On Hector Santiago’s bust

Hector Santiago

So much for working up a good sweat on the mound. Hector Santiago, Sunday afternoon, sent to the cooler for ten days (with pay, mind you) for sweating into his rosin.

Jacob deGrom had the dubious pleasure of being first-come, first-frisked last Monday, when baseball government’s crackup of a crackdown on naughty sauce began officially. One night later, Sergio Romo became the first to drop trou—under his almost knee-length jersey, so nobody could bark at the moons—under the new stop-and-frisk policy.

Come Sunday, Hector Santiago, Mariners relief pitcher, had the likewise dubious pleasure of being stopped, frisked, and purged. For naughty sauce? Not exactly. The coppers saw something suspicious in what Santiago pleaded, and his team affirmed, was nothing but rosin and sweat.

Foreign substance? Only if you consider Santiago’s sweat to be of foreign origin. He was born in New Jersey. He’s of Puerto Rican descent. That makes him a natural born American.

“Says who?” Carroll O’Connor’s Archie Bunker once asked a Puerto Rican-born janitor with whom he was stuck in an elevator, in season one of All in the Family. Said the janitor, Carlos Mendoza, played by a very young Hector Elizondo, “In 1917, the Congress of the United States, says who. We are very good citizens.”

President Woodrow Wilson made that happen when he signed the Jones-Safroth Act. Therefore, Hector Santiago’s sweat is one hundred percent, bona fide, guaranteed not to rust American sweat.

“Therefore,” said Pistolero Pringole, sub-minors relief pitcher turned police criminologist, “they cannot just bust him for foreign substances. And the last I saw of that memo, rosin’s still allowed. Sunscreen, no. SpiderTack, no. All that medicated goo in a can, no. You cannot roust a man for sweating in the summertime.”

From deGrom last Monday through Santiago come Sunday, there were 668 pitching appearances (you don’t think there are 668 pitchers in the Show this season, do you?) and not one of those pitchers got cuffed and stuffed after being served the search warrant until Santiago was carted off to the holding cell.

Well, maybe commissioner Rob Manfred was right. Maybe things were going smooth and steady most of the time from Monday through Sunday. If you don’t count Romo and Max Scherzer getting tempted to go Chippendales on a couple of stop-and-frisks.

And maybe they’ll solve the pillow case.

The way this crackup of a crackdown is going, so far, don’t be surprised if the next newlywed couple to remove the tag under penalty of law after they bring the new bed home finds itself the subject of a no-knock police raid.

“Never gonna happen,” Pistolero said. “The men and women in my department aren’t that crazy.”

“They’re not, but the people running baseball and enough of the people umpiring it are,” I said.

“Now, what’s so suspicious about Hector’s pitching this year,” Pistolero asked.

I mentioned that Santiago’s ERA in nine gigs since the Mariners exhumed him from the minors in late May is 2.65. And, that his fielding-independent pitching since then is 2.44. The former is 1.47 below his career mark; the latter, 2.43 below.

“And he’s had ERAs and FIPs within that range early in other seasons, too, sometimes even lower,” I said. “Not in the last couple, but it’s in his history.”

“I keep reading about the experiments with the baseball the last few years, “Pistolero said. “They’ve changed it more often than my wife changes her mind.”

“How often does your wife change her mind?”

“Woman’s prerogative to change her mind, right? If my wife goes a day without changing it three times we take her to the urgent care clinic. Lucky for her one of our children’s a doctor there.”

“Listen, Pistol,” I said to get back on message, “I don’t really get this all-of-a-sudden crackup of a crackdown any more than you do. I get people are afraid of cheating. I get that a lot of pitchers got wise to the spinning of their pitches a lot more acutely the last few years. And I get that baseball’s governors can’t figure out either how to make serviceable baseballs or how to come up with a syrup acceptable to both themselves and the pitchers who have to throw the damn balls.”

“What about the hitters who have to hit the ball?” Pistolero asked. He wasn’t trying to be a sabelotodo. I think.

“Well,” I said, “with less fast spin cycles on the pitches, maybe the hitters get a more even shot. Maybe the hitters were going to figure it out anyway by the time this Second Year of the Pitcher ended. If there’s one thing I know for dead last certain, it’s that pitchers and hitters usually figure each other out. Even if it takes awhile.”

“Already you sound like you’re commissioner material,” Pistolero said.

“Remember the last Year of the Pitcher?”

“Before my time.”

