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 It has some mistakes and out-of-date information that has been corrected in this post, but remains up for posterity.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)

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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

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.

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.

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After the Field of Dreams game, other possible locations for neutral-field games

Photo by Todd Trapani on Pexels.com

After last night’s amazing game at the Field of Dreams, it’s no surprise that people are already clamoring for another one (which they will get). But why stop there? After Iowa and previous games in places like Fort Bragg, Omaha and London, England, as well as the yearly game in Williamsport, why not expand the horizons even more?

Go below the jump for some ideas I have for future games outside of MLB stadiums.

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Some thoughts on the All-Star weekend

Here are some semi-organized thoughts on this past All-Star Game break, in rough order of events save for the preamble at the beginning:

  • First, the elephant in the room: it being in Denver instead of Atlanta. Outside of the occasional quick joke in some of my less-serious fare or things included for historical context, I generally avoid politics on this blog. I will do so here as well. However, from a pure event standpoint, it was unquestionably a good thing that this year’s All-Star Game and surrounding festivities were in Coors Field. The Coors Field factor and the flying baseballs that come with it helped make the Home Run Derby one of the best-ever, and also no-doubt helped contribute to one of the signature moments of this year’s All-Star Game: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.‘s 468-foot bomb that led Fernando Tatis Jr. to put his hands over his head in awe.
  • One neat change this year to the ASG festivities was having the draft in the ASG city beginning on Sunday night, mere hours after the Futures Game. While the Futures Game itself continues to be unfairly ignored due to being played even as regular season MLB games take place, I think having the draft on Sunday night instead of the traditional “final ESPN game of the first half that no team wants to be in because it makes their stars late to get to the All-Star Game city and takes away precious hours from their other players’ mid-year break” is a good move that in most years (not this year because of how screwed up the sports schedule continues to be due to COVID) will allow it to get much more attention than it traditionally has. Having the first round be on ESPN as well as MLB Network also puts it more on par with some of the other leagues like the NFL, allowing fans two different broadcasts and sets of analysts to choose from for more perspectives.
  • I’m still surprised Kumar Rocker fell all the way to the Mets, though.
  • As I said earlier, the Home Run Derby was one of the best-ever. While the ever-changing format (now you don’t have to wait for the ball to hit the ground for another pitch to happen) clearly causes some problems as far as the TV broadcast since they can’t really let how far some of these balls are sink in (perhaps they can add a 10-second break if someone goes over 480 feet?), it was a fun night all around. We had Juan Soto‘s upset of Shohei Ohtani (which no doubt annoyed ESPN’s producers but was still great television), we had Trey Mancini making it to the finals less than a year since finishing chemotherapy, we had baseballs going over 500 feet, and we had Pete Alonso. Nobody seems to love anything as much as Pete Alonso loves the Home Run Derby. My only big disappointment was that Joey Gallo apparently decided to have the worst possible time to have the worst BP of his life.
  • Speaking of Alonso, it’ll be interesting to see how his role in the Home Run Derby is going forward. He obviously is now going to get invited basically every year, and he seems to genuinely love the event in a way that even people like Ken Griffey Jr. or David Ortiz didn’t. If I rewrote Monday’s post he would almost certainly be on it. However, there is also the fact that his cockiness and supreme confidence rubs some people the wrong way, which may lead him to become the villain of the Derby. This isn’t a bad thing, per se: it’d allow MLB to build up a storyline around it (“Can anyone stop Pete Alonso?) and could possibly draw in some players to challenge the champ who otherwise might want to skip it.
  • Moving on to the game itself: It was a classy tribute to Henry Aaron to begin, which followed the classy tribute of having everyone wear 44 during the Home Run Derby.
  • It was bad enough that they were wearing league uniforms instead of their team uniforms during the All-Star Game, but the fact that the uniforms looked like some sort of space-age slow-pitch softball pajamas made it even worse. Next year, get back to the uniforms of the players’ teams.
  • While it wasn’t what many people hoped (no strikeouts, 0-2 at the plate), it’s hard to call Shohei Ohtani’s performance in the game a failure, especially considering how exhausted he looked after the Home Run Derby just one day before. Besides, getting Tatis Jr., Max Muncy and (homecoming favorite) Nolan Arenado out 1-2-3 is impressive by itself.
  • It was ultimately Vlad Jr.’s show. Whether it was hitting that bomb of a home run, driving in an RBI on a ground-out or hugging Max Scherzer after nearly beheading him with a line-drive, “Vladito” was the center of attention while he was the in the game and was a highly-deserving MVP.
  • Two moments from the All-Star Game that people are going to forget but shouldn’t: Freddy Peralta‘s striking out of the side (I mean it wasn’t Pedro Martinez or Carl Hubbell, but it was still really impressive), and Jared Walsh‘s nice catch in left to end the last attempt at a rally by the NL. Walsh is primarily a 1B and when he does play outfield it is usually RF, this was the first time he was in left.
  • Cedric Mullins should have gotten a hit on that ball up the middle and the official scorer of the game should feel bad.
  • Liam Hendriks being mic’d up went as gloriously wrong as we all would have expected.
  • As MLB itself said: It was a global game. The winning pitcher was Japanese, the save was by an Australian, the MVP was born in Canada and raised in the Dominican, other home runs were hit by people from Florida and Oklahoma, and the best “caught on microphone” moment besides Hendriks’ swearing came when a Canadian-American (Freddie Freeman) complained about looking small next to Aaron Judge.
  • Seriously though…. change the uniforms back.

Welcome to MLB’s freak-show season! Now buckle up.

Against all odds and perhaps much common sense, the Major League Baseball season starts tonight. There have been odd MLB seasons before, but this one will take the cake.

After all, while there have been times where it wasn’t clear in spring training where a team would be playing, never in modern times has a team been homeless on opening day, as the Toronto Blue Jays (the “RefuJays”) are now. Plans to play in Pittsburgh went bust. The next plan, in Baltimore, is still in flux and would have to pass inspection from local and state authorities.

If it doesn’t, it is likely that that the Blue Jays are playing in a AAA stadium Buffalo. Sahlen Field in Buffalo is likely the most MLB-ready minor league stadium, certainly on the East Coast. It was built as an effort to lure an expansion team in the late 80s and early 90s. However, that team never came, so the facilities have never been upgraded to modern MLB standards. Modifications would have to be made.

If that doesn’t work… who knows? Perhaps they’ll go to Dunedin in COVID-infested Florida. Or maybe, in an unthinkable situation, they’ll have to be a travel team, playing all games on the road. While there have been teams like the Road Warriors and Samurai Bears in independent leagues, there hasn’t been a true travel team in MLB since the 1899 Cleveland Spiders became a road team later in the season simply because they sucked so much and drew flies (which, of course, makes it hard for a spider to eat).

Even putting aside the Jays, though, this is still going to be a strange season. After all, it turns out that we still might see enlarged playoffs. Yes, we are just hours from starting and we don’t even know how the playoffs will work yet.

And then, well, there’s everything else.

So, in closing, the 2020 MLB season is about to finally beginning. It’s going to be freaky. Buckle up.