Dear Santa: Or, What I Want for Baseball Christmas (2019 Edition)

Christmas is nearly upon us, baseball fans, and so in service to that gift-getting holiday, I hereby pose a seasonal question: What do you want for Baseball Christmas? By making clever use of the comments section, you are welcome to articulate your yuletide wishes to me, or, more strategically, to dear old Santa Claus.

Just name it! I’ve been assured St. Nick is listening.

My wishes? My wishes, once answered, are key to the health of the national pastime.

For Baseball Christmas, I want…

…Baseball to burn those butt-ugly uniforms.

Santa, if you witnessed Players’ Weekend, you witnessed a fashion disaster. I refer, of course, to the uniforms Major League Baseball foisted upon the players whose weekend it supposedly was. Egad, Santa, I haven’t seen livery that butt-ugly since the Steve Urkel All-Stars faced the Howard Wolowitz Nine.

Santa, I realize that months of electroconvulsive therapy might have wiped the images from your tormented mind, so, with all due apologies, let me refresh your memory. On that lamentable August weekend, MLB dressed its players the way a colorblind Mardi Gras queen might have dressed her carnival court — in all-white or all-black uniforms. It looked like a misguided tribute to 1950s milkmen and 1990s goth kids alike. If this had been the ’50s, when TV images were black-and-white, it still would have looked like a midweek episode of The Strikingly Dull Variety Hour.

But this was the 20th year of the 21st century, Santa, a time when HDTV celebrates the multichromatic beauty of Roy G. Biv by revealing with high-res intensity every color of our baseball rainbow. And Baseball gives us grayscale?

Imagine Rudolph the Neutral-Nosed Reindeer.

…ESPN to stop favoring its favored franchise.

Santa, my family conducts an annual gift exchange, and I always get what I asked for. My Secret Santa delivers. So why is it that you, the one true Santa, can’t match the performance of my imitation Santa by giving me what I want?

What I want, each year, is an end to Yankee ubiquity. Call it Yankiquity. Two Christmases ago I asked that the Yankees disappear. You didn’t deliver. Last year I asked that pundits stop calling a good Yankees season “good for baseball.” Again, you didn’t deliver. This year, though history has taught me to remain as pessimistic as an aging Buffalo Bills fan, I ask for another Yankiquity-centric gift: that ESPN stop campaigning for its favored franchise.

As proof of network partisanship, I direct your attention to ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast of the Yankees-Red Sox game on September 8. Visible behind the on-air team of Matt Vasgersian, Jessica Mendoza and Alex Rodriguez in the ESPN broadcast booth were a pair of conspicuous signs. One read: “Yankee Stadium: The Cathedral of Baseball.” The other read: “I want to thank the good Lord for making me a Yankee.” — Joe DiMaggio.

Blatant, right?

A brazen disregard for journalistic neutrality, yes?

A flagrant demonstration of Pinstriped propagandizing, agreed?

But here’s the thing, Santa: The game was broadcast from Fenway Park!

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

What’s next, a 2009 Yankees reunion televised live from Philadelphia?

In ESPN’s defense, I will say this: At least the network is aware of its biases. It is aware that it not only favors the Yankees but that it also brown-noses Boston. Following a commercial break in the fifth inning, the broadcast showed a large wooden throne in a Fenway Park concourse. Carved into the wood were the words “The Rivalry. ESPN Sunday Night Baseball.”

Declared Vasgersian, “That throne has been at every Red Sox-Yankees Sunday night baseball game this year — and there have been 62 of them.”

He wasn’t kidding, Santa. It wouldn’t surprise me if ESPN were to lobby Congress to add a second Sunday to each week so that it may double its devotion. In the top of the seventh inning the broadcast crew surprised no one by mentioning Derek Jeter. They surprised no one again, and again, by mentioning him twice more. Mind you, this is a man who left New York five years ago. It is possible, if not probable, crews are under contractual obligation to mention The Captain at least once per telecast, regardless of context. To the ESPN hive mind, he remains baseball’s LeBron.

