Spring around some
In retrospect, how much more can we make of the curious stretch of "old-fashioned baseball" the Red Sox and Orioles recently featured in successive meetings? Probably nothing, says I. More than enough has already been sputtered; too much of it dumb.
The thing is we have grown accustomed to politically correct and excessively civilized baseball that frowns on the abhorrent notion of a brushback pitch deemed nasty let alone a collision at home plate that might leave one of the combatants woozy or even a stray vulgarity offending, apparently, even deeper sensibilities. Doubtless Ty Cobb would call today's game "softball." Nor is this mere atavistic nonsense. Jackie Robinson and Bob Gibson would vigorously agree.
Manny Machado's slide was valid. Dustin Pedroia's reaction was correct. Boston pitchers dithered leaving the necessary retaliation to a green kid and when Matt Barnes aimed at Machado's head he was wrong. But much more bush league was Chris Sale, a veteran maestro who dang well knows better. His subsequent attempt to drill Machado -- allowing the contretemps to go ballistic -- was nothing more than egregious showboating. Sale should have been whacked twice as hard as Barnes, which clearly Joe Torre wanted to do. But the commissioner -- probably fearful John Henry wouldn't like him anymore -- wouldn't let him.
Big Deal? No! Although it does reveal things of interest about all the characters involved.
Far more serious was the racial incident that evolved from the rising temperatures, with the Orioles' Adam Jones getting hammered with the old-fashioned racial hostility the Red Sox -- still burdened by their historical baggage on the issue -- had hoped and prayed they'd finally dispelled from their premises. Well try as they might, they haven't -- not fully -- and if you've sat in those bleachers sipping a beer around the seventh inning over the last half century you likely know it too.
It's on the question of what all this says about "us" -- we who live here, this New England -- as well as the ball team or ball park or even some random creep that it all gets murky. The issue is dreadfully complex. The soap box is too comfortable a perch. Leaping from it to larger, graver conclusions and meanings is risky and it's rarely done well on the sports pages.
May I suggest a fascinating exception? The May 6th New York Times presents an essay by Doug Glanville, a retired Afro-American ballplayer of distinction who had an Ivy League education and now speaks and writes brilliantly about the game he loved and seems to remarkably understand. In a piece brief but profound, Glanville tells us what it's like to be in the spot Adam Jones got trapped in. More importantly he wisely probes its meaning and much wider implications.
Doug Granville speaks with an insight none of us adrift in the rarified atmosphere of the press box could possible bring to bear. Find it and read it. It's worth it.
Elsewhere, in the wide, wide world of fun and games etc.
Question: What do the following chaps have in common?
Jared Goff, Sam Bradford, Michael Vick, Tim Couch, Ki-Jana Carter, Ken Sims, Steve Emtman, Terry Baker, Randy Duncan, Gary Glick, Bob Fenimore, Boley Dancewicz, Ki Aldrich.
Answer: They form but a baker's dozen of the number-one selections in the NFL Draft over the years who've bombed in the big time and are neither bronzed in Canton, Ohio nor faintly remembered by the teams that drafted them. There are more; many more.
Lesson: Be wary of the hype that engulfs you on Draft Day. Far from the scientific process purported it's been too often like tossing darts at a Ouija-board.
Red Sox Nation may have nominated, seconded and demanded the AL Rookie of the Year award for sharp looking phenom Andrew Benintendi, their latest heartthrob. But Bunyonesque Yankee's hotshot Aaron Judge has already filed dissent. As of the writing, Judge has almost as many homers as the entire Red Sox team. On the other hand, it's only May; early May!
It's a bit much, don't you agree, for Theo Epstein to be pronounced "World's Greatest Leader" by Fortune, a sophisticated magazine steeped in tradition that should know better. Granted, Theo -- still at 43, something of a kid -- has displayed particular brilliance leading those notable recalcitrants -- the Red Sox and Cubs -- to their respective promised lands, all in one lifetime.
But for that to have greater meaning than what folks like third-place finisher Pope Francis have offered in rather more arduous and meaningful endeavors seems a reach. One likes to think that as a sophisticated fellow -- Yale and all that -- Theo might even agree. After all, baseball is baseball and only baseball, as Gertrude Stein might have said.
On the other hand, Epstein has been prancing about with his World Series baubles, gleefully celebrating, on and on, his personal triumphs. There was a time in this game when that would have been frowned upon deeply even though it's promoting charitable causes. Victors ought not strut, you know.
But there I go again; lamenting the passing of the good old days.
Get over it, Man. They're over!
- Clark Booth is a renowned Boston sports writer and broadcast journalist. He spent much of his long career at Boston’s WCVB-TV Chanel 5 as a correspondent specializing in sports, religion, politics and international affairs.