“Well, I remember it. By the time the World Series came around, the hitters weren’t looking all that futile even with Bob Gibson pitching three games. So sure they figured it out then. They were liable to figure it out again this time around.”

“Even with all this launch angle mierda?”

“Even with all this launch angle mierda.

“I thought your Spanish was worse than that.”

“It is.”

“Well, how come you can figure out the common sense of it all and this Senor Manfred can’t?” Pistolero asked.

“It’s not exactly forensics,” I said.

Suddenly I remembered “Santiago” in English means St. James. The patron saint of Spain, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and fishermen. Something was certainly fishy enough about umpires cuffing and stuffing a pitcher over a blend made in the U.S. of A.

Santiago’s pitching repertoire includes a decent fastball, breaking balls, changeups, and the occasional screwball. Don’t say it.

“I’m only afraid of one thing, Pistolero,” I said. “The way Manfred’s going, he’s going to try to find a way to make sweating in summer against the rules.”

Picture it. We may go from Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean putting an ice block on home plate “to cool off my fastball” to Rob Manfred ordering pitching on ice blocks to stop the sweat.

“Well, I have one thing to say to this Senor Manfred,” Pistolero said. “Que tenga un hotel con mil habitaciones y la venganza de Moctezuma en cada habitacion.

“What the hell does that mean,” I asked. “Remember, I still know about as much Spanish as you know how to solve the pillow case.”

Pistolero couldn’t help laughing while he translated: “May he have a hotel with a thousand rooms and Montezuma’s revenge in every room.”

It was my turn to laugh. “I thought you were a good American citizen and cop. Don’t you know there’s still such a thing as the Eighth Amendment?”

On Mather’s cringeable blather

Kevin Mather has put more than his foot in it.

You say you’d like to know why it is that right-thinking baseball fans trust major league owners about as far as Walter Alston could hit major league pitching? (Alston grew up to be a four-time World Series-winning manager—but he struck out in his lone major league plate appearance.) Four words: Seattle Mariners, Kevin Mather.

Over the weekend now past, we learned Mather informed the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club via early February Zoom conference of many things the Mariners probably preferred not reach the public eye and ear. That’s Bellevue the city in Washington state, not Bellevue the legendary New York City psychiatric hospital.

According to Mather’s 5 February blather, the Mariners think nothing of player service time manipulations. Former Mariners pitcher/freshly minted Mariners special assignment coach Hisashi Iwakuma improved his English “dramatically” when told his interpreter would cost the team $75,000 a year. Outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez is larger than life but he “is loud, his English is not tremendous.”

Mather’s English is only too tremendous, alas.

“Perhaps Mather is at the extreme with his discriminatory remarks . . .  and what he perceived as the difficulty [Iwakuma and Rodriguez] have faced in learning English as a second language,” writes The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal. “Or maybe some other executives think this way, but he was the only one in his position dumb enough to say such things in a public forum.”

The Mather blather turned up on YouTube this past Friday but was taken down Sunday—after the SB Nation blog Lookout Landing posted a complete transcript. Rosenthal wonders whether the Mariners, who were tone-deaf enough not to fire Mather after he was accused of sexual misconduct in 2018—resulting in financial settlements to women accusing Mather and two other team executives—will tune their hearing enough to fire him now.

Mather admitted to the Rotarians that the Mariners offered another top outfield prospect, Jason Kelenic, a six-year deal with three team options that Kepnic rejected while planning to demote Kelenic back to what’s left of the minors in April. Mather described Kelenic as “betting on himself,” as though the Mariners president thought the outfielder was plain out of his noodle.

“[Mather’s] cringeworthy musings, one more misguided than the next,” Rosenthal writes, “are Exhibits A through Z in why many players and fans hold owners in contempt. If this is how ownership types really think, why should any of them be trusted?”

“After pondering it for several days and talking to the union, he’s turned us down and in his words, he’s going to bet on himself,” Mather said of Kelenic according to the full transcript. “He thinks after six years, he’ll be such a star player that the 7th, 8th, 9th year options will be under value. He might be right, he might be right, we offered and he turned us down.”

We’re not exactly taking about a group of people who were simon pure in the past. Too often, baseball owners and their designated operators have pointed the way to wisdom by exercising behaviours and offering opinions completely contemptuous of it.

But even among a group historically infamous for disparaging players at designated strategic moments (think for openers of Branch Rickey’s infamous and boneheaded bid to run down Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner during a contract haggle by comparing him to Babe Ruth, with several false arguments), Mather stands now with his own singular infamy.

