The Book of Ecdysiastes 1, 3, and 4

Max Scherzer

“I’m so happy I could just strip!”

“In the name of God and His servant Preacher Roe, just what the hell did Joe Girardi think he was doing out there tonight?” That was Gunko Gluedius on the Zoom. He was watching the Phillies play the Nationals Tuesday.

He couldn’t believe Max Scherzer came straight from the injured list and onto the suspect list. Three times in the same game.

“The TSA isn’t this freakazoid when they run you through the airport security checks,” I said, as calmly as I could. I know Gunko. He’s a pitching freak. It’s almost the only part of baseball he really loves. The other part is watching people like Anthony Fauci throw ceremonial first pitches sideways while aiming forward.

“No, they’re not,” Gunko replied. “Not with me, anyway. I had to fly to Seattle last week. I didn’t have the pre-check pass but they still didn’t think I should be peeled like a banana.”

Sometimes Scherzer looks like a fellow who’s spent as much time under the old-fashioned automotive grease rack as he’s spent on the mound. Sometimes he looks like a fellow who spent too much time cleaning the oven so his wife could have a big break.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s given to keeping anything like Goop, Pennzoil, Easy-Off, or pieces of Brillo hidden around his assorted anatomy.

He didn’t have to be thrilled about it, but he knew going in he’d be checked after his first inning’s work. But then Girardi decided to get cute. Especially with the Nats holding a 3-1 lead after three, the lone Phillies run to that point courtesy of former Nat Bryce Harper hitting a down and in cutter up and out into the right field seats in the second.

After a clearly unamused Scherzer stood for his second mandatory random search of the game in the third, Girardi asked the umpires to check Max the Knife again in the fourth.

“I bet that’s the only time in baseball history a manager decided to punish a pitcher for surrendering a bomb to his guy,” Gunko joked. I’m not necessarily sure he’ll win that bet.

As soon as he realised the fourth inning warrant was sworn out and being delivered, any amount of cute left Scherzer’s person at once. He thrust his hat and his glove to the ground. Then he opened his belt with such a savage yank there must have been those fearing for a split second that he was going to peel himself like a banana.

You thought the Citi Field people missed an opportunity by not playing “The Pink Panther Theme” when Jacob deGrom had the honour of first come, first frisked under the Show’s new this-time-we-mean-it-until foreign substance crackdown?

The Citizens Bank Park people should have had that classic from the Book of Ecdysiastes on cue and ready to blast, bump, grind, and growl. Right down to the last trombone.

“I bet you every woman in the house would have coughed up double the price of their tickets to see Scherzer drop trou–and anything else he could think of,” Gunko crowed.

Unless his wife would cough up triple the going price to have divorce papers drawn up on the spot. Grounds? Since Max the Knife isn’t exactly reputed to be one of baseball’s heretofore-unconfirmed cheaters, I’d hazard the guess it would be on the grounds of unaccounted for exhibitionism outside the marital home.

But perhaps Mrs. Scherzer instead would lead the cheers. “Get it, honey, Get it! Show ’em what I know you’re made of!”

Obviously, not even pitching and surviving Game Seven of a World Series with nothing left to throw but meatballs, grapefruits, and canteloupes up to the plate after a neck issue almost took him out showed enough of what Scherzer’s made of.

Remember, the Phillies’ pitchers had to be stopped and frisked, too. Except that Nationals manager Dave Martinez isn’t the kind of guy who’d have had three warrants per pitcher per game sworn out.

He’d better not be. When Scherzer got the third stop-and-frisk order of the night, Martinez looked more ready to file brutality charges than Scherzer did.

Maybe Martinez remembered the night Girardi was managing the Yankees and his starting pitcher Michael Pineda got caught and suspended for suspicious ring around the neck.

“Did you see Scherzer hollering, ‘I got nothing! I got nothing!’ when he got searched the third time?” Gunko hollered to me. Of course I did. It was easier to read Scherzer’s lips than the first George Bush’s.

