Tatis and Bauer continue defunding the Fun Police

Fernando Tatis, Jr.; Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer (27) wasn’t thrilled about surrendering bombs to Fernando Tatis, Jr.—but Bauer didn’t mind Tatis trolling him over them, either.

If the Dodgers and the Padres are really brewing baseball’s best rivalry since the Dodgers and the Giants, or the Yankees and the Red Sox, you can count on one less Fun Police officer overloading the Tabasco sauce. Turns out that the sense of humour of Trevor Bauer, Dodger pitcher, includes taking his lumps in the troll department.

Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. accounted for the only two runs Bauer allowed Friday night with a pair of delicious looking home runs. He hit the first in the top of the first, sending a slightly hanging cutter clean over the left center field fence on the second pitch of the game.

After rounding first, Tatis put his right hand over his eye as he turned around toward the mound, then turned to continue running it out. When he hit the second bomb in the top of the sixth, following a six-pitch, full count wrestling match, Tatis crossed the plate with a move made familiar to UFC fans by Conor McGregor. It just so happens to be the move Bauer himself busts after he has a particularly controlling inning’s work.

By his own admission Bauer missed the hand-over-eye move, which referenced Bauer’s own one-eyed pitching against the Padres during a spring training contest, but he couldn’t help noticing the Padres dugout covering single eyes after Tatis’s second homer landed about three or four rows up the left center field bleachers.

Bauer didn’t mind any of the moves at all. In fact, talking to reporters after the game, which the Dodgers yanked out to win 5-4 despite Tatis’s mayhem, the righthander whose own trolling stones make him as controversial as he is colourful sent a message to every other pitcher on the third stone from the sun who thinks letting the kids play is tantamount to heresy.

“I like it. I think that pitchers who have that done to them and react by throwing at people, or getting upset and hitting people or whatever — I think it’s pretty soft,” Bauer told reporters after the game. “If you give up a homer, the guy should celebrate it. It’s hard to hit in the big leagues. So, I’m all for it. And I think it’s important that the game moves in that direction, and we stop throwing at people because they celebrated having some success on the field.”

Where was Bauer when the Cardinals got soft on Nick Castellanos a couple of days after Castellanos smashed a home run off Jack Flaherty? When Jack Woodford drilled him with a pitch, then bumped him as he crossed the plate beneath a sliding tag attempt, before Castellanos sprung up from his slide, barked a bit at Woodford, then started walking away from the plate area when Yadier Molina returned to the plate area and gave Castellanos a shove by his neck—when Castellanos wasn’t even looking behind him?

Rest assured, Bauer would have had a lecture to deliver Madison Bumgarner two years ago, after Max Muncy launched one of his first-inning services into McCovey Cove. “Don’t watch the ball—run!” Bumgarner barked. Rounding first and heading to second as he ran it out, Muncy by his own admission hollered back, precisely, “If you don’t want me to watch the ball, go get it out of the ocean.”

Perhaps if Bauer was a Dodger then, he’d have been the first to buy the blue T-shirt that hit the ground flying after that, with “Go Get It Out of the Ocean” emblazoned in white, over an upside-down reproduction of the flying baseball that’s part of the Dodgers’ official team logo.

Bauer knows Tatis has reasons enough to celebrate his handiwork lately. Friday night’s flogs came one night after the kid who’s must-see television did what no major leaguer had done before—hit a pair of bombs on the 22nd anniversary date of his father hitting a pair of salamis in the same inning against the same opponent.

Friday night also made Tatis the first player to hit a pair of bombs on back-to-back nights against Cy Young Award-winning pitchers, says the Elias Sports Bureau. On the anniversary of Pop’s pops, Tatis wreaked his two-bomb havoc on Clayton Kershaw’s dollar.

Tatis returned Bauer’s compliment, whether or not he’d actually heard Bauer say it immediately. “Payback time,” the lad told reporters, referencing Bauer’s one-eyed-jack pitching in that spring game.

It’s just fun. When you know you’re facing a guy like that — he’s doing his stuff, he’s having fun on the mound, and when you get him you get him, and you celebrate, too. He’s a hard guy to deal with.

Bauer didn’t even mind when Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer got even in the sixth for what Bauer did in the fourth. Hosmer struck out awkwardly in the fourth and Bauer delivered his pulling-the-sword-out bit, “sword” considered contemporary baseball lingo for the broken swing a hitter often delivers when he’s been fooled like a rookie on a pitch. In the sixth, though, Hosmer nearly drilled a hole in Bauer with a hard liner up the pipe, then pulled a sword of his own out after reaching first.

Once again, Bauer had no intention of ducking into a nearby phone booth and changing from your everyday not-so-mild-mannered pitcher into the Fun Cop ready to clunk all miscreants with his nightstick and drag them off to the hoosegow.

“That’s what it is to be a competitor,” the righthander said. “I’m gonna go at you. I’m gonna get you sometimes, and you’re gonna get me sometimes. We can have fun, we can celebrate it while we’re still competing at the highest level. I just thought that was important to note tonight.”

I’ve been saying for how long that pitchers need to start thinking, “Hey, you got me good this time. Have your fun. I’ll get you out the next time, and I’ll have my fun?” I’m not even close to the only one. There was Sean Doolittle two years ago, when he was still a hard-toiling and popular National. “If a guy hits a home run off me, drops to his knees, pretends the bat is a bazooka, and shoots it out at the sky, I don’t give a shit,” he said emphatically in an interview I cited at the time.