His “requisite” apology (Rosenthal’s word) seemed just that, little enough more. Thom Brennaman’s spontaneous on-air apology after an unexpected hot-mike moment in which he blurted about “one of the –g capitals of the world” before returning to the Reds play-by-play was more substantial and less scripted.

“By the time the session was over, Mather had given the union 45 minutes of bulletin-board material, at a time when tensions between the players and owners are the highest they have been since the players were on strike in 1994-95,” Rosenthal writes.

His comments about Iwakuma and Rodriguez alone should be enough to prompt his dismissal. But then, the outcome of the team’s investigation after Mather was the subject of two complaints from female employees in 2009-10 should have been enough to remove him. And the good ship Mariner rolled merrily along.

It would be a rank understatement to say here that the Show suffers a long-continuing pandemic of foot-in-mouth disease. To those who think Mather’s firing would be arbitrary and not long overdue, you might care to remember an ancient musing from the historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Peter Viereck: “Any bid to scrape the barnacles off an excellent ship is never taken to be an attack on the ship itself. Except by the barnacles.”

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Update: Kevin Mather resigned as the Mariners’ president Monday afternoon. Managing partner John Stanton will act as interim president until hiring Mather’s replacement.

The wheeling, dealing, maybe stealing Padres

Mike Clevinger, from Cleveland outcast to the star of the San Diego Shuffle.

Entering the pandemic-truncated regular season, some thought the Show was going to be somewhere between dull and duller, not just by way of the rules experiments alone. They didn’t reckon with the San Diego Padres, of all people.

When not producing a youthful shortstop (Fernando Tatis, Jr.) who takes “let the kids play” to heart (and runs the boring old farts’ temperatures up the scale in the bargain), or hitting grand slams as if they’re going out of style, the Padres took what some presumed would be a sleepy trade deadline period and turned it into a bit of a thriller approaching Monday’s 1 p.m. Pacific time cutoff.

Landing Cleveland Indians pitcher/protocol violator Mike Clevinger and outfielder Greg Allen for a package including pitcher Cal Quantrill, infielder Gabriel Arias, outfielder Josh Naylor, and catcher Austin Hedges on Monday merely seems like what Duke Ellington once called “the cherries-and-cream topping to our sundae morning.”

Especially after the Friars already made four trades in a 24-hour period prior. The fourth of those trades looked like something of a nothingburger: on Sunday, the Padres sent a fringe relief pitcher from their 60-man roster (28 in Show; 32 at alternate camp), Gerardo Reyes, to the Los Angeles Angels for veteran catcher Jason Castro, who’s set to hit free agency after this season. And, who’s not much of a hitter but is respected for his abilities at pitch framing and new-rules plate blocking.

Now, look at what that deal followed doing the Slam Diego Shuffle:

* On Saturday, the Padres cast for and reeled in resurgent relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal, sending the Kansas City Royals an outfield prospect (Edward Oliveres) and the proverbial player to be named later.

* On Sunday morning, the Padres more or less confirmed that the beleaguered Boston Red Sox were about to push the plunger on their season if not much of their roster, landing designated hitter/first baseman Mitch Moreland, a 2018 World Series hero, for a pair of prospects. (Hudson Potts, Jession Rosario.)

* And, a little later on Sunday, the Friars dealt big to the Seattle Mariners, sending two of their highest-rated prospects (pitcher Andres Munoz, outfielder Taylor Trammell) plus a pair of young sprouts with Show experience (catcher Luis Torrens, infielder Ty France) to land the Mariners’ best catcher, Austin Nola, plus relief pitchers Austin Adams and Dan Altavilla.

The Mariners were thin enough in the backstop ranks that nothing could have pried Nola out of their hands unless it was enough to think they might finally, maybe, possibly begin building a real future, as a good number of published reports suggest. When the Padres landed Clevinger Monday morning, what started as jaw-dropping hope turned into jaw-dropping actuality: They’re going all-in to win now as well as later.

How surreal is this season already? The Indians put Clevinger on ice when it turned out he’d made a team flight after violating coronavirus safety protocols with fellow pitcher Zach Plesac but said nothing about it—even after Plesac got bagged—until after that team flight. The Tribe sent both to their Eastlake, Ohio alternate site.

And all of a sudden Clevinger—who had a sterling 2019 season but had a struggle or two in four starts this season before his night out of dinner and cards with Plesac and other friends—became the most coveted starting pitcher on a weird trade market that figured to feature such arms as Lance Lynn (Texas Rangers), Trevor Bauer (Cincinnati Reds), and maybe Josh Hader (Milwaukee Brewers relief act) moving to fresh territory.

