Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Let's Face It: The Game Stinks.

Probably the worst mistake the Yankees and Mets could have made when it comes to the future of their—our—sport, was to play, intact, so many of the old, old classics on their respective networks during this pandemic.

Don Larsen's perfect game, the 1960 Mazeroski game, the Mets' series against the Orioles in 1969, and then against the Astros and Red Sox in 1986 (a year, to be sure, that altercockers such as myself still think of happening as just about yesterday)—they were mesmerizing, even the losses (A loss never previously having been replayed on either channel.)

I have to admit, my stomach balled into knots watching Game 7 of the 1960 World Series.  Such an agonizing loss!  BOY, did those Bucs have luck!

Among other complaints, Forbes Field was in about THE worst condition I have ever seen a major-league ballfield in, even for a routine game.  There was not a true bounce on it.

The pebble that did in Tony Kubek?  Hell, it's amazing there wasn't such a play every inning.  Even the great Clemente out in right field botches a couple of balls hit out there, trying to field them off a turf with divots that look to be the size of foxholes, even on the grainy, black-and-white telecast.

Thanks to that field, Bobby Shantz, the hard-luck Yankees pitcher who did such a great job that day, comes within a millimeter of bouncing a two-run double over the head of Don Hoak at third base, in the top of the 8th, with the Yanks already up, 7-4.  The ball was ruled foul—I'm still not sure it was.  One pebble here, another there...

Why this should have been, I don't know.  I had assumed that the Steelers, the Panthers, and every other football team in Pittsburgh must've been using Forbes on weekends.  But in looking it up that does not seem to have been the case.  Was this some weird way of trying to level the odds?  Was the groundskeeper just a hopeless drunk?  (In which case, we could understand.)

But I digress.

The point is, these games were riveting.  They were great.  You saw players do all sorts of things—such as Mantle's great, heads-up dive back into first to avoid a game-ending double-play in Pittsburgh—and playing all kinds of ball.

And it moved.

You know, Whitman said a very long time ago (not even I remember it), that baseball was "America's game; it has the snap, go, fling of the American atmosphere."

That was still true in the 1960s.  It was still true in the 1980s, and even, maybe 15 years ago.  You watch these games and you're struck first and foremost by how all the celebrities are into the games at the World Series—or at least, they dare not say otherwise.

Jackie Kennedy is so intent on the play in the 1969 Series that she hands John-John some money to go to the concession stand, her eyes staying on the field.  Averell Harriman—Averell Harriman!—being interviewed by Tony Kubek between innings, can only talk about Bud Harrelson.  All the celebs talk baseball, and when play starts again their very brief interviews end and it's right back to the broadcast booth.  No inning-long "commentary" from some bored stars of the latest Fox sitcom flop, desperately trying to find something to say.

Sure, the parks looked like sagging, haimishe wrecks.  But the people knew it was a big deal.  They dressed up in suits and dresses for the World Series, and they hung on every pitch.  In good part because it was still a fun, fast-moving game.

Not anymore.

Our Peerless and Dauntless leaders, El Duque and Alphonso, have already written about the all-too-predictable failures of MLB and the players in negotiating some sort of season, and they have written about it very well.  I agree with pretty much all of that.

Personally, I think the risks are too great, and we should let the 2020 season go, much as that leaves me chagrined.  But if they were going to play, the negotiations should have been all about safety and the quality of play.  Of course, being who they are, they made it into money, especially the owners, who would be taking NO risk.

Worst possible outcome.  And with this virus hanging around, and the upcoming fight over a new general agreement, WILL we have baseball in 2021, even?  Maybe not.

And maybe that should lead to a total reboot, which could be a good thing, because the problems with baseball today go far beyond this pandemic.

Let's face it:  "The three true outcomes" brand of baseball, combined with the usual, runaway greed, is killing the sport.  Ballgames, especially big ballgames, are bombastic, endless spectacles that have been reduced to Home Run Derby.

I suppose it's natural that it came down to this.  Everything in our society tends to narrow down to its logical endpoint.  Art gets simpler and more abstract, until you're putting blank canvasses or vivisected cows on the walls.  Capitalism boils down every industry until the most efficient—and bland—company rules everything, and then puts out a shabbier and shabbier product.

I don't know why we expected baseball to be any different, especially because it is was our national game.  We reduced it to the "most efficient" outcome, tacked on a gazillion ads and product placements, marked the price way, way up, and declared, "Job done!"

