Roots and Blues

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. takes Corbin Burnes across the Colorado state line in the All-Star Game. Manfred wants baseball back to its roots? How about also knocking off these hideous All-Star uniforms and letting the All-Stars represent their teams in their own uniforms again? It was good enough for the Home Run Derby, it should stay good enough for the All-Star Game.

Who are the faces of baseball today? Put the current injured lists to one side. Barring unforeseen complications or corollary issues, one and all on those lists now will be back either this season or next. Barring, too, one player of extraterrestrial achievement—you should spot the one most likely to produce it the rest of the year, too—it shouldn’t really be a singular face.

They should be players like Ronald Acuna, Jr., Pete Alonso, Mookie Betts, Shane Bieber, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Jacob deGrom, Rafael Devers, Freddie Freeman, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Clayton Kershaw, Trey Mancini, Shohei Ohtani, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Mike Trout, Brandon Woodruff.

Instead, the face of the game, singular, seems to be its ten-thumbed, two-left-feet, too-lawyerly-for-his-own good commissioner, a man who seems almost never to let pass a chance to let the stars shine in baseball’s sky without sending up a homemade cloud.

On Home Run Derby Night, the Coors Field audience and baseball nation transfixed upon Ohtani (the prohibitive favourite), Soto, Mancini (the sentimental favourite), Guerrero, and Alonso (the eventual winner), among others. During the All-Star Game—which the American League won, 5-2—Ohtani and company were at least as watchable and discussable as those missing in action due to health concerns might have been.

So, perhaps naturally, Rob Manfred stepped all over himself yet again. Asked whom he thought the face of baseball is today, Castellanos named Manfred. Informed of that designation, Manfred said no. Then, he dropped a few matters to indicate his lips said no-no but there was yes-yes in his eyes.

He told a Baseball Writers Association of America meeting the day of the All-Star Game, “I think anything that distracts from the attention being on what goes on in the field is a bad thing.” Unfortunately, Commissioner Nero—who’s spent too much of his commissionership fiddling while baseball seems to burn—went on to do just that.

Manfred could well enough have waited until after the All-Star Game, confined his remarks to the BBWAA to just his thought on “distraction” from the All-Star field, then said he’d talk a little more the day after if they were willing to listen. (And who wouldn’t have been?)

I’ve already discussed his thought that the doubleheader of seven-inning games might disappear after this season. (And, why I think keeping the idea is sound as a nut.) Manfred also spoke of disappearing the free cookie on second base (known to wags as “Manfred Man”) to open each extra half-inning, a disappearance devoutly to be wished. As would be the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. (Unless they enter during a jam and get rid of the side before batters two, three, or both appear.)

Unfortunately, Manfred didn’t address that third part, so far as I know. He must have been asleep at the switch the night Bryce Harper and Didi Grigorius got hit back-to-back by a fresh Cardinal reliever whose control took the night off but whose manager couldn’t relieve him legally until he faced his third batter.

The law of unintended consequences too often escapes Manfred’s lawyerly ways.

He also suggested he’d like to ban defensive overshifting, formally, as part of what he says is part and parcel of returning baseball “to its roots.” He suggests the owners are all in on that return, though long experience tells you that with most owners changes or restorations have less to do with the game itself and more to do with whether something means making money for it, which usually means for themselves.

Never mind that the shifts could and would be neutralised if teams start instructing their batters to take advantage of all that free real estate. Screw the unwritten rules. Just hit the ball onto it. Take first base on the house before the shifters can scramble for the ball. Even if the other guys have a no-hitter going to the final outs. I’ll say it again: you hand me that free territory with a no-hitter going, let your pitcher hold you to account when I show up on first on the house.

I’ll say it again: that, or an infield you know to be full of butchers enabling such base hits, should be the only time you want to see a widespread return of bunting. In all other situations, a bunt is a wasted out. Outs to work with are precious. Why waste a third of your inning’s resources and do the other guys such a favour?

