Brian Connor: “Baseball Bastardized”

 

Baseball Bastardized:

How the Bungled Response to Covid-19 Reveals Baseball’s Inability to Evolve in a Changing Culture

By Brian Connor

 

Nothing could be done with the timing. Baseball happened to be the most heavily affected domino that fell among the cancelled major sports, unable to cancel a postseason or come up with a video game-esque return to play tournament format. The NBA, NHL, and Premier League soccer all shifted towards finishing up what little of the season remained or moving right to postseason play- in other words, the best part of the year for all of them. The MLB, meanwhile, had to get everyone out of Arizona and Florida and figure out how to come close to salvaging the 2,430 games they would have otherwise played.

Baseball was never a sport designed to make everyone happy. If you do your job right 3 out of 10 times, you likely get put on a performance review; if you’re a major leaguer who gets a hit 3 out of 10 at-bats, you likely get put on the All-Star team. If you go to bed with your favorite team having lost that day 62 times a year, you probably root for one of the best teams in the league and went to sleep happy the other 100 times. Whether a casual fan or an absolute fanatic, your favorite type of games are likely fast games (i.e. under 3 hours) featuring a lot of homers and runs scored- in other words, games that almost never happen. 

So it was likely wrong for us to assume that we were going to be happy with whatever makeshift version of a Major League Baseball season was going to be proposed, especially as it became reality that our usual summer of a hot dog and a cold beer in the bleachers, a walk by a sports bar with the game feed audible, and a game on the TV as background noise to a family party was less and less likely to happen. And as the transition of winter to spring and, now, spring to summer came without the glistening feel of Opening Day, the rawness of the world suspended the joy of the turn of the seasons as all came to a halt. There was no joy in Mudville, for they were all indoors.

Baseball then tried, in earnest I suppose, to try to come up with a plan to return, because America’s pastime, damnit. Forget that boring old soccer or that ice hockey thing I could never really understand, we need baseball back to heal this nation, for Christ! And yes, there are much bigger things for everyone both on a societal and personal level and many lives to be saved in the time of a pandemic. But I get it, though baseball junkie I am: emblematic of both the daily grind of the American worker and the daydream summer’s day that gets over half the country through its brutal winter, the sport hits differently than others. World wars couldn’t stop it; 9/11 merely delayed it; there’s an invincibility surrounding it, as sure as summer comes, so does baseball.

So where are we, then, as we approach almost three months since the originally scheduled Opening Day? Mainly, prorated salaries for players were proposed by team owners, agreed to by those players, then taken back for further pay cuts by those owners. This is likely because it simply won’t be feasible to play in front of fans this year, and ticket sales, concessions, etc. are the money makers for teams.  The losses expected are, exact words from Cubs owners Tom Ricketts, “biblical” for this year for MLB. No crosstown rivalry here: he and Jerry Reinsdorf mark the Chicago owners worth $1.8 billion who likely won’t see a dime of ticket sales between their two baseball teams this year. At least they have a better fate than the five poor bastards in the group of owners worth less than a billion- how else would they sleep at night? (Bringing up the rear is supposedly Reds owner Bob Castellini, with a net worth of a chump change $400 million)

But who wants that pressure of owning a team and striking a deal, anyway? I just want to take my family of four to a baseball game, just like when I was a kid. In 2019 this came out to an average of $32.99 a person just for the privilege of being in the park (damn Yankees driving those price up). Pops need a cold beer, of course, and a dollar saved is a dollar earned, kids, so I’m getting this light beer for $10 instead of a craft beer for $12. You kids need a hot dog, too, and thank goodness for that family deal for a hot dog and a drink- cheaper than sold separately! This Bud’s for me, so honey, you can have my fountain drink and we all come out ahead at $11.75 apiece! You look like you could use a $20 hat, Junior- my dad got me one when I was your age- and your brother needs a souvenir bat for another $25. We’ve got all that, so let’s strap in for at least 3 hours and watch .006% of the regular season!

