Saturday, October 29, 2005

Baseball, Where Art Thou?

A Time for Lamentation:

For the first time in about twenty-five years, I did not watch a single second of the World Series of 2005. For years, I have been watching less and less of them. While baseball is a commendable form of sport (unlike football, which is intrinsically violent and ugly, despite its egregious popularity—or perhaps because of it), putting baseball on television now essentially ruins the game. Advertisements crow in everywhere like a hungry fungus, even between batters. Digital adds are placed behind the batters and changed every inning (or more). The camera work cuts back and forth far too often, which makes one dizzy and disoriented (especially if one never watches television any other time). And the commercials—need one say anything here? Thus the medium cuts against and deface the ontological nature of baseball itself, which is slow, deliberate, and focused. One cannot even attend a major league game in the flesh without being beaten down and overwhelmed by the monstrous video screen in the outfield.

Besides these pollutions by the medium of television, the players themselves have been polluting themselves and the game by illicit drug use. The greats of days past—Ruth, DiMaggio, Mays, Aaron—did no such thing. They relied on pure talent and hard work. Moreover, most of today’s players jump from team to team in order to make increasingly more money—more money per game than most American will make a year. By and large, there is no loyalty to a city, a place, a tradition. Money-making is the only tradition recognized. The sense of Place is once again trumped by postmodern conditions, as Wendell Berry has taught us.

It has been said—and this may be contested—that America will be remembered for contributing three seminal realities to civilization: (1) the Constitution, (2) jazz, and (3) baseball. The original intention of the Constitution has nearly been abandoned in recent years by revolutionary judges who, as aspiring godlets, create law ex nihilo and ignore the original document. Jazz now constitutes about 4% the music market (and that might include the hollowed out, shabby, pseudo-jazz of Kenny G). And then there is baseball. Thank God baseball exists in other forms that what is televised. Yet given the cultural domination of television, what is viewed on the abominable tube is bound to affect the sensibilities of other baseball players as well—and their fans.

Let us now lament these terrible losses.


Bill said...

I am continually amazed by Americans strange longing for “the way it was.” It’s fascinating how fondly we look upon the days of yesteryear, often times performing revisionist history as we reminisce and lament.

Doug states how he misses “the greats of days past” in professional baseball and mentions players like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, etc. Yet we forget that Babe Ruth was an alcoholic womanizer. So was Mickey Mantle. Or that so many of baseball’s greats played during a time of rampant racism (Ty Cobb was an outspoken racist), before segregation, and didn’t play against the great black players that dominated the Negro Leagues because they weren’t allowed to compete against white players.

He also mentions how today’s players are greedy. Well, the team that won the World Series this year, the Chicago White Sox, hadn’t one a World Series since before they purposely lost the 1919 World Series. A series they sabotaged because the owner of the White Sox, Charles Comiskey, wouldn’t pay the players enough money, so players made agreements with gangsters and gamblers to lose on purpose.

Doug also attacks loyalty. How many baseball teams moved cities during the good ole’ days? The Dodgers aren’t Los Angeles natives. Neither are the Giants in San Francisco. The Braves haven’t always been in Atlanta. In fact, in baseball, fewer teams have relocated to different cities recently (except the Expos this year) than in decades past. Oh, what string of events led to Babe Ruth being traded from the Red Sox to the Yankees?

He states the players in the past relied on pure talent and hard work. Yet Yankee Stadium was purposely constructed with a short right field fence to make easier to hit homeruns for their powerful left-handed hitters, i.e. – Ruth and Mantle. Players “back in the day” didn’t work during the off-season, whereas today’s players work extremely hard during the off-season (weight training, stretching, maintaining appropriate diets, watching film of their performance) to make sure they are peak physical and mental condition to play every day in the major leagues. If anything, players from the past didn’t work nearly as hard at their trade as their modern day counterparts. Since athletic performance is directly correlated to physical condition, I can’t help but wonder how the great Babe Ruth would fair against Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson? I am sure he’d do well, but I doubt he would have put up the numbers he did having to face today pitchers, or even black players.

As for advertisements and television. Has anyone seen what ballparks used to look like? The entire outfield wall was a string of advertisements (like minor league parks today)! I doubt that per-square foot, there are any more advertisements in a ballpark today than there was fifty years ago. In regards to television, more Americans are allowed to watch baseball than ever before. When I was growing up, the only teams I could watch were the Braves and the Cubs (thanks to WGN and TBS). Now, I can see every game of every team. How can that be a detriment to fans or the game? Because of technological advancements, I get to see how fast a pitch is thrown, what kind of pitch it was, what a player’s scouting report is, etc. The bottom line is, I have more information available to me as a fan than ever before. The obnoxious scoreboard Doug mentions, only gives us out-of-town scores, instant replays and statistical information – just more things that benefit the fans.

