The first five days

Stop me if you’ve heard it before: Jacob deGrom pitched like a Hall of Famer, but the new Mets bullpen puked the bed like the old one did.

The fans are back in the stands, however limited by ongoing COVID-19 safety protocols, but the Nationals have yet to play a regular-season game thanks to a few players and a staffer or two testing positive. There went that Opening Day must-see match between Max Scherzer and the Mets’ Jacob deGrom.

With their opening set with the Nats thus wiped out, deGrom had to wait until the Mets went to Philadelphia Monday. Oops. That and everything else seemed to play a support role to the horrid news out of San Diego.

The news that Fernando Tatis, Jr., the Padres’s new bazillion dollar shortstop, suffered a partial left shoulder dislocation on a hard third inning swing at the plate during a Monday loss to the Giants.

Padres manager Jayce Tingler told reporters he thinks team trainers and medical people were able to pop the shoulder back together, but the team isn’t taking chances. At this writing, MRI results aren’t available and nobody knows yet whether Tatis will spend significant time on the injured list.

If it’s more than a small shoulder dislocation, it may not be significant time. If it’s something like a labral tear, Tatis could miss six months—essentially, the rest of the season—according to one doctor who knows such shoulder troubles and spoke to the Los Angeles Times. Don’t fault the Padres if they’re saying to themselves, “Thank God for insurance.”

DeGrom could use a little extra insurance himself, alas. The good news for the Mets: deGrom was his usual self Monday night. Six shutout innings, seven punchouts, three hits, three-figure speed on his fastballs. The bad news, alas: the Mets are gonna Met, so far. At least out of the bullpen.

Their on-paper impressive offense found nothing more than two runs to support their ace. They got an inning of shutout relief from Miguel Castro relieving deGrom for the seventh, but the bullpen puked the bed in the eighth—including hitting Bryce Harper with the bases loaded. Not exactly a Rhodes Scholarship move there.

The Old Fart Contingency thundered aboard social media that Mets manager Luis Rojas blew it lifting deGrom after six strong—until they were reminded the added layoff after the Washington postponement put both deGrom and the Mets into caution mode.

“If that was [last] Thursday and I’m on normal rest,” the smooth righthander said postgame of the early hook, “I don’t think there is any chance I’m coming out of that game. We discussed it before what was the right thing to do. Long season and talking to them coming in, it felt like was the right decision.”

It was neither deGrom’s nor Rojas’s fault that, after Garcia took care of the Phillies in the seventh with just one infield hit within a fly out and two ground outs, the Phillies loaded the bases on the Mets’ new relief toy, Tyler May, in the eighth with one out, before Rojas went to another new Met bull, Aaron Loup. And Loup promptly hit Harper to push Miller home, before J.T. Realmuto singled home pinch runner Quinn, Mets late third base replacement Luis Guillorme threw home off line allowing Harper and Rhys Hoskins to score, and Didi Gregorius pushed Realmuto home with a first-pitch sacrifice fly.

The Mets had nothing to answer except a two-out ninth-inning stand that came up two dollars short against Phillies closer Alvarado. Kevin Pillar singled up the pipe, Francisco Lindor—the Mets’ own new bazillion-dollar lifetime shortstop—dumped a quail into shallow right that landed just in front of and then off the glove on oncoming, diving Harper, and Michael Conforto singled Pillar home while setting up first and third.

Pete Alonso, their 2019 Rookie of the Year bomber, hit one to the back of right field that looked as though it had a chance to ricochet off the top of the fence if not clear it. It wasn’t quite enough to stop Harper from running it down, taking a flying leap with his back against the fence, and snapping it into his glove to stop a game-tying extra-base hit and end the game with the Phillies on the plus side, 5-3.

Marry the foregoing to deGrom going 2-for-3 at the plate including an RBI single, and no wonder May himself said post-game, “Jake shouldn’t have to do everything himself. That’s not what teams are, and frankly Jake did almost everything today.”

Just don’t marry that to things such as the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani hitting 100+ mph on the mound and hitting a mammoth home run that flew out 100+ mph in the same inning last Friday night. Ohtani the two way player is an outlier among outliers; deGrom’s merely an outlier.

As of Tuesday morning— with the National League’s pitchers having to bat because Commissioner Nero simply couldn’t bring himself to keep the universal designated hitter this year at least, and Ohtani batting second in the Angel lineup the night he started on the mound, among other things—the pitchers have a .131/.157/.192 slash line and a .349 OPS.

The pitchers at the plate from Opening Day through the end of Monday night collected thirteen hits in 149 plate appearances: nine singles, three doubles, and Ohtani’s Friday night flog a third of the way up Angel Stadium’s high right field bleachers. They also walked three times and struck out 56 times. And the OFC still insists the National League just say no to its own invention.

