Mid-August. I’ve come to hate this time of year, when football comes roaring back to town, pushes baseball off the front page, and hogs half the talk time on Mike and Mike in the Morning. I’m not dissing football (though I could); it’s just that baseball’s the only sport I’m into, it lasts a mere seven months of the year as it is, and I can’t get enough chatter about the human drama that swirls around the game. After seven years of following baseball, I’ve come to realize that’s the aspect of it I love most—the human drama. My friend Steve Bjerklie, who knows more about the sport than anyone else I know, has assured me this is fine, that there are many valid ways to enjoy baseball.
Speaking of Drama
It seems to me that baseball generates more human drama than any other team sport—although a blogger I bumped into last week insists, with great rancor, that baseball isn’t a team sport:
“If you want to say that baseball is even close to as much of a team game as basketball, football, or hockey, then… you’re not much of a basketball, football, or hockey fan, and you’re also living on another planet. There is no team sport in existence in which teamwork is less important than baseball… The vast majority of baseball is an isolated duel between pitcher and batter. If you don’t realize this, then I guess you’re not much of a baseball fan either.”
The person who wrote the above is a Libertarian who thinks Barry Bonds ought to be declared a national hero as the ultimate symbol of capitalistic freedom. I made the mistake of commenting on his blog, pointing out that, although it may well be Bonds’ right to use his body in whatever way he sees fit, steroid use does give him an advantage over players who don’t use.
Speaking of Barry Bonds
Those of us who’d hoped that once Bonds broke the home run record we’d stop seeing the Daily Bonds Report have already had those hopes dashed: the saga continues. A column by Scott Ostler in the SF Chron describes the reporter’s experience of waiting, day in and day out, for No. 756. The rest of the Giants, he says, were pretty good-natured as they climbed over news people to get to their lockers, something that could have been avoided had Barry met with them for even five minutes, or given them a time when he’d be willing to talk, or even had a PR person tell them he didn’t intend to talk on any given day. Instead, Bonds simply went about his business until it was time to go out and play. Reporters, of course, had to wait, lest they miss the one out of ten times that Bonds deigned to talk to them. Ostler says Bonds liked making them wait, ignoring them, and blowing them off. I really hate arrogance.
The Bronx Bombers Rise Again
I’ve got better things to talk about—like the New Yawk Yankees, da Bronx Bombers, the team to end all teams, the comeback kids. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Never count them out. I haven’t seen that many games this season—grrr!--since ESPN and other stations haven’t seen fit to televise them much, so I only know what I read and hear. And what I read and hear is fantastic. The Yanks are back to playing like the team of the dearly departed Phil Rizzuto, whose team, in 13 years, won ten pennants and eight world series. After playing their hearts out since the All Star break, they’re now five games behind the Red Sox in the Eastern Division—I know, in years past that might’ve been cause for hand-wringing, but considering they were something like 12 behind in July, it’s cause for celebration. (I was beside myself when the Bosox got Eric Gagné, once a fearsome closer–but he’s turned out to be a disaster for them.) Plus, the Yanks are leading in the Wild Card Race—not that they should have to resort to the wild card road to the playoffs, but hey, we’ll take it any way we get it.
A Night of Yankee Drama
Last Tuesday night the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees staged some excellent baseball theater. First Alex Rodriguez was hit by a pitch from Josh Towers in the third inning; apparently there was some leftover hostility from the previous game, when A-Rod “distracted” the Blue Jays with a yell. Both teams spilled out onto the field, and Toronto’s Matt Stairs had to be restrained by New York’s Andy Phillips when he tried to go after A-Rod at first base. After the field cleared and the umpires huddled to discuss the situation, Towers and Rodriguez exchanged words and walked toward each other, Rodriguez calling, DeNiro style, “You talking to me. You talking to me.” He was restrained by first base coach Tony Pena as benches and bullpens cleared. Still, no punches were thrown and no one was ejected. Then, in the sixth inning, New York designated hitter Shelley Duncan slid hard, crashing into shortstop John McDonald‘s left leg, knocking his glove off and sending the ball rolling away. When Toronto came up in the seventh, Roger Clemens hit Alex Rios with his first pitch, and the umpire ejected him. Joe Torre came out of the dugout and got himself ejected, as the Yankee infielders surrounded the entire umpiring crew. And that was that. The two “fight scenes” were, of course, repeated endlessly on sports news all that night and the next day. As juvenile and pointless as these brawls may be, I always get a giggle out of them. I love the phrase cleared the benches. Maybe I’m just not a very good sport—or maybe, as I’ve admitted, I’m just a sucker for drama, the more intense the better.
Eric Byrnes: The New Face of the Diamondbacks
When Billy Beane, who has a penchant for suddenly erasing players from the Oakland A’s, whisked Eric Byrnes out of town one gloomy night, I suffered, as did many other A’s fans who loved to watch Byrnesie in the outfield. Some players fear the wall—Bobby Abreu, I’m sorry to say, is one—while others are sanely cautious. And then there’s Eric Byrnes, who goes crashing into the wall without any regard for bodily harm, his blond locks flying, his limbs flailing, as he jumps or dives after the ball. Byrnsie, who never wanted to leave the Bay Area, who’d hoped to play for the Giants someday, is leading the Diamondbacks, who’re in second place in the Western Div. They love him so much in AZ, they just gave him a three-year, $30M contract. And Byrnes loves them too—he says they remind him a little bit of the A’s the way they’re always “trash talking and having a lot of fun. We go into every game thinking we should win. It’s like a false confidence has become a reality.” I’m relieved—I was worried about Byrnsie’s well-being when he left the A’s, the same way I’m worried about Barry Zito; A’s players seem to get really comfortable with one another, and when a player moves to another team, he doesn’t always find the same easy camaraderie. But Eric Byrnes, apparently, couldn’t be happier. You go, Byrnsie!
Suffer the Little Children
Now for a piece of baseball trivia: Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves has a son named–are you ready?—Shea! That’s right, Jones named his boy after the Mets stadium, where he’s had more success with home runs than anywhere else. Hey, it’s better than Roger Clemens’ little strikeout team—The Rocket has four boys, whose names all begin with “K.” Talk about drama!