Who dares call it cheating?

When Gaylord Perry passed away as December began, there were almost inevitably those who snarked about his actual or reputed virtuosity with the illegal-since-1920 spitball—or, in his case, the grease, wax, petroleum jelly, or even oil ball. (Maybe even a lard ball, since Bobby Murcer once sent Perry a gallon of the stuff as a gift.) Who knew for dead last certain?

Show me someone outraged that such a cheater got to pitch 22 major league seasons, never mind go to the Hall of Fame, and I’ll show you one who still ROFL over this or that story of Perry’s subterfuge. Maybe he used one, some, or all those substances on his pitches. Maybe he merely planted enough suggestions to live rent-free in over half of baseball’s heads, at the plate and elsewhere.

But when further evidence is adduced that baseball’s government not only can’t but seemingly won’t settle on a consistently-manufactured ball, and doesn’t think anything’s untoward about sending certain livelier balls to be used for certain games—or even on behalf of certain milestones—the response is about the size and volume of a wounded amoeba.

Oh, they howled over pitchers trying to get a grip on inconsistently-covered balls with that good new-fashioned medicated goo. Will anyone howl likewise over the balls themselves having more than inconsistent covers . . . like inconsistent insides that impact the likely play of the game even more?

It’s almost a full week since Insider‘s Bradford William Davis, by way of astrophysicist and Society for American Baseball Research member Meredith Wills, Ph.D.’s research, revealed that MLB enabled baseballs of three differing weights for official game usage, even before commissioner Rob Manfred swore to God and His servants in the Elysian Fields that this, folks, is a one-ball season.

Players who noticed and were unamused by the differences were either waved away (Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander, to name one) or all but ordered to sit down, shut the hell up, and be done with such nonsense. At minimum. When Giants outfielder Austin Slater wanted to collect balls for Wills to analyse, Slater was answered with a memo from the Major League Baseball Players association saying baseball’s government threatened to fire anyone sending aiding and abetting him. 

A year earlier, Davis disclosed Wills’s research revealing the 2021 season featured two balls of differing weights, not to mention the possibilities that a set between two tankers might get a lead ball while a set between two contenders or longtime rivals might get a Super Ball. This year, with the third ball apparently in play, a ball somewhere between 2021’s deader and livelier balls, MLB still can’t play ignorant and get away with it, though not for lack of trying.

“[W]e do know that the league keeps track of information that would permit it—if it wanted—to know which balls get used in each game,” Davis wrote last week. “According to two sources familiar with MLB’s ball shipment process, the league not only directs where its balls are sent, it also knows which boxes its game compliance monitors–league employees tasked with ensuring each team adheres to league rules–approve and use before each game starts.”

There’s a word for that kind of subterfuge. You know it. I know it. Few if any dare say it in this context, though they love to deploy it in others.

Assorted batsmen have been caught with or confessed to using doctored bats, usually but not exclusively corked. Albert Belle, Norm Cash (who copped to using a loaded bat winning the 1961 American League batting title), Wil Guerrero, Billy Hatcher, Amos Otis (another confessed scofflaw), Graig Nettles (master of the Super Mini-Ball stick), Chris Sabo, and Sammy Sosa were a few denounced with that word.

Assorted pitchers not named Gaylord Perry have been suspected powerfully or caught outright putting more on their pitches than their fingers. Some got laughs first: Lew Burdette (tobacco juice swamp next to the rubber, applicable when he bent over to adjust his shoelaces), Whitey Ford (late-career mud balls and ring balls, the latter balls cut on the rasp in his wedding ring), Mudcat Grant (soap balls, until he rubbed too much soap inside his gray road jersey and the sun finked on him), Joe Niekro (emery board balls), Don Sutton (sandpaper and other things, plus notes he left in his glove fingers for umpires frisking him: “You’re getting warmer, but it’s not in here”). Some avoided the laughs: Ross (Skuzz) Grimsley (greasy hair), Kevin Gross (sandpapered glove pocket), Michael Pineda (pine tar balls), Phil (The Vulture) Regan (sweat balls), Mike Scott (sandpaper). They all got denounced with the same word, too.

Assorted actual or alleged users of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, on both sides of the ball, didn’t get half the laughs drawn by the second-story men at the plate or the embezzlers of the mound. But such actual or alleged users—Sosa, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramírez, Álex Rodríguez, others—did (and still do) get hammered with that word, too.

