Sunday, April 22, 2012

Canary in the Dugout

Something funny came to me a little bit ago. I wonder how many other baseball fans look at those first few fabulous (or agonizing) days of baseball and think to themselves that maybe this year, just maybe, their team really will stay at .750 or thereabouts for the rest of the season. It's a heady first few days when your team goes 3 and 1, then maybe 6 and 2, and you think, by God, maybe my team WILL break the record for wins in a season!

But then comes the inevitable two- or three-game slide that dumps your team right down to earth, where they'll generally stay for the rest of the season. Now, sure, every year baseball has goats--no team wants to end up their season under .200, for the love of humanity. But the winners, you don't see winners with percentages in the .700s and .800s. There's a remarkable evening, a flattening, among the top teams. The winners are usually in the high .500s, maybe here and there over .600. There's a fairness to it.

That's one of the things that joined baseball to the hip of America for decades. It was the peoples' game, and the players down there on the field, they were just as vulnerable as us to having a bad day. Not that chances were always even, but a pitcher might have a crook in his neck, or a first baseman is worn out from a little partying the night before, and your division leader might take a hit in the won-loss column. The game was fair. Nobody did so much better than anyone else that it was ridiculous, which is why everyone hates the Yankees, who are the one exception (and embraces the Cubs, the exception in the other direction). As America did well, baseball did well. As long as America was fair, baseball was our sport.

Baseball's been in decline for about thirty years now. Football was king for a while, ushering in a sense of need to dominate that didn't exist in baseball. This came about the same time that the great shift in American prosperity began, from the middle and lower class to the upper classes. About this time, the great shift in American attitude changed--when we started becoming mean. When we started being openly hostile to each other. When we were suffering the first of many humiliating losses to the middle and lower classes, as jobs flew to other countries, as wages stagnated, as prices rose, as jobs became less solvent, as the wealthier became wealthier and the wage classes saw their security and hard-won equality stolen from them by a class of plutocrats.

Last year was the first year that the final game of the World Series finished behind #1 in the ratings. We've been divided into squabbling serfs by a group of plutocrats who are increasingly jealous that we own anything. The American body politic has the sneaking feeling it's being played (it is), but for its own insane reasons can't help but take intractable sides against each other instead of joining against its common enemy: the plutocrats. The America dream used to be that you could earn equality: work hard enough, play your cards right, make the right choices at the right times, and you too could achieve anything you wanted. The only limit was how high you set your sights. But we all knew that most people didn't, that they were in the great big middle with the rest of us, and we all worked on each others' behalfs, in each others' communities, and we enjoyed a greatly, generally even life. And we liked baseball.

The one great thing about baseball that hasn't changed is that it's a big equalizer. Winning teams still come in around the .500s and .600s, the way they always have. Baseball, for all its problems and changes, is still fair. But life isn't anymore, not in America. Your chance to share the wealth through hard work has been taken away, along with your job security, your health care, your pension, your house, and your community. Life stopped being fair in America about thirty years ago. People have watched more sports involving complete dominance. Folks rarely talk to each other anymore about issues, but at each other and very angrily. The sense that we're in it together is gone. The idea has finally settled in that in America, we're on our own.

As the country goes, so goes the horsehide. Keep an eye on it, and the game. It'll be when you see the resurgence in baseball that you'll know things are better. That's the kind of hope a .750 team in early spring brings.


MOS said...

This is good. I think MSNBC should hire you as a commentator.

Mr. Mirage said...

A solid return to form!
Well crafted, well structured, focused and a damn fine read.