Unrelated, baseball’s popularity is decreasing nationwide but had a revenue of $10.37 billion dollars last year. If only owners had made their coffee and avocado toast at home, maybe they would’ve saved some money for the players this year.

Two things are true for me at once, as things often are now: baseball is my favorite sport, and I can no longer justify why anyone would take a rooting interest in it. I called it America’s pastime earlier, but it isn’t anymore: five NFL regular season games drew higher TV ratings than Game 7 of the World Series last year, and never mind trying to follow a team for 162 days of the year as opposed to 16 Sundays. Soccer’s boring and low scoring? Check the fans in the 80th minute of a 1-0 Premier League game compared to the 8th of a 1-0 baseball game. Best live experience? Be there in person for a 2-1 hockey game. Most exciting sport? Same hockey game, only playoffs. How often have you seen a Steph Curry 3 or a LeBron dunk on Twitter? Every other winter day for about five years, right? What about a Mike Trout highlight of any kind? Whenever the official MLB account decides to tweet about it, I’m guessing? And don’t even think about giving baseball or the modern day Babe Ruth that free publicity on YOUR account, that’s against the rules! If James Harden does anything funny, go viral, you millennial hippie, but don’t ruin the sanctity of baseball with that vine of a home run!

These were my gripes before coronavirus, usually countered with “can’t beat being there on a nice day” and “you never really see the same thing twice”. Now we likely won’t be able to watch it in person at all this year, again destined for a boring summer due to a labor dispute, again making the same mistake that doomed the sport back in 1994.  The owners who supposedly cannot cope with the idea of lost revenue have nixed the player’s proposal of a 114 game season with a final offer of 50 games, as if the increased per game importance will salvage the sport. 

This is where we stand, then, summer nearly in full. We are days away from a no contact sport with bases 90 feet apart not being able to figure out how to handle coronavirus, with variations of it currently being played elsewhere in the world and all other major sports leagues either starting or finalizing plans to start.  In a country with millions out of work, 30 owners have its most traditional sport at a standstill out of caution of paying their players risking exposure to a virus in a worldwide pandemic a little bit more than they’d like. As places gradually start to return to normal, the best case scenario for a Major League Baseball season is a bastardized, bite-sized, 50 game sprint despite the wishes of fans and players alike.  Baseball is, and should be, taking a backseat to the much more important things that affect our day to day lives more than any game ever could (unless you want to add it to the list of things that need racial reform: only 7% of MLB players are Black). But in a time when we just need it to be a three hour distraction in any iteration, it can’t even be that. 

Nothing could be done with the timing. So much more could have been done with the time that immediately followed.

 

About the Author: Brian Connor writes on a number of topics, though most consistently about baseball on a fan site covering the White Sox during the season. Some further readings can be found at discodemolished.blogspot.com, which lately has been a similar screaming in the void nature of MLB coverage.

 

Image Credit: “Detroit ball player slides safely into third base as fielder reaches to the left for ball on the ground during baseball game” The Library of Congress

“What if Bill Mazeroski Missed First Base?” By Bruce Harris

 

What if Bill Mazeroski Missed First Base?

By Bruce Harris

 

Ralph Terry’s shoulders slumped. In leftfield, Yogi Berra turned, took a few steps back, but could do nothing but watch the ball sail over the ivy-covered wall. In his mind, a Yogi-ism. We scored 28 more runs than them and lost. It was true. Over the course of seven games, the New York Yankees outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates 55 to 27, yet lost the 1960 World Series to the Pirates. Or, had they? 

The Forbes Field faithful, 36,683 strong, stood as one cheering, clapping, screaming, watching as an unlikely hero, Bill Mazeroski circled the bases. The Pirate second baseman, known for his defense, jumped, waved his arms, and danced his way around the bases. With batting helmet in hand and a smile wider than Forbes Field’s vast centerfield, he ran smack into a celebratory mob of welcoming teammates. 

In one of the most exciting World Series ever played, the Pirates had defeated the mighty Yankees in seven games to become the champions of baseball.

