Ron Fairly, RIP: See ya later

2019-11-03 RonFairly

Ron Fairly. (Seattle Mariners photograph.)

There’s plenty to be said for a fellow whose baseball life involves over seven thousand games, as a player and a broadcaster. There’s more to be said for Ron Fairly, who died at 81 on the morning the Nationals—for whom Fairly once played when they were the infant Montreal Expos—won the World Series last week.

Fairly was a solid first baseman and outfielder who studied the game as attentively as he played it. When he became a broadcaster, his habits included calling walks by saying, “Those bases on balls, they’ll kill you every time.” Fairly should have known if anyone did: his playing statistics include 1,022 walks to 877 strikeouts. That’s a 0.83 strikeout to walk ratio, .84 below the Show average in his 21 seasons.

A lefthanded hitter with more than a little power, and blessed with almost the perfect surname for a major league hitter, Fairly was killed at the plate by his two Dodger home parks, the Los Angeles Coliseum (the baseball field shoehorned into the football emporium was hell on portsiders who didn’t always hit the other way) and Dodger Stadium (heaven for pitchers, hell for hitters) from 1959 (his first full season) through 1968 (his final full year as a Dodger).

And he knew it.

“I played in an era— the 1960s—that might have been the most difficult in which to make your living, as a hitter, of any in the history of the game of baseball,” said Fairly to FanGraphs interviewer David Laurila in 2011. “I played in Dodger Stadium, which was a big ballpark where the ball didn’t carry very well. It doesn’t take many [lost] hits during the course of a season for your average to drop a little bit, and you weren’t going to have as many home runs or RBIs there.”

He probably had the one of the most quiet instances of World Series shining of them all. Seven Dodger position players played all seven games of the 1965 Series and Fairly out-hit all of them, including Maury Wills, first base mainstay-to-be Wes Parker, the season’s super-sub Lou Johnson, and veteran Jim (Junior) Gilliam, who’d come out of retirement to play most of the season at third base and made a key play to save Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax’s Game Seven shutout.

Fairly’s 1.069 OPS for that Series was the tops among the Dodgers by far, well enough beyond Johnson’s .914. He went 11-for-29 with three doubles and two home runs against the Twins and drove six runs home while he was at it. It was a Series that threatened to become an all-home-team-winning set before Koufax’s Game Seven shutout.

“We started Sandy instead of [Hall of Famer Don] Drysdale, and the reason is that Sandy was more muscular and it would have taken him too long to warm up,” Fairly remembered to Laurila of that game. “Drysdale could warm up a lot faster if Sandy got into trouble.”

Koufax did struggle in the early innings, finding his vaunted curve ball unreliable and deciding to go strictly fastball the rest of the way. “It wasn’t until about the sixth or seventh inning that Sandy started to settle down, loosen up and get it going,” Fairly said. “On two days’ rest, he probably threw 140 pitches—maybe 160—and he was throwing better in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings than he was in the first three innings.”

(Don’t go there: before you start lamenting that today’s pitcher’s haven’t got the kidney to work like that, be reminded that Koufax would pitch only one more season to come, then retire after it, at thirty, beyond the top of his game. Among other things, continuing to be a human medical experiment to keep him pitching despite a then-unfixable arthritic pitching elbow was liable to compromise something a little more important to Koufax—like the rest of his life.)

Fairly also scored the only Dodger run in Game Two (which Koufax pitched after declining Game One because of Yom Kippur); he scored the first Dodger run in Game Three; he sent the first of four Dodger insurance runs home off Twins relief mainstay Al Worthington; his RBI double off Jim Kaat in the third gave Koufax a 4-0 Game Five cushion.

And he followed Johnson’s fourth-inning Game Seven homer with a double before coming home when his first base successor Parker bounced one over Twins first baseman Don Mincher’s head immediately to follow. Said Fairly, “[T]hat was it. Sandy took care of the rest.”

Fairly also remembered the ugliest moment of that 1965 season, the Candlestick Park brawl that climaxed a weekend of tensions between the Dodgers and the Giants, kicked off when Dodger catcher John Roseboro threw a return pitch to Koufax that zipped right past Hall of Fame pitcher Juan Marichal’s head in the batter’s box—when Marichal was still looking ahead of and not behind himself.

