The Black Sox scandal notwithstanding, 2019 might have been baseball’s most pernicious year. The national pastime was never exempt from greed, stupidity and the original sin of hate, but 2019 was something special. Perhaps it was the inevitable crescendo of corruption, or maybe baseball was simply suffering from the bleeding ulcer of divisiveness that now defines our existence.
The baseball — the sphere itself — is the beating heart of the game. We never stopped to ponder that notion, because it just seemed too obvious to contemplate. But what once might have appeared to be anthropomorphic insipidness now seems to be more than just a metaphor.
Once the season began, it became clear that the ball had been genetically modified. Last year’s ordinary fly ball became this year’s home run. You don’t need a degree in physics to understand what happened. Just consider this: In 2018, twenty-seven players hit 30 or more home runs. This year, there were 58 members of the no-longer-exclusive 30 Club.
Naturally, the game’s propagandists — we can use TV announcers as an example — celebrated this perversion as an astounding example of their employer’s sagacity, as if the home team, and the home team alone, had suddenly powered up. The juiced-up ball was rarely if ever mentioned. The perps, after all, always package their work as a bejeweled gift to the masses.
In fact, the game itself — a sport that had always thrived on subtleties and split-second timing and the fine art of technique — had been made into something so primal as to make us more stupid with each passing inning.
I have quite intelligent friends who became giddy not because their home team was heading into a (doomed) post-season, but because their team might wind up with more home runs than the hated Yankees.
There were some problems here. The players had been diligently schooled in the art of lifting the ball over the fence. They didn’t steal bases. They couldn’t bunt. Hitting the cutoff man wasn’t worth the effort because the long ball was now the object of the game. The analytics showed that the Twins were completely inept — worse than all but three teams — at playing defense.
Pardon my schadenfreude, but I took some satisfaction in seeing our boys self-immolate in the playoffs. I chose to believe that the little things still mattered.
And there were other hopeful signs. The Astros, whom my fellow gamblers had already assumed to be world champions — the playoffs being not much more than mere formality — were getting drunk in their clubhouse after winning the pennant when the team’s assistant general manager started to taunt female reporters with an invective-laced rant that celebrated the team’s signing of a vile pitcher accused of domestic assault.
By now, you’ve read all about the mid-level executive and his champagne-fueled assault that posed as a tribute to Roberto Osuna. Naturally, the front office attempted an equally crude cover-up, but apparently MLB Inc. didn’t like the optics and eventually, the buffoon in question was fired.
More satisfying was the humiliation of the team where it mattered, which was on the diamond. As I speak, the Astros may not be panicking, but they are almost reaching for the appropriate button.
In the meantime, The League had to move on to its next embarrassment, which was a tweet by one of its best and brightest umpires, one Rob Drake. Drake was, alas, not chosen to work the World Series, which left him time to share his insights on more important matters. He informed his select few followers that he was on his way to buy an assault rifle. “If you impeach MY PRESIDENT,” he wrote, “YOU WILL HAVE ANOTHER CIVAL WAR!!!! #MAGA 2020.”
Then he tweeted again: “You can’t do an impeachment inquiry from the basement of Capitol Hill without even a vote. What is going on in this country?”
I have no idea. But I am grateful to Drake for giving me yet another reason to despise authority.
After going 3-0 two weeks ago, I gave back just enough money last week to go back into mythical red ink. After my unsuccessful support of the Vikings on Thursday night, the bankroll stands at 988. I stand humbled but I take heart in knowing that I am hardly alone in my ignominy, so here are two more selections, both based on the notion that the remaining two undefeated teams come at an inflated price.
Carolina at San Francisco
My only knock on the Niners is that they’ve had to face just one elite running back (Nick Chubb) this year. Which shouldn’t surprise anyone, because there aren’t many elite running backs. However, Chubb averaged almost 5 1/2 yards per carry, which didn’t really matter because of Baker Mayfield’s QB rating of 13 and change in that exciting contest (31-3 was the final score). Point being that the spread is high enough to take a chance on Christian McCaffrey, fresh off the bye week, keeping this one close.
The pick: San Francisco 24, Carolina 23 — Panthers plus 5 1/2 for $50
Cleveland at New England
My sources in Las Vegas tell me that New England opened as a seven-point favorite but now the line is Patriots by 13. Well, New England did shut out the Jets 33-0 last week and they have outscored their (pathetic) opponents 223-48. And I admit that the Patriots defense had something to do with Sam Darnold’s 3.6 quarterback rating last week. How is that even possible? Well, it ain’t easy. You have to, say, complete 11 of 32 pass attempts for 86 yards and complete four more passes to the wrong team. Of course, I know that Baker Mayfield — he’s the short guy who likes to throw passes that bounce off the hands of linemen — can be almost as bad. But sometimes he’s mediocre, and 13 might cover if Mayfield can avoid a Darnoldian performance.
The pick: Patriots 26, Browns 20 — Cleveland plus 13 for $50