If you think the pitchers were trying to get away with murder with their new fashioned medicated goo before—and just maybe they were doing it not to be cute but to deal with Commissioner Nero’s incessant ball tinkering the last few years—beware the managers trying to get away with murder for using their newly-conferred freedom to file ball police complaints not to uncover contraband but to live and rattle rent-free in a pitcher’s head.

They can be sent to bed without their supper for it, too. Not just after Girardi got sent there after Scherzer stared him down cold following the fourth-inning flap. It’s in the memo:

Please note that a manager will be subject to discipline if he makes the request in bad faith (e.g., a request intended to disrupt the pitcher in a critical game situation, a routine request that is not based on observable evidence, etc.)

“Oh, that’s cute,” said Gunko when I read that portion to him. “Bad faith, huh? That’s about as clear as a glass of water from the East River.”

“I haven’t had a glass of water from the East River since Bill Clinton was still in the White House, Gunko. But it’s right there. This isn’t supposed to become downright harassment.”

By that time, the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins made the score 3-2 with a healthy belt on a highball out over the left center field fence off Nats reliever Tanner Rainey. Somehow, another Nats reliever, Brad Hand, survived the bases loaded and one out in the ninth to escape with his and the Nats’ lives.

By that time, too, up in New York, Yankee pitcher Jonathan Loaisiga got frisked on a warrant—after pitching two thirds of the eighth inning and getting battered like a pinata on five hits for four earned Royals runs. Why were those umps patting Loaisiga down—for not using the naughty sauce properly?

And where were the Oakland Coliseum PA people when Athletics relief pitcher Sergio Romo almost did what Scherzer couldn’t quite bring himself to almost do—drop trou after finishing the seventh, but only far enough to let his long jersey keep him covered? Not even two bars of “The Happy Organ.”

“Let’s talk about bad faith,” Gunko urged. “You ever heard of the cop who pulls a driver over for a taillight issue and uses it as an excuse to have the poor sap’s car searched and stripped without a warrant? Don’t tell me there’s a manager alive who wouldn’t dream up a taillight issue for an excuse to have a pitcher stripped, searched, and slammered.”

I wouldn’t dare tell Gunko that. It’s right there, in Ecdysiastes 1, 3, and 4.

The Nats extend an Opening Day first-pitch invite

President-elect Joe Biden and his wife Jill, in Phillies gear, watching a game at Citzens Bank Park.

When Donald Trump first took the job he will vacate in January, the Washington Nationals hastened to invite him to throw out a ceremonial Opening Day first pitch. At least, the team and the White House were in “talks” toward arranging it. The then-new president seemingly hastened not to accept the invitation thanks to a “scheduling conflict.”

That was then, this is now. Trump is on the threshold of departing office as only the second sitting American president not to throw out a ceremonial first pitch at any major league baseball game since William Howard Taft introduced the practise in the first place. Who would have thought Trump shared common ground with Jimmy Carter?

President-elect Joe Biden is known to be a longtime Philadelphia Phillies fan but not otherwise sinister on a personal level. (He likes to joke that being a Phillies fan allows him to sleep with his wife.) That didn’t stop the Nationals from extending him a post-victory invitation to come to Nationals Park, just about any old time he chooses, Opening Day preferably, and throw out a ceremonial first pitch.

Spotting the invitation on Twitter myself during a Saturday visit, I couldn’t resist replying to the Nats as I’d replied to Jesse Dougherty, the Washington Post‘s Nationals beat writer: Biden should do well throwing out such a first pitch. He won at last by standing on the mound with the bases loaded, two out, and a full count in the bottom of the ninth, and freezing Trump with a called strike three on the low outside corner.

“[Biden] was up by 4 million+ runs, so not a save situation,” tweeted one respondent. No, but I probably should have made clear that Biden and Trump dueled in a complete game that went to extra innings before Biden finally delivered the game-ending strikeout.

Complete games have become baseball outliers over a longer period of time than stubborn baseball “traditionalists” want to admit or care to research. (The last time half or more of a season’s games were complete games: 1922; the last time forty percent or more were such games: 1946; the last time thirty percent of more were such games: 1959.) So don’t fault the respondent for not knowing one when he saw one.

