New Rules

Manfred
Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred, laughing maniacally as he continues to mold the game of baseball like a toddler pounding a lump of play-doh into an unrecognizable blob

He's at it again.

The Commissioner of Baseball, one Robert D. Manfred, has made it his mission to turn the game he is the current custodian of into something all of its previous custodians would not recognize. So far, he has instituted a swarm of smallish rule changes as well as a few huge ones to Major League Baseball and he's got more coming next year.

If I may paraphrase J. Jonah Jameson, the man is a menace.

Manfred simply does not like baseball, at least not in the sense of the game as a whole, balanced concept that requires strategic thinking and intellectual trade-offs to navigating the game. Nor does he value competitive integrity or the richness of detail. He likes simple. He likes not to have to think. He likes short attention spans.

Thus far, the Manfred regime has given us:

  • The no-pitch intentional walk
  • The "universal" designated hitter (ugh)
  • Requiring teams to declare in advance who is a pitcher and who is not and imposing a limit on how many pitchers a team can carry
  • The "zombie runner" in extra innings (which some of a certain age have humorously taken to calling the "Manfred Man")
  • An entirely avoidable and self-inflicted labor stoppage that delayed the opening of this season
  • Expanded playoffs, the first taste of which we'll get next month, which now allows nearly half the teams in the Majors into the postseason and devalues both the season as a whole and the winning of a division title
  • Advertising on the fields, not just on stadium walls and scoreboard signage, but on the fields themselves (in foul territory and on the pitcher's mound)
  • Advertising on uniforms, which we'll start to see in this year's playoffs and will be an everyday thing starting next year
  • The three-batter minimum for pitchers (this one I actually don't have a problem with, though the reason it came into being is no better than the rest of this)
  • Ugly unis for the All-Star Games
  • Effective acceptance of the Houston Astros' cheating scandal with virtually no repercussions for the perpetrators

Starting in 2023 we will also now have:

  • A pitch clock. No longer will baseball be the game with no clock, there will be one to mandate that pitchers and batters move things along regardless of circumstance. Well, not quite regardless—the clock will have 15 seconds on it when the bases are empty, 20 when a runner is on base. If a pitcher takes too long before delivering a pitch, a ball will be added to the count; likewise, if a batter steps out or isn't ready to go within eight seconds (he will be permitted to request a time out once per plate appearance) a strike will be added. Further, only 30 seconds will be permitted between batters; if the next batter in the lineup isn't ready to go 30 seconds after the previous play, he starts with a count of strike one. Despite this having been experimented with in the minor leagues in recent seasons, it remains to be seen how this will play out; it might be OK. Used to be that the players that were slower to deliver a pitch or who took "excessive" time at the batter's box between pitches were relatively rare, but today they're more commonplace and it will at least be interesting to see if this cuts down on so-called dead time without disrupting anything else. But the law of unintended consequences pretty much guarantees there will be issues.
  • A limit on how often a pitcher can try to pick off a baserunner. This is a clear and blatant declaration that pitchers should not care about runners; Manfred has openly said he wants to "create more action," which apparently means preventing a defense from trying to get runners out. I love the stolen base, it's one of my favorite plays, but all this does is cheapen it.
  • A restriction on where defenders can play. For the history of the game, only the pitcher and catcher were required to be at any specific point on the field. No longer. Two infielders must begin each play on either side of second base and forward of the outfield grass. No more shifting three infielders to one side, no more moving your second baseman into the outfield, no more four-outfielder defenses. This also is based on Manfred's desire for "more action," and because batters as a whole have chosen not to combat defensive shifts over the years, it probably will result in more base hits as fielders will be prevented form playing where they should be allowed to play. The language of the rule is vague enough that someone will at some point cause it to be clarified; it's intention is to maintain the restriction until "the pitcher releases the ball," but it also says the infielders "may not switch sides during the game." So when J.P. Crawford makes a great play running from his shortstop position to flag down a hard grounder on the outfield grass at the right side of second base, is he in violation of the rule? I think not, but someone will exploit the language to challenge such a play.
  • Larger bases. The bases on the field will grow from 12" square to 15" square. This will be odd at first but quickly folded into expected norm, I think. Again, this is to give offenses a boost by making it that much harder to get baserunners out. The one positive to this is the extra area will give first basemen a little more of a safety margin on potential collisions on close plays at first, but this could have been accomplished simply by extending the base an inch or two into foul territory instead.
  • The completion of the destruction of the American and National Leagues as anything more than labels. Manfred's predecessor started this process in the ’90s, but with this year's adoption of the designated hitter rule (pause for dry heaves) by the National League and next year's change in the schedule that has every team play every other team in both leagues during the regular season, the merger from two distinct entities into one is concluded.

Not one of these changes was made with the good of the game in mind. Every one has been with an eye toward getting bigger short-term profits for a business that already rakes in $10 billion in annual revenue.

Manfred believes that the game needs to be dumbed down and sped up in order to attract younger viewers with short attention spans. He thinks that making the game into something else will get him bigger television ratings. He things more playoff games will mean more TV money overall. He thinks that the baseball audience likes hitting and doesn't care about fielding and by making these changes to unbalance things a bit that people who do not watch baseball will decide they now will watch baseball.

Which is just dumb.

You don't say, "hey, non-fans, I know my game is slow and boring because it requires thinking and thus doesn't appeal to you, so I've dumbed it down closer to your level and made it a little bit more frenetic! You like that, right?" and expect to convert everyone. People who come to baseball come to it because it's different. Because if you know what's going on, that so-called dead time isn't usually so, there's actually tension and stuff going on strategically.