When teams set up off field-based sign-stealing operations—from buzzers underground (the 1899 Phillies) to telescopes behind the outfield (the 1951 Giants most notoriously), inside the scoreboards (the 1948 Indians, the 1961 Reds), and high behind the ballpark (the 1910s Philadelphia Athletics); from rifle scopes in the seats (the 1941 Tigers) to illegal real-time cameras feeding an extra clubhouse monitor next to which the pilfered intelligence is signaled to batters (the 2017-18 Astros)—they got denounced for that word. Even if only one got disciplined by baseball’s government while the predecessors got disciplined merely by history.

If those ex-cons real or alleged can be judged accordingly, why the hell can’t baseball’s government be judged likewise over the Three Ball Blues? Hitters altering bats and pitchers scuffing balls earn the verdict. Teams engaging off field-based electronic intelligence gathering earn it. Why can’t baseball’s own government and the official ball manufacturer it co-owns earn it for inconsistent manufacturing and seemingly willful, selective deployment?

Some dare call it what then-Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti denounced when he ruled that Gross’s appeal of his ten-game suspension wasn’t all that appealing:

Unlike acts of impulse or violence, intended at the moment to vent frustration or abuse another, acts of cheating are intended to alter the very conditions of play to favour one person. They are secretive, covert acts that strike at and seek to undermine the basic foundation of any contest declaring the winner—that all participants play under identical rules and conditions. Acts of cheating destroy that necessary foundation and thus strike at the essence of a contest. They destroy faith in the games’ integrity and fairness; if participants and spectators alike cannot assume integrity and fairness and proceed from there, the contest cannot in its essence exist . . . Cheating is contrary to the whole purpose of playing to determine a winner fairly and cannot be simply contained; if the game is to flourish and engage public confidence, cheating must be clearly condemned with an eye to expunging it.

Aaron Judge went to the plate last season unaware he’d be swinging at three different-consistency balls, unaware that he might have been given a little surreptitious assistance, en route breaking the American League’s single-season home run record. Now-retired Hall of Famer in waiting Albert Pujols went to the plate last season unaware he, too, might be swinging at differing balls, en route finishing his career with over 700 lifetime home runs.

They and everyone else at the plate last season deserved to know they were being pitched consistently made baseballs, not balls of differing makeup depending upon whom was at the plate reaching for which potential milestones. The pitchers who faced them deserved likewise to know going in that the games’ integrity was unimpeded, and to know that they or the other guys were just better, not that they were unknowingly throwing lead balls or Super Balls at any given time.

If you’re looking for denunciations of cheating toward the Manfred administration for its Three Ball Blues, from the same fans, observers, and chroniclers who would have and did scream bloody murder when confronted with actual or alleged cheating players and teams, save your energy for the time being. At this writing, their overall silence is louder than a heavy metal concert.

Three-ball blues

The Ball

This is the baseball I landed during batting practise before Opening Day at Angel Stadium this year. (I gave it to my son who attended with me.) Who knew if it was juiced or drained?

Signing with the Mets for two years and $86 million was good with and for Justin Verlander. But it may not be the most important thing he did outside pitching the decisive World Series Game Six. The most important thing the future Hall of Famer did this year was buttonhole a baseball official before a game against the Yankees in June and demand, “When are you going to fix the [fornicatin’] baseballs?”

It’s not the first time he complained. In 2017, Verlander was just one of several who noticed and complained that balls used that postseason were a little too smooth for comfort. And it got worse instead of better. By 2021, Major League Baseball had two kinds of baseballs, one slightly heavier than the other, and thus containing a little more life than the other.

With a lot of help from Meredith Wills, an astrophysicist and baseball fan whose passion is examining the makeup of baseballs and who’s discovered the Show can’t get it straight or consistent, Insider exposed 2021’s two-ball tango. The Insider reporter who delivered Dr. Wills’s discoveries and alarms, Bradford William Davis, has now seen and raised: in 2022, baseball played its own version of “Three Ball Blues.”

That vintage blues song discussed pawn shops, the traditional sign for which is three golden balls. The lyrics include the old joke inside the pawn business: “It’s two to one, buddy, you don’t get your things out at all.” Baseball’s three-ball blues may mean it’s two to one on getting its integrity back after engaging its own kind of cheating—still inconsistent and often juiced balls.

