With the World Series upon us, and the magic of the Houston Colt .45s vs. the Montreal Expos preparing to unfold before our satanically red-rimmed eyes, we can sit back, forget the rest of the world its slowly advancing state of entropy and decay and ask ourselves the most existential of questions:
What kind of ball will these hyenas provide? Cheese? Clay? Cricket? Iron? Solidified rocket fuel?
The two teams will give us many talented players and two managers confronted with dozens of discussible decisions. Those who choose to have fun will have it, and everyone else can call baseball the sport of the dead and lock into that fascinating Bulls-Hornets opener on Wednesday, or Red Wings-Senators. Let a thousand flowers wilt, I always say.
But baseball, and baseball alone, is the only sport in which the very nature of the equipment is called into question as a function of the sport. After more than a year playing with bocce balls with nuclear cores, the playoffs have been held with baseballs that function as, well, baseballs. This has raised a river of questions about whether having changed the balls to begin with, the game’s stewards have changed them again in an attempt to cut down on the musings of the deep thinkers and serial yappy dogs in the Interverse.
And now, with Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole prepping to make the first zero-to-minus-one final score in the game’s history Tuesday night, we can wonder about the state of the balls yet again. Baseball put the question in play, and it’s never leaving again.
To be honest, baseball has always screwed with its equipment routinely during its history, going back to the Dead Ball Era and its first real muse, Tim Kurkjian. Loaded bats, lowered mounds, balls beaten into oatmeal and used until they die … it’s been a festival for sporting goods manufacturers and woodworkers and from the game’s infancy. One of the game’s founders, Albert Spalding, made his fortune making and selling baseballs. Before these balls were weaponized, the great advancement was maple bats. This ball is the most dramatic difference since the mound was lowered in 1968, but the difference is that this change is in the most important part of the season. The DH wasn’t first introduced in an ALCS.
In the modern world and its fetish for numbers and uniformity, the matter of the vibranium baseball and how it has appeared and then disappeared has come front and center, whether it is filled with crank, old socks or something in between. This isn’t necessarily wrong, mind you; the NFL got more than a year’s free whining out of some deflated footballs in a five-score playoff rout. It’s just another weird thing baseball is doing to address its ongoing self-esteem issues.
Truthfully, the Series would be best served by mixing the batches so that nobody knows when one of the rocket balls is put into play. Sure the pitchers would know when they get one, but the umpires could simply prevent them from asking for another. After all, baseball showed what it thinks of pitching when it introduced the new balls, so upsetting an already-disregarded subset of aggrieved performers wouldn’t make that much difference. Plus, every foul ball potentially changes the game from 1919 to 2019 in a moment, thus making every pitch matter all the more, and you can’t ask for a fairer deal than that, entertainment-wise.
But I guess we’ll just wait and see what we get, since we aren’t sure what sport is going to be presented to us. Joe Buck will tell us in the pregame, “We’re expecting a great pitchers’ duel unless we get a piefight … either way, the game’s going to last four hours so seal up the windows and doors and grab some beers.”
After all, would you rather wait for Dolphins-Steelers and pretend that’ll be fun? Let me answer that one for you. You don’t.
Ray Ratto wants this World Series to be so long, weird, and absurd that there’s a scenario in which the Marlins and Tigers end up playing Game 7.