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 . . .

DumbassZone01

 

 

Alfred Hitchcock presents Opening Night

AlfredHitchcockAt long enough last came Opening Day. Well, Opening Night. On which New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge nailed the COVID-19 delayed season’s first hit and his teammate Giancarlo Stanton nailed its first home run two batters later.

On which the Washington Nationals opened without a key element, outfielder Juan Soto, whose positive COVID-19 test result came back well enough before game time to make him a scratch.

Before that rain-shortened game even got started, the word came from the opposite coast that Clayton Kershaw was scratched from his Opening Night start thanks to a back problem sending him onto the injured list.

In Washington, the Nats’ co-ace Max Scherzer would have loved if Judge and Stanton were Thursday night scratches. They accounted for all Yankee runs in the 4-1 final shortened in the top of the sixth when the rains smashed in with the Yankees having first and third and one out.

In San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Dustin May pitched five innings to San Francisco Giants veteran Johnny Cueto’s four, both men leaving with a one-all tie, and the Dodgers’ new $396 million man Mookie Betts broke the tie scoring on an infield ground out in the top of the seventh.

Scherzer’s good news Thursday night: eleven strikeouts. His bad news: four walks and an inability to solve Judge and Stanton. Judge also doubled home Tyler Wade in the third and Stanton singled home Gio Urshela in the fifth. Remove Judge and Stanton from the Yankee lineup and the Nats’ Adam Eaton’s hefty solo home run in the bottom of the first would have been the game’s only score.

Betts singled with one out in the top of the seventh and called for the ball. Published reports indicate that ball plus the evening’s official lineup card now repose in his home. “It’s just a new chapter in life,” he told reporters after the 8-1 Dodgers win.

After he came home when Justin Turner grounded into a force out, Corey Seager’s grounder got Cody Bellinger caught in a rundown at the plate, but Enrique Hernandez singled home Turner and Seager (who’d taken second during the rundown), Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock walked back-to-back to load the pads, Austin Barnes sent Hernandez home with an infield hit, and Max Muncy walked Pederson home.

And, on both coasts, all four teams figured out a solution to the issue of whether or not to take a knee for “The Star Spangled Banner” that might actually help more than hurt the too-easily outraged.

Abetted by a suggestion from Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Yankees and the Nats lined up on the base lines holding a long, long, long black ribbon, standing apart enough for social distance, then took their knees before “The Star Spangled Banner” was played.

On the same suggestion, the Dodgers and the Giants held a similar long, black ribbon and took their knees before the anthem’s playing. In Washington, both the Yankees and the Nats rose from their knees while the anthem was played. In San Francisco, ten Giants including manager Gabe Kapler plus Betts on the Dodgers’ side stayed on their knees during the anthem, with Bellinger and Muncy putting hands on Betts’s shoulder as a gesture of support.

I went back on record Thursday saying that there are far worse ways than kneeling before a national anthem to protest something you think is dead wrong. Kneeling, as two Scientific American writers I cited remind us, is anything except disrespect.

“While we can’t know for sure, kneeling probably derives from a core principle in mammalian nonverbal behavior: make the body smaller and look up to show respect, esteem, and deference,” wrote psychologists Jeremy Adam Smith and Dacher Keltner in 2017.  “. . . Kneeling can also be a posture of mourning and sadness. It makes the one who kneels more vulnerable. In some situations, kneeling can be seen as a request for protection.”

I’ll ask again: Would you rather those outraged by rogue police doing murder against black or any people raise clenched fists, burn a flag on the field, or start a riot with or without looting and plundering in the bargain? Neither would I. But if only now-former football quarterback Colin Kaepernick had thought in the first place to take his original knee before the anthem played, would that have worked very differently for himself and the outraged?

Let me repeat, too, that you don’t have to subscribe to every last clause or every last impulse of the social justice warriors to agree that rogue police doing murder is not what the land of the free and the home of the brave was supposed to mean. Neither must you subscribe to the formal Black Lives Matter movement itself to agree that black lives and all lives don’t deserve to end when those entrusted to uphold the law break it instead.

