Bizarre Baseball Culture 2.0: Spider-Man, Uncle Ben, and the Mets

In Bizarre Baseball Culture 2.0, I take an updated look at some of the more unusual places that I previously covered where baseball has reared its head in pop culture and fiction. In the process, I clean up some mistakes of mine and add some more perspective.

Note: The original version of this post can be found here. It has some mistakes and out-of-date information that has been corrected in this post, but remains up for posterity.

As the latest Spider-Man film continues to break records, there is perhaps no better way to start up Bizarre Baseball Culture 2.0 than by renovating one of my old posts about the web-slinger. Now, ole’ Web-Head is no stranger to Bizarre Baseball Culture, having had shown up on several occasions (including fighting Doctor Doom alongside Billy the Marlin), but those were generally promotional comics that happened to feature Spider-Man. Peter Parker Spider-Man (Volume 2) #33, by contrast, is canon. It happened in the main Marvel Universe and presumably could be referenced by any writer working in those stories today. This issue from 2001 is about Peter Parker’s relation with his late Uncle Ben, and how baseball was a bond between them.

Now, before we begin, I’d like to write a bit about Spider-Man in general. What made the Marvel characters different when they first started appearing in the 1960s was that they were, in general, more relatable and flawed than the DC counterparts and the Marvel superheroes that had been created in the 30s and 40s. The Fantastic Four was often bickering with each other (like an family does), the X-Men were shunned by most of society (Stan Lee has said that being a mutant is basically meant to be a stand-in for being a minority), the Hulk was shunned by basically all of society… and Spider-Man, for lack of a better term, was a loser.

Okay, maybe not a loser, but definitely the closest thing there had been up to that point: an unpopular kid with no parents, only one family member of any sort (Aunt May) and little money. To make matters worse, when supervillains weren’t coming after him, the press and/or the police were. If things could go wrong for Peter Parker, they probably have. Parents? Dead. Uncle? Dead. Aunt? Perpetually sick. First true love (Gwen Stacy)? Murdered (and, amazingly, never came back to life). Second true love (Mary Jane)? Marriage magically annulled in a story far too stupid to talk about. At one point in the not-that-distant past poor Peter Parker evensaw his body body-snatched by Doctor Ocopus while he was forced to die in “Doc Ock’s” cancer-ridden body (don’t worry, he got better). But all of this pales in comparison to the greatest, most horrible fate to ever fall upon Spider-Man:

Being a fan of the New York Mets.

(JUMP)

Continue reading

Looking back and waiting for spring

Well, now that the smoke has mostly settled from the World Series, it’s time for a look back at it and a look forward.

First off, the World Series itself. It was, admittedly, not the best series to end the season on. Both clubs had some off-the-field baggage (Houston with the cheating scandal, Atlanta with the continued existence of the chop as well as how they had become a prop for some politicos), and the series highlighted some of modern baseball’s most frustrating features (such as early pitching changes and the degradation of base-running ability for all but a few).

Still, it had some great moments and some big personalities. Freddie Freeman, a Hall-of-Famer in the making (the player most similar to him statistically through the age 31 season is Eddie Murray), now has a ring to show for it. Max Fried had a coming-out party that helped solidify his place as one of the best pitchers in the NL (he had been great the previous two seasons as well, but sometimes the playoffs knocks people higher in the conscious). Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duvall proved to be perhaps the best trio of mid-season replacements in years, if not ever, a masterstroke for the Atlanta front office. On the Astros side, the usual suspects were joined by unexpected people like Zack Greinke, who will now likely go down in history as the last pitcher (aside from two-ways like Ohtani) to get a hit. And the two dugouts were run by old-time baseball men in a new-age baseball world: Brian Snitker and Dusty Baker, who both fittingly have deep ties to the late Henry Aaron and his family.

Ultimately, I consider any series that goes at least six games “good.” Nobody likes a sweep or a near-sweep (save for the team that wins, of course). So while the games themselves were, with one or two exceptions, hardly the most entertaining that baseball could give, I am generally happy.

Now, of course, is the offseason. It could prove tumultuous. A lockout in December is considered so likely that The Onion has already made a joke about it. The fact that the work stoppage will come during December is, ironically, probably a good thing, as it makes it more likely that some sort of new Collective Bargaining Agreement will come about before games are lost. However, given the greedy stubbornness of the owners as well as the (largely justified!) grievances of the players (who, frankly, got pantsed in the last CBA), the ultimate outcome is unknown.

