“But . . . history, dammit!!!”

Clayton Kershaw

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

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

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

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

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

The world went nuclear over it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goddam analytics!!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Twins deliver a stunning signing: Carlos Correa

Carlos Correa

Almost nobody expected the longtime Astros shortstop to sign with the Twins.

It’s hard to look at Carlos Correa signing with the Twins for three years and $105.3 million without knowing the Astros’ remaining Astrogate contingent is reduced officially by one. There are now only three position players and one pitcher remaining from the tainted 2017 World Series winners.

This should be good for the Astros in terms of leaving the Astrogate taint further and further behind them. But I suspect it won’t be. With only four Astrogate-team members left last year, the Astros still heard it loud and long from fans on the road. Some of it was mere booing, catcalling, and “chea-ter!” chants. Some of it was inflatable and actual trash cans hitting fields.

I still suspect it’s not going to stop until the last Astrogater standing no longer wears an Astro uniform. Not until second baseman Jose Altuve (who actually didn’t partake all the way in the Astro Intelligence Agency’s 2017-18 off-field based, illegal camera-abetted, electronic sign-stealing operation), third baseman Alex Bregman, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, and pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr. move to other teams if not into retirement.

As it happens, I have tickets for what will now be Opening Day, period, in Angel Stadium on 7 April. Guess who the Angels host to start their regular season. My son and myself will probably wonder en route the ballpark how many other Angel fans will turn up with inflatable trash cans, bangable trash cans, and more to continue letting the Astros have it.

It took decades before the 1951 New York Giants were verified once and for all as off-field based sign-stealing cheaters en route the comeback that forced the fabled pennant playoff. It took only two years from the 2017 World Series to expose and verify the AIA. And it took only a couple of hours during the pandemically-aborted 2020 spring training for the Astros to show the world they didn’t quite think their cheating was that big a deal.

Correa since the infamous spring training 2020 presser has been maybe the most stubborn defender of the Astros’ 2017 Series title. “When you analyze the games,” he said before the coronavirus closed that spring training and half the season to come, “we won fair and square. We earned that championship.”

Funny, but that’s not exactly what Correa said at the infamous presser. While Astros owner Jim Crane tripped over himself, Bregman tossed word salad, and since-gone outfielder Josh Reddick “couldn’t really say [the AIA operation] did or didn’t” give the Astros an advantage, Correa said, essentially, not so fast:

It’s an advantage. I’m not going to lie to you. If you know what’s coming, you get a slight edge. And that’s why [then-general manager Jeff Luhnow and then-manager A.J. Hinch] got suspended and people got fired because it’s not right. It’s not right to do that. It was an advantage. But . . . it’s not going to happen moving forward.

After the Braves nailed last fall’s World Series at the Astros’ expense, Correa spoke in terms that would have made him a fit on the 20th Century Yankees.

Second place is not good enough for us. I know it’s not good enough for you guys. But it speaks volumes of how good our organization is, how talented our clubhouse is. Five ALCS in a row. Three World Series in five years. I don’t know what else you want to ask from a great ball club . . .People expect greatness when you talk about the Houston Astros. They expect us to make the playoffs every year. They expect us to be in the World Series every year.

But the only one they won is the one that just so happens to be tainted.

And, speaking of the Yankees, take a poke around the vast multitudes that root for or at least follow them and it seemed as though the number one thought in and out of their minds Saturday morning was, How on earth could the Yankees miss out on signing Correa? Did they really take Josh Donaldson’s contract on in that trade with the Twins just to let the Twins snatch Correa with the savings?

Others thought Correa outsmarted himself into taking considerably less with the Twins than he thought he might get on a market that got forced into overdrive thanks to that ridiculous owners’ lockout. But he’ll pull down the fourth-highest single-season salary of 2022, behind pitchers Max Scherzer (Mets) and Gerrit Cole (Yankees) plus outfielder Mike Trout (Angels).

The deal also includes opt-outs after this season and next. Turning 28 in the final third of this coming September, and assuming he has a typically Correa season in Minnesota, he could still opt out and play next winter’s market for something more to his supposed liking. Maybe he didn’t really outsmart himself, after all?

