As of Sunday, Major League Baseball was on deck to play ball Thursday. It will be a different season than any of us have experienced – and we might be better off without it.
True, the performances of talented athletes might be welcome distractions from such realities as:
• A president who has forged his own secret police force to snatch peaceful protesters off the streets as he tries to incite violence in the cities;
• A president whose response to a pandemic his incompetence exacerbated has been to order to local officials NOT to give death counts to the Center for Disease Control, but to turn that info over to his secret police authority;
• That same president and his secretary of education — neither of whom believe in public schools – trying to force public schools to crowd teachers and students together in the middle of a pandemic;
• Our president whose little actual work seems to focus on making the planet uninhabitable for future generations;
• President Trump, who votes by mail but doesn’t want anyone else to do so;
• A president trying to dismantle Ben Franklin’s postal service ;
• And, yes, a president whose mental capacities show at lower levels every time he speaks.
It might be nice to take a break from the news cycle. But, it won’t be baseball as usual.
Right-wing spinmeister George Will usually prefaces Opening Day with quiz of obscure baseball trivia. I’ll pose only one question. In the last 80 years, since 1940, who has hit the most triples? There have been some speed-burners since then.
I have decreed that this year they will be playing “bass ball.” Not the fish, but as in the lowest form of the game they could possibly reach.
For starters, about 20 starters, closers and utility players have opted out of the season for health concerns for themselves or family members. Also missing this year will be baseball in Canada as the Blue Jays’ wishes have been overruled by adults.
The 60-game season – and the inequalities it includes – can be blamed partly on the pandemic. Imposing a designated hitter into the National League cannot.
And, travesty of travesty, commissioner Rob Manfred has decided that every extra half-inning in a game will begin with a runner on second base, hoping to make it easier to score and, thus, shorten the game. (I guess MLB Tee-ball is next.)
Under MLB’s dumbing down doin’s this year, the designated runner will be the last player in the batting order from the previous inning – or a pinch runner. Yeah, in most cases, the guy making the last out of the previous inning gets awarded second base, giving him the opportunity to pad his runs scored stats due to no positive effort.
Where is Herb Washington when we need him?
Washington was the world-class sprinter hired as a designated runner by Charlie Finley for his Oakland Swingin’ A’s in 1974. That year, he played 92 games without a plate appearance or fielding chance, scored 29 runs and stole 29 bases on 45 tries. Today a .644 stealing percentage is really not considered beneficial.
The A’s were world champs that year, but they had also won the previous two World Series titles. So, Washington’s impact can be considered negligible at best. He appeared in 13 games in 1975 before drifting out of the league with nary an at-bat.
But, skewed run-scored stats are not the only worry for those of us who care about the game. What if a hot hitter – or two or three or four – finishes the third-of-a-season season with a .400 batting average? Forget Herb Washington. Where’s Ford Frick and his asterisk when we need him?
Such stratospheric numbers might not be as easy to attain as we think though. In 1876, the first year of the National League (when the game resembled softball more than the baseball we know), the schedule consisted of 66 league games – at a time when league members still played non-members as well. That year there was only one .400 hitter. Chicago second baseman Ross Barnes hit .429.
This was the fourth time his average topped .400, the other three times coming in the National Association, the NL’s forerunner.
But, there was a catch even then. Barnes had perfected a “fair/foul bunt,” where he bunted the ball into fair territory with the spin to take it into foul ground away from the fielders. This practice was deemed so dubious that the rules were changed the next year to the present status that calls a batted ball foul unless it passes first or third base fair or rolls to a stop in fair territory. Over the three seasons remaining in his career, Barnes failed to hit .300.
Technically, Opening Day is the Cardinal Holiday of my liturgical year. This is my 63rd year as a St. Louis Cardinals fan, back to the glory days of Joe Cunningham, Don Blasingame, Lindy & Larry and Hal Smith (“meet Hal Smith”). Yeah, Stan Musial and Ken Boyer were on that team, too. And those other five were darn good ballplayers.
Maybe the only positive baseball note for my summer is that long-time Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons will make it to Cooperstown this year along with Larry Walker, who finished his career contributing to two Redbird division titles.
And the answer to my favorite baseball trivia stat is the Cardinals’ own Stan the Man, with 177 triples. (Without the tragedy, Roberto Clemente – 166 – likely would have passed him.)
I have finished long-standing projects and started others without the distraction of rhythmic radio play-by-play static. And, yes, it will be good to ignore the political static even temporarily.
But, diversions and distractions from his incompetence are what this president craves – if he has to infect millions of school kids or incite violence in the streets to do it. Maybe we should take our eyes off the balls a while – yes, football fans, I’m talking to you, too – and pay attention to the most dangerous man in the country.