Tuesday, May 22, 2012

'Cuz I'm the panderer, yeah, the panderer …

Baseball bits and pieces, Part I:

While the rest of the world snoozed, the Bay Area went simultaneously orgasmic and miasmic as the Oakland A's played the San Francisco Giants in the 1989 World Series. It took an major earthquake to bring the Fall Classic to the country's attention.

The 7.1-magnitude Loma Prieta quake shook the Giants more than folks and fans had figured, and once the ballparks were approved again for human habitation, the A's steamrolled their National League foes in four straight.

I played it both ways in this cartoon, pandering to The Stockton Record's readers who might be either Giants or A's fans. Fans used to be able to buy custom hats with the Giants logo and colors one one side of the crown, the A's symbol and colors on the other; I don't know if they can get 'em anymore, except from eBay hoarders. Fans bought them for the novelty and a lovely expression of conciliation, but the hats weren't big enough to hide their black hearts.

No one was truly a fan of both teams, nor can anyone be a real fan of two teams in the same sport. It's impossible. Sports fans grow up loving their team, and hating the other teams. It's a sport hate, not a true hate (though we all know how it can escalate), kind of like loving HBO over Showtime, Ford over Chevy. Kim over Khloe.

As ridiculous as my reasons for loving the Giants, so are my reasons for hating the A's: They were too good. They dominated professional baseball just as I was becoming a baseball fan about fifth grade, and I remember thinking that those neon yellow A's uniforms and all those walrus mustaches could not possibly be the meaning of baseball.

The A's dominated as I re-upped as a Giants fan, going to the World Series in 1989 and 1990. Somehow my brother-in-law had an extra ticket to game four of the A's-Cincinnati Reds World Series in Oakland. Somehow, he gave it to me. Such sustained surreality, sitting through that entire game, unable to utter a peep as the National League Reds carried out a sweep against the hometown team I hated so much.

(Trivial aside: Both those names, José Canseco and Will Clark, are still present in baseball. The charismatic former first baseman with the sweet swing, Will Clark works for the Giants as a community liaison. Canseco, he of the gigantic muscles whose Bash Brother was Mark McGwire, is still trying to play professional baseball, after all these years.) 

2013 nightmare

I run this cartoon now because the Giants just took two out of three games against the A's last weekend in their first meeting this season of interleague play. About this time of year, for wobbly marketing reasons, National and American league teams play each other throughout a month, and then resume sanity and finish the season against teams in their own leagues. The Giants will play the A's again, this time in Oakland, in June.

It works in the Bay Area, Chicago and New York, where fans in those areas and cities love their teams and hate the crosstown(Bay) rivals. Other interleague matchups are artificial, and I guess fans buy tickets just for the novelty of seeing opponents whom they would never see otherwise. But the Arizona Diamondbacks vs. the Seattle Mariners? Why?

Big changes await next season, when the Houston Astros will move to the American League, and each league will have 15 teams. Two equal but odd-numbered leagues will require National League teams to play American League teams throughout the season, wearing out the novelty and imperiling the National League's position as the Keeper of the Pristine Game: We may see the designated hitter rule apply to both leagues.

Next year, the cursed rule will have been in effect for 40 years. The American League uses it (in fact, I understand that every professional baseball league in the world, except for the National League, employs it) to replace the pitcher with a hitter during at-bats. Typically, teams put a power hitter in the pitcher's place, and put the designated hitter in the heart of the lineup; typically, the rule allows aging baseball players to extend their careers in the American League, where all they have to do in their final years is swing a bat.

The National League still requires the pitcher to bat, and pitchers usually bat last in the lineup. Typically, pitchers aren't good hitters, but sometimes pitchers can surprise fans with a liner that can deflate opponents, or will lay down a bunt to advance runners on base. Team managers have to work hard to make a pitcher's at-bat effective.

When American League teams play in National League ballparks during interleague, they can't use the designated hitter rule, which can put their hardly-ever-hitting pitchers at a disadvantage. Conversely, National League teams in American League ballparks can boost their lineups with an extra hitter.

I'm afraid next season the American League will complain about having to do without the designated hitter rule so often, and will try to have it applied to the National League as well. Fans who should know better, who want to see home runs over game strategy, will bark for it too.

Should it happen, the game won't be as much fun.

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