All around the Show, too, there was one home run hit every 35 plate appearances and fourteen percent of all 928 hits the season’s first five days cleared the fences. It took five outs to create a single run, with 5.3 average runs created per game and 631 runs created while 559 scored.

It was fun to hear the fan noises even in limited capacities, too, though the limits in Angel Stadium made Ohtani’s blast sound even more explosive at the split second he hit it. If only things had been more fun for the home crowds: the many themes for the Show’s first five days could include, plausibly, the blues classic “On the Road Again.”

The home teams’ slash lines: .225/.313/.374/.687 OPS. The road teams: .245/.328/.403/.731 OPS. The road teams drove in fifteen more runs, hit thirteen more home runs, seven more doubles, and had seventy more hits overall. They also took eleven more walks, though they struck out fifty more times and grounded into fifteen more double plays. The road rats also had a +29 batting average on balls in play over the home boys and 108 more total bases while they were at it.

Maybe the shocker among the opening road rats were the Orioles. The Woe-rioles. Taking three straight from the Red Sox in Fenway Park. Out-scoring the Olde Towne Team 18-5, including and especially an 11-3 battering on Sunday afternoon. Even those paranoid about ID cards might want to insist the Orioles show theirs, even after the Orioles got a brief return to earth from the Yankees beating them 7-0 Monday in New York.

Unless it was the Reds, taking two out of three from the Cardinals to open, including and especially a 12-1 battering Sunday afternoon that proved the best revenge against abject stupidity is to slap, slash, scamper, and smash your way to a six-run seventh when you’re already up three runs—thanks to Nick Castellanos ripping Cardinal starter Carlos Martinez for a two-out, three-run homer an inning earlier.

Castellanos got drilled by Cardinals reliever Jack Woodford Saturday . . . two days after he bat-flipped a home run. Then, when he dove home to score on a wild pitch, Castellanos got bumped by Woodford sliding in to bring down the tag Castellanos beat. Castellanos sprung up, barked at Woodford, and began walking away before trouble could arrive. Oops. Trouble arrived—when Yadier Molina shoved him from behind to spark a bench-clearing brawl.

Baseball government myopically suspended Castellanos two games for “provoking” the brawl. Who’s baseball’s official optician? Who couldn’t see what everyone else with eyes saw? And how long has Molina—handed only an “undisclosed fine” along with a few others in the scrum—been so privileged a character that he can get away with the actual kickoff of a brawl that was seeded in the first place because the Cardinals are one of the game’s self-appointed Fun Police precincts?

“I was pleased,” Cardinal manager Mike Schildt told the press after that game. “Our guys came out there. We’re not going to take it. I know Yadi went immediately right at him, got sidetracked by [Cincinnati’s Mike Moustakas]. Woody, to his credit, got up and was like, ‘I’m not going to sit here and be taunted.’ Good for him.”

Taunted? All Castellanos said when he sprang up, by his own admission, was “Let’s [fornicating] go!” Anyone who thinks Woodford lacked intent didn’t see that ball sailing on a sure line up into Castellanos’s shoulder and rib region. Nor did they see Molina very clearly shoving Castellanos without Castellanos having the benefit of a rear-view mirror.

Castellanos appealed the two-game suspension. The final result wasn’t known at this writing. But the Cardinals should be getting a message of their own: Defund the Fun Police. Pronto.

How about the Astros, who went into Oakland and swept four from the Athletics before ambling on to Anaheim and losing 7-6 to the Angels Monday night? That was despite dropping a three-run first on Angel starter Jose Quintana and yanking a fourth run out of him in the top of the fourth, before the Angels finally opened their side of the scoreboard with Mike Trout (of course) hitting Luis Garcia’s 2-2 meatball about twelve or thirteen rows into the left field seats.

The Angels pushed a little further back, the Astros pushed a little further ahead, until the Angels ironed up and tore four runs out of the Astros in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single (Dexter Fowler), a run-scoring force play (David Fletcher), a throwing error (on Jared Walsh’s grounder to first), an intentional walk (to Trout, of all people), and a sacrifice fly (Anthony Rendon).

Kyle Tucker’s ninth-inning solo bomb turned out more a kind of excuse-us shot than a last stand. The game left both the Astros and the Angels at 4-1 to open the season and what could be very interesting proceedings in the American League West. Now, if only the Astros could finally get past Astrogate.

