We are on the verge of history. Within the next few weeks, we will witness something that has not happened in over fifty years (the Cleveland Indians winning the World Series) or something that has not happened in over 100 years (the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series). Either way, it will be a memorable and historical World Series. Yet, baseball is not what it was one hundred years ago of what it was even fifty years ago. While Baseball has been called America’s pastime, it appears that baseball is past its prime. The juggernaut known as the NFL is the king of the ratings and the dollars these days. It has been said that Baseball is too slow, its games to long, there are too many games a week and too many weeks in a season. Football is in, have a party on Sunday and watch the game.
A number of years ago comedian George Carlin developed a routine that involved drawing comparisons between football and baseball. Among his observations was that baseball is played on a diamond while football was played on a gridiron, in a stadium. He noted that football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness while baseball has the sacrifice. He noted that the objectives were different in football the object is for the quarterback to march his troops into enemy territory, using an aerial assault and ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line while in baseball the object is to arrive safely at home. He also noted that baseball begins n the spring, the season of new life while football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying. Mr. Carlin made an impressive argument for the superiority of football to be THE game for America.
However, George Carlin is not the only one to write about baseball. The late Baseball Commission A. Bartlett Giamatti also noted that baseball begins in the spring – he wrote that baseball breaks your heart by design. “The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone.”
Mr Giamatti also pondered the point at which a runner begins and ends his journey. He wondered why wasn’t it fourth base? Why was it home? And perhaps therein lies the real magic and meaning of the game called baseball. Mr. Giamatti who had served as a professor of English Renaissance literature and as the President of Yale University noted that “home is an English word virtually impossible to translate into other tongues. No translation catches the associations, the mixture of memory and longing, the sense of security and autonomy, the accessibility, the aroma of inclusiveness, the freedom from wariness, that cling to the word home, that are absent from ‘house’ or even ‘my house.’ Home is a concept, not a place, a state of mind where self-definition starts; it is origins. A mix of time and place and smell and weather wherein one first realizes that one is an original — perhaps like others, especially those one loves, but discreet, distinct, not to be copied. Home is where one first learned to be separate, and it remains in the mind as the place where reunion, if it were ever to occur, would happen.”
In football a team marches down the field, as a unit, in conquest. In baseball a batter starts a solitary journey at home and hopes that, with the aid of his teammates each facing his own obstacles alone, he will return home again and join his teammates. This is the American dream – not to make it all alone, but to survive in the face of individual trials and thrive with the aid of others.
Political commentator George Will is an avid baseball fan and has written a few books on baseball. He has noted that “baseball is what we were, football is what we have become.” This appears to be all too true. Mr. Will has also commented that “football combines the two worst aspects of American life: violence punctuated by committee meetings.”
One of my favorite baseball movies is “Field of Dreams.” When I think of the essence of baseball, I think about the scene towards the end of the movie when the character Terrence Mann convinces Ray that people will come. He says, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steam rollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Oh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.”
Perhaps all of us, as we get older, begin to long for yesterday when things were different and more familiar. Lately and particularly during this 2016 political campaign, I prefer to be reminded of what was once good and could be again, I prefer what we were to what we have become.