9/29/2020. David Kramer (left) New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians; (right) Donald Trump vs. Joe Biden. Kramer wears a “socialist” Cuban National Baseball Team cap because Biden is a closet socialist. [Photo: Carol Kramer]
Major league baseball survived what I hope was a first and a last: eight simultaneously played best-two-of-three opening round playoff series. In MLB’s expanded playoffs and three game series are a travesty. Or maybe not., I feared the unprecedented Wild Card series would further render the regular season meaningless when top tier teams are exposed to a dubious and early exit.
Luckily, upsets were few. All four # 1 and #2 seeds advanced. No doubt to MLB’s glee, the # 5 Yankees beat the # 4 Indians allowing the telegenic Bronx Bombers to boost future ratings. # 6 Houston overcame the # 3 Twins who some predicted would reach the World Series. Again, MLB baseball probably liked that those cheatin’ Ass-tericks* continued as the team you love to hate. (See Why I don’t care that much about the Houston Ass-terisks*)
Before the series began, I spoke with Alex White, the dice baseball commissioner of Boldo’s Fall Classic League . Not surprisingly, Alex doesn’t think the 2020 season is much of a season. Baseball is a “long game,” incongruous with a 60 game schedule. Not surprisingly, Alex abhors the possibility that MLB will expand its postseason in 2021.
Surprisingly, Alex doesn’t hate the best-of-three series. As someone who organizes dice baseball tournaments of all varieties, Alex says it generally takes ten games to determine the best team. Nonetheless, Alex thinks these very short series can produce intense drama, pointing to Bobby Thompson’s Shot Heard Round the World in game three of the 1951 Dodgers-Giants elimination series. In this unprecedented season, Alex says we should embrace the randomness of baseball.
In 2015, I had a taste of the three game series when cheering for Brighton High School graduate Ernie Clements’ University of Virginia Cavaliers in the College World Series. The Cavaliers’ 3 -2 victory in game three was taut and exciting.
While a best-of-three works for college baseball, the Wild Card round left me feeling flat. These super short series don’t allow enough time for story lines to develop. A two or three game series is like a weekend fling. It’s over almost before it began. A best-of-five is like a committed relationship. A best-of-seven is like a marriage. My proposed best-of-eleven World Series is like a really long marriage.
I did enjoy dropping by Jeremiah’s on Wednesday afternoon when four games were being played simultaneously on three telecasts, TBS, ESPN and ABC.
I enjoyed reading about the day games in the next day’s The New York Times. The Times rarely reports on night games, so it was a treat to open my print edition to coverage of four mid-week day games.
I was also pleasantly surprised that my mother watched parts of games. Interestingly, Carol prefers games sans fans. She feels the fan-less games are purer. She thinks fans detract from the game in-and-of-itself. Fans turn the game into spectacle or theater. Carol rooted for the Twins because the Red Wings are their farm team and she has the 2012 Rochester magnet schedule on her refrigerator. When I refreshed her memory that the Twins’ opponents, the Astros, are cheaters, she cheered on the Twins with renewed vigor. As a retired mathematics teacher, Carol hates cheaters. She also believes that if she holds a glove near the tv, she can catch a foul ball.I missed most of the Yankees’ game two victory over Cleveland that ended at 1:17 Thurs day morning, typical of interminable post season games. The opening game was dramatic as it coincided with the presidential election debate.
On Tuesday, I tested a theory that if I root for a team or person that rooting will affect the outcome. I was rooting for the Yankees and Biden.
The Yankees took an early lead, proving my theory to be correct. In the debate, however, Trump took the early lead over an uneven Biden. In “Trump is a pit bull fighting for America” (New York Post, 9/30/20), Miranda Devine employs a sports metaphor to describe Trump’s early lead:
Instinctively, or deliberately, the president engaged in a winning fighting strategy deployed by the best national rugby team in the world, New Zealand’s All Blacks. They come out hard in the first phase of the game, using sheer brute violence to probe their opponents’ weaknesses. It’s not pretty but it’s effective if your goal is to win.
