Hey there, sponge cakes. Welcome to Opening Day — not Opening Week, as baseball has taken to calling it. That’s gotta be a Manfredism. Speaking of which … Bob Nightengale reports that commissioner Rob Womanfred will be in attendance at the Cubs opener in St. Louis tonight. My question is: When does he adios the game? I figure it’ll be after the 7th, cuz that’s how long he thinks major league games oughta last.
I tend to pick on commissioners, and Manfred is no exception. But, hey, they bring it on themselves. Bud Selig, for example, decided to end the 2002 All Star game in a tie. It’s baseball. There are no ties. And that “World Series home field advantage to the league that wins the All Star game” rule was his, too. I’m tellin’ you … listening to baseball commissioner ideas is like walkin’ your dog — you gotta bring a plastic bag along to pick up all the turds. I’ll give this to Manfred: the guy flushed the ASG/World Series advantage brain fart. But that’s it on the plus side of the Manfred board. Everything else he wants to do — most of which revolves around makin’ games shorter — screws with the fundamentals of baseball.
Some people want shorter games. Yeah, I read about that all the time. But I ask: Who are these people? Are they millennial types raised on iPhones, video games, and blaring music so loud during any break in the action that it makes my toenails hurt? I think maybe so, cuz I don’t hear people my age complaining about watchin’ a game for 3 hours. (Except for Mr. “if it ain’t broke, fix it anyway” Womanfred.) I’d even be willin’ to bet that it was Robbie’s idea to broom the nudie pictures from the pages of Playboy — another institution that didn’t need to be “improved.” I’ll tell ya … if congress wants to investigate something that’s truly un-american … that would be it, my friend!
Point is, maybe it isn’t baseball that needs fixing. Instead, maybe it’s the binge-watching, instant-gratification, short-attention-span generation that can’t spend four seconds away from their social media feeds without breakin’ out in a sweat that needs fixing. Baseball has been around for like a million years, and other than stupidly not lettin’ black players in until Jackie Robinson, it’s pretty much been perfect. It doesn’t need the pathetic DH. It doesn’t need instant replay … especially when the umps still can’t get it right. (See today’s Yankees-Rays opener.) Baseball doesn’t need a fake intentional walk, or a protective bubble around middle infielders, or a special purpose rule puttin’ a guy on second in extra inning games. And it SURE as hell doesn’t need two innings clipped off the tail end. If anything in baseball needs to be clipped, it’s Rob Manfred’s self-important wings and Noah Syndergaard’s goldilocks. Other than that, unless you wanna make American League pitchers man up and take their swings, or turn that F-ing head-banging noise off between batters, or hire the displaced Playboy models as bat girls, we should just leave baseball the hell alone, pallie.
There were 2,430 games played this season, and it took the very last one for the Giants to manufacture a chance at the Post Season. How you interpret that can either give you hives or a grin the size of Prince Fielder’s butt.
It’s hard to figure a team like San Francisco. They’ve got a good staff, a line up of veterans, a damn good manager in Bruce Bochy, and a ton of experience with the post season in the last decade. A little too much. Like there should be a special episode of Hoarders about the Giants. And yet they still sucked like Linda Lovelace with a Dyson since the All Star break.
This is also an even year, which holds sway over the superstitious. Not that Cubs fans are immune to that condition. Two words: Billy Goat. Me, personally? I never, ever change my underwear in the middle of a winning streak. Needless to say, I got a little crispy now and then this season. Totally worth it, though. Anyway, Giants fans believe that even numbered years belong to their team — that they own ’em. And I gotta tell you … it would give me a world of satisfaction for the Cubs to prove what a Mount Everest-sized pile of crap that is.
The fact that the Giants made it to the Wild Card game at all, in spite of playin’ the second half of the season like the fog had rolled all the way into their clubhouse, says a whole lot about them, none of which I like very much. But I think an even numbered year has about as much to do with the Giants makin’ the playoffs as the color red does.
