Cup of Coffee: July 22, 2021

Existentialism in the desert, some epic sowing and reaping, idiocy from a classic rocker, a quick trip to D.C., and a moving guest post from a longtime reader.

Good morning! And welcome to Free Thursday!

Share Cup of Coffee by Craig Calcaterra

Today we have an existential moment in the recaps, an unexpected (possible) retirement, a zero tolerance moment and an all-time great moment in sowing and reaping.

In Other Stuff I’m taking a brief weekend trip with a 17 year-old mapmaker, there’s a note about the most overrated figure of the classic rock era, we learn why women are better gamblers, my mom confuses me, and we have a moving guest post from a longtime reader.

And That Happened

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rays 5, Orioles 4: Randy Arozarena hit two home runs, with each of them tying the game up at the time, but the O’s took a 4-3 lead into the ninth. In the ninth two Rays batters reached and then Arozarena had a key hit — aided by two O’s fielders running in to one another — to put them on second and third, setting up Austin Meadows for his two-out, two-run walkoff single. That’s some creative losing there by Baltimore, but when you’re as good and as experiences at losing as they are, you have to challenge yourself to keep things interesting.

Diamondbacks 6, Pirates 4: When you get swept by the Diamondbacks you probably gotta take a long, hard look in the mirror. Maybe with some heavy sighs punctuated by punching the mirror and shattering it, as if to erase your very existence by obliterating your visage, even at the cost of blood. Then, freed of yourself, if only for a moment, you run. You run as fast as your legs can carry you, away from this. Away from what remnants of yourself remain. Run to escape your existence and its misery. Run until your muscles ache and your lungs feel like they are going to explode.

But then you must stop because one can only run for so long. You must stop and breathe. And with each breath you are reminded a little more, again, of who and what you are. You are reminded of that from which you cannot escape: yourself.

You’re the Pittsburgh Pirates. And you suck really, really bad at baseball.

Cleveland 5, Astros 4: César Hernández hit a tie-breaking home run in the seventh inning and Ernie Clement had a season-high three RBI to give Cleveland their first win over the Astros in six tries this year. Terry Francona after the game, per the AP gamer:

“We're trying our (butts) off to compete and it's hard against some of these teams, but I'm proud of these guys. We're going to get on that plane feeling a little bit better than we did a couple of days ago.”

Francona did not say “butts” of course. Feel like since no one under 45 reads AP game stories that they can just write “asses” in there, but no one asks me these things.

Royals 6, Brewers 3: Nicky Lopez hit a tiebreaking two-run double in the sixth inning and Jorge Soler homered in the eighth to back a solid Brad Keller outing. These two teams are now done playing each other for the year. They played four games. The Royals won all of ‘em. I’m assuming there’s some sort of “Champion of the 1969 Expansion Teams” trophy they exchange now. Which, now that I think about it, would have to be a statuette of Lou Piniella, yes?

Twins 7, White Sox 2: Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco homered while Michael Pineda allowed one over five and got some decent bullpen help. Sox starter Dylan Cease gave up three runs and seven hits in five innings and is now 0-3 in his last four starts. Not every pitcher is making adjustments in the crackdown era. Cease:

“I wasn't executing pitches very well early on. I came out a little slow. I don't feel like I really started executing very well until about the third.”

Maybe stop executing and try pitching?

Padres 3, Atlanta 2: In the first game Fernando Tatís Jr. hit a two-run homer and starter Chris Paddack tossed five shutout innings and San Diego fended off a sort of halting, would-be late comeback effort by Atlanta. The second game of this would-be doubleheader was suspended with the Padres leading 5-4 in the middle of the fifth inning. When will it be picked up? No one knows. If it doesn’t end up mattering in the standings, likely never. If it does end up mattering in the standings San Diego will likely have to make a cross-country flight to play an inning and a half of baseball at some point just before the playoffs. That seems less than ideal!

Mets 7, Reds 0: Marcus Stroman was dominant, one-hitting the Reds for eight innings while striking out seven. He was backed by three homers: a grand slam from Dominic Smith, a two-run shot from Luis Guillorme and a solo shot from Jonathan Villar. The win ends Stroman’s personal 0-4 slide and gives the Mets the series win. That, combined with Philly’s loss, puts New York up by 3.5 in the East.

