The past three months, baseball has given us 1,000 reasons to hate it.
In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the players and owners have acted like petulant children bickering over money, settling scores and improving bargaining position for future negotiations instead of understanding that all that mattered this year was agreeing on something and getting a season started for the health of the game and the morale of the country. Baseball, with its soothing daily rhythm, its innate beauty and its rich history and tradition, has always been vital to lifting the nation. Instead, this spring, when collaboration was critical, baseball contaminated its own game and alienated its fans, some of whom will never come back.
But if health conditions allow, the games will begin on July 24. In these extraordinary times, when flexibility is crucial, anything is better than nothing. Now we will see if the players meant it when they said, "Just tell us when and where.'' Now we'll find out if some of the owners really care about the game, if they have any true love for it, or if they're just a bunch of greedy millionaires looking for a corporate bailout.
But now, it's time to go forward. Now at least we get to watch Mike Trout take that ball at his shin and rifle it over the left-center-field fence. We get to watch Gerrit Cole throw 100 mph. We get to watch Mookie Betts play right field and Francisco Lindor joyously play shortstop.
Today, on the 100th day since what would have been Opening Day, the 100th day of a season without box scores, we will forgive the game for its pitiful performance the past three months and give you 100 reasons to still love baseball.
100. Heston Kjerstad, the Baltimore Orioles' No. 1 pick in the June draft, has a dog named Oreo because he looks like a Double Stuf Oreo. And in that beautiful Baltimore accent, the Orioles are the Oreos.
99. A friend of New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone sent him silhouettes, without names, of players' batting stances this winter. Boone got most of them right. A friend recently sent him screenshots, without names, of the career statistics of players. He was good at that, too.
98. Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Tyler Glasnow can do a backflip. He is 6-foot-8. He has to be the tallest man ever to do that. "No,'' he said, "I'm sure there are people taller than me who can do a backflip.''
97. More netting at major league parks. Safety first.
96. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the biggest home run in postseason history, Bill Mazeroski's walk-off in Game 7 against the Yankees. The Pittsburgh Pirates won that game 10-9. There were no strikeouts in that game.
94. Bud Black. The Colorado Rockies' manager is proving that former pitchers can be really good managers. He has the third-most career managerial victories (898) among former major league pitchers, trailing the tallies of Tommy Lasorda and Clark Griffith.
93. Francisco Lindor's smile. He is always smiling. Even in a 17-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2016, Lindor cracked up while playing shortstop when catcher Chris Gimenez pitched and his first pitch was 65 mph.
92. Max Scherzer snorting, snarling and storming around the mound. Ferocious. If there are individual awards given out this year, Scherzer has a chance to become the first pitcher to finish in the top five of the Cy Young Award voting eight years in a row.
90. Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell carries a fielder's glove, not a bat or a fungo like most managers, during batting practice. "I just feel better with my glove on my hand,'' he said.
89. Walking across the Roberto Clemente Bridge into PNC Park.
88. Most players have no idea what baseball acronyms mean. And they don't care. FIP? "First innings pitched,'' St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Harrison Bader said. WOBA? "WOBA?'' Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said, "WOBA clearly means ... without batting averages." WRC+? "Above ... average ... Hey, I'm a fisherman, man. I can just hit,'' Rays outfielder Austin Meadows said.
87. Chipper Jones does games on TV for ESPN. So honest. So credible. So funny. During a spring game, he described the saving of teammate Freddie Freeman from a snowstorm several years ago. "We both had snot mustaches,'' Chipper said, "just like in 'Dumb and Dumber.'"
86. The Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, who has been hit by a pitch 145 times, is already halfway to the all-time record. "He stands right on top of the plate,'' teammate Kris Bryant said, "and he doesn't care if he gets hit. I get hit a lot. I care. It hurts.'' Said Rizzo: "For me, it's just another way to get on base.''
85. Backup catchers. Our favorite people in the game, including Erik Kratz, Josh Thole, Caleb Joseph and Kevin Plawecki, they have such great perspective and humor. Thole laughed years ago when teammate and best friend David Wright said Thole distinguished himself by "bowling a 68 [in the Mets spring training bowling league] and is the only cross-eyed catcher in baseball history.'' Only Joseph could be smart and secure enough to say, "I bet he didn't go a whole year without an RBI,'' which Joseph did in 132 at-bats in 2016.