A pitcher worried about a stolen base threat on first was actually valuable to both sides if you understood the situation. Having the pitcher in the lineup made for decisions during the game and a thought process about building your team and planning a game that are just wiped out now. Having the option to dare a batter to hit the other way by leaving a whole third of the field undefended was an opportunity for both teams to exploit. Gone. Sure, few if any people will miss the Nomar Garciaparra-like ritual of stepping out of the box, re-fastening the batting gloves, and taking three practice swings like a mini-hokey-pokey before every pitch, but not many guys did that. 

Frankly, the 2023 changes aren't going to be as big a deal as the ones we're already seeing now (or have known are coming, like the jersey ads), which are far more damaging. The pitch clock, the shift ban, sure, I object to them on principle, but in the old days shifts were rare and few players took a lot of time between pitches anyway, so it won't seem too bad. The step-off rule, that I hate and can't figure why any pitcher would approve of it.

Still, I'd accept it all gladly if Manfred would use his new, negotiated ultimate power to impose changes without union approval to abolish the DH and consign it to a fiery death.

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The Apple problem

TL

I'm late to the Ted Lasso party. I had heard from many people in many contexts how it was a great show that I would really enjoy and the I was missing out by not watching it, but there were two issues in addition to the general reality of there's-so-much-enjoyable-TV-these-days-and-only-so-much-time-I-can-watch. They were: a) It's a show set in the world of English soccer, and I do not like soccer; and b) It is a show on Apple TV+.

Now, (a) is not a problem, as it turns out; as with many workplace shows, the soccer thing is merely a setting for the characters and not liking soccer is not a detriment to enjoying the show. But (b) was a real trouble spot.

Apple's streaming platform has garnered a reputation (deserved) for quality. The programming is high-end, no doubt, and the high-definition stream is as good or better than anyone else's, but on that technical side of things there is no accommodation for viewers who do not have one of the following: An Apple-made television; a Roku or other reception device dedicated to streaming video; an Apple device like a Macintosh computer or an up-to-date iPhone that can run the TV+ app (there is an Android app, but it won't work on most Android devices); or a PC equipped with a top-end internet connection and supercharged modern processing hardware. They clearly tailor the service for Apple machines as a way to try and increase the Apple marketshare.

As I don't own any Apple hardware or a Roku-like dedicated streaming device, the Apple TV+ service was incredibly problematic to use. My dedicated streaming device is an old laptop PC running Windows 10 and hooked up to my television. It has perfectly adequate processing power to run any other streaming service with no problems. But trying to watch Apple TV+ on it was nearly impossible—livestreams, like when the Mariners are on the exclusive Apple TV Friday night telecast, play with more buffering and stuttering than is even remotely tolerable; and their shows would load and play through the opening preroll ad and then freeze up on a black screen. So, even though the Apple TV+ subscription fee is quite reasonable, it was basically worthless to me.

Still, I had two or three times signed up for the service in an attempt to legitimately watch one of the greatest shows ever made for television, For All Mankind. When I could not make the service work, I resorted to piracy to watch that excellent program. Because it is awesome, and I had given Apple a month's worth of subscription fee for zero return so I felt OK about it. But after the last time the Mariners game was unwatchable on Apple TV+, I went on a quest to find a way to make the damn thing work, and the ultimate solution was to completely wipe the laptop and reload a bare-bones Windows installation, add no programs to the machine except for browsers, a video player, and antivirus software. Give it the lightest workload possible while still running a relatively modern operating system, then tweak the browser settings in every conceivable way to prioritize the handling of video streams.

It now works. I can watch Apple TV+. Livestreams still suck, presumably because I don't have a T1 line and a massive quad-core processor on that old laptop, but recorded programming does play properly so long as nothing else is running concurrently. (Apple TV+ livestreams, incidentally, also suck on my office machine, which is considerably more powerful.)

I have therefore, as of last night, become a Ted Lasso convert.

All the folks who sang its praises to me were right. It unabashedly showcases a hero that is the nicest, most generous guy that ever lived, who takes mounds of abuse and lets it roll off his back, and who slowly wins over the critics by simply doing his own thing and being dedicated to his values. Totally my kind of thing. I love it. Even though it's ostensibly about a soccer team.

I'm about halfway through the first season now, so please no spoilers, but since the Mariners are off tonight I will likely spend my late-night tonight watching a few more episodes after I get home from my umpiring shift and will no doubt binge through the rest over the next few weeks.

Unless, of course, my brilliant machinations to run Apple TV+ stop working.

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Collecting

storage

“Why do you even have these?” a friend of mine asked me.

I was applying some paint to the recently-constructed cabinets I'd made in my garage, cabinets that were custom-designed to hold comic books. I stopped, looked up, and found myself at a loss.

I mean, I had an answer, it was there, but articulating it was proving difficult.

See, I love comics. The medium, the wide variety of cartooning styles found in them, the characters that have permeated our culture, the more obscure works that most people have never heard of. (Well, not all of them, but a lot.) I started reading them longer ago than I can remember and was a fan from a young age of Batman and Captain Marvel (the original '40s one, during his '70s revival) and Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four and other superheroes. I read the occasional Archie comic or Yogi Bear issue too, but mostly I was into the standard DC and Marvel superhero soap operas.

Then, when I was around 11 or 12, I discovered comic-book specialty stores. Back issues. The collector's market.

It was a revelation. At that point I became not merely a fan, but a collector. I learned that the condition of one's comics is vital. That one needed to invest in protective sleeves for them, that storing them lying flat is bad—they don't actually lie flat, you see, the spine side creates a bend in the stack and bent comics are worth less—they should be stored upright. That comics drawn by certain artists are in more demand than those by other artists, that there are "key issues" of long-running titles that command big bucks (or at least "big bucks" by the standards of a 12-year-old in the early 1980s).

FF23
Back in the day, my goal was to acquire every issue of Fantastic Four. Never did it, as the first dozen-plus were too pricey for me.

