Editor’s Note: This non woke essay was not written by ChatGPT!
My baseball fandom officially commenced on 10 September 1968 when I attended my first game at Shea Stadium. Tom Seaver and the New York Mets, still considered an expansion team, lost 6-0 to Roberto “Bob” Clemente, legendary Yankee killer Bill Mazeroski, Robert Ralph Moose Jr., and Willie Stargell’s Pittsburgh Pirates. I still have the yearbook and box-score clipping from Long Island Newsday.
Stories reminiscing how the first in propria perspective of a major league baseball field is akin to a vision of heaven are part of my history too. The expansive green field, the enormity of this game of “inches.” The athletic prowess of the players who can flick white natural cowhide with 108 hand-woven stitches across a diamond…
Of the 30 major league baseball stadiums in existence – I have visited 24, not including the cathedrals that have met their timely demise via the made-for-television implosion (replete with asbestos poisoning) or were pummeled bit by bit by the cruel Miley Cyrus wrecking ball such as Shea, ye Olde Yankee Stadium, Candlestick Park, and Atlanta’s Turner Field where Ted canoodled with Hanoi Jane.
Baseball is a cerebral game. Unlike any other sport. As legendary Baltimore Orioles skipper Earl Sidney Weaver, a master of kicking-dirt on the shoes of blind umpires oft preached: “you can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”
The game was once an exercise in contemplation – all the action resided in the imagination. To the non-fan or casual observer, dunce, or ex-wife, it’s a boring pastime. It takes years to learn baseball. In fact, you never really know the game completely. Much like your current wife.
Every pitch, every swing of the bat is dependent not only on the skill of the respective players, but it is also a reaction to the time of the season, the standings, the opponent, the line-ups, tomorrow’s game, subs on the bench, relievers warming up in the bullpen, an impending road-trip…and how much the players drank the previous evening.
Akin to mastering a musical instrument, it is a lifelong study. There are no short cuts. You have to take the journey – which, incidentally, is where the joy of life is.
A game out of time, out of touch….
We are no longer a reflective society. Hence the game’s popularity plummeted in recent years in favor of basketball, football, and ultimate fighting mixed martial arts in all its abject violent glory, followed by the indentured slavery of the corresponding college sports. Athletic endeavors all founded on persistent action, action, action, action.
Gaming feeds the American addiction for constant stimulation. By attaching itself to the grand old game of baseball, gambling has reinvigorated the sport for the 21st Century. I’m not saying that it was better back in the day. The game has evolved out of necessity.
On many of my baseball sojourns I chatted with parents who brought their kids to the ballpark. When I enquired as to how their sons and daughters could appreciate a “game” besotted with digital media, multi-task scoreboards, incessant blasts of music and other distractions – their answer was that the “distractions” are what kept the kids entertained!
When my dad brought me to the ballpark, the simple act of witnessing my baseball cards coming to life on the emerald pasture – Pete Rose, Cleon Jones, Ron Santo, Willie McCovey – was far more exciting than explosions and relentless ads for junk food.
Media coverage of the game is even worse. In 2022 I watched every Mets game broadcast on SNY – the team’s network. I couldn’t tell you the names of their sponsors. None. Other than the generic descriptives: auto, drug companies, diabetes/obesity inducing sustenance, alcohol, insurance, and of course, gambling.
However, there was one respite I’ll never forget. When beloved Met / Texas Ranger Jacob deGrom returned from his one-and-a-half-year stint on the injured list in ’22, the SNY producers treated it as if it were the moon landing. No commercial breaks. We watched the lanky multiple Cy Young Award winner warm up in the bullpen, embark on the longest walk to the pitcher’s mound from center field. Hi-def cameras scanned the faces of the fans in rapt anticipation. The emotion of Jacob’s teammates on the field and in the dugout was palpable. I was texting with my baseball posse as I always do during season. We couldn’t believe what we were watching: a baseball game! We actually felt as if we were in Citifield. Nowadays cable television is essentially commercials with interstitial “content.”
The game now has billions more dollars to lavish on its stars. Surely the lords of baseball are obligated to reimburse the fans / citizens who pay taxes to build and maintain their luxury stadiums (among other corporate welfare) and reduce the cost high priced cable and digital platforms for taxpayer citizens.
But baseball will never do that. Why? Because akin to all capitalist corporate monoliths, they don’t give a rat’s ass in Mesopotamia about you. You are the addict; they are the dealer. Ho, I would love to lead a sports boycott, but it will never happen. I published a few op-eds for independent media sites such as Huff Post, Counterpunch and hosted a blog entitled Sports Fan Manifesto suggesting that if fans stood their ground and engaged in an economic and physical abstention from the product – the games and their sponsors would come crawling back to them.
Mostly I received hate mail from hardcore sports fans. You can’t take away a junkie’s junk. Ironic that sports fans glorify sports stars for their perseverance, courage, hard work, sacrifice and dedication. Yet when it comes time for them to do the same in the name of civic justice, they cower, and bury their collective heads in the astroturf. Even sheep occasionally stray from the herd for the greater good – and avoid slaughter in doing so. If only sports fans were as intelligent – and brave – as livestock.
All said, I love baseball, here are my Take Five baseball predictions:
One: More teams beget more gamblers. I expect to see major league baseball expand to the secondary and tertiary markets. Tulsa, Nashville, Indianapolis, Des Moines, Raleigh, Jacksonville, and similar cities post haste. The minor leagues will stay strong via gaming as well.
Two: More playoffs mean more… gambling! Rather than expand the playoff format which would run deeper into the winter months, baseball will be inclined to set up a league alignment akin to European Football (Soccer) with premier and secondary leagues.
The worst teams in the top tier leagues would be bumped down to the lower leagues, and vice versa for the best teams in the secondary leagues at the conclusion of each season.
This way, smaller markets will not have to compete directly with the richer teams in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston etc. As the small market GMs have revealed on several MLB Channel interviews in Spring Training 2023 – it’s all about making the playoffs where “anything can happen.” If MLB remains with just the NL and AL, even with its divisional races, the regular season becomes meaningless. Folks don’t watch or bet on meaningless….
Three: Substitutions. Players in pennant races burn out. Even with PEDs (yes!) the games are getting harder to play outdoors (mostly) as the planet gets hotter.
Plus the 162 game schedule is an arduous format. Yet fans want to see and gamble on their favorite stars. Hence to rest marquee players during the stretch, why not have an Aaron Judge or Pete Alonso play the first few innings …sit for a few, then come back in the game if it’s on the line. You betcha!
Four: Eventually, we’ll see defensive and offensive teams in baseball ala football. It will increase gambling on fielding and hitting activities. Plus, the players’ union will support it given that it’s more jobs for players and coaches. Some players could pull double duty too…
Five: Host city World Series. As the game now stretches nearly into the cold months, we’ll see a World Series in warm weather environs – likely Las Vegas. Plus, with my proposed Euro-Soccer format, you could have championship contests between the leagues in Vegas in wintertime.
Which will culminate in “Super Bowl” type contest with a seventh inning stretch extravaganza starring a celebrity who can’t sing, auto-tune crooning a “song” with no melody; surrounded by dancers outfitted as gyrating sperm; replete with a “band” miming to a song they never played because they are not computer programs; concluding with said star rubbing her cooch and smelling her fingers! How uniquely American!