RBA: Judge’s a .764 batter this year.

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge—Real Batting Average says there was a lot more to his 2022 than yanking Roger Maris to one side.

So Aaron Judge didn’t win the Triple Crown after all? Big deal. He pulled up short of passing Minnesota’s Luis Arraez for the “batting title.” When it comes to the batting number that should matter the absolute most—what I call a Real Batting Average (RBA)—the Leaning Tower of 161st Street did more than just bomb his way to the all-time American League single-season home run championship.

How does Judge being a .764 batter this year sound to you?

Judge bombed, slashed, swatted, and walked his way to an RBA 286 points higher than the Twins’ infielder did. It isn’t even close. He did likewise to the tune of 256 points higher than Jeff McNeil, the Mets’ infielder/outfielder who finished as the National League’s “batting champion.”

“Purists” seeing that and jumping up and down kicking, screaming, and throwing things, sit down and listen up.

I’ve argued this before, and I’ll die upon this hill: The so-called “batting average” is a fraud. It treats all of a player’s hits as equal, and the so-called “batting champion” needs a) a minimum number of plate appearances to qualify for the title despite b) the so-called “batting average” being calculated strictly by hits divided by official at-bats. From this point forward, any reference to it will be called hitting average.

Getting lots of hits is wonderful. Freddie Freeman led this year’s offense-challenged Show with 199. (The Show’s earned run average and fielding-independent pitching were each under four.) He also finished one point below National League hitting average-leading Jeff McNeil (Mets). You’re also going to see Real Batting Average saying Freeman was light years better than McNeil at the plate this year.

Why on earth should you give shrift to a statistic that thinks every hit you got was equal value? There’s only one reason: you think a single is as good as a double, a double’s as good as a triple, a triple’s as good as a home run. You don’t even have to pass third-grade math to see that and know it’s about as credible as a 70-dollar bill.

A few years ago, I reminded myself that total bases treats your hits the way they deserve to be treated—unequally. Let’s use Judge to explain. He had 177 hits this season and they were good for 391 total bases. He had 87 singles, 28 doubles, no triples, and 62 home runs. (Notice that almost exactly half his hits were singles, you who still dismiss him as just another all-or-nothing slugger.)

That’s 87 bases on singles, 56 on doubles, and 248 on his record-smashing home runs. Add them up. It’s 391. It’s a shame that his walks don’t count toward total bases, the way they do toward his on-base percentage (for 2022, it’s .425) because that would make his 2022 total bases 402.

The RBA formula I developed, seeking a way to explain a batter’s value simpler than weighted runs created (wRC), simple enough for a child of five or an old fart of 95 to comprehend, is as follows: Total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances. If you’d like to see it again in a non-intimidating mathematic formula, here it is:

TB + BB + IBB + SF + HBP
PA

The old/ancient school looked upon walks as either accidents or detriments, not stopping to ponder that a batter working out a walk if he couldn’t find something reasonable on which to swing was actually exercising a skill profound enough. Time was when observers kvetched about even the greatest hitters taking “too many” walks on too many “hittable” pitches, without asking themselves how hittable those pitches really could have been.

But why single intentional walks out, too, when calculating an RBA? Aren’t they part of the walk total for the season? Well, yes, to the latter. To the former, the answer is simple: If you’re at the plate, and the other guys would rather you take your base than their pitcher’s head off, why should you not get credit for it? There’s something they don’t want to deal with when they can deal with a lesser bat behind you to try doing the clutch hitting. To that, RBA says, basically, yay, you.

Yes, sacrifice flies are outs. But unlike sacrifice bunts, they’re not premeditated outs. You didn’t check in at the plate to make a deliberate out, which is the very definition of a sacrifice bunt. (Do I have to say it again? In four out of six “bunt situations” you have less chance of scoring the player you “sacrificed” ahead a base after the bunt than before it; in one, you have an even chance; in only one more—first and second, nobody out—do you have a slightly better chance.)

You checked in at the plate looking for a base hit. You didn’t think to yourself, “Boy, am I gonna put a thrill into those people in the stands by flying out deep.” (Well, you might, if the fly ball carries all the way to the fence.) But your fly out was deep enough to send that man on third home. You get credit for a run batted in but otherwise it’s as though you didn’t exist at the plate, because a sacrifice fly is counted no further as an at-bat than a walk. RBA says to a walk and a sacrifice fly: We know you were at the plate, that wasn’t a figment of our imagination. You’re going to get the credit you deserve for it.

Shohei Othani

Top ten in RBA; sub-3.00 ERA and FIP plus 11.9 K/9 on the mound. At $30 million for next year, Shohei Ohtani might still be underpaid . . .

We also know that, unless you’re Ron Hunt or Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, you weren’t up there looking to get hit by a pitch. But if the other guys’ pitcher is careless enough, control-less enough, or headhunting enough to plunk you, RBA’s going to give you credit for it—because you reached base. That’s another prospective run on the scoreboard. You might have preferred drilling a hole in the infield, putting a dent in the fence, or dialing the Delta Quadrant, but you became a baserunner on their dollar. Let it be to your credit and on their heads.

On the assumption that I haven’t lost you, or prompted you to send the Cuckoo’s Nest Coach to my driveway yet, what follows are this year’s top forty “batting title” qualifiers across the Show board according to Real Batting Average. Those with .300 or better hitting averages are marked with (*). (If you must throw things, please throw them through an open window facing your backyard, not with your spouse, your significant other, your children, or other family or friends in the line of fire.)

