Bronx, N.Y., July 9, 2017; Milwaukee 5, Yankees 3 — Major League Baseball embarrassed and made fun of 44,000 fans in New York Sunday, and probably countless others in various cities. The Yankee Stadium crowd leaped to their collective feet in joy (OK, a few thousand in despair) when in the sixth inning Chase Headley turned a 3-5 Yankee deficit into a 6-5 home team lead with a home run near the right field foul pole. People danced with glee and hugged one another, with high fives all around.
All that did happen, or most of it anyway. The line drive reached the seats, a fair call was made, and three Yankee players circled the bases; beautiful, boisterous bedlam blared through the Bronx. Only someone sitting in a recliner — or a hard chair in the mlb offices — miles away watched what had transpired and decided the ball was foul.
There is no joy in Mudville, folks, or in any place where the live visceral pastoral experience of watching a kids’ game played on a grassy meadow is overruled by a technician, a “fan” watching TV in his man cave, or even an umpire huddled in a dark control room. For 100-plus years, live play, live rooting, and live officiating, these were not only good enough, they were intrinsic to the experience of the game. Yes, I know, I’ve heard the cries of “They have to get it right.” To which I reply, “Nonsense, not if in doing so you kill the experience of the fan watching — or for many, obsessing over — the game!”
With apologies to all those watching on TV, the game is not yours; it belongs to the people in the sandlot, the ball field, the ballpark, the stadium where it is taking place. Throwing a ball toward a player with a bat in his hands; hitting said ball; running to first, or further, maybe even crossing home plate; catching the ball with a glove, and throwing it to a teammate; yelling encouragement from the dugout, or from the stands; cringing in disappointment when players fail — in a game that is largely about failure — and dancing the Snoopy joy dance in those rare moments when it all comes together in an orgasm of delight, like you want this moment to live forever — those are the living elements of a ballgame. I’m grateful that so many want to share in the experience, remotely, but sorry to tell you that if you’re not there enjoying (or dying with) the moment, well, you don’t (or shouldn’t) get to make decisions about outcomes. There are many human experiences that we can “get (at least more) right” by looking more closely, repeatedly, but if you’re killing the subject with your autopsy, are you helping?
OK, so now you know how I feel about replay (and if you knew me, you’d know this is not because the call went against the Yankees. Look it up; the Yankees are high on the list of successful outcomes on replay calls.) I despise it, I am concerned that those entrusted with shepherding the game into the future are so invested in it, and I find it hypocritical that so much time is spent talking about shortening the length of games — today’s went 3:59, though not just due to replay — but at the same time routinely stopping the action for two, three minutes at a time is openly endorsed.
All of that being said, it was a great day for a ballgame, and a great deal of excitement — and some joy, along with disappointment — was lived by all. After three solid starts, Masahiro Tanaka had a rough outing, putting his team in a 4-0 hole by allowing home runs the first two innings. The Yankees delighted us with a fourth-inning rally — featuring another Clint Frazier home run — that got it close, but the home team failed to get the big hit, with their closest shot (once Headley struck out after “homering” in the sixth) being when Gary Sanchez drilled a liner deep to right with two on in the seventh. But Brewers right fielder Domingo Santana, who did not have a good defensive series, made a fine catch this time. Reluctant kudos to Mikwaukee starter Jimmy Nelson, who survived challenge after challenge, and who probably had his best moment in a 27-pitch fifth, as he struck out the side once ninth-place hitter Tyler Wade led off with a ringing double to right center.
And so the Yankees have failed to win eight straight series, since sweeping Baltimore at home in early June. They limp into the All Star break — though delighted to have five players going — 3.5 back of Boston, and just percentage points ahead of a resurgent Tampa Bay for second place in the AL East. On the other hand, they are expecting the imminent return of key offensive performers Starlin Castro and Matt Holliday, and Aaron Hicks perhaps a few weeks further ahead, after the break. It’s been a trying time in Yankee land, what with their early surge to the front of the division in April and May, and their slow descent into the reality of six-month baseball since.
The fanbase has experienced some travails. Bullpen woes lead the complaint list, but the long tenure of Chris Carter at first takes first place among the position player concerns. While a genius for flipping Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman for a trove of prospects last year, Cashman is an idiot for having signed Carter, and Joe Girardi is routinely castigated for bringing in Dellin Betances and — in particular — Tyler Clippard for failed bullpen outings. I try not to descend to the lowest level; I love the players, even though I — ironically — hated Headley’s at bats Friday night. To be clear, I groused at Joe batting him second, as Chase, following the superb leadoff work of Brett Gardner, with four straight walks, hit into a double play, struck out twice, and fouled out to first to ruin four potential innings.
But seeing as I’m harboring all of this anger toward the league, let us not picture the situation as if I’m standing back while the fans grouse against one and all. Today was the 78th birthday of actor James Hampton, who portrayed Trooper Hobbs, bugler for F Troop, unquestionably one of the funniest sit-coms from our 1960s treasure trove. Like many of my fellow fans who, in these troubling times, are yelling “F Cashman,” or “F Girardi,” or “F” any of a list of players, I’m yelling “F MLB!” With instant replay, you ruin the visceral experience, and make me a member of …