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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Baseball’s Disgraceful Vanishing Act

For those who instinctively turn their dial to Channel 9 on Saturday afternoons at 2 o’clock expecting Mets baseball, I feel ya. Old habits are hard to break, particularly in a courageous new world. I know the phrase is brave new world, but after five consecutive division titles and a world championship, enough with everything Brave. And I know televisions no longer come with dials. I’m cognizant of what century it is. I don’t have to acknowledge everything about it all the time.

The coming of cable was a good baseball thing in that it meant pretty much every Met game would be televised. The coming of your cable bill was a less good thing, but at least you got what you paid for. In the beginning, there was SportsChannel, which was a name that told you what you were getting, even if it didn’t mention Fran Healy came with it. The later Met melange of Fox Sports Net-New York, which really rolled off the tongue (they shoulda stuck with SportsChannel) and MSG gave way to SNY and GKR, which, despite initial reservations, we’ve enjoyed wholeheartedly since 2006. This longstanding arrangement, give or take some weekends when Gary Cohen takes a break, has been true value in action. Except for those dates nibbled away by Fox or ESPN. Funny how once you didn’t have Vin Scully on NBC or Al Michaels on ABC calling the action, the “honor” of your team being on national TV began to feel like a burden.

Then came games snatched by Facebook and YouTube, which served some alleged purpose that I’ve been slow to grasp, but they were weekday afternoons and if somebody planted behind a desk somewhere was able to sneak peeks they couldn’t otherwise (because not everybody everywhere is an subscriber), well, it’s a weekday afternoon. Baseball happening on a weekday afternoon is gift enough. If its images are not beamed to us directly from Wrigley Field with Ralph Kiner explaining how the winds are blowing out to Waveland Ave., mainlining the Mets by radio oughta suffice.

Nowadays, though? We still have Fox and FS1 depleting the quality of random Saturdays. We still have whatever ESPN will put us through next on select Sundays. TBS’s forthcoming deal for Tuesday nights isn’t exclusive, but they do pull Ron Darling away from Cohen and Keith Hernandez, and that, as we’d say when the Captain didn’t play, ain’t Wright. Now a stream of streaming — exclusive in nature — aspires to prove itself all wet.

Apple TV+ is taking over Friday nights, or at least the games it chooses to devour, commencing with merely what is slated to be, Jacob deGrom’s right shoulder willing, Max Scherzer’s first start as a Met a week from tonight. Wouldn’t you love to hear what our announcers have to say about this historic outing? We’ll have to savor their perspective when it’s offered only in the past tense. Peacock is poised to pluck its share of Met games, too, swooping in on Sunday mornings, as if ESPN doesn’t do enough to denigrate Sunday evenings. (Amazon Prime is also doing something, but it’s something we don’t much care about, so they can leave it out on the front steps.)

I fear the streaming that will have us screaming is Paramount+ having dibs on whichever Thursday night games it chooses, all of which Rob Manfred has mandated must start at 9:30 PM local time, in deference to MLB’s agreement to vigorously promote the sitcom Ghosts, which airs on CBS Thursdays at nine, streaming the next day on, you guessed it, Paramount+. I’ve seen a few episodes of Ghosts. Parts of episodes, really. As network situation comedies in the present day go, it’s no Young Rock, but it’s OK. I’d like it better if it stayed in its lane.

The worst part of the Paramount+ tie-in, which you may have read about if you keep up on these depressing sports media matters, is difficult to choose, because the more you look at it, the worse it gets.

• There’s the late first pitch. West Coast games will stream live starting at 12:30 AM EDT, more like 12:40 once they do all the folderol. Seth Meyers and James Corden, beware.

• There’s the dreaded exclusivity’s impact on the booth. We won’t be hearing from Gary Cohen. We won’t be hearing from Gary Thorne, who did a decent job filling in for his namesake last summer. We won’t be hearing from Gary Apple, even. The Paramount+ announcers will be Ghosts series stars Rose McIver and Utkarsh Ambudkar, calling the games in character as Sam the writer who sees ghosts and Jay her husband who doesn’t, alongside ubiquitous plague on ears everywhere Matt Vasgersian, on loan from MLB Network (I’d prefer the actors). I don’t wish to prejudge, but broadcasting baseball games, regardless of platform, might work better with baseball professionals behind the mic (including Vasgersian, I count none here).

• Then there’s the rules change. Ohmigod, the rules change. If there’s any good news in what they’re doing to the rule book, it’s that this will only apply to these Paramount+ games. The bad news is these games count.

Ghosts runners. Now we’ve seen everything. Unless we can’t see them.

