Friday, July 21, 2006

The incredibly strange creature who stopped thinking and became a mixed-up sportswriter

No, not me. This guy.

At this point in life, I may as well just raise my arms and shout to the heavens, “Skiiiippppp!” Even when I sort of agree with the guy, I can’t stand his columns:

Before I'm accused of being a communist and told by a torch-carrying mob of e-mailers to move to freakin' Siberia, let me drive home this point: I LOVE BASEBALL.

If you have to start out with a monster disclaimer like this, chances are you’re about to screw up. If you’re writing well then your feelings will show without needing a special banner headline. Yet in this article Mr. Bayless not only needs to start out with the all-caps, he has to repeat himself as he goes on.

I'm addicted to our grand old game. I all but inject it every night. Royals, D-Rays, Pirates -- I'll watch anything with pitchers and hitters. Just give me my baseball and I'm one mellow fellow.

That makes two disclaimers in two paragraphs, right off. And then, the immediate reversal:

Until, that is, a manager runs onto the field and throws a fit over an umpire's call. Only then do I go nuts. And I've been going nuts more than ever this season.

"Mellow Skip" didn't last very long. I also observe that he’s throwing a fit about fit-throwing.

Why in the name of Abner Doubleday does our national pastime, in 2006, with commissioner Bud Selig repeatedly saying how he needs to protect baseball's "family appeal," still allow the authority figure in the dugout to run onto the field and engage in a nose-to-nose screaming match with the authority figures on the field, the umpires, then finish it off by kicking dirt on the plate or uprooting and throwing the base in question or even returning to the dugout and heaving bats or coolers onto the field in protest -- all without penalties or suspensions?

This is a good question. In fact, this should have been the opening paragraph of the piece, once it was broken into two or three sentences. There are still a couple of problems with it, however. For one, the managers who go beyond screaming – who start defacing the field or heaving things – do get fined and suspended. For another, there’s a simple answer that Bayless never addresses: to wit, the authority figure in the commissioner’s office is nearly powerless. When pressed with a simple question during a meaningless exhibition, Bud Selig was so stumped that he simply tossed up his hands in front of millions of people. Nothing gets done about this more serious problem because the man charged with solving these problems is in over his head.

Yes, a manager or coach or player who crosses the language line with an umpire gets ejected - and yes, the tantrums are usually thrown after they get the old heave ho - but the team pays no immediate price.

What!? Losing a starting player or the manager mid-game isn’t an immediate price? If Albert Pujols gets run in the first inning for arguing the strike zone, and the Cards have to replace him with Chris Duncan, that doesn’t hurt?

. . . .AVG .OBP .SLG BB/K
Pujols .327 .442 .715 56/26
Duncan .312 .349 .545 3/17

… Managers and players usually don't get suspended after they make fools of themselves and shame their game. No, they get standing ovations from the home crowd and appreciative chortles from "SportsCenter" viewers everywhere. Why? You know the age-old answer.

That's baseball.

Writers usually don’t get fisked after they make fools of themselves and shame their profession. No, they get awards from their peers, national syndication, and maybe a TV gig. Why? Because they hit all the clichés, including the dramatic short sentence stranded in its own paragraph for pointed emphasis. Bayless hits this cliché so often that I’ve mushed a few of them together here in the interests of conserving space.

I love baseball, but I'm not stuck in its past. [Disclaimer #3.] I don't watch games to remember the way we were. I don't need to think that baseball is the one thing in this country that hasn't changed since the late 19th century. I don't care if players still honor the late-1800s tradition of wearing two pair of socks -- colored stirrups over white sanitaries -- on 100-degree days. And every time I actually allow myself to think about the absurdity of managers still wearing uniforms, I laugh out loud.

What this has to do with the actual topic is beyond me, but this wouldn’t make any sense even if the past were the subject of the article. Baseball changes all the time. They added the DH in my lifetime. They added four playoff teams, and added two whole divisions.

Can you imagine Bill Belichick pacing the Patriots' sideline in a helmet and shoulder pads? Phil Jackson sitting on the Lakers' bench in a tank top, shorts and sneakers?

I could if they were player-managers, such as Bill Russell was in his last season with the Celtics, and the way Frank Robinson and Pete Rose were in baseball. There is precedent. If not, who cares? A manager can get just as ejected wearing business casual. This is bizarre even by Bayless’ standards.

For that matter, imagine what would happen if, say, Belichick ran onto the field and started screaming in the face of a referee, then punted the ball into the stands, stormed to the sideline and threw the down markers onto the field? At least two yellow flags would fly. Maybe three or four. Belichick's team might be penalized 60 yards.

Holy cow. Does he even watch football? First of all, coaches do cross the sidelines to shout. After a tough call, the coach can usually be seen pouring his rage directly into the ear of the side judge or linesman, who usually stands and takes it with composure worthy of an Easter Island statue. But beyond all that – sixty yards? You can’t be penalized yards for multiple fouls on the same play; in fact it’s one of the weaknesses of the NFL’s penalty system.