Well, it stinks.  Watch one of those classic games on YES or the Mets' NO channel, then watch a re-broadcast of a more recent game, and you'll see the difference.  The sport today has no juice, no dazzle, its stadiums filled mostly with people who seem to be there on what used to be called race memory (the human race), maybe wanting to show it to their kids before it disappears.

There's no "snap, go, fling."  The fans sit silent for the most part, filling their mouths with the largely awful, overpriced food, probably thinking, 'Well, it beats the food court in the mall.'

I don't think baseball, per se, is going to die, no matter how badly its greedy practitioners and owners botch this crisis.  But I do think it may have to emerge as something completely different to survive.  And I don't think that would be a bad thing.













13 comments:

el duque said...

Amen.

Anonymous said...

The trouble with tanking the 2020 season because of the virus is that there is only a slim chance of getting a vaccine available by April 2021. If no vaccine by then, do we tank another season? No, I think baseball has got to get it together and patch together a season, even if it is only 50 regular season games. But the way that it's shaping up, it certainly looks as if the 2020 season is gone.

If the owners think that they can tank baseball for a couple of years and then have the fans come back, Judas Priest, they've got another thing coming. I, for one, am not going to be 1% of the fan that I used to be. I'll miss it, sure, but there are plenty other things now that I can do with my time. It's not the '70s or '80s anymore. Baseball now competes with the internet, computer and video games, in addition to other sports as well as the fitness craze.

There are some simple solutions to solving the three true outcomes brand of baseball. We have to make the game more size friendly to smaller players. Move the fences back to where they used to be in the '50s and '60s. Bigger outfields mean more extra base hits and smaller hitters with more speed would benefit. Smaller defenders with more quickness and speed would have an advantage over bigger, slower fielders. Batting average and stolen bases would have much greater value again.

There is no reason why we can't use technology to make the game better as well. Might as well use computers to call the strike zone. They'll be a lot more accurate and fair than umpires. Catchers and pitchers can communicate using smart watches. Forget going through the finger signs that Houston and Boston can steal using the center field camera.

The Hammer of God

Anonymous said...

Hoss,

Very thoughtfully written piece. I too have been watching and listening to older games and it does seem like it was better.

Part of the reason, and this goes to one of things you wrote about, is that the game was the most important thing in those broadcasts. The announcers seemed up to the task of actually describing it as if they knew that they were responsible for letting up know what was happening.

Last year I ended up using a hybrid broadcast. YES for the picture and John for the play by play. The picture made up for his almost total disregard for describing the game as well as his numerous inaccuracies.

Additionally the older broadcast made clear that the was also the most important thing happening in the stadium!

Not the bars, not the food, not the mini Hall of Fame, not your phone! The game. That's why Jackie O kept watching.

This ship has sailed.

Another problem is the players themselves. Different era, different type of men. Compare eighteen year old Yogi Berra hitting the beaches during WW 2 with sixteen year old multimillionaire Gary Sanchez.

If Mickey fails at baseball he goes where? Back to the mines. They played for their lives. Today's ballplayer (at least at the MLB level) is set for life. They don't bring the intensity that you described. For the record players deserve all the money they can get. But it does change the dynamic.

I believe that ownership is unchanged. Squeezing the buck at the expense of the ballplayer whether it's the reserve clause or trying to cut Joe D's salary because he batted a few points less (but well over .300) is in their DNA.

Anyway, nice piece of writing!

Doug K.



Publius said...

A little bit "get off my lawn"-ish, but what the hell, we don't come to IIHIIFIIc for the hippest trends. But while the "game" might not be what it was, individual games can still be riveting. The World Series last year was great, best in years in fact. And on any given day during the season there are plenty of stinkers, yes, but there'll be a great, well-played...even crisp...games too. Athletes are better than they've ever been and when the stars align play the game better than it's ever been played. But that's the extent of my dissent. Broad and deep change is required. Elimination of the anti-trust exemption is essential. Vince McMahon should stand up XLB and challenge in court. At a minimum it'll force MLB to create a more pleasing product.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Thanks for the comments, guys. Many good points, all around.

Hammer, I like your ideas for speeding up the games and cutting out the cheating, although I have to admit—much as I think they can't keep up with the game today—I would hate to see the umpires go. Bigger outfields might indeed be the way to go.

And I do feel my enthusiasm for it waning, too. For me, it's all the hype but especially how the game itself has changed. I realize that it has always changed and will keep changing, which is good in some ways.

But I liked it best around, say, 1975-1993, when you could see everything: home run hitters and high average hitters, great base stealers, relief aces and complete games, black and Hispanic players as well as white players. I know that equilibrium is hard to maintain, but I think it's no coincidence that the game reached a new peak of popularity at that time.