My friend had been holding a copy of Secret Avengers, which was in a small pile of comics destined for the "eBay box," which had by then become a series of boxes. I stalled a little bit in answering her question as I tried to find the right words for my response by going on a tangent. "Well, that pile I'm not keeping," I said. "Those are eventually going on eBay. Even with these new cabinets, I don't have enough room for everything so some stuff will have to go."

But the majority of them, yeah, I was keeping. And I was adding to the mix all the time, spending anywhere from $40 to $100 a month on new comics (which, accounting for both inflation and the changes in the comics biz since then, equates to what about $8-$20 would have bought in 1987, so I feel like I've cut down a lot since my teenage comic-buying heyday). Why do I have them?

NaR
One of the more fun new comics right now is Not All Robots, by Mark Russell and Mike Deodato Jr.

Sure, some of them have decent monetary value well above what I paid for them and keep increasing over time. But most just kind of hold steady or never had much to begin with. If it was about "investing," I'd only have kept about 30% of my collection over the years.

I have them because I like them. Because it's a hobby. Because I am, at my core, a huge nerd. Because my growing-up years were so influenced and tied to the morality plays of Marvel Comics and because I developed a deep appreciation for the talents of people like Marshall Rogers (RIP) and Steve Rude and Neal Adams (RIP) and Mike Deodato Jr. and Terry Moore and Alex Ross and Brian Bolland and Clay Mann and the recently-deceased George Pérez (RIP), among quite a few others.

But that doesn't really get at why I keep them and collect them. I mean, they take up a lot of space. Moving them is a royal pain. Keeping them organized is time-consuming. I've spent a lot of money on their storage (though a lot of that was fun too, building the cabinetry on my own and, on some of them, with my dad). There are reasons not to.

Yet, I do keep them and I do have them. My inventory software (yes, I have inventory software for this) has my current tally at about 8,700 comics, not including some of the 1,000-plus in the eBay boxes. Storage capacity is now once again full up. More keep coming in. Why do I have these?

Because I want to.

Any attempt at articulating the not-rational yet deeply held reasons for it basically comes down to that. I have these because I like them, or in some cases because I did at one time. I keep them because I want to.

As space continues to get tighter more chaff will be moved into the eBay piles, but eventually I will probably make yet another storage unit. It's my own version of the never-ending battle.

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Frequent flier miles

SEAlogo2

As part of the collective bargaining agreement adopted by Major League Baseball and its players' union earlier this year, a number of changes (mostly unwelcome) have come to the game this season and more are coming next year. The most egregious of these, of course, is the "universal designated hitter" rule that began this season, which is a crime against the sport. Other heinous changes include advertising on uniforms, which will either begin this postseason or next season; expanded playoffs, which we will see in a little over a month; and a tripling of the number of games devoted to Interleague-play, starting next year.

That last point became less abstract today when MLB released its tentative schedules for 2023. The new formula has teams playing clubs in their own division 13 times each (down from 19) and clubs from the other two same-league divisions six or seven times each (roughly the same as now), with the remainder of the schedule devoted to Interleague—teams will play every team in the other league three times, four in the case of its so-called "rival team." (One issue I can't figure—why 13 per intradivision team? Make it 14, take the those four games out of the same-league interdivision mix, which has seven games against four teams and six against the other six; make it equitable all around. That wrinkle is just dumb.)

As a concept, I don't object to this, at least not any more than I object to Interleague play generally; I preferred it when the leagues were contained unto themselves and only met at the All-Star Game and the World Series. Since it came into existence in 1997—as a gimmick to sell more tickets in the wake of the disastrous work stoppage of 1994, which itself was supposed to be the first year of expanded playoffs that were designed to be a gimmick to sell more tickets—it had been limited to 15-20 games ostensibly limited to a single division; greed got in the way of fairness, of course, and over the years it was tweaked to give extra games against opposite-league teams that sold more tickets in the major markets. The new norm of 46 Interleague games is much more suitably apportioned, with only one Interleague game differing from team to team; the current setup has been absurd when looked at in terms of competitive fairness for winning a title, so in a lot of ways the new system will be better.

Still rankles me a little, though.

Being a more-or-less traditionalist when it comes to baseball, I am sad to see the death of the two separate and distinct major leagues. Really, that kicked in this year with the metastisization of the DH cancer to the National League, but the new schedule just underlines the point. The American and National Leagues are mere labels now, the slow merger into one entity (which began in the '90s) is complete. So that's one thing.

The other issue I have is how it affects my hometown Seattle Mariners.

Just by nature of geography, the Mariners already travel a lot more than most teams do. Occasionally a schedule will have the Oakland A's or the Not-Really-Los-Angeles-You-Don't-Fool-Me-I-Know-You-Play-in-Orange-County Angels traveling more miles over the course of the year, but usually it's the M's. Seattle is an isolated outpost far from every other team's home, it figures they'd have the biggest travel burden. So I was concerned that the new normal would eliminate road trips to California and Texas in favor of more east-coast trips, and adding even more travel to the already well-traveled Mariners could be detrimental. But that's not going to be the case.

Looking at the ’23 draft schedule I see the number of road trips remains the same at 11. The M's make five trips to the Eastern time zone (one of which is Cleveland after Chicago then home, not bad; another ends with a stopover in Oakland on the way home, which isn't great but is probably better than shoehorning that Oakland stop in elsewhere) and six to the Central, most of which are paired with Pacific Time stops on one end or the other. And there are no instances of backtracking weirdness like they had in 2019, when they had trips that went Seattle-Anaheim-Minneapolis-Oakland-Seattle and Seattle-Dallas/Ft. Worth-Chicago-Houston-Seattle. The closest one to something like that in the ’23 grid is Seattle-Kansas City-Houston-Chicago-Seattle, which seems not as dumb/wasteful. Otherwise, all of the trips make geographic sense; ideally, of course, you would pair the visit to Phoenix with a stop in San Diego or Anaheim instead of Minneapolis (July 24-30), play in San Francisco back-to-back with a stop in Oakland, and get the Rangers and Astros on one jaunt. But it's a mess getting every date to fall into place with 30 teams, so I guess this is OK.

milesmap

All told, we get a season sum of 49,007 miles flown. More than this year's just-over 47,000 and last year's 48,400, but not as bad as I thought it'd be. In 2014, the Mariners' schedule had them flying 51,500 miles; I figured it would be that every year now. Glad to be wrong.

