"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."
This famous baseball quote, my personal favorite thing anyone has ever said about baseball, is from Rogers Hornsby. Hornsby won seven batting titles and two Triple Crowns, is the first National Leaguer to ever hit 40 homers, batted over .400 three times and managed the 1926 St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series win over Babe Ruth's New York Yankees. It is difficult to argue he isn't one of the best 20 baseball players of all time. What he did with a bat was magic.
Rogers Hornsby also was compared by Bill Veeck to Attila the Hun, was traded away by the Cardinals because of his rampant, out-of-control gambling, was a notorious tax cheat, regularly "laid hands" upon his three wives, has been accused of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan and also once ran an old man over with his car. (Many further details can be found at the "Baseball Historian" site.) Bill James argued in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract that Hornsby would be his pick for "biggest horse's ass in baseball history."
The game is perfect. Humans keep trying to screw it up, but no matter how hard they try, they can't.
* * *
The central "issue" of Major League Baseball, apparently, remains the use of performance-enhancing drugs. I don't agree with this: The central issue of Major League Baseball, in my eyes, is making sure there is labor peace between the owners and the union; I'd rather watch players shoot up in between pitches than see them cancel another World Series, but maybe that's just me. But regardless: The way everyone, from owners to players to media to fans, talks about PED is hypocritical at best and grossly self-serving at worst.
Owners claim that the dirty players keep sullying their great game with these drugs, even though they profited for years from them and only turned against them when they realized they could be used as a negotiating cudgel. Players claim to despise the use and users of PEDs, but the next player who publicly refuses to sign with a team because it employs a PED user will be the first. (David Aardsma tweeted his repulsion with the Cardinals' November signing of Jhonny Peralta, who was suspended for PED use last year. When he signed with the Cardinals this week, though, it was he who had to take Peralta aside and apologize to him.)
Media members wring their hands and act all moralist about PED use they happily ignored for decades now that it's popular to do so (and allows them to pretend they are some sort of gatekeeper of the game, whatever in the world that even means). And fans talk about how disgusted they are by PED users and how they want them out of the game … unless of course they're really likable (David Ortiz, Andy Pettitte), they're generally anonymous (Francisco Cervelli, Mike Morse) or they currently play for the fan's favorite team. We spend hours upon hours upon hours obsessing over this tiny human frailty -- something that might not have actually ever affected the outcome of a single baseball game -- even though no one is ever going to agree on a solution, if there even needs to be one, on anything. Other sports have rampant PED problems and no one seems to care. Only baseball people do this to themselves.
Yet here we will all be today, rapt. The game is perfect. Humans keep trying to screw it up, but no matter how hard they try, they can't.
* * *
So much of professional sports is a scam. The major driving economic force behind professional sports right now -- and this is true in baseball, though less than the other major sports -- is cable television revenue that comes in large part from millions of people paying five bucks a month for sports channels they don't even watch. Most of the new stadiums have been built either with public funding or from the use of tax breaks and public bonds that the teams will never funnel back into the city. Whenever a team signs a player to a huge contract and all you can do is shrug and say, "hey, it's not my money" … well, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings here, but it is: It is your money.
That love you have for the game, all the vibrancy mixed with all the nostalgia, the fact that thanks to baseball you're going to have a default conversational baseline -- something that crosses every line, that can break down every barrier, if only temporarily -- every day for the next six months … that love you have has been commoditized and broken down into a specific monetary value and is probably a line-item on an Excel document somewhere. This passion, this excitement you have today, there are thousands of people who don't care about the game profiting off of it, every single second. They are using you.
And yet none of that changes a thing. I should be outraged, but I'm not. I'm too happy baseball is finally back here again. The game is perfect. Humans keep trying to screw it up, but no matter how hard they try, they can't.
* * *
Every day since the baseball season ended with a Red Sox celebration at Fenway Park 153 days ago -- as this Cardinals fan attempted to doze in his hotel room as giddy Sox fans laughed and danced outside his door -- I have stared out the window and waited for spring. I know it is not logical. I understand all the strife and ugliness that comes with being a baseball fan, how outside the idyllic place of my imagination, there are lies and cheats and swindlers and jerks and jacksasses. Those people should all be exposed and mocked: They still matter. But they don't change anything. They can't. Baseball is back, and therefore everything is all right. Having it back, having the 90 feet between bases and ground rule doubles and the hit-and-runs and the walk-off walks and everything that makes this game is peculiarly beautiful … it makes you feel like the world's OK after all. It makes you feel, in spite of everything, that it's all all gonna work out. Play ball, everyone. It's all there's left to do. It's all we've got.