Not necessarily in the final game scores. Davis and Wills suggest powerfully that baseball’s government wanted a little more oomph on behalf of a lot more hype, with certain events such as the Home Run Derby, the postseason, and maybe even Aaron Judge’s chasing and passing Roger Maris as the American League’s new single-season home run king.

Verlander was far from the only player to complain. Davis says Giants outfielder Austin Slater fell upon that 2021 Insider story, sought to collect balls to send Wills for analysis, and was ordered by “a top executive in the commissioner’s office” to back off.

“The warning,” Davis says, “sent in the form of text messages that Insider reviewed, came via a [Major League Baseball Players Association] official who was relaying the league executive’s displeasure.” Displeasure over what? Being caught red-handed delivering inconsistently-made baseballs about which the game’s own commissioner seems distinctly under-alarmed?

Rob Manfred told reporters before the All-Star Game that, yup, we had two balls in 2021, but it was the fault of a pandemic-times issue in Rawlings’s Costa Rica manufacturing plant: closues and supply chain issues, as Davis translates, meant MLB’s plan to stay with a new, lighter, deader ball was compromised when it had to “dip into a reserve stock of the older, heavier, livelier balls for some 2021 games.”

MLB claimed random distribution between the two 2021 balls. Davis’s 2021 reporting via Dr. Wills brought forth suspicions that MLB wasn’t just doing it randomly, that at times they were sending balls to certain places for certain series depending on what they thought might be the gate: say, a game between a pair of also-rans might get the deader ball but a game between a pair of big rivals or contenders might get the livelier ball.

Now Manfred told that July conference think nothing of it, we’ve got it knocked, we’re sticking to the deader ball, and every ball made for 2022 will be consistent. Not so fast, Dr. Wills discovered, according to Davis: “Major League Baseball did not settle into using a single, more consistent ball last season, Wills’ research suggests: the league used three.”

By the time Manfred made that statement in July, Wills had already found evidence that at least a handful of those older, livelier, “juiced” balls — the ones that the “new manufacturing process” purportedly replaced — were still in circulation. Though these juiced balls are from 2021 or earlier, according to manufacturing markings, they were in use in 2022; Insider obtained two of them from a June 5 Yankees match against the Tigers.

Over the next few months, Wills and Insider—with whom Wills exclusively shared her research—worked together to collect game balls for her to painstakingly deconstruct, weigh, and analyze. What she found was striking: In addition to that small number of older juiced balls and the newer dead balls, Wills found evidence that a third ball was being used at stadiums across the majors.

Davis says Wills’s data indicates production on the third ball began six months before Manfred promised 2022 as a single-ball season. “This new third ball’s weight,” Davis writes,

centers somewhere between the juiced ball the league phased out last season and the newly announced dead ball: It is, on average, about one-and-a-half grams lighter than the juiced ball and one gram heavier than the dead ball. According to the league’s own research, a heavier ball tends to have more pop off the bat, meaning the third ball would likely travel farther than a dead ball hit with equal force.

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge had no clue whether he’d be pitched a dead, lead, or Super Ball while chasing Roger Maris this year.

Wills calls it “the Goldilocks ball: not too heavy, not too light—but just right.” But this isn’t the Three Bears we’re talking about here. This is about the possibility that hitters didn’t know going in when one hefty swing would send a ball over the fence but another such hefty swing with the same square, powerful contact might result in a sinking line drive, a dying quail, or a long out.

In other words, Judge—who’s just signed a nine-year/$360 million deal to remain a Yankee, after betting big on himself during his contract walk year—had no clue just what he was going to hit, and I don’t mean fastball, curve ball, slider, cutter, or sinker. Nobody knows for certain whether or how many such Goldilocks balls Judge sent into the Delta Quadrant. And that’s allowing for him being strong enough to hit a clump of seaweed into the second deck.

“But we do know,” Davis writes, “that the league keeps track of information that would permit it—if it wanted—to know which balls get used in each game. According to two sources familiar with MLB’s ball shipment process, the league not only directs where its balls are sent, it also knows which boxes its game compliance monitors–league employees tasked with ensuring each team adheres to league rules–approve and use before each game starts.”

Baseball government people were handed the net results of Dr. Wills’s reseach and all but waved it away with an all but run-along-girlie-you-bother-me statement:

The 2022 MLB season exclusively used a single ball utilizing the manufacturing process change announced prior to the 2021 season, and all baseballs were well within MLB’s specifications. Multiple independent scientific experts have found no evidence of different ball designs. To the contrary, the data show the expected normal manufacturing variation of a handmade natural product.

