Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Where does one go to register a complaint regarding a serious wave of un-American activity which is sweeping the Harvard community.
Maybe it's the people with whom I've been talking at the dinner table, but it's become disturbingly apparent to me that people around here don't really give a hoot about baseball any longer.
The phenomenon is not peculiar to those people who have never been interested in sports in general. It also encompasses those who read Leigh Montville daily and entertain themselves frequently by playing catch. The number-of fans who remain faithful to professional baseball has dropped alarmingly.
This becomes increasingly clear with the observation that, this year, very few people seem to have caught spring baseball fever. Missing from these sparklingly sunny, balmy days is the early April fantasy of the pennant which all true baseball lovers should have.
Who can deny that the Red Sox don't have a pitching staff that could throw its way past Gilligan and the Skipper? But that's never kept real fans from maintaining some hope, which usually doesn't fade until the Fourth of July, or at least Memorial Day.
This Tuesday was Opening Day for the Red Sox, and it seemed like nobody at Harvard noticed. The beginning of the baseball season caught my attention only when I opened the Boston Globe, turned to the sports section and saw two lines of page-wide headlines lamenting the Sox's 7-1 thrashing at the hands of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Apathy about baseball, however, is not the only issue at hand here. Particularly at Harvard, many people convey a feeling of distaste, even of hostility, when discussing baseball. To me, it seems like it's in vogue to criticize baseball--an institution which has been a dominant cultural aspect of American society for 114 years--as a means of displaying one's non-conformity and individuality.
In stating this, I don't express the fanatical sports enthusiasm of those who play Strat-o-Matic baseball and memorize the statistics of every Major League player. I didn't even know that Dave Rignetti was sent to the last year. I missed, on purpose, the NCAA basketball finals, and really didn't care that N.C. State scored an upset I only watch golf tournaments when Jack Nicklaus is on the leader's board.
Still, not caring about baseball is pretty sad. But I can accept that attitude rather easily. Different people have different tastes Now, however, popular sentiment no longer runs along the lines of just: "I don't consider baseball worthwhile and interesting enough to bother or concern me."
Instead, mealtime conversations at Harvard have taken an upappetizing new twist. It's not abnormal to say. "I hate baseball. Not only is it stupid and boring, but the players are getting paid too much to play a kid's game. Baseball has lost its virginity. It has been infiltrated and corrupted by money." Then the discussion takes the predictable pseudo-intellectual turn when the baseball haters attempt to defend soccer or lacrosse as better sports. In my opinion, that's just plain silly.
Nothing against soccer and lacrosse players, but their sports just can't approach the national appeal which baseball will always have.
I'm not defending baseball as the most watchable sport. If that was the only issue determining the enjoy ability of different sports, then I wouldn't have written this article. The fast-paced, consistently entertaining action of basketball and tennis makes the events on the baseball diamond seem tedious at best.
The Inherent Appeal
But there's so much more to baseball than winning, losing, and the sometimes lazy progression of the game. Basking in the sun. Fenway Franks. The Wall. Falling asleep a little bit faster on the evenings when you know your favorite team has won. The dreamy, remembered presence of immortals like the Ruths. Cobbs and Aarons which create an almost mystic aura in all big league baseball parks. The excitement generated by Pete Rose attempting to break DiMaggio's record of 56 games. Three-and-two bases loaded two outs bottom of the ninth tie score and Reggie's up. The great legacies of the Yankees. Tigers and even the hapless Cubs History And the tradition.
All of that created an ambience which dominates the sometimes insignificant action on the field. Every game is not of not of pivotal importance--there are 162 of them in a season. But people are drawn to the stadiums despite a seemingly endless schedule and a 427 winning percentage.
In the course of a game, the bleachers of Tiger Stadium in Detroit become a community Rich or poor, the beer-drinking and fun-loving people sitting there know what the sport is about. These faithfuls toss beachballs to and fro, expecting that it will eventually fall into center field with Glenn Wilson there to recover it Wilson will usually tip his hat to the fans. So would Mickey Stanley. And Al Cowens, too.
None of the other major sports has this type of atmosphere and appeal, which enables completely diverse populations to gravitate to the inner city each day of the summer. An almost undefinable attraction stems from baseball's inability to maintain an exclusive group of only four teams that compete in the playoffs. People will come to a baseball game no matter what. But hockey has to allow a field of 16 out of 21 teams to participate in minors post-season play in order to keep spectator enthusiasm stable throughout the 80-game season. Basketball is almost as bad. And most football teams--because they play only 16 games in a season--aren't out of contention until December. So most people remain interested in a team's performance until late in the season.
Formance until late in the season.
Baseball has served as a monument of consistency. Consistency breeds tradition. And tradition breeds devotion. It has changed very little over the last century. But now, salary escalation, free agent compensation, the infamous strike and those sophisticated electronic scoreboards are said by some to have begun to threaten baseball's purity. So people begin to complain about the sport as a whole.
Intellecfualism and higher education do foster dissatisfaction and faultfinding. Whether that dissatisfaction is manifested in political activism, watching too much T.V., or baseball, the discontent in all of these has similar roots. Perhaps baseball isn't popular at Harvard--at least this is my contention--because those roots are especially prevalent here.
Sure, it would be nice if the Houston Astros got rid of their polyester, multi-colored and buttonless uniforms. But, still, baseball hasn't changed that much. Everything that I've seen indicates that there's still a lot more to appreciate than to criticize.
People don't go to Yankee Stadium just to watch a baseball game. They go there to be at the baseball game. That will never change. Even if Steve Kemp is making a million a year.