Maybe the Yankees still have a spring surprise yet to play. They unloaded Gio Urshela (shortstop) and Gary Sanchez (catcher) to bring Donaldson (third base), Isiah Kiner-Falefa (shortstop), and Ben Rortvedt (catcher) aboard. Maybe they have Kiner-Falefa in mind to play support after they sign free agent shorstop Trevor Story? Maybe?

Or maybe the Twins have decided, yes, they’re coming into it to try to win it, including enticing the shortstop anchor from the penthouse of the American League West for a season at least. Maybe they can make Correa happy in the Twin Cities, after all.

Maybe he can join his fellow high 2012 draft pick Byron Buxton (Correa and Buxton were numeros uno and two-o in that draft) to yank them from the basement to the penthouse. He did prove last year that he knows how to win without any funny business that anyone knew of, even if the Astros came up two bucks short in the World Series.

‘[T]he makings of a formidable lineup are present in Minnesota, though they’ll need a few things to break right,” writes MLB Trade Rumors’s Steve Adams, who also notes their “patchwork starting [pitching] rotation” remains a cause for some alarm even with trading for Sonny Gray from the apparently tanking Reds.

From the defensive side of things, Correa gives the Twins a pair of Platinum Glove winners, joining Buxton in that regard. With quality defenders like [Max] Kepler, Urshela and young catcher Ryan Jeffers also occupying key spots on the diamond, the Twins should have a strong defensive team overall. The Twins already ranked 12th in the Majors both in Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average in 2021, and Correa should boost both marks.

There’s something else Correa could do now that he’s become a Twin, too. Something not exactly unprecedented. He could become the latest 2017 Astro to drop all pretenses, denials, and whataboutisms, and come a lot cleaner about Astrogate.

That began with utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, who signed with the Twins as a free agent for 2018, then with the Red Sox as a free agent for 2021, got released by the Red Sox last August, and signed to return to the Astros for their run to the World Series.

Gonzalez broke the ice around the time of the infamous 2020 Astro presser. “I’m remorseful for everything that happened in 2017,” he told reporters, “for everything that we did as a group, and for the players that were affected directly by us doing this.”

He, too, didn’t use the C word. Maybe it’d be too much to expect Correa to use it, too, if he decides it’s safe to come all the way clean now. But it would give him a better look either way than the one he often had clinging stubbornly to the idea that the 2017 World Series title wasn’t really tainted.

Miñoso, O’Neil reach Cooperstown, but Allen’s still excluded

Minnie Miñoso, Hall of Famer at long enough last—but posthumously.

There’s a bit of poetic justice in the first black player for the White Sox and the first black coach in the entire Show with the Cubs becoming Hall of Famers together. But only a bit. Minnie Miñoso and Buck O’Neil should have been voted the honour while they were still alive, not posthumously by the Early Baseball Committee.

So should Dick Allen have been voted the honour while he was still alive. But Allen missed out by a single vote with the Golden Days Era Committee on Sunday. The committee elected Allen’s great contemporary Tony Oliva, but Oliva is still alive to accept the honour.

Miñoso died at 89 in 2015; O’Neil, at 94 in 2006; Allen, at 78, almost a year ago. Nobody ever said things were entirely fair even disallowing the races of these three men, but it’s not so simple to say better late than never for Miñoso and O’Neil; or, for Allen, who’ll surely be voted the honour in due course without having lived to accept it.

Cuban-born Saturnino Orestes Arrieta Miñoso didn’t get his chance in the Show until he was 25, thanks to baseball’s segregation until Jackie Robinson emerged. When the seven-time All-Star finally arrived in 1951—eight games with the Indians before his trade to the White Sox—Miñoso posted a season that should have earned him both the league’s Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player honours.

Award voters in those years had already come to terms with non-white players, but they were still distant enough from the idea that a league’s most valuable player didn’t necessarily have to be on a pennant winner. Miñoso’s season eclipsed the two Yankees who won those respective awards, Gil McDougald (Rookie of the Year) and Yogi Berra (Most Valuable Player), at least at the plate.

Berra’s award probably came as much for his handling of the Yankee pitching staff as for his team-leading runs scored and runs batted in. McDougald had a solid season, but Miñoso out-hit him, out-scored him, and out-stole him. (Miñoso led the league with 31 stolen bases and could be argued as the real father of the Show’s stolen-base renaissance his eventual Hall of Fame teammate Luis Aparicio kicked off in earnest later in the decade.) He also walked more often, struck out less often, and played more field positions competently than the multi-positional McDougald did.

