Close Cover Before Striking

Sometimes, especially before I’ve had coffee, my mind is unsettled about where we all are and the state of the world. It’s difficult when you don’t know how to feel about things and what is right and what is wrong. At those times, I am ever so thankful to have Media and Expert Spokespersons to help me shape my thoughts.

For instance, I should have realized that most of us are happy and content after The Euphemisms, full of good cheer and love for our fellow humans and their pets. Compassion and generosity should rule the day. Happy Whatever It Is, everybody. And poor little Scott Boras. Here is a man who works tirelessly for otherwise vulnerable athletes, helping to secure a future for their families, safe from the ravages of applying for food stamps or having to own a 20 year old car. Having Carlos Correa as a client offered hope to little Scotty that maybe someday both he and Carlos would enjoy the fruits of their labor with a long contract for baseball services that would bring several quotillion dollars to both of their families. As a person who has once broken a tibia, I realize that there are long term effects that must be considered. Fortunately, I am guided by the media, who have assured me that the New York Mets and their insurers will not go out of business if they make the wrong decision and that people should continue to do their duty and buy tickets.

I have also been assured, thankfully, that it is okay to worry about violent hits in the National Football League but that only deranged right wing conspiracy theorists would ever begin to suggest that cardiac arrest might be attributed to any sort of vaccine.Saint Fauci should never be doubted. Forgive me for allowing that thought to enter my brain. The fact that, in 1976, the Swine Flu vaccine was withdrawn by the Center for Disease Control after adverse reactions equal to about half the rate being experienced now with Pfizer and Moderna vaccines should be ignored. I need to concern myself more with the upcoming elimination of defensive shifts or whether or not the Astros can repeat.

Also, the fact that Elon Musk is now getting all of the headlines and air time that Donald Trump was getting just a few short months ago should be no cause for worry, any more than climate change or inflation. I should just buy gold and eat more imitation nachos from Taco Bell. Okay. Musk, by the way, now owns Twitter, giving him the honor of owning at least three of the most over rated, unnecessary businesses in the world. My feeling has always been that only birds should tweet. That thought, of course, leads us right back to Saudi Arabia. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the authorizer of dismemberment, has been one of Twitter’s largest shareholders, having invested $300 million back in 2011 before millions turned to billions. Maybe Scott Boras should talk to that guy. Already pro golfers and futbol stars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are toiling for the prince. Maybe the prince can buy the Giants and get Correa into the fold. Anything apparently goes in the wacky world of petroleum and professional sports. Are we ready for the Riyadh Olympics?

Another way that Media has come to the rescue is by consistently assuring me that, even though to my eyes it looks as though the end is near, people like Rob Manfred have things completely under control. The days of cocaine, steroids, and Rose are gone. The games of strikeouts, walks, and pitching changes every inning are going to be conquered. The Oakland Athletics will build a stadium, possibly not in Saudi Arabia, by 2035. Larger bases are on the way. 2023 will mark the beginning of a new Golden Era in baseball. No more glue on pitchers’ hands. City Connect uniforms will delight all the fans. I’m getting enthused. Correa will play somewhere for some length of time. Brandon Crawford is still around, as are Freddie Freeman, Max Scherzer, Nolan Arenado, Justin Verlander, and Francisco Lindor. Hope springs eternal, no matter how much garbage we have to listen to or read.

Happy Holidays

Carlos Rodon wants a seven year contract after having two consecutive pretty good, healthy seasons. Aaron Judge effectively pantsed the San Diego Padres and the San Francisco Giants on his way to a very fat contract with the team he has already been playing for after having a great season. Those are not examples of corruption Those are examples of what the George Clooney character in the movie Intolerable Cruelty called “negotiating”. No, corruption is more like major league baseball umpires wearing patches for all to see that say FTX, the now out of favor crypto whatever company. Now MLB has a chance to agree to never ever put advertising on umpires’ uniforms again, but what do you think the odds are that they won’t? Speaking of odds, corruption is MLB selling advertising space and time to parasites that encourage people to bet their money on games and any number of other sports events while banning Pete Rose for associating with such parasites while he was playing and managing. They like to call it gambling, but it’s only a gamble if you have a chance to win.

