Cancel (almost) Everything

On Tuesday, I said that Opening Day will not take place. At the time, it was mostly figurative, at least in America, and it seemed that while the big importance of Opening Day (capitalized) wouldn’t take place it seemed likely that the season would still start on time, albeit in a more depressing manner than usual thanks to the coronavirus.

Now, though, I think that we won’t even be seeing an opening day (not capitalized) as scheduled, much less an Opening Day. In fact, I think it would be malpractice to have it.

This realization came last night. I’m not sure when, but it was probably when a NBA game inexplicably postponed at the last second, a player tested positive for COVID19, and the entire season was suspended all in the space of what felt like a half-hour. Oh, and Tom Hanks announced he tested positive as well.

The average NBA arena holds between 15 and 20 thousand fans. Even the smallest MLB stadiums (Tropicana Field with tarps up, for example) holds thousands more people. Public Health experts in cities seem to differ on what level of crowd is too big, but even the largest estimates are around 1,000 people, or WAY WAY less than any major league stadium. Even a fan-less game may break the level of a safe gathering, given the amount of support staff, journalists, and security.

Yes, it is true that most COVID19 cases are minor, and even those in dangerous categories are more likely to live than not. But think of it this way: you are also more likely to get Christian Yelich out more often than not, but nobody would want to give him the opportunity to bat in the ninth against them.

So what I’m saying is: shut it down. Shut it all down. Unless it is either something  something essential or something that can be done entirely over television or the internet without any large amount of human interaction, it can wait.

It is said that baseball is life. That is true, but you also need life to have baseball, so there is no sense in putting anyone’s life at risk.

So shut it down. Cancel everything, and perhaps we can try again in a month or two.

Opening Day will not take place (Or: Baseball in the Time of Coronavirus)

Opening Day will not take place in 2020.

Oh, sure, an opening day (uncapitalized) will take place. The Major League Baseball season will take place, and there will be a day where the first games take place.

No, I’m talking about Opening Day (capitalized), the holiday where the long winter is finally truly banished on a joyous late-March-or-early-April day full of ace-on-ace pitching matchups, red-white-and-blue bunting, and a sense of hope for everyone. Yes, even the Orioles… at least for a couple of innings.

That Opening Day will not take place. You know the reason, if you’ve paid any attention to the news. I won’t say it here right now for at this point it would be redundant. The reason why Opening Day won’t take place, especially in places like Japan or Korea.

Opening Day might not happen in San Jose, depending on how long the crisis lasts. The A-ball Giants don’t have their home opener until April 17, but given the scary projections from epidemiologists, we have no idea what the world may be like on that day.

It is entirely possible that in the coming days and weeks Seattle, New York City, or other great cities may have the same rules then as San Jose has imposed now. Perhaps those may come before opening day, definitively cancelling Opening Day in those cities.

Ultimately, though, Opening Day has already been cancelled. For even if the gates are open and the people can come, the feelings of the day have been lost this year. For instead of hope, optimism, and rebirth from the long winter, there will instead be worry and fear.

Questions will race: Can I shake the hand of the person in the seat next to me, who I haven’t seen since last season? Did the person selling the hot dog wash their hands correctly? Should that old-timer who has been coming to games for as long as anyone can remember even be here?

Yes, Opening Day is cancelled, and we can only fathom when the long winter will truly end.

Some teams are going to go at the Astros, but it won’t be the Nationals

The endless inferno that is the Astros cheating scandal continues to burn with the fire of a thousand suns. In the past few days, most everyone has continued to pile on Houston, the Astros players, Commissioner Manfred, and the sport itself.

The games, meanwhile, rapidly approach: the first spring training games begin Friday, primarily against college teams. On Saturday, though, is when most teams get into real action against other MLB teams, with the headliner no doubt being the World Series rematch between Spring Training facility roomies Washington and Houston. It may well be the most anticipated first-game-of-spring in a decade or more, as the baseball world watches intently to see if it will be the first time that one of the 29 other teams take their vengeance upon the sinful sign-stealing ‘Stros.

