It is October and the “World” Series is nearly ready to start. But first, we must suffer through the “play-offs” where wannabe teams ruthlessly punish one another by stealing their bases and pitching signs, kicking dust on the feet of the umpires, calling for “official reviews” of pick-off plays, base stealing, close plays at first base, possible home runs, and so on. An umpire or two stops the game, puts on earphones and stares into a small monitor while an “official” in New York reviews the play on a big monitor. Each possible angle is examined, play is slowed down even more than usual, and the spectators and home viewers wait in sacred silence until the umpire gives the signal: if it was a home run, he twirls his arm around his head like a helicopter; if the player was out, the jabs his forefinger into the sky like he mistakenly put it in very hot water. Now play can resume. Spectators can once more buy their ten dollar hotdog and fifteen dollar plastic “glass” of beer. All is well now in the world.
Many years ago, when I was a kid and we were not “blessed” with TV, I would sit on the floor and listen to the Yankee commentators—for the Yankees were always in the World Series—describe the action. I could picture Mickey Mantle as he “belted one high and deep to left field” or Yogi Berra when he “easily threw out the runner at second base.” There were no replays.
There were of course, commercials although, thankfully, we did not have to watch them. The main sponsor was Gillette Blue Blades, every half inning for nine (or more) innings. Later it was one kind of beer or another or one brand of cigarette or another. We could picture the Marlboro Man with a cigarette in his mouth, a can of beer in one hand and a razor in the other. The patter of the sponsors was the signal to go to the John, get a Coke, eat some potato chips, or just get up and stretch. (We were, after all sitting on the floor while listening to the radio.) There were no visible distractions.
It has all changed now: there are myriads of sponsors, each with an alarming array of actors and action, all ready to underwrite most anything. “This foul ball is brought to you by the courtesy of the Gillette shaving company, on-line at www.gillettecloseshave.com.” Or, “that line drive to third was brought to you by the Bush Beer Company, find us on your smart phone at www.bushbashbeer.com or at Walmart, isle 13.”
Baseball players do not yet wear patches all over their uniforms like Nascar racing drivers. But it will come. There will be patches to commemorate Aaron Judge’s 350th strikeout in one season or the time a player was caught stealing for the 50th time. Patches will be needed as new statistics come into play: The pitcher who allowed the most foul balls in the 3rd inning; the outfielder who fumbled the ball the most times in one inning while sliding; the batter who broke the most bats six inches above the handle; the pitcher who balked the most times and admitted it; and so on.
I knew the statistics of all the great players of the day and some who were less than great players of the night. I knew their batting averages, how many extra bases they had and where they kept them; their number of stolen bases and time spent In jail; how many times they had walked and special kudus if they ran; their slugging percentage and the names of the players or umpires they slugged; their on-base percentage divided by their off-color story percentages; and so on. This was the kind of information we teenagers exchanged in Sunday School.
I knew how to keep score and the numbers that were commonly used to represent each position the player occupied. I knew if the runner was “forced” or if he gave up; if he was in a “run-down” or just looked that way; if he had a base on balls or was on first because the pitcher hit him with the ball—perhaps deliberately, one up under the chin to get his attention.
In those days the batter could argue with the umpire about a called strike: “What are you blind or sumpin’? That ball was near my ankles.” And there was good natured banter: “You couldn’t hit a ball if you could see it comin down the middle,” the ump would retort. Perhaps the manager would come storming out of the dugout, his veins about to burst and would scream blue profanities at the man in blue. He, the manager, would get “tossed,” not literally, but he was gone and the bench manager, usually a much calmer person, would take over.
We could visualize everything as the announcer described it: “Durocher is kicking dirt at the umpire’s feet and he is getting away with it. Careful, Leo, or you will be out of here.” Leo, of course, didn’t care and he was often out of there.
Scenes like that built our imagination, even vocabulary, but that is all gone now. Announcers have to be very careful and politically correct. I haven’t heard this yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear: “There are three persons on base and the personger [formerly, ‘manager’] is very concerned.” Or, “the vertically disadvantaged stop made a great play there.” Perhaps labelling the infield as first, second and third will have to stop: everyone should be equal and not ranked. Left field and right field might suggest aggressive liberals on the one hand and handicapped conservatives on the other hand. The center fielder would be OK, because his very name suggests tolerance and fair play.
Yes, the World Series is here and I won’t be too interested in it. My TV will be on and, if there is a sharp rise in decibels, I will go in and look at the replay. It’s on mute for commercials, so I didn’t hear the superlatives about cars, trucks, beer, razor blades and baloney.
Waco, October, 2017