This must be heady stuff for Clevinger, who’s just gone from a Cleveland outcast to the star of the Slam Diego Shuffle.

One minute, Clevinger and Plesac were still recovering in Eastlake over the denunciations of their selfishness for sneaking out after dark no matter what Mom and Dad ordered. The next, he, at least, has moved from one pennant contender on the banks of Lake Erie to another down by that glistening San Diego waterfront. Where he gets to reap the pleasures and benefits of having one of the left coast’s two true marquee talents having his back at shortstop and lightening his loads at the plate.

It was enough for the Padres to swing and fling their way into the postseason picture, sitting five games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the West but tied with the Chicago Cubs at three and a half games up in the wild card picture. They’re not just making noise, they’re making memories of the kind San Diego hasn’t seen in a very long time.

These are fun days to be a Padre. And, a Padre fan. So much so that a Twitter wag couldn’t resist wondering if their trade deadline wheeling, dealing, and possible stealing didn’t set at least one weird record: most players sharing the name Austin (including Moreland: it’s his middle name) moving to one team or another in a series of trades made by one team in the same deadline period.

Well, what’s baseball, too, if not the still-singular repository for silly records? Now the Padres hope their wheeling, dealing, and possible stealing produce the kind of record that’s not so silly, if you don’t count the semi-Mad Hatter style postseason to come. The kind of record that gets them to the postseason in the first place.

All they have to do is make sure Clevinger can’t be too seduced by that delicious waterfront to break the safety protocols again.

So why did the Mariners trade Walker?

If the Mariners traded Walker over his speaking out pro-protest postponement, they got some splainin’ to do.

Me and my big mouth. Well, keyboard.

Earlier today, writing about baseball game postponements in protest over the Jacob Blake police shooting, I referenced a 1968 trade involving pitcher Milt Pappas, who supported no games played during Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral. Pappas fumed when his Cincinnati Reds management may have strong-armed players into playing. In sort of a blink, he was then an Atlanta Brave.

That’ll teach me.

On Wednesday, when the Seattle Mariners and the San Diego Padres elected not to play, Mariners pitcher Taijuan Walker tweeted, “Glad to be apart of this organization and group of people!” Thank you for standing with us always!!” Come today, Thursday, Walker became a Buffalonto Blue Jay, traded for the proverbial player to be named later. He inprocesses with his new team Friday, when baseball is supposed to commemorate Jackie Robinson.

Pappas would never really know whether the Reds’ then general manager Bob Howsam told the truth when he insisted that 1968 trade was in the works before the Kennedy funeral issue. Walker at this writing may or may not really know soon, or even ever, if Marines general manager Jerry Dipoto had a deal in the works before the protest postponements, either.

In 1968, then-commissioner William D. (Spike) Eckert ordered no baseball to be played during Kennedy’s funeral. Washington’s notorious traffic issues delayed the procession, bumping the funeral to coincide with the start of the Reds’ scheduled game against the St. Louis Cardinals. Pappas supported not playing; the team voted 13-12 to play, possibly after pressure from Howsam and manager Dave Bristol. Three days later—Pappas was gone.

Major League Baseball’s official statement on the protest postponements said, “Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake, we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight. Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice.” Walker tweeted his approval of his team’s protest postponement decision the same night they made it. One day later—gone.

If timing is everything, this timing looks more than a little out of time. It may not even pass the proverbial smell test.

Pappas, who died in 2016, was a white man born in Detroit of Greek parents. (His name at birth: Miltiades Stergios Papastergios.) Walker is a black man born in Shreveport, Louisiana; his father was black, his mother a Mexican-American woman who raised him alone. One dead pitcher and one living one can now hold hands as they say, plausibly enough, that baseball still has growing pains over intolerance not solely regarding a racial issue.

The game has never been entirely comfortable with players known to be outspoken on all sorts of matters. Once upon a time, the Chicago White Sox tried to compel the late pitcher/author Jim Brosnan to sign a contract enjoining him from writing for publication without prior team approval. The author of from-the-inside baseball classics The Long Season and Pennant Race elected to retire rather than allow the White Sox to decide what he could or couldn’t write.

When the then-Florida Marlins traded first baseman Carlos Delgado to the New York Mets after the 2005 season, Delgado—who’d sat in the dugout as a Blue Jay and a Marlin during seventh-inning-stretch playings of “God Bless America,” in protest the Iraq War and using his native Puerto Rico’s island of Vieques as a bombing practise spot—changed his protest tune, possibly under compulsion from the Mets’ front office.

