Cup of Coffee: April 1, 2021

Happy Opening Day!

Good morning! Happy Opening Day! And Happy Free Thursday! What a combo!

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The Daily Briefing

Thoughts on Opening Day

Ten years ago I wrote about some odd feelings I have each Opening Day in a post over at NBC that, if I remember correctly, a lot of people hated. Which is fine because I hate a lot of things I wrote ten years ago too. But I went back and re-read it yesterday and, unlike so many things I was thinking in early 2011, I think it stands up. So, with a couple of minor tweaks, I present it anew.

As I do most Opening Days, I awake this morning thinking not about the game itself so much but its place in the world and in our lives.

On the one hand, it’s a time for celebration and jubilation. After a long cold winter, our passion is back. And as so many have before us, we’re tempted to render it into purple prose. To hang red, white and blue verbal bunting from every facade and to offer odes to cut grass, bats cracking, hot dogs and organ music.

But to shoot the wad on Opening Day like that has itself become cliche.  Indeed, on this day — and extending through the weekend, I assume — your casual fan friends and coworkers will be overly excited about the return of the game. Your local paper will devote prime real estate to it all.  Dilettantes of all stripes will come out of the woodwork to revel in what they will, for now, call our National Pastime. And, of course, they are all welcome. In saying this I, in no way, wish to be a gatekeeper or to elevate the hardcore fan over the casual fan. It’s just things work, you know?

But it is the case that not everyone realizes or appreciates or particularly cares that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. And that in no event is it a championship bout that justifies the Main Event Atmosphere that will reign supreme today and for the next couple of days. Today they’ll go nuts about the beauty of it all, but come August a great many of those who hype Opening Day will disparage the game as boring and out of touch with today’s fast paced world. Come October they will compare unfavorably to professional football. All season long we will be told that, unless you have some money riding on things, baseball cannot possibly hold your attention.

Which, fine. Let them bluster today and tomorrow about the grandeur of Opening Day. Let them have their military flyovers and gigantic American flags on the outfield grass. Let them trot out the A-list first-pitch-throwers and let them trot out that Walt Whitman quote that is, in all honesty, tired and likely apocryphal. Even if all of this is, ultimately, beside the point and, indeed, antithetical to the point of the baseball season, it is harmless. It’s OK because you and I, my friends, understand the essence of baseball. We know that the long haul matters more than who wins any one game today. We appreciate that it is a six month work of art, and it can no more be captured in a gush of  Opening Day enthusiasm than the first three strokes from Edward Hopper’s brush captured “Early Sunday Morning.” Most of the brushstrokes that paint baseball’s picture are unaccompanied by Opening Day-style flourishes. The National Anthem, often, is sung not by a pop star but by the daughter of a car dealer who bought 20 tickets for his sales associates in section 350. The flag usually isn’t so damn big.

We will enjoy ourselves today, but we will not get too caught up in it. For we know that baseball will be here for us next week. Next month. And on through June, July, August, September and October to keep us company. To be our companion on random Sunday afternoons and lonely Tuesday nights.  To show us that its true value is not as a symbol or a spectacle, but as a game. A pastime in the literal sense, not the metaphorical one it has become to some. Our lives will continue on, day by day, but night by night we will have our diversion. Our little fix that does not require us to set aside our lives or entire days like some other sports or hobbies do. Something that just hums along unobtrusively, always there for us.

But that’s not until next week at the earliest. For now, we will grin and bear the overwrought spectacle that is Opening Day. And to be clear, we will enjoy it, because baseball-as-overwrought spectacle still beats just about anything else there is in the world.  But we will also know, deep down, that today will be a little weird. And that we need only smile and endure until the heat blows over and we can enjoy baseball as God and Nature intended: Casually. Without much fuss. A drink to be savored and not chugged.

Until then, though: play ball.

Mets, Lindor agree to a 10-year, $341 deal

I guess Steve Cohen’s tweeting didn’t do any damage after all: The New York Mets and shortstop Francisco Lindor have agreed to a 10-year, $341 million deal. It will be the third largest contract ever, based on total value, in major league history, trailing the deals for the Mike Trout ($426.5 million) and Mookie Betts ($365 million).

This is not the Wilpons’ Mets, folks.

