Inside Baseball: ‘New York Mets, Take My Money’
As a person who cares deeply about politics and economic justice, I must admit that professional baseball is an atrocity. It involves labor disputes that force lefties like me to do a complicated gut check before singing Solidarity Forever and siding with millionaires in their fight against billionaires, while minimum wage workers serve expensive beer to working-class fans in exorbitantly priced seats. It has developed a highly refined con game to get poor cities to build expensive stadiums for wealthy team owners. Worst of all, and most fundamentally galling, it is a private, for-profit enterprise that somehow became a quasi-religion and convinced millions of schlubs to spend their own money and emotional energy caring about the fortunes of a bunch of companies.
And yet …
Baseball is beautiful. Right now, it is more beautiful for me than it has been in over a decade, because my beloved, perennially bad and mismanaged Mets are doing really well. Sure, it’s only April, but that’s the trouble: April is when the northeast shakes off winter slumber and breathes deeply again, when birds and flowers and rain that doesn’t hurt make everything seem OK again. So when, in an already optimistic time of year, my team comes galloping out of the gate in a way it didn’t do during the entirety of my 11-year marriage, it’s hard to care that said team plays in an unapologetically mediocre stadium recently constructed with public subsidies while said team’s ownership subsidized Bernie Madoff’s orgy of larceny and deceit.
Seriously, I don’t care. New York Mets, take my money. Take the money of all my friends and family who still live and pay taxes and struggle in New York. While you’re at it, take $30 for a new hat and another $20 for an app that lets me listen to your home radio broadcasts for one year only, through which I will listen to your advertisers! If you would let me, I would give you even more money so I could watch your games on the internet, but because I live 100 miles from your stadium in a place where 95% of the population supports two other teams, you have determined that I am in your “home market” and can only see your games by buying a full cable package.
I should condemn this whole arrangement as a miserable, exploitative abuse, but instead, I am pleading with you to let me give you more money for your fundamentally worthless product.
In that spirit, I should applaud efforts to rob baseball’s essentially worthless product of the human poetry that keeps me hooked. When proposals surface to make the game go faster, I should jump right on board, recognizing that tweaks to make baseball more fast-paced and basketball-like will, in the end, spell the sport’s demise and free me from my stupid fandom in a way that years of lousy Mets teams (and even the signing of lumbering, late-career Mo Vaughn) failed to do. When I read of author Paul Auster’s idea to make a foul ball with two strikes count as the third strike, I should celebrate the clear-eyed, unromantic efficiency of the plan. Baseball is a game where men with highly esoteric skill sets battle in a nearly inscrutable way for tiny advantages, where the practitioners who are the very best at making the game exciting fail two thirds of the time. It can never match the frenetic, adrenal ballet that is basketball, and the more it tries, the closer it will come to extinction. BRING ON THE EXTINCTION OF PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL.
And yet …
I like Paul Auster. I like his books. I used to wait on him at a restaurant in Brooklyn, and he was an affable customer who tipped fairly well. But damn it all, it’s April and the Mets are in first place. Yesterday, they scored seven runs in one inning on the strength of five singles, a double, and two walks. A seven-run inning with no home runs involves a lot of foul balls with two strikes. It involves a lot of standing around and conferences on the mound and meaningful staring into space. A seven-run inning with no home runs and 11 batters is emphatically, gloriously inefficient. Right before hitting his double, Ruben Tejada stood outside the batter’s box and gazed into the middle distance for-fucking-ever, to the point where even I got impatient, and I love glacially paced amusements. Ask me about Lawrence of Arabia! But then he hit a three-run double and everything was right with the world.
And so, I must tell Paul Aster no. In July, when the Mets are back in the cellar, when it takes three and a half sun-baked hours drinking overpriced beers in overpriced seats and sweating profusely into an overpriced cap to see them lose badly to the Padres, I will welcome efficiency. In August, I will write strident editorials demanding that every element of human drama and chance be removed from the game. In the fall, as teams I don’t care about battle for meaningless post-season glory and Hartford, where I live, tears up its downtown and squanders its school budget to build a $60 million stadium to lure a minor-league team, you will hear my full-throated call for the complete demise of professional baseball, whether by legislative fiat or a long, fruitless campaign to become faster than basketball or more brutal than football.
But now it is April and the Mets are in first place. Some of their best hitters and most of their pitching staff are on the disabled list, so if this run of luck is going to continue, it will depend on long, slow innings. There will be foul balls with two strikes. There will be full counts. There will be endless throws to first to keep the runner close. I will sit in bars, drink too much, and watch the Mets’ manager, who turns 66 next month and has no business wearing the same outfit as actual athletes, walk laboriously to the mound and talk about nothing to buy warm-up time for his next middle reliever.
For now, at least, I will push notions of economic justice from my brain to make room for batting averages and on-base percentages. At the all-star break, Paul Auster may be a genius. In April, he needs to shut the hell up.