Fish fouled

Adam Duvall has just low-fives third base coach Ron Washington after helping the Braves to an eleven-run second and a 29-9 slaughter.

Not even Joe West’s umpiring crew working the game could prevent it. For all anybody knows, maybe even Country Joe himself took pity on the Miami Marlins and called the Hague–or, at least, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources—himself, to file on their behalf against the abuses they suffered in Atlanta Wednesday night.

Or, at least Marlins manager Don Mattingly might have slipped a note to Atlanta Braves manager Brian Snitker, asking only partially puckishly, “Brian, could we have the bottom of the second back? Pretty please? With tartar sauce on it?”

Call it the Fish Fricasee. But call the Braves’s 29-9 cleaning, scaling, and fileting the arguable nastiest combined attack of ground troops, close-cover strafing, aerial assault, and strategic bombing ever committed by them, their 29 runs setting a new franchise record.

Sure, the Milwaukee Brewers de-clawed the Detroit Tigers 19-0 in Comerica Park earlier in the day. Only they did it in gradual clips and snaps, a couple of runs here, a few there, a few more yonder. Who the hell needed that nonsense from rude guests when you had the hosts in Truist Park treating their oceanic guests like a shipment of cat food?

What started as a 2-0 Marlins lead got vaporised by fourteen Braves batters including four repeaters before Ender Inciarte showed the Fish mercy and cast his line for an inning-ending ground out to first base. The carnage only began with Dansby Swanson singling his way aboard against Marlins starter Pablo Lopez.

Lopez’s next two mistakes were back-to-back walks to Austin Riley and Adam Duvall. And then it began:

* Ozzie Albies returning from a month on the injured list pushed Swanson home with a ground out to first.

* Inciarte sent a sacrifice fly to the deeper region of left center field, tying the game at two.

* Duvall took third on the play and the Marlins called for a review to see whether third baseman Brian Anderson got the tag on the sliding Duvall’s leg before or after a) Duvall’s foot hit the pillow and b) Riley crossed the plate. The review said no, sir, umpire Hunter Wendelstedt making the emphatic safe sign.

* After Lopez walked Ronald Acuna, Jr., Freddie Freeman hit a line drive to right that diving Marlins right fielder Monte Harrison couldn’t grab, the ball bouncing under his blue glove, scoring Duvall and sending Acuna to third.

* Marcell Ozuna floated a pop to shallow left near the line that hit the grass before Miami left fielder Lewis Brinson could reach it, sending Acuna home. “And the Braves are first-and-thirding the Marlins to death,” crowed Braves broadcaster Chip Caray after the fourth run rang in.

* Travis d’Arnaud, the former Met, checked in with first and third yet again. He hit the first-pitch hanging changeup into the first empty row of the left field seats. The blast ended Lopez’s evening and it’s not impossible that the only thing the Marlins righthander could say when Mattingly came forth to end his misery was, “What took so long, Skip?”

Exit Lopez, enter Jordan Yamamoto for the Fish. Swanson greeted him with a base hit to left, then Riley shot one right between shortstop and third basemen trying to converge to send Swanson home. Then Duvall hit yet another first pitch into the right center field bullpen.

Yamamoto finally said too much was enough about the Braves’ first-pitch hitting and wrestled Albies to an eighth pitch. Unfortunately, it was finally ball three and a full count, forcing Yamamoto to throw a ninth pitch. And Albies drove it four rows up the empty center field seats.

A smooth-looking righthander otherwise, Yamamoto shares a surname with World War II’s Japanese Combined Fleet commander. What the U.S. Navy did to Admiral Yamamoto’s forces at Midway and beyond, the Braves did to the Marlins in the bottom of the second. They one-upped the ten-spot second under which they might have buried the Philadelphia Phillies two Sundays ago—but for the Phillies crawling back to make the Braves sweat out a 12-10 final.

Yamamoto the pitcher’s misery didn’t end when he and the Marlins finally escaped the second inning with what was left of their lives, unfortunately. He’d pitch two and two-thirds innings total and leave with twelve earned runs on his evening’s jacket. Making him only the second relief pitcher in seventy years to take twelve or more for the team, joining the sad company of Vin Mazzaro—who took fourteen from the Cleveland Indians for the Kansas City Royals in two and one third on 16 May 2011. He’d have had better survival odds if he was a World War II naval commander.

About the only thing the Braves didn’t do to the Marlins Wednesday night was drop the atomic bomb. Oops. Take that back. After a one-out single, a hit batsman, and a shallow base hit against another Marlins reliever, Josh A. Smith, Duvall—who also hit a three-run homer in the fifth—dropped the big one, slicing salami on an 0-1 meatball in the bottom of the seventh, for what proved the final four Atlanta runs.

