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Missing "The Crowd at the ballpark" and Other Thoughts on This Strange MLB Season

I ran across last night a 1923 poem by William Carlos Williams, the physician-poet from nearby Paterson, New Jersey.  The title is from the first line. The first three couplets go: 

 

"The crowd at the ballgame

is moved continuously

 
by a spirit of uselessness

which delights them—

 
all the exciting detail 

of the chase"

 
It's nice to have games to watch again on TV, but it's the genuine crowd reaction that I miss the most. I think most of the players, managers, and coaches agree - canned cheering doens't cut it.  

 

I realize that in a time of pandemic, there was no other route to choose but fan-less games.

Still, the cardboard cutouts substituting for fans at most ballparks doesn't do it for me.

 

I also miss the attendance figures at the bottom of every box score.  I would love to miss ballplayers' cheat sheets on positioning and pitch sequences that they are sticking in their caps or pockets.  Can they just play the game on what used to be called muscle memory?! 

 

There have been humorous responses to this strange season. A clever fellow wrote Phil Mushnick of the NY Post yesterday that the cutouts at Dodger Stadium are actually real because they leave the game in the 7th inning. 

 

I also liked the humor of the person that selects the music at the White Sox's Guaranteed Rate Field. On the Sunday night game against the Indians, the Beatles' "Let It Be" came over the loudspeaker as the umps were going to replay to perhaps change a call that aided the home team. 

 

Voila! The music must have worked - Cleveland baserunner Delino DeShields Jr. remained out at second on a close call.  The White Sox have invested heavily in Cuban ballplayers, batting four of them the other day in the first four spots in the batting order.  

 

Only DH/first baseman Jose Abreu is a proven player but hopes are high for Eloy Jimenez, Juan Moncada, and rookie Luis Robert. If they come through with improved pitching, maybe hard-bitten Chisox fans will stop calling the home park Guaranteed Second-Rate Field.

 
As for me, I am happy that the Orioles are surprising people by reaching .500 after 14 games.  Corner infielders Rio Ruiz and Renato Nunez are showing that they learned something playing for last year's horrible Oriole team.  

 

Ditto for second baseman Hanser Alberto and well-traveled Cuban-born shortstop Jose Iglesias.  Their pop and run-production have been fun to watch. 

 
Maybe "experience is your best teacher" is not so old-fashioned an adage even if you can't put an "advanced metric" on it.  Somehow Oriole pitching, with three lefty starters, retreads Wade Leblanc and Tom Milone and last year's breakout winner John Means, has been OK.  

 

So has the bullpen with young veteran Miguel Castro and the castoff Cole Sulser showing the way.  I'm not reserving playoff tickets yet, esp. since there won't be live attendance most likely until next season at the earliest. 

  
How long the MLB baseball season can continue remains in doubt.  I feel for St. Louis players and fans because the Cardinals have only played five games. Positive Covid-19 tests of several players including All-Star catcher Yadier Molina and shortstop Paul DeJong (and several non-playing personnel) mean that St. Louis won't play again until this weekend. 

 
There is no way that St. Louis will be able to play a full schedule in this truncated 60-game season. Even with seven-inning doubleheaders to lessen the wear-and-tear on pitchers.  

 
Interestingly, MLB broadcaster Jim Kaat (and winner of 283 MLB games) thinks that all games should be seven innings. He may be talking tongue-in-cheek but he has a valid point. 

 
If the length of games is the huge issue that commissioner Rob Manfred claims it is (and the TV networks too), why not shorten every game to 7 innings?  Most starters including great ones like the Mets' Jacob DeGrom rarely go more than six innings anyway. 

 

If good faith bargaining ever happens in baseball. a frank exchange of views and real leadership would address this issue and many others.  In the meantime, let me end with the last couplets of WC Williams' "The Crowd at the ballgame":

 

"It is summer, it is the solstice

the crowd is

 
cheering, the crowd is laughing

in detail

 
permanently, seriously 

without thought."

 

Here's to "laughing in detail . . . permanently, seriously without thought."

 

And always remember:  Take it easy but take it.

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Coping With The No-Baseball Blues

It is not easy these months without daily baseball games. The silly season of free agent and trade rumors don’t do it for me (though I put in my two cents at the end of this blog.) Though I admire most of the other major sports, they don’t generally command my visceral attention.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that Columbia football enters its last game of the season against Cornell at home this coming Saturday Nov 17 with at least a .500 record clinched. The Lions have already set a school record for most wins in a two-year
period - their current 5-4 added to last year’s 8-2 log and 2nd place Ivy League finish.

In the fourth season under former outstanding Penn coach Al Bagnoli, my Lions in 2018 have been battered by multiple injuries to key players on both sides of the ball. But they have persisted, to use a word in vogue by liberal women politicians who I generally support.

