Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Vin Scully’s final game was . . . just like all of his other games

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Vin Scully signed off for the final time yesterday, ending his 67 years of baseball broadcasting excellence. While there were a few distractions — in the middle of the game Scully was presented with a plaque by the Giants and was warmly met by Willie Mays, the best player Scully says he ever saw — it was exactly like every other Vin Scully game I’ve heard in the 30+ years I have been listening to him.

It was relaxed. It was comfortable. On some level Scully knows that we all have lives full of important and stressful things and that, baseball, however wonderful it is, is a diversion, not the most important thing in our lives. As such, he did not treat his broadcasts as destination viewing or listening. He did not act like the game he was calling or the fact that he was calling it was the most important thing going on at that moment. No phony superlatives. No unwarranted hype, hot takes or artificial intensity. He never, ever, pretended that he had any superior insight into the game than you the fan did, even though he obviously did. He simply talked about what was happening in plain terms and let you know things that he knew that might make the game more enjoyable for you. He didn’t style himself some baseball expert. He took ample time during breaks in the action to tell us interesting and amusing stories and make our diversion pleasant in any way he could.

I started watching the game on TV yesterday afternoon. By around the fifth inning I had to do some household chores and then start making dinner, so I switched to the radio feed on my phone. The inferior sound quality of the phone to the TV was, in some ways, preferable. It made me feel like I was listening to Scully on some transistor radio the way so many Dodgers fans in Los Angeles did in the 1960s during which their love for Scully grew and during which his legend was forged. Both baseball and Scully were made for the radio.

At one point yesterday Scully realized that he had forgotten he was being simulcast and that he wasn’t just on TV. As such, he apologized for not being descriptive enough in his play-by-play, what with all of the remembrances and things occasioned by his last game. His apology was wholly unnecessary. The game was a blowout. The Dodgers were listless and the Giants rolled easily. It was just one of over 2,400 other baseball games this season, important for the Giants’ playoff hopes, but not in and of itself indispensable for any other reason.

I listened to the game as I folded laundry. I listened as I chopped vegetables and cooked dinner for my family. At times I lost track of the count or how many runners were on base but Scully would always get to that after coming to a stopping point in one of his stories. Scully also realized that there were stopping points in the game which gave him room for those stories. Indeed, at one point, as he was in the middle of a good one when a Giants batter fouled a ball away. Scully tipped his hand and said “good, that gives us a chance . . .” and went on and finished the story when the batter stepped out and a new ball was rubbed up and by the pitcher. Scully knows, and has always known, that what happens when there is no action in the game can be just as important as what happens when there is action.

The rice on my stove finished cooking in the top of the ninth inning. It was only then that, for a few brief moments, what was going on at AT&T Park was far more important than what was going on in listeners’ lives. Rather than call the kids down for dinner right at that moment, I stopped and listened to Scully’s last half inning as a broadcaster. As always, it was the perfect blend of baseball and something else, seamlessly and calmly mixed together:

I’ve always thought it was attributed to Dr. Seuss, but apparently not. It’s still a good line, and it’s one certainly I’ve been holding onto for, oh, I think most of the year — here’s Barnes, and Romo ready, and the first pitch for Austin, taking first strike.

“Don’t be sad that it’s over. Smile because it happened.” And that’s really the way I feel about this remarkable opportunity I was given, and I was allowed to keep for all these years.

0 and 2 the count.

I said goodbye at Dodger Stadium; I’ll be saying goodbye here in San Francisco shortly. My little, modest message and wish for you will be right after the game.

The inning wore on.

For the Dodgers, Turner had a hit with two out, Gonzalez had a hit with two out, Grandal had a hit. That was the run. And they didn’t have another hit until here in the ninth, 13 in a row had been retired.

Segedin takes low.

This crowd is bursting at the seams right now. Two balls, two strikes, two out. Boy, 489 consecutive sellouts here at AT&T Park.

All right, big pitch coming out. Romo out of the stretch, and the 2-2 pitch on the way.

Sergio deals a slider hit in the air to left center, coming over is Pagan — he puts it away!

And the Giants are the wild-card team. The city is going wild, appropriately enough, and they are heading for New York.

No runs, one hit for the Dodgers, who managed to leave four men on base because they were the only four they got on base. The Giants in the Western division are 45-31, the Dodgers are 43-33, so inside the division, they certainly were the better team.

