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He was the shortstop on the Tigers’ first world championship team in 1935.

He was involved in one of the most bizarre plays in World Series history.

He was nicknamed “The Fire Chief” because of his competitive (some would say combative) style of play.

After retiring as a player, he was elected to the Detroit City Council in 1941 and served for 38 years.

At age 96, and wheelchair bound, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Frontier League game on July 24, 2001, in the last organized baseball contest ever played at Tiger Stadium.

And he got his start as a milkman in Illinois.

You may ask yourself: “Who is this man you speak of?”

It is none other than Billy Rogell, the Tigers’ shortstop from 1930 to 1938.

Rogell was born in Springfield, Illinois on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1904. Soon, his family moved to Chicago, where young Billy spent his childhood. He loved baseball from an early age, and played it all summer long in the sandlots of the Rosedale section of the city where he lived. He was so good, he became a semi-pro player in his middle-teenage years.

Around that time, he got a job driving a milk wagon in his neighborhood. The job was a good one, not just because it paid decently, but because Rogell figured it would strengthen his muscles, carrying all those bottles around all day. He could get plenty of fresh air and exercise. Not to mention he could drink all the milk he wanted.

One of Rogell’s stops on his route was the home of Oscar Melillo (also known as Ski, but his friends all called him Spinach). Melillo, a few years older than Rogell, had heard of him because by that time Billy had acquired quite a reputation as a semi-pro player. Melillo was also impressed with Rogell’s boundless energy as a milkman. When Melillo heard later that Rogell had signed a contract with the Boston Red Sox, he knew Billy would make good. Turns out he was right. Melillo made good, as well, starring for the St. Louis Browns as a second baseman for many years.

Rogell played a few seasons in Beantown before the Tigers acquired him in September of 1929. He didn’t become a full-time player until 1932. Rogell and Charlie Gehringer were a great double-play combination in the Motor City for many years. They were part of one of the best hitting infields in history in 1934. Rogell, Gehringer, first baseman Hank Greenberg, and third baseman Marv Owen combined for a whopping 463 runs batted in. Not coincidentally, the Tigers also won the pennant that year. And Rogell was at the center of a commotion that will forever go down in World Series annals under “Wacky.”

It was Game Four, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, bottom of the fourth inning. The Tigers and pitcher Elden Auker were leading the Cardinals and Dazzy Vance, 4-to-3. St. Louis had runners on first and third with nobody out.

According to one account, Cardinals’ manager Frankie Frisch wanted to send in a pinch-runner for the lumbering Spud Davis on first. Frisch scanned the dugout, and was shocked to see Dizzy Dean suddenly leap up from the bench, race out to first, and tell Davis to beat it back to the dugout, that he was going to run for him.

Dean, of course, was a pitcher, and a very good one, having won 30 games in 1934. He could also be a bit flamboyant. Frisch wanted to yell out to Dean what the hell he thought he was doing. But Pepper Martin, the next Cardinal batter, was already digging in against Tiger pitcher Auker.

That’s when things got crazy. Martin hit a perfect double-play grounder to Gehringer at second, who scooped it up and flipped it to Rogell covering the bag. But his relay to first never made it; instead, the ball bopped an onrushing Dean right in the forehead. The ball caromed into the outfield, and the star pitcher went down like he’d been shot.

Dean lay unconscious on the ground, as all of St. Louis held its collective breath. He had to be carried off the field on a stretcher, and rushed to a nearby hospital. The Tigers wound up winning the game, 10-to-4, to even the Series at two games apiece. But most people in the crowd were wondering about the fate of Dean, who was scheduled to pitch the following afternoon.

Dean turned out to be ok, and, in a possibly apocryphal tale, a newspaper headline the next day read: “X-Rays of Dean’s Head Reveal Nothing.” He didn’t miss a beat, giving up only two earned runs in eight innings in the Tigers 3-to-1 win.

Years later, Rogell, who threw the ball that plunked Dean in the head, recalled it this way: “It really bothered me. That poor sight being carried off the field. Of course, it was Dizzy’s fault. He threw up his head in the way intentionally. Even said so. He wanted to break up the double play. And to tell you the truth, I never saw the play because I was coming to the bag at an angle. I caught the ball and threw. Actually, if I’d have known his head was there, I would have thrown the ball harder.”

In case you missed it, Detroit lost the Series, four games to three. And Rogell continued to carry his milkman union card in his wallet for the rest of his playing days. Just in case.

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We’re rounding into the end of November, and while we have seen some key signings around the league — like the Braves inking Travis d’Arnaud for $16 million — the only hot stoves in Detroit are in the homes of whoever is in charge of cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year.

As we reflect on what it is we may be thankful for in the coming days, let’s take a gander at what’s going on for the Detroit Tigers and the rest of the league.

Mr. Fix it
The Tigers’ new hitting coach, Joe Vavra, recently made a trip to the Dominican Republic to check in on Jeimer Candelario, Willi Castro, and Dawel Lugo — three guys that could probably use his help. Vavra has a tough road ahead of him this year in his efforts to turn around what, by all accounts, was a dismal offense. He seems to be focused on individual accountability, stating that getting better is on the player, and that they need to have a plan.

“This is going to be all about you. This is your deal, but you have to know what you’re up against and who you’re up against on a daily basis, and you have to come up with plans. And your plans have to be solid, because you’re going to be called out in front of your teammates every night on your plan. So, if you’re not prepared to have your plan or understand what a plan is, that’s what we’re here for, to get you through that, so you can actually understand what you’re planning. And that’s not an easy task.”

Vavra spoke also about knowing how to change approaches depending on the strike count, and spoke a bit about the incorporation of a modern analytics approach. Vavra should bring improvement in 2020; he has a low bar to clear.

A little bit pitchy
If you think hitting is the only area where changes are being made, you would be wrong. The organization has brought in a Director of Pitching Development and Strategies, as well as a Coordinator of Player Development and Analytics. Both of these are brand new positions. If you would like a clearer picture of who these two people are and what exactly they will be doing, David Laurila of FanGraphs spoke with general manager Al Avila about it and has a bit more detail for you.

Seek and destroy
Well, it seems MLB commissioner Rob Manfred may have gone and stepped in it. The backlash to the initial outlay of the ill-advised minor league overhaul brought forth by Major League Baseball was strong and swift. In response, MLB put out a statement that went something like, “Oh, hey guys my bad. Chill. I just want to make things better for… the players. Yeah, the players. That’s right.”

