The Kinda-Sorta-Almost Midway Point

I suppose 2020 is not the first time someone chose to watch, or not watch, baseball based on principles.

Baseball is a reflection of who we are at this moment in history. Who we were yesterday is reflected in an aging box score and who we become tomorrow will come into focus sometime during tomorrow’s games.

So, who are we?

Are you watching baseball in 2020 or are you sitting it out – sitting it out because you’re concerned that players are risking their health by playing … sitting it out because they are wearing “Black Lives Matter” patches on their sleeves … sitting it out because it’s a shortened season that might become meaningless … sitting it out because of new rules like that man-on-second-to-start-extra-innings thing?

Everybody’s got their reasons.

But, hey, about that new rule.

I thought it was stupid. Not just stupid, but crazy-stupid.

Come to find out, it’s not so bad. When the game you’re watching slogs into hour four and your team can’t seem to push one more lousy run across, that one lousy run being all your team needs to win … and all you can think is that this game is going to go on for another four freaking hours and it’s nearly midnight …

Yeh, all of a sudden, you’ve got a man on second and no outs. That perks me right up.

So, let me just say this about that – I was wrong. That stupid new rule about starting a man on second in extra innings wasn’t so stupid after all.

This is how the new rule works.

And, seven-inning games for double headers?

Hallelujah!

So who are we then, baseball fans?

Conflicted.

Sure, the season is so short it’s hardly worth the trouble. Players are getting hurt because, it’s said, they lacked the time they needed to prepare for the season. Teams with positive COVID tests are being shut down for days at a time. (While most teams have played nearly 30 games at this kinda-sorta-almost midway point, the St. Louis Cardinals have played just 17.)

I feel bad about all that.

And, I wasn’t sure I would watch, because I didn’t want to be complicit when someone got sick.

But, how could I not? (So much for principles.)

I mean, here’s ESPN on July 20 under the headline “Things You Can Bank On”:

“The Orioles might not win 10 games.”

Let the record show, dear readers, that the Baltimore Orioles have won 14 games … and we’re not even kinda-sorta-almost midway through.

Fourteen.

(And, hello, still-for-now World Champion Washington Nationals fans … I know you’re reading this, even though I recently called you “thin skinned” and well, some of you got a little worked up and thin-skinned about that. Did you notice that the Orioles currently have a better record than you? Crazy times, indeed.)

I don’t mind the fake noise they’re piping into the empty stadiums. I don’t mind the empty seats, except to wish we could all be sitting in them.

You kind of get used to it.

However …

(There’s always a “however,” isn’t there?)

I find the giant fan cutouts that some teams have filled their stands with rather creepy. The photos all seem to be scaled to the same size – which makes babies look disturbingly big-headed, and, seriously, if you blow a photo of a beloved family dog up to 6-feet tall, even a Chihuahua starts looking like Cujo.

Should those giganti’dogs be sitting out there by themselves?

I don’t want to see Ben Franklin looking all smug as he’s sitting in the stands in Philadelphia.

(He’s not even watching the game.)

Or that dude who paid for 100 cutouts of himself at White Sox games? That’s just not right.

Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, the Reds Joey Votto wondered …

 “How about if I buy an entire section and it’s just my face? … Would that be weird?”

The correct answer is, no, that would not be weird. Not if Joey Votto does it. If he does it, it’s awesome.

Meanwhile, Minnesota attached disembodied “big heads” to the seats, which also pushes the creepy’meter.

But  … good for you Oakland A’s who propped up a cutout of the Houston Astros mascot Orbit in a garbage can.

“… appears to have been spotted …” Yes, CBS Sports, YOU spotted it. That’s how eyes work.

I suppose, as The Baseball Bloggess, I should be commenting on the quality of the games and not wasting your time reviewing the quality of the cardboard cutout fans.

But, before we get to that, I want to assure you that I am also noting which players continue to spit, even though it has been banned. (Is it really banned if there’s no enforcement? Because, I’ve seen ‘em spitting right in front of the umpires, and there’s no scolding. Here’s an idea: Batter spits? Automatic strike. Pitcher or defensive player spits? Automatic ball. There. Do I have to solve everything?)

Oh, right, back to the games …

Here we are at the kinda-sorta-almost midway point and the Baltimore Orioles have a 14-14 record.

