Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Trying To Care About Baseball

Pete told me about a very interesting point John Lovitz made about the whole Bonds/Aaron/Doping thing. He said that Lovitz said that a friend of his in the MLB said years ago that there were thousands of players doping. The quote, as Pete recounted it, was "If I knew, how could the commissioner not know?" On the other hand, he continued, if thousands of guys are doping, why aren't they all hitting home runs like Bonds?

I'm trying to care about this, but it's not easy. It seems like there's a principle here and that maybe it's related to something bigger and more important, something about lax morals in our modern age or what have you. I don't know much about Hank Aaron as a person, but he's always seemed like a nice guy. I think the difference is in what it meant for Aaron to break and then hold the record versus what it means for Bonds to do so. When Hank Aaron neared Babe Ruth's record, he received death threats, yet he was voted into the Hall of Fame with like 98% of the vote (or however the Baseball Hall of Fame works). The man played in a segregated league on a team called the Clowns, for crying out loud! Barry Bonds' record, on the other hand, does not represent a major step in the battle against racism. It's my understanding that there's some question as to whether or not he'll even be allowed into the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he certainly won't receive 98% of the vote. And I have no sense that he represents what's best about baseball, the way Hank Aaron continues to do today. On the other hand, no one is willing to take Bonds to task over the steroid accusations, I assume either over lack of evidence or lack of will to really carry out the witch hunt that would instigate. The question of his Hall of Fame eligibility is certainly less clear than Pete Rose betting on baseball. And maybe Bonds does represent a milestone in the civil rights movement: a record-approacher whose death threats have nothing to do with his race but rather with his supposed drug use.

The thing is: baseball is boring. ..::B O R I N G::.. It takes forever, the stats are arcane, you can't understand what in the hell the announcers are talking about, and the players don't seem to have any of the joie de jouer that earlier players had (or that you see all the time in basketball and even pretty often in football). It might as well be test cricket for all the interest it holds for me. And I think other people can feel that too, the ennui that makes it seem strange to see the excitement and pageantry at Japanese baseball games. I mean, it's our national pastime, right? Then why are our stands half-empty and morose when the Japanese stands are full and almost riotous? Watching Tony Bourdain at a Hanshin Tigers game on "No Reservations" made me think, "hey, maybe baseball games could be fun." But then I remembered what going to an actual game is like (Mariners, Father's Day, 1991 maybe?) and wondered why I couldn't remember taking the Crazy Pills whose effects I was so clearly feeling.

So I don't really care, is what it comes down to. Bonds' victory is ambiguous. Maybe he's the best slugger out of all the dopers, but that would still make him a doper. He's no Hank Aaron, but he's not really a Pete Rose either. One could argue that he rather nicely represents the state of baseball today.


Eric said...

I'm not too upset by Barry Bonds "cheating" and now becoming the home run king. Most likely he'll only hold it for about 6 seasons or so until A-Rod breaks it again. The reason I don't really care is because cheating was/is/will always be a part of all professional sports games (and even at the amateur level for people trying to make it pro). Whitey Ford, Hall of Fame pitcher for the Yankees, wrote a memoir about his pitching days and various ways he cheated to win games. Does that mean we should remove some number of his wins or cut him from the Hall? And as many people point out, baseball in the 70s and 80s were filled with people who did huge amounts of amphetamines. Frankly, it's the police's job to make sure that people don't use illegal substances. Let them all do whatever they want to their bodies. If they get caught, then they were just stupid.

Also, I think you should give baseball another chance. Don't watch a game at home, or go to some crappy Beavers game at PGE Park. Make a full day out of it, go to Seattle, and enjoy a Mariners game. Yes, some stats are a little weird, and I certainly don't understand them all, but going to a real-live major league game is pretty fun. I think if your only experience is being dragged there by your family when you were 10 years old, that may skew your view of the game. My only experience of Boston, prior to moving here, was a family trip here in late summer (so it was, like these last 2 weeks, unbearably hot and humid), and having to do stupid "Freedom Trail" crap and see people in tri-corner hats. It was not fun. But I like Boston a lot more now.

Sydney said...

I think my problem with actual live baseball games is that I have the attention span of a gnat. To be honest, live basketball games are too long for me. I really don't need to see the first half. If I showed up about five minutes after half-time, it would be just about perfect. Basketball games are frenetic and I still feel bored. I don't understand the nuances of baseball, so it all looks the same to me. And the crowd never seems that into it on televised games, so I assume that you kind of have to bring your own enthusiasm. I think that the deal for me is that I don't have a real connection to it, so I lose interest. If I knew a player on the team, or if it was my team (like college football - I can watch the ducks every year even though I can't stand NFL games). I bet that I won't enjoy live professional sports unless (and until) I have kids who love professional sports. I could see myself having a great time at a Mariner's game if I were seeing it through the eyes of a child. And if that child, in their enthusiasm, wanted to explain what was interesting about it as they were watching. I guess when it comes to live sports I am what they call "late majority" in diffusion of innovation theory: I won't get on the bandwagon until I see local (really local!) evidence that I feel applies directly to my life. And also that everyone else is doing it.

That said, I think I could be up for Mullet Night at a Beavers game. So long as there was someone there who was similarly interested in mullets more than baseball who was willing to chat with me while the actual sports fans watched the game.

Rip Tatermen said...

Mullet Night, you say?

SonicLlama said...

I find it hard to care about the Bonds thing because like you, Syd, I find baseball quite boring. I've tried to care, for some vague reason, but baseball always seems more work than fun for me.

But, a thing I've noticed about Japanese baseball-
People here are indeed nuts for it. Insanely nuts for it. Okayama is indeed Hanshin Tigers territory, and I sort of absorb info about the team whether I want to or not.
It seems that the fanatical fandom here is self-reinforcing. It's something everyone is into, so people want to jump on the bandwagon and get into what their friends and neighbors are doing. It's a big, shouting, community that comes together to yell at other big, shouting communities. I suppose all sports are like that, but here, with Japan's general sense of community, collectiveness, and team-ness, people really get into it.
But I think other forces are at work as well. Baseball is, obviously, American. I think it is inaccurate to say that Japan imitates or wants to be America, as many people say. Japan wants to be Japan. But, Japan is a country that has always enthusiastically borrowed and appropriated things. They got Buddhism from India by way of China, writing, food, Confucianism and language also from China, the reforms of the Meiji Restoration were based on German legal principals, and many people think that the royal family stems back to Korea. Japan absorbs things and makes them its own. Now, with Japanese baseball, Japan is not only caught up in the frenzy of sport, but also in the celebration of cultural acquisition.
Not only do people seem to love the sport for it's own sake, but they also seem to celebrate the fact that Japan can take something, borrow it, and produce it. And not only produce it, but excel at it. Ichiro is a hero here because he represents the fact that Japanese baseball is not emulation, but emulation become an exemplary example of the real. He and his MLB ilk are assurances that the cultural borrowing is not some remedial form of cultural development, but a way to produce something new, creative, and quality. The indigenous and new stems from the foreign, and adulation follows.
Maybe people here just really like sticks and balls. I don't know.
Anyway, baseball is still boring.

Sydney said...

So what you're saying is that Japanese baseball is a counter-argument to Baudrillard's precession of simulacra? That is awesome.

SonicLlama said...

I wasn't thinking of Baudrillard when I wrote that but now that you mention it...

Sydney said...

You should totally write a paper about how the Hanshin Tigers disprove, or at least seriously alter the meaning of, the precession of simulacra. It would be so very very awesome. And I'm sure that all the Tigers' fans would read it and be like, "Hot damn, we are AMAZING!"