When you’re in the backyard as a kid playing and falling in love with the game and you crush the ball? You do a celebration. You stand and watch it like Ken Griffey, Jr. You don’t hit the ball and put your head down and run as fast as you can. That’s not fun. It’s okay to embrace that part of a game.

To which I wrote, myself, “I hope a lot of hitters drop to one knee and point their bats to the sky like bazookas when they hit one out. I hope a lot of pitchers start channeling their inner Dennis Eckersley and start fanning pistols after they strike someone out. I’d kill to see a hitter moonwalk around the bases after hitting one out. Let’s see more keystone combinations chest bump or make like jugglers after they turn a particularly slick and tough double play.”

The new Murphy’s Law ought to be, “Celebrate!” Said Dale Murphy himself, in one of his first essays as a contributor to The Athletic. It must have sent the Fun Police to the whiskey bottles when Murphy called out Bumgarner over that Muncy waterball:

Admiring a home run is OK. Bat-flipping is OK. Emotion is OK. None of that is a sign of poor sportsmanship or disrespect for an opponent. It’s a celebration of achievement — and doing so should not only be allowed, but encouraged. Pitchers can shout excitedly after an important out. They can pump their fist after a clutch strikeout. Players, fans—and basically any rational-thinking human—will understand that no harm is intended by these spontaneous expressions of joy.

Wouldn’t you love to know what Bauer thought, when the Rangers decided it was right and proper to wait, until near the end of the final game of their final season series against the Blue Jays in May 2016, to repay Jose Bautista for an epic bat flip the previous October?

Bautista hit a monstrous three-run homer in the seventh to give the Jays a 6-3 lead that held up to send them to the previous American League Championship Series. He flipped his bat whirlybird style as he left the plate to run it out. Rogers Centre went nuclear. The Rangers pitcher who surrendered that bomb, Sam Dyson, spoke as a Fun Policeman after the game.

“Jose needs to calm that down, just kind of respect the game a little more,” Dyson said after the game. “He’s a huge role model for the younger generation that’s coming up playing this game, and I mean he’s doing stuff that kids do in Wiffle ball games and backyard baseball. It shouldn’t be done.” (I couldn’t resist rejoining, “That’s how many kids playing Wiffle ball who grow up to hit postseason-advancing skyrockets?”)

Bautista was hit by a pitch late in that mid-May 2016 game. Then, he delivered a hard slide at second to let the Rangers know he didn’t appreciate the too-long-delayed “message.” Then he had to bear the brunt of the followup brickbats when Rougned Odor swung on him. Pretty soft? The Rangers were squishy cowards in tough guy clothing behind Mommy’s dress when Matt Bush—a relief pitcher who wasn’t even a Ranger in October 2015—delivered that seven-months delayed drill.

Bauer has his faults. Misogynistic harassment of women online is known to be one of them. But he’s never been accused of being physically abusive with any woman he’s dated or associated with. The Dyson who demanded Bautista “just kind of respect the game a little more” is the one who got suspended for this season for abusing his former girlfriend.

You can hear the Old Fart Contingent [OFC] who didn’t or don’t play the game fuming about Respect For The Game, too. Most of the same OFC want to see players treat baseball like Serious Business on the field or at the plate or around the bases—but they  become the first to scream, “It’s a [fornicating] game!” when it’s free agency contract time.

Bauer and Tatis have just fired off significant shots in what should be a continuing, baseball-wide campaign to defund the Fun Police. The defunding shouldn’t be limited to players alone.

That new old fashioned medicated goo

Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer doesn’t like being singled out for medicating his pitches.

Good golly Polly shame on you
Cause Molly made a stew that’ll make a new girl out of you
So follow me, it’s good for you
That good ole fashion medicated goo
Steve Winwood, Jimmy Miller (for Traffic)

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, this is more like it, you can hear more than a few people thinking. Just like the Good Old Days. The Good Old Days in question here being the days when more than a few pitchers were suspected of putting more on their pitches than just their fingers.

The kind of potential cheating scandal that inspires wink-winks, nudge-nudges, not pontificating protest and near-universal outrage. The kind involving whether one of baseball’s more (shall we say) outspoken pitchers is giving the (shall we say) treatment to his pitches, thus to the batters, and maybe to the game itself.

Trevor Bauer has a few reputations, from misogynistic all the way back to the nutty professor. Now the Show’s government would love to know whether Bauer also deserves a reputation as a genuine throwback—to the lives and times when pitchers looked for every last edge they could get including but not limited to whatever they could think of to put on the ball, blissfully uncaring about breaking the law.

From publicly pondering since 2018 how often (not whether) pitchers are mixing up some new old fashioned medicated goo to get (hee hee) better grips on the balls, Bauer himself is now suspect. When he started for the Dodgers against the Athletics this week, umpires collected a fair number of balls he’d thrown that were claimed to be sticky and scuffy. How many depends upon whom you read on the subject.

Last month MLB sent its teams a pair of memos saying, essentially, “We’ve got our eyes on your balls.” None of that sneaky stuff. Keep the strange brews to yourselves. The season’s barely past a week old, and Bauer has already provided a crash course in pitch paranoia.

