Cup of Coffee: June 3, 2021

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Today we’re talking about a foreign substance crackdown, Bob Brenly being a dipshit, the Fyre Fest people catering minor league baseball meals, MLB’s bad timing with NFT’s, and the passing of an Iron Man. No, not that one. No, not that one either. A different one. One that, at least until the other day, was too weird to live and too rare to die.

In Other Stuff we’re talking a lot about failure. Failure of blogs. Failure of society. Failure of supply chains. Failure of our willpower when it comes to $75 chicken fingers. You know, the usual.

And That Happened

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 14, Cardinals 3: Cody Bellinger hit a grand slam as the Dodgers plated 11 in the first inning to end this one early. And I really do mean it, as not much else happened the rest of the game. The Dodgers only had ten hits despite scoring 14 runs. Seven of those ten hits came in the first.

Wow. Don’t yell at me. I’m just passing along the things I see out there on the Internets.

Bellinger drove in six overall. Mookie Betts had three hits and drove in two. Starter Walker Buehler even drove on two on a double.

Athletics 6, Mariners 0: Sean Manaea went the distance, tossing a four-hit complete game shutout while striking out eight. Mitch Moreland hit a two-run homer in the A’s five-run third inning. The win was manager Bob Melvin’s 800th with the A’s. I forgot to mention this yesterday, but their win on Tuesday, Melvin’s 799th, gave him the record for A’s managers in Oakland. Melvin is still 2,931 wins behind Connie Mack for the franchise and MLB record, of course. If he can average, oh, 88 wins a year for the next 33 seasons, the then-92-year-old Melvin will pass him up. If he’s not interested in the franchise record but, instead, just wants to pass up Mack on the All-Time list, you can add in his Seattle and Arizona wins of course. In that case he’d break Mack’s record around the age of 86, again, assuming 88 wins a year.

Eat your fiber and take some anti-oxidants, Bob. You still have a long way to go.

Orioles 6, Twins 3: Break up the Orioles, winners of two straight. DJ Stewart and Ryan Mountcastle homered, with the latter’s being a three-run blast. Twins starter Randy Dobnak is from South Park Township, Pennsylvania, and mentioned after the game that a bunch of family and friends showed up because “this is the closest we get to home.” No one tell Dobnak’s family and friends that Cleveland is 100 miles closer to where they are than Baltimore is. I’d hate for them to think they drove through the mess that is Breezewood, Pennsylvania for nothing.

Cubs 6, Padres 1: Javier Báez hit a two-run homer and Anthony Rizzo doubled twice, went 3-for-4, and drove in two as Chicago swept the Padres. It was the Cubbie’s ninth win in ten games. This one came despite Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras getting the day off, so they did it with a hand tied behind their back. Chicago’s June schedule is brutal — they now go out west to face the Giants, meet the Padres again, this time in San Diego, then the Cardinals and Mets and, after facing the Marlins, close out the month with series against Cleveland, the Dodgers and the Brewers. If they avoid a June swoon they’re gonna be in good shape. But, yeah, that is a rough stretch of games.

Mets 7, Diamondbacks 6: New York scored four in the first thanks to a James McCann three-run shot but the Snakes more than answered back in the bottom half with five runs of their own with a Ketel Marte homer, a two-run single from Ildemaro Vargas, and an RBI single from MadBum. Then things settled down a bit. McCann drove in another run in the second to tie things up and a trade of runs in the fifth and sixth kept it tied until the ninth, but then Pete Alonso won it for the Mets when he singled in Francisco Lindor. New York had 16 hits in all. Lindor had three of them. Lindor, McCann, Alonso, Kevin Pillar and Dominic Smith were a combined 13-for-24 with six RBI.

Yankees 4, Rays 3: Gio Urshela hit a two-run homer in the first and Clint Frazier singled in two in the fourth. The Yankees beating the Rays two games in a row after being swept by the Tigers feels like some sort of sign of the End Times.