Prior to his momentous blast, surpassing in importance and impact Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” four years earlier, Bill Mazeroski had hit only 11 homeruns in 1960. The seven-time All-Star would eventually be elected into baseball’s vaunted Hall of Fame primarily on the strength of his glove. Mazeroski won eight Gold Glove Awards during his 17-year big league career. The second baseman was no doubt just as surprised with the hit as the sold-out crowd and those watching and listening to the broadcast. 

While the Pirate players, rabid newspaper reporters, photographers, and assorted over-zealous fans jumped, whooping it up around number nine, the Yankees players walked slowly, heads down, toward the visiting team’s dugout. The six umpires, four around the bases and one each up the right- and left-field lines stood stoically in place, watching the dichotomy of emotions between the players wearing home white uniforms versus those in visiting gray. Continue reading ““What if Bill Mazeroski Missed First Base?” By Bruce Harris”

Paramnesia 2

Photo by Gertrude Käsebier (1905) Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

Paramnesia 2

By Tim Peeler

 

Paramnesia 2

The deluge of nighttime dog barks
Pauses for the after storm gutter drip.
There was a game, he says, can’t
Remember if it was 47 or 8, but we had
A two run lead in the bottom of the ninth.
Crickets like a crowd roar and the faint
Leaving of a train across the river gorge.
You got a light. Thanks. Well they got
The bases loaded, drunk as they say.
The old man’s profile, a Hemingway
Hillbilly with bifocals in porch light.
And coach, he hollers for me to get in there
To pitch to this Babe Ruth no neck left hander. 
A bawling cow somewhere, the Judge’s braying
Donkeys, hungry in their dark pasture.
So I say a little prayer ‘cause I believed back then,
Hid the ball in my glove behind my back.
A neighbor’s old pickup truck inching
Through the front yard of his trailer.
I throw it hard and outside at the knees.
He swings and misses. Lights was so bad.
An owl in the maple top, sounding out a
Whole summer of loneliness.
When he struck at the third bad pitch, that was
The game, but then he come after me with his bat.
A Hmong woman across the field, singing by the
Lanterns in her vegetable garden.
Our first baseman, Rosenbluth, stopped
Him out between the bases.
The hiss of traffic on the wet road,
River like a belly against the old dam.
We piled on him, beat the shit out of him
Before his teammates got out there, must have
Been 48, same year I met your mother.

About the Author:  A past winner of the Jim Harrison Award for contributions to baseball literature, Tim Peeler has also twice been a Casey Award Finalist (baseball book of the year) and a finalist for the SIBA Award. He lives with his wife, Penny in Hickory, North Carolina, where he directs the academic assistance programs at Catawba Valley Community College. He has published close to a thousand poems, stories, essays, and reviews in magazines, journals, and anthologies and has written sixteen books and three chapbooks. He has five books in the permanent collection at the Baseball Hall of Fame Library in Cooperstown, NY. His recent books include Rough Beast, an Appalachian verse novel about a southern gangster named Larry Ledbetter, Henry River: An American Ruin, poems about an abandoned mill town and film site for The Hunger Games, and Wild in the Strike Zone: Baseball Poems, his third volume of baseball-related poems.

A Review of Len Joy’s American Past Time

Len Joy's Novel, American Past Time

A Review of Len Joy’s American Past Time

by Jody Hobbs Hesler

Len Joy’s debut novel, American Past Time, is part time capsule and part baseball love affair. The title itself promises this (baseball is considered an America’s pastime, and this novel takes place in America’s past). It hearkens to the American hunger for the major leagues and the good life, spanning twenty years in the lives of the Stonemason family – from the post-war world of 1953 all the way to the summer of 1973.

Readers might expect such a nostalgic look at America to take a too-narrow, Mom-and-apple-pie approach, but Joy avoids this pitfall. What readers get instead is a steady-on account of a gifted ball player, Dancer Stonemason, first as he is poised on the brink of what might be a glorious career in the majors, next as he reckons with the more tortured day-in, day-out existence of a factory job in the 1950s American South, and beyond.