83. Pete Alonso, a player the game can build around, not just because he hit 53 homers as a rookie. The Polar Bear. He's so personable, so human. As a kid, his parents wouldn't allow him to eat processed foods, so he now makes his own deer jerky. "It's not Jack Links Beef Jerky like you would get at a gas station,'' Alonso said. "It's as natural as it gets.''
82. Rays pitcher Charlie Morton is a barbecue master, so much so that he has a hitch on the back of his vehicle so he can take his grill with him.
80. Jerry Narron is the bench coach for the Boston Red Sox. He writes out the lineup card in calligraphy. It is gorgeous, and he completes it in minutes. He puts a special dot on the "i" for anyone he considers to be a Hall of Famer.
77. Madison Bumgarner's wife was a fast-pitch softball catcher in college. When he once needed someone to catch his bullpen on an off-day on the road, and no one was available, his wife caught him.
76. Rays shortstop Wander Franco. He is 19. He will be ready soon. When he is, watch out.
75. Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien was once something of a liability defensively, in part because he has such small hands that he had trouble getting the proper grip on the ball, which led to a bunch of throwing errors. But now, after taking a million ground balls, he is well above average defensively and a terrific offensive player. A's manager Bob Melvin said, "I've never seen a player improve more than he has.''
74. The smell of sausage with peppers and onions on the streets outside Fenway, brats with secret sauce at Miller Park and Boog's Barbeque in Baltimore.
73. Minnesota Twins catcher/third baseman Willians Astudillo. He's short and stocky, but he can move, he can hit, and he always makes contact. Last season, he became the first player since Ozzie Smith in 1996 to strike out fewer than 10 times in a season of at least 190 at-bats.
72. Keeping score. At the Cleveland Indians' winter festival years ago, Bob DiBiasio, the club's senior vice president of public affairs, did a seminar on how to keep score. As he explained on an overhead projector how to score a complicated play, a nun stood up in the back of the room and said, "No, that's not how you score that. Let me show you how I'd score that play.''
71. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Orioles' victory over the Reds in five games in the World Series. Reds manager Sparky Anderson said of third baseman Brooks Robinson's brilliant defensive performance in that series: "I'm beginning to see Brooks in my sleep. If I dropped this paper plate, he'd pick it up on one hop and throw me out.''
69. The Reds' Michael Lorenzen. He pitches, he hits, he runs, he plays center field. He is in phenomenal physical shape, unlike any baseball player I've ever seen. "I don't think there is anything athletically in the world that he can't do,'' teammate Derek Dietrich said.
68. None of the 10 Atlanta Braves players we interviewed this spring could spell teammate Mike Foltynewicz's last name. Pitcher Mike Sirotka got it right until the last letter, when he said K instead of Z.
67. Jose Oquendo, a special assistant for the Cardinals, the fungo master. After much prodding by me, he acknowledged that he could pitch batting practice by hitting the ball across the plate with his fungo. "I can't hit all strikes,'' he said, "but I will never hit a batter.''
66. The power and precision of new Yankees ace Gerrit Cole: He plays golf, hits it 330 and never misses a fairway. Last year, he struck out a batter in 73 straight innings. We went back to 1961. The next-longest such streak was 49 straight innings by Pedro Martinez in 1999-2000.
65. Jerry Blevins, 36, is back for another season, this time with the San Francisco Giants. Funny. Smart. Cool. Last year with the Braves, he didn't have a house, apartment or hotel when the team was at home. After each road trip, he found a different Airbnb in which to stay for the homestand. That way, he didn't need furniture, a lease, anything.
64. The Athletics' Matt Chapman. Watching him take ground balls on the outfield grass behind third base and throw to first with that ridiculously strong arm is breathtaking.
63. Twins center fielder Byron Buxton. No outfielder glides after a ball as effortlessly as he does. He should race The Freeze, with no head start, in Atlanta. The Freeze would win, but it would be close.
