Allow me to start with a Sunday morning warning.
If you are like me and not always cleaning up as you go, make a rule to do at least this: Rinse out your old coffee cups right after you decide the stuff is too cold to drink.
Otherwise, you may sit down to write, get engrossed in the thoughts swirling in your head, and reach for one of those old suckers from a week ago instead of your nice fresh cup of Cafe Verona. The cup with "No More Mr. Nice Guy" in big letters on the outside. The one with black oil and mold on the inside.
Let me tell you something... the mold that grows in week old coffee is nasty.
Now that I've recovered, on to the idea I promised a few posts ago. I know you've been waiting and thinking you've been hoodooed again. Not so.
I promised a big idea about baseball. Here it is and now that I've built it up it doesn't seem so big.
First, I'm talking about big time commercial baseball. The industry of baseball. Moneyball, but not exclusively in the Billy Beane sense of it. I'm not talking about playing baseball... or softball... for the joy of it. I'm not talking about The Game. This ain't no Annie Savoy soliloquy.
Pardon me while I make sure I have the right cup.
I'm talking about the game people watch, follow, subscribe to, pay to see, comment endlessly on, begin conversations with when the weather isn't interesting, call in to the radio about, write books about, write columns and blog posts about, buy uniform shirts complete with somebody else's name and number on the back because of. Oh yes, and write novels about. I know of only one adult baseball novel not about commercial baseball.
And commercial baseball has always been a reflection of the times in which it was played. This is a trait of commercial baseball that you can even find in the statistics. Look at world war time baseball statistics. Look at statistics in the industrial revolution. Look at statistics in an era when Americans felt thrifty or when they felt expansive.
But you see it as much in the cultural side of baseball. When Americans were enamored with gambling, with rags to riches schemes, you got the 1919 Black Sox. When moguls ruled the economic world -- when they owned the newspapers and the railroads and the oil companies -- they also ruled the baseball world. Look at a baseball card from the 1970s and tell me you don't see the 1960s. At the end and the beginning of the century, when the cult of personality came to rule politics and rock 'n roll, steroids flourished. And when the players were finally trapped, did they not behave just like Bill Clinton, who did not have sex with that woman? I see two lies there -- sex and woman -- Monica Lewinskiy was, in my book, somebody's little girl. And, of course, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens did not take steroids.
So, what does baseball reflect in the teen years of the new century?
The power of big money. Followed by helplessness. Futility. And, finally, acquiescence. And the big hoodoo of the Tea Party and of the United States Congress. The shell game and the suckers.
If you see the economic and political world you live in as a big set up, then you know how baseball fans in many towns feel. If you see economics and politics as a Machiavellian mixture of guile and greed, you know how baseball fans feel. If you feel like you are the sucker born every minute, you understand how baseball fans feel when they see through the smoke screen of the local nine's rebuilding plan or the general manager's beloved "process."
Rebuilding and trickle-down economics are one and the same, in my opinion. Hoodoo. Ways to sell the otherwise unpopular idea that you need to help me get rich. You keep coming to the park and I'll keep filling it with a combination of minor league talent and just enough major league ballplayers to feed your hope for the future. Or, the more money I make and the less taxes I pay, the more likely I am to maybe offer you a minimum wage job in one of my enterprises.
The point, for most of the commercial teams, is to put just enough good players on the field to keep you coming back. To sell you on carnival rides and mustard races, and most of all, on the future down in the minor leagues. To get you talking about trades and firing the manager, and hating the owner, and buying into the process. It is only about winning and losing for teams and fans in a few cities. The rest of us are just there to fill out the schedule.
Coming soon, two months of playoffs. The better to sucker you in.
Just as the political world we live in is primarily smoke and mirrors, big time manipulation, slight of hand, public relations to the ninth degree, so is baseball. We are, in Neil Postman's seminal words, entertained to death. Does the score of yesterday's Kansas City Royals game really matter? Not if winning is how you measure a baseball game. Does the score of the Iowa Straw Poll really matter? Not if you care about the economy or the quality of life in this country. Barack Obama knew how to organize, how to win straw polls and primaries and even the White House. He didn't know shit about governing. And I'm one who voted for him.
Heck, I've voted for two mainstream candidates in my lifetime: Bill Clinton once and Barack Obama once. You can fool some of the people some of the time...
So, maybe that's why I've grown so cynical about commercial baseball and presidential politics. Both drink from the same cup. As I said at the top... be warned. Make sure you reach for the warm cup of fresh coffee on your table. The alternative is nasty.
I promise some lighter fare next time I hit the keyboard. Just needed to get this rant off my chest. Until two weeks ago I had been thinking happily about how much softball I could play when I retired. Now I'll have to work until I'm 90.
By the way, if it is baseball you like, my advice is simple. Quit watching and start playing. No matter what age you are. If you love the game, play it. You'll get that bad taste out of your mouth real quick if you do.
BTW: That southpaw guarding the No More Mr. Nice Guy cup is my little Lucy. From the look in her eyes, she knows nasty when she smells it...