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na na, hey hey, good-bye

A modest proposal for the retirement of our national pastime

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I. Is Baseball Necessary?

(Should We Help It Die?)

A. Women: could care less. Half the population right there. (Qualify this. Largely, reportedly. Surveys show--find surveys?)

B. Children: oblivious. (Make up anecdote.)

C. Men: peculiar, intense, joyless, driven, stat-devouring "love" for game--is it wholesome anyway? Rooted in some remote conflict? Desire to emasculate (whiff) Father? Ritual circle around peewee league humiliations? (Stupefied with boredom in the outfield, cringing in the batter's box--please God let it be over. Now morbidly fixated, "spectating.")

D. Concl: all victims of patriarchal hegemony. (Be sure to spell-check.) Need for therapy, self-forgiveness. Some absorbing hobby. (Model rocketry?)

II. Decline of Our National Pastime

A. Compare: watching paint dry. Feverish jumbotronic hyping of 0.0013 percent of game that looks like something (see jump-cut pastiche of circus catches, collisions, plays at the plate, etc) can't conceal truth indefinitely. Like bad movie with good trailer; word of mouth eventually kills.

1. Even for players, baseball mostly a matter of straining to stay focused on something that may be about to happen, but probably not. Like fishing. (Baseball like watching fishing?)

2. Laborious pace of game out of sync with culture that craves sharp pleasures, frequent climaxes--crack, cable TV, sour cream-and-onion potato chips, etc.

3. No emotional spectacle--no taunting, no dancing, no seething, no extremities of pain. Everybody "stays within himself," focuses grimly on little white ball.

4. Also not simple enough for dopes:

a) Football = ground acquisition.

b) Basketball = hoop penetration.

c) Baseball = ???

III. Make No Mistake: Cherished Memories

A. Something about polo grounds. Something about "Yaz." Never forget where I was when I heard, etc.

1. But loss of innocence:

a) Drugs, greed, strife.

b) Designated hitter rule.

c) Roberto Clemente's plane.

B. Signs of deterioration all too visible now.

1. Kids, left to themselves, prefer basketball, Nintendo, unprotected sex.

a) Don't know infield fly rule, don't care.

b) Choose caps without regard to actual team allegiances.

(1) Wear backward.

2. Adult fans losing focus, urgency. Require mascots, trivia games, applause meters to distract them. Familiar tune snatches to fill dead stadium air. ("Walk This Way" for every base on balls?) Widespread reading in stands. (Not just newspapers, either--densely textured novels, definitive bios, appendices to The Bell Curve.)

3. Sportscasters meander companionably, extend birthday greetings, never give the count.

4. Even players no longer devoted. Lack desire. Lack fundamentals. Preoccupied with card shows, salary disputes. Nintendo, basketball, sex. Hidden ball trick starting to work again.

IV. Benefits of Euthanasia

A. Alternative to long disgraceful bickering dotage. Why continue mediating quarrels, subsidizing stadiums, enduring Barry Bonds, when end in sight anyway? Like laboring to convince Grandma she'll "outlive us all." Not a chance, thank God.

1. Analogy to once-frisky, once-beloved pet--now stiff, scabby, cranky, incontinent. Wonderful memories, but what is left to say?

a) Get in the car, Princess.

b) That a girl.

B. Act now, nip various ugly trends in the bud. How would purists like to see, e.g., further dilution of pitching talent, 16-team playoff format, expansion franchise for Orlando (the Little Mermaids)?

C. Withdrawal painful, of course. Baseball a mildly addictive depressant, like cough syrup. Many need drizzle of numbers, gray noise from the radio, something to "follow" while washing their cars.

1. But variety of commercially available substitutes:

a) Court TV.

b) Gin.

c) Harper's Index.

2. If necessary, gradual phase-out option. Abbreviated season, neutral sites, heavy emphasis on exasperating "color" commentary (jokes, reminiscences, recipes) over play-by-play. Eventually eliminate underlying games.

a) Or have spring training only?

(1) Stretch, warm up, etc.

(2) "Work on fundamentals."

(3) Hype prospects.

(4) Wait till next year.

V. Stuffing the Remains

A. Why not shrines, memorabilia shows, traveling exhibitions, theme parks? For posterity's sake. Places to bring the kids, experience reverence. Also tedium, watery beer.

1. Historical reenactments, as at Concord, Gettysburg. "Teams" demonstrate hit and run, suicide squeeze, intentional walk. Authentic regalia. Tobacco juice.

2. Ken Burns's Baseball: expanded edition, broadcast all year long on AMC/ESPN spin-off network. Immense, slow-building accretion of stills, wobbly footage, interviews with wistful politicians, retired Civil War historians, etc. Perpetually in progress, like the Great Barrier Reef.

VI . The Aftermath: Joy in Mudville

A. Period of stupor, naturally, when summer game is gone. Awkwardness. Testy editorials. Then gradual lightening. As when parade over: no longer held back, crowd drifts out into empty street, pleasantly confused, untethered, where are they parked?

1. Dawning sense of life's possibilities.

2. New clarity, focus.

3. Picnics:

a) Husbands, wives holding hands.

b) Children frolicking.

c) Everyone in lederhosen, like Sound of Music?

B. "Retired" players shamble off to Osaka, Seoul, Caracas, or into beer distributorships, wrestling. Bigger names linger, but seem more irrelevant and obscure with each mention in "Transitions" or "Where Are They Now." Like silent-film stars, Olympic track immortals. Eventual obituaries tend to be quick, garbled. ("Mr. Canseco was an avid baseball practitioner, renowned for his ability to 'slug,' though critics charged that his 'glove' was 'of stone.' In later years he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Miami, bred snakes, and was briefly married to Supreme Court Justice Debra Norville.")

C. Enduring legacy of game? Beyond nicknames, snug visored caps, odd bits of lingo ("off the wall," "chin music," etc) hard to assess.

1. Respectable subspecialty in many history departments.

a) Numbers to manipulate.

b) Pointless.

2. Contribution to American character, like frontier, immigration, one- sided wars?

D. Remote possibility that deeply submerged, all-but-inaccessible race memory may linger: of green fields, cowhide, sunshine, rosin, ash.

1. Genetic component? Baseball in blood, sinews?

2. In certain children, perhaps lines faintly discernible, like the course of a vanished river:

a) Curiously fluid wheelhouse motion.

b) Tendency to bear down, paint corners, even when skipping rocks.

c) Mysterious taste for sunflower seeds?

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustrations/Peter Hannan.

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