Burton on the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 29

July 18-24, 2002

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Baseball’s No Stars

Take me out to the ball game.
— from Jack Norworth’s classic song of the same name.

No thanks, I’ll pass. I’d rather stay home and watch a different kind of steroids, name of Miracle Grow, make my backyard tomato plants ripen bigger than baseballs. Why go to a ball game, when now it appears baseball is like soccer — you know, willing to settle for a tie? Talk about kissing your sister!

Egad, I’m from the generation when a ball game wasn’t over until someone won. The only thing that barred that was rain, snow, a city curfew — or darkness in the days before Thomas Edison made it possible to illuminate the field.

Incidentally, the first night game was played way back on June 2, 1883, at Fort Wayne, Indiana, which is a long time ago seeing that in that year Buffalo Bill Cody staged his first Wild West Show in Omaha, Nebraska, after rounding up some real buffalo, several fellow cowboys and some real Indians and vaqueros (Spanish herdsmen).

Why, Abner Doubleday was still alive that year and would live for another decade. I’m sure he’d just as soon remain planted in the soil than witness what happened recently when the All Star Game was declared a 7-to-7 tie. No rain, the lights were still on, the players were still on the field, the fans were still in their seats, television cameras were still whirling, and everyone was still waiting for a winner.

Doubleday’s Rules of Order
When Abner Doubleday — a West Pointer who subsequently rose to major general and who served in the Mexican and Civil wars and chased a few Indians not of the Cleveland or Atlanta tribes — wrote the rules for baseball six years after the first night game, he made no provisions for ties.

Still a cadet at the Academy on the Hudson, at age 20 he took it upon himself to figure how to take some of the chaos out of the increasingly popular sport of baseball. Until then, the game was played with players running amuck and fielders colliding with each other, for there were no assigned positions, no real rules — and the surefire way of getting a runner out was to hit him with a thrown sphere.

Abner succeeded, as did Teddy Roosevelt (who only reached the rank of colonel, though as president he later was commander-in-chief) with football. The future soldier mapped out a playing field, assigned 11 players to positions and shouted “play ball.”

General, Arise
General, arise: We need you now. The chaos has returned manyfold, and the guy running the show, one Bud Selig — who happens to own in some curious way one of the teams — doesn’t appear up to the task of straightening things out. He’s the guy who called the All Star Game after 11 innings because the teams had run out of pitchers.

Small wonder the fans ran out of niceties. I can remember listening to the Red Sox at Fenway Park via radio back in the ’30s when, in a late game, the home team ran out of pitchers. They were being lambasted following a few other games in which they also used much of their bullpen.

Did former District Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis — who gave up his robes to become commissioner of baseball (after presiding over the famous Standard Oil rebate case) — call the game? Nosiree, he was a former lawyer and judge, and rules were rules. Play ball.

With no pitchers with arms strong and able enough to take over mound duties, the Sox called upon first baseman Jimmy Fox, then on shortstop, and manager Joe Cronin (both All Stars at their positions) to take over as hurlers. The game went the full 9 innings, and there was a winner. The fans got their money’s worth. The players earned their keep.

In Chaos
In one curious sports column the other day, I read that the fans were off base with their boos and chants when Sir Selig pronounced a tie. The writer claimed the fans “got so see everything anybody could hope for by attending an All Star Game.”

They got to see all the players and a pretty good game, the scribe wrote. But he neglected to write that they failed to see a winner. Isn’t that what an All Star Game is all about? Pardon me if I’m wrong, but isn’t an All Star Game played to determine whether the American or National League fields the better team in a given season? How can we tell in a 7-7 ball game?

Had I paid whatever the exorbitant price was to see that game in Selig’s home city of Milwaukee, these 76-year-old lungs would have led the chorus of hisses and boos. The game ain’t over until it’s over — and it ain’t over until someone wins.

But I wasn’t there and must admit I wasn’t watching on the tube nor listening on the radio. I was busy writing, though I had a few friendly wagers on the Nationals. Yet because the game went so long, I, like many other fans, was robbed.

I never got to learn how the game went before its heinous eclipse. It lasted so long, the edition of the Sun that arrived at my door the next morning had a picture of a player, but no details of the game.

I went fishing, so I missed any radio reports (and I don’t watch TV), but I figured the following day the paper would fill its early-edition readers in with what went on in the field. Boy, was I mistaken. There wasn’t any story on the game other than the repercussions following the flunky ending.

Like baseball, daily newspapers are in chaos. Time was, when something as important as an All Star Game missed the early editions, the late story one day would be reprinted the next in early editions to mollify readers in outlying reaches, whose papers are put to bed with the chickens.

My old paper let me down, and the Washington Times wasn’t much better, though it did work a few plays into a story on why the game was called. So, I guess, I’ll never learn much about the game that wasn’t a game.

How I miss the old days when someone in the newspaper composing or printing department of a chiseled in a rough score in hot lead for each edition to let readers know what the running score was.

Like baseball, newspapers don’t seem to care much for their constituents. If you want the late details, turn on the TV. Small wonder the daily press is losing readers as baseball is losing fans. Yet baseball wonders why some teams are going belly up, and newspapers worry where their readers went.

From my backyard up here on the shores of Stoney Creek in North County, I can almost see the Port of Baltimore, where the Sun is printed. Yet I get an edition so early that it couldn’t even carry the score of a Little League game played without lights. Such is the way life goes these days.

But all is not lost. I will always have radio, and the robust ball players whose bodies are swollen by steroids can get jobs as longshoremen.

Enough said.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly