Last summer, I watched the World Cup on TV whenever I could. Since I don’t have cable, and the games always seemed to be televised on ESPN, I had to watch them on Telemundo or whatever Spanish language station was showing the games. I appreciated the emotion the Spanish-speaking announcers brought to the game, and I probably got more out of the experience by doing it this way.
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But there was one moment that puzzled me greatly. In the midst of some rapid-fire Spanish commentary about one of the games, the announcer said — in very good English — “If you want to be The Man, you’ve got to beat The Man.” Whatever the context was that brought that line up, I knew right away what its source was: “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. The kid that I once was watched a lot of professional wrestling back in the day, before Vince McMahon and the WWF came along. And Flair was always the champion, taunting his opponents with the same old catchphrase. It was “What choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?” but with a bleach-blonde multimillionaire instead of a cute little kid.
The phrase was always followed by a reminder — to the other wrestlers and all the people like me watching at home — that he was indeed The Man. And then he did his “Whooo!” and walked off the set. Here’s an example, in case you haven’t seen it before.
Last night, on the biggest stage baseball has to offer, we got another reminder that Madison Bumgarner is indeed The Man, at least where the World Series is involved. I suggested as much before the game started, and even if he didn’t get the start the way I thought he might, the game effectively ended when he stepped on the mound in the fifth inning. After giving up a hit to the first batter he faced, his performance was lock down, rock solid and right on the money until some drama was created by Alex Gordon with two outs in the ninth. But hardly anyone outside of Kansas City thought the game would end any way other than it did, with the Giants claiming their third title in the last five seasons. The Giants are now the team of the decade, and it’s barely half over.
The Royals faced The Man over the final five innings of their magical season, and they barely laid a glove on him. Nobody else in the game could throw 68 pitches — 50 of them for strikes — while handcuffing the opposition on two days of rest. Maybe something like this happened in the Deadball Era, before anyone knew what a pitch count was. But in today’s game, it’s unthinkable, or at least it was until game seven of the 2014 World Series.
Clayton Kershaw will win the Cy Young Award in the National League, and perhaps even the MVP, but he’d trade them both in to have what Bumgarner has now. And what that is should be savored by all baseball fans, because we’re unlikely to ever see anything like it again, at least not until Mo’ne Davis arrives in the majors.