BY ALL MEANS, YES, LET’S GET THIS CRAP SEASON STARTED

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

50 games, 70 games, 65 games, whatever. Let’s get this nightmare of a season started, if only so we can all shut up about it and get it over with.  Sort of like the rationale behind leaving for Aunt Rose’s Goulash-infused apartment every few months or so when you were a kid.  Get in the car already so we can all get back in it sooner rather than later to go back home.  There seems to be no better motivation to get things moving on the baseball front that I can see.

Whether it’s 50 games, 60 games, or 70 the season’s going to be a sham no matter what.  Nobody’s going to consider the winner of a division consisting of teams that aren’t even in your team’s division to be anything other than a lamentable stain on baseball’s history anyway so, yes, by all means, MLB, do whatever you have to do to get this show on the road so we can park it back in the driveway as soon as possible. 

Remember when the Expos “won” the NL’s Eastern Division back in the split-season of 1981?  That was exponentially more legitimate than anything baseball might think up in 2020.  And that wasn’t legitimate by a country mile.  Ask the ’81 Reds and Cardinals before you disagree. 

So, sure, put ads on the uniforms if you want.  What the hell does anybody care anymore, anyway?  Everybody’s already angry at Rob Manfred, Tony Clark, the owners, the players, and probably even the poor schmuck with the flags who tells them where to park their cars.  Can there be even a smidgen more animosity between those who put on the game of baseball and the shrinking multitude who still watch it?  I think not.  So go crazy. 

Which was probably behind the decision to go with the universal DH this season.  Hey, almost nobody who watches National League baseball wants it so why not give it to them?  Makes about as much sense to me as anything else baseball has done recently. 

Here in Philly a crap season might be even extra crappy, what with a crap Phanatic to go along with everything else.  Yes, the current plan (wait, there’s a current plan?) does not call for mascots to roam the empty bleachers (insert Miami Marlin mascot wisecrack here) but perhaps baseball can make an exception for the nightmare the Phillies trotted out back in March in order to subvert their legal obligations to the creators of the costume. 

That crass abomination, created – no joke – under the tutelage of a bunch of lawyers, set the tone for the 2020 season before the coronavirus could even take hold.  As soon as you saw that thing in Clearwater you knew 2020 was going to be ugly.  You just didn’t know how ugly.  Now you know.  New Phanatic ugly.  That’s how ugly.

But wait, it gets uglier.  Now comes the news that at least five Phillies training in their Clearwater complex have tested positive for the coronavirus, with 20 more still awaiting test results.  After positive tests came back in some other camps, MLB shut them all down.  Temporarily, they say.  Just like the uniform ad patches and universal DH will all be temporary.  Soon the world will be righted, baseball would have us believe.  And when it is, the ad patches, universal DH, expanded playoffs, and everything else baseball has bungled in an impressively short amount of time will be righted along with it. 

I’ve got a crime scene of a Phanatic that says otherwise.

Mitch Nathanson's biography of Jim Bouton is out now. 


WE SHOULD APPLAUD BASEBALL’S ATTEMPT TO RETURN, NOT CONDEMN IT

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

Until a few days ago I was on the other side.  Baseball -- and basketball, football, hockey, whatever – ought to remain on the sidelines and not jump the queue.  Sure, I missed the games but why should professional sports return now and receive the benefits of enhanced testing while millions of Americans can’t even get hand sanitizer? 

Then I saw MLB's proposed safety plan and realized that this is how we’re all going to figure out how to return to some semblance of normalcy.  And when I say “normalcy,” I’m not referring to attending baseball games.  I’m referring to returning to school, work, shopping, everything.  MLB is volunteering to be the guinea pigs here and we ought to stand up and applaud.  Because better them than us, I think we’d all agree.

