by Raju Peddada
Author's Note: The title, a quote from Yogi Berra, encapsulates my chiding to all the baseball fans out there. There are a lot of articles drooling over baseball just about now. Well, here is my antipathy: I took to football within one week of watching it, and have tried every spring to like baseball, for the last twenty-five years, and have failed to find reasons why I should. I think baseball represents our past prime, not our national pastime.
(Swans - April 6, 2009) In the arenas and amphitheaters of antiquity, survival of the fittest was taken literally. Before the first century AD and thereafter, the losers of competitions and mock battles were loathed as contagion that deserved punishment and death. This attitude culminated in a crescendo of amphitheater bloodletting during the post Vespasian era, in times when losing meant death and death meant entertainment for thousands in front of the presiding Roman dignitary. The stadiums of antiquity were rife with gore from these terminal competitions; some participants that lost in competition yet managed to stay alive were cast aside in society with frightening disdain and prejudice. Prejudicial killings of the non-believers and alleged heretics as spectator sport accelerated in Christian Rome at the coliseums, after 312 AD. They had no room for losers, but who were the losers?
From that stage we have progressed and evolved today to become ardent acolytes of losers, not only in baseball, but in all spheres of life. The losing teams are cheered and coddled, symptomatic of the society bannered by the government's largesse in bailouts for those who already have the parachutes. Have we become a society of losers or are we just cheering the underdog? For that matter, who is the underdog? Is it just being nice to cheer losers or does it make us feel good or guilty depending on the perspective? Niceties or political correctness in our contemporary society and specifically in sports and entertainment has descended into absurdity, which suffocates all common sense. Sure, we should cheer David versus Goliath scenarios, particularly with kids to back them up, especially if they are losing. After all, it is about learning to win, to be a team player, love of participation, as winning becomes an afterthought. Last year, University of Florida psychologist Mr. Joseph Vandello began exploring the reasons we cheer the long shot. Author and sport-science blogger Steven Kotler concluded that "rooting for the underdog is about transference, about the transference of possibility. We want the impossible to happen not just for its own sake, but for what it might mean to us." But to cheer and worship obscenely-paid millionaires devoid of humility, for just playing a game and losing consistently, is unconscionable on our part.
Spring time is around the bend, and the certifiable losers, the baseball fans all over, are stirring from their hibernation and cabin fever to get on the bandwagons of their lovable losers, once again hoping on hope to extend the season into October. In any sport, winning usually fires up passions for the team; but there is a team in baseball that incites a rabid following for its consistent losing, garnering the appellation "the lovable losers." The Chicago Cubs have not won a title since 1907. This is the longest losing streak of any organized sports team anywhere in the world, and especially belonging to a big sports city. The Cubs are a phenomenon indeed, not in a positive sense, but in a purely pejorative sense. Some would accuse the detached fan as being a fair-weather fan, but he is no more fair-weather fan than the team he supports. I would even further the notion that becoming a fair-weather fan can force changes in the team. Team attitude has always been "get lost." Now, if the fans adopted that attitude, things would revert back to their favor. Being a fair-weather fan is a wise attitude to court, as detachment will always serve the fan right in losing as well as in good times.
To put it in perspective, consider this: The last time the Chicago Cubs won everything was when Teddy Roosevelt was using the bully pulpit to bring down the monopolies and had won the Nobel Peace Prize; the Soviet Union was not in existence; the great war was not even a glint in the eye of the Austrians and Germans; Upton Sinclair's The Jungle had become a blockbuster; Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel Prize for literature; Marconi invented the wireless telegraphy; the San Francisco earthquake leveled the eponymous city; RMS Lusitania was launched in Glasgow, and Titanic was not in the plans for Joseph Bruce Ismay; Gandhi was stirring things up in South Africa; SOS appropriately became the international signal that year; the Petrified Forest was declared a national monument, and Katherine Hepburn, Laurence Olivier, John Wayne, and W.H. Auden were born and had concluded their glittering lives before the Cubs achieved this notoriety. The most interesting bit was that Mt. Vesuvius erupted that year, devastating nearby Naples. I though it was AD79 when that had happened, then it also crossed my mind that Cubs might as well have won the last title in AD79...that is how long this antediluvian drought has lasted. Today this club is a national monument for all the losers out there. And losers they are, for not jerking out of their stupor and stop living in denial. The management of this ancient franchise has never managed a confluence of commitment, talent, luck, and execution to win a title in over a hundred years, and yet they manage to get their seat warmers to pay for it...for everything for ten decades and counting! Bernie Madoff's gigantic Ponzi scheme looks infinitesimal in comparison to this hundred-year plus extravaganza for their pathetic fans.
