Cup of Coffee: October 6, 2021

Home field advantage is a hell of a thing

Good morning! And welcome to Free Wednesday! I’m switching free day this week because I have some dental work today. It’s not super severe or anything, but depending on how I feel later I may not be putting my best into tomorrow’s newsletter, so better today than tomorrow.

Today is also free because I’m kicking off a postseason sale. If you’re a non-subscriber and have been waiting for a reason to take the plunge, now’s your chance. If you’re already a subscriber and would like to tell your friends about it, that’d be swell:

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Today we talk about that AL Wild Card game, a lot of news around Major League Baseball and, as usual, some interesting non baseball stories, including a fantastic job opportunity for your newsletter writer!

Let’s get at ‘er.

And That Happened

Red Sox 6, Yankees 2: Home field advantage is a hell of a thing.

Giancarlo Stanton got a hold of two pitches — one in the first and one in the sixth — that would’ve been homers in 29 ballparks but which found the Green Monster in Boston. The first one went for the hardest, longest-hit single you’ll ever see. The second one was likewise a single but one which caused Yankees’ third base coach Phil Nevin to lose his mental gravity, send Aaron Judge all the way around from first base and get thrown out by like ten feet. For reference, Kevin Plawecki has the ball in his mitt here, waiting for Judge, who ain’t even in the frame yet:

To be sure, nailing Judge at the plate there required what was likely the best relay throw — Kiké Hernandez-to-Xander Bogaerts-to-Kevin Plawecki — that the Sox have made all year, but it’s an entire sequence, from crack of the bat to call at the plate, that only happens in Fenway Park. As a result of that sequence the Yankees went from a potential of runners on second and third and one out to a runner on second with two outs and nothing to show for it.

I don’t know what the win probability charts have to say about it, but it was certainly the emotional and psychological turning point of the game. Yes, Nathan Eovaldi had shut the Yankees down until an Anthony Rizzo homer earlier that inning. Yes, Gerrit Cole had been gotten to by Xander Bogaerts and Kyle Schwarber, each of whom homered to give Boston an early 3-0 lead. But at the time of that play at the plate, it was only 3-1, Eovaldi was on the bench, and New York had new life . . . until it didn’t.

From there this looked a lot like Yankees games which took place during the more frustrating parts of their season. Aaron Boone leaving a pitcher in one batter too long, allowing Luis Severino to walk a batter in the bottom of the sixth and then give up an RBI double to Alex Verdugo. Verdugo would strike again one inning later, hitting a two-run double following Yankees pitchers issuing three walks. New York’s bats then went cold until it didn’t matter, with Stanton finally getting that homer he’d been just missing, but not until the ninth, when it was a five-run game.

Last week, when the possibility of a multi-team, multi-city tiebreakers were floating around, Major League Baseball gave the Yankees, then the top seed fo the Wild Card contenders, a choice as to which city to play their first tie-breaking game, Toronto or Boston. They chose Boston. There were likely a lot of reasons tied up in that, some of which probably had to do with dealing with customs and travel hassle. Still, they assumed that playing a game in Fenway Park gave them an easier path to a championship.

Guess not.

The Daily Briefing

Mets to talk to Theo Epstein

Mike Puma of the New York Post reports that the Mets plan to speak with Theo Epstein as soon as this week about becoming their next president of baseball operations.

Epstein, of course, helped turn the Red Sox and Cubs into World Series champions and did so by conducting total makeovers of those organizations, impacting everything from top-level business operations down to the brand of jockstraps worn by the organization’s backup catchers in the Dominican Summer League. Given Epstein’s track record he would, quite obviously, be an amazing choice for the job.

The real question: would Epstein even want the gig?

Epstein, who has spent this past season working as a consultant for MLB after leaving Chicago, is already a Hall of Fame executive on account of his turnarounds of two of baseball’s marquee franchises, each of which were seen as historically snakebitten. The Mets, whose wounds are more self-inflicted than cosmically-inflicted, would present a bit of a different challenge in kind even if it’s a similar challenge in scale. Only Epstein knows whether pulling off the cursed franchise rehabilitation trifecta is necessary for his ego and his legacy or whether he feels that taking on such a challenge would risk tarnishing his reputation as a rebuild specialist. Or whether it’d simply be a drag.