They’ve been playing and winning through numerous catcalls, howls, and even a few inflatable and actual trash can sightings in Oakland and Anaheim. Jose Altuve—who’s looked more like his old self at the plate so far—seemed mildly amused when an inflatable trash can fell to the warning from those high Angel Stadium right field bleachers.

Astrogate was and remains anything but amusing. The Astros could keep up their torrid opening and overwhelm the AL West this season, but the scandal won’t go away entirely (nor should it) until the absolute last Astrogater standing no longer wears their fatigues. Yes, you’ve heard that before. That doesn’t make it any less painful for Astro fans or less true for everyone else. The Astros, nobody else, wrote the script that made them pariahs. Bang the cans slowly, fans.

Will off-field-based illegal electronic sign stealing disappear at all? Players got same-game video access back this year. There are three security people in every team’s video room at home and on the road. League cameras have been installed in those video rooms. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to add guard dogs?

The players union agreed last year: there’ll be no more players getting away with murder even in return for spilling the deets—the commissioner can drop a lot more than a marshmallow hammer on the cheaters from now on. All by himself. He can demand answers without plea bargaining. And he doesn’t need a permission slip.

“But one of the prevailing lessons from the electronic sign-stealing era is that even if a scheme sounds far-fetched, someone might give it a whirl if they believe they can get away with it,” writes The Athletic‘s Evan Drellich, one of the two reporters (Ken Rosenthal was his partner) who helped break and burrow deep into Astrogate. “This holds true no matter what MLB does. Even a total ban on electronics, which the players would never agree to, would not be enough. In that case, a player or staffer could simply go rogue.”

In other words, boys will be still be boys, if they can-can.

Fun Police lives matter?

Even after Yadier Molina (left) shoved him from behind after he objected to Jack Woodward’s (left) driller, Nick Castellanos (second from right) would still ask Molina for a signed jersey. A little cray-cray?

I guess the Cardinals showed him. Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos sure knows who the men around here are now. Right? Wrong.

For the crime of flipping his bat after hitting an Opening Day home run with his team trailing the Cardinals two days earlier, Castellanos got himself first-pitch drilled, wild-pitched home, and ejected in the fourth inning Saturday afternoon.

He also got shoved from behind by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for his trouble, but—rather inappropriately—nobody sent Molina to his room for that.

Apparently, it’s not nice to call out the Fun Police’s St. Louis division.

All that began after Castellanos seemed to let Reds pitcher Jack Woodford covering at the plate how little he thought of taking one in the ribs two days after he hit a two-run homer off Jack Flaherty in the third inning—two outs after Flaherty opened the inning by hitting Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart with a 1-1 pitch.

With Castellanos on third after the drill, Mike Moustakas at the plate watched Woodford’s wild pitch sail up, up, and away, off Molina’s mitt. Castellanos shot home and dove across the plate. Woodford hustled to the plate to cover as Molina scrambled for the ball and tossed high to him.

The pitcher slid on one knee trying for a tag as Castellanos beat the play and began to pick himself up, barking at Woodford about . . . who knew precisely what? Was it umbrage over getting drilled? Was it saying he just had to score by hook, crook, or anything else the Reds could come up with (it was a base hit by Joey Votto to send him to third before the wild pitch to Moustakas) after taking an unwarranted plunk like that?

No. It turned out almost precisely the way the Reds’ broadcast team suggested: “I said ‘let’s [fornicating] go! and then I walked off,” Castellanos told the press post-game.

That’s when Molina hustled over as the benches began to empty and gave Castellanos an apparent shove while Castellanos still had his back turned to him. The Reds separated Castellanos from Molina while Moustakas tried to keep Molina from charging Castellanos further.

The lone ejection was Castellanos, though it wasn’t known until the Reds sent Aristedes Aquino out to play right field in the top of the fifth. Woodford got only a warning, apparently, after throwing the driller in the first place. Molina, whom some fans with troths not plighted to the Cardinals believe receives special dispensation even when he behaves like an ass, got nothing.

Cardinal teammates kept holding Woodford back from further attempts to settle Castellanos’s hash. Then the bullpens emptied, providing room for Cardinals relief pitcher Jordan Hicks to enjoy a brief shove upon Reds infielder Eugenio Suarez before the bulls returned through a little more shoving all the way to the pens.

Then, the Reds—who’d dropped a third-inning six-spot on Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, including Castellanos himself singling and then scoring on another base hit—got to finish the 9-6 win they’d started. Putting the only damper that really counts on the day Nolen Arenado, the Cardinals’ new third base toy, parked Reds reliever Sean Romano’s full-count, one-on pitch in the left field seats.

After the big dance around the plate area, Woodford walked Moustakas to load the bases and hit Jonathan India with a 1-2 pitch to nudge Votto home with the eighth Reds run before striking Tyler Naquin out for the side at last.