It is possible, but I think most people are going to come away disappointed. Why? Here’s why:

  1. The Nationals, having defeated the Astros last October, have in some ways already gotten the best kind of revenge. If the Astros had won the World Series, it is quite likely that retaliation would be forthcoming… but of all the teams in the league, Washington probably has the least amount of beef.
  2. The Nationals will be contenders this year. Given the talk by the league that they are going to crack down on intentional HBP this season, it’s likely that the suspensions for pitchers will be longer than in the past. While it is certainly possible that some minor leaguer may go head-hunting looking to make a name for himself in front of his fellow ballplayers, we aren’t going to see Strasburg or Scherzer start their regular season on a suspension.
  3. Given that this is spring training we’re talking about, it is entirely possible that the people we’d expect to get beaned for the scandal won’t even be in the game long enough for it to happen, so unless if the first pitcher from the Nationals goes after Altuve, Bregman or the like, the opportunity will be gone fast.

So, in other words: baseball vigilante justice is coming… but I don’t think it will come on Saturday.

The Commissioner’s Trophy is stupid and should be replaced

There’s a lot of talk about how tone-deaf Commissioner Rob Manfred’s response to the Astros cheating scandal has been. Perhaps the apex of it was when, yesterday, he referred to the Commissioner’s Trophy AKA the World Series trophy as a “piece of metal.”

Imagine if Roger Goodell referred to the Lombardi Trophy as a “piece of metal,” or Gary Bettman called the Stanley Cup a “piece of metal.” Completely and totally tone-deaf way to treat what is your sport’s ultimate objective. Justin Turner rightfully pointed out how horrible a comment it was by saying that the thing devaluing the trophy right now that it has “commissioner” in the name.

However, the fact that Manfred would even dare to call the trophy a mere piece of metal speaks to something I said all the way back in 2012: the Commissioner’s Trophy is the worst of all major sports trophies.

It doesn’t have the history of the Stanley Cup. It doesn’t have iconic images of great stars weeping as they hold it. It isn’t portable and easily hoistable. It’s just… kind of there. It’s handed out because they need to have something to present.

So perhaps we should use Manfred’s horrible comments as an opportunity to get rid of the goddamn thing once and for all. Maybe bring back the Temple Cup, or reforge the Dauvray Cup, or come up with a brand new design.

And then maybe, once MLB has a better trophy, it’s own commissioner won’t just think of it as mere metal.

Random question: Will we soon have a MLB player with a last name starting with X?

In 1949, writer Ogden Nash wrote “Line-Up for Yesterday”, a poem that paid tribute to some of the greatest ballplayers in history up to that point by going through the alphabet. Three letters did not have representation:

  • I, which was used as a joking reference to himself writing the poem.
  • Z, for zenith, as a way of saying that these players were the top of the game.
  • And, of course… X, because there weren’t any ballplayers with a last name starting in  X. To make up for it, he just paid tribute to Jimmie Foxx.

Time has gone on, and, well, there still isn’t an MLB ballplayer with an X starting their last name. But, I was wondering- are there any candidates for it? After all, there are a lot of baseball players, and those players come from an increasing number of countries, some of which have different languages where having an X at the start of your name is more common.

So let’s go through the history of X-named ballplayers and see who has come closest so far, and see if there is anyone who may have a shot in the near-future.

The closest so far: Joe Xavier.

The closest baseball has ever come to having a Major Leaguer with an X at the start of their last name came in the late 1980s and the 1990 season, when Joe Xavier reached AAA. An infielder with the Oakland, Milwaukee and Atlanta organizations, Xavier later told “The Greatest 21 Days” blog that he may have had a shot at the big leagues if not for being traded to Milwaukee, which had a glut of infield prospects at that time. Alas, the fact that he never was able to crack the big league roster meant that the X portion of MLB reference material would remain empty.

The most recent one: Gui Yuan Xu.

