Finally, blessedly, the post-season series have chosen the teams to play in the World Series, which started this week, exactly two weeks after they should have wrapped up baseball season.
They say the playoffs were exciting to watch if you were lucky enough to surf into the games in those four or five minutes when the excitement was happening. Most of the remainder of the evening would have been devoted to turning down the volume.
It isn't just turning down the volume on the four minutes of commercials between each half inning anymore. You have to turn it down during the play by play, too, because someone gave microphones to sports guys who just won't shut up. Take a breath, guys.
I used to love baseball. No, that's not exactly right; I used to eat, sleep and live baseball. Girls? Can they make the throw from deep right? If not, forget about it. The only curve I wanted to see was one I could hit. Which is why I became a writer.
But baseball isn't the game it used to be.
Players had to hit, field, run and throw. The best ones could average one hit in three at bats, hit with power, throw home from the running track, or hit the cut-off man, and get from first to third on a hit to right. Every player could lay down a bunt, and pitchers went more than five or six innings or a hundred pitches, whichever comes first. They often finished the game.
A force out or the front end of a double play at second required that the player taking the throw be on the base, not just somewhere in the ZIP code.
The strike zone as described in the rule book was enforced: Letters to the knees, 17 inches across home plate. Jim Palmer's high strike would be a ball today, and he'd be a .500 pitcher. But then he'd still make ten times as much money as he did when he was winning 20 games with the Orioles.
Cal Abrams played right field for the Orioles in the mid-1950s. His paycheck was about $3,000. He had to drive a truck or sell insurance in the off-season. He once hit almost .300 and was almost above average, and I wonder what Abrams would make in baseball today. He'd probably be a specialty guy, maybe a left-handed designated hitter who would be traded late every season from losing teams to playoff contenders until he was 46 years old, making millions.
The only playoff they had when he was in a uniform was the World Series.
Your team was in the running in late August, or it was wait till next year. The Yankees and the Dodgers were always there, usually out in front of the rest of the league, but at least down to the wire. The Giants were a pain in the Brooklyn Bums' necks, and the Yankees would make occasional glances over their shoulders at the Indians (is it still OK to say that in a family paper?) or the White Sox.
The Orioles were last, but lovable. Like the Cubs.
Guys who were bench-warmers during the season could become heroes in the series, like Dusty Rhodes, of the New York Giants, and become nationally famous and get their picture on a box of Wheaties. Get a raise, too. It made headlines when Ted Williams got $100,000 for one year. They didn't have multi-year contracts then.
Guys like Alex Rodriguez would have been working as a bouncer in a Miami bar by the age of 33, not suing baseball at the old age of 38 for cutting him out of something like $20 million for missing part of a year - one of several years too many left on a 10-year contract.
I don't really blame the players for taking the money. I do resent it when they act like they're worth it.
The blame for the ruination of baseball is the greed of players and their corporate groupies, and the owners, who no longer have to own a ballpark in order to field their team. Now, they can bully a town or state into using taxpayer dollars for a glitzy arena with exploding scoreboards and club suites where the fat cats can take tax write-offs and do business at the games.
The league corrupts the game by allowing a game which requires, on average, two hours and 20 minutes, to drag on for more than four hours because of the time required between innings and all the pitching changes to air all the commercial time that they can sell and still remember, oh, yeah, there's a game going on here.
Does anybody know a kid who just grabs his mitt and bat and meets the guys down at the empty lot for a pickup game after school? That was real baseball. It's gone.