Or imagine what would happen if, say, Phil Jackson lumbered onto the court and engaged in a lengthy shouting match with a ref, then heaved the ball into the upper deck, returned to the bench and began throwing chair after chair onto the floor? … Jackson would be ejected, heavily fined and definitely suspended by NBA commissioner David Stern, who would not sit still for such out-of-control behavior from a head coach and role model.

David Stern is a strong authority figure; Bud Selig is not. Come on, it’s sitting right there for you – put it together, Skip!

But of course, such outbursts would never happen during an NFL or NBA game because coaches know they're simply not acceptable.

Such outbursts have happened during NBA games as recently as this year’s finals, where Dallas owner Mark Cuban was smacked with yet another monstrous fine for taking the court post-game and shouting down the commish. Skip then follows this with two more quick-punch paragraphs before slowly wandering back on topic.

Rhubarbs have forever been a colorful part of a night at the old ballyard. … Yet, not only do managers yell at umps, umps yell back at managers.

Now we’re getting somewhere. If he had just these two ideas – ineffectual commissioner, confrontational umps – we’d have something. In fact, these things are linked, but it’s hard to tell it just from Bayless’ column because in the middle of these ideas he decided to discuss laundry.

That's baseball. That's a national embarrassment.

Yes – that was originally two paragraphs.

For me, that's borderline hockey. That smacks of a game with a deep insecurity - one that fears it's not quite exciting enough to entertain fans without a little extracurricular showmanship. During NHL regular-season games, it's as if the players believe the customers will feel they didn't get their money's worth if they don't see at least one fight featuring some blood.

Oh, stifle it, meathead. Whee, another go at hockey. (I thought this was a baseball column.) Besides, this is one thing you can’t fault the NHL for. The league has fined and suspended players and even their coaches for fights. Also, in hockey players and coaches don’t throw tantrums. You don't see stick-tossing and players leaving the bench, so to say that baseball run-ins are like hockey is simply a big fat lie. Refs are less egotistical than umps, so while a player may beef over a play, it never escalates – the player gets his say as long as he keeps it short and relatively clean, and then skates off to serve his time in the box. Even in a fight, everyone acts like an adult in hockey. Nobody wigs out because they don’t need to.

After some more meandering and another quick-punch graf, we get this masterpiece: Tell me the game isn't compelling enough without all this nonsense. Tell me I'm not going to hear from all the soccer nuts who have deluded themselves into believing their game is far more exciting than baseball.

Don't get me started.

Skip hits all his hallmarks in a concentrated burst – needless tangent (soccer?!?), persecution complex (but he left out the torch-carrying this time), and Quick Punch Number Ten. (You read that right.) Best of all, that quick-punch could be the most ironic sentence ever to flow from Skip’s pen.

… Why not crack down on managers leaving the dugout with fines and suspensions? If they want to throw their fits in the dugouts, fine. But if a manager approaches an umpire, and his team is in the field, a ball should be added to the count. If he continues to argue, another ball should be added.

If that makes ball four, the batter should be awarded first base.

Not quite QP #11. The idea, though, is loopy. You want to award walks to the other team? Would it be strikeouts instead if your team is batting? Words fail me.

I'm not trying to be blasphemous just to get a reaction. I'm trying to improve the game I love. [Disclaimer #4.] I'm simply asking you to step back and think.

That would make one of us. I mean, did a sentence like this take any thought: Can you defend that minor league manager who looked sillier than some minor league mascot when he threw his one-for-the-ages tantrum a few weeks ago?

“That minor league manager.” Jeez, you work for ESPN, you have researchers, fact-checkers, and editors, and you can’t look up the guy’s name? It’s Joe Mikulik, and he earned a $1000 fine and a week’s suspension, which kind of blows up Bayless’ whole point. But hey, let’s get really rough and give the other team a free baserunner! As for Mikulik, just read his attempted step-by-step defense of the incident – he sounds preposterous, which is fitting since his actions were also preposterous. No, I can’t defend the tantrum. Then again, I was never trying to in the first place.

Can you defend Dodgers first base coach Mariano Duncan, who had to be pulled away from the umpires, then flipped his hat at ump Angel Hernandez … who gave it to a fan in the stands.

A-ha! Good point number three. Angel Hernandez is one of the three worst umps in major league baseball, especially at keeping a game under control. He has been at the center of at least three showdowns this season alone – one of which is shown in a picture in the very column you just wrote. Here's a rundown of Hernandez' record. The fans have also noticed, and it seems they have a greater grasp of the subject than Bayless.

I know: You got a kick out of it.
And so did your kids.

I get no kick from complaints
Arguing calls doesn’t thrill me at all
So tell me why it should be true
They don’t kick Skip off of Page 2
Some writers go for disdain
But those quick-punch grafs leave the readers aghast
It’s hard to follow the digressions through
So why keep Skip on Page 2?

Our final boxscore: three good points (one by accident), four disclaimers, digressions into four other sports, a pointless rant about uniforms, and 12 quick-punches. That’s a .125 average (3-24). The trade deadline’s in ten days, and I’m not sure what ESPN can get for Skip.

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