Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Baseball's Demise (?) Part Two

During the World Series, I noticed that Fox opened their coverage of the games with a short video retrospective--narrated by Michael Douglas with quotes read by Barack Obama and John McCain (below)--touting all the game's greatest moment. Of course it gave me goosebumps, because I'm a sucker for that kind of thing. But the transition to the actual game (played in a dome) seemed a bit abrupt.

A few posts ago I suggested that baseball was suffering from a number of life-threatening problems. Another may be found in the disconnect between Major League Baseball's nostalgic idealization of its pastoral past and the current realities of the game (steroids, strikes, $, etc.). These unseemly aspects always existed but remained largely hidden until the publication of Jim Bouton's Ball Four (1970). Admittedly the disconnect exists in any marketing scheme (commercial, political, athletic, etc.), but it may be even wider--and more obvious--in baseball than in most fields given baseball's very public failures of late.

Is baseball too blatantly tied to its past? Or is its past MLB's only hope for survival? Does baseball have a future as anything but a museum sport for old cranks like me?

1 comment:

Robert J. Hudson said...

All great questions, Corry. Baseball to me is great because it is part of American History. Of course, we can always reminisce about The Babe, Jackie Robinson, Roger Maris's "61 in '61", Bob Gibson, Hammerin' Hank, Fernandomania, etc. But, we must always take into consideration that Major League Baseball has ALWAYS been a game of scandals: the Black Sox of 1919; The Babe himself and the roarin' twenties; the antisemitism aimed at Hank Greenburg; Jackie Robinson and the color barrier; Hank Aaron and death threats; Pete Rose; George Brett and pinetar; Barry Bonds (*); etc. Sure, steroids, prima donna salary hold-outs, strikes , etc. are not the happiest of subjects; but, baseball will remain a constant in America.

Baseball gives boys (and girls) heroes. Unlike the mammoths of the NFL or the pituitary cases of the NBA, the average American boy can dream of holding a bat and staring down an aging ace fireballer whose card he'd collected a decade earlier. The Ruth-era Yankees were so great because they gave America heroes in a period of anti-heroes. Between the two wars when Al Capone dominated headlines, Ruth was your Rabelaisian bon-vivant and Lou Gerhig the hero of the immigrant working class. The same case could be made for the WWII-era Yanks as well. If Harvard wasn't overly involved in the riots of '68, it could be because many of them crossed the River Charles from Cambridge down to Fenway to watch the Yaz. Reagan's Amnesty Act in the early 80s corresponded to the rise of Fernandomania for thousands of Latino-Americans who came in droves to Chavez Ravine to celebrate the American Dream. Baseball will continue to have its scandals; but, its greatness will remain with its heroes.

Perhaps you'll judge me naive or accuse me of drinking the pastoral kool-aid, but baseball is still great. If you can look past the veneer of headline-grabbing stories about Roger Clemens, Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds, there are still heroes to be found. A 5'5" Rafael Furcal came from abject poverty to star in one of baseball's storied franchises. Big Papi hits towering shot after towering shot to keep the dream alive and reverse the curse in Boston. It broke my heart as a Dodgers fan, but a short, pudgy, 40-year-old Canuck (and father of three) Matt Stairs hit the homerun that got the Phillies to the World Series. Then, there are the clean players: Pedro, Nomar, A-Rod, etc. whose accolades without substance-abuse merit the Hall of Fame. Baseball's heroes are alive and well.

Sure, we can no longer visit Ebbets Field, eat a hotdog at Shea or look down in awe into Monument Park in the House that Ruth Built. If we go to Fenway, Wrigley or Dodger's Stadium, we have to share the historic atmosphere with loud music, laser shows, t-shirt-cannon-wielding mascots, etc. (thanks a lot Michael Eisner). Baseball will never be the same. You can never go back home. But, it is a great game. It is a beautiful game. And, as long as America and an American Dream exist, baseball will be a game of heroes!