One other good thing: despite the news media calling it a "balanced schedule," it remains division-weighted, which I consider a necessity. For a while there, MLB used an actual balanced schedule (mostly) which made standings in a division artificial. At least this plan continues to make it meaningful to be a division champ. Now, if we could just get Commissioner Manfred and company to change the stupid new playoff format that lumps a division winner in with Wild Card teams to one that respects the division flag...

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Streaming service economics

streamers

I watch a lot of TV. My friend Erik watches tons of movies, which I don't do that much; he's your go-to if you want to know what recent release is worth your time. But I revel in the age of television we now live in.

Which is becoming a problem.

Not in the couch-potato, get-off-your-duff-and-go-outside sense, though I could definitely use a bit more exercise. But in the how-much-is-this-costing-me? sense.

Used to be TV was the free alternative to movies. You had to sit through 10-18 minutes of commercials per hour, but no out-of-pocket. Then we had cable, which still had commercials to sit through but gave a wider selection of content for a fee. Then satellite gave cable real competition, but it was still the model of pay-for-a-variety-of-content.

Then came the internet. As shows and news and sports went online, we began cutting cords, as it were. I dropped my DirecTV service several years ago when baseball became available to watch online. Cable shows I enjoyed were still out there to see on websites and/or with DVD releases (and Netflix came around, providing easy DVD rentals).

Now it's internet streaming. Cool. At least, cool when it was just Netflix. Then Netflix and maybe Hulu. OK. Netflix and Hulu cost a bit, but it's still way cheaper than paying for cable/satellite.

Today it's a different story. Everyone, it seems, has a streaming service, and each one has some great stuff one wants to see. To subscribe to every service with a show you want to watch you're now having to, once again, pay the amount of money you dropped cable to save. And more services keep appearing.

Some of us work around this by sharing accounts. Netflix in particular wants to crack down on this and make every user pay their own way. If they succeed, I'm not sure it will redound to their benefit—for a lot of us it simply isn't affordable to pay everyone, there's a finite sum to pay out for TV streaming and some services will be dropped.

I absolutely love shows on several services, and most of the best TV is now streaming-only:

Subscribing to all of these services at the no-ads rate would run you about $75 each month. You can save a little by opting for commercials, but not a lot. And that's just today, rates are of course going to eventually go up. So now we're over the cost of cable TV, except none of this stuff is available there. And we're not even counting the lesser-known services like Peacock Premium or Starz.

Is this model tenable? Or will the proliferation of new services that snatch content away from the existing ones, ala Marvel's Netflix originals moving to D+ and Star Treks to P+, reach a breaking point?

One of the chief benefits of these services is that they're 100% on-demand, you can choose what to watch when you want to watch it, but how much is it worth when you're only interested in one or two of the service's offerings? Especially since a TV "season" on streaming is half of what we grew up with on network. Or less—Paper Girls' first season was only eight episodes.

Those of us that are more cash-strapped are sharing for now. The more services make that difficult/impossible the more we'll start to see if this can continue or if the model needs to change and consolidate. Hulu might be the first casualty now that all the corporate merging has brought it under the Disney umbrella; after various rights agreements run their course it might just get absorbed into D+ (which would inevitably up the fee for D+).

I suppose a patient person could wait until a show's season has run its course and subscribe for one month, binge the season, and cancel. Stagger the services you pay for throughout the year. At least with traditional TV you can record stuff to watch multiple times, you can't do that with streaming, so you'd have to be content with one-and-done if you staggered the binges. Or "buy" seasons if/when they become available on Vudu or iTunes or the like.

Anyway. It's a bigger budget item all the time. Eventually it will max out.

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More maintenance

ITgraphic

I'm sure this is going to keep happening for a while, but hey, more broken stuff!

Commenting was broken unless logged in with a user account, and since the only one with such an account is me, that meant nobody could comment. An endless feedback of captchas was there as a very specific circle of hell apparently designed for trolls. If only it could be deployed just for them.

It's gone now. New anti-spam code in place, but will it work? Probably not, but it won't keep commenters out either. Since I do not trust this code to actually block spam, the moderator function remains on. Comments will go through now, but not show up until I approve them. Damn spambots.

Two minutes later...

Damn, those bots work fast! Russian spam almost immediately. This is gonna be a long-term issue, isn't it.

Two days later...

 Found a new method that seems to be way more effective and turned off the moderation function. We'll see how it goes.

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My Favorite Marti—er, Mariner

HaggertyLAA
Sam Haggerty steals a base against the Angels

Not long ago, on a day like this I would be spending a couple of hours writing an opposition primer for the series the Seattle Mariners are about to embark on for grandsalami.net. And then three or four people might read part of it. Wasn't a good ROI, if you will, which is why I'm not doing that today in advance of the Mariners' three-game set in Oakland vs. the Athletics.

But this is a landmark year for the M's and I'm following closely even if I'm not keeping up that site. Currently in position to make the postseason for the first time in more than 20 years, the Mariners have been fun to watch. Also frustrating to watch. Because they are still the Mariners, managed by a guy (Scott Servais) that by all accounts is outstanding when it comes to keeping up morale and handling all the egos but by all observable evidence is, shall we say, intellectually challenged when it comes to actual baseball strategy. But thanks in large part to personnel moves made by Servais' boss, Jerry Dipoto—and by a new rule in Major League Baseball that I do not like but works to advantage here, a limit on the number of pitchers a team can carry—Servias' strategic deficiencies have been minimized and the team is flourishing. (Relatively speaking.)

