“This is war! This isn’t a game!”
– Chris Sale to Red Sox teammates, May 2
“The only game I know is war, and war ain’t no game.”
– Me to myself, two minutes ago
Currently, Chris Sale may be the best pitcher in the big leagues not named Dallas Keuchel. This is his first year pitching for Boston and so far he’s been lights out, everything the Red Sox dreamed of when they gave up a boatload of prospects in the off-season to acquire him. The problem is, the Boston offense, prior to Tuesday’s game, hadn’t lived up to its end of the bargain. They had scored a total of four runs for Sale in five games. Four. The much ballyhooed, worshipped-over, media-entitled Red Sox offense had scored a grand total of four runs for Sale while he was pitching. They were essentially choking in front of their new teammate.
Making matters worse, Boston and Baltimore had been involved in an increasingly fraught escalation of rivalry, precipitated two weeks ago by a bad slide by Baltimore superstar, Manny Machado, into Red Sox legend, Dustin Pedroia, at second base, which injured Pedroia and would knock him out of a few games. Since that slide, it had been beanballs back and forth with protestations of foul from either side. Just when many considered the matter settled, on Tuesday in the top of the first, Sale threw a 98-mph laser behind Machado. It was after the inning was over, back in the dugout, when Sale berated the rest of his new teammates with the war analogy. Whether Sale was exhorting his boys to finally get him some runs, or explaining in hyperbole why he had reignited the feud with the Orioles by throwing behind Machado, nobody really knew. They just knew they were suddenly in a foxhole, and they better do something about it.
Sale is wired differently than most modern-day ballplayers. He spent the first part of his career with the White Sox, always the best player on a bad team. It clearly gnawed at him and last year he snapped completely. In the latter part of yet another losing season, while at home, the White Sox were once again going to use old-style uniforms which were known to be scratchy, uncomfortable and too tight, and which Sale had previously told them he would not pitch in again. When he arrived at the ballpark knowing he was scheduled to pitch, and discovered the bean counters and the suits had again dictated the use of the uniforms for marketing purposes, Sale took the matter into his own hands. He found himself a pair of scissors and proceeded to cut up all the uniforms meant to be used that night. He wasn’t going to pitch in sub-optimal conditions if he didn’t have to ever again.
The team immediately suspended him. Social media, of course, had a field day. “Who knew Sale had a sense of humor?”, one quipped. “Turns out he’s a real cut up!!” Sale is one of the best in the business and had been playing his entire career for a bunch of management clowns on the south side of Chicago who cared more about looking good for the camera and selling unwieldly old school uniforms to fans than putting a winning team on the field. As a result, he snapped, and by snapping got his wish. He got sent to Boston, who had a reputation anyway as one of the best organizations in baseball. Many presumed the White Sox were just rebuilding, acquiring young talent for Sale while they had the chance. That logic made sense, but many of Sale’s veteran teammates who also had value on the trade market remained on the team. The organization was glad to see him go. He was elated to leave.
It’s just like someone like Chris Sale to compare the game of baseball to war, which we all know is a load of crap. War is suicide bombers and mangled bodies. War is drone strikes and AK-47s. War is refugees, displaced limbs, unholy alliances, and deals with the devil. War is hell, as they say, and in the modern-day world, war is terror. War has always involved terror – most of all for the participants or the civilians caught in the cross-fire – but it’s taken on a new meaning in the last 50 years. Even here in San Diego, about as far away from any front lines as you can get, war is everywhere. Or at least its entrapments. War isn’t baseball, at least not in the sense we think of it.
Here in San Diego, not only do we live in the ultimate Navy town, the Marines protect us from the northern hordes by residing in the sprawl of Camp Pendleton. San Diego proper has submarine bases, naval shipping yards, SEAL training programs, and enough ships to evacuate the city in a matter of days. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I’ve never had the privilege of being a member of the Armed Forces. My somewhat eclectic bipolar nature of my 20’s probably would have precluded it under any circumstances even if I’d been inclined. My grandparents, knowing trouble in their grandson where it existed, wanted me to join the Coast Guard to get some discipline which would still allow me to follow our extended family’s 7th Day Adventist policy of non-violence. I was too stoned to take them seriously and anyway, I have no sea legs. I can’t even go on a whale watching cruise without ending up hung overboard.
My stepson is in the Navy. He’s about to be deployed, again, to the Persian Gulf. He’s quite nonchalant about it, not in an innocent, I-don’t-really-know-what-I’m-getting-into kind of way, but possessed with keen insight. “We own the seas,” he’s told me, and he knows more about it than I do. Still, it’s the Persian Gulf: Iran, the Straits of Hormuz and all that. The Navy has trained him to be careful and extremely prepared in whatever he does. He’s beyond meticulous. He could plan his way out of a court martial. He’s confident, he knows he’s coming back.
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