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Aaron Judge (Yankees) * 696 391 111 19 5 6 .764
Starling Marte (Mets) 505 218 97 26 0 13 .701
Yordan Alvarez (Astros) * 561 288 78 9 7 6 .692
Rafael Devers (Red Sox) 555 289 50 11 3 6 .647
Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals) * 651 324 79 1 4 5 .641
Jose Ramirez (Guardians) 685 309 69 20 9 6 .603
Pete Alonso (Mets) 685 309 67 16 9 12 .603
Shohei Ohtani (Angels) 666 304 72 14 3 5 .598
Jose Altuve (Astros) * 604 281 66 2 1 10 .596
Freddie Freeman (Dodgers) * 708 313 84 12 7 5 .595
Manny Machado (Padres) 644 307 63 10 2 1 .595
Nolan Arenado (Cardinals) 620 297 52 3 4 7 .585
Austin Riley (Braves) 693 325 57 1 4 17 .583
Julio Rodriguez (Mariners) 560 260 40 4 1 8 .559
Vladimir Gurrero, Jr. (Blue Jays) 706 306 58 6 4 6 .538
Taylor Ward (Angels) 564 234 60 0 5 4 .537
Nathaniel Lowe (Rangers) * 645 292 48 2 0 4 .536
J.T. Realmuto (Phillies) 562 241 41 1 5 12 .534
Carlos Correa (Twins) 590 244 61 2 4 3 .532
Andres Gimenez (Guardians) 557 229 34 4 3 25 .530
Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox) * 631 254 57 2 7 10 .523
Yandy Díaz (Rays) 558 200 78 2 1 6 .514
José Abreu (White Sox) * 679 268 62 2 4 12 .513
Jeff McNeil (Mets) * 589 242 40 1 5 11 .508
Justin Turner (Dodgers) 532 205 50 1 8 6 .508
Trea Turner (Dodgers) 708 304 45 1 6 3 .507
Brandon Nimmo (Mets) 673 251 71 0 3 16 .507
J.D. Martinez (Red Sox) 596 239 52 1 5 5 .507
Bo Bichette (Blue Jays) 697 306 41 0 2 2 .504
Ty France (Mariners) 613 241 35 3 5 21 .498
Alejandro Kirk (Blue Jays) 541 195 63 2 4 4 .495
Dansby Swanson (Braves) 696 286 49 0 4 3 .491
Luis Arraez (Twins) * 603 230 50 2 3 3 .478
Steven Kwan (Guardians) 638 225 62 2 4 7 .470
Andrew Benintendi (KC/Yanks) * 521 184 52 0 5 2 .466
Nico Hoerner (Cubs) 517 197 28 4 2 6 .458
Alex Verdugo (Red Sox) 644 240 42 2 6 3 .455
Alec Bohm (Phillies) 631 233 31 1 10 4 .442
Amed Rosario (Guardians) 670 257 25 0 4 4 .433
MLB RBA .456

What probably doesn’t surprise you: the top ten guys for RBA this season. What might come a little more clear to you: just how much the Mets really missed Starling Marte—the National League’s RBA champion this year—in the lineup for most of September and most of this month so far with that finger injury, especially when the Mets couldn’t muster offense enough to overthrow the Braves last weekend.

What might surprise you a little bit: Matt Olson didn’t get anywhere near the top forty for hitting average, but his .548 RBA shakes out as 47 points lower than the guy the Braves let walk as a free agent right before dealing for him. I’m not convinced yet that the Braves got the better end of letting longtime franchise face Freddie Freeman walk into the Dodgers’ arms. (The Braves also won ten fewer than the 111 game-winning Dodgers did.)

What might jolt you a little bit more: The Guardians and the Mets (four each) have more men in that RBA top forty than anyone else this season.

What might jolt you a little bit more than that: A certain unicorn finished in the top ten for RBA in the same season during which he posted an 11.9 strikeout-per-nine rate, a 4.98 strikeout-to-walk ratio, a 2.33 earned run average, and a 2.40 fielding-independent pitching rate. That helped him earn an American League-leading 9.0 total wins above a replacement-level (WAR) player for the year. Across the board, that was second only to Judge’s 10.6.

Shohei Ohtani finished eighth for RBA among the top forty hitting titles and had a pitching season that might be a Cy Young Award season in a different year. He ducked offseason arbitration by signing a one-year 2023 deal for $30 million. He might still be getting underpaid.

And, what of his future Hall of Famer teammate Mike Trout? Well, now. Trout missed a third of the season on the injured list. And he still finished the year with 6.3 WAR (an All-Star-worthy season level), 40 home runs, an OPS one point shy of 1.000 . . . and a .691 RBA. (If he’d qualified in the “batting title” race, Trout would have finished one tick behind Alvarez.)

This ought to tell you why the best news for Angel fans this year—other than Shohtime; other than Trout returning down the stretch of a race out of which the team fell eons earlier—was the news that owner Arte Moreno (who learned and showed all others the hard way that marketing genius doesn’t equal team-building savvy) intends to sell the franchise.

Depending on the eventual buyer, Angel fans may feel the way Met fans did upon the end of the Wilpon Era. It would only begin with those fans singing “Happy Days are Here Again.”

