Flaherty and Molina

St. Louis Cardinals' Yadier Molina, right, celebrates with Jack Flaherty after hitting a sacrifice fly to score Kolten Wong and defeat the Atlanta Braves in Game 4 of a baseball National League Division Series, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019, in St. Louis. Under MLB's proposed health and safety guidelines for 2020, such a celebration would not be allowed. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

(KMOV.com) — With the live sports hiatus in North America continuing into its third month, one popular way for sports networks to fill the void has been replaying old, memorable games. Considering the Cardinals emerged victorious in one of the most remarkable games in baseball history, it’s unsurprising that one of their games has gotten some serious airtime during the coronavirus shutdown.

The most recent airing of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series came Tuesday night on ESPN. It unfolded the way it always does, with a sloppy back-and-forth exposition followed by late-inning heroics in the perfectly exhilarating pattern of Freese-Hamilton-Berkman-Freese which allowed the Cardinals to prevail over the Texas Rangers in 11 innings. For a more in-depth exploration of the game, check out this installment from my recent Cards Capsules series

If you’re a Cardinals fan, though, you probably already have the whole thing committed to memory. When in the company of fellow St. Louisians, the phrase ‘Game 6’ doesn’t need any additional context for others to understand what you’re talking about. People just… know.

Something I enjoy, though, is hearing perspective from outsiders on what their experiences with Game 6 were. Not necessarily Rangers fans—and I met a few of those studying at Mizzou beginning in August of 2012, about 10 months after Game 6 took place. I try not to bring it up with them too often, out of respect. Sometimes it’s hard to resist, though.

No, what’s fun for me is to hear the perspective of total outsiders, baseball fans who had no dog in the race, but still have recollections of their impressions of Game 6 as a neutral observer. Like, the game was objectively bonkers. You didn’t necessarily have to be a Cardinals fan or a Rangers supporter to recognize the event for the insanity that it was.

The combination of the prevalence of social media plus the trend of old games airing on major television channels has offered sports fans a unique experience during this pandemic. Any time Game 6 is on the air, my Twitter page lights up about it. When you can’t live-tweet live games, might as well live-tweet old games, right? It’s almost reached the point of obligation when I realize the game is being played somewhere, as I mentioned via Twitter Tuesday.

Though Twitter existed back in 2011, it only had somewhere in the neighborhood of one-third of the active user base that it boasts today. With this new wave of reactions to classic games, we’re seeing new perspectives on something that has become so familiar in St. Louis.

Another name familiar to St. Louis nowadays? Jack Flaherty. The Cardinals ace starting pitcher was a sophomore at Harvard-Westlake High School in the Los Angeles area when Game 6 happened. He had no connection to the Cardinals in 2011. He certainly does now.

Flaherty was like the rest of us Tuesday, taking a gander at Game 6. An active Twitter user, the 24-year-old pitcher isn’t afraid to share what’s on his mind when it comes to debates within baseball—or any sport, really. He's quite the authority on the NBA, too.

But in this case, what I found fascinating was the way Flaherty so naturally connected an event so ubiquitous for Cardinals fans to the larger problems facing baseball in the coronavirus era.

Currently, MLB owners and players are actively negotiating for the return of baseball this summer. Ownership’s financial obligations toward players are one major hurdle yet to be cleared, but another important factor is the health and safety of the players involved. With that in mind, MLB delivered a 67-page health and safety manual regarding the practices and protocols baseball will look to implement for the sport’s return in 2020. The guidelines are thorough, placing limitations on everything from high-fives to sunflower seeds, from celebratory hugs to—well, spitting. I mean, baseball players spit a lot. But not this year, according to the protocols MLB is looking to employ.

The players union has not come to an agreement with MLB for the 2020 season, so some of the elements from the health and safety proposal could conceivably be scrapped. Some reports indicate even the teams aren’t so enthused about everything in the proposal. Which makes sense. In a lot of ways, these rules are unnatural for players, going against behaviors that have become second-nature to their experience playing the game.

That’s where Flaherty’s tweets come into play.

First, on a track related more to the competitiveness of the game than the health or safety elements, Flaherty cracked wise about the concept of the universal DH, which is likely to be employed in 2020. As a competitor and noted athlete, Flaherty probably doesn’t see the need to have a designated hitter bat on his behalf. Believing that pitchers are more than capable of handling themselves at the plate, Flaherty had a fun quip reacting to a moment in Game 6 where Tony La Russa—with his bench void of position players in the 10th inning—called upon Kyle Lohse as a pinch-hitter to get a sacrifice bunt down. 

Lohse, of course, committed a cardinal sin of bunting by popping the ball up into the air, but Adrian Beltre was charging so hard that he ran right past it, rendering the bunt successful. Flaherty's point stands, nevertheless!

On a note more relevant to MLB’s health and safety proposal, Flaherty offered a pretty sensible point that deserves consideration from the powers that be.

Imagine being a baseball player and winning a game with the intensity and excitement of Game 6. Imagine how you’d react with your teammates. Now imagine being told that, during the 2020 season, you aren’t allowed to do so.

Air high-fives all around? 

Legislating celebrations, physical contact, handshakes, high-fives… It’s almost impossible to imagine what that would look like for Major League Baseball. Professionals playing the game with child-like enthusiasm in the big moments? That’s fundamental to everything good about the sport we love. Take that away? Some might wonder whether the product that remains is worth pursuing at all in 2020. Just wait until it’s completely safe before restarting the sport, some would argue.

Personally, that’s not how I feel. Because there’s no way to ensure that time will ever come. Risk is inherent to a lot of things we do in life. Can’t baseball in the coronavirus era be another one of them? Easy for me to ponder, considering it’s not my risk or my decision.

Clearly, though, given Flaherty's tweet, some players are concerned about the implications of the new proposed safety guidelines. Nobody is questioning the need to prioritize safety, but in so many ways, the guidelines just aren't realistic.

Hopefully, baseball can find a balance that keeps everyone as safe as possible without sacrificing so many of the elements of the sport that make it what it is. But for my money, David Freese's celebration at home plate after Game 6 would have lost a bit of its luster with social distancing protocols in place.

Copyright 2020 KMOV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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