Everything Interesting There Is To Say About Baseball Without Talking About Playing It


Baseball! Say the word (baseball) and right away you’ve conjured thousands of rhapsodic essays about baseball that you won’t read. The sport attracts a lot of writing. To write you only have to be awake and have run out of everything to do except writing. To play it as a sport you need a bat and a ball and maybe like eighteen friends and crowds of tens of thousands of fans. Getting enough people together to supply concessions alone is a chore. Far easier to just write essays about how awesome it would be to play, or maybe watch, or maybe just not worry about.

Still, baseball puts up some good statistics here. Baseball enthusiasts create an average of 49.5 pretentious essays about its inherent greatness for every 12.1 that football enthusiasts create. There’s alo 62.7 essays about baseball for every 25.3 about basketball. There’s 88.5 pro-baseball essays for each 56.2 about cricket. There’s nearly two baseball essays for every one about some silly made-up sport that appears in science fiction shows. That’s a pretty good ratio for the made-up sports. But remember that lots of those essays are snarky. Their major thesis is how the games never look like anything anyone would ever plausibly do for fun, unlike real sports, a category which includes “competitive shin-kicking”.

But just that paragraph gets at some of the joy of baseball. You see even a mystical aura given to its numbers and how easily they can start arguments. Try out 61, for example, or 2632. Toss in a 755, or an 1981 if you’ve got it. If these don’t start an argument, you’re not being persistent enough. Try them again, with greater emphasis. Some numbers get so contentious that there’s nothing sensible to do except retire them. Usually only baseball teams will retire a number. But if you want to do it, go ahead and retire one yourself. If you pick some number that doesn’t get called on much, like 441, they might never catch you. The National League discovered in 1994 how someone had retired 2538 on them over five decades before and they never noticed.

Baseball enthusiasts like to embrace the sport’s mythic origins. According to those, the rules were the creation of Paul Bunyan, who wrestled John Henry’s locomotive. This dug out the finger lakes and uncovering Cooperstown. There Johnny Appleseed emerged from the ground. From this first Home Plate he would walk the Old Northwest, planting Cardiff Giants everywhere. And from these steps small semi-professional teams would grow. Then Mike Fink would come along and punch them. The legend may have grown confused in the retelling.

More serious baseball enthusiasts like to point out the game actually derives from the British game of rounders. This turns out to be fictional too. It all comes from one guy reasoning that he liked baseball now, and when he was a kid he liked rounders. So they must be the same sport at different stages in his life cycle. When he wrote it down this seemed to make sense to everybody, which shows what the standards for making sense were like back then. Please remember that “back then” was generations before baseball was so well-organized that its players could be poisoned by socks. But it inspires questions. Like, what if he had written about this rounders-baseball thing later in life, when his interests had moved on still farther?

What if we saw baseball as merely a transitional sport between baseball and holding a cane while disapproving of the young? How different would the sport be? Would it earn publicly-funded stadiums in all the major cities? Would we have teams of nine scowling old men competing to see who can most be disgusted by some youthful frivolity? Would we be tracking the range and performance of the nation’s greatest complainers? Would the 60s have seen carefully-reasoned critiques about what makes a good crack about how with their long hair you can’t tell boys from girls anymore? Would the American League in 1973 have introduced a Designated Grumbler? I don’t know, but isn’t that an experiment worth running?

My point has gotten away from me, leapt over the back fence, and is running off toward the bridge over the highway. If found please return to this address, or any other needy place which you believe will provide a good home.

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Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

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