Guest post by Mike Gesker
Happy All-Star Break!
Yes, fans, it’s time for the annual Mid-Summer Classic. In the enlightened days before the reign of commissioner Bud Selig, prognosticators would use the event as a fairly reliable oracle for predicting the eventual pennant winners in each league.
Now, in Bud “Dr. Faustus” Selig’s Brave New Baseball World, there are fifteen teams in each league, chopped up into three divisions of five teams each. Instead of beating nine other clubs (as you had to do between 1961–1969 in the Junior Circuit and 1962–1969 in the Senior Circuit), you must achieve more victories than only four other teams. Even then, you still have a chance to get into the playoffs through the devil’s bargain of the“Wild Card,” which sends one-third of the teams in each circuit to the Promised Land. Rest in peace the sanctity of the 162-game season. In other words, if your favorite team has a bat boy, a tarpaulin, and a wacky, wild, Sasquatch-sized, dancing, prancing mascot, you have a darn good chance of getting a ticket to the post-season prom.
Selig diminished the joy of the All-Star even more when he imposed inter-league play throughout the entire season. Because there are fifteen clubs in each league, there is at least one National League team playing an American League squad every day. One sweet festive gala tucked nicely in the middle of the season was not enough for the Milwaukee car dealer.
Better Dead than Redleg
The history of the Mid-Summer is peppered with madcap misadventures and missteps. From 1959–1962, two All-Star games were played, weeks apart. A portion of the extra flow of cash from the gate and broadcast revenue was meant to help ballplayers’ pensions and youth baseball.
In 1937, the great Dizzy Dean took the mound for the National League at Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., with President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the stands. Earl Averill of the Cleveland Indians lined a shot off Dean’s foot, and when someone inquired if the toe was fractured, the sage of the Gas House Gang said, “Fractured. Hell, the damn thing’s broken!”
And controversy surrounded the 1957 All-Star Game because of a heavy voter turnout that would make both Democrats and Republics green with envy. It seems Queen City residents, inspired by a vigorous campaign waged by the Cincinnati Enquirer, took ballot box stuffing to a new, but very legal high—or low, depending on your allegiance to fair play. Commissioner Ford Frick called it an “overbalance of Cincinnati votes,” meaning that the National League team had a starting lineup brimming with seven Redlegs: Catcher Ed Bailey, Shortstop Roy McMillan, Third Baseman Don Hoak, Second Baseman Johnny Temple, and outfielders Gus Bell, Wally Post, and Frank Robinson, who had garnered the most tallies on the ballot. The only regular Redleg started not selected was First Baseman George Crowe, who was black and finished behind the great Stan Musial.
After this travesty, Frick transferred the solemn and sober responsibility for All-Star voting to the players, managers, and coaches starting in 1958.
Speaking of Redlegs, the baseball world lost a good pitcher and a great writer last week when Jim Brosnan passed away. Do yourself a favor and track down his two classics, The Long Season and Pennant Race.
The unabashed curmudgeonly tone to this essay is inspired by a faded cartoon stashed among my favorite observations on American life. A grumpy old man who could have been a Fred Mertz brother is nestled in his favorite dreadnought-sized leatherette chair watching a ballgame on his TV and snarling at the screen, “Batting gloves, phooey.” My sentiments exactly, Fred. By the way, the irascible William Frawley, who played Mr. Mertz, loved his New York Yankees so much that he had it written into his I Love Lucy contract that if his beloved team made it to the World Series, he would be given time off to see the games. Mr. Frawley was able to exercise that option seven times during the 1950s Yankee dynasty days.
So speaking on behalf of the loyal minority who firmly believe that the only two true improvements baseball has made since 1901 are integration and batting helmets: here are a just five of the most recent alarming and egregious crimes against our National Pastime thanks to Bud and his gang of marketers:
The All-Star Game hats: Even the rascally witches in Macbeth stirring up trouble would blush as this marketing scheme. The MLB geniuses conceived a special cap in recognition of the 1970s-style caps worn by a few teams that change their logos just about every election year. This is the model that looks like the child safety caps on prescription bottle: “Align the white portion of the cap with your nose for correct compliance with MLB rules and regulations.” But that’s still not enough for the dark princes of marketing. There’s still a lot of real estate on those New Era beauties, so there’s a special commemorative All-Star Game logo on one side of the hat. The back has the official MLB logo, which leaves another full quadrant of territory on the skull to exploit. Personally, I’d love to see the time and temperature flash across that area, or run a pipeline to carry precious tar sands to the Gulf.
The Orioles 60th Anniversary Patch: It’s bigger than many home plate umpires’ strike zones.
No More Pajama Parties: Let’s adapt the same draconian “Voter-ID” measures that the Republicans wish to impose in polling places, and make all players display their socks before entering the field of play. The names of two of the clubs are White Sox and Black Sox. How do we know? Bud, I’m begging you to initiate an immediate ruling that all players meet the stellar standards of future Hall of Famers Jim Thome and Ichiro Suzuki. Show us your socks, or be subject of another favorite G.O.P. doctrine, and face deportation.
Managers’ Muumuus: What in the heck at major league managers and coaches wearing these days: short sleeve garbage bags? They look like a Mama Cass ensemble. Do they even go to the trouble to assign the skipper and his coaching staff numbers anymore? Why bother, they’re covered by Hefty bags.
R.I.P. Sharpie the Gillette parrot: Is Duck Dynasty so popular that it would inspire grown men to sport a beard worthy of the Smith Brothers in the heat and humidity of a major global warming event? Enough with the House of David reenactments. Matthew Brady is no longer available to snap your photo. As they used to say in the Army, “Stand a little closer to that razor, soldier!” Look sharp. Feel Sharp! Where’s Noxzema’s sumptuous Swedish siren when we need her to coo “Take it off. Take it all off!”
And that’s not to mention: Designated hitters, phooey. Wild card races, double phooey. World Series games at night, phooey, phooey, phooey!
Baseball fan Mike Gesker is the author of The Orioles Encyclopedia and the Emmy award-winning producer, director, and writer of Maryland Public Television’s Baseball, the Birds on 33rd. He is a writer-editor for Catholic Relief Services and freelance writer whose work has been published in the Baltimore Sun, Sport magazine, and the Army Times.