Not to mention a few arched brows, not because of whether Bauer has joined the society of spitballers but because of whether he’s been singled out particularly—and thus a victim of a little leaking subterfuge himself.

That one pitcher is drawing scrutiny over the foreign substance rules — in this case, Trevor Bauer — seemingly through leaks and innuendo is kind of gross,” tweets ESPN’s Buster Olney. “MLB should either step up and grab the steering wheel and publicly insist that umpires enforce the rule, or stand down.”

If Thomas Boswell was right to say in the late 1970s that cheating was baseball’s oldest profession, it’s also right to say that different cheats provoke different responses.

Find a team altering off-field cameras illegally and tying them to clubhouse monitors for sign stealing? It’s Astrogate. Find a team turning the MLB-provided video room into an illegal helpmate for old-fashioned sign-stealing gamesmanship (sending pilfered intelligence to baserunners to transmit to batters)? It’s Soxgate.

Find a pitcher putting a little goop, gunk, or glop on what he throws? Even the morally outraged can’t resist a little snicker. A little snicker, a lot of mad fun trying to catch him in the act and write standup comedy routines about it, and maybe a couple of gags—such as the time longtime manager Gene Mauch suggested Gaylord Perry’s Hall of Fame plaque should have a tube of K-Y jelly (Perry’s reputed substance of preference) attached. (Was it fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson who once sent Perry a gallon of lard as a birthday present?)

The MLB memos told teams the Show’s government would review Statcast data on pitch spin rates closely enough to determine whether abrupt changes in pitcher’s career spin norms might suggest foreign aid. Which reminds me of George Frazier, the last man charged with three losses in a single World Series: “I don’t use foreign substances. Everything I use is made in the U.S. of A.”

The suspicion toward Bauer, who’s been outspoken about pondering himself whether some pitchers are mixing up the medicine to hike their pitches’ spin rates, didn’t come from a Statcast analysis but from suspicious umpires.

“Pitchers use tacky substances to improve their grip on the ball and increase movement on their pitches,” writes The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal. “In November, The Athletic’s Eno Sarris quoted a coach with experience in several major-league organizations as saying, ‘Almost everyone is using something.’ A player-development executive told Sarris the benefits are ‘better than steroids’.”

Yet in the same article Rosenthal said that whatever is or isn’t found on Bauer’s balls (don’t even think about going there!), “it remains to be seen whether the league can prove he was responsible for their application, or whether any punishment imposed by commissioner Rob Manfred would stand.”

Ever since the spitter was outlawed formally after the 1920 season, there’ve been pitchers caught or at least formally suspected who thought of protesting, “It wasn’t me!” It wasn’t as out of bounds as you might think.

For decades it’s been known that Hall of Famer Whitey Ford—in his final years, anyway—benefited from his catcher Elston Howard scraping balls against his shin guard buckles before returning them to Ford. (“The buckle ball,” Jim Bouton wrote in Ball Four, “sang two arias from Aida.”) Howard was also crafty at scraping a ball on particularly wet dirt around the plate before sending it back.

Tommy John could claim plausibly that he didn’t actually put something on the ball or give it a scrape or a smudge. His particular specialty was finding scuffs on balls that were just in play and not yet removed from the game and then, as Boswell once noted, “turn[ing] the tiniest scratch into a double play grounder.”

Nobody ever quite knew what Hall of Famer Don Sutton was applying, but when he started a game against John late in both men’s careers, a scout in the press box cracked, “Tommy John and Don Sutton. If anyone can find one smooth ball from that game, he ought to send it to Cooperstown.”

If there was one pitcher who could claim even more plausibly not to use foreign substances, it was probably Phil (The Vulture) Regan, the mid-to-late 1960s relief star. Regan’s trick of the trade was his own propensity to sweat somewhat heavily; he’d let it run down his arm into his hand and go to work. At least, he did until a combination of an ump or two catching on plus Leo Durocher burning him out from overuse as a Cub ruined his late-career effectiveness.

A little over a year ago, the Angels’ longtime visitors clubhouse attendant Brian Harkins was fired after the Show’s government showed the Angels Harkins was mixing up a little froth for the opposing pitchers, a blend of pine tar, rosin, and maybe a couple of other things. Harkins sued the Angels and the Show for defamation; the suit was thrown out of court in January.

It was too simple to have a sad laugh over the Harkins case. Why on earth would he have been compelled to give opposing pitchers the breaks considering that the Angels haven’t exactly been known as a pitching powerhouse the last few seasons? Harkins himself claimed he did it for safety reasons, since mixtures such as his were longtime helpmates for rubbing up fresh, smooth, hard-to-handle balls before games.

That’s what then-Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers said, too, when he was caught on camera with a particularly vivid brownish smudge on his pitching hand in the first inning in Game Two of the 2006 World Series. (He pitched eight shutout innings in the game, running his shutout inning streak that postseason to 23.) When he went back out for the second inning, the smudge was history.

“It was a big clump of dirt. I didn’t know it was there,” Rogers told reporters after the game. “They told me about, but it was no big deal. It was dirt and rosin put together. That’s what happens when you rub [the ball] up.  I just went and wiped if off. I didn’t think it was an issue. After the first inning, it was fine. I felt I was pretty comfortable after that.”