Miñoso put up a lot of MVP-level seasons without winning the award, even though he might plausibly have won three such awards if voters then looked beyond assuming pennant winners automatically carried the league’s most valuable players. He was also (read very carefully) the first black Latino to crack the Show.

In the years that followed after his career ended, there came a few who looked deeper and concluded that Miñoso might have been the most deserving player not to reach Cooperstown for a very long time. When Allen Barra wrote Clearing the Bases in 2002, he devoted an entire chapter to Miñoso and drew that very conclusion, even if he had Miñoso’s age as a Show rookie wrong. (Barra said 29; Miñoso was 25. But still.)

“His 1951 season,” Barra wrote, “taught a lesson to Latin players for the next forty-odd years: you will have to do better than the non-Latin player just to be noticed, and far better to win an award . . . Minnie Miñoso was a better ballplayer than several white players of his time who are in the Hall of Fame. He was also better than [several] black players from his era that are in the Hall of Fame.”

He was also an effervescent personality who used it to win White Sox World over emphatically, while he played and for decades to follow. Chided once because his English was rather halting, Miñoso is said to have replied, “Ball, bat, glove, she no speak English.” At least as classic as the day black Puerto Rican first baseman Vic Power, told by a Southern server that the restaurant didn’t serve black people, was said to have replied, “That’s ok, I don’t eat black people.”

John Jordan O’Neil won one Negro Leagues batting title, made three Negro Leagues All-Star teams, and was known to be swift and slick at first base, but his stronger metier was as a leader and a manager. In fact, O’Neil managed the legendary Kansas City Monarchs to three pennants before baseball’s integration began to mean the death knell for the Negro Leagues themselves.

Buck O’Neil—pennant-winning Negro Leagues manager, groundbreaking Cubs coach, nonpareil baseball ambassador—and Hall of Famer at long enough last, albeit posthumously, too.

As a Cubs coach and scout O’Neil was immeaurable in his mentorship of Hall of Famers such as Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. In due course, he discovered Hall of Famer Lou Brock and World Series hero Joe Carter. As a baseball ambassador, both concurrent to his work with the Cubs and beyond it, O’Neil was even more immeasurable for helping to keep the Negro Leagues legacy alive.

This friendly, soulful man who was a people person first and foremost told all who’d listen that, regardless of the disgrace that kept himself and his fellows from their warranted tastes of what was then considered the only major league baseball life, those who played Negro Leagues baseball managed to have fun, live reasonably, and savour the good in life.

I once wrote that getting O’Neil to shut up about baseball would have been like trying to take the alto saxophone out of Charlie Parker’s mouth. “People feel sorry for me,” O’Neil once said. “Man, I heard Charlie Parker!” Referencing, of course, the virtuoso alto saxophonist who helped change jazz irrevocably with his running mates Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Thelonious Monk (piano, composer), and Kenny Clarke (drums, the first to shift timekeeping to a ride cymbal away from the bass drum) by inventing the smaller-lineup, freer-wheeling style known as bebop.

O’Neil was a jazz nut who linked the musical art to baseball unapologetically and seamlessly. “Music can’t be racist. I don’t care what,” he told Joe Posnanski for the invaluable The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America.

It’s like baseball. Baseball is not racist. Were there racist ballplayers? Of course. The mediocre ones . . . They were worried about their jobs. They knew that when black players started getting into the major leagues, they would go, and they were scared. But we never had any trouble with the real baseball players. The great players. No, to them it was all about one thing. Can he play? That was it. Can he play?

O’Neil made his way into his country’s complete consciousness once and for all time when he factored large in Ken Burns’s 1994 documentary, Baseball. Others of his generation who endured with him made fans, but O’Neil made friends. He became what Pete Rose only claimed himself to be, the single best and most effective ambassador for the game ever seen—and that’s saying a lot.

He missed being elected to the Hall of Fame in 2006, by the Committee on African-American Baseball. There was much speculation that his exclusion then had to do with a dispute between O’Neil and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum’s original research director, Larry Lester, over policy issues. But I’ve never forgotten the sweet grace with which O’Neil accepted the result.

“I was on the ballot, man! I was on the ballot!” he exclaimed, while saying it showed America itself was growing up and getting better even if the growing pains continued to be  too profound.

