The Last Third

As we say goodbye to perhaps the last truly enjoyable World Cup in history, we need to realize that it is not a dream, it is a fact: the next one, in 2022, will be held in Qatar. Will the next Winter Olympics be staged in Death Valley? What the hell, it needs a little work but there are millions of euros and dollars and bitcoins to be made. They know about money in Qatar, a nation of 2.6 million people who enjoy the highest per capita income in the world. Football (soccer) in the desert! Oh well, we Americans have golf in the desert, don’t we? We celebrate diversity, at least on paper, but this is more like culture clash. Qatar is mainly under Sharia law. Alcohol consumption and illicit sexual relations are punishable by flogging. That might actually be preferable to what happens to miscreants here, who are often forced to endure game shows and televised poker. Apostasy and homosexuality are punishable by death. Apostasy, for all of you numerous  secular folks out there, would be equivalent, in the United States, to not liking barbecue.

How does FIFA make these decisions? Despite my access to Wikipedia, which knows everything, I don’t know. I suspect, though, that it is much like the way that the International Olympic Committee operates, in that wire transfers and luggage containing suitable forms  of currency insure that fairness applies in the selection of sites.

They don’t have any Putin or Trump types in Qatar. It’s a family affair, and guys like that are a waste of money. They have an emir, part of the Al Thani dynasty that has been ruling since 1825. The current dude is Tamim binHamad Al Thani and he gets his dough from natural gas and oil reserves.  The best thing that can be said about Qatar is that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates have cut off diplomatic ties with them.

Meanwhile, the major league baseball season slogs on toward the dog days. They call everything after the All Star Game the second half, but arithmetically it is really the last third. What significant things can be tallied after the first 98 games or so?

  1. THE KANSAS CITY ROYALS ARE DONE FOR
  2. FIRING MIKE MATHENY WON’T IMPROVE THE CARDINALS DEFENSE
  3. BRYCE HARPER WILL NOT WIN THE TRIPLE CROWN
  4. CLEVELAND WINS THE CENTRAL ON THREE WHEELS
  5. MILWAUKEE HAS PROBABLY PEAKED
  6. ATTENDANCE WILL CONTINUE TO FALTER IN MORE PLACES
  7. PRESIDENT TWEETY WILL ATTEND NO GAMES
  8. OAKLAND WILL CONTINUE TO BE A PLEASANT SURPRISE
  9. THE RAYS WILL NOT MOVE TO OKLAHOMA CITY
  10. WIN OR LOSE, BRUCE BOCHY WILL RETIRE IN NOVEMBER

Hello, Goodbye

The end of the regular season in Major League Baseball always marks beginnings and endings but 2021 seems particularly more that way. Rob Manfred is the new clown prince of baseball, but Max Patkin was funnier. The man who brought us the A.I. runner on second base for extra innings surpassed the Chevy salesman who brought us the tie All Star Game with that move and added the relievers who had to face three batters plus the beginning of the end for minor leagues. This is a happy time for fans so let’s drop the negativity for now except for one last mournful cry of “I hate the designated sitter!” Pitchers batting is going the way of the hit and run play, the pitchout, and the sacrifice bunt so here is a fond thank you to San Francisco Giants hero Logan Webb who singled, walked, and homered while pitching the Giants to an 11-4 win, their 107th, which put the Dodgers in the Wild Card game. Go Cardinals.

Hello and welcome to Shohei Ohtani, speaking of slugging pitchers, and let us hope in the wee hours of the night when our wishes seem possible, that the Garden Grove Angels get some pitching before next season so that Anthony Rendon, Mike Trout, and Ohtani can contend for real. A happy salute also goes out to Dusty Baker for maintaining dignity and respect for the game while leading the maligned Houston Astros to another American League West title. Hats off to Alex Cora, another fine gentleman, for giving the Boston Red Sox some astute leadership as they face the Yankees. Some credit is also grudgingly due the New Yorkers for overcoming their terrible start. So there, I said it, now shut up.

Kudos as well for the Milwaukee Brewers, who for a while looked really strong but now look not so hot compared to the late sizzling St’Louis Cardinals. Hey, Brewers, you might have slipped in at least one win against the current World Champs in that last weekend series, but congratulations. Bryce Harper lived up to hype this time but let’s bear in mind that, like Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, he plays in a P.O.N.Y. league yard.

I’m feeling sad for Juan Soto and his manager Dave Martinez. The Washington Nationals, just two years after winning it all, just totally, inexplicably, gave up and sent Max Scherzer and Trea Turner to the Dodgers for three autographed photos of Jay Leno and a young, talented team fell to the outhouse. Whoops, there I went getting negative again. While I’m at it, don’t worry, Baltimore and Pittsburgh fans, the ’71 and ’79 World Series are still on film.