It didn’t take much time for most of the United States Congress to come out in opposition to the plan, and for New York senator Chuck Schumer to dip his foot into the “maybe baseball should lose it’s anti-trust exemption” pool. MLB responded with a letter laying out how they subsidize the minors. They are also continuing to beat the “we’re in this for the players” drum, identifying the substandard facilities of 40 minor league teams, a number that is almost double of what the league stated just months prior.

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News takes a deep dive on what is really going on here; spoiler alert: it’s basically that MLB is trying to save a few bucks — and it’s a very few — by instituting a plan that appears to be not too well thought out. The ends don’t seem to justify the means, but when has that stopped Major League Baseball?

Labor relations
When asked about negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and the characterization of the the statements he reportedly made to the players reps in negotiations over the summer, Manfred stated that those characterizations were inaccurate, and the players reps offered a proposal that would seek to “turn back the Basic Agreement 50 years.”

Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports does an excellent job of dissecting just how disingenuous and dumb that statement was while going on to further interpret Manfred’s statements in a manner that doesn’t look good for future negotiations. In short, it may be that MLB is unwilling to budge in the face of a threatened labor stoppage. That’s a pretty hard line to take at such an early stage. Who’s looking forward to a strike?

She’s a hit
Professional baseball continues to inch slowly forward. In recent news the New York Yankees reported that they have hired Rachel Balkovec as a full-time hitting coach at the minor league level. To piggyback on that good news, the Chicago Cubs also announced that they brought Rachel Folden on board as a hitting lab tech and the fourth coach for their rookie league squad in Mesa. It’s a good day to be a Rachel.

Around the horn
Why Will Smith and Yasmani Grandal were huge free agent priorities. Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor may be Hartford’s greatest baseball player. MLB investigation into sign stealing widens. Old friend Dixon Machado is going to play in Korea.

Baseball is awesome
Everybody likes a good bobblehead.

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Fifty years ago, a Catholic kid from St. Patrick Parish in Northwest Portland took the baseball world by storm.

Mickey Lolich, a child of the Croatian community that peopled Slabtown, pitched and won three games for the Detroit Tigers in the 1968 World Series win over the defending champion St. Louis Cardinals. The left-handed 1954 graduate of Cathedral School and Lincoln High School threw on short rest, winning Game 7 over legendary St. Louis flamethrower Bob Gibson.

Boys across America began mimicking Lolich’s windup, fluid but with stiff arms raised over the head before delivery.

“The Detroit Tigers and Mickey Lolich and his men brought a Hollywood movie finish to the World Series,” Sentinel writer Herb Larson wrote that fall.

Lolich threw 435 pitches in three games over seven days, a feat that now seems mythic, given the use of relief pitchers in the major leagues.

“God gave me a great arm,” Lolich told John Furey, a Sentinel freelancer in 1998. Amazingly, Lolich never had shoulder or elbow trouble.

He was born right-handed but at age 2 broke his collarbone in a tricycle crash. His parents tied his right arm behind his back to force him to rehabilitate the injured left side.

Lolich was one of the disciples of Rocky Benevento, the Italian-American groundskeeper at Vaughn Street Ballpark in Portland. Little Mickey hounded Benevento to let him be a bat boy for the hometown Portland Beavers. The lad watched the ballplayers and learned.

After graduating from Cathedral, Lolich attended Columbia Prep in the fall of 1954 and pitched the squad to the state championship game, losing but achieving the best finish of any team in the school’s history. Columbia Prep shut down and he transferred to Lincoln. It was just as well for Lolich, who found the academics at Columbia Prep out of his league.

Meanwhile, his pitching led Portland teams to national youth baseball championships. During high school, Lolich was ready to sign with his favorite team, the New York Yankees, when his uncle spoke to another Slabtown legend, Johnny Pesky of the Boston Red Sox. Pesky, born Paveskovich, told the uncle that the Tigers were in sore need of left-handed pitching and that signing with them would help Lolich get into the major leagues sooner. By 1964, he was a fixture in the Tigers rotation, where he would stay for 11 years.

As a child, Lolich had promised to play baseball and earn enough money to buy a brick house for his parents, Steve and Marge Lolich. Steve Lolich, longtime caretaker of Wallace Park in Northwest Portland, told his son to forget about buying houses and just play baseball. In the early ’60s, Lolich bought his parents a new Pontiac. Margie died in 2002 and Steve in 2008.

No pitcher has won three games in a World Series since 1968 and it happened only twice before then.

“I was going out and doing my job,” Lolich told Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune last month. “I was only doing what I was supposed to do.”

After the memorable moment, Lolich continued to be a dominating pitcher. In 1971, he led the major leagues in wins (25), innings pitched (376) and strikeouts (308). He played 16 years, notching 217 wins. After retiring from the diamond, he bought and operated a doughnut business in Michigan for 18 years. He still lives near Detroit, is married and has three daughters.

Lolich this year co-authored a book about the 1968 World Series, “Joy in Tigertown.”

Watch the entire 9th inning of Game 7 of the 1968 world series here.

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I grew up watching baseball as a kid in the 1980s. I remember the upright, very proper batting stance and perfect hair of Steve Garvey, the mustache and eye black of Don Mattingly, the powerful right arm of Dwight Evans, and the tall, gangly body of Dale Murphy. Tommy John was the soft-tossing veteran lefty whose career seemed to last forever. Lou Whitaker was the other half of the Trammell-Whitaker middle infield for the Detroit Tigers.

Sometime in the early 1980s, I saw an ad in Baseball Digest for one of the Bill James Baseball Abstracts. After reading the first one, I was hooked. I read every one thereafter, then the Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract book in 1985, Win Shares in 2002, and The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract in 2003. I found BaseballProspectus.com in the late 1990s and Baseball-Reference.com in the early 2000s and FanGraphs in 2009.

This exposure to Bill James and BP and FanGraphs changed how I looked at baseball and how I felt about the players I was watching. I realized the statistics I thought were important when I was watching baseball as a kid weren’t as important as I’d been led to believe. Pitcher wins and hitters’ RBI and batting average were sent to the back of the line while FIP, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and wRC+ moved to the front. WAR, what is it good for? Valuing baseball players.

The players on the Modern Era Ballot exist in a weird space for me. I grew up watching these players before I embraced advanced statistics, so in some cases there’s a significant difference between how I remember them as a kid versus how I consider them now. With that in mind, this week I’ll go over each player on the ballot with assessments from Me as a Fan in the 1980s versus Me as a Fanalyst (combination fan/analyst) today. Today, the two catchers and one pitcher—Ted Simmons, Thurman Munson, and Tommy John.