Rockies 6, Mariners 3: C.J. Cron drew a bases-loaded walk, Charlie Blackmon had an RBI single, and Dom Núñez hit a bases-loaded double in the Rockies’ five-run first inning. Austin Gomber allowed only three hits. All of them were solo homers but, hey, still just three hits. It was Gomber’s fourth straight W in games in which he’s gotten a decision.

Marlins 3, Nationals 1: It was a 1-1 game at the end of regulation thanks to strong starts from the Marlins’ Nick Neidert and the Nats’ Erick Fedde. The Marlins struck in the top of the tenth, however, putting up two on Brad Hand who was in his second inning of work. Pinch hitter Jorge Alfaro’s RBI doubling in of the Manfred Man was the deciding hit, but Miguel Rojas’ sac fly added insurance. The Marlins ended a four-game skid.

Yankees 6, Phillies 5: Philly blew an early 2-0 lead, then the Yankees blew a 5-2 lead to force extras. Yankees pinch-hitter Ryan LaMarre singled home the winning run in the bottom of the tenth. New York has won four straight and nine of 12 heading into a four-game series up at Fenway.

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 4: This was the last game in Buffalo for the Blue Jays and, barring another pandemic or Canada descending into civil war, the last big league game that counts in the city as well. It didn’t go out with a “home” team win, but it did go out with a bang. Five bangs, actually, with J.D. Martinez, Hunter Renfroe, Kiké Hernández, Rafael Devers and Michael Chavis all hitting homers for Boston. Boston went deep six times in their last game against Toronto so I guess this was a setback of sorts.

Tigers 4, Rangers 2: Matt Manning was solid for six for Detroit. Robbie Grossman, Zack Short, and Akil Baddoo all knocked balls outta the park. The Tigers are the hottest team in baseball, having won six straight. The Rangers are the coldest team in baseball, having lost eight in a row.

Cardinals 3, Cubs 2: A 1-0 Chicago lead went away in the seventh when Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson each doubled in runs. Bader also robbed Willson Contreras of a homer in the first inning. Eric Sogard doubled in a run for Chicago to tie it at two in the ninth, but Yadi Molina walked it off with a tenth inning RBI single off of Craig Kimbrel.

Giants 4, Dodgers 2: A day after a big Dodgers comeback the Giants pull off a comeback of their own with three runs in the ninth, all charged to Kenley Jansen, who could only record one out. Wilmer Flores provided the deciding blow with a two-run homer to change a 1-2 deficit into a 3-2 Giants lead. Jansen was kept in the game and loaded the bases back up with a double and two walks and was replaced by Victor González who, after an initial strikeout, walked in the fourth Giants run. The Giants become the first team to 60 wins this year and push their NL West lead back out to two games. The series concludes tonight, but they’ll play each other again in San Francisco next week.

The Daily Briefing

Yermín Mercedes says he’s “stepping aside” from baseball

Yermín Mercedes was the AL Player of the Week to open the season, with the long-time minor leaguer hitting an unexpected .415 with five homers and 16 RBIs in 22 games in April. He struggled after that, drew the ire of manager Tony La Russa after hitting a homer on a 3-0 pitch in a blowout, and was eventually sent back down to the minors earlier this month.

We haven’t heard much from Mercedes since then, but last night he surprised everyone with an Instagram post in which he said he is “stepping aside” from baseball and apologized to the White Sox for his “immaturity” and not “accepting some of their decisions.” The post was accompanied with a picture of the words "it's over."Earlier Wednesday, in an Instagram story, Mercedes had posted "El Retiro" -- or "retirement" -- with a thinking emoji. From the “It’s over” post:

“I want to apologize to all those who I inadvertently offended as a consequence of my immaturity like members of the radio, television, and press. To all the team's members where I was involved with, I'm sorry for failing as a human being and for not accepting some of their decisions. I'm stepping aside from baseball indefinitely.”

It’s unclear to what he’s referring to as far as offending anyone. For what it’s worth, he had been hitting well since being sent down to Charlotte, with a line of .309/.377/.655. in 14 games.

La Russa was informed of Mercedes’ post after last night’s White Sox game. He said that, despite the dustup over the 3-0 homer, he and Mercedes were on good terms and told reporters he planned to reach out to Mercedes.

