When I was a kid, I had a small, portable radio that looked like a hamburger. I took it everywhere with me: to the bathroom, in the car, on family outings. During the summer, I would put it under my pillow as I went to sleep so I could listen to the tail end of Mets games. Back then, Gary Cohen and Bob Murphy called the games. Gary Cohen is still calling Mets games but for the team’s flagship television station. Bob Murphy is dead, whose many years as a smoker finally got the best of him. I have tried many times to find out where Bob Murphy has been buried so I could tell him how much I miss hearing his voice on the radio but to no avail. Maybe Gary Cohen wouldn’t mind sharing that information with me.
I used to get excited during Mets games in ways that seem strangely foreign to me now: cursing at opposing players and their fans; mimicking the hitting or pitching motions of various players (Orlando Hernandez a.k.a. El Duque was a popular option); and once, swinging an umbrella — the Mets were up at bat — so hard that its barrel went flying through a wall (good thing I was at a friend’s house without the friend; I don’t’ think I’ve told him to this day about the hole).
As another baseball season is set to begin, I wanted to write about all the things I dislike about baseball today. And trust me, there’s a lot to say on that subject. But so what? No one who is worth a damn in professional baseball is going to change the way the game is presented and played, for me, or anyone else with a gripe. To most of them, baseball might as well be NASCAR given the way they have turned the game into a slow-motion, ear-splitting, commercial extravaganza. Of course, I say this without having ever watched a NASCAR race up close and personal, but I’m not sure that really matters. Who knows, maybe one day I will give up my interest in baseball entirely. I certainly wouldn’t be the first one to do so.
But then I would be admitting defeat. Why should I be the one to abandon the game when it is the game, and its purveyors, that have abandoned me? As with all things fundamental to one’s way of life, we don’t know what we’ve lost until we’ve lost it. Tony Judt, the late historian, taught me this in one of his last books. Of course, there, he was making a case for the defense of social democracy. But baseball is also an institution deserving of what Judt referred to as “a spirit of prudence”.
If anything needs to change it is the belief that baseball cannot be played in much the same ways that it was played at the turn of the century. The last time I checked umpires didn’t have replay machines back then, and I’m not sure the fans would have even stood for such nonsense, given the disruption it creates in the flow of the game. Not all change is bad, of course. But, as I again borrow from the Tony Judt playbook, “incremental improvements upon unsatisfactory circumstances are the best that we can hope for, and probably all we should seek.” As the famous song goes:
Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Just buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.