You guessed it: I’m all in if Manfred really does bring the universal designated hitter back to stay in 2022. Guess which defensive position sports the Show’s worst slash line this year? (.109/.149/.142.) The worst OPS? (.291.) The most wasted outs? (No other positions show more than the catchers’ 40; these guys show 221.) A real batting average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by plate appearances) of .167?

Hint: Since the final decade of the dead ball era, they’ve hit a collective .166. Tell me how long a catcher, an infielder, or an outfielder would survive in the Show—if he was lucky enough to get to it at all—with that kind of hitting. Even if he was the defensive second coming (based on runs saved above their leagues’ averages at their positions) of Ivan Rodriguez, Keith Hernandez, Bill Mazeroski, Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson, Barry Bonds, Andruw Jones, or Roberto Clemente.

Manfred should consider the Pirates owner of 1891 who first proposed what we know now as the DH. About whose proposal a journal of the time, The Sporting Life, said in concurrence:

Every patron of the game is conversant with the utter worthlessness of the average pitcher when he goes up to try and hit the ball. It is most invariably a trial, and an unsuccessful one at that. If fortune does favor him with a base hit it is ten to one that he is so winded in getting to first or second base on it that when he goes into the box it is a matter of very little difficulty to pound him all over creation.

It wasn’t an invention of that nefarious American League. And if it hadn’t been for Chris (I am der boss pressident of der Prowns!) von der Ahe, reneging on a previous commitment to support William Chase Temple, when the idea came up at the next National League rules meeting, the NL would have had the honour of introducing what Pirates catcher-turned-Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack tried but failed to introduce to the AL fifteen years later.

If you want to see a little more leveling out between pitching and hitting, be advised that when the DH is used this year (by AL teams, and by NL teams playing interleague in the AL Park) the DHs have the best OPS (.767) in Show at this writing. If you want more “strategy”—and you won’t throw things at me when I remind you that 95 percent of all “strategy” is plotted before the game begins—you should prefer that number-nine batting order slot go to either a second cleanup type or an extra leadoff type.

“Returning baseball to its roots” can be tricky. Even if it suggests Manfred might finally be willing to quit trying to prove that the birth child of that backstreet affair between Rube Golberg and the Mad Hatter should be a baseball executive.

It depends on the roots to which you want to return. How about eliminating regular-season interleague play? How about eliminating the wild card system that’s produced the thrills and chills of teams fighting to the last breath to finish . . . in second place?

How about a best-of-three division series with each league’s best first-place finisher having a bye while the other two winners slug it out? How about returning the League Championship Series to the best-of-five of its birth and childhood? How about thus eliminating October saturation and restoring the World Series to its proper primacy?

Unfortunately, those beg one further question right now: Since Manfred can’t seem to find the right way to make serviceable, field-leveling baseballs (easier to look into an acceptable stickum for pitcher grips, as he’s also doing), how far above his pay grade would those and other reasonable moves really prove?

Back to baseball’s roots? Be gone, hideous 2021 All-Star uniform! The threads (especially the American League’s “road” blue) made the horrific 1970s single-colour pajamas of some teams resemble something from Pierre Cardin. If players wearing their own uniforms, representing their teams, is good enough for the Home Run Derby, it’s still good enough for the All-Star Game.

Where have you gone, Bart Giamattio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

Enough is way beyond enough, already

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty in discomfort after fouling off an outer-edge pitch in the sixth Monday. He grimaced with gritted teeth as he swung—and could face IL time with an oblique strain.

Bad enough: Someone had to drag it out of Jacob deGrom that his freshly-ended stay on the Mets’ injured list came because he strained his side while . . . swinging the bat. Worse, now: Jack Flaherty could miss a start at minimum for the Cardinals now that he’s got an apparent rib cage injury after he dinged it . . . swinging the bat.

As if the overall futility of pitchers swinging at the plate isn’t enough reason to implement the universal designated hitter. (Anyone who says deGrom with his .450 hitting average isn’t an outlier is either blind or willfully ignorant.) The injury risk isn’t just someone’s equally perverse fantasy.

