Cup of Coffee: June 20, 2024

Gerrit Cole returns, the new Greatest Living Ballplayer, phrenology, George Washington's berries, the Pringles can pooper, and why we climb mountains

Good morning! And welcome to Free Thursday!

And away we go.

And That Happened 

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Orioles 7, Yankees 6: Gerrit Cole made his season debut, allowing two runs on three hits over four innings while striking out five. He was on the hook for the loss until Giancarlo Stanton took it upon himself to rally the Yankees back from a 5-1 deficit, hitting a three-run homer in the seventh and then tying it up with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. The O’s bounced back in the top of the 10th when Cedric Mullins hit a tie-breaking single and scored on a throwing error. New York could only answer with one run in the bottom half, giving Baltimore the victory in this three hour and forty minute old school AL East game.

Atlanta 7, Tigers 0: Sean Murphy went 4-for-4 with a pair of two-run homers and Reynaldo López scattered seven hits over five scoreless innings. Atlanta seems to be righting the ship which had long been listing, having won six of seven.

Pirates 1, Reds 0: Mitch Keller went seven shutout innings allowing just two hits and striking out seven. He got a no-decision, however, as Hunter Greene and Fernando Cruz shut Pittsburgh out over those same seven innings. An eighth inning solo homer from Bryan Reynolds was all that was doin’ offensively, but that’s all that would be needed in this two hour and eight minute contest.

Marlins 4, Cardinals 3: On Tuesday night Vidal Bruján hit an RBI single in the 10th inning to give the Marlins a walkoff win over the Cardinals. On Wednesday afternoon the Marlins walked the Cards off again, this time via an Otto Lopez RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Fish took two of three from the Cardinals, who fell back below .500 after getting just a brief little peek at what being a winning club looks like.

In other news, Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado left the game after being hit in the right elbow by a fastball from Marlins reliever Huascar Brazoban in the eighth. X-rays were negative, thankfully, and Arenado is day-to-day.

Padres 5, Phillies 2: San Diego snaps a five-game skid thanks to some good knucklin’ from Matt Waldron (7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 6K) and a three-run triple from Kyle Higashioka in the eighth. The Phillies’ bullpen squandered a nice start from Ranger Suárez (6 IP, 6 H, 1 ER) and a two-homer day from Bryce Harper.

Cubs 6, Giants 5: Chicago built up a 6-1 lead by the seventh and then hung on as Jorge Soler hit a grand slam in the eighth to make it close and the Giants put two on the ninth before the would-be rally fizzled. Kyle Hendricks allowed only one run while pitching into the sixth in his first turn in the rotation in a long time, suggesting that maybe he’s not actually dead yet as a starter. Dansby Swanson went 2-for-4 with a homer and three knocked in. Chicago takes two of three from the G-men.

Nationals 3, Diamondbacks 1: Jesse Winker hit a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth, Ildemaro Vargas had RBI single, Patrick Corbin pitched five innings of one-run ball and the Washington pen shut the Snakes out for the final four. The Nats have won nine of their last 11.

Guardians 8, Mariners 0: Cleveland starter Tanner Bibee was sharp as hell (6 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 12 K), as was Josh Naylor, who went 3-for-4 with two homers, and knocked four in. Steven Kwan hit a two-run homer and José Ramírez and Josh’s brother Bo Naylor each had two hits as the Guardians take the second game of a three-game set among these division leaders. Rubber match today. Which I now know, thanks to y’all, is a term from bridge.

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 3: Jarren Duran and Enmanuel Valdez hit solo home runs — Duran knocked in two runs — and Brayan Bello pitched six solid innings as Boston completes a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays and wins its fifth in a row overall.

Rays 3, Twins 2: Twins third baseman Royce Lewis had a game of contrasts. On the one hand he hit a go-ahead homer in the fifth inning that broke Target Field’s ribbon scoreboard in left. On the other hand he committed a throwing error in the tenth inning which allowed Randy Arozarena to score from second base and give the Rays what would prove to be the winning run. Life is a never-ending series of ups and downs but it sucks when they happen so close to one another.

Rangers 5, Mets 3: Leody Taveras entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the seventh inning and then hit the go-ahead homer in the bottom half. It’s one of the rare instances where a guy “only had ONE job” but did something good by doing two things. Texas ends their five-game losing streak and ends the Mets seven-game winning streak. Mets starter Sean Manaea didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning, but we play nine in this league so that wasn’t enough.

Astros 4, White Sox 1: Hunter Brown tossed six innings of one-run ball and catcher César Salazar hit a pair of RBI singles. Jake Meyers had two doubles and scored two runs, Mauricio Dubón drove in a run with a groundout, and Chas McCormick added a sacrifice fly.