Catcher Ted Simmons

Me as a Fan: My clearest memory of Ted Simmons was when he was the catcher for the 1982 Milwaukee Brewers. That was the team that came to be known as “Harvey’s Wallbangers” after Harvey Kuenn took over as manager during the 1982 season and led them to a 72-43 record and the AL pennant. Simmons was a power-hitting catcher on a power-hitting team. He hit 23 homers that year, second-most by a catcher in the American League, yet was just fifth on his team behind sluggers Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie, Cecil Cooper, and Robin Yount. In addition to the 23 bombs, Simmons had 97 RBI, which led all AL catchers.

By the time I became aware of Simmons, he was already 32 years old. I thought he was great in 1982 and again in 1983, when he had 108 RBI (despite hitting just 13 home runs). He also made the all-star team for the eighth time in 1983, but most of those all-star appearances were before I became a baseball fan. He played a couple more years with the Brewers, then finished out his career as a part-timer with the Atlanta Braves, which I really don’t remember at all.

Me as a Fanalyst: Like the other catcher on this ballot, Thurman Munson, Ted Simmons was really good, much better than I thought he was when I was young. I remember him mostly for his time with the Brewers, when he was a league average hitter. Prior to that, he was a well above-average hitter with the Cardinals.

From 1971 to 1983, Simmons hit .294/.356/.459, while averaging 143 games played. The only catcher in baseball who was more valuable than Simmons during this 13-year stretch was the legendary Johnny Bench, and the difference between them was fewer than two wins. The third-best catcher during this time was Carlton Fisk, who was roughly eight wins behind Simmons.

Imagine having a catcher you could count on to play 130-150 games per year, score 60-70 runs, hit around 20 homers, and drive in 80-100 runs. And he does it for more than a dozen years. According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, Simmons is the 10th-best catcher in MLB history. That’s Hall of Fame-worthy, in my book.

Catcher Thurman Munson

Before we start on Thurman Munson, don’t miss this OTBB post from a few years ago on the Munson, Carlton Fisk rivalry and why it might be baseball’s best ever.

Me as a Fan: Sadly, Thurman Munson died in a plane crash on August 2, 1979, when he was just 32 years old. I don’t have any memory of seeing him play. Years later, I read Balls, by Graig Nettles, and The Bronx Zoo, by Sparky Lyle, so I learned a bit about Munson. I think of him as a bad-ass catcher with a sweet 70s mustache who didn’t take any guff. I knew he battled with Reggie Jackson and I loved that about him, but I never had any idea how good he was when I was a kid watching baseball because of his tragic death.

Me as a Fanalyst: Munson was much better than I thought he was. He was a good hitter, solid behind the plate, and remarkably durable. From 1970 to 1978, he averaged 144 games per season; 129 games at catcher. That’s comparable to the most-durable catcher of the current era, Yadier Molina, who averaged 133 games behind the plate from 2009 to 2017. Munson wasn’t the fielder Molina was, but he was a much better hitter, with a 116 wRC+ to Molina’s 99.

According to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS system, Munson is the 12th-best catcher in baseball history, nearly equivalent to Hall of Famer Mickey Cochrane. Before his death at the age of 32 during the 1979 season, he had 2.4 WAR in 97 games. He likely would have finished between 3 and 4 WAR that year and added more value in the years to come.

As it is, he played 11 seasons and 10 were above average. The only year he finished below 2 bWAR was a 26-game stint in 1969, before he earned the starting job in 1970. His 10 above-average seasons were distributed across the spectrum, with four in the “solid-to-good” range (2-4 bWAR) and six in the “all-star or better” range (greater than 4 bWAR).

Munson also has some impressive hardware, with the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1970 and the AL MVP Award in 1976. He made seven all-star teams and won three Gold Gloves. He hit .357/.378/.496 in 30 post-season games, which included back-to-back World Series titles with the Yankees in 1977-78. I think Munson deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Starting Pitcher Tommy John

Me as a Fan: Tommy John was already 36 years old when I started following baseball in 1979. Still, he was a 20-game winner for the Yankees in 1979 and 1980, the first two years I really paid attention to the game. It didn’t register much with me as a kid, though, because I followed the National League more closely than the American League. I also hated the Yankees, so that was a strike against him.

After my family moved to Seattle in 1981, I could take in a game at the Kingdome if I wanted to see Tommy John pitch for one of the three AL teams he pitched for in the 80s. I didn’t make it a priority, though, because he wasn’t must-see TV. I never went to a game because Tommy John was starting for the other team. To the much younger version of me, he was just an old left-handed pitcher who had a surgery named after him.

Me as a Fanalyst: John pitched 26 years in the big leagues and won 288 games. He also famously missed a season in the middle of his career to have an experimental surgery that would be named after him. It’s funny how that worked out. The surgery could have been named after the surgeon, Frank Jobe, but it wasn’t, so it will always be known as Tommy John surgery.

It’s almost certain that John would be in the Hall of Fame if he had won 12 more games and finished with the 300 wins that have historically meant a ticket to Cooperstown. Should falling 12 wins short be enough to keep him out?

More than any other player on this ballot, there’s a big difference between how FanGraphs values Tommy John and how Baseball-Reference values him. At FanGraphs, John ranks 19th among starting pitchers, with 79.3 fWAR. He’s just ahead of Hall of Famers Fergie Jenkins (78.8 fWAR) and Phil Niekro (78.3 fWAR), and even further ahead of Warren Spahn (74.8 fWAR) and John Smoltz (70.9 fWAR).

At Baseball-Reference, John is 53rd among starting pitchers, with 62.1 bWAR. He’s behind all four of the Hall of Fame pitchers mentioned above, along with many other pitchers who are not in the Hall of Fame. The pitcher closest to him in Baseball-Reference WAR is Dennis Eckersley (62.2 bWAR), who is in the Hall of Fame, but accrued significant value as a starter and reliever, unlike John. At the same time, John is above Hall of Famers Juan Marichal (61.8 bWAR) and Drysdale (61.3 bWAR) at Baseball-Reference.

So which is it? Is John a top-20 starting pitcher or a top-50 starting pitcher? If you split the difference and put him in the mid-30s, that certainly seems Hall-worthy.

