Cup of Coffee: April 29, 2021

Free Thursday! Featuring dirt on Tony La Russa, more thoughts on extra innings, a farewell to Michael Collins, and a decadent and depraved guest post

Good morning! Mike Trout currently has 69 at bats and is hitting .420!

And with that, welcome to Free Thursday! As usual, I invite you visitors to subscribe:

But if not, hey, no worries. I’m not going anywhere. Believe me, people have tried to make me. I’m just stubborn like that. I’ll get you eventually. I know what’s good for ya even if you don’t yet.

Today we have our usual recaps — really, that’s why I do this; I’ll be recapping games to my imaginary friends in my nursing home years after everyone else has gone away — but we also have dirt on Tony La Russa, more thoughts on extra innings, a farewell to Michael Collins, a decadent and depraved guest post, and much much more.

And That Happened

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Twins 10, Cleveland 2: Home runs on parade. Mitch Garver hit two out, Byron Buxton led the game off with a dinger, and Josh Donaldson, Jorge Polanco, and Willians Astudillo all went deep too. Three of them — Buxton’s, Donaldson’s and Polanco’s — all came in the first off of Logan Allen, ending this one before it began. Meanwhile J.A. Happ allowed only two runs over seven as Minnesota snapped a four-game losing streak. Buxton was a triple short of the cycle — he double twice in addition to a single and that homer — but as Aaron Gleeman pointed out many years ago, “a triple short of a cycle” is not all that uncommon, actually. Oddly, that was one of Gleeman’s most controversial posts at HardballTalk until he took on the topic of whether you should keep ketchup in the fridge or not and, boy howdy, did people have some feelings on that one. Maybe his most hated post ever was when he noted, not incorrectly, that Michael Young getting to 2,000 hits wasn’t that big a deal.

I hate to be that guy, but HardballTalk back in the day was like nothin’ else. My god we had fun — and pissed off all the right people — before some executives decided that it was better to let readers tell writers what they should write via convoluted analytics as opposed to letting writers write fun, interesting, and occasionally conventional wisdom-challenging things.

Marlins 6, Brewers 2: Jesús Aguilar is hot. He homered for the fifth time in his last six games — this one a tiebreaking three-run shot with two outs in the fourth — as Miami powered past Milwaukee. Aguilar played for the Brewers from 2017-19. In this series he went 4-for-11 with two homers, four runs and five RBI as the Marlins took two of three. In case you were wondering if I was the only one out here taking swipes at his old employer.

What everyone was talking about as this one was going on was this play, however, in which the clearly out batter was called safe because in the mind of first base umpire Marty Foster, the runner was interfered with:

Foster told reporters after the game that it was “clear-cut obstruction.” Sure, Jan.

Dodgers 8, Reds 0: L.A. gets off a three-game losing streak and salvages one thanks to seven shutout innings from Clayton Kershaw. Just old school ace stuff. A stopper doing stopper things. He was backed by a Justin Turner homer and a six-run eighth inning powered by a Chris Taylor RBI triple and a bunch of RBI singles from the assembled masses. But yeah, this was the Kershaw show. This will be a random Wednesday no one remembers when talking about his Hall of Fame career one day, but there have been so many of ‘em that they all add up.

Red Sox 1, Mets 0: Stop me, oh-oh-oh stop me, stop me if you think that you've heard this one before: Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher on Planet Earth right now, pitched a gem but got no run support. Six innings, three hits, one run, nine strikeouts and a loss because his offense did jack crap. Not to take away from his counterpart Nick Pivetta, who shut out New York on one hit for five, backed by a Christian Vázquez RBI double in the second. Still, though, when the history of Jacob deGrom’s career is written, it’ll be all about how, basically, this was him:

Yankees 7, Orioles 0: Heartbreaking: the worst pitcher you know, Domingo Germán, pitched a great game. Seven shutout innings while allowing only three hits and six strikeouts. Mike Ford, Gio Urshela, and Clint Frazier went deep. Urshela’s was a three-run bomb. Why a jackass like Germán gets run support when Jacob deGrom can’t is a mystery. Why, if they were both born in 1923, did Hank Williams die 68 years ago while Henry Kissinger is still alive? It speaks to the fact that the universe is indifferent to the desires of humankind and that which we consider justice.