Let me repeat further that it’d be far better for baseball to limit playing “The Star Spangled Banner” to before games on Opening Days, games played on significant national holidays, the All-Star Game, and Games One and (if it goes that far) Seven of the World Series. Not so much to cut back on the kneeling protests but to re-emphasise that patriotism compulsory is patriotism illusory.

Back on the field, Soto’s COVID-19 positive test approaching Opening Night shook the game up just enough to provoke serious questions as to how MLB is going to navigate even this truncated season without further medical issues. And, whether the most stringent health and safety protocols will keep more Sotos from turning up positive.

Other surrealities include the empty stands, other than cardboard cutouts of fans in the seats, and the canned crowd sounds at the ballparks. The coronavirus world tour already turned baseball into something between The Twilight Zone and the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Now that the season is underway at last, should we throw Alfred Hitchcock Presents into the mix?

At least neither Opening Night game went to extra innings, so we didn’t have to deal right off the bat with the free cookie on second base awarded each team to start its extra half-inning. The mischief that’ll inspire will just have to wait.

Funny thing, though, about that equally nefarious three-batter minimum for pitchers. Two Giants relievers faced the minimum in that five-run Dodger seventh before surrendering any runs. If bullpen preservation was part of it even if those two got pried, I can see already that this dumb rule isn’t going to end well for Kapler and other managers.

And, let’s be real, the PA people in charge of the piped-in sounds are only human, after all. Who’s going to be the first poor sap having to live down the accident of cranking up the wild cheering when the home team’s batter gets hit by a pitch?

On the other hand, it was easy enough to feel normal again once the Yankees and the Nats got underway . . . when home plate umpire Angel Hernandez began blowing pitch calls. Calling a few strikes balls and a few balls strikes? That’s about par for the course for him. So when’s that umpire accountability coming at last?

Before the game, Dr. Anthony Fauci—otherwise doing his best to battle a pandemic involving both a stubborn virus and a political (lack of) class that surely makes him wonder if he was really there when all this happened—threw out a ceremonial first pitch. Later, he was seen in the stands with his Nats-themed face mask off his face a spell. What’s up with that, Doc?

You’d love to say Fauci threw a perfect strike to Nats relief pitcher Sean Doolittle behind the plate, but you’d be lying like an office holder. Fauci’s delivery is described politely as resembling a man trying to compensate for a fractured upper arm. The ball sailed almost to the on-deck circle. Rumour has it that Hernandez called it a strike on the outside corner.

The free cookie on second and the bunt

2020-06-26 KetelMarte

This is not what a Diamondbacks fan should want to see if run-productive Ketel Marte leads off the tenth with the free cookie on second base to start the inning.

Depending upon where you spend time on social media, you can say that no sooner did the free man on second to open extra innings this year arise than at least two lines of discourse opened. 1) It makes major league baseball resemble the Nursery League. 2) To quote one such denizen directly, “[E]very player will have to learn to bunt.”

To the second came the reply, “I hope they teach them not to bunt foul on the third strike.” So I couldn’t resist with what I’m about to write, especially since it might put a finish to such nonsense as the free cookie on second to start.

I can count on one hand the bunts I’ve absolutely loved but I’d need more than two hands to count the theoretical bunt situations that weren’t, or didn’t stay that way. And, as Keith Law once wrote (in Smart Baseball), “I have yet to meet the fan who bought a ticket to a major league game because she really wanted to see guys drop some sac bunts.”

The two greatest bunts that weren’t happened in the mid-1980s.

When Pete Rose was pressured to figure out a way to save the Tying Knock—the hit where he’d meet Ty Cobb on the all-time hit list—for the home folks, he went up to hit late in a game at Wrigley Field, one swat away, with men on first and second in the top of the ninth in a tie game, the last of the set before Rose’s Reds returned to Cincinnati.