It seems unlikely that the La Russa thing had anything to do with Mercedes decision. If anything, it sounds like Mercedes is going through something difficult, though it’s impossible to say what from the outside looking in. Here’s hoping he’s OK and that if he is struggling with anything, that he gets whatever help and support he needs.

Two Orioles placed on COVID IL

The Baltimore Orioles placed pitcher Keegan Akin and outfielder Anthony Santander on the COVID-19 injured list before yesterday’s game at Tampa Bay. Akin had been scheduled to start against the Rays.

It’s not clear if either Santander or Akin has tested positive for COVID-19 or if, alternatively, they are just feeling symptoms or have had some sort of exposure to someone with COVID. It’s also unclear if either, neither, or both of them have been vaccinated. For what it’s worth, the Orioles reached the 85 percent vaccination threshold rather early compared to other teams. Figure we’ll hear more if they’re out for more than a game or two.

Starlin Castro not expected to rejoin the Nationals this year

Washington Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said the other day that he does not expect Starlin Castro to rejoin the team this season, citing his “zero-tolerance policy” on domestic violence issues. Which means that Castro will, effectively, be released, even if he’s not formally released. Of course MLB could also suspend him for some portion of the remainder of the season depending on the results of its investigation into the allegations of domestic violence against him. He’s been on administrative leave since Friday.

There’s no reason to believe that Rizzo and the Nationals don’t have a “zero tolerance” policy, or that it’s a hard and fast one. Still, as Castro is only under contract for the remainder of this season and is not a key long-term member of the club, it’s not hard to impose such a policy in his particular case. If this was someone who was under contract for the next three or four seasons, however, and if they were a star player, one hopes that the same sort of policy would apply.

Sowing vs. Reaping

R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports has a story about how MLB moving the draft from June to July in order to try to get it more exposure has caused all manner of headaches for front office people — scouts, analysts, executives, everyone — because between the draft, the signing deadline, and the trade deadline too much is happening too fast and it’s difficult for everyone to get the work done they need to get done.

I can see that being a problem. I also, however, remember Major League Baseball going on a layoff spree last fall, with stories written about them laying off hundreds of people across all teams and across all departments and making temporary pandemic-driven furloughs permanent because, hey, the bottom line looks better that way.

From The Athletic last October:

Executives say some positions will never return in the same numbers, particularly in traditional scouting, because they expect operations can survive, and even thrive, with a reduction. In scouting, that means an expanded use of video is coming.

“Owners are being incredibly shortsighted,” said one scout who was recently let go. “At the expense of saving a few hundred thousand dollars short-term they are risking making multi-million dollar mistakes by not adequately covering leagues, teams, organizations, and by eliminating some of the most proven talent evaluators in the game.”

From Anderson’s story:

Under MLB's new schedule, three important events -- the draft (July 11-13), the signing deadline (August 1), and the trade deadline (July 30) --  are packed into a three-week window. Predictably, that sprint has left front-office types feeling overwhelmed and underprepared for what lies next, with one source describing their workload as "basically never ending." 

Where have I seen this pattern before? Oh yes:

I dunno. Maybe I’m being too flip here. I don’t know who, specifically, got pink slips last fall and who is being overworked now. Maybe this is merely an amusing convergence as opposed to a matter of cause and effect. Maybe it’d be rude of me to tell the people overwhelmed with work right now to ask their bosses if “expanded use of video” can do some paperwork for ‘em, even if it’d be kinda funny.

All I know is that, in other industries, layoffs to “cut fat” often coincide with increased profitability and stressed and overworked employees, so I don’t think that possibility should be taken off the table just yet.

Someone gave Thom Brennaman a broadcasting job

Disgraced, homophobic former Cincinnati Reds announcer Thom Brennaman will be back behind a microphone soon in Cincinnati. He'll be calling high school events via a subscription-based service called Chatterbox Sports.

In announcing the job, Brennaman made a reference to the meme that was born during his ignominous farewell from the big league airwaves by saying, “by the way I think Castellanos just hit a home run to left.” The dude clearly took all the right lessons from that whole episode, I see. As did the Cincinnati Enquirer which, in reporting this development referred to Brennaman’s use of a homophobic slur during a major league broadcast as “his 2020 misfortune.” That word, my friends: I do not think it means what you think it means.