Flaherty was pitching well enough against the Dodgers Monday evening when he batted against Trevor Bauer in the top of the sixth. He swung with a slight lunge at an outer-edge pitch on 0-1 and fouled it off, a clenched-teeth grimace very visible on his face as he swung. Then he hopped around the plate area in plain discomfort.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt took no chances. After Flaherty struck out looking, Shildt lifted him from the game at once. With a 2.90 ERA, a 9.7 strikeout-per-nine-inning rate, and a 1.03 walks/hits per inning pitched rate, Flaherty is the one Cardinals starting pitcher above all whom Shildt cannot afford to lose for any length of time.

The good news was the Cardinals dropping a three-spot on Bauer in the inning: Justin Williams leading off with a home run off the right field foul pole; then, after Tommy Edman reached on a throwing error, Dylan Carlson hitting one over the center field fence.

The bad news was the Dodgers jumping the Cardinals bullpen for four in the bottom of the sixth to re-take the lead. Max Muncy’s one-out double against reliever Ryan Helsley was followed a base hit later by another Cardinal reliever, Genesis Cabrera, walking Cody Bellinger to load the pads, then walking Will Smith to re-tie the game at three, striking Gavin Lux out looking, but surrendering a three-run double on the fifteenth pitch to Chris Taylor before . . .

Well, now. What was that Thomas Boswell wrote two years ago about getting tired of watching rallies killed by the cop-out of pitching around competent number eight hitters to strike out the opposing pitcher? Cabrera put Dodger second baseman Zach McKinstry aboard and then struck Bauer himself out for the side. “In the AL,” Boswell wrote then, “you must pitch your way out of a jam, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Flaherty’s batting injury threw a stone into Shildt’s gears. The righthander working in front of a hometown crowd had surrendered two runs on back-to-back solo bombs but checked in at the sixth-inning plate after wiping out eight straight Dodgers including one string of five straight strikeouts. Then Flaherty went from cruise control to road hazard with one swing.

Barring unforeseen circumstances there was no way the manager wanted to go that early to the bullpen that leads the entire Show with 120 walks this season. They’ve also walked more batters with the bases loaded (fifteen) than they’ve surrendered hits (fourteen) with ducks on the pond.

“I felt a little tightness, and it was more just felt we should check it out more than anything,” said Flaherty during a post-game press conference. “A little bit of tightness I felt, and thought it was something to bring up. More just to be safe . . . I’m sitting here just fine. I’ll get up out of this chair just fine. I’m moving around all right. I don’t ever leave games. I don’t ever come out of games. It was just something just wanted to check out.”

That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it, never mind that averaging five and two thirds innings per start this year he comes out of games, all right, just never during a working inning. He felt the little bit of tightness first while pitching the fifth. Then after swinging on that foul tick it looked like enough that Shildt decided enough was enough.

“The tightness is in the torso,” wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Derrick Goold, “and the concern will be that Flaherty has an injury to the oblique that could lead to a lengthy absence. He was being re-evaluated late Monday night, and it’s likely the team will have scans taken of his torso.”

If those scans show further damage than just a little tightness, it’s disaster for the Cardinals as well as for Flaherty. They’re in second place and half a game behind the Cubs in the NL Central despite the Cubs leading the Show with their current injured list population.

We’re not exactly talking about one of the great hitting pitchers here, either. Flaherty’s hitting average is .125 this season. Jacob deGrom he ain’t. Not on the mound, of course, as good as he is out there, but especially not at the plate.

The entire Cardinal pitching staff is hitting .070 this season to date. The team is fifteenth in Show for runs scored and runs allowed, but you might see them a little higher for runs scored if they didn’t have to waste plate appearances with those .070-hitting pitchers.

DeGrom’s Mets are rock bottom in the entire Show for runs allowed. They’re also at rock bottom for runs scored, alas. Think they might have a few more runs on the board if their pitchers didn’t have to drag their happy hides to the plate? The Mets’ pitchers are hitting .167 as of this morning’s stats. Remove deGrom and it wouldn’t be that high by a long shot.

You tell me which is more important to the Mets or any team—a .450-hitting pitcher who’s a too-obvious outlier among his breed? Or, a pitcher whose 0.71 ERA (with a 1.08 fielding-independent pitching rate) could hold up all season long and leave him in a league of his own? (DeGrom isn’t shown atop the leaderboards for ERA and FIP only because—with the Mets having played only 46 games, plus his IL turn—he’s pitched only 51 innings so far; or, just shy of seven innings a start.)