This just might be the year that the Tampa Bay Rays go all the way. Lots of talent and smarts in that organization. They were actually able to trade talented young Willy Adames away because they had another very good shortstop named Wander Franco. I guess I will also have to suck it up and say that the Chicago White Sox looked good all year while I root for the Astros to beat them.

The Answer Man…He Delivers

One never knows how the decisions one makes early in life will turn out. What seems to be important as a youth may eventually dissolve into petty crap, while things not taken seriously when we are still squeezing zits may some day become really big deals. For instance, when I first went away to Punditry School, I assumed that it would be years and years before anybody actually would be interested in my opinions to the point of actually asking me to explain what they were. Now, decades and decades have gone by, and I regularly receive what Howard Cosell would have called a veritable plethora of electronic mail begging for my wisdom. Of course, I can’t answer them all because that would be more like an actual job, but I will share some of the more numerous questions and answers for the benefit of you boneheads out there.

Here is one from Justin Thyme in Middletown, Connecticut: I watch a lot of baseball on TV. Between and during innings I see a bunch of ads referring to 5G. I don’t know what that means, but I’m afraid to let anyone know that. Can you help?

Sure, Justin, no problem as we say in the biz. That’s one dollar more than 4,999.

Question number two comes from Greta Ryan in Bethesda, Maryland: There were certainly a large number of trades at this year’s deadline. Do you think some teams have helped themselves enough to make a difference? Greta,this most recent orgy of contract swapping creates a lot of hype and talk but leaves me uneasy. I think it most represents the kind of short sighted business thinking attributable to modern capitalism rather than baseball savvy, like advertising on umpires’ uniforms, abandoning the minor leagues, naming ball yards after fly by night corporations, and all sorts of other avaricious tactics. The idea was that, before the season begins, each team does its best to create rosters that can compete for championships, or at least be entertaining for it fans.

Stop snickering, you Baltimore people. Even then, the media folks begin speculating about what players with big contracts might “be moved” if their teams are “struggling” by mid season. Moved. of course, to a team that “has a shot at the post season”. Whereas, when I was a lad and people still read newspapers and listened to the radio, the Yankees were the only team that bought players during the season and the A’s were the usual sellers, every team potentially gets involved now. Not “getting help” is an indication that management has “given up” or “doesn’t care” and players on those teams are apt to get butt hurt. On the other hand, satisfying a need (to get a little sexy here) shows fans and players that you “are going for it now” and is often stimulating, at least for a while. It’s always a gamble, of course, but gambling is all very much okay in professional sports today, ain’t it? Not much thought is given to what the actual people who get traded feel about any of this. So, yes, Greta, look what happened! The Yankees did their thing, and it may have worked. Joey Gallo! Anthony Rizzo! Maybe Andrew Heany can pitch a few innings. Max Scherzer going to the Dodgers will certainly put them over the top, right? Daniel Hudson and Jake Marisnick to the Padres will not be making a big difference but the GM can say he tried. What the Chicago Cubs did, however, was downright cruel. Remember 2016? Screw it, man, this is now! Javier Baez, bye bye baby! Anthony Rizzo, take that leadership ability and shrinking batting average to the P.O.N.Y. League park where it can do some good. Kris Bryant, take your all around skills and versatility out of here! Bryant, at least, seemed to like the idea. Cubs owners, whoever they have been, have long known that they are going to get good crowds no matter how bad they are so let’s have a 13 game losing streak and save some dough. Craig Kimbrel to the White Sox. A pox on ’em. So it all leaves a sour taste but I’m happy for whoever is truly made happier

Christopher Gray of Ferndale, California has our third question: Don’t get me wrong. I make a good living as a UPS driver and I know that major league ballplayers are entitled to whatever salary they can attain, but isn’t it a bit “in your face” to see these guys with their gold chains dangling while they are playing what used to be a working person’s game?

Yes. Javier Baez lost an ear ring during a celebration the other day and it was a bit embarrassing to watch everybody look for it in vain. It is understandable that, for instance, a young person for the Dominican Republic might be a bit proud to suddenly have a lot of money to spend. If I was the manager, as likely a happening as Elon Musk buying us all season tickets, I would ban jewelry on the playing field. It’s unattractive except to thieves.

Our final question of the day comes from Tara Weathers in Donora, Pennsylvania: You really were ragging on the Oakland Athletics a couple of pieces ago. They are always good so what’s your problem?