Let’s face it, we’re going to need guinea pigs.  When the head of the federal government responds to a nationwide death toll approaching 90,000 by tweeting “Obamagate!” you know you’re on your own here.  It’s going to be up to state and local governments, along with big businesses and universities to figure this out.  And state and local governments lack the resources and financial incentives to lead.  Which leaves the private sector.  For the first time in my life, I’m thankful that American professional sports have become the enormous revenue behemoths they are.  Because they’ve now got too much to lose here by doing nothing.  They’re going to act.  They’re going to experiment.  They’re going to save us all.

MLB’s 67-page document, already referred to as baseball’s “2020 Operations Manual,” is subject to negotiation with and approval by the Players Association (MLBPA) and contains numerous provisions specific to baseball – replacing game balls after they've been handled by multiple players, rules relating to indoor batting cages, locker room saunas, etc. – but also many that could translate to a university or work setting.  If they prove successful, they show us the way out of our homes and back into a functioning, but safe, society.

Pursuant to the Operations Manual, every player and individual at the stadium would be temperature-checked, subjected to a viral test, and have blood drawn to check for antibodies.  Anybody with a temperature above 100 would be banned from entering the stadium and quarantined until cleared by a medical professional.  Contact tracing would also be performed on anybody testing positive. Those passing the initial screening would still be subject to twice-daily temperature checks, regular coronavirus testing, and monthly antibody testing. 

The protocols go on, covering recommendations regarding spitting, social distancing, and other things.  They’re impressive in scope as well as depth.  Will they work?  Who knows?  That’s the thing – nobody knows.  And given that the federal government doesn’t seem to care, somebody has to take a chance.  Somebody has to try SOMETHING.  Right now that somebody is MLB.  If you feel like getting up from your couch and applauding, I’m not going to tell you not to.

Of course, as I mentioned above, none of this will go into effect until approved by the MLBPA.  And that’s not going to be easy.  Blake Snell isn't wrong when he said that returning AND taking a pay cut might not be worth it given the risk.  And Bryce Harper isn’t wrong for agreeing with him.  Yes, these guys make a ton of money, and yes they still stand to make a ton of money even with the proposed pay cut.  But MLB is asking them to literally risk not only their lives and health but that of their families.  All for a reduced salary.  Raise your hand if you’d take that deal where you work.  Didn’t think so.

Anyway, MLB and the MLBPA are going to have to work this out but because they’re both terrifically incentivized to do so, they very well might.  And if they do, we – the fans – reap the benefits two-fold: we get to enjoy live baseball while trapped in our living rooms while at the same time remaining safely cocooned while others assume all the risk for rewards that will run to each and every one of us. 

MLB is taking the first important steps toward showing us the way back.  If it works for baseball there’s a good chance the protocols outlined within its 2020 Operations Manual will dictate how universities welcome students back to campus in the fall.  We all ought to be rooting for baseball here. 

But fear not – it’s still okay to root against the Yankees.

Mitch Nathanson's biography of Jim Bouton is out now.  You might as well buy it; you've got nothing better to do


PRACTICE By Allen Iverson -- As performed May 7, 2002

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

Anybody tells you that I missed practice --

If a coach says I miss practice

And y’all hear it.

Then that’s that.

 

I might have missed one practice this year.

 

But if somebody says,

He doesn’t come to practice

It can be one practice

Out of all the practices this year

That’s enough.

 

If I can’t practice I can’t practice.

If I’m hurt I’m hurt.

Simple as that.

 

It ain’t about that.

It isn’t.

It’s not about that.

At all.

 

But it’s easy to talk about.

It’s easy to sum it up

When you talk about practice.

 

We’re sitting here, I’m supposed to be the franchise player,

And we’re talkin’ about practice.

We’re talkin’ about practice.

 

Not a game

Not a game

Not a game

We’re talkin’ about practice.

 

Not a game.

Not the game that I go out there and die for.

And play every game like it’s my last.

Not the game.

We’re talkin’ about practice, man.

 

How silly is that?

We’re talkin’ about practice.

 

I know I’m supposed to be there.

