Roots and Blues

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. takes Corbin Burnes across the Colorado state line in the All-Star Game. Manfred wants baseball back to its roots? How about also knocking off these hideous All-Star uniforms and letting the All-Stars represent their teams in their own uniforms again? It was good enough for the Home Run Derby, it should stay good enough for the All-Star Game.

Who are the faces of baseball today? Put the current injured lists to one side. Barring unforeseen complications or corollary issues, one and all on those lists now will be back either this season or next. Barring, too, one player of extraterrestrial achievement—you should spot the one most likely to produce it the rest of the year, too—it shouldn’t really be a singular face.

They should be players like Ronald Acuna, Jr., Pete Alonso, Mookie Betts, Shane Bieber, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Jacob deGrom, Rafael Devers, Freddie Freeman, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Clayton Kershaw, Trey Mancini, Shohei Ohtani, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Mike Trout, Brandon Woodruff.

Instead, the face of the game, singular, seems to be its ten-thumbed, two-left-feet, too-lawyerly-for-his-own good commissioner, a man who seems almost never to let pass a chance to let the stars shine in baseball’s sky without sending up a homemade cloud.

On Home Run Derby Night, the Coors Field audience and baseball nation transfixed upon Ohtani (the prohibitive favourite), Soto, Mancini (the sentimental favourite), Guerrero, and Alonso (the eventual winner), among others. During the All-Star Game—which the American League won, 5-2—Ohtani and company were at least as watchable and discussable as those missing in action due to health concerns might have been.

So, perhaps naturally, Rob Manfred stepped all over himself yet again. Asked whom he thought the face of baseball is today, Castellanos named Manfred. Informed of that designation, Manfred said no. Then, he dropped a few matters to indicate his lips said no-no but there was yes-yes in his eyes.

He told a Baseball Writers Association of America meeting the day of the All-Star Game, “I think anything that distracts from the attention being on what goes on in the field is a bad thing.” Unfortunately, Commissioner Nero—who’s spent too much of his commissionership fiddling while baseball seems to burn—went on to do just that.

Manfred could well enough have waited until after the All-Star Game, confined his remarks to the BBWAA to just his thought on “distraction” from the All-Star field, then said he’d talk a little more the day after if they were willing to listen. (And who wouldn’t have been?)

I’ve already discussed his thought that the doubleheader of seven-inning games might disappear after this season. (And, why I think keeping the idea is sound as a nut.) Manfred also spoke of disappearing the free cookie on second base (known to wags as “Manfred Man”) to open each extra half-inning, a disappearance devoutly to be wished. As would be the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. (Unless they enter during a jam and get rid of the side before batters two, three, or both appear.)

Unfortunately, Manfred didn’t address that third part, so far as I know. He must have been asleep at the switch the night Bryce Harper and Didi Grigorius got hit back-to-back by a fresh Cardinal reliever whose control took the night off but whose manager couldn’t relieve him legally until he faced his third batter.

The law of unintended consequences too often escapes Manfred’s lawyerly ways.

He also suggested he’d like to ban defensive overshifting, formally, as part of what he says is part and parcel of returning baseball “to its roots.” He suggests the owners are all in on that return, though long experience tells you that with most owners changes or restorations have less to do with the game itself and more to do with whether something means making money for it, which usually means for themselves.

Never mind that the shifts could and would be neutralised if teams start instructing their batters to take advantage of all that free real estate. Screw the unwritten rules. Just hit the ball onto it. Take first base on the house before the shifters can scramble for the ball. Even if the other guys have a no-hitter going to the final outs. I’ll say it again: you hand me that free territory with a no-hitter going, let your pitcher hold you to account when I show up on first on the house.

I’ll say it again: that, or an infield you know to be full of butchers enabling such base hits, should be the only time you want to see a widespread return of bunting. In all other situations, a bunt is a wasted out. Outs to work with are precious. Why waste a third of your inning’s resources and do the other guys such a favour?

You guessed it: I’m all in if Manfred really does bring the universal designated hitter back to stay in 2022. Guess which defensive position sports the Show’s worst slash line this year? (.109/.149/.142.) The worst OPS? (.291.) The most wasted outs? (No other positions show more than the catchers’ 40; these guys show 221.) A real batting average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by plate appearances) of .167?

Hint: Since the final decade of the dead ball era, they’ve hit a collective .166. Tell me how long a catcher, an infielder, or an outfielder would survive in the Show—if he was lucky enough to get to it at all—with that kind of hitting. Even if he was the defensive second coming (based on runs saved above their leagues’ averages at their positions) of Ivan Rodriguez, Keith Hernandez, Bill Mazeroski, Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson, Barry Bonds, Andruw Jones, or Roberto Clemente.