Aquino at least had something else to say about his unlikely mid-game insertion under such troublesome circumstances. He led off the sixth against Andrew Miller, the former Indian who still hasn’t really regrouped too well following his heralded, almost entirely effective, but still unconscionable overuse in the 2016 postseason. Aquino looked at a strike down the pipe before timing a second such pitch and sending it over the left field fence.

The good news is, Castellanos didn’t take Molina’s shove from behind personally. As C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic tweeted after the game, Castellanos said of Molina, “That guy could punch me in the face and I’d still ask him for a signed jersey.”

Maybe Castellanos does know who the men around here are, including the one who smiles back to him from the mirror while he trims his beard. How would Molina sign that jersey, then—“Fun Police Lives Matter?”

The Machine is winding down?

Albert Pujols, hitting the 661st home run of his major league career last September to pass Willie Mays. His wife says he’ll call it a career when his contract ends after the 2021 season.

“Since the time he was a child, [he] would eat, sleep, and breathe this sport,” wrote Deidre Pujols on Instagram Monday. Right after she announced that that day would be day one of her husband, Albert’s final season as a major league baseball player. The loving husband responded to his wife’s post with three heart emojis.

The game and those who love it are liable to respond with a lot more than that. Tears included. Not just because of what Pujols was and the no-questions-asked Hall of Fame greatness he personified, but because of what injuries—almost all involving his feet and legs—made of the second half of his career.

But will he retire after this season, really?

Mrs. Pujols subsequently updated the post. “Today is the first day of the last season (based on his contract) of one of the most remarkable careers in sports!” it now reads. Then, she updated it again, saying she wanted only to send him into this season with blessings.

His ten-year, gigabucks Angels contract expires after this season. His tenure has been so injury addled that there came times Angel fans wondered if the Cardinals, who declined to re-sign the first baseman after the 2011 season, hadn’t slipped a whoopee cushion under their tails.

Under normal circumstances nobody likes to see the greats hit their decline phases. Were there more heartbreaking sights than Babe Ruth as a feeble Boston Brave? Walter Johnson, Warren Spahn, Satchel Paige, Robin Roberts, Whitey Ford, and Henry Aaron showing their ages at last?

Those men at least enjoyed the shorter declines. Pujols’s body turned his into a decade. Willie Mays’s kicking-and-screaming decline lasted seven years, heartbroken that he could no longer play the game he loved the way he did for so long. Steve Carlton spent almost half a decade jumping from team to team trying to find the left arm that went AWOL after almost two decades of Hall of Fame excellence. Pujols beat him and everyone else by almost double.

Last year, Pujols finally met and passed Mays on the all-time home run list. Earlier that pan-damn-ically truncated season, Pujols received a text from Mays: “It’s your time now. Go get it.” On 13 September, Pujols finally got it to tie. He turned on Rockies reliever Carlos Estevez’s 1-1 fastball and drove it just the way he did it in the truly glory years, half way up the left field seats on a parabola down the line.

Five days later, Pujols turned on Texas reliever Wes Benjamin’s fastball right down the chute on 1-2 and drove it into the visitors’ bullpen in Angel Stadium to pass Mays.

For a few brief, shining moments, Angel fans were reminded of treasures not really theirs to know, and Cardinal fans from a distance were reminded of what they were so fortunate to see for eleven transdimensional seasons. Watching a transdimensional talent who never stopped believing he absolutely had to get better.

The three-run detonation off Brad Lidge in the 2005 National League Championship Series, kept inside Minute Maid Park only by the retractable roof bracing wall. The reverse cycle of homers in Game Three of the 2011 World Series, every one of them after the sixth inning: the three-run homer, the two-run homer, the solo blast. The deadly lifetime postseason record. All those seasons as the game’s greatest righthanded hitter as well as a very run-preventive first baseman.

And, the sweet way Pujols paid tribute to the Cardinals legend who’d long befriended him, when Hall of Famer Stan Musial died in 2013. “I know the fans call me El Hombre, which means The Man in Spanish,” Pujols insisted, “but for me and St. Louis there will always be only one Man.”

Pujols was so emphatic about it that, when he became an Angel and the organisation festooned southern California with billboards announcing El Hombre‘s arrival, El Hombre blew his sombrero. He insisted very publicly that only one player should ever be called The Man, and his name wasn’t Albert Pujols. It takes longer for mob hit men to disappear their victims than it took the Angels to dispose of those billboards.