God’s been good to me. They didn’t think Buck was good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. That’s the way they thought about it and that’s the way it is, so we’re going to live with that. Now, if I’m a Hall of Famer for you, that’s all right with me. Just keep loving old Buck. Don’t weep for Buck. No, man, be happy, be thankful.

O’Neil accepted when invited to induct the seventeen in Cooperstown. His speech evoked living history, deep love, and concluded when he got the Hall of Famers on the podium and the crowd on the lawns to hold hands and sing a line from his favourite gospel song, “The greatest thing in all my life is loving you.”

Three months later, that irrepressibly active and life-affirming man died under the double blow of bone marrow cancer and heart failure.

Dick Allen, who should have been elected to the Hall while alive, and fell one vote short posthumously by the Golden Days Era Committee Sunday.

I have long argued that Tony Oliva deserved to be elected to the Hall of Fame, and I’ve found no evidence to change that conclusion—but Dick Allen, whose career dovetailed completely to his, was over twice the player Oliva was, especially at the plate.

I saw both of them play while growing up and beyond. Oliva was a smart batsmith and run-preventive right fielder. Allen was a wrecking machine at the plate and a brain on the bases in all regards; his Rookie of the Year season compared favourably to Joe DiMaggio’s and he didn’t just hit home runs, what he hit should have had not meals and stewardesses but astronauts on board.

I once did an analysis that concluded a fully-healthy Allen might have finished his career with about 525 home runs, while a fully-healthy Oliva might have finished his with about 315. Neither man reached the Sacred 3,000 Hit Club; hell, neither of them reached 2,000 lifetime hits. But the Hall of Fame is supposed to be about greatness, not mere longevity or compilation. Allen and Oliva were Hall of Fame-great, but only one is now a Hall of Famer.

Allen’s unwanted war with 1960s Philadelphia’s racial growing pains, the city’s carnivorous sports press, and isolated bigots on his own teams too often eroded the memory of just how great he really was. So did the injuries that kept him (and Oliva, in all fairness) from having a more natural decline phase than he (and Oliva) should have had.

But I’m going there again. Line them up by my Real Batting Average metric—total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances—and Tony Oliva’s going to be holding Dick Allen’s coat, in peak and career value.

First, their peak values:

Player, peak PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Dick Allen, 1964-72 5457 2592 685 120 33 11 .631
Tony Oliva, 1964-70 4552 2090 303 82 38 36 .560

Now, their career values:

Player, career PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Dick Allen, 1963-77 7315 3379 894 138 53 16 .612
Tony Oliva, 1962-76 6880 3002 448 131 57 59 .537

I wrote more extensively about Allen when he lost his battle with cancer last year. And it’s also fair to mention that, in his later years, Allen not only made peace with the Phillies organisation but became one of the most popular members of the team’s speakers’ bureau.

But one more time, here, I’ll hand Jay Jaffe the last word—the best short summary of the hell through which Allen was put so unconscionably in his Philadelphia years by a Philadelphia sports press and population uncertain or unthinking about the city’s racial growing pains, and by some teammates likewise uncertain or unthinking—from The Cooperstown Casebook:

[C]hoosing to vote for him means focusing on that considerable peak while giving him the benefit of the doubt on the factors that shortened his career. From here, the litany is sizable enough to justify that. Allen did nothing to deserve the racism and hatred he battled in Little Rock and Philadelphia, or the condescension of the lily-white media that refused to even call him by his correct name. To underplay the extent to which those forces shaped his conduct and his public persona thereafter is to hold him to an impossibly high standard; not everyone can be Jackie Robinson or Ernie Banks. The distortions that influenced the negative views of him . . . were damaging. To give them the upper hand is to reject honest inquiry into his career.

The next Golden Days Era Committee meeting will be five years from now. Allen waited long enough while he was alive. He damn well deserves a plaque in Cooperstown, even if his family alone can now accept on his behalf.

It’s an absolute wonderful thing to see Minnie Miñoso and Buck O’Neil get their due even posthumously. It’s a wonderful thing to see elected Bud Fowler (arguably the first black professional baseball player); Gil Hodges (the great Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman/Miracle Mets pennant-winning manager); and, Oliva plus his great Twins teammate Jim Kaat, pitcher, whose Hall case is really a) borderline at beat and b) could be seen by re-arranging his best seasons. (Kaat tended to pitch his best baseball too often when someone else was having an off-chart career year.)