It’s not, of course, just baseball. During the gloomy days when baseball lies dormant, hard core addicts like myself have to pacify ourselves with Strat-O-Matic , the board game, reading books, physical exercise like walking the dogs, household chores and what not. However, this off season has been different. This year, thanks to corruption, we have the World Cup. F.I.F.A, which I believe stands for Fatcat International Futbol Association, holds this event every four years. Kind of like the Olympics, which is another corrupt organization. Usually, the World Cup is held during the Summer. Here in 2022, FIFA is holding the event, which is rightfully touted as the most popular sporting event in the world, in Qatar. Qatar is an uninhabitable , wretched piece of desert where 2.6 million people “live” with the highest per capita income in the world. The piles of money come from natural gas and oil reserves. The people live under Sharia law. Alcohol consumption and illicit sexual relations are punishable by flogging. Persons found guilty of adultery get 100 lashes. Apostasy, which means renunciation of Islam, and homosexuality are crimes and they are both punishable by death. Grant Wahl, a fine journalist and a person of honor and compassion is now dead. Wahl went to the World Cup in Qatar. He was denied entry to a stadium because he was wearing a t-shirt with a rainbow that espoused support for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people and his cell phone was confiscated. He fell ill with what he thought was probably bronchitis, sought medical treatment and received what he described as a strong cough syrup and antibiotics. Then, a healthy man of 48 who was fine before arriving in Qatar suddenly collapsed and died at a soccer match. His brother believes he was murdered, and I really hope that an independent autopsy is performed because otherwise I would agree with his brother. The World Cup is being held in December because the temperatures in Summer would make it unbearable to play or watch in person. There have also been many deaths to migrant laborers from other hapless places on Earth who worked on the various sites for the games to be played and the players, coaches, and spectators to be temporarily housed. Billions of dollars were spent on that and who knows how much was spent to convince the FIFA folks to make such a stupid mistake.

Despite all of the wickedness, there I have been, following the whole thing and hoping that the beautiful game would somehow help me overcome the revulsion. I was doing all right, just feeling a bit hypocritical, until the match between Argentina and the Netherlands on Friday. After all, it’s a bit unfair to be all upset about the murderous or unhealthy practices of rulers of other countries when you live in a place that became an empire based on the ancient traditions of slavery and genocide. Who are we to talk?And what is the real working religion all over the world? More than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or anything it seems to be money is God universally.

Anyway, the quarter final game between the Dutch and Argentina was evenly matched. However, thanks to very poor refereeing, the game got ugly toward the end and yellow cards that should have been given much earlier in the game dominated the final 15 minutes or so. I’d been rooting for Argentina for most of the game but gave that up after many incidents of poor sportsmanship and downright dirty tactics. Argentina eventually won on penalty kicks after extra time ended with a 2-2 draw. Then, Lionel Messi, considered by many to be the best player in the world, showed himself to be a sore winner. Not satisfied with the victory, the Argentine who plays very well but with no apparent joy, proceeded to taunt the losing team and prove himself to be a whiny loser. He complained that the Dutch coach, who is widely respected, “disrespected him” before the match. It was already difficult to respect Messi after learning he had made some sort of business deal with folks in Saudi Arabia, the home of Prince Dismember, who authorized the disappearance of a journalist he didn’t like a while back.

So it is not a pretty world and I guess that’s not news.You can play for the Cleveland Browns after sexually assaulting about 20 women but not if you take a knee during The Star Spangled Banner, an anthem that celebrates bombs bursting in air. Because protesting police brutality is more of a crime to some people, apparently.

Fish Without Ice

Here we all were all revved up and ready to go for the Halloween game between the Houstons and the Phillies when Mother Nature busted in and acted more like a wicked stepmother. Quickly, two thoughts came to mind. First, does this mean Thor won’t start Game Three? Second, can we lock up Rob Manfred before he decides to schedule a doubleheader of seven innings games for whenever late Fall stumbles back to Summer?

Speaking of the most honorable and bland commissioner, he already clinched the October Snidely Whiplash Award. He wins in a landslide for his statement to Chris Russo on Sirius XM that given the lack of “pace” in Oakland the Athletics “…have to be looking at Las Vegas…”. The commissioner’s good friend John Fisher is the billionaire principal owner of the A’s, and he has a plan.He would like the city of Oakland and the county of Alameda to spend an aircraft carrier loaded with hundred dollar bills to build a stadium since the one that’s been used since they arrived from Kansas City in 1968 got ruined when Al Davis owned the Raiders and the local extremely honest and not corrupt politicians were luring him back home after he split for Los Angeles only to see the NFL then allow the Raiders to move to—Las Vegas. Let’s all have a nice drink before I go on. There, that’s better.

Okay, so Fisher and his group of respectable looking shitheads don’t just want a new stadium. If they did, they could build it where the current white elephant is. No, they want a million and a half square feet of commercial space, 3,000 residential units, hotel rooms and more. The politics of this mess have been making headlines for years if not decades but progress has been glacial. Some of the best teams ever assembled have called Oakland their home. Putting a team with its history, or any team for that matter, in Las Vegas is perhaps not as bad as holding the world Cup in Qatar unless it is permanent. It fits with the current trends in the world though. Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were banished from the baseball world not so long ago. Their crime? Taking employment with gambling casinos. They were paid for being seen and hanging out, schmoozing with the suckers maybe. Pete Rose is still banned for his unabashed wagering activities. Now, of course, there are big bucks to be made for MLB by selling advertising space and time to Draft Kings, Fan Duel and other folks who can’t find honest work. Go ahead, kids, tune into ESPN or MLB TV and get the scores, highlights, and odds.

