Baseball before Baseball

Sisyphus practicing as a child.

Speaking of catching up and baseball, here’s an article I started last March. I got about halfway through it before I bogged down and filed it in drafts to resume later. Unfortunately, March was very busy at work, plus my focus has been pulled away from here for several months. I never did resume the article.

Starting this coming week, some of the work drain should start to decrease. As we near completion, the giant boulder I’m been pushing uphill gets smaller. I’m reaching a point where work isn’t sucking up every inch of life I’ve got. That leaves a little left over for fun. And old posts.

The start of the new season has me thinking baseball, and this post from March turns out to fit nicely with the recent one.

Dateline: March 10, 2013

WBCSpring Training provides a month or so of baseball before the baseball season kicks off, but this year during March we also have the World Baseball Classic. This is the third WBC; the first two were in 2006 and 2009. The tournament is a response to excluding baseball from the Olympics. As of the second series in 2009, it is held every four years—the next one won’t be until 2017.

Teams in the World Baseball Classic are by country. There is a Team USA with players born here, but many Major League players from American teams play on their country’s team. The Minnesota Twins have players on the Italian and Canadian teams as well as on the US team.

It can make it hard to pick a team to root for!

Greinke Quentin brawlThe brawl between Team Canada and Team Mexico showed a less romantic part of the game. As with anything else in life, baseball isn’t perfect. There is sometimes cheating, and there is sometimes anger. [Editor: We saw this again in April when San Diego Padres left fielder, Carlos Quentin, rushed the mound to attack Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher, Zack Greinke. In the resulting brouhaha, Greinke ended up with a broken collarbone.]

Baseball at least treats those as failures as being unsporting, as being wrong. Bench-clearing brawls usually result in multiple-game suspensions for the players involved. Compare that to the extreme of hockey, with its enforcers and regular brawls. Even football is intentionally physical. Consider also boxing and extreme martial sports where the intent is personal injury.

In baseball, there are rare occasions where the players are allowed some degree of force. A player sliding into a base they’re entitled to grants them some degree of license, although it must be clear they were trying to reach base.  A slide too far away from the bag with the clear intent of discombobulating the other player will be called by the ump.

catcher smashThere is even more latitude for a player trying to reach home plate (“the dish”). Interestingly, the catcher isn’t allowed to block the plate unless he has the ball in his position, but once he does, he can make every effort to prevent the runner from touching the dish.  And the runner can make a reasonable effort to do so, including smashing into the catcher at full running speed.

[And I don’t intend to draw a big deal value judgement about sports here. I have very Libertarian leanings when it comes to adults choosing to do whatever they want—assuming that works both ways. Don’t interfere with my pursuit of happiness, and I won’t interfere with yours. Fair ball?]

Consider this: How many sports have a formal statistics regarding player errors? Baseball sets its sights on perfection. It’s not alone in that. If you throw 300 in bowling, that’s a perfect score. A pitcher can throw a perfect game (no runs, hits or walks); they can also throw a no-hitter or shut-out, different, lesser perfections.

fielding oopsA batter who’s hitting “one-thousand” (1.000) is showing one kind of perfection (one that’s basically impossible to achieve over any long term). There are other ways to measure performance in terms of a perfect score, although many of them are as practically impossible as batting one-thousand. The perfect golf score—for an 18-hole course—is 18, a hole-in-one every hole. That’s a lot harder than bowling 300.

[As I’ve said often, my bowling scores make great golf scores. And vice-versa.]

The point is baseball has high goals, and I think high goals are good, even if they are too perfect to reach. There’s an expression about our reach exceeding our grasp. It’s really only when you do reach for something beyond your grasp that you grow. That applies to working out, learning math or understanding the world.

That’s why, for me, the steroid use cannot be waved away. Forgiven, perhaps in some sense, but never forgotten. And never excused. Build a separate wing—The Hall of Shame—if Cooperstown has to include the PED users. It comes down to whether you view the HOF as a museum about baseball or a shrine to baseball.

Baseball Hall of FameIf the Hall of Fame  honors baseball, I think cheaters should be excluded. If it just records baseball, then it should record everything.

You can think either of these things are true to some extent. How strongly you feel about one or the other determines your final vote. I feel pretty strongly about the ideals and honorable goals of baseball, and I feel Cooperstown is more shrine than museum. It’s more a place of hushed tones of awe than of days of baseball past.

There can be many baseball museums. There is only one Cooperstown; one Hall of Fame.

The flip side to the argument is that people are flawed, baseball players are people, and we should embrace—or at least accept—those flaws and not be all hoity-toity about good old humans who just made a “mistake.” Love the sinner, hate the sin, and all that.

I… disagree. I’m all in favor of forgiveness and acceptance. But I’m not—as they say—one who forgets.  More to the point, I’m not one who doesn’t notice that some people cross a clearly marked, well-understood line while others manage not to. As an extreme example, poverty makes a poor excuse for crime when most poor don’t steal. Clearly an element of choice is involved.

Baseball Hall of Fame

What message do we want to pass on to our children?

I think the choice to regard and keep the high ideals of baseball is something honorable that should set apart those players. And should set apart those who did not.

We may be flawed humans all, but that doesn’t mean we should excuse ourselves. We achieve high character through the constant effort of reaching for it. Once you start excusing your flaws, you begin to accept them. Once you begin to accept them, you lose the drive to try to change them.

And we should always see ourselves as a work in progress!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

4 responses to “Baseball before Baseball

  • reocochran

    I think that you have interesting points and good ideas about not letting “cheaters” get awards. I also think that we can determine the importance of a role model being as close to appropriate in choices to stay “clean” and “out of trouble” are realistic. The person who is in the limelight should appreciate the money and the glory of such positions. I am like you not going to judge the persons on their mistakes but I also think they need to be excluded from Halls of Fame, etc. Good thought provoking post, Wyrd.
    Take care and hope you make it to Ohio to see those 2014 MLB games!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’ve always thought Bill Clinton’s presidential exit made a good Exhibit ‘A’. Is it reasonable to expect the President of the USA, the “Leader of the Free World,” to keep it in his pants for eight years? (Alternately, is it reasonable to expect him to at least show a little more taste and decorum?) Just what is our moral bar these days? What is reasonable given the modern world?

      The infamous end of his presidency also raises some other interesting questions. Are we being silly being concerned over a public figure’s sexual behavior? Is there really a link between sexual mores and leadership ability?

      I never really blamed him for the acts. I can only imagine that the lure of having sex with a young woman in the Oval Office must have been all but impossible to resist. What bothered me was his attempts at denial once caught. I really think if he’d just owned up to it and apologized, the whole country might have moved on. We’ll forgive a sinner, but a liar attempting a coverup bothers us a lot.

  • heysugarsugar

    awww that last bit was so beautifully written. ..the baseball bit as you know gets my loyalty number one fan ‘like’ day honey I will understand men and balls but you do write well babe. mucho love C. xx

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