Biden/Trump wasn’t quite analogous to the most fabled extra-innings complete game, between Harvey Haddix and Lew Burdette in 1959, but the Biden/Trump game in presidential politics is even more of an outlier than was Haddix taking a perfect game to the bottom of the thirteenth.

Trump, of course, pitched the extra innings under protest. No few of his arguments compared to the kind a frustrated 1960 Yankee fan might have made, when he or she noticed the Yankees out-scored the Pittsburgh Pirates (55-27) in the World Series the Pirates won and proclaimed thus that those Yankees were the true Series winners. Well, no, they weren’t.

Those Yankees weren’t exactly outliers, either. Eighteen other teams in World Series history have out-scored the opposition while losing the Series. The Yankees themselves had three other such Series, in 1957 (they out-scored the Braves by two), 1964 (they out-scored the Cardinals by one), and 2003. (They out-scored the Marlins by four.) They’ve also been outscored in three Series (1962, 1977, 1996) they won.

But I digress. Give Trump credit where due: he may have performed the most unusual first-pitch ceremony of all time in September 2004. Invited to throw out the first pitch for the Somerfield (NJ) Patriots, Trump audaciously landed his corporate helicopter in center field, then strode to the mound to wind up and throw. For the record, he threw something arriving just under the floor of the strike zone that might have meant a swinging strikeout in actual competition. Might.

Trump did interrupt a coronavirus briefing from the White House in July to say he’d be throwing a first pitch out at Yankee Stadium come 15 August, before a game between the Empire Emeritus and the Boston Red Sox. The president spoke about an hour and a half before Dr. Anthony Fauci threw one out at Nationals Park on baseball’s pandemically-delayed Opening Day. (We do mean “out”: Fauci’s pitch would have been a strike . . . if the low outside corner was more adjacent to the on-deck circle than the plate.)

It proved to be news to the Yankees, more or less; they told reporters the president hadn’t actually been given an invitation for that date. Trump countered that he’d gotten the invite straight from the Yankees’ team president Randy Levine, who’d once been rumoured to be on Trump’s list of candidates for his White House chief of staff.

Levine didn’t affirm or deny, but another Yankee official said subsequently that the invite was on. The invite may have been on but that Trump first pitch ended up not happening.

Biden has said since his win that he’d like to work in a bipartisan spirit as best as possible in (speaking politely) contentious Washington. I have a suggestion for the president-elect and the Nats that might show he means business when Opening Day arrives next April.

He could do as then-president George W. Bush did when major league baseball returned to Washington in 2005. Bush was presented a unique baseball to throw for the ceremonial first pitch, owned by the late Washington Senators relief pitcher Joe Grzenda, who’d saved it from the final Senators game, ever.

Grzenda intended to throw that ball to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke at the plate, with two out and the Senators looking to say farewell with a 7-5 win on 30 September 1971. Thanks to heartsick Senators fans bursting the fences, swarming the field, leaving the RFK Stadium field and scoreboard resembling the remains of a terrorist attack, and forcing the umpires to forfeit the game to the Yankees, Grzenda never got to pitch to Clarke.

But he kept the ball and, at long enough last, got the invite to throw it as a first pitch in RFK in 2005 before the freshly transplanted (from Montreal) Nationals opened for new business. Instead, he handed the ball to Bush, likewise clad in a Nationals jacket, and Bush—ironically, a former co-owner of the Texas Rangers that the Senators became—threw a neat breaking ball up to the plate.

Nats catcher Brian Schneider caught the Bush pitch. He had ideas about keeping the ball until Grzenda asked to have it back and the memorabilia-happy catcher obliged.

Grzenda died in July 2019. (Clarke passed away three months ago.) Assuming his family still possesses the ball—which Grzenda pitched to get Bobby Murcer on a grounder for the second out before being unable to pitch to Clarke—Biden’s people might think to ask them for the honour of throwing that ball out for the Opening Day first pitch.

The Nats might also think about making that particular ball an annual Opening Day first pitch tradition. They don’t have to worry about weird mojo attaching to the ball. Their 2019 World Series triumph took plenty of care of that.

If Biden jinxes or fouls his own presidency, it won’t be because he throws the last ball of Washington Senators baseball. Just be sure he doesn’t get any bright ideas about arriving at Nationals Park to do it by way of landing Marine One in center field.