Nationals 8, Blue Jays 2: Erick Fedde allowed one over six while Steven Matz got knocked around for six while not managing to escape the fourth. It was the Josh show on offense — Harrison hit a three-run jack and Bell hit a two-run homer — to give Washington an 8-0 lead by the fifth.

Rays 2, Athletics 0: Tyler Glasnow gave the Rays seven innings of ten-strikeout shutout ball while Mike Zunino homered and Manuel Margot drove one in. The A’s have now lost three of four after that 13-game winning streak which followed their season-opening six-game losing streak. Buy the ticket, take the ride. And if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well, maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion. Tune in, freak out, get beaten.

Atlanta 10, Cubs 0: Just a friendly reminder to teams goin’ through a rough patch: if you skip the game, just stay back at the hotel, order a pizza, and watch old movies all evening, you only lose 9-0 because of the forfeit rules. Sometimes that’s a better deal is all I’m saying. Marcell Ozuna, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, and even starting pitcher Huascar Ynoa hit homers for Atlanta. Kyle Hendricks gave up three of ‘em. It was not his night. Hell, it has not been his season thus far.

Phillies 5, Cardinals 3: Phillies won, some players did some stuff, but the takeaway here was Bryce Harper getting hit in the damn face with a 97 m.p.h. fastball from Cardinals’ lefty Génesis Cabrera:

After the game Harper posted a video that said: “Everything came back good. The face is still there. See ya soon.” The “came back good” likely refers to a clean CT scan.

Right after Harper got hit Cabrera hit Didi Gregorius. At that point Joe Girardi came out of the dugout with a case of the red ass and was ejected. His explanation afterward rings pretty true: he said that he didn’t think Cabrera was throwing at Phillies batters — his reaction after he hit Harper made it pretty clear it was not on purpose — but the fact that the guy couldn’t seem to not hit anyone sorta dictated that he leave the game for everyone’s safety. Cards manager Mike Shildt felt differently, let him stay in for one more batter and that batter, Andrew McCutchen, hit a go-ahead RBI single. So, yeah, really, maybe Cabrera shouldn’t have been in there.

Angels 4, Rangers 3: All four of the Angels’ runs came in the first via two two-run singles, one from Anthony Rendon, one from José Iglesias. That gave Rangers starter Dane Dunning the loss. It was his worst performance in a game since, well, just last Friday when he gave up five in two and two-thirds. Neither of those, however, compare to his performance as Steve Logan in 1940s Universal picture “Ragtime Cowboy Joe.” As far as the quickie Ray Taylor westerns went it was fine, but those things were made on a shoestring and Dunning was an actor who really needed extra takes.

Astros 7, Mariners 5: The once-hot Mariners have been cooled off and the once-cold Astros are on a roll. Here Houston came from behind in the eighth without an extra-base hit. Kyle Tucker and Yuli Gurriel had back-to-back singles, an error allowed Tucker to score on a fielder's choice, Aledmys Díaz singled to score Gurriel, Jason Castros drew a bases-loaded walk, and José Altuve sacrificed in another run.

Padres 12, Diamondbacks 3: San Diego exploded with a six-run fifth inning, with a Manny Machado bases-loaded triple doing the most damage. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Kim Ha-Seong each had two hits and two RBI. Padres starter Ryan Weathers, who entered the game with an 0.59 ERA, was replaced after one inning because of left arm soreness. That’s not good.

Giants 7, Rockies 3: Mike Tauchman’s first game as a Giant went well: 3-for-4, an RBI and a run scored. The Rockies issued three bases-loaded walks in this one. Alex Wood struck out nine over six innings, holding Colorado hitless for the first five and two-thirds. San Francisco has won eight of its past 11. The Rockies stink on ice. 

Tigers vs. White Sox — POSTPONED:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

The Daily Briefing

Tony La Russa has got some problems right now

The White Sox are in second place, just a skosh behind a Royals team that is likely to come back to Earth soon. And they’ve done that despite a number of injuries to key players. All in all, one can look at what they’re doing from a distance and say “huh, guess Tony La Russa is doing a good job with them.”

If you’re not at a distance, however — if you watch every White Sox game closely like Jim Margalus of the Chisox blog SoxMachine does — you’re seeing some worrying signs. He argues that there is legitimate cause for concern. Concern about stuff that may not be a big deal in a late April game against the Tigers, but which could loom much larger as the games become more important in what should be a playoff season for Chicago.

