But Can Zalenskyy Hit a Curveball?

Have you ever seen somebody ruin their own life?

The Hamilton lyric has been running through my head like crazy the past couple weeks. Each morning, each midday, each nighttime, as  horrifying details emerged from the far-flung locations of Kyiv and Jupiter. Two sets of men with an inability to read the room, that room being the rest of humanity. Forget the Titanic failing to swerve in time, these guys diverted their ships from safe equatorial waters in search of an iceberg to blame.

No, I’m not saying the invasion of a sovereign nation and the canceling of some baseball games are the same severity. Obviously one only affects the free time of a small contingent of the world, who really ought to find better things to do than watching grown men scratch their asses. Meanwhile, the other affects baseball!

I kid, of course. The Ukraine situation is abhorrent in every way. Baseball is a minor distraction. And yet, the slow-motion trainwrecks seemed to develop along frighteningly similar tracks before the eyes of a horrified public asking the same question over and over. “They’re not really going to do this… are they?”

To be clear, I wrote the vast majority of this before the players (or possibly the owners?) caved on Thursday afternoon. But that doesn’t really change the calculus on much.

In the weeks leading up to both announcements, the main adversaries (the West, in the case of Russia, and the sports media in the case of MLB) announced, “This is what they’re going to do, this is the bullshit excuse they’ll use, and these are the facts that prove it’s bullshit.” Then both sets of magalomaniacs went ahead and did EXACTLY what the watchers predicted and were somehow surprised by the world’s response.

The really frightening thing about both situations is that neither instigator seemed to have an exit strategy (nor, really, victory conditions) in mind. In the end, the baseball owners finally decided they like making money. I don’t know how Putin saves face at this point, and it really sucks when the nuclear option includes an actual nuclear option.

Seriously, what the fuck is a vacuum bomb? I guess I can figure it out via context clues, but how is that a real thing? Like, we developed and tested it? I kinda thought all the things the Geneva Convention banned were shit already used in war, then after the fact we looked back and said, “Yeah, maybe let’s not use the mustard gas anymore.” How bad is something for us to go, “Wow, we’ve never used that before, and let’s make sure it stays that way”? Assuming this was developed during peacetime, maybe we need to rethink the whole “permanent standing armies” thing.

Of course, the only reason I know a vacuum bomb exists is because Russia moved oneinto Ukraine, so we announced we know it’s there and that they better not use it. Their response is a shrug. What are you talking about? We’re just here on vacation. Our Airbnb said we were responsible for vacuuming.

That’s pretty much been the m.o. in Ukraine over the past month. “Stop building up troops on the border.” “What troops?” “Those ones on this satellite photo.” “Oh, they’re only there because of all the Ukrainian bombs.” “What bombs? We’ve detected no bombs.” “Ukraine, our enemy, will set off bombs in three… two… one…”

Seriously, their first objective was Chernobyl? Really?

Allegedly they were entering Ukraine to protect the “breakaway” republics in the east, so naturally they invaded from the north on a beeline straight for Kiev. Ignoring the fact that those republics were only breaking away because Russia had been sending people (and those “Ukrainian” bombs) across the border for the past decade.

The baseball lockout progressed along a similar trajectory. After spending all November signing or re-signing over two billion dollars worth of free agents, the owners announced, “Whoa, we’re damn near bankrupt! If we don’t lockout the players, they’re going to strike.” They used the fact that the players union hadn’t negotiated with them on a new CBA proposal, despite the minor technicality that the owners hadn’t made a proposal yet. 

That first proposal wasn’t sent to the players for two months. Two weeks later, the beginning of Spring Training was delayed. After another two weeks, they canceled the first week of the season. The commissioner laughed when he announced the cancellation. At least Putin has the decency to keep his poker face on when getting exactly what he wanted.

And yes, canceling part of the season is exactly what the commissioner and owners wanted. Allegedly attendance is shitty in April, especially in areas where it’s cold. The settlement tacked that canceled week onto the end of the season. I guess ticket sales are better the first week of October than the first week of April. We all hated the sixty-game season caused by Covid, but I guess the owners loved that shit. If they could have a season that starts in July (plus fans paying for hotdogs this time), they’re in heaven.

As with Russia, the baseball owners made their real intentions all too obvious. Nobody believes Putin feared the tiny country next door, just like we knew the owners were trying to break the union. In my original write-up, I wrote “I half believe that if the players agreed to everything the owners asked for, they still would’ve canceled games on general principal.” That’s pretty much what happened with the international draft bullshit at the last minute. 

Similarlyt there ain’t a damn thing Ukraine might have done to avoid the invasion. Short of, I suppose, hoisting the ol’ hammer & sickle. Or letting the Russian army march through en route to another satellite state. I’m looking at you, Belarus.

In Putin’s defense, I was kinda surprised at the world’s reaction. I expected some finger wagging and furrowed brows, maybe a half-hearted sanction of non-essential goods. That’s what we did in Chechnya. And Georgia. And the last time Russia invaded Ukraine. But holy hell, the rest of the world certainly came with some gusto this time, didn’t they? 