Whoever files the report with the Hague, or with the Georgia department’s fisheries management, they’re going to have to include that. It might be the only time in history that a late atomic bomb did less damage and was less lethal than what happened earlier in the war.

Closing the Show?

2020-07-31 RobManfredIt’s hard to say whether Commissioner Nero has really put his fiddle away all the way. But a coronavirus outbreak among too many Miami Marlins, a couple of St. Louis Cardinals, and perhaps a few more as yet unidentified, has Rob Manfred preparing to shut down a delayed major league season that maybe shouldn’t have been tried in the first place.

Manfred has told Major League Baseball Players Association chief Tony Clark that baseball better do a better job managing its heeding of the protocols or else. Another Marlins-like outbreak, Nero said, and we’re sending the cardboard cutout fans home, turning off the canned crowd noise, shutting down the free runners on second to open extra innings, and turning off the echo chambers on the field.

Memory recalls a television drama on which an indignantly embarrassed father sent his wisenheimer-beyond-her-years teenage daughter to her room. The girl didn’t skip a beat. “The ultimate punishment,” she snickered. “If you only knew what goes on in our rooms.” If and when Nero sends his players home for the year, it’s not as though that’s going to deprive them of anything.

For a lot of players whose early returns in the truncated season aren’t exactly the kind they’re used to delivering, it’ll be a kind of sweet relief. For them and everyone else, it’s not as though getting early return to their loved ones equals the ultimate punishment. Unless, of course, they’re in one of those baseball marriages that won’t survive all that  togetherness.

(Once upon a time, when legendary executive George Weiss was canned as the New York Yankees’ general manager, and before he was engaged to be the president of the newborn New York Mets, his wife, Hazel, proclaimed, “I married George for better or for worse, but not for lunch.”)

The Marlins have had a week’s worth of games postponed. They finally got a bus to take them from Philadelphia home to Miami. The nostalgically inclined may care to note that they may not necessarily spend the journey swapping tales of their days in the real bus leagues.

Stories arose that the Marlins outbreak began not when they spent last weekend in Philadelphia, not when they played an exhibition in Atlanta before the season started, but when a couple of Marlins players in Atlanta decided a night on the town was just what the doctor not named Fauci ordered.

A night on the town isn’t inherently a criminal act, depending on what you do on the town. A night on the town in pandemic without masking and sanitising, if that’s what they didn’t, is infection’s invitation in a state infected heavily enough. You’re thinking, yes, if those players went partying unsafely and got infected, that’s their business until or unless they bring the bugs to their teammates and possibly their opponents.

Boys will be boys and ballplayers will be ballplayers, and they’re always dreaming up new and sneaky ways to get up on the competititon.

But Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Uecker was only kidding when he said the 1964 Cardinals wanted to inject him with hepatitis to make room for calling up a promising prospect. If a couple of partying players shunning appropriate coronavirus masking and sanitising thought bringing the bug back to their team and maybe their opponents meant mirth and profit, it’d be a truly tasteless joke.

If they thought it might help get them, their teammates, their opponents, and the rest of the Show off for the rest of the season, though, that’s a slightly extreme (and prospectively dangerous way) to get vacation started early.

Considering what the short season has brought, though, you might have a hard time blaming them. If any of them has heard a replay broadcast of one of their home runs, or a tight play on the bases, or a homer-stealing catch above the fence, or an acrobatic leap on a play in the infield, they probably laughed that they might not weep when they heard the announcer holler, “And the cardboard goes wild!”

Call it penny arcade baseball if you must. Never mind that it betrays your age, assuming the penny arcade has gone the way of the typewriter. (If it hasn’t, whatever’s worth a penny now costs $10, anyway.) When Atlanta’s Adam Duvall homered off the snoot of New York’s Jeff McNeil’s Alaskan malamute puppy in cutout, it reminded old-timers of the arcades and midways where the fun included shooting metal ducks or knocking down voodoo dolls or steel milk bottles.

So far as I know, no broadcaster or writer has been tempted to holler, “Everyone’s a winner! Step right up! Everyone’s a winner! Knock down the doggies, win your sweetie a prize!” Yet.

The free runner on second to open extra half-innings has caused a few people joy and a lot of other people indigestion—especially when it collides with the experiment of requiring relief pitchers to face three batters at minimum. By temporary law, managers can’t get those poor saps out of there before they get killed. Sometimes, they’ve forgotten to get them out after batter three and after they’ve been piledriven, mugged, or shot on sight.

Until now, Commissioner Nero, I think I never really gauged the reckless cruelty that baseball had room for premeditated murder.

As radio legend Gabriel Heatter liked to open his nightly commentaries, “There’s good news tonight.” The good news is that, so far, no PA system operator has made the fateful (and possibly fatal) mistake of cranking up the wild cheering when the home team’s batter gets hit by a pitch. The bad news, unfortunately, is something baseball’s proven for almost two centuries: there’s a first time for everything.

