If you called me an insane, obsessed, socially maladjusted freak in regards to my passion for the game of baseball, you would be absolutely correct. Try as I might to cover up the idiosyncratic ticks that put me at the top of the weird charts, there really is no denying my beyond reasonable quirkiness. In fact, baseball has long affected my dating life, my filial responsibilities, my job.
So you can imagine the worry and fear experienced by my dearest friends and loved ones when the MLB Network officially launched earlier this year. It has been alluded to that since the network aired, getting in contact with me has been harder than taking Sarah Palin seriously. This I cannot deny.
Besides getting the inside scoop on all things off-season baseball from the Hot Stove Show, shedding man-tears watching Mookie’s grounder trickle between Buckner’s legs and vehemently arguing/defending the selections of Prime 9, I have also been forced to evaluate the roots of my undying passion for our national pastime and why it means so much to me.
Which takes me back to the beginning…
Unlike many young boys, my father had very little to do with my interest in baseball. As great a man as he was (still is), he always had a calm reserve — an indifferent nature towards the game. Sure, he was a fan of sorts; but he wasn’t nuts about it in any way. His sister was. Yes, it’s all her fault. My dear Aunt Alice and her husband, Uncle Iggy, were absolutely wild about baseball and they molded me into a young, opinionated, domineering superfan at an early age.
Indeed, no two people had a greater effect on my psycho-following of the St. Louis Cardinals. They ate, slept and breathed Cardinals baseball (still do); their fiery enthusiasm infected me before I could even walk. Upon reflection, my earliest baseball memory is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s front page color photo of bedlam at Busch after the 1982 World Series. Emulating Jack Clark’s short swing and despising Don Denkinger came soon after. With the help of my aunt and uncle, it wasn’t long before I was memorizing the starting lineup of the ’85 club and dreaming of being Ozzie Smith.
My father took a backseat to this unruly creation of a Redbird child. While supportive of my decision to “go crazy, folks, go crazy” while reenacting Ozzie’s fist pump around the bases, it was clear that Dad didn’t quite understand what all the fuss was about. Despite the quizzical looks he gave when I argued to stay home and watch the game rather than go to the video arcade, he accepted the fact that his son was some kind of weirdo.
As soon as I could operate the VCR, I was recording any and every baseball game on television. During the long the winter months I watched those games with the same intensity with which I watched them the first time. Then I’d watch them again. And again and again.
“Shh. It’s Tewksbury versus Sutcliffe, Dad. Pena’s gonna throw Walton out at second. Wait and see.”
“But you’ve seen this game already.”
“I haven’t seen all of it. There’s too much going on all at once. I’m watching just Pena this time. Just Pena. Watch.”
And he would… he would placate my desire… because he saw how important it was to me.
It was very important to me.
My parents were divorced. It got ugly at times. I lived with my dad, separated from my sister, who lived with my mom a hundred miles away. While my childhood spun around in chaotic circles of arguments, misunderstandings and fear, the melodic pace and harmonic rhythm of baseball calmed me like no drug ever could: the unique sound of Tom Brunansky’s bat, a whipping line-drive snagged by Pendleton at third, a Ken Daley strikeout. No matter what the final score, baseball, with its disregard for time and its indifferent ability to create heroes and villains and bystanders, became the one constant in my life.
It kept me sane.
So it was October, 1993, and I found myself in a certain state of panic. I was a selfish 14 year old boy who couldn’t imagine missing Game 6 of the ’93 Series and I wasn’t about to be quiet about it. In Tulsa, Oklahoma at the time to cheer on my dad (a marathon runner) in the 15k Tulsa Run, my complaining escalated — eventually becoming more annoying than persuading. The race was long over, but we were not anywhere near a television; the game had started and the anticipation was killing me.
“Dad, we have to go watch the game!” I whined.
“Okay, we will.”
“No, now! We’ve already missed the first inning!”
“We will. We’ll go in a little bit. It’s just the Blue Jays and Phillies anyway —
“Just the Blue Jays and — Dad, it’s important! We have to go!”
Several shrills of suffering and an hour or so later we were finally in the comforts of a relative’s home, watching the game.
My dad rested his tired legs and read the newspaper while I glued myself to the t.v. set, still jittery, shaken, upset from missing the first five innings of play. It was 5-1 Blue Jays and Dad uttered: “See, it’s gonna be a blowout anyway, Jeff.”
I grit my teeth.
And when the Phillies went on a tear in the seventh inning, scoring five runs to take a 6-5 lead, I looked back at him and said, “This is why you can never turn off a game, Dad. Anything is possible.”
