Jewish World Review May 14, 2004/ 23 Iyar 5764
Purists go home: it's a new era for baseball
Like many devoted fans, I received a slew of emails in the past week about Major League Baseball selling, for a pittance, the right to decorate bases in 15 stadiums on the weekend of June 11-13 with images of Spider-Man. This is a gross debasement of the sport, certainly, but how can anyone not be immunized to such buffoonery in the age of Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner?
McCann Erickson, the advertising agency for Columbia Pictures, which is promoting Spider-Man 2's release on June 30, saw an easy mark in Selig (and his underlings) and smartly took advantage of a prime opportunity to market the sequel. Selig, who's even more wishy-washy than John Kerry, backed off the scheme less than 36 hours later, after a torrent of criticism, although the film's logo will still stain the on-deck circles at those games.
Honestly, I reacted with a yawn over this latest controversy, and chuckled upon reading Boston Herald columnist Gerry Calahan's joke last Friday: "Initially, it seemed like a great idea only because all the pointy-headed, self-proclaimed purists hated it so much. [I]f it ruins Ken Burns' day, how bad could it be?"
In the interest of fairness, the dumbing-down of baseball began in the 1970s; Selig has just accelerated the process. When you consider how baseball has evolved since I first became a fan in 1962, hooking onto to the then-lifeless Red Sox, it's silly to take the moral outrage over Spider-Man seriously. Start with the American League's designated hitter, a basic alteration that entirely changed the game's strategy for half the teams, and even more ridiculous for the fact that the National League still (thankfully) requires pitchers to take their turn at the plate.
It's been downhill ever since. Instead of silence between innings, all ballparks blare snippets of awful rock songs by the likes of Aerosmith and Billy Joel, making it impossible to talk to your companions, let alone fans in the next section. Spectators are considered so stupid that garish electronic signs instruct them when to cheer, and, like sheep, most do as they're told. At the new stadiums, most of which have followed the faux-museum example of Baltimore's Camden Yards, there are, depending on the location, petting zoos, swimming pools, picnic areas, fancy restaurants, sushi at the concession stands and endless video highlights of the home team's past glories.
Meanwhile, a vital feature like the scoreboard updating out-of-town games has been essentially abandoned in favor of trivia questions and subway races. I was at an Orioles-Mariners afternoon game a couple of weeks ago, and the score of the Red-Sox-Devil Rays game remained locked at 4-0 in the eighth inning for two hours.
Add to this integrity devaluation Selig's allowing the Montreal Expos to wallow in limbo, while any number of cities would gladly take the franchise. The power of the players' union, absurd political correctness imposed on Major Leaguers, playoff and World Series games that start at 8:30 p.m., the constant shuffling of rosters, and the emphasis on pitch counts, radar guns to track a hurler's velocity and the Disabled List littered with hangnail victims, and well, how can you get upset over a movie promotion, especially when Houston's field is called Minute-Maid Park?
I'm past the purist stage, longing for an era that will never again exist. In fact, in 30 years it's inevitable that my own sons will tell their children about the simple pleasures of baseball in 2004.
Once you're done grousing about the marketing of baseball and all the other abominations it's easy to concentrate on what really matters. Which, in my case, is rooting for the Red Sox, year after year, to win a championship in my lifetime. And the pleasure of seeing Derek Jeter, the most overrated shortstop in the game, hitting below .200 as of May 10, is a salve that keeps on giving. And was there a funnier story than the revelation that the Cub's Moises Alou pisses on his hands to keep them in shape rather than wearing batting gloves?
The New York Times' George Vecsey, an admitted "grumpy old fan" and fine sportswriter, is still in denial. He wrote on May 7, "Baseball is having an identity crisis. Baseball does not believe in itself. Baseball will sell the whiteness of its bases for a measly $2.5 million. But when America guffaws, baseball backs off." Here's a tip, George: Wear earplugs at Yankee Stadium, bring a book to fill the time between innings, and just take solace in the fact that Hideki Matsui, Javier Vasquez, David Ortiz, Ichiro, A-Rod, K-Rod, Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada, Alfonso Soriano and Pokey Reese, to name just several stars, could never have played in MLB 60 years ago, and that the Yanks-Red Sox rivalry the essence of the game has survived Spider-Man, $5 bottles of Coke, exploding scoreboards and even Bud Selig.