Having just swept the hapless Los Angeles Angels of Orange County Not Really Los Angeles at All, the Mariners play their next five games against teams at the bottom of the standings, Oakland (43-76) and Washington (40-80). Those two are in a race to see which will be the first of the 30 MLB clubs to be eliminated from playoff contention, so it looks like a good next few days.

Especially since there was a personnel move I expected to be made that wasn't.

The M's had been enduring a number of injuries and absences for much of the year and now everyone (mostly) is healthy again, which created a roster crunch. Some guys were going to have to be sent down or let go, and based on Servais' history with various players I thought that infielder Abraham "Fatty Tuna" Toro would remain with the team despite his near-uselessness this season, while utilityman Sam Haggerty, who had already been relegated to the minor leagues twice this year, would again be demoted. Because history.

Instead, Fatty Tuna got optioned out. I mean, that should have happened months ago, but instead Servais kept putting him in the starting lineup to provide a black hole in the order (.180/.239/.322 batting line in 84 games) while Sammy and his .369 on-base percentage stayed at Triple-A until the end of June.

I'd been a Sam Haggerty booster since the M's acquired him after the 2019 campaign. In five minor-league seasons he'd put up great on-base numbers and stolen lots of bags while playing solid defense at six different positions. He looked like a speedier version of José Oquendo. Here's what I wrote in his player profile over at gs.net when he was first called up to the Major League club in August of 2020:

No one paid much attention to the line on the transactions page when this switch-hitting infielder was claimed off the waiver wire last winter, but you might want to sit up and take notice now. Haggerty started his pro career in Cleveland's organization, but despite exceptional on-base numbers and stellar baserunning, he didn't hit much so the Indians deemed him expendable and traded him to the Mets for next-to-nothing. The Mets didn't respect his abilities that much either, despite a nice performance at three of their minor-league levels last year, and put him on release waivers. Thankfully, Seattle GM Jerry Dipoto thought he was worth a look and snagged Haggerty for the M's.

He was having a nice spring training before the pandemic shut everything down, but with manager Scott Servais' penchant for overstuffing his bullpen, there was no room for Haggerty when the truncated season finally got going. The M's finally promoted him from the satellite training facility in Tacoma in mid-August, though, and all he's done since then is hit, drive in runs, and steal bases. With Shed Long struggling to perform as an everyday player, Servais and the M's might be wise to give Haggerty a shot at that everyday second-base job.

Meanwhile, we'll keep enjoying seeing Sam get aboard and run the basepaths. One other observation: Haggerty has one of the best slide techniques of anyone playing now. Check it out next time he steals a bag—it's short, quick, and gets him back to a standing position right away in case of errant throws. It's a small thing, but with so many players sloppily diving headlong from eight feet away and struggling to either stay on the base after they get there or keep from hurting themselves and getting spiked, it's refreshing to see someone slide with such fundamental elegance.

Sam finished 2020 batting only .260, but it was a tiny sample size (13 games). He started the next year with the M's but did poorly (.186) and hurt his shoulder (or, maybe, did poorly because his shoulder was hurt), causing him to miss most of the season. This year he wasn't even given a chance to make the team out of spring camp over the likes of Toro and Dylan Moore (.202 career BA). So you can understand why I figured he'd get the short end of it again despite the fact that he's been the Mariners' best hitter since he was called up on June 29th (.330/.371/.536).

Also, I've been negatively prejudiced by the Mariners' historical tendencies (in the Servais era as well as before) to live and die by the home run, and Sammy is most definitely not that kind of ballplayer. Sam is a throwback to the style of baseball played by the favored teams of my youth: a switch-hitter that relies on swiftness, putting the ball in play, smart baserunning, and exceptional defense. He might occasionally crank a homer, but it's never the plan. It's decidedly more fun than swinging for the fences all the time, and I'm surprised the Mariner brass even noticed.

But they did. At least, Dipoto did. “It may be the most fun that we have every day is smiling every time Sam does something else that’s just awesome in a game,” the Seattle GM said to a radio show earlier this month. Servais is still batting Sam at the bottom of the order for some reason (I'd bat him second), but hey, I'm glad he's starting at all. I'm glad he's on the team at all.

Sure, Seattle has bigger names—your Julio Rodríguezes, your Mitch Hanigers, your Ty Frances—and those guys are great. Love ’em. But me, I want more Sam Haggerty.

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Behind the scenes

ITgraphic

So, being 99% decided on shuttering grandsalami.net and moving stuff over here, I've spent some time going over the under-the-hood code over here to see what needs attention after a few years of neglect. The feedbox at right was broken thanks to some changes in browser security; that's now fixed on Chrome-based browsers but still busted on Firefox for reasons I've yet to identify (and I am looking for an additional feed or two to replace the couple I had before that have been abandoned). I see the main logo animation has some issues on some browsers (not Firefox, works fine there unlike the feedbox), I may need to adjust that somehow. I'm also looking at replacing the headline font to be less in-your-face Trekkie for when I invite the GS audience over for baseball posts. Anything else people are having technical difficulties with? Let me know, I will add them to the agenda.

4 hours later...

OK, feedbox should work in Firefox now, logo now runs properly in Chrome/Safari/Opera, we have a new headline font, and the RSS feed is fixed. Again, anyone having issues or noticing weirdness, please let me know.

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The Grim Reaper comes for all

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Vin Scully

I know, that's a morbid, depressing headline. But it's true, and as one gets older—and as I personally can no longer pretend I'm not firmly within middle age—the people in the world who leave us are more and more often people we have a personal connection with in some fashion. At 53, I'm not in the stage where I'm scanning the obits for people I know or anything, but I am in the stage wherein the public figures that reach their ends are a kind of contemporary.

Recently there have been a couple of those for me, and, naturally, my friend Erik beat me to the punch in writing up reflective memorials for them and I can't improve on his remarks. But I will say a little bit anyway.

