On Baseball

Adam Gopnik has written about his falling out with baseball. I don’t care for the sport much, either. But I do have a few thoughts, corresponding to the reasons for his disdain:

1. “First, there is the utter cynicism in the relation of team to player…the sense that these guys arrive, execute, and leave is now too strong to lead me on.”

I have cried exactly twice in my life as a sports fan. One followed a University of Kansas loss to Duke University in the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the other came when I opened the Kansas City Star to find that my Royals had traded Brian McRae and David Cone. My two favorite players. On back to back days. I was eight years old.

But, I do not think it soured me on baseball, specifically. In some ways, the sport does more to keep players with their original teams than any other (in some ways, it doesn’t). My favorite sport, college basketball, rotates players at an ever-increasing rate.

If anything, this incident made me understand that these professional games, all of them, were professional sports.

2. “The length of games and their boredom.”

Baseball doesn’t translate well to television. But there isn’t a more enjoyable sport to watch in person. Also, things like this happen, sometimes (like, yesterday; seriously, watch the video). I have, however, written previously on exactly why baseball is more boring than other sports.

3. “The steroids era, and the failure to amend it.”

I suppose there is an off-color contrast to be made between Bud Selig’s cover-up of the steroids era and the Pope’s apparent cover-up of sexual abuse cases. But the steroid issue has never particularly bugged me. Shoes have gotten better, but no one thinks Usain Bolt’s times should carry an asterisks above Jesse Owens’; no one seriously wants to ban the equipment used by today’s golfers and tennis players. Steroids weren’t illegal; now they are. We move on.

4. “And the steroids scandals, beyond being rotten in themselves, disrupted history, and what is baseball without a sense of how yesterday’s game relates to today’s?”

See above. Also, I don’t really know what this means.

But Adam should have stopped after the second paragraph, when he got to the real reason for his bad break up with the sport: “I certainly miss my team, the Montreal Expos, whose reincarnation as the Washington Nationals has perpetuated their futility while surrendering their circus-cap charm.” [Bolding is mine]

Over the past decade, Adam’s team started to get really, really bad. Then they ceased to exist. The Royals won the World Series the year before I was born. In my lifetime, they have not yet returned to the playoffs. My allegiance to the perennially contending University of Kansas men’s basketball team has been strong and lasting; I couldn’t give two licks about the University of Kansas’s woeful football team. Ditto for the Royals, to a lesser degree.

So, this is all to say that fandom depends – along with such factors as, well, liking “sports” – overwhelmingly on being able to root for teams that are good, or at least competitive. This, I believe, is why Adam Gopnik and I no longer like baseball. Our teams are just bad.

[Postscript: I cannot explain my affinity for tennis within this theory, other than to say I admired Pete Sampras. And Pete Sampras was very good when I was growing up.]

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