The late and equally parts funny and offensive comedian George Carlin had a great routine about the difference between baseball and football. I can do it no justice trying to recreate his pitch, timing, and verbal brilliance by trying to recall it in its totality. But it is worth looking up. It is comic brilliance and a joy to watch him draw a line of demarcation between the two sports.
To Carlin, in a very stern authoritative voice, “Football was played on a rigidly laid out gridiron where the objective was to penetrate your opponent’s territory and score with offensive might.” Then he would counter in his hippy, peace-love-and-understanding voice that “baseball was played in a park and the objective was to go home.”
He further mused how football was mercilessly timed at 15-minute integrals and included phrases like “sudden death,” but baseball had no time limit. “We don’t know when it’s going to end!” Carlin would exclaim with glee. I think I’ve been to a few of those Dodgers games when it felt like it was never going to end.
Carlin was more right than he knew that baseball reflects more about real life than other sports. That point rings uncomfortably true with the exposé of the Houston Astros and their cheating their way to a World Series championship.
Point of order: I do not think for a moment the Dodgers deserve the title. They didn’t win. But if I were the king of the commissioners, I would certainly advocate the vacating of the Astros’ championship status, but I might be biased.
Baseball does not have a monopoly on cheating (see: New England Patriots), but cheating in baseball has a much longer and ingrained history. Cheating is part of baseball lore, unlike any other sport.
The 1951 Giants (not that I’m bitter over something that took place well before I was born) apparently cheated the Dodgers (I see a pattern here) when they placed a spy, in the literal sense, in the outfield armed with a telescope and a rotary phone.
Sounds quaint by today’s standards, but it was state-of-the-art technology the Giants employed to steal the Dodgers’ pitching signs and relay them to their dugout.
In 1961, Detroit Tigers player Norm Cash batted .361 with 41 home runs and drove in 132 runs. And he did it with a corked bat. How do we know this? Norm Cash admitted it. “I owe my success to expansion pitching, a short right-field fence, and my hollow bat.”
Cash was worried he would be found out and stopped using his hollowed-out bat the following year. His batting average dropped 118 points. Many Houston Astros had similar fluctuations in their batting averages during their 2017 post-season baseball games.
Two examples are particularly noteworthy. In nine post-season games in 2017, Astro Jose Altuve hit .143 on the road and a whopping .472 at home. His teammate Alex Bregman, in the same set of games, took a road batting average of .211 and bumped it up almost 120 points at home. Remember, I am not bitter, but the cheating evidence against this team is pretty much open and shut.
Cheating is about cutting corners, and we all want to cut corners sometimes. God encountered this human penchant with a certain couple in the Garden of Eden. There is a reason God felt compelled to have specific proscriptions against such things carved in stone.
Not sure if what the Astros did was a mortal sin or not. That’s up to either the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Baseball Almanac of 2017 to determine. But if Carlin hadn’t jettisoned his Catholic faith with such gusto (God bless him), he might have seen another corollary with baseball.
It always begins in the spring, hovering nonregimentally around the Easter season. And what is that other than the ultimate “next year” finally coming to pass for us all. Every new baseball season is another rebirth and our teams are given talents and abilities. How they use them to get to the final objective is up to them.
And how they react to challenges, like slumps, injuries, and the occasional snakes in the grass, determines their ultimate outcomes, kind of like life.
So, as we look at the calendar and see that pitchers and catchers will be showing up in Arizona for the Cactus League in just a few weeks, we can hope the Dodgers make it to baseball’s promised land, while at the same time check our calendars and see that the Easter season approaches as well and “next year” is already here.