Tara, my problems are many. In the case of the A’s, as usual it is ownership. Oakland California is one of the great cities of the United States. It is the birthplace or home of some of the greatest athletes in history. Consequently, Oakland has a sports fan base of some of the most faithful and knowledgeable people in the world. So, of course, those people get royally screwed regularly. Al Davis moved the Raiders to L.A., came back to Oakland long enough to get the Coliseum ruined for baseball, and now his son has pimped that team to Vegas. The NBA Warriors left San Francisco for Oakland and entertained a very solid group of fans for years and won some titles and then went back to San Francisco. Not Vegas, but still…The current owner of the baseball team wants a new stadium. They could have demolished the one Davis ruined and built a better one in the same spot but that idea appears to be dead in the water. He wants the city of Oakland and Alameda County to basically front the money for a huge building program not just for a ball yard but also a shopping and hotel complex that will make him money forever. If they don’t, he is threatening to also go to Vegas, which would be as close to Hell as baseball could get. The A’s should be in Oakland and, in this time of pandemic and almost certain economic trouble, he should build his own store.

So, folks, as you can see, this punditry business is hardscrabble and bitter. He never took my advice about how to speak coherent sentences, but Joe Buck still should have paid me. That’s how it goes.

Sunburned World of Sports

It’s a smell like burning oil eminent from the carcass of freedom and democracy these days. Fraudulent political demagogues repeat shameful lies in the lame pursuit of corrupt power and worthless riches while we, the ignorant mass of propagandized screen worshipers, seek distraction from wherever it may come. Many of our false idols have been athletes. We don’t really like it when they are revealed to be human. We prefer soft piano and strings with the pictures of their rising above us all to accept the gold.

The talented and thoughtful sports writer for the San Francisco Chronicle Ann Killion has aptly described the Olympics as a television show. I’ve seen it like that for decades now, calling it the Schmolympics while many friends regard my snide remarks as nothing more than my usual un-American ranting. This year, however, it is more starkly obvious. Yes. I admire most of the athletes for their skill and very hard work. No, I don’t dig the schmaltzy faux patriotism that comes gurgling across the airwaves. Nor the way that the television producers tend to emphasize whatever the United States participants are doing. The Japanese people didn’t want this but who cares? There is a lot of money at stake here. If Simone Biles wants to go all mental on us, we’ll just have to find another star. The pandemic is still hanging around, spoiling everybody’s party. Those nervous athletes need to suck it up and smile for the cameras. We’ve got sponsors that have bags of money and cryptocurrency to give us and we need it. We did the MLB and the NBA and the NFL without any slobs in the stands and we can do this too.

Climate change, wars during the pandemic, mass murders, it’s all making us a little crazy. I mean, why don’t we talk about the trade deadline instead, okay? Where will Kris Bryant go? Hey, look, the Oakland A’s got Andrew Chafin! Will the Giants get Max Scherzer? Do the Yankees still have a voracious appetite for small market stars?

Biles said, “I feel like I’m also not having as much fun. This Olympic Games, I wanted it to be for myself but I felt like I was still doing it for other people…doing what I love has been kind of taken away from me to please other people.” Some clods undoubtedly will say that she is being selfish.. Horse pucky. What has been woefully forgotten is that athletic games do start out as fun. That is still the best reason to play them. In this crumbling culture, there is no real fun anymore. Everything needs to be monetized. preferably under the control of soul lacking creeps like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates. And one other thing: it’s a whole lot better to play than to watch. Not enough of us seem to know that.

Shohei and the Juniors

The 2021 Major League Baseball season has been full of surprises both on and off the field but the very first mystery that needs be cleared up is, without doubt, why the heck are all of the umpires wearing those weird patches on their shirts that say FTX? I kept waiting for an announcer to clue me in, but so far even the great Hall of Fame guy, Jon Miller, has let me down. Unless, of course, I missed it. According to the corporate robots at MLB, my tedious research has revealed, “FTX is our first ever umpire uniform patch partner.” They go on to add that sports have been a proven marketing tool and that FTX is a cryptocurrency exchange. They don’t give us nickels for empty pop bottles, so here’s hoping that their enterprise goes right down the sewer.

Really, though, the most exciting development of the season so far, the Yankees losing notwithstanding, has been the emergence of Shohei Ohtani. The Babe Ruth comparisons don’t really jibe but oh my! as Dick Enberg would say. Since 2018, when he began his Anaheim career after a few good seasons in Japan, he has clubbed 81 home runs in 344 games. Currently, he leads the majors in homers this year. Plus, he pitches very well. I sincerely hope that all of you advocates for the universal DH are taking note of that. Now, as a member of the Baby Boomer generation that is beginning to crowd the cemeteries nationwide,I realize that we can’t go back. We can’t go back to the way things were before 1973 or even 2020. Designated sitters are entrenched in the game now, just like popcorn, beer, and mountains of statistics. People have been successfully brainwashed that pitchers batting is boring, even more boring than Dave Kingman. Coaches don’t teach bunting or the hit and run et cetera. It would take years to re-establish situational batting and all of that. Still, it does the heart good to see any pitcher that can rake. Thank you, Shohei.

