Is the Dodgers’ bankruptcy one of the worst moments in baseball history?

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Interesting idea floated in Buster Olney’s column this morning. It’s behind the ESPN paywall, but the gist is that, according to Olney, the Dodgers’ bankruptcy has to be one of the “10 worst chapters in Major League Baseball history.”

He doesn’t do a formal list or order them, but he throws out several potential top-10  (or bottom 10, depending on your point of view) moments.  The ones he names: segregation (which he says would be the worst, and I agree, even if it wasn’t specific to baseball), the Black Sox scandal, the Pete Rose gambling thing, steroids, collusion in the 1980s and the 1994-95 strike.

That’s six.  He says the Dodgers thing is the ninth or tenth worst.  For that to be true, there can’t be four worse moments in baseball history. I’m, not criticizing Buster’s list here — he’s making a bigger point in all of this — but for fun, let’s see if we can find four!

  • The cocaine scourge of the 70s and 80s has to be on that list.  People died. People’s lives and careers were ruined and the game was clearly impacted, both competitively and culturally.
  • Ray Chapman getting killed with a pitched baseball has to count, right? I mean this is a ballgame we’re playing here. If it freaking kills someone, that has to be a dark chapter.  And it can’t be dismissed as a freak thing, because it was the direct result of baseball’s general indifference to player safety in the name of saving some money by leaving dirty baseballs in the game longer, not suspending games due to darkness, etc.
  • Some may argue that this isn’t even the darkest chapter in Dodgers’ history, citing the move of the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. Not sure how I feel about that. Everyone wants to paint Walter O’Malley and/or Robert Moses as villains in the go-west drama, but there were multiple historical, financial and political factors in play there. And of course, baseball was going to go to California eventually. And let us not forget, it’s arrival there could be painted as a bright chapter depending on whether you lived in Los Angeles or Brooklyn. Or whether you were a baseball fan or one of the poor Mexicans who were kicked out of their homes under dubious circumstances to make room for Dodger Stadium. But that’s another story.
  • It’s hard to make this an actual “chapter” because it involves distinct incidents in time and space, but the untimely deaths of ballplayers like Lou Gehirg or Roberto Clemente — or the accident that ended Roy Campanella’s career — seem like far darker things than the Dodgers’ bankruptcy. Maybe that counts. Maybe not. I’m not sure.
  • Maybe this goes together with collusion or can be classified in a general chapter entitled “the owners’ exploitation of ballplayers over time,”  but I think the existence of the reserve system until the 1970s was simply awful and, unlike the Dodgers’ bankruptcy which is going to murder Frank McCourt’s balance sheet, the reserve system cost a lot of money to people who didn’t have it coming.

Maybe some of those don’t rate.  And of course I’m sure we could come up with more.  Either way, I like morose topics so I’m glad that Buster introduced it this morning.

As I sit here right now, though, I’m not going to put the Dodgers’ woes into the top 10.  Although feel free to convince me otherwise in the comments.

There is no need to lament the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie”

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Today in the New York Times Jay Caspian Kang writes about what he calls the loss of “The Great Hollywood Baseball Movie.” About how there are few if any big baseball movies anymore. Movies which traffic in baseball-as-metaphor-for-America with Jimmy Stewart (or Kevin Costner)-types playing characters which seem to transcend time, elevate our emotions and rack up the dollars at the box office.

It’s a bit of meandering column, with just as much time spent on Kang’s seeming dissatisfaction with modern baseball and baseball telecasts as his dissatisfaction with baseball cinema, but he winds it up with this, which sums his argument up well enough:

Baseball’s cinematic vision of Middle America no longer means what it once did. The failing family enterprise and the old, forbearing white — or Negro Leagues — ballplayer now remind us of an extinct vision of the country and the growing distance between Middle America and the coasts. The attempts to update the archival, sun-kissed, Midwestern vision — whether on last year’s “Pitch,” the Fox TV show about a woman pitching in the majors, or “Million Dollar Arm,” the 2014 Disney movie in which Jon Hamm goes to India to convert cricket bowlers into pitchers — are canceled or bomb at the box office.

