Welcome back to Nine Innings, SI’s weekly look at what’s fun, cool and somewhat stupid around the league. Today’s topics include: Mickey Callaway’s f-bombs, Louisville’s f-bombs, Asdrubal Cabrera’s glove bombs, and much more.
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This Week In … Embarrassing Manager Meltdowns!
The first instinct was to laugh, and how could you not? The idea of a major league manager yelling expletives at a reporter for having the temerity to say “See you tomorrow” is ludicrous on its face. So, too, is a player threatening to fight that reporter. Throw in the fact that the Mets—and of course it’s the Mets—were involved, and you have all the pieces for a tragicomic farce.
It is funny, on some level, because of how stupid and chaotic it is, and how it reveals the seams straining to burst on a franchise that is less a baseball team and more a piece of performance art. But the Mets’ latest Mickey Callaway mess, featuring a heaping helping of Jason Vargas, loses some of its laughs when the ultimate result is that nothing happens in light of a serious and inexcusable breach of conduct from both.
There’s no other way to describe what Callaway and Vargas did on Sunday as unacceptable. Be it a simmering grudge held against the reporter or simply an explosion of anger after a tough loss and a rough month, you still have two adults completely losing control of their emotions in as unprofessional a manner as exists. Managers get mad, and players get testy, but an outburst like that can’t happen. No reporter deserves that kind of treatment.
But the punishment for Callaway and Vargas was a slap on the wrist—a $10,000 fine for each, and that’s it. Nor did either sound particularly chastened or remorseful when talking to the media on Monday. Callaway bizarrely compared himself to Billy Martin, one of the most irascible and combative men in baseball history, then had to call a second meeting with reporters to convey that he’d apologized to the reporter after never saying sorry the first time around. Vargas, meanwhile, lamely referred to the whole thing as a “distraction” and similarly offered no apology or regret over what he did.
That’s not enough, and frankly, this should have resulted in Callaway losing his job and Vargas earning a long suspension. To threaten one reporter is to threaten the entire contingent of writers, and make them feel like the clubhouse—already an occasionally imposing and stressful place for media to be—is an unsafe space. The relationship between players and reporters is usually fine, but it can tip toward unpleasantness if the team is struggling or if criticism is mounting. Sometimes that will boil to the surface—a 2012 shouting match between former Yankees manager Joe Girardi and New York Post columnist Joel Sherman comes to mind, or this tantrum from Royals manager Hal McRae back in 1993—but it’s rare to see it reach this level of anger or potential violence. There simply can’t be a place for that.
Instead, the Mets landed on treating this as a heated moment that went too far but not enough to warrant serious discipline. That’s disappointing, and it’s equally concerning that MLB didn’t get involved to correct matters. Reporters—across all sports and all subjects—deserve a workplace free of hostility and anyone who behaves in the way that Callaway and Vargas did. It’s absurd that this kind of action will receive such a small punishment. If someone in your office threatened to knock you out, you wouldn’t be terribly happy if, when you came to work the next day, that person was still there and gainfully employed, would you?
People will move on to the next bit of Mets misery—already on Monday, reports emerged that general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was literally armchair managing the team—and this sordid episode will be pushed aside. It shouldn’t be. It should have been the final straw for Callaway and a forced vacation for Vargas.
This Week In … Vlad Guerrero Jr.!
It was a ho-hum week for young Vlad, who collected just four hits in 25 at-bats—only one for extra-bases—as his season line fell to a pedestrian .246/.315/.410. That included this bit of chicanery from the Angels’ Hansel Robles, who definitely got a bit under Guerrero’s skin with this hesitation on the mound.
Please note, though, that Vlad Jr. oh-so-casually flicked away a 100-mph fastball like nothing. That boy is strong.
Regardless, it’s hard to care too much about Guerrero’s struggle of a season given the joyous, borderline divine news reported on Friday:
I don’t care how badly things go for Vlad Jr. from here on out (difficult as that would make this column section). All I want—all I pray for—is a Home Run Derby performance that resembles an artillery strike, full of thunder and projectiles and lots and lots of screaming. If Guerrero can do that, then this year will be a success no matter what else it contains.
This Week In … Transatlantic Mascot Racing!
The Yankees-Red Sox series in London draws near, as this weekend will see both teams go “across the pond” to play some “rounders” on the “pitch” in “England.” Part and parcel of MLB’s European vacation will be adding some local flavor in baseball’s American stew; to wit, that means a mascot race featuring the greatest minds, leaders and cryptids in Great Britain’s history.
This would be a hell of a dinner table (albeit one where Churchill and Henry would bogart the appetizers), but I’m not sure it’s much of a racing quartet. Ideally there’d be some kind of thematic connection—the four members of the Beatles, for example, or England’s greatest writers, featuring William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, George Orwell, and the guy who authored this tweet. Or have a foursome made up of King George III and three British Revolutionary War generals, then have George Washington pop up near the end, body slam all of them, win the race, and flex in front of the crowd. That’d be proper banter.
Still, at least this combo will answer the age-old question of “Who’s faster: The Loch Ness Monster or the lead singer of Queen?”
This Week In … Delayed Gratification!
It’s been a long time since Wilkin Castillo got an MLB at-bat—10 years, to be precise. On Saturday, the Dominican catcher was behind the plate for the Marlins in his first major league game since June 20, 2009, when he collected a pinch-hit RBI single for the Reds, then disappeared into the minors (as well as Mexico and the independent leagues) for a decade. Recalled from Triple A to take the place of the injured Jorge Alfaro, though, Castillo drew the start this weekend against the Phillies, and in the top of the seventh, he struck.