Assuming the idea interests him, though — and why would he take the meeting if he wasn’t at least interested? — it would seem like a necessary condition for Epstein taking the job that he have complete and total control over the organization and that he would not have to answer to anyone as he does what he has done so well in the past. That would mean pushing Sandy Alderson out of the way. Which, if you can get Epstein, would be a no-brainer. Hell, it should be a no-brainer no matter who the Mets hire.

I have no idea if Epstein would take the Mets job. But you can’t blame the club for trying. Start at the top and if the guy at the top won’t bite, fine, at least you shot your shot.

Umpires for the Wild Card, Division Series

You saw last night’s umpiring crew in the Yankees-Red Sox game: Mark Carlson, James Hoye, Jerry Meals, Jordan Baker — who was extended full length at his end of the divan, completely motionless and with his chin raised a little as if he were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall — Ryan Blakney, and Jansen Visconti.

Here are the umps for tonight’s Cards-Dodgers game and for the four Division Series coming up, with the Game 1 assignments from which they will rotate:

NL Wild Card Game

  • Home: Joe West (Crew Chief)

  • 1B Alan Porter

  • 2B Laz Diaz

  • 3B Jim Wolf

  • LF Chris Segal

  • RF Ramon De Jesus

ALDS: Red Sox vs. Rays

  • Home: Dan Bellino

  • 1B: D.J. Reyburn

  • 2B: Sam Holbrook (Crew Chief)

  • 3B: Ron Kulpa

  • LF: Greg Gibson

  • RF: Brian Knight

ALDS: White Sox vs. Astros

  • Home: Adam Hamari

  • 1B: Chris Conroy

  • 2B: Tom Hallion (Crew Chief)

  • 3B: Vic Carapazza

  • LF: Chad Fairchild

  • RF: Lance Barrett

NLDS: Cardinals/Dodgers winner vs. Giants

  • Home: Carlos Torres

  • 1B: Angel Hernández

  • 2B: Ted Barrett (Crew Chief)

  • 3B: Pat Hoberg

  • LF: Doug Eddings

  • RF: Gabe Morales

NLDS: Atlanta vs. Milwaukee

  • Home: Mike Estabrook

  • 1B: Mike Muchlinski

  • 2B: Alfonso Marquez (Crew Chief)

  • 3B: Tony Randazzo

  • LF: Will Little

  • RF: Quinn Wolcott

Same rules for umpires always apply: if we don’t hear their names again outside of introductions for the duration of the postseason, it probably means they’ve done an OK job.

MLB settles a foul ball injury lawsuit

In 2018 a woman named Laiah Zuniga was struck in the face by a foul ball during a Cubs game at Wrigley Field. The ball knocked her unconscious, caused facial fractures, and extensive damage to her teeth. In the suit she filed against the Cubs and Major League Baseball last year she alleged that she was hit because the stadium hadn't extended netting that protects fans from foul balls all the way down the third base line, where she was sitting. Which, at that point, the Cubs had not.

Yesterday that case was dismissed following a confidential settlement between the league and Zuniga. The terms are not known and no one is commenting.

The seeds of this settlement were planted back in March. As I told you then, Major League Baseball, pointing to the fine print on tickets — most of which are now electronic, by the way, so one would have to scroll for it — had tried to have the case removed from court and referred to binding arbitration, saying, basically “hey, you agreed to it! Shoulda read it on your ticket!” The court disagreed, saying that the arbitration provision was hidden in fine print and couldn't be appreciated by the plaintiff. Indeed, it noted that more than just reading the ticket, MLB expected fans to go to its website and find a place to opt-out of arbitration within seven days if they wanted to, which is obviously nothing anyone could reasonably be expected to do.

Which, beyond just dealing with the forum of the suit, was a ruling that could’ve potentially point to a significant change in liability for batted balls.

Almost all of MLB’s legal protection for such incidents is tied up in the so-called “Baseball Rule,” which is a legal doctrine that has upheld disclaimers on the back of every ticket reading “the ticket holder assumes all risk, danger and injury incidental to the game of baseball.” The way the Baseball Rule is usually formulated by the courts is that stadium owners and operators must provide “screened seats for as many spectators as may be reasonably expected to call for them on any ordinary occasion,” and that if they do that, they’re legally absolved of liability. Historically, providing screens behind home plate and around to each side to some degree has put owners in the safe harbor. In that case, it’s a matter of law, not fact, and the judge will usually dismiss the case before it ever gets to a jury.

