“The one constant through the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game.”
And so said the sage Terence Mann in Field of Dreams (1989). But Mann was only half right when he added, “It’s a part of our past, Ray, it reminds us of all that was once good and it could be again.”
As that “one constant,” baseball also undergirds our not-always-foreseeable future, the destiny that may be better than the past to which it is nonetheless tethered, though differences are inevitable. Not what “could be again,” but what will be in spite of our fears and doubts, beyond the momentary madness of the majority.
It is the constant that slips up on us when we least expect it and wrenches American humanity from those who would teach us to cower and doubt because they cannot control, because they cannot escape from fear of that which is different from their view of the country, a view upon which they mistakenly think they have bet their all.
That Wednesday night in early November1 confirmed Terence Mann’s reassurance of the future, “Oh … people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”
No one was worrying about the “clock management” skills of Tito Francona and Joe Maddon. It was one of the magical features of Game 7 as pitch-by-pitch, the nation experienced those final innings.
In baseball, no game is ever decided by which team had the ball last. Or how much time was left on the clock when that last possession began. The team that bats last has three outs to try to score enough to win, the same as the other team.
And each gets the same three outs every inning. No time at bat cut short because of a bad pass or a fumble or a traveling call. True, it can be extended because of an error, but that seems only fair.
In substantial part, the exciting, gut-wrenching, heartwarming and important baseball game played that Wednesday evening—as good as most can remember—was all it could be and could have been, because the rules of the game are so fair, so intelligent.
By noon on November 2, the word was out that rain was in the forecast for Cleveland late that evening. And then news that the Commissioner’s office was considering starting the game early to avoid the rain.
How neat! Southeastern Conference baseball does that with college games all the time, and with great results. Few ever get stuck batting in the bottom of an inning when the drizzling has started, after the visiting team has a rain free top half of that inning.
No team’s top pitcher’s arm gets cold waiting out a rain delay, so that when play is resumed that pitcher cannot pick up where he was and go forward.
The only thing bad that would have happened if that seventh game between the Cubs and the Indians had begun at 5:30 p.m. EDT instead of 8:00 p.m. was that big money television advertisers would have demanded a discount on the prime time rates tied to an eight o’clock game time.
But, yes, baseball is a big money game. Without big money making the game available around the world, the Series may have been limited to radio, as in those two consecutive years long ago when the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series.
Ooops! Lest we forget, the first baseball game broadcast was on August 5, 1921, when KDKA radio Pittsburgh aired the hometown Pirates beating the Philadelphia Phillies 8 to 5.2 KDKA carried the World Series a month later in that same year. John McGraw’s New York Giants beat the New York Yankees and Babe Ruth, five games to three.
That was thirteen years after the Cubs—as in Tinker to Evers to Chance, and a 29-9 season by Mordecai (Three Finger) Brown—beat Ty Cobb and the Detroit Tigers four games to one back in 1908, itself the year after those self-same Cubs swept those self-same Tigers in four straight.
The glory of money and technology in late October and early November of 2016 was that practically every person in the world who wanted to could see as much of each of the seven games he or she wished, and in real time,3 or by recording if for some reason the live schedule — and risk of rain — created an inconvenience.
Baseball is our superior team sport. Remember, rules are supposed to facilitate fairness, maximizing the odds that the team that in a good and just and decent world ought to win probably will win. Sort of like the way the law is supposed to work.
Think about it.
One team can have the best hitter in the world but he only gets to bat once in every nine offensive plays his team is allowed. And he has to pass muster on defense, too.
Yes, I know the American League has monkeyed with that one. TRL does not suggest that baseball is the perfect team sport. It’s just better than the rest. And another reason that is so is that it is very hard for an individual to excel in baseball.
A player may be the slickest fielding shortstop in the league, or be able to cover more ground in the outfield than anyone, or have the strongest throwing arm. Yet the field is so big he can’t possibly patrol it all or even very much of it. Each player has to share the field defensively with eight others, and help each other.
A football quarterback may complete over two-thirds of his passes, maybe many more, if he is really good and has a bit of luck. In basketball, a player may hit fifty per cent of his shots from the field or more.
But in baseball a batter is considered very good if he makes it to first base safely on thirty percent of the times he hits the ball, if he hits .300. A shortstop needs to hit better than that if his fielding percentage is consistently below .975.