Marichal had knocked Fairly down at the plate in the third inning, a little pushback after Koufax—who generally preferred domination over intimidation, but answering for a knockdown of Maury Wills in the first—sent one sailing over Hall of Famer Willie Mays’s head in the second. Marichal was less than thrilled, too, that Wills opened the game bunting for a base hit and Fairly drove him home two outs later.

When Marichal eventually came up to hit leading off the bottom of the third, Fairly was stationed in right field and occupied mostly by the wind that afternoon when Koufax threw Marichal a strike inside that Roseboro let get past him.

“After the pitch was made to Juan,” Fairly told Laurila, “I looked down because the wind was blowing so much, and all of a sudden I heard this roar. I looked up and here was Juan swinging the bat and both teams were running out of the dugout.” The return throw tripped Marichal’s trigger when he realised how close he’d been to a hole in the head.

As John Rosengren (in The Fight of Their Lives) and others have attested, both Marichal and Roseboro were buffeted by off-field events. Marichal was haunted by that year’s civil war in his native Dominican Republic, where his cousin was a presidential running mate; Roseboro was haunted by the Watts riots in Los Angeles.

And when Marichal wheeled around screaming “Why you do that??” he saw Roseboro advancing toward him, knowing Roseboro was karate trained, and in one sickening instant was overcome by fear. That’s when he brought his bat down on Roseboro’s head; it didn’t catch Roseboro’s head flush on but struck enough to open a gash over the catcher’s eye.

“Mays and Len Gabrielson were the two guys on the Giants who tried to break that fight up,” remembered Fairly. “Keep in mind, there wasn’t a lot of love between the Giants and Dodgers. We didn’t even like their uniforms. They didn’t like ours.”

Fairly knew how completely out of character the brawl was for both the normally genial, prankish Marichal (whose wife swore he never awoke on the wrong side of the bed) and the quiet but attentive Roseboro. Indeed, Roseboro eventually forgave Marichal, the two became friends, and Roseboro campaigned for Marichal after the great pitcher was denied first-ballot Hall of Fame enshrinement.

“When you talk about all of the great pitching staffs the Dodgers had, keep in mind that Roseboro was the guy putting the fingers down,” Fairly told Laurila. “John was really good at calling games. He was one of the quietest guys I was ever around, but also one of the nicest. His locker was next to mine for years.”

Fairly remained with the Dodgers until 1969, when he was traded to the maiden voyaging Expos in a deal that brought Maury Wills (exiled to Pittsburgh after he walked away from the Dodgers’ winter ’66 tour of Japan) back to the Dodgers. He spent six seasons with the Expos before they traded him to the Cardinals; now already a part-time player, he also spent time with the Athletics (after their ’70s glory seasons), the Blue Jays, and the Angels before calling it a career.

The trade to Montreal affected Fairly negatively. He wasn’t a cold weather fan as it was, he didn’t like losing after those years of Dodger success, and he was haunted, says a Society for American Baseball Research biography, when he showed his then four-year-old son where Montreal is and the boy replied, “Does this mean I don’t have a daddy anymore?”

When he finished with the Angels it didn’t mean the end of his baseball life. Owner Gene Autry offered him a three-year deal in 1979 to broadcast Angel games on television with Dick Enberg and his old Dodger teammate Don Drysdale. Fairly stayed in the Angel booth until 1987, when came the crowning irony of his broadcast life: the Giants, of all people, invited him to take over for play-by-play man Hank Greenwald.

Try to imagine the Dodgers replacing Vin Scully with Russ Hodges (the legendary longtime voice of the Giants) and you have an idea how popular Fairly wasn’t in San Francisco. At least, not until the Giants brought Greenwald back to pair with him. “[We] had a lot of laughs,” Fairly said of their time together, which ended when Fairly moved up the Pacific to step into the Mariners booth. Where he stayed, very popular, until he retired in 2006.

He was known wherever he was on the air for “See ya later” calling home runs (including Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr.’s in an eighth consecutive game) and as a raconteur steeped in baseball history and borne of a fine wit.

A favourite among Mariners fans was Fairly’s recollection of Koufax manhandling Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle in the 1963 World Series. As the sides changed and Mantle passed Fairly at first on the way back to centerfield, Mantle cracked, “Hey, Red, tell the bastard to lighten up, he’s making me look bad.”

Fairly made one more return to the broadcast booth, when the Mariners’ Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus died unexpectedly after the 2010 season and Fairly filled in for a third of 2011. After that, it was home to Palm Springs and a quiet life of grandchildren and golf until esophageal cancer invaded and at last overtook him. “He had seemingly beaten the disease,” writes Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Washington) columnist Larry Stone, “but friends say it was the radiation that did him in.”