Rockies 7, Dodgers 6: A night after a monster ninth inning comeback the Dodgers came back from an early 3-0 hole to tie things up and built a two-run lead that lasted until the seventh when the Rockies plated two to tie things up once again. The tying run came on a Brenton Doyle sacrifice fly. Doyle then knocked in the go-ahead run on a second sacrifice fly in the ninth to give Colorado the walkoff win. Michael Toglia homered and tripled for the Rockies. Shohei Ohtani doubled, singled and drove in three and Freddie Freeman had two hits for the Dodgers in a losing cause.

Brewers 2, Angels 0: Freddy Peralta held the Angels scoreless for six innings and two relievers finished off the four-hit shutout. A Rhys Hoskins sacrifice plated Milwaukee’s first run early and Willy Adames singled in their second run late. The Brewers take two of three from the Halos.

Athletics 5, Royals 1: A’s starter Luis Medina allowed one run on six hits in five and two-thirds to pick up his first win of the year as the A’s win their second in a row following a lengthy skid. The Royals, who were pretty damn hot not too long ago, have lost three in a row and eight of their last ten.

The Daily Briefing

Who is the Greatest Living Ballplayer now?

Yesterday I and many others made the case that Willie Mays was the Greatest Baseball Player of All Time. Even if one takes issue with that, it’s almost impossible to dispute that, prior to Tuesday, Mays was the Greatest Living Ballplayer. And he was so even when the guy who insisted on being called that — Joe DiMaggio — was still alive. God, the nerve of DiMaggio. I don’t think there was any time in DiMaggio’s life when he had a claim to even being in the top five, but we can slag on him at another time.

It’s certainly a testament to Mays’ greatness that, as of today, there isn’t really a consensus as to who the Greatest Living Ballplayer now is. Here are the best candidates off the top of my head:

Barry Bonds: If you take PEDs out of the equation he’d be the easy answer, but some 17 years into the era in which we’ve acknowledged PED use and judged players who used them negatively, there is likely no way most people will take them out of the equation. Same goes for Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez, each of whom would otherwise have pretty strong claims to the title.

Rickey Henderson: Definitely a strong choice. He was no Mays — no one was — but he had a pretty damn great all-around game, with power, speed, and a great batting eye. He won a Gold Glove early in his career, but his defense was not great, even if he was not some extreme liability. He sure as hell had longevity and star power.

Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, or Pedro Martínez: Assuming we take Clemens out of it, these are the three pitchers with the strongest claim. The question then becomes “can a pitcher be the Greatest Living Ballplayer?” I don’t see why not, though I know that a lot of baseball fans have a hard time getting their mind around pitchers being MVPs or “the Greatest” or what have you. If you want to really start arguments you could add Mariano Rivera. Relief pitchers always throw wrenches into this kind of discussion and I love wrench-filled discussions.

Mike Schmidt or Johnny Bench: I don’t know that most people would immediately add Schmidt or Bench to this conversation, but each of them are pretty much the consensus best all-time at their position (I don’t think there’s enough defensive data in existence to accurately place Josh Gibson as a catcher, even if we can acknowledge that he was possibly the greatest hitter ever). If you’re the best ever at your position and you’re still alive, I think you have a place at the table in this kind of discussion.

After that I think you start to fall into a secondary tier containing players who, for a time anyway, looked like the best players alive but who either had injuries or late-career declines which took the shine off their “Greatest” claim. People like Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Ken Griffey Jr.

I suppose whether you include them in the argument depends on whether you’re talking about those who had the greatest careers or those who, at their peak, were the guys you wanted on the field if, to use Bill James’ old idea, we had to play one baseball game against the Martians to save humanity. All three of those guys, at a given moment in time, assuming Mr. Mays removed himself from competition, could have laid claim to the Greatest Living Player crown, even if their career arcs weren’t as strong over the long haul.

Of course there is no official title of Greatest Living Ballplayer. No one is going to look for the black smoke to turn to white or hand over some orb, scepter, or championship belt if and when one is determined. But it’s a fascinating barroom debate, that’s for sure.

Kyle Bradish undergoes Tommy John surgery

Orioles right-hander Kyle Bradish underwent Tommy John surgery — the internal brace version — yesterday. He’ll be out for the rest of this year and well into 2025.

Bradish, who had already been playing with a slight tear in his UCL which he and the O’s attempted to rehab in lieu of surgery, was placed on the injured list over the weekend after leaving Friday’s start against the Phillies complaining of elbow soreness and you know the rest. He made eight starts this year with a healthy 2.75 ERA (137 ERA+) and a K/BB ratio of 53/15 over 39.1 innings.

