Friday, October 30, 2009

Baseball Defies Predictions of Doom [Art Spander]

Art Spander of Real Clear Sports: 

The game died years ago. Isn't that what we were told? Baseball was the echo of another time, men in baggy flannel standing around while the world sped past.
It didn't work on television, trying to cram that huge expanse onto a small screen. And kids who weren't playing video games supposedly were playing soccer, on baseball fields.
But here are the Yankees and Phillies going at it in this World Series in October 2009 as they did in the World Series in October 1950, and Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Howard are being given space in the sports pages equal that of Brett Favre journeying back to Green Bay.
Sure it's because of the Yankees, the most famous sporting franchise in North America, a team of wealth, pinstripes and history. The Yanks cannot be ignored. Nor, with this World Series, can baseball.
They had a 13.8 overnight Nielsen rating for Game 1, NFL type numbers, and presumably the figures will be about the same for Game 2, when the Yankees, hailed and hated, tied things up.
Baseball. "You win with pitching,'' said New York's Derek Jeter after the Yankees beat Philly, 3-1, Thursday in Game 2. Always will win with pitching.
The Phils took the first game, 6-1. Always have won with pitching.
Baseball. "Ninety feet between bases,'' wrote the late Red Smith, "is the closest man has ever come to perfection.''
Baseball, a game of axioms and survival. Despite the Black Sox scandal, despite the shutdowns and strikes, despite the despair over steroids, the sport keeps staggering on.
Gene Mauch, known infamously as the manager of the 1964 Phillies, who leading by 6 ½ games in September lost 10 in a row, told us, "Cockroaches and baseball keep coming back.''
And so baseball has returned in all its glory, old and new.
Hypnotic tedium was a description of baseball by Philip Roth, whose canon of work includes "The Great American Novel,'' dealing with the fortunes of a homeless baseball team. But Roth said not until he got to Harvard did he "find anything with a comparable emotional atmosphere and aesthetic appeal.'' Baseball was "the literature of my boyhood.''
The essence of baseball is cumulative tension. Each pitch adds to the question, the doubt. Does Cliff Lee go inside or outside to Jorge Posada? Does A.J. Burnett throw curves or fast balls to Chase Utley?
It's cold in the east. The games start too late - although not as late as past years - and go on forever. But New York and Philly are enthralled. So is much of America.
Baseball is the only team sport not played against a clock. It's the only team sport where a manager hikes to the mound to stall for time, where an argument with an official is not only accepted it's expected - even if never without positive results - where fans, like Jeffrey Mayer and Steve Bartman, may affect the outcome.
Baseball requires patience and persistence. The most famous cry is not "Play ball'' but "Wait ‘til next year.''
The Yankees have been waiting for some time. The Phillies, on the contrary, are trying to win a second straight championship, and you only wish the late James Michener, who authored dozens of books, could be around.
Michener once wrote a New York Times piece about his flawed love of the Phillies, which began in 1915 when he was 8-years-old and continued until his death in 1997. "Year after year,'' Michener conceded, "they wallowed in last place.''
A young literary critic confronted Michener and pointed out, "You seem to be optimistic about the human race. Don't you have a sense of tragedy?''
He answered, "Young man, when you root for the Phillies, you acquire a sense of tragedy."
The Phillies are no longer tragic. They are involved in a World Series destined to go no fewer than five games and maybe with luck six or seven.
The Yankees have the prestige and the bullpen. The Phillies have a high degree of self confidence. Baseball has an attraction involving two of the country's more passionate sporting cities which happen to be located 100 miles apart.
Out West they wanted the Dodgers against the Angels, but truth tell this one is better, a team not many people other than baseball purists really know, the Phillies, and a team which because of its $200 million payroll and stars even the non-fan knows, those Damn Yankees.
And remember, you win with pitching.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a living treasure of sports history. A recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- he has earned himself a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was recently honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America for 2009.

Labels: , , , ,