Blue Jays 6, Marlins 5: The Jays were down 5-2 as late as the seventh inning, plated one that frame, and then mounted a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth via a Bo Bichette two-run triple and a Joe Panik sac fly. Randal Grichuk hit two solo homers earlier in the game. Corey Dickerson, Jazz Chisholm Jr., Jesús Aguilar and Starling Marte all homered for Miami, but they have nonetheless lost five straight.

Nationals 5, Atlanta 3: Jon Lester took the mound on only three-day’s rest and managed to pitch one-run ball into the sixth. Atlanta would tie it up in the seventh via an Ozzie Albies two-run double, but Yan Gomes hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth and Trea Turner gave the Nats an insurance run in the ninth. Juan Soto homered earlier in the game. Washington can take the four-game set with a win this afternoon.

Astros 2, Red Sox 1: Framber Valdez struck out ten in seven innings of one-run work to outduel Nick Pivetta, whose only blemishes were runs allowed on a sac fly and a groundout. Houston has gotten good starting pitching lately, with this being the seventh straight game in which an Astros starter has allowed just one run.

Rockies 6, Rangers 3: Antonio Senzatela pitched into the eighth, allowing only one earned run. Raimel Tapia went 3-for-5 and knocked in three and Josh Fuentes homered for the Rockies. Texas has lost eight straight. All against some not-great teams, too.

Phillies vs. Reds; White Sox vs. Cleveland — POSTPONED:

🎶Blue Rain, falling down on my window pane
But when you return there'll be a rainbow
After the blue, blue rain
And there's a blue star
Looking down asking where you are
But when you return there'll be a sunbeam
Hiding the blue, blue star
Skies will be much brighter than they were before
When you and love come strolling through the door
Then there'll be no more blue rain
Just the sound of my heart's refrain
Singing like a million little blue birds
After the blue, blue rain . . .

The Daily Briefing

A foreign substance crackdown could be on the way

Last week the Cardinals’ Giovanny Gallegos was forced to change caps in a game after umpire Ed West noticed that Gallegos had a foreign substance on his hat. Twice this year baseballs being used by Trevor Bauer were removed from games for similar suspicion. As of yet no MLB pitcher has been ejected or suspended for using a foreign substance, but four minor league pitchers have been suspended this season after being caught using stuff to doctor baseballs.

There is a regularly-scheduled owners meeting today and, reportedly, there will be talk about foreign substances. Many suspect that a crackdown similar to what we’ve seen in the minors is on its way for the majors.

The arguments in defense of sunscreen, pine tar, and whatever else pitchers are using are familiar to everyone by now. Pitchers all publicly deny that they use the stuff at all but on background or off the record claim that they just use it to get a better grip, not to add more spin and snap to pitches. Hitters, for the most part, say that they’re OK with it because they don’t want guys who can throw 98 m.p.h. losing their grip and sending balls toward their heads. A big part of that defense, however, strikes me as really being a matter of “we won’t complain about your pitchers if you don’t complain about ours.” That may be breaking down, though, as a recent Athletic article noted that hitters are getting increasingly cranky about foreign substance use and the advantage it has given to pitchers in the increasingly strikeout-heavy, offense-light version of the National Pastime.

I think MLB has to do something to rein in pitchers. Their advantages are too great right now. Their stuff is too good. Unnaturally good, it seems. Some of that advantage needs to be ratcheted back. And, hey, if you’re worried about losing your grip, maybe slow it down a couple of miles per hour? That could solve a lot of our current problems too.

Bob Brenly mocks Marcus Stroman’s durag

During Tuesday night's game between the Diamondbacks and the New York Mets Dbacks announcer Bob Brenly made a point to sarcastically mock Marcus Stroman for wearing a durag under his cap, saying, “I’m sure that is the same durag that Tom Seaver used to wear when he pitched for the Mets.” The substance was clear — Brenly insulting Stroman for not adhering to whatever orthodoxy Bob damn Brenly prefers — but really, the tone is what makes it:

This is not the first time Brenly has called out the fashion choices of a player of color. Back in 2019 he called out Fernando Tatís Jr. for his necklace, referring to it as a “bicycle chain.”

It’s just the latest example in the long tradition of older white announcers criticizing Black or Latino players for not conforming to what they consider to be proper baseball orthodoxy. Wearing too much jewelry, being “flashy” and the like. The racial baggage in all of that is obvious and pathetic. You can go back a century or more and find analogs to that sort of derisive sentiment both in and out of sports. It’s not more than a hop, skip, and a jump back from this kind of thing to the original lyrics of Irving Berlin’s “Puttin’ on the Ritz” which condescendingly mocked fancily dressed but poor Black people parading up and down Lenox Avenue, “spending ev'ry dime / For a wonderful time."

And Marcus Stroman was well aware of it when he was told about it after the game:

After this went viral yesterday Brenly issued an apology:

“During last night’s game, I made a poor attempt at humor that was insensitive and wrong. I apologize to Marcus Stroman and have reached out directly to share those thoughts. I have had several conversations with the D-backs and we agree that seeking sensitivity training is an important step so that I can continue to learn from my mistakes in order to be better in the future.”

It’s obviously his effort to avoid being Thom Brennaman’d out of a job. I suspect it’ll work too, given that racially-coded derision is lower on the scale than an all-out epithet. But you’re not changing Brenly’s spots at this point, I don’t suspect.

The Fyre Fest of the Minor Leagues

On Tuesday a group called Advocates for Minor Leaguers tweeted out photos of meals that were served to players in the Oakland A’s minor league system. This will make your mouth water:

Compare that to the infamous sandwich from the Fyre Festival that hipped everyone to the fact that the whole thing was a fraud:

Frankly, I’d rather have the Fyre Fest sando.

Former big leaguer and current NPB player Adam Jones saw this and tweeted, “I got friends in prison that eat better than this. And before the non athletes say ‘suck it up, you’re in the minors’ these guys are ATHLETES!! Athletes require proper fuel. This ain’t it. Not asking for Ruth Chris but damn!!”

And he has a point.

After the photos began to go viral, Oakland A's president Dave Kaval called the food “totally unacceptable” and said that the team had recently severed the agreement it had with a third-party vendor that served the players those meals. Of course, the A’s also hired the company that served those meals and allowed that to be the fuel for its minor league talent, so the team bears some responsibility.

This comes a week after the Myrtle Beach Pelicans — the Chicago Cubs’ low-A affiliate — were told that they’d be “on their own” in finding a place to sleep one night because the team hotel was sold out. After that started making the rounds the team stepped up and figured out accommodations for everyone, preventing players from sleeping on the bus. Imagine if it hadn’t made the rounds.

In related news, Major League Baseball contracted 40 minor league clubs before this season. One of the most often-cited reasons for that was to improve conditions for minor leaguers.

Good timing, Major League Baseball!

Yesterday I took issue with MLB’s new business partnership aimed at getting it into the NFT business. My primary beef was that it was tacky as hell to use Lou Gehrig’s “Luckiest Man” speech as proof-of-concept for it, even if that particular one was for charity. I also criticized, once again, MLB’s fixation on exploiting any and every revenue source under the sun, regardless of what it is.

I don’t think anything I say about what MLB does will make it change what it does, but maybe the market will:

The NFT market has imploded over the past month, with sales in every single category almost entirely drying up. NFTs peaked on May 3, when $102 million worth were sold in a single day. The crypto-collectibles market made up $100 million of those sales. But according to data analyzed by Protos, just $19.4 million in NFT sales were processed in the past week. Overall, $170 million in NFTs were transacted in the seven days surrounding the market’s top — a near-90% collapse.

As a reminder, MLB’s V.P. of business development said, “When you think about NFTs, there is this concept of it being a fad . . . What we’re looking to do is to build a long-term sustainable business.”

Good luck.

Mike Marshall: 1943-2021

Mike Marshall, the first reliever to win the Cy Young Award, has died at the age of 78. No cause of death has been given but he was in hospice care. Marshall, who pitched in the majors from 1967 to 1981 for nine different teams, is best known for setting a major league record by pitching 106 games in a season for the 1974 pennant-winning Los Angeles Dodgers.

