August 30, 2002

The Last Game of the Season...

The Last Game of the Season: That's what I witnessed last night, if baseball can't get it together and avoid a season-ending strike.

My Angels beat the lowlable 4 games back). The game was a welcome one-sided relief from a recent stretch where we blew four-run leads twice within a week. Garret Anderson continued to calmly stroke line drives deep into gaps (he hit 2 doubles, raising his Major League-leading total to 49), and Adam Kennedy maintained his recent tear of upper-cutting curveballs and climbing the batting average charts. My favorite player, Troy Glaus, looked good at the plate for the first time in a long while, getting 3 hits and 3 RBIs. Kevin Appier ducked and weaved to 7 1/3 masterful innings, striking out eight and allowing only one run. This is an enormously fun team to watch, with scrappy weirdos who beat you to death with singles and doubles, sound defense, and five good starters.

Yet the real fun was letting these bastards have it. The crowd, as is normal for Anaheim, was mostly well-behaved and supportive for the first six innings. Then, before the top of the seventh, the rowdies in the right field pavilion staged a beautifully Southern Californian protest -- they dumped 10 beach balls onto the field. Play had to be stopped, and people started chanting "Don't Strike! Don't Strike!" It felt good. Tampa Bay's Steve Cox came up, and fouled off about 39 pitches. On the 36th or so, the teen behind the home-plate screen who caught the ball immediately fired it back onto the field. We went nuts. Every foul ball from then on was greeted with chants of "Throw it back! Throw it back!" About half the time, they did (including one from the upper deck that landed about 10 feet from Appier) In one instance, a sheepish guy handed the ball to his wife, who immediately flung toward the infield, though it didn't quite make it over the screen. She got a standing O while being escorted out of the stadium.

For the rest of the game, the players looked spooked. The public address announcer kept trying to lecture us about the "appropriate" way to express ourselves, but he was drowned out with boos. Middle-aged men were randomly shouting out things like: "You strike you SUCK!" The bottom of the ninth began with a fusillade of toilet paper, full $4 cokes, plastic bottles and spit. The PA dude warned us about forcing the Angels to forfeit, which would have been a deliciously painful twist, especially if the season ended today (with the team out of the playoffs by a half-game, because of the fans).

As we walked to the car my Dad and I predicted that the radio guys would be tut-tutting about the "unruly fans." We weren't wrong. The post-game call-in show included some nine-year-old who called, said hello, and the broadcaster (Terry Smith) launched into a two-minute tirade about how "dangerous" and "scary" it was out there, and how "wrong" the fans were, after which he said something like "well, little Chucky, at least you're safe home now. Goodbye!" The kid never talked.

I should mention here that I'm about 90% behind the players on this one, if not more. The owners are a rat's nest of venal, lying crooks who treated players like chattel (whatever that is) for 100 years. They enjoy anti-trust protections they patently do not deserve. Bud Selig should be put on the slow boat to Madagascar, and fed a diet of his own lips. The lies about "competitive imbalance" can be countered by four magical words: "Minnesota Twins, Oakland A's."

But it was nice to let the players know, in a direct and uncomfortable way, that nine consecutive strikes have scarred this game, and pissed off people like me who are too helplessly entwined with this sport to ever walk away. We are tired of being sold the forced sentimentality of "Field of Dreams" before every freaking Major League game -- our connection to the game is far more bawdy, human, and total than all of that (random example: my Dad, while scoffing at the notion that anything untoward happened in the stands tonight, recalled with pleasure watching a game in the right-field bleachers of the Polo Grounds several decades back, when an irate New Yorker decided to express his displeasure at the umpire by hurling two oranges at the man; they made it as far as first base).

Coming back home, I see that I have been insulted by the Angels' union representative, Scott Schoeneweis (who was kicked out of the rotation in midseason, and blew Wednesday's game): "I would have hoped that the fans would have had a little more class than what they showed tonight with throwing stuff on the field," he said. "Let us play the game." Just now, on the NPR, I heard him say, sarcastically, "We're your team, supposedly."

Well, I'll be booing you from here on out, lefty. You're my team -- not supposedly, but genetically. I support the union's claims, but I cannot take seriously the idea that it is the fans who are preventing games from being played. We generally don't complain much about the $8 beers, and other prices that have transformed a once working-class sport into an upper-middle class entertainment. You don't even have to win -- ask fans of the Red Sox. Just play those 162 games, keep the ancient symmetry intact, let Garret Anderson shoot for the doubles record, and give us a World Series. Such is the remaining sanctity of a game that appeals to fewer and fewer young people. Yet it is this precise dignity that these people deliberately screw up, labor contract after labor contract.

We had one chance, all year, to give 'em a tiny taste of their medicine. It felt great. Wish we could have done more. Hope they resolve this by the time I wake up, so we can get on with the business of having our hearts broken, once again.

