The End of Baseball

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All That is Wrong in the World

Here I go again, down the road of melodrama and romantic subjects no one should write about, but I can’t help myself.  I’m in a rage.  I’m so damn mad I can’t even work up a spit.  See, friends, the suited, perfumed, airy, pencil-necks who rule the game of baseball from their ivory towers, that weird crowd of bankers and lawyers and track-suited derelicts who sell the television contracts and wear heaps of body jewelry, in public, have decided to ruin baseball.

They are putting the game on the clock.

The beauty of baseball, for this fan, has always been its defiance of time.  No clocks.  Play until somebody wins.  No ties.  Game too long?  Don’t care.  4 pitching changes in one half of an inning?  Good, that’s the heart of the game.  The batter takes forty seven minutes between each pitch to adjust his batting gloves?  He’s a jerk-off and a narcissist, but I can live with it.  Baseball exists–should exist–in a parallel universe where the concerns of psychotic clock chasers and time crunchers can go to hell.

At least it is supposed too.

This season MLB is continuing their incremental destruction of the game by putting managers on the clock.  No more long, dramatic walks out to the mound to pat a pitcher on the butt and take his ball, no more group hugs on the rubber because the closer just loaded the bases and Billy Bob isn’t quite warmed up in the pen.  Nope, that’s over.  Now the manager has to run out there, say everything that is important really fast, and sprint back to the dugout.  He will be timed.  And that’s just the beginning.  Down in AAA they have been experimenting with the idea of putting pitchers on a clock too, a big NASA style countdown clock hanging behind home plate and, no doubt, somewhere out in the power alleys.  No more scratching, spitting, digging a fighting hole on the mound, shaking off signs, having a conference with the catcher, looking over your shoulder to make certain the shortstop isn’t asleep.  Over.  Just wind up and fire, because it will give the titheads at ESPN something else to grind up three hours of television in meaningless debate.

First, they stuck us with inter-league play, a tragedy, then instant replay, and now these geniuses have completely capitulated to the idea of timing the game.  They are going to the clock, and they are going to hell.

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The Abomination of Desolation

I shouldn’t be surprised.  Nothing is sacred anymore, and baseball purists like me are dinosaurs staring up at that weird, blooming light in the sky.  We just can’t understand what is hurling toward us through space.

But I do know why they keep doing this stuff.  I just don’t have to like it.

Television.

First, it trained a few generations of people to have no attention span, and then it went to work on the last game that actually demands an attention span, and an embrace of those things particularly human that don’t require the artificial pressure of time.  All of this portends pure evil and ties in, somehow, to the popularity of Donald Trump and the “You are a poopyhead” debates we now enjoy for the right to lead the free world.  A clock in baseball?  The world is upside down and inside out.

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A few years ago I had the privilege of playing adult league hardball, down in Santa Barbara.  I played for the Santa Barbara Whalers, and it was the most fun I have had as an adult.  Grown men begging for ice in the dugout (which my wife, attentive as always, would fetch from the nearest store), eating geedunk and Spitz and chewing tobacco and hollering from the benches for the opposing pitcher to quit on his lame curveball.

The league was solid, if old.  We had geezers who blew their hamstrings running out an infield ground ball, guys who couldn’t pitch, strikeout artists and home run hitters who fixed your plumbing by day, and folks whose warmups lasted longer than a Yankees-Red Sox game in September.  What brought us together was a love of pure hardball, real baseball, 9 on 9, and we played hard, and we played to win.  The Whalers were mostly cops, a couple of start-up computer cats from Goleta, plumbers, construction guys, or lawyers.  Our manager was a cop and a baseball fanatic to the very end.  He will play baseball anywhere, from San Quentin to Cuba, and that is the definition of a fanatic.

I don’t hit for power.  I’m a singles hitter all the way.  But my brother played on this team too, and if you have never understood the power of baseball to inform and enrich the rights of brotherhood, then you have never understood the genius of George Carlin.

I had precious few games in that season, recovering from a car wreck and any number of personal tragedies, precious little time to play baseball with my younger brother–we were separated by too many years to ever play on the same teams as kids–but nothing can replace playing with him, not anything, not the honor of warming up with my kid brother who imitated batting stances with me on the lawn of our parents’ ranch in the high desert.  Nothing can replace that chance.  And he had become a good player, a grown man who hits for power, and could launch a ball 450 feet against shaky pitching without blinking an eye.