Positive COVID test puts five Nationals players on the sidelines for Opening Day

The Washington Nationals will be down five players and one staff member for Opening Day after a player tested positive for COVID-19. The positive result came from a test conducted Monday, but the results were returned after the team had flown home to Washington, meaning that there was close contact between the player who tested positive and the four teammates and staff member, all of whom are now quarantining. All six of them, yet to be identified, will miss today’s opener, but their status after that is unclear. All we know for sure is that today’s starting pitcher, Max Scherzer, is not one of them because he was not on the team flight, having traveled separately with his family.

There’s a lot of optimism these days with vaccines and a slow return to something that looks more like normality, but we’re not out of this yet, folks.

Angel Hernandez loses his lawsuit. Hold your jokes.

In July 2017 umpire Angel Hernandez sued Major League Baseball alleging racial discrimination. Specifically, he claimed that MLB has failed to promote minority umpires, like himself, to the crew chief position or to give them World Series assignments. He also claimed that the man who, at the time, was his ultimate supervisor, Joe Torre, held personal animus against him which resulted in discrimination. As I wrote at the time, Torre’s personal animus was actually a non-frivolous claim, though obviously not enough to stand on its own in a lawsuit.

But even if the suit was not a frivolous one, it was going to be a tough one given that (a) our workplace discrimination laws are not very worker friendly in this country; and (b) Hernandez is demonstrably one of the league’s worst umpires.

That latter bit has carried most of the conversation in connection with the suit — and has caused a great deal of joke-making — which, even if one dislikes Hernandez has always rubbed me the wrong way because, dudes, you can still be discriminated against even if you’re not the best worker. Anti-discrimination laws are not reserved only for those who do well in annual reviews. Still, from the outside at least, it seemed likely that a competent defense attorney could establish a hell of a lot of non-discriminatory reasons for Hernandez not being promoted or awarded plum assignments.

Yesterday the judge in the case ruled that that has, in fact, been legally established. He granted summary judgment, finding no material factual dispute on the matter which deserves to be presented to a jury. From the decision:

“Hernandez’s handful of cherry-picked examples does not reliably establish any systematic effort on MLB’s part to artificially deflate Hernandez’s evaluations, much less an effort to do so in order to cover up discrimination . . . The evidence shows beyond genuine dispute that an umpire’s leadership and situation management carried the day in MLB’s promotion decisions.”

The judge specifically cited Joe Torre’s testimony that, to the extent Hernandez was passed over for promotion, it was always in favor of candidates who “have not demonstrated the same pattern of issues and to the same extent that have manifested with Hernandez over the years.”

Still, MLB does not deserve to be hailed as grand victors here. Indeed, part of what led to the league’s victory is pretty damning, actually, even if it’s not legally damning. Specifically, one of Hernandez’s arguments was that discrimination should be inferred even if there’s no specific smoking gun regarding himself because MLB has promoted nearly zero minority umpires during his tenure. That legal doctrine is known as “inexorable zero” in discrimination cases. The judge didn’t buy it here, though, because . . . MLB hardly has any minority umpires:

“As MLB recognized internally, during the period at issue in this case it employed an unfortunately low proportion of minority umpires. Ironically, the case for the ‘inexorable zero’ in this non-promotion case might be stronger if MLB employed a greater number of minority umpires, or if the promotion pool were large enough to lend the ‘inexorable zero’ theory more weight. But the fact that MLB promoted few minority umpires flows from MLB’s ‘diversity problem,’ rendering Hernandez’s ‘inexorable zero’ argument inert.”

Hernandez’s attorney, Kevin Murphy, took big issue with that and will likely center that on his appeal:

“It’s similar to someone shooting their parents and then asking for leniency because they’re an orphan. Major League Baseball’s position, that it cannot be blamed for failing to promote minority umpires, because they’ve had so few to begin with, just doesn’t make any sense.”

There are distinctions between hiring discrimination and promotion discrimination, so Murphy is painting with a bit of a broad brush there, but he’s got a larger point which is deserving of some notice outside of a courtroom even if it’s not actionable in a courtroom.

Maybe Hernandez couldn’t prove discrimination, and maybe, yeah, he rather sucks as an ump, but MLB has certainly not covered itself with glory when it comes to having a diverse group of umpires.

