Craig Calcaterra

Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey will be the Mets’ Opening Day starter

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The New York Mets announced today that Matt Harvey will be the Opening Day starter. Jacob deGrom will probably be number two, but the Mets are holding off on making that official.

The fun part of Harvey getting his first Opening Day start is that it will come against the Royals on national TV, just as his last game was against the Royals on national TV. That was Game 5 of the World Series, of course, in which Harvey pitched wonderfully before lobbying to come back out for the ninth inning. At that point he gave up two runs, the game went to extra innings and the Royals prevailed, winning the championship.

There will be a lot of talk during that broadcast about Game 5. At least until Harvey is taken out after the sixth or so because, dudes, it’s April 3rd and there’s a lot of baseball to be played.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Baseball

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas stands on a green first base during the third inning of a spring training baseball exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., on Tuesday, March 17, 2015. In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, players are dressed in green gear. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Associated Press
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Today is St. Patrick’s Day which is easily one of the weirdest holidays.

It’s weird because it celebrates and even encourages the most basic cultural appropriation and stereotyping but it’s one of the rare examples where most of those who are of the culture being appropriated or stereotyped don’t really seem to mind all that much. Maybe it’s because, at least among those in the United States, the culture is pretty far in the rear-view mirror by now, with the racial, ethnic and religious oppression the Irish suffered falling a few generations back. My Italian name notwithstanding (my dad was adopted) I am half Irish. If it weren’t for that adoption my name would be McIntyre, I was a ginger kid whose hair turned brown and, to this day, if I grow a beard it comes in red. But really, I’d have to jump through some pretty ridiculous hoops to even muster some phony outrage over Irish stereotyping. I take far more personal offense at people drinking like amateurs on March 17. That is where our anger should truly lie. Real Irishman are laughing at you and your green Miller Lite, kids.

Baseball and St. Patrick’s Day often go together because St. Patrick’s Day falls during spring training. This year, as is the case in most years, several teams will wear green uniforms or caps for their Grapefruit and Cactus League Games. The Reds started this as a tradition in 1978. We wrote about that once here at HardballTalk. For the record, here’s what the Dodgers look like today:

 

Here’s a great story about how, one year, the Dodgers went green for an entire season. It was 1937 to be precise. Between that, their temporary change to “The Robins” as their nickname and that time they wore satin uniforms, the Dodgers were kind of messed up back in the day.

What else? Oh, Irish players! Lots of people make lists of the best Irish-American players. And there have been several good ones, of course. I was more interested in finding actual native-born Irish major leaguers. There were a TON of them in the 19th century, of course, as Irish immigrants dominated during that period. That largely petered out in the 20th century for lots of reasons. The last man to play in a major league game who was born in Ireland was Joe Cleary. He pitched one third of an inning for the Senators in 1945. He gave up seven runs on five hits and walked three guys which may have caused him to ask what happened to the luck o’ the Irish. If you’re curious about Cleary, Sully Baseball did a podcast about him a couple of years ago.

That’s about all I got. Be careful out there today. And really, don’t drink green beer. You look ridiculous.

 

Remembering the ignominious end to Tim Johnson’s managerial career

Tim Johnson
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The Twitter account for the High Heat Stats website often reminds us of special baseball anniversaries and “on this date” stuff. Today was a weird blast from the past. On this day, in 1999, the Blue Jays fired their manager, Tim Johnson. But not because he was a bad manager. Indeed, in 1998 the Jays won more games than they did in any season between 1993 and 2015. No, they fired him because he lied about his military service.

It all started with a grain of truth, as many of the stories of military imposters do. Johnson was, in fact, in the military at one time. Specifically, the Marine reserves. Following his training as a mortarman in 1966, he went into the minor leagues and, while he fulfilled his obligations in the reserves, he never saw active duty.

During his playing career, which consisted of seven major leaguer years before his retirement in 1979, Johnson would share stories about seeing duty in Vietnam, but no accounts of this time claim that his stories were particularly elaborate or particularly common. He began scouting and coaching in 1980 and the form seemed to hold. After he joined Boston’s coaching staff in 1995, however, the stories blossomed and the details became more vivid. He would use examples of firefights and marching through the jungle as motivational tools. After he became the Blue Jays manager for the 1998 season he shared a story, 100% fabricated as all of his stories were, about inadvertently killing children in a firefight.

Johnson’s deception was uncovered after Roger Clemens tried to buy Johnson a birthday present: a motorcycle helmet with the insignia of his military unit on it. He asked Johnson’s wife which unit it was. She didn’t know Johnson had lied about his service and told Clemens that Johnson wasn’t in Vietnam. Word quickly spread among the Blue Jays and, thanks in part to a good bit of acrimony between Johnson, some of his players and his coaching staff, it was pretty ugly. Johnson lied for a little while longer but eventually came clean. He came clean publicly after the 1998 season was over, saying that it was as if a great weight had been lifted. The Blue Jays stuck with him at first, content to give him a second chance, but after spring training began it became clear that the distraction was too great. They fired him.

Johnson spent years in the wilderness after that. He managed several seasons in the Mexican League and in independent ball. Outside of a brief scouting gig with the Brewers he had no job in affiliated ball at least through 2012. I can’t find anything about him from the past few years, but this story about him from 2003 talks about the entire controversy, how it affected him and what led to his lies in the first place.

While it’s hard not to have at least some sympathy for Johnson — he had suicidal thoughts at times after he was disgraced — Johnson’s wounds were entirely self-inflicted. Lying about military service is extraordinarily low and disrespectful of those who served and, especially, those who faced combat and those who died. Sympathy, sure. Understanding and forgiveness is another matter entirely, especially from those who did serve and those whose Johnson’s lies impacted.

The dynamic of how small lies turn into big ones is pretty well understood. You get a benefit from the lie and want to get more so you enhance your lie. At some point the lie is so big it’s impossible to backtrack unless and until you’re caught in it. The specific dynamic of military imposter lying is less well-understood, but it’s not entirely inexplicable. Johnson said it began with his guilt over people he trained with going off to war while he went off to play baseball with a coveted reserve slot. It’s obvious, of course, that over time he enhanced his lies for more selfish reasons of self-aggrandizement and, indirectly anyway, career enhancement as a war story-telling coach.

Others who have been caught in such lies have cited variations on this. Some are simple cases of fraud in which someone attempts to obtain veterans’ benefits, official or otherwise. Some are quintessential cases of stolen valor, in which the liar wants to pass himself off as a military hero. Others are cases in which people actually appear to be trying to steal victimhood, in a sense. They desire the “status” for lack of a better term, or the sympathy people get from having suffered through and witnessed horrors. The psychology of it all is pretty fascinating even if the lies giving rise to it are inexcusable.

Oh well. I go years forgetting about Tim Johnson and what went down with him and the Blue Jays in 1998 and 1999, but every single time I’m reminded of it, I still can’t believe that actually happened. It’s one of the weirdest baseball stories in my lifetime.