Call me a romantic, but I love a playoff series between two clubs that truly hate each other’s guts.
If you’re reading this blog, you know that I’m referring to the upcoming NLCS between the Brewers and Cardinals. There is no love lost between these teams. Going back for the past few years, on the multiple occasions the Brewers have injected some levity into the serious business that is being a Major League Baseball team, from untucking jerseys to celebrating home runs to having a Tony Plush, the Cardinals have resented every last bit of it, saying that it disrespects the grand tradition and majesty of baseball.
They may have a point. After all, baseball does celebrate its past more, I would argue, than any other major North American sport, and that is to its credit. The game is bigger than any one player or team, and it is only in the context of the game’s rich history that new accomplishments have any meaning. Teams fight each year not merely for the right to hoist a trophy above their heads at the end, but to join the pantheon of those who have hoisted it before. There is nothing wrong with tradition, and it should be respected.
With that in mind, allow me to reach into the tradition of Milwaukee baseball, which goes back farther than you may think, and quote one of its luminaries:
“The resistance to ‘cheap’ entertainment and the bleaching of the players’ personalities both arise out of the baseball moguls’ fond belief that people come to a ball park to enjoy the finer technical points of baseball. Since I cannot believe they are losing money on purpose, they must truly believe that all their fans are scholars of the game who would resent having their concentration on the great pageant about to be played out before their very eyes distracted by anything as dull as, say, fun and laughter.”
That’s from Hall of Fame baseball owner Bill Veeck’s autobiography Veeck–as in Wreck, which is recommended reading for all baseball fans and should be required reading for all baseball owners. Although he is best known for masterminding the brief baseball career of Eddie Gaedel, Veeck was a true innovator, introducing the exploding scoreboard, names on the back of jerseys, and even the ivy covered walls of Wrigley Field to baseball. Veeck owned three different major league franchises at various points of his life: the Cleveland Indians, who he led to the first 2 million attendance season in baseball history; the St. Louis Browns; and the Chicago White Sox. However, the first baseball team he ever owned was the American Association Milwaukee Brewers, the minor league team that existed in Milwaukee until 1953, when the Braves moved in. I like to think that by having the fun that they do, the Brewers are calling back to the Milwaukee tradition of Bill Veeck, who understood that the most important people in a baseball stadium are the fans.
Tradition and history are wonderful, but only because they are cherished by the people who love baseball. The game should be respected, but respecting the game doesn’t have to mean taking the joy out of it. Kirk Gibson, manager of the Diamondbacks, has repeated a mantra of “giving back to the game,” and after his team’s game 5 loss last night, did he suggest the Brewers fell short in that regard? No; in fact, he singled out the efforts of Jonathan Lucroy, who took repeated poundings last night keeping the ball in front of the plate, to prevent Arizona from advancing and scoring. THAT is respecting the game, and if the Cardinals felt the Brewers weren’t giving their all and wanted to criticize them for that, I would have no problem with it. But suggesting that there is only one way to enjoy this game, that celebration somehow makes a home run less exciting or a squeeze bunt less skillful, is absurd, and the Brewers should have none of it. They play the game hard, but they also play it gleefully, and their city loves them for it. They will march into this NLCS knowing this, and embracing it, and I hope it drives their opponents all the more insane.