That rule has been challenged more and more in recent years. It’s still the majority rule across U.S. jurisdictions, but a few years ago, for example, an Idaho court refused to adopt it in the case of a man injured by a foul ball and allowed a jury to decide whether the ballpark owner acted reasonably based on the facts and circumstances of the case rather than to simply dismiss it per The Baseball Rule. A couple of years later, in Atlanta, a family challenged it in the wake of their six-year-old daughter suffering traumatic brain injury from a foul ball at a game in 2010. Atlanta settled that case before the judge could rule on The Baseball Rule component of the case. There have been a few other outlier cases as well.

Which is almost certainly why, in December 2015, MLB released a recommendation that teams provide expanded netting and shield seats 70 feet down both foul lines from home plate. Only a few teams did so at that time. It wasn’t until September 2017, after a little girl was severely injured by a foul ball off the bat of Todd Frazier at Yankee Stadium, that the rest of the teams extended their protective netting. MLB clubs have continued to expand netting — some all the way down the lines — although all of this has been done on a voluntary basis per league “recommendations” as opposed to league mandates.

Both the arguments in the lawsuits and the extended netting are inspired by the idea that MLB has a greater responsibility to fans than to merely cover a few seats and rely on a disclaimer. Probably because people now appreciate that the ballpark experience and the nature of the game itself has changed pretty fundamentally since the Baseball Rule was adopted in 1913. And that goes beyond the fact that the tickets are electronic and disclaimers are less-easily perused.

It’s also because there are more distractions from game action now than there used to be, with most of those distractions — on-field entertainment, scoreboard displays, team and league-approved smart phone apps seeking to “enhance” the in-game experience, which will increasingly include gambling — being supplied and encouraged by the teams themselves. It’s also because baseball games are far more of a family product than it used to be and you thus get a lot of little kids who can’t be expected to defend themselves from foul balls in the stands. It’s also because parks are also far more full, the seats are closer to the action and, even if Major League Baseball has encouraged teams to extend protective netting down the baselines, the protected seats behind that old, less-expansive netting are far more expensive than they used to be, making it burdensome or possibly impossible for fans to take advantage of only a few covered seats.

All of which is to say that the Baseball Rule is more vulnerable now than it ever has been. The fact that the court in this case already set aside one ticket disclaimer suggested that it might do it again, this time with respect to a term printed on that ticket far more significant than one specifying the forum for the lawsuit. That is why there is more netting in ballparks than there ever has been. And that is almost certainly why Major League Baseball settled this suit.

Rockies agree to extensions with Senzatela, Cron

The Rockies have gotten a jump start on their offseason plans, signing pitcher Antonio Senzatela and first baseman C.J. Cron to contract extensions.

The Rockies signed Senzatela to a five-year, $50.5 million contract extension. The deal includes a $14 million club option for 2027. In all, this means the Rockies bought out four of Senzatela’s potential free agent years. Senzatela posted a 4.42 ERA (108 ERA+) over 28 starts this past season while walking very few and inducing a lot of ground balls, each of which are keys to success for pitching in Coors Field.

Cron and the club have agreed to a two-year, $14.5 million extension. Cron is an eight-year veteran who has been non-tendered and let go by teams like the Rays and Twins even after good years on the theory that power at a corner can be found cheaply elsewhere. Maybe those clubs were right about that, but Cron has still performed, posting a line of .281/.375/.530 (130 OPS+) with 28 homers this past season. It’s nice to see him finally get a decent payday for it.

Nationals bring back Alcides Escobar on a one-year deal

The Washington Nationals and shortstop Alcides Escobar have agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract to keep Escobar with the club next season.

Escobar, who will turn 35 in December, hit .288/.340/.404 with 21 doubles, two triples, four homers and 28 RBI in 75 games with the Nationals after signing with the club in July. Before joining Washington he hadn't been in the major leagues since 2018. Escobar won a Gold Glove once, and won the ALCS MVP Award in 2015. That was a loooong time ago, of course. Now he’ll be some veteran stability, as they say, for a team that blew itself up last summer and looks to have a couple of years in the wilderness before it returns to competitive relevance.

