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November 30, 2023

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Whose national pastime is this, anyway?

By Jim Litke The Associated Press

The first clue is the color of the telephone that rings. It’s the red one, shoved deep between the bolster cushions of the sofa in the commissioner’s office. Reserved for congressional subpoenas and really, really bad news.

Bud Selig lopes to the far corner and lifts the handset. He is wincing.


“Mr. Commissioner? Buck Martinez calling from the World Baseball Classic. We’ve got a potential disaster brewing.”

“Buck, how are things at ESPN? You’re still employed there, right? You’re not calling about Barry Bonds I hope, because I’ll be honest: Last night I picked up that ‘Shadows of Shadows’ or whatever title those pesky reporters slapped on that book – and it put me right to sleep. I know people are screaming for an investigation, but there’s way too much to get through. I mean, I’m a student of history and all, but just before I drifted off, I actually thought I was reading a study of the East German Olympic labs or something.”

“Excuse me, sir. But I’m not calling from ESPN, or about anything Bonds-related. This is about Team USA at the World Baseball Classic. We’re in deep trouble.”

“Back up there for a moment, Buck. The world what?”

“That little tournament you and Don Fehr put together to sell more licensed ballcaps to the Taiwanese. Anyway, I’m not sure if you remember, but I’m managing the U.S. team and after we lost to Canada … “

“Whoa, Buck, slow down. For a second, I thought you said we lost to Canada.”

“We did, sir. That’s why I’m calling. We lost 8-6 because they had one guy, a spare part in the Red Sox organization, play like he was Johnny Damon. And then another guy, some kid from Class A, pitched like he’s Roger Clemens.”

“But don’t you have the real Johnny Damon? And Clemens and … and A-Rod and Jeter?”

“Yeah, well, fat lot of good that did us Wednesday, sir. We’re still a team that plays for what’s on the back of the jerseys, not the front. And let me tell you, a few of my guys had migraines trying to figure out how many runs Mexico had to beat Canada by Thursday night for us to stay alive. And now, to top it off, sir, we’ve still got to beat South Africa or get eliminated. So I just I figured you’d want a heads-up.”

“South Africa has a baseball team? Fascinating. I thought they only played cricket. What a world. But tell me this, Buck, are the Springboks, or whatever they call themselves, any good?”

“With all due respect, I thought that was your department, sir. We just figured we’d mow down whomever wound up in front of us.”

“Exactly. Whose national pastime is this, anyway?”

“Ours, sir. Or it used to be. But since we might not even make it out of the preliminary round, I thought you might want to give the spin doctors a head start on all that bad pub.”

The call-waiting feature on the red phone beeps.

“Buck, hold a minute. Somebody’s on the other line.”

Selig pushes the flash button, crosses his fingers and winces a second time.

“Congressman Davis?’

“No, Bud. Don Fehr.”

“Thanks goodness. We’re in hot water, Don. This World Baseball Classic is not going according to plan. We lost to Canada. Canada! And Wayne Gretzky didn’t suit up! His wife didn’t even lay down a bet! And we still lost!”

“That’s baseball, Bud. Stuff happens.”

“But couldn’t we put in a new rule that says every one of Canada’s runs is only worth about four-fifths of one of ours, kind of like the dollar? Any idea what the rand is going for?”

“Too late for that now. But what’s the big deal? So what if we get eliminated? My guys would love a couple of extra days off. Plus, wasn’t marketing the game to the rest of the world the whole idea?”

“Yeah, well some idea that turned out to be. We bought a big ad in one of the Italian sports dailies with Mike Piazza’s picture and the headline ‘Baseball Parla Italiano.’ You know how much ink the game story got? A few agate lines. In a 24-page newspaper.”

“Look on the bright side. If Venezuela wins it all, it will be the first time anyone there says something nice about the United States since Hugo Chavez took over. “

“Great. And if they demand to be invited back around World Series time? Technically, we just crowned them world champions. How do we massage that? Beside, if you think the Congress was mad about the steroids, just wait until we get called up to the Hill to explain how we misplaced the national pastime.”

The call-waiting feature beeps again.


Selig winces a third time.

“Bud, it’s congressman Davis.”


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at [email protected]

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