Monday, July 15, 2013


The Major League Baseball All-Star Game is tomorrow (Tues., 7/16) and unless wife Susie has other plans for me I’ll probably be watching on TV, a crossword puzzle in my lap. I’m interested enough to tune in and hope to see something memorable, just as I do every time I watch an athletic event, but I don’t care who wins. It’s an evening’s entertainment, nothing more.
            I’d guess that most people feel the same way I do about the game, despite the hype that surrounds it. I’d also guess that many of the participants are less than enthusiastic; if that perception didn’t exist MLB wouldn’t spend money running ads to counter it.

The baseball regular season is long, packing 162 games into about 180 days, and while I don’t feel sorry for men who earn princely salaries for playing a kid’s game I can see where the prospect of a four-day holiday might be more attractive than schlepping off to play an exhibition. The players who aren’t picked have all the best of it.

In brief, I’m asking whether tomorrow’s trip—or that for any all-star game in our major spectator sports—is necessary.  While it’s no big deal either way, I suspect we could get along fine without it, or them.

All-star games seem to me to be an idea whose time has passed.  Baseball’s version no doubt sounded dandy in 1933 when Arch Ward, the promotion-minded sports editor of the Chicago Tribune, hatched and brought it to fruition.  The series got off to a grand start in Comiskey Park in Chicago with a 4-2 American League victory sparked by a home run by Babe Ruth, who always rose to the occasion. It’s been held every season since except for the war year of 1945. During four seasons – 1959 through 1962—there were two all-star games, although I can’t imagine why.

The game made sense in the pre-TV dark ages because it brought some of baseball’s stars within reach of fans who otherwise never might see them. The same held true to a lesser extent until 1997, when interleague play began. Now, with an odd number of teams (15) in each league, there is interleague play almost daily, and thanks to the miracle of MLB’s Extra Innings package (to which I subscribe), every game that’s televised anywhere is televised everywhere. I live in a National League city but with a click of my remote any night I can watch Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera play in games that count in the standings.  The All-Star Game can’t offer that.

The business about counting also has occurred to baseball’s honchos. Their epiphany came in 2002 when the game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings because the two managers ran out of subs. Boos and beer bottles rained upon the field in Commish Selig’s home town of Milwaukee, and he responded by decreeing that henceforth the league that wins the All-Star Game would have home-field advantage in that season’s World Series, instead of alternating it by year as before. I like Bud, and think he’s been a pretty good commissioner, but that was dumb. Maybe if the ’02 game had been played elsewhere he might have reacted differently.

   Even with something at stake participant zeal for the game often is lacking. Every year a few players beg off, pleading injury, and managers routinely shuffle their pitching rotations so that pitcher-selectees work the Sunday before the game and thus may not be deemed fit for duty on all-star Tuesday.

Putting a question mark on the whole affair is a hokey election system that encourages repeated balloting; when I read that a player has received, say, 6 million fan votes I figure it’s more likely that 6,000 people voted for him 1,000 times each than 6 million picked him once. This month I voted several dozen times on the MLB web site, and I was just fooling around.

Baseball being a non-contact sport at least allows it to stage a real game between its top players; in our other big leagues injury risk dictates that only half a game (offense) ensues. The worst charade is in football, where the annual NFC-AFC contest is played after a typically brutal season from which no one emerges unscathed. Player defections are numerous, rules changes include no blitzing and legal intentional grounding, no one cares about the outcome and participants seek mainly to escape in one piece. Of the 2012 contest one reporter wrote that the two sides “hit each other as though they were having a pillow fight.” Commissioner Goodell threatened to cancel the series after that one, but relented. He should have stuck to his guns.

The NBA All-Star game is a three-day rappers’ convention capped by a game whose only suspense centers on whether the two teams together will top 300 points (they did in 2012, 152-149). NHL star fests run to 12-10 scores in which goalies are changed after each period so none should suffer shellshock.  It is to laugh.

Players like the honor of being selected for the games, so the elections could continue even if the games don’t. They can do just about anything with electronic games these days so maybe they could program ones around the lineups and put the results on TV. Then the players could watch from the comfort of their homes, like we do. After a couple of years no one will notice the difference.



