Due to Writer’s Block Today’s Column has been Cancelled

Dating back to the first article I wrote for my middle school newspaper, I have spent the better part of three decades as a journalist.

During that time, I have spent many hours inside bustling newsrooms pounding out columns and other articles at deadline. I even lived every print journalist’s dream and got to yell, “stop the presses” once when I was working as a sports editor at a daily newspaper.

Okay, it was more like, “Hey, Bob we need to redo the front page, so can you stand down for a bit?”

But in my mind, I ran in there like Michael Keaton in The Paper with Glenn Close chasing behind me trying to stop me from bringing those mighty offset presses to a halt by pressing the kill switch like a crazed Guttenberg.

For the record, that would be like a crazed Johannes Gutenberg, and not like a Police Academy alum Steve Guttenberg.

There is an electricity in newsrooms that is hard to duplicate. So it is that lack of electrical energy that I will blame for my malaise when it came to deciding what I wanted to write about today.

I certainly tried to think of something clever to write. Instead, I spent most of the day staring at a blank computer screen when I wasn’t making homemade tacos, or blueberry pancakes, while watching documentaries and flipping between baseball and hockey games.

So, it is with my sincere apologies that I must announce that today’s column has been canceled due to a lack of subject to write about.

Sure, I could write about the fact that COVID-19 cases continuing to soar out of control like a bus being driven by Sandra Bullock on a deserted California interstate.

I certainly tried to think of something clever to write. Instead, I spent most of the day staring at a blank computer screen when I wasn’t making homemade tacos, or blueberry pancakes, while watching documentaries and flipping between baseball and hockey games.
Photo R. Anderson

If I were to write about that, I would be sure to point out that at the time of this writing over 162,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 as the virus continues to speed along killing about 1,000 people a day without showing any real sign of stopping.

I would also be sure to point out that more and more students and teachers are raising concerns about the patchwork of rules being implemented for returning kids to school.

Many schools seem to be treating back to school like some sort of demented science fair project where the students left standing get ribbons, and the rest of the students and staff risk long-term health effects that could dog them for the rest of their lives.

But hey, just open it all up and hope that fortune favors those who fail to follow the science. Spoilers, it doesn’t.

I could write about that, but it would be too easy to say that cases of COVID-19 are rising because of a lack of a central plan to combat the virus, and that nationwide testing needs to be increased in order to fully get a grasp on the virus before trying to reintroduce people to large indoor spaces like schools and whatnot.

Were I writing about concerns pertaining to back to school, I would also be sure to point out that despite what you may have heard, kids can catch and spread COVID-19 as well as adults.

If I was so inclined, I could even write about how instead of tackling real issues about how to encourage people to take the virus seriously, the President of the United States is holding press conferences where members of the public are not abiding by the few guidelines his administration has actually given out regarding COVID-19. You know that whole wear a mask, stay six feet apart, and avoid large indoor gatherings thing to stop the spread.

No, that would be too easy to write about.

Oh, I suppose I could even write about the expected 250,000 people heading to South Dakota this weekend for the largest gathering that has taken place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But if I were to write about it, no doubt I would point out that it will be interesting to see whether cases spike across the country as a result of the large gathering that 60 percent of the locals in the community asked be cancelled out of concerns for their health.

It seems like every day we plunge further down the rabbit hole. Meanwhile, our elected officials stick their heads in the sand like ostriches clicking their heels together and trying to just wish the virus away.

I could even write about how much enjoyment watching three bubble hockey games a day is giving me. But that would be unfair to Major League Baseball (MLB) to point out that bubbles work and trying to play ball outside a bubble leads to COVID-19 outbreaks.

You know, like the current outbreak that has caused a weekend series against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs to be cancelled.

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot MLB refuses to use the word cancelled. Let me try again, a series against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Chicago Cubs that was postponed to some future date.

While I am in no way going to write about the Cardinals, if I were to write about their situation, I would likely point out that with the latest series “postponement,” the Cardinals will have gone at least 12 days without playing a game.

While I am in no way going to write about the Cardinals, if I were to write about their situation, I would likely point out that with the latest series “postponement,” the Cardinals will have gone at least 12 days without playing a game.
Photo R. Anderson

Thanks to two COVID-19 flareups, with nine players and seven staff members testing positive for the virus, the Cardinals have only played five games this season.

Assuming they are given the all clear to resume play on Monday, they will face the task of needing to play 55 games in 49 days just to complete their 2020 season.

To be totally clear, I won’t write about the uphill climb faced by the Cardinals. But if I did, I would once again have to point out the total lunacy of MLB’s tunnel vision of playing a 2020 season despite the risks, and despite having multiple teams unable to compete. If MLB is not careful, sudden death will take on a whole new meaning this season.

I could even write about the foolish push to try to play football in the fall were I so inclined. Were I to tackle that issue, pun intended, I would be sure to note that if we were able to get the infection rate down to a manageable level than perhaps playing football would be a nice reward for a functional society.

But, plateauing at 1,000 people dying a day does not really sound like something to celebrate by tossing the old pigskin around.

Some college football conferences as well as some individual teams have agreed that playing football in the middle of a global pandemic is not smart. As a result, they cancelled their 2020 seasons. Time will tell if others follow suit.

So, with nothing to write about today, I guess I will just have to go back to trying new recipes for poutine as I continue to watch the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to ponder what I will write about Monday.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Looking Back at Some Historic Long Balls Tainted by the Lens of Revisionism and Hindsight

The other day I watched the 30 for 30 documentary Long Gone Summer on ESPN. The film chronicles the 1998 battle between Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs as they battled to break the Major League Baseball (MLB) single season home run record set by Roger Maris of the New York Yankees in 1961.