What is known as that when a new CBA does come into force it is likely that baseball will have shifted into yet another new era. It is considered all-but-certain that the DH will become universal, and other rules changes will likely also be either implemented or be put on the road to being implemented. The financial rules will also doubtless change, although given the very nature of the CBA those are likely the hardest to predict.

And so we wait…

Finally, a word on Buster Posey. In my opinion, the three most important on-field people in the long history of the New York/San Francisco Giants are (we can argue a bit on the order) John McGraw, Willie Mays, and Barry Bonds. The fourth most important? Buster Posey.

Updated bare-bones no explanation given predictions

Everything I had to say about last night’s check-swing ending was on Twitter last night, so instead I’m updating my bare-bones postseason predictions to reflect who has made the LCS round.

ALCS: Astros over Red Sox in 7

NLCS: Dodgers over Braves in 5

World Series: Dodgers over Astros in 6

World Series MVP: Mookie Betts

Dodgers-Giants is better than Yankees-Red Sox

Tonight, for the first time ever officially*, the Dodgers and Giants will meet in the postseason. The only bad thing about that is that it comes in a best-of-five series, instead of best-of-seven.

And it will provide an opportunity to show to a national audience that the greatest rivalry in baseball is not Yankees-Red Sox, but rather Dodgers-Giants.

Why?

For one, it is older. These two franchises have been going at it in the National League since 1890 (and they’d met in the now-considered-an-exhibition proto-World Series in 1889). Benjamin Harrison was president when this rivalry started. At that time, the pitcher stood 50 feet from the batter, not 60 feet and six inches. Brooklyn wasn’t even officially part of New York City yet, but rather a separate entity.

Speaking of Brooklyn, that’s another thing: this is a rivalry so heated it literally spans a continent. Whether representing different parts of New York or different regions of California, the rivalry has been continuous. The locations changed, but the rivalry still remained.

It also has had more changes in fortune. For all the claims of a Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, the fact is that for 86 years it was no more a rivalry than it was a competition between a freight-train and hapless pedestrian: the Yankees would win almost every major confrontation. Even in those times where the Yankees were bad or fell to the Red Sox in the pennant race, the Red Sox were never able to do anything to break the image of being the lesser of the two, their days as the true leader of the rivalry (back when the Yankees were known as the Highlanders) a distant often-forgotten memory. While the two have been on more equal ground since the curse was broken, and at times Boston has actually had the upper-hand, it is unlikely that anyone will ever look at the rivalry again any time soon with the idea of the Red Sox as anything other than the underdog- even as their spending habits and success become increasingly like New York’s.

Compare that to Dodgers-Giants, where the “top” team has changed several times. The Giants dominated the early days, the Dodgers ruled the final years in New York City. The two have gone back-and-forth since arriving in California. Although the Dodgers have won more rings in California (and began winning them far earlier than the Giants), it is far harder to declare that the Dodgers will always be the top dog of the two. They have matched up well throughout history. The overall status of the rivalry is 1,269–1,247–17 in favor of the Giants- only a 22-game difference. By comparison, the Yankees currently lead the Red Sox 1,232–1,033–14, for nearly a 200-game lead.

Perhaps the fact there has rarely been a clear favorite of the two has contributed to the fact that there have generally been fewer players who have worn both uniforms for extended periods of time (Jeff Kent comes to mind as one of the few exceptions). Babe Ruth, Wade Boggs, and Roger Clemens all had extended time with both sides of the Northeast rivalry. Not so in the California showdown. Juan Marichal‘s stint with the Dodgers late in his career lasted just two games. Duke Snider‘s twilight time with the Giants only lasted 91 games in one season. Jackie Robinson, it is sometimes said, retired rather than play for the Giants. Ask about how Roger Clemens did in a Yankees-Red Sox game, and you need to ask what year it was. In Dodgers-Giants, it isn’t as needed.