And that’s the thing. If they didn’t get in because of some voodoo, witchcraft, hocus pocus BS, then what’s the reason? As much as the legacy of Barry Bonds still sandpapers my backside, I gotta hand it to the Giants; they’re a grizzled lineup that plays team ball, doesn’t give up, and somehow finds a way to survive when they’re nose-to-nose with the grim reaper. Those are admirable qualities in a ball club, no question, and even though the words are gonna taste like the south end of a sick rhino, I gotta say that the Giants are probably for real and, unlike the geeked-out, cucumber mist bottled water-drinkin’ fans they got, they’re probably not big believers in the make-me-laugh, even-numbered-year thing.
Full disclosure: I was pullin’ for the Mets last night. And I gotta tell ya, after what happened last year, that felt a whole lot like havin’ a heart transplant without anesthesia. I just figured the Cubs would have an easier time with them than San Francisco, and that they’d do the same thing that the Giants did — chip away at the Mets’ pen.
Of course if Mad-Bum and his band of Halloween-colored honyocks think it’s gonna be more of the same against the Cubs, they’re sorely mistaken. No way Chicago is first pitch flailing at anything in the northern hemisphere like New York. LlNot a chance. Just 21 pitches got Bumgarner through the first 3 frames. That was epically-stupid on the part of the Mets, who wasted a brilliant outing by Thor and now will be swingin’ golf clubs this weekend instead of bats. And by the way, I don’t take Syndergaard out. He’d given up a grand total of 1 hit and had somethin’ like 10 K’s over 6 innings. Yeah, yeah … Granderson saved his narrow hiney on that deep drive to center, but that had more to do with where he was positioned than Thor runnin’ outta gas. It was a long out, nothin’ more. Look, all I’m sayin’ is if my horse has won the first two legs of the Triple Crown … do I replace the jockey at Belmont? No. I do not. What idiots.
It’s that kinda moronic hitting and coaching that played right into the Giants’ hands, and was a big factor in last night’s outcome.
And what about Yoenis Cespedes? He looked like a friggin’ crayon with that hair. I’m sorry, but if you’re doin’ that sorta crap as you head into the playoffs, you’re not focused. You’re tempting the gods to make an example of you. And did they ever? He went 0-4 with 2 strike outs, and got nothin’ on the ball when he did make contact. But, hey … LOVE your hair, Yoenis.
The gods weren’t done by any stretch, either. Enter Conor Gillaspie. Seriously? Conor … Gillaspie? A Conor Gillaspie could be a bank manager. A Conor Gillaspie might sir on the Supreme Court. But steppin’ into size 16 hero shoes in a win-or-go-home game? No. That’s the gods at work, my friend. Plain and simple.
If you look at the last week of the season, and last night’s game on top of that, you might conclude that the Giants have reacquired their mojo, and will now be an even-numbered foregone conclusion to be reckoned with. And that’s fine. The Force has a powerful effect on the weak mind.
But as the Wizard so emphatically put it to Dorothy, “Not so fast. NOT so fast!”
Anyone — and I’m mostly talkin’ to you Giants fans, now — anyone thinkin’ the Cubs are gonna pull a Golden State Warriors against the G-men oughta get a CAT scan right now. The best record in baseball means nothin’ to a team that hasn’t won a ring since William Howard Taft was diddlin’ interns in the Oval Office. There’s a whole lot more they’re playin’ for. On the very tip-top of that list would be writin’ the biggest sports story on the planet in the last 7 decades. The entire city of Chicago and, hell, half the country wants to see the Cubs doin’ the champagne boogie. I’ll bet the Giants won’t even be all that broken hearted when Rob Manfred is handin’ the hardware to Ricketts. Point is, the Cubs have a distinct purpose, and it’s one helluva lot bigger than just winnin’ the Series. It’s about healing. It’s about burying the damn curse. It’s about givin’ something to back to Cubs fans for 108 of stickin’ with a team that coulda been mistaken for a possum. And I believe the Giants are about to find out just how important that is to Chicago.
Thus, in spite of San Francisco’s do or die last night, and their willing themselves past LA to even get that far, there happens to be another possible scenario besides them findin’ their mojo. In fact, there may be no mo jo in their mojo. That is possible, my friend. What they’ve had to do just to get there may be all they could muster.
