Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Truly Beautiful Game

So, there's all this talk about soccer being "the beautiful game." This was especially prevelent during the recent World Cup festivities in Germany. Well, fuck soccer. Although it can be a great game, the matches played in Germany, at least the ones I saw were far from beautiful. A lot of fouling, overly physical play and penalties deciding games.

Just a little history here: The Brazilians are the ones who came up with the term "the beaufiful game." And many actually lamented the fact that Brazil over the past 20 years, started playing more European-style, and got away from what the natives termed their "beautiful game." I think Germany, Italy, France, and Portugal showing up in this year's World Cup final four is evidence that the "beautiful game" of soccer may be dead...

But, moving on to baseball, I'd have to say last night's All Star game in Pittsburgh, at the lovely PNC Park, was truly a beautiful game. What can I say? Fuck soccer. I'll say it again. Why do we waste our time trying to develop great soccer players when we already have baseball.

Could you have asked for more last night? Coming into the game, everyone knew the American League had the better team. But for most of the game they trailed. They game was tight, like a well-played soccer match. Two-to-one going into the last inning, with all the runs having come one at a time-like goals. The National League had actually gone ahead on a wild pitch, and for them to win the game that way would be anticlimatic and disappointing, I think. The N.L. brought in future Hall-of-Fame closer Trevor Hoffman, whose best years are behind him, but still showed strong stuff getting the first two batters - All Stars, mind you, to ground weakly back to him. Then the fun started. Paul Konerko, a hero in the White Sox World Series championship last year, lined a single to left. Joe Buck, who does a great job calling baseball - just like his dad, noted that had the third-baseman not been playing the line to prevent an extra-base hit, the game would have been over. Oh, the beautiful "game of inches." Next batter, Troy Glaus - who hit like a million home runs in Jerry Uht Park 10 years ago when playing with the Angels in an exhibition tour- lines one deep to left that looks like it will score the pinch runner for Konerko, but, lo and behold, bounces over the wall for a ground-rule double.

Now, you've got second and third, two out, top of the ninth, Hall of Fame closer on the hill, and Michael Young, this unimpressive looking Texas shortstop coming to the plate. But, one caveat, Young can hit. And that's the great thing about baseball. Appearences can be deceiving. Fat guys, skinny guys, tall guys, even guys with one hand have succeeded in professional baseball. It really is a pastime for every man. Buck built up the scene, but descriping Young as "the reigning Americal League batting champ." And the champ delivered. Strong shot to the gap that ended up as a triple and scored both runners.

Then, in came Mariano Rivera. If Hoffman is a sure Hall of Famer, Rivera, well, he's beyond that. He's simply the greatest closer in the world. He actually got four outs in the bottom of the ninth, as Konerko's pinch runner came in to play third and made an error. No matter. Rivera closed it out on a popup to Young. Yeah, it was an exhibition game, but for some reason the save, at least to me, seemed just as important as any of Rivera's 30-some postseason saves.

A final note: I'd like to tip my hat to the great Ozzie Guillen who guided, somehow, the American League time to victory after they were on the cusp of defeat. Like any great coach, manager, Guillen never panicked. I must admit, I had my doubts. I remember looking at him in the dugout in the ninth inning thinking, boy, you suck- you got one run out of these great American Leauge hitters. This is a team that Travis Haffner, the great Indians slugger who's in the top 5 in several major offensive categories, couldn't even make. And you got one run. Well, like many, I underestimated the wisdom of Ozzie. His team pulled through - again, and as usual he came out smelling like a rose. He even had enough class to sit down his own White Sox closer once the A.L. looked like it might take the lead, and go to the great Rivera. Ozzie, everyone says your crazy, but the old addage, "crazy like a fox" always comes to mind when I wathch you manage.

Well, that's it. Hope some of you got to see the game. It was a good one.


Stan Langerhaus said...

I too was a little disappointed with the WC, but some refs were better than others at keeping the game flowing. I think that the problem with the beautiful game is the same problem that has taken over all sports since the late 80's (when Mattingly became the first $1M salary earner). That problem is the free-agency mentality and the death of the "team."

Maybe it is just me and I am getting older, but something in general has happened to sports and it is incredibly boring to watch any of them on TV. I would much rather go to a high school event and watch that.

I have a hard time believing that you can wax poetic about the MLB. Anythng that was pure and beautiful in that sport was long ago shot, embalmed, wrapped in plastic and sold to franchisees. Sorry man, just don't get it.

Ralph said...

It's the game man. The heart of the game beats on, forcing it's way through the platic they have wrapped the once Grand Leagues (did you ever read Old Man in the Sea?) in. When it comes down to it, it's still a dozen guys playing a relatively simple and timeless game at a very high skill level - and they're playing for keeps. There's no screwing around when a 90-mile and hour fastball is buzzing in a foot from your head. You either hit it or you don't, no matter how well marketed you are. That's the beauty- often a kid making $100,000 a year will show up a multi-million dollar star. And the umps and dirty tactics haven't been able to take that away, like they did in the W.C. - short for Water Closet.