Several decades ago – when I was a young pup at college – I took a young lady to a concert by one of the university choirs. The details of that concert have long ago slipped from my memory, but, as befits a credit-worthy choir in an institution of higher learning, the concert leaned heavily toward the works of the masters. It’s likely that there were pieces by Bach and Mendelssohn. Could have been a Handel, and maybe a Mozart – anyway, you get the idea. At the end of the concert – as you will typically see – they did a “lighter” piece – kind of a bone thrown to all of those whose attendance at the concert was more a matter of endurance than enjoyment. Frequently, this will something like a medley of traditional American folk songs.
Well, that final piece proved to be a kind of revelation to this young lady – it being the only number that she actually enjoyed. She freely theorized afterward (assuming that her experience was everyone’s experience) that no one truly liked all the long-haired masters, but that everyone said they did because they were supposed to (a kind of artistic “king’s new clothes” situation), even though the lighter selection at the end was clearly the best music of the night.
I was raised, to some extent, on choral music (I’ve sung in choirs my entire life) so I was alive throughout the concert to the glorious harmonies, the masterful manipulations of moods, and the impressive skills of the singers and directors to master these challenging pieces. In short, the entire concert was satisfyingly enjoyable for me. I didn’t challenge or confront my date for that evening – and, truthfully, I didn’t think any the less of her. She was just expressing an honest reaction. Without my background, there was little expectation that she could have truly appreciated the experience.
But the point needs to be made here. Just because she couldn’t find the beauty of these pieces doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Had she taken me to a painting exhibit, the shoe would decidedly have been on the other foot. My background in that element is non-existent. I have seen – for example – Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” and while I find it interesting, if I were asked to explain why this effort was regarded as so much greater than a common still-life, I would have no idea what to say.
Again, though, the fact that I don’t understand the greatness of this picture doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. The lack, here, is mine, not Van Gogh’s.
I bring all of this up because the baseball version of this short-sightedness has just occurred as the new CBA provides for that most heart-breaking of allowances – the universal designated hitter. This abomination is foisted on us, in part, as an appeasement to the greed of the players (whose appreciation of the game that provides their luxurious lifestyles – if, indeed, they have any appreciation for the game itself – falls far short of their desire to gain starters’ salaries for individuals who don’t have the skill set to actually be starters), and, in part, as the next step in the ongoing pandering of ownership for the attention of the short-attention-span MTV generation.
The mercenary purposes of the owners and the union, though, are supported by a phalanx of shallow fans and writers who openly wonder why it’s taken this long. Who wants to see pitchers hit?
With its roots reaching back into pre-Civil War America, and developing as a rural phenomenon over the next several decades, the pristine game of baseball developed into entity of surprising perfection. Much of that perfection derived from the two-way nature of the sport, a development that required the baseball player to contribute to the best of his abilities on both sides of the ball.
Surprising as it must be to the “modern” fan, this great game rose to prominence as the National Pastime without a designated hitter ever showing up in a box score. I realize there are some who don’t “get it.” But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t an “it” to get. My complete discussion of the evils of the DH can be read here – I recommend it for those of you who just can’t fathom why anyone would be against the DH.
So this is a sad day for baseball and for America. Another simple and perfect thing has been trashed by a myopic union, an unfeeling and misguided ownership group, and a shallow, uninvested minority of baseball “fans.” This can’t be painted in any kind of positive light. The troglodytes have won. Mozart has been trodden underfoot in favor of Oingo Boingo. This is not our finest hour.
Turning the Page?
OK, but Joe – you say – good, bad or indifferent it’s over. It happened. Time to turn the page. Time to accept. Well, not really. The end result – the universal DH – is bad enough. The way this change came about is unacceptable.
Knowing full well that the majority of their fans would resist this stupidity, ownership didn’t even have the grace to sound out its fans – or even to try and present a case for the DH (mostly, I’m sure, because there isn’t one). This was an outright coup. The message to National League fans was “get used to it. Your desires don’t matter at all, and your input is unwanted. We’re going to do what we want to this game, and you are going to accept it and open your wallets to support it.”
