For baseball fans, these are the best of times and the worst of times. They’re the best, because going into the last weekend of the season, there are still some exciting playoff races. And then, of course, they finally have the playoffs and the World Series to look forward to.

IN GENERAL, BASEBALL PLAYERS ARE LOUSY FIGHTERSBut these last days of September are also the worst of times, because most teams have long been out of it, finishing the season in a whimper.  

The Houston Astros, for example, are 43 games out of the lead in the American League West. This weekend, during their final three games, they’re hosting the New York Yankees, whose season is also over. Unless Houston fans want to jeer the Yankees, why watch the games?

That’s a hard question to answer. Not surprisingly, the Astros got a zero Nielsen TV rating for their game against Cleveland last Sunday — which means not a single one of the 581 Nielsen viewers in Houston watched that game for even a minute.

The Milwaukee Brewers did somewhat better this year, but are still 22 games behind the Cardinals. For a Brewers fan, what’s there to watch?

Judging by the sports highlights, it seems the biggest event for Brewers’ fans lately might have been the dispute this Wednesday after Brewers’ outfielder Carlos Gomez jacked a home run off Braves’ pitcher Paul McCann. When he hit the dinger, Gomez took about 15 minutes rounding the bases, overdoing the celebration to get back at McCann, who hit him in the knee with a fastball on June 23.

When Gomez apporached home plate, Braves’ catcher Brian McCann stopped him, and the two started jabbering away. Both dugouts cleared.

I saw the highlight many times the next day. It was a lead story on ESPN and everywhere else. And it struck me that the whole episode, like most bench-clearing episodes in Major League Baseball, was really a pathetic sight. Although players from both teams eagerly sprinted from their dugouts, they did what most baseball players do during these kinds of situations — they stood around and tried to look like they were about to fight. But they never fought.

ESPN and other sports media love to show these bench-clearings because they seem to promise a spectacle, something to look at when there’s really nothing else there and the bleachers are empty (just look at the Milwaukee outfield stands).  

And yet they’re hollow. Usually, the players run out and jump around and yell at each other The umpires and coaches spread their arms to try to keep the peace. And yet if you watch closely enough, most of the time there really isn’t any need to keep the peace. Most of the players aren’t fighting, they’re just posing. You can see their hearts aren’t really in it. There are exceptions, but almost every time these things look like little playground kerfuffles among a bunch of sissies. At most, they throw little slaps at each other.

The Brewers-Braves scrum got me wondering why the fights in baseball aren’t better. All these players can’t be chickens, can they? Are they worried about ejections?

The only explanation I have is that professional baseball players might be like professional cellists. Why break your hand, which is your money maker, just because of a fastball thrown back in June at somebody who may not even be your teammate next year?

I can understand that, but sometimes I wish more players would remember what a wise man once said: Never fight. But if you get in a fight, have some pride in yourself and make it a real fight.