred tweaking the powers that were.

Sutton took to leaving tiny notes in the fingers of his glove for umpires to discover when they or a protesting manager thought it wise to have him patted down and frisked on the mound. A classic: “You’re getting warmer. But it’s not here.”

After frequent enough accusations that “I ought to get a Black & Decker commercial out of it,” Sutton actually got just that. “The only fun I get now,” he once said to Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post, “is hiding dirty notes in my uniform pockets for the umpires to find them when they search me.”

“Sutton has set such a fine example of defiance,” longtime Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller told Boswell, “that some day I expect to see a pitcher walk out to the mound with a utility belt on—you know, file, chisel, screwdriver, glue. He’ll throw a ball to the plate with bolts attached to it.”

Nobody expected Sutton to sue longtime respected umpire Doug Harvey when the latter ejected him over a “defaced” ball in 1978. While pitching against the Cardinals and leading 2-1 in the seventh on 14 July, Harvey gave Sutton the ho-heave. “I’m not saying Sutton was defacing it,” Harvey told reporters. “I’m saying he was pitching a defaced baseball and the rules state that anyone pitching a defaced ball shall be ejected from the park.”

United Press said the “defacement” may have involved Sutton scratching a mark into the ball with his fingernail. “I have one thing to say and then no questions,” he told reporters. “On the advice of my attorney, I’m to say nothing about this. I’m filing suit against Doug Harvey, the National League and whoever runs the umpiring.”

Said Lasorda, who played the game under protest: “[Harvey] is judge and jury, and depriving Sutton of his right to pitch. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen that; it’s the first time he’s ever been ejected.”

“It was not the first confrontation over doctored balls between Harvey and Sutton,” UPI noted. “At other times in his twelve‐year career, the pitcher has been accused of scratching the ball with his fingernail to rough the surface for a better grip.”

Sutton’s lawsuit didn’t exactly set new legal precedent. It didn’t exactly get far enough to set one, let us say. Since the only verified implement he used was his fingernail, you certainly couldn’t accuse him of applying a foreign substance. (“I don’t use foreign substances,” one-time Yankee pitcher George Frazier snarked. “Everything I use is made in the U.S. of A.”)

But about a decade later, when Sutton was an Angel after some traveling from the Dodgers to the Astros, the Brewers, and the Athletics, he squared off in Anaheim Stadium against Tommy John, a former Dodger teammate then with the Yankees, and a pitcher Boswell described as able “to turn a tiny scratch into a double play grounder.”

Sutton during his years as a popular Braves broadcaster.

Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, watching from his Tampa home, decided Sutton was being a little too blatant about things, calling the Yankee dugout and manager Lou Piniella. Steinbrenner demanded Piniella have Sutton frisked, arrested, arraigned, bound over, tried, convicted, and executed on the spot. Piniella tried to reason with The Boss.

“George, do you know what the score is?” Piniella asked, according to Bill Madden and Moss Klein’s Damned Yankees, referring to the early 1-0 Yankee lead. “George, if I get the umpires to check Sutton, don’t you know that the Angels are going to check TJ? They’ll both get kicked out. Whatever they’re doing, TJ’s doing it better than Sutton. So let’s leave it alone for now.”

John was lifted after six and a third innings; Sutton pitched seven full. Each man surrendered a pair of earned runs, including Sutton surrendering a bomb to Hall of Famer Dave Winfield. After the 3-2 Yankee win, Madden and Klein recorded, a scout in the press box said, “Tommy John against Don Sutton. If anyone can find one smooth ball from that game, he ought to send it to Cooperstown.”

Sutton may have been puckish about his reputation for baseball carpentry but he often admitted candidly that he took baseball to be serious work perhaps too often. He was described often enough as a kind of blithe spirit but it seems to have been his way of protecting himself against the contradictions of the jock shop.

“[M]ost of us have similar abilities,” he once said, of fellow ballplayers and of people in general. “The differences are mental and emotional and the big thing is mental preparation. That’s where everything starts: the poise, the confidence, the concentration.” It didn’t hurt that Sutton’s rookie 1966 saw him the number four man behind a pair of Hall of Famers named Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and a stolid number three in Claude Osteen, either.

Raised a devout Christian, Sutton didn’t buy into Lasorda’s Big Dodger in the Sky routines or the manager’s celebrity style, probably because his first manager Walter Alston was the polar opposite and a man Sutton respected deeply for rejecting celebrity and respecting his players as men. Sutton often called Alston the most secure man he’d ever met in baseball and praised the manager for keeping problems and questions with his players behind closed doors.