I always enjoy the 30 for 30 series, and this entry was no exception. As I watched the documentary, I was taken back to the excitement of the battle between McGwire and Sosa during the summer of 1998. I was also reminded of the minor role I played three years later when Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants tied the record of 70 home runs that McGwire set in 1998.

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park). Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70.
Photo R. Anderson

On October 4, 2001, I saw my first baseball game at Enron Field (now modern-day Minute Maid Park) when the Houston Astros hosted the San Francisco Giants.

The game had originally been scheduled for September, but was moved to October after a week of games was cancelled following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Aside from being my first visit to what was then a National League Ballpark, October 4, 2001 was also the day that Barry Bonds tied Mark McGwire’s home run record at 70. Bonds hit the record tying homer in the ninth inning off of Houston Astros rookie left-hander Wilfredo Rodriguez.

The home run came after Bonds was walked eight times, and hit by a pitch once in 14 prior plate appearances in the series against the Astros. After Bonds was intentionally walked, the over 40,000 fans in attendance booed Astros manager Larry Dierker. It is not every day that the home team manager is booed for walking an opponent.

Perhaps not wanting to be booed again, Dierker allowed Rodriquez to pitch to Bonds the next time he came to the plate. When the ball left Bonds’ bat, the stands erupted in cheers as that record tying homer sailed over the wall. Of course, it is not often that a home run hit by the opposing team gets such a response, but this was history in the making. Or at least it was history tying in the making.

Bonds made two curtain calls following the home run, and the world of baseball was truly united on that one evening a little under a month since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 shook the nation to its core.

The same thing happened when Sosa and McGwire were battling for the record in 1998. Fans of baseball put aside their team partisanship and rooted for Sosa and McGwire as individuals for the greater good of the game. This fact is even more amazing when one considers how bitter the fan bases of the Cubs and Cardinals can be to each other.

It would be nearly 10 years to the day before I saw the Giants play the Astros again after my first trip to the Ballpark. The return game occurred three years after Barry Bonds last played, and lacked the record setting buzz, and the crowds of my first trip to the Ballpark.
Photo R. Anderson

Fast forward to that 2001 October night in Houston, and fans were once again cheering for a player from a hated rival.

Bonds very well may have broken that record as well during the same game that he tied it were it not for Dierker deciding to give Bonds an intentional walk in a game that the Astros had very little chance of winning.

I recall writing at the time that the history denying intentional walk was not in the spirit of competition. Instead, by walking Bonds, Dierker was manipulating records by not allowing the at bat to proceed organically without the interference of a manager refusing to let his pitcher throw to the batter.

At the end of the 2001 season, Larry Dierker was no longer managing the Astros after another early playoff exit. I have often wondered whether his actions of committing a sin against the baseball records played a part in the decision of the team to go in a different direction.

If memory serves, at the time, Dierker called it shameful that the Astros fans had dared to cheer for Bonds the way they did. I guess he just did not understand the gravity of the moment. Or, perhaps he did, and wasn’t swayed by it.

As an aside, it should be noted that Rodriquez, the other key Astros player that night, had only appeared in two games prior to giving up the home run, and he never pitched in an MLB game again after Bonds tied the record against him.

Before going any further, it is important to acknowledge the elephant in the room. In the years since 1998 and 2001, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds have each, to varying degrees, had their career accomplishments overshadowed by whispers of how much of a role performance enhancing drugs (PED) played in their record setting achievements.

Each of the three men are currently on the outside looking in of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, along with many other players from that era who have been tied to suspicion of PED use.

As I have noted many times before, players tied to the PED era should be allowed in the Hall of Fame. I am in the minority opinion in that issue, but I have not wavered in my resolve. The Baseball writers who elect the members of the Hall of Fame have a duty to enshrine the best players from an era. Unfortunately, some writers feel that they can act as the morality police and ban players in order to make a political statement.

This approach can ring shallow since it is entirely possible that players already in the Hall did far worse things on and off of the field than the players being punished for PED use. That is not to say that I condone PED use. I do not. Players from that era should be enshrined with an asterisk by their numbers stating that it was during the era of PED. That way, fans can decide for themselves how much that impacted a player’s ability on the field.

Time will tell whether the tide turns to allow players from the steroid era of baseball to be enshrined in Cooperstown, or if they will fall victim to voters who feel that the inclusion of tainted players would hurt more than a steroid injection in the butt.

Barry Bonds went on to break Hank Aaron’s career home run mark. Steroids or not, when one does that a collectible is made in their honor.
Photo R. Anderson

Personally, I would much rather see a player in the Hall, who may or may not have used PEDs, than a player who was tipped off on every pitch by a tell-tale trash can. Talk about a performance enhancer.

In addition to breaking the single season home run record with 72, Bonds also broke the career home run record with 756. Both records have detractors who question their validity. However, both records will stand until another player breaks them.

While I did not get to see history made, getting to see history tied while visiting only my second Major League Ballpark at the time was a pretty cool way to spend an October night.

With the hindsight of the nearly 20 years since that October 2001 night, I have often wondered whether the experience is tainted at all by the accusations against Bond that followed. Given the chance to be there again for that night, I would do it all over again and would probably have cheered even louder.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this trip down memory lane has me craving some nachos.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson