Things are not always as they seem. The beginning is the end, as the Smashing Pumpkins once sang. One can’t know good without knowing bad. And so on. This week has given the baseball philosopher a lot to think about !
First, to the Show Me State where the “fans” are showing the rest of baseball how to support their players in the All Star Game. I spoke of the Kansas City ballot-box stuffing last time here, since that time the Royal Tide has only gained momentum. Sure enough, over-the-hill, no-hitting, no-fielding Omar Infante has overtaken Jose Altuve for the lead among second baseman and wunderkind Mike Trout was the only non-Royal looking to be voted into the Mid-summer Classic. MLB responded by discarding 60 Million votes they deemed suspicious, in light of rumors of people’s e-mail accounts being hacked to vote KC and so on, all the while saying that was nothing out of the ordinary. Even without the 60 mil votes, the AL team looks like it will take the field wearing little but “royal” blue. Eric Hosmer, one of the Royals legit candidates is embarrassed and has told fans that Miguel Cabrera deserves the start at first; other less-talented KC players are just smiling smugly.
It seems like a bad thing for baseball. One expects that when one buys a 2016 Oxford Dictionary and looks up “travesty” one will simply see a picture of the 2015 American League All Star starting lineup. Yet, as I postulated here, it might not be all bad.
First, it is showing that baseball really has achieved parity. The small market clubs like Kansas City now really can challenge the mega-market Yankees and Dodgers on the field and in fan support as well. That’s a good thing.
Second, it should act as a wakeup call for those of us in the other 29 fan bases to get to our computers and vote for our team’s players, or at least for the best players. Sorry Omar Infante, you may be a nice decent man; you were once a good player but your right to be on the field as the starting second baseman is barely any greater than mine. The Blue Jays Devon Travis, sidelined for the last two months with injuries , is a much more legit candidate, not to mention Altuve, Cano, Kipnis and about ten others.
Third, it gives baseball a chance to tweak the system again if need be. If the current system doesn’t work, this gives ample reason to change it. I like having the fans getting some say in the lineup, since it is after all, primarily a spectacle for the fans, but MLB has changed the way the “bench” has been chosen over the years, giving some votes to the other players and less power to the manager; perhaps it’s time to change again. Maybe in 2016 fans will vote but the starting lineup can have no more than four players from one team, for example. Or give fans a choice to vote for starting pitcher but not for starting position players. A total farce of the process is a good excuse to improve it.
Fourth, as some bloggers have noted, baseball has benefitted from the exposure. Sure people are mad (outside of western Missouri and adjacent Kansas) at the AL voting, but it’s got them talking. In a week that both hockey’s Stanley Cup and the NBA championship were awarded, many sports fans were talking instead about an exhibition baseball game a month away and debating the likes of Lorenzo Cain vs. Jose Bautista. Black Hawks? Warriors? Who cares– what about “Moose” being the all star third baseman?
Likewise, the other big story in baseball has also taken place in Missouri and also involves potential computer hacking. The story has leaked that no less than the FBI are investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for allegedly hacking the computers of the Houston Astros to steal scouting reports and notes for upcoming drafts. Stories about movie stars being pissed off or Alex Trebek storming off the Jeopardy set are mere tabloid fodder for the supermarket checkout until Chinese hackers steal them from Sony computers; likewise having a baseball GM know what an opponent thinks about pitching to Yadier Molina or whether a 16 year old high school outfielder in Georgia has a career ahead in the bigs is mundane stuff … until it seems that info was stolen through computer hacking. Then words like “espionage” get bandied about and federal law agencies become interested.
It’s difficult to understand what the Cards might truly gain by “stealing” info from Houston. Not to mention, why Houston?? This alleged hacking took place before this year, when the Astros were baseball’s doormat; a truly lousy team with little upside. (This year they are playing surprisingly well and leading the AL West, but only two years back Houston was among the worst teams in baseball history.) If they were going to try to get insider info anywhere, why Houston? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to try to access the computers of a competitive team in their own division, like Pittsburgh or Cincinnati?
Once again, although it rather gives baseball another unneeded black eye, it may be a boon in the end.
Every good story needs a villain. Batman is not that interesting unless he’s got a Joker to match wits with. Baseball is a good story. For years the New York Yankees have been its “villain.” The most successful franchise for decades, until recently the most egregiously over-spending franchise. If you are from the Big Apple, you love ’em. Elsewhere, you probably hate them. But either way, they are known and they inspire passion. Us Toronto fans are happy if the Jays beat the Astros or Mariners, but feel little passion about it. But the Yanks… little wonder attendance spikes around the league when the pinstripers come to town. A game against the Rays or A’s might be something to look in on, on TV, or read about tomorrow morning in the paper, but a game against those Damn Yankees – that’s worth a trip to the ballpark and a ticket to scream and cheer when A-Rod strikes out or big CC throws four straight balls. The Yankees sell tickets and merchandise in every city. But the NL hasn’t really had that.
Until now. Already annoyingly successful, already the NL franchise with the most World Series, the Cards may just transcend the ordinary state of being disliked out of town and hit Yankees-like passionate hate-inducing fervor. And that, ultimately is good for baseball. If an extra 15 000 people a night turn out in Milwaukee and Atlanta every time the Cards come to town, just to boo and jeer Wainwright and Molina, that’s extra money for those teams to play with, and extra stories about baseball to share around the water cooler the next day.
The Cardinals might be idiots if they truly did commit crimes to get inside information about the thoughts of the Houston Astros on other players. Idiots… or perhaps “jokers”?
So, dear readers, go vote for your favorite players tonight and tomorrow, check back here because I’ll try to explain why the close game last night and today’s Jays loss might actually gain the team more than it will cost them in the standings…