Friday, October 01, 2004

Complicated and Messy

Has there ever been a pennant race during which three players were suspended for the remainder of the season with each of their respective clubs in very tight battles for the top spot or wild-card? How about one in which a retired player spearheaded his team’s amazing comeback from the brink of elimination? Can you recall the last time religion figured prominently regarding a potential post season appearance? For that matter, when was the last time a hurricane had such an impact that a National League team, the Florida Marlins, still very much in contention for the wildcard, visited Chicago to play the Cubs at Wrigley and then immediately turned around and became the home team vs. Montreal at US Cellular Field, which just happens to be the permanent residence of the American League’s Chicago White Sox? Boy, baseball sure is beginning to resemble life. Complicated. And messy.

When MLB came up with the present format for the playoffs the powers-that-be never anticipated so many extra-curricular activities. Sure, the weather is always a factor as the warm, muggy nights of summer merge into the cool, damp ones of fall. And while the dilemma facing Jewish ballplayers concerning the decision whether or not to observe the Jewish High Holy Days has coincided with a pennant race or the post season twice before, during 1934 and the 1966 World Series, baseball has seen 38 years of sectarian inactivity since Sandy Koufax skipped a start to observe Yom Kippur.

On the suspension front pitcher Frank Francisco and outfielders Jose Guillen and Milton Bradley are guilty of bad timing not to mention behavior. All figured prominently in their teams’ playoff hopes and all received suspensions through the end of the regular season. Guillen’s suspension would also include the post-season, should the Angels make it. Of the three, the most surprising to some observers was Guillen’s suspension by his own team, the Angels, for insubordination among other transgressions. Not too many teams would have the intestinal fortitude to suspend a player hitting .294 with 27 home runs and 104 rbi’s for the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs. The Angels meet Oakland in a three-game series this final weekend with the winner taking the AL West crown; the loser will go home. Francisco and Bradley were suspended by the league for “getting into it” with fans. Francisco’s case was by far the more serious of the two. He was suspended for the remaining fifteen games of the season for hurling a chair at a fan and still faces potential charges for the injury he inflicted; Bradley faces a long period of anger management therapy if he is to recover.

Meanwhile, 42-year old Roger Clemens has posted a mere 18 – 4 record with an ERA of 2.98 for the Astros who little more than a month ago were given up for dead but now are tied with San Francisco for the lead in the wildcard race going into the last weekend of the regular season. Clemens has won six straight decisions while overall the Astros have won his last nine straight starts. Not bad for a guy who officially retired less than a year earlier, gave a farewell address and vowed to spend more time with his kids.

The Dodgers’ Shawn Green faced a dilemma with his team holding a slim lead in the NL West just as sundown and the start of Yom Kippur loomed on the calendar. Green, in a classic Solomon-like decision, played the Friday night game (after sundown) and skipped the Saturday day game. The Dodgers won Friday and lost Saturday. No word on how higher authorities viewed his decision but the entire matter recalled a wonderful story regarding Hank Greenberg, the great Detroit star, who was faced with a similar situation during the 1934 pennant race. Greenberg agonized over the decision and finally sought rabbinical guidance. The rabbi opined that he could play on Rosh Hashanah, a festive celebration of the new year, but not on the far more solemn Yom Kippur. The rabbi apparently found justification in a Talmudic passage noting that children “played in the streets” during Rosh Hashanah. It was years later before he admitted the passage referred to Roman not Jewish children.

The Florida Marlins were still in the wildcard hunt when they arrived in Chicago Friday, September 10, for a four game series with the Cubs. Friday’s match-up was a doubleheader made necessary by the first in a series of hurricanes in Florida a week earlier. But the Marlins hadn’t planned on playing their next two “home” games Monday and Tuesday against Montreal at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox. (The surroundings may have been unfamiliar but the small crowds were not…to either club!) They were forced into these unusual circumstances due to a small matter of 100 plus mile-per-hour winds that made it unlikely Pro Player stadium would be a good spot for wind-surfing let alone baseball. The Marlins split their “home” games with Montreal and began losing more often than they won. The combination of a number of makeup doubleheaders and home-away-from-home games finally got the best of them. Arm miseries with some of their starters didn’t help matters either.

Very complicated. And very messy.

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