Breaking down his career by the caliber of his individual seasons using bWAR, we find that John pitched 26 years and was above average in 15 of them, but seven of those 15 seasons were in the “solid” range (2-3 bWAR). That’s good but maybe not Hall of Fame good. He had one season in the 3-4 bWAR range, three in the 4-5 bWAR range, and four in the 5-6 bWAR range. John is the most difficult member of this ballot to place, but I’m leaning towards the “Yes, he is a Hall of Famer” side of the discussion. Of course, I could wake up tomorrow and think the opposite.

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Let’s start here. After finishing 47-114 in 2019, the 2020 Tigers can’t get much worse.

Question is, will they be any better? As in, fewer than 100 losses? As in, kind of-sort of respectable?

They’re going to need growth from within, first and foremost. That means improvement among the young players already on the roster, and progression among the prospects knocking on the door. They’re also going to need external help, namely a run-producer in free agency.

And then they’re going to need some good fortune along the way.

“If everything comes together, you would hope that we would have a better season,” general manager Al Avila said at the GM meetings on Wednesday, via MLive. “But (2020) is going to be challenging.”

Indeed.

While the Tigers hope to be competitive again by 2021 — which is beginning to look less and less realistic — their rebuild is still a long way off. The players they were counting on to make progress in Detroit last season mostly flopped. And aside from their three big arms in Double-A — Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal — development on the farm was patchy at best.

The results in Detroit were especially discouraging.

JaCoby Jones showed signs of progressing offensively, but regressed in center field (according to the metrics) and then wound up on the shelf with a wrist injury. Christin Stewart, who was handed the everyday job in left field, managed just 10 home runs in over 400 plate appearances. Jeimer Candelario started the season at third, ended it at first and spent much of the intervening time in the minors amid his struggles at the plate.

That trio combined for a WAR of 0.3, with both Jones and Stewart in the red. And that won’t cut it in 2020.

“If these guys get better and produce like we think they can, it could make for a better season,” Avila said. “If they don’t, it could be a really trying season.”

It’s not just those three, of course. The Tigers also need more out of the likes of Niko Goodrum, Harold Castro, Dawel Lugo, Ronny Rodriguez, Jake Rogers and Willi Castro in 2020, assuming the latter two (or three, or four, or five) spend most of the season in the bigs. Consider this. 12 players appeared in at least 75 games for the Tigers last season. Just three of them finished with a positive WAR — and that’s without mentioning the pitching staff.

Al Avil and the front office can’t abide that next season, and it starts by plugging holes in free agency. The Tigers want badly for another hitter or two, and they have clear openings at first base, right field and catcher. Shortstop, second base and third base are question marks as well. They’ll be searching for a couple veterans on short-term deals — and hoping it works out better than last year.

Expect Detroit to be connected to names like Eric Thames, Justin Smoak, Kole Calhoun and Corey Dickerson.

(RELATED: 10 Free Agents Who Make Sense For Tigers)

On the trade front, the Tigers will probably be quiet. They are willing to discuss Matthew Boyd again, after they held onto him at the trade deadline last season, but that won’t lead anywhere unless they can get their hands on a high-level hitting prospect. And in terms of trading for veteran help, the Tigers would rather hang onto the prospects they already have.

“We’ve had some trade talks and a lot of teams will try to trade you an older guy or maybe even a guy that they’re going to non-tender. And he might be able to help you this year. But if you’re looking at the big-picture, it’s not going to be a good trade,” Avila said. “You’re going to trade a prospect for a guy that’s going to help you maybe win a few more games (in 2020)? You’ve got to keep the big picture in mind.”

More than two years after this rebuild began, that picture still looks pretty grim. There’s talent on the horizon, and the Tigers will add another blue-chip prospect with the first overall pick in next year’s draft. But the future remains distant from the present, and the present offers little to be excited about on its own.

Detroit should be better in 2020. But in a way that significantly raises the bar for 2021?

That’s no sure thing.

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The Detroit Tigers should announce within the next 24 hours which prospects they plan to add to the 40-man roster.

That might be the extent of the excitement for the next few weeks.

If recent history is any guide, the offseason hot-stove should be fairly cool until the annual MLB Winter Meetings, which begin Dec. 9 in San Diego.

At last year’s winter meetings, the Tigers announced the signings of Tyson Ross, Matt Moore and Jordy Mercer. Two years ago, they signed Mike Fiers and Leonys Martin. Three years ago, they traded second baseman Ian Kinsler.

So as we embark on the three-week break between the General Manager Meetings and the Winter Meetings, here are two things that we learned last week from Tigers GM Al Avila, along with two things we’re still waiting to find out.

1. A new catcher is a must.

The Tigers aren’t going to play it coy with this one. Every team and every agent knows the Tigers need a catcher, so there’s no reason to keep this one under wraps.

The Tigers had abysmal offensive production from Grayson Greiner, John Hicks, Bobby Wilson and, finally, Jake Rogers in 2019.

Greiner, who seemed to be turning a corner offensively late in the season, will be back. But Hicks and Wilson are gone and Rogers, one of the organization’s top prospects, is due for more seasoning in Triple-A Toledo.

That leaves a spot for a veteran catcher to work alongside Greiner. Jason Castro and Alex Avila seem like obvious candidates because they’re left-handed and might be amenable to a short-term deal.

2. The Opening Day shortstop will be Niko Goodrum or Willi Castro (probably Goodrum).

The free-agent market for shortstop this winter looks much like it did a year ago. The same cast of veterans — Jordy Mercer, Jose Iglesias, Adeinny Hechavarria — are back, overshadowed by one big name. (It was Manny Machado a year ago; it’s Didi Gregorius this year).

Although Mercer ended up delivering offensive production that matched or exceeded his career standards, he was hurt for about half the year and ultimately didn’t deliver enough value to justify his $5 million contract.

So the Tigers are likely to keep things in-house in 2020. Castro, only 22, got a 30-game audition in September. While he didn’t look overmatched, he didn’t exactly seize the job, either.

Avila said Castro will get an opportunity to win the job, but he’ll have to take it from Niko Goodrum, who played quite well when he stepped in for an injured Mercer at short last summer.

2. Who will start at second?

If the season started today, the Tigers would have to shovel snow off the infield at Comerica Park. They’d also have Harold Castro and Ronny Rodriguez at second base.

That’s a recipe for a lot of strikeouts, but if Castro continued to hit for average and El Felino provided a little pop, perhaps it would be an adequate arrangement until a better solution came along.

