Wherever people cluster there are bound to be skirmishes.
At the dinner table, school, the workplace, your barber shop, …any place people come together. It’s human nature: different brain-matter, different opinions and then the verbal wrangling ensues.
Sometimes the tension runs like an undercurrent, out of public view. The conflicts that spring up can be as measured as a bow-shot at sea or as lengthy as the Thirty Years’ War (1618), as acrimonious as the ugliest divorce or low-key as a game of croquet.
And baseball’s no exception.
While MLB’s fiscal state is robust ($5B ‘12) and is set to raise the curtain on 2013 Sunday night (3-31 / ESPN) as the Rangers mosey on down to Houston to take on intra-state rival and new Junior Circuit member, the Astros, things are not all hot dogs & cerveza in America’s national pastime.
There are sore-spots that fester, some with a history, some just starting to take shape. Not likely any of these hot button topics triggers a clubhouse fisticuff but try broaching any of ’em with players & coaches and you’re likely to get an ear full.
WBC (World Baseball Classic)
Classic case of wishful thinking, as in, ‘We (MLB) wish the international format, so successful in the World Cup, can work for baseball too.’ Wish upon all the stars your “heart(s) desire” fellas, but even Jiminy Cricket won’t underwrite that dream.
Baseball’s global popularity explains why the WBC has met with worldwide applause since its debut in 2005. But state-side, the tournament barely makes a ripple in the sea of US sport news as fans are indifferent and players not exactly lining-up to participate.
Maybe if MLB went all in, making the WBC a real world series where each nation’s league champion team (‘12 Giants (MLB), Leones (LIDOM), Giants (NPB), etc.) was a participant, rather than a compilation of native players (WC), it might be better received by the American public. One thing is certain, its intrusion upon our beloved spring training traditions in Florida and Arizona, as minimal as it is, does not help the sell.
Sabermetrics (or Billy Beane baseball)
The dogfight between saber-heads & traditionalists flies under the radar but constitutes baseball’s war of philosophy.
Stats have always been a big deal in rounders, nothing new or contentious there. Just check the backs of older Topps cards: NFL versions are numeral-poor while MLBs are jam-packed with figures. Numbers were big in 1880 and they’re still big today.
But saber-heads kneel at the alter of the Holy Digit, spouting the ‘numbers never lie’ mantra while intolerant of other sporting faiths. They view baseball through the eyes of an accountant, dissing the subtle strategy, the history and humanity of the game, always favoring quantity over quality, numbers over nuance. If that reads too harsh, go a few rounds with one of ‘em and see if it isn’t a pretty accurate assessment of the type.
Who’s winning the war? The battle of ideologies flares up whenever Cooperstown is the subject. By that measure (vote results), I’d say we’re in trench warfare.
PEDs (performance enhancing drugs)
Confused on MLB’s drug testing policy? If you answered yes, you’re not alone, if no, clue me in because I’m kinda’ lost. Thought I had it down last year when they were supposedly drawing blood from every player in spring. Then this winter they announced a new testing twist, a plan to start taking “random” samples during (?) the 2013 season.
Bottom-line: While baseball’s testing policy seems half-measured and a bit of a shell-game (See; MLBPA), they remain the one major US sport who is taking action and making progress. They’re catching some of the slugs, likely deterring others and may someday arrive at a clear, consistent and complete PED prevention policy.
The antagonists: users, pushers, enablers and faux-sport fans vs. everybody else.
Who’s winning this war? Given the persistence of drug peddlers, a cheater’s mentality that’s in vogue and a public that grows more & more dispassionate about anything that’s not TV, gizmos, food or drink, I’d say the crusaders have a long fight ahead. But they’ve drawn a line in the sand and they’re not giving up this time.
Some crusades will end. Saladin and Richard the Lionheart were warriors but also brave visionaries. They knew when to make peace (1192), even if others failed to heed their wisdom (4th Crusade). But if you really love baseball and care about the health, the well-being of children who will someday fill its ranks, this is one crusade we can’t quit on.
The DH Rule
After a period of dormancy, the designated hitter debate is heating up again. That can only mean one thing: someone’s got dollar signs ($$) in their eyes and has deployed an advance force (media) to help prepare the way.
I dislike the DH but have come to accept, even appreciate, its status as a distinguishing trait (vs DH-free National) and fixture of the American League.
Some believe an NL-DH is “inevitable” (3-5 / Jaffe / “True Grit” / SI). I’d say it’s as “inevitable” as abandonment of day-game World Series (’87), football gear in the batter’s box, dangerous maple bats and the AL-DH (’73). In a sport that used to respect its traditions and League distinctions, we fans asked for none of these changes (inter-league) supposedly needed for good of the game. Hogwash.
What fans and the game need, want, and what they get are all very different animals.
Tradition giving way to common-sense change (bat-helmets) and even some profiteering, if it also profits fans (NCAA field: 32 to 68), is a standard all of us can accept.
Just as I won’t oppose progressiveness solely on basis of tradition, I just as surely won’t ditch a tradition merely for sake of change and making change ($) for the greedy few.
In a sport where the home run derby is its biggest event and bunny-hop celebrations make most viewers cringe, the on-going debate over the designated hitter rule actually pumps life into the game, giving it a visceral edge, in opposite of what agents-of-change would have you believe when mocking what they’d call a behind-the-times National, a League who’s been easily dispatching their DH devoted AL rival in recent Series play.
If proponents get their way and force the rule on the Senior Circuit they can kiss goodbye the ‘national pastime’ moniker for that arrogant act will signify the last nail in the coffin that buries what semblance of League distinction remained, along with a good part of history with it.
Can o’ Corn
Photo Credit: Saladin & Richard the Lionheart / Jerusalem / Djampa / 9-12-09 / wc.cc
About the Author
Written by Steven Keys
A native of the old Northwest Territory (IL), my wife and I have lived in four Midwestern states and Arizona. Today we live in Duluth, Georgia. I have a history / legal background.