As a hitter, Fairly looked on the surface as though he cratered almost completely after Koufax’s retirement. He told an interviewer it was sort of Drysdale’s fault:

Drysdale told (general manager) Buzzie (Bavasi) that we should lengthen the grass and slow down the infield. I thought that was crazy. We were a ground ball/line drive team. We didn’t hit the ball in the air. Well, Buzzie lengthened the grass and it killed me. I didn’t have the speed to beat out infield hits and ground balls that had been getting through for me were winding up in infielders’ gloves.

Obviously, as a baseball theoretician Don Drysdale was one helluva pitcher.

Early in his career, Fairly had the distinction of rooming with Hall of Famer Duke Snider, a California native who also became a broadcaster after his playing days. Snider loved to regale the kid with tales from Ebbets Field where Snider’s prodigious power hitting and handsome looks earned him the nickname the Duke of Flatbush.

According to Laurila, Fairly remembered Snider saying he was batting in Ebbets Field with Hall of Fame catcher Roy Campanella on deck—with his chest protector and shin guards still strapped on. Campanella apparently didn’t think Snider could hit the pitcher in question with two out.

“Duke wouldn’t get in the batter’s box until Campy took them off,” Fairly said. “A few pitches later, Duke popped the ball up in the air. As he was running to first base, he was hollering at Campy, and Campy was laughing at him.”

I hope Fairly is giving them all a little friendly hell about it while they share a drink in the Elysian Fields now. Then, I hope Campanella gets to horn in with some jokes, and Mantle asks them to tell some bastard to lighten up, when Fairly, Drysdale, and Snider get to call some more games together up there.

No tank you very much

2017-07-27 HoustonAstrosWS

So far, the 2017 Astros are one of a couple of  exceptions to the rule thus far that tanking is not a world championship guarantor.

When February got underway in earnest, I asked what you’d say if you knew each major league baseball team, rich and poor alike, is guaranteed about $60 million into its kitty before the regular season even begins. And without having to do a blessed thing to earn it other than existing in the first place.

Not to mention that each major league team would pull down about an average additional $100 million during a season through sources that only include the gate.

At that time the Major League Baseball Players Association thought aloud about pushing for imposing a tax on teams that seemed not to care less about putting even a mildly entertaining product on the field, a product showing the teams had even the mildest concern about trying to win. The MLBPA pondered such a tax costing tankers prime draft pick positions if they continued losing, or at least not trying to win all that much, beyond particular thresholds over certain periods.

Everybody with me? So far, so good. Because the redoubtable Thomas Boswell, the Washington Post‘s longtime baseball sage, has things to say about it. When tanking teams call their tanking “strategy,” Boswell calls it fan abuse:

The idea of trying to lose 100 to 115 games, while claiming it’s a long-term plan for glory, always has been a long-shot notion, seldom born out in actual baseball experience. Of the current 30 teams, 20 have never in the past 50 years lost more than 200 games in consecutive seasons, at least not after you exclude their early expansion-team days. Yet those 20 teams have won 33 of the past 50 World Series, exactly the ratio you’d expect if there was no difference between having a Horror Era and never being truly awful at all.

In other words, the back-to-back 2016 and 2017 World Series winners, the Cubs and the Astros, were outliers when they went into the tank to rebuild from the guts up, over three or four seasons previous, rather than retool on the fly and continue trying honest competition along the way.

Reality check: Unless you’re certain comic-opera teams of legend, or the Washington Generals, losing isn’t entertaining. Boswell notes six teams at this writing on pace to lose 98 games or more this season. In ascending order: the Mariners (98), the Marlins (101), the Blue Jays (101), the Royals (103), the Tigers (111), and the Orioles (111).

They’re about as entertaining as root canal work, southern California traffic jams, and today’s politics of demeaning. Actually, I’ll walk that back a little bit. Southern California traffic jams have occasional amusements.

Among other things the tankers are competing for that ever-popular number one draft pick. “[W]e’re watching a bull market in stupidity,” Boswell writes, perhaps unintentionally offering the emphasis on bull. “And cupidity, too, since all those teams think that they can still make a safe cynical profit, thanks to revenue sharing, no matter how bad they are.”