Commissioner Nero decided last year’s universal DH wouldn’t be this year’s at minimum. The issue will return to the table when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after this season. Some say the days of NL pitchers hitting will end there. Some say not quite yet. Those days deserve to end permanently at last.

From the end of the 20th Century’s first decade through the end of the 21st Century’s first decade, pitchers overall have hit .155. They’ve made Willy Miranda resemble Willie Mays. Do Nero and the chump contingent insisting that pitchers taking turns at the plate means “real” baseball need more evidence on behalf of ending the National League’s “traditional” refusal of the designated hitter? (Which really amounts to refusing an idea that was first hatched by one of its own owners before the turn of the 20th Century.)

Try just two items to start:

* Continuing regular-season interleague play makes a further mockery of that NL “tradition,” since pitchers have to bat when such games are played in the NL team’s park but NL pitchers get a breather at the plate when the games are played in the AL parks.

(Incidentally, 2020’s pan-damn-ically inspired irregular season was the first time the leagues tied in regular-season interleague play. Since the virus was introduced in 1997, the American League has fanned the National League’s behind: 3,315-3,047. The National League has led in interleague play only four times since 1997 and not once since 2003.)

* This season’s slash line at the plate for all Show pitchers as of this morning is .108/.145/ .140. The slash line for National League pitchers at the plate as of this morning: .107/.145/.137. Now, remove deGrom from the picture—the NL’s pitchers would be hitting .101.

Go ahead, call for continuing to send outlier deGrom to the plate for a lousy six-point hike in the pitchers’ overall hitting average. In a year where nobody can really decide what to think about offense and how declined it is in the first place.

In a year when deGrom has spent time on the injured list because of a plate appearance,  Flaherty is now in danger of spending likewise because of one, and Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gallen is missing “weeks” due to an ulnar collateral ligament strain he first incurred during late spring training . . . taking batting practise.

You want to continue risking pitcher health through non-pitching injury? You really want to continue watching pitchers not named Jacob deGrom (or even further-outlying Shohei Ohtani—who doesn’t bat on his pitching days normally and damn well shouldn’t) wasting precious outs at the plate? You really want to keep watching rallies die when the opposing pitcher pitches around your good number eight batter to strike your pitcher’s ass out?

Be my guest. If “traditionalists” don’t care about exposing themselves as baseball bigots by rejecting real evidence on behalf of lamely-excused prejudice, neither do I.

———————————-

Situation update: Jack Flaherty did indeed hit the ten-day injured list Tuesday—with an oblique strain that may keep him out more than ten days or “just a couple of weeks.” Was it worth it for a foul tick followed by a called strikeout?

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.

No 2021 expanded postseason or universal DH. Guess which one should stay—forever.

Marcell Ozuna, one of the men who helped the Braves’ 2020 designated hitters out-hit the rest of the Show’s.

The good news, as reported by The Athletic Wednesday evening: last year’s expanded-to-the-stretching-point major league postseason won’t happen this year—so far. The bad news, as reported by the same journal’s Evan Drellich: neither will the universal designated hitter return this year—so far.

I say “so far” because Drellich says reversals can never be ruled out, even though “both sides are proceeding as though there will not be any last-minute addition of the DH in the National League, or additional playoff teams from the current field of 10, for 2021.”

Here’s to hoping at least one reversal among the two is ruled in—and that it won’t be another expanded postseason past the customary three division winners and two wild cards in each league, either.

That’s the one that was agreed upon at the eleventh hour last year, after the owners tried pulling a few fast renegings on previous season agreements with the players and the players told them, appropriately, where to shove them. The one that ended up including two teams with losing records into the postseason at all.

Sound thinking required the hope that some way, some how, the Astros (29-31) and the Brewers (29-31 likewise) would bump, nudge, elbow, shove, kick, and bop their way past all comers and face each other in last year’s World Series. The reason: it would have shown only too vividly the absurdity of allowing losers or at least so many lesser winners (including the Astros and Brewers, there were ten wild card teams in the rounds) to even think about playing for a championship.

