As I’ve said before, during the summer of 2002, I was working at the Outback Steakhouse in Greenfield, Wisc. serving the good people of southeastern Wisconsin the finest in Australian-themed meats and cheese. That year, Miller Park was hosting the Home Run Derby and the All-Star game on a particularly schweaty July 8 and July 9.
It took years of maneuvering to create the Stadium District to pay for the Park and years more to complete it. But now it was a bright shining moment for our rusty, sleepy city of Milwaukee, and Bud Selig, the former car salesman who shanghaied the Seattle Pilots to our town and let them play as the Milwaukee Brewers.
I raced over to Dan’s apartment in Riverwest with the game on the radio, tied in the 9th inning — and now tied in the 10th inning, and with several outs in the bottom of the 11th. I parked outside his apartment, killing the engine and thus the radio, fully expecting to watch the thrilling final outs of what had been a great game with a cold beer and my feet propped on the coffee table. When I got inside, my friends were watching MTV.
“What’s going on? Why don’t you have the game on?”
“The games over, man.”
“What do you mean? Who won?”
“Nobody won. They called it a tie.”
They explained to me the whole fiasco, and the considerations and deliberations, which ended with Selig calling the game a tie. At the time, I didn’t know what to think. This was the first time in my life since, maybe Robin Yount’s 3,000th hit, since maybe ever, that the entire baseball world was focused on my hometown. To have it end in such an impotent sputter was preposterous. Since then, my feelings have solidified into a disrespect for Selig. Having never been in a situation even closely resembling the pressure of that decision, here’s what I would have said, as I like to tell people:
“I’m the commissioner of baseball, and there are not ties in baseball. There must be a winner and there must be a loser. Them’s the rules, boys. Now you tell your precious, pampered, pantywaist pitchers to get back out there and give us a game, or you’ll be a talent scout for the Toledo Mud Hens by the end of the year — I’m talking to you, Joe Torre — and I don’t care if they pitch until their fucking arms fall off. Better yet, you get out there and fucking pitch.”
“Yeah,” The Other J.J. says, “or did anybody here in the stands play junior college ball?”
“Yeah! You! With the pretzels!” I say. “It’s a meaningless game, who the fuck cares?”
Of course, it’s now not a completely meaningless game, as the winning league gets home field advantage for the World Series. Which is, of course, a very stupid idea. If you had pulled some 45-year-old chump in a Richie Sexson jersey out of the stands and onto the mound, and let him hold his beer while he tossed pitches, and Adam Dunn crushed a ball out of the entire stadium to end the game, you would be hailed as a national hero and a Grand Champion of Fun. But Selig didn’t do that. He tossed up his hands like a befuddled middle manager in from corporate America.
On that hot night in July, 41,871 fans were left chanting “Let them play,” and Selig was the man who would not.