Obstinate is the Enemy of Truth

During the COVID19 age, I call it an age, because it has the feeling that it will have too much length to be considered an episode, or a phase, or a season.

It already feels like it’s gone on forever and that we’ve fallen off a cliff, and if only we could hit the bottom, we could at least put ourselves out of our misery, but no, we have something much worse, we have a bottom that just seems to get farther and farther away while holding out no hope that a different outcome may eventually take its place. At least my sentence finally ended, but it seems there is no such feeling about the Coronic Age. If only I rename it enough times maybe I can diffuse its impact.

But I realize my first paragraph wasn’t even a full sentence. Never mind, I will get to my point. As I started to say, during the Chinese Virus Pandemic, the Sports and Entertainment world have come face to face with a problem that, well, never has occurred. They have lots of consumers, really, more than ever, and yet, they have nothing much to offer up for consumption. Under such a circumstance, what can they really do? Entertainment is being weakly packaged in remote concoctions that have all the feel of high tech amateurism. We are supposed to be impressed by the fact that they are “here for us”. That with their gadgetry and wizardry they can put on concerts while remaining faithful to the vacuous “Shelter in Place” edict. I might be quite a bit impressed by amateurs putting together
“spooky performances at a distance”. But when this sort of thing comes from professionals, it feels tepid, and not a few are are exposed as “less than impressive” when not surrounded by a supporting cast of back up singers, technicians, and production crews.

The irony is that, in a desperate search for entertainment, many old, and I mean really old, and by really old, I mean– “before the internet”, entertainment is getting a look by quite a number of people who are discovering that …..wow…..old time movies, and music and even TV is pretty good. I wonder if the entertainment industry might be vaguely fearful that comparisons to the current stuff they fling at us might not cast them in a favorable light?

With sporting events, it’s even worse, they can’t do baseball “at a distance”. In fact, any of the team sports can’t be done at all. If they do baseball, they’ll pretty well have to do it without a plate umpire. Flag football might have to replace “full contact” football (with disposable flags of course) and basketball will have to played with “no touching” allowed! One can’t imagine how you could even conduct a Boston Marathon; the logistics boggle the mind. So, desperately, ESPN and every sports channel or radio station is left with merely recycling “classic games of the past”. But this will become tiresome , if not opening up old wounds, which I will get to, but on the whole, since sporting events depend on the tension of “outcome uncertainly”, sooner or later, after they’ve shown every classic they can think of, they’ll realize that we are less and less drawn to see old clips of Michael Jordan and Barry Sanders. They are nice for reminiscing, but can’t adequately substitute for live athletic competitions. And never mind the fans– What are high school and college athletes supposed to do? Is endless solitary training going to satisfy anyone for long?

Once again, there is a silver lining; old baseball games have, what shall we say….PACE? I think any youngster of the new century might wonder what game he was watching if he tuned in to watch Mark “The Bird” Fidrych throttle the Yankees in 1976. Imagine, starting pitchers pitched the whole game back then! Hitters sometimes hit a fair ball after only 1 or 2 pitches! Entire games were actually sometimes played in 2 hours….or even less! Unthinkable as it seems, televised baseball games could on occasion be captivating, even enthralling. Not the 3 1/2 hour time waste that they have become.

I would love to think that the Baseball Brain trust would look back at the way the game used to be played and have the noodles to realize that after the Masked Pandemic is in the rear view mirror, that they may have less and less fan base, and only minuscule interest from the nation’s youth. And that might inspire them to make some REAL changes to restore pace to the game. Do I think they will? Naw….they probably will stupidly conclude that the game needs even MORE Home Runs, more strike outs and more TV timeouts, effectively putting to sleep even the more willing fans.