Following the pro forma mentions of Jeter came the fawning praise for Yankees manager Aaron Boone, mostly for “managing around injuries.” Never mind that Boone was given a reboot of the ’27 Yankees. Next week, maybe ESPN can run an hour-long documentary on how Nick Saban “coached around a couple of transfers,” and how Mike Krzyzewski “educated around that one guy being not quite as NBA-ready as everyone believed.”

Of course, you could argue this was just ESPN being nice, that it would have mentioned any team’s ex-shortstop and praised any team’s manager. But it is probable, if not altogether assured, that ESPN would not have hyped any other team or franchise the way it hyped the E(SPN)vil Empire that night.

When reliever Adam Ottavino came in to pitch for the Pinstripes in the bottom of the eighth inning, Vasgersian told the viewing audience it was “no mystery where he’d end up in free agency. He was a Yankee fan growing up.”

In that case, he probably built a Yankees treehouse with ESPN producers.

The comment triggered further free-agency talk and further campaigning on behalf of both the Yanks and “The Rivalry.” Later in the frame, the crew discussed the future of Boston’s Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. Never one for nuance, A-Rod actively advocated for the Yankees and, as Plan B, the Red Sox. “What I would say to (Betts) and J.D. Martinez: You’re in the greatest place to play — New York, Boston. It doesn’t get much better than this.”

Again, this was an employee of a publicly traded company serving as an advocate for one franchise and, secondarily, for another. Unsurprisingly, the hype hadn’t ended. Still discussing free agency, and using “we” and “us” in reference to his former team, A-Rod said, “You always want the Yankees.”

I don’t.

…the All-Star Game to stop mic’ing players.

Santa, I realize you skipped the All-Star Game in favor of manning an interactive anti-poaching kiosk at RudolphPalooza, so let me be the one to tell you: Among the many brutalities baseball has inflicted these past few years — pregame interviews, in-game interviews and postgame interviews, to name just three — few are worse than the sonic botheration that debuted at the 2019 Midsummer Classic. Put simply, several players wore microphones during the game. And just as you might suspect, the outcome was less than Emmy-worthy.

In short, it combined the bunkum of an in-game interview and the boredom of a nanny cam directed at a nanny who knows the cam is on. It wasn’t cinema vérité so much as theater of the absurdly dumb, wherein the principal players were less themselves than mannered versions of themselves. And for one put-upon player, it became the aural equivalent of the observer’s paradox, in which the subject being listened to is influenced by the listeners — listeners who, in this case, just wouldn’t shut up.

Let’s start, as they say, at the beginning. In the top of the first, poor Freddie Freeman stepped to the plate as history’s best-hitting guinea pig, a test subject tossed to the agonies of an experiment that only a summer intern with nepotistic security could have considered worthwhile. Facing Astros ace Justin Verlander, who, let’s be clear, is difficult to face in any circumstances, Freeman wore a microphone/earpiece combo linked to in-booth broadcaster Joe Buck, who, let’s be clear, is difficult to listen to in any circumstances.

“All right, Freddie, let’s do this,” said Buck.

Meanwhile, millions of viewers cried, “Let’s not!”

But it was too late for common sense, Santa. After all, this was television.

Joining the ill-begotten dialogue was color commentator John Smoltz, and just as Verlander delivered a 97-mph four-seamer on the outside black, he declared into Freeman’s left ear, “Oh, they’re using multiple signs, Freddie!”

Looking less than pleased, Freeman replied, “That was hard, guys.”

This qualified as the game’s first understatement. Freeman had just taken a called strike one while Smoltzie clambered through his ear canal. Good sport though he was, Freeman clearly would have preferred to be a good athlete, free from the difficulties of narrating his own demise while others conspired to cause it.

Next, Verlander dropped an 0-1 yakker from Freeman’s shoulders to his knees, and with the what-have-I-gotten-myself-into body language typically observed in first-time skydivers, Freeman asked, “Was that a strike, guys?”

It was.

Upon checking his swing on the 0-2 pitch, Freeman shouted to Verlander, “Throw a strike!” It was all in good fun, of course, but this at-bat sure wasn’t.

In the third inning, Fox would again interfere with our viewing pleasure by simultaneously mic’ing a trio of Astros during the action: right fielder George Springer, left fielder Michael Brantley and third baseman Alex Bregman. The result would be something like a 1950s party line intercut with thundering crowd noise and booming music, so that every word would sound as though it came from somewhere in the depths of the municipal sewer system. After Ketel Marte hit a liner over Springer’s head for a double, Buck would say to Springer, “I can barely hear myself think, it is so loud out there on the field!”

