3.26.2008

The 2008 Baseball Season: Or, Franz Kafka Takes Batting Practice

by Jeff Siegel

How surreal will this season be? It starts this weekend (save for a pair of games in Japan, the first played on Tuesday, which is unusual enough), and has the potential to be one of the oddest, strangest, and most bizarre ever.

• Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, the Mouth That Roared, is in semi-retirement and has barely been heard from in the past nine months. How is this possible? Steinbrenner is the man who had 17 managers in 17 seasons, including Billy Martin five separate times. If that's not enough, he has been replaced by son Hank, who makes George seem like the Easter Bunny. During one spring training controversy this year, Hank said: "I don't want these teams in general to forget who subsidizes a lot of them, and it's the Yankees, the Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets.... I would prefer if teams want to target the Yankees that they at least start giving some of that revenue sharing and luxury tax money back." Don't worry if you don't understand that quote. I'm not sure I do, either, and I'm supposed to.

Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader, is unemployed despite his willingness to play another season, his apparent ability to play another season, and several teams that would seem to need his services. So, of course, the players union wants to investigate why no one has signed Bonds. Note to players union: Bonds is more or less under federal indictment. That may have something to do with it.

• The Boston Red Sox, once the poster team for being not quite good enough, have not only won two World Series in the past four seasons, but are among the favorites to win again this year. The Sox are 9-to-2 by one account, which is so low it's almost not worth betting on. Their hated enemies, the Yankees, are 13-to-2. The young people in the audience may not appreciate this, that the Red Sox are favored ahead of the Yankees and have won more World Series this decade than the Yankees but this is the baseball equivalent of Rush Limbaugh spending the weekend as Bill and Hillary Clinton's house guests.

• Major League Baseball's owners, who usually throw money at free agents during the off-season the way Limbaugh spews venom at the Clintons, didn't this year. There were a couple of extravagant signings, like the Seattle Mariners giving a very ordinary pitcher named Carlos Silva $48 million over four years. But, for the most part, the owners reined in their enthusiasm. Several theories have been advanced for this: that the owners are colluding (from the players association); that a recession will curtail ticket sales and sponsor money and hence revenue; and that the owners are finally wising up. The first has happened before and the second is certainly possible. But the third? Baseball hasn't become that surreal yet.

And, for what it's worth, a few predictions for 2008: The Red Sox, Tigers and Angels will win their divisions, with the Yankees earning the American League wild card. In the National League, the Phillies, Brewers, and Diamondbacks will win their divisions, with the Mets as the wild card.

Already the 2008 Baseball season receives a five Kafka rating: (Main photo by Mayr via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License. Kafka graphics from The Heretik.)









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