If Commissioner Nero decides the coronavirus is still too formidable a pest to continue this truncated season safely, the good news would be that the foregoing experiments be declared failures never allowed to darken the sport’s doorstep again.

But that raises the further bad news: If it isn’t broken, this commissioner calls the repairman. If it is broken, this commissioner says, “Remain calm! All is well!” And, if he breaks it, it’s either God’s will or someone else’s fault.

Commissioner Nero fiddles while MLB burns

2020-07-28 MarlinsPark

Marlins Park, which won’t host the Marlins vs. the Baltimore Orioles for a second day in a row after the Fish were flogged with COVID-19.

A month and a half ago, I wrote that Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred had to go. The grounds already were several. Now, you can add that Manfred won’t even think about closing the Show for the season unless the coronavirus infects enough players on a team to rule it out of competitiveness.

Just when you thought you’d seen and heard everything from Manfred, the spectre of several Miami Marlins COVID-19 positive, of the Philadelphia Phillies’ clubhouses infected, and of games cancelled over positive tests, prompted this commissioner to put the competition ahead of health and safety.

MLB Network interviewer Tom Verducci, who normally writes for Sports Illustrated, asked Manfred just what it would take to close the Show, whose early performances have already run the gamut from farce to foolery and back under several Manfred-pushed rules experiments.

Those weren’t what the interviewer addressed, though. The issue was COVID-19 outbreaks among one team at minimum. Forget dropping the ball. Manfred threw it from the mound over the outfield wall. It only began with the commissioner saying the Marlins’ outbreak wasn’t “a nightmare,” before four more Marlins tested positive, raising the total number to seventeen—fifteen of whom are players.

“A team losing a number of players, making it completely noncompetitive, would be something we would have to address and have to think about making a change,” he said. “Our first concern is the health of the players and their families. And making sure we do everything possible to minimize the spread of the virus to our employees.”

Do you really need me to suggest that Manfred spoke out of both sides of his mouth while making clear enough that a team rendered futile on the field took even a slight priority over that “first concern” about player health and that of their families?

The Marlins outbreak, which may or may not have been seeded in Miami, prompted the Phillies to test en masse on Monday, while the same day’s scheduled Marlins home opener against the Baltimore Orioles was cancelled, as was the Phillies’ scheduled game against the New York Yankees. Tuesday morning came word that the tested Phillies tested negative. Their Tuesday game against the Yankees is postponed anyway. So is the second scheduled game between the Marlins and the Orioles.

Four of the Marlins’ infected were pulled away before the Sunday game against the Phillies, including scheduled starting pitcher Jose Urena. Manfred could and should have stepped in to cancel it if the Marlins’ administration didn’t. He didn’t, either. Indeed, that the game got played not after a call from competent medical and health observation but in a group text-message vote.

Last Friday, around the time the Fish began to flail, and two Atlanta Braves catchers were sent home showing symptoms but testing COVID-19 negative, Thomas Boswell fumed over the sense that Manfred already put the coffers of his bosses, the owners, ahead of the good of the game with his gimmicks such as a sixteen-team postseason, a free man on second to open each extra half-inning, and a three-batter minimum for relief pitchers.

Concurrently, though, Boswell hammered Manfred’s apparent lacking when it comes to his sport’s taking the pestiferous pandemic seriously enough to be the adult in the room when need be.

“You don’t measure disaster for a country — with refrigerator trucks lined up with corpses — the same way you measure it for a pro sport,” he wrote. “But how do you measure it for a sport? I don’t know . . . League bosses, who are not at risk, and athletes, who think they are invulnerable, are both going to be tempted — to keep playing chicken with the virus until it makes them stop.

“As most of the world already knows, by then it is usually disastrously too late.”

Manfred chose the media platform MLB itself owns to say he’d close the Show first and foremost if any team loses enough players to leave it non-competitive. (Resist the temptation to remind him of a pre-existing condition, Marlins fans.) He put that ahead of “our first concern” of the health and safety of players, their loved ones, and other MLB team employees.

A certain American president of dubious repute is often seen and even heard believing the coronavirus world tour has been nothing more (and nothing less) than a plot cooked up somewhere, anywhere, to thwart his re-election campaign. Now a baseball commissioner of dubious repute can be seen as possibly believing the pandemic has been a plot cooked up to keep the owners from making money.

Dave Martinez, the manager of the defending world champion Washington Nationals, looked upon the Marlins outbreak and shivered. “I’m going to be honest with you, I’m scared. I really am,” Martinez told Washington’s ABC news affiliate.

I go from here, home, back here every day, that’s all I do. I wash my hands, I went from 47 times a day to probably 99 times a day. Wear my mask everywhere I go. But there’s always that concern, you know. You don’t know, because of my heart condition, what happens to me if I do get it. I have to be extra careful. With that said, sometimes I tend to put myself aside and worry about other people more than me. I think that’s why I’m here, because I worry about those guys before I put myself first.

