Death Threats Against Players A No-No

ALSO: WITH deGROM SIDELINED, WHO CAN CLAIM NL'S CY YOUNG AWARD?

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Pregame Pepper

Did You Know?

Before they beat the Cardinals in St. Louis, 7-4, Wednesday night, the Atlanta Braves were 0-11 in games tied after seven innings . . .

Cardinals relievers have issued more walks than any other bullpen this season . . .

Career Cardinal Bob Gibson was the only pitcher to post two complete-game wins in Game 7 of the World Series . . .

Atlanta third baseman Austin Riley, an emerging star at age 24, has batted .352 with nine homers and a 1.161 OPS over 24 games from July 7 through Aug. 5 . . .

Good thing Milwaukee paid only $1 for former closer John Axford: two days after the 38-year-old right-hander arrived, he was sidelined by a “significant” elbow issue that will keep him out for the rest of this year and all of next year . . .

Speaking of injuries, Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg and National-turned-Angel Anthony Rendon, stars of the 2019 Washington World Championship season, can’t finish the second year of their seven-year, $245 million deals because of injury (neck and hip, respectively).

Leading Off

Death Threats Be Not Proud 

Not toward players, especially not toward their families 

By Jeff Kallman 

Whenever you or I have a bad day at the office, we get to go home (or, in my case, shut down, since I work from my home), shake it off, chill for the rest of the evening, and start all over again the next day.  

Apparently, major-league ballplayers can’t have bad days at the office and shake them off without their lives, and those of their families, being threatened by jackasses who think such threats are just cute passionate fan stuff. 

Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Erik Swanson had a terrible day at the office last Sunday. In to close out a potential 3-1 Mariners win, he surrendered a leadoff base hit to Texas Rangers first baseman Nate Lowe. That was the least of his problems.  

The next Rangers batter, second baseman Andy Ibanez, smashed a game-tying two-run homer down the right-field line, followed immediately by designated hitter Jonah Heim hitting one over the right-centerfield fence for game and set, enabling the Rangers to take two of three from the Mariners on walk-offs that weekend. 

Over an hour later, there was Swanson on Twitter. He pleaded go ahead, hammer him to your heart’s content in direct messages to him, but he draws the line when you’re brain-damaged enough to get into his wife’s social media account and threaten her life and their family’s lives.   

A week earlier, Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Nick Wittgren and his wife learned the hard way about the brain-damaged when Wittgren had, arguably, a worse day at the office than Swanson. Taking the ninth-inning mound against the Tampa Bay Rays with the game tied at four, Wittgren’s none-too-extended outing ended with five runs on three hits including a home run battered out of him. 

You probably don’t need me to remind you that Swanson’s wife wasn’t the one who threw home run pitches to back-to-back Rangers hitters. If you’re more inclined to think like me, you surely don’t need me to remind you that losing a baseball game isn’t exactly the equivalent of murder, manslaughter, or storming the Capitol in a bid to overthrow a presidential election. 

Wittgren’s wife, Ashley, tweeted afterward, “Y’all I get it, my husband had a bad day at work. But sending both of us very explicit death threats aimed at him, me, and our children is absolutely inexcusable.” 

“Sadly, this is considered 'normal' in professional sports’,” her husband tweeted, after acknowledging those who sent him messages of support against the idiot brigades. "It's happened to 90% of players I know and basically after every bad outing a player has. But there is nothing normal about threatening someone and their family's lives.” 

They should only know. Last fall, Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Kenley Jansen threw the pitch Tampa Bay pinch hitter Brett Phillips lined to right center to start a Three Stooges-like run of mishaps that allowed the tying and winning Rays runs to cross the plate, tying the World Series at two games each. Jansen’s Instagram account was flooded with with racist insults (grotesque enough) and death threats against him (worse enough)—but also with death threats against his wife and children.  

It isn’t just game outcomes and bad days at the plate or on the mound that prompt the idiot brigades. Outrage over the Houston Astros’s systemic, illegal, off-field-based electronic sign-stealing was one thing. Threatening the lives of both Mike Fiers (former Astro, Astrogate whistleblower) and assorted incumbent and former Astros (most notoriously, outfielder Josh Reddick receiving death threats and wishes that his children come down with cancer) crossed more lines than even the Luhnow-era Astros crossed

Sometimes even the heroes have to deal with such terpitude. Hall of Famer Babe Ruth’s two successful home run record pursuers learned the hard way. Roger Maris (single-season) and Hall of Famer Henry Aaron (career) dealt with death threats from miscreants who didn’t want either an “interloper” (Maris, as enough Yankee and other fans saw him) or a black man (Aaron) knocking the Sacred Babe to one side. 

It’s always been bad enough when those who did their best but failed—whether in a regular season game or in the World Series—were held up for hangings by fans who couldn’t grok in moments of abject passion that one player fails because another one succeeded.  

Now retired, Thomas Boswell had it only too right in 1989: “The flaw in our attitude—perhaps it is even an American predisposition with Puritan roots—is to equate defeat with sin. The unspoken assumption is that those who lose must do so because of some moral flaw.” 