“The Mets have a policy that everybody should stand for ‘God Bless America’,” Delgado said at the time, “and I will be there. I will not cause any distractions to the ballclub . . . Just call me Employee Number 21.” Said Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon at the same time, “He’s going to have his own personal views, which he’s going to keep to himself.”

Delgado didn’t act during playings of “The Star Spangled Banner,” but on Wednesday Mets outfielder/first baseman/designated hitter Dominic Smith did. A young black man who’s a product of south central Los Angeles, Smith took a knee during the song’s pre-game playing to protest the Blake shooting.That contravened his stance in the George Floyd aftermath, when he said a knee wasn’t enough compared to teaching and learning.

There went that idea. Though his teammates had his back, too, refusing to criticise and some supporting him publicly (outfielder Michael Conforto in particular), Smith spoke for himself at a press conference. In tears. Asked by a reporter to describe the most difficult part of the past two months, Smith paused, then sighed, then said through a few sobs, “I think the most difficult part is to see people still don’t care . . . it just shows the hate in people’s hearts and, I mean, that just sucks.”

The Mets’ administration hasn’t said or done anything regarding Smith as I write. That can be considered good if we’re talking about dealing him out of town, post haste or otherwise, as the Mariners may or may not have dealt Walker over his comments. But that can be bad if we’re talking about whether Smith’s team above and beyond his clubhouse teammates will stand for his elementary right to speak his mind and heart.

I’ve said it before in these pages, but I’ll say it again: I have skin in the game of police lawlessness. I’m the paternal grandson of a New York police officer whom you could call both a true man’s man and yet one of the gentlest and most playful of men you’d ever meet in your life, especially with any and all of his eight grandchildren.

Grandpa Walter would have been as appalled at police officers behaving like the thugs they’re charged with apprehending as he would have been about people using police criminality as an excuse to break entire cities. If he’d been presented with the case for doing away with the “qualified immunity” that shields police officers from consequences for their crimes, I believe Grandpa would support its end, as I do.

But I think baseball fans and those who play and administer the game should want to know, for dead last certain, whether the Mariners traded Taijuan Walker—a serviceable, about-average major league pitcher—because it was an already-in-the-works trade on baseball grounds alone.

If they really did, they’re guilty perhaps of bad timing alone. If they didn’t, well, Lucy, they got some splainin’ to do. Did they deal Walker out of Dodge because the very thought that he spoke out proudly and unapologetically on behalf of his teammates postponing a game in protest of racism and police lawlessness offended them?

Protest by postponement

When Mookie Betts (far left) elected not to play in protest over Jacob Blake’s shooting by police, his Dodgers mates—including manager Dave Roberts (second from left) and pitchers Clayton Kershaw (second from right) and Kenley Jansen (far right)—had his back and joined him postponing against the Giants.

This is now: The Show’s government stood by teams postponing games Thursday in a show of respect to Jacob Blake, a young African-American man shot by rogue police, and quiet outrage over the manner in which Blake was shot. (Seven bullets in the back, with his children in sight in their car.)

But that was then: A Cincinnati Reds pitcher was hustled the hell out of Dodge for standing on behalf of not playing baseball during Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral. What a difference 52 years makes.

“Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake,” MLB’s official statement said Thursday, “we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight. Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice.”

It could also have said plausibly that baseball stood athwart the grotesquery of Kyle Rittenhouse—a white teenager (seventeen), making his way from Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where violence and destruction reigned courtesy of those who seize upon genuine grief, rage, and sorrow as a beard to destroy—now accused of shooting two to death after his arrival.

Once the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks stepped up front as the first professional sports team to decline play Thursday in protest over Blake’s shooting, and theirs was a playoff game, baseball teams who had yet to play on the day—several games had finished already or were well enough in progress—began to step up front as well.

The Milwaukee Brewers and the Reds postponed, particularly after Brewers relief star Josh Hader spoke publicly about the team considering it. Those who chose to condemn Hader a few years ago, after immaturely racist tweets in his school days surfaced, should ponder once again (if it occurred to them in the first place, when Hader apologised publicly) that, yes, mis-oriented youth can and often does mature into thoughtful adulthood.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants postponed their Thursday night game after Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, informing his teammates earlier in the day he had no intention of playing as a show of protest, discovered to his happy surprise (he’d encouraged the Dodgers to play anyway) that one and all his teammates had his back on that.