Martinez’s Nats were scheduled to travel to Miami to play the Marlins this coming weekend. “He says the players are his family, and he’s already lost a lot of sleep this month,” tweeted the Washington Post‘s Nats beat writer, Jesse Dougherty. “When asked about whether he has doubts about going to MIA this weekend: “Hopefully they make the right decision. That’s all I’m going to say.”

And, from among the players who opted out of playing this season over the pandemic, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher David Price is probably more secure in believing he did the right thing. Especially considering baseball’s health and safety protocols have had issues and hiccups tracing back to the beginning of that delayed spring training called “summer camp.”

Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first,” the lefthander tweeted after the Marlins news exploded Monday. “Remember when Manfred said players health was PARAMOUNT?! Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players health wasn’t being put first. I can see that hasn’t changed.”

That and more is what the commissioner says isn’t “a nightmare.”

Manfred and only too many within and without MLB thought any COVID-19 hits would strike maybe one, two, three players or MLB employees in just a sixty-game season. “Time to blow up that assumption,” Boswell wrote this morning.

If half of the Marlins team can test positive within a few days, then the scale of danger to health — the number of people who may get sick and the severity of the damage they may suffer, including prime-of-life pro athletes — just shot through the ceiling.

Our assumptions, while well-intentioned, have been blown to pieces. And in short order, so will the season of one, or perhaps several, of our sports.

So has been Manfred’s reputation, what’s left of it. The commissioner showed what kind of leader he was operationally, factually, and even morally before the coronavirus went on world tour. It wasn’t a great showing.

He’s never been able to bring himself to address complete umpire accountability. He slapped the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox on the wrists over illegal dugout phone and AppleWatch sign-stealing cheating in 2017 and handed down a nebulous directive rather than demand an immediate rule book change and clarification.

He let Red Sox and Houston Astros players walk in return for information rather than bring the powers of his office to bear on them over their off-field-based, illegal sign-stealing cheatings. He suspended two managers for this year (Carlos Beltran, a 2017 Astros player, was forced out of managing the New York Mets before he managed even a spring training game for them) but never even thought of holding the teams’ ownerships to real account.

The cheating players skated, their owners paid what amounted to tip money (for them) in fines, their fan bases were forced (sometimes kicking and screaming) to come to terms with chicanery that compromised each’s recent World Series titles, and Manfred dismissed the World Series championship trophy—which many thought should be stripped from both the Astros (2017) and the Red Sox (2018)—as just a hunk of metal.

He never quite suggested he might be interested in investigating whether the Astros and the Red Sox might be right in suggesting they weren’t exactly the only ones willing to flout rules against off-field-based electronic sign-stealing, either.

Nor did he demand the Yankees explain why they’re so desperate to challenge a judge’s ruling that a disciplinary letter over their 2017 sign-stealing cheating be made public, either, or said anything else about the letter itself. “[I]f the infractions cited by Manfred [in the letter] were as minor as originally claimed,” asked Beyond the Box Score writer Sheryl Ring in mid-June, “why are the Yankees so reticent to turn the letter over?”

Don’t forget Manfred’s push on behalf of his bosses, the un-impoverished owners, to try reneging on that March agreement and gaming the players out of their full pro-rated 2020 salaries if and when the season got underway.

Now that COVID-19 has taken out about half the Marlins’ playing team, Manfred is slightly more concerned for teams’ competitive ability—which can also be viewed as making money for the owners—than their health?

Here’s something on which the owners and the players might unite if put to them properly. Manfred’s successor, and every commissioner to follow, should be anyone except another owner, his hand-picked successor, or other baseball official. The successors should also be elected by representatives of all ownerships and by the players through their team player reps.

But I’m convinced even more that Manfred must go. Commissioner Nero’s been fiddling while MLB and the country that loves it burn. His music is cacophonous.

Be prepared for Show over

2020-07-27 MiamiMarlins

The Marlins players—not team management, not health/safety experts—elected to play Sunday despite COVID-19 already hitting some of them. Now eleven players at least plus two coaches are COVID-19 positive. Where were the adults in the room?

MLB and the players’ union,” tweeted ESPN’s Buster Olney early Monday morning, “made the mutual decision to try to play a season this year, and those two entities share the ethical responsibility of pausing, postponing or cancelling if that’s what is in the best interests of players and staffers. The Marlins’ situation tests this.”

The Miami Marlins’ situation is that fourteen people with the team, mostly players but a few coaches, tested COVID-19 positive while the Fish opened the truncated regular season in Philadelphia. Including their scheduled Sunday starter against the Phillies, Jose Urena. The team has postponed at least their Monday home opener against the Baltimore Orioles.