For the great Vin Scully, longtime broadcaster for the Los Angeles (and before that the Brooklyn) Dodgers, who passed away on August 2nd at age 94, Erik noted the achievement of sheer longevity Scully accomplished thusly:

 One of the first games he broadcast for the Dodgers, when he was a mere stripling of 23 in 1950, was an exhibition game against the Philadelphia A's, managed, in his final year, by Connie Mack, who had been born in 1862, just after the Battle of Fredericksburg. So just those two men connected the U.S. Civil War to the present. Remarkable. If you want to put it in baseball terms: Connie Mack began playing professional baseball in 1886, and managed professional baseball from 1894 to 1950, at which point, at that exhibition game, you can imagine him tagging off to Vin Scully, who broadcast professional baseball games another 66 years. So it's 1886 to 2016. That's the entirety of the sport, really.

Vin was my introduction to baseball entertainment. I grew up in a minor-league town, where there was a Triple-A team affiliated with the Astros (and Rangers before that) and where the local TV station occasionally ran Padres games, but the local radio ran Dodger games. Nearly every night (or afternoon) in the spring and summer I could tune in to AM 1400 and hear the almost musical phrase, "It's time for Dodger baseball" in the dulcet tones of Vin Scully, followed by "a very pleasant good afternoon to you wherever you may be."

I never was a Dodger fan, but I was always, always a Vin Scully fan. There are/have been other good baseball play-by-play pros—your Jon Millers, your Gary Thornes, your Dave Niehauses—but there has ever only been one Vin Scully; no one has ever been as good at that job. Vin not only narrated the game for you, he made it art. He (and presumably his staff of minions) prepared so meticulously for every broadcast that he had stories about even the most no-name of journeyman callups to relate during breaks in the action. He famously lip-read arguments on the field between managers and umpires, substituting creative metaphors for the swear words when he interpreted for the radio audience. (My favorite of Vin's substitutions was “'that's fertilizer,' Lasorda yelled, ‘100% fertilizer.’”) He made the most inconsequential blowout game between teams long eliminated from the pennant chase entertaining.

Vin was also the regular TV guy on the NBC Game of the Week for much of my growing-up years, setting my standard for televised games as well as radio. He had a decent repartee with color commentator Joe Garagiola on NBC, but he was always best as a solo act, just chatting with the listener one on one. Or, as he put it himself, "I tried to make believe I was in the ballpark [grandstands], sitting next to somebody and just talking." In modern times, when thanks to the Internet and MLB.TV one had a choice in such things, when I had the option of watching a game with the Dodgers' broadcast feed or the opposition's, I would always choose the Dodger feed because of Vin. Heck, sometimes I would tune in Dodger games as background noise while doing something else, just for Vin.

Scully was the best for a lot of reasons, but one key element was a sense to know when to stop talking and let the moment speak for itself. He described his approach to the gig this way: "The game is just one long conversation, and I'm anticipating that, and I will say things like 'Did you know that?' or 'You're probably wondering why.' I'm really just conversing rather than just doing play-by-play. I never thought of myself as having a style. I don't use key words. And the best thing I do? I shut up."

Erik lists some favorite Scullyisms—“Bob Gibson pitches like he's double-parked”—but there have been so many that I both heard myself and read quoted by others that I couldn't pick favorites. But there is one that resonates more and more in my middle-age, from a game Vin did between the Dodgers and the Cubs in the late '80s and regarding the Cubs' slugging outfielder: "Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren't we all?"

 

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Nichelle Nichols

The other obit from this month that hit my world was that for Nichelle Nichols, famous for portraying Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek, who died at 89 years old. Erik again has a better tribute. As a champion-level Star Trek nerd I of course know all the oft-told stories about Nichelle and her Trek history—how Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to remain with the show when she was thinking of leaving; how she inspired Whoopi Goldberg and plenty of other young African-Americans just by portraying a competent professional on network television; how she didn't know ahead of time that her audition for Star Trek was for her former affair partner, Gene Roddenberry, whom she left because she didn't want to be the "other woman"; how Bill Shatner sabotaged the alternate-take filming of the alleged "first interracial kiss" scene with her, insisted on by network suits, to ensure that the kiss would make it on air despite NBC's worries about alienating racists in the South—and how she turned being typecast as Lt. Uhura into a way to reach out to the scientific community, working with NASA on minority outreach and recruiting several applicants who would become prominent astronauts and administrators for the agency (including shuttle astronaut Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, who "returned the favor," as it were, and appeared as a transporter chief on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation).

I never met Nichelle personally despite seeing her in person at a number of conventions. I've never been an autograph hound or anything like that, so didn't wait in line to speak with her and have her sign stuff, but I did enjoy her appearances and the occasions she would close out her bit with a verse or two of "Beyond Antares."

A class act, a quality human, and a loss to the world.

Nichelle had been in poor health for a while, it wasn't a shock to learn of her passing, but it still gave me a sad, as the kids say. We've now lost De, Jimmy, Leonard, Majel, and Nichelle from the original core crew, not to mention Rene Auberjonois and Aaron Eisenberg from Deep Space Nine.

I'm at that age. The obits are more often for folks that were somehow important to me now.

(Oh, and to answer Erik's question, Nichelle's character of Uhura got her first name, Nyota, non-canonically in novels in the '80s; it was only in the J.J. Abrams movie of 2009 that it was first used on-screen. Fanfiction attempted to name her "Penda" previously, but we can all agree the final choice was the better one.)

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We're back

GSlogoInset

Greetings and felicitations, nerds, sportsfans, and politicos. After a lengthy era of negligence, things here on StarshipTim.com are nearing a revival. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. The world keeps throwing stuff at us that needs opining about.
  2. I need to personally vent.
  3. It is a golden age of fantastic TV that requires some proselytizing about.
  4. My site covering the Seattle Mariners, grandsalami.net, is possibly (probably) headed for extinction and my Mariners and baseball columns will migrate over here. 

