October 19, 2011
During the regular season, the ceremonial first pitch of a baseball game is a largely dull affair. With 81 home games to fill, teams trot out corporate sponsors and community leaders for the vast majority. Every so often, though, on a major occasion like opening day or an important anniversary, the stars come out. The Giants get to watch Willie Mays once a year, Yankees fans can expect a beloved great from their storied history, and the Arizona Diamondbacks look forward to the annual celebration of the man who devised their 54 different hat/shirt/pants combinations.
The playoffs are a different time, though, one when teams should pull out all the stops and have real franchise celebrities throw out the first pitches. With the Texas Rangers in the World Series for the second-consecutive season, they understandably wanted to make some connections to the Mavericks, the most recent champion in the Dallas metro area. Not surprisingly, that meant asking star forward Dirk Nowitzki(notes) to throw out the first pitch at one of their three scheduled home games.
That's a no-brainer, right? Well, not quite, because Major League Baseball nixed the choice for reasons that make no sense to anyone. Marc Stein reported the story for ESPN.com:
Sources told ESPNDallas.com that -- with the NBA in the midst of a lockout that has spanned 111 days -- at least some hesitation stems from the idea that MLB executives want to stand behind their basketball counterparts and have notified the Rangers that they can't bestow first-pitch honors on an NBA player.
Major League Baseball insists that the NBA's labor unrest had no impact on Nowitzki not being selected to throw out the first pitch.
"MLB absolutely denies that any part in selecting the first ball pitcher had anything to do with the current labor situation in the NBA," MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said. "You want the club's input in what makes sense for them and then we talk about what makes sense for the team and a good broad-base national appeal.
"It's a nice problem to have that you get a list of 10 or 15 names and you work your way through them. We know Nowitzki's been at the games, and that's wonderful. We're glad he's there."
Way to be not condescending whatsoever, Pat Courtney. I'm sorry that the most popular athlete in Dallas doesn't fit your high standards. He certainly doesn't have the broad-base national appeal of the random "Glee" star who will sing "God Bless America" during Game 4. America loves that guy!
MLB can claim that this has nothing to do with the lockout, but it almost certainly does. If former Rangers great Ferguson Jenkins qualifies as someone with broad-base national appeal -- and he must, because he threw out the first pitch at Game 5 of last year's World Series -- then Dirk certainly should. The NBA may not be the most popular league in America, but its champions get noticed by the general public. Would these same executives deny Mark Cuban a chance to throw out a ceremonial pitch?
The silly thing here is that, even if the lockout excuse would be annoying, it's at least understandable in a way that the broad-base appeal ruse isn't. Executives and owners in different sports compete with each other for fans, but rules that help one league can create a positive climate for the businessmen in another. If the NBA succeeds in extracting concessions from the players, then the parameters of collective bargaining will change for the baseball union, too.
Don't treat us like children, MLB. That strategy lacks broad-base national appeal.
UPDATE: Dirk, via Twitter, tactfully lashed out in response on Wednesday night, before Game 1:
UPDATE 2: According to Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News, MLB has changed its mind and will allow Nowitzki to throw out the first pitch before one of their three home games. I guess professional sports leagues do sometimes listen to fan outcry after a bad decision.