Cup of Coffee: December 17, 2020

The Negro Leagues, Omar Vizquel, COVID, "Night Court," and a mincemeat update I'm sure you were all waiting for.

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Today we talk about MLB’s big announcement about the Negro Leagues and about the revelations about Omar Vizquel. We also have a couple of items about his contemporaries, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, talk about a couple of ways to make the game better and share a fun item about the late Dick Allen.

In Other Stuff we talk COVID and “Night Court.” One of those is decidedly more fun than the other. I also provide a mincemeat update because, well, obviously.

Let’s get at ‘er.

The Daily Briefing

The Negro Leagues are now, officially, a major league

Major League Baseball announced yesterday that it has now, officially, recognized the Negro Leagues as major leagues. There are actually seven distinct leagues, normally collectively referred to as the Negro Leagues, that are being recognized:

  • The Negro National League (I) (1920-31);

  • The Eastern Colored League (1923-28);

  • The American Negro League (1929);

  • The East-West League (1932);

  • The Negro Southern League (1932);

  • The Negro National League (II) (1933-48); and

  • The Negro American League (1937-48)

The move, which MLB characterizes as “correcting a longtime oversight in the game’s history,” means that the statistics and records of the 3,400+ men who played in the Negro Leagues are now officially part of Major League Baseball’s history and those men are properly referred to as “major leaguers.”

This is good news. And important news. I spend a lot of time criticizing Major League Baseball, so allow me to congratulate them for doing this. It’s nice to be able to be proud of the institution I’ve devoted so much of my time and emotional energy to rather than disappointed.

But let’s keep a couple of things in mind here. And let’s not make a mistake we’ve made in the past when Major League Baseball has worked to correct its mistake.

First, while we can be pleased at this news, let’s not break our arms patting Major League Baseball on the back and let’s sure as hell not let MLB break its own arm patting itself on the back. The league is really good at that when it comes to this sort of thing, after all. Just look at how self-congratulatory MLB gets every April 15 on Jackie Robinson Day. Look at how it talks about Branch Rickey and Happy Chandler. It’s amazing how much credit the very same institution which kept Black players out for so long wants for itself for reversing its own course.

I’ll grant that, in its announcement yesterday, MLB acknowledged that this was overdue — they’re not acting like they discovered the Negro Leagues or something — but let’s stop there and be sure the focus is not on the act of recognition itself but is, instead, on the Black players whose existence and whose feats were not officially recognized for what they were before yesterday when anyone with a lick of sense knew better a long damn time ago.

Let’s also think a bit about the term “recognized” itself, shall we? Clinton Yates of The Undefeated wrote about that yesterday afternoon, asking why Major League Baseball even gets to make such a designation and why we should necessarily care about it. Yes, on a basic, practical level I do understand the role MLB has here given that it is, for better or for worse, the only extant baseball league of consequence in this country, but Yates makes some damn good points in cautioning against assuming that MLB is the sole entity which has the right, let alone the standing, to bestow legitimacy on anything.

With those buts out of the way, allow me to offer a “but” on the merits of the act of recognition itself.

So much of the immediate reaction to this focuses on the elevation of Negro Leagues statistics into the official major league record. That’s cool, obviously, but I hope all of us understand that Major League Baseball’s historical failure to consider the Negro Leagues as true major leagues affected far more than just the statistical records. And I hope that it recognizes that, because of that, there is still more work to be done.

Major League Baseball’s view, circa 1947, of the Negro Leagues as inferior leagues was, obviously, about racism. But the effects of that racism were not confined to the pre-civl rights era and that racism affected more than just how MLB would handle the Negro Leagues’ history at some later date.

The view of the Negro Leagues as inferior provided the justification for MLB to raid the Negro Leagues of its best players with little if any compensation to the franchises which developed and employed them. It led the NL and AL to ignore the Negro Leagues’ less-than-star players who, in all likelihood, could’ve filled out big league rosters and could’ve played in the minor leagues but didn’t because white baseball considered them to be insignificant and inferior. It caused MLB to fail to consider Negro Leagues executives, coaches and team employees for employment as well.

