Sunday, July 7, 2002

National Pastime Strikes Out Before it Strikes

National Pastime Strikes Out Before it Strikes
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
July 7, 2002

Let’s start with the simple notion that the farce the Major League Baseball All-Star game turned into Tuesday night, July 9 in Milwaukee is merely a microcosm of what is wrong with our national pastime.

That two starting pitchers, Freddy Garcia of the Seattle Mariners and Vicente Padilla of the Philadelphia Phillies could not, or in Padilla’s case, would not pitch more than two innings when they would normally pitch at least six, is an absurdity. Allegedly Garcia claimed he was willing to keep pitching after his two-inning stint.

In days gone by the All-Star game starter pitched three innings, not the two we have witnessed in recent years, and many of the next several pitchers have been starting pitchers and have also gone two innings – or at least one complete inning – unlike Barry Zito of the Oakland A’s who pitched to exactly one batter on Tuesday night. The National League roster featured only three starting pitchers of the 10 that took the mound, so naturally the seven relievers were only expected to work one inning.

And the two managers, Joe Torre for the American League and Bob Brenly for the National League exhibited nothing but fear – fear of the players and fear of the all too powerful players’ union in sheepishly claiming that there was nothing they could do.
But the blame should be shared equally amongst the players, managers and the poor excuse for a baseball commissioner Bud Selig, legally the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, entrusted to his daughter as he serves in his current post.

The inmates are running the asylum in Major League Baseball. With a pending work stoppage potentially on the horizon, there are deeper issues than the all-star game itself, and I am not taking sides in this one. I have no sympathy for either the players or the owners. Each one’s greed begets the others’.

For only the second time in 73 Major League Baseball All-Star games, last Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic as it has been dubbed lo these many years, ended in a tie at innings as both managers complained that they had run out of players. (The first tie occurred in 1961 due to rain.) After Tuesday’s display it should be redubbed the Midsummer Classless. And it’s a shame because until Larry (Torre), Moe (Brenly) and Curly (Selig) – that’s for my friend Kenny – huddled together to decide the fate of the game during the middle of the 11th inning, the fans were treated to a good game with some stellar defense, good hitting and overall action on the field. And thus because there was no winner, no MVP was named. It’s ironic too, because the MVP award was renamed for the late, great Ted Williams who died just last Friday, July 5. Ted Williams, a.k.a. Teddy Ballgame has been called the greatest hitter of all time, would have rolled over in his grave were it not for his son John Henry wanting to put him on ice. Williams played the entire 1941 All-Star game ultimately hitting the game-winning home run in the ninth inning. Yes, this was a farce.

That there hasn’t been a policy regarding extra innings has to do with the fact that baseball does not have a discernible end and will continue until there is a winner. Nine times all-star games went extra innings – all won by the National League incidentally. In 1967 the late Catfish Hunter of the Oakland A’s tossed five extra frames in a 2-1 loss by the AL in 15 innings. As it is, the rosters, at 30 players per team are already larger than a regular season roster of 25 players. However, this is an exhibition game and the managers do attempt to give all players an opportunity to see action.

In 1960 when Major League Baseball fielded 16 teams, all-star rosters were 30 players. In 2002 with 30 teams in the big leagues the rosters are still set at 30 players. The rule calling for each team to be represented at the All-Star game should remain in place. As a long suffering New York Mets fan I could count on seeing the likes of Lee Mazzilli or Jon Matlack make the all-star team. First expand the rosters to 35 players. Second, those elected to the starting line-up should play at least half the game. The fans voted for these players, the fans should get to see their picks play.

Third, hold back two or three players – at least one of which should be a starting pitcher just to avoid the embarrassment that took place Tuesday evening. These are grown men, supposedly, and not little leaguers. If they don’t all get to play, so be it. Who would have missed Adam Dunn, Robert Fick, Jose Hernandez or Randy Winn? In fact bonus points for the person who can tell me what teams they play for – no peaking.

To hell with the contract incentives. The average salary in the majors is just over $2 million per year. And while on the subject of dollars, the players ought to reimburse the 41,900 fans attending the game at Milwaukee’s Miller Park for the cost of their tickets. Prices ranged from $125 to $175 per ticket. That totals out to between $5,237,500 and $7,332,500, or between $87,291.67 and $122,208.33 per each of the 60 players in Tuesday’s game.