Posted by at August 30, 2002 04:16 AM
Comments

Matt,

I figured something like that was going on, but, of course, the baseball lackeys Hudler and Physioc bad mouthed the first fan who threw a ball back, and then they wouldn't even show it when something came out on the field. Whenever a fan kept the ball, Hudler would call him a responsible fan.

I'm with you. Throwing the balls back was great, and nobody got hurt. I think it was a pretty responsible way to protest.

As far as the forfeit, they throw opposing homeruns back at Wrigley all the time and I've never heard any threats of a forfeit there.

Anyway, it LOOKS like they will avert this strike so that's good news. And The Los Angeles Kings drop the puck in 40 days, so that's even better news.

Posted by: In Arguendo at August 30, 2002 08:23 AM

Well, there won't be a strike (ESPN just announced). But, Matt, you're wrong about who is at fault here. It's the players. 100 percent the players. There is no reason not to have a salary cap. The negotiations should not have been over whether to have a salary cap (or tax), but how much should it be. Great, the A's and Twins and Expos have done well ... but for how long? Exceptions don't prove that there isn't a competitive imbalance. Do you really think the Yankees won't sign either Mulder or Zito in a couple of years, given the chance? There is no way the A's are going to be able to afford their top three pitchers after 2006 without revenue sharing. The players are spoiled, as their repeated quotes during the last few weeks prove. They just don't get it. I'm fed up with the players.

Posted by: Howard Owens at August 30, 2002 09:10 AM

I don't care whose fault it is, thank god they called it off because if they did strike, I would not have returned as a fan. And I see at least a dozen Dodgers games a year the stadium, and up to 5 Angel games. That makes me good for around $1,000 in financial participation in the league, but noone cares. They all suck. I dont care hwo is to blame!!!

Posted by: Frank at August 30, 2002 09:41 AM

Matt,

Turns out we won't have a strike, but I had to put in my two cents...

I have to disagree that the Twins and Oakland are evidence that the need for a more balanced revenues between teams is overblown -- yes, the Twins have put together a nice team, loaded with home-grown young players who haven't (by and large) seen the fruits of free agency. How many of those players will the Twins sign as their contracts come up? Twins fans have seen it over and over again - year after year, they rotate out their best players via trade when their contracts are up, try to get enough prospects in return to reload, and hope against hope to stay competitive. Once or twice a decade it even works, as it has this year. But wouldn't it be better (for a Twins fan like me, at least) if you could keep this gloriously talented defensive team together for the better part of that decade? If they could become part of local lore the way Harmon Killebrew and Kirby Puckett have?

Many player advocates call the owners hypocrites, because their free market principles stop at the bargaining table. Balderdash. Baseball hasn't been market-driven in decades. How much money would either the players or owners earn if the stadiums weren't publicly subsidized and if new start-up teams loaded with cheap, hungry players were allowed to play their way into the major leagues? (The problems posed by the Yankees would be far less imposing if there were three other teams in New York City.)

The deal reached today is a start. If it means we have a prayer of competing over the long haul, we might even build the Twins their third stust 30, 2002 10:00 AM

Hey Russ D., I don't think that an Angels fan (in large market Los Angeles) needs to hear a Twins fan complain about not being about to compete. Especially not when the Twins have won two World Series-- and the Angels have never even won a playoff series. (1986 was painful for every team involved in the postseason, sans Mets.)

Matt's right; "market size" is strongly overrated. Just ask the large market Cubs, White Sox, and Phillies. Or Oakland or Cleveland or San Diego-- "large market" when they win, "small market" when they don't, according to the press.

Posted by: John Thacker at August 30, 2002 10:05 AM

Word on the irony of a Twins fan complaining to an Angels fan. Thanks, John, for at least nodding to the misery Astros fans have endured all these years (when you referred to '86 postseason). The 'Stros are the longest-enduring current team never to make it to the World Series. I can't really add much to the discussion, but I wanted to speak up as I am so grateful when anyone not in Houston even halfway acknowledges the Astros exist. :)

Posted by: Eva at August 30, 2002 11:4end a little, you can't really blame them if you're too short-sighted to see that the owners are liars and criminals.

Scott

PS-Matt if you continue to abuse your position to bait me I'll let your readers know the truth, that your first love is cricket.

Posted by: Scott Ross at August 30, 2002 12:47 PM

Seth -- Not if you're a petulant little anarchist!

It was a way of letting the players know that their preferred weapon in the labor wars is one that causes us anger and grief, and is not to be used lightly. Yeah, it would have been a treat to fire a ball into the owner's box (not that Michael Eisner ever shows up to games), and yeah, players get a raw deal in the P.R. wars, but for a half-moment, the game was played at the *fans*' whim, not the owners or the players. And it felt good.