It is simple logic, folks. When your product smells and sucks, and people keep flocking to it, there is only one allusion without any illusion for the owners, which is, don't change it -- if it works don't fix it, the stink sells! They keep coming to this insipidity in a nice package from the fields of Iowa and Indiana and the dungeons of Chicago paying obscene amounts to get bleacher seats, rendering the club solvent decade after decade, and also ensuring management-team failure decade stacked upon decade. When a company product fails to deliver, usually the customers stop buying it -- not the case here. To the contrary, they congregate about this sublime failure like bugs to oil paper in the tropical incandescence. Consummate promotion and exposure of the club through their own media helps sell the product as the thing to cherish, and celebrate they do, like innocent juveniles. Buses filled with gaggling and cackling geriatrics to flitting toddlers are driven regularly to the losing confines to see this franchise exhibit its famous futility.
Wonder how long you would last in a marriage, friendship, or a partnership if it was with a constant loser? Obviously we have less tolerance for non-performers in personal relationships, so why this undeserved and seemingly cathartic coddling of losers in professional sports? They are just products fielded by companies exploiting your emotional brand attachment. Would you buy a brand of toothpaste that constantly got worse? Would you drop a brand of beer if it started tasting bad? Are we all that apathetic, pessimistic, defeatist, and lacking self-esteem to warrant the usage of crass sportsmen as metaphors to lift ourselves up? I was stunned one day to learn that my old neighbor from Lincoln Park had divorced his beautiful wife for hating the Cubs. A quick Web search on the Cubs and baseball haters resulted in thousands of them on blogs and newsletters in their antipathy and vitriol I cannot elucidate here. However, here is typical rant:
"Baseball sucks donkey turds!!! All it is; is a bunch of fat old farts chewing, spitting and sitting on their benches doing nothing! A job at Wal-mart would be harder to do than this stupid game. Maybe I can get a job sitting on my zitty butt in the Cubs dugout and get paid millions for it!"
Baseball's lethargic pace infers decay, and its porcine as well as grotesquely muscular, steroidal players represent decadence better than any other sport. The public personas of the players in all their boorish and crass displays of hedonistic lifestyles in womanizing, enhancement drugs, garrulous divorces and scandals, paroxysmal demands over salaries, seeding children with multiple women, infantile and egoistic brawls, and neglecting their children have become intrinsic symptoms of this wasteful sport. The kids emulate this nonsense.
Do we really need baseball all summer? An eighty-game season is more than enough, as in the NBA or the NHL. Of all the arena sports, this is simply the most insipid, unintelligent, and least stimulating game there is; with an arbitrary strike-out box decided by the umpire. Also, are all the baseball umpires stamped out of a mold that measures four feet wide by five feet ten inches high by two feet thick? They are eerily identical with their juke-box styled body and a prognathous attitude with insufferable egos. In reference to those massive egos, Yogi Berra once said "It ain't the heat, it's the humility." I like the simple irony of using the quotes by one of the game's famous proponents to denigrate it.
You can be a statistics fiend for anything, and even the abject mundane assumes a personality if sifted and viewed through algorithms, numerical ciphers, and statistics. What is great about baseball as a game of stats? Our flatulence takes on new meaning when we come to know that we pass gas fourteen to sixteen times a day. The cumulative weight of all the defecation everyday from the six-plus billion souls on this earth at half a pound per head...can be one gigantic pile of dung, and unfortunately that is what baseball represents statistically. People who look to stats for future trends are called "technicians" in Wall-Street speak. I am inclined to The Black Swan and Gladwell's Blink philosophy, which is that everything of consequence always comes when you don't expect it, and always comes from left field, as a fast curveball. Stats are "bull" -- Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Tiger Woods, and Derek Jeter weren't your standard deviation, they were anomalies -- Black Swans -- that were undersized by every statistical standard and yet they kicked ass because of their habits and attitude. Stats are metrics of things that show a trend, but the continuation of that trend is not guaranteed. If baseball is a game of stats then it is a game of utter mediocrity and standard boredom.