Apparently money is the only thing the players understand. That is just one of the reasons for the potential work stoppage brewing on the horizon, but unlike the season ending strike of 1994, there may not be a comeback for our national pastime. The strike of 1994 caused the cancellation of the World Series, something that even World War I and World War II could not accomplish. Baseball enjoyed a revival thanks to Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles surpassing the late Lou Gehrig of the New York Yankees in consecutive games played in 1995 and the epic home run battle between Mark McGuire of the St. Louis Cardinals and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs in 1998.

But in 2002, we are 10 months removed from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington. We the people have more important concerns right now. While the players, making millions, are battling the owners, making even more millions, we as a nation are battling terrorism. While the players and owners are disputing revenue sharing, major corporations have disputable accounting practices that are costing thousands of workers not making $2 million a year their pensions.

Fans may not come back to the game that has put them last – even diehards. Some have decided to avoid the proverbial Christmas rush such as my friend Troy a huge Cleveland Indians fan and my father a former Brooklyn Dodger fan, now a New York Mets fan. They opted not to watch the All-Star game on Tuesday.

I don’t begrudge anyone the right to make as much money as they can – it’s a simple concept of supply and demand. As long as fans are willing to pay the price to visit a ballpark, the players will continue getting richer – and I’m just as guilty – I go to the occasional game as well. I therefore, do not support a salary cap – that smacks of socialism.

But the owners are just as guilty of being as greedy as the players. In order to procure the best players, owners are willing to cough up the big bucks. In this case, it’s a case of Darwinism – survival of the fittest. Reports indicate that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had to secure additional credit in order to make July 15 payroll. Selig supposedly said this practice is no longer acceptable.

I agree. If a team cannot support itself financially, like any other business that goes bankrupt, so too should the team. It should fold up its tent and go away. People stopped shopping at Montgomery Ward’s – they went away. I do not support revenue sharing – that smacks of communism. Having two of the lowest attendance figures in the majors, the Devil Rays and the Florida Marlins should be contracted and their players – about 300 between the two teams’ organizations, should be available in a dispersal draft.

Teams, from worst records to best records would select players from the two teams. This would weed out players that should not be wearing a major league uniform in the first place. Besides, Major League baseball should not be played in Florida after April 1.

Eliminating two teams would strengthen the pool of players in the big leagues.
After eliminating two teams – which will not happen due to the unconscionable power the players union wields – they don’t want to see the loss of jobs by players unworthy of slipping on a major league uniform in the first place, teams unable to survive financially should be given the opportunity to move – once, before folding.

If the Expos can’t make it in Montreal, perhaps they should relocate. If the Royals can’t make ends meet in Kansas City or if the Padres are floundering financially in San Diego, there are no doubt cities that would welcome them with open arms and open wallets. Cities such as Portland, OR, Memphis or Nashville, TN, New Orleans, LA, Charlotte or Raleigh-Durham, NC could possibly support a major league team. Certainly our nation’s capital is long overdue for the return of a major league team – we now need to solve the infighting going on between the two leading forces supporting the move of a team to the DC area.

Then there’s the issue of testing players for steroid use. This should not be a debatable issue. I do not support random testing of ballplayers for steroids. Every major and minor league ballplayer should be tested for steroid use. As in baseball, three strikes and you’re out. The first test of positive should cost the guilty player a month long suspension without pay. The second positive should result in a one-year suspension from the game without pay. The third positive should result in a lifetime suspension and loss of pension.

Selig has performed his duties as commissioner poorly and should be removed from the position. I wouldn’t mind taking the job.

As for Dunn, he plays for the Cincinnati Reds, Fick plays for the Detroit Tigers, Hernandez plays for the Milwaukee Brewers and Winn plays for the Devil Rays. How many did you know?

Baseball will either fix itself or it will implode. The choice is theirs.

A final word –

The pre-game show provided a nice waltz down memory lane. What marred it was the embarrassing interpretation by Anastacia in her rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. She made several glaring mistakes. All potential singers of the anthem should actually know all the words and sing it the way it was meant to be sung.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer living in Alexandria, VA.

No comments:

Post a Comment