Given Bradish’s breakout season last year and how effective he was in those eight starts he made after rehabbing his elbow this spring, his loss is certainly a blow for Baltimore. That said, the rotation — which currently consists of Corbin Burnes, Grayson Rodriguez, Cole Irvin, Cade Povich and Albert Suárez — remains a team strength and the club has better-than-average pitching depth overall. This is obviously not a good development, but the Orioles stand a better chance of weathering this storm than many teams might.

Buck Showalter cares about asses, beards, and eyes 

Former big league manager Buck Showalter works for MLB Network now and has been doing analysis for the MLB draft combine out in Phoenix. Which is by no means a necessary event but, the powers that be want NFL-style programming so NFL-style programming is what we get.

I haven’t watched a second of it, and I’m OK with that, but I do wish I got to hear Buck Showalter offer his scouting insights live. Via Awful Announcing, we learn what Buck is looking at when he’s assessing amateur prospects:

“I’m looking at how high is their butt? Do they got a full beard? You don’t see a bunch of pancake rear guys playing. You don’t. There’s some exceptions to everything. I’m just telling you. I’ll tell you another one, too, if you look at a full beard. If I see a guy that’s got a full beard, that’s an X there. Because he’s not getting any bigger, he’s not getting any stronger. You better like what you see. He’s fully grown — for the most part.

“I’ve got more. What color eyes do they have? Are they brown? Are they green? Take a look at the batting title guys over the last 40 years; what color eyes they had, Greg. There’s some consistency. I can keep going; your wrists, your fingers . . . I’m looking too much.”

I can only assume that they cut of his mic before he started talking about how he liked to run his fingertips and palms over the skulls of prospects to feel for enlargements or indentations and discussed the proper way to use calipers in order to measure brain-pan capacity. You scoff, but did YOU go to the Edinburgh Phrenological Society? No, you did not, so leave the analysis to experts like Buck Showalter.

Draft combine? More like a draft COMBE-ine, amirte?

I don’t know much about coaching basketball, but . . .

. . . I bet I could’ve coached the 2023-24 Detroit Pistons to a 14-68 record simply by using playground strategy, that I too could’ve been fired, and that I too could’ve gotten a $65 million payout. Why won’t someone hire me for that kind of gig? The same applies to coaching a second-tier SEC or Big 12 football team, by the way. All of those guys seem to crash and burn and the walk away with eight figures in their pocket for doing nothing.

I have no idea why I pursued writing when being a shitty coach is where the real easy money is in sports.

Other Stuff

George Washington’s berries

I had missed this while I was out of town, but archaeologists working beneath George Washington’s Virginia home, Mt. Vernon, discovered 35 glass bottles in the cellar’s storage pits, most of which were intact and contained perfectly preserved fruits. According to researchers on-site, some of the bottles “still smelled faintly of cherry blossoms” and “[o]thers had a nondescript fruity scent, possibly containing gooseberries or currants.”

This is obviously exciting for researchers, who have been studying the bottles, their contents, and the process via which the cherries and berries were preserved. That process, by the way, was almost certainly handled by enslaved people, so this discovery is significant for historical and sociological reasons as well. As for the food side of things:

Brendan A. Niemira, a USDA research food microbiologist, has examined some of the liquid that came from the bottles. He said it was largely devoid of contaminants.

“What that means is that whoever was preparing these berries really knew what they were doing,” he said in a telephone interview. “They prepared these with care and real attention to good food preparation techniques. These things were quite clean.”

“They were washed carefully,” he said. “And prepared in such a way that you didn’t have these dangerous bacteria or problematic bacteria that might compromise the safety or quality of the food.”

This is all fascinating, but forgive me if I’m happiest at the fact that the USDA scientist quoted above, Brendan A. Niemira, is both a friend of mine who I’ve known for like 30 years and a subscriber to Cup of Coffee. Hi, Brendan!

Private to Brendan: please determine whether we can get our hands on any of these cherries and whether we can use them to open a colonial-themed cocktail bar in which we make a “Washington Old Fashioned” and “Martha’s Manhattans” and stuff. There’s a lot of money in that kind of performative bartending, I tell you what.

And yeah, Brendan, I know you can’t be seen taking any of it as you’re a government scientist with “ethics” and “standards” and stuff, but I know your wife and your in-laws and we can totally launder the proceeds so no one says boo to ya.

Shoot me an email and we’ll get the ball rolling.

Update on the Pringles Can Pooper

Last November I alerted all of you to an Ohio attorney named Jack Blakeslee, who got his law license suspended for pooping into Pringles cans and throwing them into the parking lot of a crime victim advocacy center, employees of which were scheduled to appear in a case where Blakeslee was defending a murderer a mere 15 minutes after he was caught on video doing the drive-by pooping. Tale as old as time, really.