But Dick Allen’s continuing exclusion remains a disgrace.

The Mets add the unwritten rule-breaking Sisco Kid

Chance Sisco, Jose Berrios

Leave a man open turf, don’t whine when he accepts the gift.

“This is what I call taking a chance,” said Old Grumpy Elder. He called to tell me the Mets picked Orioles catcher Chance Sisco off the waiver wire, and he took no chances on missing the opportunity for a dubious pun.

I happened to spot the news courtesy of New York Daily News writer Deesha Thosar on Twitter just before Old Grumpy rang. I couldn’t resist asking whether she was tempted to cue up Johnny Mathis’s ancient hit, “Chances Are.” She hasn’t answered at this writing.

From the look of it, the Mets decided they needed either a spare part or someone to pick up some minor league depth slack. Sisco didn’t exactly make Baltimore people forget Elrod Hendricks or Rick Dempsey behind the plate. He’s not ugly, so he wouldn’t make them forget Andy Etchebarren, either.

Sisco is still considered a catcher with talent despite not having turned his minor league advancements into comparable Show deliverance. The Mets optioned him to Syracuse (Triple-A) for now. His wounding flaw in the Show: proneness to striking out, though it beats hitting into double plays. (He’s averaged 1.3 hits into double plays a year so far.)

“He was actually having a decent turn behind the plate when he got there this year,” I said. “He got into 21 games and started nineteen of them. He was actually three runs saved above the league’s average at his position.”

“Never mind the esoteric crap,” Grumpy snorted. “What’s his fielding average this year?”

“Seven points above his league average for catchers.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I’m serious. He’s fielding a thousand percent behind the plate this year and the league average for catchers is .993.”

“OK, yeah,” Grumpy said. Then I heard him snap his fingers. “Hey! Now I remember him. From three years ago. That game against the Twins. This guy’s gonna get the Mets into hot water if he pulls a stunt like that again.”

That was a reference to the April Fool’s Day 2018 game in which the Orioles were down 7-0 in the ninth and Sisco beat out a bunt for a base hit. Not because he’s any kind of road runner, but because the Twins were foolish enough to put an overshift on him to the right side of the infield.

The small details: Twins pitcher Jose Berrios was trying to finish a one-hitter and had one out in the ninth. Sisco’s a lefthanded batter. He’d also had the only Oriole hit of the game to that point. The Twins thought a guy who hit .181 and batted (according to Real Batting Average) a mere .364 was liable to go Yogi Berra on them.

So they left him enough third base-side real estate for a homesteader to build himself a five-bedroom mini-mansion. Sure enough, Sisco dropped the bunt there and was safer at first than a nursing baby.

Berrios and the Twins were steaming mad over it. Even after they finished the Orioles despite a followup unintentional walk and a line single up the pipe to load the pillows. It took a pop out foul behind the plate and a strikeout to do it.

“You blame them for being p.o.ed at him?” Grumpy asked, deadly serious.

“I don’t care if he’s bunting,” Berrios told reporters after the game. “I just know it’s not good for baseball in that situation, that’s it.”

I quoted that back to Grumpy. “The only thing worse,” he said, “would have been if Berrios was trying to finish a no-hitter.”

“Well, then,” I began, “who was the genius who told the Twins infield to leave the third base side unprotected?”

“Irrelevant,” Grumpy answered. “You ever heard of respect for the game? You ever heard of sportsmanship? You ever heard of fair’s fair?”

“You ever heard of all’s fair in love, war, and baseball?” I came back. “You don’t want your guy to blow a no-hitter or a one-hitter, you don’t leave the other guy territory that wide open. Then you’re begging for trouble.”

“C’mon,” Grumpy pleaded, “you know better than that crap. The Orioles were down 7-0. It’s not like they had a prayer left.”

“Did you forget that after Sisco helped himself to what the Twins offered on the house they loaded the bases with still only one out? Seems to me they had five prayers left at least—three on the bases and two more minimum coming to the plate.”

I heard Grumpy make a noise on the other end. I couldn’t tell if it was a snort, a grunt, a cough, or flatulence.

