Montreal has its long deserved World Series title . . . And okay, so this isn’t what happened on Wednesday night. It was the Washington Nationals who actually won the World Series, but Imma stick with celebrating it under the Expos banner. Because this is the 25th anniversary of the baseball strike of ’94, which led to the cancellation of the World Series. It also canceled out a Montreal Expos team that possessed the best record in the game (74-40) when the lights went dark.
The Nationals season could be titled “The Comeback”. They dug themselves out of a 19-31 start to make it to October. After which they came from behind in the eighth inning of their winner take all playoff game against the Brewers to advance. They weren’t supposed to beat the heavily favored Dodgers in the NLDS, until they came from behind and did just that. And then lost three straight games in Washington after taking the first two in Houston to start the World Series, and so everybody figured this was the end of the Nationals magical ride. Because no team had ever won four road games in a postseason series. In any sport.
When the Astros went up 2-0 in the 7th inning on Wednesday night, it started to feel as if all the crazy chances the Nats had rode in on were about to turn into pumpkins. And then Anthony Rendon turned on a Zack Greinke sinker that didn’t sink, and then the Nationals were coming back again. All the way back. Again. Twenty five years worth of comeback, painted in red, white and sacre bleu.
On the flip side of all that nostalgic feel good, there’s the MLB. Coming off an historic World Series in which the visiting team won every game, you’d think the league would be riding a wave. But you’d be thinking wrong, on account of the fact that most peeps who might have watched, didn’t, since every game lasted longer than a Ted Cruz filibuster. I mean, how in blessed hell do they expect to grow the game when future fans are fast asleep before the final outs are recorded?
Would it kill Rob Manfred to start World Series games at 7 pm on the East Coast, thereby giving kids a chance to stay up and watch? And would it be such a bad thing if they streamlined the bucco pitching change process instead of making each one a five minute commercial break? And how’s about getting rid of instant replay, which is anything but instant and kills the flow of a game? And don’t even get me started on the juiced balls the league went to during the regular season in an inane attempt to make each game read like an NFL score. The bosses seem intent on ruining the qualities that make it unique from any other game. Why?
The Houston Astros have done just about everything right over the last five seasons, following a painful rebuild in the first half of the decade that saw them lose over a hundred games three years in a row. From the ashes of that rebuild came what looked to be baseball’s next dynasty. And it got cooking in 2017 when the Astros won 101 regular season games and then beat three of the best teams in baseball in the postseason (Boston, New York, Los Angeles) to capture their first World Series title. Over the last two seasons, Houston has arguably had the best team in baseball- best lineup, best rotation, best manager- and they just won 107 regular season games to make it three seasons in a row in which they’ve topped the century mark. And yet, that dynasty hasn’t quite happened the way most of us figured it would. Maybe it still happens, as the Astros are early Vegas favorites to win it all next season. But it just goes to show how hard it is to win, in any sport. And maybe Houston never gets its dynasty, but I wanted to take a moment to recognize the damn good baseball they’ve given the sport.
Once upon a time Josh Hamilton was a feel good story. A blue chip prospect, he was selected first overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 1999 MLB draft. His life was full of brilliant possibilities when a car accident in 2001 changed everything. It led to Hamilton’s addiction to drugs and alcohol and a spiraling journey that saw three teams cut bait with him before his recovery. In 2008, he landed with the Texas Rangers and it seemed as if all those brilliant possibilities had finally shown up. Hamilton made five straight All Star games, won a HR Derby and an American League MVP. He scored a $125 million contract with the Angels in 2012. But things never reached that zenith again as Hamilton battled injuries and then a relapse. For all intents and purposes, his baseball career came to an end in 2017.
Hamilton was arrested Wednesday on charges of injury to a child- a third degree felony- after being accused of physically assaulting his 14 year old daughter. And now all those brilliant possibilities he once carried with him feel like they happened a million years ago. And how tenuous a thing it is, to have it all.
And finally, Imma take the way back machine to get to my hero of this particular edition. Way back to 1972 and a baseball player named Roberto Clemente. Born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, he received plenty of push back in his climb to the major leagues on account of the fact he was a black man from Latin America who did not speak English. This was a triple edged sword that he overcame by sticking to the lessons of his upbringing.
It served him well, to the tune of a Hall of Fame career in which he was both a National League MVP and World Series MVP. He amassed 3,000 hits, was a four time N.L. batting leader, a twelve time Gold Glover and a fifteen time All Star. But it was his influence off the field that has resonated.
Clemente became the Latino equivalent of Jackie Robinson, as he was one of the first Puerto Rican born players to reach the majors in 1955. Today, almost thirty percent of the league is comprised of Latin born players.
His work off the field is what lands him in this spot, however. Because Roberto Clemente never forgot where he came from, and he understood his responsibility to those in need. His legendary efforts on the field exist on equal footing with his immense contributions off of it. He spent his off seasons doing charity work, bringing aid and hope to those in need. As a result of his example, the Commissioner’s Award- given to the player who ” . . best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team . .” was renamed after Clemente in 1973.
It was a posthumous undertaking, as Clemente was taken from the world he had given so much to on New Year’s Eve of 1972. He was accompanying a relief mission on a plane he had chartered to Managua, Nicaragua after the capital city had suffered a devastating earthquake the week before. It crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico immediately after takeoff. So distraught was his best friend and teammate Manny Sanguillen, that he decided not to attend the memorial service. He dove into the waters where Clemente’s plane had been lost instead. His thoughts inside those desperate moments is every bit as relevant almost fifty years later.
We didn’t get nearly enough of him.