MLB’s skimming off of only a small handful of superstars in the 1940s and 1950s, while shunning the vast majority of its players and workers, was enough to crater the Negro Leagues as a business, leading to their destruction and leading to the end of countless on-the-field and off-the-field baseball careers. It also led to a much, much slower and less comprehensive integration of the game than we may have otherwise gotten. That foot-dragging foreclosed the would-be careers of multiple generations of Black scouts, coaches, managers, and executives which, in turn, foreclosed the sort of intergenerational role modeling and mentoring which would’ve led to a greater number of Black scouts, coaches, managers, and executives than we have in the game today. Which is to say that even if the sort of racism that motivated MLB’s failure to properly assess the worth of the Negro Leagues back in the 40s and 50s is not apparent in the game now, the legacy inspired by that racism persists.

Yesterday’s recognition of the Negro Leagues is, obviously, welcome. Hopefully it will buoy and further fuel the work statisticians and historians have been doing to fill out and define the historical and statistical record of the Negro Leagues. But it is not the end of the matter. There is much more work to be done if MLB wants its recognition of the Negro Leagues to be a truly substantive gesture, rather than a merely symbolic and administrative one. The game is still not integrated. There is still not equal opportunity in baseball for Black people. Until there is, every step forward is just that: a step.

Omar Vizquel: domestic abuser

Katie Strang and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic released a bombshell report yesterday detailing Omar Vizquel’s history of physical and mental abuse of his wife, Blanca.

The report reveals that Vizquel was arrested in 2016 for pushing and causing physical injury to Blanca during an argument in their home. On a later occasion his sister-in-law witnessed Vizquel on top of his wife, choking her. There are multiple accounts of Vizquel mentally abusing his wife, demeaning her and pressuring her into isolating herself from her friends, family, and neighbors. Blanca fled the home she shared with Vizquel, spent time in a women’s shelter, and then initiated divorce proceedings against him back in August. She spoke to Strang and Rosenthal about this. This is not second-hand news.

The Athletic reports that Major League Baseball investigated Vizquel, who was a Tigers coach at the time, following his 2016 arrest. Vizquel was placed on a “treatment plan” and instructed to “cease and desist from any hostile or threatening contact” with Blanca. He would later go on to manage the Birmingham Barons in the White Sox organization but was dismissed after an incident with a team employee that no one is commenting on, apparently due to some sort of non-disclosure agreement.

In response to the story Vizquel’s representatives “flatly denied” that any domestic violence occurred. Then they dropped this:

Additionally, a representative of Vizquel reached out to The Athletic to provide “a brief presentation with some of the background on the allegations against Mr. Vizquel.” That 11-page PDF document is titled “The facts on the smear campaign against Omar Vizquel.” It includes bullet points that note, among other things, that “Vizquel was accused of fourth-degree assault, the least serious level.” The “conclusions” section of the presentation highlights that Vizquel is a finalist for the Hall of Fame. 

“I deny any domestic violence happened” combined with “that assault charge I do not dispute was small potatoes” and “by the way, did you know that I’m on the Hall of Fame ballot?” is some Grade-A chutzpah, I’ll give Vizquel that. And while the guy or his lawyers can say anything he wants, releasing 11-page PDFs detailing how not-shitty and violent a person someone is is generally not a successful or admirable legal or public relations strategy.

Whatever one makes of that defense, this is example ten million supporting the idea that one should not assume that a person's public face and reputation is representative of their true character and how one should never assume that athletic prowess is indicia of a person's worth.

Manny Ramirez is playing baseball again

Speaking of guys with domestic violence histories, Manny Ramirez is making his debut for the Sydney Blue Sox of the Australian Baseball League, basically, as I write this item early on Thursday morning. If you’re getting this right after publication, the Blue Sox’ Twitter feed is providing live updates of its ongoing game.

