Archive for the 'Sports' Category

No Spitting Allowed

What has baseball come to when it announces that players may no longer spit on the field?

Trying to protect the players from each other, major league baseball is starting the new season about a hundred days late with a bunch of rules that, in my opinion, take the heart right out of the grand old game.

Spitting, “including but not limited to saliva, sunflower seeds, peanut shells, or tobacco,” is prohibited. One wonders, given the phrase “not limited to,” what else the players might have had in their mouths that requires nonstop spitting while they stand around scratching their balls.

chewing tobaccoWatching players and umpires chew great wads of tobacco has been a favorite part of America’s beloved sport. As a teenager I engaged in ranking the players who practiced the art of sequestering a large wad of the stuff in their right cheek. In addition to the size of the wad, my rankings included points for the distance the player could periodically spew forth that glob of viscous brown spit. In later years, sunflower seeds became the object de jure, leaving as much as a ton of shells on the dugout floor.

Hank Sauer, a by-gone home run hitter and porous left fielder for my hometown Chicago hank sauerCubs, was my tobacco chewing hero. His unique style of simultaneously swinging two ten-pound bats produced prodigious homers and endeared him to the crowd. Bleacher fans would reward Hank with dozens of packets of his favorite Beech Nut chewing tobacco when he returned to his defensive post after having just clubbed a home run ball onto Waveland Avenue. Hank would be heartbroken today to see how far the great sport has fallen. Rest in peace, Hank.

Continuing this 2020 march to cleanliness, the League will require pitchers to carry a small wet rag that substitutes for the gross habit of licking their fingers as though they had just consumed a juicy barbecued rib from the Deer Lodge. Licking is intended to improve the pitcher’s ability to grip the ball, and like all useless rules it has gone through several alterations over the years. At one time there was no rule. That was amended to allow licking if it was followed by drying the fingers. Recognizing the silliness of that amendment, the rule was changed to allow licking so long as the pitcher was not on the rubber…something that left a few players confused and their girlfriends pregnant.

Studying the latest Covid-19 data, the League realized that germs could be transmitted by fondling the ball; therefore, the offending sphere will be ejected from the game if it is touched by multiple players. Perhaps needing some further clarification, this rule may require a new ball on every pitch delivered by the pitcher to the catcher and then returned to the pitcher. The only party supporting this ball consumption rule is the Wilson Sporting Goods company. A possible solution to this problem is to eliminate the catcher all together and allow the balls to accumulate behind the plate until retrieved by the batboy; one who is too young to be seriously affected by the virus and who, in fact, is easily replaced.

lou piniella 1990One of the most engaging components of America’s pastime involves arguing with the umpire. Lou Piniella, another Cub for another time, was a master of the art. Billy Martin, the 1988 Yankee manager, won an early departure award for being thrown out of a game in the third inning; hardly enough time to deposit one’s share of seed shells in the dugout.

The goal of the manager rant was to get within six inches of the umpire’s face to show you meant business without being tossed out of the game. This wasn’t easy since the umpire was king of the hill and woefully unschooled in the art of compromise.

Alas, the virus has put an end to this traditional arguing by requiring the combatants to remain at least six feet apart during the altercation. This restriction might eventually turn the event into something like Muhammed Ali doing a rope-a-dope around Sonny Liston while flitting around home plate. To bone up on their body language skills, major league managers and umpires will undoubtedly attend choreography classes hosted by the likes of Gower Champion and Tommy Tune.

Speaking of umpires, they have adamantly refused to wear Covid-19 masks while behind home plate. They insist that the standard metal birdcage mask intended to keep foul balls from climbing up their nostrils is adequate protection from the virus. After team owners petitioned President Trump, scientific evaluation of the umpires’ claim became top priority at the Centers for Disease Control.

Recognizing that the changes may lengthen a game that annually bores more people toGroup of ball players death than the Corona virus, the League has made several changes in the hope of concluding a nine-inning game before Yankee Stadium is overrun by the Mendenhall glacier.

Attempting to speed up extra inning games, the following head scratching rule has been adopted:

Each extra inning will begin with a runner on second base. The batter (or a substitute for the batter) who leads off an inning shall continue to be the batter who would lead off the inning in the absence of this extra-innings rule.

Or a more lucid rule:

All pitchers — both starters and relievers — must face at least three batters (or pitch until the inning is over) before they come out of a game.

This new three-batter rule will eliminate the use of multiple pitchers who only throw a single pitch and are then yanked for a new pitcher who throws only one pitch, etc. etc. consuming valuable time that could better be spent watching Gilligan’s Island reruns. The old rule often found managers running out of pitchers. They were then forced to wander through the stands looking for anyone who might have at least played Pee-Wee ball.

Live fans attending the games are now a thing of the past. Replaced by virtual electronic media, you can stay home, sit in your ratty easy chair, drink two-dollar instead of ten-dollar Budweiser, and not have to stand in line at the urinal (unless your wife makes you do some weird stuff.)

To compensate for the loss of the real thing, you can watch the game and punch computer icons that show whether you’re cheering, booing or clapping. And just like on Gilligan’s Island, technicians in the TV studio will add canned noise to match the icons of your choice.

Presumably, there will still be a seventh inning stretch. But Take me out to the ball game will have a whole new meaning.

My Heroes

I’ve been a Cub fan ever since my cousin Leonard got me hooked on them in the fourth grade.

I guess calling myself a Cub “fan” is a bit of a stretch.  I discovered that yesterday when Sweetie and I went to our first Dodger game in twenty years, courtesy of Mikey and our daughter Nancy.  The first sign of my baseball ignorance was when I couldn’t find the infamous Manny Ramirez listed in the Dodgers’ starting line-up.  Turning to Nancy I said “where’s Ramirez?”  Looking at me with that “where have you been” expression, she said “you gotta keep up.”  It got worse.