How did the Oakland Athletics fall into the Gap anyway? It’s kind of a jeans thing. Charlie Finley thought he was rich, but when free agency came along in the 70s he realized that larger fortunes than his would soon be in the ball biz or else it was all going to go kaput. He tried to sell the team to oil maggot Marvin Davis but could not escape his lease and Davis (no relation to Al) wanted to move the team to Denver, So, for $12.7 million, Finley sold it to Walter Haas, Jr., who owned Levi Strauss. This brought about a relatively happy time for the A’s and their fans. The days of Carney Lansford, Tony LaRussa, Dave Stewart, Mark McGwire, Dennis Eckersley, pennants, flags, et cetera. In 1994 Haas was gravely ill and he sold the team to another investment group which, a decade later, sold to the group led by Fisher, son of the founder of the Gap, Inc. It pretty much stinks so let’s get back to the 2022 World Series.

As stated in a previous epistle, I’m rooting for the Astros but it’s fun no matter what. Seven games would be great because after that there’s nothing but that Qatar World Cup and then spring training. Then we can go back to arguing about Family Size bases, pitch clocks, and shift nostalgia. Kyle Schwarber, Alex Bregman, bless them all! Memories of Gene Tenace!

Day Games Are For Weaklings

It finally happened. In his eleventh season of major league baseball, Bryce Harper, who is probably the subject of the most ballyhoo ever created for a player not representing the city of New York, propelled his team, the Philadelphia Phillies, to the World Series with a two run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning last Sunday. The Phillies, a remarkable story in a dizzying 2022 season, are looking like the Team of Destiny. They are reminding us of things like the 2003 Florida Marlins. Those Marlins were a wild card team that finished ten games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. Jeff Torborg managed that team to 22 losses in their first 38 games before losing his job to Jack McKeon, a 72 year old veteran suddenly in charge of a bunch of guys in their twenties, including a 20 year old Miguel Cabrera and 21 year old Dontrelle Willis. They won 75 games with McKeon to win that wild card berth. They were shut out by Jason Schmidt and the San Francisco Giants in their first playoff outing but won the next three. Then they dispatched Dusty Baker and the Chicago Cubs in seven games to earn the right to get plastered in the World Series by the New York Yankees that, like the Braves, had won 101 games. Except that didn’t happen as the Marlins won it in six games with 23 year old Josh Beckett completing a shutout in the clincher.

Can the Phillies keep going? Now they are facing a veteran, solid Houston Astros team that is yet to lose a playoff game after fairly well cruising to the American League West division title. The improbable results have been piling on this year, but despite winning “only” 87 games and being the last team to qualify for the playoffs, this is a tough Philadelphia team. They played a third of the season without Harper, whose left thumb was fractured by a Blake Snell pitch in San Diego at the end of June and whose elbow ligament injury had already forced him to be a designated sitter rather than an outfielder. Their own mid season managerial hire, Rob Thomson, got good results letting young infielders Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott develop in a pennant race, Harper is being Harper with his first chance at all the marbles and J.T. Realmuto is like having Houston’s Martin Maldonaldo defensively plus he can hit and he can run. After Zach Wheeler and Aaron Nola, the pitching is a bit iffy.

The Astros are the sentimental favorite in this corner. Sentiment doesn’t win games but Dusty Baker does. We’d like to see him win a World series in his third try. The Houston shortstop, Jeremy Pena, is really good. His father, Geronimo Pena, was a journeyman infielder for St. Louis in the 90s but the son’s future looks very bright. All aspects of the game are capably covered by this team, which is the only division winner to survive. Power, deep, deep pitching, and solid defense takes you to the top. Baker’s player career and his managerial resume are both top notch and much of his success is due to the fact that he gets universal respect and affection while being tough as nails. Then there is Justin Verlander. The 39 year old amazed us all with his won-loss record of 18 and 4 after pitching one game in 2020 and none last year. Accomplishing that after Tommy John surgery shows us a competitive fire that bodes well for Houston and explains Verlander’s 244-133 career record with a 3.24 earned run average.

Harper turned 30 October 16 and, if the injuries do not begin to accumulate, he may well be headed for a Hall of Fame career after all. He’s got 285 home runs in his 11 seasons, a sparkling .390 on base percentage, and a slugging percentage of .523. His best year was early on as a Washington National in 2015 but his second best was last year so he’s not old yet.

