What It Was Was . . . Baseball?

Once there was a man who was very concerned because he felt that the sport which he loved so much was decreasing in popularity, especially compared to football, basketball, and other more fast-paced, exciting, and younger sports.  So he went on a quest to come up with a new kind of baseball.  This man, we’ll call him, just to pull a name out of the air, “B. D. M. Lancer,” wrote books, created a website, and went throughout all North America to promote his new vision for the game of the baseball.

Lancer gathered around him a number of consultants and advisors to help him in his task.  Among them were Pete Rozelle, Mark Cuban, John McEnroe, Billie Jean King, Tiger Woods, Mike Tyson, Gary Bettman, Al Davis, Pele, Simon Cowell, Dr. Phil, and, of course, Oprah—all passionately committed to the game of baseball.

He suggested a number of changes that ought to be made to move the game into the postmodern era, and to make it a kinder, gentler kind of game.  Right from the very start he noted how problematic the bat is.  It was way too hard, way too dangerous, and, obviously, way too phallic.  We’ll use something more like a badminton racket, or perhaps a nerf water floaty-thingy.  Next, we have to do something about the bases.  For one thing, getting to first base, second base, etc., carries sexual connotations that must make many fans very uncomfortable watching the game.  Maybe we can keep the bases, but perhaps refer to them by some other name—perhaps, safety stations.

One serious problem with the game, he argued, is that it is exclusivistic.  You’re either safe or out, the ball is either fair or foul, you either win the game or you lose the game.  Three strikes and you’re out is severely limiting.  From now on, if the runner fails to get to the safety station before the ball is caught by the safety station person, the umpire (ooh, negative connotations; we’ll change the title to “Field Evaluator”), will no longer say, “Yer out!”  Instead, he’ll say something like, “Well, you didn’t really make it quite in time, but we are an inclusivist sport, so feel free to stay on the safety station if that will help build your self-esteem.”

Then, there’s all those lines: foul lines, batter’s box lines, catcher’s box lines, coach’s box lines, running box lines, even imaginary understood lines—all kinds of lines.  And of course, there’s mounting circumstantial evidence that the inventors of the game of baseball were heavily influenced by Platonic and neo-Platonic thinking.  In fact, there is heavily increasing speculation that the inventors may have had ties to Opus Dei (which is why the game was overrun early on with so many Italian players: Lazzeri, Dimaggio, Pepitone, etc.).  Indeed, Western Baseballdom for decades had been in captivity to a Hellenistic, Greco-Roman mindset.  So Lancer decided to turn the infield base path into an oval, but without lines to separate the lanes.

He decided to make many other changes, too numerous to list here, because, as he said, ‘Everything must change.”  But just a few of them were that the baseball itself was to be replaced by a shuttlecock, cleats by sandals, baseball helmets by cycling helmets, and those clumsy gloves by oven mitts.  He also argued that we need new kinds of baseball players, ones that don’t scratch, don’t chew, and don’t go with girls who do.

So he went up and down and coast to coast throughout North America promoting his vision for a new kind of baseball.  And he was greatly encouraged by people who would come up to him after a speaking engagement and say things like:

Thank you so much.  I think I might be able to watch baseball again some day.

I really appreciate your exciting vision.  I tried to play baseball once, but I never got on base, never scored a run, and struck out quite a lot.  But I’m really pumped up by the possibilities for this new version of the game.  I’m really looking forward to getting back into this more accepting and welcoming version of the game.

Your talk this evening really holds out a lot of promise for people like me.  You know, this game has never been very friendly to those of us who haven’t been enamored with the historic baseball tradition.  Baseball has been too exclusivistic, and has tended to shut out those people who don’t actually like baseball.  But there might be room for me now.

Thank you Dr. Lancer.  I used to be an umpire; but I really had a problem with having to be so critical and so judgmental.  But this proposal for a new kind of baseball has me intrigued.  I would love to come back and umpire a game where no one’s out, nothing’s foul, and no one gives me grief for “calling ‘em as I see ‘em.”  By the way, could all the games be played in the day time?  I have trouble with my bifocals at night.

Eventually, Lancer’s vision was actualized, and a new baseball league emerged.  It was called the PBL, the Progressive Baseball League.  It was widely hailed as a new alternative baseball league “for the rest of us,” for those who never really understood and never really liked baseball all that much.

But there was also quite a lot of negative reaction to Lancer’s new vision and the new league, most of it coming from baseball fans, baseball players, baseball coaches, and baseball executives (all people, of course, who were too close to the game to be able to look at things in a postmodernly objective way [was that an oxymoron?]).

Lancer answered (rather “responded to”) his critics by pointing to all the testimonials, “See how many people I’ve won back to the game!”  He seemed to be unable to understand when his critics replied that his new kind of baseball wasn’t really baseball at all, and therefore, all the people he had supposedly won back to the game weren’t actually baseball fans.  Lancer couldn’t comprehend that, sheepishly shrugging it all off, “Why’s this happening to a nice guy like me?”  As a result, Lancer’s critics were regularly portrayed in the media as crackpots, regressives, neanderthals, change-o-phobes, and being on the wrong side of sports history.

But these critics, these stuck-in-the-muds, the baseball fundies, the ones who remembered names like Dimaggio, Mantle, Mays, Banks, Clemente, Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, Maris, Aaron, Feller, Robinson, Ruth, Gehrig, Ford, Berra, Musial, Ryan, Flood, Wills, Brock, Stargell, Alexander, Campanella, Mathews, Hornsby, Spahn, Rizzuto, Dean, Kaline, McCovey, Cobb, Reese, Johnson, Hubbell, Yastrzemski, and, of course, Doubleday—they knew what baseball was supposed to look like.  And they knew that whatever Lancer’s revised, progressive game was, there was one thing it certainly was not—and that was . . . baseball.

Jerry Shepherd
January 22, 2015

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