Monday, September 6, 2010

Extinct Beavers

The Portland Beavers professional baseball team played their last game of the season today.Now that's not particularly interesting, really. One form of "Beavers" or another have had a closing day in some part of Portland or other since the early years of the 20th Century. So the last ballgame of the season shouldn't be a big deal.

And especially for these Portland Beavers. AAA affiliate of the San Diego Padres, the 2010 edition of the team sucked about the usual amount of pipe that a post-2000 Beavers squad was expected to; they lost 85 games and finished 15 and a half games behind Tacoma in the PCL-North. This is no fluke for the Bevos - over the past decade the team has won the PCL-North exactly once, in 2004. It had never won the league. Ever.Before this season's opener a total of 353 field players - an average of 39 players a year - have suited up for the team at least once...and that's not counting pitchers. I recall reading that the 2009 squad used something like 68 or 69 players. That's not a baseball team, that's a freaking food riot in Karachi.


Over the past six season the Portland baseball club has never had a winning season, losing a total of 476 games over that time. In fact, the club has had only two winning seasons since the resumption of AAA baseball in Portland in 2001, and one of these, 2002, was a "winning" season by a margin of a single game.

As a Padres farm the Beavers sucked. Their hitting sucked, their fielding sucked, their pitching sucked. They were sucky to all fields. They sucked at home and on the road.

And, worse than the overall suckiness, their suckitude didn't even count for anything.Minor league baseball is a joke, a sham. Even given that professional sports are a silly thing in general (although certainly not all that much sillier than much of what humans fiddle their time away with) minor league baseball is an especially vile mockery, a jape for the teams to pretend to play a season's campaign, a ridiculous and meaningless waste of time and money for the spectator to view.

For the simple reason that the minor leagues, most of them, from the tiniest Rookie League outpost to the mightiest of Triple-A franchises, are chattel, sockpuppets, slaves to the major league teams that own them.

The Beavers' entire reason for being is to cook the meat served in San Diego. The only reality that matters on the field in Portland is the individual stats of the players, their hopes of getting the callup to the Show, the managers and coaches daily vigil to see who has the Right Stuff.Wins? Losses? Pennant races?

Who cares.

The point of the Portland Beavers, from the middle Fifties until this afternoon, was to raise players for the Bigs. Not to win diddly-squat.

Not surprisingly, the response to this sham was underwhelming. At the death of professional baseball in Portland for the fourth time* the total number of season ticket holders for the Beavers was 150.

One hundred fifty. That's right. Fewer than show up to a typical high school baseball game, barely enough to support a kid's football club.Going to a typical Beaver's game was like going to a wake in a public park. The huge old barn of Civic Stadium was virtually silent to the point where you could hear the pop of even the curveballs and sliders into the catcher's mitt and the barking of the vendors sounded lost and echoing amid the emptiness. The fans voted with their butts about this mockery, choosing to stay away in droves. The article about the club's finale noted that in nine years the place sold out thrice: the opener in 2001, the final game, and some fireworks display in 2004.

Three sellouts.In nine years.

And yet when the old rodent finally croaked the usual suspects were out kicking dirt on the city father's shoes. Oh, dear, but the mayor and his cronies didn't do enough. Oh, the lack of vision! Oh, the failure and the weeping! Oh, for the lost glories of the bat and ball! Can you still hold you head up, Portlandia, having lost the castorine jewel in your crown?Hogwash. Horsepuckey. Nonsense.

Baseball has left, again, because the minor leagues are a bad joke.

For the same reason that nobody goes to the racetrack to see the horses warm up, nobody pays to see a couple of nameless kids scuffle in an alley. Because the team had no real stars, no permanent players to care about, because nothing that happened today mattered next week or next month. Because there was no team, no core, no living thing, but just an empty uniform filled with faceless names that moved on before we could care.

I used to love baseball. When I lived in Chicago I followed the Cubs, in Philadelphia, the Phillies. I cared about the games, knew the players, the teams, the stats. I was a typical baseball fan and you don't want to hear about it.

But moving to Portland opened my eyes to what the rest of the country gets for "baseball". It's a sad, tattered zombie, staggering along on the fumes of the game's past and the lingering affection of an older generation. The very fact that it survives as paying entertainment says a lot about willingness of baseball fans to accept any dross rather than face the reality that their proud city is nothing but a meat locker for someplace else far away.

The major leagues killed the minors. I'd rather see nothing at all than the bitter mockery that the minors have made of the game.

So go, Beavers. In your present sickly state, who needs you?

Come back if you plan to play for keeps.


Forget it.* Note: The original Portland baseball club was formed in 1901 in the then Northwest League. It merged with the nascent Pacific Coast League in 1903 but folded 14 years later; that was #1. Another "Beavers" club was formed in 1919. That organization played through the glory years of the PCL, from the Ragtime Era until the Dodgers and Giants moved west in the mid-Fifties. That team, by 1972 a Dodgers farm, moved that year to Spokane and eventually to Las Vegas. That's #2. The third try was a AAA club formed in 1978, first as a Phillies farm and then as a Minnesota affiliate. It left for Salt Lake City in 1993. That's #3. Mind you, this doesn't count the small fry like the Single-A Portland Mavericks (1973-77) or the Single-A Rockies (1995-2000). So now the latest dead Beaver is #4. Sic transit gloria castori.

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