Can Baseball’s Hacks Spit-Ball the First Amendment?


The Left has quietly colonized the retreats that average Americans beat into the “safe zone” of sports. Sometimes its agenda leaks out.

Probably because I parse words for a living, I pick up on shades of meaning that most people don’t notice—and that may not be there, in some cases.  Maybe I just can’t help making my life miserable.

Take a bit of blabber that I heard on July 28 from the busy mouth of Brian Kenny on the MLB Network.  To be fair, Kenny and his roundtable of cud-chewing “analysts” were merely piling on the laudation wagon with regard to Roger Angell, a human factory of baseball books just inducted into the Hall of Fame as a writer.  The comments that made me twitch were Angell’s own, from a book titled… well, here’s a snippet of the original Sports Illustrated article (by Tom Verducci, “The Passion of Roger Angell”, 23 July 2014) from which the passage was culled—along with the passage itself:

Angell’s greatest contribution to the game is that in his writing he has preserved the great people and moments with such grace and care. He is the curator of our baseball souls. Reading Angell on Fisk’s home run is as different from seeing the highlight as falling deeply in love is from speed dating. The beauty of these words, in Agincourt and After (1975), is the amber to preserve our emotional connection to the game:

It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look—I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring—caring deeply and passionately, really caring—which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift.

On cue, the MLBN crew responded as if they had just heard the lost lines of a Hamlet soliloquy.  My reaction was, “What acid misanthropy!  What snide cynicism!  Wow!”  Evidently, Angell and his circle are fully convinced that normal human relations in the USA since World War II have grown grotesquely predatory.  Now we must retreat to the highly staged artifice of a child’s game to show any degree of overt caring.  Since the game is just a pretext, a “contrived” outlet, we must conclude further that at NO moment of our mortal coil do we encounter any person or situation truly deserving of our care.  All is fraud, hoax, and delusion.  Like good little existentialists, we cheer at games because the counterfeiting of a care-worthy environment makes barely tolerable an indefinite string of days swimming in nullity.

Shees.  I’ll take Hamlet.

And if I may lodge a mild protest on behalf of baseball fans… most of us do NOT go to the park to participate in some Bacchic delirium—not the true votaries of the game.  To the extent that we flee to baseball (and I admit that the extent may be considerable), we do so for the order, the symmetry.  Life has grown so chaotic, and art so impoverished, that we can find intimations of transcending purpose almost nowhere else.  A fair ball is a fair ball: the umpire isn’t allowed to take his pen and phone and move the foul lines by Executive Order.  Baseball is also scientific.  A more level swing produces more contact (something today’s players, with their topheavy metal-clone bats, can’t seem to figure out).  If you design improvements on the basis of observation and experimentation, you can excel even in a relatively small body.  Baseball, finally, is Zen.  It requires explosive movements issuing from a completely relaxed yet utterly focused mind.  This is why the true fan doesn’t scream at those players whom he wishes to see succeed.  Super-excitation is a shortcut to failure.

I almost wonder if Roger Angell and the MLBN crew have ever actually played the game of baseball.  You can get pickled in a bar for a lot less than at the ballpark, if that’s your objective.

But then, even at the Hall of Fame level, is anything in baseball about baseball any longer?  Or in football, either? Are not all of the most popular sports with the largest blue-collar audiences now a vast new province that politically correct propagandists are seeking to colonize?  Isn’t the behind-the-scenes plan to transform all those Archie Bunkers on their couches into Elizabeth Warrens?  Rush Limbaugh’s remarks throughout the “redskin” saga have been spot-on.  None of that farce is really about hurt feelings.  A minor-league Atlanta team used to call itself the Crackers, and a GPAC college team styles itself “the Terrible Swedes”: odd, isn’t it, that players can heap such insults upon themselves and still survive?  On the other side of the coin, I get pretty offended by all the vagina emblems that now mosey around college campuses, and nobody gives a fig leaf for my blushes.  (An idea: should San Francisco’s baseball club become the Vagiants to avoid offending dwarves?)  As Rush says, the real purpose here is to condition us to having our speech reviewed and edited by thought-police.  When you can ban the word “redskin” because it makes some neurotic exhibitionist break down and snivel, then you can ban the word “illegal” because it stirs fears of racism in the same kind of person.  Eventually, you can pretty nearly dehydrate the pith from any public discussion on any issue.

Angell’s Sartrean nightmare of America, a “no exit” hell where everything is commercialized and all relations are exploitative, comes from the same playbook.  If Joe Schmoe, stretching in the seventh inning to hear “God Bless America”, can be convinced that the old America was a pile of crap—that she whose flag he sees waving in center field is a shiny new progressive state dedicated to building public works upon the refuse heap—then a small battle will have been won.  If he can be persuaded that Tony Dungy deserves Siberia for hinting, however elliptically, that homosexual behavior is sinful—if he accepts that Dungy’s commonly recognized adherence to the Christian faith is already cause for ostracism—then another piece falls on the chessboard.  If he grows vaguely uncomfortable with all of this but dare not even use certain words around parking lot or water cooler or picnic table—“redskin”, “illegal”, “pervert”, “welfare”… “Constitution”, “self-defense”, “isolation”, “tea”—then old Joe, God help him, will never figure out anything.  In the Newspeak which he is allowed to use, concentration camps will become Adult Education Centers and mass graves will be Contamination Zones.

I love baseball, and it delights me to see how miserably inept the thought-police assigned to colonizing it are at understanding its simplest dynamic.  I have never visited the Hall of Fame, and now I have resolved forever to avoid it: my own reading and memories are quite adequate to me.  I have plenty of misanthropy in me, I admit—but it doesn’t come from misdefining “naïveté” as “infantile and ignoble joy”.  And by the way, Mr. Angell… “haphazard” is already an adjective, without the suffix.  Enjoy your progressive heavenn.

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