Baker’s first team as a manager was the San Francisco Giants in 1993 when they won 103 games as one of the best non playoff teams ever. He spent ten years there capped by the 2002 disappointment in the World Series versus Anaheim. He then managed the Cubs for four years and the Nationals for two and now three in Houston. If he sticks around next season he will compete with former Giants skipper Bruce Bochy in the A.L. West. It’s hard to fathom why a well off certain Hall of Fame candidate like Bochy wanted that job but we all like a challenge. Baker’s career record as a manager is 2093-1790.

It’s television that helps all these gifted athletes and their owners make all of that money and prevents young schoolkids from having to call in sick. Let’s hope that the weather in Philley is more like Labor Day than Thanksgiving. We can hope that some day some way those wealthy folks will remember that this game got popular and fun to play in the sunshine. I have my doubts, but in the meantime I will remain grateful for people like Baker, Verlander, and yes, Harper. It’s a prime time world whether we like it or not.

Sports Awards

Buck Showalter deserves to be the National League Manager of the Year winner for 2022. It’s important to note that with a week to go in the season because if the Mets wind up finishing behind the Atlanta Braves the loud and spoiled New York fans will probably be calling him a loser. Brian Snitker will always be deserving, and Oliver Marmol has done a great job with St. Louis but Showalter has guided a team that perpetually has done two things: get over rated because of their spectacular but oft injured pitching and then struggled to break .500.

There are several candidates in the American League: Brandon Hyde of Baltimore, Scott Servais of Seattle, Terry Francona of Cleveland, and , as always, Dusty Baker of Houston. I’ll go with Francona because the Guardians will be the biggest underdog in the playoffs for good reason and their leader is so positive he could probably sell encyclopedias even today.

Shohei Ohtani is a great choice for American League Most Valuable Player except for the fact that the Newport Beach Angels are so damned lousy. His pitching and batting numbers are both all-star quality, but there’s this guy in New York who has been saving Aaron Boone‘s job all season. Plus Aaron Judge is a really nice fellow even if he does wear the pinstripes. It’s a crowded field for MVP in the National League, even if you limit your selections to people who play their home games in Los Angeles. I will pick Paul Goldschmidt for his work this year and also as a lifetime achievement thing. By the way, the Cardinals’ three wheelchair players, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, and Adam Wainwright are my sentimental choices to mess up the Dodgers’ big plans.

Rookie of the Year, American League: Julio Rodriguez, who has made the Seattle Mariners both interesting and, finally, good. In the National League. it has to be Michael Harris II of Atlanta.

Now for some special awards voted on by Baseballanarchy exclusively.

Mensa Club Lifetime Reject Award: Fernando Tatis Junior.

Best Role Model For Aspiring Athletes: Max Scherzer

Best Argument For the Pitch Timer: Camilo Doval and Jose Urena (tie)

Best Example of Corporate Cluelessness: Rob Manfred

Best candidate for Early retirement: Replay Review

We’ll Miss You Very Much So Stay Close: Yadier Molina

Now I have to go and tend to my injury. There were 38 college football games available for viewing yesterday and, as part of my cultural deep studies program, I recorded all of them. I had to use 17 borrowed televisions and a half dozen of whatever those recording devices are called, but I got them all, including San Jose State at Wyoming. However, I believe that I sustained a concussion. Nobody took a knee, so we’re good.

Manfred Rules

One of the pleasures of being a major league baseball follower has always been the opportunities that the former national pastime provides for witnessing genius, or geniuses, at work. Today offers us all another such time as, at long last, more rules changes have been officially announced and they will take effect at the start of the 2023 season, which cannot come too soon. Theo Epstein, who oversaw the rise and fall of two separate franchises, said that, “The influx of data in our industry have not improved the game from an aesthetic standpoint or from an entertainment standpoint.” I think I know what he was trying to say, but anyone who refers to “influx of data” or “our industry” or “aesthetic standpoint” should probably be watched very closely. If I was in a room that he entered, I’d check for my wallet. He did refer to a game, though. Okay, so what do we have here? Bigger bases for one, but not home plate. I suspect the idea here is that, once they begin painting advertising signs on the bases for Draft Kings or Fan Duel or some other venue for blowing the rent money they will be easier to read.

You will notice that none of the new rules will have anything to do with competitive equity. It would help fan interest a lot, I would think, if teams that outspend others by three or four times were forced to play without shoes, but that was probably not considered.

The pitch clock saves time. They proved that in the minor leagues. So we will have another thing to keep track of while all those commercial distractions jump across our screens (I checked and only 13 per cent of baseball anarchy readers can actually afford to attend a game in person) along with mound visits and where the fielders actually are standing. We could also save a lot of time if we did away with pseudo-patriotic anthems and replay reviews but let’s not get treasonous.