Marshall had a career record of 97-112 and 3.14 ERA with 880 strikeouts in 1,386.2 innings across 724 appearances while notching 188 saves. In his Cy Young season Marshall went 15-12 with a 2.42 ERA and 21 saves, setting major league records that season for most appearances (106), relief innings (208.1), games finished (83) and consecutive games pitched (13). He got the nickname “Iron Mike” for that and, yeah, I’d say he deserved it. In addition to the big league record, Marshall also holds the American League record for games pitched in a season with 90 for the 1979 Minnesota Twins.

This bit from Marshall’s AP bio, about how he was a screwball pitcher, is something I did not know before yesterday:

Screwballs like Marshall's have fallen out of favor with big league pitchers in recent generations. In fact, the only player to throw one in the majors this season is related to Marshall. Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Brent Honeywell Jr. learned the backward-breaking curveball from his father, who was Marshall's cousin. Marshall taught the pitch to the elder Honeywell when the latter was a young player. 

Baseball is a small world.

It’s also an insular world, where conformity is strongly encouraged, and the fact that Marshall bounced around from team to team to team had a lot to do with the fact that he was not a conformist. He wasn’t consciously an oddball — he was no Bill “Spaceman” Lee or anything — but he was his own man. An intellectual, relatively speaking. He was in grad school during the offseason during his prime, eventually earning a doctorate in kinesiology at Michigan State while he was with the Twins. At times he’d talk about giving up baseball to concentrate on his studies and a potential career in coaching or training via which he strongly believed he could eliminate pitcher injuries if people would just listen to him.

Some listened. Many didn’t. Marshall was never embraced by the baseball establishment after his career. That said, there is all kinds of work into biomechanics of pitching these days that Marshall, at least indirectly, pioneered. The whole Driveline deal that Trevor Bauer has made famous is the sort of thing Marshall would be totally into today. He was ahead of his time.

Of course he wasn’t the most humble guy on the planet. He would not go out of his way to deny it when a teammate or an opponent would ask him, by way of a challenge, if he thought he was smarter than everyone. Marshall’s view — and he was probably right — was that he was. “I’m afraid Mike’s problem is that he’s too intelligent and has too much education,” Jim Bouton wrote in “Ball Four.” That’s normally not a bad thing in life, but in baseball it sorta makes things difficult for a person.

You all know how I roll with this sort of thing, of course. I like the oddballs. The nonconformists. The outcasts. The difficult ones. It makes me smile when there is someone who upsets baseball’s extraordinarily staid apple cart, and though Marshall’s career was all but over by the time I came to baseball, I am very happy that he gave a lot of people headaches when he played. Baseball needs more people like him, frankly.

And really: 106 games and 200+ innings in relief? Dead lord, that’s fantastic.

Rest in Peace, Iron Mike Marshall.

Other Stuff

When blogs fail

In the wake of being banned by Twitter and Facebook, Donald Trump started a blog called “From the Desk of Donald Trump” as a means of keeping his voice out there. Yesterday an advisor to Trump told the Washington Post, anonymously, that the blog has now been shut down because Trump didn’t like that this platform was being mocked and had so few readers. All the posts have been scrubbed.

You hate to see it.

When society fails

Ohio’s mask mandate, and all of its other COVID protocols, expired at midnight on Tuesday night. In response, two prominent Republicans — Ohio’s Attorney General and a man running for U.S. Senate — made a big performative point of posting videos of themselves burning paper masks. The AG’s version was rather complicated, actually. It’s probably worth mentioning that he himself got COVID back in January.

Both examples were extremely embarrassing But maybe the most embarrassing thing was the lede to the story about in the Columbus newspaper:

“We aren't sure if it's like the Ice Bucket Challenge or more akin to feminist bra burnings but Ohio Republicans are burning their face masks on social media.”

Yes, it was exactly like those things.

Anyway, these are the people who, whenever there is a defense appropriations bill to vote on or a war to fight, talk solemnly about the need for sacrifice in order to keep Americans safe. Yet when asked to do the most simple and basic of things — wear a mask to keep from spreading a disease that has killed millions in a little over a year — they act as if they were forced into bondage and subjected to intolerable cruelties.

I’d say that the Republican Party is full of the immature diaper filling babies, but that’d be an insult to babies who, most of whom eventually tire of throwing tantrums and just deal or go to sleep or something.

