Players Don't Deserve Deluge Of Hate For Mistakes On The Field

ALSO: SHAME ON BASEBALL FOR FAILING TO FIX FLAWS IN FAN VOTE

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Just days after pitching no-hitters this year, Corey Kluber, John Means, and Spencer Turnbull all jumped from their active rosters to the injured list . . .

Madison Bumgarner also wound up on the IL after hurling a complete-game, seven-inning no-hitter for which he deserves credit . . .

Hard to believe the Oakland A’s once released Max Muncy . . .

Kudos to Kevin Pillar, the gritty Mets utilityman, who bounced back weeks after a pitch bounced off his nose, causing multiple nasal fractures . . .

After threatening to boycott the All-Star Game before it was removed from Atlanta, hypocritical National League manager Dave Roberts had no qualms or comments about bringing his Dodgers there last weekend.

Leading Off

The goat business belongs out of business

Stop treating mishaps or losses as mortal sin

By Jeff Kallman

When the Dodgers gave broadcast legend Vin Scully a night of tribute in Dodger Stadium five seasons ago, Sandy Koufax shared maybe the single sweetest and most telling memory of all. The Hall of Famer remembered Scully slipping into church to pray the day before a World Series began.

Scully prayed, Koufax told the throng, that “there would be only heroes in the World Series, no goats. He didn’t want anybody in the future to be tarnished with the fact that they lost the World Series for their team.” 

Late last September, there came one of the Twitterpated asking, and I quote, “if you could curse any MLB player for all of October who would you choose.” The lack of both question mark and brains belonged to Twitter Twit alone there. But you can make bank on him not being anywhere near alone in the thought.

The sports-goat business still does boffo business, unfortunately. Social media exposes even more acutely that too many fans — and who knows how many sportswriters and broadcasters — seem starved for goats first and heroes second or beyond. They can’t wait to make absolutely sure the goats will spend eternity wearing their horns, no matter how their careers proved otherwise.

You don’t even need a postseason calamity to find goat-hunters ready to fire at will. Or at Craig. Or at Will Craig, the Pirates first baseman whose defensive mishap on the Thursday before Memorial Day turned into a pair of errors, a couple of Cub runs, and a social media that blew him up into some incompetent cross between Steve Martin and a 1962 Met.

Imagine the battering Craig would take if one split-second concentration lapse had happened with a trip to the World Series on the line, if not with the Series itself hanging in the balance. A public guillotining wouldn’t be good enough.

Never mind that the whole thing began when Pirates third baseman Erik Gonzalez picked Cub shortstop Javier Baez’s hard grounder cleanly enough but threw offline enough to draw Craig down the line several feet in front of the pad. A throw as clean as the pick would have meant Craig staying in position and Baez out by about 10 feet.

Then Baez hit the brakes about three feet in front of the out-of-position Craig and retreated, with Cubs catcher Willson Contreras gunning for the plate from third. Lured into Baez’s spontaneous trap, instead of thinking to go tag first when Baez retreated, Craig chased Baez toward the plate and tossed to Pirates catcher Michael Perez.

Contreras slid under Perez’s tag. Then Perez threw wildly to first and past second baseman Adam Frazier covering, enabling Baez to scramble back to first and help himself to second on the house. Ian Happ’s shuttlecock single to right-center allowed Baez, who had a solid jump, to score.

And all anybody could think about was Craig’s unexpected brain freeze. Gonzalez’s off-line throw? Funny as a screen door on a submarine. Perez’s wild throw to first? Happens all the time, right? But a 26-year-old rookie who once won a Triple-A Gold Glove duped into an inside-out rundown? That’s the way to channel your inner ‘62 Met!

You’d have thought Craig was the first and last rookie to make a mental mistake like that. You’d also have thought that grizzled veterans were incapable of that kind of neurological pratfall. (If you think that, you don’t really remember the ’62 Mets, the embryonic retreads and never-would-bes who had Who the Hell’s on First, What the Hell’s on Second, You Don’t Want to Know’s on third, and You Don’t Even Want To Think About It’s at shortstop.)

“I guess I’m going to be on the blooper reels for the rest of my life,” said Craig the following day. “It all boils down to me losing my brain for a second. I take full responsibility for it and now will just try to keep moving forward. I know I’m a good defensive player and I can do a lot of good things on that side of the ball.”

Already Craig proved himself a better man than those demanding to know why his lethal injection cocktail wasn’t prepared five minutes earlier. Lucky for him that his Pirates aren’t likely to reach this year’s postseason. But no matter his sense of humor or his self-awareness, Craig exposed with no pre-meditation that the goat business needs to go the way of the Oldsmobile. Five minutes ago—if not far sooner.

Once upon a time, baseball’s goats had the partial saving grace that they could wait an hour or more before the hammers dropped from radio and television reports, not to mention before the next newspaper editions ran the presses. Do you really want to think of the acid baths if Fred Merkle, Freddie Lindstrom, Ernie Lombardi, Mickey Owen, Ralph Branca, Leon Durham, Don Denkinger, Donnie Moore, Bill Buckner, Mitch Williams, the 1964 Phillies, the 1986 Red Sox, and every Washington Senator before and after 1924 faltered in the social media era? 

Williams had the misfortune of blowing a 1993 World Series save a couple of days before he threw the pitch Joe Carter hammered to win that Series. There were two things nobody thought much about for too long: (1) The Wild Thing spent a sleepless night before with a shotgun in his lap because he’d received death threats over the blown save; (2) Phillies pitching coach Johnny Podres forgot to rescind his Game Six orders for Williams to pitch with a slide step—which took his fastball out of his control—to help keep Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson from his usual base-path crime. 