I didn’t even know these weapons were in our quiver. Italy seizing the oligarchs’ chateaus was my personal favorite, but up and down the line, countries are going against decades of precedent. Germany’s re-arming. Nothing bad can come from that. Sweden and Finland are lending their support to Ukraine and talking about joining NATO. 

Holy shit, even Switzerland is taking sides? You’ve got to know things aren’t going to plan when the Swiss don’t want your money.

Who would have guessed that, after over seventy years, we would finally figure out how to stand up to a nuclear power. Putin certainly didn’t. Forget seventy years, this is pretty much the first war in human history that is being waged without the intent of killing as many as possible on the other side. Unfortunately for the Ukrainians, Russia didn’t get the memo. They’re getting it now.

I also prefer the general backseat the United States has played in this, too. Let those most affected lead the way. Germany and Poland  (there’s an ahistorical pairing for you!) seem to have a good idea of what’s at stake, and how they can stand up to Russia. The United States should be the supporting role in this particular Academy Award.

I know there are a lot of people freaking out that this is the start of World War III, but I’m not so sure. That 141-5 vote at the United Nations doesn’t look like there’s a lot of allies on both sides. The entire world rallied against one nation does not a world war make. Nor does supplying weapons and troops to a country that’s fighting off an invasion. If that was the case, we’d already be up to (at least) world war six, after Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan (Part One).

Then again, if one of the five countries supporting Russia is China, all bets are off. I notice they abstained from the vote. That’s disconcerting. My guess is they might’ve supported Russia before the world responded. Hell, if the West had done nothing more than its normal hands-on-hips posturing, I think Taiwan would already be assimilated. China might not give a shit about their own citizens, but they want the rest of the world to like them. And keep buying shit.

One group that didn’t seem concerned about winning hearts and minds was the baseball owners. I’m not sure they care about us buying from them, either. At least not tickets. I assume hats and jerseys are still selling. Maybe they can become a new Nike and survive on marketing, only. Then again, they’re shitty at crafting a message.

Let’s see what the players gave up in order to get a cost-of-living adjustment. Earlier free agency, more money for young players, minor-league pay higher than the federal minimum wage. Instead, they agreed to expanded playoffs without extra pay and to let the owners change rules whenever the fuck they feel like it. Including in the middle of a season. Who are we facing next week? Mariano Rivera? Quick, let’s ban the cut fastball. 

The owners countered with five percent off hotdogs. 

If they could figure out a way to make the entire season playoffs, and only allow the games to be shown on tv, they’d be all for it. Fans in the stands are such a hassle because you have to hire hotdog vendors and beer men. 

Speaking of those in-stadium workers, they were set to be out of work, too. Only they hadn’t been putting all their endorsement money aside for the last five years. So the players, those greedy “millionaires” who weren’t willing to agree to a contract they were never given, set up a fund to pay those hourly stadium employees. About five hours later, the owners pulled a “that looks bad” move and set up their own fund. Granted, the owners are their bosses so they could have, I don’t know, just continued paying those workers instead of setting up a separate pile of slush money that I’m sure had all sorts of legal ramifications and hoops to jump through. As a general rule, if your employees think to pay your other employees out of their own pockets, it’s hard to paint them as greedy sonsabitches.

And at the end there, the owners took one last dick move. The players agreed to bridge the gap on the financials. They were only about $60,000 apart on the minimum salary and $30 million apart for the luxury tax (hard to believe three months of acrimony over a disagreement over $760,000 or $700,000 for rookies, huh?), so the players more or less agreed to the owners’ demands. But hold on! The commissioner wanted to see if he could get through a cancellation without snickering. He might never be able to feel real human emotions, but can we give him one more shot at pretendsies? Otherwise the A.I. will never be able to evolve. 

So after the players agreed to give up money, the owners threw in a new negotiating ploy. Now they wanted an international draft, because dangit, they have to spend money on stars like Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto! Wouldn’t it be better if they could just “win” the rights to these players and pay them the same minimum wages they pay the American minor leaguers? Heck, do you know how far $7.25 goes in the Dominican Republic?

I don’t even know if the international draft was in the final agreement. It doesn’t really matter. The only reason it was sprung at the last minute was so they could cancel more games. They could call the players greedy one more time, because they didn’t agree to something that hadn’t been discussed prior to that day. Then when the owners uncanceled those games the next day, they look like heroes. But only in the owners’ own minds. The rest of us saw through the bullshit all the way back to December. 

Not to be outdone, Russia and Ukraine agreed to a momentary ceasefire for the sole purpose of evacuating noncombatants from a few cities in the warpath. Then, wouldn’t you know it, the Russians started firing on the civilians as soon as they were out in the open. Then they made a second agreement and shelled them again. After the third ceasefire attack, they set up new “evacuation routes” that led to Belarus instead of Poland.

I know Bond villains are supposed to act Russian. I didn’t know Russians were supposed to act like Bond villains.

His poor wife.

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