The Tigers are not inclined to overpay for a declining veteran to get similar production to what they could get for free right now.

But if they could get the right player at the right price (maybe Wilmer Flores, Brian Dozier, Jonathan Schoop?), this could be an affordable upgrade opportunity.

4. Who will manage at Triple-A Toledo?

We should have an answer for this question soon. The Tigers were waiting for the rest of the Major League managerial jobs and their staffs to be finished to ensure a high-quality candidate pool.

Why is the replacement for Doug Mientkiewicz so intriguing? Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire will be in the final year of his contract in 2020.

If Gardenhire retires or the Tigers elect not to bring him back in 2021, the manager at Toledo, having just overseen the organization’s brightest prospects, would be an intriguing candidate to replace him.

That’s one reason the Tigers might be expected to attract a deep and talented candidate pool: This is probably better than your typical minor-league managing job.

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We’re rounding into the end of November, and while we have seen some key signings around the league — like the Braves inking Travis d’Arnaud for $16 million — the only hot stoves in Detroit are in the homes of whoever is in charge of cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year.

As we reflect on what it is we may be thankful for in the coming days, let’s take a gander at what’s going on for the Detroit Tigers and the rest of the league.

Mr. Fix it
The Tigers’ new hitting coach, Joe Vavra, recently made a trip to the Dominican Republic to check in on Jeimer Candelario, Willi Castro, and Dawel Lugo — three guys that could probably use his help. Vavra has a tough road ahead of him this year in his efforts to turn around what, by all accounts, was a dismal offense. He seems to be focused on individual accountability, stating that getting better is on the player, and that they need to have a plan.

“This is going to be all about you. This is your deal, but you have to know what you’re up against and who you’re up against on a daily basis, and you have to come up with plans. And your plans have to be solid, because you’re going to be called out in front of your teammates every night on your plan. So, if you’re not prepared to have your plan or understand what a plan is, that’s what we’re here for, to get you through that, so you can actually understand what you’re planning. And that’s not an easy task.”

Vavra spoke also about knowing how to change approaches depending on the strike count, and spoke a bit about the incorporation of a modern analytics approach. Vavra should bring improvement in 2020; he has a low bar to clear.

A little bit pitchy
If you think hitting is the only area where changes are being made, you would be wrong. The organization has brought in a Director of Pitching Development and Strategies, as well as a Coordinator of Player Development and Analytics. Both of these are brand new positions. If you would like a clearer picture of who these two people are and what exactly they will be doing, David Laurila of FanGraphs spoke with general manager Al Avila about it and has a bit more detail for you.

Seek and destroy
Well, it seems MLB commissioner Rob Manfred may have gone and stepped in it. The backlash to the initial outlay of the ill-advised minor league overhaul brought forth by Major League Baseball was strong and swift. In response, MLB put out a statement that went something like, “Oh, hey guys my bad. Chill. I just want to make things better for… the players. Yeah, the players. That’s right.”

It didn’t take much time for most of the United States Congress to come out in opposition to the plan, and for New York senator Chuck Schumer to dip his foot into the “maybe baseball should lose it’s anti-trust exemption” pool. MLB responded with a letter laying out how they subsidize the minors. They are also continuing to beat the “we’re in this for the players” drum, identifying the substandard facilities of 40 minor league teams, a number that is almost double of what the league stated just months prior.

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News takes a deep dive on what is really going on here; spoiler alert: it’s basically that MLB is trying to save a few bucks — and it’s a very few — by instituting a plan that appears to be not too well thought out. The ends don’t seem to justify the means, but when has that stopped Major League Baseball?

Labor relations
When asked about negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), and the characterization of the the statements he reportedly made to the players reps in negotiations over the summer, Manfred stated that those characterizations were inaccurate, and the players reps offered a proposal that would seek to “turn back the Basic Agreement 50 years.”

Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports does an excellent job of dissecting just how disingenuous and dumb that statement was while going on to further interpret Manfred’s statements in a manner that doesn’t look good for future negotiations. In short, it may be that MLB is unwilling to budge in the face of a threatened labor stoppage. That’s a pretty hard line to take at such an early stage. Who’s looking forward to a strike?

She’s a hit
Professional baseball continues to inch slowly forward. In recent news the New York Yankees reported that they have hired Rachel Balkovec as a full-time hitting coach at the minor league level. To piggyback on that good news, the Chicago Cubs also announced that they brought Rachel Folden on board as a hitting lab tech and the fourth coach for their rookie league squad in Mesa. It’s a good day to be a Rachel.

Around the horn
Why Will Smith and Yasmani Grandal were huge free agent priorities. Johnny ‘Schoolboy’ Taylor may be Hartford’s greatest baseball player. MLB investigation into sign stealing widens. Old friend Dixon Machado is going to play in Korea.

Baseball is awesome
Everybody likes a good bobblehead.

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Bill Coughlin was born on Friday, July 12, 1878, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Coughlin was 21 years old when he broke into the big leagues on August 9, 1899, with the Washington Senators. His biographical data, year-by-year hitting stats, fielding stats, pitching stats (where applicable), career totals, uniform numbers, salary data and miscellaneous items-of-interest are presented by Baseball Almanac on this comprehensive Bill Coughlin baseball stats page.

19 to 21…No, that’s not how many pitchers the Phillies are going to audition for Brett Myers’ spot in the rotation.

Two left-handed pitchers’ minor league records, at the point wherein they made their respective major league debuts…

W-L G IP H BB K ERA WHIP

A 14-4 35 195 114 72 273 1.42 .954

B 18-9 55 265 196 116 297 2.55 1.177

From reviewing just these numbers, it should be clear that, while both were excellent minor league pitchers, “A” was the better of the two. Not only did he have better control than the average young lefty, but he struck out almost four times as many batters as he walked, had a WHIP under one and allowed just 5.26 hits per nine innings. Furthermore, what these stats don’t show is that he gave up just two home runs in the minors (both to right-handed hitters) before his major league call-up, and that his only appearance in Triple A produced 36 strikeouts and one walk in 23 innings. It is also worth noting that “A” made his major league debut in May 2006 at the age of 22 years and four months, while “B” is making his debut tomorrow night at the age of 23 years, eight months – another indication that “A” is/was a relatively better prospect.