In no other sport is the competition more appropriately balanced — by the rules — between the offensive players and those defending. Between talent and focus, between effort and luck.
And the emphasis really is on the team. To be sure, lots of fans dislike free agency. We want a near-personal relationship with players on our team, the players we like. Then — poof — he’s moved to another team and for the big bucks. But that rules change and the demise of Flood v. Kuhn, 407 U. S. 258 (1972), have made things better. A player is not stuck with a bad team for life.
But in no other team sport does he pay such a price if he moves for money. For if he does he is more exposed to really getting the business from his former fans when his new team comes to play in his old home town.
Venezuela born Miguel Montero played for the Arizona Diamondbacks when TRL last visited Wrigley Field in May of 2014.4 He was a catcher for the Cubs in the 2016 World Series. Montero’s rbi single in the top of the tenth inning on the evening of November 2 drove in the final run in the Cubs 8 to 7 win and World Series victory.
They say the teams with the richest owners have an unfair advantage. In some sense that is no doubt so. But dozens of big spending teams fall short for every one who wins a World Series. Just look at the New York Yankees over the sixteen seasons the Twenty-first Century has seen.
There is always room for a Billy Beane.5 Or a team like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, a low budget team of former nobodies that Joe Maddon managed to an AL playoffs victory over Tito Francona’s Red Sox, only to falter in the World Series.
All sports are games of inches but none more so than baseball. Every at bat, every pitch is a matter of not just inches but so often tiny fractions of inches separating a hit from an out, a catch from a ball falling safely.
Yes, instant replay makes the games longer, often much longer than the two hours that most fans would consider optimal. But it helps the umps get it right! The only thing really wrong with the instant replay is that it still isn’t used to correct a called third strike that really was several inches off the plate, or a fourth ball that walked in a run when the pitch really did catch the outside corner of home plate.
Old-timer trial lawyers long for the days when the rules weren’t so complex, back before there were all of those damn pre-trial processes seen to help judges a lot more than they help the parties and their lawyers. But do we really want to go back to the pre-Rules days?
The 2016 Cubbies were a peculiarly American team, Western Hemisphere variety. Dexter Fowler, Jason Hayward and Addison Russell are African Americans. Aroldis Chapman and Jorge Soler are native Cubans. Pedro Strop is from the Dominican Republic. Catchers Montero and Willson Contreras are Venezuelan nationals.
Anthony Rizzo is an Italian American. Javier Baez and Jake Arrieta can trace their ancestry to Puerto Rico, and in Arietta’s case on back to Italy and to the Basque Country. Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber and Reinaldo Albert Almora are native born U. S. citizens, though hardly the Anglo-Saxon variety.
Wrigley Field really is a neighborhood ballpark, Northside Chicago variety. Your Road Lawyer can’t do much better with that one than in June of 2014 when TRL posted "The Friendly Confines on Addison at Clark".
And there was something very American about the way it happened in the Fall of 2016. Two teams of seemingly hapless loveable losers having finally made it to a World Series.
The Cubs we knew about, have long known about.
Not only have the Cleveland Indians not won since 1948, every spring when baseball gets cranked up again, the dozens if not hundreds of TV movie channels dust off their copies of “Major League” featuring Jake Taylor, Wild Thing, Willie Mays Hayes, Roger Dorn, Pedro Cerrano, Eddie Harris, manager Lou Brown and announcer Bob Uecker. Wild Thing a/k/a Charlie Sheen made a cameo appearance on November 2, along with his “Jobu” doll pilfered from Pedro Cerrano, but, alas, it wasn’t enough.
Many long said the problem was the team’s name — the Cubs. Every other team in Major League Baseball has a team name that in the hands of a skillful caricaturist is susceptible of a rendering exhibiting fierceness. Even the Cardinals, the Orioles and, of course, the Blue Jays. “The year of the Bird!” Even the two sox teams, Red Sox and White Sox.
But any hope of a properly competitive rendering of Cubs was stripped away long ago when Chicago’s professional football team became the Bears—and less officially the Monsters of the Midway. The Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan reigned in pro basketball, and the Chicago Black Hawks were worthy entrants in professional hockey with Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita and Phil Esposito. More recently, the Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
Many outside of Cleveland exulted at Addison Russell’s grand slam home run in the third inning of Game Six. Sports bar and couch potato fans remember the TV announcers’ follow-up — “the first World Series grand slam since Paul Konerko in 2005.”