Meanwhile, the Leaning Tower of 161st Street towers over all in this year’s RBA. Judge was so much more than just Roger Maris’s conqueror, but there isn’t a jury on earth who’d rule his 62 home runs anything less than the individual story of the season. With future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols—revived by the advent of the designated hitter in the National League, managed prudently by Oliver Marmol in St. Louis, and finishing the season with 703 home runs lifetime—tied with his former Angel teammate Ohtani for an extremely close second.

If you find a panel that would rule that way, you ought to demand an investigation into jury tampering.

The kids are alright, the postseason isn’t

Steven Kwan

Steven Kwan’s grand salami slammed an exclamation point on the young Guardians’ AL Central division clinch last weekend. But the postseason to come has exposed, yet again, a flaw too many in baseball government’s current (lack of) thinking about the current (lack of) true pennant race and championship meaning . . .

Considering what most seemed to think going into this season, you could be forgiven if you thought the Guardians might dig deep enough into music history to declare their team song the Who’s rock and roll chestnut, “The Kids Are Alright.” They might also reach further for Nat King Cole crooning “They tried to tell us we’re too young . . . ”

They may keep trying to tell them, now that the young Guards are the American League Central champions. Maybe the division wasn’t exactly the strongest in the league. The Guards still had to prove that their actual foray into the past—going as old-school on the field and at the plate as they could get away with—would still work.

It may (underline that, ladies and gentlemen) be the only thing old school about the postseason to come.

Less than three decades ago baseball’s postseason was the nation’s most meaningful because it remained the most exclusive in professional team sports. Even with divisional play then, you finished your season with your cans parked in first place or you waited until next year. Well, let’s look at three decades ago precisely.

There were a mere four divisions. East and West, each league. Their champions were the Blue Jays, the Athletics, the Pirates, and the Braves. The Blue Jays and the Braves went to the World Series; the Braves, of course, got there on Sid Bream’s impossibly dead legged dash home. The Blue Jays won the Series in six; Pat Borders (1.250 OPS in all six games) was the Series MVP.

Come 1995, the World Series restored after its cancellation due to the owner-provoked players’ strike, baseball accepted three divisions and a wild card team in each league. This didn’t dilute the season’s competition so much as people feared, even if there was something disconcerting in watching a couple of teams fighting to the last breath to finish in second place.

That was also the year the classic Braves teams of 1991 through the mid-Aughts won their only World Series, against a club of the Guardians’ Indians ancestors. (Hall of Famer Tom Glavine through eight plus Mark Wohlers in the ninth shut the Indians out, 1-0.) Both the Braves and the Indians finished the season as division leaders. All remained reasonable.

Next month, baseball will see what the NFL, the NBA, and the NHL have known for a few decades—forty percent of its teams going to the postseason. This month, we’ve seen the result of the Manfred Administration’s propaganda that a more deeply expanded postseason entry field would surely guarantee more exciting pennant races.

It’s been exposed as a factual and shameless lie. A lie even more egregious than the lie that the pitch clock will shorten the times of games while the continuing proliferation of broadcast commercials between each half inning and during pitching changes actually does elongate them.

Deadspin‘s Sam Fels has observed just how much more “exciting” it’s been, if you define “exciting” as putting fannies in the seats. He couldn’t help noticing that, last week:

* The Phillies, hanging by a thread in the National League race, hosted the Jays, hanging in for a home-field wild card advantage. Citizens Bank Park holds 42,792 people. Both those Phillies-Jays games, postseason-critical games, barely drew half for each.

* The Milwaukee ballpark formerly known as Miller Field can hold 41,900, but held barely half when the wild card-contending Brewers hosted the National League East-leading Mets for three games. The Brewers drew slightly more than half the park’s capacity and still about a grand less than their 2022 average thus far.

“Those aren’t bad crowds,” Fels writes, “but at the end of September against a well-known and good team . . . wasn’t the point of all this that September attendances would be juiced?”

 . . . That doesn’t mean there aren’t teams drawing well. They’re the names you’d expect–the Dodgers, Yankees, Padres, Braves, Cardinals, Astros. And the overall economy has many factors that don’t Uleave a whole throng of people with the disposable income to attend a ton of games. Except, again, we were told that more teams vying for more playoff spots were supposed to punch through these kinds of factors. It’s what they’ve been telling us for nearly 30 years.

It may just be that fans actually recognize when the regular season is devalued, and the dangling carrot of just two or three wildcard games doesn’t really get the loins tingling. Or that teams that have playoff spots locked up for months can’t really generate excitement until those playoffs actually arrive, unless you’re the Dodgers. Playoff expansion was supposed to bring anticipation and excitement to places it doesn’t normally live. Look at the numbers and tell us.

I looked at the same numbers as Fels. Then I caught hold of the Mets hosting the Marlins in Citi Field Tuesday night, a game that’ll be remembered if at all for a) the Mets losing 6-4, to fall into a tie with the Braves atop the NL East; but, b) Marlins pitcher Richard Bleier  becoming the first pitcher since the birth of the American League to balk three times against . . . the same batter, enabling the Mets’ Jeff McNeil to score without stealing a base or a ball in play after he reached himself on an infield hit.

Citi Field can hold 41,922 in the seats. Tuesday’s game drew 69 percent of that. The game was meaningless (other than the spoiler role) to the eliminated Marlins but critical to the Mets, especially since the NL East is the only remaining division race yet to be resolved, and the formidable, defending World Series champion Braves refuse to go gently into that not-so-good gray night. (Hurricane Ian may have more than a little something to say about the two combatants’ coming weekend set in Atlanta.)

Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani

Trout and Ohtani, plus the Yankees’ Aaron Judge, are almost all that’s left to root for thanks to baseball’s postseason race competition dilution.

All of that tells us playoff expansion does no favours to the game or its fans, but it does plenty of favours for that which is nearest and dearest to Commissioner Nero’s and his employers’ hearts. Well. They may remain the gang that believes the common good of the game equals making money for it, but they can’t (or won’t) answer what good 40-60 percent full houses do for those cherished coffers.

The expanded pelf for the playoffs goes to all teams regardless of whether they become postseason teams. “This only softens that lack of additional fans attending games that they’ve come to realize doesn’t really mean anything,” Fels writes. “MLB can shrug off the lack of heightened ratings or attendance with the bigger checks from TBS, FOX, and ESPN.”

Almost the only things left for which to root are Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge, Angels outfielder Mike Trout, and Angels unicorn (pitcher/designated hitter) Shohei Ohtani. Hall of Famer-in-waiting Albert Pujols reached his lifetime 700 home run milestone in his homecoming finale with the NL Central-champion Cardinals, but Judge, Trout, and Ohtani still have long distance achievements to achieve.

The Yankees are the official AL East champions, and on Wednesday Judge met Roger Maris at last as the AL’s single-season home run champion. Pressing perhaps understandably since he matched Babe Ruth’s 1927 output, Judge has eight games left to pass Maris. Few are willing to bet against him still.

The Angels go nowhere (again) through no fault of Trout’s or Ohtani’s own. But with eight games left to play on the season future Hall of Famer Trout still has a shot at a 40th home run or more despite missing 31 percent of the season on the injured list. (He had 37 after Tuesday.) It’s to wonder what he might have hit if he hadn’t missed that time. Would 60+ have been out of the question? We’ll never know now.

Ohtani has a shot at a 40th home run, too. (He has 34 at this writing.) He can also become the only man in Show history to have a 40 home run season at the plate and finish on the mound with an ERA and a fielding-independent pitching rate below 3.00. At this writing, Ohtani sits with 34 home runs, a 2.47 ERA, and a 2.52 FIP. Not to mention 203 pitching strikeouts and counting. Say good night, Babe.

But how long can Commissioner Nero and company shrug off the further dilution of real pennant race competition? The kind that would compel owners in all baseball cities and not just the big boys to make substantial investments in their teams, from the ground up, year in and year out? Whoops. Better not go there. We may be striking toward 21st century schizoid heresy.

The end of an error?

Arte Moreno, Mike Trout

Angels owner Arte Moreno and future Hall of Famer Mike Trout were ecstatic when Trout became a wealthy Angel for life. But Moreno’s failure to reconstruct a team his and their greatest player can be proud of will be Moreno’s legacy if he sells the Angels.

For the first time since their team won their only World Series championship thus far, Angel fans have reason to believe there’s light at the end of a painfully long tunnel. Owner Arte Moreno exploring options to sell the franchise must resemble the liberation promise of Dwight Eisenhower telling Allied forces, “You are about to embark on the great crusade”—the night before D-Day.

Just months after Darin Erstad clutched Kenny Lofton’s fly out to center to finish their staggering seven-game 2002 Series conquest, Moreno bought the team from the Disney Corporation. He swelled with pride as the first Mexican-American major league owner. Angel fans swelled likewise over what seemed to be swelling as an era of dominance after what seemed a preceding snakebitten eternity.

It was too good to be true. The team finally shattered a near-forever of extraterrestrial collapses, failures, and tragedies that inspired things from a shortstop driving his bats through a cemetery to purge their evil spirits to a pitcher pondering a sage burning in the clubhouse and a general manager pondering engagement of a priest to exorcise their ballpark.

Now the Angels held the lease to the Promised Land and a new owner with pockets deep enough to rival a team (the Yankees) they beat three out of four in the division series that launched their championship run. Who knew? Two decades later, the Angels are a six-letter synonym for disaster. And Moreno has come to resemble the worst of the man who once owned those division series victims than he or his dwindling allies would ever admit.

From 2003 through 2009, the Angels won the American League West five out of seven tries. The team went from the second-most snakebitten AL franchise to powerhouse in what now seems a blink in time. In thirteen seasons since, the Angels have won the West once but finished the past five of six in fourth place in the five-team division.

Moreno’s Angels have gone from signing and continuing to win with Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero, Sr. to drafting the transcendent Mike Trout and signing the transcendent enough Shohei Ohtani . . . and becoming the team their future Hall of Fame center fielder and must-see-television pitcher/designated hitter can be anything but proud of.

With the uber-loyal Trout locked down in a gigabucks deal that makes him an Angel for life, baseball eyes knowing the Angels need a transfusion as drastically as a leukemia patient saw dealing Ohtani at this year’s trade deadline as the donor who’d deliver particularly rich blood.

“The greatest two-way player in baseball history will be eligible for free agency in the fall of 2023,” writes ESPN’s Buster Olney, “so some other teams communicated to the Angels that they would be open to trades—and willing to include their very best prospects . . . Word quickly reached the interested parties that Arte Moreno, the Angels’ owner, wouldn’t sign off on any Ohtani deal. No one was surprised.”

