Baseball is an emotional game. I learned that from my grandfather. Sunday afternoons, he would stretch out in his recliner and listen to the legendary sportscaster Harry Caray announce the St. Louis Cardinals games.
Grandpa hated Harry Caray. Harry would go into his classic holler: “Holy Cow! It might be. It could be! It is! It’s a home run! Look at him go. Holy cow! This is his best game yet!”
Grandpa would shout back, “Damn it, Harry. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”
It was a one-sided argument, since Harry couldn’t hear Grandpa through the TV. It didn’t matter.
They were like an old married couple: joined forever, but unable to listen to each other. For more than twenty years, Grandpa despised Harry and told him so. When Harry was fired in 1969, Grandpa was a happy man. He never got mad at Jack Buck. But the passion was gone from his baseball games.
I like baseball, too -- minor league ball. The best game I ever watched was a Triple A league. The players weren’t as polished as the big leaguers, but they had heart. Forget the plush corporate skyboxes and fancy scoreboards. I want baseball with emotion.
The major league baseball season opened four days early. It’s supposed to eliminate a November World Series, when the fans are colder than the beer. With the baseball world slightly out of sync, it seemed a good time to consider The Unwritten Rules of Baseball, which were written down by my friend Paul Dickson. (Collins, $14.99)
When Grandpa roared at Harry Caray and watched the Cards on TV, he ignored one of those unwritten rules, The Baseball Principle, discovered by a New York physicist: “You can’t help the Mets by watching them on TV.” Grandpa knew he couldn’t protect the Cards from Caray’s stupid statements. But he dutifully sat in front of his TV, drinking Falstaff beer, smoking cigars and screaming abuse at Harry.
If the Cards’ performance during this spring training is any indication of the upcoming season, St. Louis fans are in for a dismal summer. What Dickson calls Carter’s Conclusion says otherwise. “They don’t put spring-training statistics on the backs of bubble-gum cards,” was the explanation Blue Jays’ Joe Carter gave reporters after his lousy spring training.
Remember the movie Bull Durham? That was a major league movie about a minor league team. Even people who yawn at ball games loved it. Besides baseball, there was candlelit sex with Susan Sarandon and a hunky Kevin Costner. Costner played Crash Davis, who created what Dickson calls Davis’s Distinction: “Strikeouts are fascist. Ground balls are democratic.”
Image courtesy Metro Goldywn-Mayer
Sarandon played baseball groupie Annie Savoy. Her credo: “I believe in the Church of Baseball,” she said. “I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshiped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us . . . the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.”
That’s baseball with passion.
Bull Durham leads to another two more unwritten rules: (1) “Movies about baseball tend to be better than movies about other sports, except for boxing.” (2) “One can have only one good baseball movie per acting career. Corollary: This assumes that one believes that Kevin Costner should have quit while ahead. (e.g. Bull Durham versus Field of Dreams and For Love of the Game).”
As the baseball season heats up, remember Dickson's Fourth of July Rule: “The team in first place on July 4 will win the division.”
Maybe. But I prefer the wise words of another Cardinals’ great, Joaquin Andujar. Dickson calls it Andujar’s Constant. The Cardinals’ pitcher told Sports Illustrated: “There is one word in American that says it all, and that one word is 'youneverknow.'"
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