Everyone in the game including then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth thought Rose the manager would send Rose the player up only to pinch hit in that Chicago series. Or, in a situation such as he now faced, you could hear every other Reds fan and their nebulous owner (Marge Schott) at the time screaming “BUNT!” Rarely at a loss, Rose would remember, “I had thirty thousand people yelling here and one lady back in Cincinnati, every time I got a hit, kicking her dog.”

Rose the manager had his Reds eight games out of first place and Dave Parker on deck. With his owner, so many Reds fans, and Joe and Jane Fan elsewhere demanding otherwise, Rose the manager didn’t have to remind Rose the player what 23 seasons of major league experience told him: A sacrifice means the Cubs then putting Parker aboard intentionally to load the pads and leaving the bigger hitting to smaller bats.

So Rose the manager, knowing the Reds had that much better chance to win, told Rose the player to swing. (It would have been mad fun if Rose the manager could have told Rose the player, “I’ll fine your ass ten large if you even think about a bunt.”) That was probably the single most most honourable plate appearance and swinging strikeout of the baseball life Rose ultimately dishonoured.

He still got the Big Knock, passing Cobb, when the Reds went home. He got there in the first place by playing the game right, refusing to bunt because it would have taken the bat out of his best clutch hitter’s hands anyway. If you’re going to lose (the Reds did that night), you don’t just roll over and play dead for the other guys.

A year later, New York Mets relief pitcher Jesse Orosco batted in the bottom of the eighth of Game Seven in the 1986 World Series. Darryl Strawberry opened the inning with a parabolic home run to give the Mets a badly needed insurance run, but a two-run lead against those star-crossed but still-tenacious Boston Red Sox wasn’t quite enough.

“I’ll bet the house,” crooned NBC colour commentator Joe Garagiola as Orosco checked in at the plate. “He’s got to bunt.”

With one out and Mets Ray Knight on second and Rafael Santana on first, the Red Sox played Orosco to bunt and put on the rotation or “wheel” play: corner infielders charging down the base lines, middle infielders charging to cover the corner bases. What happened next made you wonder why nobody else thought of it too often, if at all.

On 1-1 Orosco squared to bunt as Red Sox pitcher Al Nipper kicked to deliver. The wheel play was on. And Orosco pulled his bat back, swung gently, and . . . “Swinging!” hollered play-by-play virtuoso Vin Scully. “And a ground ball into center field! In comes Knight, it is 8-5 Mets, and Joe, you just lost your house!”

Rose and Orosco in different ways testified to the wisdom of refusing to hand the other guys outs on trays and gift-wrapped. (With the DH universal this year, a pitcher bunting is moot for now.) Now, a lot of those otherwise dismayed at the free cookie on second to open an extra inning can’t wait to see some leadoff bunts dropped.

Except that you might be, say, the Milwaukee Brewers going to extra innings, and you might have Christian Yelich due to lead off your half of the tenth. Or, you might be the Houston Astros, and you might have Jose Altuve or Alex Bregman due to lead off the tenth. Or, you might be the Los Angeles Angels, with all-universe Mike Trout due to lead off the tenth. Or, you might be the Arizona Diamondbacks, with Ketel Marte to open. Or, you might be the Atlanta Braves, and either Freddie Freeman or Ronald Acuna, Jr. is your scheduled leadoff man.

You’re not going to take the bat out of the hands of those guys and order one of them to take a good loving look at the free cookie on second base and bunt him to third. (Not unless you’ve got someone behind them whom you can trust to deliver the clutch hit—and even then.) If you are, you’d better not be surprised when your bosses want to hang you in effigy, chase you clear across the state line, and then get really mad.

If you’re in the top of the tenth, you want to get ahead as swiftly as possible and with one of those guys leading off you’ve got a better than 50-50 chance of getting the free cookie across the plate and putting another man on base at minimum. At maximum, of course, you’ve got an excellent chance that Yelich, Altuve, Bregman, Trout, Marte, Freeman, or Acuna is going to hit for extra bases, maybe even a two-run homer. Either way, you’ve put the burden on the other guys to tie and win.

