Thursday, April 09, 2009

Baseball Speaks

Apologies in advance, for I don't have time to polish this and am just going to lay it down as it comes to me. Not that "polishing" has ever helped...

Today I had my first iced-coffee of the season. That means spring is officially here, in my universe. The other sign is, of course, baseball. I find something new to love about baseball each and every season. And something new to disdain, like the ridiculous salaries these guys get. But it's mostly love -- and it's appropriate that Baseball is America's national sports pastime. It's deep and beautiful and quirky and accessible to everyman all at the same time; a game for the simple and the sage alike. This also makes it, somehow, quintissentially New York.

Today I was reading about some things Joba Chamberlain said when he was stopped for drunk driving last year. How do these unflattering videos find their way into the media, incidentally? Bored, meddling cops peddling them? I digress...

It occurred to me that baseball has a tradition of plain-spokenness. Think of Yogi Berra: "it ain't over 'til it's over." Has any mortal utterance ever been more unequivocally true?

Joba fell prostrate before the New York media for observing to a Nebraska State Trooper that "New Yorkers are rude and don't have manners." Can anyone argue that this is indeed true of most of the people one encounters in New York, even if they aren't all New Yorkers? How can a kid from Nebraska who just arrived here be expected to know the difference? You could add that most of the people here are self-absorbed, insecure, shallow, and a little on the dumb side, too. Everyone thinks it. They just won't say it.

Joba also remarked, probably in answer to a trooper's inquiry, that Yogi Berra "might not be as tall as the front of my car." Yogi acknowledges this, and even the most politically correct New Yorker realizes that spinning this into an offense is non-starter.

It is only natural that my thoughts would drift to John Rocker the way a line-drive drifts into the cowhide-clad paw of a shortstop. He was excommunicated for daring to utter that -- news flash -- gay people get AIDS, ride on subways, and, what' s more, he might not want to sit next to them. Is there anything factually inaccurate in this statement, and doesn't he have the right to not want to sit next to someone? Just about everyone you meet on the subway acts like they don't want to sit near anyone of any race, creed, color or taxonomy. But again, you just can't say it, because everyone knows that doing so is like putting sand in the social lubricant. Which is a nice way of saying, most people are afraid of getting their asses kicked.

Rocker's infamous and candid remarks in response to a reporter's question about whether he'd ever play for the Yankees -- surely there is tremendous satisfaction in simply being asked -- include citations of nasty things fans had said and done to him. The sorts of things only drunken suburbanites out for a Big Night at Yankees Stadium would find entertaining, if unprovoked. But if provoked, then all bets are off. A New Yorker who’s been goaded has much in common with a woman scorned.

Even Rocker himself said, essentially, "I'm a baseball player. Why would anyone care what I say?" Mull this over a bit. Some big lug from Macon, Georgia talks about his experiences in Gotham, the self-proclaimed Capitol of the Universe, and suddenly the very fabric of civilization itself hangs upon his every drawl. Who's simple and who's the sage here? Even a career ERA of 3.42 doesn't imbue one's non-baseball sentiments with as much moral force as say, the Pope has. Or vice versa.

And yet, according to AP, Bud Selig, who has presided over the most-asterisked -- the most dirty, drug-laden, unsportsmanlike and overpaid era in baseball history -- actually ordered Rocker to undergo psychological testing because...well, because some people are offended that he doesn't like them. This is what happens when you tell it like it is in New York. Somebody calls the thought police.

Is this world turned completely upside down or what? Selig can't police baseball, but he can imply a player has a mental illness for daring to speak his mind.

Yes, it is true: baseball is the perfect national sports pastime for America today; and baseball is quintissentially New York... in a "best of times/worst of times" sort of way. It's not their respective virtues that are shining through much any more.

Yet in the midst of this nonsense baseball remains magical. And so does New York. The game itself is so pure, so fascinating, so joyful. Nothing clears the air like the crack of a Louisville Slugger kissing a white, red-laced, leather-skinned hardball goodbye...going long....going's OUTTA HERE! The sport itself is so virtuous, such a product of unearthly genius, that - like America - it might just have within itself the miracle-mettle to survive the insanity that has recently visited it.


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