Sometimes, Sutton discovered the hard way that a little honesty can get you into a nasty spat. When he was an Astro and admitted he hoped he could finish his career on the West Coast where his wife and children still lived, it provoked Astros general manager Al Rosen—who once ended his playing career early due to injuries and a desire to be more a family man—to spar with him in the press.

When still a Dodger in 1978, Sutton said candidly and somewhat benignly that similarly quiet outfielder Reggie Smith was the actual most valuable Dodger, praising the talented and silent Smith because he wasn’t “a facade or a Madison Avenue image.” Taken as the thinly-veiled poke at popular first baseman Steve Garvey that it was, it triggered a clubhouse argument turned brawl between Sutton and Garvey.

John once said that during the worst of the brawl, an unidentified Dodger hollered to break it up because they might kill each other—to which catcher Joe Ferguson replied, “Good.” The problem was that Sutton was actually right. Garvey’s OPS was .843 and his OPS+ for 1977-78 was 130. For the same two seasons, Smith’s OPS was .974 and his OPS+ was 165. Garvey also hit into 22 more double plays than Smith in that span, too. Garvey was worth 8.5 wins above replacement-level for those two seasons, but Smith was worth 10.6.

“I’ve tried over and over to figure out why this had to happen,” Sutton told reporters subsequently. “The only possible reason I can find is that my life isn’t being lived according to what I know, as a Christian, to be right.” That from the pitcher who once ruffled feathers, especially Lasorda’s, by saying unapologetically, “I believe in God, not the Big Dodger in the Sky.”

“It took a big man to say what Don said,” said Lasorda himself, who didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Sutton, “and it took God to inspire him to say it.”

Sutton’s post-pitching life was mostly as a popular Braves broadcaster, where their fans reveled as much in Sutton’s easygoing repartee as in the turnaround of the Braves from the gutter to greatness. (The Braves elected him to their team Hall of Fame in due course.) He was also an enthusiastic Hall of Fame presence following his own election in 1998.

As a rookie during the once-fabled Koufax-Drysdale joint contract holdout of spring 1966, Sutton took the long view in due course. “Baseball players today,” he told Koufax biographer Jane Leavy, “owe a lot to Curt Flood and Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. But Flood, Messersmith, and McNally owed a lot to Koufax and Drysdale. Because they were the first guys who really took a stand. This was the first challenge to the structure of baseball.”

At the Hall of Fame Sutton let himself be plain human. In the same speech in which he thanked Koufax for teaching him how to act like a baseball professional, he began by saying, “I’ve wanted this for forty years. Why am I now shaking like a leaf?” Then, he answered his own question: “I think part of it is because I’m standing in front of some of the people who were the greatest artists in a wonderful business that I’ve ever seen before.”

The man who often called himself a journeyman hack appreciated the art of the game, and of his own craft, after all. May the Lord in whom his faith was profound enough have welcomed Sutton home with the same appreciation.

Tommy Lasorda, RIP: “I made guys believe”

Tommy Lasorda (right) shares a handshake with Sandy Koufax near the Dodger clubhouse. “It took a Hall of Famer to get rid of me,” Lasorda loved to boast about Koufax’s bonus signing leading to Lasorda’s spring 1955 cut from the major league roster. (Los Angeles Dodgers photo.)

Last year’s losses of seven Hall of Fame players (eight, if Dick Allen is elected by the Modern Era Committee this year) were bad enough. Please, Lord, let Tommy Lasorda not begin a 2021 trend of Hall of Fame managers departing our island earth.

The odds may not be very good there. There are only four living Hall of Fame managers now that Lasorda is gone at 93: Bobby Cox, Whitey Herzog, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre. Cox, Herzog, and Torre remain elder statesmen of a sort. La Russa has returned to the game to manage the White Sox, hardly without controversy.

Lasorda took the Dodgers’ bridge from Hall of Fame manager Walter Alston in 1976. Twenty-two years later, he retired as an eight-time division winner, four-time pennant winner and two-time World Series winner. It didn’t exactly come the easy way for a man whose major league life began as the marginal relief pitcher cut for a bonus baby.

