Why I Love Baseball.
As I write this, we are in the midst of the League Championship Series for both the American and National Leagues. Alas, my beloved New York Yankees faded in September and were eliminated in the single game wild card “play-in”. MLB doesn’t like the play-in nomenclature since it connotes that it is a prelude to the playoffs. None of 4 remaining teams are recent Champions, so none of them had any expectations of a Championship as recently as a couple of years ago.
While I may not watch every inning of every game of the playoffs, I remain deeply interested in the outcome of the playoffs and monitor every game. Beyond my passion for the Yankees, I also love the game itself. The Cubs-Mets series in particular is fascinating to me.
Though I may be in the minority, I believe baseball continues to reign as the most important professional sport in the U.S., and surely the one which best reflects our history during the past 125 years. At one time, baseball was viewed as the “national pastime”. I understand that it’s been overtaken by football in the national psyche and television ratings. Even the ratings of the MLB playoffs will pale in comparison to a mid-season NFL game. That’s too bad. But it doesn’t change my feelings. I do think there are ways that the game could be even better, and would be happy to share my thoughts with Commissioner Manfred, Dear Mr. New Commissioner.
Simply put, baseball is American history. Football is not. Baseball celebrates statistics, and its all-star game and selections of its top awards—MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of Year—are meaningful. Awards and tradition are far less important in football. Ironically, professional hockey, a sport which had only 6 teams until the late 60s, has more heritage than football.
Baseball is the sport I first learned as a young boy. I never mastered it, though I still have my Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra gloves to this day. I was fortunate to have grown up in the New York area and became a Yankees fan as a boy. My dad grew up in Brooklyn and was a Dodgers fan but they moved to LA just a couple of years before I started to follow the game. 1960 was the first year of my baseball memories and I remember the disappointment of Mazeroski’s game-winning homer in the 7th game of the World Series. Nonetheless, I was treated to my team winning the AL pennant again in 1961-1964 and winning the Series in 1961 and 1962. I was hooked, and I had to be because there were many painful Yankees seasons to follow in the late 60s and early 70s. No matter. The Yankees were my team and I appreciated that my team was the team of Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Berra, Ford, Mantle and countless others. The Yankees were (and remain to this day) the most important team in professional sports.
I appreciate the reality that not everyone is a Yankees fan, and in fact that Yankees detractors probably outnumber Yankees lovers. Regardless, I view the resentment of the Yankees from fans from other markets as a sign of grudging respect and admiration for their historical success. But even I appreciate that there are some excellent “non-Yankees” who’ve played the game in the past and today.
Beyond the drama of October baseball, the Hall of Fame located inconveniently in Cooperstown, NY is like no other. It is not a “Disney-like” experience. There are no rides and most of the exhibits require the attendee to stand and view the content. Viewing the plaques is an out of body experience for a serious baseball fan. I am floored by the statistics and accomplishments of the games greats. For example, Warren Spahn, a great “non-Yankee”, who I remember as a kid, won 363 games and completed 385 games (That is not a typo). In today’s innings limited, 5-6 man rotations you can’t even comprehend that many completions. That’s the kind of information you’ll find at Cooperstown.
Back to watching the Championship Series unfold. Play ball.