Another very fun thing has been the juniors. Specifically, I mean Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. and Fernando Tatis, Jr. They are both 22 years old and they are both very good. Guerrero has 32 homers and 79 runs batted in for the Toronto-Buffalo-Florida Blue Jays, playing corner infield spots and DH. He is big, six feet and two inches tall and a reported 250 pounds, so maybe his career won’t last as long as his dad’s, but he sure is fun now. Since 2019, young Tatis has hit 68 homers in 223 games and he does everything well except stay healthy. Plus he is a gifted shortstop, so the Padres are happy.

Those two are the best, but there are several sons of former major league ballplayers around these days. Toronto has kind of cornered the market. Besides Guerrero, they have Bo Bichette, a 23 year old shortstop who is the son of Dante Bichette, and Cavan Biggio, a 26 year old second baseman whose father is Craig Biggio , who was once a Killer Bee. Pittsburgh boasts Ke’Bryan Hayes,23, whose father also played third base for the Phillies, Giants, and Rockies. Cam Bedrosian, 29 years old, is a pitcher now for Oakland but previously for Anaheim since 2014. Raul Mondesi has a son named Adalberto, 25, who stole 24 bases for Kansas City last year and plays a good shortstop when healthy. Another junior, Delino DeShields, is at AAA Round Rock currently but has played for the Rangers since 2015. Daz Cameron, son of Mike Cameron, is playing some outfield for the Detroit Tigers at age 24. Ryan Weathers, the son of former pitcher David Weathers, has made eleven starts pitching for San Diego.

Why do I feel old sometimes? Well, there is also a grandson. Mike Yastrzemski is 30 and playing well in the Giants’ outfield, and I remember when grandpa Carl Yastrzemski was a rookie replacing Ted Williams for Boston.

So it looks like we will have interesting races for the next two months if the killer virus remains somewhat under control. If so, it will help us forget the runner on second in extra innings, sticky stuff, the horrible thing being done to Oakland Athletic fans, 7 inning doubleheader games, and how boring ESPN Sunday nights have become. I’ll save my rant about Joe Buck talking to All Star players while they are playing for another time.

Three Two Pitch Is Fouled Back

Finally, I have solved two puzzles that have been messing with my nap times. Both have to do with Topic A, which, with the all but disappearance of the casino and pro wrestling maggot from the front pages, has become, of course, the pandemic. My first mystery was, how did Microsoft swine Bill Gates suddenly gain the title “philanthropist”? I mean, he is way ahead of the Andrew Carnegie/ John D. Rockefeller curve here. Well, it turns out that Pfizer, the company that raced to be first in supplying vaccines for a terrified populace, brought in $3.5 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2021. With a profit margin estimated to be 20 per cent, one would think that that helps pay for a little overtime. And Mr. Gates, who long ago placed himself right smack in the middle of the vaccination game, will soon have more to “give away”. The other puzzle had been why, with sports in general but baseball in particular , are we suddenly seeing such a surge in the demand for change in the rules? I mean everyone has been trying, for an entire year now, to continue on with games despite the fact that spectators have been severely limited if not completely banned from the venues where the games are taking place. Is the television money that good? Apparently it is.

So that means, with little or no people in attendance, that the television has become boss. Consequently, the same corporate Schmidlaps that have been routinely ruining most of the fun things in life are in charge of what used to be called the National Pastime before it got replaced by Staring At Little Electronic Stuff. We all know that marketing whizzes make one big assumption before they begin their days, and that is that no one really likes the thing they are selling, so they have to trick us all into thinking we like it.

The first indicator that this premise is accurate is the assumption that baseball games take too long to play. It’s a phony issue. Americans by and large do not feel that time spent in front of a television set is wasted. Are they still called sets? I mean, back when I was still watching football, I saw actual people who really did watch the halftime shows. Marching bands and people dressed up like wild animals, gripping stuff like that. So there is not really any hurry. Television executives want a clock on everything. They need to know just how many times they can show us all the same ridiculous ads during every show, I mean game, so that the revenue stream is fully predictable. Remember the “Heidi” game? They don’t like stuff like that. And since their gig is revenue, there has been a gradual but relentless shift over the decades away from selling beer and gasoline to working slobs who used to play a little ball in their day to selling insurance, candy, pet food, whatever to , shall we say, a broader range of eager consumers who may or may not know the difference between Shohei Ohtani and Charlie Sheen. The kind of ” casual fan” that might be attracted to a contest consisting of numerous full counts, sporadic home runs and repeated strikeouts while really hoping for a bench clearing brawl for whatever reason is the viewer they seek. We don’t really like all of the “boring stuff” like squeeze plays, singles, or pitchers holding runners. So pitchers batting is out, even though, as previously pointed out, the Designated Sitter has only added two tenths of one run per game.

