Once a year I allow myself to write about baseball. Just baseball. It happens in February, right before that magical day when pitchers and catchers report to spring training signaling that spring is really truly coming and somehow all will be well.
This year that return feels a little different with the news of an ongoing campaign of dishonesty coming out about the 2017 World Series, cheating that helped one team win the World Series by the thinnest of margins, a margin one can imagine would not have existed if it weren’t for a few folks willing to put integrity in the garbage can they were pounding on to tell hitters what pitches were coming.
I know I am not an impartial observer. I’ve been a Dodgers fan since LA’s infield was Garvey, Lopes, Russell, and Cey. More than forty years later I didn’t have to look up that lineup, or have to double check that Steve Yeager was the Dodgers catcher, or Dusty Baker, Rick Monday, and Reggie Smith patrolled the outfield at Chavez Ravine.
The Dodgers lost the World series to the Yankees in 1977 and 1978, formative years for me that instilled a dislike of the Bronx Bombers that rivaled —in my young mind— the expected animosity reserved for the dreaded Giants.
I didn’t like watching Reggie Jackson becoming Mr. October, but when he hit those legendary home runs I understood that it was part of the game. Sometimes your team won, sometimes it lost. Sometimes a slugger walloped your starting pitchers.
I could even (almost) allow myself to appreciate it when years later, in person at a spring training game when Reggie was back with the A’s (and playing against a Cubs team that included Ron Cey) I saw Jackson hit a towering home run over the right field fence. Earlier that morning I’d stood six feet away from a batting cage marveling at the combined power of Mr. October, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGuire hitting pitches one after another. Their power felt unbelievable.
So, yeah, that.
I also understood that when in 1981 Fernando Valenzuela and his Dodgers won the series that too was part of the game. The magical part.
Magic happened again in 1988, and then a long drought in Dodgerland before my bums had another chance, this time against the Astros, in 2017.
Two things stood out for me about that series. First, my kids watched it with me. Eight and eleven at the time, there were increasingly fewer entertainments they both agreed on, but baseball (at least World Series baseball) was one of the few.
Second, there was a moment in game three when an Astros player hit a home run off Yu Darvish and made a racist gesture to add insult to injury. Watching that with my kids, both of them half Asian, my heart dropped. We spend so much time talking about the importance of kindness, both at my home and at school, that to see an action so arrogant and mean spirited injected a sense of sadness in the game. Just why? At least, I thought, in baseball there are second chances; perhaps the team that isn’t racist might win.
And then they didn’t.
But this is baseball. Sometimes your team loses, even close series like this one. The Astros outhit LA, and even if actions like that cruel home run celebration helped to define the Houston team, they were the champions. For my team, well, there was always next year.
The next year meant losing the championship to Alex Cora’s Red Sox.
So, yeah, that.
And now word is out that the Astros cheated. Their power, like the power I saw in that spring training batting cage, was as fake as it seemed real. And the hardest part of watching the Astros beat the Dodgers became that much harder.
The 2017 World Champion Astros are still the 2017 World Champion Astros. The cheaters won.
It’s a sobering thought in a sobering time, when integrity (in the world even beyond the baseball diamond) sometimes feels strained. Fairness, clean competition, and good sportsmanship, which were easier to imagine were true when the Yankees beat the Dodgers back in the late ‘70s, feel like they’re in short supply.
So this week, as pitchers and catchers arrive at baseball parks in states warmer than the one I live in, I want to believe that this is the year.
I want to believe that this is the year that my team might win the World Series, but truth be told, it hurts my heart to say that I’d settle for this being the year that they, and every team, just have a fair chance.