62. Box scores. A wonderful morning ritual. A 2019 favorite: Derek Dietrich: 1-4-0-0.
61. Hitters, we are sensing, are slowly trying to change their approaches to put the ball in play more often. Finally. Last year, only 34 players qualified for the batting title (502 plate appearances) and didn't strike out 100 times. Sixty players struck out at least 100 times without enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.
60. Fernando Tatis Jr. The Padres' shortstop defines the bigger, stronger, faster, better major leaguer that we see everywhere today. To run like that, to move like that at 6-foot-3 is astonishing.
59. William Nathaniel Showalter V was recently born to scout Nathan Showalter, making Buck Showalter a grandfather again. The more Showalters in baseball, the better.
58. A new ballpark for the Texas Rangers. With a roof.
56. Edwin Encarnacion is one home run away from breaking a tie with Darrell Evans for the most home runs by someone with a last name that starts with E.
55. The Braves' Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. "They are inseparable,'' teammate Freddie Freeman said. It is so refreshing to watch two players that good who enjoy the game and themselves as much as they do. Albies is always encouraging Acuna to speak English as often as possible.
54. Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco. He pitched last season while battling leukemia. He pitched out of the bullpen at the end of the season. He is determined to make it back into the rotation this season.
52. Braves infield instructor/third base coach Ron Washington. Every day, Braves infielders get on their knees and do drills with Washington in an effort to improve their hands.
51. Rays manager Kevin Cash. At a time when infield practice rarely happens, Cash hits early infield at least once every homestand and hits the ball as hard as he can. His infielders love the challenge.
50. Aaron Judge. At 6-foot-7, 282 pounds and wildly athletic, he could have played any sport. He chose baseball.
49. Carl Yastrzemski's grandson, Mike Yastrzemski, plays for the Giants. He looks a little like his grandfather, and he hit 21 homers last season. But Mike wears No. 5, not No. 8. "I have enough pressure with that name on my back,'' he said with a smile. "I didn't need any more with 8.''
48. Adam Wainwright. So funny. When asked who on the Cardinals has the most swag, he said, "I know everyone thinks it's Harrison Bader, but I don't get it. It doesn't make sense to me. He takes a pair of gym shorts, ragged from the '70s, they sell it for $800, $1,000, and he will wear them. He wears these ski glasses, trendy shirts that don't match anything, weird socks. He has a pair of boots -- I call them Albus Dumbledore boots because they are straight out of Harry Potter. He is trying harder than anyone. But I don't get it.''
47. Umpire Gerry Davis is retiring after the 2020 season. He is really good. So is Joe West, who needs 59 games to set the record for most games worked in major league history. "The average person thinks that umpiring a game behind the plate is easy because the umpires make it look easy,'' West said. "That's like saying, 'I can ride that horse like Clint Eastwood.' You can't. That's Clint Eastwood. You're never going to ride a horse like he can."
46. Angels manager Joe Maddon: He continues to fight to bring the "art'' back to a game that is besieged with data and little involving the human element.
45. Mookie Betts, another player around whom the game can be built. He is such a great guy. He was upset that it got out that he brought food to homeless people after a World Series game in 2018. No one was supposed to know, and he wanted no credit for it.
44. Cubs manager David Ross. The third-most famous backup catcher ever, after Joe Garagiola and Bob Uecker, jokingly likes to say, "You know, I'm a pretty big deal." But he doesn't ever think that way, even though Eddie Vedder gave him a shout-out during the seventh-inning stretch during the 2016 World Series in Chicago.
43. White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech. He throws 100 mph. He has recovered from Tommy John. Buckle up.
42. The ring ceremony for the Washington Nationals. They were deserted by baseball after a 19-31 start in 2019. Then they roared back to win the World Series. They were overshadowed all spring by the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal. It's time the Nats got their due. Bring the light saber to the ring ceremony, Sean Doolittle.
41. Mets outfielder Dominic Smith. He wore a microphone with two other teammates for an ESPN game in the spring. He was so engaging that J.D. Davis said: "He can't even hear what the rest of us are saying. It doesn't matter. He's just out there talking to himself.''
40. Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. Great player. He wears long sleeves for every game, no matter how hot, as a tribute to his mom, Rosemary, who died at age 47 from melanoma. He has her initials on his spikes, so every time he looks down, he is reminded of her.
39. Indians outfielder Franmil Reyes. More than once with the Padres, he did a postgame interview on the field, then sang to the crowd over the PA system.
38. The fans ... even without them in the stands. "Our fans are so different from the rest,'' Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright said. "In big spots in games, they are ridiculously paying attention, more than we [the players] are. Some crowds just want to be as loud as possible. Our crowd, it's like they're saying to each other, 'OK, it's a 2-1 count here. Does he throw a curveball or a slider? ... Hey, I didn't get this [Redbird] tattoo for no reason. Let's make a pitch here!'''
37. Tito Francona. Pre- and postgame meetings with him are the most entertaining part of everyone's day. Years ago, when speaking about the tradition of Fenway Park, he said: "We don't have a bottle of ketchup racing a bottle of mustard and a bottle of relish -- hey, nothing against ketchup.''
36. Mike Trout. We hope everyone understands who and what we are watching every day with this guy.
35. Phillies manager Joe Girardi. He provides discipline. Players need it. They want it.
34. Cubs second baseman Javier Baez. For three years, former Cubs manager Joe Maddon called Baez "the most watchable player'' in the major leagues. He is a magician on the bases and in the field, he has unmatched baseball instincts among active players, and he has incredible power. He could win an infielder's skills competition and the Home Run Derby. If he were an NBA player, he could win the dunk contest and the 3-point shooting contest.
32. Braves pitcher Max Fried. He is a Jewish, left-handed pitcher from Southern California, so Sandy Koufax was a hero. More recently, Clayton Kershaw was a hero. Fried was issued No. 54 by the Braves. That's Koufax's 32 and Kershaw's 22 combined. Fried has a great curveball.
31. Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire. He has the perfect temperament to lead the Tigers out of the woods. Years ago, as the manager of the Twins, he was having drinks with his players in a bar when infielder Denny Hocking's cellphone rang. "So I put my drink on Gardy's head to free my hands,'' Hocking said.
30. Blue Jays right-hander Nate Pearson: He is 23, 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, and he throws 100. In three seasons in the minor leagues, he posted a 2.19 ERA and had 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings. "I saw him this again spring,'' one scout said. "He is so big, that stuff is so good, there's no telling how good he might become.''
29. Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich. "Bat-to-ball,'' former teammate Travis Shaw said, "he's the best I've played with.'' Said manager Craig Counsell: "Our players are incredulous. They wonder, 'How can he be that good?'''
28. Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer. He had a loud and contentious spring. He has offended and angered some people in the game, and he doesn't care. He might be foolish at times, but he is fearless.
27. The Twins. They hit 307 homers last season. With Josh Donaldson at third base, their lineup is even more relentless this season.
26. Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. He used to beg Duane Espy, his manager at Double-A Tulsa in 2012, to hit him extra ground balls before games. Once, Espy said, "No, not today, Nolan. It's too hot. It's 107 degrees. Take a day off.'' To which Arenado said, "Please! Just five minutes!''
25. Astros center fielder George Springer. A physical freak. Speed and power and athleticism.
24. Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He didn't retire. He deserves another year, a victory lap. His rookie year, as a team leader, he asked me, "Aren't you supposed to care when you lose? I just got out of the shower. No one in there seemed to care that we lost again.'' Zimmerman showed his care and concern Monday, when he chose not to play in 2020 because of the fact that his mom, who has multiple sclerosis, is at risk, and Zimmerman has three children, including a 3-month-old son.
23. APBA and Strat-O-Matic. Steve Hartmann, a friend of brilliant writer Steve Rushin, ran his own Strat-O-Matic league with fictitious names for 45 years. He once told Rushin that the best player in the league one year was Katuby Leister, "whom I called Ka-toooby Leister,'' Rushin said. "Steve said, 'Please don't mispronounce his name. It's 'Katuby,' I mispronounced his name? I'm supposed to know this? This is all made up. It isn't real.''