Also, since we don’t really like the game, let’s have double headers consist of two seven inning, rather than nine inning games. Actually, COVID19 concerns make this new rule acceptable but look for it to become permanent after this season.

They are talking about making rule changes to eliminate defensive shifts. I remember liking cricket because the defense was not so well defined so I think I would prefer the Ty Cobb solution to the Ted Williams solution. The Splinter said “To hell with that, you can’t get me out anyway..” and he proved it but the Peach would have hit it where they weren’t.

As for having artificial intelligence runners at second base to start extra innings, a month of seeing this has convinced me that, yes, it is just as stupid as it seemed a month ago. If you don’t like baseball, watch something else or go for a walk. There are some really talented young players in the game right now. Ohtani is one of them and he brings back warm thoughts of complete baseball players like Martin Dihigo, Double Duty Radcliffe, and Bullet Joe Rogan in the Negro Leagues not so very long ago. Specialty players like designated sitters are for the huge corporation types that operate remotely and don’t really know the game they are (not) playing.

Wrong Again

There I went again, getting it wrong. Specifically, I was sure that the 2021 baseball season was not going to happen because the pandemic was not going to allow it with people ignoring all the warnings and happily infecting each other with the killer virus at every opportunity to gather in large groups.

I’m very happy to have been wrong, of course, and it’s great to see the game being played again without cardboard cutouts in the stands. As regular readers already know, it’s not the first time I’ve been wrong. As a mature, emotionally balanced adult, I will admit my mistakes but not dwell on them. Like most folks, I will only dwell on other people’s mistakes. Continuing in confessional mode, I am still a bit stuck in the Rip Van Winkle thing because I didn’t really pay much attention last season until the playoffs started so I don’t have the usual amount of knowledge with regard to rosters and can’t pretend to be able to tell what teams are strong and what teams aren’t, but I’m sure that I will catch up. I know Sergio Romo is still around somewhere, but did Dustin Pedroia really retire?

Everyone appears to believe that the Chicago White Sox have become one of the best teams in the major leagues and now they have the astronomically over rated Tony LaRussa back as manager but all I can say is okay boomer. As usual, the Dodgers and Yankees are media favorites to meet in the 2021 World Series, but I will need to see a few dozen http://baseballreference.comgames first and besides my disdain for both organizations is still deeply seated.

As for the new rules, I am going to come across as a grumpy, recalcitrant, probably constipated old fart but I don’t care. I was raised to stand for what is right and good, not necessarily what is popular or “trending”. After 2020, when the designated sitter position became “universal”, meaning both leagues used it, even stalwarts who long favored pitchers batting began to become converts to the idea. Even my man Tim Kurkjian joined the crowd of unholy blasphemers. Jessica Mendoza wants the DH too. I am saddened but not crushed. Why am I such a holdout, incapable of acknowledging the inevitable? Because, first: the idea that both the National League and the American league need to be identical in every way is, to be impolite, bullshit. In fact, the two leagues are better off having differences. All of this homogenization crap began when the league presidents’ offices were done away with and umpires no longer worked for one league or the other. It’s part of the American system of not allowing any such thing as competition and we probably have to look at our old friends in the television business for culpability here. Having actually different leagues is as bad to them as suggesting that Taco Bell’s latest bastardization of authentic Mexican food isn’t worth eating. Because, second: Mendoza noted in her opinion that what everyone seemed to want was more scoring. To me, that is questionable. I mean, why? Perhaps the answer is that, for people who haven’t played the game or otherwise learned to appreciate it, more runs equal more excitement. The “casual viewer” thinks 1-0 is boring. I have heard actual live people say that American football is superior to international soccer because there are more points scored. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that 17-10 is more fun than 3-2, especially when you get all of those huddles and time outs because beer makes me have to pee. At any rate, if adding the designated sitter had the objective of increasing the number of runs scored, it worked very well. In 1972, 6,441 runs were scored in the American League. Among the twelve teams, that meant that the average was 3.31 runs per game were scored. In 1973, the very first DH season, the American League scored 8,314 runs, or 4.276 runs per game per team, an increase of almost one run per game for each side. Now let’s jump all the way to 2006, when all of those A.L. teams had enjoyed three decades plus of no bats in the hands of inept pitchers but, instead, had found happy homes on the benches for players who were not so good at catching ground balls or fly balls and otherwise might be unemployed except for the fact that they could still occasionally hit a ball over the wall. Of course, by 2006, players had (ahem) better nutrition and closer fences and all that as well, but the runs were plentiful. The 14 American League teams scored 11,262 runs that year, or 4.966 per team per game. Imagine all of those highlight shows of balls leaving the yard and guys circling the bases and pointing to the sky! Ah, but guess what? In the same season, National League teams scored 12,338 runs which, for the 16 teams meant an average of 4.76 runs per game for each team. That is a whole two tenths of a run less than the vaunted designated sitter league. Wow! But mostly because, third: The designated sitter spread all over the game and was not confined to the major leagues. Amateur players are made into specialists at far too young an age. Don’t like hard balls bouncing off your shins? That’s okay, just hit it hard. We’ll find a place for you. Just like pitching and don’t want to try to hit the curve ball? Dude, just work on throwing it 100 miles per hour. You’ll get to play. All the stuff that used to be confined to senior slow pitch softball has spread all the way down to little league. No one is feeling any pressure to work on their whole game. This attitude will have the long term affect of making the game a lot less fun for all concerned.

