Craig Calcaterra

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #13: Pete Rose finally gets his appeal. And loses it.

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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

There’s an argument to be made that Pete Rose became more famous as a result of his being permanently banned from baseball in 1989 than he would’ve been if he never broke baseball’s gambling rules. Eventually, as all managers are, he would’ve been fired. Maybe he’d get one more job someplace outside of Cincinnati, but by the turn of the century or so he’d likely be some special assistant for the Reds, showing up at spring training and public events and the like. He’d be the Midwestern Tommy Lasorda. It’s a nice gig if you can get it, but it’s not the sort of thing that leads to big headlines, books and the rapt attention of radio listeners and readers of sports news. To this day Rose still gets that sort of attention, however, and it’s largely a function of his 26-year fight to be reinstated.

For a long time Rose claimed he was an innocent man. Then, when there was book money to be made, he admitted he was not an innocent man, but stopped short of admitting he bet on baseball as a player. Eventually news came out that, yeah, he probably bet on baseball as a player too. All the while Rose alternated between lamenting and making money off of his infamy. Not an ideal, but for Rose, also a good gig. At least a lucrative one. His autograph and appearance fees are much larger than they would’ve been if he was like any other old ballplayer.

Early this year Rob Manfred took over as baseball’s new commissioner and, unlike the old one, declared that he would give Rose a shot at reinstatement. Not a great shot, really. Manfred was under no obligation to review Rose’s case and made no suggestion that it was likely Rose’s ban would be overturned, but it was more of a shot than Rose had gotten since 1989.

Rose blew that shot. On December 14 Manfred ruled that Rose’s ban would not be overturned and that permanent would continue to mean exactly that.

Manfred’s decision made it abundantly clear that Rose, as recently as this summer, when his case was being reviewed, continued to lie about betting on baseball as a player as opposed to just while a manager. He said that Rose has no apparent understanding of how serious his past violations of baseball’s anti-gambling rules were and that he had done absolutely nothing to change his habits as a person which would suggest he wouldn’t continue to break those rules if he were reinstated.

Rose responded defiantly to all of this in a Las Vegas (natch) press conference the following day, but added nothing new. After so many years in the wilderness — almost as many years as he spent in Major League bBaseball, actually — he probably doesn’t know how else to respond.

And so Pete Rose beats on, a sternwheeler gambling boat against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #14: Unrest in Baltimore leads to a fan-free Orioles game

Empty Camden Yards
Associated Press
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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

On April 12, Baltimore police arrested a 25-year-old man named Freddie Gray. Gray was healthy and fine when they put him into the back of a police van. Between the time he was arrested and when he got to the station, however, Gray sustained injuries to his neck and spinal cord. He fell into a coma and was taken to a hospital where he died due to his injuries seven days later. The story from the Baltimore police about how Gray was injured was implausible and inconsistent. Police brutality and negligence in giving him medical attention was seen as the likely explanation even if, so far, no police officers involved have been convicted of any wrongdoing.

On April 18, protests began. By April 25 the protests became violent. Property was damaged, police cars and businesses were set on fire and dozens of citizens and police officers were injured. That night fans were forced to stay inside Oriole Park at Camden Yards during a Orioles-Red Sox game due to the threat to their safety.

On Monday April 27 and Tuesday April 28 the Orioles games against the Chicago White Sox were postponed due to the unrest. While, in the grand scheme of things, the fate of some baseball games paled in importance to what was going on in the city, the business of Major League Baseball had to go on. The problem, however, was that due to the unbalanced schedule, the White Sox were not going to visit Baltimore again in 2015. How would any of these games be played in a manner which did not put fans at risk?

The solution? A game with no fans:

It was an eerie scene, televised for all of us to see and, most strangely, to not hear. A few Orioles fans braved the city’s streets and lined up outside the gates, cheering when the Orioles did good things. Otherwise, though, silence. It was so quiet that, if you were watching the White Sox’ broadcast feed, you could hear the voice of the Orioles’ announcers bleeding through the walls of the press box, picked up by the WGN microphones. You could hear the sounds of clicks from the media’s cameras in the photo well. At times you could hear the pitchers’ cleats grinding on the mound as they pivoted.

The game itself wasn’t entertaining. The Orioles shellacked the Sox, 8-2, jumping on Chicago early. There were 15 hits, a couple of errors and sixteen total strikeouts. Normally that kind of line would make for a long and drawn-out game, but this one took a mere two hours and three minutes. To be fair, there were several double plays and a lot of first-pitch swinging — it was a getaway day after all — but it’s rare to see such a short game time for a game in which ten runs were scored.

Were the between-inning breaks shorter due to the lack of the kiss-cam and contests and other such nonsense? Was it just dumb luck? Hard to say, but one of baseball’s weirdest games ever was also one of the quicker games of the 2015 season.

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #15: Scott Boras, Matt Harvey and the shutdown that wasn’t

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We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

The Mets’ season turned on a dime in late July after the club picked up Yoenis Cespedes, half the lineup got healthy again and the other half began to rake. A team that as recently as the All-Star break was the subject of mocking tabloid headlines went on a rampage in Auguest and, by the first of September, was comfortably in first place in the National League East. By then the reality that the Mets were a playoff team — and a dangerous one at that — became inescapable. So, naturally, controversy arose.

That’s when Scott Boras let word slip through his mouthpieces in the media that he and the Mets were at odds over the workload of his client, Matt Harvey, who was just a year removed from Tommy John surgery. On September 4 Boras said that Harvey should be shut down at 180 innings — he was then at 166 — while the Mets said that his workload was never subject to a hard innings cap, Boras knew this, and that Boras bringing one up then was out of bounds.

As so often happens in New York and as so often happens when Scott Boras is involved, the Matt Harvey Affair became something of a circus.

Harvey took his agent’s side at first, saying he always thought he had a 180-inning limit. Old Timers chimed in, saying back in their day NO pitcher would beg out of work in a playoff race. Even the ones whose careers were wrecked by overuse. The Armchair James Andrews Brigade, for their part, wrung their hands at the innings counts and carried on as if the Mets and Harvey had no doctors advising them and as if the organization’s mindset with respect to pitcher usage was stuck back in 1996 or something.

Eventually some compromise was reached. Harvey changed his public stance, realizing that players need to be the good cop in these disputes and that pitchers who say they want the ball, even if their arm is literally falling off, get treated better by the fans and the press. For their part, the Mets did modify Harvey’s usage, resting him more, skipping starts and using him for only parts of games to keep him sharp. The fact that the Mets had a comfortable lead in the NL East made this quite a bit easier of course.

Come playoff time it was mostly forgotten. Harvey pitched well enough for the Mets to win the game he started in the NLDS and was downright stellar in his NLCS start. Harvey gutted out a no-decision in Game 1 of the World Series — the Mets lost — and was fantastic in Game 5, pitching eight fantastic innings and demanding that he keep the ball for the ninth in a game that, if the Mets lost, would mean their elimination. This from a guy who, less than two months previously, was publicly saying he should be subject to a strict innings limit.

The Mets did lose the game, though it was a team effort, not solely Matt Harvey’s fault. If it had been Harvey’s fault folks would’ve written snarky things about how maybe he should’ve been shut down all along. Ballwriters don’t get that kind of opportunity every day, so the fact that we didn’t said quite a bit. The story had completely changed by then. Matt Harvey was not putting himself and his future paydays first. He was A True Competitor. A defeated one to be sure, but one whose guts were not to be questioned. The Mets would enter the winter a transformed team with a bright future.

Oh, and not long after the World Series ended, Scott Boras said that the Mets had a great plan for Matt Harvey all along. Because of course he did.