Since the draft began in 1965, there’ve been 55 number one overall picks. Four became Rookies of the Year, seventeen became All-Stars even once, and three became Hall of Famers. Historically, the draft more often becomes a case of good things coming to those who wait, on both sides of the draft tables.

In today’s terms it only begins with the game’s greatest player. Mike Trout waited until round 25 before the Angels chose him in 2009, and it took him two years to become listed by anyone as a number one prospect. And they’re already trying to figure out the language on his Hall of Fame plaque even though he has one more season to become minimally eligible.

His aging but no-questions-asked Hall of Fame teammate Albert Pujols waited until round thirteen before the Cardinals pounced in 1999. Guess who else went from the thirteenth round of the draft (in 1989) to the Hall of Fame? Does Jim Thome ring as many bells for you as he rung pitchers’ bells?

Those aren’t the only Hall of Famers incumbent or to-be who went well enough below the first round: Wade Boggs (1976)—seventh round. Goose Gossage (1970)—ninth. Andre Dawson (1975)—eleventh. Nolan Ryan (1965)—twelfth round. Ryne Sandberg (1978)—twentieth. John Smoltz (1985)—22nd.

Not to mention a passel of All-Stars who made distinguished careers even if they fell shy of being outright Hall of Famers, including but not limited to: Sal Bando (sixth, 1965), Tim Hudson (sixth, 1997), Jamie Moyer (sixth, 1984), Willie Randolph (seventh, 1972), Jim Edmonds (seventh, 1988), Eric Davis (eighth, 1980), Fred McGriff (ninth, 1981), Jack Clark (thirteenth, 1973), Dave Parker (fourteenth, 1970), Jake Peavy (fifteenth, 1999), Orel Hershiser (seventeenth, 1979), Kenny Lofton (seventeenth, 1988), Don Mattingly (nineteenth, 1979), Andy Pettitte (22nd, 1990), Roy Oswalt (23rd, 1996), and Mark Buehrle (38th, 1998).

And don’t get me started on the number one overall draft picks who barely (if at all) made the Show or didn’t quite survive for assorted reasons. Steve Chilcott (injured severely in the minors), David Clyde (rushed to the Show for two box office-minded starts, then mal-developed and injured), Al Chambers (couldn’t hit with a garage door, couldn’t field with a vacuum cleaner), Brien Taylor (injured defending his brother in a fight), call your offices.

While you ponder all that, ponder something else Boswell points out: A complete team dismantling and rebuilding is only justifable now and then, when it “may be the best of the available rotten options.” But even that runs a risk any team looking to put an honest product on the field should duck: “Rebuild in a few seasons — well, maybe . . . if you’re very lucky. But more likely, you’ll just stink for years and pick the public’s pocket.”

Once upon a time the Red Sox were as long-suffering as the season was long. The cause wasn’t any curse (of the Bambino or otherwise) but boneheaded (and, once upon a time, bigoted) organisational management. But even they’ve had only one season since 1934 in which they lost more than even 93 games.

Even the Cubs—the just-as-long-suffering Cubs, once upon a time—have only three 100+ loss seasons in their history. The third one happened in 2012. Three years later, they were division winners; a year after that, they won a World Series; they’ve since remained pennant competitive if not without a few hiccups that haven’t come within the same solar system as their formerly star-crossed past.

The incumbent Reds franchise has only one 100-loss season to show since they joined the National League—in 1882. Between them, Boswell reminds you, the Dodgers and the Angels have 121 seasons in or near Los Angeles . . . and only two squads between them (the 1968 and 1980 Angels) that ever lost more than 95 in a season. The Yankees haven’t had a 100-loss season since the year the Titanic sunk. The Cardinals haven’t lost more than 95 in a season since Grand Central Station’s first rebuild—a year after the iceberg.

The fictitious New York Knights of The Natural once employed a carnival hypnotist whose sole qualification seemed to be telling the hapless players, hypnotically, “Losing . . . is a disease.” In baseball, it doesn’t have to be terminal, no matter what today’s tankers do or don’t think. Though it seems that way in a place like Baltimore, where the Orioles went unconscionably from an organisation with one of the game’s most admirable cultures to one with one of the game’s most abhorrent.

As Boswell reminds us, the Orioles lost 202 in 1987-88 and went into complete rebuild; practically the only surviving incumbent proved to be Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. They’ve only won 90 or more games in any season three times since that teardown and had a fourteen-season streak of losing seasons. The franchise that was once the truly hapless St. Louis Browns only ever had a losing-season streak as high as twelve in their St. Louis decades.

