Controversial B1G season endings are harsh reminder of baseball's cruelty
Baseball will stick it to you; it means to break your heart. — Roger Angell
Legendary baseball writer Roger Angell died last month, aged 101. Few have witnessed more of America’s pastime. And fewer still would better appreciate the string of season-ending heartbreaks that Big Ten teams experienced than he.
So perhaps we should think of the events of these past couple of weeks as a tribute. Because that is the only way to put a sunny side on otherwise outraging outcomes that put Big Ten baseball to bed in 2022.
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Though the season ended with controversial losses for Michigan and Maryland on Monday, those teams are not the only ones with a gripe. They’re merely the ones for whom snowballs of heartbreak became an avalanche.
The delayed rainout
The chain of outrage began on the final day of the regular season.
Both Nebraska and Northwestern had an opportunity to leapfrog Purdue for 1 of the 8 spots in the Big Ten Tournament — provided the Boilermakers lost to first-place Maryland.
That never happened because the Boilermakers never played first-place Maryland.
The game was rained out, though the inclement weather did not arrive until 2.5 hours after the scheduled first pitch. That it had originally been forecast for 1:30 for the 1 p.m. start was of no matter. Nor was the fact Maryland had to leave West Lafayette by 5:30 p.m. for its flight in Chicago.
Cornhuskers and Wildcat fans accused Purdue of gamesmanship — manipulating Mother Nature itself to reach the Big Ten tourney.
The complaints aren’t entirely without merit. Clearly neither coach wanted to waste pitchers on a game that was unlikely to finish, especially with the conference tournament looming. But by the letter of the law, they probably should have started playing.
As far as controversies go, though, this was kid stuff. A mere appetizer for what was to come.
Iowa fans joined the train of outrage in the winner-take-all Tournament semifinal against Michigan. Wolverines pitcher Willie Weiss was ejected in the 5th inning when umpires found a sticky substance on his glove.
B1G CHEATING SCANDAL! pic.twitter.com/U3jxUCyVfG
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) May 29, 2022
That Michigan would go on to run-rule the Hawkeyes 13-1 was of little consequence to Iowa fans. They believed the game should be forfeited because Michigan was caught cheating. That this is not in the rulebook, nor ever should be, was also of no consequence.
The indignity of the season ending against a pitcher who was caught cheating touched a nerve that removed fans from rationality.
If your Pitcher gets caught using a “foreign substance” that’s been placed inside his glove your entire team should have to forfeit. Michigan Wolverines pitcher was ejected and suspended for four games, yet the Hawkeyes lost and Michigan still advances in the BIG10 tourny. Bogus!
— Duncan_Manutz (@Brad_Zilla83) May 30, 2022
— Jonathan Schaeffer (@JSchaeffCreates) May 29, 2022
Did the Michigan pitcher who was ejected from the Iowa game for cheating get to play against Rutgers? Michigan should have been removed from the tournament for purposefully cheating…life lesson there kids…cheaters do win sometimes!
— Everyone (@ihawkeye1) May 30, 2022
@bigten @ncaa Michigan pitcher gets caught with foreign substance and gets ejected. But there's no other penalty to the team. That's not much of a deterent. Michigan gets to keep its advantage that is built up over 5 innings by cheating.
Change the rule. Make it hurt.
— Nicholas Moore (@nicholasjmoore) May 29, 2022
As it turned out, the Hawkeyes didn’t even come close to having the most anger-inducing finish to a Big Ten baseball season.
After losing the Big Ten Tournament final to Michigan, Rutgers had very little to worry about. The Scarlet Knights were 44-15 and a slam-dunk to reach the NCAA Tournament after finishing 2nd in the Big Ten regular-season race.
But the selection committee missed the dunk.
Penalized for playing teams that actually had the ability to travel to New Jersey in nonconference play, Rutgers was inexplicably left home. Undeserving teams like Dallas Baptist and Grand Canyon, which used geographical convenience to beef up their nonconference RPI, got in over Rutgers.
Fittingly, both went 0-2 in their regionals. Ball don’t lie.
But that’s of little consolation to the Scarlet Knights. When they walked off the field in Omaha, they probably figured there was a chance they’d be back in June. Had there been a sense of urgency in needing to beat Michigan, Rutgers coach Steve Owens probably would have managed the game quite differently.
It doesn’t get more heartbreaking than that. Unless …
Welcome to the ump show
With wins Monday, Michigan and Maryland would give the B1G 2 entrants in Super Regionals. And when 100% of your conference’s postseason representation reaches a Super Regional, it’s pretty solid evidence that your league deserves more respect.
The Wolverines and Terrapins were playing for themselves, obviously. But they also had a chance to remind the selection committee that the Big Ten should be more than a 2-bid league.
Until they were welcomed to the ump show. Thrice. Or maybe it was 4 times.
Louisville batter gets called safe after review which would have ended the inning with Michigan up 9-7 going into the 9th.
Louisville tied the game on the next at bat. pic.twitter.com/yxThGRYAhj
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) June 6, 2022
The would-be final out of Louisville’s 8th inning was a double-whammy. The call was initially blown on the field, which is understandable. It was a close play. That’s why replay review exists.
What isn’t understandable? How the replay review failed to reveal that a tag was placed before the runner’s hand touched the bag. It’s right there, in front of everyone’s eyes. Except for the eyes that mattered.
Louisville tied the game on the next at-bat.
And that wasn’t even the worst of it.
It looked like Michigan would at least make it to the 9th with a tie intact when Cameron Weston struck out Louisville slugger Cam Masterman. Except Weston’s strike 3 pitch was called as ball 2. Given a respite, Masterman hammered the ensuing 2-2 pitch out of the park to put the Cardinals ahead.
It was a horrendous way to end a season. But at least the Big Ten could still hang its hat on Maryland.
How the hell do you call the runner out? pic.twitter.com/vnUYPB70LT
— CJ Fogler AKA Perc70 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) June 7, 2022
The Terps were done in by a horrendous ruling from home plate umpire Jeff Head — Maryland fans will likely insert a different first name — in which Bubba Alleyne was called out for running outside the baseline. Head and UConn fans appear to be the only people who saw it.
Perhaps the Huskies still would have snuffed out Maryland’s rally. The shame is we never saw how that drama would have unfolded. The far bigger shame is that call was the final college at-bat for the Big Ten Player of the Year.
But given how seasons have ended around the B1G, there’s no more fitting outcome. The way this postseason unfolded, it makes sense that the league’s best player was the recipient of the worst hose-job. It couldn’t have ended any other way.
Baseball means to break your heart.