Anyway, I hear so much about how so-called “cancel culture” is ruinous for men’s lives and careers. I’m struggling, however, to think of many straight white dudes who, like Brennaman, so publicly and offensively step in it that suffer any sort of permanent consequences for it at all.

Other Stuff

Programming Note

I’m leaving hella, hella early Friday morning with Anna to go to Washington D.C. for her first couple of college visits. We’re going to my (law school) alma mater George Washington on Friday afternoon and Georgetown Saturday morning.

I do not, actually, know how badly she wants to go to either of those schools. I think it’s more a function of her being at least moderately curious about going to school in Washington and wanting to get the vibe. Which is fair. I mean, if you’re going to abolish capitalism one day you should at least be familiar with the forces which bolster and protect it, and what she calls “getting the vibe” is what most of us would call “recon.”

For what it’s worth she has an equal curiosity about Chicago (Northwestern and UC) and we’ll probably go there soon too. We’ll probably go up US-23 to Michigan. She has voiced an interest in Berkeley and Stanford too, but she’s coincidentally visited both of them within the past two years so trips there are less pressing. At some point I would hope that she’d mention schools that, you know, do not reject such an overwhelming number of applicants and do not cost the equivalent of a Gulfstream G500 to attend, but caution and a lack of self-confidence have never been Anna’s calling cards. Just know that if subscription prices get jacked up to $50 a month in the fall of 2022, this is why.

Anyway, I offer all of that because I am pretty sure tomorrow’s newsletter will be normal, but since I have to leave so early there’s a small chance that the recaps may be a tad superficial. There’s also a chance, depending on how travel back home on Sunday goes, that Monday’s newsletter may be affected somehow. Just wanted to give you the heads up.

D’oh Hand

Eric Clapton said he would cancel any shows if the venue requires attendees prove they are vaccinated against Covid-19.

Shocking that a gentleman with a history of compassion and wisdom like himself would take this stance. I’m absolutely gobsmacked that he’s being a jackass about matters of national public interest.

In other news, why on Earth would anyone wanna go to an Eric Clapton concert? Has anyone as mediocre as he is at literally everything he has ever done been even half as celebrated? Hell, he didn’t even contribute the best part of the best thing he ever did.

Women are better bettors

I’ve laid off gambling stories recently because it’s hard to maintain outrage about even outrageous things for a sustained period, but every other day I see something about it. For once yesterday I saw something that made me smile instead of roll my eyes:

I am shocked — shocked! — that men who have convinced themselves that they personally possess some sort of edge over entities which can marshal limitless data and research resources in order to assure longtime advantages have irrationally deluded themselves when it comes time to lay their money down.

What is my mom trying to tell me?

My mom posted this on Facebook yesterday:

My brother joined the Navy when he was 18, left home, and never lived under my parents’ roof again. I went away to college when I was 18 and, apart from the summer after freshman year, never came back and never lived under their roof again. I also remember that both my mom and dad were pretty damn pleased with that. Indeed, there’s a strong argument to be made that becoming empty nesters was the best thing that ever happened to them. They’ve been married 54 years now and the last 30 have, unquestionably, been easier and happier for them than the first 24, even if those 24 were rewarding in all the ways raising kids is rewarding (i.e. very fucking hard, and much easier to call “rewarding” when those years are in the rear-view mirror).

Anyway, I know both my mom and my dad read this newsletter. And my dad — who I think was even happier to ship his boys off than my mom was — sometimes comments.

So, dad: did you see this post before mom put it up? And if not, what say you? Hmmmmmm?

Guest Post: Aaron Cameron

As you know, I sell Cup of Coffee coffee cups and water bottles and stuff. If you buy one — and if you send me a picture of your beautiful self holding one — you’re entitled to a guest post on any topic you want.

Today’s guest post comes from longtime reader Aaron Cameron. Take it away, Aaron!

A few years ago, one of my co-workers died. She was roughly five years older than me. She left behind her husband – who worked at the same company and was my program manager on several defense contracts – and three children. She sat in the office next door to mine.

She committed suicide.