Defensive shifts are to be strictly modified but not entirely banned. It would be better for batters to learn more about hitting but that might get tedious. So we, the fans, will be asked to put up with all this because they claim we want more action and less down time spent thinking and stuff. To be able to watch Aaron Judge, Bryce Harper, Lars Nootbar, and Mike Trout do their thing comes not without a price.

Why, I ask, stop there? We could do so much more. Here are some great suggestions, although they were not produced by any committee:

1)Any team holding a 6 run lead only gets two outs in their batting half per inning as long as that lead persists

2) Any team holding a lead of 9 runs or more loses its center fielder until order is restored

3)Every other foul ball struck on a 3-2 count is a strikeout

4)Any player, manager, or coach wearing a microphone is ejected from the game. A second offense would result in a 10 game suspension. This rule would not save time, but I like it anyway.

5)All replay reviews are ended. Arguments seldom take longer and are more entertaining.

I would add another but I realize that the plutocrats and gangsters are running the show. That would be replace Manfred Mann with Bob Costas. Play ball!

Suddenly September

Okay, we are done now. The eagles and grosbeaks and bluebirds and kingfishers and all of the countless other visiting birds have bred and begun to spread out elsewhere. The pleasant noise of Spring has progressed to the still, relative quiet of late Summer. We aren’t looking for the sun to warm us and help things grow now. We want to cool down and we want some water.

As so many of us who still remember DeSotos and Captain Beefheart so frequently note, the seasons and years flow by ever so much faster as we leave youth behind. Just yesterday, the owners’ lockout was ending, right? And the day before that Ken Griffey was a rookie, right? Or was that Vada Pinson? We threw water on our face and realized that this is 2022 and we have fewer than forty games left in the major league season. Realistically, it already is over for several teams except for the humdrum task of finishing the schedule. Now that the post season includes almost as many teams as the National Basketball Association does, some people have that to look forward to as we enter the first of the two months of Halloween we are forced to endure.

One of the teams that has fallen out of the picture is the San Francisco Giants. A lot of things have gone wrong for the Giants all year, starting with the realization that the team would have to carry on without their quiet leader, a great catcher named Buster Posey. In my view, the real nastiness all began May 13. The Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals that day, 8-2 as logan Webb won his fifth decision against a single defeat. That win put the Giants a half game behind the Dodgers (20-11) and the Padres (21-12). The Giants have a management team that thinks a lot. Some of us believe they might think too much. The loss of Posey to retirement was not unexpected but the team seemed to be prepared because they had an able backup, Curt Casali, who had the respect of all of his teammates, especially the pitching staff, and young Joey Bart who, like Casali, was good defensively and had a promising power bat. Casali had delivered his first home run of 2022 in that win over the Cardinals and Bart was striking out an awful lot. Mauricio Dubon was a youthful part of the Giants roster depth who could back up veteran Gold Glove shortstop Brandon Crawford and, being fleet of foot and strong of arm, also do a credible job of playing center field. He was capable of making mistakes in the field and on the bases due perhaps to his lack of experience but his youthful exuberance was welcomed on a team that had been getting a bit long in the teeth. Dubon got traded after that game. He was sent to Houston, where the calm, now grandfatherly Dusty Baker will no doubt help him get the best out of his talents. Dubon has good potential, so one might reckon that the Giants received something in the way of good potential in return. They received Michael Papierski. What was the long term plan for the rookie catcher? Well, he appeared in five games, batted zero for nine with one walk, and the was put on waivers and picked up by Cincinnati, for whom he is currently batting .159. Meanwhile, veteran infielders Crawford, Tommy LaStella, Evan Longoria, and Brandon Belt have all played hurt and been on the injured list for most of the season and a long list of minor leaguers have taken their turns being new infielder of the week. The Giants have won 41 and lost 51 since the trade, which most folks would consider a minor one. From here, though, it seems like a bigger deal.

An even sadder story has been the descent of the Angels. The World Champions of 2002 won only 77 games last year but Mike Trout missed a lot of action and Anthony Rendon even more. Plus they seemed serious about getting some pitching help, notably adding Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Loup. So it was seeming like Joe Maddon had some good tools to work with out of the gate but, as Dick Enberg would say, “Oh my!” Maddon has been axed and now formerly popular owner Arte Moreno is looking for a buyer. Just don’t sell to Disney again, Angels, and while you’re at it remember: a good shortstop makes all the pitchers look better. Shohei Ohtani deserves some help so that he won’t retire being remembered mostly as the best argument against the designated hitter.

The best teams will glide on to the playoffs and with a month to go, anything could happen but the Astros, Braves, Mets, Dodgers and (cough cough) Yankees look to rise toward the top without much trouble. The big theme of the season has been injuries and the big health news of the 21st century is damn! Look how many players are still playing after surgeries! Wow!