Monday, July 1, 2013


Dear Fred--  Hi. My name is Marvin and I’m a seagull. Lately I’ve been spending some afternoons hanging out at Wrigley Field, where the Chicago Cubs play.  Maybe you’ve seen me on TV; I’m the one with the black dot over his left eye. People think all us seagulls look alike but they’re wrong. They just don’t look closely enough.

I’m contacting you because I hope you’ll help me break into journalism. I’ve read your blog and find it simpatico. By that I mean it’s for the birds, which by me is a good thing.

You might ask what a seagull is doing wanting to write.  Actually, we have a literary history, thanks to that Jonathan Livingston guy. I read his book and it was pretty good, but I never liked him much. He was a pretentious jerk, and a showoff. Lots of us can do the flying tricks he could but they’re too much trouble, so we don’t.  Score a good meal and take the rest of the day off, that’s my motto.

I’ll tell you something else about the so-called Jonathan Livingston: his real name was Sheldon Bernstein. Always wanted to be a WASP, if you can believe it. The name change didn’t help him much, though. The real WASP seagulls chased him away every time he tried to visit the yacht club.

Another question you probably have is about how a bird can write. It’s easy, really, because we have two wings and a beak to work with. Talk about hunt and peck, huh? We even can do upper case, unlike that stupid cockroach archy .  Once I found an old Radio Shack computer in a landfill I was in business. Truth is, I type faster than some sportswriters. I’ve peeked into the Wrigley press box, so I know.

Anyway, I have a regular routine on game days. I show up around 3:30 p.m.—around the seventh inning-- and find a nice perch on top of the upper deck along the right-field line. That gives me a good view of who’s eating what below.  I look mostly for popcorn—it’s the world’s greatest food.  When I first started going I’d eat anything that was left behind, but learned quick not to. Bits of hotdog bun are tasty but if they have even a speck of mustard, they’re trouble. Ditto for pizza crust with tomato sauce. I’ve had cases of heartburn from them you wouldn’t believe.

Other places I avoid like the plague—and I mean that literally-- are the floors of the two teams’ dugouts.  They can be tempting because the players always leave lots of uneaten sunflower seeds behind, but they’re usually mixed with so much spilled Gatorade, tobacco juice and plain old spit that they’re inedible. Mix in the dirt those slobs track in and it’s Typhoid City!

I’ve also learned to wait to make my move until the game is over and the people have begun to leave. Some birds who couldn’t wait have paid dearly for it. My granddad told me Dave Winfield killed one of us playing catch in the outfield between innings during a 1983 game in Toronto, and I’ve seen the video of the poor guy that got in the way of a Randy Johnson fastball in a 2001 spring training game in Arizona. Poof! Brutal.

 Lemme tell you, though, we got even with both those bastards. My Uncle Gus says he bullseyed a huge dump down Johnson’s collar at Wrigley and another guy I know says he saw Winfield wearing a suit downtown one day and nailed him good a couple of times. Got the pigeons after him, too. I bet neither of them still go outdoors without an umbrella.

Things at the park have changed a bit in the time I’ve been coming out. A few years back crowds were bigger and hung around longer than they do now. I even learned the words to that song the people sing when the players in white win, although from what I know it’s supposed to be sung before a game, not after.

 These days the players in white usually bat last, and crowds are smaller and leave earlier. That’s okay because sometimes I can fly into the stands and pick off a morsel or two before a game’s over, but not usually. Not much good can happen from being around people, I’ve learned.

I had a perfect day about a week ago. A woman who sat right underneath my perch left behind about a half a box of popcorn—with butter!  Yum! I was there first and had it all to myself for about 10 minutes before the flock gathered, more than enough time for a swell feed.

 By bird standards that was a great moment in sports, good enough for an ESPN highlights reel for sure. Next time I’m at the landfill I’ll rummage around for a video camera.  I hear there’s a better future in TV than in print anyway, and that I’d be better off putting my efforts there. True?