Alright All You Hipsters, Quit Hatin' On Baseball Generally speaking, folks that like Jim Jarmusch and Cindy Sherman and Thomas Pynchon do not particularly love sports. If they're like me, they had their lunch money stolen by the jocks. They probably don't tan very well, much less look good in shorts.
Listen, I used to hate sports and jocks and anything remotely sports-like. Probably because I sucked at them. Also probably because I made sweeping generalizations about people who play and/or excel at them. Although I do not love all sports, I have surprised myself and become a huge fan of baseball (mostly) and basketball, and can watch football and horseracing and hockey at times and really enjoy it. I have basically done a complete 180, and people who know me well are surprised, concerned, or just basically bothered by my enthusiasm.
I'd love to gather all you people in a big auditorium and maybe put on some kind of multi-medium production on just why you are shutting out a great thing by turning up your nose to baseball. But that would require digging up all kinds of video footage, photographs, quotes, passages from books, and I would probably lose my voice.
Here are my reasons as to why sports are not dumb:
1. Author/essayist Harry Crews said it best when he said: "I think all of us are looking for that which does not admit of bullshit . . . If you tell me you can bench press 450, hell, we'll load up the bar and put you under it. Either you can do it or you can't do it—you can't bullshit. Ultimately, sports are just about as close to what one would call the truth as it is possible to get in this world."
2. Baseball statistician Bill James said: "The human mind searches for order in everything it perceives. Because baseball is inherently meaningless, its history is more clear and less clouded than the history of things that are meaningful."
3. The drama and history of baseball (and many others) are often more compelling than any narrative, any film, or any other artform. The Curse of the Bambino, Chicago's Goat Curse, Bartman, the ball between Bill Buckner's legs, Bucky Dent's home run. How can you possibly get more dramatic, and where else can you find more amazing stories of heartbreak?
4. When I'm at a baseball game, or watching a baseball game on TV, it is one of the very few times that my mind is completely devoid of any thoughts of work, stress, terrorism, etc. It shouldn't be someone's only escape, but I can't think of many that are as harmless, or as rewarding, as baseball.
5. We have always been fascinated with physical feats. It's hard-wired into us, whether by environmental factors or human nature. It would be kind of boring without these. Who doesn't like to see Smarty Jones cross the finish line?
6. You couldn't find better characters anywhere. Where else can you find real people who are named Rusty Kuntz, Dick Pole, Pete La Cock, Stubby Clapp, Oil Can Boyd, Rollie Fingers, and Urban Shocker? Baseball has some of the greatest villians of all time. Not to mention the mullets, the handlebar moustaches, the long manes, beards, and shaved heads. A relief pitcher with a club foot (who teams love to bunt to). Ted Williams, probably the best hitter of all time, served in two wars, crash landed a plane to save his legs, and later died and was cryogenically frozen. Otis Nixon, the ugliest player of all time, currently in Atlanta getting arrested. Rickey Henderson, one of the fastest of the game, currently one of the oldest, and always refers to himself in the third person (he was recently featured in an NPR story). The rivals are as rich and storied as the Montagues and the Capulets (if you don't believe me, show up at Fenway Park wearing a Yankees cap).
7. The more you put into baseball, the more you get in return. Every time you turn on a baseball game, read a sports column (and yes, sports journalism can be an artform -- see any baseball essay by John Updike, Stephen Jay Gould, Roger Angell), glance at a boxscore, take in a documentary, or engage in a conversation, you have just become a wiser baseball viewer. The lulls that used to be like watching paint dry become moments of speculation, suspense, and anticipation. The announcer's stream of stats and records and tidbits gains heft and falls into place within the growing baseball part of your brain. Each pitch of the ball starts to look different. It's not just a guy swinging wildly, praying for any sort of contact. Outs become endangered resources. Innings become chapters. The season becomes one volume in an endless serial of pain and joy, a microcosm of life itself. A giant reality soap opera with more twists and turns than any Hitchcock movie.
If I'm starting to sound crazy, it's because any time I hear a great piece of music, or see a great film, or read a great book, I want to share it with other people. People who are like me. People who I think would enjoy it if they just gave it a chance. I get downright crazy about it. Baseball's not dumb. But thinking it is, is.