Now that we're counting down the days to the most exciting event of the sports year, the moment when pitchers and catchers report to spring training and engage in the tradition-soaked ritual of fighting for the first available tee time, it has become evident that Major League Baseball, the parent company, is lacking something.
|How can anyone look at Cal Ripken and not smile?|
And, not to put too fine a point on it, this is what it is: A good cop.
Think about it. Baseball's executive levels are utterly awash in guys seemingly playing the role of bad cops. There are a vareity of people who seem to excel at delivering hideous news at the worst possible times and in the most prominent places, designed to create the maximum chaos and unhappiness.
They did it again just the other day. Meeting with editors and writers at USA Today, Sandy Alderson and Larry Lucchino made it clear that MLB could wait as late as Opening Day before making a final decision to forego contraction for 2002.
Added Alderson, "Once you start the season it would be a little tough (to eliminate teams), but realistically I'm not sure how much time is necessary." He went on to say that, if not in '02, then the shrinkage will occur in 2003 at the latest.
In other words, we could fold it today, tomorrow, a month in, whenever. This must come as thrilling news to the fan in Montreal and the several hundred thousand fans in the Twin Cities who might otherwise have watched their teams in spring training with the thought that they would actually begin the 2002 season by playing games.
On a certain level, though, that isn't even the point. The point is this: What chance does anyone in the world have against a man, Alderson, whose title is "MLB Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations"? It's like saying, "Job description: Human cannonball."
Lucchino, meanwhile, is the "ownership representative" until he commences to running the all-new Boston Red Sox. To many, Bud Selig already has locked down the position of Chief Contractor and Resident Sourpuss.
And you ask yourself: Where are the smiley-face guys?
Where? Why, right here. All you need is a couple of references and a few quick O'Leary background checks, and we'll have folks grinning about baseball again in no time.
Meet your new front-office lineup.
Cal Ripken Jr., Traveling Ambassador. After months of dedicated sitting around the house, returns to sport by showing up at every major-league ballpark on rotating basis. Causes fans old and young alike to swoon by offering to sign autographs for free.
James Earl Jones, Speechification Specialist. Makes reading of last week's nursery-school co-op board-meeting minutes sound like the most epic adventure ever endeavored.
Tony Gwynn, MLB Public Relations. (Telecommute position.) Answers every phone call from every sportswriter in nation, defusing potentially sticky news-story situations by recalling time he batted .370 for last-place Padres team with such passion and good humor that journalists eventually forget why they called.
Bobby Savoy, Batboy. Job qualifications: Lathed and produced own stick under direction of Roy Hobbs. Irrepressible grin. Ability to make baseball cap appear to be levitating above head. Belief in essential goodness of man. Helped win pennant for Knights by selecting Savoy Special for slugger at crucial juncture of game.
Jimmy Kimmel, Skitmaster. Keeps otherwise dour owners meetings loose and upbeat with witty repartee featuring uproarious Peter Angelos imitation ("You're fired! You're fired! You're ALL fired!"). Performs famous one-man show, "Max Patkin: Tribute," at ballparks around league. Optional feature: Girls on trampolines.
Mark McGwire, Presenter. On hand to commemorate all major baseball-related milestones, including but not limited to 3,000 hits, 400 home runs, 300 victories (OK, 200), one-million attendance at Olympic Stadium. Entertains starstruck young fans by permitting them to attempt to scale his arms and neck.
Denzel Washington, Designated Manager. Sent to pump up struggling teams and bring hope to their fans with moving speech about Gettysburg, teamwork and remembrance of Titans. Able to reduce ego-driven, self-involved foof players to pitiable rubble without coach's whistle once falling out of mouth.
Vin Scully, Broadcaster. Secretly piped into game coverage on roughly 25 other MLB radio local affiliates in order to inspire listeners and remind them when game was fun, talking about it was fun and actually watching it was fun. Farmer John spots replaced with local-market references ("Piggly Wiggly," "IC Lite," "Gold Club," etc.) where necessary.
Kirby Puckett, Master of Ceremonies. Delivers first pitch of season, first pitch of All-Star Game, first pitch of World Series, first pitch at my son's Little League opener, if at all possible. Because, just every once in a while, it doesn't stink to remember what pure joy looks like.
Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.