No one who’s watched the Angels in the Moreno era should have been.

Moreno made his fortune as an advertising executive who turned the Outdoor Systems ad operation into an enterprise that fetched billions when Moreno and his partner sold it to Infinity Broadcasting in 1998. His forte was and remains marketing. It didn’t exactly translate to baseball as opposed to Angel Stadium box office success.

Trout himself says he learned of Moreno exploring a team sale the same way the press did Tuesday, when the Angels made their formal announcement. And he hinted that, however grateful he is for Moreno believing in him and making him rich, it’s not exactly enough anymore. Some things matter more than money to competitors.

“I think once you find out who buys it, whenever that is,” Trout told the Orange County Register, “there are definitely conversations we’re going to have to have. Obviously, I want to win.”

Like many owners who ride the wild surf of their teams’ successes in the beginning, Moreno began to believe in his own baseball genius. Unlike many such owners, Moreno behaved as though his role model for baseball ownership was the 1980s version of George Steinbrenner without half the summary executions and humiliations with which that Steinbrenner tortured Yankee fans for a generation.

The 1980s Steinbrenner loved “name guys who put fannies in the seats.” Moreno has been much like that, particularly when it comes to hitters. So much so that he reeled in one after another name hitter but ignored his team’s real pitching needs, which have been somewhere between drastic and desperate for just about the whole of Trout’s career to date.

Fairness requires we acknowledge that not all those deals for all those hitters who ended up hurting far more than helping the club were bad going in. It wasn’t Moreno’s fault that Albert Pujols’s legs and feet reduced him to a barely-serviceable DH after that Hall of Famer-in-waiting’s first Angels season. It wasn’t Moreno’s fault that Josh Hamilton and Anthony Rendon were/would be throttled by injuries.

Nor was it Moreno’s fault that two prize pitchers he signed big enough, C.J. Wilson and Zack Cozart, would be hit hard enough with injuries that 1) Wilson would retire after a couple of good if not spectacular Angel seasons; and, 2) Cozart would pitch well for a third of a season before a) a torn labrum fielding a grounder cost him the rest of that season and b) shoulder and neck surgery would cost him 2019—and his career, after he was traded away.

And it’s certainly not as though Moreno anticipated Trout’s first decade worth of such play as to have him baseball’s fifth-best all-time center fielder at this writing, still, would turn into an injury-plagued second decade beginning. Say what you will about the owner’s clumsiness and hubris, but he’s not exactly the cause of Trout’s and others’ time-robbing injuries. Even Moreno isn’t that kind of jinx.

But it was Moreno’s ugly doing to run Hamilton out of town on the slickest rail he could find, after Hamilton incurred a drinking relapse while watching a Super Bowl, manned up and went right to baseball’s drug policy administration with it, but discovered his Angel bosses had different thoughts about manning up.

It was Moreno’s ugly doing, a couple of years before Trout came into his own, to gut the Angels’ scouting system almost completely. “First,” I wrote over three years ago, “they made international scouting director Clay Daniels the scapegoat for bonus skimming shenanigans by some of his subordinates; then, they pinked overall scouting chief Eddie Bane—one of whose last achievements was urging the Angels to sign a kid named Trout in the first place—as the scapegoat for a series of bad drafts and worse free agency signings and trades.”

Shohei Ohtani, Arte Moreno

The Angel Stadium faithful booed Moreno as he presented Shohei Ohtani his 2021 AL MVP award. Last month, Moreno blocked deals that would have brought serious prospects back for Ohtani (a free agent after next year) and further cemented Moreno’s reputation for putting box office too far above baseball.

It was Moreno’s ridiculous doing to order his then-general manager Tony Reagins—who couldn’t persuade Hall of Famer in waiting Adrian Beltre to sign with the Angels as a free agent—to make a deal for Toronto outfielder/basher Vernon Wells post haste and or else! Then the Angels discovered the hard way that Wells was damaged goods. And the guy they sent the Blue Jays for him, bat-first catcher Mike Napoli, was going on to pitch in big for a pair of World Series teams in Texas and Cleveland and help a Red Sox team win their third Series ring of the century.

It was Moreno’s ridiculous further doing to address the Angels’ dire pitching needs over several years, ignoring quality pitching on the markets in favour of one after another reclamation project that failed in Anaheim but found either revival or retirement elsewhere. Which points to another wounding Moreno flaw. Loving and enriching the name guys putting fannies in the seats is one thing. His budgets otherwise have been tighter than James Brown’s rhythm sections without yielding comparable fruit.

“Like a lot of billionaires before him,” Olney writes, “Moreno seemed to believe he knew more about building a baseball team than the folks he hired. But the strengths that made him an extraordinary success before he bought the Angels became a weakness once he stepped into a sport that has become increasingly competitive.”

Two former Angel GMs (Jerry Dipoto, now with the second-place Mariners; Billy Eppler, now running the National League East-leading Mets) found success enough after they escaped Moreno’s all-thumbs touch. The incumbent, Perry Minasian, likewise hamstrung enough, may or may not survive this season’s disaster.

Olney reminds us that Moreno selling the Angels would be baseball’s biggest sigh of relief since Frank McCourt was forced to sell the Dodgers to the Guggenheim Group and the Wilpon family finally elected to sell the Mets to Steve Cohen. The sigh’s breeze will be felt from sea to shining sea.

