Things ain’t what they used to be, Chapters 53,559 through 53,561:
Some of you who have been around here a while might remember my writeup of the “Toby Schwartz game” from 2014, in which a Lafayette College baseball player won a tight game against North Carolina Central University with a walk-off home run.
This blog post included a paragraph or two of hand-wringing over the fact that I’d never heard of North Carolina Central — almost certainly because it’s a historically Black university. (It remains legitimately embarrassing that there are schools I know almost nothing about, just because I don’t know anyone who went there, they’ve never hosted a big-name national champion sports team, and they’re predominantly Black.)
Anyhow, North Carolina Central recently announced that it will discontinue baseball as a varsity sport at the end of the 2020-2021 school year.
Which sucks. I can’t fault the school, because realities are realities, but I never like to see a baseball program disappear.
(Well, I can fault the school for one thing — the use of the phrase “it was determined that” in its formal announcement. I used to work at a place where the phrases “it was determined that” or “it was decided that” were consciously used by certain people and departments as a way to squirm out of public accountability. In their hands, “it was determined that” was code for “you don’t need to know who made this decision. Move along.” I’ve never trusted the phrase since.)
# # # # #
Also on the baseball front: I’ve already ranted on Twitter and Instagram about Major League Baseball’s decision to abandon the names of their existing minor leagues for the 2021 season, but I’ll do it here too.
A refresher for those who haven’t heard: MLB has taken over control of the minor leagues in a way it never had before, and is making a variety of changes. One of them, announced last week, is the rearrangement of remaining minor-league teams into new groupings and divisions.
Names like the International League, Pacific Coast League, and Eastern League — names with a century-plus of history — have been chucked out like yesterday’s potato peelings, replaced by bland classifications like “Triple-A East, Northeast Division.” Speculation is that these bland names are only placeholders, to be replaced by sponsored brand names for the 2022 season; so before long we might be rooting for the Bubba’s Hot Wings Triple-A Division or somesuch.
I won’t belabor the frustration I feel at the wanton trashing of names with such rich heritage. You can guess what I think. And anyway, what I think won’t affect MLB in the slightest.
It does drive home some new realities to me, though.
For a while I have disliked MLB but perceived the minors as a more amenable alternative — frustrating in their own way, with their nonstop pandering to people with short attention spans who value free bobbleheads above crisp 6-4-3 double plays, but more amenable all the same.
But now MLB has killed my favorite minor league (the New York-Penn League) and eliminated the familiar branding and layout of my second-favorite (the International League, the league both I and my kids grew up watching.)
The minors have always been a slower, rootsier, friendlier alternative to MLB — but now that they are in MLB’s direct control, that seems to be ending. It is now impossible to support the minors without knowing you are directly supporting the broken, money-hungry, tone-deaf MLB.
I’m not real sure what I’m gonna do about that. I’ve loved college ball for years, but it ends early, and then how do I get my baseball fix all summer? I guess I’ll have to switch my allegiance to the summer leagues for college players — though MLB is consolidating its control of those, too.
Ten years from now I may be watching random kids play tee-ball on the Fourth of July and weeping inside.
# # # # #
San Francisco’s venerable Anchor Brewing is another sentimental favorite of mine, from its distinctive product to its cluttered, curio-shop labels.
Last month, Anchor unveiled its first significant packaging redesign in decades, moving to a simpler, more streamlined look. This was roundly and profanely denounced by beerheads on social media, even beyond the usual contempt that greets redesigns. (Not me; I’ve learned to hold my tongue on these things.)
After a day or two of abuse, Anchor rather touchingly took to social media to explain the hard truth: Novelty has become more powerful in the beer business than heritage; all those people who love the old design so much aren’t actually buying the beer; and if that continues, the brewery will close.
I am guilty of enjoying the existence of this goofy bohemian brand but not actually supporting it with my dollars on a regular basis. (Among other things, I am trying to keep Samuel Adams a going concern, closer to home; my allegiance to them outstrips my allegiance to Anchor, though I’d keep ’em both around if it were up to me.)
So I guess I should start doing more to support Anchor … even though it’s become less goofy and bohemian and weird and individual and San Franciscan, and now looks like it’s jostling for fratboy dollars? I mean, the beer’s the same (presumably) … but … that packaging. So bland. Do I want that in my hand? It was so much cooler when it looked like people were brewing the stuff for the fun of it.
There is, I suppose, no winning in any direction.