But hey, even if you’re rebuilding, ya gotta have a shortstop. If you don’t, there will be a LOT of singles to left field.

Super Fan News

Here’s a little something for y’all to put in your back pocket as we look ahead to a full month of October baseball:

I hate to see anyone getting hurt, obviously, but I’m not gonna lie: I’m OK without seeing that cat behind home plate all month.

MLB attendance, viewership numbers understandably lulled in 2021

According to numbers reported yesterday, Major League Baseball’s 2021 campaign resulted in its worst attendance for a full season since 1984. Which, given that there’s still a pandemic going on, given that stadiums didn’t even begin admitting fans until well after the season started, and given that one team — the Blue Jays — didn’t even play at their real home park until late July — makes that all pretty understandable. This was not a normal year.

But here are the numbers anyway: 45.3 million fans attend regular-season games in 2021, which is a 33.9% drop from the 68.5 million who bought tickets in 2019.

TV viewership was done too, however, and that’s less a function of the pandemic than of some business choices.

Overall, viewership was down 12% compared to 2019, at least according to the numbers available through late August. A big part of this was because many teams’ regional games moved from Fox to Bally Sports, and those networks were unavailable on YouTube TV, Dish, and Sling TV due to rights carriage disputes and such.

But even if this does have to do with the pandemic and with questionable business decisions, Look for Major League Baseball to beat the drum on these numbers in its public statements surrounding labor talks this fall and winter. Quirk of the pandemic or not, function of MLB’s choices or not, the league will use this to claim it’s in deep trouble and that it needs concessions from players. Let the crying poor begin.

Eddie Robinson: 1920-2021

Former big leaguer and big league executive Eddie Robinson died yesterday at the age of 100. He was the oldest living former major league player at the time of his death. He was the last person alive who had won a World Series with Cleveland, the last living major league player who played at League Park in Cleveland, and the last living player who had his career interrupted by service in World War II.

Robinson broke into the big leagues in 1942, playing eight games for Cleveland before enlisting in the U.S. Navy. He returned to baseball in 1946 and stayed with Cleveland through their World Series-winning 1948 season. After that campaign he was traded and would go on to play for every other pre-expansion American League franchise except the Red Sox, finishing his career with the Baltimore Orioles in 1957. His weirdest season was no doubt 1955, when he was a bench player for the Yankees. That year he had only 36 hits but 16 of them were home runs and he walked 36 times. He also had more runs batted in than hits, knocking in 42 runs. For the season he hit only .208 but had a 128 OPS+ thanks to all the walks and pop.

In all, Robinson registered 13 big league seasons and sported a career line of .268/.353/.440 (114 OPS+). He was a four-time All-Star and received down ballot MVP consideration in three seasons. He was a first baseman for his entire career.

After his playing career ended he coached for a short time and then got into player development with the Orioles, followed by a stint under Charlie O. Finley with the Kansas City A’s before winding up in Atlanta where he was the general manager for a time in the early 70s. He’d later serve as the Texas Rangers GM from 1976-82. After his GM days were over he worked as a scout and a player development consultant for various organizations, finishing his career with the Red Sox, the only of the original eight AL franchises for which he never played.

A long life in baseball, that’s for damn sure. Rest in Peace, Eddie Robinson.

Other Stuff

LinkedIn Really Knows Me

I am not looking for a job these days but I still have a LinkedIn account because I’m nosy and like to look at other people’s stuff. But despite the fact that I do not use the platform in any way the good people at LinkedIn intend it to be used, it still gives me job leads sometimes. Like this one:

I’m trying to decide if the company or the gig excites me more.

Oh well, off to update my resume!

Josh Mandel: Berserker of Misinformation

My latest Ohio politics column is up at Columbus Alive. This week I go after Josh Mandel, who has become Trump-like in his lying about election results and everything else. And how our putatively respectable Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, could nip their lying about election results in the bud but doesn’t because he’s a coward:

Taking direct issue with Mandel's constant stream of transparent baloney is a sucker's game, of course. He's a berserker of misinformation. He's absolutely inexhaustible when it comes to alternate reality creation. He's three lies ahead of you by the time you've dealt with the first one, and even if you're lucky enough to make headway in your pushback he'll just whip out a fake Southern accent to confuse you while he makes his rhetorical getaway. Besides, in our current post-truth society, fewer voters than ever actually care about things like facts, so why bother? "He's Josh Mandel," you simply say to yourself. "Trying to stop him from embarrassing both himself and the State of Ohio is like trying to stop the mighty Cuyahoga from flowing into the majestic Lake Erie."