The timing may be telling enough. Moreno’s attempt to buy Angel Stadium and its surrounding land from Anaheim collapsed three months ago, after Mayor Harry Sidhu resigned amid an FBI investigation into whether Sidhu shared “privileged and confidential information” with the team while they negotiated with the city. (The FBI didn’t accuse Moreno or the Angels of wrongdoing.)

The Angels are also not off the hook just yet over the accidental overdose death of painkiller-addicted pitcher Tyler Skaggs in 2019. They face two wrongful death lawsuits by Skaggs’s family—one by his parents, the other by his widow—in the wake of former Angels communications director Eric Kay’s conviction in federal court for providing the fentanyl-containing drug that killed the popular lefthander.

It’s worth remembering, too, that only when George Steinbrenner was suspended for his nefarity in digging up dirt on his Hall of Fame outfielder Dave Winfield did the Yankees finally have room to rebuild themselves back to greatness. An end to the Moreno era might well produce likewise for an Angels franchise that’s had only one now-brief spell of greatness even if it has only one World Series trophy to show for it.

“Many executives,” Olney continues, “believe that the Angels have not come close to exploiting the potential of their market. ‘”Because that place might be the best to work in in baseball,’ one official said. ‘The weather is perfect. The conditions are perfect. You can live on the beach. Nobody bothers them. The fans are good’.”

With the best intentions but the worst approaches, Moreno’s Angels ownership made it possible to believe paradise was hell in disguise. By comparison, the freeway traffic chokes that so often stand between the Pacific Ocean and Angel Stadium are walks on the beach.

The All-Star Game was Clayton’s place

Clayton Kershaw, Blake Grice

National League All-Star starter Clayton Kershaw with fan Blake Grice, who touched Kershaw by telling the future Hall of Famer he was meeting him for Grandpa’s sake.

By right, this year’s All-Star Game start for the National League should have belonged to the Marlins’ Sandy Alcantara (he leads the Show’s pitchers with 5.3 wins above replacement level and his 1.76 ERA). And if the game were played someplace other than Dodger Stadium, it might have been Alcantara’s to start.

Braves manager Brian Snitker, managing the NL All-Stars as the previous season’s World Series skipper does, had his own idea. Especially since this was the first All-Star Game in Dodger Stadium since Jimmy Carter was still in the White House, and a Dodger icon was having an All-Star worthy season himself.

So Snitker elected to hand the opening ball to Clayton Kershaw. A Hall of Fame lock, approaching the sunset of an off-the-charts career, starting the All-Star Game in his home ballpark. You could imagine Snitker thinking to himself that you couldn’t pay to pre-arrange more serendipitous circumstances. Even with his own All-Star Max Fried among his pitching options.

It was a class gesture by the defending World Series-winning manager. Only one thing could have seen and raised, and that one thing was Kershaw himself. By most reports, one of the first things the 33-year-old lefthander did when Snitker called him to say the opening ball was his was to call Alcantara himself.

“He was awesome about it. I was really thankful about that,” Kershaw said, after the American League hung in for a 3-2 win through no fault of Kershaw’s own.

He let himself take the entire atmopshere in, even foregoing his usual pre-start intensity that compels teammates, coaches, and even his manager Dave Roberts to say nothing much more than “hello” to him. (He even let Roberts share lunch with him on Tuesday.) About the only thing Kershaw did remotely work-related was study some American League scouting reports.

One he didn’t have to study was Shohei Ohtani (Angels), whom Kershaw retired thrice when pitching last Friday. Wary of opening the All-Star Game with one of his signature breaking balls, Kershaw pumped a fastball that doesn’t have its former speed and Ohtani—interviewed before the game, promising to swing on the first pitch—smacked a broken-bat floater up the pipe into short left center for a leadoff single.

Then, having Aaron Judge (Yankees) 1-2, Kershaw suddenly couldn’t think of what to throw next. Some described him as buying time when he lobbed a throw to first. He bought more than he bargained for. He’d caught Ohtani having a snooze. Ohtani had drifted away from the pad and Kershaw’s lob turned into the first All-Star pickoff in fourteen years.

The two-way Angel could only laugh. Kershaw could only grin after first baseman Paul Goldschmidt (Cardinals) tagged Ohtani out. Dodger Stadium went nuclear. Kershaw finished striking Judge out, walked Rafael Devers (Red Sox), and lured Vladimir Gurrero, Jr. (Blue Jays) into an inning-ending ground out. The man who wanted to take it all in from start to finish then ducked out of sight and to a press podium under the ballpark.

Shohei Ohtani, Clayton Kershaw

All they could do was grin and laugh after Kershaw (right) picked Othani off first while working to Yankee bombardier Aaron Judge.

While the National League took an early 2-0 lead with Mookie Betts (Dodgers) singling home Ronald Acuña, Jr. (Braves; leadoff double off AL starter Shane McLanahan [Rays]) and—after a double play grounder by Manny Machado (Padres)—Goldschmidt hammering one into the left center field bleachers, Kershaw finished his press conference with a ten year old boy raising a hand.

“What’s up, dude?” Kershaw asked pleasantly.

The boy introduced himself as Blake Grice and told Kershaw how much his late grandfather loved both him and the Dodgers’ long-enough-retired broadcast deity Vin Scully and had wanted to meet them both. (His family had passes courtesy of MLB itself.) “So this moment is important to me,” the boy continued, “because I’m meeting you for him.”