Before this, Manny’s last act as a professional baseball player came in Taiwan in 2013 when he suited up for a very brief period for the EDA Rhinos of the CPBL (the Rhinos are now the Fubon Guardians). He did well in that short stint but then went back home. Aside from some coaching here and there, he’s been retired since then.

Back in May the 48-year-old Ramirez talked about how he had been “sneaking around the local hitting cages in my area.” Recently his manager with the Blue Sox, Shane Barclay, said that Ramirez’s preparation for the season was impressive, suggesting that this is not just some stunt.

Guess we’ll see how he holds up in the hot Australian summer.

A-Rod pivots to hotels

In more 1990s-2000s player news, Alex Rodriguez failed in his efforts to buy the New York Mets, so now he’s pivoting to becoming a hotel mogul. Front Office Sports reports that he has joined a Miami-based private equity firm to invest in hotels. From the sounds of it, they’re looking to arbitrage the pandemic by buying up hotels that have been hit hard in the past year and betting that they’ll rebound post-vaccine:

“We believe we can acquire assets that are strategically positioned to be in the top-performing percentile once restrictions are eased,” said Rodriguez, who will also invest personal money into the fund.

Of course, there are a lot of other ways private equity types make money than buying businesses and making them thrive. A couple of big ways they make money is by breaking up and selling off assets they acquire or piling them up with debt, extracting massive “management fees” while running the business, and then bugging the hell out before things come crashing down. Once they come crashing down, the press tends to say “oh, hey, that venerable old retailer/manufacturer/newspaper/hotel chain went bankrupt. I guess they just didn’t adapt to the times!” The PE guys are rarely blamed.

Given how deftly A-Rod managed to moonwalk away from the messes he caused in his baseball career, this seems like a pretty natural progression for him.

Three ways to make the game better

Craig Edwards at FanGraphs actually headlined his latest article “Two Easy Ways To Make Baseball a Better Game,” but he adds a bonus third in there that is just as good an idea as the other two, so I’ll call it three.

The thing that needs to be fixed has been discussed a great deal over the past few years: there is damn little action in the game, the action there is has tipped overwhelmingly in favor of the so-called “three true outcomes” — home runs, strikeouts, and walks — and thus there is way less hitting, running, fielding, and other sorts of kinetic stuff that makes the pleasure centers of sports fans brains tingle happily.

Edwards’ proposals: shrink the strike zone, deaden the ball, and expand the league. All of which have been discussed, obviously, but Edwards, as he so often does, provides data and evidence for such ideas that’s usually lacking. Of particular interest here is pushback against the often-suggested idea that shrinking the strike zone would just lead to more walks. Edwards believes that’s not so and he explains why.

The third idea, expansion, is given only a couple of sentences, but I agree with them. Edwards:

If I had a third way to make baseball better, I’d expand by a few teams to thin the pitching talent pool a bit, potentially make workhorse starters more valuable, and encourage quality starting pitchers to throw more innings in games, which would increase the dropoff in talent to relievers. But expansion is considerably more complicated and requires much more effort to get done.

Where I’m at: it’s been over 22 years since the last two expansion teams came online. That’s the longest period baseball has gone without adding new teams since it began doing so back in 1961. In those 22 years, the U.S. population has increased by like 55 million people. The Dominican Republic population has expanded by more than 25%. The patterns are the same everywhere else where ballplayers are typically born. The talent pool is bigger. The game can ride out whatever immediate dilution it experiences and, in the short run, that dilution will be beneficial to the quality of the game.

Get on it, MLB. I’m tired of watching ballplayers standing around all the damn time.

About that Dick Allen SI cover . . .

When Dick Allen died last week I and pretty much everyone else in the world ran the photo from his famous 1972 Sports Illustrated cover in which Allen was juggling baseball’s with a heater dangling from his lips:

Over at SI, Emma Baccellieri has the story of how that photo came about. It’s pretty neat.

