[G]iven the reverence baseball has for its own traditions, it has proved nicely resistant to so much of what has made popular culture so damned rotten, so degrading and demeaning and sordid. I’ve always said that every time some player trots onto the football field with a yard of disgusting dreadlocks hanging out from under his helmet, the grave-rotisserie Johnny Unitas is on by now cranks on another 100 RPMs of speed. Meanwhile, I’d bet a goodly portion of the people who casually watch football have no idea who Johnny Unitas is in the first place. But you can be dead certain that everyone who watches baseball even occasionally can tell you at least a little about Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio.
Baseball history is never more than the next pitch away, and it still has the power to amaze. I remember looking up something on Los Angeles Dodgers play-by-play man Vin Scully, who retires after this season, and up to that point it had never occurred to me that Vin was calling Dodgers games while the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.
Yes, there are always going to be Unfortunate Events:
Of course, there’s always villainous, crusty old Ty Cobb to consider, too. And the Black Sox.
But there’s poetry in baseball still, and plenty of it. The rhythm and pace of a baseball game hearkens back to an earlier, better time. It’s casual, relaxed, and unforced. And the beauty of it is, there are no dodges: fiddle and fidget around on the mound all he likes, scratch and spit and adjust his cap by way of stalling, sooner or later, the pitcher has to throw the ball. And the batter has to either hit it or not. Ain’t no running out the clock. Sooner or later, the game will be played, and one team will win, and one … won’t.
When you sense your own clock might be running out, this means even more.
I am grateful for the fact that no team is ever going to go 162-0. With a week and a half to go this season, only one club — the Chicago Cubs, yet — is playing better than .600 ball. Get one hit out of every three at-bats and you’ll at least be considered for Cooperstown. And there’s always a smile when I consider that the Arizona Diamondbacks started playing in 1998 with one uniform number already retired: 42, for Jackie Robinson.
But maybe more important, in the grand scheme of things, is the sheer ubiquity of baseball: below the majors, there are several levels of minors, and they play by basically the same rules. (One anomaly: in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, a double-header consists of two seven-inning games — except when it doesn’t, as has happened a couple of times this year when one of the games went into
overtime extra innings.) You can be in the nation’s capital, or you can be way up in Hagerstown, Maryland — where the Washington Nationals have a class-A affiliate — and if the Nats play a hair better, the hot dogs cost less in the South Atlantic League.