Even by the questionable standards of Philadelphia sports fans (remember the gag about the Philly wedding: clergyman pronounces the newlywed couple husband and wife, then tells husband and gathering, “You may now boo the bride”), the death threats were unforgivable. Far more so than throwing a Series-losing home run pitch.

Maybe no man in baseball history bore the burden of surrendering an ill-fated pitch as well as Ralph Branca—who was in that third 1951 playoff game in the first place, despite having been tagged by fastball-hitting Bobby Thomson in the first game, because his manager Charlie Dressen forgot that curveball specialists such as Carl Erskine do bounce curves now and then. Nature of the beast. 

Now we’ve known since around 2003, once and for all, that the ’51 Giants didn’t play  straight, no chaser to mount the comeback that forced the playoff. Telescope behind center field in the Polo Grounds clubhouse; buzzer from that clubhouse to the bullpen; tiny light signal to the batter’s box. The Giants stole the pennant!The Giants stole the pennant!

Thomson and Branca died six years apart. Branca’s obituaries (including mine) still spoke of his uncommon forbearance. “He carried the cross of the Thomson home run with dignity and grace,” said Vin Scully himself. Even after the ’51 Giants were finally confirmed as telescopic cheaters.

Two years ago, Brewers rookie Trent Grisham hustled in from deep positioning to try cutting off Nationals outfielder Juan Soto’s frozen rope single. The ball skipped unexpectedly to Grisham’s right and behind him. The errant ball meant any further Brewers attempt to keep the Nats from doing worse than just tying the wild-card game was an exercise in futility.

Joe and Jane Cyberjerk battered Grisham all the live-long night and well into the following days. You’d have thought Grisham asked Mrs. Lincoln for a drama review, sank the Titanic, introduced Jim Crow, bombed Pearl Harbor, built the Edsel, broke up the Beatles, blew up the Challenger and the Murrah Federal Building, and created New Coke while he was at it.

But they wouldn’t admit that, no, they don’t really know or believe they and their five-year-olds would have come up with that errant ball. They wouldn’t admit they’d want to run right home to Mommy if told they’d go to work from now on with 55,000 people in the office or on the dock watching their every move and mistake and about 50 million people watching on live television or the Internet.

Maybe Will Craig would have been better off committing a mass shopping mall shooting. They’d try to understand and analyze him—not demand his execution on sight. 

“The tradition of professional baseball,” Heywood Hale Broun wrote in 1923, “is agreeably free of chivalry.” Arguably, the traditions of too many baseball fans are far less so. Whether rumbling over Astrogate, attacking players from the stands or opposing fans outside them, or deciding mistakes or mishaps on the field trump murder, manslaughter, or your mother-in-law moving in.

Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, for whom he is now one of the editors of their Games Project, plus The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007 and, alas, has been a Met fan since the day they were born. His email address is easyace1955@outlook.com.

Cleaning Up

All-Star Voting Starts With Same Old Flaws

By Dan Schlossberg

This isn’t Honduras!

But the systematic stupidity of allowing fans to pick the All-Stars suggests otherwise.

Yes, we’ve covered this subject before. But that was before the idiotic process actually began June 1 with all the thoughtless aspects it had previously.

Google is now the name sponsor but that hardly matters. There’s an online ballot with all kinds of errors — commission, omission, and otherwise — plus a mechanism to allow fans to vote six times. So much for fairness.

Fans pick three finalists at each position in Phase One, then pick the actual lineups from those who survive the initial vote.

That means players in big markets and those with big names have enormous advantages over those who truly deserve to start the game this year.

So, would I rather see an over-the-hill Albert Pujols and his .200 batting average just because somewhere in the distant past he won three MVP awards? Me thinks not.

Nor do I want Mookie Betts, who certainly deserved the nod in past years but not this season. Ditto Gioncarlo Stanton, Yadier Molina, and Christian Yelich.

Just because I recognize a player’s name doesn’t mean he deserves my vote.

In fact, teams have no business pushing their own players and telling their broadcasters fans should vote for their “favorites.” Pete Alonso, for example, isn’t even the best first baseman on his own team.

Injured players should also be ignored by voting fans. In fact, knowledgeable fans should boycott the whole process, which wouldn’t even pass muster in a banana republic.

I’m willing to bet, for example, Mike Trout gets elected even though he’s injured and can’t play.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: the best way to pick the All-Stars, from lineups to backups, is to let players, coaches, and managers do the selections. After all, they see the players every day.

From 1958-1969, that’s the way it worked. And it worked well.

No players with averages below the Mendoza Line were elected to the starting lineup (looking at you, Davey Lopes, and you too, Reggie Jackson). No retired players were picked either (see Luis Aparicio and Mike Schmidt). Nor were players too injured to play chosen because they had name recognition.

But baseball doesn’t believe in the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”

The only thing Dan Schlossberg hates more than the All-Star voting is the Hall of Fame voting. But that’s a story for another column and another day. In addition to his Here’s The Pitch weekend duties, Dan covers baseball for Latino Sports, forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and many other outlets. He’s at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

Congratulations to 76-year-old Tony LaRussa, the oldest manager in the majors, for passing John McGraw and moving into second place on the managerial lifetime wins list . . .

Fellow American Leaguer Dusty Baker, 72, is the second-oldest active pilot, while Brian Snitker, 65, is the oldest manager in the National League . . .

The five outfielders with at least 10 consecutive Gold Gloves are Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr., soon-to-be Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki, and likely future Hall of Famer Andruw Jones . . .

Now that he’s announced he won’t re-sign when his contract expires this fall, Colorado shortstop Trevor Story is virtually certain to be traded before the July 30 deadline for non-waiver deals.


Know Your Editors

HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [bchrom831@gmail.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [nymfan97@gmail.com] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [ballauthor@gmail.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.

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