Commentary : They Don’t Make Pennant Races the Way They Used To


“Missing persons, please.

“Thank you, I’ll hold.

“Hello. Yes, officer, I want to report a missing ... well, it’s not exactly a missing person, more a missing something.

“What’s that? I should call the robbery unit? I already tried them, officer. They suggested I call you. You see, what I’m looking for hasn’t been stolen. I guess misplaced is a better word.

“No, I didn’t lose it myself. It doesn’t really belong to me or anybody in particular. What I mean to say is that it belongs to everybody, at least everybody in the country who follows baseball.


“That’s right, baseball. Let me explain. It’s September, right. The weather is getting cool, the grass has stopped growing and the leaves are going to start changing color and falling soon. I don’t know what that means to you but, to me, it’s always been time to lock in on the pennant races. Only today I picked up the newspapers to check them out and there weren’t any.

“No, not the newspapers. There’s always plenty of them around. I meant the pennant races. Just a year ago, we had four of them and three weren’t settled until the final weekend. But when I looked at the standings today, I couldn’t find even one.

“I’m sorry if I panicked. I mean I know I shouldn’t have called 911. But you can’t imagine how upset I was. The closest thing to a race was the American League East where the Red Sox were up by 8 1/2 games. Yeah, the Red Sox, can you believe it?

“Now I check my calendar against the baseball schedule and there’s almost another month left to play. Can you imagine what the rest of September will be like without a pennant race? Well, even if you are a football fan, you’ve got to admit that it’s un-American not to have at least one showdown in the final week.

“Do I want to file a report? Of course. If I just wanted advice, I’d call Dr. Ruth. What’s that? You’ll need a description. That’s going to be tough.

“The problem is that no two pennant races are alike. Sometimes, you might get four teams battling right to the end. That’s the way it was in ’67. Boy, that was a beauty. Most of the time it’s only two but some of them are classics. Remember the Yankees-Red Sox playoff game in ‘78? Both teams won 100 games and one of them didn’t even make it to the championship series. It wasn’t fair but it sure was exciting.


“You need a name and an address. Well, the names change all the time. Last year there was Darryl Strawberry. He hit this mammoth home run against the Cardinals in St. Louis. What a shot. And then there was Butch Wynegar. He hit a home run in Toronto after the Blue Jays’ centerfielder dropped the ball.

“But I don’t know if that will help you. You can find Strawberry at Shea Stadium tonight. He’s the guy who gets booed every time he sticks his head out of the dugout. You figure it. And Wynegar, well he just walked away from the Yankees a month and a half ago. They say he’s depressed. I’ll tell you something. So am I.

“What makes this a tough case, officer, is that there’s a different set of heroes in each pennant race. That’s what makes it so interesting. Bucky Dent, Willie Stargell, Tug McGraw, Robin Yount, Ryne Sandberg, Willie McGee. Take 1963. Someone named Dick Nen made the big hit. You could look it up. Sometimes, the whole season turns on an error, or even a walk.

“But you can’t even find a turning point in this season, unless it was Opening Day. There’s no suspense, no mystery. Already, Davey Johnson is planning his pitching rotation for the Astros and that series doesn’t start until Oct. 8. Imagine!

“What I really miss is the anticipation of a big series, the tension of a tie game in the seventh and eighth innings. And it’s no fun reading the box scores the next day if the teams are just going through the motions.

“Do I know anyone who might want to do away with the pennant races? Well, you could check Pete Rozelle. Yeah, the football commissioner. He’s always in court so he must be doing something, if you know what I mean. At least, he’s got a motive.

“But, to be honest, the real perpetrators -- that’s the word you guys always use on television, right? -- are baseball people. Either the teams on top are too good or the other teams are too bad. I guess you can’t expect the Mets to take it easy on opponents but isn’t 21 games a little much? Where’s the fun in that? And what’s the matter with the other teams in the division? Can’t anyone else play this game?

“Sure, strange things happen in every season. The Tigers ran away with the American League East two years ago, the White Sox won the AL West by 20 games the year before that. But all baseball is suffering from a competitive breakdown this season. I look at the papers today and I see only two teams over .500 in three different divisions.

“This isn’t right. That’s why I’m calling you. Is this what I pay my taxes for? I want an investigation. I want you guys to find out what happened. I tell you, there’s a crime being committed here.

“I’m not alone, you know. There’s a bunch of guys down the saloon who feel the same way. It’s gotten so dull we can’t stand to watch the games on television. You can’t even get a good argument on who’s better, Hernandez or Mattingly, not with one team 20 games ahead and the other 20 behind, or whatever it is.

“I’ll bet there’s guys all over the country who are taking it just as hard. Do you think I should get in touch with the FBI? I mean, this is a national problem. What’s that? I should try a private investigator?

“Well, if you think they can help, why not? You wouldn’t happen to know offhand the phone number for Remington Steele, would you?”