Dad managed but a glance away from his paper.
The ninth inning rolled around. I shook with nerves at the suspenseful drama, mystique, myriad possibilities. Dad was unmoved. “Game’s over, Jeff. Mitch Williams is coming in.”
“You never know, Dad. You never know. You have to watch. Just watch.”
Williams walked Rickey Henderson.
“Just watch, Dad. Please.”
Fed up with my whining, he reluctantly put his paper down just in time to see Devon White fly out.
Paul Molitor singl
Joe Carter dug in.
I heard the rustling of Dad’s newspaper again, but before he could get into the reading position I shot him a glare so vicious, so maniacal, so threatening that he had no choice but to put it back down and focus on the game… just in time to see this:
Unaffiliated with the Blue Jays, unaffiliated with the Phillies, but fully affiliated with the wondrous game of baseball, I shot to my feet and screamed like a little girl. My whole being gushed with excitement, with incredulity, with a burning sensation never before felt as Carter jumped and ran the bases.
I looked at my dad, his jaw on the floor, eyes lit up like the Skydome fireworks.
“Did you see that, Dad!?! Did you see that!?!”
“I… I saw it. I don’t believe it but I… I saw it.”
“Don’t you see, Dad? Anything’s possible.”
“I guess you’re right. Anything is possible.”
If you can dream it, it can happen.
That’s the lesson baseball taught me, the lesson Joe Carter taught my dad, the lesson that comes from having a father who believes in you…
I love you, Dad. And don’t forget… you can’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right. You said it yourself on October 23, 1993.
I asked a similar question in the hypothetical earlier this season but now that some aspects of the postseason have sorted themselves out, I have to ask again. What makes you more sad, the Cubs winning the NL Central or the Cards not making the playoffs?
For all of you who picture me sitting in the alcove of my apartment drowning in the proverbial sea of my own tears because the Cardinals will be home this post-season while the Cubs journey on, you’re probably not too far off from reality. Of course, the half empty bottle of Jack, the lonely cavern of my heart and the clear and present danger of having one Sarah Palin next in line to the highest office in the land most certainly have more to do with my wallowing than the current state of baseball.
As I have said here before, the Cubs were supposed to win the Central and be one of the best teams in baseball this year. So why, Mr. Krause, should I be so surprised to actually see this come true? We’re both highly educated, extremely learned, dashingly handsome young men, so cut me a little slack here.
Verily, the true river of tears has yet to flow. In fact, it is on standby until the final outcome of the AL Central battle. If my neighborhood Sox find a way to wiggle back in there, then all will be well again and I will have much to look forward to.
If the menacing Twins manage to squeak in (which would realistically only extend their inevitable fate of just not being good enough) then I will go ahead and cry… right along side Mr. Krause, who again, finds himself rooting for the worst team money can buy.
Crying is nothing new to baseball fans. The likes of Bill Buckner, Bartman and Don Denkinger — among myriad others — have long tortured the hearts and souls of those most loyal.
And no one will cry harder (or longer) than Mets fans if the the second team of New York blows it — yet again — at the very last minute. Stay tuned… or, just keep your ears open for the hisses and boos from the Met faithful. That ricketty old stadium may come tumbling down sooner — and in a more creative way — than we all think.
Don’t hate me, ‘cuz as always, I’m right.
Instant replay may be here for good but that doesn’t mean I have to like it; nor does it mean I have to support it. Because I don’t.
And I won’t.
Before you get all sassy (Mr. Krause), let me just say that my basis for detesting this technological intrusion is not rooted in science. It does not rely on tangible evidence. It is based on one simple cosmological principle:
The baseball gods are pissed off.
For it is my strong belief that in baseball everything happens for a reason and eventually the inequalities of umpiring decisions (though visible and often game-altering) will be settled at a later time, when appropriate, when it’s most necessary. This is how it has been for over a hundred years — or in other words: a long friggin’ time.
Had the argument against instant replay in baseball not been so stringent in the past perhaps I wouldn’t be so upset about it now; but to maintain the party line for so long only to crumble under the pressure of a few whiny millionaires is quite embarrassing. Baseball is not football. It is not basketball. It is not hockey.
It does not need instant replay — at all. Ever.