A series postponement may not be unlikely. Which might disappoint the Orioles purely on baseball terms, having just accomplished the unlikely feat of beating the Boston Red Sox two straight (7-4, 7-2) on opening weekend, after getting their brains beaten in 13-2 to open the set.

Exactly where the Marlins so affected caught the infections is still, pardon the expression, up in the air. They played an exhibition against the Braves in Atlanta the day before the regular season finally began, and the infected players and coaches could have been hit either in the Truist Park clubhouse or in the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse.

The New York Yankees were supposed to open in Philadelphia Monday night and station themselves in the same visitors clubhouse the Marlins just vacated. Says ESPN, “Sources told . . . Marly Rivera that the Yankees have been informed that the visitors’ clubhouse has been completely fumigated several times. The Yankees also brought their own clubhouse personnel down from New York City to work the game, if it happens. No decisions have been made yet, sources said.”

That was early Monday morning; now as I write it’s later Monday morning. A season postponement? It may happen. Major League Baseball convened an “emergency meeting” Monday in the wake of the Marlins’ situation. The Yankees-Phillies game for Monday is postponed, too. And, yes, this is getting quite out of hand.

But a season postponement may not happen yet, either. USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale reports, “There will be additional priority testing for teams who have an outbreak, MLB officials say, but no serious talks as of yet cancelling or pausing the season. In the words of one owner on the conference call: ‘Obviously, the situation is fluid’.”

How brave and bold of them.

With the coronavirus world tour still playing and only too many people still treating it from somewhere between carelessness and ignorance, getting a major league baseball season going from any point this summer was going to be tricky enough. We knew that right out of the proverbial chute, when young Washington Nationals star Juan Soto tested COVID-19 positive on Opening Day, though he’s asymptomatic just yet.

For all the fun and folly accompanying the season’s long-delayed opening, it’s no kind of fun when fourteen Marlins test positive over opening weekend. That followed two Braves sent home after testing positive but no symptoms showing yet.

When the Nats hosted the Yankees to open the delayed season, there was commissioner Rob Manfred sitting on national television talking more about . . . his sixteen-team postseason array. The designated hitter wasn’t even a millionth of the gimmick that idea is. It only begins with removing more than half the urgency of a regular season whose competitive urgency was already diluted by its wild card system.

Sure we’ve loved it when wild-card winners turn up the last team standing with the World Series trophy hoisted high. Including the Nationals, who did it last October after a staggering regular-season comeback. But we’re not fools. We know damn well that the wild card system has equaled asking fans to sit on edge over the thrills, spills, and chills of teams fighting to the last breath for . . . second place.

Manfred and his Major League Baseball Players Association counterpart Tony Clark have a genuine burden on their hands trying to navigate the sport through a terrible pandemic that’s yanked their country and half the world over, under, sideways, down. And the big thing for Manfred opening was a postseason array that might, maybe, probably see the sport’s best teams knocked out early and often.

“If Manfred’s judgment is this bad or if he is this pliant to the money lust of his bosses,” fumed the Washington Post‘s most valuable player, Thomas Boswell, “then what chance is there that he will have the backbone or the leadership skills to shut down this season if needed?”

Backbone? Leadership skills? Like the New York Police Department brass who sooner sent a few flunky cops to trial rather than root out the bottom-top corruption it took Frank Serpico and David Durk going to The New York Times to even try rooting it out, Manfred didn’t have the backbone to bring the powers of his office to bear and drop real hammers against the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox over their caught-red-handed, off-field-based, electronic sign-stealing cheatings.

Manfred slapped three managers and a general manager—whose teams executed them without Manfred—but the owners allowing it on their watches and the players availing themselves of it got away with it. You think that’s the Manfred who’s going to have the backbone to stop the season if the viral infections metastasise among the troops?

At his bosses’ behest, Manfred forced Clark and his charges to fight a ridiculous-sounding counter-battle against the owners using the coronavirus tour’s shutdown of spring training and the regular regular season to shove a de facto salary cap for the season down the players’ throats. That’s Manfred’s idea of backbone.

“The scary core of MLB’s predicament — and soon the NBA’s and NHL’s, too — is: Playing our sport is what we do, who we are and how we make our money,” Boswell wrote. “We’re going to try to do it until the virus stops us.”

From all over the world we’re learning the lesson that this is a terrible basic assumption. You get ahead of this virus before it even looks like a problem, or it ends up crushing you. South Korea, Japan, Australia, Canada and Germany, with a combined population of 325 million (the United States has 330 million) had 15 deaths Thursday. Arizona, with 7.2 million, had 89 dead.

You don’t measure disaster for a country — with refrigerator trucks lined up with corpses — the same way you measure it for a pro sport. But how do you measure it for a sport? I don’t know . . . League bosses, who are not at risk, and athletes, who think they are invulnerable, are both going to be tempted — to keep playing chicken with the virus until it makes them stop.