Not everybody bought it, of course. Sports Illustrated writer Tom Verducci pronounced himself “deeply disappointed” that the only thing happening to Rogers that night was being told to go back and wash his hands before he continued eating the Cardinals for supper:

The entire world saw Rogers using what appeared to be a foreign substance on his pitching hand and he incurred no penalty, not even an inspection by the umpires of the offending hand we saw on TV. It was worse for the sport than if Rogers, like Jay Howell in the 1988 NLCS, was examined, ejected and suspended. [Too much pine tar on Howell’s hat had the Mets suspicious of the Dodger reliever—JK.] At least in that case there was enforcement of the rule book. This was just another example of the perverse culture in the game, this twisted code of “honor” among the scoundrels and cheats in baseball in which the act of calling somebody out for cheating is deemed worse than the cheating itself.

Seven years later, Verducci was a little more kind to then-Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester during the 2013 World Series: “This time of year, especially when it’s colder and the balls are slicker, pitchers need something on their fingers to throw the baseball without putting hitters at risk.”

But nobody thought Lester’s pitches were dancing, double-axeling, or singing “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” either. (Not for public consumption, anyway, so far as I remember.) “Somebody said they thought they saw pine tar on [Rogers],” Cardinals second baseman Aaron Miles told ESPN after that Game Two. “That’s about it. Whether he got rid of it, or he never had it in the first place, we don’t know. His stuff was good all game.”

Sutton was so proud of his defiance that he once said he “ought to get a Black & Decker commercial out of it.” He did, in due course. He also threatened to sue umpire Doug Harvey and the National League after being cuffed and stuffed on one occasion. Nobody thought to offer Joe Niekro a Maybelline commercial, after the knuckleballer was caught infamously (and hilariously) trying to confiscate an emery board when caught by umpires, but Niekro never contemplated taking it to court, either.

Niekro’s infamous capture came on a day he was struggling on the mound. Bauer’s outing against the A’s Wednesday wasn’t exactly something you’d call lights out—nothing like the near no-hitter he pitched in his first Dodger start—though it wasn’t a terrible outing, either.

He threw 110 pitches and only 61 percent were strikes. Of those strikes, 24 were called, thirteen were swinging strikes, and 67 were either fouls or balls put into play. He struck out six, walked four, and surrendered five hits plus two earned runs. He left with a 3-2 lead, two outs, and one on in the seventh after surrendering Matt Chapman’s leadoff home run, leaving Kenley Jansen to surrender the tying run in the ninth and Jimmy Nelson to surrender the winning run in the tenth.

If Bauer’s using any particular blend for a little extra oomph in his repertoire, he may not be as fearworthy as he and others think he looks. He might also have learned the hard way what happens when a suspect pitch is “hit on the dry side,” as the old-timers said about how to hit the spitter.

Remember: In baseball, talent won’t get you as far as skill, and for all its formal illegality and semi-formal outrage (and snickering) throwing a spitter isn’t the easiest skill, either. “For every career it salvages, there is probably another that it helps to ruin,” Boswell once wrote. “For every hanging curve that finds a bleacher grave, there is a spitter with too much spin that floats like a batting practise fastball into the batter’s power zone and disappears.”

If Bauer did try throwing Chapman (ahem) a creamy spitter, Chapman caught the dry side and creamed it over the left center field fence.

So how does Bauer feel about falling under particular scrutiny for sneaky services? He’s a little furious about being leaked when he may not be even close to the only pitcher in the game rubbing up with extra elixir for reasons above and beyond merely getting better grips on the ball. And he’s not necessarily wrong.

When he asks “[W]here are the articles about balls from every other pitcher being taken out of play in literally every other game this season?” he’s not wrong. Being un-shy about speaking out has its downside on the backside of its upside. Rightly, wrongly, the unapologetic controversialist paints his own back with a target.

He wouldn’t be Trevor Bauer if he dummied up, of course. But it’s awful tempting to ponder whether he, too, would think about throwing a ball to the plate with bolts attached to it. Actually—never mind. Bauer already has enough people thinking he needs to return to the lab every other day to have his bolts tightened.

Let Bauer be on the Dodgers’ heads

The Dodgers want last year’s Bauer over a full season and without the concurrent social media migraines.

“Talented, antagonistic.” That’s how The Athletic‘s Pedro Moura describes Trevor Bauer in two words. Lots more words under either of those could be and have been written about, shall we say, the controversial enough righthander. They run the gamut from forward thinker to bully, from student of the game to misogynist.

The Dodgers pushed a big bet to the center of the table that Bauer over a full season on the mound will be what he was for the Reds in last year’s short, irregular season. The Mets were thought ready to push the biggest chips forward but let him walk into the Dodger embrace.

The Dodgers are also betting the talent will neutralise the antagonism by signing Bauer to a three-year deal that includes record-setting single-season salaries in the first two. The Mets are also betting they’ve dodged a howitzer shell by not signing Bauer to even the purely single-season deal the pitcher is known to prefer.

A starting rotation that already features Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, and David Price, plus two starter-capable swing pieces named Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin, just became a repository of depth approaching a season in which pitching depth is going to matter phenomenally.