Manfred should consider the Pirates owner of 1891 who first proposed what we know now as the DH. About whose proposal a journal of the time, The Sporting Life, said in concurrence:

Every patron of the game is conversant with the utter worthlessness of the average pitcher when he goes up to try and hit the ball. It is most invariably a trial, and an unsuccessful one at that. If fortune does favor him with a base hit it is ten to one that he is so winded in getting to first or second base on it that when he goes into the box it is a matter of very little difficulty to pound him all over creation.

It wasn’t an invention of that nefarious American League. And if it hadn’t been for Chris (I am der boss pressident of der Prowns!) von der Ahe, reneging on a previous commitment to support William Chase Temple, when the idea came up at the next National League rules meeting, the NL would have had the honour of introducing what Pirates catcher-turned-Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack tried but failed to introduce to the AL fifteen years later.

If you want to see a little more leveling out between pitching and hitting, be advised that when the DH is used this year (by AL teams, and by NL teams playing interleague in the AL Park) the DHs have the best OPS (.767) in Show at this writing. If you want more “strategy”—and you won’t throw things at me when I remind you that 95 percent of all “strategy” is plotted before the game begins—you should prefer that number-nine batting order slot go to either a second cleanup type or an extra leadoff type.

“Returning baseball to its roots” can be tricky. Even if it suggests Manfred might finally be willing to quit trying to prove that the birth child of that backstreet affair between Rube Golberg and the Mad Hatter should be a baseball executive.

It depends on the roots to which you want to return. How about eliminating regular-season interleague play? How about eliminating the wild card system that’s produced the thrills and chills of teams fighting to the last breath to finish . . . in second place?

How about a best-of-three division series with each league’s best first-place finisher having a bye while the other two winners slug it out? How about returning the League Championship Series to the best-of-five of its birth and childhood? How about thus eliminating October saturation and restoring the World Series to its proper primacy?

Unfortunately, those beg one further question right now: Since Manfred can’t seem to find the right way to make serviceable, field-leveling baseballs (easier to look into an acceptable stickum for pitcher grips, as he’s also doing), how far above his pay grade would those and other reasonable moves really prove?

Back to baseball’s roots? Be gone, hideous 2021 All-Star uniform! The threads (especially the American League’s “road” blue) made the horrific 1970s single-colour pajamas of some teams resemble something from Pierre Cardin. If players wearing their own uniforms, representing their teams, is good enough for the Home Run Derby, it’s still good enough for the All-Star Game.

Where have you gone, Bart Giamattio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

On disappearing the seven-inning-game doubleheader

Rob Manfred

Commissioner Rob Manfred at the draft day podium. He wants to end doubleheaders of seven-inning games. He’s wrong.

Granted, the terms “good news” and “Rob Manfred” are too often oxymoronic. But in the immortal words of a once-legendary radio commentator, Gabriel Heatter, there’s good news tonight. (Well, this morning, when I sat down to write.) The free cookie on second base to open each extra half-inning, Manfred promises, will disappear after this season.

The bad news is that, when it comes to Manfred’s commissionership, for every piece of good news you risk the presence of five or more pieces of bad. This time, it’s the seven-inning doubleheader. That, too, will disappear after this season.

This commissioner oversees baseball with the mindset of a man believing the offspring of a back-street affair between Rube Goldberg and the Mad Hatter should be a baseball executive. Now, on Tuesday, Manfred told the Baseball Writers Association of America that the free cookie on second and the seven-inning doubleheader will bedevil them no more.

Reaching further for the good news, Manfred didn’t quite upstage the Home Run Derby in Coors Field. Even he couldn’t possibly upstage that event, nebulous as it might be. Not when Derby participants wore number 44 on their uniforms in tribute to the late Hall of Famer Henry Aaron.

Not when Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, winning a second consecutive Derby, repeated something else after blasting 74 into the seats or beyond: as in 2019, he earned more for one night’s work than he earned in an entire season’s worth of his Mets salary.

Not when Shohei Ohtani—the Angels’ flavour of the season with the incomparable Mike Trout missing enough of it with injuries so far, and the prohibitive favourite to beat the Derby into submission—proved exhausted enough that the Nationals’ outfield star Juan Soto sent him to an early rest-of-the-night-off in a round-one swing-off.

Not when Trey Mancini usurped Ohtani as a sentimental favourite thanks to his courageous conquest of cancer and his return thereafter, sending the Derby into a final-round showdown with Alonso that came up a bomb short.