If you’re in the bottom of the tenth, you want to win just as swiftly if not more so. Do you still want to take the bats out of the hands of a Yelich, an Altuve, a Bregman, a Trout, a Marte, a Freeman, or an Acuna, and order them to drop a measly bunt when your odds of a game-winning base hit are that much more in your favour with bats like that opening your inning?

OK, you’re foolish enough to want to bunt the cookie to third leading off. Swell. In the bottom of the tenth, you’ve given yourself one less out to work with and your best bat is out of the picture. You might get lucky from there; you might not. In the top of the tenth, maybe a sacrifice fly brings the cookie home but you’ve got only a one-run lead that’s easier to overcome—and, with only one out left to play with, the bases empty and your best bat’s still out of the picture.

Yelich, Altuve, Bregman, Trout, Marte, Freeman, and Acuna might be sitting on the bench scratching their heads if not thirsting for a stiff one over that.

What about the other guys? I’ll guarantee it. If you think about bunting to open with the free cookie on second, be prepared for the other guys’ pitcher being prepared to let you bunt. Be prepared for him making you bunt. Maybe with a big grin on his face. The other guys like gift-wrapped presents, too, you know.

Because that smart a pitcher will throw your opening hitter nothing but something he can only bunt to the third base side, enabling that pitcher to pounce on the ball and throw the cookie out. If your opening hitter doesn’t exactly have enough speed to out-race a cement mixer with a flat tire, be prepared further for Area Code 1-5-3 or, if the third baseman was coming down the line and the shortstop’s moving to cover third, an Area Code 1-6-3.

Brilliant. You just outsmarted yourself into two outs and nobody on.

You think I just brewed that idea alchemically in the dungeon? It’s right out of the book of Casey Stengel, courtesy of his Mets pitcher Al Jackson:

There were men on first and second and you knew the other team wanted to bunt them over. Casey would say, “Here’s what I would do. I would let him bunt. I would throw him a little slider, and I would break toward the third base side, and I would throw his ass out at third.” Casey had the guts to tell you what he’d do in a certain situation when it came up on the ball field.

By the way, Jackson never once allowed men on second to be sacrificed to third.

If they don’t think about letting you bunt, they may think about putting Yelich, Altuve, Bregman, Trout, Marte, Freeman, or Acuna aboard on the house to lead off and giving themselves a shot at an instant double play. Leaving you a man on third, two outs in the hole, and a lesser bat to do your run production.

Giving outs away is unsound baseball as it is. The free cookie on second base to open the extra innings is foolish enough without bringing the bunt back. Under normal circumstances, the only time you ever ought to want to bunt is if your man leads off with nobody on and a) he has speed to burn, it’s one out or less, and he can bunt for a base hit; b) he has a lame infielder (say, Miguel Cabrera) to exploit; or, c) he has a wide-open half infield to play with thanks to a defensive shift.

You give me that extra free space? I’m accepting that gift, with no intention whatsoever of seeking a refund—even when you’re a couple of outs from finishing a no-hitter but I’m only down two or three runs. In that position, I still have a chance to get runs across the plate and win. Why the hell are you giving me a free hit? (If I’m down more than three runs, maybe I don’t even think about it. And maybe you don’t, either.)

If you’re that foolish, you’re paying the penalty. Sure, I respect what your guy’s trying to accomplish, but I also respect that he didn’t pitch his kishkes off just for you to play with fire on his dollar. If my batter sees that yummy wide-open space, and he doesn’t take advantage of it and drop himself a bunt for a free base hit, he’d better have his flight out of the country booked, reserved, and boarding-passed. Because, silly me, I have a job to do too—win.