Later, Springer would shout to Buck, “I forgot how many strikes there are while talking on this mic!” And Buck, barely audible, would reply with the most ironic statement in baseball history. “Don’t let us, uh, get in your way.”

Now, on a 1-2 count and with Buck pounding his eardrum, poor Freeman took an 88-mph curveball down the middle for a called strike three.

“Got him with a breaking ball,” said Buck.

Freeman turned and retreated to the dugout. It was probably fortunate for network censors the microphone didn’t accompany him into the tunnel.

…on-field reporters to retire the cliches.

Santa, it’s no secret the spoken word is mostly disposable. Unlike the sparkling prose that appears on this page — prose whose witticisms and insights shall compete with Twinkies and roaches and Twinkie-eating roaches for ultimate longevity on a post-apocalyptic Earth — the spoken word is one whose lifespan is bound by the sound of its passing. Poof, you say, and it’s gone.

Indeed, even in a media age when the watchful Twitterati take hold of any on-air utterance that might provoke a schadenfreudian frenzy, the spoken word is what happens when people have nothing else to say. And it’s often what happens when they should have said something, even anything, else.

One such occurrence came on April 15 at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Facing Angels reliever Cam Bedrosian in the bottom of the fifth, Rangers left fielder Joey Gallo stroked a ground ball to left field for an RBI single. Immediately afterward, Rangers on-field reporter Emily Jones grabbed a microphone and said publicly, “Gallo acknowledged before today’s game that maybe he was trying to do a little bit too much. He said he just needed to stay within himself, wait for his pitch and stop chasing outside.”

Santa, I counted precisely 378 baseball cliches in that single passage. Later today, I will send in a HAZMAT team to see if I missed any. Whatever the count, it came off as a parody of rank platitudery. Descriptions such as “trying to do too much” and “staying within oneself” are by now the stuff of caricature. In fact, even satirists no longer use these descriptions except when satirizing those who still use them to satirize those who still use them.

My critique does come with a caveat. Perhaps Jones really was quoting Gallo. Perhaps she tape-recorded his words and repeated them verbatim.

If so, Santa, that’s just good journalism.

…broadcasters to stop calling it the “second-base bag.”

Santa, I want to ask you a question. I don’t know what the end result will be, or even the final outcome, but listen closely because I don’t want to repeat it again. Nor do I want to postpone it until later. With regard to a tolerance for unnecessary redundancies and repetitious repetitions, what is your past history?

I realize this comes as an unexpected surprise, Santa. Perhaps I should have written it down so you could have planned ahead. Next time, I possibly might. Anyway, I’m absolutely certain that, at the present time, you have entered into the basic fundamentals of replying back to me. And so, as an added bonus, I will ask another question. Assuming you are completely filled with the same identical contempt I hold for these redundant redundancies, will you demonstrate the actual fact of our consensus of opinion by joining with me in a protest against them?

Santa, I first began to notice it a couple of years ago: broadcasters referring to second base as the “second-base bag.” Initially, I wanted to believe it was an unintended mistake. Ever since, I have given it close scrutiny. Whether I’m watching a game at 8 p.m. in the evening or the recorded version at 11 a.m. in the morning, it still remains the same identical thing: “second-base bag.”

Santa, help me. I don’t want to revert back to the mute button.

…the Home Run Derby to cool it with the thirst-quencher.

Santa, I realize I’ve singled out the All-Star Game already. But as the Midsummer Classic itself has shown, why do something once when you can do it more than once? I’m referring, of course, to the wall-to-wall product placement in the annual Home Run Derby. And it’s not just wall-to-wall.

It’s start-to-finish. We are drowning in Gatorade.

Look, Santa. I realize PepsiCo, Inc. has paid beaucoup bucks for the rights to inundate our eyeballs with the familiar Gatorado logo. But how familiar does it need to be? Doesn’t PepsiCo know less is more, and a lot less is a lot more?