I am not naïve enough to assert that today’s game doesn’t have a lot of room for improvement. Yes, $252 million dollar contracts are way too much, and the steroid scandal is disgusting, and I wish more athletes had more respect for their responsibilities in life. And I hate the constant promos for television shows during a game, and the advertisements behind home plate, and all those other annoying media tendencies as much as anyone,. But lets attack those specific issues, not the game as a whole today. Baseball games still routinely take 3+ hours to play, keeping in its tradition of being slow, deliberate and focused. Compared to other sports, tickets are still very reasonably priced - $4 to get into a Rockies game this year. And baseball players still sign more autographs and have more fan interaction than any other sport.

Too often in this country we conger up warm-and-fuzzy feelings about our past, often ignoring the truth. Anyone who views our baseball heroes from 20s-60s, as American golden boys filled with integrity and virtue, needs only read their history to realize that the players of the past are not that different from the players of today. Same with the owners. Same with the fans. Same with the stadiums. Same with the game.

It’s amazing how we remember the past, and how much it differs from reality.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I never said that baseball's past was perfect. Baseball players are sinners as well. My point was mostly about how the TECHNOLOGY has changed the game: video technology and medical technology (steriods). I'm not ignorant of the vices of previous players, but I was concerned about what happens on the field. There is no romanticizing the past in the essay (if you read it carefully).

Bill said...

Doug my friend, how is this comment not romanticizing the past?

“ … the players themselves have been polluting themselves and the game by illicit drug use. The greats of days past—Ruth, DiMaggio, Mays, Aaron—did no such thing. They relied on pure talent and hard work. Moreover, most of today’s players jump from team to team in order to make increasingly more money—more money per game than most American will make a year. By and large, there is no loyalty to a city, a place, a tradition. Money-making is the only tradition recognized.”

If you are talking about steroids specifically, then you are correct, past greats didn’t you use steroids. However, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle both bragged to have hit home runs in a game drunk. So I guess when you say, “they relied on pure talent,” you are correct – it would take a lot of talent to hit a homerun drunk. Other baseball greats frequently “polluted themselves and the game” while abusing alcohol, cocaine, speed, marijuana, cigarettes, chewing tobacco and heroin. While those drugs aren’t steroids, surely you don’t believe these drugs didn’t in some way effect players’ performance or the purity of the game you so fondly remember. If the point of your essay is to assert that you’d rather have alcoholic or drug-abusing ballplayers (like some of your heroes you noted) instead of steroid abusing ballplayers like Barry Bonds, then I will concede that point. I guess as a fan, or a former fan, you can choose the lesser of those two evils when deciding to support a sport or not.

When wasn’t money-making the only tradition recognized? Do you think this a unique 21st century problem? Do you honestly believe DiMaggio, Mays and Aaron played simply for the pure love of the game? Relative to inflation, do you know much money Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth made compared to the average household income? A lot more than 80% of America – not unlike today. Do you know how much Willie Mays charges little kids for his autograph at baseball card shows? Do you honestly believe that any of the greats from our past, if they played in the era of free-agency, wouldn’t have gone for the largest contract regardless of what city they played in? Of course they would have. Players are greedy now and players were greedy 50 years ago. Loyalty rarely ever existed in professional sports. Ask people in Brooklyn about loyalty after the Dodgers picked-up and left. Ask the Red Sox fans about loyalty after they shipped Babe Ruth to the Yankees because of their owner’s financial mishaps. If you are saying you wish players, owners, cities, were more loyal and that it would be better for the game if they were– then I would stand right next you and agree. But if you are saying that we were more loyal in the past and that people involved with baseball weren’t greedy back in the day, then I would say you are being naïve.

Technology has ruined the game? Television allows us to record games we may have missed. It allows us to experience the joy (or pain) of instant replay. It gives me more information. More angles. More knowledge of the sport we love. Like I said before, I think the ads are really annoying and obnoxious. But I think the benefits of technology and television far outweigh the pesky annoyances. Because of medical technology, players who blow-out their elbows can have Tommy John surgery and eventually resume their careers. Players who tear their ACL can have surgery and also play on. Players can take vitamins so that their bodies don’t breakdown once they’ve retired. Because of medical technology, players can play longer, healthier, and safer. Just like every other invention, there are pros and cons. Unfortunately, steroids are the con. But what other invention or breakthrough hasn’t had some sort of negative effect? Would you argue we should go back to caveman days, heck even 200 years ago, simply because there are negative consequences to our “progress?” Personally, I would rather work to improve something or find a solution to the negatives, instead of turning away or turning off the problem.

Thanks for the great topic and debate – you always make it fun and interesting.

PS – If you don’t like the Jumbotron, sit in left field at Coors Field, you can’t see it then.

john alan turner said...

And yet it was a grand series. Unlikely heroes coming through in late-inning clutch situations. Fox's coverage was abysmal, but the games were wonderful.

And as for jazz, Kennny G may be ruining it for everyone, but did you see Wynton Marsalis at the release party for the iPod video?


All in all, I'd still say the glass is half full.

grubedoo said...

If baseball had blows to the head it might be interesting. As it is, football and playoff hockey rule.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

To Grubedoo:

That is barbarism, pure and simple.

grubedoo said...

To Groothuis:
You eat poo.