Apr 06

Why Doesn’t Baseball Make Opening Day Special Again?

It is Opening Day damn it, it should be one of the best days – if not the very best – of every sports year. Then how come it isn’t? It’s because the people running the sport have no concept of the treasure they possess.

None.

Inside the grocery store in my town, there’s a little bank that posts a trivia question every week. The current question is: When is Opening Day for baseball? And, it listed five choices.

Now, if that doesn’t tell you about the state of the game, then what does?

Opening Day used to mean something. For years it opened in Cincinnati, home of the Reds, baseball’s oldest team, and in Washington, the nation’s capital. You never know when it is from year to year.

There’s always Internet chatter at making the Monday after the Super Bowl a holiday. Why? So people can sleep off their hangovers?

Tell me, what are the best days in sports? The Super Bowl is one, a monster for sure. How about the NFL championship game Sunday? Or the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament?

The NFL has its Opening Weekend down pat with the Super Bowl champ starting on the Thursday before the first Sunday. Baseball’s start used to be in the nation’s spotlight, but it foolishly gave away that day, which is also part of Bud Selig’s legacy.

We’ve had the first game of the baseball season start several times in Japan, with those teams returning to the United States for more spring training games. Yeah, they had the think tank working overtime for that one.

Baseball 2015 started Easter Sunday night in frigid Chicago at the construction site known as Wrigley Field, where there were only two restrooms on the main concourse. Nobody thought to order portable restrooms, of course. Did anybody notice those photos of cups of urine lined up?

It would have been great to get a comment from new commissioner Rob Manfred. Maybe he’ll have something to say on the time of the game, which was over three hours.

The game, by the way, was broadcast on MLB Network, which much of the country doesn’t have. Today’s games include an interleague match-up with the Red Sox in Philadelphia. Interleague play is tough to stomach already, but under no circumstances should there be interleague games on Opening Day.

There are also three games that start at, or after, 7 p.m., EDT, that would be in conflict with the NCAA Championship. Two are to be telecast on ESPN. Who is the marketing genius behind that one?

Sports will conflict with each other, but can’t anybody look at a calendar to see what they are up against? Why not give the NCAA the first Monday, and let baseball have Tuesday? Go wall-to-wall games starting at noon and running to midnight. Now, that should be a national holiday.

Baseball talks about the need to market itself better, especially for the next generation, but it doesn’t get it. This little tweak can spark the imaginations of kids across the country.

My late father understood it on April 7, 1970, when he took my brother and I out of school for the day to watch the Indians on Opening Day against Baltimore. Dave McNally against Sam McDowell.

Despite his note, the school did not approve, but he took us out anyway. He reasoned we would take more from being at that game than anything we would have learned that day in class.

He was right. Baseball was very big in our home, and it still is in our family. That’s how you cultivate the fans of tomorrow.

Looking back, he was right, and it is one of my fondest memories of him.

My dad got it 45 years ago. I wonder how many fathers around the country got it today, and will get it next Monday and take their kids to Citi Field.

What I do know, is the people running Major League Baseball don’t get it.

ON DECK: What is with the Opening Day lineup?

Feb 14

Forget NBA, Baseball Still Has Best All-Star Game

For all the tinkering Major League Baseball does with its All-Star Game, it remains superior to the other All-Star Games, including the one we’ll see Sunday night.

Of course, all are commercialized to death, but the baseball edition still is played as a sport. They still play the game, unlike basketball and football, where defense is forgotten and it’s mostly showboating.

Those two are basically pick-up games.

I like the baseball game better because performances have to be earned. It’s also that way in hockey, where not much of anything can be predicted. The batter still has to hit the ball, whereas the basketball game can easily be taken over by a singular player.

In football, with no blitzing, there aren’t many quarterbacks who can’t light up a secondary.

This might sound weird, but one of the reasons I like the baseball game better is that players wear their own uniforms. In that, you get a sense of team. You don’t get in the other games, with the exception of football and their helmets.

Another reason is history.

Selected games in all sports have their moments, but there is a history, a tradition, to the baseball game. Ted Williams’ game-winning homer in 1941 in Detroit; Reggie Jackson going off the light tower, also in Detroit; the 15-inning 1967 game in Anaheim, when pitchers actually pitched, with Catfish Hunter going five innings in relief; Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse; Johnny Callison winning the 1964 game at Shea Stadium; how New York buzzed over Matt Harvey two years ago.