Not when Alonso audaciously proclaims himself the best power hitter in baseball today when a) he’s not even in the top ten among the Show’s 2021 slugging percentages; b) he’s not even in the top ten among the Show’s 2021 OPSes; and, c) he’s not even in the top ten among the Show’s 2021 double, triple, or home run hitters.

Manfred may say now as then that the cookie on second to open each extra half-inning and the seven-inning doubleheader were motivated by pan-damn-ic health concerns. But those might have been valid reasons which just so happened to offer him cover to indulge his itch to experiment and his inability to distinguish between what does and doesn’t require repairs.

To the “purist” the doubleheader of seven-inning games is about as palatable as a Kaeopectate on the rocks. But if the Good Old Days Powers had pondered the idea in those alleged Good Old Days, the doubleheader might not have gone the way of the Duesenberg in the first place.

What I wrote in April is worth revisiting: if we must have doubleheaders, the doubleheader of seven-inning games makes perfect sense. And you Old Farts yammering about it being just more kowtowing to today’s candy-assed players are hereby invited to stuff it.

“We saw teams play three doubleheaders in a single week at times last year,” wrote CBS Sports’s Mike Axias then. “MLB has to assume something like that will happen again, in which case seven-inning doubleheaders are a necessity. You can’t ask players to run themselves into the ground like that.”

There’ve been 37 doubleheaders played through the All-Star break this season. There are ten more scheduled for the rest of the seasons, and that’s before any that should crop up as a result of single-game postponements. There are also serious side issues to ponder.

When Madison Bumgarner pitched a no-hitter in one half of a late-April doubleheader, he collided with a pair of colliding rules. The no-hitter was defined officially, a long enough time ago, as nine no-hit innings. Well, now. The doubleheader’s seven-inning game still counts as a complete game if you happen to pitch all seven innings. Does it make sense to award Bumgarner a complete game but not a no-hitter, since he pitched the game entirely under a rule he didn’t exactly help to enact?

Just as Joe and Jane Fan forget or ignore that pitching injuries are as old and as widespread as pitching itself, they forget that there was a time when the old nine-inning-game doubleheader wreaked as much havoc as health upon the game they profess to love.

Once upon a time, the bottom-feeding teams played the most doubleheaders. “Poor teams need an added inducement to convince the fans to come out and see them,” wrote Chris Jaffe in a 2010 Hardball Times doubleheader study. “Perhaps more importantly, when they traveled on the road their opponents needed an extra bit of persuasion to convince rooters to see what promised to be some lackluster on-field performances.”

During the Great Depression, from 1930-34, National League teams averaged 36 percent of their seasons’ scheduled playing doubleheaders and American League teams, 30 percent. During World War II, the NL’s teams averaged 46 percent and the American League, 45 percent. The National League fell one twin-bill short of playing over half its games in doubleheaders in 1945.

Of course, nobody thought (or gave a damn) what playing that many doubleheaders of nine-inning games might take out of the people you paid your money to see at the ballpark in the first place. (Hint: It wasn’t the owners.) The 1943 White Sox would probably love to disabuse you.

For whatever perverse reasons, those White Sox alone played an unconscionable 44 doubleheaders that year. They included eleven in July, eleven between September’s beginning and the 1 October regular-season finish, and 27 pairs of doubleheaders played either on back-to-back days or with a single off-day between them.

The hell with Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’s fabled catchphrase, “It’s a beautiful day—let’s play two!” How would you like to play 36 innings of baseball in two or three days straight by design rather than by extra-innings happenstance. Quit fooling yourself. You’d be more exhausted thinking about it than the men playing those innings in such a stretch were playing them.

Writing in Doubleheaders: A Major League History, Charlie Bevis—English instructor at Rivier College, Society for American Baseball Research member and author—devoted an entire chapter to Banks and “Let’s play two!” and came up . . . almost as unable to decide its veracity than could most who knew Banks during his Hall of Fame career and beyond.

Banks may have intended the phrase to signify nothing more than his genuine love for the game and his place in playing it. Bevis suggested plausibly that, whenever the idea first occurred to him, Banks may well have deployed it especially as a way to fight back against cantankerously careless Cubs manager Leo Durocher, who seemed almost as bent on showing Banks up as a washed-up veteran as he was on just about anything else.

But “Let’s play two!” took on too much life of its own at a time when the doubleheader became seen far more deeply as a burden than a blessing. “Banks’s attitude,” Beavis wrote,

helped to establish the romance surrounding the doubleheader as the concept entered its demise phase in the 1980s, when players and fans alike rapidly fell out of love with the seven-hour marathon that the doubleheader had become. “I’ve never heard anybody say they like doubleheaders, except Ernie Banks,” Mike Hargrove said in 1991. “And I think he was lying.” Just ten years after Banks was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the doubleheader was nearly extinct on the major league baseball schedule.

