I think I can speak for baseball fans, given that I am about the average age of people who still care about the “sport.”
People my age talk about the day Mel Stottlemyre legged out an inside-the-park grand slam (past Yaz!) or the day Rod Kanehl joyfully earned $50 from Casey Stengel for getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Seems like yesterday.
I bet more kids of a certain age recognize Kylian Mbappé or Mohamed Salah than most baseball all-stars. They are better fans than soccer deserves, given the clueless lusting to hold the World Cup every two years instead of every four. Somebody please pass the news to FIFA President Gianni Infantino that the four-year format is precisely the reason the World Cup is the best sports event in the world.
Now Commissioner Rob (Roll Those Bones) Manfred is gambling that he can put the squeeze on baseball players, even if he loses a month or three of the season?
Doesn’t Manfred know that the baseball season actually begins when the Super Bowl (I didn’t watch) or the Olympics (ditto) are over?
It’s in the body clock of the established baseball fan to anticipate photographs of ball players loosening up their arms in a warm climate. (Just the names Vero Beach and St. Petersburg and Arizona used to get me through the viciousness of late February.)
But now Manfred is toying with the business he helps run. He’s gambling – there’s that word again -- that he can put the squeeze on the players even if he loses spring training….and April….and May. After all, there’s always expanded playoffs. (I just read Tyler Kepner’s informed column in the Saturday NYT that says MLB’s bottom line is 14 playoff teams into November.)
Plus, this lockout is costing television commercial revenue from sport’s New Best Friend -- gambling dens online –every gambler a king, if he hits it right. (Got a gambling problem? Oh, yeah.)
Sports leagues have done an ethical 180 about gambling. The money will roll in when the ads start playing, and fans – even in the high-roller seats behind home plate – are dialing in bets on the next at-bat.
I can picture Aaron Judge coming up to bat in a crowded Yankee Stadium and striking out with the bases loaded – followed by cameras showing a couple of schmoes behind home plate, sporting Yankee caps and maybe even Judge jerseys, whooping it up because…they had a hunch the big guy would whiff. WTF???
However, that scenario depends on a settlement. Right now, we are in the great frigid gap before warm-weather sports.
I ducked the Super Bowl, even on an icy day when there was no way I was even going outdoors. I’m retired and I don’t get paid to spend four hours watching that stuff.
I also ducked the Olympics because I realized a decade ago that the best part of the Olympics, for me, was going somewhere interesting and seeing how Seoul or Barcelona handled a major event. I have memories of dozens of great Olympic experiences like watching Sarah Hughes perform a joyous free skate for a gold medal in 2002. (Look what Laura Vecsey wrote in the Seattle P-I that night.) I wouldn’t trade those superb Olympic events for anything.
But the Olympics have morphed – no matter how much TV still pumps up the product -- into a costly spectacle, that only dictatorships can justify anymore. The best thing that ever happened to my hometown of New York was not getting the 2012 Summer Games (I will always be proud of my blatantly minority stand against New York’s bid.)
The true face of today’s Olympics is the cruel molestation of a young Russian figure skater who had tested positive for drugs coursing around in her system, perhaps to keep her 15-year-old body from developing, so she could perform a quad. And when the Russian and Olympic complicity and dawdling broke the poor kid down, her coach berated her at rinkside and could not even extend a consoling embrace.
The Russian apparatus seemed untouched by setting up a young girl for this.
Then again, there are far more ominous things going on in the world.
Given that, it is stupid of me to wish there were traces of normalcy for that aging cadre of fans who still talk about Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente -- guys warming their arms in what passes for southern heat in late February, a sign that something, anything, is all right.
“They may hate the cultural context they now find themselves teaching in, but they love their work. The Achilles’ heel of schoolteachers, one all too easily exploited by politicians, is that they love their students.”
(One of the best reads in the NYT these days is Margaret Renkl, in Nashville. In her latest post, Renkl describes the dedicated core of “born teachers” – the majority, she submits.)
(From Madeleine Albright in one of her final interviews in February):
“Putin is small and pale,” I wrote, “so cold as to be almost reptilian.” He claimed to understand why the Berlin Wall had to fall but had not expected the whole Soviet Union to collapse. “Putin is embarrassed by what happened to his country and determined to restore its greatness.” – Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, recalling her first meeting with the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin in 2000. – The New York Times, Feb. 23, 2022.