And I’ve got a future Hall of Famer on my side there. Once upon a time in his life as a Detroit Tiger, Justin Verlander took a perfect game bid into the sixth with one out and a 4-0 lead. Seattle’s Jarrod Dyson dropped a bunt and beat it out for a hit. Tiger Territory screamed blue murder—about Dyson’s bunt more than the three-run rally it launched to help send the Mariners to a 7-5 win. Verlander was more troubled by the three-run rally and eventual loss than he could ever have been about Dyson’s bunt:

It was a perfect bunt. That’s part of his game. I don’t think it was quite too late in the game given the situation to bunt, especially being how it’s a major part of what he does. So I didn’t really have any issues with it. It wasn’t like I got upset about it.

The book of unwritten rules is at least half foolish and maybe more. Just wait until you see someone deciding the unwritten rules include not even thinking about bunting with the free cookie on second base. But you don’t have to play that card to know that that, like too many bunting orders, is the fool’s errand of gifting the other guys precious outs.

Some 2020 rules that must die

2020-06-24 DavidPriceMookieBetts

Seriously? You want the man on the left (David Price, pitcher) taking his lifetime .080/.132/.080 slash line to the plate with a rally on the line? You want the man on the right (Mookie Betts, right fielder) brought in to pitch if the game is close enough for the other guys to break open?

Oops. We’re going to have the universal designated hitter after all when the Show returns next month. Some said yes with reasonable knowledge; some said no, also with reasonable knowledge, and I did kind of jump the gun on the latter the other day. But now we’ll have it. For awhile, anyway.

Everybody repeat after me, with or without apologies to R.E.M.: It’s not the end of the world as we know it, and we feel fine. Or, we ought to feel fine. I don’t know which has been more absurd: that the DH was originally a National League brainchild that the American League once rejected (yes, you can look it up); or, that people to whom “tradition” is a fetish forget how often traditions prove untenable at last.

Forgive me. I’m not a man who dismisses tradition lightly unless incontrovertible evidence tells me otherwise. Once it was tradition that non-white players alone could play major league and other “organised” baseball. Surely that was one tradition whose time should never have been so in the first place. Of course the tradition of pitchers batting isn’t even close to the disgrace of black, Latino, Oriental, and other races and ethnicities barred from “organised” baseball.

But pitchers in the 2010s hit for a .131/.161/.165 slash line. They hit about likewise in the decade preceding. You want the thrill of pitchers hitting home runs? Tell me what you’d call one bomb per 239 plate appearances if that was the production of the rest of the lineup. Now tell me you wouldn’t call that the Second Dead Ball Era.

Remember: Thomas Boswell had it right when he argued he’d surrender thrills like that “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.”

There are far worse protocols coming forth for whatever the 2020 season is going to be.

The three-batter minimum for pitchers. This is something kicked around well before the coronavirus’s world tour as it was. It was likely to be implemented for 2020 even if the coronavirus never got past a Chinese province. I admit that at first I couldn’t make up my own mind about it, but now I’m convinced: it’s a terrible idea.

Maybe I don’t like the crowd of commercials accompanying every pitching change even two or three in an inning, either. But I’m going to hate watching some poor sap who doesn’t have his best that particular turn get beheaded before his skipper can lift him for a fresher arm because one stupid rule says he must face three batters before Skip can even think about getting him away from the guillotine.

The extra innings in which each team begins its turns at the plate with a runner on second base. What the hell is this, the Nursery League? Now, forget the image of everyone getting the cookie and tell me whether you think it’s going to be all that much fun to see a gift man on second brought home in two quick shakes with a sacrifice bunt and then a sacrifice fly at minimum.

Ponder this: J.J. Cooper of Baseball America discovered what happened when the minor leagues adopted the cookie on second to open the extras: extra-inning games decided in the first of the extras went from 45 percent in year one to 73 percent in the last two years.

Come on. This is one fight in which the trads have the better argument. The second two loveliest words in the English language (the first two, of course, are “Play ball!”) are “extra innings.” You’d think an America starved for baseball over the pandemic postponement would stand athwart the cookie on second opening the extras, yelling, “Foul!”

Well, as radio legend Gabriel Heatter once crooned, “Ahhh, there’s good news tonight”: The cookie on second gets eliminated for the postseason. Goody.

