Can’t we teach the thugs a real lesson?

Alex Verdugo, Alex Cora

Alex Verdugo’s (left) generosity turned into a particularly nasty piece of Yankee fan foolishness.

If you want to know why baseball players come to see baseball fans with contempt, as some always have and always will, you can point to the Yankee Stadium doings Saturday night. Even knowing the eternal rivalry between the Empire Emeritus and the Olde Towne Team, this was above and beyond the call of insanity.

All Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo did before the bottom of the sixth started was see fit to toss a practise ball to a young Red Sox fan in the bleachers. The ball didn’t quite reach that young fan’s hands, but it did reach a Yankee fan to whom Red Sox generosity might just as well have been a home invasion leaving none alive.

That Yankee fan threw Verdugo’s should-have-been gift ball back to the field and hit Verdugo squarely in the back. Verdugo was anything but amused. He turned toward the bleachers hollering to the fans. Highly-touted Red Sox prospect Jarren Duran hustled over to pull Verdugo away. Umpires, stadium security, and Red Sox coaches sought only to find the miscreant.

Miscreant found. And ejected from the ballpark posthaste. Eliciting a few cheers and a few more boos among the fans in that section. Red Sox manager Alex Cora wasted no time pulling his team off the field after coach Tom Goodwin urged still-steaming Verdugo out of the outfield and toward the Red Sox dugout.

Cora even had to debate with the umpires over letting Verdugo have a few minutes to compose himself in the dugout. It shouldn’t even have been a debate point. This time, it was only Verdugo’s back. It could have been his head.

“I know my left fielder, I know Alex,” Cora said post-game. “He needed time to breathe and to get his thoughts.” Tell that to the umpires, as Cora ultimately did.

It seemed like nobody was listening to me. Like, imagine getting thrown at with an object in a sport and you’ve got to be out there right away because we have to continue to play the game — that part I didn’t agree. But Alex was OK with it. But you never know. What if he jumps the fence? What if he goes out there and attacks somebody? Whatever. That’s what I was telling them, just give us a chance to collect our thoughts, breathe a little bit and we’ll go out and play the game. That was the whole thing.

Verdugo knows the score only too well. Talk all the trash you want. Hammer all the family members you can think of. Chant your little heads off. Even holler “[Fornicate!] Verdugo” until your throat resembles a pair of sand blocks rubbing together. Throw a ball or other debris? Not so fast.

[T]he moment somebody throws — as players, we’re throwing balls in the stands to try to give people souvenirs, try to make little kids’ days and things like that. Just to hear people saying, ‘Throw it back’ and then someone actually throws it back and it felt like it was targeted towards me, it doesn’t sit right with me.

Throwing enemy home run balls back is a tradition almost as old as the live ball in some ballparks. Wrigley Field’s storied Bleacher Creatures have made it so much so that if you happen to watch a Cubs home game without a Creature throwing back an enemy home run ball (unless, of course, it’s a particular milestone mash with dollar value attached) it’s one step short of breaking-news bulletin time.

But no such Creature has ever been known to try separating an enemy outfielder from his assorted anatomy or his brains throwing a ball back. And not even the worst, most bombed out of his or her trees fan was ever been known (unless it just hasn’t been reported, until Saturday) to throw back a ball an opposing player tried to give a visiting fan as a souvenir.

Things weren’t hard enough between the Red Sox and the Yankees with the scheduled series opener last Thursday postponed after several Yankees—including right field star Aaron Judge—turned up COVID-positive? Things weren’t testy enough already Saturday, with a near-hour rain delay before the game and continuing rain during it?

Red Sox Nation should know that they now have an ally in Yankee manager Aaron Boone, who made no secret of his hope that the bleacher idiot ended up behind bars. Cora should also know that Boone would have acted the same as he did if the game had been in Fenway Park and a particularly brain-damaged Red Sox fan did likewise to one of his players.

It’s awful, embarrassing, unacceptable. My understanding is they did catch the guy. Hopefully he’s in jail right now. That’s just a bad situation. If I was Alex Cora, I would have done the same thing as far as going out and getting his guys off the field. There’s zero place for that in this great game, and in this great rivalry. Players should never feel like they have to worry about anything like that. I already reached out to Alex Cora, just to apologize, and to Alex Verdugo that, you know, that’s just a terrible, bad, sad situation. And sorry about that.