I know I’m supposed to lead by example.

I know that.

And I’m not shoving it aside like it don’t mean anything.

I know it’s important.

I do.

I honestly do.

But we’re talkin’ about practice, man.

 

What are we talkin’ about?

Practice?

We’re talkin’ about practice, man.

We’re talkin’ about practice.

We’re talkin’ about practice.

 

We ain’t talkin’ about the game.

We’re talkin’ about practice, man.

 

When you come in the arena,

And you see me play --

You see me play, don’t you?

You see me give everything I got, right?

But we’re talkin’ about practice right now.

 

It’s funny to me, too.

It’s strange to me, too.

But we’re talkin’ about practice, man.

 

We’re not even talking about the game.

The actual game – when it matters.

We’re talking about practice.

Mitch Nathanson's biography of Jim Bouton is out now.  You might as well buy it; you've got nothing better to do


Tell Me Again Why I Should Feel Sorry For Athletes During All Of This?

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

When the articles started coming, about ten days ago, I didn’t think much about them.  Articles lamenting the premature end of college athletic careers or, worse, professional athletic careers, due to the coronavirus.  Sad, for sure, that athletes who assumed they had games or entire spring seasons left were now facing the reality that their time as athletes had ended -- without fanfare, “Senior Days,” or even that knowing final moment on the court/field with the knowledge that this was it so best to soak it all in.  On the surface these portraits were heartbreaking.

Thinking more deeply about them, though, I realized that that was the idea.  To break our hearts, to cause us to empathize.  Which, to a point, is certainly not a terrible thing.  But what/who are we empathizing with here?  We’re all in a terrible position right now, no exceptions.  Each of us has already lost something due to the quarantine.  These articles, then, could really be about any of us.  But, of course, they’re not.  They’re about a small segment of us – ones who are, relatively speaking, more privileged than anybody else.  So why, again, are we singling them out, of all people, for our sympathy?

It’s not that I dislike these athletes.  I don’t.  It’s just that I’ve got more important things on my plate right now.  The fact that a Penn softball player won't get to play this year is so far down the list of things I have the bandwidth to care about that I’m not even sure it makes the list at all.  And yet when I read that article, or really, the several just like it (not to pick on that one as it’s no worse than any of the others), I feel as if there’s something wrong with me that it makes me angry rather than sympathetic. 

I’m sure the writers of these pieces were well meaning and, god knows, there’s not all that much for sportwriters to write about these days, but these sorts of articles are dangerous in that they normalize the idea that the privileged among us (however you define it) are somehow entitled to a life without consequence.  It’s why we don’t revolt en masse when there’s another billionaire bailout funded with money collected from taxpayers scraping to get by and why the protests aren’t louder when we similarly throw money at these same people to cover their stadium expenses when they have the funds to do so several times over.  

And it’s why we sort of feel sorry for Ivy League softball players -- who were no doubt the beneficiaries of a thumb on the scale in the admissions office merely because they played softball -- when they’re robbed of the additional glory of participating in Ivy League sports to go along with the Ivy League educations they’re already benefitting from.  Sure, these softball, basketball, lacrosse, players are hardly the equivalent of the billionaires running the banks and building the stadiums, but privilege comes in many shapes, forms and sizes.  It’s the idea that the rest of us should feel sorry for them that they didn’t get the opportunity to take advantage of 100% of their privilege that’s the problem.  And it’s not a small one.

We’re all feeling the pain right now.  Of isolation, of deprivation, of missing out on the things that mean so much to us.  In this way the quarantine has equalized so much that has heretofore been unequal.  Let’s not trivialize our own losses and the ones of our loved ones by magnifying the relatively trivial ones suffered by those who now won't be able to kick, shoot, or catch a ball one final time.