You won’t be surprised that I take a great deal of issue with all of this.

Mostly because it only talks about one specific kind of baseball movie being AWOL from cinemas: the broad works which appeal to the masses and which speak to both the past, present and future, often with a hazy nostalgia in which love of baseball and love of America are portrayed as one and the same.

It’s worth noting, though, that such films are extraordinarily rare. There was a brief time when such things existed and did well at the box office — the 1980s had “The Natural,” “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Major League” in a relatively short period of time — but that’s the exception, not the rule.

Baseball movies are almost always niche flicks. Biopics made of recently deceased stars like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Weird slices of life like “The Bad News Bears” or “The Sandlot.” Quirky comedies that are baseball offshoots of larger cinematic trends like “Little Big League,” which was just the latest in a series of “kids doing adult things” movies popular at the time. Or “Rookie of the Year” which is essentially baseball’s version of one of those body-switch movies that come and go. Or “Mr. Baseball” which was just a fish-out-of-water comedy like any other.

We still get those kinds of smaller baseball movies fairly often. They’re still pretty decent and still do pretty decently at the box office, even if they’re no one’s idea of a blockbuster.

“Moneyball” was done well and did well, not as a mass appeal movie, but as one of many business/Silicon Valley flicks that have popped over the past few years. “Sugar” was a great movie, but a small movie, exploring a culture about which most people aren’t aware and basically serving as a character study. “42” is just an updated (and much better) version of those old biopics of baseball stars. “Everybody Wants Some” may be the quintessential niche baseball movie in that it’s a story about characters which just happen to have a lot of baseball in their lives. “Bull Durham” was like that too, but it just came along at the right time to become a massive hit. As many have noted, baseball was more background than plot in that movie, even if the background was amazingly well done. I’d argue that most good baseball movies use baseball like that rather than put it squarely in the foreground.

There will likely always be baseball movies, but they will almost always be smaller ones, not large blockbusters or Oscar bait with an epic sweep. Most baseball movies are like baseball itself in that they lack a grand consensus. Baseball is not The National Pastime anymore — it’s just one of many forms of sports and entertainment available to the masses — so it follows that the movies which deal with it will likewise not have that massive cross-market appeal.

I think that’s a good thing. Smaller baseball movies more accurately reflect the sport’s place in the culture. To portray baseball as something larger than what it actually is opens the door to a lot of artistic and cultural dishonesty and runs the risk of creating some really bad art.

I mean, have you seen “Field of Dreams?” Bleech.

The Yankees set up “The Judge’s Chambers” cheering section for Aaron Judge

New York Yankees
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The Yankees aren’t well-known for going all-in on goofy, fan-friendly fun. While some organizations are happy to jump on new and even silly or ephemeral trends for the yuks of it, the Yankees have tended to keep things rather businesslike when it comes to promotions and things. They’ve always played the long game, assuming — not always unreasonably — that their brand is best defined by the club’s history and greatness and quiet dignity and stuff.

Aaron Judge and his breakout rookie season is changing things. His fast start has caused fans to dress up in judge’s robes and stuff, so the team is having fun with it. They’ve set up a special section called “The Judge’s Chambers,” complete with a jury box vibe:

 

Fans will be selected to sit in the special section, which is in section 104 in right field, right behind where Judge plays, and will be handed foam gavels with “All Rise” written on them. To be selected at the moment it’d help if you wear one of those judicial robes with Judge’s number 99 on the back or his jersey or an English judge-style powdered wig. Going forward, the Yankees will also use the section for groups and charity events and stuff.

Judge is on a 58-homer pace right now. It’s unlikely he’ll keep that up, but he certainly looks like the real deal. And, for the Yankees and their fans, he’s giving them the chance for some real fun.