Four long months. That’s how long we baseball aficionados had to wait for the Major League season to start this year. And now that it’s finally upon us, I have to admit, I wasn’t initially all that thrilled. Don’t get me wrong. It’s great that the grand ol’ game is back, and I know the delay was due only to Covid-19, but, quite frankly, I thought perhaps there might be a chance some luster would be missing, some excitement, if you will, along with a little bit of magic and awe.

The 60-game season being played this year is welcome, believe me. But it’s normally 162 games. So, basically, every game won or lost by one’s favorite team is really like winning or losing three games in a regular year. The ability to win on a consistent basis over the entirety of April through September has always served to separate the flash-in-the-pans from the steady-as-she-goes champions. However, the virus has rendered abnormal the new normal.

Well, within the first week, the Dodgers and Astros (or the Cheating Astros, as they’re known to many in the baseball universe – except to fans in Houston) have found a way to pump some much-needed verve into the return of the game. The Dodgers’ solution was to have pitchers throw fastballs at Astro hitters straddling the plate.

Now, even those uninitiated in the rules and regulations of the national pastime are no doubt aware that it’s not kosher to allow any player to intentionally heave a ball 100 mph directly at the body of another player. At that velocity, it takes roughly half a second for the ball to travel from pitching mound to plate – hardly enough time for a hitter to react and get out of the way.

But throwing at Astros’ hitters is exactly what Dodger pitchers did. Why? See the reference to the Cheating Astros above. That descriptor comes from previous seasons when it has been determined that the Houston players were “tipping” pitches. The short story is someone associated with the team was sitting beyond the centerfield fence and able to relay to the dugout what pitch was going to be thrown by reading the catcher’s signals to the pitcher. A player or coach in the Astros’ dugout would then bang a bat on the side of the dugout. One bang, for example, meant fastball. Two meant a curveball was coming. The Astros player at bat heard that signal. And when a major league hitter knows what pitch is coming, it dramatically increases his odds of getting a base hit.

Such activity is frowned upon. So much so that when it was discovered what Houston had been doing at the end of the 2019 season, several members of the Astros’ organization lost their jobs.

So, why are the Dodgers retaliating now? Because in 2017, Los Angeles played Houston in the World Series. And the Astros won in seven games. Many in the Dodger organization felt strongly that Houston had been using their pitch-relay system back then. The Dodgers believe the Astros’ title should have been vacated, meaning LA would be crowned champions for that year. It didn’t happen. And now there’s bad blood.

In a normal year, with fans in the stands, Houston was going to be roundly booed no matter where they went. But with the season delayed and no one allowed in the grandstand seats, the Astros no doubt thought they probably dodged a bullet.

Just for the record, I certainly don’t condone what the Dodgers pitchers did. But as a friend of mine said, by one act they injected more excitement into the return of baseball than the Commissioner and all his minions could ever have done. Ratings may well soar. And think of how much marital tension might be reduced now that couples don’t have to repeatedly say every night, “Well, what rerun do you want to watch tonight, dear?”

To create the excitement of a live crowd, MLB is piping canned fan noise into our living rooms even though it’s clearly obvious the only “people” in the stadium seats are cardboard cutouts of folks who have paid for the right to have their faces stuck on sticks and perched behind home plate.

The TV announcers aren’t even on site. So far, at least, the play-by-play and color commentators are often sitting at home watching the game right along with the rest of us and describing to us what’s going on. Even that, though, isn’t necessary when the Dodgers play the Astros. We can all provide our own commentary about a brouhaha. There’s nothing like a good brawl to make you temporarily forget about the Covid.


©MMXX. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer