Inside the Marcell Ozuna Mess

ALSO: WHAT IT'S LIKE TO ATTEND A GAME IN 2021

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Former big-leaguers trying out for Team USA and a berth in the Tokyo Olympics include Homer Bailey, Edwin Jackson, Matt Kemp, David Robertson, Todd Frazier, and lefty reliever Marc “Scrabble” Rzepczynski . . .

Many of those players, like Team USA manager Mike Scioscia, would like to get back to the majors . . .

Red Sox manager Alex Cora insists he won’t bat J.D. Martinez second in his lineup . . .

Joe West, the 68-year-old Singing Cowboy, has topped Bill Klem for most games as an umpire . . .

After incurring the wrath of Cleveland manager Terry Francona by breaking Covid protocols last year, Zach Plesac pulled off his jersey so aggressively in a fit of pique that he broke the thumb on his pitching hand . . .

The lone father & son tandem to win home run titles are Cecil and Prince Fielder (Cecil in 1990-91 and Prince in 2007). They are also the only father/son combine to have 50-homer seasons on their resumes.


Lou Gehrig Reaction

I loved your essay about Lou Gehrig and ALS.

Did you know that legendary jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus also suffered from ALS?

He was able to continue writing music with the disease (he died in 1979) by humming or singing parts he had in mind to his wife, who would transcribe those onto manuscript paper for him.

–-Jeff Kallman

. . . and Correction

Sorry to be picky, but Gehrig is not a native of the Bronx. There's a plaque at his birthplace at 309 E. 94th Street in Yorkville, Manhattan. 

—Doug Lyons



Leading Off

How Marcell Ozuna Ruined His Reputation

By Dan Schlossberg

What was he thinking? Or was he even thinking at all?

Twice in one week, Marcell Ozuna not only made a fool of himself but hurt his team, his reputation, and his future with his bull-headed approach to life.

First, there was the game at Fenway Park Tuesday night. In the third inning, trying to advance from second to third, he made the foolish decision to slide head-first – a technique perfected by Rickey Henderson but never by anyone else of sound mind and perfect body.

Predictably, Ozuna came up short, sliding hands-first into the foot of Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers.

He wound up with two fractured fingers and a diagnosis of at least six weeks on the sidelines.

The Dominican outfielder, who led the National League in home runs, RBI, and total bases in 2020 before starring in the playoffs, was just starting to come out of his 2021 funk but was still batting just .213 with seven home runs – less than half the amount hit by Atlanta teammate Ronald Acuna Jr.

The world learned about the injury from the player himself, who posted the news on Instagram in keeping with his reputation for dancing, hugging, celebrating, taking fake selfies, and behaving in an exuberant manner consistent with the colorful body armor he takes to the plate.

The only plate that looms in his immediate future, however, has nothing to do with a baseball diamond. Instead of completing his current five-year contract with the Braves, Marcell Ozuna just might be serving prison time.

He faces up to 20 years in jail after facing domestic battery charges filed Friday night against the 30-year-old slugger. He apparently took that word literally, as police in his hometown of Sandy Springs, GA caught Ozuna in the act of trying to strangle his wife (her screams had attracted the attention of neighbors). In fact, he was using his bandaged arm to commit the domestic atrocity.

Again, what was he thinking?

Just a year ago, Ozuna actually filed assault charges against his wife after she allegedly smashed a soap dish into his face. Fortunately for the player, she missed his eyes.

But how could anyone keep living with a person who did that?

Again, what was he thinking?

If I were Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred, I know what I would be thinking. Since 2015, when MLB and the Players Association came to a rare agreement on a domestic violence policy, Manfred has had the absolute power to discipline players involved in domestic battery. He has his own team of investigators and often deliberates for weeks before imposing punishment. But you can bet that he’ll be on Ozuna’s case long before the outfielder’s stay on the injured list ends.

Manfred has become more of a disciplinarian with each succeeding case and this one sounds like the most serious of all. His punishments have ranged from a month to a year and have not spared the game’s top stars.

Among previous All-Stars suspended without pay for alleged domestic violence were Aroldis Chapman (30 games), Addison Russell (80), Roberto Osuna (75) and Jose Reyes (51).

Ozuna, a two-time All-Star himself, is virtually certain to join that ignominious list. That also means he’ll forfeit his salary during the time of his suspension.

He signed a four-year, $65 million deal to stay with the Braves in February. That contract also contains a $15 million club option for a fifth season.

That seems ludicrous now.