Didn't hurt that it was much easier and cheaper to see, either.

HoraceClarke66 said...

Doug K., you may be right about the players, but I can't worry about that too much, as we ourselves don't work anything like the way people used to.

I would say that I think all pro athletes still compete pretty intensely, just for the sake of competing. I'm amazed at how often guys still fling themselves into walls or the ground in games that don't mean anything.

I do think the real difference we're seeing is this: decades ago, guys who made the majors had been drilled much more in all sorts of fundamentals of the game. And they had usually taken a longer time climbing up from the minors, so they had honed those skills more.

It's a trade-off. Today, we usually get to see more of their earlier years, when they are at peak physical fitness, but less skilled and less experienced.



HoraceClarke66 said...

Publius, my plaint is indeed a little "get off my lawnish"—we should make that an acronym, maybe GOML?—but then, as a slow-moving old coot myself, I mind the pace less than I imagine many younger people do.

And yeah, there are still great games, and the athletes are indeed in better shape than ever. As just mentioned, though, they are not, perhaps, as skilled just because they are not required to be so. Or perhaps it's just that we never get to SEE those skills, because every at-bat consists of swinging for the fences or trying to strike somebody out.

But yeah, getting rid of the anti-trust exemption would be a good start.

ALSO...did you know that Vince McMahon's grandfather or great-grandfather owned a couple of the best black baseball teams ever to play in New York? The Lincoln Stars, I think—a great team, filled with stars, in the days of the old Negro Leagues. Almost no one today knows they existed.

Anonymous said...

@Hoss, oh I don't want umpires eliminated. They're part of the game, which has a human element to it and some mistakes by umpires are part of the game. That can't be changed without turning the game into something we wouldn't want. But I want the balls and strikes called by computers with the strike zone laser monitored. The home plate umpire would still be necessary to make catcher's interference calls and foul tips. Perhaps the umpire would have the authority to overrule the computer if there was a totally obvious erroneous ball-strike call. Or perhaps the other way around, the umpire makes all the ball-strike calls, but the computer corrects him in case of a mistake by more than "x" number of inches.

The Hammer of God

Anonymous said...

"I do think the real difference we're seeing is this: decades ago, guys who made the majors had been drilled much more in all sorts of fundamentals of the game. And they had usually taken a longer time climbing up from the minors, so they had honed those skills more."

Good point to an extent, but given that pretty much all MLB players come up after several years in the minors (there are very few exceptions) it comes down to what are they being taught (as you said there is a lack of fundamentals - that's on management) but I still believe that character plays a part.

I knew a lot of child actors as a result of my time in LA. Let's just say that it rarely went well for them over time. Lots of money too soon can be a real curse.

Doug K.

HoraceClarke66 said...

I hear ya, Doug K. And I often wonder how Ron Howard and Jodie Foster pivoted so well to adulthood.

Anonymous said...

A genuine interest in the craft and the business of entertainment.

It gave them other skill sets beyond being "cute". Most of the child actors who remained successful moved on to be directors (and producers). Most of the others, not so much.


Doug K.

Sharon Wayne said...

I want to thank Dr Emu a very powerful spell caster who help me to bring my husband back to me, few month ago i have a serious problem with my husband, to the extend that he left the house, and he started dating another woman and he stayed with the woman, i tried all i can to bring him back, but all my effort was useless until the day my friend came to my house and i told her every thing that had happened between me and my husband, then she told me of a powerful spell caster who help her when she was in the same problem I then contact Dr Emu and told him every thing and he told me not to worry my self again that my husband will come back to me after he has cast a spell on him, i thought it was a joke, after he had finish casting the spell, he told me that he had just finish casting the spell, to my greatest surprise within 48 hours, my husband really came back begging me to forgive him, if you need his help you can contact him with via email: Emutemple@gmail.com or add him up on his whatsapp +2347012841542 is willing to help any body that need his help.
For more details about Dr Emu visit his Website: http://emutemple.website2.me/

Isiyku Abdulahi said...


I really want the world to know about this great man who brought back happiness into my life again after my husband left me and the kids 3 years ago for another women online when i contacted Dr Believe he cast a love spell for me within 48 hours my ex husband start calling me and begging for forgiveness for everything that have happened between us. I was so happy to have my family back together with love again here is the email of Dr Believe via believelovespelltemple@gmail.com a man with the great powers you can also call him or add him on Whats-app: +2348156148821
God bless you
I am very grateful for your help in my marriage.