It has come to my attention -- and, trust me, for something to come to my attention, it has to be very, very obvious -- that the San Diego Padres might have a chance to become World Series champions this year with a losing regular season record.
Across sporting America, those who celebrate the national pastime a little more seriously than the rest of us are, well, aghast. If you open your window at night, you will hear the distant, plaintive wails of baseball purists from Ebbets Field to Tiger Stadium.
And just the other day I was taking my mid-afternoon nap at about, oh, 6:45 p.m. or so -- I know, I know, that doesn't sound like mid-afternoon, but I wake up so late, that's the earliest I can get to my mid-afternoon nap -- during which I had a fantastical dream about an upcoming newspaper account:
Under-.500 Team in Playoffs; Bob Costas Found Dead
NEW YORK (AP) -- The San Diego Padres, NL West Division champions, finished the regular season yesterday at 80-82, becoming the first team in major league baseball history to advance to the postseason with a losing record. Upon hearing the news, NBC broadcaster Bob Costas suffered what was described as a "colossal anxiety disorder." He was pronounced dead at 4:17 p.m. EDT while listening to the White Sox-Indians game on XM Satellite Radio, with a 2-2 count on Juan Uribe and two runners on in the top of the eighth inning.
At the time of his death, Costas had a Sporting News in his left hand, David Halberstam's "Summer of '49" in his right hand and the scorecard from Game 7 of the 1964 World Series at his feet. Just hours earlier, Costas had watched Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa execute the double switch against the Reds and reportedly called several friends to describe the maneuver.
Costas, a baseball traditionalist, had opposed the designated hitter, AstroTurf, expansion, divisional alignment and realignment, the wild card, interleague play, the save rule, flannel-less uniforms, the Wave, bus- and train-less travel, the death of twilight doubleheaders, chest protectors for umpires, the lost art of bunting, night games and sushi in concession stands.
Costas had suffered a major health setback in 1973 when the New York Mets won the NL East with an 82-79 record and came within one game of winning the World Series.
Tony Kubek, one of Costas's former broadcast partners, told KMOX Radio in St. Louis: "All the warning signs were there. Bob had a passion for the game. He once told me he hoped he didn't live long enough to see a wild-card team win the World Series, and when the Marlins did it in '97, we all thought he was a goner then." To get him through that 1997 calamity, close friends strapped Costas to a Barcalounger and played an endless loop of "This Week in Baseball" with Mel Allen on the VCR for five days.
He had been preparing a commentary for his upcoming "Costas Now" show on HBO in which he termed an under-.500 team advancing to the playoffs "an apocalyptic turn of events, one that would not have been anticipated or appreciated by our founding fathers." Costas also was scheduled to substitute on CNN's "Larry King Live" next Wednesday. No replacement was named, although Tony Danza and Ahmad Rashad both say they have been contacted.
Meanwhile, an anti-Bud Selig coalition issued a statement reiterating its position that "despite his untimely passing, Mr. Costas remains our choice to become the next commissioner of baseball." Costas was born March 22, 1952, in Queens, N.Y. At age 2, he became lead broadcaster for the NBA's St. Louis Hawks, but in 1956 -- inspired by Don Larsen's perfect game -- he switched his energies entirely to baseball. Since age 7, he has done baseball play-by-play almost daily; on occasion, a radio station or TV network has broadcast his calls.
He is survived by his collection of Mickey Mantle memorabilia.
Ask The Slouch
Q. What is the difference between the balding gambler on the evening investment channel who is constantly wiping the sweat off his forehead and Doyle Brunson on the river card? (Dan Weninger; Waupun, Wis.)
A. Doyle Brunson never sweats.
Q. When I was in school, they made us watch movies about the ill effects of smoking to our health. Do you think today's generation should be forced to watch all of your old wedding videos to warn kids about the ill effects of marriage? (Barry Josowitz; Pittsburgh)
A. Once again, a reader unashamedly prospers off of my suffering.
Q. Is there any hard evidence proving that Maria Sharapova has communicated with humpback whales during her matches? (Pat Soderquist; Spokane, Wash.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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