Local Commentary

Editorial: Baseball and Democracy

This wonderful day, April 1, is not just any day, it is Opening Day, Opening Day for Major League Baseball, made even more precious because of last year’s Covid-19 postponement. Not every American is a baseball lover, but enough of us are that this is on the level of an unofficial national holiday, until recent years vastly superior to any Superbowl Sunday. This is a special occasion where our editor writes in the first person:

“My first encounter with baseball was not pretty. I was at a big tryout day at about age 10 (a late starter, our family just moved from a tiny fishing village). My mom bought me the cheapest left handed glove they sold at the only store in town with a sporting goods department. The first drill in the tryouts was to catch a flyball. We all stood in a line and one by one ran out for our turn. In my case, I scoped out the flight of the ball perfectly, but forgot how to apply my new glove. The ball hit me right in the forehead.

“I would not let that stop me. My one achievement that first year was that I was the only kid on my team to show up for every single game. I don’t think I got a single hit, however. I persisted. I went on to play in high school and junior college, where I was named the team’s MVP, then got a full scholarship for my last two years in college. I was offered and declined a pro contract (it came at the expense of nixing college play in those days). But because of the scholarship, I always say that, ’Baseball was very, very good to me.’

“I say this to help establish my credentials as I express my misgivings for the plight of the sport today. Baseball has been incredibly resilient even with the introduction of free agency, the steroids scandals and the stain they brought to the integrity of the sport. Lately, however, there seems to be a movement driven from outside the game to impose new values on it, reflected in the elevation of a new statistic, the so-called “OPS” (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage), being preferred by growing numbers to the traditional batting average metric.

“The problem is that it elevates muscle over skill, wowing an occasional long ball over the skill of hitting the ball solidly enough for 150 to 200 or so hits a major league season.

“The talent of hitting the ball well is something that does not require muscle over all else, but equalizes the sport for all comers. Today’s power over skill obsession is threatening to ruin the sport’s uniquely democratizing element, that anybody can be a good player without regard to physical attributes. It’s what made the sport something that was possible for me, a scrawny kid at the time, to excel in, and to help me earn a college degree.”