Why We’re running out of everything

Lately is seems like we’re running out of everything. Lumber, computer chips — which in turn causes back orders of cars, phones, laptops, and other things — shoes, clothes, paint, pet food, even damn Grape Nuts. For the most part people blame freak occurrences like that ship getting stuck in the Suez canal or the pandemic for disruptions. And to be sure, the pandemic has led to a number of interruptions on the supply of various goods.

But as The New York Times wrote yesterday, the real problem is that our supply chains are now way too interruptible because of business’ over reliance on just-in-time manufacturing — sometimes called “lean manufacturing” — in which, as the term suggests, parts and raw materials are delivered to factories right as they are required, minimizing the need to stockpile them. In turn, finished products are making it to stores just in time as well.

The just in time revolution is not a new one — it’s been a thing for a couple of decades now at least — but as the Times notes, it has been taken to extreme degrees by corporations who are constantly looking for ways to cut costs. Costs like warehouses and the creation of goods that won’t be immediately sold. Also costs in labor, as workers are increasingly subjected to abnormal and irregular work hours — and regular workers are replaced by temporary ones — so that companies can ramp-up and ramp-down quickly. It also makes it easier to outsource jobs to lower-wage countries.

The just in time methodology does, in fact, lead to cost savings and big profits. Of course, companies tend to use all of that to give executives huge bonuses and to conduct stock buybacks. As is so often the case in our capitalist world, shareholders love it. It sucks for most everyone else, though. And it makes for a far more fragile and disruptable supply chain.

As the article notes, there does not seem to be any sort of penalty built in to the system that might correct the problems wrought by just in time thinking. A share price doesn’t go down nearly as much when a company has a shortage of its product as it goes up when it can demonstrate that it’s not spending money on reinforcing its supply chain. People have been conditioned to expect low prices for absolutely everything, regardless of the actual overall cost of producing it. All of the incentives in our system favor cutting costs no matter what it means down the line.

Just another way in which our economy is pretty damn broken.

Those had better be some damn good chicken fingers

Not that everyone wants everything to be cheap. Some dipshits are willing to pay massive amounts of money for . . . chicken tenders? Red Bull? Tito’s?

Ladies and gentlemen, after a 15-month pandemic, the world of douchebag Las Vegas bottle service is back!

There are things out there referred to as “Veblen goods” which are those goods, as described by economist Thorstein Veblen, the man who coined the term "conspicuous consumption," for which, in defiance of normal economic models, demand increases as the price increases because of their exclusive nature and appeal as a status symbol. Usually that refers to rare and exclusive things like Yankees Legends Suites tickets or seats on some private sector rocket to Mars, not normal things that are just insanely marked up, but I suppose an $825 bottle of Tito’s in the right context might qualify. I have a hard time imagining a $75 chicken finger platter fitting that bill, though. Maybe if it was Raising Cane’s? I dunno. Those are pretty good.

I have to make a confession here: I have done the high-end Vegas club thing exactly once. It was in 2016 when Allison and I and another couple thought it’d be fun to splurge for a little roped off area at a place high atop a luxury hotel. We didn’t do food, but we did pay a stupid amount for some champagne that, if you buy it at the grocery store, costs like $60 or something but where we were was marked up like 900%. It was actually the husband of the other couple who did that first while I thought to myself “this is crazy.” Later, when he started to feel a little bad about spending all of that on a bottle of champagne I, not wisely, and not very sober due to the drinks we had had at dinner before coming to the club, bought a second one so he wouldn’t feel alone in his sadness. Absolutely irresponsible, I realize, but we did have fun. And we were served the champagne by scantily-clad women with flaming sparklers attached to their bodies and had dedicated bouncers for our table who escorted us to the bathroom, plowing a path through the packed floor for us as we made our way there. It was a time.

The lessons: (a) Las Vegas is weird; and (b) my commie credentials are not perfect, no matter how much I rail against The Man.

Have a great day, everyone. And be sure to subscribe if you don’t already subscribe in order to ensure that the supply line of newsletters remains robust!