That uppercase G/lightning bolt logo is visible in every shot. We see it between rounds, when otherwise innocent children get their first lesson in branded entertainment by delivering to the batter a 20-oz. Gatorade bottle and a Gatorade hand towel, useful in wiping away the sweat that’s now being replaced by the convenience of oral rehydration. We see it during timeouts, when those same kids deliver that same Gatorade gift set to the sweat-soaked contestant. Oh, and like veteran child actors, these kids have learned to hit their marks. They make sure the logo is facing the lens, lest we conclude the beverage is, in fact, Country Time Lemonade.

We see it in on the outfield walls and in the outfield seats whenever one of the eight gazillion dingers is launched into the physical dimensions of a marketing plan: the uppercase G, the lightning bolt, the electrolytic theme. We see it on the sidelines, where the nonparticipating players marvel at the magnificent distance of a juiced-up ball while sipping from a Gatorade cup. Is it true that monopotassium phosphate can add eight feet to every blast?

We even see it during commercial breaks, when Gatorade, uncertain if its message has really gotten across, gives us actual Gatorade commercials.

It must be true! Monopotassium phosphate will give us that proprietary edge!

And just in case we forget the message, we see it again when the broadcast returns from the break. Santa, heed this example from the 2019 Derby: Following Alex Bregman’s round, a kid sprints from off camera to deliver to the Astros infielder a 20-oz. lemon-lime and a Gatorade hand towel. Next, the camera shows a sweaty but satiated Bregman sitting on a chair with the Gatorade bottle beside him and an orange Gatorade cooler behind, with the logo smartly facing the viewers at home.

Santa, those viewers would be forgiven for thinking Bregman might soon be interviewed, up-close and personal, while wearing a Gatorade jockstrap.

…MLB to actually give a team to Orlando…

…and to let Orlando actually call it the Dreamers, just as Orlando Magic GM and baseball-in-Central-Florida advocate Pat Williams is not even ironically suggesting.

He has to know that everybody’s gonna say, “Dream on,” right?

After all, the two other teams in Florida can barely get the players’ wives to show up. Santa, I once went to a Marlins game, and I can tell you it would’ve been easy to find Waldo. It was so empty that I twice heard Jeff Conine adjust his cup. It’s a town full of tourists, and as the Branson (Missouri) Chamber of Commerce discovered in its effort to land an NFL team and call it the Boxcar Willies, it ain’t easy to build a local fan base by relying on people eating Dippin’ Dots.

Santa, the Dreamers do have a logo, though it looks like a group of sixth-graders designed it. And they do have a website, though it looks like a group of sixth-graders designed it. But if you read its list of Frequently Asked Questions, you’ll see its frequently delivered answers are all just TBD.

Where’s the stadium? TBD.

When will games begin? TBD.

Which company will gouge me on parking? TBD.

Nope, there’s no dough, no venue, no anything but the nominal dream.

So, yeah, give Orlando an expansion team. And given that the Dreamers will have created an uneven number of teams and thus an unworkable schedule, they’ll have to lie back and REM-sleep their way through the season.

Imagine it, Santa. I could play for the Dreamers.

…the A’s to silence those annoying drums.

Santa, I like a good drum solo as much as the next guy. I once went to a Rush concert and watched Neil Peart bang on every conceivable surface for 20 minutes straight. What’s more, I myself am a veteran of professional percussion — well, semi-professional. For one stretch of my weird life, I played percussion in exchange for cerveza at a series of cantinas in the Chihuahuan Desert. One night, beneath the bold desert stars, I served as percussionist for a mustachioed folk singer by beating rhythm on an old leather suitcase.

So as you can see, Santa, I’m a friend of the funk. Give me a 4/4 beat and a cold brew, and I’ll tap my foot till bursitis sets in. What I don’t enjoy — what I have come to loathe with the intensity of that mean guy in Whiplash — is the incessant drumming at A’s games in Oakland. I mean, seriously, Santa. If I wanted to hear bad drumming at bothersome volumes, I’d go see Stomp.

I know what you’re thinking, Claus. You’re thinking I live nowhere near Oakland and am not one of the 900 people who regularly go to games there, so why should it bother me? Well, it bothers me because the team I root for plays nine or 10 games per season at whatever they’re calling that coliseum these days, and frankly, I’ve grown weary of hitting the mute button.