Last year’s short irregular season left baseball’s pitching corps short enough of full-season regular work that there is and should be even more true alarm about pitcher health than usual approaching a more complete season. Bauer’s history of innings consumption wedded to May’s and Gonsolin’s availabilities gives the Dodgers room to manage the 2021 workloads of Kershaw, Buehler, Urias, and Price prudently.

Especially if they think the Bauer signing has indeed sent the message ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez says it sent: “There’s us, and then there’s everybody else.” And how. Not just in the pennant race. Bauer’s going to earn in one season than the entire payroll of the tanking Pirates. ESPN’s David Schoenfeld warns, though, that that isn’t exactly something new other than the dollar amounts in question.

Look, is it “fair”? No. But we haven’t had a repeat World Series champ since those 1998-2000 Yankees, low-payroll teams like Tampa Bay and Cleveland both reached the World Series in recent seasons, Kansas City won one, and even Pittsburgh had a nice little run there a few years ago. Yes, it’s a challenge for the Pittsburghs and Clevelands of the world, but good luck on finding a better system that satisfies the rich teams, the “poor” teams AND the players.

(There was such a system once upon a time, in fact. Then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn murdered it when he blocked the infamous Charlie Finley fire sale of three Athletics stars and imposed a $400,000 limit on cash sales of players. Kuhn didn’t stop to think that that now kept the “poor” teams from profiting on developing younger players without losing their abilities to return to competitiveness within shorter periods.)

It’s the other message the Bauer signing sends that has no few people alarmed, too. No, not the one about Bauer’s 2020 being a fluke even inside a fluke, which might be alarming enough. He only had one full season remotely comparable to 2020, back in 2018. He built his Cy Young 2020 almost entirely with bricks provided by weak competition: he faced .500+ teams only three times, and ten of his starts were against teams whose offenses were called “anemic” in charitable moods.

No, the other message alarming people is the antagonistic side. Bauer’s reputation isn’t exactly radar proof. His presence on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube has made him a social media star somewhat out of proportion to his career results despite his talent and his deep studies in how to maintain his health and develop his pitches. And he isn’t exactly Mr. Congeniality across those platforms.

“[H]e will need to both own up, and put an end to, social-media tactics that include harassment when he responds aggressively to fans and reporters on Twitter, particularly women, prompting his followers to attack those who challenge him,” another Athletic writer, Ken Rosenthal, observes.

Bauer has pledged to wield his platform more responsibly in the past, only to engage in such conduct again. Those around him say he cannot control the behavior of his followers, an empty claim that does not absolve him of responsibility. Frankly, he should have been capable of seeing the impact of his actions long ago.

He has made it clear he wants to be active on social media and cultivate a large audience, which he says is because he wants to help make baseball more exciting for younger fans. But by lashing out at his critics, he fails to recognize the power he has over that audience and its desire to defend him. Continuing that behavior is inexcusable.

Bauer’s prior written nastinesses toward women just might have backed the Mets away in the end.

Yes, the Mets might have made for their own super-rotation—plugging Bauer into a rotation featuring two-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom plus Carlos Carrasco, Marcus Stroman, and returning Noah Syndergaard. But their recent upendings involving ex-general manager Jared Porter’s and former manager Mickey Callaway’s sexual harassment text messagings past mean the last thing the Mets needed was a pitcher with a history of misogyny compromising their work toward improving conditions for women around the team.

Bauer won’t have things simpler in Los Angeles, even if he is native to the area. The Dodgers’ media market is almost as large as New York’s. He’ll be viewed with magnifying glasses and under microscopes at least as acute and relentless as he would have been in New York.

When the New York Post‘s Joel Sherman wrote two days ago that he wouldn’t sign Bauer but if the Mets must it should be just a single season worth, he had in mind that a single season would be simpler for the Mets to escape any damage to their brand inflicted by Bauer’s way of building his own.

Bauer’s behavior does not rise near the malfeasance that Porter copped to and is alleged against Callaway. But Sandy Alderson hired both Porter and Callaway. He said in the aftermath of both disturbing revelations that had he known prior, he would not have hired Porter or Callaway. He knows what he knows about Bauer. Now. Today.

. . . Bauer might be a terrific big personality for the Mets. But there is enough risk and concern that they should offer $40 million for one year to learn for themselves.

The defending world champion Dodgers also know what they know about Bauer. They’re taking a bigger chance against it exploding in their faces during a three-year deal—from which Bauer can opt out after either this season or next—than the Mets would have taken on a strictly single-year deal.

The Mets have it simpler now. Any money they might have spent on Bauer could now apply toward landing Jake Odorizzi, whom several analyses proclaim the best starter left on the free agency market, for the back of their rotation. Odorizzi isn’t a world-beating starter but he could be the right number five man for the Mets. Could.

They might apply some of that money, too, toward Jackie Bradley, Jr., whose bat hadn’t exactly been a world beater until showing signs of life last irregular season (Real Batting Average has him .484 lifetime) but who’s still a plus defender in center field with a knack for throwing runners out from center field and turning double plays, and enough defensive runs saved.

Bradley has room to improve as a hitter, too: he’s not a big home run threat historically (he averages eighteen home runs per 162 games lifetime), but 41 percent of what he does hit goes for extra bases. And he’s a road runner on the bases: he has an .811 lifetime stolen base percentage and has taken extra bases on followup hits almost half the time he’s reached base.