The father of four children himself, Kershaw couldn’t resist when he heard that and saw the boy’s tears of likely gratitude for getting to do something for his grandpa in the presence of a Dodger icon who’s been the closest the Dodgers have had to longtime eminence Sandy Koufax.

“Come here, dude,” Kershaw beckoned. He hugged the boy, gave him a clap on the back, and said, “Great to meet you. Thanks for telling me. That took a lot of courage to tell me that. Your grandad sounded like an awesome guy.” When Kershaw asked Blake if he had a parent with him, the boy’s father held up his cell phone. Kershaw beckoned him forward and he snapped a photo of the pitcher and the boy speaking for Grandpa.

It was more than enough to atone for the prayers thousands of fans in the ballpark and perhaps the millions watching on television must have had that, despite going down to its ninth straight All-Star loss and 21st such loss in 25 such games, the National League didn’t tie the game in the bottom of the ninth.

That’s because the latest to emerge from baseball’s apparent laboratory of mad science would have had the game decided in favour of the Home Run Derby winner’s league if nine full innings ended in a dead heat. (On Tuesday it would have been the National League, thanks to Juan Soto [Nationals] winning the Derby.) Thank God and His servants Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson that that didn’t come to pass.

The AL overthrew the NL lead with one out in the fourth when Giancarlo Stanton (Yankees) batted with Jose Ramírez [Guardians] aboard (leadoff single) and took Tony Gonsolin (Dodgers) far into the left center field bleachers. Byron Buxton (Twins) following at once found himself ahead in the count 2-1 when he caught hold of a Gonsolin fastball up and drilled it into the left field bleachers. Just like that, Gonsolin had surrendered 882 feet worth of home run travel.

Buxton admired game MVP Stanton’s blast from the on-deck circle and thought to himself, “I ain’t matching that.” Until he damn near did. “I don’t even know if you can put it in words how hard [Stanton] hit the baseball,” Buxton said after the game.

It made all the difference when the game otherwise became a pitching duel of sorts between eleven American League pitchers (including Framber Valdez [Astros] getting credit for the “win” despite striking nobody out in his inning’s work) and nine National League pitchers including the hapless Gonsolin tagged for the loss and, officially, a blown save.

For just the sixth time in four decades an All-Star pitcher got to start the game in his home ballpark. And for a few shining moments on the mound, Kershaw gave his home park’s audience a thrill topped only by the one he gave a ten-year-old boy looking to do his grandpa in the Elysian Fields a favour that couldn’t be done while the older man still lived on earth.

None of the highest highs or the comparatively few lows he’s endured in fifteen major league seasons have let Kershaw forget that baseball at core is about rooting, caring, loving. He had the parallel chance to remind a Dodger Stadium audience about it and to affirm it for a ten-year-old boy. He didn’t flinch at either opportunity.

Mr. Commissioner, meet the real faces of the game

Rob Manfred, Liam Hendriks

Commissioner Rob Manfred with White Sox relief pitcher Liam Hendriks before last year’s Field of Dreams game. (The Athletic.)

Having a read of ESPN writer Don Van Natta, Jr.’s profile of commissioner Rob Manfred, I was almost convinced that maybe, just maybe, there really was more to Manfred than met the eye. Or, more than what comes forth in his stiff presence and often clumsy remarks.

Just maybe, the man isn’t the baseball-hating or baseball-illiterate Rube Goldberg-like abecedarian the caricatures so often portray. He did, after all, grow up a Yankee fan in upstate New York and can say proudly enough that he’s the only baseball commissioner ever who played Little League baseball. “All glove, no bat,” he remembers of being a Little League infielder.

My parents received a set of classic Revere copper-bottom cookware as a wedding present eight years before Manfred was born. (I still remember the fragrance of that special powder used to clean the copper bottoms, too.) Who knew Manfred (three years my junior) was the son of Revere’s production supervisor at their home plant in Rome, New York? An hour’s drive from Cooperstown, as it happens.

Born in 1958, Manfred took in his first live major league game at Yankee Stadium with his sports-obssessed father, sitting between the plate and first base on an Old Timers’ Day. Come game time, Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle crashed a pair of home runs and the Yankees beat the Twins, 3-2. When he finally became the game’s commissioner, he handed his father the first baseball with his stamp upon it.

“This is really an unbelievable thing,” Manfred, Sr. told his son. “I can’t say I disagree,” Manfred, Jr. told Van Natta.

A couple of hundred fathoms down, though, Van Natta noted that “more than once” Manfred told him what few baseball commissioners have dared to admit, that being the buffer absorbing the heat that should go to his bosses, the owners, is part of his job. Even if it’s about as pleasant as your private parts being caught in the vacuum cleaner’s handle.

And then it came.

“Every time it’s me, it ain’t one of those 30 guys—that’s good,” Van Natta quoted Manfred as saying. “Look, who the hell am I? I don’t have $2 billion invested in a team. I’m just a guy trying to do a job. I mean it. [The owners] deserve that layer. I believe they deserve that layer of protection. I’m the face of the game, for good or for bad.”

Mr. Manfred, unless it’s to boo and hiss your heads off over this or that piece of mischief, you may rest assured that no baseball fan anywhere in this country is paying his or her hard-earned money to head for the ballpark to see you or your bosses.