Down and out—but still looking up

Juan Soto and the Nationals hope to kick up their heels from 2020 deflation to 2021 redemption and beyond. Is it false hope?

Don’t look now, but baseball is about to wrap its twentieth season without a repeat World Series champion. What’s sadder about it is that last year’s world champions were so damn much fun but spent this year proving that no good deed goes unpunished.

Lots of teams get battered during any season, never mind truncated ones, but the Washington Nationals passed that practically before this one settled in through its early shakes, rattles, and COVID-19 rolls.

Until Daniel Hudson struck Michael Brantley out swinging on a full count, Washington hadn’t had a major league World Series champion since the Coolidge Administration or any kind of world champion since the final Negro Leagues World Series—during the Berlin Airlift.

Now the Nats have gone from baseball’s best between 23 May 2019 and the last men standing in the World Series toward the second-worst winning percentage ever for a defending Series winner. That was last year: They opened 19-31 and closed with the keys to the Promised Land. This was this year: They opened 19-31 and head for a closing with the keys to the tunnels beneath the sewers under the basement.

The worst, in case you wondered, were the 1998 Florida Marlins. (.333.) The team the Nats are about to push to one side in second place? The 2014 Boston Red Sox. (.438.) This is a very dubious elite club for which to aim at the top of the dubious the heap. NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes reminds us that only 14.9 percent out of all 114 World Series winners had losing records. If you remove this year’s Nats from the picture, the dishonour roll looks thus:

1998 Marlins—.333.
2014 Red Sox—.438.
1991 Cincinnati Reds—.457.
1918 Chicago White Sox—.460.
1932 St. Louis Cardinals—.468.
Tie: 1986 Kansas City Royals; 2013 San Francisco Giants—.469.
1967 Baltimore Orioles—.472.
2003 Anaheim Angels—.475.
1994 Toronto Blue Jays—.478.
2007 St. Louis Cardinals—.481.

The Nats woke up this morning at .411. The good news, if you want to call it that: They get to finish this Alfred Hitchcock Presents Quiet, Please: The Inner Sanctum of the Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone of a season with four games against the New York Mess. (Er, Mets.) Who were supposed to be in the thick of this season’s races with or without the pandemic but had one thing in common with their comic 1962 ancestors: they never had a winning streak bigger than two games.

Assume for argument and humour’s sake that the Mets iron up and sweep the Nats to put paid to a season the Nats and the Mets would each love nothing more than to forget. Such a sweep would leave the Nats with a .383 winning percentage. Not quite enough to knock the Marlins off the highest of those low perches, but only the second defending World Champion to have a sub-.400 winning percentage trying to defend the title.

It’s not that the Nats lack for any remaining pride. Taking three out of four this week from even this year’s Philadelphia Phillies and especially their arsonic bullpen, including a doubleheader sweep Tuesday, shows they’ve got plenty enough of that left.

Maybe they don’t let themselves stay demoralised by the 12-3 smothering the Phillies dropped on them Wednesday night. Including and especially by old friend Bryce Harper—who’s been silly enough to play through back issues this year, and didn’t the Nats used to reach for the whiskey bottles over Harper trying to play through injuries when he wore their silks, too?— hitting a pair out on a night the Phillies sent five into the barren seats.

It’s what they didn’t have that picked these Nats up by the back of their necks and threw them downstairs this year. Last season, and especially last October, Sean Doolittle, Adam Eaton, Howie Kendrick, Tanner Rainey, and especially Stephen Strasburg owned numerous postseason conversations. This season they’ve owned too-choice seats on the injured list.

Last year, they had Anthony Rendon. Last winter, they decided (maybe foolishly, maybe not) that they couldn’t afford to keep both Rendon and Strasburg, and let Rendon walk into the Los Angeles Angels’ free agency arms—where, as of this morning, he leads the American League in on-base percentage.

The Nats thought signing Starlin Castro would ease that pain. Castro and his right wrist hit the IL in mid-August after he broke it on a diving play at second base. The Nats also didn’t expect that only three players would play up to even minimum expectations while the rest of the roster got injured, played at barely replacement-level, or just plain collapsed.