I am not nostalgic for all of the old ways from the days of Ty Cobb and Rogers Hornsby because I think nothing should ever change. I just know that, when pitchers bat and batters field it maintains the concept of team in a better way. Sacrifice bunts and squeeze plays can be very exciting. The hit and run play has always mystified me but I like it when I see it work. Home run derby and strikeouts galore do not entertain me. Great defense, triples, and smart pitching by hurlers who have learned how to bunt and field and run the bases entertains me a lot.

As for the three batter minimum for relief pitchers, try again Manfred Manne. To shorten games, let’s have one commercial per half inning. And ten pitchers per roster.

And the runner on second at the beginning of any extra inning? The idea is to get a result, but both teams get the same deal. Bush league. Not even bush league. Play ball.

Despite all this grousing, it’s really good to have our game back. Now it’s time for me to catch up.

 

 

 

I Woke Up Woke

I had a term for my friends who would sometimes, back in the day as we say, get so involved with their “partying” that they could not remember things that occurred while they were in that presumably happy state. I would refer to them as Ripped Van Winkle. I should not assume that everybody knows the story of Rip Van Winkle because that assumes that everybody reads or gets read to them all of the books and stories that I enjoyed back in my youth, which was so long ago that people had telephones merely for talking to each other. Rip Van Winkle, a fictional character in a story written by American author Washington Irving, takes a walk in the Catskill Mountains purportedly to temporarily get away from his nagging wife. He runs into a strange group in the woods and imbibes some of their mysterious liquor and, tying one on for the ages, falls asleep for twenty years. While he slept, the American Revolutionary War began and ended and his beard grew by a foot. When he awakes, he goes back home but doesn’t recognize anyone. It all eventually works out. To me, the best part was that Rip had a dog named Wolf.

I had a similar experience a few months ago. I was hospitalized for a week and that week proved two important things to me which I will now reveal. First, the health care system in the United States is just any other business like casinos and dope smuggling and selling iPhones and the fact that it is considered an industry is a national disgrace. Second, it is absolutely assured that nurses and other healthcare workers are some of the hardest working, compassionate, and skilled people on the planet and I will be eternally grateful for their care and love. So I slept a lot. Some of the dreams I had were nightmares and some of the waking hours were like that too but mostly I was treated very well while at the same time I was quite anxious to get the hell out of there.

Even after I got back home I was sleeping a lot while recovering. After one of those long nights, I woke up feeling like the world had changed. So had I, or so it seemed. The mundane matters no longer held my interest. life was far too short to remain hung up about relatively trivial things. If people like Trevor Bauer were being rewarded for mediocre careers with wildly inflated salaries, so what? It’s not my money. If certifiable idiots like Rob Manfred wanted to alter the game beyond recognition with ridiculous rule changes, let it be. If owners of teams with loyal fan bases like the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Oakland Athletics decide that winning isn’t important as long as they get TV money, calm down and accept life for what it is. They can’t all be Buster Posey or Mike Trout. Stop yearning for the days of Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, Tom Seaver and Gil Hodges and Chuck Tanner. The time may soon again be upon us when young boys and girls are free and healthy enough to get together and play just for the fun of it. I feel like Rip Van Winkle about a lot of things. Music, for instance. Now, with the help of Apple and others, we have dozens and dozens of what they call genres. Where did all of that come from and where was I when it happened? Like, what is House? Happy spring training everybody.

Pandemic Ball

Before there was Curt Flood, there was Ty Cobb—almost. The major league baseball season in 1918 was abruptly halted with a month left and many games to be played. There was a huge, disastrous influenza pandemic going on then but the big reason that games had to be halted was that most constant feature of the history of civilization—war. America, or at least its business leaders, wanted to help Great Britain, its old pal, destroy Germany. Many professional baseball players were being drafted into the armed forces or were volunteering. Cobb signed up for a job that was apt for his personality, being a flame thrower. In addition, that June Provost Marshall General Crowder had issued a “work or fight” order that meant to force all draft age men to either join the military or go to work in “essential” industries. Baseball did not have television executives around in those days to explain how essential baseball players were.

