Recently, baseball has been front and center for me. My team, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, USA, recently signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson; two of the most coveted free agents on this year’s market. I have also just started watching Ken Burns’ Baseball, which starts out telling the tale of a very different kind of baseball; one where men played without the need for remuneration and minorities were blacklisted (the former is bad if the owners are making money and the latter is always wrong).
After absorbing the facts that are those gargantuan contracts and the innocent roots of baseball I once again have come to the realization that baseball is part of the American soul. It is the sport that has animated individual Americans for the longest period of time. When things looked bleak in your Irish tenement you busted out of that claustrophobic existence and made a dash to the closest ball field to see the local teams play – or maybe play in a game yourself. Baseball brought sanity and levity to an existence that was harsh and unforgiving.
In almost every conceivable way, baseball is a completely different sport than it was for the first century of its existence. Now we have the designated hitter, ten teams will soon be firing up the private jet for the playoffs, there are thirty teams, players get paid more in one year than the average block of Americans will earn in their collective lifetimes, stadiums are modern with modern amenities and with modern cuisine and modern security measures. The players today regularly consume performance enhancing substances like protein shakes, vitamins, supplements and the such.
As we all know, some of these performance enhancers are illegal and have ruined many a career and, according to some apocalyptic sports writers, almost destroyed the sport. Just as fans were beginning to think that the steroidal period of baseball was over the reigning NL MVP had to go and juice up. The players of today also train better, they have video showing different angles of every swing they have taken in their careers. Even the mundane fact that there are teams all over the country (Canada too, eh) points to the progression, or at least the evolution, of baseball.
Even with all of those changes baseball is still the most American of sports because it exemplifies what America is all about. There are winners and losers without any chance of a tie (democracy); games are not decided by a clock (Protestant work ethic); players are rewarded for their excellence (capitalism); sacrifices (subordination to the greater good); cheating (moonshiners, companies too big to fail, tax evasion); sometimes inept umpires (government’s regulators); and the National Anthem (patriotism).
Baseball is America.
That is why when the Angels play their first game of the regular season I am going to pick an excellent cigar and watch. Hopefully Pujols will jack one out of the park.