On Strike Again: It’s the Same Old Story, Isn’t It?
All baseball is Mudville today. No joy. More than Mighty Casey has struck out. The whole game has.
Accordingly, I think I will reprise a column I wrote the last time the grand old game became just another labor dispute. Went on a protracted walkout.
The game hasn’t changed. Neither have I. Here is what I wrote then. And would again now:
“Baseball is not crabbed old men sitting around a negotiating table, serenading each other with the stilted prose of ‘whereases’ and ‘in consideration of the specifications thereto’ and ‘parties of the second part hereinafter referred to as the bargaining committee of the employees of said major league clubs.’
“That’s not baseball.
“Baseball is Willie Mays scuttling out after a long one with his back to home plate and that peculiar sideways gait of his, clutching his glove in a pouch at his waist as his hat flies off. Baseball is Willie Mays robbing Vic Wertz of a three-base hit and the World Series. That’s baseball.
“Baseball is not some London insurance man in a frock coat dangling a policy that will cost his company more than a ship sinking.
“Baseball is DiMag waiting at the plate in that classic straight-up stance of his for a Bob Feller fastball.
“Baseball is not labor lawyers and contract negotiators and federal mediators.
“Baseball is Musial crouched at the plate like a leopard on a limb, guessing curve, but coiled for the heater if it comes. Baseball is Koufax staring down the barrel where Mickey Mantle waits, waggling the biggest bat you’ve ever seen.
“Baseball isn’t codicils and writs and preliminary injunctions.
“Baseball is Pete Rose going in headfirst with the winning run. Baseball is Clemente settling under a high one and turning slightly sideways so he can throw out the runner trying to go home on the out.
“Baseball is not cold men with agate eyes fighting over balance sheets and player pools and player depreciation.
“Baseball is Rod Carew with the pitcher in a hole and the left fielder shading too far to his left, leaving a tiny pocket to drop an extra-base hit down the left-field line.
“Baseball is Babe Ruth pointing, Ty Cobb sliding. It’s Whitey Ford loading one up for Campanella with the Series on the line. It’s Lou Gehrig standing in Yankee Stadium for the last time, trying not to cry as he tells the world how lucky he is to be a Yankee. That’s baseball.
“Baseball players are not migrant workers. They don’t pick grapes for a living. They don’t find work out of waterfront shape-ups, they don’t sew dresses in dingy factory lofts. They’re custodians of little boys’ dreams. Little boys of all ages--8 to 80.
“Baseball has to do with our youth. We’re all 25 years younger when we take our seats, hot dog in hand, at the ballpark, yelling, ‘Play ball, you donkeys!’ and it’s like the day again when our fathers took us to our first doubleheader at the old ballgrounds out of town where the open trolleys dumped off the loads of fans in straw hats and sleeve garters. Baseball is ‘The Boys of Summer’ and we’re all the boys of summer.
“Baseball is ‘Why dint he bunt?’ or ‘Why dint he start Drysdale?’ or ‘Why dint he walk ‘im?’ or ‘Why dint he pinch-hit for ‘im?’ Baseball is controversy, lovely controversy, happy controversy. Not the controversy of ‘parties of the first part’ or ‘in consideration whereof.’ A strike in baseball is a belt-high fastball, not a national catastrophe.
“Baseball is the Big Six, the Big Train, Shoeless Joe. It’s Grover Alexander with bloodshot eyes sneaking the fast one by Lazzeri with the bases loaded and Ruth coming up next. Baseball is ‘Alston, yer a bum!’ and ‘Call yerself an umpire, do you, Shag? You couldn’t see Alaska!’
“Baseball is not pompous rich men exercising their arrogance. Baseball is coddled by society like an over-protected child. Baseball owes this society. It is the beneficiary of millions in free advertising, and in exemptions from the basic laws of the republic. Baseball is a temple into which the money-changers should not have been allowed to creep.
“Baseball is wondrous eccentrics, Dizzy and Rube, Billy Loes--and Casey Stengel hobbling out to the mound on lumpy legs, a creature out of a Black Forest treehouse, a Rumpelstiltskin in pin stripes. Baseball is our exemption from the clangorous world of commerce, or the burning blocks, the seamy streets, that other world where there are never any clear-cut winners, only degrees of losers.
“Oliver Wendell Holmes himself said baseball was a sport, not a business. It’s not Wall Street, it’s Dream Street. It’s three hours on a desert island for a guy who has to go home to a peeling tenement and a 6 o’clock alarm when it’s over and maybe a job with a broom. It’s our great escape, our uncommon denominator. So, get the lawyers out, leave the little boys in.
“Just do me a favor. Leave it alone. Go louse up your other businesses.”