The Loss of Community is What’s Going to Linger

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

So I’m getting takeout last night (because I figured I might as well before everything everywhere shuts down for good, and don’t for a second think it won’t) and I realized something that made me wonder what the hell’s going to happen -- not so much now but when this nightmare ends.  Standing there, in a nearly empty restaurant, waiting for my bag of food, I realized that I viewed every person in my vicinity as the enemy.  And this, I understood, will be the nightmare that follows the nightmare.  And it doesn’t bode well for at least the immediate future of spectator sports.

Close proximity to like-minded fans is what makes spectator sports fun.  When I was writing my book on the late-70s Phillies I learned that even though those teams had a terrible relationship with the Philadelphia populous – by 1980 Larry Bowa and the fans took turns flipping each other off – people generally have great memories of that time, particularly the 1980 season, which many remember quite differently than how things actually unfolded.  Many fans claim to remember a magical season but it was hardly that.  It was acrimonious from the start, both within the clubhouse and between the club and the outside world.  But the memories that persist aren’t those but the ones that stemmed from the parade that followed Tug McGraw’s final pitch of the season.  The communal event of tens of thousands of Phillies fans packed together on Broad Street whitewashed everything that came before.  It made everything that preceded it not merely worth it, but largely forgotten.

Sports bars have not only survived but thrived for the same reason.  For many fans it’s not so much that the Sixers win but that they do so in the shared company of our fellow fans that makes the whole thing worthwhile.  Super Bowl parties exist for the same reason.  They’re fun even when the Eagles aren’t in it; it’s just fun to be in the vicinity of others whenever a sporting event is taking place.

Or at least it was.  Standing in that restaurant I realized that it’s not only the cancelled games that we’ve lost but, at least for a time, the reason we enjoy them as much as we do.  Sure, the games will return.  Maybe in a few weeks (doubtful), maybe in a few months, maybe in several.  Whenever they return they will, of course, return.  But will we want to attend them, or watch them with others, or celebrate with fellow fans like we did before all of this?  Eventually, yes.  But it’s not going to be automatic.

The other day a person I share Flyers tickets with asked if I was interested in purchasing playoff tickets if and when the season resumes.  My knee-jerk response was Yes, of course I was.  Then I thought about it.  What if the season resumes in May?  Do I really want to be in the Wells Fargo Center with potentially 18,000 other people, watching hockey?  No, I don’t think I do.  One day I will.  But not now.

The fear I have is not only of the coronavirus but of the normalization of the resultant feeling that every other human being in my airspace is a threat.  It’s not normalized quite yet; I quickly caught myself and was able to identify it as unusual.  But at some point it will.  And that’s not going to abate the moment the stadium gates re-open.  The longer this lasts the longer it’s going to take for fans to become reacquainted with the idea of community.  So when the games resume we might find that we don’t want them back as much as we might have thought we did. 

The damage to spectator sports might not be so much that we don’t have them right now.  The damage might very well be that when they return we’ll no longer want them around.

Mitch Nathanson's biography of Jim Bouton will be released on May 1st.  You might as well buy it; you've got nothing better to do


Phillies Determined to Hoard Every Last Dollar

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

Regardless of whether you found yesterday's unveiling of a rejiggered Phanatic acceptable or not we should all be clear as to what that unveiling represents: the organization's determination to hoard every last dollar out there. 

Without getting into the specifics of the club's dispute with the designers of the Phanatic as well as the nuances of intellectual property law, the club's attempt to perform a legal end-around by way of sky-blue tail feathers is yet another brazen money grab by the organization that is telling in what it says about how the club feels about its fans.  In short, it simply doesn't care about us.

We know this because the Phanatic by now is woven into the cultural fabric of both the city and its sports fans.  Mess with him, even a little, and you mess with so much more.  The Phillies know this, of course, which is why their revamp hews as close to the old Phanatic as their lawyers determined was legally possible.  Yes, he does still look like the Phanatic.  Except that he's not the Phanatic.  Instead, he looks like something a team of lawyers came up with in an effort to save their client a few million dollars.

