The Sports pages

Pete Rozelle Killed Baseball

Writing in the Boston Globe Magazine, Charles P. Pierce argues that baseball’s turning point came when NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle used television to turn football into the new national pastime: “Meanwhile, baseball clung to its past the way a dowager clings to the family furs, refusing to acknowledge that it needed to compete as an entertainment entity in the modern era.” The sport is being destroyed not by its economics but by its profound indifference to changes in American culture. The problem is “a fundamental insecurity about where baseball is now in the culture, played out in public by the people who are supposed to love the game the most, and not dissimilar to the insecurity that popped up in some American politicians when the Wall finally fell and bluejeans turned out to matter more to the communists than Marx did.”

Empty Seats Watch, cont’d: To commemorate Luis Castillo’s 35-game hitting streak, Florida Marlins fans stayed away in droves last week. For Friday night’s game—the last in which Castillo collected a hit—only 5,865 turned out. (Pro Player Stadium holds 36,331 for baseball.) The Miami Herald’s Dan Le Batard writes, “Spoiled South Florida has received more good baseball gifts than it has ever merited. This includes no-hitters from Al Leiter, Kevin Brown and A.J. Burnett when the New York Mets have never thrown so much as one of those as a franchise. It includes a World Series trophy when better fans in Boston and Chicago have suffered for generations waiting for just one of those, grandfathers dying and grandkids growing old without ever getting one while the Marlins got theirs in their fifth year.”

Should MJ have signed with the Lakers? Michael Jordan looks ready to play another season with the Washington Wizards—so bring on the childish sniping from the Chicago papers! The Sun-Times’ Jay Mariotti writes, “His biggest mistake was not accepting the $1 million offer of Phil Jackson last summer and winning another ring. That way, he wouldn’t have played 40 hard minutes a game during the first half of the season, which wore him down and turned his experience bittersweet. … Jordan was too short-sighted to see that far. He wanted to come back his way, by building the highest wall possible and showing us he still could leap over it. If mushy knees and a dubious roster wouldn’t let him succeed last season, why would he this season?”

Hands off Barry Bonds! In recent weeks, columnists have urged that Barry Bonds be tested for steroids—the reason being that the slugger’s home-run total leaped from 49 in 2000 to 73 in 2001, and that such a jump would have been almost impossible without a strong dose of muscle juice. Writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Leonard Koppett says such outbursts are nothing new. Davey Johnson hit 43 homers in 1973 but never reached 20 again. And “[w]hat about Brady Anderson, who hit 50 homers in 1996? His previous high had been 21 in seven big-league seasons, and in the next five he attained 20 only once (24 in 1999). Is that suspicious?”

“In a big-league season, about 550,000 pitches are thrown. Last year, only 5,500—one out of 100—ended up as homers. Fifty years ago it was one out of 125. An increase from eight-tenths of 1 percent to 1 percent over a half-century is because of style, intent and expansion.”

Next, the Red Sox refuse to play in the World Series: Boston pitcher John Burkett says that he won’t play in this year’s All-Star Game if selected, figuring his nonparticipation will somehow hurt MLB commissioner Bud Selig. The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Bud Shaw replies, “Who do you think you are? Gandhi? If Burkett wants to make a symbolic gesture with some pseudo-principled act of protest, let him go on a hunger strike until Selig reduces the price of stadium bratwurst for All-Star Game fans.”

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