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: You almost don’t want to think about what they’d receive if Fred Merkle, Freddie Lindstrom, Ernie Lombardi, Mickey Owen, Ralph Branca, Willie Davis, Leon Durham, Don Denkinger, Donnie Moore, Bill Buckner, Mitch Williams, the 1964 Phillies, the 1986 Red Sox, every Washington Senator before and after 1924, every Cub from 1909 through the end of the 20th Century, and maybe every St. Louis Brown ever, came up short in the social media era. 

When the Dodgers held Vin Scully Day in 2016, the tribute that stood out most came from Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax: “Before the World Series, Vin would go to church and pray. Not for a win, but there would be only heroes in the World Series, no goats. He didn’t want anybody’s future to be tarnished with the fact that they lost the World Series for their team.” 

If you didn’t know better, you might swear under oath that in the social media era there are too many praying that there should only be goats, not heroes. (Last fall, after the Dodgers clinched the National League West, there was one Twitter twit who invited people to answer this question: “If you could curse any MLB player for all of October who would you choose?”) Maris and Aaron notwithstanding, where’s the fun in threatening the lives of heroes and their families?  

Back in March, a California gambler named Benjamin Tucker Patz—known as Parlay Patz for having once won $1.1 million in sports betting parlays—pleaded guilty to threatening the lives of several Rays players and a Chicago White Sox player through social media messaging.  

That was after a July 2019 game that ended with the White Sox winning in extra innings after tying the game in the ninth. Presumably, Patz lost a pile of money on the game. (He’d also lost big on Super Bowl LIII and sent similar threats to a few New England Patriots.) Patz hasn’t been sentenced yet, but he faces up to five years in the federal freezer when that day comes. It's almost a shame that he can't be sentenced to up to five years per threat.

Maybe it’s time to think about doing likewise to the not-so-famous Twitterpated and Instagrammarians who think it’s a laugh and a half to threaten ballplayers’ and their families’ lives over bad days or nights at the office?

You get to boo, hiss, and hoist insulting placards at the game. You get to second, third, and fourth guess after the game. You don’t get to send death threats over a bad pitch, a bad swing, an error, a bad base-running play, a manager’s bad strategic move, a loss. The words for that only begin with “degenerate.” 

Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research,  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.  

Cleaning Up

No Cy Young for Jacob deGrom This Year

By Dan Schlossberg

The way Jacob deGrom pitched during the first half of this season, it looked like the writers would hand him his third Cy Young Award even before the campaign was completed.

But that was before injuries intervened, keeping the ace right-hander of the New York Mets sidelined since July 7.

Just when it looked like deGrom would challenge the 1.12 earned run average posted by Bob Gibson in 1968, he experienced a myriad of injuries — from shoulder and neck complaints to forearm tenderness. Instead of racking up strikeouts, he started piling up MRIs.

At last look, he was hoping to rejoin the rotation of his club around Labor Day but even that was far from a lock.

Mets management pays him a huge amount of money — $7.4 million this year — and the 33-year-old pitcher takes his job seriously, always staying in terrific shape.

But he’s missed so much time already that he won’t qualify for the ERA title, won’t lead the National League in strikeouts, and won’t even win a dozen games.

Tommy John surgery has already been performed on his right elbow once. But there are more than a handful of active pitchers who needed the operation twice.

Without deGrom, the Mets won’t waltz to the postseason or even the NL East title that has eluded them since 2015.

Nor will the team take home this year’s Cy Young Award.

With deGrom a giant question-mark, the pitching trophy could be claimed by somebody from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dodger aces Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw have won it three times each but this may be Walker Buehler’s turn. Or maybe Julio Urias will figure into the equation.

Kevin Gausman, who resurrected his career with the Giants this year, will have a dark horse in the race but may not be as good a bet as Zack Wheeler, who made the National League All-Star team in a Phillies’ uniform. It is worth noting that Wheeler was once deGrom’s teammate.

The Milwaukee Brewers, who dominated the pitching staff of the NL All-Stars, have Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and even Freddy Peralta as possibilities.

Closer Craig Kimbrel could have been considered too had he not been traded across league lines from one Chicago team the other at the trade deadline.

Whomever pitches best over the final two months will have an edge, especially if his team wins an unexpected divisional title (think Wheeler) or extends a string of division titles (see Buehler and Urias). Unlike deGrom, Kershaw, and Scherzer, the 2021 Cy Young Award, at least the National League’s version, will go to a first-time recipient.

That’s one baseball bet worth making.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch, author of 38 baseball books, and national baseball writer for forbes.com. He also writes for Latino Sports, Ball Nine, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, and Sports Collectors Digest. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

Timeless Trivia

The Harold Baines homer that ended a 25-inning game on May 9, 1984 came on the 753rd pitch and made a winner of Tom Seaver. The game took a record eight hours and six minutes and consumed two nights . . .

Lou Gehrig started his consecutive games playing streak and passed away on the same date – June 2 . . .

High school coach Jim Morris made his major-league debut for Tampa Bay at age 35 and was the subject of a film called The Rookie . . .

Fred Tenney, player-manager of the 1905 Boston Red Sox, was not only an Ivy Leaguer (Brown) but also the off-season baseball coach at Tufts . . .

With Clayton Kershaw sidelined, the desperate Dodgers turned to ancient lefty Cole Hamels, who will average $200,000 a start . . .

At one point in his career, portly southpaw David Wells was fined $100 each day he exceeded a mandated weight limit.


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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