Of course, a few -- or more likely several -- million dollars is nothing to sneeze at.  And if the Phillies truly believe they're in the right here they ought to go to court and prove it.  Maybe they are.  And maybe they will.  But in the meantime the creature that took the field in Clearwater yesterday emitted the stink of a group of very rich men trying to get away with something.  And confident that we -- the fans -- either won't care or, even better, will cheer them on for doing so. 

We shouldn't let them get away with it.  The design team that, let's face it, created the creature we know as the Phillie Phanatic, are artists who are entitled to the protection of the law.  Whether the law is in their favor or not in this instance ought to be litigated.  The Phillies braintrust ought to be familiar with how these sorts of things are resolved -- each team puts their best out there and in the end, the best team wins.  The guys in the clubhouse do that 162 times every year.  Like them, their bosses want to win here as well.  Except that they very badly don't want to play the game.

There's an arrogance to all of this.  A nastiness.  A pettiness.  The Phillies would like us to believe that not only are they a family but that all of us -- fans and organization -- are sort of an extended clan, all in this together.  Except that they'll not hesitate to pick our pockets whenever they can ($14 beer anybody?) and won't hesitate to hold a cultural icon hostage in their effort to protect their bulging wallets.

Watching the legalistic transformation of the Phanatic yesterday I couldn't get that P.T. Barnum phrase out of my head: There's a sucker born every minute.  Whatever we do as fans, we ought to make sure the organization knows we won't be played for their want of every last dollar. 


Roy Halladay and the Kobe Bryant Aftershock

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

First let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way.  Yes, Roy Halladay was a fantastic pitcher.  A Hall of Famer.  A wonderful part of baseball history; an indelible part of Phillies history, even.  His #34 should be retired (at least by the Blue Jays).  Okay, done.

Now let’s talk.  While a Hall of Fame pitcher for Toronto, Halladay was a great pitcher for all of two years here in Philadelphia.  He won a total of 55 games in pinstripes – two more than Don Carman.  Of course, he won a Cy Young Award in 2010 and pitched two no-hitters – one of them perfect – but other players have had excellent albeit abbreviated stints here, too.  We remember those seasons and those players but we manage to keep it all in perspective.  Hell, John Denny won a Cy Young Award here in 1983.  He even started two World Series games in pinstripes.  The Phillies seemed to have had a steady handle on Halladay’s tenure here, at least until Kobe Bryant’s tragic helicopter crash.  Then something changed.

After Halladay’s awful death in a 2017 plane crash the Blue Jays did the right thing and retired his number.  The Phillies did the right thing as well by honoring him on their Wall of Fame.  It was the appropriate honor for someone who unquestionably touched the city’s baseball fans during his short time here.  The Phillies Wall of Fame is an eclectic collection.  There are the all-timers, of course -- Schmidt, Carlton, Ashburn, Robin Roberts, but there are also those who resonate only with Phillie fans – Juan Samuel, Darren Daulton, Pat Burrell, John Kruk.  And then there’s John Vukovich, who is perhaps there to remind everyone not to take the whole damn thing so seriously.  Halladay fits nicely here.

Halladay gave the city two indelible moments and for that he deserves to be remembered. The Wall of Fame honor did that even though the Phillies turned the page from Halladay pretty quickly after his arm finally gave out in 2013.  They issued his #34 to A.J. Burnett the next season.  Then Aaron Harang wore it, followed by A.J. Ellis, Brett Oberholtzer and, finally, Andrew Knapp in 2017.  After Halladay died Knapp switched numbers, which was appropriate – it would have been jarring to see #34 in 2018 and think of anyone other than the pitcher who thrilled the city just a few years before. 

Then Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash.  And for some reason a week later the Phillies decided not only that the Brett Oberholtzer’s of the world wouldn’t wear #34 next year or even for the next few years but that nobody, ever, would wear it again.  Fair enough, but Halladay has been retired since 2013 and deceased since 2017.  Which suggests that this move has more to do with Kobe Bryant than Roy Halladay. 

