No 2021 expanded postseason or universal DH. Guess which one should stay—forever.

Marcell Ozuna, one of the men who helped the Braves’ 2020 designated hitters out-hit the rest of the Show’s.

The good news, as reported by The Athletic Wednesday evening: last year’s expanded-to-the-stretching-point major league postseason won’t happen this year—so far. The bad news, as reported by the same journal’s Evan Drellich: neither will the universal designated hitter return this year—so far.

I say “so far” because Drellich says reversals can never be ruled out, even though “both sides are proceeding as though there will not be any last-minute addition of the DH in the National League, or additional playoff teams from the current field of 10, for 2021.”

Here’s to hoping at least one reversal among the two is ruled in—and that it won’t be another expanded postseason past the customary three division winners and two wild cards in each league, either.

That’s the one that was agreed upon at the eleventh hour last year, after the owners tried pulling a few fast renegings on previous season agreements with the players and the players told them, appropriately, where to shove them. The one that ended up including two teams with losing records into the postseason at all.

Sound thinking required the hope that some way, some how, the Astros (29-31) and the Brewers (29-31 likewise) would bump, nudge, elbow, shove, kick, and bop their way past all comers and face each other in last year’s World Series. The reason: it would have shown only too vividly the absurdity of allowing losers or at least so many lesser winners (including the Astros and Brewers, there were ten wild card teams in the rounds) to even think about playing for a championship.

I’m not married till death do us part to tradition for its own sake, even in baseball. There have been traditions worth keeping and traditions worth sending to the place where the Edsel reposes and where the ball point pen, the bagless vacuum cleaner (go ahead, tell me you just love getting a faceful of dust when you empty the cup and those mounds of dirt hit the rest of the trash and recoil), and artificial baseball turf ought to repose.

Sound championship competition doesn’t deserve to end. “The players are concerned an expanded postseason harms competition,” Drellich writes, “disincentivizing teams from adding talent they would otherwise pursue for a chance to crack a smaller field. The league believes the effect would be the opposite, that the format would encourage teams to upgrade in an effort to claim additional spots.”

The players know the owners only too well. It would be nice, however, if they’d also speak up for two further points: 1) The more expanded the postseason remains, the greater chance for saturation than existed already, something you’d think the broadcasters buying postseason baseball would enunciate as well. 2) The harm to competition goes a lot deeper than just removing incentives for teams to improve on the fly.

If anything, the format rudely interrupted by last year’s pan-damn-ically provoked irregular season deserves to be reduced further. There’s already been a postseason saturation factor for a long enough time. There’s also no reason why the World Series should remain practically just another playoff round.

As things turned out, the two winningest teams in last year’s irregular seasons did wrestle their way to the World Series, and the Dodgers won it (at last!) in six gripping games. I say “winningest” instead of “best” because, in several ways, the irregular season stopped enough teams short of the chance they’d have had in a full season to re-horse and rise from the dead a la the 2019 Nationals. (19-31 after 23 May; 74-38 the rest of the season and, oh yes, they won the World Series.)

But wouldn’t real fans prefer to see a postseason such as what I’ve said before but will say again, and as often as necessary?

* If we must have three-division leagues, the wild cards should be eliminated and the division winner with the best season record should get a round-one bye while the other two division winners play a best-of-three division series.

* The bye team and the division series winner should play in a best-of-five League Championship Series. (There was a tradition worth keeping: from its 1969 birth through 1984, the LCS was a best-of-five.)

* The primacy of the best-of-seven World Series would be restored appropriately. The postseason saturation factor would likely reduce to zero. Teams would no longer have several disincentives, including and especially working toward playing for the thrills, chills, and spills of fighting to the last breath to finish . . . in second place.

Now, about that universal designated hitter. Bringing it aboard last year was as much a question of assuring pitchers’ health further as a question of sound baseball playing. Still.  “The DH in both leagues has long been of interest to the union,” Drellich writes, “because it means an additional talent set that teams would pay for and pursue.”

That’s only half right. Teams probably would pursue off-season free agents they might not think about otherwise in the instances of players whose defense is dubious but whose bats are true weapons. But speaking technically, absent a team signing a Marcell Ozuna or a Nelson Cruz the universal DH wouldn’t add jobs so much as create them for the incumbent pine riders whose defense would have them on trial for treason but whose bats would add runs to the scoreboard.