The three are Juan Soto, Trea Turner, and Luis Garcia. The third of that group is a rookie. The first is the young man who shook off what he still believes a false-positive COVID test to sport a 1.190 OPS as of Thursday morning and a real batting average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by total plate appearances) of .830.

It’s even more of a shame that this truncated season’s Nats deflated so profoundly. A performance like Soto’s over a full season might have “Most Valuable Player” stamped on the papers without that deflation.

Perspective: Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman, the presumptive MVP this season, has an RBA 101 points lower than Soto’s. (.729.) The Yankees’ D.J. LeMahieu, who leads the American League “batting race” as Soto does the National League’s, has a .635 RBA. Tim Anderson, second in the AL “batting race”: .596 RBA. Turner, who’s third in the NL “batting race”: .624 RBA.

The Nats also didn’t anticipate Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin being only human this year, pandemic or no pandemic, disrupted spring training and bizarro summer camp or no disrupted spring training and bizarro summer camp. Hands up to everyone who expected the pair would combine for a 4.20 ERA and 3.59 fielding-independent pitching. Neither did they. Neither did I.

Nobody thought their up-and-comers would shrink when handed their opportunities to come forth and be counted in. Nobody thought so many veterans would look more ancient than merely veteran. And nobody thought the Lerner ownership would wait as long as they did to hand general manager Mike Rizzo his very hard-earned due of a contract extension.

But they still don’t have manager Dave Martinez’s situation resolved. Rizzo’s promised to sign Martinez to a long-term deal to keep him on the Nats’ bridge.The Lerners should at least think about atoning for keeping Rizzo in too-long-limbo and ordering Rizzo to get Martinez’s deal done the sooner the better.

Reality check: The Nats’ morale probably wasn’t helped by Rizzo’s long-enough lame duck status before he finally got his extension, and it probably isn’t helped by Martinez’s lack of new or at least extended deal. It’s no fun when two men you respect and admire and forgive their occasional hiccups and mishaps have to lead you through a season phantasmagoric going in with question marks instead of security on their heads.

They know Rizzo worked his tail off a very long time to make them winners and finally world champions, and they withstood Rizzo’s occasional stumbles on behalf of the bigger picture. They know Martinez didn’t let that 19-31 opening last year put premature paid to that season and bought into his “It’s a beautiful day, let’s win one” philosophy without waiting for it to go on sale.

They know this year’s an aberration. They hope.

“What I do like is our potential for 2021,” Martinez told reporters Wednesday. “I’ll say it again: Our starting pitching, the horses are coming back. The back end of our bullpen is shaped up and those guys will be fresh and ready to go. We have some really young talent; we’ve got some other young talent that hopefully we’ll see in spring training.”

All they have to do is a very mild re-tooling. (Six Nats either face free agency or option rejection, they’re not really keys to the future, and letting them go or just keeping one leaves room to sign, oh, a solid fourth starter, a decent bat, maybe even a bullpen fortifier.) Also, avoid the injury list and pray that 2021 will be a normal spring training and season.

Not to mention reminding themselves that World Series winners since 1995 also tend to get back to the postseason two years after slipping the rings onto their fingers. Those 2019 memories are eternal. But the Nats don’t have to think they’ll end up becoming outliers, either.

Country Joe tosses the boss

Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, unmasked, confabs (and points to Nats GM Mike Rizzo in the second deck) with masked crew chief Joe West Sunday.

Among many distinctions, not all of them affirmative, Joe West is now the man who threw out the first general manager of the season. The Washington Nationals aren’t the only ones among the barely amused.

What a weekend for Mike Rizzo. After entering spring training with his contract status unresolved beyond his own walk year this year, he finally landed the extension he deserved when all was said and done. He barely had time to savour it when he got into West’s crosshairs Sunday.

This pandemic-truncated season hasn’t exactly gone the way the defending world champions had in mind. They’re dead last in the National League East and next-to-last in this season’s crazed wild card picture. Their tragic number for elimination is sixteen. When the only National League outfit worse is the Pittsburgh Pirates, it’s enough to give last year’s self-resurrecting World Series conquerors pause going in.