There are so many more, but after awhile the dunks all look the same in the NBA game. And, please, the fashion week adds nothing.

Jan 28

Manfred Must Shift From This Issue

That Rob Manfred is even thinking of it should give pause to any baseball fan, or at least one who considers themselves traditionalists.

MANFRED: Shift not an issue.

MANFRED: Shift not an issue.

There’s no such thing as perfection, and certainly baseball is not without flaws. However, use of a defensive shift isn’t one of them. Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner, in an effort to increase scoring is contemplating outlawing defensive shifts.

Baseball defenses have implemented shifts for years, dating back to Ted Williams if not before. Williams was good enough, and smart enough, to beat the shift.

Many of today’s players are not. Many frustrated by the shift have complained and privately lobbied to outlaw it. If Manfred manages to do this he would be rewarding players for incompetence and not being able to do their job.

Run production has gradually declined in recent years and a knee-jerk reaction has it being attributable to an increase in shifts. Funny, but did anybody connected with Major League Baseball ever think that might be because of a decline in steroid usage?

Of course, this logic would be an admission of the steroid era, one of the black marks of Selig’s tenure.

How many runs do shifts take away is debatable, but I’m willing to bet offenses are more stagnant because too many hitters simply don’t know how to hit. They are too preoccupied with pulling the ball and not using the entire field; they aren’t interested in working the count and drawing walks to increase their on-base percentage; and perhaps above all, they are enamored with the home run and don’t care about strikeouts.

So, what’s next if shifts are outlawed? Could baseball legislate what pitches must be thrown on specific counts? Or, how about telling outfielders how deep they can play, or ban corner infielders from guarding the lines late in the game? What about giving a hitter four strikes instead of three?

There are so many things Major League Baseball could do if it wants to improve the product on the field, but banning shifts is not one of them.

All too often, the stewards of the sport remind me of a man who can’t resist poking the coals of a barbeque to fan the flames. It’s really a great sport, with its biggest problem all those trying to needlessly trying to “improve’’ it.

Jan 26

Yankees Ready To Spar With Rodriguez

The Yankees fired an interesting salvo in their on-going war with disgraced slugger Alex Rodriguez.

After refusing to hold a “clear-the-air’’ meeting with Rodriguez, the Yankees are reportedly bracing their legal defense to prevent him from collecting on any of the $30 million in bonuses he would get from his 2007 marketing agreement with the team.

RODRIGUEZ: Facing more legal hassles.

RODRIGUEZ: Facing more legal hassles.

Good for them, even though they are sure to lose.

With six more homers he will tie Willie Mays (660) for fourth place on the career list, which would be worth $6 million. He would also get $6 million for tying Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755), Barry Bonds (762) and passing Bonds.

Naturally, the basis for their argument is Rodriguez’s involvement with steroids. It would be a worthwhile fight except for several flaws, namely the Yankees knew what they were getting into when they signed him, and then re-signed him.

However, their case would carry greater weight if they were to sue him for money already paid and to get out of the contract entirely, which has three years and $61 million remaining.

Proving they had no knowledge about steroids would be difficult because it is largely assumed Major League Baseball was aware of steroid use as far back as 1998, when we were “treated,’’ to the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

Going this way would undoubtedly reopen old wounds and possibly create new ones. Personally, I would like to see them go that route regardless of the fallout because maybe all the truth would come out.

 

Jan 20

Baseball Screwing Around With Game Times Again

I love baseball. I just don’t like the people running the sport, simply because their motivation isn’t in the best interest of the game.

Major League Baseball, in its indefinite lack of wisdom, continues in its running-in-the-mud desire to shorten the time of games. Yes, the sport with no clock wants to speed things up.

Baseball now wants to require pitchers to finish their warm-up tosses and be ready to make their first pitch 30 seconds before the end of all between-innings commercial breaks. Also, hitters have to be in the batter’s box 20 seconds before the end of each commercial break.

If these rules are implemented, baseball officials think they can trim games by 10 to 15 minutes. What will happen in those 10 to 15 minutes, they couldn’t say.

What these geniuses also wouldn’t say are the penalties for breaking these rules.

What has long been romanticized about baseball is the leisurely pace of the game allowing fans to talk with each other between pitches and innings to share memories and thoughts on strategy.

It is how the game is passed on from one generation to the next.

Unfortunately, those running the sport ignore one thing that made the game so precious to many of us –the leisurely pace.

Just for once, I want the keepers of the game to care about it as much as we do.