That’s the defining characteristic of baseball. There’s no garbage time, no running out of the clock. Until the final out is made, the other team can always win.
There was football when I grew up. I remember listening to the championship game in my mother’s Ford Falcon – where you could play the radio without the key (and also run down the battery!) – on a frigid December day while my father did business in Bridgeport.
The Giants lost.
Did you see Y.A. Tittle passed? He was a star before the perks, when in the off-season you sold cars or insurance. He was not for everybody, just those paying attention. He was not Mickey Mantle.
Mantle was our hero.
With the backstory of osteomyelitis, the knee injury sustained on a drain in the outfield. He hit from both sides and smiled and might strike out vociferously and valiantly, but oftentimes he connected, and what a sweet sound and sight that was.
Back when you knew all the players. Yogi behind the plate. Moose on first. Bobby Richardson, the choirboy, on second. Roger Maris in right. Whitey on the mound. It was an all star team before free agency.
And you counted on them making the World Series.
Expansion was new.
Ten teams per division? Sure, we went to the Mets games, but that was just for fun, to see them lose. When they got Seaver and succeeded in ’69 it truly was a miracle, unbelievable, a sports story that left New York gobsmacked.
This was when the Yankees had faded.
But I was still a fan.
The Dodgers were the enemy.
With Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale they were weak at the plate but their arms were overwhelming. They silenced us for the entire winter. Back before we even knew there was no winter in Los Angeles. Back before global warming and the World Series being played in hundred degree heat. Back before playoffs, back before they played the games at night.
Playoffs, shmayoffs. You either win or you don’t. There’s no bonus round. I mean you play for 162 games and you’re not entitled to go to the World Series? Utter hogwash.
As for the night games…
Baseball didn’t used to be beholden to television. Oh, the games were on, but only in your local market. You couldn’t see other teams, but that just built loyalty. And sure, only the Cubs refused to play at night, but there were plenty of day games. And only in an exceptional case did the contest go on after bedtime.
Now they rarely end by midnight.
The other night’s game started at five in L.A. Because it had to be prime time on the east coast, eight. Why couldn’t it start at three out here and six back there? Because then it wouldn’t be prime time and the station would make less money on advertising and the rights would be worth much less.
Sports is big business. They brag about the dollars.
I went to a Chargers game a few weeks back and it was exciting to be in a stadium of only 25,000 but there were these constant lulls in play, when the teams just milled around the field for minutes, these breaks were for advertising. Good for the league, bad for the game. Used to be a baseball game was ninety minutes. Now you’ve got to dedicate your life to the sport.
And no one’s got that kind of time.
Due to the magic of high definition television we can now see the fans in the stands. And behind home plate, last night it didn’t appear anybody was under 50. A fading audience for the most exquisite of games.
That’s what (the other) night’s contest was, the best baseball has to offer. Multiple comebacks upon the threat of death, you couldn’t stop watching while you wondered how the players endured the pressure and you were alternately elated or deflated, depending upon whether your chosen team was winning or losing.
Now the World Series used to be the first week of October.
When the leaves started to change, when it was still warm out. The season wound to a close and then the contest began. There was no buildup, the whole season was the buildup. The boys of summer were now in fall and it was about wrapping the whole thing up before it got cold.
But now the season oftentimes opens in March and closes in November. Why? If they want more drama, shorten the season. But that’s one great thing about baseball, the slog, although every game counts it is not terminal. You can even go on a losing streak and survive, like the Dodgers. But now we’ve got to endure multiple layers of playoffs before the World Series begins.
And most don’t pay attention. These playoffs have made baseball just like other sports, when it used to be different.
So, we’d be in class, sitting at our desks, watching the clock. If the teacher was nice, maybe they’d let us listen on the radio. And when the bell struck at 2:20 we’d run to our bicycles and ride home to watch the end of the game. The season ended on Sunday, the Series started during the week. You missed most of the game, and that was not good, but better than having them play into darkness.
But when the weekend came…
You were glued to the set. Chips in a bowl to your left, Pepsi or Coke to your right. And if you had a color set you were the hero of your neighborhood, all your friends came over to see the game.
Everybody knew the players, the statistics, it was religion.
But it was based upon a game.
And the thing is, despite all the efforts to kill it, the game survives.
African-Americans now play football, there are not enough opportunities for them before the Majors. It costs cash to play on traveling teams and too many talents don’t have it.
Latinos now own baseball.
It’s religion in not only Cuba, but Central America and Japan and the best yearn to play in the big leagues, where careers can be long and compensation considerable. Concussions happen in baseball, but they’re rare. You can pull a muscle, but other than a slide, chances are you’re never gonna make contact with another player.
So that night, nearly 60 years after I first got bitten by the bug, when I’d long ago sworn off, saying I’ll catch up when I’m in the old folks home, baseball came back and bit me in the ass once again – got me hooked. The guys with beards and stringy hair, all younger than me and my contemporaries, fought it out.
Just a couple of outs. Just get through the top of the ninth and it’s all over.
But this couldn’t be done.
The Astros tied it up.
Extra innings ensued.
The Astros went ahead. Miraculously the Dodgers caught up!
And the bullpens were emptying and strategy was key and god if I wasn’t riveted to the set.
I didn’t know all the players. I wasn’t invested in the teams. But the game had me hooked. Because it’s just like life, you never know what will happen, you can always come back.
You can always come back.