But I don't claim to be mature....

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 30, 2002 01:06 PM

Scott -- I'll quote from a reader e-mail:

"First of all what's this about 'filthy' Red Sox? If you don't try hard enough to get your uniform dirty how can you be filthy?"

Which isn't exactly fair. I saw Sugar Shea Hillebrand get plenty dirty attempting to do something as apparently complicated as covering his own base on a successful steal attempt by *Rondell White* this week. I think that was the game where the Sox had as many errors as hits (even with the homer official scorekeeping)....

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 30, 2002 01:10 PM

Matt,

Does Scott Ross know that one of the two owners he admires, Steinbrenner, is such a good businessman that he had to file Chapter 11 and the taxpayers ended up bailing his fat ass out of financial trouble? Just wondering.

Posted by: In Arguendo at August 30, 2002 01:30 PM

In Arg -- Yeah, but he's a good *baseball* businessman, hombre, and Ross is a freakin' *Red Sox* fan, so he typed that with gritted teeth. I mean, of what few teeth he has. Just kidding, Fat! Ha Ha!

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 30, 2002 01:35 PM

welp, I do believe that next year is the Mets' year. 69,86,03. Yep, buy a buncha free agents, win the series and trade em all off about once every 17-18 yrs

Posted by: John S Allison at August 30, 2002 01:50 PM

"Irony" is the most misused word of the past ten years. What follows is a true instance of "irony," so watch closely.

Matt,

The other day I took offense at your claim that the Angels are "uniquely cursed in the universe (so much so, that even the Boston freakin’ Red Sox are the agents of our demise)." I responded via e-mail out of respect for your readers who come here not for the blather of a man obsessed with nine men in tight pants running around a field of grass, but for the blather of man in a silly hat obsessed with Saudi Arabia. But since you insist on taking this into the blogosphere...

The Angels were in fact the agents of doom in '86. Games 5, 6 and 7 of the ALCS made Red Sox Nation sit up and say, "Hey, maybe this is a new team. Maybe these guys aren't the fourth generation of hapless chokers sent to crush New England's collective heart." The '86 Sox then proceeded to win the first two games of the WS, only to...

I have loved the Red Sox as long as you have loved the Angels and believe me, compared to Bucky Dent and Bill Buckner and Roger Clemens' Ninja Turtle shoe laces, the pain you have felt is neglible. 10,000,000 live and die with this team, while there are maybe 27 Angels fans, eight of whom are in captivity.

Now people are wondering, "Hey, what's so ironic about that?" The irony is that Matt got my ire up by claiming his team was worse than mine and then pushed me over the edge by saying my team sucked, which enraged me to the point that I had to insist that he was right, my team does suck and he dare not pretend to have suffered more than I.

Scott

Posted by: Scott Ross at August 30, 2002 01:58 PM

Monsieur Fat -- Yes, I suppose we gave you a perfect volleyball-like set from which to Buckner your way into eternal self-torture. And I appreciate your attempt to elevate the discourse. It all makes for a delicious stretch run, where, in all likelihood, the Angels, Red Sox & one other team will be duking it out for the Wild Card berth. Any Sox or Angels fan knows who to bet the house on -- the "one other team."

Posted by: Matt Welch at August 30, 2002 02:10 PM

We know it's not topical, but we'd like to point out that there is no other team in the history of baseball we hate more than the '86 Red Sox. We had 'em beat, I tell ya...

Posted by: In Arguendo at August 30, 2002 02:57 PM

Salary cap. Revenue sharing. Football is the most powerful and popular sport in the land. These things are not a coincidence.

Posted by: Oliver at August 30, 2002 06:08 PM

Seems I touched a few raw nerves, there...that was unintentional. A couple of points of clarification...

Next to the Yankees, almost everyone is a small market team. According to some no doubt imperfect numbers I found here:

http://espn.go.com/mlb/s/2001/1205/1290765.html

...the Angels had less than $92 million of revenue last year. The Yankees had $242 million. I don't particularly look at the Angels as being in a different "potential revenue in a good year" class than the Twins -- somewhat more in most years, certainly, but not insurmountably so. There will be the occasional teams which come within shouting distance of the Yankees in terms of spending -- every few years, a wealthy owner with a big ego will spend his own money to compete with the Yankees (e.g., Huizenga), and new stadiums dy few years, a wealthy owner with a big ego will spend his own money to compete with the Yankees (e.g., Huizenga), and new stadiums do goose revenues in a rotating slate of cities for a couple of years before owners demand another one. If the Yankees ever succeed in getting a state of the art facility (which Giuliani was promoting pre-9/11), though, forget competition.