Rawlings itself, co-owned by MLB since 2018, issued a similar statement:

This research has no basis in fact. There was no ‘3rd ball’ manufactured and the ball manufactured prior to the 2021 process change was fully phased out following the 2021 season. All balls produced for the 2022 season utilized the previously announced process change.

While storage conditions during research can easily impact ball weight measurements, a one-gram difference in ball weight would be within normal process variation. We continue to produce the most consistent baseball in the world despite the variables associated with a handmade product of natural materials.

Davis demurs. “While lighter and less bouncy than the balls used before Rawlings switched up its manufacturing in 2021,” he writes, “the Goldilocks balls have a weight profile that makes them livelier and more batter-friendly than the dead balls that the league says it now uses exclusively.”

To which Manfred says, essentially, Integrity of the game? Shut up and get back to shortening the times of games without even thinking about cutting down the broadcast commercials. Any time Manfred comes up with something reasonable—the universal designated hitter, slightly larger bases, the advent of Robby the Umpbot—he comes up with or allows about five or more unreasonable things to counteract.

Differing baseballs aren’t just “unreasonable.” They strike at the very core (pun intended) of competition at least as profoundly as something like Astrogate did, on both sides of the ball. Pitchers who don’t know whether they’ll be given a grippable ball to pitch have just as much skin in this game as hitters who don’t know whether they’ll square up a dead, lead, or Super Ball.

The men who play the game, the fans who pay to see them play, the team builders  tasked with putting the teams on the field, and the managers who have to run the games and make the moves that mean distinction or disaster, deserve as level a field as possible.

The era of actual/alleged performance-enhancing substances was considered criminal for undermining the level playing field. Tanking teams are considered criminally negligent for providing something less than truly competitive product. Likewise, when it comes to honest competition, inconsistently-made baseballs should be considered weapons of mash  destruction.

The sounds of silence, ushered in by a lie

MLB lockout

Today was supposed to see pitchers and catchers reporting to start spring training. There went that idea, thanks to the owners and their Pinocchio. (CBS Sports photo.)

Say what you will about the Major League Baseball Players Association, but they haven’t pleaded poverty yet at all, never mind with the thought that they could say it without their noses growing. On the day pitchers and catchers would have reported to spring training but for the owners’ lockout, a five-day old lie by commissioner Rob Manfred still rattles through baseball’s sounds of silence.

George Burns once said of his logically illogical wife Gracie Allen, “All I had to do was ask, ‘Gracie, how’s your brother,’ and she talked for 38 years.” All you have to do is ask a question, and Manfred will talk out of so many corners of his mouth you’ll suspect it resembles a martial arts throwing star, while his nose grows long enough to cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.

Last Thursday, as an owners meeting concluded, somebody asked Manfred whether owning a baseball team was a sound investment. All Commissioner Pinocchio had to do was speak what’s not exactly a badly kept secret. He chose to play the poverty card, as the owners often enough have done during baseball labour disputes. This time, however, the joker in the deck isn’t very funny

“If you look at the purchase price of franchises,” Manfred began, citing what he’d been told by investment bankers without identifying just whom, “the cash that’s put in during the period of ownership and then what they’ve sold for, historically, the return on those investments is below what you’d get in the stock market, what you’d expect to get in the stock market, with a lot more risk.”

Hello, darkness, my old friend.

Commissioner Pinocchio knows very well that baseball franchises, even those mired out of the races and even those accused plausibly of tanking, increase in value as investments up to ten percent annually. Yahoo! Sports writer Hannah Keyser wasn’t going to let him get away with that kind of lie.

“Let’s get something out of the way: The owners cried poor during the negotiations to start the pandemic-suspended season in 2020 to justify demands that the players take a pay cut,” Keyser began.

And although the owners have been quieter about it during the current collective bargaining negotiations, the implicit entrenched position is the same — on the broadest scale, they don’t want to make all the economic concessions that the union is asking for and one of the reasons they’re citing is that they can scarcely afford it.

That’s why Manfred said what he did. It’s not that he’s stupid (he’s just hoping you are) or confused. It’s strategic. To concede on the record that the current economic system is working fabulously for owners—and increasingly so in recent years—would be chum to a union that’s angry, energized and determined to push the pendulum in the other direction.

