Baseball: The National Pastime in Art and Literature
by David Colbert (ed.)

 

Once More Around the Park: A Baseball Reader 
by Roger Angell 

 

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Date of publication (more or less): August 28, 1994
Copyright by Michael Finley; all rights reserved.

I don't want to hear about Joe Dimaggio

Been watching Ken Burns' epic about Baseball on PBS? I have, and something's been eating at me.

At times it seemed that all the stories, all the commentators were New Yorkers.

The players most mentioned all played on New York teams -- Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe Dimaggio, Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Murderers' Row, Roger Maris.

The people on camera a talking were nearly all New Yorkers -- Billy Crystal, Roger Angell, Mario Cuomo, Doris Godwin Kearns, Stephen Jay Gould.

Subliminal message: the history of baseball is the history of the joys and sorrows of New York fans rooting for New York teams. Forget about us hayseeds out here -- our joys and sorrows, played out to smaller audiences, with less press coverage, don't cut it.

Grrr.

All my youth I railed against New York City for getting all of life's gravy. When I finally visited there, late in life, I thought the city and the populace were perfectly wonderful. But that didn't give them the right to interpose their dreams over everyone else's.

I believe that the most important technological trend of our time is firmly rooted in this resentment of New York and its Yankees. It is the great migration from centralized systems to decentralized or distributed systems.

Jimmy Durante called his city "Da Hotta Da Woild." And that's how New York has functioned to the corpus of the U.S. Wall Street has long been the financial center of the country. Midtown Manhattan houses the corporate headquarters of over a hundred Fortune 500 companies. It has long been the Mecca for the publishing, newsgathering, and telecommunications industries.

Through fifty fledgling years of computing, New York City was the mainframe for the entire world. IBM, AT&T, the new York Stock Exchange.

But look what's happening. IBM is a wreck. AT&T is besieged by hornets. Increasingly, technology analysts predict the demise of the trading pit; there is nothing happening amid the tumult and scraps of paper that could not be done for efficiently, with fewer errors, and 24 hours a day by an intelligent system. (NASDAQ is a virtual trading exchange already, its tasks done completely by computer network.)

Declining attendance in the 1950s spurred Gotham baseball owners to look westward, to Candlestick Park and Chavez Ravine. But it was the development of air travel, reliable air mail and telephones that allowed the Dodgers and Giants to prosper on the West Coast (and the Washington Senators to reinvent themselves as the Minnesota Twins).

Think of all the mailed metropolitan fists losing their grip. CBS losing football to Fox. All the New York-based networks losing market share to country boy Ted Turner. The Yankees improbably shedding their mantle (note dazzling wordplay) as America's team (it's in their name) to upstarts from unbaseball places like Atlanta and unbaseball teams like the Cubs.

There is no place on earth that information can not get to and get out of. PCs, cable, wireless and cellular technologies have made New York a charming antiquity. If King Kong came back from the grave tomorrow, he would have to climb the Sears Tower in Chicago. And so it goes.

Some years ago, oh maybe 1978, I met a friend at the airport, and across the concourse I spotted George Steinbrenner, standing by a gate marked "Tampa."

My friend, a brash fellow who thought himself better informed than he in fact was, insisted on introducing ourselves to Steinbrenner. So we ambled over. My friend introduced himself as a great Yankees fan and shook hands. Noting the departure sign, and unaware that Steinbrenner lived in Tampa, and additionally unaware that there were no big league teams in Florida, my friend said, "So, heading down to play the Tampa team?"

Steinbrenner looked at me and said, "Who is this person?" Only, he used a different word than person.

Well, ha-ha to you George Steinbrenner, because your team may have finished first in this strike-abated season, but that will go in the record books with an asterisk.

And there is a Florida team, only it's in Miami, and on any day they could kick your team's behind, even though they are a lowly expansion team, whose fans are not quite human enough to merit a line in Roger Angell's missives to God, who does not hear the prayers of Floridians.

And when this strike ends, I wouldn't be surprised if the big loser is George Steinbrenner, because he represents everything about New York that the rest of the country is sick to death of.

The melodrama "(Joe loved Marilyn as no man ever loved a woman.")

The self-centeredness ("Phil Rizzuto was the greatest shortstop to play the position.")

The big money. ("So what if I get paid more than President Hoover?" Babe Ruth said. "I had a better year.")

All the johnny-come-lately, three-skyscraper towns like Milwaukee and Kansas City and Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul will grab their share of New York's glittering media revenues. Like barbarians at the western gate, we will buy really good players, from Canada if necessary, and our teams will come play your team.

And then you'll know true baseball sorrow.

To ""Future Shoes"" home page


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mfinley@mfinley.com


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