But know this, Santa: In efforts to gather proof of my claims, I did watch an entire Rangers-A’s game last season with the mute button off. It’s the first time I’ve ever done so, and also the last — unless you deliver.

Let’s take it from the top. Leading off for the visitors, Shin-Soo Choo stroked Tanner Roark’s first pitch for a 461-foot blast. I reckoned it might silence the drummers before they started. I reckoned wrong. At the start of Willie Calhoun’s at-bat the banging began, like jackhammers hammering on a quiet summer morn.

On a full-count offering, Calhoun went deep. Unvexed, the drummers kept drumming — clanging, banging, clunking. If pachinko and a back-firing muffler had a love child, this is what it would sound like. I wondered if the drumming is designed to disrupt a batter’s concentration in the way a kick to the groin would disrupt a golfer’s. If so, it wasn’t working. Following a walk to Nomar Mazara, Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus went deep to make it 4-0.

That‘ll shut ’em up, I reckoned.

Again, I reckoned wrong. When Marcus Semien stepped in to begin the A’s half of the first, the drumming continued. But it did seem new and improved. It bore the distinct trace of an actual rhythm, as if the patchouli-scented drum circle at the local park had fluked into a legitimate beat that even the weird guy banging on a Sherwin-Williams paint can is capable of keeping up with.

In the third, Calhoun stroked his second homer. Still undeterred, the drummers confirmed that the beat goes on. In the fourth, Ronald Guzman clubbed a run-scoring double to make it 6-0. For a moment, the drums went quiet. Was that the key? Score early and often to finally shut up the drums?

Nope. After Danny Santana’s RBI single made it 7-0, the drumming returned like a virus that can’t be killed. Then, as if to clear up any mystery as to whether it could get more annoying, it did. It added a kazoo and a vuvuzela.

It also added a cowbell.

It came as Seth Brown stepped to the plate with Mark Canha on second base. The sounds grew louder, louder, like those of a Brazilian soccer match colliding with those of kindergarteners banging on their lunch boxes. It grew louder as Jurickson Profar stroked a double to drive in Canha and bring the score to 7-1. Then in the fifth, Mazara hit an oppo-taco homer to make it 8-1. All I heard now were clangs, like dinner was ready at the little house on the prairie.

Alas, you can’t keep a bad drummer down. In the bottom of the ninth, Rangers closer Jose LeClerc entered and gave up a one-out double to Rex Grossman.The drummers turned it up to 11. As Semien stepped to the plate, it got even louder: snare drum, kazoo, vuvuzela, cowbell — more cowbell.

It grew still louder when Semien clubbed a double to make it 8-3. Know this, Santa: That extra percussion you heard was the sound of me beating my head against the wall. Up stepped Matt Chapman. The sounds can only be described as brain-burrowing: a continuous staccato utterly weaponized by more cowbell, more kazoo, more vuvuzela. Chapman’s fly out did nothing to deter the drummers. It motivated them. Derangement was a drumbeat away.

Clunk!

“And the ballgame is over,” said the announcer as Matt Olson grounded out.

And so, at last, was the beating.

Next time, Kringle, beat ’em to it.

…people to stop saying “oppo-taco.”

I’m just tired of it, Claus.

Instead, how about “other-way chilaquile?”

…Baseball to crack down on those cheatin’ Astros.

I don’t know if you’re a North Pole News subscriber, Santa, but it’s big news down here. The Astros have been stealing signs. Yep, they used hidden cameras to steal signs from opposing catchers and then employed all manner of sneaky tactics to relay those signs to complicit hitters.

Weirdly enough, one of the relay methods was pretty low-tech. They banged on trash cans. No surprise here, Kringle: They sounded better than A’s fans.

MLB is now on the case, using CSI tweezers and CSI: Miami magnifying glasses in its investigation of what appears to be a sleazy organization. Santa, if the league finds Houston did indeed defraud the baseball gods by engaging in less than honest behavior, I say throw the hardback book at ’em.

Hurt ’em where it hurts. Move them to Orlando.