You think you hate the concept of ghost runners as we’ve seen it in 2020 and 2021 for extra innings? The same ghost runners we thought we’d be spared from after the lockout, then learned were returning to second base to start the tenth in case of a tie after regulation? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Literally. On these Thursday games that run on Paramount+, we’ll have Ghosts runners. The plural is no accident.

Let’s say Francisco Lindor leads off an inning and doubles. You and I and Buck Showalter may all be satisfied with Lindor’s speed, but Lindor has to be automatically removed for a Ghosts runner, meaning one of the supporting characters from the show will go to second in Francisco’s stead. Sam will see it; Jay won’t; Matt will strain to be sardonic; but the cameras will do the great favor of transmitting it…after first futzing around with some fuzziness because, you got it, they’re ghosts. According to a release from MLB, “the identity of the Ghosts runner will be determined by a special algorithm developed in accordance with the personality of the player who has doubled to lead off an inning (or reached second via a two-base fielding error or any defensive miscue that allows the batter to reach second base before the second batter of the inning steps into the batter’s box to begin the next plate appearance) and how well it meshes with the uproarious cast of Ghosts, which airs on CBS Thursday night at nine and streams the next day on Paramount+.”

That, by the way, is how all announcers employed by Major League Baseball rights holders, local and national, are required to explain the rule in their own broadcasts. So far, our beloved Gare has resisted, and I didn’t hear if Wayne Randazzo succumbed this week in St. Lucie, but watching some other teams’ Spring games on MLBN, I’ve heard the whole mouthful. It should come with mouthwash.

So Lindor won’t be on second. Despite doubling. Despite being Lindor. Despite being under contract to the Mets through 2031. The runner (they don’t pay me to call it “the Ghosts runner” at every turn) could be Trevor or Flower or Alberta or Hetty or Thorfinn or Sasappis or Captain Isaac Higgintoot or Pete. Not Pete Alonso, but Pete Martino — no relation to SNY reporter Andy Martino, as far as I know (Andy thinks this change is “just the shot in the arm baseball needs,” by the way; big surprise). Pete, like the aforementioned, is a character on Ghosts. They are collectively the Ghosts in the show title, the Ghosts who live with Sam and Jay. This is information you didn’t think you’d need to know to follow the Mets this season, but here we are.

Pete, at least, represents the spirit of a Mets fan.

Each of the Ghosts has a goofy backstory that works in the context of their sitcom yet has nothing to do with baseball. True, bespectacled Pete was a Mets fan during his pre-Ghosts lifetime, but that doesn’t tell us how well he’ll pick up signs from third base coach Joey Cora (also, he has an arrow lodged in and sticking out his neck). They will be in character and they will appear in costume rather than the uniform of which ever team on whose behalf they spookily materialize. It’s unclear as to whether their names will show up in the official box scores since they’re, well, Ghosts, but the decision to insert them as Ghosts runners is not subject to replay or umpire review.

Even if the given Ghosts have blazing speed — who doubts every one of them will run harder for home than Robinson Cano does to first on a ground ball to second? — there’s no guarantee they’ll score. As you try to wrap your head around this alteration to the tattered remains of what used to be our National Pastime, you might reason there’s never any guarantee that any runner will score from second. Which is fine, except if Captain Isaac Higgintoot (he’s the Ghost who died in the Revolutionary War) doesn’t score, then Lindor in this case or whoever doubled to lead off an inning has to leave the game.

Manfred’s explanation, via MLB’s release:

“Our research indicates ‘desirables’ and other youthful potential baseball-adjacent consumers who are engaged by fantasy, E-Sports and virtual activities will be intrigued by the exclusive opportunity to watch a runner suddenly ‘disappear’ from view, especially when it streams on a platform that requires an additional fee. Thus, any player who reaches second on a fair hit or error to lead off an inning must ‘vanish’ and be replaced by one of the Ghosts, who viewers of all demographics are welcome to watch pull hilarious hijinks every Thursday night at nine on CBS, streaming the next day on Paramount+. The Ghosts runners may have already lost the fight for their own lives, but now they, in conjunction with the team lineups that will attempt to ‘drive them in,’ can battle to keep some of the biggest stars the MLB has to offer in these exclusively streamed games. Truly, this is content in the best sense of the word.”

Gotta love how Manfred is calling his own sport “the MLB” now. And why does he put a baseball term like “drive them in” in quotes? I’m getting the sneaking suspicion Rob Manfred neither likes nor knows that which he commissioners.

