SPORTS

  /  

April 2, 2002

Bad Opening Day Omens Bode Ill

It was still snowing outside when I started watching the White Sox start their season in Seattle, and it did not let up until the seventh inning or so. Needless to say, that kind of behavior is objectionable, but I thought the world of sports was serving my interests fairly effectively all the same. Mark Buerlhe was pitching a pretty tight game, letting up only two hits and a walk, and the White Sox looked like they were starting to get their bats going. On top of that, it is worth mentioning that I had just come back from watching Bobby Knight walk down the stairs from the South Lounge of the Reynolds Club into Hutch Commons to sign his book, which must count for something on the list of brushes with celebrities.

Based on the snow, and based on the fact that during the second inning WGN-TV brought in a leather-faced Bud Selig to talk about baseball's labor disputes, I should have guessed that the ill omens would start rolling in. Selig looked diminutive and conniving, somewhat the way I imagine Martin Landau must appear when he wakes up with a hangover. And his platitudes bothered me a lot; I feel sure that if anything goes wrong in baseball from this point forward, Bud Selig should be blamed. But enough scapegoating for the moment, since I have yet to even explain what I am blaming the Commissioner for.

My first piece of bad news is that the Blue Jays took down the Red Sox this afternoon, 12-11. Pedro Martinez pitched terribly, allowing eight runs in three innings, and looking, I hear through the grapevine, a bit chubbier than usual. Unnamed sources reported that Pedro spent the off-season working on a second chin, which does not improve his curveball. As if Boston's savior was not important enough as a failing, the BoSox did not lose the game until the top of the ninth, when the Jays participated in some kind of chicanery of a sort that this column does not in any way condone. People elsewhere have been saying that the Red Sox-Blue Jays season opener was an instant classic. Maybe so, but I preferred the outset of last season, when Hideo Nomo debuted with a no-hitter against the Orioles. Let me also add that the Toronto pitching staff walked Bostonian slugger Manny Ramirez four times, because like a bunch of sissies they were afraid to let him hit. I don't like it, not at all.

My second piece of bad news is that the Cubs blew a good one in Cincinnati when Aaron Boone hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth to drive home the game's winning run. Sammy Sosa had only one hit in four trips to the plate, and left two men on base. This may well be because his hired help, Chicago's biggest offseason acquisition Moises Alou, did not play owing to a strained left hamstring. Injuries to aging stars are very often bad signs, and since I plan to return to Wrigley Field this spring I would very much like a good reason to go there. Moises: you are not helping. Please get better. Also disappointing was up-and-comer Jon Lieber's bad start: five innings, allowing three runs and eight hits. By no means does this compare with the gargantuan disappointment the baseball world has experienced because of Pedro Doublechin's misfortune, but bad pitching is bad pitching and I don't think the city of Chicago has been encouraged by Lieber's efforts. Kerry Wood and Jason Bere will be feeling some added pressure in light of these events. My preseason prediction, nearly printed on these very pages, that Sammy Sosa will hit a home run during every game, has also been negated.

Some evidence does exist that God has not left baseball fans completely in the lurch, at least not yet. Roger Clemens lasted only four and a third innings while surrendering eight runs to the lowly Orioles; perhaps the contract he signed with Satan has expired. In addition, the San Diego Padres failed to score any runs, so there must be some order in the universe. Who plays in San Diego again?

Taking in the appropriate grains of salt for these two acts of good (the Orioles' vanquishing of Clemens and the Padres' expected ineptitude), the opening day results have certainly proven subpar. But what makes baseball worthwhile is the long season, so that many words of consolation are effective. Frank Thomas looks healthy, and the White Sox started the season off on the right foot, as soon as Bud Selig left the broadcasting booth. Come to think of it, Selig's departure may have coincided with the moment at which the snow stopped completely.