The important part is this:  he was my brother, and nothing will ever be better in my life than getting a bloop single into left field, taking second on an error, and seeing my younger brother come up to bat.  I knew what he could do, knew it in my bones.  I’d known it for years.  With a lead off second, I had nothing but confidence.  And he had such insouciance.  I’m a hack, a singles hitter who keeps making it to second base, but he is an athlete.  And so watching him step into the box was a gospel moment for me, and it didn’t let me down.

Because in baseball, you just know.

And we had the baseball blessing, once, for him to drive a solid double against the fence, despite playing the game with a bum shoulder and bad knees, to drive that ball into the wall and send me, his older, hamstrung and difficult, brother, home.  There is nothing as pure as that kind of baseball moment:  hundreds of miles from your natural home town, playing ball on the same team against strangers, to get on base and to get sent home safely by your brother.  Because in baseball, you can live that dream.

And so the chance to play on the same field, to share the diamond in a pastoral game without clocks, just brothers taking swings without the contrivances of the screeching world around us, as grown men, when his own children were just starting little league, drives straight into my marrow, like an iron bolt, and I will go to my death cherishing those precious few innings we shared on the field, bound by blood and something more, something our parents gave us:  appreciation for a game that transcends the meaningless howls and jarring ticks of the hour and second hands of a meaningless, bothersome, and entirely bankrupt, clock.

 

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14 thoughts on “The End of Baseball

  1. It really is an amazing game. Your little nephew Big D, was 4-4 with a walk and pitched two solid innings today. He also caught a heck of a game.

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  2. Great one!! One of life’s cherished memories…walking into the park, looking at the expanse of manicured grass, the smell of ol’ stogies, the crack of the bat, the infield chatter…am praying that heaven will be this good!

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  3. Good article and I agree w/much. I first played in the SBMSBL on the Whalers and I had a very fun time w/many of the same guys who play for the Whalers now. Have enjoyed playing both with, for and against BB.

    But have to candidly express what came to mind first when I read this: though I’m a baseball fanatic and purist myself, I’ve far LESS a problem w/a MLB clock-rule, than I do w/a SBMSBL rule that prevents a FATHER & SON from being battery mates in MSBL games.

    I’ve played on the Sox the past 3 years. Our main pitcher’s son is not allowed to catch his Dad anymore based on a “special rule” put in 2 years ago (prevents anyone younger than 30 from playing catcher or shortstop).

    So father & son are now no longer allowed to be battery mates in SBMSBL games because of this new rule. On the other hand, a former minor league pitcher who recently turned 35 (and he’s a terrific player and fun as hell to compete against!) can pitch in the same league.

    So a nearing-60 father & nearing-30 son battery can’t play together because that would somehow be “unfair” and give our team a competitive advantage? But at the same time, a former minor league pitcher can — at times — mow guys down one after the other simply because he just turned 35? Doesn’t make sense, right? Especially if we’re calling ourselves baseball ‘purists’?

    Don’t purists simply play for the love of the game? And by all means, what could be MORE PURELY BASEBALL than a father getting to pitch to his son while playing together on the same team in a rec league while Mom watches from the stands? We’re DENYING THIS in the SBMSBL, while at the same time calling ourselves ‘purists’ and lamenting a MLB clock rule?

    Another example… Last game of our season last year, etc. I wasn’t allowed to bat in a tied-game in the 10th inning simply because one of our guys forgot that by pinch-running for me (even though I had a designated courtesy runner for the ENTIRE GAME), by rule I could then be forced out of the batting lineup by the other team. I had walked in the 8th inning, we were up by 7 or 8 runs at the time, and he was coaching first and simply wanted to run the bases. I had a designated runner anyway, but this guy happened to be coaching first base and hadn’t played in over a month because of an injury.

    So we lose the big lead, and it’s the 10th inning of this whacky, sloppy, fun, tied playoff game. And in I’m in my mid-forties and have literally caught EVERY INNING of every single game of the SEASON at this point (because our pitcher’s son is no longer allowed — by rule — to catch). And it’s nearly 100-degrees on this particular day. And what happens when I get the chance to take what would’ve been BY FAR the single-most FUN at bat of the season for me (i.e. 2-outs, bases juiced in a tied 10th-inning playoff game)? What happens simply based on…a ‘clerical error’?

    🙂

    The other team won’t let me bat… Again, we’re all calling ourselves baseball ‘purists’, yet this is the kind of stuff we’re reduced too in an effort to win a “playoff” game as grown men essentially playing little league? Not letting a father & son play together all season for 2 straight years. Not letting someone take the 1 AB they’ve literally been waiting to take all year? Not letting someone have the fun of that at bat, even though based on all the weird MSBL rules, they’d had a designated runner all game long and were still allowed to catch?

