Welcome to the 23rd edition of Around the Horn, a recurring op-ed with a satirical slant that riffs on whatever’s recently noteworthy in baseball. Think of it as a stripped-down Last Week Tonight or The Daily Show in a column format with recurring segments about the good, bad, and ugly in the world of America’s pastime. Additionally, as often as possible, we’ll end with an interview as well.
There’s a lot to discuss, so let’s get right to our first segment:
Our Main Story
Baseball is a game of many things. It is a record of American history, the pastime of a nation. It is a chronicle of athletic achievement, a legacy of 30 cities across the country. However, one could argue that more than anything, baseball has always been a game full of disappointment. Take, for example, J.T. Realmuto’s visual reaction to manager Gabe Kapler turning over the game to the Phillies bullpen.
Realmuto hates this bullpen with a passion pic.twitter.com/4ajfswT23U
— Wentzylvania 🦅 (@Folesylvania) August 31, 2019
Many a Phillies fan can relate, J.T. Certainly, baseball is full of joy, elation, and grace, among many other positive attributes. And yet every win for one team is accompanied by a loss for another.
After all, is there anything about this that Blue Jays fans truly enjoyed?
He did it again.
Justin Verlander threw his third career no-hitter, and his first with the Astros. pic.twitter.com/gZaNeCAr2G
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) September 1, 2019
What was at once pure, unadulterated, joyful, and triumphant gratification for every Astros fan was also cringe-inducing disappointment for baseball fans in Toronto. Nothing I say is likely to change that. Watch, I’ll prove it to you.
#Astros Justin Verlander’s third career no-hitter:
First pitch (No. 1):
Four-seam fastball – 93.6 mph
Final pitch (No. 120):
Four-seam fastball – 96.9 mph
— Ryan M. Spaeder (@theaceofspaeder) September 1, 2019
Justin Verlander joins a list of some of baseball's legendary pitchers as one of just six with three or more career no-hitters. pic.twitter.com/OUrf2RXoab
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 1, 2019
A legendary performance from a Hall of Fame-bound pitcher. Justin Verlander somehow defies nature and keeps getting better with age. His velocity, in the most uncanny fashion, actually increased as the game went on. Everything about this performance should be revered, respected, and appreciated by baseball fans everywhere.
Unless you root passionately for the Blue Jays. Or worse, unless you play for the Blue Jays. For them, this moment probably felt something like this:
I’m not going to list the litany of moments that were equal parts exaltation and misery. I only bring up the duality of baseball because it’s the only proper way to frame news like this:
A medical examiner has ruled that Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol. https://t.co/dNzlVNQMDq
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 30, 2019
The life of Tyler Skaggs, culminating in his tragic death this summer, not only became arguably the signature moment of the 2019 season but was something that brought spectators and players and fans of all teams together into the human experience, regardless of rooting interests.
To discover that Skaggs lost his life so prematurely because of a deadly accidental mix of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol surely disappointed many. Despite the cause of his passing, we should remember that an autopsy report should not diminish the value of Skaggs’ life or the lives he affected. It should not define the man’s worth.
If you are disappointed, know that Skaggs felt a lot of pain, so much so that he felt the need to hide it from many, including loved ones. Like many athletes, he tried to manage it. We can fault the manner he chose, but this should not betray the struggle. We all, at one time or another, struggle to gain control over our trials and tribulations. We work hard to keep those negative sinkholes from swallowing us whole. We fear the possibility that they might define us.
There is no place for judgment when reviewing the life of Tyler Skaggs. Rather than feel disappointment at the realization that he may not have been the person you thought he was—that is, that he had issues like the rest of us and found coping to be painful and difficult—instead, allow his unfortunate death to bring to the national forefront a conversation about the toil that professional athletes endure to bring us moments such as Verlander’s third no-hitter: The long days and nights on the road away from their families. The parade of insults and criticism they experience whenever they fail and often when they succeed at the expense of another team.
Andrew Heaney on the Tyler Skaggs autopsy report: “That isn’t going to change the way that I remember him.”
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) August 31, 2019
Nor should it.
Out of the Park
A Look Beyond the Boxscores for the Best in Baseball This Week
With mortality being a central motif this week, it makes sense to mention this moment:
Classy gesture by @RaysBaseball giving @Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco a standing ovation. Carrasco made his first appearance since getting diagnosed with Leukemia in June. By the way, Carrasco lives in the Tampa Bay area in the offseason & is @TBLightning fan!
cc: @ZackMeisel pic.twitter.com/S6TsSL5ZzU
— John Sabol (@John_Sabol) September 1, 2019
Carlos Carrasco‘s journey back to the mound remains an inspiring comeback and shining example of the resilience of the human spirit. He is the proverbial win to the tragic loss that was Tyler Skaggs. It was unclear how Carrasco would recover from his diagnosis, let alone whether he would ever pitch in an MLB game. It goes without saying that moments like these remind us to never take for granted the time we do have together, as baseball continues to be the grandest metaphor for life in sports.
Where Baseball Got Caught Looking
It wasn’t all peaches and cream for Verlander this week. This ejection probably deserves another look, and it’s definitely another feather in the cap of the #UmpShow.
Warning: Language NSFW
Justin Verlander Gets Ejected in the middle of the inning, a breakdown pic.twitter.com/9Y65DkUFWN
— Jomboy (@Jomboy_) August 28, 2019
Needless to say, Verlander isn’t thinking too much about that moment right now.
“You can’t talk to me like that.” — Blue.
Honest question: How can players talk to umpires? Are they allowed to vent their frustration over things beyond their control, or should they find some Zen-like inner peace and let such things go? Hard to do when you’re a competitor. All in all, it’s easy to see Verlander was upset, but the real question here is communication and what’s supposed to look like.
If you’re working hard to compete and you feel like you’re hitting your spots but the umpire isn’t giving you the call, what are you supposed to do? Verlander probably wanted to do this:
Instead, he gets tossed just for being critical. Apparently, the answer to the question is: “Grin and bear it.” Except, the smile may not fit much longer.
“Robot umpires” have arrived.
The @AtlanticLg became the first American professional baseball league to let a computer call balls and strikes.
— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) July 11, 2019
You can laugh at this if you want, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
pure hustle pic.twitter.com/H2KGgirtvz
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) September 1, 2019
That’s the ballgame for this week!
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)