As most of the world already knows, by then it is usually disastrously too late.

You saw it yourself watching the games that finally arrived. Enough players, coaches, managers were playing chicken. Please. There’ve been how many ballplayers who played through injuries, “manning up,” earning their praises, and ultimately hurting their teams because they were fool enough to play through injuries? What’s trying to play unmasked and unsafe through a pestiferous pandemic, then? Supermanning up?

That was before the depth of the Marlins’ infections emerged. And now emerges, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, that deciding to play Sunday’s game in Philadelphia wasn’t decided by MLB, by Marlins team leadership, by the union, by health and safety experts, but by . . . Marlins players, by way of a group text message. Fish playing chicken. Bet the Phillies clucked, too, if not necessarily with unanimous approval.

I admit it. It was easy enough to bask in the Show’s return and either forget or keep as an aside the risk that the coronavirus would have innings enough to play among the games and the teams. Even while some of the worst ramifications of baseball’s gimmicky 2020 season experiments—the free runners on second to start each extra half-inning; the three-batter minimum for relief pitching appearances—delivered things uncomfortably between the rock of disaster and the hard place of farce.

Taking a few small but profound safety precautions doesn’t exactly mean the end of the world as we know it. No matter how many would-be God, Juniors in government from the top down really do want to use it as cover for their next nefarious real attacks on what remains of our freedom.

What a country. We were the “can-do” people for so many generations. When somebody told Ben Franklin to go fly a kite, Ol’ Ben said, “Hell, yes. Who cares if it looks like rain?” And lightning struck.

We gave the world the lightning rod, swivel chairs, automatic flour mills, suspension bridges, fire hydrants, compression refrigeration, coffee percolators, circular saws, dental floss, lathes, doorbells, lock-stitch sewing machines, combine harvesters, solar compasses, Morse code, circuit breakers, sleeping cars, ice cream makers, rotary printing presses, jackhammers, safety pins, dishwashers, fire alarm boxes, elevator brakes, burglar alarms, breast pumps, and submarines.

We gave it condensed milk, light bulbs, mass-produced toilet paper, electric stoves, escalators, vacuum cleaners, motorcycles, refrigerator cars, air brakes, fire sprinklers, mimeographs, synthesisers, air brushes, phonographs, cash registers, metal detectors, electric irons, electric fans, thermostats, photo film, electric mixers, fuel pumps, stop signs, smoke detectors, and zippers.

We gave it medical/surgical gloves, mufflers, remote control, batteries, the assembly line, hearing aids, air conditioning, offset printing, the powered airplane, automatic transmission, traffic lights, toggle light switches, hydraulic brakes, toasters, polygraphs, garage doors, radio arm saws, audiometers, instant cameras, electric razors, freon, sunglasses, car audio, electric guitars, bug zappers, and the Richter scale.

We gave it programming languages, fluorescent lamps, digital computers, fiberglas, xerography, Teflon, deodorant, cruise control, microwave ovens, space observatories, Tupperware, credit cards, transistors, defibrillators, supersonic aircraft, cable television, and correction fluid, a.k.a. Liquid Paper. (Hey, hey, she was a Monkee’s mother!)

We gave it bar codes, the artificial heart, voltmeters, lasers, LEDs, weather satellites, jumbo jets, personal computers, microprocessors, e-mail, cell phones, the Heimlich maneuver, digital cameras, ethernet, stealth aircraft, and the Internet.

For openers.

We fought and beat dreaded diseases past, and we made a few of them extinct while we were at it. We also fought and won a couple of world wars and finally defeated the most ruthless and bloody tyranny ever to rule anywhere on earth. We also invented baseball as the world’s known it roughly since the year before one of us invented pressure tape.

You’re telling me that the “can-do” people are now the “don’t-even-think-about-it” people? You’re telling me the people who invented all the above now consecrate and abet leadership and neighbourly luddism that tries to rule us without knowing a coronavirus from a computer virus?

All of a sudden it looks easier for the Cleveland Indians and the San Diego Padres to think about winning a World Series than it did for us to beat smallpox and polio. (You don’t want to know the bureaucratic loop-de-loops Edward Jenner and Jonas Salk would be put through today to get their vaccines to, you know, the people who need them.)

God forgive me, it was too easy to get lost in the thought that the Show was really back no matter what. Even with the piped-in crowd noise. Even with the cockamamie-looking empty ballparks other than cardboard cutouts of humans and other living creatures. It was even easier to laugh our fool heads off when Adam Duvall’s home run Saturday bopped the cutout of Jeff McNeil’s Alaskan malamute puppy right in the snoot.