That was awfully nice. The umpire just stood up and said goodbye, as I am saying goodbye. Seven runs, 16 hits for the winning Giants, 1-4-1 for the Dodgers. The winner, Matt Moore, the loser, Kenta Maeda. I have said enough for a lifetime, and for the last time, I wish you all a very pleasant good afternoon.

Scully came back after the break with some final words and they were, of course, eloquent:

You know friends so many people have wished me congratulations on a 67-year career in baseball and they wished me a wonderful retirement with my family and now, all I can do is tell you what I wish for you:

May God give you.
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

You and I have been friends for a long time, but I know in my heart I’ve always needed you more than you’ve ever needed me. And I’ll miss our time together more than I can say.

But you know what? There will be a new day and, eventually, a new year. And when the upcoming winter gives way to spring, oh, rest assured, once again, it will be time for Dodger baseball.

So this is Vin Scully, wishing you a very pleasant good afternoon – wherever you may be.

Touching stuff to be sure. But as Scully so often made it clear, he did not like being the center of attention. He was more than entitled to that final signoff, of course, but I will always remember this last half inning and his quote about not being sad that it’s over, but smiling because it happened as Scully’s true farewell.

Not because it was so poignant, but because it mixed in Austin Barnes falling behind Sergio Romo on an 0-2 count. The baseball elevating the words from Vin Scully and Vin Scully elevating baseball.

Hall of Fame voters: you now have a choice to make

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I’m still having a hard time getting my brain around Rob Manfred’s comments about David Ortiz yesterday. To sum up again: he basically pardoned Ortiz for the 2003 survey drug test results, saying that the survey testing might’ve had trouble distinguishing between a banned substance and some benign and legal substance. He went on to say that it would be unfair for Hall of Fame voters to consider “leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results” when considering David Ortiz‘s Hall of Fame case.

As I noted in that article, other players names were leaked from the 2003 testing, like Sammy Sosa, and they deserve the same sort of public pardon that Ortiz just got. But thinking about it more in the last few minutes, it goes way beyond that, does it not? Just some questions and observations:

  • If Manfred admits that the 2003 testing was flawed, what magic wand did he wave in 2004 to make the testing as infallible as he and MLB’s surrogates in the media would have us believe? And make no mistake, people believe that. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t call for lifetime bans of first time positive testers, as they so often do. Maybe MLB might’ve done its players a nice solid, David Ortiz-style, and reminded people that testing isn’t perfect and maybe let’s not be so judgmental about someone who tests positive, even if the JDA says they need to be suspended on zero-tolerance grounds;
  • Manfred made it clear that his point of demarkation for drug information that should be considered for the Hall of Fame is the official 2004-on drug testing program. Indeed, he refers to “confirmed test results” on one side and casts everything else in the same pile as rumors and innuendo which should be ignored for Hall of Fame purposes. Logically, that includes BALCO, right? While well-documented, the information from BALCO was not part of MLB’s “confirmed test results” nor did MLB use any of the information from BALCO to discipline any baseball player. This means that, per Manfred’s comments yesterday, Hall of Fame voters should not hold BALCO against Barry Bonds. Take that away and he’s a Hall of Famer, right? If, however, Manfred says that BALCO does matter, why didn’t the BALCO guys ever get in trouble with the league?
  • For that matter, isn’t every player associated with PEDs for reasons other than post-2004 testing deserving of reconsideration? All of the Mitchell Report guys, including Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. Might Manfred give a similar stump speech for Jeff Bagwell who doesn’t even have 2003 survey testing on his permanent record but who, obviously, is suffering in the Hall of Fame voting because of the very rumor and innuendo that Manfred just said voters should not consider? If David Ortiz gets the Commissioner’s Official Seal of Hall of Fame Approval, why not Bagwell and the others? Or is David Ortiz a special case? And if so, why?

Ultimately, I do not suspect Rob Manfred will answer these questions. The baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame will have to, however. For years they have publicly wrestled with what to do with PED users from the pre-testing era. Many have pleaded with Major League Baseball or the Hall of Fame for some sort of direction about what to do with these guys and how to consider their transgressions. For some this has been disingenuous pleading, as they were going to vote against PED-associated players no matter what. Many, however, have truly and genuinely asked the Commissioner what they should do.