Cleveland bans redface at Progressive Field

The Cleveland baseball team has announced that it will not allow fans in Progressive Field who, to use their words, are wearing “headdresses and face paint styled in a way that references or appropriates American Indian cultures and traditions.”

It’s about damn time. I and many others have been talking about this for years. My question, though, is whether they’re gonna let people in wearing merch with Chief Wahoo on it. The blatantly racist, redfaced logo that they club has ceased to use as an official logo but which it still licenses for merch sold by others and which fans still buy and wear like crazy.

If they do, it’s hard not to see this as a message saying “wearing racist stuff is prohibited in Progressive Field unless it’s officially-licensed racist stuff.”

Mookie Betts has MLB’s most popular jersey

MLB has announced the most popular player jerseys, based on sales from the online MLB shop since the conclusion of 2020 World Series. There are no real surprises on this list. Winning, fame and perceived coolness go a long way with this sort of thing.

The totals of guys with the asterisks next to their name included sales of jerseys from different teams. Which makes sense in this time period for Nolan Arenado, Francisco Lindor, and Kiké Hernández, each of whom switched teams during the offseason. But it also suggests that Red Sox fans are still buying Mookie Betts jerseys, Nationals fans are still buying Bryce Harper jerseys, and Astros fans are still buying Gerrit Cole jerseys.

Are they sales on old inventory, fans who can’t let go, or ironic purchases? NO MAN CAN SAY!

  1. Mookie Betts, Los Angeles Dodgers*

  2. Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

  3. Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres

  4. Bryce Harper, Philadelphia Phillies* 

  5. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

  6. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

  7. Ronald Acuña Jr., Atlanta Braves

  8. Francisco Lindor, New York Mets*

  9. Kiké Hernández, Boston Red Sox*

  10. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

  11. Nolan Arenado,St. Louis Cardinals*

  12. Javier Báez, Chicago Cubs

  13. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

  14. Gerrit Cole, New York Yankees*

  15. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

  16. Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers

  17. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

  18. Jacob deGrom,New York Mets

  19. Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

  20. Pete Alonso, New York Mets

Geddy Lee’s spirits down after Blue Jays axe radio

As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the Toronto Blue Jays will not have a dedicated radio play-by-play team and will, instead, simulcast the TV announcers over the radio. I and a lot of other people thought that was dumb, but no one listens to me. People in Toronto do listen to the most famous Blue Jays fan, though: Geddy Lee of Rush. Here’s what Lee had to say:

Some of my most memorable baseball memories were not from sitting in the stands or watching the game on the tube, but listening to the radio. Driving home from the cottage, I heard Dave Steib’s heartbreaking first one-hitter. There are nuances and descriptors that radio broadcasters share with their audiences that are simply not the same as a cabal of TV announcers, no matter how good they are. It’s a time-honoured craft that requires special ability to bring to life what we at home simply cannot see. This is a bad and regrettable decision.

He’s absolutely right. Radio broadcasters provide a friendly voice too. They’re companions unobtrusive. They make invisible airwaves crackle with life. They bear a gift beyond price, almost free. Rogers Communications doesn’t get that, of course. All they seem to care about are whatever they can get from salesmen. Salesmen! SALESMEN!

Guest Post: Opening Day, Ticket Stubs and Mom, by Louis Schiff

Many of you may know dedicated subscriber and friend Lou Schiff as the co-author of the Baseball and the Law casebook and the proprietor of the Twitter account of the same name, which provides unique, daily “This day in Baseball History” updates. Today he is a guest poster, sharing his annual Opening Day letter with new friends. Us.

Dear Friends,

Like many of you, I have been awake for hours waiting in anticipation of the excitement that is Opening Day. Having been vaccinated, I will go to Marlins Park today and sit socially distant in a stadium that invented and defined the meaning of socially distancing. It has been over 18 months since I last attended a game; the longest streak since before the Marlins became a team in 1993.  

If you have had your vaccination, I hope you are going to Opening Day.

This year Craig has been so kind allowing me to send my Opening Day letter to his friends as well as mine.

