At spring training, anger from past crushes hope for future

© Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The weather is fine enough, the low 80s. Perfect for spring training, perfect for baseball. But what a terrible time, and that’s beyond the jolting reality that Don & Charlie’s, great ribs, great history — Babe Ruth’s autograph among the dozens — has closed.

Don Carsen sold the property, which seems perfect. The sport, once America’s pastime, has sold out, given up on integrity, which of course is at the essence of every game played, for fun or money.

If they’re not on square, not fair, then why play them at all? Why keep score?

Why have the World Series and Super Bowls and Halls of Fame?

Skeptical fans watch, say, the NBA finals go a full seven games and inevitably someone grumbles, “They were fixed.”

Well, in effect, the 2017 World Series was.

It wasn't the umps calling guys out who were fixed to the bag. It was more subtle, one team sending its batters the supposedly hidden signs flashed by the catcher to the pitcher.

As we’ve heard since Mike Fiers of the Athletics made the disclosure about the Astros — the champion Astros — from the 2017 World Series, when he pitched for the champion, and cheating Astros.

So this spring training, instead of being full of possibilities, full of optimism — even for the Giants, certainly for the A’s — has become a period bitterness.

No one seems interested in what might take place during the long season, one of the purposes of spring training, but about what did take place in a former postseason.

Not that they, or we, should be blamed.

Pitchers have threatened to throw at the Astros, baseball’s unwritten code of gaining equality. Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees insisted if he was aware what was coming from the guy on the mound in 2017 he would have hit 80 home runs. An exaggeration, but his fervor is understood.

And the only reason over the last few days that the Astros have expressed remorse, weak as it might have been, said Stanton, is they got caught.

Well, yes. It's not as though they’re going to stand up in the court of public opinion and, without cause, admit, “Oh, by the way, that 2017 World Series should be declared null and void.”

Rob Manfred, who appears as uncomfortable as imaginable as commissioner, is dodging and dancing while attempting not to make things right. C’mon guys, no beanballs just because the ‘Stros cost you the trophy and millions.

A few miles west at Camelback Ranch, where the Dodgers train, the disgust is particularly high. No cheating, no notice of what would be coming the Astros' direction. Maybe the Dodgers would have beaten Houston in that ’17 Series.

Maybe, because the bat still has to be swung, whatever the pitch.

This spring training has been more about hate than hope, about retaliation, about disapproval of baseball, a sport that we’re told is ever shrinking in popularity.

Spring training, someone wrote in our age of innocence, was the most enjoyable mass dream America ever had. It was Disney World with fungoes. Spring, when a game is reborn. When we no longer have to wait ‘til next year.

A fine thought, but not in this context. Baseball is obsessed — properly so — with the past, not the future. So Manfred fined Astros execs? That was not enough for Justin Turner, the Dodgers infielder.

“Now anyone who goes forward and cheats to win a World Series,” said Turner, “ they can live with themselves knowing that, ‘Oh, it’s OK ... We’ll cheat in the World Series and bring the title back to L.A. Screw [Dodgers manager] Dave Roberts and screw [general manager] Andrew [Friedman], it’s just those guys losing their jobs. I still get to be called a champion the rest of my life.’ So the precedent was set by [Manfred] in this case.”

The man from across town, the Angels' Mike Trout, judged the best currently in the game, was no less pleased, even if less directly affected.

“It’s sad for baseball,” Trout said. “It’s tough. They cheated. I don’t agree with the punishments, the players not getting anything. It was a player-driven thing. It sucks, too, because guys’ careers have been affected. A lot of people lost jobs. It was tough. Me going up to the plate knowing what was coming? It would be fun up there. A lot of guys lost respect for some of the guys.”

Back awhile, Pete Hammill, the columnist and author, now in his 80s, said “I’m from a generation that forgives baseball everything.”

This spring training of 2020, there is little to forgive and much to regret.

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