New York Mets catcher Ronny Paulino wears a FDNY cap during batting practice… (Jim McIsaac / Getty Images )
Leave it to baseball to turn solemnity into a circus. Leave it to baseball to use the most sacred of national anniversaries to remind the world why our national pastime is now football.
Of all the dumb marketing decisions made by Major League Baseball officials in recent years, this literally caps it.
You know those first-responder caps worn by NFL sideline figures Sunday in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11? Rex Ryan of the New York Jets wore a cap honoring the New York Fire Department? Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants wore a New York Police Department cap?
As you probably know by now, a group of major league baseball players wanted to do the same thing, but the league said no.
Those players were New York Mets participating in Sunday's only nationally televised baseball game, but the league said no.
This was Sunday's only baseball game played in the vicinity of Ground Zero, held at Citi Field in Flushing, but the league said no.
The Mets players wore the caps during pregame warmups, then some tried to wear them in the dugout during the game, and this is where things allegedly got ugly, with tweets and reports about baseball officials physically confiscating the caps.
"If we got a vote in, I'd think we'd want to wear the hats," David Wright, the Mets third baseman, told reporters. "But at the end of the day, Major League Baseball makes that call, and we're going to respect that."
The league not only said no, but it shamefully trotted out an enduring figure to defend it. Joe Torre, who became America's manager in 2001 when he sensitively led the New York Yankees to the World Series weeks after the horror, was asked to explain baseball's decision as the league's executive vice president of baseball operations.
"Certainly it's not a lack of respect," Torre told the Associated Press. "We just felt all the major leagues are honoring the same way with the American flag on the uniform and the cap. This is a unanimity thing."
Oh, yeah, about that "honoring the same way" thing: Baseball insisted that all players wear a different sort of 9/11 cap, one featuring an American flag on the side. This same "memorial" cap can now be purchased at baseball's online store for $36.99, with part of the proceeds said to be going to 9/11 memorials.
I swear I am not making this up.
"Can you explain that one to me?" said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "This is just another example of why this sport is no longer America's pastime."
Actually, we didn't need to listen to all this cap-trap to see why baseball has lost its footing to football. By the time the NFL's first Sunday had ended, baseball had essentially disappeared from the sports scene, and we probably won't hear from it again until occasional moments in October.
Football's mugging of baseball is about more than just the popularity of gambling and fantasy leagues. Football listens, baseball is tone deaf. Football reacts, even changing rules in midseason, while baseball rarely moves, wedged into increasing irrelevance by its arrogant sense of tradition.
Given a chance to shine Sunday night, with the Mets playing host to the Chicago Cubs and John Franco throwing out the first pitch to Mike Piazza, baseball still blew it.
"The whole point of sports is to be a rich part of the American fabric, and throughout the last century baseball enjoyed that unique part of Americana," Swangard said. "But in not allowing those hats to be worn, baseball totally stepped away from cultural relevance."
My favorite part was Torre citing "unanimity." Oh yeah? How unanimous are the camouflage jerseys worn by the San Diego Padres on Sundays and special occasions? The way the Padres honor the local military is one of the coolest tributes in sports. Baseball approves this but does not approve David Wright wearing a cop's baseball cap?
And, really, how is "unanimity" a factor in the constant barrage of throwback uniforms that are thrown back at fans during the season? Did anybody else flinch at six Dodgers weekday afternoon games this season when they wore the horrible 1944 Brooklyn Dodgers light-blue uniforms that made them look like the Kansas City Royals?
Yeah, 1944 was a great time in Dodgers history. They were 63-91 and finished in seventh place. But, hey, business is business, and you can buy that jersey at the major league online store for $209.99.
I swear, I am not making this up.
"This whole 9/11 cap thing is one of those 'Duh' moments in which the appropriate decision might seem off-center from a consistency perspective, yet the moment and the importance to the fan base just screams for a different decision," Swangard said. "Football is so woven into our fabric now, it organically makes the right decision. Baseball has lost that advantage, and now it has to rely on gut and guessing and, in this case, it guessed wrong."
Baseball guessed like a batter guessing fastball on a full-count curve, freezing in the moment, striking out again.