Incidentally, and I discovered it last October, the designated hitters in the National League (one of whose owners thought of the idea in the first place, in 1891)  out-hit the American League’s, and the Braves’ DHs out-hit everybody else’s. (The Braves’ DHs slashed .316/.411/.589 and a 1.000 OPS. They also hit more home runs than anyone else’s except the Twins’.) Did I mention again that six of the top ten teams’ DHs for OPS were National League teams?

Tell me now that you’d rather return and keep permanent all those .130/.161/.165-slashing  National League pitchers wasting a lineup spot that could be deployed better with solid bats—maybe even a second cleanup hitter or a technically extra leadoff type which, by the way, has been tried and not found wanting.

Tell me you absolutely must continue a lineup spot filled with batters who’ve hit about .166 on average from the advent of the live ball era through the end of the 21st century’s first decade. Show me one position player who’s going to have a major league job hitting like that even if he might be the second coming of Mark Belanger with the leather.

Tell me it was really worth all that waste just to have seen Bartolo Colon hit one out at long enough last, and to have watched him run it out like a pregnant hippopotamus on feet flatter than the first five lines of a Rob Manfred speech.

Tell me again Thomas Boswell was wrong when he wrote, “It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Tell me it’s worth it to see a pitcher at the plate when no few pitchers have had careers interrupted, compromised, or ruined because of mishaps swinging or running the bases. (Sandy Koufax, Carlos Zambrano, Adam Wainwright, Steven Wright, Chien-Ming Wang, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacob deGrom, for openers, call your offices.)

You want to say those are outliers or aberrations? So are Don Drysdale being the 1965 Dodgers’ arguable best hitter, Madison Bumgarner hitting a pair of Opening Day home runs, and Shohei Ohtani, period—though Ohtani won’t be the DH on the days he pitches. Try again.

The owners recently tried to strong-arm the players into accepting the continuing expanded postseason if they wanted the universal DH that badly. The players told them, politely but firmly, where they could shove that trade-off. Both sides should be thinking not of trade-offs but of sound baseball and the overall good of the game—which isn’t the same thing as merely making money for it or for them.

Baseball government letting the National League continue standing upon a nebulous tradition isn’t as grave or as grotesque as Kenesaw Mountain Landis allowing the major league game to remain segregated until the days after he died. But the time for ending the NL’s nebulous “tradition” is long past. The universal DH is sound, smart baseball the way expanded postseasons are not. It’s long past time to bring it aboard to stay.

Let the Negro Leagues records Show

Why should anyone fear to know exactly how many home runs Josh Gibson really hit in major league competition?

Have you ever heard of the Wilmington Quicksteps? They were a replacement team in the 1884 Union Association, after the Philadelphia Keystones folded down the stretch with a 21-46 record. The Quicksteps ruled the ancient Eastern League (forerunner of the AAA-level International League) to the point where fan interest collapsed.

Enter UA founder Henry Lucas. When the Keystones folded, Lucas invited the Quicksteps to replace them. That was the good news. The bad news: the Quicksteps played eighteen games, lost sixteen of them, and with several key players jumping the team to sign with other UA clubs for better pay, the Quicksteps stepped away and folded before the season ended.

Lucas owned the 1884 UA’s pennant winner—the St. Louis Maroons. He replaced the Quicksteps with the first club known to have been called the Milwaukee Brewers. After the season, both those Brewers and the entire UA folded. Now, the fun part: Because the Brewers played twelve games, won eight, and made for a .667 winning percentage, they were considered the league’s second-place finishers. (The Maroons won the pennant with a 94-19 record, if you’re scoring at home.)

What maroons! you say.

Folded but not forgotten. In 1968, after then-baseball commissioner William D. Eckert convened a panel to determine whom among the latter 19th Century’s professional leagues merited classification as major leagues, the UA was one of four leagues recognised thus. (The others: the 1882-91 American Association, the 1890 Players League, and the 1914-1915 Federal League.)

Thus do the Quicksteps’ 2-16 record, the Brewers’ 8-4 second-place finish, and all individual and team statistics therein, count as major league statistics. You can look them up, too, at either Baseball Reference or Retrosheet. (They list the Brewers as the Milwaukee Grays, by the way.) You’d be betting on a sure thing, too, if you suggest that no one otherwise gives a fig’s leaf about it.

But oh, doctor, did enough people give figs’ leaves about what to do about the records now that the seven known Negro Leagues have too-long-overdue major league status. (They weren’t even a topic before that 1968 panel.) Forget “you could look it up,” some of these people seemed to be afraid we were now going to blow it up.