Well, it was just as easy to anticipate the return and itch for major league ball no matter the lingering risks. It’s not so easy or funny anymore. As much as I might enjoy the games themselves, for all the gimmickry and all, I’d rather wait till next year than continue the risk that more than just a school of Marlins have to fight the damn virus.

Mr. Manfred, Mr. Clark, show some real backbone and be ready to just say no to the rest of the season. To pay the players their pro-rated 2020 salaries, thank them for giving it the old college try, and call it sick pay. Then—assuming more of them haven’t tested positive in the interim—to send them home to safety and their loved ones.

Don’t even think about how the owners can’t possibly afford it. Everyone from the rock-bound coast of Maine to the smoggy shores of California knows that’s only slightly less of a lie than anything out of a politician’s mouth.

We went almost four months without the Show. If we have to, we’ll survive without it the rest of the year. Because too many people still aren’t wising up and living safe just yet, and too many leaders are still using it as an excuse to play Gods, Jr. And, from the early look of it, too many players, coaches, and managers still do think or act as though they’re invulnerable.

In more than one way, the Marlins just told baseball world otherwise. “[H]ere we have it,” writes a rueful Stephanie Apstein for Sports Illustrated, “the least surprising possible outcome of MLB’s decision to fly some 1,500 people around the country, from one coronavirus hotspot to another, buttressed by a hope and a prayer and instructions not to spit, in service of playing baseball: They have to stop playing baseball.”

We have to have adults in the room. Now.

No tank you very much

2017-07-27 HoustonAstrosWS

So far, the 2017 Astros are one of a couple of  exceptions to the rule thus far that tanking is not a world championship guarantor.

When February got underway in earnest, I asked what you’d say if you knew each major league baseball team, rich and poor alike, is guaranteed about $60 million into its kitty before the regular season even begins. And without having to do a blessed thing to earn it other than existing in the first place.

Not to mention that each major league team would pull down about an average additional $100 million during a season through sources that only include the gate.

At that time the Major League Baseball Players Association thought aloud about pushing for imposing a tax on teams that seemed not to care less about putting even a mildly entertaining product on the field, a product showing the teams had even the mildest concern about trying to win. The MLBPA pondered such a tax costing tankers prime draft pick positions if they continued losing, or at least not trying to win all that much, beyond particular thresholds over certain periods.

Everybody with me? So far, so good. Because the redoubtable Thomas Boswell, the Washington Post‘s longtime baseball sage, has things to say about it. When tanking teams call their tanking “strategy,” Boswell calls it fan abuse:

The idea of trying to lose 100 to 115 games, while claiming it’s a long-term plan for glory, always has been a long-shot notion, seldom born out in actual baseball experience. Of the current 30 teams, 20 have never in the past 50 years lost more than 200 games in consecutive seasons, at least not after you exclude their early expansion-team days. Yet those 20 teams have won 33 of the past 50 World Series, exactly the ratio you’d expect if there was no difference between having a Horror Era and never being truly awful at all.

In other words, the back-to-back 2016 and 2017 World Series winners, the Cubs and the Astros, were outliers when they went into the tank to rebuild from the guts up, over three or four seasons previous, rather than retool on the fly and continue trying honest competition along the way.

Reality check: Unless you’re certain comic-opera teams of legend, or the Washington Generals, losing isn’t entertaining. Boswell notes six teams at this writing on pace to lose 98 games or more this season. In ascending order: the Mariners (98), the Marlins (101), the Blue Jays (101), the Royals (103), the Tigers (111), and the Orioles (111).

They’re about as entertaining as root canal work, southern California traffic jams, and today’s politics of demeaning. Actually, I’ll walk that back a little bit. Southern California traffic jams have occasional amusements.

Among other things the tankers are competing for that ever-popular number one draft pick. “[W]e’re watching a bull market in stupidity,” Boswell writes, perhaps unintentionally offering the emphasis on bull. “And cupidity, too, since all those teams think that they can still make a safe cynical profit, thanks to revenue sharing, no matter how bad they are.”

Since the draft began in 1965, there’ve been 55 number one overall picks. Four became Rookies of the Year, seventeen became All-Stars even once, and three became Hall of Famers. Historically, the draft more often becomes a case of good things coming to those who wait, on both sides of the draft tables.

In today’s terms it only begins with the game’s greatest player. Mike Trout waited until round 25 before the Angels chose him in 2009, and it took him two years to become listed by anyone as a number one prospect. And they’re already trying to figure out the language on his Hall of Fame plaque even though he has one more season to become minimally eligible.

His aging but no-questions-asked Hall of Fame teammate Albert Pujols waited until round thirteen before the Cardinals pounced in 1999. Guess who else went from the thirteenth round of the draft (in 1989) to the Hall of Fame? Does Jim Thome ring as many bells for you as he rung pitchers’ bells?