Sure, they’ve lost 14 games. But, they’ve won 14.

It’s easy to be conflicted when your favorite team is at .500.

But, not me.

Look, if you’re boycotting the season, I guess I can understand that.

But, if you’re boycotting because it’s gotten “too political,” I hate to be the one to tell you that baseball has always been political – from the whites-only Major Leagues through integration, to unions, pay disputes, and strikes, to being in the forefront of wartime efforts in the teens and 1940s, to players taking a stand for civil rights in the 1960s, to baseball bringing us back together after 9/11.

Baseball is who we are.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles have won 14 games. How can I not stick around to see how this all turns out?

25 thoughts on “The Kinda-Sorta-Almost Midway Point

  1. The only thing I don’t like about the cardboard heads is that the Yankees aren’t doing them, because I would have absolutely bought one!

    It took a little getting used to, but I like the seven-inning doubleheaders, and I haven’t seen enough extra-inning games to change my relatively agnostic view on them.

    • The extra inning rule is crazy but I think it works. Why not say, “Hey, you guys had nine long innings to win this game and you couldn’t do it. So, we’re going to make this interesting.” And, that both teams have the opportunity to take advantage of the man-on-second makes it fair. It requires a bit of new strategy.

      But, I think the new rule that really is affecting the game and strategy is the rule requiring relievers to stay in for three batters or complete the inning. That leads to a whole new mess of brain-play. I’m not sure I like it, but it definitely leads to interesting decisions.

      • I like the three-batter rule, because I favor anything that leads to fewer pitching changes. If I ruled baseball, teams would only be allowed to have 10 pitchers.

  2. Hi. You know, I just can’t get into baseball this year. Maybe it’s because it seems too weird for the games to be played in front of totally empty seats. I didn’t know about the changes you mention. I don’t like the man on second thing. But maybe seven innings for doubleheaders is okay. Take care.

    • I thought the empty seats and piped in noise would be distracting, but the emtpiness also allows TV crews to have different camera placement and the directors are doing a good job of minimizing the emptiness. The cardboard cutouts and giant ads across entire sections actually helps that, too. And, props to the Phillies’ Andrew McCutcheon who I recently saw try to hand a foul ball to a cardboard cutout. He gets an A+ from me for making the best of it.

  3. A season in which the “Field of Dreams” (the movie) line goes from “People will come” to “People will watch.” The Orioles are playing better than the Red Sox.

  4. Well, I’m not watching the games for the same reason I haven’t watched the games for years: I’ve never had cable, and I’m not about to pay MLB $65 a month, to stream games for me.
    That said, I notice that I’m not listening to the games- at least, not with the dedication I’ve brought to the pursuit in years past. I’ve always had the week’s schedule in my head, and tried to work things so I could sit in my back yard Happy Place, with a beer or two, and listen to Jon and Dave do their thing.
    This year, though…. I just can’t seem to care. The Giants are “rebuilding”, which means the roster changes so much from game to game, I don’t recognize half the names. Why bother? Good chance they’ll be sent back down next week. At the same time, the veterans are faltering, so I get to listen to players who were demigods five years ago hit pop flies, when they don’t strike out- or miss ground balls they would have handled with ease, not that long ago. Depressing as hell, frankly, and that’s not what I need.
    On top of it all, the games just don’t matter. Even assuming it goes to October, this season is a three month asterisk, that seems to bring out the worst in everybody. I think the players, most of them, don’t really want to be playing, except for the hungry kids, desperate to make some kind of impression in their short time on the field. There’s a mean, unhappy feeling about the whole thing that has me, more often than not, just skipping the game and drinking my beer in peace. Case in point: my man, Hunter Pence, two time World Series champ, three time All Star, has been cut from the Giants, the team to whom he’s given 110% for all the years he’s played with them. He’s in a slump, it’s true; a bad one, but he’s slumped before, and always come back, but this time, it’s “seeya, man”. He’s been dropped so they can bring another kid up from the minors. Rebuilding. They could have carried him for a few more weeks, so he could go out in uniform, but, nah…
    Anyway, that’s why I’m not watching, or listening, to the games. This season just feels phony, as made up as those cardboard cutouts. Nobody believes in it, and I think we’ll all sigh with relief when it staggers to a halt, and we can try to forget it ever existed.
    That’s why.