It’s a good, measured take in my view. As Jim notes, it’d be easy to autopilot to “La Russa is too old” or “La Russa is out of touch” criticisms, and thus such criticisms should be leveled very judiciously. His approach is the better one: he looked at what La Russa has done and asks if it’s a fluke or the start of a pattern, and makes assessments based on the evidence.

In-game stuff may be the least of La Russa’s problems right now, however, compared to what is coming out of his well-known Animal Rescue Foundation charity:

. . . the venerable Bay Area nonprofit that finds homes for stray and abandoned pets faces four lawsuits from former and current employees. Meanwhile, a public dispute between Tony La Russa, former Oakland A’s manager, and his wife and two daughters has developed over the future of long-time ARF executive director Elena Bicker and board chairman Greg McCoy.

The lawsuits claim that Bicker, McCoy and even La Russa himself “tolerated, engendered and permitted a toxic workplace culture.”

But Tony La Russa is standing by the two, who he believes have been unfairly targeted for complaints from employees. He said he will continue to support ARF and its mission, as he’s done the past 30 years.

La Russa is standing by Bicker and McCoy, but his wife and two daughters have stepped away from the foundation and won't return until those two are gone. What’s worse, La Russa, based on a quote he gave to the San Jose Mercury News, does not seem to appreciate the problem:

“We haven’t accomplished what we’ve accomplished over the years and earned (people’s) trust by being a toxic environment”

Someone needs to point out to La Russa that there is no connection between business or philanthropic success on the one hand and a healthy workplace environment on the other. Indeed, many of the most toxic places accomplish a great deal because they’re not, you know, concerned about the humanity of their workers as they prioritize external success above all other things.

In the past, La Russa’s response to criticism has basically been “scoreboard.” As in, who are you to question him given that he’s Tony Fuckin’ La Russa. I believe he’ll find, however, that while such an approach may work to cow some reporters who ask him about a pitching change or even a drunk driving charge, it doesn’t fly in the real world.

More on the extra innings home run derby idea

Our friend Nato Coles pointed out this article at The Athletic about the Pioneer League’s idea to adopt a home run derby to decide tie games rather than extra innings. The story focuses on the Pioneer League’s tight margins as a newly-independent league — it was low-A ball until contraction hit last year — and how extra innings cost money and pitchers are hard to come by, thereby making the decision more of a necessity and less of a gimmick. The article pushes back on the idea that the new rule was due to MLB’s meddling with rules, saying “there are no MLB fingerprints on these changes.”

OK, maybe MLB wasn’t in the loop here, but I’m not gonna absolve them just yet.

If the article is correct and tight finances and the difficulty in finding enough pitchers to fill a roster is the primary driver here, I’d say that the Pioneer League being thrown out into the cold as an indy league after 81 years in affiliated ball is the main contributing factor to that. Not only are Rob Manfred’s fingerprints all over that, but there’s powder residue on his sleeve and blood spatter on the walls of the room he was seen leaving just before the body was discovered. If this were a TV show he’d be in full Robert Culp mode, now, condescendingly lecturing Columbo as to why it was NONSENSE to suggest that he could be involved because, you see Lieutenant, he had a perfect alibi as a speaker at the luncheon on the other side of town.

But whether this is actually a move of desperation or, alternatively, a gimmick to get some heat doesn’t matter. Major League Baseball has made it its mission to fulfill the “One Baseball” dream, in which nothing which happens in this sport happens without MLB’s involvement or approval, tacit or otherwise. MLB threw the Pioneer League out into independent land, yet still “partners” with it so that it has a seat at its table if it wants it. It likewise has set the stage for rules experiments via its own example. To attempt to unbundle all of that is pointless. Major League Baseball’s assertion of power over baseball in America is so complete that there isn’t much room for it to be said that even the nominally independent actors are acting independently.

If Major League Baseball wants all of the power over baseball in this country, it has to take responsibility for what happens with baseball in this country as well. Whatever dumb shit spins out of its exercise of that power is on Rob Manfred. All of it is. It’s what he wanted.

Miguel Cabrera: Vaccine Ambassador

Miguel Cabrera — who, according to some sketchy sources has hit almost 500 homers this year alone — has another job to do too: he’s helping Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer promote COVID-19 vaccinations as the co-chair of the Protect Michigan Commission.

