October 23, 2004
IF ONLY JACK BUCK WERE CALLING THIS ONE... (via M. Ali Choudhury):
'I've waited for this moment for 50 years': A sublime pleasure, a stately game . . . Bill Bryson has loved baseball since childhood. Now his team, the Boston Red Sox, are in the World Series, starting tonight. Better still, he has a ticket (Bill Bryson, 10/23/04, Times of London)
Like most people brought up in the 1950s or before, I was taught to regard baseball as the pinnacle of human contrivance, a game in which every distance has been perfectly (one might almost suppose divinely) calibrated to provide a constant, unimprovable balance between pitcher and batter, fielder and runner, offence and defence. Uniquely among American team sports, baseball has no clock, and thus no conspicuous urgency. So baseball is elegant and intelligent and composed. And the games are played nearly always on exquisitely groomed lawns in stadiums of colossal beauty in the open air on warm summer evenings when the world seems nearly perfect anyway. Watching baseball is one of life’s sublimest pleasures, and once upon a time virtually everyone in America knew it.
In those days, baseball dominated the American sporting psyche in a way that can scarcely be imagined now. Professional football and basketball existed and were followed, but essentially as minor spectacles that helped to pass the colder months until the baseball season resumed. The Super Bowl was years from its invention. The only sporting event that gripped the nation — the one time in the year when even your Mom knew what was going on in the sporting world — was the World Series, the patently over-named (but we don’t care) annual showdown between the top teams in professional baseball’s two leagues, the American and National.
My father was a sportswriter for the Des Moines Register, a newspaper in Iowa, and every year for 35 years, from the 1940s to the 1970s, he got to go to the World Series. It was, by an immeasurably wide margin, the high point of his working year. Not only did he get to live it up for two weeks on expenses in some of the nation’s most cosmopolitan and exciting cities — and from Des Moines all cities are cosmopolitan and exciting — but he also got to witness many of the most memorable moments of baseball history: Al Gionfriddo’s miraculous one-handed catch of a Joe DiMaggio line drive in 1947, Don Larsen’s perfect game in 1956, Bill Mazeroski’s series-winning homer of 1960. These mean nothing to you, I know — they would mean nothing to most people these days — but they were moments of near ecstasy that were shared by a nation.
In those days, World Series games were played during the day, so you had to bunk off school or develop a convenient chest infection (“Jeez, Mom, the teacher said there’s a lot of TB going around”) if you wanted to see a game.
Crowds would lingeringly gather wherever a TV was on display. Getting to watch any part of a World Series game, even half an inning at lunchtime, became a kind of illicit thrill. And if you did happen to be there when something monumental occurred, you would remember it for the rest of your life.
Now World Series games are played in the evening when everyone can watch them, but comparatively few do. Almost five times as many people watch the Super Bowl each year as watch any game of the World Series. Even the Super Bowl post-game show — a fiesta of exuberant inarticulacy — attracts 30 million viewers more than the final, climactic game of the World Series. So if something really big happens in a World Series game, it will never be a universally shared experience again.
My father disdained football and once memorably described it as a game played and watched by people for whom the invention of Velcro fastenings was a godsend.
Swine, baseball, unique among sports, is best enjoyed on the radio. The kids, who don't get to stay up for the games yet, were stunned this week when I told them that games used to start while we were still in school and you'd have every boy in class trying to hide the transistor radio in his desk at the pink earpiece snaking out of it. There's a special place in Heaven for the teachers who ignored the obvious and seat at His right hand for the ones who brought their own radio to class. Posted by Orrin Judd at October 23, 2004 3:50 PM