Tag Archives: baseball

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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This Week’s Best Profile

We try to avoid profiles from say, The New Yorker, Esquire, The New York Times Magazine, and so on. It’s just too easy to find good stuff, and you’ve probably read it anyway. So here’s something well out of the mainstream (though not for long). Eric tells the story of a baseball player’s funeral. It’s also about the drug war in Mexico you probably haven’t paid much attention to:

They ran the bases for Jaime Irogoyen. His family, his friends, and his teammates were all there at Estadio Carta Blanca in Juarez, Mexico at 11:00 AM on January 17. I like to imagine they were still dressed up from the funeral; that they came straight from church. I like to imagine that they filed out of the dugout in their suits and lined up behind home plate like Little Leaguers.

In my version they all stand silently for a while, unsure of what to do. There is no pitcher to get things started. No base coach to windmill them around the diamond. They stand silently in the quiet sanctuary of the empty stadium. They scratch their heads and ponder life and death and the way a baseball field can make everything outside its lines or walls or fences disappear. Finally an old man (maybe a grandparent or a coach) grumbles impatiently; he knows death well. Let’s do something, he says. Vamanos.

Read the whole thing here.

My feelings exactly

Apologies for all the baseball today, but who knew that 79 years ago, Ring Lardner expressed my exact feelings about the game of baseball in his short essay, Br’er Rabbit Ball:

My average attendance at ball parks for the last three seasons has been two times per season (aside from World Series) and I probably wouldn’t have gone that often but for the alleged necessity of getting my innumerable grandchildren out in the air once in a while. During the games, I answer what questions they ask me to the best of my knowledge and belief, but most of the afternoon I devote to a handy pocket edition of one of Edgar Wallace’s sex stories because the events on the field make me yearn for a bottle of Mothersill’s Remedy.

I will say, I’d much rather watch a game in the stands than on television. Also, you should buy a New Yorker subscription to read the rest of this short article – and EVERYTHING ELSE IN THE NEW YORKER, EVER.

Lions in Winter

A confluence of various things caused me to read more than one – three, to be precise – fantastic profiles of over the hill baseball players this week. I offer them to you for your long weekend, so take advantage of the office printer.

For those Meanderers who don’t know an infield fly from a suicide squeeze – or, better yet, don’t care to know – fret not. These articles aren’t really about baseball. Here’s the evidence.

Gay Talese on Joe DiMaggio:

During their honeymoon in Tokyo an American general had introduced himself and asked if, as a patriotic gesture, [Marilyn Monroe] would visit the troops in Korea. She looked at Joe. “It’s your honeymoon,” he said, shrugging, “go ahead if you want to.”

She appeared on 10 occasions before 100,000 servicemen, and when she returned, she said, “It was so wonderful, Joe. You never heard such cheering.”

“Yes, I have,” he said.

John Updike on Ted Williams:

The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories. It falls into three stages, which may be termed Youth, Maturity, and Age; or Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis; or Jason, Achilles, and Nestor.

Tom Verducci on Sandy Koufax:

DiMaggio, baseball’s other legendary protector of privacy, was practically Rodmanesque compared with Koufax. DiMaggio was regal, having acquired even the stiff-handed wave of royalty. We watched the graying of DiMaggio as he played TV pitchman and public icon. Koufax is a living James Dean, the aura of his youth frozen in time; he has grayed without our even knowing it. He is a sphinx, except that he doesn’t want anyone to try to solve his riddle.

I prefer them in the order listed above, but they all touch on a remarkably similar theme: the lion in the winter, Shakespeare post-Macbeth, Hanson post-Mmmbop, Favre post-retirement(s). What does one do, indeed, when one has conquered this planet in every worldly sense and must confront the rest of one’s life? I told you it wasn’t about baseball.

Oh, a decent set of writers helps too.

Why baseball is boring

I went to Yankee Stadium for the first time on Sunday. It’s an impressive place, easy to navigate, and spacious enough to legitimately have a section called The Great Hall. The game was a high-scoring one, in the early innings at least, as the teams put up 6 runs. It was mildly exciting as baseball goes.

But, as I explained to Eric, I was bored. Because baseball is an inherently boring sport. There is one reason, unrelated to Joe Morgan, why this is so: defense is just defense.

In every other sport – indeed, in every other great human endeavor – defense can mean offense. Football. Basketball. War. Chess. Boxing. Tennis. Monopoly. Love. Soccer. Rhetorical debate. Poker. Arm wrestling. Hockey. Personal bankruptcy. You can score off a steal, a deeply-placed return of serve, a talented accountant.

But not in baseball. While on defense, all you can do is stop the other team. Then you stop them again. Then stop them one more time. Make perhaps the greatest catch in a decade – I’m thinking, in particular, of leaping over a wall, pulling back a home run, bobbling the ball, then grabbing it with your free hand while falling to the ground – and it’s just that. A catch, one of many in a game, signifying nothing (For a mildly-related debunking of the myth of momentum, or more specifically, “getting hot,” in sports, skip 22 minutes into this episode of Radio Lab.) Incredible play! Now go, umm, do it again!

Imagine the scene, if you will. It’s 1987, the Eastern Conference finals. Your team is down one to the Detroit Pistons, who are inbounding the ball with 5 seconds to play – you, by the way, are Larry Bird. Isaiah Thomas makes a sloppy pass and you – Larry Bird – steal the ball away, and turn to find a streaking teammate for the game-winning bucket.

But wait! This is baseball, so you must politely give the ball back to the other team, or, if you’re fortunate enough to have already stolen the ball twice, you may amble back to your dugout, wait through three minutes of some Nickelback song, and then you can go make a play that could win the game for your team (if, of course, you are one of the next three batters allowed to participate in the game).

Cricket is the only sport that comes close to baseball in its spurning of those who specialize in forced fumbles, outlet passes, and short-handed goals. And we all know how exciting cricket* is.

*I actually think cricket is more exciting than it is given credit for, much more exciting than baseball. I will explain in a subsequent post.

I, Royals fan

It’s tough, but not all bad, as you’ll see in my brief essay. Eric graciously posted it at Pitchers and Poets, the rare baseball blog that doesn’t make me depressed to be 14 games under .500 by the 4th of July.

The Gospel of Hoops

Microkhan has the goods on Indiana’s obsession with hoops (he’s also got smoking ballerinas and cave bear crime covered, if you’re interested).Who knew we have a 19th-century Presbyterian minister to thank for Jimmy Chitwood:

The vector of “Hoosier Hysteria” has been identified as the Reverend Nicholas McKay, a Presbyterian minister born in England. In 1893 McKay was assigned to a YMCA in Crawfordsville, Indiana. En route, he visited Dr. James Naismith’s YMCA camp in Springfield, Massachusetts, where a new winter game called basketball had been invented two years before.

Reverend McKay knew he could do better. After he found space above a tavern in Crawfordsville for his YMCA, he hired a blacksmith to forge two metal hoops, sewed coffee sacks around them and nailed them to the walls.

This got Meanderings thinking: why have other particular regions become so fixated on certain sports? Why baseball in Boston? Why NASCAR in the Bible Belt? And really, Australia…cricket?

Meanderings will be investigating these mysteries in the coming days. Post the sports-geograpy mysteries you want solved, or your answers, in the comments.