22. Cody Bellinger. We forget sometimes that the reigning NL MVP is only 24 and a way-above-average runner. "Freakish athlete,'' teammate Max Muncy said. Last year, Bellinger joined Ken Griffey Jr. (twice), Willie Mays and Larry Walker as the only outfielders to hit 47 homers, record an OPS over 1.000 and win a Gold Glove in the same season. Bellinger is one of 10 players to do that at any position and the first since Albert Pujols in 2006.
21. Astros pitchers had no intentional walks last year. The record is 116 by the 1974 Padres.
20. One day last season, starting pitchers in the major leagues included these first names: Griffin, Dakota, Tanner, Chase, Ariel, Odrisamer and Hyun-Jin.
19. The Orioles have designed a T-shirt for first baseman Trey Mancini, who was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer in March. Mancini has teamed up with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance to raise awareness about colon cancer.
18. Tom Goodwin. He wore a microphone during an exhibition game this spring. When asked about his job as the first base coach of the Red Sox, he laughed and said jokingly, "I have no responsibility whatsoever.''
17. The only time you use the word "uncorked'' is for champagne and wild pitches.
16. Curtis Granderson. He retired. We can't wait to see what positive changes he will bring in whatever he does next.
15. My 6+4+3=2 double-play T-shirt. Eduardo Perez wore his T-shirt to MIT one day. "The smartest people in the world, they were staring at my T-shirt. They had no idea what it meant,'' he said. "Then I explained it to them. They still had no idea what it meant.''
14. Kruk and Kuip. Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper of the Giants. We have so many great broadcasting teams, but those guys are the best. So many stories. Kuip laughingly told me that in his rookie year in 1974, in the first game he started behind Indians ace Gaylord Perry, Perry told him before he ran out on the field, "If you make an error today, you will never play another day in the big leagues, do you understand?'' Kuiper made no errors that day. He played for 13 seasons.
13. The Diamondbacks' Stephen Vogt. Catcher. Comedian. Actor. Singer. Hours before Opening Day in Oakland in 2017, he sang portions of three Disney songs for our cameras, including something from "The Little Mermaid." Then, in his first at-bat, he hit a home run. From Ariel to aerial, from "Under The Sea" to over the fence.
12. Fifteen games a day on TV, in every room, the perfect background music.
11. Nats pitcher Stephen Strasburg. He was the best pitcher during the 2019 postseason, which included Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Strasburg is so polished now and never gets rattled -- a big change from his early years. When he danced in the dugout after a home run -- a Nationals tradition -- in 2019 in Atlanta, that was the turning point for him and maybe the team. "I thought, 'Is he going to dance? He's not going to dance,''' pitching coach Paul Menhart said. "Then he did. I thought, 'Damn, Stephen danced.'"
9. Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. He is 21. He did things at 19 and 20 that few have ever done. His pitch recognition "is amazing,'' former National Mark Reynolds said two years ago. "He's 19. I can't do that, and I'm 34.''
8. Jacob deGrom. Before deGrom's first major league start in 2014, then-Mets manager Terry Collins said, "Wait until you see this guy. You will love him.'' Now deGrom is trying to join Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson as the only pitchers to win three Cy Youngs in a row.
7. More free time for Bruce Bochy, who retired after 25 years as a manger. He said he might start playing basketball again but acknowledged, "I will be the slowest player of all time.''
6. Yadier Molina needs 37 hits for 2,000.
5. Rays pitcher Blake Snell loves shoes so much that he is building a room in his house just for shoes.
4. One and done, we hope: Relievers must face three batters unless they come in for the last out of an inning. This is a first for this rule. Hopefully, it will be the last. We haven't found a manager who likes the idea. Managing is hard enough as it is. This ties a manager's hands.
3. Universal DH. It's about time: same set of rules in each league.
2. Any team can win any night, which makes a 60-game, mad dash to the finish appealing to some. The worst team in the league can go on the road and sweep the best team in the league in a three-game series. That can't happen in the NBA.
1. Baseball will survive this pandemic. It has survived two world wars, the Black Sox Scandal and steroids. It will survive this. The game is too good, and we will always love it.