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Of baseball's shameful surrender to television dictators

With another baseball season fading away with vast reluctance as Thanksgiving looms on the horizon, we have some bits and pieces and slices of this and that to share, footnotes on a long, long season lately threatening to become  eternal.

So what to do about stretching the summer game’s season to the edge of winter? The answer is, probably, nothing. As is the case with all problems in our times, be they social, political, cultural, or spiritual, it will get worse before it gets better.  It’s all about the money, you see, and nothing muddles an issue more surely.

Baseball’s surrender to a third rate television network under the Bud Selig watch has been shameful. In defense, apologists point out correctly that every other league, no matter the game, has done the same. But as the de facto national pastime with a matchless tradition stretching over a century, baseball’s capitulation seems more craven. Baseball is always held to the highest standard. It comes with the stature.

Before the Series finally groaned from the launch pad, the Yanks and Phils had played nine games in 23 days. Ludicrous ! Every game runs to the brink of midnight. Absurd! The pace is interminable. Not good theater. They’ve got to do something about the endless delays. The Yankee catcher should not be allowed to make six trips to the mound to hobnob with his pitcher in the first inning and eight more in the fifth, which is what happened in Game Four.  
 
Now they are talking about TV replays for near everything except balls and strikes, which would stretch games to well over four hours on average. It’s a misguided response to some quirky calls by the umpires. Hey, it happens. Baseball players make errors. Umps blow calls. It’s all the same and all part of the magical mix. The furor over the umps is gravely over-stated. Their stray blunders just heighten the melodrama. It has always been the case. Runaway replays would ruin the game. Happily, Czar Selig is adamantly opposed to such nonsense. At last he is getting something right.

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It’s only a minor footnote to a celebrated but long closed chapter of the Red Sox uproarious historical relations with the Yankees. Still, it needs to be noted that Pedro Martinez was dead wrong in concocting his latest spin on his memorable brawl with Don Zimmer at the height of the raucous 2004 season. In the course of his World Series preening as he was striving to hog as much of the limelight as possible, the rascal cleverly made the charge that Zimmer had somehow inspired the spat by insulting Pedro’s mother. That, said the gallant Pedro, was the reason he slam-dunked the portly, then 72-year-old baseball warrior to the Fenway turf like a rag doll.

It was a contemptible act for which Martinez never received sufficient blame, in my book. And apparently he remains aware that it hardly cast him in the best light. Hence his lame attempt now to justify his feeble conduct then. He is way out of line, once again.
 
I know Zimmer well (admittedly, a lot better than I know Pedro). The old-world burr head has always been possessed with an acute and almost Quixotian  sense of honor. Zimmy would never insult any woman, let alone somebody’s Momma. From him such a slur is inconceivable. Why would Martinez cheap-shot the old boy now after he’s long been removed from the Bronx scene? It’s bizarre. Martinez has only succeeded in compounding his folly. For such a great performer and fabulous entertainer, he has odd hang-ups.

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Interesting that Don Fehr, the out-going MLB player’s association boss, managed to ramble off into retirement with an $11-million severance package. That’s on top of being rewarded handsomely for his quarter century service to the world’s most spoiled work force. And they call this a labor union!
 
Marvin Miller, Fehr’s predecessor and the one genuine giant of the movement, was never exactly underpaid, nor should he have been. But somehow one suspects Marvin swallowed hard on Fehr’s caper. Don was, after all, Marvin’s protégé.

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Further regarding the umps and their exaggerated woes. Carp all you want about their miscues but recognize, too, when they stick their necks out trying to get it right. A fine example, in my book, was when Ump Jerry Lane made a hugely controversial call early in the Yanks-Angels semi-final. Lane, you remember, called a Yankee base runner safe because Aybar, the Angels shortstop, straddled second making no attempt to tag the bag while completing a double play. It was a gusty call coming at a crucial moment.

Arm-chair critics, including the Fox play-by-play team, sliced him up and down, but Lane was absolutely correct. This business of routinely calling the base-runner out when the middle infielder is in the so-called “neighborhood” of the base is ridiculous. The runner is never called safe if he doesn’t tag the base. Why should such an advantage invariably go to the defense?

Moreover, the contention of TV analyst Tim McCarver that “it makes no difference” is total nonsense. Most double plays are bang-bang. That the infielder needn’t worry about tagging the bag is a tremendous advantage because the millisecond it takes his foot to find the bag will be the difference in completing the double play more often than not. McCarver may have played the game well for 15 years and studied it from the booth the last 30 but that doesn’t mean he always knows what he’s talking about.  

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Fans of baseball gossip are reveling in the saga of the Dodgers’ ownership being ensnarled in what’s beginning to look like historically nasty divorce proceedings. The unhappy kids are the McCourts – Frank and Jamie – ex of Boston. Members of Red Sox Nation should shudder at the realization that there, but for the luck of the draw, go they because the McCourts were major players in the high drama that transferred the Red Sox from the Yawkey estate to the clutches of John Henry. Frank, heir to a parking lot fortune, campaigned hard for the team. The promise of a new ballpark on Boston waterfront land that he owns was a major feature of his bid. In the end, he probably had no chance, given Bud Selig’s determination to make John Henry’s group the winner of the sweepstakes. So McCourt moved on and bought the Dodgers, greatly surprising those who believe the depth of his financial strength is suspect. It may be about to get a lot more suspect.  The divorce war, which is off to a notably bitter start, is seen as a huge threat to the Dodgers. If Jamie wins her battle to claim half the ownership of the team, chaos is seen as likely with Joe Torre, who found the Steinbrenners to be a strain, smack in the middle of it. And to think, it could have been all about your Red Sox.

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Lastly, while handing out bon bons, we’ll give Czar Selig still more credit. Giving his blessings to the Cardinals’ deal that returns Mark McGwire from his self-imposed Elba and makes him the Cards’ batting coach was the right thing for Selig to do.  It would be easy for him to get up on his high horse and he’d receive kudos from the FBI and those self-righteous self-promoters in Congress who have gleefully ridden the steroid issue while accomplishing nothing.

 Selig took the high road. It was gutsy.  McGwire has paid enough of a price for his transgressions as have others who have been unluckily ensnared, including Brothers Palmeiro, Sosa, and maybe even Clemens. Enough is enough. That may be Selig’s message here. It is appropriate.

That’s two hosannas for the baseball commissioner in the same column. That is a record here.  

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