Striking Out

Doesn't anybody dig those dugout dudes?

Remember the old Jay Ward cartoon about the genius, time-traveling dog, Mr. Peabody, and his faithful sidekick boy-bitch, Sherman?

I always figured that if Sherman ever grew up, he'd look just like George Will, nationally syndicated columnist and professional bore. What sets Will apart from other talking heads and typing hands is not that he's wrong on just about every political issue. Heck, lots of people can do that; just look at all the people who work at Fox News. Will has carved out his own private fiefdom in the Kingdom of the Annoying by constantly attempting to exalt baseball into something more than just a game.

Will is always trying to make baseball a metaphor for America. I've tried to see his point but the best I could come up with is that both used to be segregated and now they both have a lot of people who don't speak English very well.

You just know that he's going to be all giddy after last week's playoff action. He'll probably run through the streets shouting, "Baseball's back! Baseball's back!" Well, I'll give him this much: For a few days last week, it almost was.

(I'm actually writing this a couple hours after the Boston Red Sox choked big time to lose to the Yankees. I'm figuring that by the time this thing comes out on Thursday, the World Series will already be over, the Yankees will have purchased their 743rd world championship and people will be back to talking about really important stuff--like Arizona Wildcat football.)

I'm one of those millions of Baby Boomers who grew up in a time when baseball was good and baseball was important. We all played baseball, watched baseball, listened to baseball and talked about baseball. We could quote stats, we knew the upcoming schedule, and we even understood how a team could be behind by a half a game.

But then, in the '70s, free agency came into the game. Remember how good an idea that seemed to be at the time? Greed began to take over, but baseball roared on for another decade or so, mostly on the momentum it had built up over the previous several decades. It all came to a screeching halt in 1994 when all-out greed caused the cancellation of the World Series and untold millions of lifelong fans (like me) said, "Screw this!"

Baseball has been trying to come back ever since, but it's not the same. Certainly, there was excitement last week when both the Cubs and the Red Sox came ever so close to the World Series. Things were so wild that NBC postponed showing a new episode of The West Wing and then its entire Thursday night lineup rather than have them go up against the playoff games.

Still, there's an ugly truth out there that few want to face. Despite the robust ratings of the Championship Series games, baseball's overall TV ratings are abysmal. The only good thing about it is that it's costing Rupert Murdoch untold millions of dollars, perhaps forestalling his plan for total world domination for a few months or so. Furthermore, overall attendance is still a full 20 percent lower than what it was before the 1994 strike and will probably never reach the pre-strike levels again.

While a Cubs-Red Sox series probably would have been a television ratings bonanza, I'm betting that this Marlins-Yankees series will have horrible ratings. First off, most people hate the Yankees and the only reason they'd watch is if the other team had a chance of beating the Yankees, which the Marlins almost certainly do not.

Then there's the matter of the putrid Miami "fans," who don't deserve to have a team in the major leagues, let alone in the World Series. The last week of the season, when the Marlins were playing a crucial three-game series with the Philadelphia Phillies to see which team would earn the wild-card spot in the playoffs, Miami's Pro Player Stadium was barely half full. Now they're in the Series and the place is sold out with people waving stupid white hankies.

A couple other things about last week: People in Chicago need to leave that foul-ball guy alone. Anybody who can claim that they would have had the presence of mind to take their eye off the approaching fly ball to check to see that the outfielder (Moises Alou) had a chance to catch the ball is a liar worthy of a position high up in the Bush Administration.

And stop with the curse talk. Do you realize how dumb Chicago's Curse of the Billygoat is? Supposedly, back in 1945, some guy was told that he couldn't bring his goat to a Cubs game and he put a curse on the team. Yeah, that makes perfect sense. Of course, that would never happen today because the ACLU would take up the guy's case on behalf of the National Man-Goat Love Association.

Finally, I used to think that baseball would go the way of hockey in this country--first out of our hearts, then out of our consciousness, then pretty much out of business. But there may be hope for the game yet.

There's this kid named Carlos who goes to the school where I coach. Last April he bet me that his beloved Red Sox would make the playoffs. He said that if they didn't, he'd wear a dress to school, but if they did, I had to mention him in my column. All summer, the Seattle Mariners and/or the Oakland A's held that wild-card lead, but Boston came on strong in September and made the playoffs.

I'm not mentioning Carlos because I lost a bet (that would be quasi-unethical); I'm doing so because I'm impressed with a young person's devotion to a game that I thought had passed America by. There's a difference.

Still, speaking for all of the former baseball fanatics who've soured on the game, I have but two words: Go Wildcats!

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