The wheeling, dealing, maybe stealing Padres

Mike Clevinger, from Cleveland outcast to the star of the San Diego Shuffle.

Entering the pandemic-truncated regular season, some thought the Show was going to be somewhere between dull and duller, not just by way of the rules experiments alone. They didn’t reckon with the San Diego Padres, of all people.

When not producing a youthful shortstop (Fernando Tatis, Jr.) who takes “let the kids play” to heart (and runs the boring old farts’ temperatures up the scale in the bargain), or hitting grand slams as if they’re going out of style, the Padres took what some presumed would be a sleepy trade deadline period and turned it into a bit of a thriller approaching Monday’s 1 p.m. Pacific time cutoff.

Landing Cleveland Indians pitcher/protocol violator Mike Clevinger and outfielder Greg Allen for a package including pitcher Cal Quantrill, infielder Gabriel Arias, outfielder Josh Naylor, and catcher Austin Hedges on Monday merely seems like what Duke Ellington once called “the cherries-and-cream topping to our sundae morning.”

Especially after the Friars already made four trades in a 24-hour period prior. The fourth of those trades looked like something of a nothingburger: on Sunday, the Padres sent a fringe relief pitcher from their 60-man roster (28 in Show; 32 at alternate camp), Gerardo Reyes, to the Los Angeles Angels for veteran catcher Jason Castro, who’s set to hit free agency after this season. And, who’s not much of a hitter but is respected for his abilities at pitch framing and new-rules plate blocking.

Now, look at what that deal followed doing the Slam Diego Shuffle:

* On Saturday, the Padres cast for and reeled in resurgent relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, sending the Kansas City Royals an outfield prospect (Edward Oliveres) and the proverbial player to be named later.

* On Sunday morning, the Padres more or less confirmed that the beleaguered Boston Red Sox were about to push the plunger on their season if not much of their roster, landing designated hitter/first baseman Mitch Moreland, a 2018 World Series hero, for a pair of prospects. (Hudson Potts, Jession Rosario.)

* And, a little later on Sunday, the Friars dealt big to the Seattle Mariners, sending two of their highest-rated prospects (pitcher Andres Munoz, outfielder Taylor Trammell) plus a pair of young sprouts with Show experience (catcher Luis Torrens, infielder Ty France) to land the Mariners’ best catcher, Austin Nola, plus relief pitchers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla.

The Mariners were thin enough in the backstop ranks that nothing could have pried Nola out of their hands unless it was enough to think they might finally, maybe, possibly begin building a real future, as a good number of published reports suggest. When the Padres landed Clevinger Monday morning, what started as jaw-dropping hope turned into jaw-dropping actuality: They’re going all-in to win now as well as later.

How surreal is this season already? The Indians put Clevinger on ice when it turned out he’d made a team flight after violating coronavirus safety protocols with fellow pitcher Zach Plesac but said nothing about it—even after Plesac got bagged—until after that team flight. The Tribe sent both to their Eastlake, Ohio alternate site.

And all of a sudden Clevinger—who had a sterling 2019 season but had a struggle or two in four starts this season before his night out of dinner and cards with Plesac and other friends—became the most coveted starting pitcher on a weird trade market that figured to feature such arms as Lance Lynn (Texas Rangers), Trevor Bauer (Cincinnati Reds), and maybe Josh Hader (Milwaukee Brewers relief act) moving to fresh territory.

This must be heady stuff for Clevinger, who’s just gone from a Cleveland outcast to the star of the Slam Diego Shuffle.

One minute, Clevinger and Plesac were still recovering in Eastlake over the denunciations of their selfishness for sneaking out after dark no matter what Mom and Dad ordered. The next, he, at least, has moved from one pennant contender on the banks of Lake Erie to another down by that glistening San Diego waterfront. Where he gets to reap the pleasures and benefits of having one of the left coast’s two true marquee talents having his back at shortstop and lightening his loads at the plate.

It was enough for the Padres to swing and fling their way into the postseason picture, sitting five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West but tied with the Chicago Cubs at three and a half games up in the wild card picture. They’re not just making noise, they’re making memories of the kind San Diego hasn’t seen in a very long time.

These are fun days to be a Padre. And, a Padre fan. So much so that a Twitter wag couldn’t resist wondering if their trade deadline wheeling, dealing, and possible stealing didn’t set at least one weird record: most players sharing the name Austin (including Moreland: it’s his middle name) moving to one team or another in a series of trades made by one team in the same deadline period.

Well, what’s baseball, too, if not the still-singular repository for silly records? Now the Padres hope their wheeling, dealing, and possible stealing produce the kind of record that’s not so silly, if you don’t count the semi-Mad Hatter style postseason to come. The kind of record that gets them to the postseason in the first place.

All they have to do is make sure Clevinger can’t be too seduced by that delicious waterfront to break the safety protocols again.

Plesac: The press made the media do it.

2020-08-15 ZachPlesac

Zach Plesac, future politician.

Once upon a time, the late William Safire—New York Times columnist and language maven (his even more famous “On Language” essays)—drew the line. “When you like us, we’re the press. When you hate us, we’re the media.”

Well, the press reported Cleveland Indians pitchers Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger violated the team’s and the Show’s coronavirus health and safety protocols, so Plesac at least hates the media.

He must be bucking for a future in politics. He already has down pat the politician’s go-to excuse when caught with his or her hands in the proverbial cookie jar: The devil press made the devil media do it.