I’m not married till death do us part to tradition for its own sake, even in baseball. There have been traditions worth keeping and traditions worth sending to the place where the Edsel reposes and where the ball point pen, the bagless vacuum cleaner (go ahead, tell me you just love getting a faceful of dust when you empty the cup and those mounds of dirt hit the rest of the trash and recoil), and artificial baseball turf ought to repose.

Sound championship competition doesn’t deserve to end. “The players are concerned an expanded postseason harms competition,” Drellich writes, “disincentivizing teams from adding talent they would otherwise pursue for a chance to crack a smaller field. The league believes the effect would be the opposite, that the format would encourage teams to upgrade in an effort to claim additional spots.”

The players know the owners only too well. It would be nice, however, if they’d also speak up for two further points: 1) The more expanded the postseason remains, the greater chance for saturation than existed already, something you’d think the broadcasters buying postseason baseball would enunciate as well. 2) The harm to competition goes a lot deeper than just removing incentives for teams to improve on the fly.

If anything, the format rudely interrupted by last year’s pan-damn-ically provoked irregular season deserves to be reduced further. There’s already been a postseason saturation factor for a long enough time. There’s also no reason why the World Series should remain practically just another playoff round.

As things turned out, the two winningest teams in last year’s irregular seasons did wrestle their way to the World Series, and the Dodgers won it (at last!) in six gripping games. I say “winningest” instead of “best” because, in several ways, the irregular season stopped enough teams short of the chance they’d have had in a full season to re-horse and rise from the dead a la the 2019 Nationals. (19-31 after 23 May; 74-38 the rest of the season and, oh yes, they won the World Series.)

But wouldn’t real fans prefer to see a postseason such as what I’ve said before but will say again, and as often as necessary?

* If we must have three-division leagues, the wild cards should be eliminated and the division winner with the best season record should get a round-one bye while the other two division winners play a best-of-three division series.

* The bye team and the division series winner should play in a best-of-five League Championship Series. (There was a tradition worth keeping: from its 1969 birth through 1984, the LCS was a best-of-five.)

* The primacy of the best-of-seven World Series would be restored appropriately. The postseason saturation factor would likely reduce to zero. Teams would no longer have several disincentives, including and especially working toward playing for the thrills, chills, and spills of fighting to the last breath to finish . . . in second place.

Now, about that universal designated hitter. Bringing it aboard last year was as much a question of assuring pitchers’ health further as a question of sound baseball playing. Still.  “The DH in both leagues has long been of interest to the union,” Drellich writes, “because it means an additional talent set that teams would pay for and pursue.”

That’s only half right. Teams probably would pursue off-season free agents they might not think about otherwise in the instances of players whose defense is dubious but whose bats are true weapons. But speaking technically, absent a team signing a Marcell Ozuna or a Nelson Cruz the universal DH wouldn’t add jobs so much as create them for the incumbent pine riders whose defense would have them on trial for treason but whose bats would add runs to the scoreboard.

Incidentally, and I discovered it last October, the designated hitters in the National League (one of whose owners thought of the idea in the first place, in 1891)  out-hit the American League’s, and the Braves’ DHs out-hit everybody else’s. (The Braves’ DHs slashed .316/.411/.589 and a 1.000 OPS. They also hit more home runs than anyone else’s except the Twins’.) Did I mention again that six of the top ten teams’ DHs for OPS were National League teams?

Tell me now that you’d rather return and keep permanent all those .130/.161/.165-slashing  National League pitchers wasting a lineup spot that could be deployed better with solid bats—maybe even a second cleanup hitter or a technically extra leadoff type which, by the way, has been tried and not found wanting.

Tell me you absolutely must continue a lineup spot filled with batters who’ve hit about .166 on average from the advent of the live ball era through the end of the 21st century’s first decade. Show me one position player who’s going to have a major league job hitting like that even if he might be the second coming of Mark Belanger with the leather.