When he isn’t baseball’s version of Professor Pepperwinkle, Manfred’s barely able to conceal that his core belief is the common good of baseball equaling making money for the owners. Well. The old style doubleheader ended up turning into the separate-game, day-night doubleheader, because the owners weren’t making as much money with the single-admission twin-bill as they used to think they did.

What does Manfred wish to secure after 2021? Don’t be terribly shocked if the doubleheader of nine-inning games returns to the separate-game, day-night doubleheader. Don’t be terribly shocked, either, if such mundane corresponding issues as player health don’t matter a damn. To Manfred, and even to Joe and Jane Fan.

The doubleheader of seven-inning games was one of Manfred’s few sound ideas, whatever its impetus. It should be retained. Single admission. For the sake of those who, you know, play the games in the first place, and those who buy the tickets, even if those who buy the tickets don’t always know what’s good for themselves or for the game.

What took so long?

Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer waited as long to go on administrative leave for abuse as  Hector Santiago waited to get grounded ten days for actual/alleged naughty sauce. What’s wrong with that picture? Plenty.

Get caught with legal rosin mixing with your own natural sweat? You baaaaaad boy! No going out to play for you for ten days, Hector Santiago.

Take rough sex too far and leave a woman bruised, undergoing CT scans, and finally filing a restraining order against you this week, under penalty of perjury? You’re still starting in regular rotation, Trevor Bauer . . . on the Fourth of July. In Washington, yet.

At least, you were, until MLB did Friday what it should have done on Wednesday, when the details came forth, and put you on seven days’ administrative leave.

Until then, it looked as though Santiago took heavier immediate consequences for actual or alleged naughty sauce than Bauer did leaving a woman with head and facial trauma, a partial basilar skull fracture, and blood around where she accuses him of trying a back door slider while she was out cold and in no position to allow it.

You can run the entire history of professional baseball and find players disciplined quickly and heavily for behaviour a lot less grave that what Bauer’s accused of having done to the lady. But then you can also still find too many people learning about Babe Ruth’s penchant for partying with gangsters and hookers and thinking it’s still just part of the big lout’s appeal.

Maybe the Dodgers couldn’t discipline Bauer unilaterally at once, as Sports Illustrated‘s Stephanie Apstein noted Thursday afternoon. But there was no law saying manager Dave Roberts couldn’t decide to hand the ball to another pitcher to start in Bauer’s place, especially on the anniversary of a declaration saying we’re entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness isn’t supposed to leave a woman’s head resembling a boxing gym’s speed bag. Not even if she was looking for just a little rough and wild sex.

Unless I’ve been led down one or another primrose path, even a little rough and wild sex isn’t supposed to end in head and face trauma, a partial basilar skull fracture, and blood on the seat God provided the human anatomy. Compared to that, The Thrilla in Manila (Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, the brutal Act III) was a dance contest.

Baseball’s domestic violence policy, Apstein reminded us, includes that baseball’s government can put an accused player on paid administrative leave up to seven days while investigating the accusations. MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association can extend that period by mutual agreement, she observes.

“Perhaps MLB is waiting until Sunday so as not to start the clock,” she continued. “If they wait, that would keep him out of action until after the All-Star Break. That may make sense legally. It is indefensible morally.”

These people are so consumed with technicalities that they can’t be bothered to do the right thing. “We are not going to start Trevor Bauer on Sunday.” Not “We are going to take away Trevor Bauer’s money.” Not “We are going to suspend him.” Not “We are going to release him.” Not “We are going to throw him in prison.” Just “We are not going to offer this man the privilege of striding out to a mound in front of tens of thousands of people who paid for a nice afternoon.”

Let’s remember the word “privilege.” That’s what playing professional, major league baseball is. It’s not a basic human right. You won’t find any clause in the Supreme Law of the Land declaring you have the absolute right to any particular line of work.

The document over whose anniversary baseball and the nation is about to make a red, white, and blue racket—the like of which probably hasn’t been seen in long enough, after last year’s pan-damn-ic rudely interrupted such things—doesn’t say, “We hold this truth further, that you have the right to your particular chosen job, period, no matter what criminal behaviour you might commit while thus employed.”

Apstein said commissioner Rob Manfred—a man who normally points the way to wisdom by standing athwart it—should have put Bauer on administrative leave immediately. She also said the Dodgers’ administration should have ordered Roberts to hand the Fourth of July ball to anyone but Bauer, instead of Roberts telling reporters he’s still giving Bauer the ball.

