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Thoughts on Opening Day

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It’s Opening Day. And as I do most Opening Days, I awake this morning struggling to place it in its proper perspective.

On the one hand, it’s a time for celebration and jubilation. After a long cold winter, our passion is back. And as so many have before us, we’re tempted to render it into purple prose. To hang red, white and blue verbal bunting from every facade and to offer odes to cut grass, bats cracking, hot dogs and organ music.

But to shoot the wad on Opening Day like that has itself become cliche.  Indeed, on this day — and extending through the weekend, I assume — your casual fan coworkers will be overly excited about the return of the game. Your local paper will devote prime real estate to it all.  Dilettantes of all stripes will come out of the woodwork to revel in what they will, for now, call our National Pastime.

But they don’t realize or appreciate or particularly care that the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint. And that in no event is it a championship bout that justifies the Main Event Atmosphere that will reign supreme on this day. That the long haul matters and that the team that in the final end wins the war after losing every battle is more important than who wins any one game today. Today they’ll go nuts about the beauty of it all. But come August these baseball tourists will disparage our game as boring and out of touch with today’s fast paced world. Come October they will compare unfavorably to professional football.

And frankly, I have no problem with letting the philistines do it.

Let them bluster today and tomorrow about the grandeur of Opening Day. Let them have their F-16 flyovers and gigantic American flags on the outfield grass. Let them have their A-list first-pitch-throwers make their appearances and let them trot out that Walt Whitman quote that is, in all honesty, tired and likely apocryphal.  Even if all of this is, ultimately, beside the point and, indeed, antithetical to the point of the baseball season, it is harmless.

Because you and I, my friends, understand the essence of baseball. We appreciate that it is a six month work of art, and it can no more be captured in a gush of  Opening Day enthusiasm than the first three strokes from Edward Hopper’s brush captured “Early Sunday Morning.”

We will enjoy ourselves today, but we will not get too caught up in it.  For we know that baseball will be here for us next week. Next month. And on through May, June, July, August, September and October to keep us company. To be our companion on random Sunday afternoons and lonely Tuesday nights.  To show us that its true value is not as a symbol or a spectacle, but as a game. A pastime in the literal sense, not the metaphorical one it has become to some. Our lives will continue on, day by day, but night by night we will have our diversion. Our little fix that does not require us to set aside our lives or entire days like some other sports or hobbies do. Something that just hums along unobtrusively, always there for us.

But that’s not until next week at the earliest. For now, we will grin and bear the overwrought spectacle that is Opening Day. And to be clear, we will enjoy it, because baseball-as-overwrought spectacle still beats just about anything else there is in the world.  But we will also know, deep down, that today will be a little weird. And that we need only smile and endure until the heat blows over and we can enjoy baseball as God and Nature intended:Casually. Without much fuss. A drink to be savored and not chugged.

Until then, though: play ball.

Great Moments in Not Understanding The Rules

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Bill Livingston of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is a Hall of Fame voter. In the past he has voted for players who used PEDs, but he’s never been totally happy with it, seeing the whole PED mess as a dilemma for voters.

On the one hand he doesn’t like voting for users and doesn’t like harming those who were clean by shifting votes away from them, but on the other hand, he doesn’t want to pretend history didn’t happen and that baseball hasn’t been filled with cheaters forever. What to do?

This year he decided to abstain altogether. A fair and noble act if one is as conflicted as Livingston happens to be. Except . . . he didn’t actually abstain:

Major league baseball will confer bronzed immortality on a few players Wednesday when the results of the national baseball writers’ balloting for the Hall of Fame will be announced.

I had a 2017 ballot. I returned it signed, but blank, with an explanatory note.

A blank ballot, signed and submitted, is not an abstention. It’s counted as a vote for no one. Each “no” vote increases the denominator in the calculation of whether or not a candidate has received 75% of the vote and has gained induction. An abstention, however, would not. So, in effect, Livingston has voted against all of the players on the ballot, both PED-tainted and clean, even though it appears that that was not his intention.

This is the second time in three years a Cleveland writer has had . . . issues with his Hall of Fame ballot. In the 2014-15 voting period, Paul Hoynes simply lost his ballot. Now Livingston misunderstood how to abstain.

I worry quite often that Ohio is gonna mess up a major election. I guess I’m just worrying about the wrong election.

Hall of Fame voters are making news, not exercising democratic rights

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Associated Press
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Last month the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to make all Hall of Fame ballots public beginning with next year’s vote for the 2018 induction class. In the past 24 hours or so, as this year’s Hall of Fame voting period comes to a close, a lot of folks have been talking about that. Most notably in Jayson Stark’s piece over at ESPN regarding next year’s brave new public world.

Stark is pro-transparency on the ballots, as are the vast majority of BBWAA members who voted on the public ballot measure (it passed 80-9). Not everyone Stark quotes in his article is on board with it, though:

“I’ve already seen a lot of people change their votes from one year to the next,” said one of the strongest dissenters to this decision, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “People have changed their votes based on public opinion.”

Two other sources in the story, Scott Miller of Bleacher Report and a voter who asked to remain anonymous equated their Hall of Fame vote with democracy and invoked the sanctity of the secret ballot. “The No. 1 reason I was against this rule is that in this country, it’s a democracy, and everyone has a vote on different things. And I hate to see a blanket rule that forces everyone to go in one direction,” Miller said. Here’s what the anonymous guy said:

“To me, a secret ballot is a fundamental of democracy. You should be able to vote your conscience without having to explain your vote. But once it’s public, you’re open to public pressure. And that’s not what we want in a democracy. We’re not elected representatives. We’re chosen to be part of a voting group.”

This is ridiculous of course. Voting for the Hall of Fame is not exercising democratic rights. It is making news and making history. Hall of Fame voters are making decisions which will fundamentally alter baseball history and which matter greatly to a large number of baseball fans. They are not advancing their own or society’s interests at the ballot box the way citizens do on election day. Despite the fact that the form of their action here is, technically speaking, a ballot, they are making news in the same way a GM makes a news with a trade, the commissioner makes news with a rule change or a team makes news by winning a World Series.

Would any of these voters — who are credentialed members of the media, by the way, and like to style themselves as truth-seeking members of the Fourth Estate — accept silence from the people who make the news on the beat they cover? Would they be content if the newsmakers whose acts they chronicle demanded anonymity the way they themselves do now? Of course they wouldn’t. And if they got the same silent treatment they’d prefer to give, they’d write one of those petulant little columns they love about players who “duck the press” after a game.

Suck it up, journalists. Act the way you expect the newsmakers you cover to act and own your decisions. Don’t pretend for a moment that you’re not the subject of, and not the reporter of, the story when Hall of Fame season comes around.