Technically, Xu is his first name, but under western naming convention his family name of Xu comes last and therefore if he were to make the big league that is where he would be found in the index of baseball history.

Putting aside that, though, Gui Yuan Xu is the most recent minor leaguer who would have broken the “X” barrier if he made the bigs. A rare pro ballplayer signed from mainland China, Gui Yuan played three years in the Orioles organization before being released this past spring.

Anyone coming up in the college ranks?

The outlook for X-named ballplayers right now is not looking good. A look at the Baseball Cube (which is better than even Baseball Reference when it comes to college ballplayers) shows no current or recent prospect-level college ballplayers with names starting with X, at least at the Division I level. While there surely must be some high school players with surnames that begin with X, I am not a big enough expert on the prospects at that level to say if any of them may have a shot of one day breaking the “X” barrier.

Chinese Dreams

Ultimately, the best hope of one day having a ballplayer with a X at the start of their surname may lie in mainland China. While many ballplayers in Taiwan transliterate names with the “shoo” or “choo” sound into English with “Ch” instead of “X”, on the mainland the X seems far more common.

To see how that is, you need only look at the Baseball Reference page for players who have had their surname begin with “Xi”. Most of them are Chinese players who were on the Texas AirHogs of the independent American Association either last year or this year. The AirHogs entered an agreement before the 2018 season to more-or-less give most of their roster over to China’s national team, as China prepares for the return of baseball to the Olympics in 2020 and likely then 2028. Six of those Chinese players on the 2018 AirHogs had names starting with “Xi”, and at least one of them has returned in 2019.

Now, the stats for them don’t exactly impress, with only one of the “Xi” (reliever Qi Xin) having statistics that I’d call “good”, but who knows? Perhaps one day a Chinese player with a surname that starts with X will catch somebody’s eye, just as Gui Yuan Xu once briefly caught the Orioles’ eye. And perhaps one day they will make the big leagues, breaking the “X” barrier once and for all.

So will we have a MLB player with a last name starting in X anytime soon? Probably not, but you never know…

BIZARRE BASEBALL CULTURE: Baseball with Galactus in Marvel Adventures Avengers #26

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE! Avengers: Endgame is breaking all of the box office records, so now is as good of a time as any to bring you a Bizarre Baseball Culture look at a truly bizarre Avengers tale: 2008’s Marvel Adventures The Avengers Volume 1 #26, in which baseball helps our heroes save a planet from Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds.

Well, sort of. It’s more of a non-sequitur thrown in to justify this awesome cover:

Image of cover of magazine, featuring Galactus looking down at the Silver Surfer, Hulk and Spider-Man playing baseball.

And… I’m totally fine with that! It is available to read for Marvel Unlimited subscribers here. Head below the jump for more of this piece:

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Bizarre Baseball Culture: What does “The White Killer” have to do with Baseball?

In Bizarre Baseball Culture, I take a look at some of the more unusual places where baseball has reared it’s head in pop culture and fiction.

Way back in the ninth installment of this series, I mentioned how one of the archtypes of superheroes is the patriotic hero. The most notable, of course, is Captain America, but there have been others: The Shield (who starred in that comic), Uncle Sam, Miss America, the Fighting Yank, etc.

This time in Bizarre Baseball Culture, we look at a comic involving one of the lesser patriotic heroes, one relegated (probably with good reason) to the dustbin of comic book history: U.S. Jones. He got his powers- whatever they are (they aren’t really expanded upon) from a scientist, and he fights enemies of America during WWII, as one does. This is what he looks like on the cover of the comic that contained this story, called “The White Killer”:

Wow, what a horrible costume. It’s somebody ate an American flag and then vomited upon Jones’ skin. And then there’s the U and S upon his chest. You know, in case you didn’t get that he was themed for the United States of America by the fact that his costume looks like he did stuff to a flag forbidden by the US Flag Code.

Anyway, the comic, from Wonderworld Comics #33, can be found here. It is in the public domain.

Go below the jump for more.

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