The Cubs’ lineup, glaringly displayed on the three-mile-wide super electrified scoreboard, proclaimed the names of those who were about to take the field.  I recognized only one.  The rest were strangers.  I didn’t expect the likes of Stan Hack, but where was Ernie Banks when I needed him?  Had Hank Sauer gone the way of the Dodo?  Surely Roy Smalley was still flinging the ball from short-stop onto Addison Street.  Nope.  These guys were all strangers.  Except for one familiar thing.  They were losers…just like my old Cub heroes.

The next clue to my extended absence from the national pastime came when I dragged myself up the stairs to buy some eats.  Twelve dollars for a beer.  Not a six-pack.  One beer.  I skipped the brewski and headed for the Dodger Dogs.

Fifteen minutes in the “express line.”  Three dogs, two french fries, one Coke and a bottle of water.  Thirty-six dollars and seventy-five cents.  And I couldn’t get the mustard out of the machine.  I shuddered at the thought of dropping the load on my way back.

By the time I got to my seat, my faux-son-in-law Kevin had stripped most of the skin from his bleeding thumb scrambling for a two-dollar foul ball which he proudly displayed with his one good hand.  I had also missed a two-run Cub homer by some guy named Geovany Soto.  My heroes were ahead by three runs.   Only seven innings to go.  A Greek chorus ran through my head intoning “it ain’t over til the fat lady sings.”

Turning to Sweetie, who had nearly dehydrated from the sun and a stadium into which no fresh air is allowed, I said “seems to me there are a lot more foul balls than I remember.”  My most astute comment of the day generated a look that has been known to turn fools into pillars of salt.

I stared at the clock as the third inning mercifully ended.  One hour had passed.  How could that be?  I’ve been here for weeks.  Six innings to go.  Thirty-six outs.  My calculations led to an exit time of 4:15.  But what about extra innings.  I’ll expire in this seat and they’ll never notice.

The innings passed while the music blared from a center field mountain of the largest speakers I have ever seen.  Music that had no more place in the national pastime than a parade of Nazi storm troopers.  Beach balls bounced up and down in the stands while I waited for some clod to fall over the second deck railing.  The right field fans insisted on promoting the “wave” while a guy in a Captain Morgan Rum pirate suit threw dollar t-shirts to hysterical people who you woulda thought had nothing to wear other than the clothes on their backs.  The game went on in spite of the entertainment.

My Cubs did their best to let the Dodgers back into the game.  A couple of errors by some guy named Aramis Ramirez and an Alphonse and Gaston act by two other strangers contributed to my feeling of deja vu.  All the while, the Greek chorus sang on.

Sixth, seventh, eighth…finally, the ninth.  Ahead by five runs.  Ooops, make that four with two outs, men at the corners, heavy hitter up.  Am I doomed to reside in Hades forever more?  God, let there be light.  A little pop-up and it was over.  The fat lady had sung and I was happy.

Walking up the stadium stairs with my Cub hat perched high on my head, a guy looked at me and said “you musta brung those guys some luck.”   Sure did.  They’re my heroes.

The Cubs

I grew up in Chicago not too far from Wrigley Field.  I suppose as a kid it might as well have been in Iowa (it actually was only a few miles from our Albany Park apartment.)

I’m not sure how many times I went to a Cub game but I do remember sitting in the bleachers (before we knew about the dangers of too much sun) watching Hank Sauer retrieve plugs of tobacco in left field (before we knew about the dangers of that weed) after he’d hit a homer with that overweight bat of his.  I also vaguely recall Roy Smalley, the pitiable shortstop who was ridiculed by that double play poetic combination of “Miksis to Smalley to Addison Street.”

Ah those were the days.  We never worried about making it to the World Series.  The Cubs in the World Series…unthinkable.  I moved from Chicago over forty years ago but have remained a Cub fan.  Fan is probably too strong a term.  Obsessive anxiety is a better discription of my feelings toward them.  After all, if you held a gun to my head I couldn’t name more than two of their current players.  And even if I could name them, I couldn’t tell you what positions they play.

Over the years I have watched them come close.  Oh so close, only to break my heart at the last possible moment.  Better they should have blown it in July and looked like losers for the rest of the season.  That way I could forget about looking at standings or asking my brother “what’s happening with the Cubs.”  No, instead they have stretched it out any number of times.  Either to be overtaken in the last month of the season or to have some bozo in the stands interfere with a foul ball.  It’s gotten so that I can’t even bear to watch a game…only to clandestinely look for the box score on ESPN before my wife notices.  Such is life with the Cubs.

As I get older, I understand that my time is limited.  I don’t have another hundred years to wait for them to get to, much less win, the World Series.  As I write this blog, they are 4 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee.  By the way, whoever would think that a town like Milwaukee could field a major league contender…they have enough trouble just keeping their breweries going.  The Cubbies (even that name shows how infantile they are) have lost their last four games (yes, I peeked at the standings.)  Is this the beginning of the end or will Milwaukee save their bacon by losing a bunch too?

I know I shouldn’t get worked up about this.  I haven’t lived in Chicago since 1967 and can get to Dodger stadium whenever the feeling hits me.  But there’s something that I can’t really explain.  It’s sort of like the movie “Field of Dreams” where Kevin Kostner practically throws away his farm based on a message from god knows who.  You keep following that dream in the hope it becomes reality.  Come on Cubbies, I haven’t got another hundred years.


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