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Chicago History Museum

If sports are meant to be a reprieve from reality, an excuse not to talk about the infinite ills and endless hatred which plague society, then they have rarely been more important than in 2016. This calendar year has contained some of the worst displays of what mankind has ever had to offer, with more undoubtedly in store as we roll into 2017. Humanity has collectively pulled at threads, undoing the sweater before lighting it on fire. And yet – Leicester City staged the most improbable run at a championship in the history of the world’s biggest sport[1]. Villanova hit a last-second buzzer-beater in the national championship game. The Cleveland Cavaliers, well – you know.

A tricky roller along the third base line, fielded perfectly, followed by a dart to first base, all while Kris Bryant was sporting a grin as wide as the Chicago River. With that, a bitter impossibility became an undeniable reality. After all of that – “that,” of course, encompassing 108 years of the most intense and self-hating misery in North American professional sports – the Chicago Cubs are the World Series champions.

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Courtesy Keith Torrie/New York Daily News

Today is July 1, which means Bobby Bonilla gets a check cut for $1,193,248.20. Or just a direct deposit. Or maybe the New York Mets will just passive-aggressively Venmo him at 11:57 pm tonight with some subtle apology, as if they almost forgot. “Ah guys, you know what, I almost forgot that Bonilla thing was due today.” Either way, that’s a lot of guacamole for someone who’s been out of the league for fifteen years.

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It’s as curious a sight to behold as any in sport: a 5’11” rolling hill, officially listed at 265 lbs. but closer to 285 and probably more, steps to the plate in a Major League Baseball stadium, adjusts his batting helmet and looks toward his inevitably slimmer counterpart. Carrying his bat like the reluctant uncle drawn into a wiffle ball game at a family reunion, he assumes his stance, utilitarian if not necessarily poetic, and awaits the pitch.

Nominally but a starting pitcher for the New York Mets, Bartolo Colon is so much more: the lovable symbol of a generally likable franchise in an otherwise reviled sports city; a former Cy Young Award winner – and, yes, PED user – whose first appearance in a World Series had to wait until the age of 42; a hypothetical proxy for the man watching baseball on his couch after doing, or ignoring, yard work. What should seemingly hold him back, his ungraceful body, is precisely what carries him forth. And nothing in baseball has become quite so captivating as watching Colon at the bat.

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Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 2.27.11 PM     RotoChamp

On paper, this is what the 2016 New York Mets look like. They’re just numbers, sure, but in the era of sabermetrics, these are some damn good numbers.  These numbers represent the skills and know-how that, we hope, will bring us glory this fall. These are the players who carry the promise of greatness, the clubhouse that could win it all. All of our hopes and dreams, summed up in two innocuous spreadsheets – fourteen players, nine positions, 140 statistics.

Do you feel the tables mocking you? Those perfectly ordered, neatly typed grids? Those consistently high batting averages and promising ERAs?

Do you have nightmares about Daniel Murphy in a Nats jersey? Is Chase Utley’s arrogant smirk burned into your retinas? Do you shudder when you think about having to watch Royals players receive their rings – while our team stands just yards away?

No? Okay, maybe it’s just me.

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Credit: Dan Hamilton, USA TODAY Sports

Overreact

[oh-ver-ree-akt]

Verb;  The instinctual response of fans and writers to small changes in a sporting team’s fortunes, especially in regard to those of the New York Yankees.

The New York Yankees will not win the American League East.  This is not an overreaction to the events of the last week.  The team which currently sits five and a half games behind them should be favored, and Yankee fans should be worried about which member of their depleted rotation will start the AL wild card game when Toronto celebrates its first division crown since 1993.

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Courtesy of ESPN

Courtesy of ESPN

If the Major League Baseball All-Star Game had a place in American History curricula, 11-year-old me would be a figure taught alongside Boss Tweed. The democratic nature of electing the Midsummer Classic’s starting lineups was intoxicating to the dorky kid who watched coverage of the 2000 Florida recount every day after school. I was a conniving little bastard and when it came to finding ways to stuff the ballot box, I took my lessons less from old Joe and Jane Stadium Usher, who’d hand out ballots at the ballpark than I did from Chicago’s Daley clan.

No strategy was beneath me. Paying friends a few quarters to punch out the bags of ballots I’d bring home from a trip to Candlestick? Check. Fabricating email addresses to run up totals in the early days of online balloting? Yep. I was a foolhardy kid who thought that my dirty tactics made a difference in who’d trot out to represent their league each summer, and I took that shit seriously. It probably would’ve been good practice for a career in politics.

Over the years, the dynamics of voting in players for the ASG have changed. Over the years, online ballots have eclipsed voting at the ballpark as the preferred way to select the game’s starters. Teams now solicit fans to pull out their smartphones, click an app a few times, and presto, send the hometown nine’s best to the game. The speed of voting online has made it more effective than even the most mischievous fan could manage via the old-fashioned, Bush v. Gore-inducing, punch card manner.

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Let’s give the Boston Red Sox a round of applause for the team’s collective acting performance following Michael Pineda’s first pine tar incident. Give them all Oscars, Emmys or those little participation trophies your cousin gets for being in the school play. The entire team pretended like it was no big deal and goaded Pineda into pulling the same stunt again, making certain the second time that the New York pitcher was promptly removed from the game. Genius. Evil, but genius.

That was my assessment of the situation, as I watched the home plate umpire wipe pine tar from Pineda’s neck like a mother trying to clean a newborn child that has yet to master the art of inserting a spoon into its mouth. I’m a devout Yankees fan, but game had to recognize game, and Boston seemed to have turned its mind game up a notch when they convinced Pineda it was safe to lather his pitches with pine and let ‘em rip. But that’s not how the larger baseball community saw it.

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