Here’s a quick word about jewelry and how baseball and jewelry don’t really mix well. I don’t have any resentment toward professional athletes and the amount of money they get paid, I really don’t. It’s a fact that minimum wage for major league players is $555,00 at the same time that workers in the United States have been trying so long to get their minimum wage to $15 per hour that inflation has made that $15 obsolete. However, there are movie stars, hack musicians, and many other relatively useless individuals who make millions inexplicably despite a lack of demonstrable skills, so I blame the system, not the players. What does bug me, though, are all of the gold chains around the necks of so many players. Look, it’s a bit in your face to the average fan. I get it, it’s a sign that hey, folks, I made it, I’m well to do. On my team they would be banished, The Yankees don’t like hair, I don’t like gold. Banned or, if a player was willing, he could achieve dispensation by contributing 10 or 15 grand per season to a fund that would help feed the hungry, house the homeless, or help provide opportunities for poor kids to play ball safely. That would assuage my angst.

I’ll leave with a question. How did the geniuses running television sports decide that we like talk shows more than games? First it was those predictably boring in game chats with managers. “How is Sargalowski doing after he ruptured his spleen walking out of that bar, Murph?” And the artful replies like, “Well, Bill, he is rehabbing at home and we expect him to be back soon if there is no relapse…”. Now we are talking to players on the field DURING THE GAME! I do not tune in a ballgame to hear what Joey Votto or anyone else has to say about anything. I realize that many players are articulate, charming, funny, and other things but I do not want or need chitchat, thank you. I humor myself by imagining FOX or ESPN trying that with, say, Bob Gibson or Will Clark. Now that might be entertaining.

Orange, Black and Blue

It’s a gloomy feeling around the breakfast table this last day of July. Yesterday the San Francisco Giants retired number 22, which was worn by Will Clark for eight years while he was one of the best first basemen and one of the best left handed batters in the National League. He was 22 years old as a rookie in 1986, a year that will forever be known as one during which the once proud but then lowly Giants began winning games again. The next season Clark’s career high 35 home runs led San francisco to the Western Division title, and his most memorable season came in 1989, when he and National league Most Valuable Player Kevin Mitchell tore up the league together. Clark’s National league Championship Series was one for the ages as he batted .650 and the Giants beat the Chicago Cubs in five games for the honor of being annihilated by the awesome Oakland Athletics in the World Series that was interrupted by the tremendous and scary earthquake that delayed game three for twelve days.

It was a delightful, festive occasion highlighted by a fiery but thoughtful and gracious speech by Will Clark himself and messages in person or by video from Roger Craig, Barry Bonds, Mike Krukow, Kevin Mitchell, Dave Dravecky, Orlando Cepeda, Willie Mays and others. The best was a video from Clark’s former coach and manager, Dusty Baker, who said, “I knew he was cool because when I called him on the telephone one time he didn’t answer but the machine played B.B. King singing The Thrill Is Gone…”

To describe the career of Will Clark with a recitation of a bunch of statistics would be a mistake. That is probably true for any player, of course, but Will the Thrill was truly and essentially a forceful personality. He was and is a winner. It was no fluke that the Giants transformed from a sixth place team with a record of 60 wins and 100 losses in 1985 to 83-79 in his rookie season although another rookie, Robby Thompson, helped considerably. He was the kind of player who made everyone else on his team better, partly because he demanded maximum effort from everyone concerned. When your first at bat in the majors results in a home run off Nolan Ryan you immediately gain attention and respect. Anyone anywhere who ever was the object of his game face, called The Nuschler (his middle name) felt the glare of a person who would not back down from any challenge. With the pregame ceremony including video highlights of Clark’s time with the Giants and then Clark’s speech, I found myself talking to the television, imploring the now 58 year old former star to show the current San Francisco team how to get mad in a good way. Stop thinking so much and take your frustrations out on your opponent. Their most effective pitcher, lefty Carlos Rodon, recently got mad at himself during a game he was pitching and kicked a bat that was loose in the dugout and the bat bounced off his teammate, Thairo Estrada. He apologized for the idiotic tantrum but the better action, as Will Clark would agree, would be pitch like we all know you can.

On this day of the passing of basketball legend Bill Russell one wishes for some lessons in Correct Anger Management. The current Giants are floundering. The fear as August begins is that the busload of executives and coaches employed by the team will feel the urge to join the party that the rest of the sheep are starting and be driven to buy Or sell. Rodon could be gone before the ink is dry on this piece. I don’t think they will trade half the bullpen and Coit Tower and all the espresso in North Beach for Juan Soto but they might. Someone very dear to me says she will quit on them if they trade Wilmer Flores and I would be tempted to join her if that happens.

The travails of a team that won 107 games last season and is now fighting to win as many as they lose is not really that interesting, but this whole loony business of baseball does interest me as an example of everything currently ugly and messy about the state of our system.