Those aren’t the only Hall of Famers incumbent or to-be who went well enough below the first round: Wade Boggs (1976)—seventh round. Goose Gossage (1970)—ninth. Andre Dawson (1975)—eleventh. Nolan Ryan (1965)—twelfth round. Ryne Sandberg (1978)—twentieth. John Smoltz (1985)—22nd.

Not to mention a passel of All-Stars who made distinguished careers even if they fell shy of being outright Hall of Famers, including but not limited to: Sal Bando (sixth, 1965), Tim Hudson (sixth, 1997), Jamie Moyer (sixth, 1984), Willie Randolph (seventh, 1972), Jim Edmonds (seventh, 1988), Eric Davis (eighth, 1980), Fred McGriff (ninth, 1981), Jack Clark (thirteenth, 1973), Dave Parker (fourteenth, 1970), Jake Peavy (fifteenth, 1999), Orel Hershiser (seventeenth, 1979), Kenny Lofton (seventeenth, 1988), Don Mattingly (nineteenth, 1979), Andy Pettitte (22nd, 1990), Roy Oswalt (23rd, 1996), and Mark Buehrle (38th, 1998).

And don’t get me started on the number one overall draft picks who barely (if at all) made the Show or didn’t quite survive for assorted reasons. Steve Chilcott (injured severely in the minors), David Clyde (rushed to the Show for two box office-minded starts, then mal-developed and injured), Al Chambers (couldn’t hit with a garage door, couldn’t field with a vacuum cleaner), Brien Taylor (injured defending his brother in a fight), call your offices.

While you ponder all that, ponder something else Boswell points out: A complete team dismantling and rebuilding is only justifable now and then, when it “may be the best of the available rotten options.” But even that runs a risk any team looking to put an honest product on the field should duck: “Rebuild in a few seasons — well, maybe . . . if you’re very lucky. But more likely, you’ll just stink for years and pick the public’s pocket.”

Once upon a time the Red Sox were as long-suffering as the season was long. The cause wasn’t any curse (of the Bambino or otherwise) but boneheaded (and, once upon a time, bigoted) organisational management. But even they’ve had only one season since 1934 in which they lost more than even 93 games.

Even the Cubs—the just-as-long-suffering Cubs, once upon a time—have only three 100+ loss seasons in their history. The third one happened in 2012. Three years later, they were division winners; a year after that, they won a World Series; they’ve since remained pennant competitive if not without a few hiccups that haven’t come within the same solar system as their formerly star-crossed past.

The incumbent Reds franchise has only one 100-loss season to show since they joined the National League—in 1882. Between them, Boswell reminds you, the Dodgers and the Angels have 121 seasons in or near Los Angeles . . . and only two squads between them (the 1968 and 1980 Angels) that ever lost more than 95 in a season. The Yankees haven’t had a 100-loss season since the year the Titanic sunk. The Cardinals haven’t lost more than 95 in a season since Grand Central Station’s first rebuild—a year after the iceberg.

The fictitious New York Knights of The Natural once employed a carnival hypnotist whose sole qualification seemed to be telling the hapless players, hypnotically, “Losing . . . is a disease.” In baseball, it doesn’t have to be terminal, no matter what today’s tankers do or don’t think. Though it seems that way in a place like Baltimore, where the Orioles went unconscionably from an organisation with one of the game’s most admirable cultures to one with one of the game’s most abhorrent.

As Boswell reminds us, the Orioles lost 202 in 1987-88 and went into complete rebuild; practically the only surviving incumbent proved to be Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. They’ve only won 90 or more games in any season three times since that teardown and had a fourteen-season streak of losing seasons. The franchise that was once the truly hapless St. Louis Browns only ever had a losing-season streak as high as twelve in their St. Louis decades.

The Oriole brand, Boswell knows, became so badly battered that it was no wonder major league baseball finally returned to Washington: “[T]here was nothing for MLB’s other 29 owners to protect by keeping a team off Baltimore’s doorstep.”

“Now it is all different,” wrote one-time New York Post sportswriter and recent editor of Ball Four, Leonard Shecter, after the crazy Mets were crazy enough to win a division, pennant, and World Series in their mere eighth season of play. “Casey Stengel is gone. The players, who try no harder than the old Mets, succeed more often and as a result are indistinguishable from baseball players all over. There is stuffiness in the front office. There is great concern about unimportant things . . . And, worst of all, when the Mets lose, there is nothing funny about it at all.”

Beware the tanking teams saying they’re just looking to the future. They’re nowhere near as entertaining in defeat as the 1962 Mets, the last era of the Browns (when Bill Veeck owned the team), or the 1930s Dodgers.

Ask any Mariners, Marlins, Blue Jays, Royals (never mind the rude interruption of their 2015 World Series conquest), Tigers, or Orioles fans. They’ll tell you. Losing is about as funny as a screen door on a submarine.