Of course, now people like my colleague Mr. Allen Krause have embraced this technology because it will supposedly ensure that each homerun call is made correctly. And though they say it will be reserved only for homerun calls, we all know that you can’t just have one cookie. Before long everything from close plays at first to suspected trappings in the outfield to balls and strikes will soon be up for review by some Geek Squad reject in the New York main office, thus eliminating the human umpire element entirely, not to mention extending what many already consider a game that goes on too long.
This is not good, folks. It’s not good at all. And Mr. Krause, you’re completely wrong in your steadfast embrace of this electronic eye-in-the-sky Pandora’s Box.
You will be sorry. You see, the baseball gods — now raging in their defiance towards this atrocious innovation — have myriad unfinished business in equalizing the poor calls of the past. But now, since MLB has gone against its purist principles, all those yet to be righted face the harsh and difficult reality that they may never see justice on the field again. Fate has been tested and one ought to know better than to mess with fate, or the supernatural.
Just ask Pete Rose.
Ever wonder how a barely-above mediocre Cardinal squad won the 2006 World Series? Ask Don Denkinger. He knows. He took it away from them 21 years earlier.
Ever wonder how a pompous autocrat like me got to write a hit blog? Ask Greg Altmix, my high school baseball coach who sat me on the bench because I couldn’t hit the ball to the opposite field. He knows. I was a pull hitter. You can’t change a pull hitter.
Dear readers, for every wrong there is a right and the baseball gods know exactly what the hell they’re doing.
Call me a purist, call me old-school, call me Suzie… I don’t give a s***. Go ahead. Hate me if you must.
…but don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
“MLB just handed down suspensions to Joe Girardi, Dusty Baker and Wally
Joyner as a result of recent disputes with umpires. Meanwhile, the umps
blew several calls over the past week, including what should have a
been a three-run homerun by Carlos Delgado last Sunday. Are umps
earning their money and has MLB become overly sensitive to criticism of
“Are umps earning their money…?”
Seriously, Al? You act as if baseball has never seen a controversial call or a heated argument between umpire and manager before. Ejections, game-changing calls — right or wrong — are fundamental aspects of the game, Mr. Krause. They are as natural as the infield-fly rule or the strike-em-out throw-em-out inning-ending double play.
Your questioning of recent events yet again proves your ignorance for what has always been a defining element of the grand game of baseball.
What sets baseball apart from all the rest is that it doesn’t rely on the fast-paced pinpoint accuracy of machines to govern its highly relative rules. As a game that sees its best players fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate, baseball’s umpiring system — which has a much higher success rate — is bound to see a mistake or two during the long season. But to introduce technology (like instant replay) to arbitrate — even if it’s solely used for home run calls — would be nothing short of sacrilege in my point of view, which by the way, is the only correct point of view.
And I’m saying this as an avid proponent for burning down Don Denkinger’s house — still — 23 years after he singlehandedly destroyed my childhood by calling Jorge Orta safe when he was CLEARLY OUT during the 1985 World Series. A few years ago, I was going through some personal issues and while recovering made a list of all those whom I had hurt in some way with the ultimate goal of verbalizing an apology to them. I have said a lot of awful things about Denkinger in my lifetime and I am not proud of them. But when it came time to write an apology to him, the one person whom I hold more contempt for than even Bill O’Reilly, I was unable to reverse my absolute hatred. I even did extensive background research on Denkinger’s life, hoping that it would humanize him in some way that would make me feel bad about the anger I held inside.
But that’s just me. As an adult, I realize that that call was just a part of the game I love so much and that if I changed it, baseball would no longer be the rhetorical love of my life. It’s really as simple as that.
And while the league minimum salary for baseball players is around the $350K mark, the umpiring crews hover around $100K. The best umps in the game might make close to the player minimum, but of course, they’re doing it without any fanfare. They’re doing it while having to be on the road for every game, not just 81 games. They’re doing it while being targeted by angry fans in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and Detroit. They’re doing it without any attention paid to how good of a game they might call and they’re doing it while being singled out only when they get one wrong, which in the grand scheme of things, isn’t very often.
So they’ve had a bad week. So what. Their bad week pales in comparison to an Eric Byrnes, who is having a terrible season while getting paid over $6.5 million this year or an Eric Gagne, who is getting $10 million for throwing like a batting practice coach. These guys are the ones who aren’t earning their keep. These guys are the ones we should be talking about.
And if for some reason Bud Selig lets these idiots get to him with the whole instant replay institution, I will take to the streets French revolutionary style to ensure that the game stays just the way it is.
I may do it alone, but I will do it because it is right, because I am right. And whether I come out of it dead or alive, please don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right ‘cuz that’s all I have in this cold, cold world.