Well, the Commissioner has spoken. He has affirmatively said that “confirmed testing” matters, nothing else. There are only two ways to read his comments yesterday: (1) all PED associations which come from pre-2004 should be ignored for Hall of Fame voting, for all players; or (2) only David Ortiz’s pre-2004 PED association should be ignored.

Hall of Fame voters who have asked for direction on this matter have a choice to make. When they make that choice, they must acknowledge that one of those interpretations of Manfred’s comments makes sense. One of them doesn’t.

Rob Manfred says David Ortiz may not have taken banned substances in 2003

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Death. Taxes. Someone bringing up PEDs in the comments section whenever David Ortiz‘s name is mentioned. These are the only certainties in life. Rob Manfred just complicated that a little bit, however, by doing the closest thing he can probably do to issuing a pardon to Big Papi over his association with a positive drug test in 2003.

You’ll recall that, in 2003, players were subjected to non-disciplinary, putatively anonymous drug testing. The reason: per agreement with Major League Baseball, if a certain percentage of players tested positive for PEDs during this survey testing, binding, disciplinary testing would go into effect in 2004. More than the required percentage did and baseball’s drug testing regime was launched.

The results of those tests were to be destroyed. Overzealous law enforcement, however, seized the test results in a bungled and ultimately unsuccessful investigation and then, seemingly spitefully, leaked the IDs of at least three of the positive testers to the media. The names leaked: Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. All issued denials of various plausibility. Only Rodriguez later admitted a knowing use of PEDs at the time. Ortiz and Sosa have been tarred by it to varying degrees. Ortiz, of course, has taken far less of a hit to his reputation than either of the other two.

Now, on the occasion of Ortiz’s retirement, Commissioner Manfred has made a remarkable statement regarding that 2003 testing as it relates to Ortiz. He did it yesterday, on the occasion of Big Papi’s retirement ceremony. From the Boston Globe:

“There were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives. If in fact there were test results like that today on a player, and we tried to discipline them, there’d be a grievance over it, it would be vetted, tried, resolved,” said Manfred. “We didn’t do that. Those issues and ambiguities were never resolved because we knew they didn’t matter. We knew we had enough positives that everyone agreed on that we knew we were going to trigger the testing the following year . . . Even if Rob Manfred’s name was on that list, he might have been one of those 10 or 15 where there was probably or at least possibly a very legitimate explanation that did not involve the use of a banned substance . . . “it was hard to distinguish between certain substances that were legal, available over the counter, and not banned under our program, and certain banned substances.”

Manfred went on to say that Hall of Fame voters should not take the 2003 survey testing into account. He said that while testing positive under the current drug program is fair game for voters and their conscience, “what I do feel is unfair is in situations where it is leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results, that that is unfair to the players. I think that would be wrong.”

This is remarkable statement from Manfred. Certainly for Ortiz, who was likely to face some pushback on his Hall of Fame case due to being a DH and, more importantly, due to his 2003 positive in the survey testing. Major League Baseball basically just told writers — who have long begged the commissioner for guidance on such matters — to ignore it and treat Ortiz as if he has a clean slate. I suspect voters will do so.

The bigger question is whether they will do the same for Sammy Sosa who, apart from the 2003 survey testing, which Manfred now says to discard, never tested positive for PEDs. Sosa, despite 609 career home runs and credit, at the time, for helping revitalize baseball in the wake of the 1994-95 strike, only got 7% of the vote this past season and will likely fall off the ballot after this year’s voting. I bet he would’ve liked Bud Selig or Rob Manfred to vouch for him like he just vouched for Ortiz.

Or how about Alex Rodriguez? While Rodriguez did eventually admit that he used banned substances around the time of the 2003 testing, how does Manfred’s statement yesterday square with how Major League Baseball treated Rodriguez during the Biogenesis investigation? Rodriguez was banned for a year despite the fact that Biogenesis represented his first violation under the drug agreement and, in the runup to it, MLB officials floated the idea of banning him for life. Part of the reason for that severity was for Rodriguez allegedly impeding the Biogenesis investigation, but the rhetoric surrounding it all at the time, at least from the media, was that Rodriguez was not a first time offender due to the 2003 tests.

So, yes, it is nice that Commissioner Manfred has effectively pardoned Ortiz over the survey testing. It’s the right thing to do for specifically the reasons Manfred states. But when will he say the same thing about Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez? And Will Hall of Fame voters and the public at large give them the same forgiving treatment for the 2003 tests that David Ortiz is receiving now?