Check it out, y’all.

Urban still owning that R!

Here’s Urban Meyer, after his team owner came out and said the team has lost trust in him but that he’d have a chance to earn it back:

“Everyone else has to own what I did except me” is some next-level thinking from a guy who literally wrote a leadership book that hinged on people taking responsibility for stuff.

Dave Chappelle continues with his hateful anti-trans crap

Dave Chappelle has a new comedy special on Netflix. You can read a review of it here. Only one part of it matters as far as I’m concerned, however, and that’s the part where it becomes clear that Chappelle continues to traffic in hateful anti-trans material. I know he thinks he’s making some kind of profound point with that but he really, really, really is not and someone close to him probably needs to tell him that.

Either way, it absolutely kills any desire I might’ve had to watch or support his work — work I used to enjoy a great deal — in any way whatsoever.

“That letter was just too damn good.”

A lot of people were talking about a story in the New York Times yesterday headlined “Who is the Bad Art Friend?” It’s about two writers, one named Dawn Dorland and one named Sonya Larson who, at one time, were at the very least colleagues — maybe friends, depending on who you talk to and how loose a definition you give to the term — but are now adversaries in both life and litigation.

Dorland, an unpublished writer, but one who has spent years in writing programs and writing workshops, donated a kidney several years ago. Not to anyone specific. It was just an act of altruism, knowing that people out there need kidneys. She posted about it a lot on social media and was very proud about her act of generosity. Larson, a somewhat more successful writer, was party to those social media posts. Some time later she wrote a short story about a woman who received a kidney donated by a non-specific kidney donor much like Dorland was. Once Dorland learned about it all hell broke loose and the two remain embroiled in acrimony and litigation over it.

The story is a fascinating one in that, in certain ways, both Dorland and Larson seem wrong and wronged. Larson very clearly lifted a lot of elements from Dorland’s real life story, including — and this is key in the case — a letter she wrote to the donee in real life which appeared nearly verbatim in versions of her story. Indeed, Dorland has Larson pretty dead-to-rights on that, with Larson once emailing a friend that she would’ve changed it more for her story but “that letter was just too damn good.”

At the same time, Larson makes a lot of good points about how writing fiction works — every writer takes from real life, and not just their own — and how her story is not just some retelling of Dorland’s real life. Indeed, it’s from the donee’s perspective and Larson — who is herself half-Asian — uses the story to critique what she not unwarrantedly sees as Dorland’s white savior complex and applies it to the character in the book. What is writing for if not to make such critiques?

It’s also reasonable to read all of this and come away with the impression that Dorland’s real beef is not with copyright infringement but that (a) the character who approximates her in the book doesn’t put her in the best light; and (b) Larson got a story published about a topic over which she erroneously believes she has complete ownership. It’s also reasonable to read Larson as, well, kind of mean and shitty when it comes to Dorland, which layers this story with a great deal of professional jealousy and cliqueishness as well.

All of this makes me pretty happy that I (a) write alone; and (b) with the exception of occasional forays into Uncle Jedidiah-style pastiche, write non-fiction.

William Shatner will be a rocket man

Next month William Shatner, who is 90 years old, will fly to the edge of space aboard a Blue Origin rocket. Blue Origin, of course, is the private space company owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

I hope that Shatner is excited about this and I hope that he has fun. The guy has given people a great deal of joy in his long life and he’s entitled to a little of his own.

At the same time: if so much a hair on that man’s toupee is singed in service of what I suspect is a publicity ploy in furtherance of the cosmic dick-swinging contest between Bezos and Elon Musk I would hope that the Dark Moon Fleet of the Klingon Assault Group lands outside of whatever compound Bezos lives in and drops a few thousand armed members of the Klingon Defense Force who introduce him to the business end of several dozen Bat'leths.

Have a great day, everyone.

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