It is also, admittedly, a far more ugly rivalry. While of course this is a bad thing, it does speak to how intense the rivalry is and has been. For all the talk of the intensity in the Boston-New York rivalry, the honest truth is that it is surprisingly civil and tongue-in-cheek, even among many fans. While there certainly have been ugly moments among both fans and participants, they pale in comparison to that of Dodgers-Giants. If you go to Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park in the opposing team’s jersey, may end up getting cussed at, insulted, and possibly have a beer poured upon you. If you do that in San Francisco or Los Angeles, and there is a legitimate chance you will be physically assaulted (still very, very, small, but far greater than probably any other rivalry this side of European soccer hooligans). I am not making this up when I say that the Dodgers-Giants rivalry can be connected to at least two homicides as well as a few assaults, including one that left a man in a medically-induced coma for months. Pedro Martinez once threw Don Zimmer to the ground, but Juan Marichal once went at Johnny Roseboro with a bat. It was a horrific incident that left Roseboro needing 14 stitches and Marichal’s reputation in the gutter for decades, to the point where Roseboro himself had to appeal to writers to get Marichal into the Hall of Fame. If such a thing were to happen in Yankees-Red Sox, it would be impossible to find out anything else about baseball since it would be the only thing talked about the rest of the year.

Which leads to perhaps the number one reason why Dodgers-Giants is better than Yankees-Red Sox: it hasn’t been done to death by the national media. ESPN, MLB Network and other outlets go all-in on Yanks-Sawx, to the point where even those interested grow sick of it. Not so the California rivalry. It is the often-forgotten gem of the three biggest rivalries in baseball (the other one of the big three is, of course, Cubs-Cardinals). Perhaps it is because of East Coast Bias, or perhaps it is because they haven’t faced each other in the playoffs until now. Regardless, starting on Friday night the secret will be out: Dodgers-Giants is the superior baseball rivalry.

*(I say officially because the 1951 tiebreaker series that ended with Bobby Thomson‘s famed home run was technically regular season, the equivalent of a Game 163 in modern times. In addition, they met in some pre-modern World Series that are generally not recognized by MLB.)

What the world was like when Wainwright and Molina first teamed up

On Sept. 23, 2005, the world was a different place. George W. Bush was president, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers were cellar dwellers, and, perhaps most baffling of all, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina had never thrown to each other in a Major League Baseball game.

That would change that night, however, as Wainwright made his second career appearance. His first had come in a game where Molina had already been pulled. In the bottom of the 7th, with the Brewers leading the Cardinals 9-6 at Miller Park, Wainwright came in and put down the Brewers 1-2-3: Chad Moeller by flyball, Jeff Cirillo by pop-out, and Brady Clark with a flyball to center.

And Wainwright has seemingly been pitching to Yadier Molina ever since. They’ve had over 300 starts as a battery since Wainwright became a full-time starter in 2007. They’ll start again tonight in the Wild Card Game against the Dodgers. They’ll likely continue to serve as a battery next year, and presumably for however long the two of them stay with the Cardinals.

So how else was the world different back when Wainwright first threw to Molina? Here’s a sampling:

  • That weekend (Sept. 23-25), the number one movie would be Flightplan starring Jodie Foster.
  • The top song was “Gold Digger” by Kanye West and Jamie Foxx.
  • The Washington Nationals were in their first season since moving from Montreal.
  • Los Angeles’ pitcher tonight, Max Scherzer, was playing for the University of Missouri.
  • The Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts, was still an active ballplayer.
  • The City of Chicago had not seen a World Series title since 1917 (the White Sox would win it a month later).
  • Daniel Craig had not yet debuted as James Bond.
  • Tobey Maguire was still Spider-Man.
  • The Nintendo Wii was still a year away from release.
  • John Roberts was not yet confirmed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Most of the child cast of Stranger Things were not even in grade school yet. One of them, Priah Ferguson (who plays Lucas’ little sister Erica), hadn’t even been born.
  • Saturday Night Live had yet to have a broadcast in High Definition. The Colbert Report was just under a month from debuting. The West Wing, Alias, Malcom in the Middle, and That ’70s Show were all still on the air.

And finally…

  • Every other member of the Cardinals’ Wild Card roster had not played a game of professional baseball. And on the Dodgers only Albert Pujols had. And on Sept. 23, 2005 he was… at first base for the Cardinals as Wainwright threw to Molina!

Bare-bones no-explanations-given postseason predictions

No explanations, only predictions. Do I have reasons? Am I just going by my gut. Too bad, I’m not telling you!

AL Wild Card: Red Sox over Yankees

NL Wild Card: Dodgers over Cardinals

ALDS: Rays over Red Sox in 5, Astros over White Sox in 4.

NLDS: Dodgers over Giants in 4. Braves over Brewers in 5.

ALCS: Rays over Astros in 6.

NLCS: Dodgers over Braves in 5.

World Series: Dodgers over Rays in 6.

World Series MVP: Justin Turner.