The Oriole brand, Boswell knows, became so badly battered that it was no wonder major league baseball finally returned to Washington: “[T]here was nothing for MLB’s other 29 owners to protect by keeping a team off Baltimore’s doorstep.”

“Now it is all different,” wrote one-time New York Post sportswriter and recent editor of Ball Four, Leonard Shecter, after the crazy Mets were crazy enough to win a division, pennant, and World Series in their mere eighth season of play. “Casey Stengel is gone. The players, who try no harder than the old Mets, succeed more often and as a result are indistinguishable from baseball players all over. There is stuffiness in the front office. There is great concern about unimportant things . . . And, worst of all, when the Mets lose, there is nothing funny about it at all.”

Beware the tanking teams saying they’re just looking to the future. They’re nowhere near as entertaining in defeat as the 1962 Mets, the last era of the Browns (when Bill Veeck owned the team), or the 1930s Dodgers.

Ask any Mariners, Marlins, Blue Jays, Royals (never mind the rude interruption of their 2015 World Series conquest), Tigers, or Orioles fans. They’ll tell you. Losing is about as funny as a screen door on a submarine.

The Angels gave Skaggs a past-heaven home farewell

2019-07-12 MikeTrout

Wearing Tyler Skaggs’s name and number, Mike Trout finishes running out the two-run bomb he launched to start the Angels’ memorial massacre Friday night.

The stricken finally returned home to start the season’s second half. And the way they did it didn’t just defy belief, it drove belief almost as far out of Angel Stadium Friday night as Mike Trout’s two-run homer flew out in the bottom of the first.

The Angels paid one more tribute to the unexpectedly late Tyler Skaggs before the home audience Friday night. On the night before Skaggs would have turned 28. With a combined no-hitter and a sinking of the Mariners all the way to Davy Jones’s Locker.

It only began with a 45-second pre-game moment of silence in Skaggs’ memory, the time in honour of his uniform number. The Angels one and all wore Skaggs’ number 45 for the moment and for the game. Some dare call that tempting the baseball demigods, others dare call it divine inspiration.

After the Angels put the 13-0 no-no squarely into the bank, nobody really knew what to call it. Assuming God was available for comment, even He Himself might have been lost for words, and His words are usually the best words any side of heaven.

“Tyler’s birthday is 7/13. Tomorrow,” said Trout following the game. “They’d tell you to rewrite this script to make it more believable if you turned this in.” Which is pretty astute coming from a guy who claimed to be speechless over what he and his mates just did.

“Absolutely incredible,” tweeted Astros pitcher Justin Verlander. “Meant to be.”

The Mariners joined the Angels, showing shiploads of class, in lining up the baselines from the plate as a Skaggs jersey was placed behind the Angel Stadium pitcher’s mound in a frame.

Skaggs’ widow, Carli, his mother Debbie, his stepfather Dan, and his stepbrother Garrett, made for the mound accompanied by Angels pitcher Andrew Heaney. Then Debbie wound up and threw a ceremonial first pitch, before embracing Heaney and Mike Trout, the Angels’ all-everything center fielder suddenly emergent as the team’s no questions asked leader in the immediate aftermath of Skaggs’ unexpected death.

And those genuinely touching moments were almost nothing compared to what happened during the actual game, played in front of a likeness of Skaggs and a circular memorial displaying number 45 large on the rear end of Trout’s office, the center field fence.

How many times can you say the Angels paid their departed pitcher the most unexpectedly appropriate tribute of all—a game in which two pitchers, Taylor Cole (two innings) and Felix Pena (seven innings) combined to surrender no hits, only one walk, and see not a single Mariner reach on an error?

How often can you say Trout himself—who wept unashamedly last week in Texas, trying to express what his friend Skaggs meant to himself and to their team—accounted admirably for almost exactly half the Angels’ commemorative destruction?

Say it as often as you like even if you’re not an Angel fan. Because seldom if ever has a team rent by in-season tragedy responded like this when finally getting to play for the home audience after their lost teammate’s death on the road, showing him the love with their fans.

2019-07-12 LosAngelesAngels

First, they lined up for 45 seconds of silence in Skaggs’ memory. Then, they performed a combined no-hitter and a blowout. Who says baseball’s lost its capacity for surreality?