While she was at it, she zapped that brass for leaving Roberts out to answer press questions by himself.

“Instead,” Apstein continued, “fans of the Dodgers and of the sport and of civil society have to wait days to learn whether a man accused of breaking a woman’s skull will get to pitch on the Fourth of July in the nation’s capital.”

The Athletic‘s Dodgers reporter Fabian Ardaya tweeted Thursday afternoon that Roberts also said the team’s “direction” was to do nothing “until they get guidance from MLB.” Since when does a team need guidance from baseball’s government to just take the ball from one pitcher and hand it to another?

The Dodgers have their guidance now. It took only two days from The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli’s and Katie Strang’s running down the literally gory details in the restraining order filing to get it. It shouldn’t have taken that long.

MLB was still a little too slow on the proverbial uptake. So were the Dodgers. They should have gotten ahead of it and changed Fourth of July pitchers at minimum to open. This is a look about which “ugly” would be an understatement for the team half a game out of first in the National League West.

Why did Manfred and his office wait so long to put Bauer on administrative leave? When former Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was first accused of abuse against his then-wife in 2018, MLB put him on administrative leave at once. When Yankee pitcher Domingo German was accused likewise in 2019, MLB put him on administrative leave likewise.

Both were suspended in due course, but the players’ union approved extensions of the administrative leaves first. What on earth was the hesitation now?

The presumption of innocence? Legally, that’s in a court of law. Morally, you don’t surrender it when you remove a pitcher from duty whose mind is occupied by matters more grave than trying to sneak fastballs or breaking balls past Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto on the Fourth of July.

“Would the union fight a similar extension with Bauer?” another Athletic writer, Ken Rosenthal, asked. Then, he answers at once: “Perhaps, if it believed the league was acting unfairly. The union, after all, exists to defend and assert the rights of the players. But based on the details in the domestic violence restraining order against Bauer, the union also might view a prolonged investigation into his conduct as warranted.”

Somehow, it’s still impossible to believe that a pitcher caught with his sweat mixing to legal rosin and ending up in his glove—which, by the way, MLB turned out not to have inspected—almost faced heavier immediate consequences than a player under legal restraining order over leaving a woman injured, feeling abused, and more than a little afraid.

“[H]ow ridiculous would it look for MLB to dock Santiago and not even buy time with Bauer, whose alleged offense is far more serious?” Rosenthal asked. “What exactly would Manfred’s trepidation be here?”

I’m still a little too trepiditious to ask. A baseball commissioner who’s already threatening to set records for terrible looks took two days to do what he had to do this time. “Terrible” isn’t the word for that look.

How not to strip the naughty sauce

Max Scherzer

Max the Knife wasn’t quite ready to perform a full strip tease over his third stop-and-frisk Tuesday night . . . but but perhaps some pitcher will, soon.

Long before she surrendered the newspaper columnist’s life for life as a novelist and eventual periodic Newsweek columnist, Anna Quindlen observed cheekily (in her early New York Times column, “Life in the 30s”) that basketball allowed women a sublime extracurricular pleasure. It was the only sport, she wrote, in which women got to watch men run around in their underwear.

Let’s be kind and allow that Quindlen thought boxing was as much of a sport as Charles Manson was a family counselor. But she wrote when the NBA’s uniforms still resembled something as close to men’s underwear as you could get away with in public without filming a comedy movie scene.

That was also then, and this is now. Major League Baseball’s ham-fisted mid-season bent on enforcing foreign-substance rules long on the books and long un-enforced may yet give women another such sublime pleasure. Baseball may yet be the first American sport in which women at the ballpark will get to watch men perform strip teases on or around the pitcher’s mounds.

Don’t be afraid to bet the rent or the mortgage on it. There just might be a pitcher ready to coordinate with the ballpark’s public address people and have David Rose’s ecdysiastical  classic “The Stripper” cued up and ready to go, hard and loud, at the split second he hands his hat to an umpire under orders to stop and frisk for naughty sauce.

It nearly happened at least twice on Tuesday night. First, Nationals ace Max Scherzer finally decided too much was enough with Phillies manager Joe Girardi’s harassment in the fourth inning—and thrust his hat and glove to the ground before yanking his belt open savagely enough that you thought he would drop trou on the spot.

Scherzer didn’t, of course. But Athletics reliever Sergio Romo almost did out in Oakland after finishing the seventh. Romo dropped trou just enough that his almost knee-length uniform jersey still kept his hind quarters covered well and good. He bent forward just so, leaving you the impression Romo was trying to moon the fools who imposed the current crackdown without quite being too cheeky about it.

