Nov 06, 2023, 06:29AM

Hot Fun In the Wintertime

Take a load off, follow the hot stove. What year is it (#450?)

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When I was a kid, up until 14 or so, the “hot stove league” was a partial salve to six months without Major League Baseball. Could be that the term itself, supposedly coined in the early-20th century, was part of the allure, even though my hometown in Long Island wasn’t rural. I’d read The Sporting News for the latest off-season transactions, which were easier to keep up with before free agency and so many players stayed with one club for their entire career. Although always a baseball fan, I didn’t follow the hot stove much once I was an adolescent, and young man, with far more enticing recreational items than pondering whether a fallen minor-league phenom might catch on with the Red Sox come spring training.

Last week’s ho-hum World Series, which had the lowest number of viewers since the Covid-WS three year ago, and the worst in recorded TV ratings, wasn’t a classic, but I did tune into each game, hoping that the Diamondbacks—whose players, before the ludicrously-expanded playoffs began, were mostly a mystery to me—would defeat the Rangers, a team I’ve never liked. No good reason, really: maybe it was their TV broadcasters 10 years ago during the regular season who bugged me by giving thanks to listeners who sent them batches of “real good cookies.” There was an uncomfortable air of the Holy Roller that put me off.

It was a low-stress Series for me, once the Dodgers and Phillies (Satanic, owing to their paltry two world championships coinciding with bad recessions in 1980 and 2008) were eliminated by the Snakes—and obviously no Yankees to worry about—and though I was mildly disappointed the Orioles were swept in the first round, I simply like watching playoff baseball, even if the channel’s switched after five innings or so.

In any case, I’m not nearly as grumpy as The Boston Globe’s grumpy-as-a-schtick Dan Shaughnessy, who wrote another “death of baseball” column last week (he admits that topic isn’t original), claiming that the sport has reached an all-time low because the Rangers and Diamondbacks have no long baseball traditional, national base or high-wattage players. Shaughnessy, 70, invokes the days of daytime World Series games (no playoffs yet), transistors, and players like Juan Marichal, Whitey Ford, Willie McCovey, Willie Mays and Yogi Berra from the 1962 Series, and says there are no comparable immortals today, because baseball’s a quaint anachronism. That’s wrong: more people attend baseball games during the season than in ’62, and there are so many more options to watch, not just the team covered by your geographical area. In my case, back then, it meant the Yankees and Mets, and NBC’s “Game of the Week.”

Nonetheless, Shaughnessy, gives it away, writing he loves “October baseball” and says, “I can tell you the winners and losers of every World Series from 2022 going back to 1953.” Pretty incredible, even as a “weird memory exercise,” and tells me that the columnist just wanted a Series with big-market teams this year. Fair enough, but it doesn’t mean baseball’s on the wane. Maybe in 2024, God forbid, the Dodgers and Yankees will square off and it’ll be the highest rated WS in decades. Just can’t tell.

Meanwhile, Baltimore Orioles CEO John Angelos still hasn’t signed a lease to keep the team at Camden Yards (and unlocking the $600 million the state will, unconscionably, kick in; again, MLB owners aren’t paupers and shouldn’t hold state governments hostage at the expense of taxpayers) next year. The deadline is Dec. 31st. All parties concerned claim a deal is imminent, but that’s what they said before the 2023 season began. Normally, you’d expect the impasse to get ironed out: but Angelos isn’t normal, and Gov. Wes Moore is a feckless cheerleader who hasn’t accomplished much in the first year of his term.

Above is a picture, either pre- or post-Little League game in New York, of my sons Booker and Nicky, who as I’ve written before each played five years mostly to placate me. None of us are above-average athletes, but my memories of Little League in the 1960s—no gauze here—are fond, even when I whiffed four times in a row one game for the Bohack-sponsored team when I was 10. The boys liked the dogs and Cokes better than the contests.

Take a look the clues to figure out what year it is: Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River is released; Apple launches iTunes; Ariel Sharon is elected Prime Minister of Israel; the U.K.’s foot-and-mouth outbreak begins; Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman divorce; Tony Blair (who?) wins a second landslide victory; Freya Allan is born and Pauline Kael dies; Microsoft releases Xbox and Sega discontinues Dreamcast; Kofi Annan (who?) win Nobel Peace Prize; remakes of Ocean's Eleven and Planet of the Apes are released; Billie Eilish is born and Joey Ramone dies; a 60-car train derailment occurs in Baltimore; the Baltimore Ravens win their first Super Bowl; and Stephen Dunn (Different Hours) wins the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023


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