After 162 team games of the regular baseball season finished, the American and National League Championship Series’ Playoff’s Schedules landed like the marines to take over the beachhead of America’s attention. Now with an extended five-faze play-off schedule, including two “wild card” play-offs not one, I think Bud Selig, the commissioner of baseball has lost his mind to commerce.
The number of games and pretexts for them have increased more than ever to make it a mind-numbing three ring circus of baseball, stars, super-stars, upstarts and rejects, and mostly record numbers of revenue-producing commercials for owners, teams, Major League Baseball (MLB), TBS (Turner Broadcasting System), following the Chinese model of slave-labor baseball, from Wild Cards to World Series.
In total, they have diminished audiences for the presidential and vice-presidential debates, which may or may not be a bad thing. But as I found myself and my 23-year old baseball aficionado son, a semi-pro pitcher, slipping into the Yankee schedule, it felt like a vortex sucking out our minds. It began as the Yankees opened up the League Division Series.
They should have had Homefield Advantage since they finished with the best record in the entire American League. But, they ended up having to go to Baltimore for the first two games in the American League Division Series (ALDS). Then the series would return to New York City for the next three games. After the Yankees beat the Orioles in the best out of 5, they went on to face the Detroit Tigers in the first game of American League Championship Series. The winner of this series would then win the American League title and earn the right to play in the World Series. Bud decided. And if you can follow this, you probably deserve a Ph.D. from Yale in baseball.
The Tigers had to come to New York City because they had a worse regular season record than the Yankees, who had Homefield Advantage. The Yankees record was W-95 L-67, while the Tigers finished with a W-88 L-74 record.
The Tigers had arrived in New York at 4:00 am that morning to play the first game of the American League Championship Series that started at 8:30 P.M. and went till 1 A.M. Sunday morning. During that game, The Yankee Captain Derek Jeter fractured his ankle and was taken out for the rest of the play-offs, something that happens when athletes are pushed too hard. The next day, Sunday, the second game started at 4 P.M. and went till 8:30 P.M., the Yankees losing 3–0. My son and I were obviously distraught. Are you still with me?
I began to get that bad-dream feeling that baseball was taking over our brains, not just my son’s and mine, but America’s brains, all the millions of fans that were tuning in from one game to another to another and another, ad nauseum, the cheers, the jeers, the boos, the roars of the crowds. It became one big head full of pain. Crowds booing well-know players who weren’t hitting or pitching to their liking. Other unknown players suddenly exalted for unexpected performances. It was the business (sports) a model for our economy.
The $27 million a year plus player A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez) was benched for a bench player, Raul Ibanez, who was on a home-run tear. This was raw capitalism mixed with raw sport. The records of some great players were forgotten for the new money-makers, shades of Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase’s Whale. This was the politics of the new market, which felt like “make up the rules as you go.”
The hand-picked announcers for the Yankee/Orioles series were Ernie Johnson, ex-Atlanta Brave ace Jon Smoltz and legendary Orioles third baseman, Cal Ripken Jr. Their takes on the game were consistently fair and unbiased. These can’t be said for the Yanks/Detroit series announcers as ex-Met and Yankee-hater Ron Darling replaced Ripken. It was a quiet orgy of knives in the back—so much for fair and balanced reporting.
On top of that, we had umpires blowing calls stronger than the four winds surrounding the stadiums. Yet, Selig, the MLB and the Umpire’s Union, all refuse to install the kind of video replay equipment that the NFL has. Just call ‘em as you see ‘em, even if you’re blind or have a bad point of view. The best solution offered was to put an umpire in the announcer’s booth where he could see what the announcers were seeing sp clearly on their video monitors from all the camera positions. In a matter of seconds, he could overturn a false call made from the field the way they do in football.
As to the commercials, if I never see another one again, both my son and I will be happy as pigs in a poke. The endless barrage of car commercials ran us over and over again as they were repeated game after game, all in the same pre-bought pods. We began to memorize the punch lines and speak them in synch with the actors. This was mostly to keep from falling asleep.