You think that was for showing and not for blowing? Few players have had as deep a reverence for baseball’s history as Pujols has had. That depth enabled Pujols to befriend Musial and mentor Mike Trout, “who might be the only position player this century to match [Pujols’s] level of peak greatness,” says The Athletic‘s Fabian Ardaya.

When Pujols said of Trout last year, ““We have the best player in the game, and five or six years from now, he’s going to be making history, too,” he didn’t have to be told Trout’s already made some history of his own. He knows it. He respects it. He mentored Trout into becoming the Angels’ team leader not by way of claiming the role for himself but by what he does on the field and how he lives off it.

Pujols himself lives a well-apportioned life away from baseball. Among other things, when not raising his own family, he and his wife have worked arduously with Down’s syndrome children—among whom is their own daughter, Isabella—and against human trafficking.

His lower body ruined what should have been a kinder, gentler, simpler decline phase. It’s left him prone to as much criticism under ordinary, non-milestone circumstances as he received high praise whenever the vintage Pujols made the periodic cameo. If the Angels looked foolish for signing him long-term and extraterrestrial salary after the injuries began to chip him down, they never once doubted Pujols was giving the best he had with whatever he had left.

““He plays through discomfort,” former general manager Billy Eppler told MLB.com after he tied Mays. “He endures a lot and doesn’t talk a lot about it. But I can tell you that he’s definitely someone that wants to play and fights through a lot of adversity to make sure he’s out there and contributing to the club.”

Even those whose admiration for him didn’t crumple the way his injuries forced him to crumple hoped somewhere, somehow, several times the past few years, that Pujols would swallow his formidable pride, leave the rest of his formidable money on the table, let nothing further tarnish his near-singular legacy, and sink into that ten-year services contract he still has with the Angels following his retirement.

“It has been so hard to watch one of the greatest players in the history of baseball fade like this,” wrote another Athletic scribe, Joe Posnanski, almost a year ago. “Each year, I hope against hope for Pujols to be Pujols one more time. Sadly, that just isn’t how time works. He is 40 now and a decade past his prime. It hasn’t been a sad career, though; far from it. It has been extraordinary. It has been an inspiration.”

It’s not unfair to say Pujols’s contract hamstrung the Angels when administrative tunnel vision didn’t when it came to re-tooling the team back to contention. Neither is it unfair to say that spending that much for a well-established Hall of Famer who hadn’t yet been hit with his physical issues didn’t have to mean the Angels ignoring their other issues, either.

Like his final Cardinals regular season, Pujols’s first Angel season was solid, if below his former standard. His 2011 postseason and how he helped the Cardinals win that outer-limits World Series may have deked people into thinking he’d only had one off year but plenty of petrol left in reserve.

Then plantaar fascitis in his heel kept him to 99 games in 2013 and a staggering enough fall from even that 2012 performance. Further injuries below his waistline made sure he’d look like an imitation of himself from then on, despite a few shining hours, a few significant milestones, a few moments in which he looked exactly the way he did over those impeccable St. Louis years.

But he didn’t hold a gun to the Angels’ heads and tell them to waste their remaining resources, either. The Angels have been an anti-model franchise during most of Pujols’s tour with them. If Pujols calls it a career after the season to come, the Angels, their fans, and their critics won’t have Pujols to blame for what wasn’t his fault in the first place.

This is Pujols according to my Real Batting Average metric (TB + BB + IBB + SF + HBP / PA):

PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Career 12,394 5923 1331 312 115 108 .628
With the Cardinals 7433 3893 975 251 68 77 .708
With the Angels 4961 2030 356 61 47 31 .509

That’s what the injuries did in turning what should have been a natural decline phase into a hard-lived one.

Albert Pujols was a .708 batter as a Cardinal. His career RBA with a normal decline phase should have lined him up to finish at the top of the heap of Hall of Fame first basemen who played their careers in the post-World War II/post-integration/night-ball era. If his .628 holds by the end of this year, it’ll plant him in between Jeff Bagwell and Willie McCovey, and Pujols was the better all-around first baseman among those three plus first base RBA leader Jim Thome.

Pujols’s other nickname has been The Machine. Unfortunately, even machines have finite lives to do what they were built to do. They don’t all decline as sadly as this one did. Even if this one’s going make what promises to be a singular Hall of Fame acceptance speech in 2027. With Stan Musial smiling broadly upon him from the Elysian Fields, if not blowing him a chorus of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on his ubiquitous harmonica.

“Why did he quit?” Joe DiMaggio’s brother, Tom, once said when asked why the Yankee Clipper would call it a career after thirteen war-disrupted seasons and a persistent heel issue that turned into back trouble. “He quit because he wasn’t Joe DiMaggio anymore.”