Whether they’re runnin’ on fumes or emotionally topped off with full-octane Willy Mays karma, I don’t think it’s gonna matter one iota. (What the hell is an iota, anyway?) I think the Cubs are bound and determined to finish what they started in April, and unless they come down with a team-wide case of the Black Plague, nobody — not Mad-Bum, not Posey, and certainly not Conor Gillaspie — is gonna be able to do a damn thing about it.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’ve been stranded in the middle of the baseball desert, dyin’ of a thirst that’s only gonna get quenched by drinkin’ the metaphorical blood of the Mets. It’s not just that they waterboarded us in the playoffs last year … it’s that they found a way to do that after we zeroed them in the season series, 7-zip. I practically went into some kinda painintheassic shock, which admittedly isn’t as bad as your hypovolemic or neurogenic or anaphylactic shocks, but it hurts like a beach ball sized hemorrhoid. Anyway, I’ve been impatiently waiting for this series cuz it’s our chance to reassert our obvious superiority over the flowing locks of Noah Syndergaard, the 57-inch waistline of Bartolo Colon and the rest of that group of Queens … I mean from Queens.
What happened last year just doesn’t add up for me, cuz theoretically the Cubbies got a lot better AFTER we swept the Mets during the regular season. We called up Schwarber, who basically was Babe Ruth reincarnated for the rest of the season, moved Castro to 2nd and added Russell, although he was injured for the post season. But Baez stepped into his slot so there were really no beats skipped there. Not enough to put us on a 4 game skid against that bunch of plankton anyway.
As David Schoenfield points out, it seems like we’ve got an edge this year, and I’m talkin’ Game of Thrones, swingin’ Valyrian steel sword edge, pal. Better pitching, better hitting, waaaaaay better record, more confidence, better uniforms, better city, better fans, better hot dogs, better pizza. Gettin’ carried away there, but you get my point. I’d like to say if the Cubs lose this series I’ll eat my truck, but I said that about The Donald becoming the nominee of the Republican party, and look how that turned out.
Game starts in a couple of hours. That oughta be enough time to pin the hell outta my Steven Matz doll.
1) a set of laws or regulations
2) a set of ideas or rules about how to behave
Codes, unlike rules, are often unwritten and informal. No official book. No company manual. No government-like posters in the lunch room. They’re phantom collections of understandings between members of a group. For example, Chicago has a hot dog code that says you never, ever, never, never ever put ketchup on a hot dog; there’s no law preventing it, but if you’re from the Windy City you just wouldn’t ever do that. And if you did, you’d have to take the extra-large ration of doo doo — justifiable, by the way — that your friends would dish.
There are other kinds of codes, too. Like, say, a code of ethics. That’s the kinda thing Hillary Clinton wouldn’t recognize if it jumped up and took a bite out of her pantsuit-wearin’ donkey. Another would be a code of conduct. Donald Trump couldn’t identify that one if it was sittin’ on top of whatever it is that’s already sittin’ on top of his head. But that’s not what’s at issue here. In November, yes. What I’m talkin’ about now, though, is a code of honor. Semper Fidelis is the Marine Corp version. It means remaining faithful to the mission, to each other, to the Corps and to country, regardless of whatever kinda hell is happening all around them. Even the Mafia has a code. It’s called Omertà, and it means you never rat on your friends, you don’t cooperate with authorities, and you keep your nose outta the illegal actions of others. If you’re a wise guy, Omertà isn’t something you wanna treat with a casual attitude; like Alfonso Soriano used to have in the batter’s box. You could end up wearin’ cement shoes. If you’ve ever seen Prince Fielder run, you’d know that’s somethin’ you want to avoid.