Let the balance between Bauer’s talent and his headaches be on the Dodgers’ heads. The Dodgers may be deep enough that Bauer’s headaches wouldn’t make a huge impact, but they could leave the Dodgers with as many migraines off the field as their presence on it will leave for the rest the National League West, at minimum.

Bauer raises a Red flag

2019-08-01 TrevorBauer

Bauer admits pitching hurt. The Reds need to get that out of his system like now.

A tantrum on the field is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes the beholder seeks the benefit of the doubt, sometimes the beholder couldn’t care less. The former will give you a pass based on your full picture, the latter will run you out of town post haste, most of the time.

Most, but not all.

When Jason Vargas threatened a reporter in Chicago in late June, after an already testy Mets media session in which the big question was why leave Seth Lugo in for a second relief inning when he was barely serviceable in the first, leading to a Mets loss, it should have been grounds to move him onward post haste.

But it wasn’t.

It took the Mets’ rookie general manager Brodie Van Wagenen over a month before getting rid of Vargas. Good thing for him the Mets began playing good baseball after the All-Star break. The bad news is that that hasn’t changed perceptions that Van Wagenen is in over his head.

Last year, when then-Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley pointed to his dugout seeking his manager’s help with a couple of contradictory umpire signals, then surrendered a home run in a ninth-inning outing he didn’t expect during a Nats blowout, he slammed his glove to the ground in frustration. Was it grounds to run him out like five minutes sooner?

It was, alas, as far as Nats GM Mike Rizzo was concerned.

And unlike Van Wagenen, who was too willing to give Vargas the benefit of the doubt, Rizzo couldn’t have cared less about Kelley’s thinking or mood in the moment. You’re either with us or you’re in the way. The Nats got the message the Mets should have gotten almost a year later.

Which brings us to Trevor Bauer.

When last seen in an Indians uniform, Bauer, fuming already over letting the Royals slap him around enough, saw manager Terry Francona come out of the dugout to lift him and winged the ball from the mound clear over the center field fence. It was the only time, as The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark (Hall of Fame baseball writer) observed with a wink, that Bauer ever threw something that sailed over the fence without being hit there.

The next thing you knew, Bauer was fined but not suspended by baseball government, but then he was traded to the Reds in a three-way deal announced the night before the new single trade deadline but not finalised until deadline day itself.

A talented pitcher whose brain oftentimes seems short of a critical resistor or two, Bauer knew at once how childish he’d been when he threw the ball. And Francona didn’t exactly deny that it had a big hand in making Bauer more likely to go than the trade rumours preceding the incident suggested.

“I had concerns what it could do to our team,” the manager told reporters Wednesday, after a loss to the Astros, “and I voiced those concerns. I would never, ever go tell [the front office] something, but they are good enough to always allow me my opinion, and you just try to do the best you can, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit worried.”

The Indians may or may not have known that they had something more to worry about than Bauer’s occasional tantrum or off-field foolishness. And Bauer himself has now suggested the Reds, his new team, who surrendered Yasiel Puig to the Tribe to get him, have a lot more to worry about than whether he has a few screws loose.

Admitting that you’re still trying to pitch through injuries big or small is very hazardous to your health and that of your team, old or new.

“It’s been really frustrating,” said Bauer, who was still with the Indians Wednesday. “One of the things I’m most proud about is I haven’t missed a start this year through two months of probably needing to be on the IL and probably should have missed some starts. I was able to get myself ready and take the ball.”

The injuries include back spasms and torn ankle ligaments, Bauer said. And if the Reds thought his temperament might have been a problem, they should wonder very acutely whether a pitcher risking further injury by trying to work with and despite injuries such as those isn’t risking his career and the team’s performances. And in that order.

The guts-and-glory crowd would probably want to give Bauer a medal for, you know, manning up and toughing it out. Well, now.

Last year Bauer led the American League in fielding-independent pitching rate with a sparkling 2.44, in hand with his 2.21 ERA. This year, Bauer’s FIP is 4.16 and his ERA is 3.79, and if he’s leading the league in innings pitched he also leads with fourteen hit batsmen—five more than all 2018. There was something clearly wrong with him this year. Now he’s copped to it.

The Nationals took no chances and sent Max Scherzer back to the injured list when a rhomboid muscle strain near the spot under his right shoulder that inflamed recently turned up Monday. Manager Dave Martinez said the team was taking no more chances than Scherzer wanted to take in getting back on the mound healthy.

Scherzer knows how foolish it is for even a workhorse like himself to play chicken with his physical condition. “I’ve always [prided] myself in getting out there and making 33, 34 starts,” the righthander said this week. “To not be out there is frustrating, but at the same time I feel fortunate . . . we’re not dealing with anything major here. “[We want] that right program of everything the back needs so that I can be completely durable and go out there and throw 100-plus pitches and recover.”

Of course the Nats aren’t as dismissive of even smaller injuries as have been other teams with other, more questionable cultures.

Bo Belinsky once revealed Gene Mauch took player injuries so personally that, when Belinsky was a brief Phillie, he noticed players downplaying or saying nothing about injuries for fear of the manager’s wrath. Belinsky himself turned up with an injured rib and tried pitching through it; Mauch contemptuously accused the notoriously rakish lefthander of incurring the injury while surfing in Hawaii in the off season.