Maybe the gigabucks Pujols earned as an Angel kept him from quitting precisely when he wasn’t really Albert Pujols anymore. Maybe his pride did it. Maybe both. Maybe, come the next off-season, it’ll be impossible at last for Pujols to tell himself he can be day-in, day-out great again. Maybe he’ll tell himself at last it’s time to let his whole record take him out of the box and into Cooperstown.

And maybe the Angels will find ways to a) make the game’s best player since Pujols joined the team proud; and, b) reach the postseason to send Pujols into retirement in a blaze of glory.

We can dream, can’t we?

From mile-high madness to St. Louis serenity

Like should-be Hall of Famer Scott Rolen before him, Nolan Arenado’s a top third baseman the Cardinals will take happily off an unappreciative team’s hands.

More often than Joe and Jane Fan think, baseball players and those playing other team sports discover that all the money on their paychecks isn’t quite as handsome as winning. It’s the reason such ballplayers otherwise wedded to the teams who reared them swallow pride and paychecks and look out of town when winning isn’t going to happen soon.

The Cardinals are only too willing to show more than cursory interest in such men. They’re baseball’s Emma Lazarus; they might as well engrave the top of Busch Stadium’s entrance with, “Give us your sick-and-tired, your not-so-poor, your huddling supermen yearning to breathe free and win championships.”

They’ll even take your money gladly to take him off your hands.

They’ve just gotten the Rockies to give them sick-and-tired, not-so-poor, huddling super third baseman Nolan Arenado for an apparent bag of mixed nuts. They even accepted the Rockies sending along $65 million dollars for the privilege of taking Arenado off their hands and books.

And, with a few former glitterati due to come off the payroll books after 2021, a couple of big moves that plain didn’t work out for the Cardinals will be gone as well. It’ll make the Cardinals the National League Central favourites and perhaps the only club in the division who can hold up against the monsters of the East and West if they reach the 2021 postseason.

It turns their formerly unassuming off-season into a bristling one. It might make them tempted to think about extending Arenado further depending on what he does with two opt-outs his deal has after 2021 and 2022. And, it adds Arenado to a rather distinguished roll of prior tired, huddling supermen who found baseball a lot more agreeable when they got to play adjacent to the Gateway Arch.

Once upon a time the Padres got fed up with their high-and-wide flying shortstop’s agent and decided to deal him. Then-Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog went to San Diego to talk to the man personally. That kind of personal touch got the Cardinals a Hall of Fame shortstop whose defensive value was equal to his acrobatics and good for big parts of three pennants and a World Series ring. You still know Ozzie Smith as the Wizard of Oz.

Not long after that, Jack Clark bristled over the Giants’ brittle Candlestick Park and their dismissals of him as just too fragile to play major league baseball. They dealt him to the Cardinals, where they moved him to first base for his health’s sake. Jack the Ripper hit the home run that sent the Cardinals to the 1985 World Series and swung big for their 1987 pennant winner until an ankle injury kept him out of that Series and helped keep them from winning it.

Should-be Hall of Famer Scott Rolen got sick and tired of the Phillies’ seeming lack of winning interest and dismissing him despite his play saying what he didn’t like trumpeting on his own behalf. The Cardinals said, “Give us your sick and tired third baseman.” They traded for and signed Rolen to a new deal. They also sent him to four All-Star teams and won a World Series with him.

One fine day Matt Holliday, traded from Colorado to Oakland, discovered the Athletics decided they couldn’t afford his like and traded him to the Cardinals. He shone enough in left field and at the plate for the Birds on the Bat that they made sure he couldn’t take a free agency hike just yet. And, like Rolen, Holliday went to four All-Star teams and won a World Series in St. Louis fatigues.

Another fine day, for the Cardinals at least, the Diamondbacks decided two years ago that they couldn’t or wouldn’t afford to keep franchise-face first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The Cardinals channeled their inner Monty Hall—Let’s make a deal! They landed Goldschmidt for Luke Weaver and a pair of bodies and signed Goldschmidt in due course to a succulent nine-figure extension. They’ve been to a pair of postseasons with him, too.

Landing Arenado means the Cardinals want a little more than just postseason entries. And Arenado isn’t as treacherous looking going into what’ll be his age-30 season as you might fear. He has five years left on his Colorado-signed extension. He might lose a couple of counting stats weighted heavily on the home side but he might even things out with road performances enabled better by not playing at ionosphere level.

He’ll be able to keep swinging smoothly for extra base hits and doing things at third base unseen since Rolen, Adrian Beltre, Mike Schmidt, and Brooks Robinson, a human vacuum cleaner who no longer has to worry whether his bag will explode in the middle of a flying leap, a running throw, or a swan dive across the line.

