Thursday, February 12, 2009

Baseball is us, ain't it?

Good question, Matt. How to fix major league baseball. Hmmmm…. I’m interested in what the readers will have to say. Until they weigh in, allow a stab at it from this keyboard…

Start by fixing little league baseball. Two observations here – Old men who want to take a little batting practice (ok, a lot of batting practice) in mid-July have absolutely no competition for any field in town. They never, absolutely never, run into a gang of kids playing scrub or Indian ball or even just playing catch. Once in a while a father coaches his son on one of the available fields. It is sad to see – or not to see. Empty ballfields are everywhere.

The only real competition for fields is Big League Little League.

Big League Little League looks like a lot of work and not much fun. Every teaching tool in the Baseball Express catalogue is employed on the field. Harried kids run from station to station imitating Tom Emanski’s rotational swing. The stakes look pretty high.

As kids, the old men played from breakfast to dinner with no supervision. They got fifty at-bats a day, played thirty innings, peered over shoulders at Playboy centerfolds, drank a lot of Nehi Orange, shouted dibs on which major leaguer they wanted to be that day, and fell head over heels in love with the game, and a Playboy bunny or two.

Some of the college players I meet today are already burned out.

So, start with Big League Little League.

The problem is that baseball has always reflected what was happening in America at the time. Today it reflects a brand of joyless ruthlessness, aggressive acquisitiveness, and nearly complete disdain for either the rules or the idea of fairness. Now, that’s an unhappy mouthful, but it rings true. These are precisely the elements of our current flirtation with economic disaster.

The distinction here is between a person willing to risk drugs just to be able to play the game and a person who was already probably the best athlete the game had ever seen who just wanted, apparently, to actually be worth $245 million -- or more, later -- and by any means necessary. It was clearly about money, greed, and fame. It wasn't about the game. That's where we're at in America and that's where we've been in baseball.

Maybe we can lure my buddy Walk22 to unload on this. Or some of the other deep thinkers we know.

And, maybe Henry will chime in on this later. It would be interesting to get his perspective. The literature of baseball also provides a mirror on American life. Much of the literature pits greed against the game. This theme is not new.


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