Just a cursory tour through the social media swamps and lakes shows those who think Negro Leagues stats might distort the overall record, those who think they’ll screw up some Negro Leaguers who made what were then the majors, and even—so help me God I saw someone say this—maybe more than one fearing that Jackie Robinson’s and Branch Rickey’s accomplishment in 1947 would be diluted, diminished, deceased.

Need a reminder about a couple of things? Thomas Boswell—who made me aware of the Quicksteps in the first place—has a few. “MLB played just 60 games this past season, far fewer than many Negro League seasons,” he wrote Friday. “Yet the [Washington Nationals’] Juan Soto can claim his batting, slugging and on-base titles forever.”

Boswell says, plainly, let the records show. The keepers of baseball’s statistics and its flames have spent eons on expeditions to get the real records. So why shouldn’t the Negro Leagues get the same attention and respect now that they’re officially the group of major leagues that everyone with heart, soul, and brains knew they were in fact though not in official branding and badging?

What are the worriers worried about? That Willie Mays might lose three points on his lifetime hitting average (he would, down to .301) but gain a lifetime home run if his single season with the Birmingham Black Barons joins the major league books? That Josh Gibson might turn out not to have hit 800+ home runs? (At least not in official league competition.) That those and more changes might do what nobody with a brain would really suggest—dilute their actual greatness?

Try this one on. Jackie Robinson played the 1945 season with the Negro American League legend Kansas City Monarchs. (His teammates included Hall of Famer Satchel Paige and Double Duty Radcliffe.) His slash line was .414/.460/.569 in 63 games known on the record. Now that the Monarchs are an official major league team, guess what that does for Robinson so far? It bumps his hitting average to .314 but keeps his on-base percentage at .414 and his slugging percentage at .474.

Monte Irvin’s life as a New York Giant was compromised by a nasty ankle injury. Marry his known Newark Eagles (Negro National League II) stats to his Giants stats (and his one season as a Cub) and he’s got a .304 major league hitting average. He might even shake out higher when they finally exhume the complete statistics. (Surely you’ve read that, at the time Rickey made his move, his first target was Irvin, considered at the time the best in the Negro Leagues, but Irvin turned it down saying he wasn’t quite ready after missing time to World War II.)

Spare me the crap, too, about the Negro Leaguers not facing major league competition except in exhibition or barnstorm games. It wasn’t their fault. Nobody held the Show at gunpoint to force it to enforce a colour line. Nobody will ever know for dead last certain why team and league administrators in the seven Negro Leagues didn’t keep complete records that the mainstream newspapers wouldn’t.

In baseball’s first generation of desegregation, as slow on the uptake as it actually was, you saw just enough of what Negro Leagues players might do against their white competitors. Robinson has a .281/.333/.481 slash line with nine home runs against Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. Irvin went 2-for-4 against Hall of Famer Don Drysdale and posted a lovely .276/.383/.449 slash line with four homers against Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.

Paige kept Hall of Famer Ted Williams to a .222/.364/.222 slash line—with no home runs. And that was when Paige was in his 40s, far past his prime, but still an effective relief pitcher who inspired Yankee manager Casey Stengel to hector his hitters, “Get your runs now—Father Time is coming!”

Maybe the worriers are worried that a few sacred Show cows might turn out to have been steak? Boswell isolates a case: “Artie Wilson hit .428 in 1948 in the Negro Leagues. Does that make Wilson, not Ted Williams, the last .400 hitter? Teddy Ballgame would get a kick out of that; few men ever boosted and boasted about the quality of Negro League play more than Ted.”

Oho, some cynics might ask (and have asked), but how many of Josh Gibson’s home runs came off guys that would never have made the major leagues even if there was no segregation?

Elston Howard—from teenage Kansas City Monarch (1949) to Hall of Famer Yogi Berra’s eventual successor behind the Yankee plate.

OK, you asked for it. How many of Henry Aaron’s, Babe Ruth’s, Albert Pujols’s, Willie Mays’s, Ken Griffey, Jr.’s, Jim Thome’s, Frank Robinson’s, or Harmon Killebrew’s home runs came off guys who probably had no business being in the majors, too? No hitter faces only the Walter Johnsons, Lefty Groves, Satchel Paiges, Double Duty Radcliffes, Whitey Fords, Sandy Koufaxes, Bob Gibsons, Juan Marichals, Tom Seavers, or Randy Johnsons.

The only thing anyone should worry about is that it may take a good long while before finalising the complete stats is done for Gibson, Irvin, Paige, Radcliffe, Robinson, Wilson, Cool Papa Bell, Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, Sam Jethroe, Elston Howard, Buck Leonard, Don Newcombe, Buck O’Neil, and every Negro Leagues player who did or didn’t eventually make it to the Show after Robinson. If they can be done at last.

