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Three things, and the greatest?


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As the Nation revels in the proceedings that have so generously blessed their pets, few hereabouts will complain. Still, it’s reasonable to wonder, “Was this any way to run a baseball postseason?” Keep in mind, some day your pets could be on the receiving end of the inequities that only begin with the fallacious wild card concept.

The list of valid complaints is endless:

Games starting at 8:30 p.m. and lasting until nearly 1:00 a.m. Commercial breaks up to five minutes in length. Commercial breaks at every remote opportunity, or excuse. Tiresome and banal conversation in the broadcast booth. Boorish conduct in the seats. Crucial games played in atrocious conditions. Snow squalls rumbling out of the Rockies. Too many stretches of tedious play. Raging insects and other umpiring blunders. A team having to sit around nine days between gigs. Inexplicable off-days at the height of showdowns, robbing the games of drama and pace.

Old friend Johnny Allen, a football man from Williamstown who has been monitoring the series for six decades makes the point that many reluctantly espouse. “I’m not watching it anymore,” he grumbles. “I’d rather read about it in the newspaper the next morning.” Shockingly bad ratings throughout the playoffs suggest Coach Allen is not alone. Baseball was not meant to be played in driving sleet or numbing cold at midnight or beyond.

This simple truth is lost on Bud Selig, the most overrated sports executive in the history of fun and games. Selig is exalted by his cronies for driving profits through the roof. Some media types, who accept the base premise that it’s all about money, agree. But the key to Selig’s success is a willingness to let tinhorn TV networks take his game hostage. Fox could demand the finals be played every other day at four in the morning and Bud would oblige. Anybody can make money by kowtowing to hucksters.

It could be argued -- and I will -- that the official policy of submitting to the insatiable needs of the networks had a huge and possibly decisive effect on the outcome. Reference is to the infamous “bug game” by which the Indians effectively settled the Yankees’ hash. When an astounding infestation of flying midges threatened to engulf the Yankee reliever, rookie phenom Joba Chamberlain, the umpires displayed exceeding reluctance to even interrupt play to try to deal with the issue. The plate ump called the situation “minor” which was absurd and the Yankees meekly chose not to protest, which may have been the decisive factor in Joe Torre losing his job.

It was ridiculous. Play should have been briefly suspended. Some effort should have been made to deal with the problem. The Yankees should have demanded it. Nor were the Indians, who are responsible for conditions at their home field even when they have no control over them, in a position to protest. The umps should have acted automatically. Common sense was enough to oblige them. Is it guaranteed that Chamberlain would not have melted down if there had been no attack of the ravenous insects? Of course not! But it’s certainly a strong possibility, is it not? And if the Yankees had won that game, methinks they would have found a way to win that series.

And now comes the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey likes to say. Three days after the incident, the chief of the umpiring crew -- burly Bruce Froemming -- acknowledged that the umps were under orders from major league baseball officials to “keep the game going.” The reason? The Yanks-Indians game was the first game of a double-header on Turner Network’s TBS and major league officials did not want the game in Cleveland to run too long and intrude upon the Red Sox-Angels game scheduled to follow.

Protecting TV’s interests was their overwhelming priority and it compromised a very important game. Froemming implied -- before some MLB hotshot apparently ordered him to button his lip -- that some MLB officials on the scene actually re-emphasized the order to “keep the game going” while the bug crisis on the field was playing out. Such was the intensity of their concern for television’s needs. I say it’s scandalous.

Hereabouts, the matter may seem trifling and only what the Yankees deserve, although one can vividly imagine how the bloody Nation would have howled if their Town Team had been on the receiving end of such obvious injustice. Now you know why the House of Steinbrenner remains beside itself about the matter and could not forgive Torre for his inept handling of the issue, in their judgement. They may be clowns. But they do have a point.

Puzzling is the fact that plans were firmly in place to start the Sox-Angels game on TNT, Turner Network’s other channel, in the event of a delay caused by the first game. So, there was no danger of coverage being lost or Red Sox-Angels fans being offended while the inconvenience to Turner Network would have been minimal.

But TV networks much prefer that everything goes by the numbers insuring that all those commercial breaks run smoothly. And it is plainly the policy of the Selig administration to assuage the networks and abide their every mercurial whim. According to the book of Selig, whatever TV wants, TV gets; what’s good for TV is good for baseball. His capitulation to the networks has begun to alter the game. And this fall some fairly meaningful baseball history may have turned on such whims.

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A note on the Patriots for it is, after all, football season.

Maybe nothing can diminish their awesome performance the first half of the season, although some questioned the caliber of their opposition prior to the romp over the Cowboys. It says still more about the mediocrity that’s rampant in the NFL when a team can essentially clinch a playoff berth in September. But then we can’t blame that on them.

Perfection, though, can be a tricky commodity. Maybe it’s just sour grapes but the Pats popularity seems to be plummeting around the game. You sense it in the jibes of the TV football hosts and the small print of the national columnists and the edgy comments of opponents. There may be more than just “sour grapes” at work here.

Bill Belichick incurred resentments with his antics early in the season. Other incidents have followed. Is it wise to ram another TD down the throat of a thoroughly beaten opponent with only 19 seconds to go in the other guy’s park? A sporting quarterback takes a kneel-down in that situation 99 times out of 100. Is it cool to pull off the old schoolyard faked spike when you are sitting on a 28 point lead in a gathering romp? Should young Galahad, the quarterback, allow himself to appear to be rubbing it in and lusting for records? Is any of that smart?

There are mutterings. The Patriots perhaps should be a little more mindful of all that. It’s a nasty game. People have been known to get even. Like Mark Twain said, “It’s a long, long road that has no turning.”

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Meanwhile, in the college game:

Might there be a connection between the decline of Notre Dame football and the desecration of George Gipp’s grave?

Elsewhere in the realm, it would appear that this year Boston College can expect a postseason bowl offer rather more dignified than the invitations to the Bardohl and Carpetbagger Bowls they’ve had to swallow in recent years.

Old Eagles are sure to melt if the Sugar Bowl calls again. Hey, it’s only been 68 years. May the ghosts of Frank Leahy, Msgr. George Kerr, and Charlie O’Rourke finally be appeased!

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