Then the Nats spent the weekend with the Atlanta Braves and both sides seemed to spend much of it complaining that the umpiring was, shall we say, far less than exemplary or accurate. Rizzo all weekend was a particularly vocal complainer.

Thanks to pandemic-empty ballparks you can hear a lot more than perhaps you’d like to hear from the dugouts and even the men on the field or the coaching lines. There was Rizzo, all alone in a club box in the second deck of Atlanta’s Truist Park. Not a soul within a few hundred feet of him in either direction.

The next thing you knew, Rizzo was escorted from the premises by stadium security in the top of the seventh. That was as much a seventh-inning stretch as you could imagine in such surrealistic circumstances.

With the Braves up, 7-1 (they went on to win, 10-3), umpire Hunter Wendelstedt started pointing to the club level where Rizzo reposed and, apparently, objected to this or that call. “The umpiring crew, led by West, then went to call security,” writes Larry Brown. “The Braves’ announcers speculated that West might not have liked Rizzo complaining about balls and strikes. They also mentioned that Rizzo was not wearing a mask in the park.”

The mask issue seems a little like a red herring with no one within a hundred feet of Rizzo. Especially since a) West’s on record as thinking COVID-19 isn’t exactly a deadly enemy; and, b) Wendelstedt was unmasked while he confabbed with West, who was masked. They were probably ticked off most at Rizzo objecting to a strike call on a pitch that actually sailed in well enough off the plate while Nats infielder Asdrubal Cabrera batted.

Apparently, Rizzo kept barking over the pitch calls by the time first baseman Eric Thames batted on a 2-2 count. Then West pointed to the club boxes where Rizzo reposed and called stadium security after hollering, “You’re out! Get out!” Rizzo’s way.

“Should Rizzo be yelling at the ump audibly from his suite? Probably not, but it’s also the kind of thing that that happens every game,” deadpans Deadspin writer Sam Fels. “It’s the kind of thing that could probably be solved with a solitary look, or maybe a pointed finger. But no, that won’t due for hilljack Joe.”

You want to talk about delays of games? West held up the game so he could show Rizzo who’s boss around here. “Call security,” a voice hollered. You’d think objecting to dubious pitch calls equaled a small child refusing to go to bed when Mom and Dad so order. Unless Mom and Dad confuse proper parenting with tyranny for its own sake, they’re not Joe West.

“Joe West is the passenger on the plane who won’t let you out of the row to go to the bathroom because drink service will begin in five minutes,” Fels writes.

Joe West constantly tells the bartender when they’re low on ice. Joe West kettles protestors without informing them of curfew, then arrests them for violating curfew. It’s not so much that Joe West has to enforce the rules. He has to enforce that he knows the rules better than anyone. It’s not the order he’s after, but the acknowledgement, or more to the point the worshipping, of his knowledge and power.

West decided then and there it was time to show who knew the rules better than anyone. As His Holiness himself put it after the game, “I wouldn’t take that from a player. I wouldn’t take that from a manager. If it was Donald Trump, I’d eject him, too. But I’d still vote for him.”

Just let West try ejecting President Tweety. He’d be on the Trump tweetstorm target list faster than a base hit travels past the infield. And if West would have a GM thrown out of the ballpark for objecting to the umpiring, what’ll happen when fans—who aren’t exactly kind and gentle about questionable umpiring—are finally allowed to come back to the games?

Historically, umpires suffer neither fools nor protests gladly, even if they don’t always mind a little debate if the debator isn’t looking to show them up. The bad news is that even the best-humoured umpires lose their senses of humour when a questionable call is given.

The rules say players, managers, and coaches can’t argue ball and strike calls, and that if they head for the plate for such a protest they can be tossed. So can pitchers leaving the mound or batters stepping out of the box for such protests. But what about people in the stands, team personnel or otherwise? Umpires haven’t exactly been historically shy about throwing them out at certain times, either.

They’ve been known to eject ballpark organists or DJs for playing “Three Blind Mice” over bad calls. Or, for playing the theme from The Mickey Mouse Club. Or, for playing Bob Uecker’s sarcastic “Personally, I think we got hosed on that call” from Major League. They’ve been known to eject entire press boxes over catcalls coming down over questionable calls.

