30 Games for Chapman; Rays Cuba Trip Plan Now Set

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The sports world in general and certain sports in particular have been forced to deal with a rash of domestic abuse cases.  College and pro football seem to be the worst offenders but now baseball is catching up with its younger brothers.  Out of 3 potential cases, the first punishment has been meted out by commissioner Rob Manfred, and it’s a 30 game suspension for Yankees lefty reliever Aroldis Chapman. Contrary to previous statements, the closer now says he won’t appeal what is in fact a mild penalty for firing a gun 8 times inside his garage and possibly choking his girl friend. Meantime, pending cases against Jose Reyes of the Rockies and the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig still await commissioner Manfred’s ruling.  The Reyes  case will be judged in Hawaii starting April 4, so no decision in that one can be expected in the foreseeable future

This continues a trend of light punishments for seriously talented athletes behaving in a destructive manner.  College football is notorious for this sort of thing.  Pro football has tried with embarrassingly mixed results to handle the domestic abuse issue which has reached  epidemic proportions   in  that sport in particular. I know when I worked I was never at the level of these individuals.  But in any job I held, be it minor league baseball broadcaster, rental car agent or insurance man, had I raised a hand in anger toward what is now my ex-wife, I wouldn’t sit out of the office a week or a month. In the last 3 years of our marriage she hit me on 3 separate occasions in a jealous rage over my relationship with a friend of long standing. The closest I came to striking back was to grab her wrist on the final occasion and say “Do that again and you’ll spend your night in jail.” Even that was a bluff, but she believed  it. I needed the job.

The best job football did was in the case of Ray Rice, who hasn’t played a game since striking his wife and knocking her unconscious in an elevator. And while that case ended the way it should, getting to that conclusion took a lot of bumbling by the Colts’ ownership and the NFL Commissioner’s office. I’ve slept on this but I can’t agree with the famous columnist Mike Lupica that this punishment was correct.  I don’t see why the Cuban defector couldn’t have lost the entire 2016 season for his conduct in Florida at the end of last October.  He was on the verge of being traded to the Dodgers at the time the news came out and the Dodgers pulled the deal off the table. They already have one combustible Cuban in Puig, they don’t need a second. As for the Yankees, with their awful starting rotation it won’t  matter if Chapman  is  on the staff for 2016 or not. Thanks to their inertia at the last trading deadline and during the offseason, their age and fragility is liable to render this version of the Yankees an unwatchable, sub-.500 team unless one of their 3 closers is traded for a bat or a starting pitcher. if they  were better it would be an even  more meaningful punishment for him to lose a year, since his reckless act could cost all his teammates more dearly the better they did without him.

On what I hope is a more positive note, the Tampa Bay Rays have finalized plans to play an exhibition game against the Cuban National Team on Tuesday, March 22 at Estadio LatinoAmericano in Havana. This has been done once before.  The Orioles played in the same stadium in March of 1999 and beat the host team 4-2 in 11 innings. Some 45,000 fans (by invitation only) filled the stadium.  Later that year the Cubans came to Baltimore and gave the Orioles a pounding. This time, President Obama will also be in Havana attending the game. Working from memory here, both ESPN and the Orioles radio network had technical problems transmitting the game back from Cuba.  Presumably improvements in technology since then will make for a more polished broadcast this second time around. I hope the Rays’ broadcasters or the ESPN commentators will say if the crowd is again arranged by invitation only or if average Cuban citizens will be allowed in to see the spectacle.

The games have begun at last. Yesterday, only after writing my piece for the Facebook group Baseball As I See It, I was informed that games would be starting in the afternoon.  Imagine my delight at being able to hear parts of the Pirates-Tigers and Phillies-Bluejays games yesterday afternoon. And as I write this, I’m about to hear my beloved Yankees strut their stuff in their first spring training game against a Tigers’ split squad in Tampa. While I do that I’ll tell you that Ron Gant is 51 today. He’s best known for his time with the Braves between 1987-1993 as they went from dreadful to World Series contenders in 1991 and 1992.  He was an All-Star with the Braves in 1992  and the Reds in 1995. Now he does analysis on SportsSouth and MLB Network and is co-host of the TV show “Good Day Atlanta,” on the local Fox channel WAGA.

Jim Constanty was born this day in 1917 and passed in 1996. While he had been known as a reliever he was a starter for the 1950 Whiz Kid Phillies once the World Series began.  He gave up 4 hits and only a run but lost 1-0 to the Yankees and Vic Raschi.   Constanty was an All-Star and the league’s mVP that year.  He was with the Phillies from 1948-54.

Pitcher Mort Cooper was born this day in 1913 and passed away in 1958 at age 45.  He and his brother Walker were battery mates when the Cardinals were in 3 straight World Series between 1942 and 1944. He was an All-Star twice as a Cardinal, twice as a Boston Brave.

Mel Ott, a Hall of Famer was born this day in 1909 and died at 49 in 1958. He was an All-Star a dozen times starting in 1934. He led his Giants in home runs every year from 1928-45.  No man has led his team that many years running in home runs. He managed the Giants between 1942 and 1948 until Leo Durocher took his place.  His easygoing ways inspired Durocher’s famous line “Nice guys finish last.” He broadcast for Mutual Radio in 1955 and the Tigers from 1956 until his death in a car accident two years later.

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