The owners were all fairly well to do in 1918 but they tended to be individuals like Jacob Ruppert or Charles Comiskey rather than investor groups like we have today so the scale of business was smaller and more easily managed. They were patriotic and generous then, as well, just like what we have today. Each of the leagues, the established National and the adolescent American, had presidents to guide them on their righteous courses but there was not yet a commissioner over both leagues because no one had tried to fix a World Series. Anyway, the owners saved themselves a bundle in payroll due to the aborted season. What they granted to the players was that the players would all be released from their contracts. All would become free agents. Now, legal beagles among us will recognize that what has been called the reserve clause meant that a player could negotiate a new contract only with whatever team he had signed with previously. There was no freedom of movement except for retirement. Now, with this move, the owners had made free agents of all players. That was going to destroy the thing that was helping the owners make lots of money and not have to constantly be rebuilding their teams. Ty Cobb counted among his skills the ability to hit, to steal bases. to play a good outfield, and, especially, to negotiate contracts. When World War I was essentially over and the press inquired of Cobb as to if and where he might play when the 1919 season began, he replied that he expected the owners to be competitive. No such luck, players, the owners secretly agreed to keep their hands off each others’ property and everybody just went back to work.

Now here we are in 2021 and what the heck is going on? Well, just about everybody who doesn’t still believe in the Lizard People realizes that there is a real pandemic going on that has claimed the lives of over half a million people here in the United States alone. Nevertheless, whistling while they work, Major League Baseball is going almost full blast. Players are getting traded, free agents are signing big contracts and, holy mackerel, there is a Grapefruit League and a Cactus League getting done. We are going to have a 162 game schedule, say the players and the owners. Arizona and Florida, two of the hottest hot spots for the virus and its mutants, are going to be busy. Can this really be true? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m wishing it were so and would love it as much as anyone. But I need some kind of super pill to swallow to help me suspend disbelief.

 

Hall of Ghosts

We were like ants, like they used to tell us it was with the Chinese, so many of us that, if half of us went missing, there would still be lots more. Just the numbers alone made us special. War babies. That was the original term before “baby boom” made us “baby boomers” and then, as we progressed from being agents of change in various succeeding markets like housing, school building, 45 RPM records, LPs, cars, drugs, prisons, assisted living centers, and now crematoriums, it is simply “boomers”.

Of course, many of us didn’t make it all the way to senior status. A large segment of the lower income bracket boomers went to war and never came back. Others fell by the wayside the way people normally do and insurance company executives have made all of the necessary adjustments.

One hundred and seven former major league baseball players died in 2020. I don’t know if that is a high number or a low number or an average number (Bill James probably knows) but it has been a significant year for deaths of all kinds and some really significant players have passed from the scene this year. The significance is tied to the Boomer thing, as the late father of one of our three boomer presidents may have put it. That’s because so many of those men were prominent in the big leagues that we the boomers have been following from our earliest days. I remember folks my parents’ age spending a lot of their conversational time talking about so and so or what’s her name who just died and thinking, damn, they sure do talk about death a lot. Well, now that’s us. We boomers spent a lot of time, 50 years or so it seems, coming of age but here it is. Half the Beatles are dead and have been for some time. All of the Rolling Stones have been dead for some time but no one has told them all. Dylan just looks like it.

I can’t recall all 107 players who died in 2020 and will only mention some but it’s a difficult thing to grasp. For instance, if you graduated from high school in the mid sixties there was a team in St. Louis that was really special. They won it all over the end of empire Yankees in 1964, won a great World Series over the Boston Red Sox in 1967, and then blew a 3-1 lead in games in’68 to the Detroit Tigers. Two great competitors who made all of that possible were Bob Gibson, the fiery right handed pitcher, and Lou Brock, the base stealing outfielder who also hit for average and power. It’s hard to imagine the world without them.

Much of the winning in the 1970s occurred in Cincinnati after the Reds acquired second baseman Joe Morgan from the Houston Astros. He was equivalent to Willie Mays in his ability to beat his opponent by hitting, running, stealing bases, and fielding. He also played well for a long time and then entertained us with his astute analysis in the television booth.