    And make no mistake, we ALL have the discretion to waive/modify any rule at any point if both teams agree. The other team in this situation after I asked? They simply could’ve said “sure Dave, take the at bat. We want to WIN the game, but we want to do it between the lines, rather than winning by exploiting a MSBL rule”.

    But nope… Even w/all the discretion we have to simply ‘play hard’ and ‘have fun’? Nope. The other team decides they’d rather force a dude w/a BROKEN DIGIT — a guy who hasn’t taken an at bat in over month because of an injury — he has to either take my at bat (which he did) or our team is forced to take an automatic out based on MSBL rules… MSBL rules, which again, every team has the discretion to modify/waive at any point in time.

    Again… Don’t purists simply play for the love of the game? This is what we’re reducing “purity” too? I mean, we’re grown men wearing little league uniforms just playing for the love of the game, right? And maybe we don’t have a countdown clock, but we DO — for example — we DO have a rule that SPECIFICALLY prevents a father & son from being battery mates, etc. And to me? In a league where we’re all playing just for fun and for the love of the game? THAT’S FAR WORSE than a clock in my opinion.

    So I look forward to baseball again this year as I always do… And I’ll likely continue competing as long as I possibly can because I love (1) the game, (2) the competition, and (3) the camaraderie that exists between all of us: teammates, opposition, umpires, and those dedicated (and unfortunate!) family and friends who’ll come out to watch us spend a couple of hours every Sunday stumbling around and having fun as grown men wearing our little league uniforms.

    But at the same time… If we’re going to put this kind of article on the League Facebook Page? An article that lauds the SBMSBL and it’s players for being baseball ‘purists’ and playing the game the right way? Shouldn’t we start taking a good, long, hard look in the mirror at ourselves? Because I find MANY of the things we’re doing on the field in SBMSBL games to be FAR MORE damaging to the spirit and purity of baseball than anything I see happening to Major League Baseball itself.

    I know I for one will make every effort this year to be a better teammate (i.e. I’ll show up an hour before games, not 3-minutes beforehand; I won’t curse…as much 😉 ) . I’ll be a more respectful opponent, and more respectful to each and every single umpire in the league at ALL TIMES. I’ll do it each and every week because if I’m going to ask for change? I’ll lead from the front and make changes myself.

    I hope the LEAGUE itself will re-evaluate it’s own rules and do everything possible to make the game more about what should be about: PLAYING BASEBALL for the love of the game, not playing baseball because we’re trying to “win” at all costs.

    Anyway… Thanks for the article, I enjoyed reading it and it sparked those thoughts that I was just able to share. I’ve also enjoyed reading some of the other things I’ve read from your blog since I stumbled upon it via the SBMSBL Facebook last night.

    Take care!

    –dave

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    • Thanks for writing Dave. I would agree with you: any rule prohibiting father and son playing as a battery, for the given reasons, seems to move completely away from the spirit of the game. Don’t like it. There is always ten percent of any crowd, it seems, who can’t get over themselves long enough to simply enjoy being “grown men wearing little league uniforms.” Not sure why that is, human nature, I suppose. Sadly, for me, I can’t even offer up similar complaints because there is no men’s baseball here. At any rate, I tip my cap to you. Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a terrific season.

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      • Not at all, Craig… Thank you. And I hope some folks that I truly do have legitimate affection will — in my opinion — “come to their senses” and change a rule that is absolutely ridiculous (IMO). Because I don’t think the very team you are lauding from the SBMSBL in your very poignant article here? I don’t think they should be taking credit on their Facebook Page for being baseball “purists” unless they actually are willing to BE baseball purists.

        I mean, how unique and unusual is it for a father to actually be able to pitch and have the catcher be his own son? And mom is almost ALWAYS at every game… It’s not just a father and son IMO, it’s an ENTIRE FAMILY that seems to really live, eat & breathe baseball. And those of who are passionate about the game? We’ve ALL grown up around such “baseball” families. I’ve known families like that since I was 6 years old and playing Pinto and Mustang baseball in Northern California.

        And grown men are preventing that family from having the opportunity to have Dad and son continuing to play together as P & C. All because of the pursuit of a plastic “Championship” trophy. Some things I’ll just never understand… 😉 Thanks again for a great read, and I’ve got your site bookmarked and will look forward to reading more.

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      • thanks Dave, and I agree. Play the game, forget the trophy. Nobody gets a bigger contract at the end of the season…which is the whole f’n point, seems to me.

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      • Yep… And semper fi, dude. Been reading a lot of your stuff today. Some of it? Just really moving and very powerful writing. Have a million and 1 things going on right now, but I’d love to discuss your writing in more detail at some point in time. It’s very good. –dave

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