Why do so many of us have sports teams that we root for, or like, or in some cases obsess about? It seems a bit childish and sentimental, doesn’t it? It does, but there are basic animal instincts at work here. For all of our history, humans have survived and sometimes thrived by placing value on family and home. So, even though we may not enjoy school, if our school has a soccer team or a debate team or whatever, we tend to want that team to succeed. We tend to favor our neighborhood, our town , our state, et cetera. We feel good when they, including us, are recognized. That’s how I grew up favoring teams from Pittsburgh or Cleveland.

The weirdness begins when all that stuff becomes a business. If you live in Cleveland, do the owners of the Guardians or the Browns or the Cavaliers care about you the way you care about those teams? Maybe, to the extent that you can buy tickets, but are they worried about how you’re doing? Beyond that, do they even live in the same community themselves? That’s how we end up with athletes being bought and sold (like sheep) not because they grew up and played in the community but rather because they might induce people to buy tickets or at least watch the team on television. So loyalty, that thing that everyone talks about but few practice, stems from wins, losses, dollars, and cents.

Do the people of the San Francisco Bay area love Will Clark? Actually, yes, because over an eight year period they got to know him and because he is a winner. There was another Clark. He also wore number22. For eight years he played for the Giants as number 22, outfielder Jack Clark Then he went to St. Louis, New York, San Diego, and Boston. He was pretty good, but they didn’t retire his number. The Giants had a couple of good seasons with him on the team, but no championships.Will Clark also left the Giants. He spent five years with the Texas Rangers, a year and a half with Baltimore, and then 51 games with St. Louis before retiring. The Giants brought him back and retired his number after a while. It was good for business on the day before ESPN televised a game between San Francisco and Chicago and the announcers spent so much time talking about who was playing their last game for each team that I had to turn the audio off. Who will play for “my” team tomorrow? I’ll be watching. Old habits die hard.

Buyers and Sellers

As we head into that dreaded portion of the year known as the Second Half, the stomach is churning at the thought of things like Back to School retail sales, football training camps and the way too early expectation of short days and darker evenings. Fortunately, we have the All Star Game and the Home Run Derby to get us into the habit of enduring overly hyped events that mostly yield disappointments. I tell myself that if it were Spring all of the time, then Spring wouldn’t be so sweet.

It is also the time of the baseball season when all know it all pundits are expected to engage in monotonous speculation concerning which teams are within range of the now expanded post season playoffs to see if they can make it to the World Series. These teams shall henceforth be referred to as Buyers. Conversely, there are now 18 teams that will not be invited to the October festivities, and those will be at least potentially designated as Sellers. There is very little, in fact almost zero, speculation that a team that is currently losing more than it wins will reverse itself after August 2 and get hot or that a team that is currently among the 12 that will qualify for playoffs will suddenly lose its Mojo and start looking like the 1962 Mets. Admittedly, that’s more logical than what we used to hear back when everybody knew who Howdy Doody and Milton Berle was, such as”Well fans , the Sox are 19 games behind the Yankees here on July 4, but if Sherman Lollar and Jim Rivera break out of their slumps and Jack Harshman and Dick Donovan start pitching like we know they can, they could still give the Yankees a run for the money.”

These days all of the yack yack has to do with Juan Soto and whether or not the Nationals want to keep making him richer and richer or whether or not the all take and no give owner of the Oakland Athletics has anyone left to peddle to a contender in exchange for players making Minimum Baseball Wage. It’s all a bit crass and undignified, like the hawking of those embarrassing “City Connect” uniforms everybody has been adopting. So far, the San Diego Padres edge out the Los Angeles Dodgers in the race for ugly apparel in that regard, but back to our story. As usual, I have a proposal. If I were a negotiator for the players’ association, I would begin to take steps to get even for that idiotic lockout before the season began. What I would push hard for is a simple solution to all of the mid season and between seasons bullshit that players and fans have been putting up with for far too long. Here it is: the Universal no trade clause. I know, I know, I hear you, these guys are all millionaires (remember when a million was a really big deal before billion took its place?). Curt Flood, however, was correct. A well paid slave is still a slave. Under my rule change, if Soto wanted to remain in Washington, he could. Or, if a young prospect like Oneil Cruz chose not to help a team like the Phillies so that Pittsburgh could obtain Bryce Harper in exchange, he could say no. Chances are that most players would go along with any deal, but the way it is now only players who have already earned that specific right after several seasons can refuse. The good that would come of it is that rosters would attain relative stability, younger players would be compensated better, fans like those in Oakland would be more able to avoid feeling used, and more players could relax and play ball. Plus, a lot of excess noise on the airways would be supplanted. Again, these players are now very well compensated but how many highly skilled people do you know who can be suddenly jerked away from their homes without warning just because they are “owned”? And, if you really don’t mind, or one of the owners agrees to “sweeten the pot”, then it’s no problem.