Which brings me to the point; that unwritten code in baseball that says if one of your guys takes out one of our guys — whether it’s a hard slide into second base or some chin music that actually hits a high note — there’s gonna be some kinda retaliation. It’s part of the game — even the sissified, pink tutu-wearin’, give-a-warning-to-both-teams version Bud Selig turned it into. When I was a kid though, if you did a Chase Utley against the Cards, for example, you’d have to expect Bob Gibson to attempt a little brain surgery on you the next time you came to the plate. Not givin’ someone a tit when they’ve obviously tatted you is just plain cowardly, my friend. It’s baseball, not figure skating, and if you’re gonna put on the uni it’s your duty to stick up for each other. Period. Plus, it adds a dimension of Omertà to things, cuz you never know when, where or necessarily who is gonna pay the price. Bryce Harper thinks flippin’ bats and admiring your own work at the plate makes the game more interesting? That’s just ego in a very jackassian sorta way. Throwing a 97 mph heater at a guy’s numbers, on the other hand, tends to start a conversation — one that uses ALL the words in the english language, and that sometimes ends up in a spontaneous all-team dance on the infield grass. Now that’s interesting, pallie. You can keep your friggin’ bat flip.
The reason this is top of mind at the moment is because of what we’ve witnessed over the past few weeks. (Besides the Cubs continuing to clean their spikes off on the rest of the National League, that is.) There have been 3 obvious “code” incidents, where guys were throwin’ what I call “pigeon balls” — pitches that come with messages. Buster Olney wrote a good piece about this the other day, describing each of these exchanges and what led to them. The key questions Buster raises are 1) Is it acceptable for pitchers to throw a baseball at or near a hitter to deliver a message? And 2) Should a history of bad blood between teams and players matter? I say yes to both, just in case you haven’t been paying attention. Where Buster misses the mark, IMHO, is his dissatisfaction with how differently each of these events, although very similar, were handled by the umpires, and his call for “MLB to determine what will be tolerated and what won’t be, and to send a message of its own, loudly and clearly, perhaps by reaffirming the rules that should apply in these moments.”
Then there’s that pesky little Rule 8.02: Throwing at the Batter. It reads as follows:
The pitcher shall not intentionally pitch at the batter.
If, in the umpire’s judgment, such a violation occurs, the umpire may elect either to:
Expel the pitcher, or the manager and the pitcher, from the game, or may warn the pitcher and the manager of both teams that another such pitch will result in the immediate expulsion of that pitcher (or a replacement) and the manager. If, in the umpire’s judgment, circumstances warrant, both teams may be officially “warned” prior to the game or at any time during the game.
(League Presidents may take additional action under authority provided in Rule 9.05)
Rule 8.02(d) Comment: Team personnel may not come onto the playing surface to argue or dispute a warning issued under Rule 8.02(d). If a manager, coach or player leaves the dugout or his position to dispute a warning, he should be warned to stop. If he continues, he is subject to ejection. To pitch at a batter’s head is unsportsmanlike and highly dangerous. It should be – and is – condemned by everybody. Umpires should act without hesitation in enforcement of this rule.
Go ahead and reaffirm that rule. Not a damn thing will change.
Yeah, these incidents were kinda handled like they were from different planets. You read the rule … what can you expect? It’s full of words like “judgement” and “may” and “circumstances” and “should.” It’s dealing with something that’s not an absolute, which is why the rule was written that way in the first place. If the nature and severity of code retaliations were always the same, you could have one, all-powerful way of handling them. But they’re not. Too many variables. How hard was the pitch thrown? How close, exactly, was it? Was it really intended to hit a guy or was it just a “hey, I could hit you if I wanted to” thing? Where was it located? Is the pitcher a control guy, or not so much? What was the cause of the retaliation? How severe was it? How long ago was it? Yadda yadda yadda. This is an issue that’s never gonna be etched in stone, and if you try to treat it like it is you’re gonna have a lot more of the Syndergaard/Utley thing than you want. It’s a Pandora’s box, my friend. I say, lock the damn thing and throw away the key.
Look, there are two issues, as I see it: 1) The rule, as written, allows for a lot of interpretation on the part of umpires and 2) Major League Baseball has umpires. Like the code, umpires are part of the game. Do they get stuff wrong. Yeah. Does it drive me to the friggin’ moon and back when they do? Without exception. Do I wanna see Rob Womanfred and his band of merry minions continue to turn baseball into something I hardly recognize by turnin’ umps into zombies, or replacing them altogether with some sort of cyclops-techno-wiz-bang robot that you can’t kick dirt on? HELL no! This is baseball, not u-friggin-topia. The more perfect we try to make the game, the less perfect it’s becoming.