It’s one thing, too, for an ump to eject a fan suspected of doing a little sign-stealing on behalf of their hometown heroes. But good luck to the next fan who protests a pitch call by whipping up a placard that shows an eye test or performs a perfect impression of an optometrist’s business card.

Rule 4.06 bars managers, players, substitutes, coaches, trainers, and bat boys from “incit[ing] . . . by word or sign a demonstration by spectators.” (It also applies to broadcasters, technically, when fans cling to their radios in the ballpark as they’ve often done. Normally, though, such announcers escape with a mere warning.)

Rule 9.01(b) gives umps “the authority to order a player, coach, manager or club officer or employee to do or refrain from doing anything which affects the administering of these rules, and to enforce the prescribed penalties.”

Allow for pandemically empty ballparks allowing one and all on the field, in the dugouts, and even isolated singularly in the stands to hear every beef, debate, and expletive un-deleted. That said, just how could Mike Rizzo all alone in a second-deck club box objecting to pitch calls interfere with West and crew’s control of Sunday’s game?

If Rizzo was in that club box raining objections down with a full house of fans in the stands making their usual racket, only a dog could have heard it. The chances of West, Wendelstedt, and crew hearing his specific words would have been reduced to the margins and maybe further.

“We have already been in communication with the Nationals regarding what transpired during today’s game, and we will speak with the umpiring crew today,” said MLB’s government in a formal statement. “We will expect Joe West’s crew to provide a full account of their perspective, and we will follow up with them accordingly.”

Can you see the electronic strike zones and robo-umps coming a little more clearly in the rear-view mirror, too?

Alfred Hitchcock presents Opening Night

AlfredHitchcockAt long enough last came Opening Day. Well, Opening Night. On which New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge nailed the COVID-19 delayed season’s first hit and his teammate Giancarlo Stanton nailed its first home run two batters later.

On which the Washington Nationals opened without a key element, outfielder Juan Soto, whose positive COVID-19 test result came back well enough before game time to make him a scratch.

Before that rain-shortened game even got started, the word came from the opposite coast that Clayton Kershaw was scratched from his Opening Night start thanks to a back problem sending him onto the injured list.

In Washington, the Nats’ co-ace Max Scherzer would have loved if Judge and Stanton were Thursday night scratches. They accounted for all Yankee runs in the 4-1 final shortened in the top of the sixth when the rains smashed in with the Yankees having first and third and one out.

In San Francisco, Los Angeles Dodgers rookie Dustin May pitched five innings to San Francisco Giants veteran Johnny Cueto’s four, both men leaving with a one-all tie, and the Dodgers’ new $396 million man Mookie Betts broke the tie scoring on an infield ground out in the top of the seventh.

Scherzer’s good news Thursday night: eleven strikeouts. His bad news: four walks and an inability to solve Judge and Stanton. Judge also doubled home Tyler Wade in the third and Stanton singled home Gio Urshela in the fifth. Remove Judge and Stanton from the Yankee lineup and the Nats’ Adam Eaton’s hefty solo home run in the bottom of the first would have been the game’s only score.

Betts singled with one out in the top of the seventh and called for the ball. Published reports indicate that ball plus the evening’s official lineup card now repose in his home. “It’s just a new chapter in life,” he told reporters after the 8-1 Dodgers win.

After he came home when Justin Turner grounded into a force out, Corey Seager’s grounder got Cody Bellinger caught in a rundown at the plate, but Enrique Hernandez singled home Turner and Seager (who’d taken second during the rundown), Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock walked back-to-back to load the pads, Austin Barnes sent Hernandez home with an infield hit, and Max Muncy walked Pederson home.

And, on both coasts, all four teams figured out a solution to the issue of whether or not to take a knee for “The Star Spangled Banner” that might actually help more than hurt the too-easily outraged.

Abetted by a suggestion from Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen, the Yankees and the Nats lined up on the base lines holding a long, long, long black ribbon, standing apart enough for social distance, then took their knees before “The Star Spangled Banner” was played.

