It’s time again for the Fall Classic, folks. No, the World Series will have to wait a couple of months, I refer to my annual pre-World Series baseball column.
I bring to this effort a lifetime of experience going back to the school playground at Maple Grove Elementary where my baseball career started. I was known as “strikeout Mair” – not, I regret to say, for my pitching ability but rather my batting. I remember that Jimmy Marshall was our big star and he was even more famous for incessantly drawing Spitfires shooting down Messerschmidts in the classroom and catching hell. You wouldn’t get much notice of this now but we’re talking 1940 here and the Battle of Britain and Jimmy’s talent with brush was admired as much as that with the bat.
I guess our other well-known contributor to societal needs was John McGraw, whose claim to fame was that he could burp louder than anyone else in the world, all ages included. It was suggested that he be used instead of the school at nearby Magee High but John’s punctuality was never quite up to such a task.
Moving ahead to 2016, it’s been quite a season so far and I must say that I am enjoying my baseball more now than ever. There will be moments of criticism in this dissertation but that doesn’t derogate one whit from my love of the greatest team sport ever invented.
Let me pause on that point for just a second… important proof of what I just said comes if you, as I do, regularly read the Amazon ads that flock to your computer. Look at biography section and you’ll see that baseball players far outrank football, golf and all other sports.
Baseball, like golf, has its own literature. It’s a game of anticipation more than action, but when it comes, the action is beautiful. Part of your childhood day dreaming can be recaptured in a book on baseball and, for about three hours, by watching the idiot box.
What about the “wildcard”?
As a traditionalist, at first, I wasn’t much impressed with the idea but then I thought back to the old two leagues, eight teams days where the excitement in both leagues was often gone by mid-August. We then had to wait until the World Series and because there was no inter-league play, had very little to go on in terms of comparisons besides sentiment. Now, perhaps, there’s too much of a good thing but nevertheless it is a good thing.
To paraphrase the late sportswriter, Dan Parker, baseball is the greatest team sport in the world; it has to be to survive the people who run it.
The NFL has taken a pretty good run at baseball over the years and I don’t deny that many people live and die for football. They owe their success, however, even more to the late owner of the New York Giants, Wellington Mara, who insisted that when it came to television revenues, Green Bay, indeed all markets big and small, must share evenly, otherwise the competition would suffer badly as would, thusly, all teams financially. This far sighted thinking, stomped into the brains of a stubborn owners, prevailed and, as we have seen, the competition is fair and small market teams do very nicely indeed and the crowds on the field and the telly show it.
Baseball owners have never been able to elevate smarts over greed – Bill Veeck being the only exception I can think of – with the result that there are financially strapped franchises who remain out of contention year after year while the rich build dynasties. Baseball lore is strewn with greed, not unselfish self-sacrifice.
The same stupidity has spilled over into the broadcast booth. Baseball should be fantastic to broadcast and indeed at one time was. There is sufficient scope at the microphone to go all the way from clowns like Dizzy Dean or Harry Carey to the cerebral like Red Barber or Vin Scully, the common thread being that they all knew and understood both baseball and entertainment. They knew that baseball games should not be interrupted by a half-wit interviewing a pitching coach in the midst of the game itself. They also knew enough not to spew out mindless statistics minute after minute after minute for the entire broadcast. In the latter regard, of course, the Internet is the enemy so one of these mouth flappers can tell you “Lefty Smith is the first left-hander with one testicle larger than the other to play first base east of the Mississippi since 1958”.
If I have any female readers left since my last column where I said I couldn’t bring myself to accept women broadcasters in baseball, they’ll be happy to know that I have changed my mind dramatically since I took the time to watch and listen to Jessica Mendoza, who is superb.
She’d be even better if the jocks with her would shut up and let her talk. That would require them to understand that she does indeed know as much if not more about the game that they do. Men aren’t good at concessions like that. Incidentally, Atlantic Magazine has a very good article on Mendoza this month.
Most of all, I just wish they would all shut up long enough to let the patron enjoy the game, a spectacle to savour and enjoy not be the subject of mindless pestering.
If you watch my TV provider, it’s apparently the law that you must be a Toronto Blue Jay fan – otherwise there is nothing close to fair coverage available. Admittedly, I don’t like Toronto teams, period. I therefore start out not cheering for the Blue Jays.
I have, however, become impressed with their club over the past couple of years and only wish that the Rogers people would shut up, stop yapping about “Canada’s team” and just let a pretty good baseball team show its stuff.
Whoever invented that banner at the bottom of the screen should be drawn and quartered in public so that patrons can see him suffering as they do. No different than other sports fans, I like to know what’s going on in my sport in other games. But, for God’s sake, within reason! I don’t need those scores repeated ad nauseum throughout the game with Toronto Blue Jays scores repeated every three items even when they aren’t playing. You’ll notice that while we consistently see the standings in the American League East, you’ll wait in vain for an entire season to see, for example, the Western division of the National League where my beloved Dodgers play.
It is in the nature of the beast that everyone looks back at players past as being infinitely better than anything around today. I am no different and yearn for Sandy Koufax, Jackie, Joe DiMaggio, and Stan Musial yet when they were playing, I was told they weren’t a patch on great players that came before them – and that has gone on in every sport since the beginning of time.
In fact, the players we see today are superb athletes and it would be a freak of nature if they weren’t better. There’s a wonderful book by Lawrence S. Ritter called The Glory of Their Times where old timers, many of whom I assure you you’ll never have heard of, telling their stories going back to the late 19th century through to the 1920s. Almost to a man they will say that the modern player is better than they were, but that the game is not.
When you read about baseball with the dead ball and accurate hitting, brilliant fielding and strategy dominating, where the homer does it now, you can see that these old guys have got a point. But their point is not that they were better athletes just that the game they played was better, a game of strategy and speed.
I must say that this past year I have seen some absolutely brilliant fielding but at the same time I don’t remember ever seeing so many errors you wouldn’t expect to see in a Little League game. This may just be one of those bad runs that mysteriously happens in all sports.
Now, the moment you been waiting for – the deathless Mair predictions.
At the start of the year, I said it would be the Dodgers and the Red Sox in the World Series. I frankly think the odds are against that even though they are both well positioned. But the odds are against any predictions so, what the hell, so far, so good!
How good are the Cubbies? No one could have predicted what they have done thus far! You don’t get to see many National League games, more’s the pity, because they play real baseball without a designated hitter. While it’s extra hard to make selections when you don’t see all the teams. I think, however, I’ll narrow it down to the Cubs, the Dodgers, and here is a surprise, the Giants who, when they are good, are very good indeed and have the experience. Now, having got down to cases, I’ll stick with the Dodgers for the National League rep.
In the American league I narrow it to the Red Sox, Cleveland, and, for another surprise, the Blue Jays. Cleveland has stood all tests from more favoured opponents. The Blue Jays are moody but when in a good mood, very hard to beat. If the Red Sox get decent front line pitching and Cruz continues to get better, the closer he gets to retirement, the Red Sox are very hard to beat. I’ll stick with them in the Junior League.
So it’s the Dodgers against the Red Sox, pick them, although with the Red Sox having the extra game with the DH, that plays to their power.
Courage, o ye of little faith, it’s the Dodgers in seven.
I mean, when have I ever been wrong?