One more example of today's coddled affluent youth is Duke University's decision last month to cancel all 8 a.m. classes because it's been determined that the fragile students need more sleep. According to an Associated Press dispatch of April 19, James Clack, Duke's director of counseling and psychological services, "said the latest research shows that college-age people should be getting nine hours of sleep a night."
With that kind of attitude it's no wonder that Ivy League schools are handing out A's like candy corn on Halloween.
If ever there's a time to burn the candle at both ends, whether in pursuit of extra study hours, socializing or both, it's when someone is of college-age. The body has more stamina as those who are over 30 can attest and can withstand a more punishing (and often enjoyable) schedule.
I didn't get much sleep as an undergraduate, but being a congenital early bird, still arose around dawn, flopped out of bed, did a few jumping jacks (or bong hits) and was ready to go. I sought out the early classes at Johns Hopkins for a couple of reasons; one, you were guaranteed a small class size; and two, they usually met just once a week.
My favorite course in this category was on the topic of Greek mythology, and there were just six of us who trudged off-campus to the professor's apartment at seven each Tuesday morning. She had coffee ready for the three-hour seminar, and the only requirement was one long term paper at the semester's end. As I recall, my 10,000-word essay was about Prometheus and how he'd be a worthy addition to Jimmy Carter's pitiful Cabinet. Can't remember the grade I got, but since I'd exhausted the two D's JHU allowed for credit by sophomore year, my guess is that it was an A or B.
My advice to the crybabies at Duke who kvetch about the stress of surviving on "caffeine, adrenaline and ambition," is to knock off the complaints and either take advantage of the privilege of attending a prestigious university or quit school and get a job.
LIVING FOR THE CITY
Alan Bromley, a New York City writer, contributed one of the most valuable op-eds (to the Wall Street Journal's May 3 opinionjournal.com) of this political season. Bromley and his wife have stopped accepting the invitations of weekend jaunts to Westport, CT, mostly because they can't stand the dinner party conversation that revolves around virulent anti-Bush tirades.
He writes: "I find myself surrounded by people who have moved from Manhattan to homogenous suburban enclaves encircled by white fences, white neighbors and purer-than-thou philosophies. Never mind that they moved there for better public schools and lower tax rates and to see Paul Newman at the local grocery store. They are now of one mind: to defeat President Bush.
"They hate his swagger, which I find a bit annoying; they hate his born-again religious view, which I find sometimes disconcerting and sometimes comforting (especially when it comes to supporting Israel's right to exist), and they hate his syntax, or lack thereof, which I wish were more refined, while they ignore John Kerry's windiness and vapid vacillations.
"So we hold our glasses of mediocre Chardonnay, pick at little watercress, bread-enveloped triangles, while I long for herring filets and vodka. I mean, we're all Jewish, for G-d's sake!
"… Scratch a liberal, I say, and you often end up with a McCarthyite, bent on trying to destroy the character of every conservative, or even a mere questioner."
Well put. Talk to a liberal, I say, and you won't get in a word, so determined are they to recite that day's holy lessons from The New York Times, and recently, hold forth on how Michael Moore got screwed!, man, by those @#^*$$ at Disney, for not distributing his latest propaganda-filled, anti-American film.
Never mind that Moore admitted to CNN that he knew a year ago that Disney subsidiary Miramax wouldn't be releasing his Fahrenheit 911, and that essentially he exploited a gullible media as a publicity stunt. Only Britain's Independent (hardly the Washington Times) called Moore on his subterfuge (May 7). The Times saw fit to shorten its character assassinations on Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to stick up for the abhorrent celebrity in a May 6 editorial headlined "Disney's Craven Behavior." I couldn't care less about Disney or whether the company's shareholders keep on embattled chief executive Michael Eisner.
But for the Times, calling millionaire Moore "a controversial filmmaker who likes to skewer the rich and powerful," to honor Disney with "a gold medal for cowardice" for implied censorship is laughable, especially considering the source. Eisner is under no obligation to screen Moore's latest tango with the truth. Yet the daily piously concludes "[I]t is clear that Disney loves its bottom line more than the freedom of political discourse."
The Times, as everyone knows, is a non-profit corporation that would never allow the ugly world of advertising to influence its internal decisions.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2002, Russ Smith