UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Casper’s back, turning ghostly into ghastly 

Growing up, I regularly watched a very popular weekly half-hour sitcom called Topper on our black-and-white television.

It featured the antics of a couple and their martini-swigging St. Bernard named Neil. All three had perished in an avalanche and could be communicated with only by a very proper banker named Cosmo Topper. 

Everyone around Topper thought he was looney, of course, as he went from one awkward situation to another, seemingly talking to himself. As ghosts, his mischievous friends could be seen and heard only by him.

A popular cartoon character named Casper the Friendly Ghost was around at the same time. Casper had his own comic books and starred in numerous animated films. No fewer than 20 actors and actresses spoke Casper’s line over the years.

Those shows were fun. But ghostly entertainment 60-70 years ago is ghastly baseball today.

In case you missed the story last week, Major League Baseball and the players union have agreed to place the so-called “ghost runner” (one who didn’t bat) on second base to start the top and bottom of every extra inning again this season.

In my opinion it’s the greatest abomination in baseball history.

They justified its original use as a tool to help limit the pandemic exposure of players and others by hastening the conclusion of games tied after nine innings. 

Now they’ve rationalized it as necessary to help prevent injuries to players who didn’t have a full spring training to get their bodies in shape for the long season ahead.

Good grief!

Consider this: If the “ghost runner” had been in use throughout the Rockies’ so far 30-year existence, three of their greatest games would not have unfolded in the dramatic and historic ways they did. The suspense, controversy and charm all would have been lost.

I’m talking about the official Coors Field opener versus the Mets in 1995, the Wild Card tiebreaker with the Padres in 2007, and a historic regular-season game against the Braves the first year of the new millennium.

Dante Bichette won the frigid Coors inaugural with a three-run walk-off home run in the 14th. It was the third time the Rockies had come from behind in their last half-inning of that memorable opener.

Matt Holliday’s head-first slide and umpire Tim McClelland’s controversial “safe” call sent Colorado to the post-season in the 13th against San Diego and Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman—capping another do-or-die rally. The Rockies went all the way to the World Series that year, if you recall.

And Brent Mayne became the first position player since Rocky Colavito, with the Yankees in the waning days of his final season, to be the winning pitcher, thanks to Adam Melhuse’s FIRST MAJOR LEAGUE HIT, a bases-loaded, walk-off pinch single in the 12th against Atlanta August 22, 2000.

Imagine any of those classic games being decided—in either team’s favor—by a guy who didn’t do anything to reach second scoring the winning run in the 10th.

That’s what this will do the game. No more hard-earned victories in the 15th. Forget about any game lasting 17 or more innings, as the one between the Rockies and Diamondbacks did when they played 18 at Coors Field on August 15, 2006, or as the Rockies and Padres did on April 17, 2008 by going 22 innings in San Diego.

Some people might say, Thank Goodness. But they can’t be real baseball fans. A real baseball fan hangs on every pitch, every swing, every play.

It’s bad enough that baseball fans had to sit through almost four months of a lockout—with no free agent rumors or signings and no trades—while virtually nothing happened except squabbling over money until spring training loomed.

Now a delayed season will be marred by “Caspers” and “Neils” on second base every time a game is tied after nine innings.

But at least they’ll play NINE INNINGS every game. No more seven-inning doubleheaders. At least, for now.

The good news, we should recognize, is that second base could be LARGER at some point, if the owners and players deem it will cut down on injuries. And pitchers won’t hit anymore in the National League. And shifts likely will be restricted by next season. And . . . 

I think I need one of Neil’s martinis.

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 13 books, seven of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.