Me & The Night & The Music

Baseball, Unplugged

By Richard Meltzer

I used to like baseball, which is not to say I ever REALLY liked baseball, not the way I liked football or hockey, for inst, not that I exactly pay attention to either of them anymore, and certainly not the way I once cared about boxing, which I'm sort of following again after a gap of, oh, ever since Marvin Hagler, that goddam Force of Nature, had the utter fucking gall to lose to TV cheesepuff Sugar Ray Leonard--at least I'm watching it again--and sumo, my current great love, I've never st opped watching, but I never watch baseball. Haven't seen a game since, I dunno, the Series where I guess it was Minnesota that beat, who was it, Atlanta? But I did used to watch my quota every year and sometimes even v. much cared what happened. In my personal sports pantheon, it had its place and its role.

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Sports: sumo

This will probably sound dumb, but if you assigned a different part of speech to each of the various big-time sporting genres, football (even in its "soccer" incarnation) would seem to be a verb, basketball an adverb, hockey a preposition, and boxing (sum o) an interjection. Baseball, on the hottest day of its life, is little more than a noun--or an intransitive verb--what sport has less, dare I say it, action? Bowling (a pronoun?)? Golf (an adjective?)?

Baseball is not a sport in which very much HAPPENS. It's not so much sparse as simply...uneventful. Static. The only reason there's so much noise at games is all these Cub Scouts and whatnot who think every fly ball is a home run. (Am I right or am I right?) Even seasons feel like nouns--long German nouns--composites and accumulations of stasis, so much of it a day, a week, a month. So much is necessary to suggest motion or, even tougher, "progress"--moving from 4th place to 3rd, enduring 162 games with a modicum of "success"--that without the hype to suggest otherwise seasonal Gestalts would be as inertial as frozen shit.

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Sports: cubscouts

Or maybe baseball is an ellipsis. Dot dot dot. Fill in the blanks. Because so little is in fact happening, and often nothing is happening, not on the field, YOU get to supply the "meaning"--virtually any meaning you want. With so much occasion to do j ust that, so much time between moments of "action" to do/think about anything else as well, it's your choice, your call, how much baseball to even shuffle in. Or leave the blanks blank--it's the sport you don't have to pay any attention to--that m akes it easy to pay no attention. Which is cool, ultimately, because that way it can never own you. Not with any continuity. All it can do is creep up on you at dumb times, in dumb ways.

It certainly has, I must admit, crept up on me...

Accidents happen. Living in New York from the '40s through the '60s, I couldn't help but get sucked into a motherlode of Regional Mythos. Between 1949, the year my parents got a TV, and 1964, a New York-based team, and often two, played in the World Ser ies with only one exception--in '59 the Dodgers, who'd left Brooklyn in '58, beat the White Sox--which to some diehards was less an exception than evidence of a New York diaspora. The macrocosm was too immense, too blessed with conspicuous achievement, t o ignore--your proverbial embarrassment of riches. If you got sick of pulling for the Yankees, who during that span were in the Series 14 times, winning nine, you could root for the Dodgers--which I did in '55, the year they finally won (though next year I was back with the Yankees, who in one game no-hit at the Bums, as they were affectionately known, and humiliated them 9-0--I remember the score--in the final). In '54 even the Giants got in the act, winning four straight from Cleveland, spotlighted in game one by Willie Mays's hot-shit catch of Vic Wertz's long fly to center. During the prime '50s, there was even talk about New York as home base to a three-way rivalry for best centerfielder in all the majors: Mays, Mickey Mantle on the Yankees, Duke Snider on Brooklyn. After the Dodgers and Giants split, the years without a National League team were not exactly unventful, Roger Maris hitting his 61 in '61 (baseball as a verb imitation at its coolest and crassest), and then came the Mets, who were great bad when they were bad and went from shit to Shinola in, well, only seven years. Blah blah...

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Sports: dodgers

The memory of which is not only where I embrace baseball, it's where in retrospect I unplug from it. A home-team stooge is all I ever was, no less heinous for the fact that I had four home teams to choose. Home is where crowd control begins, it's the fo unt of much (if not all) anthropological repugnance, it's what you grow up (if you're lucky) to ESCAPE. Baseball as an expression of civic pride: keep it. Fortunately, I was never seduced by the West Coast version of the Dodgers, no longer Bums (in nami ng their banker Drysdale, the Beverly Hillbillies were on to something). Today, in Portland--oops, I almost called it home--I'm glad to be somewhere with a single-A team that this year missed the playoffs. The fetid stink of victory: you can keep that too. Us versus Them--"team play"--dunno 'bout you, but after Ollie North I don't even wanna hear such nonsense.

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