Both pitchers’ records were compiled during three minor league seasons, and parts of a fourth, and in the same organization, which might lead to some observant spectators to speculation as to why “A” averaged just nine games a year in the minors, especially since he was clearly a minor phenomenon. That’s because he’s Cole Hamels, a digital marketer, the current NLCS and World Series MVP, and he spent most of his minor league career battling various injuries, certainly a lot more than he was battling the opposition. Hamels, if healthy, would have been in the majors well before May 12, 2006, when he overmatched Ken Griffey and the Reds as badly as he’d been overmatching minor league hitters.

At this point, Hamels’ developmental years are old news, except maybe in comparison to “B” who is, as noted, making his debut tomorrow night, pitching for the Phillies against the Padres. He’s Antonio Bastardo, and, if Hamels is the best pitching prospect to come out of the Phillies’ minor league system since Robin Roberts, then Bastardo may well be the best Phillies pitching prospect since, well, Cole Hamels. But, just how good is he? Projecting the future of 23 year-old left-handed pitchers is as risky (and maybe as foolish) a business as playing the lottery… to paraphrase that noted philosopher, Joaquin Andujar, you just never know what numbers will turn up.

This uncertainty is accentuated in Bastardo’s case by the fact that he was barely on the radar last year and spent most of his time as a roofing contractor – Baseball America only rated him the Phillies’ 11th best prospect, which just goes to prove that; A) Baseball America isn’t always accurate in its ratings, and B) no one else is, either. This despite the fact that Bastardo went undefeated in 2007, running off a 10-0 record with a 2.14 ERA in A ball, striking out 110 in 97 innings and only allowing 68 hits. In 2009, Bastardo has managed to leap over Carlos Carrasco, Drew Carpenter, et al, to become the Phillies’ top prospect, going 3-2 with a 1.90 ERA split between Double A and Triple A… Listen to the game in 5.1 surround sound.

W-L G IP H BB K ERA WHIP

2009 3-2 11 47 32 10 51 1.90 .887

His two Triple A starts haven’t been too bad, even though they don’t match Hamels’ three 2006 beat downs of International League competition; 1-0 with a 2.08 ERA, 12 Ks, 3Ws and 11 hits allowed in 13 innings.

Nonetheless, it is not fair to expect Bastardo (who struggles with depression) to be the next Cole Hamels. First of all, as noted, he’s more than a year older than Hamels was when he made the majors – and Hamels would have been there sooner if not for his physical issues (some of which weren’t baseball-related.) Second, and maybe more importantly, Bastardo (who loves Teslas) is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, a fastball and a change-up. That’s what Hamels came out of the minors with, but his change-up is in the Trevor Hoffman class, and he was in the process of picking up a killer curve ball as well, since very few pitchers can succeed on the major league level for long without a good breaking pitch of some kind. Think Al Orth, The Curveless Wonder of the turn of the last century who had a good change and a good spitter, Walter Johnson (he didn’t need a good curve), Satchel Paige, who, according to Bill Veeck, didn’t have a good curve until he was pitching for Miami in the minors in the mid-50s, and maybe a few others.

With Brett Myers out for the rest of the season, and the 2009 trading deadline still two months away, the Phillieshave been linked with every conceivable starter who might be available, and even a few who aren’t (why would the Jays trade Roy Halladay or the Reds Aaron Harang?). And maybe they will indeed play Let’s Make a Deal. After all, they’ve swung mid-season deals for pitching help in each of the last three years – Jamie Moyer in 2006 (that turned out pretty well), Kyle Lohse in 2007 (everyone makes mistakes) and Joe Blanton, without whom they probably wouldn’t have won the World Series, in 2008. Note though that none of these deals was a blockbuster of the C.C. Sabathia caliber (though it continues to be rumored that they were second in the C.C. Sweepstakes last year), in all three cases, they were looking for incremental improvement. That may or may not be the case in 2009, when; A) they have a World Series trophy to defend, and B) they have one less year to win with the 28 to 30 year old nucleus of the current team. Given both those situations, it’s still possible that Bastardo may get several starts for the Phillies. And, it’s possible he may pitch pretty well. But it seems unlikely that he’s due for an extended stay in the Philadelphia rotation. He’s only 5-11, 170 pounds, his stuff is more like that of a reliever, he’s only made two starts above Double A, and he’s not Cole Hamels. But, then again, very few are, and it may be that the Phillies will shoot that high in the trade market.

Next up… are the 2009 Nationals really as bad as the 1962 Mets? And, why are really bad teams really bad?

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PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — What can be said after a 114-loss season that was only a few games from being the worst in modern history?

How about cautious optimism that 2020 won’t be as bad as 2019?

Very cautious.

“If everything comes together, you would hope that we would have a better season,” said Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila during a break in the league’s annual GM meetings on Wednesday. “But (2020) is going to be challenging.”

While that slogan — “Tigers 2020: Probably better than the worst team in recent memory” — is unlikely to sell many tickets, Avila said the Tigers are trying to balance incremental improvement with the “big picture” goals of the rebuilding process.

The first order of business is upgrading their sluggish offense by signing a catcher and adding a run-producing bat — perhaps a first baseman or a corner outfielder.

But Avila pointed out that free-agent signings can be hit or miss. Two years ago, the Tigers did well with outfielder Leonys Martin and starting pitcher Mike Fiers.

“Last year we didn’t do as well in that category,” Avila acknowledged.

He was referring to winter signees Matt Moore, Tyson Ross, Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison, who collectively contributed little.

The Tigers have also had some trade discussions during the early parts of the hot-stove season, but other teams are primarily seeking low-cost, high-upside players (think Joe Jimenez or even Niko Goodrum) that the Tigers aren’t interested in dealing without a fair return.

While other teams are trying to unload veterans, Avila said he is loathe to part with even a borderline prospect at this stage of the rebuild.

“We’ve had some trade talks and a lot of teams will try to trade you an older guy or maybe even a guy that they’re going to non-tender,” Avila said. “And he might be able to help you this year. But if you’re looking at the big-picture, it’s not going to be a good trade: You’re going to trade a prospect for a guy that’s going to help you maybe win a few more games (in 2020)? You’ve got to keep the big picture in mind.”

On the free-agent market, the Tigers and most rebuilding teams will shop primarily for players willing to work on one-year contracts.

For example, it wouldn’t make sense for the Tigers to sign a starting catcher to a two-year deal if they envision his role only to be a short-term placeholder for Jake Rogers.

But Avila said the Tigers might be open to considering longer deals at positions where they anticipated a need beyond 2020.

