God Bless America, the World Series is on! It’s been a year since we learned that Juan Soto became the first player to make an error on his birthday in the World Series since Atlanta shortstop Rafael Belliard in 1995. And this is not the sort of baseball statistic that is likely ever to gain an asterisk: the next time it happens, it will be every bit as newsworthy.
Statistics gain asterisks when it is felt some sort of exception should be noted in order to keep the players’ egos in check. For instance, Modern Player A might technically have surpassed Beloved Yesteryear Player B in home runs scored in a season, but will gain an asterisk if he got to play more games than B or if it was determined that he got more yolk in his egg as an embryo.
At any rate, 2020 is, as you may have observed elsewhere, not a normal year. And so it’s generally agreed that virtually any notable achievement that occurs this year should have the hell asterisked out of it. Just lean on that key, scribes. Because, in deference to our plague, we’re getting only sixty games out of the teams this season instead of the standard 162. They were thinking of not playing any at all, but by mid-summer they realized the steroid use alone would probably have a prophylactic effect, and it was over-delicate to worry too much about players that hawk loogies and twiddle their nuts all day long anyway. Something else was going to get them. And so a cardboard audience was propped up in the stands in July and the season got underway. For the World Series itself, a smattering of living fans was invited to load up their face masks with Cracker Jax like blinkered donkeys and bray their hearts out.
The sixty-game season is not, however, unprecedented.
It last happened in 1878. Although, really, that was before baseball began. It was Protobaseball. It was a baseball homunculus to the strapping lad with the tight buns baseball became a few years later. Pitcher Tommy Bond won forty games out of that sixty, a spectacular achievement by any measure, but he* had* some* advantages.* The pitching mound was only three-quarters the current distance from home plate. And he threw underhand, even though he was not technically considered a lesbian at the time. Overhand pitching wasn’t allowed until 1884, and that’s been the convention ever since, although it’s not against the rules to pitch underhand even to this day. In fact, someone pitched a perfect game underhand in 1922, but no one has attempted it since, because of the lesbian thing.
Tommy Bonds was on the Boston Red Caps team. The current Boston team was founded in 1901 and named Red Sox in 1908. Previously they had been the Boston Red Stockings but it was deemed prudent to shorten it so it could fit in a standard newspaper headline, an innovation that had already doomed the original Boston Red Fishnet And Garters. Similar adjustments had to be made for the New York Knickerbockers, the Bloomington Bloomers, and the Scranton Panty Shields.
At any rate baseball has remained pretty much the same since it was perfected early in the last century. Nobody really knows where it came from. Some Brit weighed in that it evolved from the game “Rounders,” which is similar in some respects, but after you run from first to second to third, you have to make it to fourth base, which is nowhere near home. It’s like out near the concession stand. There was enough contention over the provenance of baseball that a commission was appointed to determine who invented the sport; finally in 1903 it concluded it was developed by Union General Abner Doubleday, who fired the first shot in Fort Sumter and famously fought at Gettysburg, but died unaware of having invented baseball, in spite of the fact that a Colorado mining engineer shwore he was there when it happened.
The point is, though, it was not British. That’s the main thing. It’s the best dang game in the whole whole world, and we all hope it’s back to normal for the 2021 season, when we’ll be welcoming the post-COVID expansion clubs the Austin Asterisks and the Fort Worth Phlegm. Play Ball!