“Yes, his team was down 7-0,” I said. “But whatever happened to playing until the absolute last out? Since when do you just hand the other guys the finish to a one-hitter without making the best stand possible to push back and, you know, win?”

“Not the point,” Grumpy harrumphed.

“Horseshit,” I harrumphed back. “You really think Sisco was supposed to take that overshift as an April Fool’s joke and then thank the nice Twins for the laugh by hitting it right into that packed right side like a good little boy?”

“No fair,” Grumpy whined. “You’re quoting yourself.”

“So what?” I said with a short laugh. “You think I’m the first writer who ever quoted himself?”

Then I remembered Twins second baseman Brian Dozier’s postgame comments. I read them back to Grumpy: “Obviously, we’re not a fan of it. He’s a young kid. I could’ve said something at second base but they have tremendous veteran leadership over there.”

“Good for him,” Grumpy said.

“Well,” I said, “I still think it’s to wonder whether the Twins’ own tremendous veteran leadership thought for a moment that overshifting with a 7-0 lead against a sub-mediocre team’s sub-mediocre batter was less criminal than that kid seeing a big fat hole onto which to hit and doing just that. Who says even a bad team’s supposed to just roll over and play dead down seven in the ninth no matter what?”

“Winning isn’t everything.”

“What about not trying to win?” I countered. “Especially when the other guys are dumb enough to give you everything short of a gilt-edged, engraved invitation to make mischief?”

I can’t transcribe Grumpy’s answer in polite company. In impolite company, it would get him served a fist on rye with mustard.

Mudcat Grant, RIP: Motivation

Mudcat Grant

Mudcat Grant shook a nagging cold and short rest to beat the Dodgers in the ’65 Series on the mound . . .

Jim (Mudcat) Grant, the first African-American credited with 20+ pitching wins in an American League season, was also only the second American League pitcher to hit a World Series home run. But he wasn’t sure how far he’d go starting Game Six of the 1965 World Series.

The righthander pitched on two days’ rest and a cold that nagged at him for a couple of weeks. Then, with deuces really wild—two out, two aboard, and his Twins holding a 2-0 lead against the Dodgers—Grant swung on Dodger reliever Howie Reed and drove one into the left center field seats, dancing his way across the plate.

The Twins held on to win Game Six, but it proved just a holding pattern until Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax could beat them with his second Series shutout in as many days. But it still wasn’t bad for a thirty-year-old pitcher who once had to, shall we say, clean up his act.

The Mudcat was said to have rubbed the inside front of his uniform with soap, waited for the daily sun to warm up enough to produce a little foam, then scoop a little onto his hand to apply to the ball. He got away with it until the day he overdid the soap inside his gray road uniform and the foam became too visible to ignore.

Hall of Famer Don Sutton once bragged that he was accused of throwing doctored balls so often he should get a Black & Decker commercial out of it. In due course, Sutton did get just that. It’s a shame nobody thought to offer the Mudcat—who died Saturday at 81—a commercial for Dial. Or at least Lifebuoy.

Just picture the friendly-looking Grant holding a bar and purring, with that power failure-defying smile of his, “Aren’t you glad I stopped using Dial? But don’t you wish nobody else would?” Or, “Take it from a stinker on the mound—use Lifebuoy so you won’t be a stinker anywhere.”

Behind that friendly face and somewhat extroverted personality, there bristled a man who’d once gotten into racial trouble he didn’t ask for as a young Indian. In the bullpen one day, singing along with “The Star Spangled Banner,” Grant sang “this land is not so free/I can’t even go to Mississippi.” He claimed he did it for fun, but bullpen coach Ted Wilks was not amused.

“Wilks heard me and called me a (racial) name,” the Mudcat told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I got so mad I couldn’t hold myself back. I told him that Texas [Wilks’s home state] is worse than Russia. Then I walked straight into the clubhouse.”

Manager Jimmy Dykes had no clue of the source after Grant walked into the clubhouse, changed clothes, and left the ballpark entirely without a further word. The skipper suspended Grant without pay for the rest of the season and refused to rescind it even after Grant called the following day to apologise. Wilks apologised, too, but Grant understandably refused to accept that at face value; the coach would be gone after the season.