Cabrera will do public service announcements in English and Spanish in an effort to motivate people to get vaccinated, wear masks, socially distance and the like. Cabrera:

“Based on what I know from getting vaccinated already, the shots are nowhere near as bad as the virus. Our goal with the commission is to get as many people vaccinated as possible, and I hope my support toward that end is successful.”

I’m sure that there are some rando conservative infielders or relief pitchers who know better, though, because they listen to a lot of Joe Rogan and watch Tucker Carlson on the DVR after they get home from games.

Other Stuff

Michael Collins: 1930-2021

Michael Collins, the astronaut who piloted the Apollo 11 spacecraft in orbit around the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on it, died yesterday at the age of 90. Every man and woman who has willingly sat on a tower of fire in order to be shot into space for the betterment of humankind is a hero in my book, but Collins holds a special place in my heart.

Partially because he, seemingly without any complaint, took the ultimate third wheel role in staying back while Aldrin and Armstrong walked on the moon, getting way less of the glory despite having a job that was absolutely critical to both the success of the mission to the moon and to getting Aldrin and Armstrong back alive. He wrote eloquently about that responsibility over the years, making the work of an astronaut seem so much more relatable to me than accounts from some of the others in that club, who sometimes come off like superheroes.

But he also holds a special place in my heart because he did something truly cool: he got away from it all. Like, really away. Specifically, when Collins was in orbit around the dark side of the moon he was over 2,200 miles from the nearest human beings, Buzz and Neil. There’s a bit of guessing involved in all of this, but that’s likely the farthest away one human being has ever been from the next closest human being in the history of civilization. Talk about life goals.

RIP, General Collins.

Wayne LaPierre: total piece of crap

You don’t need additional reasons to think that the people who run the NRA are pieces of crap, but this story about NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre failing to kill an elephant despite multiple tries, requiring his hunting guide to put it out of its misery, certainly adds to the pile.

And no, he’s not a piece of crap merely because his aim sucks and it resulted in an awful case of animal cruelty. He’s a piece of crap for simply wanting to kill an elephant. I wish I knew what in the hell was wrong with people who do that. It’s pure sickness.

You know the economy is healthy when . . .

. . . the best advice someone can give you about becoming a homeowner is “wait for your parents to die”:

This is only applicable to the Times’ UK readership, though. Americans know that most of our parents will die broke because we don’t have a public health system and thus all of that potential inheritance is going to be used for medical bills.

Guest Post: Jamie Reidy

I sell mugs with the Cup of Coffee logo on them here. If you buy one, and shoot me a photo of yourself with it, you’re entitled to a guest post.

Today we continue with the Kentucky Derby theme. Take it away, Jamie, who is pictured here with his tastefully-named wife Alyson.

The Derby Is Not BYOB – But Still We Try

The first Saturday in May – my favorite day of the year. I’ve attended fourteen Runs for The Roses. Alas, I won’t be at Churchill Downs this weekend, but I will raise a Mint Julep to toast the wiliest bootleggers I ever saw.

In 1996, I made my maiden visit to Louisville with two buddies and a pal of theirs. It was also my first time crashing at a friend-of-a-friend’s in-laws’ home, but The “Smiths” welcomed me like family. Never before had I encountered a citizenry that so completely embraced an event the way in which Looavul residents revel in the Kentucky Derby.

Later, though, the mood in The Smiths’ house changed. After Ma and Pa had gone to bed, their adult children’s dispositions fluctuated between surgeons and mad scientists. Little did I know, both descriptions fit.

The kitchen buzzed with well-rehearsed activity. Six-packs of Sprite and Coke appeared on the countertop next to two large ceramic bowls filled with Absolut and Jack Daniels, respectively. The son grabbed a Sprite and began shaking it vigorously. Huh? Out came the syringes. WTF? He strode to the sink, still shaking the can. But rather than opening it, he rotated the ring tab 90-degrees to the side. His sister then stepped toward him with the syringe as he held the can sideways above the sink. She placed the needle tip directly behind the oval, at “12 o’clock,” precisely where the ring tab would normally be. With perfect synchronization, she punctured a hole in the aluminum just as he turned the can upside down facing the drain.