Tell me it was really worth all that waste just to have seen Bartolo Colon hit one out at long enough last, and to have watched him run it out like a pregnant hippopotamus on feet flatter than the first five lines of a Rob Manfred speech.

Tell me again Thomas Boswell was wrong when he wrote, “It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Tell me it’s worth it to see a pitcher at the plate when no few pitchers have had careers interrupted, compromised, or ruined because of mishaps swinging or running the bases. (Sandy Koufax, Carlos Zambrano, Adam Wainwright, Steven Wright, Chien-Ming Wang, Masahiro Tanaka, Jacob deGrom, for openers, call your offices.)

You want to say those are outliers or aberrations? So are Don Drysdale being the 1965 Dodgers’ arguable best hitter, Madison Bumgarner hitting a pair of Opening Day home runs, and Shohei Ohtani, period—though Ohtani won’t be batting on the days he pitches. Try again.

The owners recently tried to strong-arm the players into accepting the continuing expanded postseason if they wanted the universal DH that badly. The players told them, politely but firmly, where they could shove that trade-off. Both sides should be thinking not of trade-offs but of sound baseball and the overall good of the game—which isn’t the same thing as merely making money for it or for them.

Baseball government letting the National League continue standing upon a nebulous tradition isn’t as grave or as grotesque as Kenesaw Mountain Landis allowing the major league game to remain segregated until the days after he died. But the time for ending the NL’s nebulous “tradition” is long past. The universal DH is sound, smart baseball the way expanded postseasons are not. It’s long past time to bring it aboard to stay.

The players spurn the universal DH—for now

Marcell Ozuna is just one DH-type player in a tough 2020-21 market with the universal DH still off the table.

No, the Major League Baseball Players Association didn’t shoot themselves in the proverbial foot when they spurned the universal designated hitter this time. They want it, as should every rational baseball fan. But it’s wise to wish they’d spurned it for the best reason.

The owners were willing to let the universal DH remain permanent and not just a 2020 irregular season experiment—if the players would agree to permanently-expanded postseasons. How very big of them. The players told the owners to stuff that trade.

“Both the league and union seem to agree a universal DH is a good idea, in part because pitchers, if prevented from hitting, no longer could get injured swinging for a hit or running the bases,” observes The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal. “But the league, viewing the creation of fifteen DH jobs as an economic gain for the players, wants a tradeoff. It initially suggested enacting the universal DH in exchange for the players agreeing to an expanded postseason for 2021, a concept the union rejected.”

The players know that further expanded postseasons equal further contracted competition for player signings and even trades. They know further expanded postseasons equal the next best thing to a de facto salary cap. They know further expanded postseasons equal more excuses for tanking.

So the players sacrificed something short distance that would mean a little more money in their pockets, in order to prevent something else that might take a lot more money out of players pockets long distance. Enough of the owners exposed themselves, yet again,  as refusing plain common baseball sense on behalf of continuing to make money for themselves regardless of their product’s viability.

Those owners are witless to comprehend the continuing dilution of championship play that postseasons already long expanded brought before last season’s dismal experiment of sixteen-team league postseason entries. How can we expect them to comprehend the value of the permanent universal designated hitter?

They might not be terribly impressed with arguing, well, forget the payroll question a moment and consider the play on the field. You know, the thing you’re selling in the first place. But the players and the game’s real fans should be.

This winter’s snail’s pace free agency market was a drag enough without a small but considerable group of men past their fielding prime but still loaded with hits in their bats augmenting it. Commissioner Rob Manfred’s indecisiveness on consecrating the universal DH for all time helps leave those men in limbo and those owners’ teams bereft of fortified real offense.

With the permanent universal DH off the table for one more year at least, players such as Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion, and Marcell Ozuna couldn’t draw a bead on their real market values this winter. Among other league-wide dilemmas, the Mets still have to juggle to keep both Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith in the lineup. As MLB Trade Rumors writer Steve Adams noted, “NL teams are left to build a lineup and a roster without knowing whether they’ll have a spot for an extra hitter.” They know now.

