Earlier this month, ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball presented a Pirates/Cubs game with a debutant by the name of Steven Brault cast in the role of Pittsburgh’s starting pitcher. (Two weeks before that, ESPN had shown a Pirates/Dodgers game. It was less memorable for affording a rare chance to see the Dodgers on television than it was for the Pirates’ rookie making his debut on an MLB mound, Chad Kuhl. Kuhl is a definite 9 I was talking about for the rest of the week, which explains why I’d tuned in to another Pirates game.) I freely admit that I am new to baseball, and that my frame of reference is small, but I felt competent enough to aver to one of my friends from that first Dodger Stadium outing that I thought Brault had made a decent showing of himself. My friend then accused me of liking Brault’s blond hair more than his throwing arm, never mind that Brault’s hair is dark, that he’s somewhere in the 7-8 range, and that he’s certainly no Chad Kuhl. (I hasten to add that the judgment applies in baseball terms as well: nothing more has been heard of Brault, while Kuhl pitched 17 major league innings before being returned to Indianapolis, I’d like to think not for all eternity.)
I still hold that Brault didn’t fall anywhere near flat on his face, and this Sunday’s evening baseball (another chance to watch the Dodgers) provided me with an example of what falling flat on your face in your debut really looks like. True, Brault wasn’t stellar in his four innings on July 10th, but Mike Mayers’ debut with the Cardinals was an out-and-out disaster. His first inning must have been the worst inning he pitched in his life: he let in nine runs, most of them before even racking up a single out. He was retired after one third of the second inning, but was then forced to remain in the dugout, where he became the victim of numerous depressing reaction shots. Perhaps one of the ESPN camera people thought Mayers was more of an 8 than the 7 I’d give him, but, even then, there’s no sense in constantly returning the camera to a sweaty 8 on the verge of tears. The Cardinals’ manager was stoic – an awful first inning in the majors doesn’t change the fact that Mayers is a more-than-competent pitcher who’s had a lot of success in AAA this season – but, Dodger fan though I may be, my heart really went out to the hapless Mr. Mayers, who had to go through the worst forty-five minutes of his life, not only in 100-degree heat, but on national television as well.
Adrian Gonzales’ first-inning grand slam would have been more exciting had we not had to watch the pitcher dying on the mound. While I think the Dodgers’ final strikeout after scoring 9 runs in that first inning was likely an act of blue-blooded mercy, the Dodgers are still in the business of winning baseball games. It turned out that, while the Dodgers did win the game, they won on the basis of those nine runs scored on Mayers. It’s a victory that probably got reassessed in the clubhouse.
A rookie drowning in molten lead wasn’t the big baseball news of the weekend, however. The hot topic, much discussed on ESPN during the lulls in Sunday’s game that couldn’t be filled with gloomy reaction shots of Mayer’s dejected family, was the news that Chris Sale of the White Sox had been suspended by his own team for five games. The reason? A tantrum the left-hander had thrown over a throwback jersey, which climaxed when he, in the clubhouse while everyone was at batting practice, took a scissors to what must have been most of the offending garments. (Sale managed to destroy enough of the jerseys to force the team to don a different throwback jersey on the field Saturday, something which obviously scuttled the White Sox’ plans to sell replica throwback jerseys to their fans.)
The jersey Sale so detested was a 1976 model, with peculiar dark blue collar-like flaps on either side of the shirt’s front. Imagine a polo shirt with the back half of the collar removed. Is it a great look? No. Is it constructed like a regular baseball jersey? No. Does it give you buttons you can adjust as you can on a conventional jersey? Again, no. Still, if you can wear a polo shirt (as I assume Sale can), you can certainly manage to put up with this thing for three hours.
I’m reminded of nothing so much as a series of fits I had as a four- and five-year-old over shirts I deemed “itchy.” And Heaven help the 23rd floor of 140 West End Avenue if the boy in 23C were forced to don a shirt with a tag still in the back. I’m surprised I didn’t think of taking a scissors to my “itchy” shirts, although I don’t suppose that late 1960s model safety scissors would have been able to inflict much damage on whatever was being used for fabric at the time.
I, however, wasn’t being paid millions of dollars to wear the itchy shirts. Mr. Sale (perhaps a 7, adjusted to a 5 after his fit) ought to have taken a few bucks from his $9.15 million salary and sent someone from the equipment department to the Rite Aid for a container of talcum powder.
Sale has yet to apologize fully for his behavior, and, by way of the defense which replaces apologies in today’s world, said that he was in the business of winning baseball games, not that of modeling jerseys. According to him, the incident was really the team’s own fault. To quote Sale in an interview he gave yesterday: “I’ll never understand why we need to do something on the business side on the field that might impede us winning a game.”
I have to disagree with that. Certainly, he’s being paid nine million bucks to throw baseballs better than almost anyone else on the planet. On the other hand, he ought to give some thought to where his enormous salary comes from: he may claim that selling souvenirs is beneath him, but it is precisely the sale of those souvenirs which funds the team and, ultimately, lines his pockets. There were 24 other players willing to don the collared jerseys. Sale obviously decided he was too special to worry about either team spirit or the hand that feeds him.
Can anyone for a second believe that Hamphus Lindholm of the Ducks – a “spring” if ever there were one – relished wearing the hideous orange third jerseys the team tatted up this year? Blonds look awful in orange, and, assuming that there are mirrors in the Ducks’ dressing room, Lindholm must have noticed it. Still, all the fair-haired Ducks took one for the team…and did their duty by helping to sell a mess of those ghastly sweaters, I hope to the autumns and winters of the team’s fan base.
The reality is that fostering the sale of souvenirs is part of your job as a major league athlete, like it or not. Given the amounts of money trading hands in Major League Baseball, no player can claim to be above business and solely concerned with winning games.
You also didn’t hear it here first, but I’ll lay even money that Sale gets his butt traded before the week is out. He no doubt hopes that will be to a team less sartorially adventurous than the White Sox.
I have a further question about the Sale incident: just how many jerseys was he able to slice up before someone noticed and tried to stop him? I realize that rushing a 6’6” man wielding scissors is not a job for the faint-hearted, but, unless I’m mistaken, baseball bat clobbers scissors.