Home Run Derby was a television show that aired for one season back in 1960, ending abruptly when the announcer died of a heart attack. The show pitted two major league sluggers against each other for a chance to win 2 g’s. Two grand in that era was perhaps 5 to 10 percent of a ballplayer’s salary so the best and the biggest participated. Mickey, Willie, Hank etc. In that arrangement, the pitcher, a retread former hash slinger from the minors, tossed eat me lobs at these hall of famers and in all of the couple dozen or more contests that aired into the summer, no one really went crazy, as Aaron Judge did in this year’s derby at the all star game in wherever the hell it was held. In an hour plus, Judge hit something like fifty homers to win by a wide margin. In 1960, Jackie Jensen, a real piece of work that guy, managed a show best total of only 14 taters in his contest.
The point is, even the greats couldn’t turn it up like today’s stars do, which I guess is testament to the way players are developed today and the modern approach to an at bat.
So, what would a POM’er see in this nonsense? Well, the home run derby that has replaced real baseball for the 2017 edition of the World Series, takes its act back to Chavez Ravine for the final two episodes in this “reality” series, already sporting the record for most home runs in one World Series.
So why no chin music?
From what I have seen, the bat flipping, cartwheels and full body handshakes/slams that attend these cheap shots into the cheap seats carry no retaliatory implications. Collisions at home plate were banned a couple or so years ago. Contact at the keystone during a double play pivot has also been leashed in. I have to believe a discreet directive circulated throughout baseball that pitching inside on purpose would not be tolerated. Consequently, home runs were up across the board this year for every team, a new record for total taters from every direction was also set.
Chin music has obviously been banned in favor of the clown show we are witnessing today. Rabbinical beards, tattooed strong men only a traveling circus would have employed 50 years ago, and prancing thoroughbreds tricked out for a parade is now de rigueur for the no longer Grand Old Game.
(How’s this crusty old sportswriter gripe working for you?)
Which brings me in sideways to the point of the title: While we here at POM, for the most part, are convinced professional sports are rigged, the main questions still carrying doubt concern the techniques employed to render a prearranged outcome while maintaining the appearance of a clean competition.
One huuuuge clue for me was the at bat by Jose Altuve of the Astros that resulted in a game tying three run homer in the fifth inning of game five.
The first pitch from Dodger right hander Kenta Maeda was low and away and yet Altuve took a majestic swing, missing the pitch by at least two feet, his left foot in the bucket as they used to say. That swing pulled my nose out of my beer because it looked so odd. Jose Altuve may be the shortest guy in the game, but he was arguably the best player in all of baseball this year. The biggest guy in the league, Aaron Judge, may steal the MVP from Altuve, but the li’l feller was the better player in my view.
Regardless, the midget who has won three of the last four batting titles in the American League watched a couple more pitches from Maeda come in, each getting closer to Altuve’s wheelhouse.
Well, sure enough, Maeda gave the squirt what he wanted and the pipsqueak launched. That’s it! I hollered to my fellow inebriates: That first, inexplicable swing was Altuve signaling to Maeda where to throw the pitch that would result in the home run the unseen on high directing this farce ordered up. That second swing was an exact replica of the first. There was no way that would happen in a real game- Maeda would never come up and in so Altuve could put his best swing on the ball unless Maeda was told to do that.
No one was buying. Not even a beer to shut me up.
I’m certain I’m right on this one. The rest of the game spilled all over the floor, the Astros and Dodgers screwing around until whatever ad money quota was reached signaled all to wrap it up. Kenley Jansen dutifully laid down a batting practice special to Alex Bregman, whose nickname should be ‘Typo’, and the windows and doors were opened to let out the stench.
Also- I think roster management plays a huge role in steering the course of a season for MLB. Kershaw has been crap in post season, at least by his lofty standards, so they gave him a month off with a “bad back” so he’d have some gas left in the tank for October. I have serious doubts these elite athletes are so brittle as to constantly fill up the disabled lists as they do. Teams that are not scheduled to win anything for the year have their rosters culled to keep them from contending.
Once the playoffs arrive with the right teams, I suspect players and umpires are given a script with multiple options on how to steer the game in real time, while the managers wait for instructions on how to decimate their bullpens and keep the conga line moving around the bases.