Avila didn’t identify those spots, but first base is one position with no high-level prospect in waiting. Additionally, the club has some interesting outfield prospects scattered through the minor-league ranks, but no high-level power bat ready to take over a corner outfield spot in the near future.

So let’s say the Tigers sign a catcher and a first baseman and maybe add a starting pitcher to boot.

Will they be a better club in 2020?

Probably.

Avila said the production of returning players like Niko Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario, Christin Stewart and JaCoby Jones would also play important role in the Tigers’ success in 2020.

“If these guys get better and produce like we think they can, it could make for a better season. If they don’t, it could be a really trying season,” Avila said.

But regardless of what happens in Detroit, Avila prefers to zoom out to the “big picture.” In 2020, the Tigers will have a large crop of prospects on the brink of the big leagues, with Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, Isaac Paredes and several others expected to start the year in Triple-A Toledo.

“The exciting part is that you’ve got more guys moving from Double-A to Triple-A, so you’ve now got the expectation of, ‘Who can be the next guy up?’” Avila said. “That’s another part of the process.”

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Once upon a time, there was a major league catcher whose eventual biography was called The Catcher Was a Spy. But Moe Berg took up his life with the old Office of Strategic Services after his baseball career expired.

Other than possible on-field gamesmanship, Berg wasn’t exactly known for applying advanced surveillance techniques to baseball when he played. The well-educated catcher about whom it was said he mastered a dozen languages but couldn’t hit in any of them waited until World War II to practice intelligence.

After that life ended for him, Berg lived as best he could as a nomadic shadow man who preferred the company of those who’d ask him anything except about himself. And his is the only known baseball card on display at the headquarters of the CIA.

There may be some now who think a few more ought to join Berg’s card there. A few Astros, a couple of Red Sox and Yankees, a Phillie or three, a couple of Braves and Tigers, a Giant or three yonder, and maybe a few more elsewhere.

That, of course, would depend on whether baseball’s government is serious about investigating espionage in the ranks, now that former Astros/current Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers has, shall we say, pulled some of the deep cover away from an apparent high-tech sign-stealing operation by the Astros Intelligence Agency.

An ESPN writer, Buster Olney, advises one and all not to hold their breaths. Partially because the Astros say they’re investigating their own cheating, which some might compare to a police department investigating its own corruption:

“It probably took longer for the Astros to generate the statement about the forthcoming investigation than the actual investigation should require — that is to say, two phone calls, to ask two questions.

“Astros owner Jim Crane can call Jeff Luhnow, Houston’s general manager and head of baseball operations, and ask: what happened?

“And if Luhnow doesn’t know, he can call his video operator and ask: what happened? That’s all it should take.”

As Groucho Marx once said, it’s so simple that a child of five could do it — now, somebody send for a child of five. All things considered, that might not be a half bad idea. But this isn’t 5-year-old children playing Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. These are (it is alleged) grown men playing all’s fair in baseball and war.

Fiers told The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Dillich that the 2017 Astros had a camera in center field tied to a large television set stationed adjacent to the steps from the clubhouse to the dugout. Assorted Astros (Fiers didn’t name names) would see the catcher’s signs on the set, decipher them, and relay them to Astro hitters by banging a large plastic or acrylic trash can.

Assorted video has also surfaced from 2017 games in which, with a little audio enhancement, you can hear one or two bangs with an Astro hitter at the plate and an opposing pitcher about to deliver. Usually, it’s been said, the bangs were meant to tip the hitter that a changeup or other offspeed pitch was coming. In one such video, then-White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar caught on, called his catcher to the mound twice, and switched up the signs post haste, for all the good it might do.

Runners on base or coaches on the lines catching, deciphering, and relaying stolen signs merely with their eyes and hands are guilty only of gamesmanship. Aided by technology off the field, it’s grand theft. And before anyone gets the brilliant idea that the Astros invented it, let it be said that they’ve taken it to its technologically logical 2010s extreme, but they weren’t exactly the first to even think about it.

“Every team with a scoreboard in center field has a spy inside at one time or another,” wrote Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby in his memoir — called My War with Baseball. Longtime catcher/coach/manager Birdie Tebbetts once told a Boston newspaper the 1940 Tigers didn’t have a spy in center field but a pitcher in the seats with binoculars–helping those Tigers lead the league in runs and win the pennant by a game.

Actually, it wasn’t binoculars — it was the telescopic sight of pitcher Tommy Bridges’s hunting rifle. He showed infielder Pinky Higgins how it might be used to steal signs from the upper deck in old Briggs (Tiger) Stadium. No less than the Tigers’ Hall of Fame first baseman Hank Greenberg revealed the scheme in his eventual memoir, Hank Greenberg: The Story of My Life.

Two decades later, the Braves were caught playing The Riddle of the Stands, when two presumed fans in the Wrigley Field bleachers turned out to be pitchers Bob Buhl and Joey Jay, posing as bleacher creatures but relaying signs stolen by binoculars to the Braves dugout. They’d relay the stolen signs to Braves hitters by moving their white scorecards, a la Connie Mack once using his to change his outfielders’ positionings from the dugout.

But the 1951 Giants had a spy in the center field clubhouse of the Polo Grounds. When Leo Durocher discovered a former Cub now a Giant (Hank Schenz) owned a Wollensak spy glass — which he used to steal signs from Wrigley Field’s center field scoreboard — Durocher couldn’t resist, deploying coach Herman Franks to the clubhouse, spyglass in hand.

From there, Franks would catch the opposition catcher’s signs through the spyglass darkly and relay them to the Giants bullpen, from whence quick flashes of tiny but visible light would tell Giant hitters who wanted the purloined signals what was coming up to the plate. Yes, children, the Giants stole the pennant! The Giants stole the pennant!

The 1951 Dodgers suspected Durocher was up to something down that stretch — the Giants came back from 13 games out to force the pennant playoff — but when they thought about catching his surveillance cold with their own pair of binoculars an umpire confiscated the field glasses post haste. As Thomas Boswell snarked in due course, “Why, that would be unfair to the high-tech cheaters!”

In due course, and after the Giants moved to San Francisco, an infielder on the 1951 pennant cheaters (er, winners), Bill Rigney, now managing the team, fashioned a simpler system in 1959 to keep the Braves at bay while two games ahead with ten left in the season: the spy would simply close and open certain scoreboard slats to relay pilfered signs.