“The new Negro League numbers will have many such gaps, a byproduct of the discrimination that limited every aspect of those players’ lives, right down to the tiny detail that many of their games got no box scores in papers,” Boswell observes.

As more information is gathered, all those Negro League stats will change, just as, over my life, I have watched the win, strikeout and hit totals change for Walter Johnson and many other white Hall of Famers.

What the true baseball fan wants to know is: everything. All the data that is available. We will figure out, each in our own way, what to make of it, how to rank it and, in some cases, how to get our jaws off the floor.

We’ll also figure out that there was so much more to regret than we ever knew, when we first learned of the shameful decades of baseball’s segregation. But we’ll also figure out just how much richer the game we love is, now that those men are given officially what we always knew they were, from the stories, the legends, and the eventual actualities when they were finally allowed to join their white baseball brethren on the field:

They’re major leaguers, dammit!

Formalising what people of heart, soul, and mind always knew

Monte Irvin and Willie Mays—major leaguers as Giants and as a Newark Eagle (Irvin) and Birmingham Black Baron (Mays).

When Ted Williams was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1966, he kept it short, sweet, and shameless. One moment, Williams gave props to Willie Mays, who’d passed him on the all-time home run list days earlier: “[H]e’s pushing, and I say to him, ‘Go get ’em, Willie’.” Then, the Splinter hit a grand slam:

Baseball gives every American boy a chance to excel. Not just to be as good as someone else, but to be better. This is the nature of man and the name of the game. I hope that one day Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson will be voted into the Hall of Fame as symbols of the great Negro players who are not here only because they weren’t given the chance.

Gibson didn’t quite live long enough to receive his chance to play major league baseball; he died before Branch Rickey finally began the undoing of what should never have been done in the first place. But he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a baseball immortal in 1972.

Paige did get his chance. Among other things, he kept Williams to a .222 hitting average and slugging percentage but a .364 on-base percentage, after joining the American League with the Cleveland Indians and in due course the St. Louis Browns—in his forties.

Unlike Gibson, Paige did live long enough to see himself inducted into the Hall of Fame, the first Negro Leagues player so inducted (in 1971) after a special committee was formed to determine, as best they could with what they had, whom among the Negro Leagues’ best belonged in Cooperstown.

Not long before then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn formed the committee, his predecessor William Eckert convened another committee to isolate which among the earliest professional leagues merited official major league status. Four leagues were given such formal recognition by that group: the American Association of 1882-91, the Union Association of 1884, the Players League of 1890, and the Federal League of 1914-1915.

The Negro Leagues weren’t even a topic then. Boy, are they a topic now, with commissioner Rob Manfred having pronounced that the seven professional Negro Leagues which played from 1920 to 1948 shall henceforth be known as major leagues. Did I say seven?

Manfred conferred formal major league status on the first Negro National League of 1920-31, the Eastern Coloured League of 1923-28, the American Negro League of 1929, the East-West League of 1932, the Negro Southern League of 1932, the second Negro National League of 1933-1948, and the Negro American League of 1937-1948.

That’s the formality. Any baseball fan with heart, soul, and mind coordinating properly didn’t need a formal proclamation to know the Negro Leagues were as good and sometimes better than the “official” major leagues. They knew down to their bone marrow that Ted Williams was dead right in his implication that the “official” Show’s pre-1947 segregation denied those leagues and a good number of their players their propers.

Why the 1948 cutoff? That was the year of the final Negro World Series, between the Homestead Grays of the NNL and the Birmingham Black Barons of the NAL. (The Grays flattened the Barons in five, despite the Barons’ sharp center fielder—a child prodigy named Willie Mays.) With Jackie Robinson having cracked the old, disgraceful major league segregation line a year earlier, and National and American League teams beginning to scout and sign Negro Leagues talent, however incrementally, the Negro Leagues’ days were numbered.

After that Series (the Grays won the last such major league-level championship in Washington until last year’s Nationals), the Negro National League folded, followed by the Grays themselves in 1951 after barnstorming proved financially untenable. With the two then-solely recognised major leagues continuing to bring black talent aboard, the Negro American League fell back to the equivalence of the highest minor league before folding in 1958.

Bob Kendrick, a man of impeccable intelligence and sensitivity who presides over the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, knows the difference between conferring historical merit and validating the Negro Leagues and its players as major leaguers. “[T]hey never looked to Major League Baseball to validate them,” Kendrick tells MLB.com writer (and author of the splendid A Fan’s Guide to Baseball Analytics) Anthony Castrovince.