The small market/big market problem really only spiraled out of control within the last decade, with the Yankees a nonfactor for most of the 1980s. The Twins wins were of another era, and owed much to two people who turned down more money to move elsewhere -- Tom Kelly and Kirby Puckett. I remember when the Twins gave Kirby the first $3 million contract -- it wasn't that long ago. Now A-Rod is making $25 million a year. A mid-level team may well be able to afford one A-Rod, but the NY Yankees can have several at any given point in time. That doesn't bode well for future competitiveness. Maybe the luxury tax will be enough to open the door for some other fans to do the celebrating.

Posted by: Russ at August 30, 2002 07:39 PM

Scott, I'm not buying it. I don't care if the A's sold out every game over the next three years, they still wouldn't be able to sign (the new deal may change this) Zito and Hudson and Mulder. It would just be impossible.

Survey's show that San Diego is the third-most baseball intense city in the nation (behind Cleveland and Chicago, if I remember correctly -- per capita), and attendance percentage generally outstrips percentage of population visa-a-vise many other cities (even in losing years), and San Diego has one of the best managements in MLB, yet fielding a competitive team is extremely difficult for them. They can do it for a year, but then have to break the team up the next year (compare 98 to 99).

And being the A's or the Twins this year is exciting, but what will it mean post season. The A's best hope is that they face the Yankees and line their rotation up correctly to have the Yankees facing only their left handers. Then the A's have a chance to make it to the WS. Otherwise, forget it.

These days, only big spenders win championships. Good management can help a team be competitive over the course of 162 games, but big money wins big games.

Baseball isn't a business of 30 different companies all competing against each other. It is a single company with 30 different divisions in a competitive situation. Both owners and players need to come and see MLB as one large corporation that either floats together or sinks together.

The revenue pie is big enough to make everybody happy, if it is handled in the spirit of "we either all hang together or we'll all hang separately."

Whether the owners are operating out of personal interest when they lobby for revenue sharing, salary caps and the like is irrelevant. Their greed, if that is what it is, just happens to coincide with what is best for the game. If the players cared about the game, they would see it that way as well. The argument then wouldn't be over whether there should be a salary cap, but rather over just how big of a piece of the pie the players will get and what transparency is in place to ensure all revenue is accounted for, and that some system is in place to ensure all owners attempt to field competitive teams year in and year out.

In the '70s, the players were right. They deserved free agency. They deserved a chance to get a bigger piece of the pie. But today, the owners are right. There needs to be a way to protect the small and mid-market teams.

Let me ad, just because the Dodgers and Cubs repeatedly mismanage their teams, is no argument against revenue sharing. If the game is competitively imbalance now, imagine how bad it would be if the Dodgers and Cubs ever got their acts together?

Posted by: Howard Owens at August 30, 2002 09:09 PM

Howard,

Your first sentence is totally off the mark. Zito, Mulder and Hudson are *all* signed for at least the next 3 years. That totally undermines your point. They signed those players before they were free-agent eligible, and saved money in the long-term. Smart management.

And who has the best record in the AL? The 29th in payroll Oakland A's. Yup, better than the Yanks.

Posted by: Josh Kraushaar at September 3, 2002 09:39 PM
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days, only big spenders win championships. Good management can help a team be competitive over the course of 162 games, but big money wins big games.

Baseball isn't a business of 30 different companies all competing against each other. It is a single company with 30 different divisions in a competitive situation. Both owners and players need to come and see MLB as one large corporation that either floats together or sinks together.

The revenue pie is big enough to make everybody happy, if it is handled in the spirit of "we either all hang together or we'll all hang separately."

Whether the owners are operating out of personal interest when they lobby for revenue sharing, salary caps and the like is irrelevant. Their greed, if that is what it is, just happens to coincide with what is best for the game. If the players cared about the game, they would see it that way as well. The argument then wouldn't be over whether there should be a salary cap, but rather over just how big of a piece of the pie the players will get and what transparency is in place to ensure all revenue is accounted for, and that some system is in place to ensure all owners attempt to field competitive teams year in and year out.

In the '70s, the players were right. They deserved free agency. They deserved a chance to get a bigger piece of the pie. But today, the owners are right. There needs to be a way to protect the small and mid-market teams.

Let me ad, just because the Dodgers and Cubs repeatedly mismanage their teams, is no argument against revenue sharing. If the game is competitively imbalance now, imagine how bad it would be if the Dodgers and Cubs ever got their acts together?

Posted by: Howard Owens at August 30, 2002 09:09 PM

Howard,

Your first sentence is totally off the mark. Zito, Mulder and Hudson are *all* signed for at least the next 3 years. That totally undermines your point. They signed those players before they were free-agent eligible, and saved money in the long-term. Smart management.

And who has the best record in the AL? The 29th in payroll Oakland A's. Yup, better than the Yanks.

Posted by: Josh Kraushaar at September 3, 2002 09:39 PM
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