Other Stuff

Introducing Substack Reader

If you’re reading this you have at least some interest in newsletters overall. If you do, and you want to streamline and simplify your newsletter experience, consider the new RSS reader Substack launched yesterday. Which is, appropriately, called Substack Reader. Any Substack newsletter you already subscribe to will automatically show up there. You can add third-party RSS feeds, too.

It’s still a bit primitive. It doesn’t have inline reading like the old Google Reader did — it launches stuff in new windows or tabs — but it’s supposed to get that eventually. It’s also, eventually, likely to morph into a portal that will recommend different newsletters to you based on your interests and stuff. For now it has a new discovery feature that might be fun to play around with.

I honestly don’t know if it’ll work well or be useful to people. The fact that my newsletter is on Substack does not mean I work for them or anything — I actually pay them, so maybe they work for me? — so it’s not like this is an endorsement. But anything that makes the experience of reading stuff online better is a good thing and this might do that for some of you.

COVID and Texas weddings

At this point I’m not easily shocked by stories about people being reckless with respect to COVID. I’ve long since accepted that a huge portion of this country simply doesn’t give a shit about anyone but themselves and their abstract conception of “freedom” and if that means they and others get sick, welp, shit happens. We’re pretty broken in that regard and I don’t know if we can be fixed.

But just because I’m not easily shocked does not mean that I can’t be shocked. This story from Texas Monthly about people still holding big, mask-free weddings almost knocked me on my ass. It’s not that long so I’m not quoting any of it, but do not miss the final paragraph.

Then, when you’re done, please sign my “Nuke the Earth from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure” petition.

“Who cares?”

When I was writing the Pandemic Diary I spent a lot of time talking about the negligence and, increasingly, the recklessness of our leaders in dealing with the pandemic. Yesterday we learned that there has been a healthy dose of malevolence as well.

Politico reported on internal emails showing that Paul Alexander, a Trump appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services, sent emails arguing in favor of establishing so-called herd immunity:

“We need to establish herd [immunity], and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD. Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk…so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected.”

In August the Washington Post conducted an analysis on herd immunity. It found that, in order for the U.S. to achieve that state, more than two million Americans would have to die. It’s also worth noting that, while the elderly are most at risk, something like 50,000 of the people who have died from COVID are under the age of 65 — and many who get and survive COVID suffer from long-lasting medical problems — so that “zero to little risk” bit is simply wrong.

In other emails, Alexander wrote:

“it may be that it will be best if we open up and flood the zone and let the kids and young folk get infected . . . so the bottom line is if it is more infectiouness [sic] now, the issue is who cares? If it is causing more cases in young, my word is who cares…as long as we make sensible decisions, and protect the elderely [sic] and nursing homes, we must go on with life….who cares if we test more and get more positive tests.”

He likewise argued in favor of burying information about infection rates among minorities because it would play poorly for Trump in the election.

Alexander left his post this past fall. Trump administration officials are claiming that his emails were just rants and that no one paid any attention to him, but CDC officials Politico spoke with disagree, stating that Alexander was successful in interfering with their work, including the delaying of critical reports. It’s also not too hard to draw a line from Alexander’s words to the overall attitude most Republican officials have displayed toward the pandemic and, specifically, Trump and his people’s efforts to prevent health officials at the CDS and elsewhere from doing their jobs.

Yesterday 230,365 new COVID cases were reported in the United States. That’s a new single-day record. Yesterday also marked a single-day record for deaths in the U.S. with 3,234. A considerable amount of that blood is in the hands of the Trump Administration and the state and local officials who have pledged it fealty and have followed its lead.

Mincemeat update

Subscribers were blessed with an item about mincemeat yesterday. I went to the store yesterday afternoon and, figuring I’d spend my snowy Wednesday evening making those cookies I was talking about, looked for some. I could not find any. I even asked a Giant Eagle manager and he said, nope, they didn’t carry it. And here I thought this was America.

