Enemy of the Week

This Bud’s For Who?

A nation unfit to be tied by baseball's new version of the suicide squeeze.

7.12.02

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Tie goes to the runner. Strike that. Anyone on the ball now knows it goes to the All-Star. Let's examine the implications of this shift. According to a Woody Allen creation by the name of Selig, who when not playing philosopher double-plays as baseball commissioner and de-facto owner of Milwaukee's Brewers -- an odd moniker, given that beer at the ballpark is now as inappropriate as steroids and the spitter, though fortunately thanks to Bud's quick thinking his local franchise is poised to be renamed the Milwaukee Booers -- the unprecedented conclusion of Tuesday's annual All-Star game in a sister-kissing tie was all about revenue sharing and injury prevention. Milwaukee, a town that never ran out of beer containers, had run out of pitchers.

Since that defining moment, American fandom has felt totally picked off. Congress has responded. Reform bills are being batted about. One will cut infield baselines by one-third, meaning henceforth no ballplayer will have to run more that sixty feet from home to first and so on. His legs will remain fresher longer. The last thing any athlete should have to become is tired.

Another reform package will shorten the distance from the mound to home plate from 60 feet, six inches, to 30 feet, three inches. To end rotator cuff injuries for good, all pitching will be conducted underhand. There will be speed limits. No more fastballs. Slowballs will have to become slower. Curves will be banned; sliders too. Too risky to a pitcher's health. And too confusing to a hitter. Conflict resolution has to be the name of the game.

But even that package may not go far enough. An alternative we support will remove pitching from the sport entirely, thus assuring all pitchers long, injury-free careers. The only worry is that this new approach -- T-ball -- will play into the hands of its number one advocate in America, President George W. Bush. A deal may be struck which would have him call for a ban on a practice he once championed.

Removing pitching from the game is only one step. Serious reform will focus on the danger every player finds himself in during competition. Career extension will now require no player to take the field. Too many balls are hit too high, requiring the fielder to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at the sky in search of it. Even if he catches it, the stress he experienced beforehand can leave permanent scars just as deep as if the ball had landed on his head. That doesn't include the strain on his eyesight incurred while tracking the ball in flight. So let's call the outfield and infield in -- all the way in.

Not only will ballplayers feel more secure, but so will the entire nation. No one wants to stand in harm's way, not even Roger Clemens, the former rocket man. With pitchers and fielders no longer on the field, the time will be right to remove the bat from hitters' hands. The NRA may object, knowing full well what a ban on bats would symbolize, but others will cheer the environmental benefits, as ash forests would again flourish around Louisville. Hand in glove with this reform will be the removal of the baseball itself from the game of baseball. What other sport is played with something as hard and lethal as a thrown brick? Again the Louisville area would celebrate. Horses would once more be used for racing, and not as a source of horsehide.

In its first official declaration, the Department of Homeland Security will hail the safe new atmosphere in America's ballparks, where henceforth attendance will be recorded in reverse. Prosperity will return to the game, as every team in the league will proudly announce at season's end that again it's surpassed three million mark in no-show attendance. Privately, Secretary Ridge will breathe a sigh of relief that his people no longer have to monitor signs formerly flashed between catcher and pitcher, and bench, coaches, and hitters.

In another form of protectionism, foreign ballplayers will be placed on irrevocable waivers and deported to Afghanistan or wherever else they came from. America's pastime should be played by Americans, even if it is past its time and no one's playing.

But what about All-Star games in these conditions? No problem. If there's no winner on the field, that means there can be no winner of the Ted Williams award to the game's MVP. Appropriately, that prize has gone into deep freeze, baseball's final gesture of respect to at least one family's values.

All these changes would be in place tomorrow, but for the obstructionism emanating from one bench jockey, who has put a freeze of his own on any meaningful action in American life. Good old John McCain, standing up for the forgotten victims of baseball reform. No, not the players, and no, not the former fans. He's not even concerned with Bud Selig, unless Tom Daschle tells him he should be. But when John insists, there's no way to call him out. So in the future, if you happen to hear that America's baseball stadiums and fields stand empty save for an ornery four-man crew in black gathered around the former infield, don't be surprised. They're there because John insisted an umpire's work is never done. How unlucky for EOW John that not everything this week was put on hold.

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