Dykes didn’t hold it against Grant, however. He settled Grant into a starting role in 1961. Grant led the Indians with 244.2 innings pitched and three shutouts and was second with 146 strikeouts behind Gary Bell’s 163. Since pitching wins then were considered the alpha and omega, though, Grant’s team-leading fifteen have to be measured against his 3.86 ERA and his 4.45 fielding-independent pitching.

Still, he made himself an Indians fixture, even working in the team’s off-season ticket office and with their community relations department, until a hard 1964 start got him dealt to the Twins that June, for pitcher Lee Stange and infielder George Banks. Twins manager Sam Mele was convinced the trade was a winner for both sides.

Mudcat Grant

. . . and with the insurance runs off his own three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.

It was for Grant. As a 1964 Twin he posted his lowest ERA (2.82) over twenty or more starts in a season. In 1965 he parlayed 5.4 runs of support per start into those 21 wins that season. (In due course, Grant would write a book about the so-called Black Aces, the African-American pitchers who’d enjoyed 20+ win seasons including himself.) He also posted a 2.74 World Series ERA in three starts with two credited wins. (He beat Hall of Famer Don Drysdale in Game One, lost to Drysdale in Game Four, then beat Claude Osteen in Game Six.)

The Mudcat also swore he got his biggest 1965 help from pitching coach Johnny Sain, the one-time Boston Braves pitching standout, who’d taught him a way to throw his curve ball faster. “I’ve never had a real good fast curve before,” he told writer Jim Thielman.

I’ve always had a good fastball, a change of pace and a slow curve. They said I needed to change speeds. I’ve always been able to change off my fastball, throw a straight slow ball up there. But until this year, I never thought in terms of spinning the ball. That’s where Sain helped me.

Grant shook off a hard first half in 1966 to pitch a strong second half. Then two things happened in 1967. First, he was struck on the forearm as spring training was about to end, costing him the season’s first two weeks. Then, Mele—who’d already dumped Sain as pitching coach at 1966’s end—faced his own firing squad, replaced by Cal Ermer.  Between injuries (knee and arm) and Ermer’s inability to define his role, Grant began looking for a way out of town.

He got it when the Twins traded him and their 1965 American League Most Valuable Player award-winning shortstop Zoilo Versailles to the Dodgers for 1968. The Mudcat loved the idea—the Twins atmosphere in parts had become intolerable to him.

“It was a problem between the Minnesota manager and management and myself,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “Some of it was racial, too. They made me feel as though I wasn’t even a man. I’d pitched only 95 innings and it isn’t because of my knees, either. I have lived with the knee trouble for years. But I told them I couldn’t remain with them and wanted to be traded.”

Now a full-time reliever, Grant pitched brilliantly enough as a 1968 Dodger: a 2.08 ERA, a career-low 2.57 FIP, and—even more remarkably, considering his proneness to it in the past and even allowing Dodger Stadium’s difficulties for hitters—he surrendered only one home run all season long.

The Montreal Expos adopted the Mudcat in the expansion draft, then dealt him to the Cardinals in early June. A somewhat lost season turned into a sale to the Athletics, and Grant flashed one more brilliant season in relief, with a 1.86 ERA for the year even with the A’s selling him to the Pirates that September. But after a 1971  for the Pirates and (sold back to) the A’s, and his failure to make a return to the Indians stick in spring 1972, the Mudcat called it a career.

Grant’s concern for black ballplayers didn’t end when his career did. In due course, the righthander who once led a musical group named Mudcat and the Kittens became an active and vocal presence encouraging African-American youth toward baseball.

It certainly took in his own family. (Grant was also the grandfather of 34.) Domonic Brown—who looked like a Phillies comer until an assortment of knee and leg injuries diminished him as an outfielder, then a hitter, until he finally made his way through three seasons in the Mexican leagues—is Grant’s nephew.

“We just gotta motivate them to play and we’ve got to be around,” said Grant in 2008, after he’d been an Anheuser-Busch distributor and, before that, a television analyst for the Indians and the A’s and a pitching coach for the Triple-A Durham Bulls. Not to mention the author of The Black Aces.

“We haven’t been around enough,” he continued. “Now, part of that is the African-American ex-players’ fault, too, because we haven’t been there. Even though we see tons of children, we haven’t been in the inner city like we should.” He probably helped awaken others like him to get there.

Unlike some of the pitches he Dialed in once upon a time, there was no soft-soaping it for the Mudcat there.