So neither Max the Knife nor El Machon felt confident enough to perform baseball’s first known on-the-field striptease. Somebody just might, though. It could take long enough for Jacob deGrom to make plans, coordinate, then sail into it to David Rose’s tune at the moment he’s accosted and handed the search warrant.

When deGrom had the dubious honour of being the first under the fresh crackdown (or should that be crackup?) to be stopped and frisked Monday afternoon, he couldn’t stop grinning wide when he wasn’t laughing his head right off his shoulders. Maybe if Scherzer had been the first he’d have thought it was funny, too. Maybe.

But do you think a fellow like deGrom, who’d laugh his way through one of his sport’s most ridiculous over-compensatory gestures, would find it hard to resist a shot at making the Chippendales resemble the Chipmunks in order to send a counter-message to baseball’s garbled and clumsy one?

Commissioner Rob Manfred is a man with a ten-thumbed touch and a pronounced cognitive inability to recognise the true roots of crises that spring from his apparent need to demonstrate that Rube Goldberg should have been a baseball executive.

But even Manfred and his gang couldn’t ignore the ridiculously sublime message sent if and when baseball’s best pitcher decides the way to start putting a stop to this is to channel his inner Gypsy Rose Lee. Could they? They already seem somewhat immune to the concept that there might have been a better way to address the naughty sauce than this.

Resisting Manfred’s Rube Goldberg side to experiment with the baseballs themselves would have kept this issue from getting sticky in the first place. Pitchers normally have enough trouble just keeping their arms, elbows, and shoulders from breaking and tearing, whether they’re throwing speeding bullets, voluptuous breaking balls, or slop.

Not to mention their sides, swinging the bats, in the National League at least, since the designated hitter is not yet permanently universal as it should be.

(Don’t even think about it. Just as Nolan Ryan was an absolute outlier for his 27-season career and insane in the brain work loads—though it’s oft forgotten that Ryan had physical issues very early in his career, including missing all 1967 with one—Jacob deGrom and his .407/.407/.444 slash line as of Wednesday morning is an absolute outlier among this years pitchers hitting a whopping .112/.153/.142 slash line thus far.)

Of course, resisting Manfred’s Goldberg side would also require—what do you know—the immediate disappearance of the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers and the free cookie on second base to begin extra half-innings. Don’t say it as though disappearing them would be terrible things.

What has Manfred thought about his precious pace-of-play improvement campaign now that the mandatory stop-and-frisking for naughty sauce has gone from the ridiculous to the deranged and has probably delayed games by a few more minutes apiece?

What does he think’s going to happen to the pace of play when an indignant pitcher finally gets beyond Max Scherzer’s or Sergio Romo’s kind of annoyance and goes as full Ned Braden as a baseball player can go on grass and dirt?

(Who’s Ned Braden? As played by now-retired actor Michael Ontkean, Braden was the anomalously non-violent minor league hockey player diverting the bloodthirsties’ howling blood lust during an on-ice championship game brawl by performing a gracefully-skated strip tease around the rink—provoking the high school band in the stands to make with “The Stripper” and the ladies in the arena to go bonkers with delight—in the Paul Newman film Slap Shot.)

In absolute fairness, it doesn’t seem as though the umpires are necessarily thrilled about being under orders to stop and frisk for naughty sauce, either. Understandable. They have enough trouble with their current reputations for being only too human, with the almost-pandemic blown calls and enough in their ranks believing fans pay their hard earned dough to come to the park to see them behave as laws unto themselves.

They need to be the Commish’s Elite Guard about as badly as deGrom needs two more miles an hour on his best fastball. No member of the crew working the Yankees-Royals game Tuesday night could have felt thrilled about having to stop and frisk Yankee reliever Jonathan Loaisiga after coming out of an eighth inning in which he was slapped silly for four runs on five hits.

Some of us call that adding insult to injury. Others of us wondered if the umps were trying to tell him that, if he did have a little naughty sauce at hand (or anyplace else on his assorted anatomy), there was no excuse for getting pinata’d like that.

The crew working the Nats-Phillies game that got Scherzer’s underwear in a twist has the likewise dubious honour of having thrown out the first manager because of the naughty sauce crackdown.

Girardi called for the third Scherzer stop-and-frisk, just because a) he could, and b) there’s a too-fine line between real cheating alarm and bad-faith gamesmanship (which the memo says can get a manager suspended, folks), but when he tried goading Scherzer and several hollering Nats coaches into a fight Girardi got sent to bed without his supper for the night.

Clayton Kershaw thinks that’s not enough. “I think there should be a punishment if they don’t catch anything on the guy,” the future Hall of Famer said after he saw Max the Knife get knifed in the fourth. “I think Scherzer, you know, he’s one of the best pitchers of our generation. To see him get checked . . . and mess up his rhythm . . . you better find something if you’re going to call him out like that.”