Three years ago, just two weeks before Opening Day, my mom passed away. Although she never went to an Opening Day with me, she knew how much I loved going. In 1968 when I was 12 years old, she trusted me enough and allowed me to go to Shea Stadium with a friend on the Long Island Rail Road for my first ever Opening Day without any adult supervision. Yes, things were different back then. I certainly never allowed either of my children to go to a ballgame without adult supervision when they were 12 years old.

Like many moms, my mom threw away my baseball memorabilia, not when I was away at college, but when we made the move from New York to Florida in 1972. Mom considered my memorabilia junk, not destined for the move. Gone were all my baseball cards, scorecards, yearbooks, and ticket stubs. Everything. Or so I thought.

Somehow, the only memorabilia to make it to Florida were my 1968 and 1969 Mets Opening Day ticket stubs and my 1969 Mets scrapbook.

Mom was big believer in throwing away junk.  She was also a big believer in donating to “Goodwill.”  If something did not fit my brother or me or if there was something in our home we could no longer use, but another person could use it, mom would donate it to “Goodwill.”  “Don’t throw it away, I will give it to Goodwill so someone else could use it,” she would often say.

Since I got married 38 years ago, the ticket stubs and scrapbook have been in my office at work, for fear my wife, like mom, would throw them away. Over the years, there have been times when I thought about throwing away the ticket stubs or selling them; but they just sat in my top desk drawer in an envelope. Until recently.

I am friends with some baseball people. Two of those friends are Dave Van Horne, Ford Frick award recipient and Marlins radio play-by-play broadcaster, and Art Shamsky, a member of the 1969 World Champion New York Mets.

The very first MLB game Dave Van Horne announced was Opening Day at Shea Stadium on April 8, 1969.  Dave was behind the microphone for the 1969 expansion Montreal Expos in their first game ever.  He told me he did not have a ticket stub from that day. During the 50th anniversary year of his first MLB broadcast, I gave Dave the ticket stub. Dave did not want to accept the stub.  However, I insisted, after all, it belonged in his collection of memories.

The first home game Art Shamsky played for the Mets at Shea Stadium was on April 17, 1968, the Mets home opener.  The Mets won. A few weeks ago, during an outdoor lunch with Art, I asked him if he remembered his first home Opening Day with the Mets.  He did. Like Dave, he did not have any “souvenir” of the game.  So, I gave him the ticket stub.  Like Dave, he did not want to accept it. However, I insisted, after all, it belonged in his collection of memories.

I miss mom. Mom is with me every day, in everything I do.  So mom, thank you for not trashing the Opening Day ticket stubs and my Mets scrapbook. Mom, I know you would be proud of me, because I took the ticket stubs and gave them to someone else who could use them. (I am keeping the scrapbook, because it reminds me of you).


Other Stuff

Amtrak announces a big expansion plan

Yesterday Amtrak announced their plans for Amtrak ConnectUS, an initiative to add new or improved routes to add millions more passengers over 15 years. The plan includes several new lines to un-served or underserved areas like Columbus, Ohio. Which, along with Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Nashville don’t have any passenger rail service. Which is . . . nuts. Thurmond, West Virginia (population 5) does have an active Amtrak station, however. For real. Twice weekly service to Washington and Chicago. What a world.

The light blue lines are the new services. I don’t know why you wouldn’t connect Nashville and Louisville, but there are a lot of things I don’t know:

As a lot of you know, back in 2015 I was one of Amtrak’s Writers in Residence, taking a cross country trip for the purpose of writing, well, whatever I wanted to. I wrote about the whole experience here, and talked a lot about the pros and cons of long distance rail travel. Given my leanings and my love of trains one might think, then, that I’m a big cheerleader for anything like this, but I have mixed feelings about such proposals.

This is a BIG country. There is a LOT of space in it. And trains are not always the most ideal or efficient ways to travel in that big empty space. When people make those fantasy maps of high-speed rail lines connecting everything part of me loves it but part of me realizes that it’s still not practical for big swaths of this nation. I have a nice soft spot for such plans and for Amtrak overall, but in an ideal world our transit dollars would be heavily focused on fixing and expanding rail and other mass transit options within cities, around suburbs, and connecting urban centers that are closer together as opposed to building routes between Cheyenne and Pueblo.