Among active third basemen, Arenado is second only to Evan Longoria (thirteen seasons) for total defensive runs saved above his league average, but Arenado has an excellent chance to surpass Longoria at the hot corner and at the plate by the time he reaches his fourteenth major league season.

Matter of fact, let’s look at that pair plus Manny Machado, the $300 million plus man in San Diego, according to my Real Batting Average (RBA): total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches divided by plate appearances:

Player PA TB BB IBB SF HBP RBA
Nolan Arenado 4558 2227 362 58 50 22 .597
Evan Longoria 7380 3108 645 81 89 69 .541
Manny Machado 4989 2211 387 41 36 21 .540

Arenado also has an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) 83 points higher. (I’ll bet you didn’t think Longoria and Machado were that similar at the plate, either.) Arenado’s OPS is also 65 points higher than Machado, who’s only 17 defensive runs behind him.

What he won’t have is Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich to kick, jerk, or slap him around anymore. Arenado bristled when Bridich treated his old infield partner Troy Tulowitzki like a chump over trade rumours, failed to include Tulowitzki in any such discussions, then dealt the shortstop to the Blue Jays. (Where he went to a pair of postseasons before injuries ended his career out of town.)

When Bridich told the Denver Post early last week that nothing came of the Rockies “listening” to other teams about Arenado, the third baseman slapped back. “Jeff is very disrespectful. I never talk trash or anything,” he told a Denver television station. “I play hard, keep my mouth shut. But I can only get crossed so many times.”

Kind of reminds you about Giancarlo Stanton and the Miami Marlins two years ago. He’d signed a then record-dollar thirteen-year deal a couple of years before that only to watch the Fish swimming wild and directionless like killies scrambling to escape the incoming sharks. He spoke publicly of that, then called them a circus when they decided he could just suffer along no matter what. Then they dealt him to the Yankees.

Nobody knows whether the 2020 irregular season that ended with the Marlins in second place in the NL East was as fluky as the rest of baseball, but Stanton did get as far as back-to-back postseasons with the Yankees and missed reaching the 2019 World Series by one ALCS-winning home run courtesy of Houston’s Jose Altuve.

The Rockies weren’t half as crass as the Marlins if no less dismissive. When they signed Arenado to his extension, they promised that wouldn’t stop them from tooling up all around. By the end of a losing 2019, following back-to-back seasons good for nothing more than wild cards and too-early postseason exits, though, Arenado smelled a coming rebuild, if not a coming tank.

Bridich awoke Saturday morning to a roasting by Denver Post baseball writer Mark Kiszla. “[S]o insecure he tries to bully every conversation with Ivy League arrogance as thin as his college baseball resume,” Kiszla wrote, “[Bridich] got ripped off by the Cardinals in a trade that appears so lopsided that Commissioner Rob Manfred should consider voiding the deal before it becomes official.”

Once upon a time, Arenado wanted nothing more than to stay a Rockie for life, the way should-be Hall of Fame first baseman Todd Helton was. “I want to win,” he has told Sports Illustrated. “If we win here, that’s why I signed, right? To win here. But if we’re not gonna win, I’d rather play for a winner. I don’t care where it is. I’d rather win a World Series than have my number retired.”

More than a few eyes are now cast upon Rockies shortstop Trevor Story, who may also have noticed too much of the treachery around Arenado and begun to wonder whether that mile-high baseball air has vaporised common baseball sense even further.

If he’s not careful, Kiszla warned, Story “could be the next knucklehead to be fooled by this team’s hollow promise to build a champion around him. My advice? Story demand a trade ASAP to a major-league city where winning matters.”

A city like St. Louis, perhaps. It wouldn’t be past the Cardinals to ponder a shortstop upgrade, take note of the Rockies leaving Story to waste, and deal a couple of sacks of mulch for him while deciding Kolten Wong is more than worth keeping at second base and moving Paul DeJong to the bench or onward.

You don’t want to relieve your sick-and-tired, your not-so-poor, your huddling Hall of Fame supermen to be (assume he keeps his health following that shoulder injury last year and Arenado’s on the Hall track), allowing them to breathe free and win with you? The Cardinals are only too happy to take them off your hands, relieve your headaches, and cause you a few when you meet them in mortal combat.

They might not even be adverse to keeping their eyes upon the West Coast. That’s where  baseball’s still-best all-around player, loyal as he is to the franchise that raised him, may start thinking in a couple of years while he’s still young enough that knocking Hall of Famers out of the record books or off the WAR charts isn’t enough. He may ask at last what can compensate for being a Trout out of water with no winning to show for his extraterrestrial efforts.