TRL recalls no mention of the fact that Konerko’s seventh inning grand slam came in Game Two of the Series eleven years ago, and was a major force in the Chicago White Sox’ ending their eighty-eight year drought, winning their first World Series since 1917!
Tell me you knew that.
As fate would have it, the White Sox never acquired the nationwide affections that the Cubs enjoyed even before the 88th year of their long dry spell. Several hypotheses are available, most plausible being the “Black Sox” experience in 1919. “Say it ain’t so, Joe” captured the spirits crushed at learning that eight players admitted taking bribes to “throw” the Series won by the heavy underdog Cincinnati Reds, five games to three.
Of course, within a few years it became known that White Sox owner Charles Comiskey and maybe even his lawyers were as dishonest and crooked as his star players had been. That only further darkened the country’s view of the ChiSox.6 Two wrongs don’t make a right. Nor do three. It is now generally understood that the New York gamblers never came through with bribes anything like what the “eight men out” had been promised.
Many once long-suffering fans of the Boston Red Sox still cling to their DVDs of the 2004 American League Championship and World Series. Eleven years from now, the baseball happenings of October through November 2016 will no doubt be preserved through the technologies of that future date.
It is an interesting speculation how many will remember the 2016 Cubs by the time the 2027 World Series is played. And whether like the Red Sox in 2007 and 2013 the Cubs will have posted more pennant and World Series flags.
The Cubbies and Indians that met in this year’s World Series were and remain similar in the debt each owes to those once associated with the once long suffering Red Sox.
Theo Epstein is the head of player operations in the Tom Ricketts era on Chicago’s North Side. Prior to 2011, he held a similar position with the Red Sox, and gets major credit for building the Sox teams that won in 2004 and 2007.
Tito Francona managed those 2004 and 2007 Red Sox Teams. This year was his fourth season as manager of the Cleveland Indians.
Southpaw Jon Lester was the winning pitcher for Francona’s Red Sox in the final game of the 2007 World Series. Cubs’ Game 4 starting pitcher John Lackey was a starter and winner for the Red Sox in Game 6 of the 2013 World Series.
Southpaw Andrew Miller, also a Red Sox alumn, was the Indians’s middle reliever par excellence in 2016.
Coco Crisp contributed to the Red Sox’ series win in 2007. He was playing for Cleveland and his old Sox manager in the 2016 Series. Mike Napoli moved from the 2013 Series-winning Red Sox to the Indians in time for this year’s Series.
Field of Dreams begins with Ray Kinsella dreaming that Joe Jackson wanted him to create a baseball diamond in an Iowa corn field, that Shoeless Joe and the other seven might play again.
Back in the 1980s, Ted Williams put his finger on the problem, and bluntly. Charles Comiskey, arguably the biggest crook of the Black Sox of 1919, is in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, while the long ago deceased Joe Jackson was and remains barred, though he had been found not guilty at trial in September of 1920. Not to mention that Shoeless Joe hit .375 for that eight game Series, while supposedly slacking off.
But baseball — like life and like law — is not always fair, far from it. The outspoken Williams took that one on in 1966 as he was inducted into the Hall of Fame when he decried the fact that Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson and other Negro League greats “are not here only because they were not given a chance.” 7
Ernie Banks may have been the greatest Cub. He was given a chance to play but never in a World Series. “Wrigley Field became mine,” he once said. “I grew to love going there. I didn’t want to ever leave. That’s why I said, ‘Let’s play two!” 8
Beyond its more perfect rules, baseball has inspired poetry. And so, as the 10th inning unfolded after the rain delay on that first Tuesday in November — and maybe even before — one thought of John Updike in another baseball setting saying that we were experiencing one of those special moments “when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.” 9
But now the season is over. Dark and quiet hover over Wrigley Field — and, for that matter, over Progressive Field in Cleveland. Stirrings suggest the Hot Stove League is gearing up. And call to mind the thoughts of a poet who never saw a baseball game but who, understanding our souls, saw far more fully than we should wish that
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born.10