Position players pitching. That was then: it was allowed for teams being blown out only. This is now, for 2020 at least: A manager can send a position player to the mound any old time he wants. Brilliant. Didn’t we always want to see Mookie Betts or Pete Alonso or George Springer or Nelson Cruz or D.J. LeMahieu on the mound as openers or coming in to bail the team out of a critical mid-innings jam? Seriously?

Newly-installed Chicago Cubs manager David Ross once hit his first major league home run off a position player. (His first home run and he hits it off Mark Grace. I feel sorry for that kid.—Mark Grace, said position player.) Fourteen years later, Ross pitched two perfect innings (one apiece in two games), and after the second one he led off the inning by hitting one out.

Did I mention Ross was a catcher and he pitched while his team was being blown out? (Did I also mention Ross opened his career with a homer off a non-pitcher but ended it by hitting one over the center field fence off a bona-fide pitcher leading off an inning in Game Seven of a World Series?)

If you think Ross’s Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have even thought of sending Grandpa Rossy to the mound in a tight game with the other guys an out or two away from tying or going ahead, I have a North Pole beach club to sell you at a bargain price.

I get that this is going to be an extremely unusual season, falling considerably under the desperate times/desperate measures umbrella, especially with fans not being able to go to the ballpark for a good while. But the Show’s governors have a troublesome history of calling the repair man for what isn’t broken and dragging their feet on what is.

Even an unusual season doesn’t need the cookie on second to start the extra innings or position players on the mound for any reason other than to keep the rest of the bullpen from further late blowout humiliation. The DH needs to stay universal. But why do I think that won’t be so while at least one of the others will?

Ads on uniforms. Assume the owners get what they’re said to want like five minutes ago. If we must have them, at least let them be sensible per player. Some examples:

Every Boston Red Sox—Samsung television.
Matt Carpenter—Black & Decker.
Bartolo Colon (if a team is convinced to let him have a comeback shot)—Pillsbury.
Mike Ford—If you have to ask . . .
Every Houston Astro—Nikon cameras
Aaron Judge—Legal Aid Society.
Every Miami Marlin—Mrs. Pauls.
Charlie Morton—Morton’s Salt, of course.
Every Pittsburgh Pirate—Long John Silver.
Except Bryan Reynolds—Reynolds Wrap.
Every Seattle Mariner—Red Lobster.
Mike Trout—Bass Pro Shops.

Let’s not leave the managers out, either:

Rocco Baldelli (the youngest current MLB manager)—Mattel.
Joe Maddon (the oldest current MLB manager)—Viagra.

Just keep them to one ad per jersey, preferably on the sleeve. Bad enough the Nike slash now occupies the upper right breast. This is still baseball—not NASCAR.

The Show will go on, but . . .

2020-06-23 ManfredBallsOK, so the universal designated hitter won’t be coming just yet. That ought to settle the more stubborn traditionalists, who forget often enough that there’ve been a few traditions baseball was better off without and moved to eliminate them appropriately.

But it looks like we’re going to have major league baseball this year, after all. It also looks like it’s going to be nerve wracking, not just because of a sixty-game season by itself but because the continuing coronavirus world tour may make a few more stops baseball isn’t going to like.

The Philadelphia Phillies and the Toronto Blue Jays have had to close their Florida camps when five Phillies-organisation players and one such Blue Jay tested COVID-19 positive. As of Sunday, according to USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale, forty players and/or team staffers have tested positive for the virus.

And when the Show teams return to work a quick-and-dirty delayed spring training, it looks like they’ll be doing it in their home cities instead of at their normal spring training camps in hard enough-hit Arizona and Florida. Which makes things perhaps a little simpler for most but a little trickier for the Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

That assumes the players can handle such a brief spring training. The Major League Baseball Players Association has until five o’clock Eastern time today to let MLB know the players can report for such abbreviated and re-located spring training by 1 July, with a projected 24 July season opening. Not exactly the (all things considered) ideal Fourth of July season opening many thought would have been big enough.