Because baseball is obstinate, it is ignoring the truth that the game can’t keep trending the way it is going. Something is going to give, and it’s going to be fans unwilling to shell out 75 or 100 dollars for a decent seat at a game that approximates less than 1% of the season. And even hundreds of dollars for any postseason game. And its going to be Networks unwilling to allocate huge sums of money for games that last too long and aren’t being watched by many. And Advertisers that don’t want to buy time during a dreary regular season game.

But Baseball has ignored the Truth before. For example, they ignored gambling early in the 20th century, until it almost brought the game down. They ignored fans in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s who begged them not to let a strike make a mockery of the season. In 1994 they didn’t even bother to finish the season. Imagine that? There was no pandemic back then? They just didn’t feel like it, so there was no world series, no conclusion….a season that, for all intents and purposes should be treated like it never happened. What an embarrassing crock that was! And then, in a mad attempt to rescue fans who had drifted away from the game, baseball ignored — and I think its fair to say it– they IGNORED mounting evidence that was obvious to anyone closely associated with the game, that Home Runs were being artificially inflated by the use of PED’s. Even tho, for years, 50 or slightly more home runs was the gold standard of hitting; now, suddenly it was okay for people to hit 60 or 65, or 70 or 73 in a season, and what is really unnerving is that, like a conspiracy of thieves, no one said a thing. Oh, eventually they did, but does anyone mean to tell me that in 1998 when MLB was so merrily recovering from the memory and bad taste of the 1994 debauchery, they weren’t fully aware what was going on? Because I’m not having it. That strains credulity and the motive was so painfully obvious. As a long time fan, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t catch on to it. But my excuse was that I didn’t want to believe it. The Baseball moguls have no such excuse, they sat on the situation until it started to get away from them, and then, and only then, they self-righteously moved to “put a stop to it” for the integrity of the game. Integity, my ass. At that point, the cover-up was hemorrhaging so badly, they had no choice to go into full scale “damage control”.

My point is, baseball is too consumed with short term profits to take the long view of anything, and they can hardly be bothered wih the truth. Their statement that they are aware they need to “manage the organic changes” to the game are laughable. They haven’t managed anything and seem only to be able to manage to ignore what they should be paying attention to.

Which brings me to Thursday night May 7th, 2020. A night when the local Sports Station, showed another one of the “classic Tiger games” from the past, in a desperate attempt to get us to watch anything, since they can’t show us any live sports right now.

And I knew I shouldn’t watch it. I don’t know quite why I did. It’s not like I somehow thought that this time the 27th out would be recorded immediately following the 26th, giving Armando Galarraga his perfect game. I think I wanted once more to look and assure myself that he should have been called out, and yes, Galarraga had his foot on the first base bag, with the ball in his glove ahead of the batter. who was clearly out by half a step.

Well , baseball had no instant replay in 2010….well, okay, they had no mechanism for USING instant replay to correct a botched call. I’m not arguing for or against instant replay as a device that baseball should use. That’s not where I’m going with this, I’m merely stating that HAD THEY had it in effect in 2010, Galarraga would have had his perfect game.

There is an argument that can be made that you can’t go back and change the result of a game after the fact.

But that is ridiculous, of course, you can. In fact, it’s even happened– or have you forgotten that a belligerent George Brett, by being famous, and making a stink, was able to get baseball to reverse itself. They took a home run that had been called an out in accordance to a rule (admittedly a stupid rule, but a rule nevertheless) and decided, well…..that isn’t really FAIR…. and he IS George Brett….so they took a game that had gone one way, and said, “We’ll just go back and take that Yankee win away, reinstate the Home Run and play the game to completion from the point where the Home Run gave the Royals the lead” They didn’t say, “It’s a shame, but this is the rule right now, and maybe it shouldn’t be a rule, but we can’t selectively enforce rules whenever someone whines about it”. No, and you know what, without trying to, they did the sensible thing. They didn’t do it because it was right, which it clearly was. They did it because, doing what they LIKE DOING which is to pontificate about the integrity of the game, wasn’t going to play. A Big star was making a big stink, and the surest way to make it go away was to utter some pablum about how the pine tar “hadn’t altered the outcome of the game”. Well, gee what a revelation that was? We sure didn’t realize that until Lee McPhail patiently explained it to. Then, as if to show us all that he could still play both sides of the fence, he retroactively threw Brett out of the game. I suspect that was more out of some need to assert himself after allowing himself to be “bullied” by the Royal’s big star.

