When I heard that you all had a holiday today, I asked around and I thought someone said you had the day off for Canada Dry. Which, don’t get me wrong, is a terrific beverage (far superior to Schweppes), but I couldn’t understand why you guys needed a whole day for that.
Then I did some research and it turns out, as you have long suspected, I am a moron. So Happy Canada Day to my favorite neighbors to the North. Happy kind-of Birthday. Celebrate and go nuts. But not too nuts because A) you remember what happened last time and B) I’ll be keeping my eye on you from just across Lake Superior. Don’t even think about coming over here on a panty-raid or to TP the Chequamegon National Forest, because I won’t stand for it.
Anyway, in honor of Canada Day, I thought we’d celebrate with a very special Canada Edition of similes. If I get any of the history wrong, feel free to admonish me in the comments.
The Constitution Act of 1867 is like the introduction of free agency to MLB in 1976
Canada, the land, has always existed in some form or another, but the political entity that we know as Canada today traces its roots to this 1867 act. Prior to 1867, the provinces existed as relatively separate political entities, but due to the desire to improve national security (from those interlopers from the South who kept looking hungrily at Prince Edward Isle) and to reduce the cost of government, the four most inhabited provinces looked to formally band together. The Constitution Act established this confederation between New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and the Provinces of Canada and united these regions into a new dominion. The Canadian provinces, which had been split into East and West Canada, were renamed Quebec and Ontario, respectively, and the four provinces were able to present a united and formidable front. Queen Victoria supported letting Canada become an independent kingdom, still under the reign of the British Crown, since there was little that could be done to prevent it. John McDonald was appointed as the first Prime Minister. It’s the day that Canada became Canada.
Major League Baseball traces its roots to just two years later (1869), to the foundation of the Cincinnati Red Stockings as the first professional team. Others use the foundation of the National League (1876) as the moment that MLB came into being. Still others look to 1903, when the American and National Leagues began cooperating.
The truth, though, is that the game was very different then. Gloves were smaller or non-existent. Pitchers were ridden hard and threw all manner of pitches that are now illegal. Hitters focused primarily on putting the ball in play, thanks in large part to the huge error totals from the era, and used tree limbs for bats. And players were little more than well-paid (most Major League players actually earned above average salaries compared to the rest of American society) indentured servants, who had almost no control over where they played and for whom. And, of course, it was shamefully all white (and Native American).
Today’s game is bigger, faster, stronger. It is also more free and more fair. There is actually more parity in Major League Baseball today than at any other time in the game’s history (except maybe the 1980s), with nine different World Series winners in the last 10 years and with 73% of teams making the postseason in the last five years (and 83% in the last 10 years). Players and fans can thank the expanded playoff format for some of that parity, but can also point to the ability of players to move freely from one team to another via free agency.
The advent of free agency fundamentally changed the way the game was organized. Certainly, it was still baseball, but teams were forced to operate differently in a new political and economic reality. They could no longer hoard talent indefinitely, nor pay them whatever they wanted. It gave the players new rights and made those rights expressly plain. That victory continues to affect how teams build themselves up, and plan their rosters. It altered the way we were forced to think about teams and players. And it made Major League Baseball into the entity we recognize today.
The Oregon Treaty is like the 1903 Agreement between the American and National Leagues
We weren’t always friends, your country and mine. In fact, as I suggested above, there was a profound (and warranted) fear that the United States was looking to annex parts of your fair country. What can I say? We were young and having a growth spurt. And we’re kind of naturally invade-y. I guess it comes with the territory…territory we almost certainly swiped from someone else.
Most of the War of 1812 was fought in Canada, after several years of Britain impressing American sailors into their service (Great Britain didn’t recognize naturalized citizenship in the US) and trade restrictions designed to limit the US’s access to France. After Britain defeated the French forces under Napoleon (which we covered last week), they lifted the trade restrictions, stopped impressing soldiers, and nobody had any reason to fight anymore.
But that didn’t stop the disputes between the US and UK, both of whom laid claim to the Oregon Country (or Columbia, as the British called it), which ran from Mexican California up to Alaska. American settlers began moving out in earnest in the 1830s, putting additional pressure on the British, who wished to hang on to this valuable territory. American politicians were eager to expand, and some pushed for yet another war with England over it. Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. The US was gearing up for war with Mexico, so President Polk proposed a compromise along the 49th parallel in 1843, which was eventually accepted all around. A third war, especially so temporally close to the actual independence of Canada, may have caused animosity between the nations that, thankfully, never really materialized outside of sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness, and Celine Dion.
Similarly, the National and American Leagues had a serious bone to pick with each other regarding territorial rights from 1901-1903. The AL had absolutely no respect for the National League’s reserve clause (nor should it have, since the clause was immoral, and it didn’t apply to the AL anyway). Nor did it have respect for the contracts that players signed with NL clubs under said reserve clause (a slightly dicier position, no doubt. So the AL proceeded to rob the NL blind. The NL lost Nap Lajoie, Ed Delahanty, Mike Donlin, Fielder Jones, Clark Griffith, Joe McGinnity, Jimmy Collins, Buck Freeman, Monte Cross, Joe Kelley, Davy Jones, Jesse Burkett, and Cy Young.
The National League, of course, struck back, through the legal system and by offering higher salaries still. Many of the players who jumped returned to their original clubs within a year. It was an ongoing back and forth with rising salaries for the players and shrinking profits for the owners.
To prevent further bloodshed, the leagues made peace. They drew a line in the sand, recognizing a definitive border between the leagues, and built a fence so high that players could no longer jump it. Salaries fell precipitously as owners took out their frustrations on the players who left them. Indeed, some of the biggest skinflints in Major League Baseball ended up being the men who had initially started the bidding war in the American League. Peace was achieved through mutual affluence. It has proven to be an extremely long-lasting and profitable peace, much like that between the US and Canada.
Official Bilingualism is like the Designated Hitter
I love that you guys have two official languages, and that I get to learn French when I drive through your wonderful country. I realize this hasn’t always been the case. There was a concerted effort to shoot down Francophonic influence (which is, as of right now, my James Franco Tribute Band’s name) in the mid 1800s, due to the traditional British rivalry with France (or James Franco). And the US also worried about the French and Catholic influences spreading down across the Great Lakes. But you guys did good work in 1867, when you recognized that both French and English, and the cultural traditions associated with those languages, could and should exist side-by-side. Of course, that realization was politically motivated (a Canada with a big Quebec-shaped hole in the middle of it would not, really, be very workable), but still, roughly 80-90% of Canadians have supported the Official Bilingualism of Canada, and that’s a beautiful thing.
I wish we could reach similar consensus on the value of the Designated Hitter being restricted to the American League. It further differentiates the two organizations (which is more important now, given that the league offices have been closed, and teams are playing inter-league games every year), and provides variations of the game that can appeal to different groups of fans. Do you like more offense or hate watching pitchers hit? Congratulations, we have a league for you. Do you prefer traditionalism* and the idea that everyone on the field has to both field their position and take up a bat? We’ve got you covered too. The idea that both leagues have to be unified and identical in every way is something that is entirely lost on me. Having a DH in one league and not the other can appeal to different kinds of fans, meaning more people will be attracted to the game. And isn’t that a good thing in and of itself?
*I don’t really buy the “traditionalism” argument. The DH has been around for almost 40 years now. It is a tradition of its own at this point. It’s silly to pretend this is some kind of fly-by-night fad like orange baseballs or fu-manchu mustaches. It’s as much a part of the game as night baseball and throwing overhand.