Fall Ball

Though I follow it passionately, I don’t write a lot about baseball here. This is mostly owing to the fact that, in contrast to those others in the blogosphere who write both more eloquently and/or more precisely about the subject, I generally feel that anything I have to offer runs along the lines of ‘blowing smoke out of my ass.’ I came late and unexpectedly to this passion, and while I have a lot of opinions about it, I feel much more like a student of the game than a sage expert.

Which is why I hesitated, really, to write about the Yankees’s 6-0 loss last night to the Detroit Tigers in the American League Division Series. They’re down in this five-game set now, 2-1, and they must win the next two games or summarize another season as a dismally oversold failure.

Damn Yankees

As a fan of this team, I find what’s happening in the Bronx to be fantastically criminal: the fact that this exorbitantly costly and extravagantly capable squad can prove so ineffectual. The fact that half a decade of expensive failure has only taught the organization to spend more with each new season — and to pass on the cost to the team’s fans in the form of admission ticket inflation. The fact that the whole enterprise has the feeling of bloat, of over-elaboration, of unnecessary complication, of entitlement and brute force more than determination and passion… the Yankees don’t feel that much fun.

I can’t help myself, though, because I keep rooting for them. I have faith that they’ll pull it off in the fifth game, even though it makes my stomach churn in the meantime to think of how flawed and ill-conceived they are.

Buck O’Neil, R.I.P.

At any rate, I wouldn’t have written any of that today if I didn’t have something more serious with which to give it context. There’s entitlement and disappointment, and then there’s what’s right and real tragedy.

The great Buck O’Neil passed away yesterday evening in Kansas City, MO, at the age of 94. Thanks to a star-making turn in the Ken Burns documentary series “Baseball,” O’Neil achieved a grand and well-deserved notoriety late in life. A negro league pioneer, he had seven decades in baseball, suffered through many indignities and upheavals, and yet still managed to become one of the most thoughtful, unflinchingly positive statesmen that the sport has ever had.

Thankfully, there’s lots to read about O’Neil if you don’t know much about him; one thing the community of baseball has done right since he stepped into the limelight in the 1990s is to learn to appreciate his many contributions to the game. That’s the community of baseball, though, and here it’s important to draw a distinction between this sphere — an unorganized world of fans, scholars and professionals — and the institution of baseball — in this case, The Baseball Writers’s Association of America — which did a terrible injustice to Mr. O’Neil just this year. Quoting from the New York Times obituary:

“O’Neil was among 39 candidates for entry into the Hall of Fame at a special vote in February 2006 to consider figures from black baseball who were not among the 18 previously inducted. Seventeen people were elected in that vote by a 12-person committee, but O’Neil and Minnie Minoso, the only two living figures given consideration, were not chosen.”

It’s a shameful embarrassment that O’Neil’s nomination failed the ballot at all, but it’s doubly shameful that, at the time, it was all but obvious to those voting that this would be among O’Neil’s last chances of being inducted into the Hall of Fame while he was alive. Somehow though, the selectively sentimental dispositions of the Baseball Writers’s Association of America could not muster the votes, which was as much a slap in the face as a telling indication of how much hidden disdain this sport has for the people it wronged many years ago. The Hall of Fame squandered a very special opportunity in that act of extreme idiocy, and now, with O’Neil’s passing, the stain will remain forever.

  1. As a designer AND a Yankee fan, I couldn’t help but commenting. Good post about Buck O’Neill, but you need to brush up on your economics.

    “Ticket price inflation” has nothing to do with payroll. It has everything to do with demand (and a limited supply of seats). The Yankees have been in the postseason every year since 1995. They win. A lot. People want to see them and are willing to pay. Actually in 2006, 4.2 million people were willing to pay these prices.

    Whether the payroll is 200 million or 50 million, the prices are where they are in a great market, have a stadium with a limited supply of seats (obviously), and have created demand through winning, being in the postseason, and marketing.

    That said, this is most fun Yankee team in years. The young kids are playing (Melky, Wang, and Cano), the team had to struggle all year due to injuries to Matsui/Sheffield. Plus we got to watch the Red Sox implode. Good times.

  2. Khoi — I agree with you that Buck should be in the Hall, but don’t blame the BBWAA for his exclusion. He was passed over earlier this year by a special committee of twelve baseball “experts” (all academics who have studied the negro leagues extensively). As a former Negro League player who did not see playing time in MLB, he’s never been considered by the BBWAA. It’s only the old Veteran’s Committee and now the special board who passed on him.

  3. Thanks for sticking to design and Khoi related topics. The blog-o-sphere is too full of those who can’t stay on topic or spout on the first thing that crosses their mind. …and good to know you’re a baseball fan.

  4. Next best thing after seeing my team fail to make the playoffs after 14 straight seasons winning the NL East (Atlanta Braves) is to see the Yankees go down in the first round after all that money they spent.

    I hate the Yankees, along with everybody else that doesn’t live in New York, because they are given an unfair advantage. But really is it the Yankees fault? They are playing by the rules set forth by the MLB which gives the big markets the unfair advantage. But at the same time the Yankess haven’t won an championship since 2000 so the case can’t be made that the more money you have the better team you’ll have. So we won’t see any changes until we see a big market team dominate for several consecutive years.

    You could probably guess how I feel about the Mets…..GO CARDINALS/PADRES!!

  5. Why does everyone talk about money and the Yankees collapse? Baltimore typically spends tons of money and their teams always suck.

    Also is it a collapse to not be able to hit against the team that had the lowest ERA in baseball? Too many “experts” lined up the Yankees’ 9 guys with the Tigers’ 9 guys and made their picks.

    They ALWAYS forget that 1 pitcher can erase all 9 guys and that’s what the Tigers did with Zumaya, Verlander, Rogers and Bondermania.

    When the Yankees were winning championships it wasn’t because of Jeter, it was because of the best pitching in the league. Petite, Clemens, Chunksters, David Cone – nice bullpen and the best closer. The Tigers have the timely hitting and the best pitching in the league now – I have no idea why people are shocked.

  6. “I hate the Yankees, along with everybody else that doesn’t live in New York, because they are given an unfair advantage.”

    Chris, you’re wrong. I’m a Yankees fan, I live in PA, and I am originally from MD. So not everybody that doesn’t live in NY hates them.

    “Baltimore typically spends tons of money and their teams always suck.”

    Ah, so other people also notice this. 🙂

    I’ve actually never heard of Buck O’Neil, but I think I am going to go find out some more about him.

  7. Ha, I knew somebody was going to say something about that comment.

    “Chris, you’re wrong. I’m a Yankees fan, I live in PA, and I am originally from MD. So not everybody that doesn’t live in NY hates them.”

    You can stand on a hill and see Yankee Stadium from PA, same goes for MD……Give me a break!

    Everybody associates money with the Yankees because they spend double what everybody else spends. They go out and buy off every superstar free-agent they can get. The Yankees apparently think that spending tons of money on players equals a championship. Obviously that isn’t the case.

    So when I see the Yankees collapse, it makes me laugh even more.

  8. As a non-designer, a Yankee-hater, and an A’s fan I ask everyone to repeat after me:

    You can’t buy a championship. You can’t buy a championship. You can’t buy a championship.

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