Leo Durocher made Mauch seem like a kindly country doctor by comparison. One of the reasons his 1969 Cubs collapsed out of the pennant race may have been his nasty penchant for dismissing injured players as quitters. Enough so that assorted Cubs who’d been injured on the field likewise kept their mouths taped shut.

An earlier generation of Astros brain trust ignored J.R. Richard’s complaint of shoulder fatigue before the 1980 All-Star break. Shortly after the break, Richard suffered what proved his career-ending stroke. He also underwent thoracic outlet syndrome surgery—the same surgery that may yet put paid to Matt Harvey’s once-promising pitching career, the same surgery that was the net result of Harvey’s own shoulder fatigue.

Playing or pitching through injuries normally does more harm than good. Baseball’s past is littered with players of glandular promise ground down or out entirely because of injuries. Pete Reiser, Carl Erskine, Karl Spooner, Herb Score, Rocky Colavito, Ernie Broglio, Roger Maris, Tony Conigliaro, Dick Allen, Jim Maloney, Denny McLain, Mark (The Bird) Fidrych, Randy Jones, the Mets’ “Generation K” pitchers of the mid-1990s (Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, Paul Wilson) . . . the roll is thicker than the Harvard Classics.

Sandy Koufax—pitching his final two off-the-charts/out-of-this-universe seasons, and securing his peak-value Hall of Fame case, with an arthritic pitching elbow that compelled him to an insane-in-the-brain medication regimen—was a genuine outlier. Allen’s Hall of Fame case might have solidified sooner if injuries hadn’t kept him from a more respectable decline phase.

Hall of Famer Jim Palmer was so haunted by arm trouble after his fine 1966 rookie season (including beating Koufax in a World Series game), and apparent mishandling of it the next two seasons, that when he returned, he became one of the game’s greatest pitchers and most notorious hypochondriacs.

It drove his manager and teammates to drink as often as they respected his competitiveness on the mound. But just maybe Palmer’s hyperactive concern for his health (and he did incur a few more injuries as his career went on) made him a six-time pennant winner, a three-time World Series champion, and a Hall of Fame pitcher, and kept him on the mound until he finally had nothing left by spring 1984.

The Reds are kinda sorta on the fringe of the National League wild card race right now, though they’ve played a game under .500 ball since the All-Star break. Bauer becomes arbitration eligible this winter and can become a free agent after next year. If the Reds want to maximise his talent, they’d better have a sit down with him immediately, if not sooner.

And the message needs to be, “We can put up with your flakiness and your temperament, but if you think you’re going to keep pitching through injuries, buster, you’d better think again. Because we think more highly of you than that. And we need you healthy because we’ll be healthier if you’re healthy. So quit trying to play Ol’ Blood and Guts and start being smart when you get hurt.”

Heard of punching tickets out of town?

2019-07-30 YasielPuig

Yasiel Puig (66) didn’t instigate this Tuesday night brawl between the Reds and the Pirates. Neither did he know just yet that he’d just been traded to the Indians.

Well, now. Baseball government decided a fine but not a short ban was appropriate for Trevor Bauer after his Sunday afternoon tantrum. (“The last baseball Trevor Bauer threw for the Indians landed over the center-field fence,” crowed The Athletic‘s Hall of Fame baseball writer Jayson Stark. “And nobody even hit it!”)

The Indians may have decided otherwise.

They had more say in the three-way Tuesday evening deal that rid them of Bauer and brings them Yasiel Puig from the Reds than they had about Justin Verlander punching out thirteen Tribesmen en route the Astros shutting them out, 2-0.

But did the Indians elect to trade Bauer, in the deal also involving the Padres, because his reaction to surrendering a pile of runs and then manager Terry Francona coming out to lift him en route a loss to the Royals was to throw that ball over the fence?

And was some sort of cosmic mischief at play when Puig, still suited up for the Reds, found himself in the middle of a wild ninth-inning, bench-clearing brawl between the Reds and the Pirates that he had nothing to do with starting?

The three-way deal was announced while the Reds hosted and were being blown out by the Pirates. And, shortly before Reds relief pitcher Amir Garrett received a visit from pitching coach Derek Johnson in the top of the ninth.

Garrett had gotten Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman to ground out after serving pinch hitter Jose Osuna a two-seam fastball too meaty not to hit for a three-run homer that crowned what proved to be an 11-4 burial. But while Garrett was about to hand the ball off to Johnson—who was managing the Reds at the time, the circumstances behind which to come anon—a little chirping rom the Pirates dugout tripped Garrett’s trigger.

Apparently, it was Pirates pitcher Trevor Williams who chirped toward Garrett. Apparently, too, Garrett previously had words for Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, words some tweeters translated to be “[Fornicate] you!” And the next thing anyone saw, Garrett practically flew solo toward the Pirates dugout, fists flying with the intent of nailing anyone in Pirates’ colours, greeted by a swarm of Pirates with the equivalent intent of making sure he couldn’t get any piece of any of them.

The Reds were probably jolted enough at their man’s audacity that it took a couple of moments before they realised they weren’t seeing things and swarmed toward the Pirates swarm.