So who’s it going to be, ladies and gentlemen? Who’s going to be the first pitcher to decide too much is enough and go Ned Braden on or around the mound before Manfred gets the a-ha! and addresses the naughty sauce—and the baseballs themselves—reasonably? Who’s going to be the first likewise indignant umpiring crew to let him?

Maybe make the Girardis strip tease if they’re going to cross the line between reasonable doubt and trying not to pay the rent to live in a pitcher’s head. (Oops. Better be judicious about that, especially if you’ve seen Tony La Russa lately.)

I wonder if someone makes breakaway baseball uniforms. If this keeps up, he or she may soon find themselves making such Mets, Nats, A’s, or other uniforms. Unless entire teams decide to play with nothing on but their briefs, jocks, and socks. Nothing to see there! Move on! David Rose, wherever you are, cue up the band.

Georgia on our minds

Commissioner Rob Manfred congratulating 2019 All-Star Game MVP Shane Bieber. Did he think deep or hard before moving this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta?

Most of us, generations be damned, grew up hearing the two most certain of life’s certainties are death and taxes. Everyone has candidates for the third certainty, including that which reminds us of one thing that crosses partisan lines even if the partisans forget the other side does it, too.

Translated to baseball terminology, that thing seems to be demanding a replay review when ball four is called in election races on what they think they threw for strike three. When such a review turns into something such as a new state election law, as in Georgia, there comes a fourth guarantee: somebody isn’t going to like it.

A lot of somebodies don’t like the law. Such somebodies as former Georgia state lawmaker Stacey Abrams and President Joseph Biden. A lot of not-so-much-somebodies don’t like the law, either, and their agitation as much as any other factors have prompted among other things major league baseball’s government moving this year’s All-Star Game and college draft out of Atlanta’s Truist Park.

Abrams had skin in the game going in. She lost Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial race to Brian Kemp, who signed the omnibus bill into law earlier this month, by 50,000 votes, claiming then-Georgia secretary of state Kemp erased thousands from state voter rolls.

Kemp had skin in the current game going in, too. For the heinous offense of certifying that now-former president Donald Trump didn’t push the winning run across the state plate in the bottom of the twelfth, regardless that Kemp wasn’t exactly known to favour anyone other than Trump, Kemp faced Trump’s none-too-silent wish to see him thrown out of the league.

The most understandable result of Trump’s post-campaign campaign to overthrow his loss to Biden might have been Georgia and other states reviewing and tightening up their election laws. The only place where fury and back-and-forth charges of foul get more furious might be a baseball game decided (in truth or in allegation) by a close call for or against one or the other side at the final out.

Election shenanigans have been as common in American politics as yard signs, and they didn’t begin or end with such ancient players as New York’s Tammany Hall, Chicago’s Daley Machine, Kansas City’s Prendergast Machine, or Nassau County’s (Long Island) Margiotta/D’Amato Machine. Wherever you landed observing Trump vs. Biden, your least shocking revelation would have been one or another state addressing their election laws in the aftermath.

When Kemp signed the new Georgia election law, Abrams charged that it “suppresses voters, criminalizes compassion & seizes election authority from local + state officials.” That statement wasn’t half as incendiary as Biden’s prompt denunciation of the law as both un-American and as “Jim Crow on steroids.”

Georgia’s real history with Jim Crow is grotesque enough, from state poll taxes (1877) and literacy tests from which descendants from Confederate and Union soldiers were exempt (1907) to the “white primary” rule (1908) that prohibited non-white voting explicitly. Jim Crow in any southern states was (and remains) a portion of American history for which the nation can never be proud.

Now, about the new Georgia election law. Examine deeper than what you see excerpted in the press and aboard social media. Comparing it to Jim Crow is nebulous. It only begins with the fact that mandating seventeen days pre-election (two Saturdays included) for early voting—with mandatory eight-hour-minimum open times and allowance for twelve-hour (7 a.m.-7 p.m.) times—doesn’t exactly “suppress” voters.

A good number of states lack that allowance, including Biden’s home state Delaware which isn’t going to put it in place before the next Congressional election year 2022. Biden himself—with different priorities and a far less grotesque personality, he’s like Trump in showing you wisdom by standing athwart it—also said the Georgia law imposes limits on absentee voting that “effectively” (his word) deny voting to “countless” people. That’s not exactly what the law says or does.