Baseball and other sports teams’ owners, according to ProPublica, whom Keyser cited, and who managed to get IRS records to probe, “frequently report incomes for their teams that are millions below their real-world earnings, according to the tax records, previously leaked team financial records, and interviews with experts.” Tax code provisions and creative amortization use, Keyser noted, “allows owners to negate gains or claim losses, substantially reducing their tax obligations and saving them millions of dollars.”

If you still believe baseball’s owners are really going broke, that Antarctican beach club for sale is now a couple of hundred thousand less expensive. They want to continue playing the poverty card despite it being about as legitimate as Astrogate? Here’s what the players should say in return: nothing. Not one proposal, not one further concession, not even a syllable, until the owners open their books completely, honestly, and without further smoke blowing, sand throwing, or shuck jiving.

It wasn’t the players who elected to strike over the owners’ three-card monte games this time. There wasn’t any legitimate reason for the owners to lock the players out after the CBA expired instead of letting the game carry forth while they sat down to honest negotiations.

Fair play: the players aren’t exactly without dubious issues. Their proposal for a mere twelve-team postseason instead of the owners’ reputed push for a fourteen-team postseason is still an idea whose time should be put out of its misery. The already-expanded postseason has diluted championship meaning and created saturation to the point where the World Series becomes a burden to watch for too many fans, not the penultimate baseball pleasure.

The seeming sounds of silence thus far on Manfred’s shameful insistence that minor league spring campers remain unpaid because the “life skills” they gain is more important than earning their keep is deafening.

So are the continuing sounds of silence on redressing what their late union leader Michael Weiner only began to redress, the now-525 pre-1980, short-career major leaguers denied pensions in the 1980 re-alignment. Weiner plus then-commissioner Bud Selig gained those players $625 per 43 games’ major league roster time, up to $10,000 a year, in 2011.

The bad news further is that they can’t pass those monies on to their families should they pass away before collecting their final such dollars. Nor did they receive any cost-of-living adjustment in the last CBA. No less than Marvin Miller himself subsequently said the 1980 pension freeze-out for them was his biggest regret. Weiner at least began a proper redress.

But when Commissioner Pinocchio and his employers the owners look you in the eye and claim owning a baseball team isn’t profitable, you should be very tempted to demand polygraphs, if not sobriety tests.

“Do you know how else I know Manfred isn’t telling the truth?” Keyser asks, before answering. “Because if he were, he wouldn’t be a very good commissioner. If it was true, he would be failing in his de facto fiduciary duty to the owners. Say what you will about Bud Selig, but under his commissionership, team valuations skyrocketed. He made being a baseball owner into a very lucrative proposition. So Manfred is saying that during his reign, that has ceased to be the case. Or he’s lying.”

Once upon a time, a Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher caught by his wife en flagrante with a woman other than said wife ran down the stairs, pointed upward to where he’d been caught, and said, “It wasn’t me!” It’s not exactly unrealistic to suggest the owners and their wooden puppet are that kind of honest.

Death threats be not proud, continued

Don Denkinger

MLB umpire Don Denkinger needed FBI protection after threats on his life over his 1985 World Series mishap. In the social media era, it wouldn’t take just radio people blasting his address and phone number around the world for further such threats.

What does it tell you, when almost the first thing on the mind of a professional athlete who loses a contest isn’t what a tough loss it was but how many death wishes or death threats are liable to show up in his or her direction on social media? It ought to tell you how brain damaged too many sports fans are.

Shelby Rogers got waxed in straight sets by Britain’s Emma Raducanu in round four of tennis’s U.S. Open Monday afternoon. The 28-year-old told a press conference after the match she expected “nine million” social media death threats afterward. That’d teach her to draw the spotlight after she flattened number one-ranked Ashleigh Barry in the third round.

“Obviously we appreciate the spotlight in those moments,” Rogers told the conference, “but then you have [losing to Raducanu] today and I’m going to have nine million death threats and whatnot. It’s very much polarizing, one extreme to the other very quickly.”

She wasn’t alone. Former Open winner Sloane Stephens lost this time, Angelique Kerber beating her in three sets after she took the first set. Stephens says her Instagram account was flooded with a few thousand abusive messages some of which went from mere swearing and racial insults (she is black) to downright threats of death and sexual abuse.

“This isn’t talked about enough,” Stephens posted, “but it really freaking sucks.”