Coming-from-behind-ability is the key to any winning team. Columbia showed it on the road against tail-end Brown in Providence this past Saturday. Down early 14-0 on two long plays, it looked to the weak in heart like a repeat of the previous Saturday’s blowout loss at Harvard.

But Columbia came alive in the second half and won going away 42-20. Senior Kyle Castner, a former top HS quarterback in Indianapolis, ran for three touchdowns out of the “wildcat” formation and passed for two more. I’m always glad when a player ends his college career on a high point.

Fortunes for my graduate alma mater the University of Wisconsin Badgers have not been as kind. Except for one game-opening drive sparked by sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor’s 71-yard TD run, the Badgers were no match on Saturday in University Park against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The 22-10 loss was not as close as the score indicated.

The only blessing in disguise perhaps for me personally is that Wisconsin might be closer to a date in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium on Thursday Dec 27 at 515p.
Sure hope they salvage some pride with a win at Purdue next week and at home against Minnesota after Thanksgiving.

The concussion issues of starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook from West Chester, Penna. and the evident inexperience of his backup, redshirt freshman Jack Coan from Sayville, Long Island, means the Badgers will have to dig deep to end the season on a positive note.

I never bought into the ballyhoo that they were headed for the playoffs. Too much inexperience on defense and the departure of wide receiver Quintez Cephus on rape charges doomed them early.

I sure hope Badger basketball can recover some of its own lost glamor in the upcoming season. Their first Big Ten game is early this year against Iowa on Nov. 30.

On the local major league baseball front, the Yankees recently re-upped for one more year two of their aging core players and clubhouse leaders, left fielder Brett Gardner, 35, and erstwhile staff ace C. C. Sabathia, 38.

The Yankees still need more starting pitching. They are rumored to be targeting southpaw Patrick Corbin, who had a fine year with Arizona Diamondbacks and reportedly wants to play in New York.

For his sake and that of the Yankees, I hope his temperament is more suited to the demands of Gotham’s fandom than Sonny Gray showed during his season and a half in the Big Apple. It is likely that Gray will be traded to a team in a less pressurized city.

As for the Mets, it remains to be seen what the surprise hiring of former agent Brodie Van Wagenen as their new general manager will be mean for the hopes of the Flushing Faithful. Never in baseball has an agent risen to a top chair on management’s side.

Van Wagenen has given up his role as agent representing such key Met pitchers as Jacob DeGrom, who should but not necessarily win the Cy Young award, and Noah Syndergaard. He also represented oft-injured Yoenis Cespedes and Tim Tebow, the great college football quarterback, pro QB washout, and aspiring Mets minor league outfielder.

I don’t know any scout who thinks Tebow has a real chance to become a major leaguer. Yes, he is a very hard worker and big box office draw for his All-American boy image, enhanced even more because he reportedly was almost aborted as a fetus.

But I sure hope for the sake of the Mets and their fans that Brodie has more up his sleeve and in his evaluating brain than suggesting Tebow could play in Queens later in 2018.

Well, we’ll know more soon. The winter meetings are in Las Vegas from Dec. 9 to 13 - I'm going for the first time in over a quarter-century and will have impressions to share in a later blog.

Also about where the top free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will wind up here are my thoughts.

Machado’s intermittent hustle was on display throughout the post-season. He remains a major talent who will get paid a lot. I just hope the contract isn’t for more than five years. I know he’s only 26 and loves to play the game but never forget the old adage: “It’s never easy getting up early in the morning when you are wearing silk pajamas.”

Possible destinations? Phillies with a lot of cash to spend? But they also have demanding blue collar fans without the large Hispanic population Machado supposedly craves.

The Yankees? Possibly with Didi Gregorius not due back from Tommy John surgery into late in 2019. The Angels if Manny is willing to play third base alongside the brilliant shortstop Andrelton Simmons?

His home town of Miami and its baseball-loving Hispanic population might be in his heart of hearts. But I don’t think the Bruce Sherman-Derek Jeter ownership have deep enough pockets and enough of a contending team.

As for Bryce Harper, he supposedly turned down a 10-year $300 million offer to stay with the Washington Nationals. Even as an outfielder with a great arm I don’t believe Harper is a better buy than Machado. He’s too surly and media-hungry for my taste. Despite his baggae, Harper will command a lot of dough.

Possible destinations? St. Louis needs a lefty bat to join Matt Carpenter who is too streaky for my taste. But maybe St. Louis not a big enough market for the media-lusting Harper who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16! Phillies and Yankees again?

OK I’ve said my piece on the subject of mega-money and mega-years. I wish the media wouldn’t rub dollars and money in my face the all the time. Turning off the tube, clicking exit on the computer, and throwing out the newspaper can be a liberating feeling. Which I am doing right now.

Still, always remember: Take it easy but take it!
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