But I’m going to do you a small favour, as if you know me from the greenest bat boy on any professional baseball team. I’m going to introduce you to the true faces of the game. The ones whom those fans do pay their hard-earned money to see at the ballpark regardless of the machinations and deceptions of your bosses and theirs.

Mr. Manfred, meet Mike Trout. This is the guy you blamed once upon a time for not being baseball’s face, based upon his committing no crime more grave than letting his play and his clubhouse presence and his agreeability with fans before and after games speak for themselves, with no jive about the magnitude of being him.

Meet Shohei Ohtani. This is the two-way star who lights up the joint just by flashing that thousand-watt grin of his, never mind when he strikes thirteen out on the mound one night and belts baseballs onto the Van Allen Belt the very next. Between himself and Mr. Trout, you should be asking what on earth is wrong with the Angels that they still can’t find quality pitching enough to keep them in a race after they start in one but sputter unconscionably.

Meet Aaron Judge. This is the Leaning Tower of River Avenue who sends baseballs into the Delta Quadrant one moment and then, when made aware, goes out of his way to meet a Canadian kid to whom he’s number one among baseball men and who was handed one of his mammoth home run balls by an adult fan who knew the boy wanted nothing more than to catch one Judge hit out.

Meet Joey Votto. This is the future Hall of Fame first baseman who got himself tossed from a game early last year, but—after he learned his ejection broke the heart of a little California girl to whom he’s a hero above heroes—sent her a ball with his handwritten apology and autograph on it, prompting his team to drop game tickets and a little extra swag upon her the very next day.

Meet Bryce Harper. This is the guy who never apologised for being on board with letting the kids play. The guy now on the injured list with a thumb fracture and surgery to repair it after getting hit by a pitch thrown with one of the baseballs you and yours still can’t see fit to manufacture uniformly and with allowance for fairness on both sides of it, fairness for the pitchers and for the hitters alike.

Meet Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Bo Bichette. One is the son of a Hall of Famer who did last season what even his old man never did: led his league in on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and OPS+, and led the entire Show in total bases. The other is the son of a respected major league slugger, has quite a lethal bat in his own right when his swing is right, and currently leads his league in trips to the plate. Together they’ve put some zip back into the Blue Jays.

Meet Oneil Cruz. The bat has yet to come to full life but the footwork, the glove, the throwing arm, have shown so far that you can be as tall as Frank Howard, J.R. Richard, and Randy Johnson and still play shortstop as though the position was created for you and not the Little Rascals in the first place. They’re falling in love with him in Pittsburgh, which needs all the love it can get, but they ought to fall in love with him all around the Show—except when he’s going so deep into the hole grabbing a grounder or a hopper that an enemy batter loses his lunch when he’s had a base hit stolen from him.

Meet Clayton Kershaw. He’s been around the block a few times. He’s a Hall of Fame lock as maybe the best pitcher of his generation. He’s still a quality pitcher and a class act. They still buy tickets on the road when they know he’s going to take the ball for the Dodgers. He’s faced his baseball aging curve with grace under pressure. And, for good measure, he’s the one active player who was seen fit to be part of the ceremony when the Dodgers unveiled that statue of their Hall of Fame legend Sandy Koufax this month, and you know (well, you damn well should know) what a class act Koufax was on the mound and has been in the decades since off it.

(You’re not still P.O.ed that Koufax waxed your Yankees’ tails twice while his Dodgers swept them in the 1963 World Series when you were seven, are you?)

Meet Justin Verlander. Missed a year plus recovering from Tommy John surgery. He has a 2.23 ERA and a 3.53 fielding-independent pitching rate so far this season. For any pitcher that’d be a remarkable return so far. For a future Hall of Famer who’s still suiting up at Jack Benny’s age (that’s a joke, son), it’s off the chart so far.

Meet Verlander’s 25-year-old Astros teammate, Yordan Álvarez. He’s leading the entire Show with his .667 slugging percentage, his 1.081 OPS, and his 206 OPS+. If there’s one untainted Astro who’s must-see viewing whenever he checks in at the plate, it’s him.

Meet Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. The left side of the Red Sox infield is a big reason why the Olde Towne Team yanked themselves back up from the netherworld into second place in that rough and tumble American League East. Did I mention that Devers currently leads the entire Show with 177 total bases?

Meet José Ramírez. The Guardians’ third baseman is giving Devers a run for his money in the All-Star balloting that closes today. That thumb injury has put a crimp into his bat for now, and it’s had its role in the Guardians’ sudden deflation at the plate, but this guy just may be the face of his franchise right now. He ought to be one of the faces of this game.

Meet Mark Appel. This is the guy who went from number one in the draft to injuries as well as pressures and even to an exit from the game only to try giving it one more try—and finally coming up with the Phillies, nine years after that draft, and tossing a scoreless inning . . . at age 30. That’s as feel good a story as it gets for the oldest former number one to make his Show debut, no matter what happens with the rest of what remains of Appel’s career. They don’t all go to hell and back.

Those are only some of baseball’s faces, Mr. Commissioner. They’re the ones the fans want to see and pay through the nose to see. Despite your tinkerings. Despite your often erroneous readings of the room. Despite your inability or unwillingness to demand the same accountability of umpires that you do of players, coaches, and managers.

Despite your inability to let your professed deep love of the game come through without tripping over itself because, as an improvisor, well, if you were a musician the consensus would be that Miles Davis you ain’t.