Time to talk about the good and the bad of a sport I have adored, but now disappoints me.
Baseball. It’s the sport I grew up with and the others just filled the time between the end of the World Series and spring training.
The two league champions would meet in the Series and a champion was crowned.
There were two eight-team leagues. The National and the American.
Now there are more teams, more divisions within the leagues, and there are playoffs.
Two wild card teams are added to post-season to join three division winners in each league and that has become a good thing.
This season in particular, the final month promises to be a tremendous battle.
There is one division race that’s up for grabs.
The AL Central, where the Minnesota Twins are hanging on against the Cleveland Indians, who have been one of the perennial powers in the league.
The loser of that fight face a wild-card tangle against Tampa Bay, Oakland and yes, even the defending world champion Red Sox who have been a huge disappointment. The A’s and the Sox have lost more than they’ve won.
The Yankees and the Astros have been the creme-de-la-creme, by far.
The National League derby is even more exciting.
The Dodgers are clearly the best, during this regular season.
The Atlanta Braves have been dominant in the NL East, but the Washington Nationals have come on strong to challenge, as well as the Phillies, and even the the New York Mets, who were given up for dead.
The best race is in the Central, where the St.Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs wage a tug-of-war, with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Right now there are six clubs in the wild-card hunt, including the San Francisco Giants.
The daily ebb and flow should be a thrill to those who follow baseball.
The baseball I knew, was a game of science.
Yes, there were the home runs, extra base hits, especially triples which are still the most exciting happening in the game.
But in an incredibly-designed geometric sport, the drama centered around the little things.
Ninety feet from home plate to first base. Ninety to second, then third, then home.
The pitchers mound, 60-feet 6-inches from the plate.
None of that has ever changed. None of the rules have ever changed.
But the way the game is played these days is another matter. And I don’t like it.
The baseball I remember, featured strategic maneuvers, like the hit-and-run, when a runner on first was running on the pitch and the batter would slash a base hit to right field advancing the base runner to third.
Remember the bunt? When a hitter would either sacrifice himself to move a runner from first to second, into scoring position.
Or a batter would bunt for a base hit, with the infield playing back.
That was just some of the strategy teams employed to get a run.
You don’t see those things anymore.
Now, it’s either a home run or a strikeout.
Don’t take my word for it.
Joe Maddon, the manager of the Cubs, who made his reputation as a hitting instructor, decries the penchant for the home run or nothing philosophy of today’s game.
It’s all about the launch angle, to drive the ball into the stands. With teams trailing, hitters face 0-2 counts with key runners on base, and they are trying to hit the ball out of the park. If not, they strike out.
There are more strikeouts than hits in virtually every game.
Maddon says he is befuddled when he sees batters who have only twice as many Runs Batted In as homers. “All that tells me is that they don’t know how to drive in runs with a single. It’s an all-or-nothing approach.”
There is no question that the ball is juiced, wound as tight as a golf ball, perhaps.
One of the game’s great pitchers, Justin Verlander, is convinced of it. It’s not sour grapes from Verlander.
It seems apparent MLB wants it that way.
Don’t be surprised if we see an adjustment.
Said Maddon, “once the ball is deadened again, you’re going to see a decline in home runs.”
As a result of fans sitting around waiting for the home run or the strike out, fans are simply sitting around.
Games are agonizingly long.
Countless pitching changes lengthen the time it takes to play a game.
Once upon a time, a contest would be over in just two hours, on rare occasions, even less.
Pitchers would go the distance.
Batters would remain in the batters box between pitches.
Those days are over.
Don’t look at me as an old timer.
Just check out the attendance figures and the TV ratings. They’re down.
I love baseball.
I just want it to be the game of strategy that made it special. That’s all.
A word about one of the gems of the sports broadcasting profession who passed away at the age of 95 two weeks ago.
Jack was an essayist, first with CBS, later with ABC.
He worked the very first Super Bowl for CBS as the play-by-play announcer.
But play-by-play was not up to the level of talent this man possessed.
Jack Whitaker offered thoughtful, brilliantly written commentary following major events. He put a perspective on what we all had just witnessed.
He delivered them without much time to prepare, right after the action concluded.
He had to write his piece and then memorize it.
His vocabulary was so exceptional, observers called him the “Hemingway” of his kind. And there weren’t many who had a similar role on a sports broadcast.
Horse Racing and golf were his favorites.
His commentaries after Secretariat’s spectacular 31-length triumph in the 1973 Belmont Stakes and following many Masters Tournaments, were classic.
I was honored to have worked with him on a few occasions. One time, was at Royal Ascot in England as American jockey Steve Cauthen attempted to win the famed Gold Cup. My role was as host of the CBS Sports Spectacular.
But the lasting memory of Jack, always brings a smile to my face.
It was the night before a CBS NFL broadcast in Washington between the Giants and the Redskins.
Jack and Frank Gifford were working the game.
I was working the pre and post game show.
We were at a dinner at the Madison Hotel, right across from the White House, along with our producer, director and the PR head of the Redskins.
I was 25-years old and extremely nervous being in the company of the likes of Jack Whitaker and Frank Gifford. I said very little.
When the waiter came around requesting our pre-dinner cocktails, Whitaker replied, “House of Lords Gibson, please.”
Sitting next to him, I asked for the same cocktail.
I wanted to act as elegant as Jack Whitaker.
House of Lords is gin. A Gibson means cocktail onions are added.
Up to then, my drink of choice in life, had been beer.
But I wanted to be cool.
When I sipped the strong cocktail I knew I had gone over the top.
My head was soon spinning.
Before dinner was served, the waiter came around and asked if anyone wanted another.
Jack repeated “House of Lords Gibson, please.”
I did the same.
Was I ever in trouble!
Fast forward to the end of the dinner.
When I got out of the elevator and barely reached my room, I opened the door and fell face first, fully clothed onto the bed.
The light was on in the room, just as it was when I woke the next day, still in my sports jacket, shirt and tie.
It was game day.
And I vowed never to go that route again.
I tried to be like Jack Whitaker.
Neither were those who attempted to do what he did on the air.
He was truly one of a kind.
Not only as a broadcaster, but as a gentleman.
The word “class” comes with his picture in the dictionary.
Rest In Peace, Jack.
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