This during a season in which Reds first baseman Joey Votto—after getting ejected early in a game over an argument with an umpire, then learning a little girl named Abigail was heartbroken that she wouldn’t get to see her favourite Red play for just about all game long—reached out and sent Abigail a ball he signed, “I’m sorry I didn’t play the entire game. Joey Votto.”

Saturday’s game was supposed to be about Duran’s major league debut. (He went 1-for-2 with a base hit and a run scored, both in the top of the second.) And, about a pitching duel between Nathan Eovaldi (five innings, one earned run) and Gerrit Cole (six innings, one earned run, eleven punchouts).

The nasty weather ended the game after six in a 3-1 Yankee win. (Back-to-back solo bombs from Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres in the bottom of the sixth took care of that, on Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura’s dollar.) The nasty weather in the left field bleachers became the story of the game, unfortunately.

The Yankees travel to Boston for a set in Fenway Park starting this coming Thursday. Red Sox Nation, beware: don’t even think about trying any similar stupidity if any Yankee decides to toss a practise ball to a visiting Yankee fan before an inning begins.

Maybe the thing for baseball government and the players union to consider together is mandating a forfeit to the opposing team, when a team’s own fans get as thuggish as the thug who thought Verdugo’s reward for generosity to a visiting young fan should have been a ball attack upon the left fielder’s back.

Once upon a sad October 1971 time, umpires awarded the Yankees a forfeit after heartsick Washington Senators fans—with Second Nats reliever Joe Grzenda one out from saving what should have been a win, and the Senators playing their final game before moving to Texas—stormed the RFK Stadium field. Grzenda never got to throw a single pitch to Yankee second baseman Horace Clarke.

Those fans didn’t blame the Yankees or try to mangle, bangle, or dismember anything in a Yankee uniform. They’d have preferred decapitating duplicitous Senators owner Bob Short. (Banners with his initials proliferated in the stands.) Absent that, they took it out on RFK Stadium.

If you can forfeit to the visitors over breaking an entire ballpark, you ought to be able to forfeit to the visitors when a home fan decides a baseball offered a visiting fan should be the instrument for spontaneous back surgery upon the visiting player who offered it. Maybe (big maybe) that’ll teach the jackasses a few lessons.

The mental midgets strike

2019-10-18 ZackGreinke

Zack Greinke catches a breath on the Game Four mound Thursday night.

The news came forth toward the end of American League Championship Series Game Four. It’s further evidence that the Yankees themselves, even while imploding late in a game that ran away from them already, have more class than a few too many of their fans.

I don’t think you could find any fan base for any major league baseball team that lacks for a small but orally diarrhetic subset to whom no kind of abuse is off limits. But what a small pack of Yankee fans did to Astros righthander Zack Greinke before Game Four began Thursday night crossed several lines.

Greinke was having a pre-game warmup in the left field visitors bullpen with a police presence there already because of Game Three’s trash throwers from the  right field stands. The small pack above the bullpen, who may or may not have been egged on by a particularly abusive pack of the Twitterpated, let him have it but good.

Not because he’s an Astro and thus the adversary for claiming the American League pennant. Not because his mission for the night was to keep every Yankee bat possible from wreaking havoc. No, these animals taunted Greinke over the very real anxiety disorder and degree of clinical depression with which he’s afflicted and the medications he is prescribed duly to control them.

Stupidity doesn’t begin to describe even a small group of subhumans who think the price of a ticket and a seat in the ballpark includes a license to abuse a still-young man verbally and violently over a mental illness he neither asked to bear nor lives without, whenever he does what those subhumans wouldn’t have even a tenth of the courage to do to earn his keep.

Greinke said after Game Four that he didn’t hear the nasty taunts. Maybe he didn’t. Pitchers are notorious for what the fictional Tiger pitcher Billy Chapel, played by Kevin Costner in the film For Love of the Game, called “clearing the mechanism,” blocking every sound from their heads other than that of their pitches hitting the catcher’s mitt when bats don’t hit their pitches.

But even if Greinke cleared his mechanism even preparing in the pre-game bullpen, it didn’t justify that kind of taunting.

Yankee Stadium security ejected one of the bastards post haste and warned each other to watch out for others. Greinke went to the mound and, except for a shaking first inning in which three consecutive walks produced a single Yankee run with the bases loaded, kept the Yankees at bay with no small help from the Yankees themselves, starting the Astros to an 8-3 win that puts them on the threshold of a World Series date with the Nationals.