It really freaking should be talked about more than enough. I’ve done it. I don’t want to minimise what Rogers and Stephens now deal with, but baseball and other sports people have put up with that kind of vile nonsense for decades. Just not so instantly as today.

Long before there was such a thing as social media, hapless umpire Don Denkinger found himself on the wrong end of a harassment campaign after his blown call in the ninth inning of 1985 World Series Game Six helped cost the Cardinals a win they should have been two, not three outs from consummating.

Back then, about the worst that could happen beyond snarky newspaper columns was a radio disc jockey obtaining and airing your home address and telephone number. Two St. Louis disc jockeys did just that to Denkinger. He received death threats by mail for a couple of years to follow and, at one point, needed MLB to ask the FBI for help.

The fact that the Cardinals still had three defensive outs to play to nail that Series, or still had a seventh game to play if they lost Game Six, escaped the slime contingent. Denkinger being rotated to calling balls and strikes for Game Seven didn’t mean the Cardinals should implode in that game escaped them, too.

At least Denkinger waited until after that Series for the full brunt of his mishap to happen. Phillies reliever Mitch Williams had no such fortune in the 1993 Series. Thanks to a few death threats from enough indignant Phillies fans, the hyperactive lefthander spent a sleepless night or two with a shotgun in his lap after blowing a Series save . . . in Game Four.

Williams went on to throw the pitch Joe Carter belted to win that Series in the bottom of the ninth in Game Six, of course. His stand-up post-game performance may have saved his life otherwise. But he shouldn’t have had to spend a night cradling his weapon instead of his wife.

I’ve said it until I’m blue in the keyboard. Don’t ask what would have happened if Denkinger, Williams, and members of the long, sad roll of sports “goats”—the Bill Buckners, Ralph Brancas, Gary Andersons, Roberto Baggios, Wrong-Way Marshalls, Fred Merkles, and Andres Escobars—had had their moments of horror in the social media era.

Horror, or death: Colombia’s goalkeeper Escobars inadvertently put the ball into his own net in soccer’s 1994 World Cup tournament. That night, he was out with friends when a car pulled up, an argument broke out, and he was shot to death.

Denkinger at least had FBI help until the idiocy passed. What defense or protection do you have against social media, even if you leave it? Rogers says she doesn’t like social media but she’s forced to make a presence there because of her sport’s marketing. Maybe her sport and all sports need to re-think that a little.

Mets relief pitcher Edwin Diaz walked himself into trouble and a Mets loss in Washington Monday. All that did was throttle the Mets’ pennant race recovery a little. It didn’t blow up the subway during rush hour.

Diaz is known as much for his mound struggles as his mound triumphs. Maybe that protects him from death threats. Or maybe we don’t know that he’s received them, or how many he’s received. The Mets’ administration seems to care more about their players replying to the boo birds than whether the boo birds might graduate to threatening their players’ lives.

Remember Indians reliever Nick Wittgren—battered for five runs in the ninth, his wife and family subject to social media death threats. Wittgren said it was said that such is now the pro sports norm—and that 90 percent of players he knows personally have received them. If you need me to tell you what’s wrong with that picture, you have problems I’m not qualified to solve.

Social media contends with the shouting-“fire”-in-the-movie-house dilemna. It thrives on free speech, but it also has to draw certain lines that, often as not, refuse to be drawn organically. The sports goat business stopped being funny a long time ago. The sports death threat business needs to be put out of business even faster, if possible.

The law says you can’t threaten the lives of the president of the United States or any public official. The law also says you can’t send threatening snail or e-mail to someone. A professional gambler faces five years in federal prison for Instagram threats he sent the lives of players in a 2019 game the Rays lost to the White Sox in extra innings.

It shouldn’t stop there. Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms should think seriously about not just banning such scum contingent from their platforms but arranging such charges against as many of them as possible regardless of whether or not they have money on the table.

Games are not life and death. The fate of what’s left of the free world doesn’t hang in their balance. Mortal men and women in an entertainment try their best and fail. It doesn’t make them cowards, chokers, or moral degenerates when someone on the other side is just that hair’s breadth better in the biggest of the big moments.

Yet people are prepared to perform massacres upon the defeated in sports while letting far more grave misbehaviour die on the proverbial vine. This is above and beyond mere fan passions. It shouldn’t be enabled.