Number 4 is the most consequential. Had the GS site succeeded in bringing in enough revenue to break even, or even showed progress toward doing so, it would likely remain the time-suck that it's been for four-plus years and my online writing would still go there. I had been spending more time maintaining and creating content for that site than I had on really any other project over these years and (a) it began to be a chore; (b) the lack of engagement beyond single-page visits from Facebook groups was frustrating; and (c) it made me not want to do any other writing at all because of (a) and (b). As one can see from the most recent post prior to this one (scroll down), it's not a new thought. I contemplated this last year but ultimately decided to give it one more season to try and make it work over there. Nothing changed.

Which isn't to say grandsalami.net had no audience; it does have one, albeit one that tends to behave in the "new normal" of Internet users. Which is to say, readers spot a link to a GS post on Facebook (occasionally Twitter), click through, read it, and go back to Facebook (or Twitter). They don't stick around and follow internal links to other content or subscribe to RSS notifications or basically do anything except what they're told to by their social media feeds. It's annoying.

But it's also useful info; that behavior doesn't much depend on the GS brand or anything other than the links themselves. I speculate that the same behavior would apply to baseball-related posts on this blog shared on those social media groups and accounts. Similarly, that behavior can be exploited for posts on other topics with tags that place links in other Internetizens' feeds. It's not a done deal yet, I haven't 100% decided to throw in the towel on GS. But it's 85+%. That number gets higher as I factor in that the baseball season only lasts half the year and traffic over there goes down to nothing in the wintertime, while political and pop culture posts have year-round appeal. 

All of which is to say, the blog will rise from the ashes as GS slowly wilts away. Freeing up the time spent there—a not-insignificant amount of which is spent on stuff that nobody ever sees—will be a boon for not only this site but my overall time-management, which, frankly, can use some work.

Some redesign here might be part of the process, but only minor tweaks; I like the look of things here overall. Maybe deemphasizing the Trekkiness a tad with the fonts? We'll see.

Meanwhile, I remain a Mariners superfan even if not actively running that other site, so I am off to watch tonight's game against the Evil Empire, otherwise known as the New York Yankees. As my friend Mack likes to say, "FTY."

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Return of the Blog? Maybe?

AbramsYell

As is obvious, I have not been maintaining this blog very well. There have been innumerable things I've thought about writing, many topics in the news and in my personal headspace that deserve a few words here and there, but I've not mustered up the time and energy to to it. My writing time has been taken up on my other website endeavor over at grandsalami.net, but that too has been suffering.

When I relaunched grandsalami.net as a web-only entity, following the demise of the print edition that I worked on as production designer/layout artist/copy editor for so many years, it was in the hopes that after a couple of years' time it would garner enough traffic to a) pay for itself, b) pay an additional writer or two, and c) show the promise of making a small profit. But it's done none of those things and I've been feeling a bit burned out on it. I'm considering letting it die after the end of the baseball season; the aspects of it that I tried to port over from the print magazine are apparently of little interest to the web readership and what traffic it gets tends to be on commentary posts. You know, the sort of thing that makes up a blog.

So I'm thinking of letting that entity go and instead revitalizing this site to be home to my baseball commentary as well as stuff in the news and stuff elsewhere in life again. I'll bring the minuscule ad revenue generated at grandsalami.net over here, maybe. Do a small bit of redesign. I don't know for sure. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I'm being upstaged in my own mind by others, like Craig Calcaterra, whose "Cup of Coffee" newsletter covers baseball and politics and makes me chuckle and go "hmm." on a regular basis.

Stuff is happening, macro scale and micro, and even though I have thoughts I've not been articulating them. I should figure out a comfortable way to devote time to doing so.

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Bansei (2002-2021)

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Bansei (mid-late October 2002 - May 15, 2021)

Bansei did not wake me with a meow, asking to be fed. She did not sneak into the shower while the water was warming to sip the presumably much tastier water from the shower spigot. She did not rub her head against me or trill in anticipation of tuna. She did none of those things because she left me last Saturday, dying due to complications from kidney failure at the age of 18 years and 7 months.

I've lost cats before. Four now as an adult and at least that many as a child. It's always tremendously upsetting. I love my cats, past and present, all very much and all uniquely. Losing Bansei has been hitting me harder that I anticipated it would, and I've been anticipating it for a while now.

My truly awesome veterinarian gave me the bad news a few months ago, at Bansei's last regular senior checkup: the one functioning kidney was no longer functioning. Things were going to worsen, but for the time being it was manageable with medications and home hydration treatments. Bansei had been living with chronic kidney disease for nine and a half years, a slow and mostly imperceptible condition that would, every few years or so, take a leap and get worse but never really affected her daily life in any significant fashion until recently. About three or four years in it affected her litter box habits in an annoying (to me) way, otherwise the only way we knew there was a problem was when we'd do the lab tests at her semi-annual vet checkups. She was a tough old broad in that respect. Even in the midst of the end stages of her disease she continued to eat (though not enough), purr, enjoy the sun, and engage in activity commensurate with a kitty of her age, the equivalent of 90 in people years. Still, during the last couple of months there was no mistaking a deterioration in her overall health and I knew we were down to a matter of weeks, maybe months if we were really fortunate. Every time she had a relatively bad day I would steel myself, sometimes nervously going into a pre-mourn, but she always perked up shortly after.