Their regard (or lack thereof) for the fandom that is, ultimately, the source of all their wealth couldn’t be more obvious. We are just sheep that they can drive at their will. Whatever changes they desire to make – and however fundamental to the game these changes are – they feel empowered to make them with absolute impunity, secure in the belief that whatever bastardization of what used to be baseball they trot out there, the sheep will just shrug their collective shoulders, open their wallets and pay for it.
My plea to you today is to stop being sheep.
Don’t, for a moment, believe that they are done messing up this game. Remember that stupid “ghost runner” rule that started every extra inning, and that was supposed to be done after last year? Well, guess what? It’s back – but just for one more year. That’s because one more year is about all the time they’ll need before they slap us with the next gimmick.
Here, a writer named Manny Randhawa informs us that this year’s All-Star Game – should it go into extra innings – just might be decided, not by baseball, but by yet another home run derby – subject to the two sides agreeing on a format. Manny can barely contain his excitement at the prospect, and the only curbing of his enthusiasm isn’t based in any regard for the actual game but in the fact that this isn’t assured to take place. (In his article, Manny refers to the “drama” of the home run derby. Apparently, watching professional batting practice sluggers drive meatball pitches over contrived walls of varying distances is “dramatic.” Who knew?).
So let me translate this for you. What Manny is saying is that, if we are very lucky and they can work out the details, the most actual baseball we can possibly be subjected to is nine innings. If, in a best-case scenario, we manage to make it through the grind of the nine-inning game without chewing our arms off, and if, by the grace of the baseball gods, the game should happen to be tied, we won’t have to worry about any more boring old baseball and get to see more of the only thing that baseball has left to offer this “modern” generation. The glory of the home run derby.
You must be able to see where this is heading, right? Today the All-Star Game. Next year, all overtime affairs (it won’t do to call them extra-innings anymore) will go straight to home run derby. And from there, it can gradually encroach into what used to be regulation. (Maybe six innings of baseball and three of home run derby. Eventually, maybe three innings of baseball, and the rest home run derby).
Now, if this is your idea of a good time – if you can’t wait for home run derby to be officially re-branded as major league baseball – then the forecast for you is very good. Your goals align perfectly with what management ultimately wants this once great game to become.
For the rest of us, though – those of us who actually love the game itself (including all the strategy that used to be a part of it) – the trend couldn’t be more troubling. When these (and other big changes) are imposed on us, they will come as the DH came – without discussion and against our will, because sheep don’t have the right to have a seat at the table where their future is decided.
How to Not Be Sheep
This season will go a long way to determine the future relationship between the owners and the fans. If we flock back to the ballparks, rush to turn on our TVs, and hasten to renew our subscriptions to MLB.TV, then management will be right. We are nothing more than sheep, and they will have carte blanche to execute the rest of their agenda.
We change this narrative only as we resist the damage that they have already done. Here, I have outlined a game plan that will allow all fans the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the upcoming baseball season while contributing nearly nothing at all into the owners’ pockets. Yes, you’ll stay home, and while you’re home you won’t watch any of the game live, but there are numerous resources that will keep you current with everything that’s going on. A note: that discussion was penned before the DH was officially inflicted on us, so the article also contains a compromise (now pointless, of course) that I would have been willing to make. As I haven’t had the heart to go back and re-write this, you my simply ignore the proffered compromise.
The rest of the plan, though, if adhered to by a sizeable portion of baseball fans will send a decisive message. It is, really, the only way to impress on these guys that we, in fact, are not sheep. If you are in any way inclined to voice your displeasure with ownership – either for the way they treated the players and fans during the lockout, or for the results of that lockout and negotiation (ie, the DH in the NL), then I exhort you to stand with me and resist. Spread the word. The more of us that withhold our life-giving funds from these pinheads, the louder our message will be.
If, after all of this, you are still inclined to forgive and forget – especially my fellow St Louis fans who just can’t wait to rush to the park to cheer the return of the prodigal Albert Pujols – understand that when ownership continues to unravel the game, it will be your fault. Your willing compliance has given them permission.
Far from being futile, resistance, in this moment, is the only thing that will save this game.