While you ponder how not-so-great both sides in the MLB impasse have looked, ponder concurently why there was such an impasse in the first place. The owners and commissioner Rob Manfred tried to renege on a late March deal with the players, plain enough and simple enough, for all the complications that followed. If you want a thumbnail sketch here and now, you won’t get much better than NBC Sports’s Craig Calcaterra:

The terms of that basic framework: the players earned the right to receive prorated pay for however many games played and Major League Baseball would get to decide how many games would, in fact, be played. In light of that, one might’ve assumed that when it came time to set up a 2020 season, it’d be a pretty straightforward thing: the owners, per the March Agreement, would simply say “we’ll play a season of X games” and it’d be done.

Except when the owners first spoke, and proposed an 82-game season in early May, it came with a catch: a demand that the players give up their previously-negotiated right to prorated pay and accept different financial terms. Legally speaking the owners had no right to ask for that and the players were under no obligation to negotiate that. They declined to do so and, instead, countered with various proposals on season length and did not negotiate pay rate. The owners, nonetheless, spent more than a month asking for the players to abandon their rights to prorated pay, proposing multiple alternative schemes. It was not until June 17 — after the players said they would no longer negotiate if MLB kept including pay concessions in their offers and, instead, simply demanded that MLB impose a season and be done with it — that MLB came back with its first offer that complied with the March Agreement.

In shorter words, it took the Show this long to start setting a season because the owners tried—in the middle of a pandemic scaring the hell out of a country that needed the Show to help keep morale alive when nobody knows just when the coronavirus world tour will end at last—to use it as a shield to pull a fast one on the players whose previous inconsistent unity came together the moment they smelled this rat.

Calcaterra also reminds us that relations between the owners and the players weren’t exactly friendly before the pandemic forced baseball’s limbo in March:

The owners had been eating the players’ lunch in recent years, having negotiated a couple of owner-friendly labor deals and, on top of that, putting the screws to players in free agency. In light of that there was already a lot of mistrust and, with the current Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire in December 2021, each side was already beginning to mobilize for labor battle. Reacting to the pandemic and coming to some sort of an agreement to deal with it would’ve been difficult in even the best of circumstances, and the owners and the players were nowhere close to being in the best of circumstances as the 2020 season was about to get underway.

The players’ lesser cohesion between 2016 and March may have seduced the owners into thinking that, with their continuous tries at reneging on the March agreement, they “could, once again, exploit rifts in the union and get a favorable deal as a result.” Oops. The players hollered foul and stuck to it. For now.

The questions to come include whether they’ll stay so cohesive when it comes time to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement after the 2021 season. Neither Manfred nor Players Association executive director Tony Clark come out of this mess looking better.

Manfred is exposed as a commissioner unwilling to translate his express power to act for the good of the game into acting as though that good is more than making or saving money for the owners . . . who also forgot what a horrible look it would be when they spent so much time trying to trash what they agreed to in March they were seen as ignoring health implications in MLB’s return.

Clark, though, is seen now as a union leader who doesn’t always read pulses properly and doesn’t always see the bigger picture, including the prospect of recent negotiations and owners’ maneuverings leaving free agency to face what some writers call a potential blood bath.

Or, as Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer tweeted Monday, “So we gave up shares of playoff money, eliminating the qualifying offer for 2021, paycheck advance forgiveness, Covid 19 protections, and protection for non guaranteed arb contracts for next year in order to hold on to our right to file a grievance.”

Bauer had tweeted earlier that the pandemic wasn’t the right time for a battle: “If there’s going to be a fight, the time for that fight is after the ’21 season when a new CBA is negotiated. … We’re doing irreparable damage to our industry right now over rules that last AT MOST 16 months. What kind of sense does that make?”

Nothing about 2020 has made any kind of sense so far. The owners looking terrible makes the same sad sense it always has. The players’ union looking foolish now doesn’t. Everyone in and around baseball knows that.

But at least they kept the universal DH from poisoning the pond, right?