And how far had baseball come from the days of my boyhood, when there were two leagues, the American and National, each with eight teams, who played a 154-game season, with the top team of each league going straight to a seven-game World Series. It was the right size to crown the baseball season, and managed not to rumble on till late October and not seem headed for Christmas.
But, driven for endless profit is not what baseball should be about. It should be about athleticism, sportsmanship, and love of the game, without the escalating prices of concessions, tickets and stadiums built bigger than some small towns.
In fact, our own Yankees could stand to rip up some seats in the short-porch right field that is only 314 feet from home plate and the left field, which is 318-feet and deepen their length for a home run. Raise the standard of play not the prices.
In general stadiums have become more lavish but more difficult to follow games. This is due to the excess of digital light displays dancing and distracting the eye, too many sound effects. It’s easier to watch games on a reasonably-sized flat screen TV, where you don’t feel like you’re in the Roman Collisseum, surrounded by expensive restaurants, and have to make as much as Lloyd Blankfein to sit in a field seat.
I’ve always loved baseball, especially the Yankees, ever since I was five and my uncles whispered in my ears, “You’re a Yankee fan, Jerry boy, remember that. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, Phil Rizzuto, Frank Croscetti, are all Italian kids.” That’s our team. “Okay, Uncle Joe, Uncle Al, I like the Yankees.” Little did I know that soon we would move to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, where my mother’s not my father’s family lived, which was in the Italian section of Greenwich Village.
My uncles told me all about the Bambino, another Italian? No, Babe Ruth was a tough kid who hung out in his parents’ saloon but got into too much trouble. So they sent him to a Catholic School and a good priest straightened him out. Then there was Lou Gehrig, the Iron Horse (I loved that name), who, after playing through thousands of games without missing one, contracted ALS and died, still a young man, a handsome man, who at his goodbye speech said to a packed stadium, “Today, I feel like the luckiest man on earth,” as the crowds roared until the rafters shook. They loved him back with a New York street passion. By the way, Gehrig was a graduate of NYC’s Columbia University.
Then there was Micky Mantle, who replaced DiMaggio, and Roger Maris who broke the Bambino’s record for 60 homers in a year with 61. And a fan got so angry, considering it a betrayal, that he threw a kitchen chair on the field at Maris. Yes, that’s the baseball I was nurtured on. And the same we played in schoolyards in Brooklyn where I grew up, having to fight off Dodger fans every day.
I also knew my stats better than any of those Brooklyn cafoons and earned the name “the little professor,” which was actually the nickname of Joe DiMaggio’s brother, Dom, who played centerfield but for the Boston Red Sox. I once saw them at shagging flies in center before the game in center field at the old Yankee stadium, horsing around like any two brothers would, and I wished I was either one of them.
But even given the scrawny kid I was, I stood up to the Dodger kids, and on occasion, duked it out with one of them, getting or giving a bloody nose. Actually, I liked the Dodgers, too. How could you not? Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese and the one and only incredible Jackie Robinson breaking through the race barrier like he was going from first to second, second to third and round it to steal home. That was Jackie, bless his soul. He opened the door to players of all colors and backgrounds to play ball. So I got history with both teams, but the Yankees are part of the family. And my two grown sons, actually the youngest, 23, is an aficionado who’d rather go to the new stadium to see a game than anywhere.
So let’s not take baseball too far, too fast, beyond what it was meant to be, the Great American Pastime, not the Great American Lose-Your-Mind-Time. America could definitely stand to lean back, kick up its feet, and just enjoy life, without thinking winning spells life and losing spells death, as our government thinks, fighting its endless wars around the world to maintain an empire. Amen.
Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer and life-long resident of New York City. An EBook version of his book of poems “State Of Shock,” on 9/11 and its after effects is now available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. He has also written hundreds of articles on politics and government as Associate Editor of Intrepid Report (formerly Online Journal). Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.