The first section of the book belongs to Dancer. The point of view shifts to his wife, Dede, in the next section, and finally to that of their two sons, Jimmy and Clayton, in the third and final section of the novel. Joy chose a pivotal twenty years to cover in his work. His characters reckon with pressures at the workplace from the Ku Klux Klan, the shocking (especially at the time) discovery of a wife’s lesbian lover, stories of the Civil Rights Movement,= and evidence of the slow changes it brings, a son going off to Vietnam, cancer, and more.

The Stonemasons’ many struggles, failures, and triumphs parallel the challenges and changes of the nation throughout these same times. But we start simply, with Dancer’s pure love of baseball: “He had a hand built for pitching – a pancake-sized palm and long, tapered fingers that hid the ball from the batter for that extra heartbeat” (2).

One bright day in Maple Springs, Missouri – a week before Dancer is scheduled to sub for a major league pitcher and get his chance at the big leagues – his wife and son come to watch him pitch. Everything he loves is in one place. Even the weather cooperates with Dancer’s optimism: “The sky was great-to-be-alive blue” (18).

Before the game, Rolla Rebel team owner, Doc, advises Dancer to go easy on his arm to keep it fresh for next week, and they plan to pull him after a few innings. But as the game promises to become legendary, fellow Rebel and veteran catcher, Billy Pardue, tells him, “You want to stay up in the Bigs, remember this – respect the goddam game. Play every game like it’s your last” (17), echoing Dancer’s own desire to honor his love for the game and continue.

As the innings progress toward what will become Dancer’s one perfect game, the community watching seems to unite in awe of him: “As he walked out to the mound for the seventh inning the crowd was eerily quiet, as if they were afraid the cheering might upset the baseball gods” (20-21).

Afterward, clouds roll into that “great-to-be-alive blue” sky. Doc lets Dancer know he can’t fill in for the major league pitcher anymore because he exhausted his arm, but surely he would get another chance. And Dancer takes heart. “It was a perfect game. No one could take that from him. … No matter what else happened they would always have that game. That moment. And Doc was right. He was young. He’d get another chance” (27). That innocent trust in the future sets up the disappointment and aching nostalgia that follow Dancer, and really all of us, after a peak moment we never know will be the last of its kind.

Dancer’s legendary game buys him a few years of low-level local fame, but we learn soon afterward that “the problem with his arm had developed the spring after the perfect game” (29). Dancer takes a better-paying job, pouring steel at the Caterpillar foundry, and the weight he gains in muscle mass, according to Doc, “might have thrown off his mechanics” (29). Whatever the cause, clearly nothing will be the same for Dancer again.

Soon Dancer is nobody’s hero anymore, and the work is hard and unrelenting. On the job, Dancer faces pressure from the owner’s son to attend Ku Klux Klan meetings. At home, his wife and two sons need more than he seems able to provide. He starts drinking with his best friend, staying out later and later. Everything starts slipping. Eventually, his wife Dede fears, “Things were never going to be normal in Maple Springs. Dancer was broken. … [E]very time she got a little bit ahead, Dancer would end up knocking that rock back down the hill” (199). All evidence seems to doom Dancer to ultimate failure. But sometimes, when second chances happen, they don’t look a thing like what you would expect.

This novel is a paean to the American Dream, not the showy upmarket commercial full-of-promises version, but the sort of dream you gain through trial, error, toil, and endurance. In Len Joy’s American Past Time, Dancer Stonemason rebuilds his dreams against the backdrop of a country doing the same thing.

Len Joy, American Past Time. Hark! New Era Publishing, LLC, 2014: $5.99

***

Jody Hobbs Hesler lives and writes in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her fiction, feature articles, essays, and book reviews appear or are forthcoming in Steel Toe Review, Valparaiso Fiction Review, Prime Number, Pearl, Charlottesville Family Magazine, A Short Ride: Remembering Barry Hannah, and others. You can follow her at jodyhobbshesler.com or on her Facebook writer page: Jody Hobbs Hesler – Writer.