How to forfeit a game

Last night, the Rochester Red Wings were shellacked by the Buffalo Bisons, 20-3. As the game dragged on in its last innings and the Red Wings turned to a position player to pitch, Wings’ announcer Josh Whetzel wondered if maybe baseball should have a mercy rule or maybe a way to forfeit when things get too ugly.

Well, there is one way to forfeit. Sort of.

Take a look at the MLB rulebook. Now, head down to pages 85 and 86, the part on unsportsmanlike conduct. Make note of rule 6.04(a)(4), which says that no one can “Make intentional contact with the umpire in any manner.”

You’ve doubtless seen this rule in action before: a manager or player is arguing with an umpire after a bad call, and touches them. They are then usually immediately ejected.

So, in theory, you could have your players line up in a row and start touching the umpire until enough players are ejected that there aren’t enough to continue, thus ending the game.

Of course, there are other easier ways to forfeit (see rule 7.03). You can just refuse to come out and continue playing, for example. Or you could continually break rules. Or the thing that, if properly enforced, would probably lead to a wave of forfeits, rule 7.03(a)(2):

Employs tactics palpably designed to delay or shorten the
game;

Yeah, like that will ever be enforced…

Baseball should give the Hall of Fame induction its space

Yesterday, the Baseball Hall of Fame had its inductions. Due to COVID protocols and the oft-delayed nature of the ceremony because of the pandemic, it happened in the middle of a weekday, with few games going on.

And that, to be honest, is how it should usually be. Well, not the weekday part, and certainly not the pandemic-related stuff. The bit where it is goes on with few if any games going on, though? That needs to happen from now on.

Baseball, alone among the major sports, is unique in that it has its inductions usually happen while meaningful games are also happening. It is often on a Sunday, when most of the league is playing.

While this is perhaps unavoidable due to the fact that baseball is a summer sport and thus would have to vastly change its induction ceremonies to hold it during the offseason (presumably using some sort of indoor venue with far less capacity), it is an odd look for a sport that holds its history so dear. It also isn’t very fan-friendly, leaving fans to have to choose whether to watch their favorite team play or see the greats get inducted.

That has to change.

Now, it should be noted that any such change would have to be done by agreement between MLB and the HOF. Despite popular belief, the two are separate from each other- MLB doesn’t run the HOF, although it certainly does have some influence and provides some funding, board members, etc. Still, such an agreement can likely be made.

In general, Sundays are day games for MLB teams, with the exception of the two that are selected for the ESPN game. But why not, for one day every year, have everyone play Sunday night? To make it up to the players, perhaps the Monday after can be an off-day or at least have a drastically smaller schedule (perhaps only featuring matchups of teams that didn’t have to travel far). Agreements, of course, would have to be made with ESPN and other rights holders, but during the middle of summer (which is normally when HOF inductions happen, as opposed to the strange September date this year) sports networks have more flexibility.

Alternately, they could have it be on Saturday, when more games are held at night anyway so only a few would have to be moved. But then again, having the inductions on Saturday wouldn’t make it much of a weekend.

Regardless, something should be done to give the inductions more of a spotlight. It’s what the Hall of Fame deserves, it’s what the inductees deserve, and it’s what baseball deserves.

The Little League World Series was not as good without the world

The Little League World Series is over, only this year it just wasn’t the same, because the world couldn’t come. It’s obvious why: COVID-19. After cancelling the entire tournament last year for the first time ever, this year Little League Baseball returned the World Series to Williamsport, but only with American-based teams due to COVID concerns.

And while it did prove to be an excellent tournament, it still lacked much of what has made the tournament special: the international teams.

You see, part of the fun of the event is in seeing kids from so many places have fun with each other. It doesn’t matter if they are from Ohio or Osaka, it’s good to see people from different cultures bonding over a shared love for baseball.

However, there is also the fact that it also just wasn’t as fun to watch. Different countries bring different styles of play, which can be interesting. Plus, there are a clearer way of determining underdogs: you may not be able to tell who the favorite in a game between Texas and California is, but when it’s Japan vs. Australia or Curacao vs. Italy, you are instantly pulled in. Sure, the favorite almost always wins, but it is fascinating to get pulled in by the drama of seeing how long the underdogs can keep pace. And regardless of what happens, the kids don’t care: they are still having fun.

But, alas, some of that didn’t happen this year. Hopefully it’ll be back next year.

Possible international sites for MLB games

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Previously, I discussed some possible neutral-field games in the USA or Canada. Today, it’s time to look beyond the borders and muse about possible neutral-field games internationally going forward.

Go below the jump for more.

Continue reading