But for fans and for historical sake, this is significant, it really is. So we are extremely pleased with this announcement. And for us, it does give additional credence to how significant the Negro Leagues were, both on and off the field.

A writer for The Athletic, Marcus Thompson II, sees and raises. “‘Oh, so now they’re good?’ was my initial reaction,” he writes in a forum convened by the journal to discuss the Manfred pronouncement.

Josh Gibson doesn’t need validation from Major League Baseball. Oscar Charleston doesn’t need validation. Pop Lloyd ain’t suddenly legit now because MLB basically decided to include him in the fold. It reeked of baseball’s arrogance. It wasn’t so much the inclusion of Negro League players, but the idea that somehow they are being officialized by this inclusion. This, obviously, should have been done a long time ago. But the pretentiousness of believing this to somehow be an elevation of those players, as if they’re being knighted posthumously, is insane and offensive . . . Satchel Paige was already a Major Leaguer by every other possible definition. Cool Papa Bell’s been official. His name is Cool Papa Bell.

Did we really need Rob Manfred to tell us Satchel Paige (left) and Jackie Robinson were major league level in the Negro Leagues?

Indeed. And, what do you know, just one prowl of social media delivered enough of the half-witticisms of those who think any thought of the Negro Leagues as “official” major leagues carries the whiff of political correctness. One such miscreant sticks uncomfortably in my mind: “[T]hey didn’t play against ball players like Bob Feller and Ted Williams sooooo… they didn’t play against major league talent.”

Well, now. I’d have loved the miscreant to explain what he thinks of the Show’s willful exclusion of non-white talent prior to 1947. (Fair disclosure: I zapped him by answering his foolish remark with the aforequoted Williams valedictory. As I write, he hasn’t offered an answer.) Do he and others of (I hate to use a four-letter word when ladies might be reading) like mind think such “major leaguers” as Robinson, Mays, Larry Doby, Roy Campanella, Henry Aaron, and Ernie Banks were just another bunch of minor leaguers before “organised baseball” deigned to invite them aboard?

Those of us who love the game and share the concurrent strain that its statistics are its life blood face a pretty pickle, too: How to finalise the true statistics of Negro Leagues competition. For one thing, it was known long enough that the Negro Leagues didn’t keep complete statistics for assorted and largely unpleasant reasons tied in large part to the unconscionable segregation of the so-called National Pastime.

The legends yielded by the Negro Leagues have been fun as legends but problematic as statistical analysis. Josh Gibson hitting eight hundred home runs plus in his baseball life is great fun as a legend, but how many did Gibson actually hit in Negro Leagues competition against how many did he actually hit on the barnstorms?

Castrovince observes that Negro Leagues statistics from leagues competition in 1920-1948 will be the ones brought to account, for a couple of very good reasons: Trying to develop the leagues before 1920 weren’t successful “and lacked a league structure.” Fans black, white, brown, and paisley alike may be disappointed with the net result because the barnstorm and exhibition stats won’t be included.

It won’t be simple, says another Athletic forum participant, Marc Carig. “[T]here are still games missing from the historical record,” he begins.

As of now, researchers have documented 73 percent of Negro League games contested in the 1920-1948 window of inclusion. That figure will keep climbing. More and more newspapers are getting digitized, making it easier to search for documentation. But it is still unlikely it will ever get to 100 percent. That can be a challenge. Now begins the work of figuring out how to incorporate that existing data into the official records. That’s the next step in the process. It’s not an easy one. But it’s worthwhile.

Forget about whether Gibson knocks Aaron and Barry Bonds out of the home run record books. He’ll probably still look like the great bombardier of his legend. And, since Aaron’s Negro Leagues play came after 1948, any home runs he hit before joining the Braves’ organisation won’t change his career home run total. Or the magnitude of his career and of a certain night in April 1974.

But Mays will see some changes. Let’s look. He had 73 plate appearances for the 1948 Black Barons, with sixteen hits including two doubles, twelve runs batted in, and twelve walks.He hit .262 with a .384 on-base percentage but a .295 slugging percentage with the ’48 Black Barons. His OBP won’t change, but his hitting average (sorry, the traditional batting average is incomplete and mistreats hits) will fall . . . one point, to .301. His slugging percentage will also fall . . . one point, to .556.

Another Athletic forum participant, Jason Jones, understands the concurrent late symbolism and undercurrent shame in Manfred’s pronouncement. “[I]f it took this announcement for you to believe Josh Gibson was one of the best to ever swing a bat, shame on you,” Jones says. “This is clearly long overdue. I wish those players were here to see baseball finally do the right thing.”

