No Joy in Mudville: Casey Has a Goatee

Burt Prelutsky is a writer in North Hills

Everyone thinks he knows how to improve baseball. But so far as I can tell, nobody has a clue. For instance, it has nothing to do with greed. Greed may have a lot to do with the state of TV, the movies and politics, but it has nothing to do with baseball. If you want to talk about people who are overpaid, I give you lawyers, doctors and talk show hosts. Baseball players, after all, have to be able to read signs, comprehend the infield fly rule and, occasionally at least, hit a major league curve ball. Which are three more things than Johnnie Cochran or Conan O'Brien have to do.

Perhaps you think the problem with baseball is the length of games. Strange that nobody ever takes football to task. One of the joys of baseball is that it is measured in innings, not minutes. That's why baseball is truly a game in which no lead is ever safe. Football, on the other hand, has a 60-minute clock, but when was the last time a 1 p.m. game has ended before 4:15?

A smart thing that football did was to allow six (actually seven) points for a score. As a result, fans think they've seen an offensive display when the final score is 28-21. In baseball, that would be a 4-3 pitchers' duel. Football also fools its fans by allowing three points for a 45-yard field goal. That would be like baseball allowing half a run if a team managed to get a runner to second base. Baseball takes its lumps, at least in the American League, for employing the designated hitter. But nobody seems to mind that football games are usually won or lost by field goal kickers who can spend their entire careers without ever actually touching a pigskin.

Perhaps you're thinking that the problem with the game is bad sportsmanship. Wrong again. Trash-talking, gloating and nonstop showboating are part of the reason football and basketball are so popular. Is it any wonder that 30-year-olds who, as kids, watched Mark Gastineau prancing around quarterbacks he had sacked now spend most of their time whining about Social Security and agonizing over bad hair days?

No, the real trouble with baseball began the day the first major leaguer took the field wearing gold chains. The next thing you know, they were accessorizing with earrings and ankle bracelets. Modern baseball players would rather show up without their cups than without their glitter. Nowadays, the typical right fielder not only wears more jewelry than Zsa Zsa Gabor, but is even less likely to hit the cut-off man.

Then, just as I was getting used to the baubles, along came the goatee. If there is anything uglier than the goatee that one can conspire to do with hair, I really don't want to know about it. What could have caused this latest outbreak? It can't be that half the major leaguers lost election bets, because most of them, as you can gather from their interviews, don't know or care who is president.

Believing as I do that things only get worse, I hate to think what could possibly top the Satan look. Between the corporate owners and the boorish players, I am confident they'll come up with something to test our loyalty. A season that ends in December? Seven bucks for a wiener? The enforced return of foul balls? Pay toilets? Shaved heads? Shaved eyebrows?

God only knows where the madness will end. In the meantime, though, is it any wonder that Cal Ripken got a 22-minute ovation just for showing up?

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