Not brilliant. MLB.com got caught with its censorship pants down all the way around its ankles Saturday. Apparently, someone at the network was not amused that a) the Athletics actually have fans at all; and, b) fans at Friday’s game against the Reds — all 6,423 of them — were likewise unamused at the condition into which their ten-thumbed owner John Fisher has rendered them.
The live game broadcast Friday had no funny business. When A’s first baseman Ryan Noda smashed a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh, to shave a Cincinnati lead down to 8-5, the flight of the ball into the right field seats passed very visible protest banners draped from a railing.
The banners demanded Fisher sell the A’s, presumably to interests who’d be reasonable about building the A’s a new, hazard-and-poisons-free ballpark in Oakland rather than failing to strong-arm Oakland into all but handing them a new ballpark on a plate as a kind of by-the-way portion of a ritzy new real estate development.
But MLB.com decided those hunting game highlights didn’t need to see such nonsense. It allowed an awkward-looking edit of Noda’s blast to circulate without so much as a hint of the protest linens in sight. The edit probably made those who hadn’t seen the live broadcast wonder if they’d lost their ball-tracking skills. The edited footage went viral. Only then did MLB.com restore the original footage.
“We were unaware of the edit,” said an unnamed MLB.com spokesman to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s A’s beat writer Matt Kawahara. “When it came to our attention, we corrected it as it isn’t consistent with our policy.” If you buy that, my Antarctican beach club just shaved another couple of thousand off the sale price.
This is hardly the first time baseball’s government or an individual team’s administration has played the censor. Following are just some such examples:
In 1964, the White Sox tried to stick veteran relief pitcher Jim Brosnan with a contract clause prohibiting him from writing for publication without the organization’s prior approval of what he wrote. Brosnan already wrote a pair of somewhat controversial, from-the-inside best-sellers, The Long Season (about his 1959 between the Cardinals and the Reds) and Pennant Race (about the Reds’ surprise pennant), all by his lonesome, even. He’d also written other magazine articles since.
Brosnan essentially told the White Sox where to stick it and retired to a life of writing, advertising, and sportscasting, until his health declined and he died at 84 in 2014.
In 1970, commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried directly and clumsily to suppress another veteran pitcher’s book, Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, his deep diary of his 1969 between the expansion Seattle Pilots and the Astros to whom he was traded late that August. Having read nothing but a brief magazine excerpt from the book, Kuhn demanded Bouton sign a statement saying it was all the doing of his nefarious editor Leonard Shecter. Undeterred, Bouton all but demanded Kuhn plant it where the sun didn’t have a chance.
The sore-armed right-hander, who’d taken to throwing the knuckleball to keep his career alive, after arm issues began eroding him circa 1965, retired after a send-down to the Astros’ minors. Bouton became a sportscaster for local New York news, tried a comeback in 1977-78 that ended after a few gigs with the Braves, and re-retired to a kind of renaissance life of writing, co-creating Big League Chew gum, restoring an old ballpark here and there, and ballroom dancing with his second wife, before cerebral amyloid angiopathy took hold of him after a 2012 stroke. He died at 80 four years ago.
As the 1980s moved forward, Yankee fans became anywhere between more restless and more revolted over owner George Steinbrenner’s ham-handed rule. The Boss took to ordering Yankee Stadium security to confiscate protest banners for openers and their creators for continuers. And that was only for openers. As a 1989 Banner Day gathering began under the right field stands, it included a fan named Bob DeMartin, dressed in a monk’s robe and a Yankee cap, brown beads and sandals, carrying a Grim Reaper’s scythe from which hung the sign, “Forgive him, Father, for he knows not what he does.”
DeMartin was removed from the House That Ruthless Rebuilt post haste. According to the New York Times sports columnist Dave Anderson (the second sportswriter ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary, after his colleague Red Smith), Yankee Stadium ops director Bill Squires removed DeMartin because his garb and sign were “sacriligious.”
“Maybe so,” Anderson wrote, “but if God is a Yankee fan, He had to be chuckling at that sign along with all those who saw it. To many, it was more charitable than sacrilegious.”
Early in the 1980s, Karl Ehrhardt, the crafty Mets fan known as the Sign Man for his well-made game-punctuating signs over the previous decade and a half, found himself on the wrong side of the Mets administration. He’d been critical of the Mets’ dissipation in the second half of the 1970s (WELCOME TO GRANT’S TOMB went one of his fabled signs, referring to imperious, patrician front office leader M. Donald Grant), and the Mets quit inviting him to team functions outside Shea Stadium. So Ehrhardt removed himself from the ballpark for most of the rest of his life.
And, when the 2021 American League Championship Series moved to New York, Yankee Stadium security decided a fan named David Taub—showing up for the game dressed as Oscar the Grouch in a trash can, referencing the Astros’ illegal, off-field-based electronic sign-stealing operation of 2017-18—didn’t need to be allowed into the park. The security guard who rousted Taub claimed the Astros complained to baseball government about protest signs and implements on the road. The Astros claimed neither they nor commissioner Rob Manfred were “aware” of any such complaints.
The price for that Antarctican beach club just dropped another couple of thousand.
No fans in baseball are as frustrated as A’s fans. Unless you count Angel fans who only thought they would be done with the Arte Moreno nightmare at last. A’s fans have more than enough reason to be, thanks to their owner willfully breaking the team in half during his tenure while trying and failing to get Oakland to hand him a new ballpark on a plate and casting his none-too-lonely eyes upon Las Vegas.
Las Vegas seems blind enough to go like lambs to the proverbial slaughter handing Fisher what he wants, a new home without it costing him one thin dollar either in its development or the A’s resurrection to competitiveness. And Manfred seems more interested in getting Fisher what he wants, fans and taxpayers be damned, than getting a true reading of the room—or should that be a funeral parlor?—in which A’s fans commiserate and mourn.
But MLB.com’s clumsy bid to censor those A’s fans still willing to come to their sewage mistreatment plant of a stadium shouldn’t go quietly, either.
This essay was written originally for Sports-Central.