As that tweet notes, it’d been nearly 4,000 days since Castillo’s last big league hit, and it couldn’t have been a bigger one, as that two-run double ended up being the winning knock for Miami. It’s a cool moment for a guy who’s had to wait a seeming eternity for it.
This Week In … College World Series Enthusiasm!
The College World Series—the big event of the year for both college baseball fans and people who use the ping of aluminum bats as ASMR—is wrapping up, and as is always the case, things get heated on the field of play between teams all vying for the NCAA championship. There’s apparently no one more pumped up, though, than Louisville’s Luke Smith, who had some thoughts for the Vanderbilt batters he was facing on Friday.
That’s some serious Joe Kelly energy right there, though unfortunately for Smith, he couldn’t back it up. After holding the Commodores to one run in eight innings (to go with 10 strikeouts), Smith gave up the tying run in the ninth and ended up taking the loss as Vanderbilt walked off with the win and the trip to the finals. “Sometimes you talk and things happen, and sometimes you don’t need to talk and things happen,” said Vanderbilt’s Julian Infante—the target of Smith’s barrage of f-bombs—after the game. No expletives needed there to deliver a satisfying burn.
This Week In … Mike Trout Is Perfect!
Mike Trout is perfect. Not only that, he’s also somehow finding a level beyond it. For the month of June, the demigod centerfielder is hitting a preposterous .358/.485/.765 with nine homers in 22 games. Over the last week, he’s at .417/.517/.708, including a series against Toronto in which he dismantled the Jays: a four-hit game with a home run to open it, and a two-homer game including a grand slam in the finale. (Those sandwiched an 0-for-2 night, because even immortals stumble sometimes.)
It’s tempting to say that people have run out of superlatives for Trout, or at least those related to baseball. That certainly seemed to be the case for the Angels’ broadcast on Thursday.
My only major quibble with this video is that Mike Trout is great at more than hitting baseballs; he’s also great at catching them (and at running the bases). I’d also personally rank him above rainbows, a cool drink, and Santa Claus, and neck and neck with puppies. But the overall message—“Please watch and appreciate Mike Trout, superhuman”—is one I can fully get behind.
This Week In … Overly Punitive Suspensions!
Last Thursday against the Indians, the Rangers’ Asdrubal Cabrera got the old heave-ho for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Doug Eddings. Displeased over that ejection, Cabrera made his anger known through that time-honored tradition of … uh, throwing your batting gloves onto the field at the ump.
Fortunately for all the children scandalized by this brutal crime, MLB’s punishment for Cabrera was swift: a four-game suspension, as it was deemed that one of the gloves hit Eddings in the ankle, thus requiring a lengthy ban. (An appeal dropped it to three games, which Cabrera will serve this week.)
It’s hard to say that this is a necessary punishment, given that Cabrera obviously meant no harm and that none was caused. That is, unless Cabrera had a hidden message for Eddings when he sent his gloves skyward: I demand satisfaction. The Rangers’ veteran infielder wasn’t signaling his unhappiness; he was accusing Eddings of besmirching his honor by ejecting him, and calling for him to answer for this grievous stain on the field of battle. Pistols at dawn, sir! This vile calumny will not stand.
I’m assuming, then, the suspension was to stop a Hamilton-Burr scenario, or maybe MLB simply couldn’t locate any old-timey guns. That, or the umpires, fresh off their Hashtag Outrage campaign against Manny Machado, would prefer a war of words over an actual bit of jousting.
This Week In … Customized Emojis!
My favorite bit of Twitter detective work this week came courtesy a Yankees fan who goes by Hoodie Gleyber, who on Saturday noticed that New York catcher Gary Sanchez has a personal emoji on his pitch-calling wristband for every member of the Yankees’ staff.
There are some true gems in there: Luis Cessa’s “Viva Mexico” sticker, CC Sabathia as Black Santa, Jonathan Loaisiga as lasagna, “Miami Vice” for south Florida native Nestor Cortes Jr., the giraffe for Dellin Betances. But nothing’s going to top the blank face emoji for Chad Green.
And, well, yeah, that makes sense.
This Week In … Old Baseball Cards!
Each week, I’ll pluck a random baseball card out of a pile of old 1980s, 90s and 2000s cards I have at my work desk, then write a quick little take on the player in question. This week’s entry: Don August, pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers (Donruss 1988)
The major league career of Don August was short and unexceptional. He made his MLB debut on June 2, 1988. He posted a 5.31 ERA in ’89 and appeared in just five games in ’90. His final season came in ’91: 28 games with a 5.47 ERA. That was it.
A lot of baseball careers are like that: brief and without note. Yet when August stepped off the mound on Oct. 1, 1991 and out of the bigs, he did so as one of the last members of a club that was slowly but surely disappearing.
Across major league history, there have been 130 players who went by Don, Donald or Donnie. That group includes August as well as some of the game’s all-time greats: Mattingly, Drysdale, Sutton, Newcombe. But their heyday came half a century ago, as their extinction event began in the late 1950s and continued on through the 60s and 70s. Sutton (whose last season was 1988) and Mattingly (’95) were but the last vestiges of a once dominant species.
August predated Mattingly in terms of leaving the game, but there weren’t many after either. Only five players named Donald have been active in the 21st century, and the last of them—light-hitting Tigers utility infielder Don Kelly—retired after the 2016 season. As of now, there are no Dons, Donalds or Donnies in baseball (not counting Zack Greinke, whose given name is Donald).
August is a relic of a bygone era. His career may not have been much, but he’s a piece of history all the same.