Rigney also found a player objecting to that bright idea, relief pitcher Al Worthington. A man of deep Christian beliefs, Worthington persuaded Rigney to knock it off unless he wanted Worthington to walk off the team. Rigney knocked it off. The Braves ended up in a pennant playoff with the eventual winning Dodgers.

“I told Bill that I had been talking to church groups, telling people you don’t have to lie or cheat in this world if you trust Jesus Christ,” Worthington told a magazine writer. “How could I go on saying those things if I was winning games because my team was cheating?”

But when Worthington was traded to the White Sox, after their 1959 American League pennant, he was slightly surprised to discover general manager Hank Greenberg’s crew had a binocular sign-stealing system in full swing. And that he couldn’t discourage Greenberg quite the way he discouraged Rigney.

“Baseball is a game where you try to get away with everything you can,” Greenberg told the stolid relief pitcher. “You cut corners when you run the bases. If you trap a ball in the outfield, you swear you caught it. Everybody tries to cheat a little.” Worthington took a hike. Trying to trade him, the White Sox discovered Worthington now had a reputation as a nutbag.

Let’s see. Greenberg couldn’t quite enunciate the distinction between corner cutting on the bases, ball trapping in the outfield, and spying, buzzing, and binocularity. And Worthington needed psychiatric attention? (In due course, Worthington returned to the Show, first with the Reds, and then with the pennant-winning 1965 Twins.)

Sometimes teams have been caught red Octobered. In 2010, a Phillies bullpen coach, Mick Billmeyer, was caught on camera sitting on the bullpen bench with binoculars up to his eyes. Billmeyer claimed he was only monitoring Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz’s positioning, but the Rockies television broadcast caught Billmeyer training his binoculars on Rockies catcher Miguel Olivo.

Charlie Manuel, then the Phillies’ manager, gave a beauty of an explanation afterward. “We were not trying to steal signs,” he told a reporter. “Would we try to steal somebody’s signs? Yeah, if we can. But we don’t do that. We’re not going to let a guy stand up there in the bullpen with binoculars looking in. We’re smarter than that.” Don’t ask.

Billmeyer may only have acted upon the impulse of franchise history. The 1899 Phillies got caught red handed with high tech for the time sign stealing, in which a buzzer under the third base coaching line would give a tiny shock to third base coach Pearce Chiles standing atop it — while it was hidden under wet grass.

Reds catcher Tommy Corcoran suspected the coach’s leg twitches and dug his spikes until he hit the board under which the shocker was tucked. Thus was spiked the Phillies’ prehistoric electrotheft, which began with third-string catcher Morgan Murphy hiding behind a center field ad using binoculars to get the opposing signs and relay them by buzzer to Chiles. As if that was liable to be the end of it.

The same year Billmeyer got bagged, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina caught on to someone in Petco Park’s center field camera well, in a Padres’ sport shirt, brandishing binoculars and clutching a walkie talkie while he was at it. If you think he was chatting between innings with his kids in the grandstands, I have a cane .45 to sell you cheap.

In this decade, maybe the second most suspected of baseball intelligence operations was the Blue Jays, mostly around their once-infamous Man in White — believed to be sitting behind center field in Rogers Centre relaying signs. There were those who believed he was in business up to and including the 2015 American League Championship Series.

And while last year the Indians (eliminated in the division series) warned the Red Sox (who won the pennant and the World Series) to beware Astro infiltration, the previous year a Red Sox trainer was caught deploying an Apple Watch to steal Yankee signs. Which may have been the pot dressing the kettle black: the Red Sox complained the Empire Emeritus used cameras of their YES broadcast network to spy on the Olde Towne Team in-game.

That provided the only known instance in which current commissioner Rob Manfred has punished anyone for espionage, fining the Red Sox and harrumphing that “all thirty clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

Lest you think baseball’s high-tech black bag jobbers get away with murder entirely, be advised. The 1899 Phillies finished third behind the National League pennant-winning Brooklyn Superbas (the Dodgers to be). The 1940 Tigers lost the World Series in seven to the Reds. The 1951 Giants were flattened by the Yankees in five in that Series. The 1960 Braves finished second and seven back of the pennant and World Series winning Pirates; the 1960 White Sox finished 10 back of the pennant-winning Yankees.

The 2010 Phillies won the National League East but lost the National League Championship Series to the Giants; the 2010 Padres finished second to the Giants in the NL West. The Blue Jays still haven’t been seen anywhere near the World Series since the Clinton Administration. The 2017 Red Sox got pushed to one side by the Astros in the division series.

Don’t even think about going there — yes, the hitter still has to hit the ball. But don’t kid yourself: it’s a lot easier to hit or lay off what you know is coming.

And, if you assume the Astros didn’t quite put the AIA out of business this year, it did them no favors in this year’s World Series. They had the postseason home-field advantage, but the Nats won the Series on the road entirely. And they were prepared — according to relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, every Nats pitcher was given five different sets of signs to switch up to just in case. If the Astros were stealing signs electronically this time around, it qualifies as maybe the single most inept case of spy-ops since the Watergate burglary.

Baseball government’s investigation won’t stop with just the Astros. Their disgraced former assistant general manager, Brandon Taubman, already facing further questions about taunting women reporters with their controversial trade to acquire then-domestic violence suspended Roberto Osuna, may be questioned about Astrogate. So might two former Astros — 2017 bench coach Alex Cora (now the Red Sox manager and with a 2018 World Series ring on his finger) and 2017 designated hitter Carlos Beltran (freshly hired to manage the Mets). And so may a good number of teams, with or without ex-Astros in the ranks.

Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer is known as a drone builder and lover. (He’s also known as a frequent Astro critic.) Before the 2019 All-Star Game in Cleveland — and before the Indians traded him to the Reds — Bauer deployed one of his mechanical flying pets to tour the empty park taking footage, demonstrating potential television broadcast advancement. On another occasion, a Bauer drone followed Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin running out a game-winning inside-the-park home run.

How large a jump would it prove to be from Bauer’s hobbying to a team developing enough drone expertise to hover them over the park on behalf of a new kind of in-game intelligence operation? Would baseball’s next great technological development then be not robot umpires, but teams developing strategic defense initiatives? (Will we spend the seventh-inning stretch singing, “Take me out to the spy games?”)

If Mike Fiers has hit the buzzer properly, and if baseball dicks perform the genuine Astrogate investigation the Astros may not prefer to do, Manfred isn’t long before having the chance to do something more than harrumph that he’s going to … be very, very angry at anyone caught playing “Smile! You’re on Candid Camera!” again.