No, but seriously. Even if the more popular medieval torture devices are currently available at Amazon Prime, among them the Shrew’s Fiddle and the Spanish Boot, the fact remains that cruel and unusual punishment is both cruel and unusual. Instead, hurt ’em in the most humane but punitive way allowable under the Pastime provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

First, take away their draft picks. In each year from 2020 through 2029, prohibit that cheatin’ team from participating in any of the 40 rounds of the first-year player draft. Also, for that same time period, strip that deceivin’ squad of every dollar designated for international signings. In addition, prohibit that sordid org from signing any free agent for a period not less than 10 years but not greater than 15, or maybe 20. Actually, just make it 25 years, Santa.

Lastly, and in the long tradition of public humiliation, cast them to the savage grasp of call-out culture. Let them suffer the indignity of social scorn and the brutal persecutions that wickedly ride shotgun. Let them endure with deep distress the Twitter takedowns they deserve. Let them wither beneath the admonitory decrees of righteous pundits. Let them cower to the pernicious punchlines of late-night TV. Let them wear that scarlet letter. Yes, let them suffer the contemporary application of shaming and shunning. Let them feel the anguish, the misery, the agony of cancel culture. Let them mean nothing.

Unless it turns out the team I root for is also a cheatin’ team.

In that case, Santa, let the kids play.


John Paschal is a regular contributor to The Hardball Times and The Hardball Times Baseball Annual.
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Spa City
Member
Spa City

2019 Santa List: 1. Stop referring to baseball players as “pieces” when talking about trades. “Pieces” of… what exactly? Cake? Meat? Ass? Sh!t? These are people – they play baseball. They are not chattel. And they are definitely not “pieces”. 2. Ban the phrase “struggled mightily”. It is used to describe a player performing very poorly. What is “mighty” about the struggle of (say) Chris Davis? Chris Archer? Pablo Sandoval? Hanley Ramirez? Yoenis Cespedes? Exactly nothing. They struggled weakly. If every “struggle” is considered “mighty” then you can lose the adverb. Just stop with “struggled mightily” – the most overused… Read more »

Dave T
Member
Member
Dave T

Loria can fairly be blamed for a lot of things, but the chronology is wrong to try to blame him for point 3. The Expos had pretty weak attendance numbers for over a decade prior to Loria’s involvement with the team. Loria bought a stake in the Expos in December 1999, and at that time he also became managing general partner of the ownership group. The team had attendance of only 773k (less than 10,000 per game) during the 1999 season – i.e., right before Loria. The Expos ranked last in the National League in attendance in both 1998 and… Read more »

FlamingPuffin
Member
FlamingPuffin

We’ll put some more mics out in the Coli bleachers next year, just for you then 🙂

Dennis Bedard
Member
Dennis Bedard

Stop publishing the wild card standings right after the all star break when even the Marlins are in contention.

Adam
Member
Adam

Dear Santa – make MLB start all post season games at 7pm ET or earlier so we can actually see the end of the games in the eastern timezone. If you can’t do that, then force the games to finish quicker by banning batting gloves. Adjustment of batting gloves between pitches eats up at least 20 minutes of every game 🙂

Spa City
Member
Spa City

Amen to the batting glove idea. Holy cr@p it is annoying watching players waste so much time adjusting gloves. Is it so hard to find gloves that fit? What are the adjusting, anyway? (BTW – Have you noticed how often Cody Bellinger adjusts his groin cup? He grabs his crotch constantly.) Dear Santa – Could you give us a rule mandating batters to stay in the damn batter’s box between pitches? If they step out, automatic strike (even if it is strike 3). Don’t worry – it would happen not be a problem – they would almost never need to… Read more »

I want to like the Ms
Member
Member
I want to like the Ms

Dear Santy:
All I ask for Christmas is that the Ford C Frick award be renamed to the Homer C Prick award in honor of Hawk Harrelson.

Gus
Member

Dear Santa,

I have been patiently waiting for 15 years. It’s time to make it happen. Bring back the Montreal Expos (and their lovely pale blue uniforms with tri-coloured caps).

Thanks, Santa!

Philip Christy
Member
Member
Philip Christy

Lol @ all the haters of the drums. A’s might not have many fans but they are a passionate bunch. Methinks you may be jealous.

Spa City
Member
Spa City

The drums won’t be a problem when the A’s inevitably relocate to Las Vegas.