It shouldn’t have taken us that pronouncement, either, to believe Satchel Paige was one of the best ever to take the mound. (Casey Stengel would hector his Yankees when he saw Paige throwing in the bullpen, “Get your runs now—Father Time is coming!” That was when Paige was in his 40s and not exactly in his prime.)

Or, that Buck Leonard was one of the best ever to play first base.

Or, that Monte Irvin may have been the actual best of the Negro League talents to cross into the Show when he finally did, and that he might have given the Show another decade of his best before an ankle injury compromised him while with the Giants. Among others. (Irvin’s lifetime major league hitting average might jump to .304 when the records are adjusted.)

Said Manfred in a formal statement, “All of us who love baseball have long known that the Negro Leagues produced many of our game’s best players, innovations and triumphs against a backdrop of injustice. We are now grateful to count the players of the Negro Leagues where they belong: as Major Leaguers within the official historical record.”

Where they always belonged.

Now, if only Manfred and his minions would take things from there to send the Show on a real, substantial mission to rekindle deeper interest in baseball among black youth around the country, whether inner city, suburbia, or the country life. Black people have elevated the game as men and as players, coaches, managers, and executives, even if the number  among the last three of those remains terribly low.

Today’s young black aspirants deserve to know the game belongs to them, too. Numerous localised organisations carry that mission splendidly. It would give them a badly needed lift, and further honour the Negro Leagues legacy, if Manfred and his get off the schneid and onto the hunt. It’d mean as much and maybe more than how Jackie Robinson’s Hall of Fame plaque would look with the addition of his seasons with the Kansas City Monarchs.

Kim Ng, inside the box

Kim Ng (right) with Don Mattingly, when Mattingly managed the Dodgers and Ng was their assistant GM. Ng is now, among other things, Mattingly’s new boss in Miami.

Whatever you do otherwise, please don’t call Kim Ng’s hiring as the Miami Marlins’ new general manager “outside the box” thinking. It’s an insult to hers and the Marlins’ intelligence, and it should be to anyone else’s, too.

Yes, Ng is the first woman and the first Asian-American to hold such a job. But yes, she also has three decades worth of experience in baseball operations which only began when she joined the White Sox as a front office intern and worked her way to becoming the team’s assistant director for baseball operations.

The Marlins hired her away from baseball government itself, where Ng just finished her ninth year as the Show’s senior vice president for baseball operations, focused specifically on tightening up and administering MLB’s international baseball reach and operations, working with MLB front offices and international organisations alike, and enforcing international signing rules.

In between her term with the White Sox and in the Show’s government, Ng became the youngest assistant GM (at 29) ever when she took that job with the Yankees, then joined the Dodgers as an assistant GM, her performances of which jobs plus her performance in MLB’s organisation itself put her on several team radars as a GM to be.

Outside the box? Ng is about as inside the baseball box as you can get with her experience and reputation. The only thing outside the box about her is that, well, she’s a lady, and she’s the daughter of a Chinese American father who worked as a financial analyst and a Chinese Thai mother who worked as a banker.

She’s Indianapolis born but New York raised, and she grew up among other things playing stickball on the Queens streets before going to the University of Chicago, earning a degree in public policy, and, oh yes, winning a Most Valuable Player award as an infielder on the university’s softball team.

“[I]t is the honor of my career to lead the Miami Marlins as their next General Manager,” Ng says in a formal statement. “We are building for the long term in South Florida, developing a forward-thinking, collaborative, creative baseball operation made up of incredibly talented and dedicated staff who have, over the last few years, laid a great foundation for success.”

When was the last time you heard terms like “forward-thinking” or “collaborative” or “creative baseball operation” applied to the Marlins? OK, so that might be outside-the-box—the Marlins’ box, that is.

“This challenge is one I don’t take lightly,” she continues. “When I got into this business, it seemed unlikely a woman would lead a Major League team, but I am dogged in the pursuit of my goals. My goal is now to bring championship baseball to Miami. I am both humbled and eager to continue building the winning culture our fans expect and deserve.”

It’s a recent enough expectation, of course, but one that doesn’t lend itself to gags now that manager Don Mattingly was named the National League’s Manager of the Year for shepherding the Fish to a second-place irregular season finish in the National League East and as far as a division series in the postseason.