Interestingly, the number Knapp switched to in 2018 was 15.  There’s another guy in Phillies history who wore that number for a long time, thrilled fans with his otherworldly ability, and holds the record for enduring more crap than any player in club history: Dick Allen.  The Phillies not only won’t retire Allen’s number, they sometimes appear to go out of their way to scrub him from their history.  Sure, they’ll bring him back for a Wall of Fame event once in a while but you get the feeling they sort of wish they didn’t have to deal with him and his legacy.  Every time his name comes up so also arises a discussion of what absolute ogres so many within the organization and fans in the stands were to him when, on the field, he was the Roy Halladay of his time – the pinstriped Übermensch who could seemingly perform feats on a baseball diamond nobody else in the game would even contemplate. 

If the Phillies want to retire Halladay’s number, fine.  Even though the event itself seems to bear a closer relationship to Bryant’s death under similar circumstances and the club’s calculated eagerness for a large gate in a season that promises to be challenging when it comes to ticket sales, so be it.  But it should now be clear that they’ve opened the door when it comes to this honor.  Yes, Halladay is a Hall of Famer but he’s not a Phillies Hall of Famer.  Joe Morgan’s in the Hall of Fame too and he was not only a Phillie for a short time like Halladay, he was instrumental in accomplishing something as a Phillie Halladay never could – strapping the club on his back and seemingly willing it to a World Series.  But there’s no rush to retire his #8 down at Citizens Bank Way.  Allen may never had led the Phillies to postseason glory but he was the club’s first black superstar and paid a hefty price for being so.  Some might say he’s still paying that price, over a half-century later.

If the Phillies are interested in doing the right thing they ought to tell Andrew Knapp it’s time for him to switch numbers one more time.

Mitch Nathanson's biography of the former Yankee and "Ball Four" author Jim Bouton is coming out in May.  Follow him on Twitter.  Or don't.  Either way he'll survive.


BASEBALL’S ORIGINAL SIN

By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

It seems as if every few years baseball finds itself in some sort of existential crisis.  Today it’s sign stealing, a generation ago it was performance-enhancing drugs, before that it was Pete Rose and gambling, before that it was the fixing of the 1919 World Series.  In each instance, turmoil tarnishing America’s National Pastime.

The thing is, none of these crises are or were unique to baseball.  Football’s New England Patriots essentially did a few years earlier what the Astros seem to have perfected over the past three seasons, PEDs are right now to the NFL what Gatorade was in the sixties, and gambling and game-fixing have been a part of college basketball seemingly as long as there’s been college basketball.  So why is it so much worse when it happens in baseball?

In fact, it’s not worse.  At least objectively speaking.  But it feels worse because even though baseball has long abandoned its perch as America’s most popular sport it is still, curiously enough, intertwined with our national identity more tightly than all the other sports combined. 

The metaphor of baseball as America can be strained and overused but when it shows up in the impeachment trial of an American president, as it did Thursday when New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries listed baseball, along with apple pie and the Constitution as the three most American things he could think of, you know it’s not based on nothing.  And it’s because there’s something to the synergy between baseball and America that everything bad becomes more pronounced and awful when it happens in baseball.

In the late 1940s and early ‘50s the mecca of college basketball, Madison Square Garden, was home to some of the crookedest games in the history of organized sports.  At least seven schools were implicated in a multi-year point shaving scandal, including perennial power Kentucky and the only double national champion (NIT and NCAA) in the history of the sport – City College of New York.  The scandal was, well, scandalous, and reported breathlessly at the time, with programs and lives ruined in the fallout.  Here’s betting you never heard of it.  Here’s also betting that you’re not only acutely aware of the 1919 Black Sox scandal but that you can name at least one of the players involved.  And here’s also betting that you probably know at least one person who can name several.

