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On the Yankees and when the illusion of baseball is all that matters

For a lot of fans and writers, maintaining the illusion of baseball is more important than baseball itself.

MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays
This is exactly how I’m looking at a lot of you right now. I guess #IamGary for realsies.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans see baseball as a distraction. At its best case scenario, the sport injects excitement into the banality of everyday life. For others, however, the game can serve as a shield to the horrors of reality. On Monday, July 23rd, however, reality reared its ugly face in the form of Yankees fans complaining about Gary Sanchez.

Before moving forward, I want to stress that this article is not a defense of Sanchez’s performance that day against the Rays, nor a defense of the Yankees’ actions following the game. It’s about the fans’ reaction to what happened and a look at the perception of baseball as a whole.

On that Monday, a vocal group of Yankees fans finally received the evidence for which they had long been searching. They could prove that Sanchez was a lazy baseball player, one who never hustles and is a liability to the team. In the first inning, the Yankees catcher failed to chase down a passed ball and a runner scored from second base due to this. In the ninth inning, Sanchez did not hustle out of the box on a groundball, which potentially cost the Yankees the game.

It was not a good look for Sanchez at all. Fans had every right to be upset by what they saw. However, it was only one game, right? One mistake from a 25-year-old catcher in his second full year of play? Sorry, but no. It did not stop there, and it probably won’t ever stop. This one game provided the ultimate “See, I told you so!” moment.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, either. Reports of lack of hustle existed early in his minor league development. There were also signs that he improved on that. He has definitely struggled this year, which I must stress again is his second full year of play. Until that game, most warning signs were vague moments here and there in the midst of a historic beginning to his career. That meteoric rise never stopped the “Austin Romine is better” crowd and it probably never will.

We don’t know if they would have won the game after tying it, but it doesn’t matter. Luis Severino took the blame for what happened in the first inning, but it doesn’t matter. Sanchez re-aggravated his groin injury, but it doesn’t matter. The Yankees placed him on the 10-day disabled list for that exact reason, but it doesn’t matter. The proof is available now and that’s all that matters. It is all that will ever matter because that’s the world we live in now. Gary Sanchez does not hustle and that’s all these fans need to hear.

Yes, a lot of fans use baseball to distract them from reality. But baseball is not a distraction from reality for me. If anything, it’s a perfect microcosm of reality and everything awful about it.

That Marc Carig had to address issues like this because of a bad game is troubling and sobering. Fans tweeting at Sanchez and at reporters simply bringing people information. There exist people who remain convinced that the Yankees placed Sanchez on the disabled list as part of some kind of grand conspiracy. Yes, a conspiracy theory based on snippets of information and one’s gut feeling, rather than the overwhelming amount of actual evidence to the contrary. If it sounds familiar, congratulations. You’ve been watching the news.

Watching my fanbase devolve into the worst that society has to offer is a perfect representation of everything that’s wrong today. All because some people will always believe that Sanchez doesn’t hustle. All because of a goddamn baseball game.

This all stems from the illusion of what kind of game baseball is. Baseball is good wholesome boys who play the game hard and play the game the right way and other such nonsense. This sort of sanctimonious blather usually comes about whenever we get into the topics of steroids and/or hustling. That’s because of the nostalgic illusion so many fans have that baseball was better back in the good ol’ days.

Baseball players never cheated back then, except for all the players that did. But, you know, those players didn’t take steroids. Steroids are just the worst, amirite? Also, those players hustled and busted it out of the box all the time. That was when the game was great. Now it’s not, because players don’t hustle, and they only play for money, and help help I’m falling into a quantum nostalgia singularity.

Thankfully, those fans are quick to call out the racist, bigoted, and otherwise problematic players that have come to light recently. Fans cannot tolerate that behavior in the slightest — hang on a second. I’m being told I’ve made a mistake here. Ah, sorry for the confusion. It’s players being called out for being racist, bigoted, and otherwise problematic players. My mistake.

As it turns out, a baseball player can be an awful person off the field if he plays the game hard and helps the team win. Yankees and Cubs fans witnessed this with Aroldis Chapman. We’ve recently seen it with Brewers pitcher Josh Hader. The closer tweeted out bigoted, despicable garbage at the innocent young age of 17-years-old, and fans discovered them. We’ve seen it even more recently with Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb, Nationals shortstop Trea Turner. and now Yankees starter Sonny Gray as well. Roberto Osuna was just traded after serving a 75-game suspension for domestic abuse violations.

What makes this so awful is that fans are more upset that certain players’ horrendous beliefs are being exposed, rather than the horrendous beliefs themselves. Is it because uncovering these player’s beliefs makes fans that share them afraid they too will be ostracized? Maybe. Is it because your average, everyday fan doesn’t want to deal with the reality of the state of racism and bigotry in this country? Perhaps. Could it be just a basic emotional sports fan’s defense of one’s team and that team’s player? I don’t know. Stop asking so many questions. Baseball is on!

The one positive thing about all of this is that we can use this as a teachable moment. Perhaps examine the type of culture and atmosphere that players like Gray, Hader, Newcomb, Turner, and probably many others grew up with before being exposed to diverse beliefs that permeate through a Major League Baseball— hang on a second. Apparently, I’ve made another mistake here. The actual plan is to just sweep it under the rug because the illusion must remain intact. Again, sorry for the confusion.