Well, if you’re in need of an attorney in Noble County, Ohio who thinks outside the box even if he poops inside the cylinder, our man Blakeslee is back in action:

The Ohio attorney who was disciplined for pooping in a Pringles can and tossing it into a parking lot got his law license reinstated on Tuesday.

Jack Blakeslee, of Noble County, finished serving his six-month sanction that the Ohio Supreme Court imposed in November. The court said Tuesday that Blakeslee had complied with the conditions, including no further misconduct, to get his license back.

Sadly, the Supreme Court opinion reinstating him did not go into detail, so we don’t know how they know that Blakeslee has been rehabilitated and will not poop in a Pringles can with malice aforethought again. We just have to take their word for it.

Other than that Mrs. Lincoln . . .

SkyNews reports on a University of Central Florida study which found that self-driving cars “are safer than those driven by humans, except when it is dusk, dawn, or the vehicle is turning.” From the article:

During low-light conditions at dawn or dusk, they were more than five times more likely to have an accident than a human-driven car.

While turning, self-driving cars were nearly two times more likely to have an accident.

This is wonderful news for me, as all of my driving takes place between 8AM and 5PM and I only go in straight lines. If you need me I’ll be at the Tesla dealership that is — thankfully! — directly down the street from me.

“Because it’s there!” 

I’m pretty sure I’ve shared with you my view of people who climb dangerously high mountains before: I think most of them are crazy and arrogant.

Crazy because of how dangerous the endeavor is. Arrogant because so many of them seem to believe that, somehow, they’re conquering nature in doing so. This despite the fact that nature is and always will be utterly undefeated. We are specks who appear and then disappear from this planet in a fraction of a blink of an eye, and none of us make our mark in the way we like to think we will. People who think they’ve somehow bested nature, and there are a lot of mountain-climbers in this group, are the most deluded among us.

Yet, as I’m pretty sure I’ve also said in the past, I am fascinated with stories about mountain climbers and mountain climbing disasters. And though I still think those climbers are crazy and arrogant, I am interested in what compels them.

Yesterday I read an article which talks all about that, starting out with the famous George Mallory retort when asked about why he wanted to climb Mt. Everest — “Because it’s there!” — and going on to examine the question in less flippant ways:

From afar, these mountain peaks, by virtue of their salience and metaphorical potency, have long inspired awe and reverence. Massifs like Olympus, Himinbjörg and Kailash have served, in different eras and for different religions, as holy mountains, abodes of the gods. Today, in Bhutan, where Buddhism still merges with animist mythology, the high peaks are sacrosanct and mostly unclimbed. Others, like Tài Shān in China or Adam’s Peak in Sri Lanka, are objects of daily pilgrimage. Setting foot on a mountain can be devotional or blasphemous. Either way, the high peak, talismanic and remote, is often viewed as a surrogate for heaven.

The secular impulse to climb mountains for respite and adventure is much younger . . . A seismic shift in our perception of mountainous landscapes can be traced back to the intellectual ferment of the Enlightenment. As science challenged religious orthodoxy, it ushered in a new humanistic way of seeing the world and a concomitant desire to rationalize wild places. Soon, this inquisitiveness turned skyward. It was as if, in demystifying the processes once ascribed to the supernatural, the empiricists sought to dethrone the deities and claim the firmament for their own.

I developed a love of mountains — albeit much, much smaller ones — when I lived in West Virginia as a kid. My love of mountains, however, is more of a product of Romanticism and Transcendentalism than the Enlightenment. I like simply being in the presence of mountains. I like seeing them from below or walking — not climbing! — through their more manageable passes but keeping my distance from their major peaks. Is some of that based on my own personal fear of heights or falling or whatever? Absolutely. It’s a big reason why I avoided Helvellyn via Striding Edge last fall. But it’s also about an almost primal belief that the mountains are not mine or ours to conquer. They are not, to quote the article, some “proving ground of human fortitude.” Rather, they are merely ours to revere. At least that’s how I think about them.

The article talks about the crass and obvious impulses to climb mountains. The Enlightenment thing mentioned above and, later, about how, for some, “climbing a peak and looking out from the summit” became “a way of possessing the surrounding land.” Indeed, this is a lot of what explicitly motivated early mountain climbers of the late colonial era. But it also talks about more recent motivations, some of which are patently obnoxious — the rich guy who wants to “bag” more mountains than the next rich guy — some of which are functions of an almost woo-woo kind of animism, and some of which actually, and somewhat soberingly for me, touch on what I like about and what I get out of hiking, for example.

My kneejerk reaction to high mountain climbers notwithstanding, it’s a good, thought-provoking read that says more about people than it does about mountains.

Have a great day everyone.


or to participate.