The “steroid era” of the ‘90s and early 2000s is a now generally agreed-upon black stain on baseball, its perpetrators shamed, destined to be forever shunned for how they soiled the game.  But the same fans who even today can’t stomach Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens don’t seem to mind it at all when their football team’s offensive lineman quietly accepts his four-game suspension for ingesting a similar cocktail.  PEDs in football have always been, if not accepted, then tolerated as one might a groin pull.  Unfortunate when they occur, requiring a few weeks on the sidelines for rehabilitation, and then it’s back on the field as if nothing ever happened. 

 Why, then, is baseball singularly judged?  Turns out, ironically enough, it’s not because it is different.  It’s because it is not.

Baseball’s original sin resides in the chasm between what we want it to be and what it in fact is.  When it fails it’s not that it fails differently but that it fails in ways that demonstrate that it in fact is no different than any other institution in American life.  And there is a special place in Hell for those who so reminds us of this reality (which explains the reaction to Mike Fiers).  We castigate baseball for being no different than, say, football; for failing to be better than everything around it.  Its sin, then, is America’s: not that it’s the worst but that it failed in its promise to be the best. 

Returning to the Black Sox scandal, when he banned the Black Sox from baseball despite their just having been acquitted in a court of law, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis positioned baseball where he believed it to justifiably reside: above and apart from the scrum of ordinary life.  Baseball, Landis was convinced, was better and would conduct itself according to a higher standard. “Regardless of the verdict of juries,” he wrote, “no player who throws a ball game, no player who undertakes or promises to throw a ball game, no player who sits in confidence with a bunch of crooked ballplayers and gamblers, where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball again.” 

And there you have it.  The dirty business of litigation, the side deals, the prejudices of juries wouldn’t be permitted under Landis’s watch to tarnish a game that stood above and apart from all that.  Implicit in his words was an acknowledgement of a purity of spirit in baseball that was foreign to boxing, basketball, football, what have you.  Baseball was different.  Baseball was better. 

Of course, it hasn’t lived up to this standard, not by a longshot.  How could it?  It is, after all, just a game, played by flawed individuals and run by those similarly flawed.  No different, really, than boxing, basketball, or football.  But baseball’s failures seem bigger and more dispiriting because of the pedestal it claimed for itself and so often lectured from. 

The concept of American exceptionalism has taken a similar beating for some time now.  The founding document of the nation set it up for spectacular failure, declaring not only that all men were created equal but that everyone was entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Good luck with that.  When America fails it’s usually not because it is uncommonly abhorrent but because it shows itself to be no different than its sister nations.  All men might have been created equal but they sure as hell weren’t treated that way for centuries.  In this, America isn’t unique.  It’s just not better.

Baseball will, of course, survive its current moment of crisis just as America will no doubt survive its present calamity.  And then we’ll all return to expecting more from both and being profoundly outraged when they reveal themselves to be ordinary once again.


Baseball Has No Love For Truth-Tellers

Mike_Fiers_on_April_7 _2016By Arturo Pardavila III on Flickr (Original version)UCinternational (Crop) - Originally posted to Flickr as "Mike Fiers pitches vs. Yankees"Cropped by UCinternational, CC BY 2.0, Link
 
By Mitch Nathanson, Historical Columnist 

Before her lame sorry, not sorry yesterday afternoon, Jessica Mendoza expressed loud and clear what pretty much everybody in baseball was saying under their breath about Mike Fiers, the former Astro who spilled the beans on his old organization to the Athletic last November: that irrespective of the truth of his allegation, it was the act of speaking out, of exposing the truth, that was the real sin.  For baseball has no love for truth-tellers.  They’re rats, turncoats, lowlifes, for violating the omerta of the clubhouse.  If baseball has a problem -- and yes, of course it does -- it’s not so much this sign-stealing incident, which will percolate through the next few months and then go the way of the steroid crisis.  Instead, it’s the persistent belief that there is something sacred about a Major League clubhouse.  That misguided assumption has been dragging baseball down for decades and shows no sign of letting up.

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