Puig was actually a late arrival to the dance. Late or no, he plunged into the swarm, apparently intent on getting Garrett the hell out of there by hook, crook, left hook, anything short of an ambulance populated by men and women in white coats armed with straitjackets.

And Puig probably didn’t know he wasn’t really a Red anymore.

The three-way deal sends Puig and minor league pitcher Scott Moss from the Reds to the Indians, Bauer from the Indians to the Reds, outfielder Taylor Trammell from the Reds to the Padres, and three Padres—Franmil Reyes (outfielder), Logan Allen (pitching prospect), and Victor Nova (minor league jack of most infield and outfield trades)—going to the Indians.

Puig and Reyes would make the Indians’ corner outfield that much more productive at the plate, since the pair of them have more home runs between them (49) than the combination of every players seen in the Indians’ outfield corners all season long. If Reyes was on pace to hit 40 bombs with pitcher-embracing Petco Park as his home playpen, Indians fans can only imagine and pray what he’ll hit with Progressive Field to call home.

But Puig was one of eight ejected as a result of the ninth-inning rumble in the Great American Ballpark jungle. It may be an open question as to whether he begins life with the Indians—a rental life at that, since he becomes a free agent for the first time after this season—on the field or on suspension.

All of a sudden, any of Bauer’s past transgressions, including but not limited to some pointed but slightly absurd accusations that Astros pitchers were putting a little too much pine tar on their pitching hands, seem like boys being boys compared to the Cincinnati gang war.

Keep in mind: the Pirates and the Reds aren’t exactly bosom buddies above and beyond common competition. The Pirates were a lot less than thrilled when Reds outfielder Derek Dietrich hit and couldn’t help admiring a pair of homers clean into the Allegheny River on their pitchers’ dollars, one of which triggered a brawl after Dietrich saw a Chris Archer pitch fly behind his head, prompting Puig to take on almost the whole Pirate roster.

The Pirates also make a lot of other people uncomfortable with their penchant for pitching inside as often as possible and even beyond. The Reds aren’t the only team in the game who think that what the Pirates call merely pitching inside is really headhunting.

“Hitters are crowding the plate more than ever to hit pitches on the outer corners,” observed Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Nubyjas Wilborn earlier in July. “[Pirates manager Clint] Hurdle and the Pirates want to own the whole plate, and that’s where part of the conflict exists.”

Tuesday night’s shenanigans began when Pirates reliever Keone (Drinkin’ Rum and Coca) Kela threw one up and in enough to Dietrich to trigger a little bristling among assorted Reds in the seventh, including Joey Votto, who had a few sweet nothings to deliver to Kela before home plate ump Larry Vanover urged Votto back to his own lair.

And part of this conflict may also have rooted in Vanover handing both sides warnings after Kela zipped Dietrich, denying the Reds at least a single unmolested opportunity to send a return message. Ignoring the warnings, apparently, Reds reliever Jared Hughes got himself a premature date with the clubhouse shower, when he drilled Starling Marte with the first pitch of the top of the ninth.

Which is how Garrett got into the game in the first place. In between both, Reds manager David Bell got himself the ho-heave when he objected to a strike call with Puig himself at the plate in the eighth. And soon enough came basebrawl.

Hell of a way for Hurdle to celebrate his birthday. Bell got himself into further trouble when, despite having been tossed from the game, he ripped out from the clubhouse to the field on behalf of his players, gave Hurdle a shove, got into and broke his way out of a headlock from Pirates batting coach Rick Eckstein, and barked a little bit at Hurdle.

Bell has his partisans and detractors, too. For every tweeter singing a variation on the theme of Bell “ejected earlier and back on the field being his usual clown self,” there was another singing a variation on the theme of “I would fight a [fornicating] war for David Bell.”

Things looked as though settling down before, for whatever reason, maybe a Pirate hollering what he thought was something out of line, Puig circled back toward the dissipating swarm for a very brief encore before he was finally lured away. He was one of eight Reds and Pirates ejected from the game before the Pirates could finish the 11-4 thrashing they’d begun.

The ejected included Hughes and Reds bench coach Freddie Benavides over the Marte plunk; plus, Garrett and Puig for the Reds; and, Pirates injury-list catcher Francisco Cervelli plus pitchers Williams, Archer, and Kyle (Up the) Crick.

Now the Indians get themselves a Puig-in-the-box who can play baseball brilliantly enough, when he’s firing on the proper cylinders and avoiding the temptations to rumble. The Reds get themselves a million dollar pitching arm attached to a brain that often impresses people appreciative of the pitching talent as being deprived of a few critical resistors.

Almost forgotten in the middle of the trade that didn’t rudely interrupt the Pirates and the Reds replaying The Wild Bunch is that the Padres may have gotten the sleeper of the deal in Trammell, a talented left fielder who’d been the Reds’ top rated prospect and the number 30 prospect in all baseball despite a somewhat slumping season this year at Double-A Chattanooga.

For curiosity’s sake alone, I ran a search for major league baseball players who’ve tangled in bench-clearing brawls while or at least on the same days they were traded. The search result didn’t answer the question directly. But the first result was a headline about Tuesday night’s tarantella. With Puig’s name leading the head.

Some precedents ought not to be wished.