Name the scandal. Teapot Dome? The Profumo affair? Vietnam? The sad Thomas Eagleton affair? Watergate? The botched Iran hostage rescue mission? Abscam? Iran-Contra? Monkey Business? Whitewater? Crimes covering up extracurricular White House nookie? The Iraq war? Abu-Ghraib? Hurricane Katrina? The IRS singling out and targeting conservative groups? Benghazi? Continuing (four administrations and counting) executive order abuse? Two presidential impeachments in three decades?

It wasn’t the perps’ fault. The presidents who abetted, helped cover up, tried to help cover up, or at least approved such malfeasances? (Or, in George McGovern’s case, throwing the hapless Eagleton under the proverbial bus instead of standing by his man.) It wasn’t their fault, either. The presidents who faced impeachment but ducked removal when two Senates refused to try them seriously? Not their fault, either. It was the press’s fault, because the media exposed, investigated, and embarrassed the political (lack of) class.

You didn’t get the memo? Did you get the one reminding you that “fake news” (the catch phrase is Donald Trump’s, but the concept is almost as old as journalism itself) is the news the newsmaker doesn’t want you to know and you don’t really want to hear?

The Indians finally sent Plesac and Clevinger to their alternate site in Eastlake, Ohio, after a team meeting Friday morning at the Birmingham, Michigan site where they stay when playing the Detroit Tigers in the Tigers’ house. The two pitchers were in the cauldron for a night out in Chicago last weekend, involving a restaurant dinner and a card game at a friend’s home.

On the surface, a night out to dinner and playing cards with friends isn’t exactly the scandal to end all scandals. But the Indians, like most major league teams, take the coronavirus seriously enough to impose rules including that nobody can leave the team hotel without the team clearance Plesac and Clevinger failed to get.

The Indians sent Plesac back to Cleveland in a privately-hired car. They had no clue Clevinger was involved until after the pitcher flew back from Chicago with the team. The unamused Tribe compelled each man to issue a team-authored statement. It might have stayed calm and collected otherwise if Plesac hadn’t gone to his Instagram account and schpritzed.

Plesac got the aforementioned memo. He created a video message filmed in his own moving car. Oh, sure, he owned up to violating the protocols, but by God it wasn’t so much his fault for violating them but the media’s fault for having discovered and reported them.

“The media is really terrible, man. The media is terrible,” he fumed. “They do some evil things to create stories and make things sound better, make things sound worse. Truthfully, I’m disgusted the way the media has handled the whole situation surrounding our team.”

Tell us more, Mr. Plesac. If you’ll pardon the expression, inquiring minds—including this long-enough-time member of the working press in the media—want to know. (Yes, Virginia, I’ve been a small city/regional daily newspaper reporter, a regional daily news radio reporter and anchor, and a trade/Internet journalist since almost the birth of the online journalism era. I’m not just another blogger-come-lately.)

We’d like to know if several 1919 Chicago White Sox tanked a World Series because the press made them do it or the media was going to blow the lid off the whole thing in due course.

We’d like to know if The Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant! because the press handed Leo Durocher reserve infielder Hank Schenz’s Wollensak spy glass or the media sent it with coach Herman Franks to the Polo Grounds clubhouse above center field to steal opposition signs for the stretch drive comeback that forced the famed pennant playoff.

We’d like to know whether the rest of the press other than the Cincinnati Enquirer aided and abetted the 1957 All-Star ballot-box stuffing scandal on behalf of the Reds, or whether the media compelled commissioner Ford Frick to yank the All-Star starting lineup voting out of the fans hands, where it didn’t return for almost a decade and a half.

We’d like to know whether the press sent Pete Rose’s gambling habit across the line to betting on baseball, or whether the media sent him across that line to bet on his own teams and bet himself right out of the game and out of Hall of Fame consideration.

(We’d like to know what you think about the press covering up the first whiffs of Rose’s gambling or the media unable and maybe unwilling to nudge then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn into the investigation he wouldn’t sanction but which came almost a decade after his exit.)

We’d like to know whether the press poured actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances into baseball or the media handed those players the pipelines to the stuff.

(Well, ok. You have us there. Sort of. Thomas Boswell was prepared to expose Jose Canseco as a juicer decades before Canseco wrote his inconsistent tell-alls, but the press didn’t really want to know until the late Ken Caminiti took it to the media, specifically to Sports Illustrated.)

We’d like to know whether the press compelled Aroldis Chapman, Jose Reyes, Hector Olivera, Jeurys Familia, Derek Norris, and Steven Wright to domestic violence scandal and suspension, or whether the media compelled Jose Torres, Roberto Osuna, Addison Russell, Odubel Herrera, Julio Urias, and Domingo German to likewise.

We’d like to know whether the press cooked up the Astro Intelligence Agency and the Rogue Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring or whether the media encouraged them to graduate from theory to real cheating.

We’d like to know whether the COVID-19 outbreaks that waylaid the Miami Marlins and the St. Louis Cardinals came from a couple of players being not so smart going for nights on the town or from the press insisting that the media raise enough of a hoopla that it damn near ended this coronavirus-truncated season described in best shorthand as Alfred Hitchcock Presents the Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone.

We’d like to know whether fellow Indians pitcher Adam Plutko spoke of his own free mind when he fumed, over whether Plesac and Clevinger could re-earn their teammates’ trust, “They lied to us. They sat here and publicly said things that they didn’t follow through on. Those grown-ass men can sit here and tell you guys what happened and tell you guys what they’re gonna do to fix it. I don’t need to do that for them.”

And, whether the Indians’ all-but-franchise-face, Francisco Lindor, said of his own free mind, “We have to sit and look ourselves in the mirror. And it’s not about the person we see in the mirror. It’s who’s behind you. It’s not about that one person. It’s about everybody around you.”

Or did the devil press make the devil media make them say it?