Ng has knocked on history’s door more than a few times in her career. With the White Sox, she was the first woman and youngest human to present and win a salary arbitration case, for pitcher Alex Fernandez. When the Yankees hired her as an assistant GM, Ng became one of only four women ever to hold the position, joining Elaine Weddington Steward and Raquel Ferreira of the Red Sox and fellow Yankee Jean Afterman.

She started showing up on team radars as GM material in 2005, when the Dodgers interviewed her. They handed the GM job to Ned Colletti, but Colletti almost immediately kept her as an assistant GM. She’s since been interviewed for such jobs by the Angels, the Giants, the Mariners, and the Padres.

When she left the Dodgers to take her MLB job, there were those pondering aloud whether Ng had a chance to become the first woman ever named as baseball commissioner. So much for that idea, so far. She’s content to have gotten where she is now. But would you really object to the idea down the road apiece?

Ng won’t exactly be wading into virgin territory with the Marlins. Chief executive officer Derek Jeter was en route his Hall of Fame career as a Yankee shortstop while Ng worked in their front office. Mattingly’s playing career ended a few years before the Yankees made her an assistant GM, but he was a coach for them while she was there. And, he managed the Dodgers while Ng was still their assistant GM.

Jeter’s own formal statement cites Ng’s “wealth of knowledge and championship-level experience.” The Yankees won three straight World Series while she worked there; the Dodgers challenged for or won a few NL Wests while she worked in their front-office brain pool. As a front-office executive Ng has gone to eight postseasons total.

“Her leadership of our baseball operations team will play a major role on our path toward sustained success,” Jeter continues. “Additionally, her extensive work in expanding youth baseball and softball initiatives will enhance our efforts to grow the game among our local youth as we continue to make a positive impact on the South Florida community.”

The lady is a champ who just might deliver when it comes to making the Marlins champs. Just don’t accuse the Fish of going that far outside the box by hiring her in the first place.

Quit the nonsense, Commissioner

2020-08-02 RobManfred

Rob Manfred, who doesn’t seem to grok the distinction between quitting and a strategic retreat.

The incumbent World Series most valuable player, who will hold that distinction until the next World Series is played, dealt with a nerve problem in his pitching hand, costing him one start but amplifying his sense of perspective. The long view matters as much to Stephen Strasburg as do such small details as whether to bust a fastball or a slider in on a hitter.

“To be frank,” the Washington Nationals righthander told reporters after his scratch against the New York Yankees, “this season is kind of a mess to begin with, so I got to think big picture here. It’s my career. I know that in the long run it’s important to try to make as many starts as you can, and by putting yourself in a compromising position now, I don’t really know if it’s the best way moving forward.”

A hand nerve issue in a normal regular season doesn’t cost a pitcher or his team as much as the issue does in a truncated, sixty-game season. Strasburg, however, isn’t an ordinary pitcher. He’s not just the defending World Series MVP, but he got to the career point where it became possible thanks to that “Strasburg Plan” that shut him down well before 2012 ended, in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery.

With the Nats headed for that postseason it seemed most of the world demanded they man up, compel Strasburg to do likewise, because who knew when they’d get another shot, right? Strasburg and his team decided a) they weren’t going to die if they didn’t go to the Promised Land then, and b) they’d get there sooner or later and they’d kinda sorta like Strasburg along for the ride.

Now it may turn out to be that Strasburg missing a little more 2020 time because of that nerve issue is the least controversial portion of this Twilight Zone of a season. Submitted for your further consideration, in case you began considering before I sat down to write:

Since last weekend, twenty-one Miami Marlins and four St. Louis Cardinals have tested COVID-19 positive, while a few Philadelphia Phillies may or may not have returned false positives. The real positives stranded the Marlins in Philadelphia after last weekend’s series, until a bus delivered the Fish to their Miami home waters at last.

They also provoked fifteen to seventeen scheduled games canceled, including this weekend’s set between the Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers. The latter’s outfielder Lorenzo Cain joined the list of the opting-out during the week while we were at it. So did Marlins second baseman Isan Diaz on Friday. Diaz wasn’t a COVID-19 positive Marlin but seeing so many told him some things really do come before baseball, after all.

“This has been a decision that I have discussed with my family, and I feel it’s the best one for me and my overall well-being,” he said in an Instagram post. “I will deeply miss my teammates and competing on the field. I wish my brothers the best and look forward to taking the field again with them soon!!”

Meanwhile, commissioner Rob Manfred, who rarely misses the proverbial opportunity to miss an opportunity, has channeled his inner Richard Nixon and harrumphed against quitting on whatever’s passing for this truncated major league season. “We are playing,” Manfred told ESPN’s Karl Ravech on Saturday. “The players need to be better, but I am not a quitter in general and there is no reason to quit now. We have had to be fluid, but it is manageable.”

