I think it’s marvelous that Major League Baseball has taken its show on the road, playing regular-season games in places such as Williamsport, Pa.—the birthplace of Little League—and Dyersville, Iowa, where the classic movie “Field of Dreams” was filmed. I’ve even been onboard with the international games—though I still would prefer the season opener be played in the United States.
These games are great opportunities to showcase the sport in places that don’t get to see big-leaguers up close and personal. And they also connect baseball to its roots. (Even playing in London had a root-connecting component since baseball evolved from English games such as rounders and cricket.)
I’m hoping MLB commissioner Rob Manfred now goes a step farther and brings games back to Cooperstown, the longtime repository of baseball history and home to its soul. To commemorate the official opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and the induction of an inaugural class headlined by Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, MLB played an exhibition game at Doubleday Field 80 years ago. The ballpark in the center of town had been built on a cow pasture where decorated Civil War Colonel Abner Doubleday purportedly laid out the first baseball diamond. Great story. Just one problem: It wasn’t true. The myth of Cooperstown being the birthplace of baseball was debunked long ago. But that didn’t stop the bucolic village nestled in the foothills of the Adirondacks and Catskills from becoming the capital of our national pastime.
As part of the 1939 ceremonies, current and former players from MLB’s 16 clubs played an exhibition game at Doubleday that was captained by Honus Wagner and Eddie Collins. The next year, the owners agreed to send two teams annually to participate in a game that would put the exclamation point on Hall of Fame induction weekends. During the next 68 years, the summer exhibitions were played before packed houses of 10,000 fans as the likes of Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken Jr. took their turns at-bat.
Sadly, the tradition came to an end in 2008—a victim of a collective bargaining agreement and greed. I get that the baseball season is a grinding marathon and off-days are coveted, but the Hall of Fame game should never have been sacrificed. This was a great way to play ball in an intimate setting and connect modern players to the past. Doubleday currently is undergoing a major makeover. If MLB can pump money into the minor-league stadium at Williamsport and erect a makeshift park that seats 8,000 in the Iowa corn fields next to the “Field of Dreams” movie set, why can’t it devote some money into moving Doubleday’s fences back 10 to 15 feet in the centerfield power alleys? I know the Hall has tried to keep the MLB-Cooperstown connection going by staging annual “Classic” games in which each of the big-league clubs sends a former player. But it would be so much better if a Hall of Fame game became an annual part of the schedule again.
And while I’m on that subject, I’d like to see a return to big-league clubs playing exhibition games vs. their top minor-league affiliates. I know that’s not going to happen, but, hey, you can’t blame me for trying.
Remember how the Buffalo Bills briefly courted free agent wide receiver Antonio Brown several months ago? This clearly was one case where it was good not to get what you wished for.
No question Brown is a game-changing player, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer. But he also is a high-maintenance diva. This idle threat that he was going to walk away from $30 million in guaranteed money from the Oakland Raiders because the NFL wasn’t going to allow him to continue using the outdated helmet he had worn for 10 seasons couldn’t have been more absurd. The league and the players union don’t agree on much, but they have been collaborating on extensive research in hopes of making helmets safer in order to cut down on concussions. Brown’s helmet wasn’t going to pass muster, so the league was looking to protect him, not punish him.
At some point, the shenanigans and locker room toxicity of a player even as gifted as Brown, no longer is worth it. I’m sure Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is glad he doesn’t have to deal with such juvenile behavior any longer. Brown is now Jon Gruden’s headache.
Tim Tebow’s season was cut short by a severe cut on his hand. And that’s probably just as well, because, despite an amazing work ethic, the former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Florida finished his first season at the Triple-A level with a .163 batting average, four homers, 19 runs batted in and a whopping 98 strikeouts in 239 at-bats for the Syracuse Mets. Although Tebow’s stats were paltry and he just turned 32, the New York Mets insist he will be back next season.
I didn’t go apoplectic when the Mets signed him to a minor-league contract because I knew Tebow would work as hard as anyone, and I realized he would attract many non-baseball fans to minor league parks. I also realized he would do an incredible amount of charitable work behind the scenes in the communities in which he played. And that all transpired. What didn’t transpire was an ability to play an extremely difficult game that made even Michael Jordan look foolish. I saw Tebow play in person several times and he looked like a muscle-bound slugger who was totally overmatched. I actually felt badly for him at times. I wish him well in his future endeavors as a college football analyst. He gave baseball his best shot, and it didn’t work out. Time to move on.
Best-selling author and nationally honored journalist Scott Pitoniak is the Rochester Business Journal sports columnist.