Opinion: America’s urgent need for baseball today

In America today and in its capital city of Washington, D.C., we see, sadly, that with enough money and influence, the fix can be put in. A widely used passenger plane model — whose safety standards were certified by the manufacturer — had to be grounded after separate crashes took 346 lives. According to the sworn testimony of the president’s personal attorney, in the closing days of the last White House campaign, a six-figure hush money payoff went to the current president’s alleged mistress. Citizens learn that the game is not on the level.

Nor is the fix limited to Inside the Beltway. Without rich, connected, corrupt parents willing to bribe college coaches and officials to get their unqualified offspring enrolled at prestigious schools, hard-working, qualified high school students receive letters of rejection rather than acceptance from those corrupted universities. Why? Because the fix was in.

In the summer of 2019, America urgently needs baseball because, as team owner and American original Bill Veeck accurately observed: “Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can’t get you off.” Veeck was right. In baseball, it doesn’t make any difference how big a six-figure soft-money check you anonymously wrote to a powerful public official if you can’t hit a curveball. Social connections and private school pedigrees count for nothing in the bottom of the ninth when the tying run is on third base.

Speaking of which, America’s Pulitzer Prize-winning and -deserving sports writer “Red” Smith captured the genius of the game when he wrote, “The ninety feet between home plate and first base may be the closest man has ever come to perfection.” Think about it: Today, some two centuries after the baseball diamond was so designed, the race from the batter’s box to first base — after the hitter hits the ball on the ground to an infielder — still ends almost always in a photo finish. That 90-foot distance means that the mound from which the pitcher tries to throw the ball by the hitter is 60 feet, 6 inches away. If it were a few feet farther away, the hitter would be at an advantage; if it were a few feet closer, the pitcher could overwhelm the batter.

Baseball rejects the responsibility-avoiding passive tense. No “mistakes were made” when a batted ball goes directly through the shortstop’s legs. In baseball, “Smith makes an error” brings immediate and public accountability, often in the disapproving boos of fans — even thousands of them — in the stands. Baseball is about standards that are universally accepted. It is now 78 years since Ted Williams was the last baseball player to hit over .400 (he hit .406) for a season. In that same year, Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 consecutive games, a record that has never been seriously challenged.

But is baseball, the sport with no clock, too slow and too leisurely for this hyped-up era? Once again, we turn to Red Smith. In response to noisy criticism about the dullness of baseball from sports broadcaster Howard Cosell, Smith said, “Baseball is a dull game for dull minds.” The defense rests.

— Mark Shields is a columnist with Creators Syndicate.


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