If the roads weren’t crappy and icy last night I may have decided to go check other stores — someone on Twitter suggested that Meijer and World Market have it — but if I’m gonna skid off the road it’s not gonna be because of a quest to find None Such condensed mincemeat. I’ll resume my quest soon — possibly today — and provide updates as warranted. I’m sure you’re all very concerned.

“Night Court” to return

The NBC Thursday night lineup of the 1980s was full of heavy-hitters.

“The Cosby Show” arguably saved the network that used to employ me. “Family Ties” was a pretty good second banana to “Cosby” as far as family shows went, captured the Reagan-era zeitgeist better than most shows of the era did, and launched Michael J. Fox to stardom. “Cheers” was eventually, and properly, recognized as the best show of the whole lineup. It was mature, hilarious, well-constructed, and it holds up like nobody’s business.

“Night Court,” which aired at 9:30 after “Cheers,” was definitely considered the weak sister of the four. Certainly critically — aside from the Emmys given to John Larroquette every year it was generally loathed by critics — and without its all-star lead-ins it probably wouldn’t have lasted on its own. It was, however, without question, my favorite show when I was a kid.

Most of that was probably because I was a kid. I was 10 when “Night Court” debuted and was a middle schooler when it was in its heyday. “Cosby” and “Family Ties” felt too wholesome and I probably didn’t get a good bit of what “Cheers” was laying down, but the broad, zany, and absurdist humor of “Night Court” was right in my wheelhouse. It helped that it was often lowbrow and bawdy too. It also helped that Markie Post was on it. I had a serious thing for Markie Post back then that, for the sake of my privacy and personal dignity, is probably best not explored too deeply here. I will offer that it’s vaguely connected with women in business suits and the legal profession and I am certain that I only hazily understand how all of that affected me even after all these years.

In light of all of that, you’d think this news would be right up my alley:

Night Court is back in session. NBC is developing a follow-up to the classic legal comedy series, with co-star John Larroquette set to reprise his Emmy-winning role and produce. The Big Bang Theory alumna Melissa Rauch executive produces the reboot for Warner Bros TV.

Harry Anderson is obviously off in Valhalla with Mel Torme, so the judge will be “Abby Stone, daughter of the late Harry Stone, who follows in her father’s footsteps as she presides over the night shift of a Manhattan arraignment court and tries to bring order to its crew of oddballs and cynics most notably former night court prosecutor Dan Fielding (Larroquette).”

There’s no mention of Post, Charles Robinson, Richard Moll, or Marsha Warfield, but I figure they’re not part of it. I have no idea how Larroquette is supposed to fit in with it given that it strains credulity that Dan Fielding would still be a day-to-day low-level prosecutor in his 70s, some 30 years later. Maybe it involves a disbarment, reinstatement, and a back-to-where-he-started kind of thing. Not that it has to be that well thought-out, I suppose. This is a show that once had Judge Stone arraign the Coyote for chasing the Road Runner after all. “Grounded in reality” is not an apt descriptor of the “Night Court” gestalt.

Gotta say, I’m pretty skeptical, though. It smells a lot like the sequel/reboot of another one of my favorite shows from my childhood, “WKRP in Cincinnati,” which I watched obsessively in syndication around the same time I watched “Night Court” in its initial run. The new version of “WKRP” had a few of the old characters and the same general premise but it simply didn’t work. I think most of it had to do with the fact that the show was a lot more than its premise. It never should’ve been anything special based on the basic idea, but there was a certain alchemy between the cast, the writing, and the time it appeared that made gold. You couldn’t plan it out to work that way again if you tried. They probably shouldn’t have even tried.

“Night Court” is the same kind of show, I suspect. I’ll give the new version a chance, but lighting isn’t likely to strike twice.

Oh, and they better keep the old theme song:

Have a great day, everyone.