Again, I would contend they did exactly the right thing, but not with any awareness of what was right. Merely to capitulate to pressure, because it was just a little too high of a profile situation. Had Brett been a lesser player who had said, “that’s the way it goes, I guess next time , I’ll be more careful”, would baseball have bothered to even review the incident? I think there is reason to doubt it.

But I think there is even another interpretation to be had. And that is that Baseball is willing to bend the rules in situations where “a win or loss” is involved. When the outcome of the game is not in doubt, they feel more “safe” in pontificating that “the rules are the rules”.

That might seem defensible at a casual glance, but think about it…! When a win or loss is involved, they feel free to make a call on something that happened on the field– in essence, picking winners and losers! I’ve already said I think they did the right thing, so I’m not going to beat that to death.

Except….why make a big deal about maintaining a rule when a win or loss is NOT in the balance?

After the blown call that cost Galarraga his perfect game, the next batter grounded out. Let’s say instead of that, the next batter had walked, and then, there’d been a pitching change, and then another hit, and then a 3 run Homer? Would the league then say, “Hmmmm….by sticking to a rule, we cost the Tigers a win….maybe we better change that call and let the Tigers win the game.” Ridiculous you say? Okay maybe it is– but look at it another way. Galarraga wasn’t Bob Gibson or Pedro Martinez or Justin Verlander. And he did not make a stink about it. In fact, he made a point of “forgiving” the umpire for making the call. It was a noble thing to do, but there was nothing to forgive! Bad calls happen, and sometimes the game hinges on them, but until either all calls are made by robots or all calls can be reviewed by instant replay, its going to happen.

Well, anyway, with everyone being so civil, and no big star involved, did the league really have to do a thing? No, they could nobly say, “the integrity of the game demands that we let the call stand”. How could they say that? The game didn’t hinge on the call. They had 2 choices, they could take this RARE opportunity to overturn an obviously mistaken call and right an injustice to ONE player without affecting anyone else! Okay, they took away one out that the next man made, like anyone would lose sleep over that! Or– they could fold their arms and say “it’s tough luck, but there is nothing we can do, we don’t have instant replay yet, and we aren’t allowed to use it to overturn a call”.

That’s preposterous!! It would have cost them NOTHING to overturn the call. I repeat– NOTHING! No one would have complained, no one would have called it playing favorites, no one would have said it was artificial. No one’s feelings would have been hurt and no one would have self-righteously complained about it. It was too easy– it was like a slow pitch down the middle that they should knocked out of the park, and instead they whiffed on it. I think it’s fair to say, that people OVERWHELMINGLY would have applauded the decision, as fair and in the process would have REWARDED Galarraga for taking the high road instead of basically penalizing him, denying him his place in history, because he wasn’t a big star like George Brett and he didn’t holler or whine. It was a PERFECT GAME, and all baseball had to do was sanction it! There isn’t even a slippery slope here! What would they claim,….well we can’t be overturning wrong calls just because they are wrong? Why can’t you? Isn’t that why baseball adopted instant replay?

I’ll even grant that maybe they felt at the time that they’d be opening up a can of worms. I don’t buy it, but let’s stipulate that. Okay, well now we are years later, and we HAVE instant replay. Please explain to me why NOW it can’t be overturned. No one can claim that slippery slope exists any more.

They don’t do it though, and it’s not from laziness, or stupidity. It’s from being obstinate, and if baseball continues to manage the game in that fashion, they will manage it right into extinction. You could look it up.

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