One of the complications of not having working kidneys filter blood properly is hypertension. I knew this because I read whatever I could find online about feline renal failure, and I began to notice over the last ten days or so that her pupils tended to stay dilated more than seemed appropriate for the light level, an indication of said hypertension. Even so I was still surprised and not immediately cognizant of what exactly happened when Bansei had a stroke Saturday afternoon. I was out on my balcony and heard her yowl from inside. When I came in to check on her I couldn't find her right away, then saw out of the corner of my eye that she had tumbled down the stairs. She must have been walking out of the bedroom and toward the balcony door when the stroke hit her near the top of the stairs. I scooped her up, breathing but immobile, and held her close while I phoned my friends Amy and Lindsey for help. I knew there was nothing more to be done; the stroke had left her paralyzed. While I waited for Lindsey to come over, I held Bansei and stroked her and talked to her, trying not to cry lest I upset her further. I told her she deserved better, that I had done my damnedest to give her the very best life I could give her and how it was totally unfair that we did not yet have Dr. McCoy's kidney-growth pills that would have spared her this indignity.

BanseiTower

Lindsey (a licensed vet) arrived and helped ease Bansei's distress and bring her time to a close. It was, given the circumstances, probably the best outcome (except for the stroke) I could hope for, only a very brief period of severe suffering and absolutely no question that I was not acting prematurely. Yet I felt, and to a degree continue to feel, quite irrationally, that I failed my precious kitty.

Intellectually, of course, I know better. I know I did everything that could possibly have been done short of a traumatic hospitalization at the end of her life that I didn't want to put her through. But that's the thing with pets—they are utterly and completely dependent on their human(s) to take care of them. They trust us to do right by them. I was responsible for her, so even though I know full well that the only thing I could have possibly done differently was opt for a euthanasia in advance of any possibility of severe decline—something I could never bring myself to do—there are feelings of guilt. That I should have, somehow, done more.

The irrational guilt will pass, I know. It was the same when Pixel died a few years ago, and though circumstances were different back in the early aughts (veterinary malpractice, plus younger me not knowing as much as I do now), it was similar when Bansei and Pixel's predecessors, Charcoal and I-Chaya, died.

I've been cleaning up the condo yesterday and today, dismantling the various devices I cobbled together to help Bansei in her elderhood and mitigate her frailties. It makes the place look very empty in spots. I notice her absence everywhere. But for the rest of us, life goes on. I have Kuro-Raimei and Zephyr still to care for and comfort me. And I will always remember my Bansei.

I first met her on the last day of November, 2002, at what I've come to think of as the King County Animal POW Camp, a dreadful shelter down in Auburn. I'd been wanting to find a new kitten after losing I-Chaya a couple of months prior and checking out various places. On walking into the facility I decided instantly that I would be taking someone home from there if just to save her from that wholly unpleasant environment. Bansei was in a very small cage with two brothers, and she looked at me in what I anthropomorphised as anxious hope. I chose her, told the attendant, and then was told I couldn't have her yet as she hadn't been spayed. But I could put in the paperwork and come back three days later. I did, and took the estimated-to-be-seven-week old baby girl cat home and gave her the best name any pet cat has ever had in the history of cats: 伴星 (ばんせい).

BanseiKitten Pixel

She took immediately to Pixel, who was by then 2½ or so. The two of them played together and Bansei at that age liked to fetch foam golf balls I would toss around our small apartment on 45th Street. She grew up fast and still tried to squeeze into small spaces she used to fit into for a while after it was impossible for her. It wasn't long before she developed the first of her many many medical and dental problems; Bansei became the most expensive cat I've ever had by far. After we moved into a bigger space when she was around four, she had to have her first tooth removed due to a genetic predisposition for resorption. By the time she was middle-aged, she'd had all of her fangs removed—at times making her twist her mouth a bit in what I called her "tiny Elvis" face—and by the time she was elderly she only had a smattering of small teeth left. When she was 9 she'd apparently decided she didn't like the (rather expensive) food I was feeding her and went on a hunger strike; taking her in to see Dr. Schuldt and discover any underlying issue, we found that she had begun to go into liver failure due to lack of intake which was due to an infection and things looked very bleak. But Dr. Schuldt is the best, and though it took weeks in the hospital Bansei recovered fully, though her kidney disease began as a consequence of all that. She had another, briefer, hospital stay for a lesser ailment too. We needed great veterinary care and I'm grateful we were able to get it.

When I would go out of town Bansei would get anxious. Until her last couple of years, she was a fastidious groomer and when I was away for any length of time she would overgroom as a coping activity. This led to many hairballs in inconvenient places and taught me to lay towels on the bed and other furniture when I'd go on trips. Her temporary caretakers sometimes reported that Bansei made it known they were unwelcome invaders and that they were to leave the food and get out, else there would be trouble. I was sorry to hear this in most respects, but it also made me feel good—Bansei had a human and it was me, nobody else.

BanseiPrinter2

She was upset when we moved again, into the home I'm in now. It was big and unfamiliar and she stayed in her cat-tree cube for nearly three days straight before getting accustomed to the new digs. Then she enjoyed the larger space to roam. When Pixel left us, Bansei was very sad, wailing and sniffing around and searching for her pal, and really was never the same afterward. Raimei joined us a few months later and, while this new kitten was very keen to be friends with Bansei, Ban-ban really wasn't having it with kitten energy. She adjusted and there came a sort of acceptance and détente, but to take some of the unwanted attention off Bansei, I brought in kitty number three, Zephyr, to be Raimei's principal playmate. It worked out well and we were a happy three-kitty fam.

Until last Saturday.

I will and do miss Bansei's loud voice, her subtle purr, and her loyal companionship. I will miss her forays into the shower, her insistence on only the best tuna-based food, the way she draped herself over the sofa arms on a hot day like a Salvador Dali painting. I will miss her insisting that it is time for my guests to leave when she's had enough of their presence. I miss her climbing into my lap when I watch TV and her favorite method of expressing affection, pressing her head up against mine and rubbing her cheeks on me to mark me as hers.

She was my unique and precious companion star, the Proxima to my Alpha (and to Pixel's Centauri-B). Without her I have a hole in my heart.

BanseiPencil
DrSchuldtCard

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