    • There are times when something is better than nothing, and this may be one of those times. Wacky fan photos and looming viruses are simply part of the weirdness we’re living through. Love your idea for spitting penalties; hope some rule-makers read this blog. And Orioles with 14wins?👍

      • There is a lot of flouting of the spitting rule and mask rule. On the plus side, last week, the cameras caught the O’s infielder Hanser Alberto with a bottle of disinfectant scrubbing down part of the dugout. I was pretty excited to see that! :)

    • I know, John. As a fan of the rebuilding Orioles, I know your pain. The Orioles went through that, too — giving a painful heave-ho to the nucleus of the “almost great O’s,” Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Zach Britton.

      But, there is something magical about these nobody O’s, too. They fight hard. They do their best. How can you not root for a bunch of “Bad News Bears” players with nothing to lose?

      Don’t give up on a rebuild or the opportunity to watch the future blossom. As Hunter Pence said about a play by Mike Yastrzemski during the D’Backs series this past weekend: “You know, that was way better than any catch I’ve ever made. That’s one of the best catches I’ve ever seen at this park. And I told him, ‘Dude, I don’t mean to be too much, but you’re one of the greatest players I’ve ever seen.’”

      Plus, who knows how long we will have the great voice and thoughtful wisdom of someone like Jon Miller to enjoy. Don’t squander of moment of that.

      I thought that pandemic baseball would make me sad. But, it’s a little like Linus’s security blanket … it’s a comfort and makes things seem just a little bit normal. I needed it more than I realized.

  5. My favorite came on Sunday, when former Orioles pitcher and MASN announcer Ben McDonald trolled former Red Sox pitcher and NESN announcer Dennis Eckersly. On opening day, game #1, a game in which the Red Sox blew out the Orioles, Eckersly said “I would hate to be an Orioles announcer.” On Sunday McDonald said “Back at you Eck”, whose Sux are 2nd from worst MLB record and in dead last in the AL East.

    • Yes, that made my heart happy, too. I also love Kevin Brown and Ben together. (I’m not a fan of Scott Garceau who can’t seem to get names correct … and, when you’re a broadcaster, isn’t that pretty much one of the most important parts of your job?)

      I also loved how Kevin continued to rib Ben about not owning a computer.

      I sure miss Jim Palmer, but I have to say, Ben has grown into the job this season, far beyond what I ever expected.

  6. COVID hit just as I was coming off of maternity leave and when I went back for my post-partum checkup, my doctor asked how I was doing in our new normal. I began my response with, “funny story,” but my eyes welled up before I finished my sentence. Every year, we buy split season tickets and on that particular day, we were meant to head down to the south side and catch a night game. Instead, I walked home and wondered if there would be a season at all.

    Is watching baseball on tv the same? Not even a little bit. Have I stopped watching? Not a chance. I can empathize with the pain of watching your team rebuild, but was I going to take the chance of going through the painful trades and embarrassing losses just to miss it all come to fruition. Absolutely not.

    • I’m with you. I knew I would miss baseball if I didn’t watch, but I didn’t realize how much I needed it. It may be different around the edges, but on the field, it’s still baseball … and, boy, I need a little normal in my world. A game just helps things feel a little less crazy.

  7. Yes I am watching. The 7th inning thing is new to me. What is it? Have experienced the extra innings. Its weird as the strategies suddenly take a twist…bunting is key and fielder placement is king. Losing still sucks.
    Cardboard pictures are very different tho…stuffed animals. Dog pics, ex-players. Mascots, The Bush family in the TX stadiums. I think we need Hello my name is banners or stickers on the others!

    • So, the 7-inning rule is for double-headers. When teams play double-headers, the games will be just 7-innings each. It’s strange, but sort of fun — it’s got a Little League feel to it. I guess we’re all supposed to get up and stretch at the 5th inning. :)

  8. Great post. The O’s ARE winning, and Rio Ruiz at this point is hitting far better than the two third basement that the Braves thought were good enough to make him expendable. Also, thank you for noting that baseball has always been political, for the reasons you noted and in other ways, some so trivial as having a politician throw out the first pitch, others more meaningful as when Branch Rickey went against the grain of society to integrate baseball.

  9. Pingback: The week gone by — Aug. 30 – A Silly Place

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