Ultimately, Trump overplayed his hand and Biden arguably won the debate. My theory needs more data to be proven true or false.
The Wild Card round also coincided with a presidential infection. On Thursday night, I went to sleep while the Dodgers were still playing on the west coast. In this era of instantaneous news, a west coast baseball game is one of a few events that one must wait until awakening in the morning to know the result. Early Friday morning, I turned on the computer to discover who won. Instead, I learned the startling news that President Trump tested positive for Covid-19. I almost forget to see that the Dodgers had beaten the Brewers.
I also rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals, the lifelong team of the magazine’s baseball poet, Bill Pruitt. Before the Cardinal’s second game against the Padres, I asked Bill for a statement about the 2020 post season. I asked if the truncated season is itself illegitimate:
I am sympathetic to a three game series with a 60 game season and 8 teams in the league playoffs. Everything is make do this year. It won’t be that way with a full season, and I dread to think of the new wrinkles in that. Sorry to tell you that I can’t too excited yet, but maybe I will if the Cards advance. But how is it illegitimate? You may as well say that every team not having the best record in its league is illegitimate, because in the 154-game days, the series teams were the pennant winners period. St. Louis wasn’t a wild card. Everybody was playing for the top two, not the top 1. You play to the task set for you. In addition, the Cards played 53 games in 44 days with two days off. That’s unheard of. Every time they advance they’re correcting an anomaly.
Ultimately, my rooting proved ineffectual as San Diego advanced 2 games to 1 game.I was doubly disappointed that San Diego advanced. When I first followed baseball and began building my card collection in the early 1970s, the Padres were a shamefully bad franchise. From its inaugural season in 1969 to 1984, San Diego never finished above 4th in its six team division. In fact, the franchise has only been to two World Series, winning a grand total of one game. The Padres are irremediable and should never be rooted for.
The early Padres did have a few good players. Nate Colbert, Clarence Gaston, and Leron Lee had some pop in their bats. Randy Jones won a Cy Young Award and Dave Winfield is a Hall of Famer.The Padres did have a colorful manager, Don Zimmer, and produced three future managers, Pat Corrales, Bobby Valentine and Clarence “Cito” Gaston. However, the Padres mostly were scrubs and no-name journeymen, with names like Grubb and, fittingly, Greif. The Padres were so bad, they almost moved to Washington, D.C. in 1974. The player cards of Bill “Good” Greif, Dave Freisleben, and Dave Hilton were labeled: Washington “Nat’l League.” The bespectacled Hilton resurrected his lame career in 1989 with the Senior League St. Lucie Legends. The Padres were constantly overhauling their roster, so some player cards have airbrushed uniforms or appear in the uniform of another team. In the 1970’s Topps would clumsily airbrush a new uniform onto an old photo of a player who’d joined a new team. Willie Davis looks ok in his Cardinal-turned-Padre 1977 airbrush. Glenn Beckert is in a Cubs uniform. Matty Alou looks ok in his Cardinal-turned-Padre 1974 airbrush. Jerry Morales was traded to the Cubs, but still appears in his Padre uniform. The airbrushed orange looking cap of former Met Dave Marshall is shoddy. Danny Frisella jersey is airbrushed Padre yellow, but his cap still contains the blue of former team, the Atlanta Braves. Four of my Padre cards probably have authentic autographs. Originally, they were owned by my friend Billy Swift. Billy said he mailed the cards to various players who then returned them with signatures.
I tended to believe Billy, but part of me wondered if he forged the autographs. Years later, I sold one of Billy’s cards signed by Bob Gibson for $45. The purchaser looked up Gibson’s signature on the internet and determined the one on the card was authentic.
I did love one Padre, Tony Gwynn. As seen in Babe Ruth and Eugene Kramer’s 5 to 10 minutes of fame., my friend Dr. Bob Bryant bought some of my 1970’s baseball cards that he gave to children patients to sooth their anxiety. When he went through my collection, Bob found most of the valuable items. The one Bob did miss was Gwynn’s 1983 rookie card that is in excellent condition.