Not that Cheyenne and Pueblo shouldn’t have rail service too! Or that I shouldn’t be able to take a train from here to Cincinnati sometimes. I’m just talking about priorities here.

G. Gordon Liddy: 1930-2021

G. Gordon Liddy, who concocted the bungled burglary that led to the Watergate scandal and the resignation of Richard Nixon, died. He was 90. Anyone who lives long enough has their faults and transgressions sanded over a bit, and Liddy’s second life as a media personality makes his criminal past seem even more remote, but make no mistake, he as a major league piece of crap.

He served as a model for the criminals who came of age as political consultants and strategists in the 1980s — people like Lee Atwater, Roger Stone, and Paul Manfort — who were incapable of distinguishing between legal and illegal, ethical and unethical, and moral and immoral. They are adopted the any-means-necessary approach of Liddy, all the more emboldened by the fact that Liddy did relatively little prison time and ended up richer and more famous as a result of his infamy than he would’ve been had he walked a straight and narrow line.

The guy proposed murdering people because he thought it’d get Nixon reelected. That should lead every obituary.

“VC lives matter!”

There’s a movement afoot in San Francisco to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Boudin, who grew up without his parents because they were/are serving lengthy prison sentences for their roles in the 1981 Brinks robbery, is against mass incarceration, has basically done away with cash bail, and has released a great many people from San Francisco jails during the pandemic. That has correlated with crime going up in the city in the past year.

Whether there is just correlation or if there is a causal relationship between crime rates and Boudin’s policies is above my and almost everyone else’e pay grade. Crime is a complex thing to which far more than prosecutorial policies contribute, especially in a year like we’ve just gone through. But regardless of the causal relationship or lack thereof, there are obviously people who are upset with this, thus the recall campaign.

The campaign has various backing factions, but the faction giving it the most money and the strongest push is the tech sector and their friends in venture capital. There’s a story all about that over at Mother Jones. I neither live in San Francisco nor have a depth of familiarity or insight with its problems so I can’t say anything super deep about it, but I found the article interesting. But the most interesting thing in it was not about what’s going on in San Francisco, Boudin’s track record, or the recall initiative itself. It was a frankly appalling quote from one of the venture capitalists backing the recall.

The quote comes from Ellie Cachette, one of the tech investors who has donated to the recall fund and who is worried about what San Francisco’s crime problems mean for business. Get this shit:

“In San Francisco, VC lives matter. We’re the ones employing people, bringing business, buying properties, you know, paying property taxes. And what are we getting in return? Nothing.”

Setting aside the merits entirely, this quote is absolutely astounding. And not just because it’s from a rich person asking why more isn’t being done to please her and her friends.

A lot of groups have attempted co-opted Black Lives Matter. All such efforts are obnoxious because to attempt to do so is to misunderstand the movement on the most basic level. Indeed, it serves to negate the very idea of Black lives mattering to begin with. But to have venture capitalists, of all the damn people in the world doing it — while opposing someone who wants to end police and prosecutorial policies which have visited more injustice on the Black community than anyone — is like chutzpah inception.

I had never heard of Ellie Cachette before yesterday, so I Googled her. I learned that, actually, she doesn’t even live in San Francisco anymore, she has moved to Miami, so that’s fun. I also learned that her Twitter timeline yesterday had a lot of anti-racism retweets in it, suggesting that in addition to acute chutzpah poisoning, she has is suffering from a serve case of self-awareness deficit disorder. I then closed out the window with a heavy sigh.

Just one more thing . . .

Subscriber Acoustic Rob hipped me to this story about the watch company Swatch trying to snag the European trademark for the phrase “one more thing.” Apple had objected to the application, noting that it was a longstanding phrase used by founder Steve Jobs at those upfronts where he used to unveil new products. A lower court sided with Apple, but on appeal Apple’s objection was defeated. Why?

Because Lt. Columbo said it way before Steve Jobs ever did, the court said. Indeed, Jobs was probably consciously aping Columbo’s catchphrase with that given that, in both cases, it was used to tee up a big reveal with a seemingly minor, additional comment.

The outcome here shouldn’t shock anyone. The good Lieutenant spent decades taking down wealthy and powerful folks who thought they were untouchable. Apple is just the latest.

Have a great Opening Day, everyone. And That Happened returns tomorrow.

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