You wish for openers that people were at least as outraged over New York’s mishandlings of the pan-damn-ic (it took a sexual harassment scandal to do what that malfeasance didn’t and rid the statehouse of Andrew Cuomo) as they might be over Shelby Rogers losing a shot at winning the U.S. Open, or the Mets losing a shot at the postseason.

Fans alone don’t pay the salaries anymore

Mets Fans

Mets fans at the ballpark. The conceit that fans alone pay players’ salaries ended long before enough of these folks were actually born.

If there was one somewhat dominant retort to the Javy Baez-Francisco Lindor-Kevin Pillar thumbs-down prior to Monday, it was reminding the miscreants that the fans pay their salaries. Well, now. Has anyone really stopped to think about whether that’s really true anymore?

Guess what. It hasn’t been true for longer than you think.

It was true once upon a time, when baseball teams were owned almost entirely by rich men and women for whom it was secondary to the enterprises that made their wealth in the first place. (Jacob Ruppert, longtime Yankee owner, was a brewer by profession; Walter O’Malley, longtime Dodger owner, was an engineer and attorney by profession.)

Some of them did it because they genuinely loved the game. (See Bill Veeck, Horace Stoneham, Joan Payson, to name two.) Some of them did it for things like dumping excess income to duck Uncle Siphon’s tax hounds. You get the idea.

In that generation, men such as Dan Topping (eventual Yankee co-owner) thought he could strong-arm his manager Ralph Houk into changing his lineups to get Mickey Mantle, the fans’ presumed preference over that interloper Roger Maris, the better shot at breaking Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record in 1961.

Topping apparently reminded Houk the fans paid his salary. To his eternal credit, Houk reminded Topping—with or without succumbing to the temptation to tell Topping where to stuff it—that, the last he looked, his job as the manager was to arrange the lineup most likely to, you know, win baseball games and Yankee pennants first and foremost.

That was then, when baseball teams really did depend upon the gate to earn their keep. This has long been now, when baseball ownership isn’t just a group of wealthy sportspeople indulging passions: Baseball fans haven’t paid the lion’s share of player salaries for a few decades.

By way of multiple sources, you can look it up if you so desire: Ticket sales account for maybe 30something percent of a baseball team’s revenues. The concession stand takes get divided between the owners and the vendors/manufacturers who provide the beer, dogs, snacks, merchandise, and chatzkehs sold at the ballpark. Those vendors and manufacturers also have that little matter of paying the people who cook, pour, and sell the goodies.

All those player jerseys and player-specific souvenirs? For one thing, they’re not sold at the ballparks exclusively. For another, they have nothing to do with player salaries. For a third, the take there gets split evenly between the clubs and the players’ union . . . and the union distributes their take evenly among all players, no matter whose goodies are how popular. Scrubby Sackostones gets the same share as Shohei Ohtani.

You might want to consider all that the next time you lament how much you spend on food, drink, and souvenirs at the game. If you really think the owners and their vending partners today would cut concession prices, if they could get away with suppressing players’ pay again, I’ve just cut the sale price again on that Antarctican beach club.

Broadcast revenues? Whether it’s those national broadcast rights that fetch megabillions, or the local broadcast rights that fetch individual teams from millions to billions depending on markets, those dollars plus the revenue shares certain teams get from certain other teams get paid before a season even begins. Thanks to baseball’s continuing, insane blackout rules, you can’t watch as much as you think, still.

Ballpark naming rights? You don’t pay for those, either. The companies who buy the rights do. Count your blessings. You wouldn’t have come up with such names as Guaranteed Rate Field, Minute Maid Park, American Family Field, Oracle Park, Globe Life Field, Citi Field, or Petco Park. (Would you?)

On the other hand, you know as well as I that there isn’t a major league ballpark anywhere named for any of the men who made you love the game in the first place—except in Los Angeles and the south Bronx. It’s not the players’ fault you can’t watch a game in Thomas Field, Bagwell Park, Yount Yards, Mays Field, Rodriguez Park, Seaver Stadium, or the Gwynn Grounds.

Let’s try something for argument’s sake. Let’s assume just for funsie that baseball fans really do still pay player salaries. In the non-sporting world, those who pay the salaries have certain rights of authority over those who get paid the salaries. But those who pay those salaries are held to certain levels of accountability—including whether they cross the line between authority over and abuse of the hired hands.