In one sweep of his tongue Manfred implied the players who opted out of playing this season as they were granted the right to do were a bunch of quitters and implied players were to blame for the COVID-19 outbreaks among the Marlins and the Cardinals. As if the players scheduled the Fish for that final exhibition game in Atlanta, a city in a state where the coronavirus now is about as rare as oppressive July heat in Las Vegas.

Yes, a few Marlins went out on the town while in Atlanta. Not too bright if they weren’t masked and sanitising, but who put that game on the schedule and didn’t even think about calling it off when Georgia’s coronavirus presence metastasised? And who are the bubbleheads who couldn’t even think about finding an appropriate “bubble” in which to play major league baseball this year?

(Not to mention, who couldn’t even think about taking better steps to assure the Toronto Blue Jays wouldn’t have become the Show’s first strictly road team.)

For a couple of decades the Show has strained to get into what it thinks must be step with other leagues such as the National Basketball Association. The problem has been that it’s paid closest attention to the wrong things (championship-diluting, everyone-a-cookie playoffs) and ignored the right ones.

Once upon a time, knowing he’d be impeached over Watergate if he did otherwise, Nixon announced he’d resign the presidency by saying, among other things, “I have never been a quitter.” Which was jarring enough coming from the man who accepted his defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial race by quitting politics altogether (so we thought), saying, “Gentlemen, you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

Manfred’s in no position to proclaim himself a non-quitter. He quit on the off-field-based, illegal electronic sign-stealing scandal, baseball’s biggest running story until the coronavirus world tour arrived in America in earnest, giving the cheating Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox players immunity to spill instead of ordering them to spill or be spilled no matter what Players Association grievance might have been filed.

He suspended two managers (one who’d been the Asterisks’ 2017 bench coach before managing the 2018 likewise World Series-winning Rogue Sox) and a general manager, and fined one owner what amounted to tip money. He might have bagged the Astro Intelligence Agency co-masterminds, as also the replay room operator in the Rogue Sox Reconnaissance Ring, but he still let the cheaters skate.

Maybe he thought public outrage—from victimised opponents to Astro and Red Sox fans alike who had to come to terms with their heroes being exposed as high-tech cheaters— would be punishment enough. Then the coronavirus world tour knocked Astrogate and Rogue Soxgate both into the yesterday’s news morgues.

Until Manfred dropped an eight-game hammer on Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly for doing in spirit if also extreme action what the commissioner failed to do, a quarter of brushback pitches holding at least Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa to account. You don’t have to agree with Kelly throwing near Bregman’s head to get that.

The commissioner still hasn’t pressed the New York Yankees to obey a judge’s ruling that the detailed letter of reprimand over the illegal dugout phone and possible network camera sign-stealing be made public, either.

Manfred also quit on the people whom the fans normally buy tickets to see at the ballpark when, under the impetus of his bosses, the unimpoverished owners, he tried to strong-arm the players out of agreed-upon fully pro-rated 2020 salaries, for whenever a season might begin, then failed to help develop a far more reasonably safe way for the season to be played.

He quit on the game’s integrity with his bread-and-circuses rules experiments such as the free runner on second to open each extra half inning and the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. When both collide in the extras, it can be (and has been, here and there) murder for the poor sap on the mound and his manager who can’t do a thing to stop the execution until after batter three.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Nero keeps fiddling while the health of the game—in the game’s actual playing terms and the physical health of enough of its players—keeps burning. No wonder Dodgers pitcher David Price, who opted out of pitching in 2020 before the truncated season began, fumed last week:

Now we REALLY get to see if MLB is going to put players health first. 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.

If player health was paramount, Manfred and whatever’s passing for his brain trust—if canceling the 2020 season outright wasn’t to their taste—would have found a healthier mileu than just regionally based games where certain areas in the Show are COVID-heavier than others. And he wouldn’t have slapped even by implication those players who opted out of the season for the sake of their health and their families’ health as quitters.

Manfred may want to revisit his rhetoric if not necessarily reconfigure his mind. He may not have a choice but to cancel this truncated, surrealistic, Twilight Zone-meets-penny arcade season. There’s a difference between quitting outright and making a strategic retreat, which is exactly what canceling the rest of this loopy but risky season would be.

The moment Manfred sees and understands that distinction, the less he’ll look like the  man who misread the signposts up ahead. Less like the commissioner who fiddles while baseball burns, in . . .

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