At dinner with a friend Saturday the conversation drifted to what's wrong with baseball. The video replay got specific mention; there were mutterings about they're trying to fix what isn't broken, they're making a game that's already long longer. There was even mention of a proposal to shorten cames to seven innings! And I thought things had turned south with fan voting for all stars and the designated hitter rule. The conversation reminded me of this passage from Updike's Rabbit Redux, and I'm glad it did.
But something has gone wrong. The ball game is boring. The spaced dance of the men in white fails to enchant, the code beneath the staccato spurts of distant motion refuses to yield its meaning. Though basketball was his sport, Rabbit remembers the grandeur of all that grass, the excited perilous feeling when a high fly was hoisted your way, the homing-in on the expanding dot, the leathery smack of the catch, the formalized nonchalance of the heads-down trot in toward the bench, the ritual flips and shrugs and the nervous courtesies of the batter's box. There was a beauty here bigger than the hurtling beauty of basketball, a beauty refined from country pastures, a game of solitariness, of waiting, waiting for the pitcher to complete his gaze towards first base and throw his lighning, a game whose very taste, of spit and dust and grass and sweat and leather and sun was America. Sitting behind first base between his son and his father-in-law, the sun resting on his thighs, the rolled-up program in his hand, Rabbit waits for this beauty to rise to him, through the cheers and the rhythm of innings, the traditional national magic, tasting of his youth; but something is wrong. The crowd is sparse, thinning out from a cluster behind the infield to fistfuls of boys sprawling on the green seats sloped up from the outfield. Sparse, loud, hard: only the drunks, the bookies, the cripples, the senile, and the delinquents come out to the ball park on a Saturday afternoon. Their catcalls are course and unkind: "Ram it down his throat, Speedy!" "Kill that black bastard!" Rabbit yearns to protect the game from the crowd; the poetry of space and inaction is too fine, too slowly spun for them. And for the players themselves, they seem expert listlessly, each intent on a private dream of making it, making it into the big leagues and the big mney, the own-your-own-bowling-alley money; they seem specialists like any other, not men playing a game beause all men are boys time is trying to outsmart. A gallant pretense has been abandoned.
That makes me want to add James Earl Jones's speech from Field of Dreams.