Baseball fans never were and never are held officially to that kind of accountability. Not merely for booing, hissing, or holding nasty sounding signs up, though it does behoove fans to remember that that bad play, or that game-losing pitch or error, isn’t caused by non-hustle, brain freeze, or mediocre arm, as often as you think.

Players make their best efforts and still come up short seventy percent of the time. It’s the game’s nature, for better or worse. Those who continue to obsess about baseball’s  “unwritten rules” might want to consider the one nobody had to write in the first place: when people play a game, somebody isn’t going to win. (If a team is that bad, how about holding to account the front office fools who mis-assembled it in the first place?)

Fans have long gone beyond booing, hissing, and holding up snarky signs. In today’s social media universe, they can rip an errant player or a losing team about a hundred new ones—when they’re feeling civil. When they’re not feeling civil, they can, do, and have levied threats against the lives of players and the players’ families.

“Sadly, this is considered ‘normal’ in professional sports’,” tweeted Indians pitcher Nick Wittgren after a bad outing at July’s end. “It’s happened to 90% of players I know and basically after every bad outing a player has. But there is nothing normal about threatening someone and their family’s lives.”

Unless it’s someone like Benjamin Tucker Patz—the California gambler who pleaded guilty last month to threatening the lives of several Rays and one White Sox player, after a July 2019 game the White Sox won in extra innings—fans throwing death threats at players and player families are almost never held to account.

Patz faces up to five years in the federal calaboose. It’s a shame he can’t face five years per threatened player. Writing for the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America’s Here’s the Pitch newsletter, I suggested it was time to think about doing likewise to the not-so-famous Twitterpated, Instagrammarians, Facebookies, any social media slugs who think it’s a laugh and a half to threaten players and their families’ lives over bad days, bad nights, bad slumps, even whistleblowing.

Tell me why you think the price of a ticket or your beers, snacks, and chatzkehs gives you the right to forget baseball players aren’t androids or automatons. Tell me what fount of wisdom told you that merely paying a baseball player $1 million or $10 million a year means Britt Reid turns automatically into the Green Hornet. Tell me why you think a player struggling during a multi-season, nine-figure contract—or while trying too hard at first to live up to such a contract—gives you the right to be as subhuman as possible.

You want to cling to the long-gone idea that you pay player salaries? If your boss was an abusive son of a bitch to you on the job, you’d have every right to demand him or her being brought to account—and maybe fired. Don’t go there about ballplayers knowing what they signed up for. They signed up to play baseball in public, they didn’t sign up to be saints. Or, to just suck it up when fans go from mere displeasure to incessant abuse and even danger.

Don’t go there unless (hah! you thought you’d escape another mention) you’re willing to go to work with 55,000 people right there in your cubicle, on your dock, in your warehouse, at your drive-through, in your operating room (God help surgeons if their hospitals take the old colloquial “operating theater” seriously beyond a few med students/interns observing from above) . . . and another several million listening in on the Internet, on television, on the radio.

Don’t go there unless you’re ready to just suck it up if you make a mistake on the job, or especially if you get injured on the job doing nothing more than your job . . . but all those people are ready to dismiss you witlessly and hammer you mercilessly as a fragile weenie because you’re silly enough to think it’s not a clever idea to go back to work until your health is restored fully.

(Hands up to every Cub fan who remembers when Leo Durocher’s demoralising of his 1969 pennant contenders included leaving injured players afraid that, if they spoke up when they were injured in the line of duty, as more than a few were, the Lip would rip them as quitters.)

Don’t go there unless you can just suck it up, when those people crowding you on your jobs and listening over the airwaves decide you’re witless bums who deserve to die —with your wives and children—because you committed no crime worse than making an honest mistake or not being better than the other guys for more than two games.

Try to remember that—out from behind the often one-sided relationship between fans and players—all Baez, Lindor, and Pillar did was give playful thumbs down. They didn’t flip you the bird. They didn’t throw firecrackers at you. They didn’t shoot bleach at you with water pistols.

They didn’t burn the White House, sink the Titanic, wreck Mrs. Lincoln’s date night, trigger the Malbone Street subway wreck, blow up the Hindenburg, bring down the World Trade Center, introduce the coronavirus, or make the world safe for Billy Big-Mouth Bass.

The players are supposed to just suck up the booing, hissing, snarky signs, and even death threats. But the fans—who don’t pay their salaries, after all—aren’t supposed to just suck up a measly thumbs-down. Got it.