The Braves, who pride themselves on hiring men of character, aren’t likely to want him back despite their obvious need for a right-handed power bat behind reigning MVP Freddie Freeman, a left-handed hitter. Perhaps Austin Riley, an emerging star, can fill that void – especially if Braves manager Brian Snitker moves switch-hitting Ozzie Albies to the second spot and moves Freeman down to third, where he excelled for years.

But back to Ozuna. In the eyes of the law, he’s innocent until proven guilty. In the eyes of the Commissioner, the same philosophy applies.

On the other hand, Marcell Ozuna has dropped overnight from toast of the town to toast. His reputation as a fun-loving guy who can hit a baseball doesn’t seem to matter anymore. I’d be surprised if he ever plays baseball again.

What in the world was he thinking?

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of 38 baseball books. In addition to Here’s The Pitch, he covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, and others. Contact him via ballauthor@gmail.com.

Cleaning Up

Report From the Ballpark Pressbox

By Dan Schlossberg

As a professional baseball writer since 1969, I’m used to answering questions.

People ask me to rate players, past and present, and there are endless queries about who belongs in Cooperstown and who doesn’t. Friends, family, and fans are always curious about what teams and players will do well, which ones won’t, and why. And they love to make up their own trade rumors and run them by me for an opinion.

Never in my half-century in the booth, however, have I heard the same question repeated so many times: what’s it like to be at the ballpark again?

After the Iron Curtain of the pandemic crashed down on the baseball world last March, I didn’t go to a game. Other than four pre-pandemic exhibition games on the West Coast of Florida, I never step foot in a major-league park in 2020.

I also missed spring training in 2021 after covering it for 50 consecutive years.

That being said, I finally summoned enough courage to get back to the ballpark once the 2021 season started – and after I had my double dose of Pfizer vaccine.

By Memorial Day, I had been to four different ballparks – Yankee Stadium, CitiField, Citizens Bank Park, and Fenway Park.

The experience was surreal. In all of them.

Each of the four teams restricted attendance in both the ballpark and the press box during the first two months. Most concessions stands were closed and vendors disappeared into the dustbin of history – at least temporarily.

It was easy to walk around but strange to sit in a press box where writers and broadcasters from visiting teams were AWOL. In fact, most of the regular journalists were “covering” from home, thanks to the creative invention of Zoom.

One colleague told me he wouldn’t go to the stadium if he couldn’t get on the field and into the clubhouse. If players had their way, writers will never get those privileges restored, allowing clubhouses to become the baseball sanctuary they once were.

While it’s true that friendships between writers and players often produce the best stories, I still prefer the nuts-and-bolts of the game. What kind of pitch did Freddie Freeman hit to win the game? What was the count? How has he done in that ballpark before? And against that pitcher?

In the strange and lingering world of Covid Ball, media members must wear masks, adhere to strict protocols that discourage them from walking around (or even using the restroom more than one-at-a-time) and subsist on whatever food they can scrounge from media dining rooms with limited menus or concessions stands with expensive ones.

There are advantages of reduced capacities, however: traffic around the ballpark and parking at the park is a breeze rather than a storm. There are short lines for check-in and credential pickup at the press gate. And whatever players say on the field can be heard – just as the men on the field can hear fans more easily.

I hear references to “the new normal” and don’t especially like it. I can’t wait for The Good Old Days to come back – if they ever do.

Here’s The Pitch weekend editor Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, Latino Sports, Sports Collectors Digest, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and many other outlets. The author of 38 baseball books is at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

The Dodgers failed to win the 1988 game in which Orel Hershiser broke Don Drysdale’s record for consecutive scoreless innings; San Diego won, 2-1, in 16 innings..

After Pittsburgh lefty Harvey Haddix pitched 12 perfect innings but lost in the 13th, winning pitcher Lew Burdette asked the Milwaukee Braves for a raise . . .

Fellow Braves pitcher Bob Buhl says the team was stealing the signs of catcher Smoky Burgess but couldn’t touch Haddix anyway . . .

Of the last 10 pitchers to win 300 games, only Steve Carlton (Phillies) reached the plateau with the team he represents in Cooperstown . . .

Since its establishment in 1956, Juan Marichal had the most wins (26) by a pitcher who did not win the Cy Young Award . . .

Pittsburgh’s Greg Brown was the first broadcaster to start traveling again when pandemic restrictions eased in 2021 . . .

The Rangers, Rockies, and Marlins are the only teams that never had a pitcher who won a Cy Young Award.


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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