And even less often does it begin the way it did in the bottom of the first, after Cole retired the Mariners in order on a strikeout, a fly out, and a ground out—dropping seven on Mariners starter Mike Leake before Matt Festa struck out Justin Upton, who’d singled earlier in the inning, swinging on a 2-2 fastball.

The carnage only began when Angels leadoff man David Fletcher banged a double off the right center field wall. Trout stepped up in the number two slot and, proving it almost doesn’t matter where in the Angel lineup he hits, turned on a Leake sinker with about as much sink as a blimp and blasted it right into the rocks behind the center field fence.

Almost immediately after crossing the plate himself, Trout looked toward the Angel Stadium section where players’ wives or girl friends sit, until he caught Carli Skaggs’ eye. It looks as though he gave her a gentle affirmative nod. That one’s for your husband, Carli. And you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The inning from there went single (Shohei Ohtani), single (Justin Upton), swinging strikeout, RBI single (Andrelton Simmons scoring Ohtani), run-scoring error (Upton scoring as Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon misplayed a forceout), RBI single (Dustin Garneau), swinging strikeout, bases-loading single (Fletcher), and Trout’s two-run double.

And Trout wasn’t even close to finished for the night. The very next inning, a strikeout after Festa walked Simmons home, Festa hit Trout with a 2-0 slider to send home Justin Bour. Three innings and two more Mariners pitchers later, Trout squared off against Matt Wistler with Fletcher on second thanks to a single and a throwing error on the play and rifled a double to the back of left field, scoring Fletcher and making things 10-0.

All the while Pena continued keeping the Mariners from bringing their flippers to bear after Cole worked the first two spotless. About the only dicey moment he really faced, other than walking Mariners designated hitter Omar Narvaez in the fifth, was Mac Williamson smashing a grounder in the top of the sixth for which third baseman Matt Thaiss needed to make a diving stop and hard enough throw to nip Williamson.

Trout helped put another cherry atop the Angels’ sundae evening when he came home as Upton sent Mariners reliever Parker Markel’s 2-0 fastball over the center field fence. The Angel who patrols center field like a cop with acrobats in his family history did his evening’s work so well there wasn’t a baseball jury on earth who’d convict or sentence him for grounding out with the bases loaded to end the bottom of the eighth.

By then the only question left was whether Pena could finish the second combined no-no in Angels history. (The first was between Mark Langston and Mike Witt in 1990.) And, the first Angel no-hitter of any kind since Jered Weaver in 2012. Strangely enough, it was in 2012 that the Mariners themselves were last no-hit, courtesy of the White Sox’s Philip Humber’s perfect game.

The answer was Williamson flying out on the first pitch, Gordon grounding out on the second pitch, and Mallex Smith grounding out on the second pitch. Easy as 1, 2, 2.

“This,” tweeted Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman, “is unbelievable. The baseball gods.”

Nobody’s really going to care for the smaller details of the night such as the Angels going 7-20 with runners at second base or better including Trout’s 3-for-4. Nobody’s going to care (too much) that, between them, Cole and Pena threw 63 strikes out of 103 pitches, with Cole striking out a pair and Pena punching out six.

Leave those details plus the Mariners’ seven pitchers combining to surrender eight earned runs, punching out eleven, but walking seven, to the statisticians. Because other than the surrealistic final score, and the absence of Mariners hits, nobody cared about any numbers above and beyond the 45 on the Angels’ backs Friday night.

Nobody cared about anything other than one baseball team coming home from a heartbroken road trip, seeing the massive makeshift memorial to their fallen teammate outside the home plate entrances to their ballpark, and taking a little extra incentive they hardly needed considering, to suit up and give him a sendoff he couldn’t have imagined but surely hoped wouldn’t come for decades yet to be. Decades he’ll see only from heaven.

With Skaggs’ clubhouse locker fully stocked and the team intending to keep it that way the rest of the season, the Angels had one more tribute to make after the game. They went out to the mound and covered it in Skaggs jerseys. Leaving the big 45 behind the pitching rubber exposed. There was nothing more they could possibly do.

Whether the Angels go from here to the postseason, even though they now sit in rear-view enough distance five and a half games and five teams away from a wild card slot, almost doesn’t matter. On Friday night, saying one more farewell to a pitcher they loved on the mound and even more as a young man, the Angels were bigger than baseball. And baseball didn’t seem to mind one bit.