The other mid season issues have mostly to do with rule changes that owners lackey Rob Manfred is considering. Bear in mind that change can be good and often is, but the results can also sometimes not be what was anticipated. For instance, replay review. Get it right , we all said. No more lousy calls, we all hoped. Well, what we did not anticipate was the length of time that everybody would stand around waiting for someone miles away to get it right. I personally have come full circle and would prefer extended times out while someone like Earl Weaver or Lou Piniella goes berserk. More entertaining and, come on, we are all human. Pitch clock? It seems inevitable, but it is only fair that, if speed is the issue, we also cut down on time between half innings that has become excessive so that bad hamburgers and beer can be sold to viewers who don’t need them. The hideous short ads while the game is going on won’t go away but perhaps they could be replaced with health tips (not from Tony Fauci) concerning obesity and the dangers of gambling. Which reminds me, this is not a rule change but a change in scruples: all of the ads urging people to throw their money away betting on games and variations thereof are disgusting and hypocritical. Banning defensive shifts? I’d much prefer training on how to beat them. Lastly, the Oaf Manfred rule about extra innings is an abomination, so it will likely be etched in stone like the designated sitter. My feelings about both are similarly etched. Have you noticed how much better the National League games are this year? Neither have I.

We will have a fun second half I am sure. I promise to get all warm and cuddly, especially if the Mariners keep winning.

]Fun and Games

Where can we turn in these days of turmoil, pestilence, angry mobs, quick triggers, and pepper shortages? For me, it’s the old reliable, that which used to be known as the national pastime (Statcast now has it ranked number seven, just below whining about the price of gasoline and just above shopping for underwear). Yes, I mean baseball. It doesn’t have to be going in person to one of our many major league ballparks. You don’t have to go to Omaha for the College World Series. You don’t need to buy a ticket to attend a game in one of our fourteen remaining minor league parks or sit on the bleachers at your local American Legion baseball yards. Goodness no, just get out there in your backyard and have a session of Whiffleball with the family. Oh. It’s too hot. Ah, well, just turn on the tube. Remember when we called it the tube?

Now, a quick word from Uber: Now that you can order anything from Uber Eats, can you eat anything you get from Uber Eats? Well, if you’re as smart as Uber apparently thinks you are, you might try. I don’t know.

Seriously, things are tough all over and getting tougher. It’s like we’ve become permanent teenagers: one apocalypse after another. To make matters worse, the Yankees are winning every blooming game they play and Aaron Judge is the new Roger Maris. We’re kind of back in the 60s. Heavens to Murgatroyd. Like the 60s, change is in the air. Manfred Mann and the other bosses are stirring the pot. Here come larger bases. Maury Wills and Lou Brock are old, old news. Here come robotic balls and strikes. Do you enjoy arguing with a robot? About as much as dialing customer service at any insurance company, I bet.

Now, a quick word from Geico: Having a gecko for a spokesperson means that you could save hundreds on car insurance without ever having to think at all. Call now and I guarantee you won’t hear from me because I only talk on TV. I’ve got a contract, and you don’t.

Here come pitch clocks and banning defensive shifts. Where’s Mike Hargrove when you need him? I’m in favor of players learning how to bunt and how to go the other way but that, like teaching pitchers how to pace themselves, would take far too much time in this day and age of instant gratification/mortification. So grin and bear it .

It’s being an unusual season but unusual is the new usual. One thing that no one seems to be talking about is the high number of injuries that just about every team has been dealing with. Back in March, the word was that spring training was really not necessary because these well to do athletes of the 21st century keep themselves in good shape between seasons with personal trainers etc, etc. Uh huh. Also, now that no one is stupid enough to let any pitcher exceed 100 pitches for starters or pitch at all more than three or four times a week for relievers, they don’t get hurt. Right. Might want to try letting them rest more often when they are growing up. No, the lockout was not good for the game. But when fans say good for the game they mean the game. For owners, it seems good for the game means dollars.

Now, a quick word from Budweiser: Freedom. Red, White and Blue. Clydesdales. We make the best American beer from France that you can buy. Slurp it up.

As we head toward mid season, there are many things to be thankful for amid all the stress and struggle. The Atlanta Braves are looking like the best team in ball again. The Pittsburgh Pirates are not winning a lot, but it finally is looking like they want to try again. Bob Melvin has the San Diego Padres looking like the top notch team that all of the pundits thought they were last year. Buck Showalter continues to show that integrity can be contagious. And how about those Cleveland Guardians? Bravo, Terry Francona. We are all hoping for a happy and healthy continuation of this season. Because it sure as hell isn’t happening most other places.