And, personally, I hope the Astros get it.

Not because I hold any brief against the Yankees themselves. Not because I kid myself that the Yankees are the only baseball team with a subset of fans about whom “animals” may be speaking politely. (Hello, Phillies, Cubs, Dodgers, and Red Sox, for openers.) I hope the Astros get their date with the Nats because it’s the Yankees in the ALCS and I’m sick of re-learning how the Yankee fan subset can go from worse to intolerable every day.

And if I’m sick of it while not being a Yankee fan, I can only imagine how sick it makes the Yankees themselves feel.

The right field region louts throwing junk and debris onto the field over an overturned play at first base or cheering when Astros third baseman Alex Bregman was hit by a pitch in Game Three were mere louts. Greinke’s assailants could be tried by jury for impersonating human beings.

And it seems very safe to presume that not one of the animals would have accepted any challenge to do what Greinke does with 55,000+ right there in his office and a few million more eavesdropping next to television or radio sets. Not without running home to Mommy at the mere suggestion.

If you want to bark at me for being out of line, go ahead and bark. And go to hell while you’re at it. Because I happen to suffer an anxiety disorder with a degree of clinical depression myself. I’m also one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to practise my profession with an audience in my office or my daily toil broadcast on the national and international airwaves.

And I don’t care how much money Greinke earns to pitch baseballs every year. You don’t hammer someone dealing day in, day out with mental illness. You don’t reference the medications he is duly prescribed as though it indicates weakness or a character flaw. You don’t even hammer him over going by his middle name as if that suggests he’s a man of any disrepute.

It may be an exercise in futility to hope Justin Verlander and the Astros kick Yankee butt in Game Five. Based on what I saw in Game Four, the Yankees themselves may be more than capable of kicking Yankee butt. It was as if George Springer and Carlos Correa hitting three-run homers reminded them, “Hey! You can’t mop the floor with us like that! Only we can mop the floor with us like that!”

On Thursday night, the Yankees forgot how to pitch, how to hit, how to field, and how pathetic it looks to drag a veteran great out for a relief appearance for one last display for his longtime fans and have to lift him post haste because, bad as his knees became over the course of a great career, his shoulder decided to bark its resignation.

Thursday night’s Yankees performed the impossible: they made the 1962 Mets resemble a smoothly running vacuum cleaner sweeping and cleaning all in their path. The Yankees looked as though they plugged the hose into the blower, not the suction port.

Especially first baseman D.J. LeMahieu and second baseman Gleyber Torres, who suddenly seemed to think of ground balls as oncoming white tornados determined to throw them around like debris in the late innings.

Bregman’s leadoff bouncer in the top of the sixth bounced right up into and off LeMahieu as though trying to have him for dinner on the run, rolling toward the mound. That might have been no great shakes otherwise except that the Yankees’ starting pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka, happened to be nearer to first base covering on the play.

That play ended Tanaka’s rather gutsy evening’s work and began Chad Greene’s out of the bullpen. And one out and one base hit later, Correa sent Greene’s four-seamer right down the pipe right up and into the left field seats in a near-perfect impersonation of Springer’s bomb three innings earlier.

And all that was just the prelude to the Yankees’ eighth-inning version of Operation Dumbo Drop.

Bregman opened against Yankee reliever Adam Ottavino by taking a pitch over the heart of the plate and pumping it right down the left field line for a leadoff double. Yuli Gurriel then bounced one up the first base line. And that one decided LeMahieu must have been awful appetising two innings earlier, because it ate him up like dessert before bouncing away into right field, allowing Bregman to third.

That’s when Yankee manager Aaron Boone decided to get the hapless Ottavino out of there and bring CC Sabathia aboard for a possible final farewell. And Astros super-rook Yordan Alvarez decided to bounce one up to the second base side, where it hopped up off the grass and off the body of Torres, who’d approached the ball with thoughts of throwing home to nail Bregman.

There went those thoughts. The ball bounced away from Torres and Bregman could have bounced off the plate after scoring the seventh Astro run. Then Correa lined one clean to shallow right field and Aaron Judge caught it cleanly enough. Then Judge, who owns one of the best throwing arms in the league, made a fatal mistake.

He caught Alvarez dead to right near second and could taste the double play he would have consummated if his on-the-money throw to Torres didn’t bang in and out of Torres’s glove. Lucky for Torres and LeMahieu that the Astros only got a single run out of those  mishaps.

Sabathia got pinch hitter Aledmys Diaz to fly out to short right but had to leave the game after falling behind Springer on 2-1 when his shoulder flared up. Jonathan Loaisiga got Springer to foul out, which is just about how Sabathia must have felt leaving the mound as he did.

Maybe the only reason the boo birds weren’t so loud in the top of the ninth is because a reported 75 percent of the Game Four crowd had left Yankee Stadium by then. Altuve opened with a weak grounder to second that somehow, some way, rolled under Torres’s glove into right center, enabling the Astros’ second baseman to make second unmolested.

Michael Brantley then hit a jam shot bloop single to shallow left, scoring Altuve with the eighth Astro run. It could have been nine after what was ruled a wild pitch but should have been ruled a passed ball on mal-positioned Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez let Brantley have second on the house with Bregman at the plate. There went the temporary cred Sanchez snatched with his two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth.

Bregman walked, but Gurriel popped out to Gregorius at short and, with Tyler Lyons entering to pitch for the Yankees, Alvarez and Correa struck out in succession to end that threat. All other things considered, the Yankees were probably lucky to escape with what remained of their Game Four lives.

And, for all intent and purpose, the game, after Astros reliever Roberto Osuna shook off a two-out walk to get Torres to fly out to right on the first pitch.

Did you know the Yankees had the game’s first lead thanks to that bases-loaded walk to Brett Gardner in the bottom of the first? I had a hard time remembering, too, after the shenanigans that followed in due course. Especially because the Yankees had the ducks on the pond three times all game long and cashed in only that lone run.

Especially after learning of the abuse thrown at Greinke pre-game. He may be too proud to say that it cut him to his soul enough to walk three in the first and surrender that run, but there isn’t a jury on earth who’d rule him unjustified.

And Greinke more or less settled down from there, before he was lifted with first and second in the fifth. He proved a better man than that small group of Yankee Stadium yahoos who thought taunting his illness, his medication, his mother, and his preferred manner of address was acceptable opposing-ballpark behaviour.

Maybe the least offensive spewings from that left field stands subset involved hammering Greinke concurrently—the louse!—for choosing to go by his middle name instead of his proper given name.

So much for the reputedly overly knowledgeable Yankee fan, who forgot if he really knew about the righthanded pitcher named Selva Lewis Burdette, Jr., once a Yankee prospect, who beat the Yankees three times to help the then-Milwaukee Braves win the 1957 World Series.

Or, about the Hall of Fame relief pitcher named James Hoyt Wilhelm, master of the hydra-headed knuckleball, who was once made a starting pitcher, and who just so happened to throw a 1959 no-hitter at the Yankees in the silks of the Orioles.

Or, about the Hall of Fame Yankee first baseman who considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth when forced to retire thanks to the fatal disease that has since borne his name. Well, part of his name, anyway: Henry Louis Gehrig.

Not to mention, about such Hall of Famers as George Thomas Seaver, Lynn Nolan Ryan, and George Kenneth Griffey, Jr. About a longtime Astro great and one-time Yankee named William Lance Berkman. About a Hall of Fame-bound, postseason-haunted Dodger pitcher named Edward Clayton Kershaw.

Not to mention such recent baseball notables as LeRoy Timothy Lincecum, Luis Dustin Pedroia, Ivan Carlos Beltran, D’Vaughn Juan Pierre, Guilleard Alfonso Soriano, Stefan Andrew McCutchen, Augusto Elvis Andrus, and Thompson Nicholas Swisher.

All of that can be dismissed as purely getting your dumb on. (Do those left field bullpen bastards also love the music of the Beatles, whose bassist and co-chief songwriter happened to be named James Paul McCartney?) Taunting Donald Zachary Greinke for his too-real anxiety disorder and clinical depression can’t be and shouldn’t be dismissed that readily.

One of the Twitterpated had the audacity to tweet that Greinke’s sympathisers are too much “mental midgets” to handle New York. This native to the Bronx—a very different Bronx, in which you were taught respect and punished for taunting the afflicted—would suggest such a Twitter twit is too much of a mental midget to handle a man with Greinke’s unpretentious courage.

I don’t envy the Yankees as a team and an organisation for having to contend with such grotesquery. It’s not their fault that they have a subset of fans who need trainers more than ALCS tickets. But let’s go, Astros.