According to NBC Sports, six teams including three National League clubs have eyes on Ozuna. “[M]aybe one of the biggest reasons the Braves are balking on [trying to re-sign] Ozuna at the moment,” writes Jake Mastroianni of the FanSided journal Tomahawk Take, “is because his defense was even worse than they thought when they signed him last offseason.” Other NL clubs would feel a lot more comfortable adding him as a DH since Ozuna at best is a replacement-level defender.

The owners need less poison pills and more vision.

Never mind the American League teams playing this market slow enough when they’ve had the DH since the Nixon Administration. You’d think National League owners in need of more men on base or more men to drive in the runs would have stepped up and decided taking every chance to get more runs on the board than the other guys is worth ending the tradition one of their own ancestors wanted to end the year Carnegie Hall opened.

You’d think NL owners would be relieved at last not to have to risk their pitchers’ health on the rare occasions they reach base or their pitchers’ subsequent effectiveness in games during which they reach base, somehow. You’d think the money-conscious owners would want to preserve their seven-figure annual investments in good pitchers by enabling the rule that would let them sign still-useful veteran bats for half that much.

You’d also think those owners would be sick and tired at last of watching Jello bats hogging the number nine lineup slot to hit about .166 over the past century worth of Show baseball. Bad enough the so-called purists also continue whining about not just one of the nebulous sides of “tradition” but the nebulous side of preserving “strategy” that means keeping a batting order spot available for the most automatic out in baseball this side of Mario Mendoza.

Quick: Ask them how swiftly they’d sign a .166-hitting position player even if he could play the field like Keith Hernandez, Bill Mazeroski, Mark Belanger, Brooks Robinson, Barry Bonds, Andruw Jones, or Roberto Clemente. According to how many defensive runs saved above their league averages they were, those are the greatest fielders at all non-battery positions in baseball history. All but one of whom could hit a bit. A few of whom could hit a lot.

Want the answer? See you in about a hundred years, if that soon.

Belanger was the worst hitter among the foregoing group of defensive virtuosi. No questions asked. He had 22 intentional walks in his eighteen-season career and nineteen of them came when he batted eighth in the lineup. Guess I have to come right out and say it. Opponents didn’t hand him first base on the house because he was liable to hit a three-run homer and they’d rather have chanced lesser bats doing the clutch hitting.

They put Belanger on so they could rid themselves of the Jim Palmers, Mike Cuellars, Dave McNallys, and Pat Dobsons for side retired. In Year One B.D.H. (1972), that redoubtable Oriole starting rotation hit a death-defying .161 together and—for those who still think strikeouts are worse than hitting into double plays—struck out 151 times between them.

Palmer was the most consistent hitter of the group with a whopping .224 traditional batting average. Unless you’ve got that man who’s a human Electrolux in the field, or unless you’re a tanking masochist, you’re not going to sign .224 hitters for the rest of your batting order or bench any time soon if you can help it.

So why would you insist on keeping a group that hit .166 over the past century in that number nine slot? I say again: you want “strategy,” why wouldn’t you want that spot opened up for a possible second cleanup-type hitter or a possible extra leadoff-type hitter? It’s been tried before and, when you put the right bats in in those roles, it pays off handsomely enough.

I’d rather the players spurned a deal of the universal DH for permanent further expanded postseasons because the already-expanded postseason has already diluted real championship competition. Because they were sick at the sight of even an irregular season sending six second place teams, three third-place teams, one fourth-place team, and two teams with losing records to the championship rounds.

“[I]f the bar to reach the postseason is lowered, some clubs won’t feel as compelled to spend for an extra couple of wins to push themselves over the top,” Adams observes, appropriately. “The margin for error is much greater when nearly half (or even more than half) of the teams in the game qualify for postseason play than it is when only a third of clubs do. That’s especially true when at any given point, there are a handful of teams tanking and actively doing everything they can not to win games.”

Sometimes the players, too, have to remind themselves that the common good of the game is more than just making money for or in it. Maybe while negotiating the next collective bargaining agreement they’ll push for the universal DH for all the right reasons. While they’re at it, maybe they’ll tell the owners and Commissioner Nero not to even think about making it contingent upon what’s good for the owners but bad for baseball.