Under the 1950s bonus rule mandating players kept on big-league rosters two full seasons if their bonuses were higher than $4,000, the Dodgers had to keep such a green lad after signing him for 1955. The man they cut was Lasorda, who’s said to have taken one look at the kid and said, “He’ll never make it.”

It might have taken six seasons for the kid to come into his own and beyond, but the kid was Sandy Koufax. It wouldn’t be the last time Lasorda gave himself the chance to dine out on an old mistake in judgment.

“I did not have a lot of ability, but I’ll guarantee you one thing,” Lasorda said in 1997 when recalling his own pitching days. “When I stood on that hill of thrills, I didn’t believe that there was any man alive who could hit me. And if they did hit me, which they did, I thought it was an accident.” That from the man who dined out further on Koufax, saying, “It took a Hall of Famer to get rid of me.”

Lasorda’s three major league seasons—eight games with 1954-55 with the Dodgers, then eighteen with the 1956 Kansas City Athletics—show 53 accidents while facing 253 batters and posting a lifetime 6.48 earned run average.

Maybe it depended upon whom you asked. To Dodger fans Lasorda was the second-closest thing to a franchise face behind Koufax himself. To non-Dodger fans, Lasorda was either loved, tolerated, or waved away. Dodger fans loved Lasorda’s “Big Dodger in the Sky” schpritzing. Non-Dodger fans thought it was either sacrilege or malarkey.

Come to think of it, not all Lasorda’s players bought into it, either. “I believe in God,” said Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton, “not the Big Dodger in the Sky.”

Lasorda was nothing if not both content to be a Dodger for the rest of his life, after his playing career ended in the minors in 1960, and to be Tommy Lasorda. He wasn’t exactly one of the most modest of men, and he rarely apologised for it.

When Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully asked about the pressure of following Alston—who’d won the only Brooklyn Dodgers World Series and three more to follow in Los Angeles—the reply was almost classic Lasorda: “I’m not worried about the guy I am following. I’m worried about the guy that is going to have to follow me.”

Well, it isn’t bragging if you can kinda sorta do it.

That’s not to say Lasorda couldn’t be humbled when humility was the mandate. Maybe no manager this side of John McNamara was as humilitated in the 1980s as Lasorda was with the Dodgers one out from forcing a seventh National League Championship Series game in 1985.

With two Cardinals on and first base open, Lasorda decided it was absolutely safe to let Tom Niedenfuer pitch to Jack Clark instead of putting Clark aboard to pitch to Andy Van Slyke. And Jack the Ripper decided it was perfectly safe to hit Niedenfuer’s first pitch three quarters of the way up the left field bleachers.

“Lasorda wept in the clubhouse,” wrote Thomas Boswell in the Washington Post several years later, “went to the players to apologise, then went on with his life. At the moment he manages the [1988] world champions. Maybe Lasorda coped so well because he’d already gone to three Series and won one.”

The skipper who looked more like he’d be coming out to chat with you in his neighbourly Italian restaurant (“Two World Series Rings. Ate everything he wanted. Drank everything he wanted. 70 Years in the same work uniform. Lived For 93 Years. Absolute Legend,” tweeted sports business analyst Darren Rovell) loved being Tommy Lasorda almost as much as he loved the Dodgers.

He brought Hollywood back to the Dodgers once he realised the celebrities got as much of a kick out of him as he got out of them, and he wasn’t exactly a shrinking violet when it came to being an occasional pitchman. The problem—particularly remembering his once-familiar spots for Slim-Fast diet drink—was that he didn’t always shrink.

Of course, Lasorda’s celebrity provoked a little friendly mischief aimed his way by players who couldn’t resist tweaking him. His late utility outfielder Jay Johnstone often conspired with teammates Don (Stan the Man Unusual) Stanhouse and Jerry Reuss to swipe Lasorda’s wall of photos with him and various celebrities and substitute photos of themselves in their stead. And those were the more benign pranks at the skipper’s expense.

Which didn’t stop Lasorda from writing the introduction to Johnstone’s first book, Temporary Insanity: “[He] wrote a book? What with, a fire extinguisher? . . . What’s that they say about marching to a different drummer? Johnstone must hear a symphony out there . . . That’s some book title. But I’m not so sure about the temporary part.”