This correlates to the illusion of the good ‘ol days of baseball. I’m not saying that fans who believe the game was better in the old days are racist or are okay with domestic violence. What I am saying is that too many fans are nostalgic for the days of just blatantly ignoring the fact that some players were absolutely despicable people. At least they weren’t a bunch of lazy, greedy, good for nothing cheaters though, right? Right!

Fans want to remember their heroes, sports, video games, comic books, and other forms of past entertainment as magical. When other fans counter those magical memories with all of their flaws, the shields immediately go up. It’s the same nowadays as well. With baseball players, it was much easier to ignore their more hideous flaws back in the golden age because the internet did not exist. It’s harder to maintain the illusion when blatant evidence of player’s awfulness is shoved in our faces 24/7.

In addition to wanting us to go back to ignore the repulsiveness of certain players, these people want us to ignore their own depravity. Some fans, sports writers, and broadcasters want to be able to call Gary Sanchez a “lazy bum” without being called out on how they never complained when one of the white players never hustle either.

Of course, all of this raises the central question: “Can’t people just watch a baseball game without being reminded of the awfulness of everyday life?”

In Ken Burns’ Baseball: The Tenth Inning, Keith Olbermann recalls talking to a NYPD officer about the Mets after 9/11, wondering how the cop could possibly want to talk about baseball after everything that just happened. The officer told Olbermann that he had just lost over 300 of his fellow colleagues, firefighters, and friends. He just wanted to sit back and watch a game of baseball for three hours to distract him from the horrors of the world.

No one could possibly blame him for wanting that. Baseball should be fun. Baseball should, on occasion, take us away from reality, much like reading or video games or music or any form of entertainment. Home runs are fun to see. Watching a pitcher mow down the opponent’s lineup is a pleasure. I have read so many wonderful stories about baseball bridging the gap between relatives and baseball providing heartfelt moments in one’s life. Hell, baseball is the very reason I’m with the love of my life right now.

I’ve also read so many stories about people suffering through racial discrimination, homophobic slurs, sexist malice, domestic violence, and so much more regarding their experience with just the sport alone. These fans want to enjoy baseball as much as anyone, yet baseball and some of its fans constantly remind them of reality. I can’t speak for everyone, nor should I, but I’m willing to bet that most people that get told to “stick to sports” want to a hell of a lot more than anyone else in this world.

That’s not an option for them, though. They get to watch beloved sports columnists go into instant defense mode whenever a player’s garbage comes bursting out. They get to watch a fanbase give Hader a standing ovation for the brave way he apologized for being exposed as a fart. They get to watch the defending World Champion Houston Astros trade for Roberto Osuna, because he pitches well. Baseball won’t let a lot of fans simply ignore reality and stick to sports. The illusion is not there for them.

Watching fans react to Sanchez’s game against the Rays with hatred, bigotry, and inane conspiracy theories is why I did not stick to sports. I’m not even sorry, since technically this article is their fault. I blame them and so should you. Their reactions were just disturbingly similar to what we see in everyday life, regarding literally everything.

That is the world we live in now. It’s really the world we have always lived in, but now we have the internet. People can concoct any absurd theory they want, Google it, find outrageous articles and posts to support it, and then interact with a community that agrees with it.

If I’ve done my SEO work correctly, I’m sure many people who agree with me will find this article about the illusions of baseball. I’m also sure many who think I’m writing this to defend Gary Sanchez will soon let me know all the reasons why I’m wrong. Sure, I explicitly said this is not to defend Sanchez, but I’m certain that will slip past them to tell me about my wrongness. Have fun with that.

The thesis here will probably show through with the reaction to this story. People will be more upset at me for bringing up fans and players’ trash opinions rather than them having those trash opinions in the first place. Other people will want Gray designated for assignment because he’s not pitching well, not the other stuff.

That brings us to the answer of the “Can’t people just watch a baseball game without being reminded of the awfulness of everyday life?” question: Yes, but probably not for much longer.

Reality is breaking down the walls of the illusion more and more. The information genie is out there, and Aladdin has set him free. Fans will constantly believe their illogical Gary Sanchez conspiracy theories. Gray, Hader, Newcomb, and Turner will not be the last baseball players that have their beliefs exposed. Domestic violence issues will surface once again. Unless we fix reality, the barriers of escapism will keep cracking.

So, how do we fix reality? I wish I had a good answer for you. I can tell you that Trea Turner’s apology is the best start I’ve seen in a while.

Acknowledgement of one’s errors with genuine remorse and without excuses. It’s a good start, but only the beginning. There are still a lot of roadblocks to overcome. For example:

What does it say about the sport when Shawn Kelley throwing his glove is treated more harshly than anything we’ve seen from someone like Hader? What does it say about the sport when they allow Roberto Osuna, who was suspended for domestic abuse violations, to compete in the playoffs over someone who was suspended for steroids?

These are things that needs correcting. As long as the illusion is what matters more to fans and MLB than reality, it does not look good.

I do not have any good answers for how to fix this. It’s difficult when you’re dealing with people who claim they love freedom, yet constantly show that the only actual freedom they care about is the freedom to be an asshole without repercussions. I just do not have a good answer for that at all.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sit back and watch some baseball. You probably should as well, while you can.

Go Yankees.


A day later with the Astros & A.J. Hinch. Again, we’ve got a long way to go.