Anyway, if the Ghosts runner scores, the hitter stays in the game and goes back to his position for the next half-inning (and is safe from “vanishment banishment” for the rest of the game), but not before McIver, Ambudkar and Vasgersian exclaim, “That’s bed…and breakfast!” Sam and Jay run a B&B on the show, in case you haven’t tuned in. Lest you think the would-be cutesy catchphrase is incidental, think again. Because they’re starting the games so late, Paramount+ and MLB (no the, “Commissioner”) are doing a tie-in with Airbnb. “Getting tired? Next time, reserve more than a room…” Something like that. Aaron Judge and Aaron Boone are supposed to be in the first commercial as “the sharin’ Aarons,” sharing the short-term rental. No doubt that one will run every half-inning of every Mets game Paramount+ hijacks.

Do you believe this nonsense? Do you believe the Players Association agreed to this? The universal designated hitter was bad enough. The extra-inning rule was bad enough. But implementing the Ghosts runner is beyond comprehension. Granted, it’s the reason rosters have been expanded to 28 for the first month of the season, ostensibly in order to give managers more Thursday night flexibility and get used to the vanishing act where leadoff baserunners disappear if their streaming replacements don’t score (Luis Guillorme is advised to stay ready to go in on defense at multiple positions), and that translates to 60 extra temporary jobs and perhaps unlocks a surfeit of service time for the union’s membership, but Tony Clark and whoever else negotiated this wrinkle really should have ironed it out. I already know the owners don’t care. I already know Manfred will allow anything for a buck. I guess the players, already willing to wear advertising on their uniforms (including the Peacock logo suggestively below their belt buckles in those Sunday morning games), aren’t going to make a fuss at this point.

We’re six days from the beginning of the season, but what difference does it make what day it is when Major League Baseball doesn’t give its actual fans a ghost of a chance?

14 comments to Baseball’s Disgraceful Vanishing Act

  • open the gates

    I actually got through half of your post before I shook myself, looked at the calendar, and face palmed. Well done, sir. (By the way, does Manfred always refer to baseball as “the MLB,” or just this one day a year?)

  • April 1st indeed. As for Fran Healy, he ‘ghosted’ me in the Yankees dugout once while I was coiling up a mic cable for CBS. He was still on the air for WPIX doing a postgame interview. With my back to him, I didn’t realize that my cable was tangled with his and slowly strangling him as he did a live interview. Suddenly I was sprawled on the steps by an invisible shove! I’ve been ‘haunted’ by it ever since :)

  • TJ

    I’m not upset about how long it took me to realize what was up. I am upset about just how plausible everything up to that moment was (Having TV actors call games in character is exactly the kind of nonsense that a network and MLB would think is a good idea. And that scares me for future years).

  • Seth

    Very funny Greg. The actual rule changes are sad enough!

  • DAK442

    I would go out of my way to watch a game called by the cast of Ghosts in character. I love that show. It would a lot better than the Manning-cast.

  • Bob

    Greg–Excellent writing-agree 100%
    This is exactly the kind of shit I expected when the entity Manfred from the septic Marketing sewer goes public and belches out about the changes MLB can make along with putting ads on uniforms, “will enhance the entertainment value of the product…”
    This is quite disgusting and another blow to what is left of integrity (a word we will never hear from the Manfred entity) of the game of baseball as we knew it.
    Just happy I saw the the Mets baseball I’ve seen since 1963 at my 1st Mets game @ Polo Grounds to being at Shea for game #3 of 2000 World Series VS evil ones.
    Manfred and his collection of money grubbing swine can never take that away!
    Let’s Go Mets!

    • Yet you literally let your Met flag fly in Southern California for all those Dodgers fans to see. I’d like to think those of us who love the game will outlast those paid to undermine it.

      • Bob

        Yes, just raised new Met flag, last week
        Folks can see it from street as it’s on a 12-foot high pole.
        No worries, it’s in yard and guarded by my female 10-year old German Shepherd-who does NOT like Yankee fans!
        Dodger fans pretty mellow about Mets, it’s the Giants who they dislike–a Northern VS Southern California thing..

        Well said, and I hope your right about
        “I’d like to think those of us who love the game will outlast those paid to undermine it.”
        Let’s Go Mets!

  • Stan

    You had me until the Ghosts runner. Nice.

  • Greg: You are spot-on, as always. I thought it was just me, trying to work the Web (hard enough for a geezer) and unable to suss out where the Met game was, and what time.
    The MLB (if I may quote Manfred) has sold out — to gamblers, to random cable networks.
    Do fans have to tote up actual money for this game or that game? How despicable.
    Keep on it. I’m hoping to pin down a few Mets games on the tube this season, but I’m not shelling out to all the banditti lurking behind every tree. GV