In case you hadn’t noticed, pitchers and catchers have reported for the annual ritual of spring training.
By April, the baseball season will have begun and every team can dream of winning the pennant and the World Series.
But, as T.S. Eliot liked to say, “April is the cruelest month,” because while it theoretically offers the possibility of rebirth and hope, by the time October rolls around, it means that all but two of the teams in the American and National Leagues will have to “wait ‘til next year” for their chance at all the marbles.
Still, now is the time of year when we can all dream big with our favorite team – yes, even the woeful Cubbies who haven’t won the Series since 1908 when they knocked off Detroit and Hall of Famer Ty Cobb.
That team featured pitching ace “Three Finger” Mordecai Brown who had six seasons with 20 or more wins plus a double play combination made famous by poet Franklin Pierce Adams: Tinker to Evers to Chance. Funny thing was Tinker and Evers didn’t talk to each other after, it is said, Evers grabbed a cab to the ballpark one day, stranding his teammate.
You can look it up, fans.
Baseball, which is still our national pastime, has survived despite all forms of cheating – even a World Series fix in 1919 by that other Chicago team, the White Sox – and the infamous “reserve clause” famously challenged by Curt Flood and racism, successfully smashed by Jackie Robinson. I grew up in Jersey City where Jackie played for the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals farm team against the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Stadium in April 1946, a year before moving up to the parent club in Brooklyn and broke the color line.
Don’t bother looking for the stadium; like the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field before it, that baseball relic was swept aside to make way for a residential development.
Luckily, the “Friendly Confines” of the Cubs’ home, Wrigley Field, still stands, as does the venerable Fenway Park in Boston (pictured above).
Remarkably, over more than a century of diamond history, there has been only one player fatality on the field. That happened in 1920, when Yankees submariner Carl Mays beaned the popular Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman and not long after that, the baseball establishment mandated the use of helmets and outlawed the spitball (although it grandfathered in veteran pitchers who had been using the pitch).
Aside from expansion and a few rule changes, the game – with a dubious myth about its origins – has pretty much stayed the same, with its central premise being that it is a contest played at its own pace – unlike other sports — without concern about the passage of time.
Until now, that is.
In an effort to speed up the game, the baseball commissioner has decreed that the major leagues will now be on the clock for pitching changes and inning breaks and batters won’t be permitted to step out of the box willy-nilly.
And, based on experimentation with the Arizona Fall League last year (as noted by The Star Ledger) there could be more rule changes coming, like restrictions on managers’/ catchers’ visits to the mound, no-pitch intentional walks and more.
Naturally, baseball purists will be upset but it doesn’t bother me and I’m a lifelong baseball addict who tried out (unsuccessfully) for my college team when it was coached by onetime Cub utility infielder Norm Gigon and, as consolation, I play Sunday softball doubleheaders in Central Park.
I’d prefer to see these changes:
• The American League should eliminate the designated hitter and let the pitcher bat.
• Let fans watch batting and fielding practice. It’s part of the game. Fans can come early, relax, catch part of the pregame ritual and bond with the players.
• Stadiums should stop blasting loud music at us every chance they get. It’s annoying, harmful to the ears and takes away from the pleasure of watching the game.
• Team owners really need to re-think how they design their ballparks. AT&T Park in San Francisco, with a seating capacity of 41,000, has great sightlines and feels just right. Camden Yards in Baltimore is another good example.
• Get the Yankees to have open tryouts for a backup third baseman behind Chase Headley just to shake up ARod. Play ball!
– Ron Leir