MLB Star Power Index: Fernando Tatis Jr.’s home-run trot; Johnny Cueto’s seal shower; Jesús Aguilar’s last job


Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index — a weekly undertaking that determines with awful authority which players are dominating the current zeitgeist of the sport, at least according to the narrow perceptions of this miserable scribe. While one’s presence on this list is often celebratory in nature, it can also be for purposes of lamentation or ridicule. The players listed are in no particular order, just like the phone book.

Every pointing finger is an isthmus that reminds him he has but a wispy, fraying tether to mainland certainties and solaces. He is the pitcher, rendered lonesome by rules he did not author. 

Lo, the moundsman toils in solitude, on the Hill of No Others, because he is of but not for this human world. He has no home among us; thus, ergo, and therefore, it is requisite to his inner wellness that he seek and commune elsewhere. So very often the domain of beasts is the only place for him. 

Lucky, though, is the twirler who prefers it there, who has rightly grokked that the “lesser” kingdoms are kingdoms still. So it is with Johnny Cueto, who is known within those lesser kingdoms as “Good Buddy to the Semi-Aquatic.” By way of evidence for this stirring claim, please witness this recent bit of relevant fellowship: 

Why does a seal, who spends a preponderance of its waking hours in the sea, enjoy a blast of hose water? Because seals refer to hose water as “rainwine” on account of its power to reliably drunken. You wouldn’t know this unless you were a seal or unless you were Johnny Cueto. To your eternal diminution, you are neither. 

At its bright and shining heart, the home run trot is act of savoring, not provocation. It is the spoils of toil, the reward for reaching and surpassing one’s sales goals — typically by getting the customer to believe you’re not sure if your manager will approve the steep discount you’re offering. 

It is, while nourishing yourself with delicious and restorative potato chips, admiring the new or used/new to you car you just purchased:

This, naturally enough, brings us to Padres house of thunder Fernando Tatis Jr. and his recent home-run trot, which is good enough to merit inclusion in this episode and thus do the necessary work of advancing the word count thereof: 

That little case of hoppity-skippers on display as he approached third base? That was the moment he admired his new car while eating potato chips — barbecue potato chips. 

Fernando Tatis Jr., may the chips go down as easy as hose-water, and may the wheels, if preowned, have a lil’ bit of warranty left. 

The job would be his last, Jesús Aguilar told himself. After this, he was getting out of the gum-heel racket for good. Key West, maybe. Had a line on a dive for sale down there. Call in some old markers, and he could make it happen without taking on much juice from the loan shark. “Easy work, see?” Donnie Mats from Miami told him over the horn and snapped him out of it. “Here’s the dope. Gang of trouble boys from Arizona. Need their signs, see? Leave your bean-shooter at the office. You still have it stuck on that magnet on the underside of your middle desk drawer? No need to burn powder. Easy work, I said.”

“How much cabbage is in it for me?” asked Jesús Aguilar. “You know my rates.”

“Case of unmarked centuries in a locker at the bus station and a deck of Luckies. Half up front, half after I get the signs. Maybe don’t put it on the ponies at Los Alamitos this time. If the bangtails don’t get you, the vigorish will. Desperation doesn’t suit you.”

“I lose, but I’m not a loser.”

“Sure, sure, kid. Need you to dust out for a bit after the job’s done, just until the stove cools. Mexico’s nice this time of year. Don’t need you catching a Chicago overcoat over this one, at least not while you’re still useful, see?”

“You said leave the roscoe behind. What if I need to squirt metal?”

“It’s a cinch, I told you.” He could hear Donnie Mats cup his palm over the mouthpiece for a few seconds. “Plane ticket to Phoenix will be under your door tomorrow by dawn. Bird leaves bright and early. You’re ‘Edgar Steele’ for the next 72 hours.”

“Fella could get used to that.”

“Cherry red Chevy Bel-Air will be on the west side of the airfield. Keys on top of the right front tire. Address to the warehouse above the visor. Park in the alley. Use the boiler afterward only if you need to lam off. Otherwise, I got a bindle-stiff who’ll torch it just after nightfall. That’s the crop.”

“Any brunos I need to keep eyes on?”

“Nah, cased it for days. Use the service entrance if you need to take it on the heel and toe. Easy mark if you don’t tip your mitt.”

“Better be. I aim to be pouring snorts and tiger milk for butter-and-eggers by spring.”  

“Fresh kid named Bingo Longinus keeps the signs on his arm. A real palooka, this one. Paste him on the beezer if you need to.”

“Easy work, yeah?”

“Duck soup, baby, like I been saying.”


The twin-engine to Phoenix was as creaky as the third floor of a flophouse, and Jesús Aguilar didn’t breathe easy until the heap touched down on a strip of desert as blonde as Veronica Lake after a peroxide job. The Bel-Air was where it was supposed to be, and he made his way to the warehouse using the Arizona road map that was in the glove box. 

He parked out back, fished the barrel-hinge Zippo from the pocket of his pleated, high-waisted gabardine trousers, lit a Chesterfield, and dragged on it while making note of where the egress windows were and which of them appeared to have the sashes painted shut. He spied a newsie eyeballing him from the sidewalk. “Scram, kid,” Jesús Aguilar said. “Trying to make a buck over here.”

“You got a plan, mister?” The newsie asked.

“Yeah, I got a plan,” Jesús Aguilar said too quietly for anyone else to hear.

He mashed out the Chesterfield butt with his wingtips, climbed the steps, and raised the sectional pull door on loading dock No. 3. Behind the door was Bingo Longinus, on one knee inspecting a crate of imported raw silk. The signs were on his arm, just like Donnie Mats said they’d be. He looked up. “Edgar Steele” ambled over to him and  …  

The plan didn’t work.





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