Nobody with a brain would put it past the Cardinals to think about reeling that Trout in. Just don’t expect them to include painkillers in the deal.

Yadier Molina, talking through his sombrero

Does Molina (here getting an attaboy from Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty) also think the annual Gold Glove should be a lifetime achievement award?

You thought Yadier Molina was too intelligent to play a race card? You didn’t hear him when the Gold Glove finalists were announced and the longtime St. Louis Cardinals anchor didn’t make the cut.

“Respect to all the finalists in the 2020 National League catcher!” Molina began a furious Instagram post during the week. “Now . . . I see an injustice to those who decide or not . . . I don’t know if it’s @mlb or whoever but it’s clearly that they don’t want this Boricua Jibarito to draw with the great @johnnybench_5 . . . or me at 38 years I’m still the best.. ask every catcher in the mlb and they’ll tell you!!!”

The problems with Molina’s fury only begin with his apparent forgetfulness that another Boricua Jibarito—English translation: Puerto Rican little yokel—hold the major league record for catchers with thirteen Gold Gloves. You may have seen his Hall of Fame plaque: Ivan Rodriguez.

Molina has nine Gloves. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench has a National League record ten. If there’s a move among Gold Glove voters to deny a Puerto Rican little yokel a tenth Glove, it’s not as apparent as Molina thinks.

Under normal circumstances, the Gold Gloves would be chosen by about 75 percent managers and coaches and 25 percent statistics, surface and sabermetric alike. In pandemic-pressed 2020, the Gloves candidates were chosen by statistics (surface and sabermetric alike) alone. And they say Molina at 38 years old isn’t the best behind the plate this year, and maybe anymore.

Specifically, Rawlings, who present the Gloves every year, elected to use strictly the Society for American Baseball Research’s Defensive Index. This has only been a decade or so overdue, unless you’d like to continue seeing Gold Glove winners chosen past their primes on reputation more than real results or by highlight reels over hard season-long truth by managers and coaches with familiarity bias.

The National League’s Gold Glove catching finalists are Tucker Barnhart (Cincinnati Reds), Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs), and Jacob Stallings (Pittsburgh Pirates). Molina thinks he’s still better than the rest of the National League pack when he didn’t even make the top five Glove candidates in a year the numbers alone picked the contenders.

The numbers say Molina committed five errors in 42 games, the five being his most in a season since 2017, a year in which he won the Glove. They also say three passed balls in 42 games equaled his full-season total from 2014, another year in which he won the Glove. They say Molina tied for the fifth-most wild pitches escaping him this year with fourteen and finished seventh in the league in defensive runs saved.

He may take this as adding insult to injury, but Molina was easier for baserunners to commit crime against than Austin Nola (Philadelphia Phillies) and Austin Hedges (Cleveland Indians) this year. He hasn’t been as high as second among arresting officers behind the plate since 2010, and he hasn’t been as high as the number four handcuff clapper since 2017.

What Molina seems to have wanted—especially becoming a free agent hoping for one more, maybe two-year payday—is a Lifetime Achievement Gold Glove. As if there haven’t been too many Gold Gloves awarded on just that basis when all else was said and done. At this writing he’s the number one active catcher for games caught, catching putouts, catching assists, total zone runs for catchers, and fielding percentage.

Handling pitching staffs? The pitchers who’ve thrown to Molina lifetime have a 3.68 overall ERA teaming with him. That puts him ahead of Rodriguez; the pitchers who threw to I-Rod lifetime had a 4.68 overall ERA teaming with him. It puts him behind freshly-minted Hall of Famer Ted Simmons (3.65), Bench (3.52), Berra (3.41), and Carter (3.31). Essentially, he’s handled pitching staffs the way you should expect a Hall of Fame catcher to handle them.

Unfortunately for him, the Gold Glove doesn’t reward lifetime achievement. That’s what the Hall of Fame is for. (For all we know, maybe Rawlings strikes a Palladium Glove for lifetime achievement one of these days.) And Molina knows exactly what we know, that his Hall of Fame case rests entirely on his work behind the plate. As a hitter, Pudge, Simba, the Little General, Yogi, and The Kid he ain’t and never was. (And why didn’t someone think to give Bench his own nickname and not make him share with Gene Mauch?)

If Molina wants to play another couple of years and a team thinks he can do so—most likely as a solid veteran presence and the shepherd of its next generation behind the plate—let him have that one more payday. But when he says the Gold Glove people just don’t want some Puerto Rican little yokel meeting the great Bench while some other Puerto Rican little yokel has more Gold Gloves in his trophy case than even the great Bench, Molina is talking through his sombrero.