For one thing, no-excuse absentee voting stays in place with just a couple of adjustments. I’d be hard pressed to think a voter is being “suppressed” because the absentee ballot application window is a “mere” 67 days, or because such applications you can now do online, because the state secretary of state is now required by law to offer them online. Or, because the absentee ballot must be received by election officials at least eleven days before Election Day.

Some of the new law’s critics harp about the voter identification portion, which has now shifted it from matching signatures to identification numbers from a voter’s driver’s license or free voter identification card. Lacking either, a Georgia voter can present a photocopy of a utility bill, a bank statement, a paycheck, a government check, or an official document that includes his or her name and address. All they have to do is include the last four digits of their Social Security numbers if they don’t have driver’s licenses or previous voter ID numbers.

If that’s “voter suppression,” I’m Willie Mays. And if that’s something designed to keep non-white voters from voting, I’m hard pressed to comprehend the 2016 Gallup survey that found 77 percent of non-white voters supporting photographic voter identification. You’d think (properly) that non-white voters have just as much stake in preventing real (not alleged) voter fraud as white voters have. And you’d be right.

The new Georgia election law also puts the famous drop boxes into law. They showed up in Georgia for the first time last year thanks to the pan-damn-ic, and now they’re legally mandatory with or without the coronavirus. The new law requires one drop box for every one hundred thousand registered voters or one for every advance vote location in any Georgia county, whichever number is smaller.

Abrams was right about one thing: the new law does “criminalise compassion,” sort of. Giving, offering, or helping give food and/or drinks to people within 150 feet of polling places or within 25 feet of voters in line to vote becomes a legal misdemeanor. Even, seemingly, when the benefactor isn’t discussing the election or particular favoured candidates.

The law also bars ordinary Georgians from photographing or recording their own votes. Guess who gets an exemption from that: the state secretary of state, whom the law requires to create “a pilot program for the posting of digital images of the scanned paper ballots created by the voting system,” with the images becoming “public records subject to disclosure.”

I’ve read about enough early proposals for inclusion in the law that were foolish at minimum, dangerous at most, and thrown out of the bill before it became a final product. But how the hell did that one slip in? How close do you think that one gets to the kind of thing you thought was reserved for the Third Reich, the Soviet Empire, and other authoritarian/totalitarian states who’ve used ballots when allowed at all against their citizens?

Kemp and any Georgia governor has a line-item veto power—but it affects only statewide and state executive budget items. Even he can’t be comfortable with the idea that his or any Georgia secretary of state can come that close to crossing the line from scanning paper ballots to making Georgians’ votes public.

You can bank it. Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred and his minions probably didn’t read the new Georgia law in almost any way, shape, or form. You can understand why, since the law’s volume is 68 percent (92 pages if you’re scoring at home) the length of Philip Roth’s legendary novella Goodbye, Columbus. But the mis- or mal-excerpting of the law did them no favours and puts baseball into a precarious position.

For one thing, the Atlanta Braves themselves aren’t thrilled with baseball pulling the All-Star Game out of their home playpen. Indeed, even Abrams herself has said Georgia companies shouldn’t jump all the way into boycotts but first “use the chance to publicly condemn the law, invest in voting rights expansion and support wide-ranging federal election legislation before they’re targeted with a boycott movement,” as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution puts it.

For another thing, former UN ambassador and Atlanta mayor Andrew Young demurs from any such boycott, especially involving Atlanta, whatever he thinks of the new law, telling The Athletic, “Everything doesn’t depend on sports. But if you hurt the sports, you hurt the hotels, you hurt the airport, you hurt every business in town . . . [Atlanta’s] the 44th largest economy in the world — and, you can quote me, I don’t know why anybody wants to [fornicate] with that.”

Manfred and his look more like knee-jerkers than thoughtful protesters who considered the whole thing reasonably. (They look, in other words, much the way Trump looked when thundering against Maximum Security’s 2019 Kentucky Derby qualification or on behalf of Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame entry without troubling himself with the deets on both rejections.) Lacking an immediate suggestion for an alternate All-Star Game site this year is the least of Commissioner Nero’s largely self-imposed problems.

On Wednesday night, some Republican lawmakers in Georgia’s state House of Representatives voted to cancel a tax break for Georgia-based Delta Air Lines, on the grounds that Delta objected to the new election law. “You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand,” said Georgia’s House speaker David Ralston. “You got to keep that in mind sometimes.”

Imagine the furies if Democratic officials behaved likewise. Oops . . . Lois Lerner, for openers, call your office.

Wherever you sit about the law itself, the thought of governing officials deciding a private entity needs to be punished for taking any position regarding any legislation or policy should scare the hell out of you. If they can do it to an airline, they can do it to anything, including the business of a game.