My five-year-old boy hit 400 last spring, and by the end of summer was hitting at 600; that is, he was making contact by hitting six out of ten balls to me. I did not work up my armpit odor by pitching underarm, instead aired out my pits by throwing a regular flat trajectory ball at relatively good velocity. We were equipped with a Major League Baseball regulation ball instead of that bouncy 16-inch buttock-sized ball and an appropriately-sized aluminum bat. Should I have run out to the sports agents with this prodigy? It told me that anybody, with rote regimen, can master a specific part of this game if they have good eye-hand coordination, nothing special. For that matter, the dusty fields of Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela nurture better baseball players than all the nurseries here masquerading as Little Leagues. Kids with no equipment, no place to play, and more importantly, no organization to kill that passion, routinely produce better players than all the leagues put together; interestingly, "organizations" often coach the kids out of their passion.
If you do not want mediocrity to define baseball, get rid of those hideous mitts in the game. We caught 100 mph, 8.5-ounce hard balls all day with bare hands. And there are two legal "bouncer" balls allowed in an over (six balls pitched) that bowler-pitcher is allowed in Cricket, which can be aimed at your crotch, head, or chest to intimidate you. And these laughable chubby and grotesque muscular slobs in baseball charge at one another just for a five-and-a-half ounce grazing ball, what morons! I see no charm in a porker standing a foot above the rest, unwind like a vertical crab on two legs, and pitch three balls 60.5 feet to the batter and then walk off as if he is a world-beater. In Cricket, the bowlers (pitchers) routinely run 15 to 25 yards, pick up speed, and deliver a pitch at an average of 90 to100 mph in one bounce to a batter 22 yards away. This makes the incoming ball very unpredictable and rather dangerous; it is quite intimidating. This is repeated six times, like the three pitches in baseball. By the time the game is over, this bowler has racked up 4-6 miles of running just to pitch balls; great fitness is mandatory, unlike the porkers of baseball with a few exceptions. A good example is Shoaib Akhtar of Pakistan Cricket, with devastating speed. One can see him on YouTube by searching on "Shoaib Akhtar: The Fastest Bowler of All Time." Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and other hitters of baseball would be mere ambulance fodder for his deliveries coming over 100 mph regularly aimed at the all body parts. The eight-ounce-plus balls, if hit at this speed, come like bullets with no mitts to couch the impact. Except for the similar elements that constitute the game, like the strike zone, innings, pitch, ball, bat, and fielding, there is no parity between these two games. Baseball looks incredibly pallid. Cricket positively appears like a gentleman's game, while baseball strikes out as a convict's calisthenics. I find Yogi Berra's quotes far more entertaining than the game itself.
Unlike the combative acolytes of other sports like the NFL, NBA, NHL, or the World Soccer League, baseball's doltish fans come to the arenas, imbued with circus atmosphere, like unrequited lovers longing for something they covet but knowing the futility of its consummation. They come and sit languidly-impassive in the bleachers, as if in front of the rejected lover's house, with cell phones, sipping beer, and eating fetid hotdogs made from pureed entrails of farm animals, and with an occasional distracted and perfunctory cheer tossed at the players. A perfect example is my neighbor, an avid and apathetic Cubs fan, that every year preps his Weber grill and languishes day after day rocking to the nauseating drone of the game, as if it is a summer affliction that needs to be cured. It is a sport of and for people reveling in their own decay. Part of the reason for this state of affairs in baseball is the feculent collusion of owners and the commissioner, a wolf watching over the chicken coop with no motivation for reforming this game, except to eat off of it. Why is baseball's euphemistic appellation "The World Series," for its pinnacle has no participants from anywhere but the continental U.S? Any game that can be played by the same teams twice in an afternoon is hardly a game. I am more apt to break a sweat in a board game of monopoly than baseball. The inanities of this game pile up faster than you can pull out your wallet. I suggest you don't. Baseball for all its hyperbole is an utter drain of time and money. While you ponder this spring anxiously, I will leave you with this quote by Yogi Berra on which to ruminate: "Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical." Have a great spring!
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