The skipper’s outsize personality sometimes masked that he was as inclusive and unprejudiced as the week was long. It didn’t matter if you were white, black, brown, beige, yellow, or paisley, whether you came from flyover America, urban America, outback Mexico, downtown Tokyo, or the penguins of Antarctica. (Which may be where some people thought the Dodgers found 1970s third base mainstay Ron [The Penguin] Cey.) If you could play to the standard the Dodgers prescribed, Lasorda wanted you in the worst way possible.

He preferred positive reinforcement with his players, which didn’t necessarily keep him from reading the proverbial riot act when necessary. There were times when those players perceived as Lasorda pets enjoyed less than consistently friendly relationships with others in the Dodger clubhouse. Sutton and longtime first baseman Steve Garvey didn’t have a clubhouse brawl once upon a time because Lasorda could make them  bosom buddies.

“I made guys believe; I made them believe they could win,” he said in a 2013 interview. “I did it by motivating them. I was asked all the time, ‘You mean baseball players that make $5 million, $8 million, $10 million a year need to be motivated?’ They do. That’s what I did.”

It’s not unreasonable to suggest Lasorda’s presence at last fall’s World Series had even a little hand in pushing the Dodgers back to the Promised Land they hadn’t seen since Lasorda himself managed Orel Hershiser, Kirk Gibson, and company in 1988.

“He was a fellow with limited ability and he pushed himself to be a very good Triple-A pitcher,” Scully said in a statement upon Lasorda’s death. “He never quite had that something extra that makes a major leaguer, but it wasn’t because he didn’t try. Those are some of the things: his competitive spirit, his determination and above all, this boundless energy and self-belief. His heart was bigger than his talent, and there were no foul lines for his enthusiasm.”

There were if someone went nuclear against his Dodgers with bombs that didn’t sail foul.   Lasorda’s wild postgame rant after then-Cubs outfielder Dave Kingman destroyed the Dodgers with three mammoth home runs starting in the sixth inning of a fifteen-inning marathon in 1979—the Cubs won in the fifteenth after Kingman hit a three-run shot—is considered one of the greatest managerial fly acts in baseball history:

What’s my opinion of Kingman’s performance? What the [fornicate] do you think is my opinion of it? I think it was [fornicating] horseshit. Put that in. I don’t [fornicating] . . . opinion of his performance? Jesus Christ, he beat us with three [fornicating] home runs. What the [fornicate] do you mean what is my opinion of his performance? How can you ask me a question like that? What is my opinion of his p – of his p-p-performance? Jesus Christ he hit three home runs. Jesus Christ. I’m [fornicating urinated] off to lose the [fornicating] game, and you ask me my opinion of his performance. Jesus Christ. I mean that’s a tough question to ask me, isn’t it? What is my opinion of his performance?

Lasorda probably survived only because a) he was the defending National League champions’ manager, b) he had his Dodgers in the thick of the National League West race at the time, and c) he was Tommy Lasorda, liable to go from celebrity pennant winning skipper to everybody’s crazy uncle on the terrazza in the proverbial New York minute.

The hapless Los Angeles radio reporter who asked Lasorda the fateful question was Paul Olden. When Lasorda ran into Olden at a subsequent charity dinner, Lasorda apologised to Olden, even as the reporter admitted it wasn’t a brilliant question in the first place. In due course, Lasorda expanded upon it:

You know Paul said to me he was sorry he did that, I said “Hey, you did your job Paul. Don’t worry about it”. He asked me, ‘What is your opinion of Kingman’s performance?’ Nobody asked me about an opinion. They’ve always asked me, ‘Well, Kingman hit three home runs’, ‘What did he hit’, ‘What did it do to you’, so and so. This guy says, ‘What is your opinion’. So I proceeded to give him what was my opinion of Kingman’s performance. I’d like to have the rights on that, on that tape, because what happened, uh . . . was when it was first played on the Jim Healy show, I guess Gene Autry heard it and he wanted a copy of the real tape. And then all of a sudden, within a two week period, that tape had gone from the west coast to the east coast. Everybody had that tape. Within a month’s time, I couldn’t go anywhere without somebody telling me they had the tape—the real tape of that, uh, opinion. I think it was finally translated into Japanese.

That tells you something right there. Tommy Lasorda may have been one of baseball’s most unforgettable managers, but he had a sense of humour about it, even delayed, if you weren’t always inclined to agree with him.

Which is why he now steps through the gates to the Elysian Fields with the Lord in whom he devoutly believes saying, “For you, I’ll be the Big Dodger in the Sky. Better that than a bum.”