Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I Hate the All-Star Break; Nationals make 60s Mets Look Competent

I hate the All-Star break.

Three straight days without a single baseball game to watch? No standings to check? No probable pitchers? There’s just nothing worse on the sports calendar all year.

Please don’t talk to me about the ridiculous Home Run Derby or any of the other over-hyped events around the All-Star game. I’m not even knocking the game itself, I’m old enough to remember when it was played in the afternoon and was a big enough deal that The National League often had Willie Mays leadoff to get him extra at-bats.

But now it’s played in the middle of the night no the east coast and the pre-game introductions may be longer than the game. Plus, I don’t care how many times Bud Selig and Fox tell me, “this one counts,” or whatever their slogan is, it’s an exhibition game. Has the All-Star game had memorable moments? Sure: Reggie Jackson’s home run off the lights in Detroit; Pete Rose barreling into Ray Fosse; Ted Williams being introduced in Boston. But do we really want to sit around for four hours hoping to see a moment?

Not me.

I want a game that counts in the standings, affects ERA’s and batting averages. It doesn’t even have to be a pennant race game, just let it be REAL.

I realize that whining about three days without baseball sounds silly. But one of the great things about baseball is that it is

ALWAYS there. Once the season begins in April, someone is playing every night. Even if you don’t sit down and watch a game on a given day, there are box scores and standings to check in the morning.

At least in the old days when the All-Star break mercifully concluded, you were flooded with games on Thursday. Often teams would start the second half of the season by making up rainouts and there would be a half-dozen twi-night doubleheaders. Being a Mets fan as a kid, I was always convinced they were going to start the second half by sweeping a twi-nighter and get on a roll. More often than not, they got swept and continued to roll downhill.

Now, only 16 of the 30 teams even play on Thursday. What, teams need a FOUR day break? Of course twi-nighters have gone the way of the Edsel, replaced by those heinous day-night doubleheaders that everyone except the owners can’t stand.

Here in Washington, things are so bad that if you go to MLB.com this morning to check out Thursday’s pitchers, the Nationals are supposedly starting Ross Detwiler. That’s all well and good, except he got sent down to Triple-A on Sunday.

This is how bad it is for baseball in Washington: The manager, as good a man as you;ll meet in any line of work, has just been fired. He’s been replaced by an interim manager, who was hired by the interim general manager and the listed starting pitched for Thursday is currently en route to Syracuse. The team’s record is 26-61.

These guys make my beloved Mets of the 60s look almost competent.

Of course those Mets emerged from the depths in their eighth season (1969) to write one of baseball’s all-time miracle stories when they won 100 games and shocked the seemingly unbeatable Orioles to win The World Series. I have a new kids mystery coming out in August (“Change-Up,”) that is set at The World Series. Because the book is fiction, I put the Nationals in The World Series, playing The Boston Red Sox.

At the time I wrote the book my editor said, “Are we pushing the envelope a little bit here putting the Nats in The World Series?”

I reminded her about the ’69 Mets and, for that matter, the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays. Having said that, I knew the Nats weren’t going to The World Series this year but I didn’t think they were going to tank this badly. In fact, since I like to use real people in my books to make the fiction read more like faction, Manny Acta makes a number of key managerial decisions during The World Series.

Oh well. I guess at this point I had better hope the Nationals haven’t been moved back to Montreal by the time the book comes out. Here’s one little bit of trivia for you: The Expos (now Nationals) made their debut in The National League in April of 1969 against the Mets at Shea Stadium.

The Mets had never won a season opener. But with Tom Seaver pitching against an expansion team I knew this was the year they were finally going to be 1-0. My buddy Marc Posnock and I were in the upper deck to be part of the celebration.

The Mets lost 11-10. I walked out of the stadium and said to Marc: “They will never EVER be any good.”

Call it my first sports prognostication. A little more than six months later, I was sitting in almost the same seats at Shea when Cleon Jones caught Davey Johnson’s fly ball (it was October 16th to be exact) and the Mets were world champions.

So Nats fans, remember two things: there’s always hope. And don’t look at me for predictions.

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