WHAT WAS ONCE A GAME HAS DESCENDED INTO A MONEY-GRUBBING FARCE, BUT HIRSUTE SOX HELP RESTORE SOME LOST PERSPECTIVE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, OCT. 7, 2013) — It was just another boring day in Major League Baseball this past weekend: there were the playoffs, which have become more watered down than Mother Hubbard’s “hobo soup,” there was one team telling one player that he wasn’t worth $300 million, and there were two lawsuits.
Is is any wonder why THE PLANET no longer enjoys what passes for MLB? How different than back in the day, the 1980s and early 90s, when we made a living getting paid to write about baseball, a game that, especially in the early to mid 80s, hadn’t yet lost its collective mind, heart, and soul in reckless pursuit of the Almighty Dollar. (We shall leave alone a consideration of The Game in the 1950s and 60s, before the inmates were freed to run the asylemic dugouts). THE PLANET wrote a series of well-received books, were welcome gratis at every park in the majors, received a lifetime pass to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for our contributions to baseball literature, and each spring and summer enjoyed paid vacations while writing about America’s “National Pastime.” We remember many a day waking up and wondering, “What, they’re paying me to do this?!”
That Pastime, however, has become a Pastime Paradise.
In the first lawsuit, Major League Baseball Players Association lawyers, acting on behalf of Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez, sued baseball commissioner Bud Selig and MLB, accusing them of “vigilante justice” and engaging in a “witch hunt” meant to “destroy [his] reputation and career.” If one knew nothing about this case, Rodriguez’s claims would fall flat. Logically, why would MLB want to ruin the career of a player who has been one of its marquee stars? It makes no sense. Never in our wildest dreams would we envision a scenario in which we agreed with anything Bud Selig did “for the best interests of the game,” but that’s how much we have come to loathe not Rodriguez, personally, but all that he has come to represent.
The suit stems from the results of an investigation MLB conducted into alleged violations of the game’s drug policy and labor contract. On the strength of the probe’s findings, which centered on Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic, MLB suspended Rodriguez 211 games. The ballplayer immediately filed a grievance, and, given one of the many stupid provisions of the Basic Agreement, the action suspended the suspension, allowing Rodriguez to rejoin the Yankees and finish out the season.
In its statement, the league said the suit’s allegations are not “relevant to the real issue: whether Mr. Rodriguez violated the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by using and possessing numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone, over the course of multiple years and whether he violated the Basic Agreement by attempting to cover up his violations of the program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”
There are no heroes in this story, only villains. The actions will perpetuate MLB’s continuing decline from a game to a business to a glitzy side-show, one that is at the same time overpriced and cheapened by those same abundant dollar bills.
The second suit involves two former St. Louis Cardinals stars. Albert Pujols filed against Jack Clark over Clark’s on-air comments accusing Pujols of juicing. Pujols, you might recall, suckered the Los Angeles Angels into paying him $240 million to play baseball for them. After wrapping up the money, Pujols promptly plummeted into mediocrity, morphing from the Bambino into the Bamboozler. He hit .258 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs, stats closer to Hank Aguirre than Hank Aaron.
Pujols strenuously denied Clark’s claims, and in doing so, brought the spotlight on them. Clark made the comments in the first week as co-host of a radio sports talk show. Had Pujols been secure in himself, in his character, and in his career, he would have ignored Clark’s comments or at most dismissed them with a derisive laugh. Pujols was a superstar, Clark a has-been.
Instead, Pujols went after Clark, hard, attempting a take-out slide with spikes slashing …all over those potent syllabic abstractions, words. Clark didn’t physically attack Pujols. He didn’t wield sticks, stones, or any other form of actual weapons. He fashioned words out of the 26 characters of the alphabet. No one knows whose telling the truth here, but does it matter? If Pujols had nothing to do with juicing, why would he be so upset over the words of a struggling radio talk show host — words that would have been forgotten not long after they were uttered had Pujols only left them alone. He doth protest too loud.
THE PLANET doesn’t understand why anyone secure in themselves with who they are would be outraged over words that have no truth. People, especially our critics, contend we give them rough rides into the side boards, and we laugh at that. Trust us, no public figure takes more vicious abuse than we do. They are mere words. They can do us no harm. We know who were are, and we are pleased with that. Those empty syllables have all the power of a ping-pong ball being shot out of a burp gun against a steel wall.
MLB, we hardly knew ye.
That being said, we must say that the 2013 edition of the Boston Red Sox have been fun to watch, particularly down the stretch and into the post-season. Boston performed a rare worst-to-first, won the division crown, took its first two games in the playoff series with Tampa Bay, and did it with the kind of fun, enjoyable, loosey-goosey collections of ballplayers that brought to mind The Idiots of 2004 or even the Gas House Gang of the 1920s.
The Red Sox cleaned out the cancer in the clubhouse (especially Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford), put an overmatched manager in the James Bond ejection seat and brought in a smart baseball man who already knew his way around the Boston clubhouse (bye-bye, Bobby Valentine, hello John Farrell), and made a series a moves to bring hard-nosed, down-in-the-dirt ballplayers to Beantown (Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes).
Game Three of the best-of-five series with Tampa plays out tonight. In Game Two, the official attendance at Fenway Park was 38,705 or 104.4% of capacity. Judging by the standees, though, there’s no way attendance was under 40,000. We’ve heard the old ball yard loud, but nothing like we heard Saturday night. There is no way the Rays win this series or even one game. The Red Sox have the brooms out with the beards still growing. It’s been fun to have fun with Ye Olde Game again.
“Great minds have sought you — lacking someone else. / You have been second, always. Tragical? / No. You preferred it to the usual thing.” — Ezra Pound, “Portrait D’unne Femme,” (1912)
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.