The Dodgers’ long-enough-time franchise face Clayton Kershaw took the lead on backing him. “Mookie was saying, ‘If you guys want to play, I support that’,” Kershaw said when asked. “But we made a collective, group decision to not play tonight and let our voices be heard for standing up for what is right.”

The Seattle Mariners elected as a team not to play Thursday night, and their scheduled opponents, the San Diego Padres, agreed no questions asked. “For me, and for many of my teammates,” tweeted Mariners infielder Dee Gordon, “the injustices, violence, death and systemic racism is deeply personal. This is impacting not only my community, but very directly my family and friends. Our team voted unanimously not to play tonight.”

Elsewhere around the Show individual players declined to play even if their teams went ahead and played, and none of those players looks to face retribution or team discipline for their decisions while their teammates mostly (not unanimously, alas) likewise supported their stance.

Paralyzed waist down by his wounds, Jacob Blake isn’t exactly a model citizen, alas. He had a knife on his car’s floorboard though not in his hands, and police were dispatched to the location after a woman’s call that her boyfriend (Blake) was present when enjoined formally against being there. He also had an arrest warrant upon him. Neither gave Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey the right to pump seven bullets into his back.

Wherever he is in the Elysian Fields, Miltiades Stergios Papastergios must be thinking to himself, “Slowly comes the dawn.” You know him if at all by his Americanised name, Milton Steven Pappas. In 1968, he took a stand similar to that taken by the aforementioned teams and players and refused to budge when circumstances altered the original plan. The Reds traded him post haste afterward, and nobody knew for certain whether that stance provoked it.

Milt Pappas became a Red, of course, in the infamous trade that sent Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles, where Pappas was once part of the Orioles’ heralded but ruined “Baby Birds” starting rotation full of fresh youth. He pitched serviceably if not spectacularly for the Reds but, with Robinson winning a Triple Crown in his first Baltimore season and continuing to play like his Hall of Famer self, it wouldn’t have mattered if Pappas was the second coming of Robin Roberts.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in early April 1968, baseball’s Opening Day coincided with the day of King’s funeral. Baseball would have played fully if the Pittsburgh Pirates—with such non-white stars as Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, plus former Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills—hadn’t refused to play. The Pirates triggered similar actions by other teams.

Baseball’s then-commissioner, William D. Eckert, was denounced for “calling up the club owners, not to tell them what to do, but to ask them” over the King funeral, wrote New York Daily News columnist Dick Young. But two months later former U.S. attorney general turned senator from New York, Robert F. Kennedy, freshly triumphant after winning California’s Democratic Party primary, was murdered after he left the stage at Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel on 6 June 1968.

With the Kennedy assassination, Eckert decreed no games should be played during Kennedy’s funeral. The man nicknamed Spike but derided previously as “the unknown soldier” (he was a retired Air Force general with no known previous baseball tie) proved he learned fast, even if he had to learn the hard way.

The Reds were scheduled to play the St. Louis Cardinals with a starting time well after the Kennedy funeral might have ended originally. Then, the funeral was delayed, after Washington’s notorious enough traffic issues delayed the funeral train’s procession. It looked as though the Reds and the Cardinals would play during the funeral after all.  Not so fast, Pappas insisted. He felt then and to the day he died four years ago that the game shouldn’t be played out of respect to Kennedy.

Reds manager Dave Bristol and general manager Bob Howsam felt the opposite. Howsam even visited the Reds clubhouse to pronounce that RFK himself would have wanted the game played. Pappas argued against playing right then and there. “Who is this guy, anyway,” Pappas told a reporter later on, “to tell us what Bobby Kennedy would have wanted us to do?”

The Reds’ players promptly took a team vote, some after having been strong-armed by Bristol, Howsam, or both. The vote was 13-12 in favour of playing. Pappas quit on the spot as the Reds’ player representative. Six games ended up postponed anyway despite the funeral delay. Three days later, in a deal Howsam swore was in the works before Kennedy’s assassination, he traded Pappas to the Atlanta Braves in a five-man swap making Reds out of fellow pitchers Tony Cloninger and Clay Carroll.

Baseball’s government, much like America’s, often has to learn the hard way about doing the right things as opposed to doing the expedient or the partisan things. There’s little to the appropriate causes monetarily as many do, other than symbolic acts that speak louder than rioters enough because their familiarity and popular appeal is powerful weight to throw above and beyond a game.

Those who think Thursday night’s players and team were out of line might care to ask what they’d prefer as a protest against rogue police and citizens alike—postponing baseball games and denouncing racism; or, breaking entire cities.