I haven’t been to many funerals, but hers shook me to the core. One at a time, friends and family shuffled back and forth from the podium and shared their memories in front of an overflow audience. I remember a story from one of her college friends about an especially raucous spring break. I remember another anecdote describing the romantic way my late colleague and her husband would hold hands during evening walks around their neighborhood. I remember more than one person acknowledging the depression that gripped the woman whose wide, brightly-lit eyes and breathless laugh I would never see and hear again.

Despite our professional proximity, I wasn’t especially close to her. “From different worlds” and all that. We also reported to different managers and worked different programs. We were friendly enough towards each other – always courteous, occasionally social – but, I learned more about her at her funeral than I ever did when she was alive. That fact ate away at me during the service. So much so, that I was barely holding it together by the time the final speaker – her husband – concluded the funeral by reading his wife’s suicide note aloud. What was left of my composure spilled out from my eyes and airways into the saturated ruins of my tissue.

After the service, there was a receiving line of sorts as those in attendance exchanged embraces and a few short, private words with the family. I extended my condolences directly to her husband and hugged him tightly, although I’m certain he was the one holding me upright at that point. How does someone find such strength amid the sorrow? That was a question I thought to myself after the funeral and then again, several months later, when I seriously considered suicide.

I’ve previously blogged and tweeted about my struggles with depression, anxiety and panic attacks from around this time. Sometime after my emotional issues got really bad, but before I sought out psychiatric assistance, I believed that suicide was the only way to end my pain. It was the summer of 2013. I was hurting and suffering and scared and confused. And, on July 30, I wanted to die.

I spent the day in a light-headed haze – alternating between feelings of stomach-knotting nausea and mild dizziness. Somehow, I drove my then 9-year-old son to baseball camp, but I have zero recollection of the ride. I went to work, but surely accomplished nothing. I came home and must’ve successfully fooled my family, because no one asked if anything was wrong.

That night, I lay awake and considered the details – with a level of clarity that scares me when I reflect on it. I had a friend who was convinced doomsday was looming – a “prepper”, if we’re using the politically correct parlance. He’d been trying to sell me a gun for years. After repeatedly rebuffing him, he offered to give it to me. “How are you going to protect your family?”, he’d often ask. From there, I landed on a location – a place off the beaten path, but not too obscure, if that makes any sense. Finally, I scratched out a short farewell missive in my mind.

As the sun rose and a new day arrived, I hadn’t slept or eaten for almost 24 hours. As my son got ready for school, I felt surprisingly…serene? I wish I could find a better adjective – something that doesn’t sound like an endorsement of the thoughts running marathons in my mind. This confluence of physical, mental and emotional fatigue had brought me to an unexpected few seconds of clarity. So, I walked upstairs, closed the door to the master bedroom and called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline after looking up the number on my phone.

There was a young man at the other end of the line who sounded about half my age. His voice was disarming – very pleasant, but clearly very prepped. That’s not a criticism. He asked why I was calling, so I told him. After asking about my then nine-year-old son, he immediately asked me again: “why do you need help”. I was more specific about the reasons, but it seemed I was missing his real question. So, he asked again:

“Why do you need help? What are you telling me that you’re going to do?”

I am almost certainly butchering the recollection of this conversation, but it wasn’t long before I realized that he was trying to get me to say the word “suicide” and I couldn’t do it. I danced around it with euphemisms followed by rambling with a splash of babbling. When I realized that this singular word would not – could not – come off my tongue, I laughed. And, then I cried.

After taking my son to camp, I ditched work – wolfing down a bulky breakfast burrito on my ride home – and slept until 2:00 PM. A few days later, I was in front of a psychiatrist for the first time – scoring his cushy, not-at-all urgent, after-hours “emergency” (his receptionist’s word!) timeslot.

My challenges probably aren’t your challenges, but the path to better days is paved with similar solutions. TALK TO SOMEONE. Anyone. Services like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or the ones provided by my psychiatrist and counselor unquestionably saved my life. Find a sponsored-support group or check with your employer to see if they offer confidential counseling services. And, don’t be afraid to embrace medicinal solutions. The anti-depressant/anti-anxiety stigma shamed me, too…until I realized that shit works.

Look…I don’t know you and you don’t know me.

But, we both have a lot to live for.

Thanks for that, Aaron. And have a great day, everyone.