Baseballhead:
Grandpa Forgot His Meds

Michael Cox

It is again the Baseballhead, where we'd one day like to devote an entire column to Guided By Voices just as The Strokes devoted a whole video. Hell, we may be stuck for baseball news soon, so who knows?

I came home yesterday evening in a slightly bitter mood, after realizing that the Mariners-Yankees tilt I attended may be the last live baseball game I see in 2002. Looking for news, however, brought an unexpected laugh in the form of the latest Peter Gammons column on the 8,048,962 things he believes to be wrong with Major League Baseball. Then I remembered that Peter Gammons is incapable of sarcasm, and I just felt sad.

It's clear that the past months have weighed heavily on the man who they called "The Commish" until they realized it'd never catch on. Almost obsessed with introducing the anniversary of September 11 into the MLB equation, he has gone from an aging sportswriter in something of a career renaissance to a man once again reduced to making little sense. Remember when he was simply marking the days until his Boston Globe contract ran out, seemingly sending them scribbles on cocktail napkins to run as columns? Well, those days are back again.

The trigger for Gammons' latest screed is the MLB Players Association's announced strike date of August 30. Declaring that players and owners "just don't get it," he proceeds to explain what "it" is:

What these billionaires and millionaires and all their high-priced lawyers had better understand is that they don't matter.

Who does matter? Well, according to Pete, ex-Enron employees, mom-and-pops losing business to WalMart, academics, and pretty much every ballpark employee except owners and players. (Oddly, he stopped short of adding sportswriters to the list.)

Does he mean that owners and players aren't people (he does claim to have inside information, you know), or that having lots of money makes you irrelevant? How about the millions of dollars and the thousands of hours donated to causes large and small by these non-persons? Their wives, children, mothers and fathers? Unimportant? Moot? Trivial? Inconsequential? Yahoo Serious?

Honestly, I have no idea what he's saying.

I understand that he's angry. I understand that he feels betrayed by a sport which he remembers, in that let-me-tell-ya-about-nickel-movies-sonny kind of way, as somehow purer and more altruistic than it is today, conveniently leaving out the Charlie O. Finleys and Walter O'Malleys and forgetting that the players were practically slaves.

That's no excuse for irresponsibly declaring that a strike "spit[s] in the face of all that Sept. 11 means to our national consciousness." It's no excuse for bringing mining disasters into the mix. Juxtaposing struggling banks, failing airlines and the Kennedys doesn't do any harm, but...why? To make a point that baseball isn't as important as any of these things (or that Gammons hates the Kennedys)?

We already know that, and it's the very reason such a column is ridiculous. Baseball is baseball. It's not cops and firemen, it's not schools, it's not even the NFL. That Gammons had to spend half a column figuring that out for himself (and I'm not even satisfied that he has figured it out) is credibility-shredding, to say the least.

But not to quibble, for he's on a roll. Our Peter goes on to say the players would actually rather capitulate than strike, quoting percentages but no actual sources. While he states most of the owners would accept "a moderate deal," Gammons blames lawyers for the impasse but shields Bud Selig despite the fact that it is Selig who has spearheaded the owners' hardline stance.

The column then breaks down entirely into a litany of minutae: the Yankees spend tons of money on bad players (that's actually good for their opponents, Peter), players over 30 should never, ever, be given a long-term deal (despite the fact that older players have been shown to play longer and better than ever before), all non-starters should be given Charlie O. Finleyesque one-year deals and redrafted every year, and colleges need wooden bats. How we got from underpaid firefighters to wooden bats for the NCAA, your guess is as good as mine.

Gammons makes exactly three good points: Crappy small-market teams are the fault of their own bad management, not the Yankees. MLB's market share is shrinking (although again Gammons fails to acknowledge that the problem here is Selig, the least media-savvy leader of any major sport by a wide margin).

Finally, Gammons rightly points out that if the two sides are going to have to meet in the middle eventually (and they are), why don't they just do it now and save us from more columns like Gammons'?

Fight For Your Right To...Er...Ass? Finally, a court ruling we can all get on board with. Last week the 8th District Ohio Court of Appeals threw out the conviction of a lower court in the case of Jeffrey Swiecicki, who was arrested for heckling then-Indian Russell Branyan. While Swiecicki was rightly ruled to be within his rights to yell, according to court records, "Russell Branyan, you suck. You have a big ass," I'd have to say that it was a tad unwise to heckle a Cleveland player at Jacobs Field. Right, Albert?

In an amazing display of "getting it," the court ruled that "Passionate baseball fans are emotionally involved in every play and customarily manifest their approval or disappointment with words or gestures," and that "some in attendance may even have shared his sentiments." While overzealous off-duty police officers at ballparks across the country mourned the verdict, the Tribe did the proactive thing and traded Branyan.

Finalist For 2002 Orioles Memorial Train Wreck Award: Thousands of column inches and hundreds of offensive adjectives have been written about the stunning disaster that is the New York Mets. Suffice to say that you know it's bad when the Shea fans start chanting "throw the ball!" between every Steve Trachsel pitch. (Can you really call them "the Shea faithful" when they're heckling their own team?) Good thing the 8th District Ohio Court of Appeals was able to set a legal precedent.

The only question remaining is who will be staying to clean up the mess. Both manager Bobby Valentine and GM Steve Phillips have been given the kind of slack they could only get from a team whose two owners are preoccupied with hating each other, and that ought to stop once Nelson Doubleday's check clears. My guess: new 100% owner Fred Wilpon tosses them both out on their cans, where they fight into eternity like those two dudes on that Star Trek episode. Hey -- Dan Duquette and Davey Johnson are both out of work...

about the author

Michael Cox still shudders when he remembers visiting the ESPN studios and seeing Peter Gammons' drool bucket. Ask how he knows Jayson Stark's moustache is real at mc@strikethree.com.

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