WHOOSH! The reverse geyser emptied the can in mere seconds. My freeloading friends and I stood with our mouths agape. We had no idea why that had just happened, but we loved it.

“It’s physics!” the son explained, gleeful.

Actually – I’ve since learned – it was chemistry, then physics. Shaking up the can caused the carbon dioxide molecules to expand, which increased pressure inside the container. Turning the can over moved the heavier liquid to the bottom (technically, the part with the hole) and trapped the lighter CO2 at the top (technically, the bottom). Puncturing the can caused the bubbles to fight like hell to escape from an area of higher pressure to one of lower pressure; the carbon dioxide, then, forced the liquid out of the needle hole, resulting in the amazingly quick emptying of the can.

Next, Needle Nancy dipped her weapon into the vodka and filled the syringe. We watched in even more confusion as she grabbed the can and re-inserted the needle into the hole she made earlier. She pushed down on the plunger and we could hear the liquid hit the bottom of the can. She stepped back with a satisfied smile.

We still had no clue. Without a word, her brother picked up the can and, with deliberate movements even hazy houseguests could follow, rotated the ring tab back to its normal position.

“Booze costs a fortune at Churchill. Security’s a total bitch--”
“--They search everybody and confiscate whatever they find--”
“--It’s like trying to break into Fort Knox.” (A nice local reference; the famed Army
post is about an hour’s drive from Louisville.)

Still, it took me a second. Ah ha! With the ring tab covering the needle hole, the altered can of Sprite looked just like a… sealed can of Sprite.

I raced to the sink with my can of Coke like an overeager second grader. I’m next! Alas, the fun factor faded. 5cc of vodka equals one teaspoon. Six teaspoons make up one ounce. Filling a 12-ounce can, therefore, required 72 teaspoons of vodka... or, approximately fourteen more doses from the syringe. And we needed to fill five more Sprite cans and six more Coke cans after that. Ugh. The freeloaders’ excitement bottomed out. As usual, alcohol would keep us up late, but not for the usual reasons.

Arriving at the Churchill Downs gate, the challenge ahead of us was obvious. Kentucky State Troopers in sharp uniforms stood ready. The dumpsters behind them were already half full of broken booze bottles and it was only 11:00AM. Forget about Fort Knox; this was like Frodo trying to get the ring back into Mordor.

Maybe for rookies. Johnny Law peeked inside our cooler, saw the soda cans buried in ice up to – but not above – their tops, and waved us in. We strolled past like the bad guy in “The French Connection.” Our tickets were for the infield, which was a muddy mess thanks to days of rain. No matter! Having outsmarted Kentucky’s finest, our spirits refused to be dampened. We put down our tarps, then blankets. Using fountain sodas from the concessions stand, we stealthily mixed Jack-and-Cokes and vodka Sprites. “Y’all know how much money we just saved?!” Damn, those drinks tasted good.

Four college dudes soon stopped nearby, oddly fidgety in their frat boy uniforms: khaki shorts, Polo shirts, and ball caps with worn and molded brims. The youngest’s bottoms were ten sizes too big, the short pants equivalent of a child wearing Daddy’s collared shirt as a smock. Unlike us, these guys had no cooler, tarps, or blankets.

“Now, now, NOW!” Suddenly, Big Shorts dropped trou. What in the world? Underneath his khakis he wore black biking shorts, revealing two “fifths” of Jack Daniels securely duct-taped to each of his thighs.

As he and one buddy scanned for cops, the remaining two guys squatted on either side and began unwrapping the duct tape with the intensity of a NASCAR pit crew. In less than a minute, they ran off, each with a bottle in his pocket and giggling insanely like Gollum as he fell to his fiery death with his beloved ring in hand.

Hours of painstaking work went into our foolproof operation. But these bootleggers put in, what, five minutes? And they probably didn’t spend their Friday night stuck in a kitchen with no single women, either.

I hope those legends have third floor Clubhouse tickets, or better, on this Derby Day. And I hope they tell their story a bunch of times. I know I will.

Jamie Reidy is an author and screenwriter in Southern California. His first book
got turned into the movie “Love and Other Drugs” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne
Hathaway. His latest book, “Need One: A Fanatic’s Attempt to Attend 365 Games in 365 Days” is available on Amazon.

Have a great day, everyone.