Al Kaline made it to just one World Series but his steady magnificence for the Detroit Tigers was an excellent example of skill and grace and good manners. Don Larsen had a mostly mediocre career but his moment to shine in the 1956 World Series was unforgettable as he threw a perfect game against the hard hitting Brooklyn Dodgers. I’m no Yankee lover but Whitey Ford was the very definition of a money pitcher as the lefty piled up win after win, especially in the “post season”, which in his day meant the World Series. Speaking of lefties, Johnny Antonelli was one of the first big winners of my youth as his 1954 Giants swept my favored Cleveland Indians. Another very good lefty who passed this year was Mike McCormick, who won the Cy Young award for the Giants in 1967. The Toy Cannon, Jimmy Wynn, was a great power hitting and speedy outfielder who was one of Houston’s first big stars.

It’s also very hard to imagine the world without Tom Seaver. The so called Miracle Mets of 1969 were actually not such a miracle because they had the strong man from Fresno out there twice a week to keep them in the game for at least nine innings. He had to wear a few other uniforms before he was through but I have to think of Tom Terrific as a Met.

The arguments will continue as to whether Dick “Sleepy” Allen should be in the Hall of Fame. When someone suddenly passes it is a natural thing to begin to think better thoughts about him and he certainly has the credentials. Beyond that he was a good strong man and a great all around athlete and team mate. Rest in peace, Dick, and all of you others. One last personal note. Biff Pocoroba also died this year. He was no contender for the Hall of Fame. I mean no disrespect, but Biff was a family favorite just because of his name. When my son and I would play Whiffleball in the yard, we would often use his name in announcing the next batter and start to giggle. Because his name kind of said what he was–a power hitting catcher. His best year was 1977, when he had 24 doubles, 8 homers, and 44 runs batted in. He played his entire career with the Atlanta Braves. And we don’t just miss the stars, because what we love is the game.

The No Ball Era

We have a smart television now. We were content to hobble along with our clumsy, fat old set despite its obvious limitations but our son took mercy on either us or it a while back and bought us one of the slim ones with the huge screen so we could count Joe Buck’s nose hairs. It is mostly resting now since the 2020 World Series ended but we do use it for watching movies or old episodes of Fargo or some such streaming stuff. My smart TV thinks I live in Tulsa. I don’t want to give too much away but from where I live you can’t drive to Tulsa in one day. Still, it’s kind of fun to get Oklahoma regional news headlines and comforting to know that other areas of this great land of ours have the same prominent issues, like where to get the best rate on your next “re-fi” or what the governor is pretending to know about the pandemic.

So I hate to be the one to break the news to you all ( all of the news appears to be breaking these days) but there isn’t going to be any baseball to play or watch or talk about this coming season. I know, everyone is pretending that it’s all going to be okay and MLB network and ESPN and all the usual sources are going through the motions of announcing the signing of free agents or the speculation about trade possibilities and pennant predictions, but, come on, it ain’t gonna be. And, really, that’s okay because we all have some serious stuff to pay attention to that cardboard cutouts and fake crowd noise isn’t going to relieve us from this time. Not that we don’t need diversions, but the money men are not going to put up with another faux season that doesn’t pay the bills. The San Francisco Giants just guaranteed $6 million for next season to a right handed pitcher who had a 7.22 earned run average last season and, even though they are owned by a consortium of people wealthier than most of us can imagine, you don’t accumulate wealth of any magnitude by throwing cash around carelessly unless you are seriously running for president.

Can we get along without the exploits of Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger and George Springer until further notice? I think we are about to find out the answer to that. Will we be shaken to our cores minus the double guessing of Aaron Boone and Joe Maddon? Apparently the NFL and the NBA are staggering forward as well although I barely pay attention. It’s hard to imagine contact sports and portable morgues co-existing much longer.

We will, many of us who are sick or not sick, still have a lot of extra time on our hands and eyes and ears. So, without baseball (okay, other sports too), what will we do? Well, besides our smart televisions and other appliances, we have Social Media. Let’s face it, though, faceschnook, twitter, and all of that other crap are getting a bit long in the tooth. We need something fresh and, without baseball, I need another avocation. I am taking steps to compete with those antiquated outfits that sell too many ads, invade too much privacy, and are owned by far too wealthy people. No, we are going to be different. There will be a strict limitation on photos. There will be no pictures at all of whatever you just had to eat. You might think that it’s cool, but none of the rest of us gives a damn. There will be absolutely no photos of cats doing anything at all. Take your cats and shove them to faceschnook. I think, after a few years of social media monitoring, that I know what people really want from them. What we want is to spew hostility, because we really feel a lot of it. We are mad and we are not going to take it anymore. Let it all hang out and, don’t worry, there will be no algorithm. We’ll have Al Gore Rhythm, which means no rhythm at all. No one will keep track of anything you do. We’ll just have an annual membership fee. There, I feel better already. I will call it Some Hostile Information Today To You. Yeah, that’s good. So long, See you on S.H.I.T.T.Y.