May 20, 2013
As the US baseball season ends
The US major League season has just ended after teams played over 160 games — more than in any other sports league — before 10 of the 30 teams (until last season it was eight) in two leagues (including six regional groups) qualified for playoffs. Although most teams in the two leagues — American and National — play each other, most games are played within their groups to reduce travelling as much as possible.
This column mentioned previously that deciding a league title with end of season playoffs was like deciding a marathon race with a 100 metres sprint at the end, which is wrong. In the US Major League, which is highly professional with highly-paid players, it is however more justifiable as it has to use a playing format which brings in the most revenue. Also, the playoffs are not one-off knock-out games (as in local rugby and hockey at the moment), but the best of five in earlier stages with the two league finals and the final so-called World Series the best of seven.
This column once questioned the name World Series — and so have others — if no teams from other countries are taking part, but the best players in the world are in the leagues and no team from another country would have the slightest chance of beating the finalists.
Hitting a baseball thrown at over 150kph with a round stick must be one of the most difficult things in sport — and the writer speaks from experience — and it has been calculated that the Major League's most accomplished players do it successfully in only three out of 10 attempts. But a millionaire ball pitcher does not like to be humiliated and if the batter smacks the ball out of the field — for a home run which could count for as many as four runs — it is in bad taste to show the elaborate jubilation like goal scorers in soccer. The likely result is that the next ball is thrown at the batter's head and while this generally creates a brawl among players, the pitcher's action is justified by baseball tradition.
In 2009, Adam Greenberg did not celebrate, but was hit on the head by a ball. It was his first at-bat after being called up by the Chicago Cubs and it was the first throw he faced...and also the last as he had to be taken off the field and was never called up by the Cubs again, although there was a movement to give him another chance.
In over 150 years of baseball in the United States, some 18,000 players have appeared in at least one major league game and statistics show that there were 982 players whose career was confined to just one game, although Greenberg is the only one whose one-game career ended after the first throw. A sad story and here is another one with political implications.
Fidel Castro was a baseball pitcher in his youth and the New York Yankees gave him a trial, but did not sign him. If they had, he would probably have dedicated himself to a career in US baseball and that would have saved a lot of trouble later. Now you will say that the United States had themselves to blame.
The sport also has its share of superstitions. Only this season, in September, when the Detroit Tigers had a run of 12 straight victories, manager Jim Leyland said he was not changing his underwear while the winning streak continues. Tigers catcher, Alex Avila, complained that the manager smelled, but on that night "mercifully" the team lost. But the manager did not try the same trick when the Tigers lost the World Series. Avila, on the other hand, was forced by his teammates to stop shaving while he was having a hitting streak.
RIVER vs. BOCA INCIDENTS. There were more spectators at last Sunday's River Plate v Boca Juniors classic than the number of tickets sold, but then there were over 1,200 police "un duty" to keep the peace and it looked as if they came to watch without having a ticket because protests came from all sides that they did not do what they were there for. There were also 450 security agents at the match.
Mauro Martín, chief of the Boca Juniors "official" hooligan gang is listed as not being allowed into stadiums. He was stopped by police, but then, thinly disguised, got in at another gate later, apparently jumping over turnstiles, like other Boca hooligans, and was filmed inside the stadium. This seems to show again the good relations between hooligans and police and the case will go to court.
Also to be investigated by the courts is that cases with fireworks, which are not allowed to be used during matches, were inside the stadium and this implicates once again the hooligan-friendly River Plate committee. Meanwhile fighting in the stands where the Boca hooligan gang was, produced 24 injured, including three private security agents who, they say, were nearly killed. Perhaps police would rather not go to that sector.
Some hooligans flew balloons with the inscription "Clarín miente" (Clarín writes lies) for which, they said, they were paid 10,000 pesos. Can you guess who paid? The police later confiscated these balloons and also a big balloon of a pig. This was later shown in a police cell, while no hooligans were detained. This sounds like a joke!
It was published that all these incidents will be dealt with by courts and while it was mentioned that the River Plate stadium could be closed, that would not be enough. Boca hooligans, specially Mauro, the River Plate committee, police and even the Argentine Football Association (AFA) need to be investigated and unless real punishments are handed out, it will all happen again.
Paraguay showed us. Colón fans, or hooligans, who caused trouble and damages in a South American Cup game in Asunción were taken to jail right away and stayed for a few days, being released when the Santa Fe club paid for damages and injuries to Paraguayans. A Swedish court sentenced 15 soccer hooligans to four months in jail last week. No long court cases, but straight to jail!