On the same suggestion, the Dodgers and the Giants held a similar long, black ribbon and took their knees before the anthem’s playing. In Washington, both the Yankees and the Nats rose from their knees while the anthem was played. In San Francisco, ten Giants including manager Gabe Kapler plus Betts on the Dodgers’ side stayed on their knees during the anthem, with Bellinger and Muncy putting hands on Betts’s shoulder as a gesture of support.

I went back on record Thursday saying that there are far worse ways than kneeling before a national anthem to protest something you think is dead wrong. Kneeling, as two Scientific American writers I cited remind us, is anything except disrespect.

“While we can’t know for sure, kneeling probably derives from a core principle in mammalian nonverbal behavior: make the body smaller and look up to show respect, esteem, and deference,” wrote psychologists Jeremy Adam Smith and Dacher Keltner in 2017.  “. . . Kneeling can also be a posture of mourning and sadness. It makes the one who kneels more vulnerable. In some situations, kneeling can be seen as a request for protection.”

I’ll ask again: Would you rather those outraged by rogue police doing murder against black or any people raise clenched fists, burn a flag on the field, or start a riot with or without looting and plundering in the bargain? Neither would I. But if only now-former football quarterback Colin Kaepernick had thought in the first place to take his original knee before the anthem played, would that have worked very differently for himself and the outraged?

Let me repeat, too, that you don’t have to subscribe to every last clause or every last impulse of the social justice warriors to agree that rogue police doing murder is not what the land of the free and the home of the brave was supposed to mean. Neither must you subscribe to the formal Black Lives Matter movement itself to agree that black lives and all lives don’t deserve to end when those entrusted to uphold the law break it instead.

Let me repeat further that it’d be far better for baseball to limit playing “The Star Spangled Banner” to before games on Opening Days, games played on significant national holidays, the All-Star Game, and Games One and (if it goes that far) Seven of the World Series. Not so much to cut back on the kneeling protests but to re-emphasise that patriotism compulsory is patriotism illusory.

Back on the field, Soto’s COVID-19 positive test approaching Opening Night shook the game up just enough to provoke serious questions as to how MLB is going to navigate even this truncated season without further medical issues. And, whether the most stringent health and safety protocols will keep more Sotos from turning up positive.

Other surrealities include the empty stands, other than cardboard cutouts of fans in the seats, and the canned crowd sounds at the ballparks. The coronavirus world tour already turned baseball into something between The Twilight Zone and the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Now that the season is underway at last, should we throw Alfred Hitchcock Presents into the mix?

At least neither Opening Night game went to extra innings, so we didn’t have to deal right off the bat with the free cookie on second base awarded each team to start its extra half-inning. The mischief that’ll inspire will just have to wait.

Funny thing, though, about that equally nefarious three-batter minimum for pitchers. Two Giants relievers faced the minimum in that five-run Dodger seventh before surrendering any runs. If bullpen preservation was part of it even if those two got pried, I can see already that this dumb rule isn’t going to end well for Kapler and other managers.

And, let’s be real, the PA people in charge of the piped-in sounds are only human, after all. Who’s going to be the first poor sap having to live down the accident of cranking up the wild cheering when the home team’s batter gets hit by a pitch?

On the other hand, it was easy enough to feel normal again once the Yankees and the Nats got underway . . . when home plate umpire Angel Hernandez began blowing pitch calls. Calling a few strikes balls and a few balls strikes? That’s about par for the course for him. So when’s that umpire accountability coming at last?

Before the game, Dr. Anthony Fauci—otherwise doing his best to battle a pandemic involving both a stubborn virus and a political (lack of) class that surely makes him wonder if he was really there when all this happened—threw out a ceremonial first pitch. Later, he was seen in the stands with his Nats-themed face mask off his face a spell. What’s up with that, Doc?

You’d love to say Fauci threw a perfect strike to Nats relief pitcher Sean Doolittle behind the plate, but you’d be lying like an office holder. Fauci’s delivery is described politely as resembling a man trying to compensate for a fractured upper arm. The ball sailed almost to the on-deck circle. Rumour has it that Hernandez called it a strike on the outside corner.