In the midst of winter I think of spring. Hope springs eternal. In the midst of the football playoffs I think of baseball. I grieve the loss of baseball as a sport.
A sport involves sportsmanlike behavior, a “level” playing field, an equal opportunity for both teams to win. This is true of football, but not of baseball.
Football has a salary cap. That means that teams have a limit on the amount of money they can spend on players. One team cannot buy an all-star team each year, as happens in baseball.
I regret the terrible violence of the sport of football. As the great Catholic and coach, Vince Lombardi, once said, “Football is not a contact sport. Football is a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport.”
Yet, while it is violent, football is still a sport, arguably one of the best spectator sports ever. On any given Sunday any team really does have a chance to beat another team. Since one team cannot buy all of the best players, each year a different team has a chance to make the playoffs and Super Bowl. Yes, certain teams always seem to be in the mix, but that is based on good coaching, good drafting and excellent front office personnel.
In baseball there is no such chance. Ask yourself how many World Series games the Orioles have won since 1983, and the answer is, “none!” Ask yourself how many regular season games, playoff games and World Series games the Yankees have won since 1983, and the answer is: “You don’t want to know.”
Basically baseball has become a series of games in spring training, followed by 162 exhibition games (called the regular season), followed by the playoffs and World Series. For the playoffs and World Series, baseball actually becomes a sport for a few weeks. Equally rich teams play other very rich teams, and each at least has a chance to win.
The older sports fan might remember the Harlem Globetrotters, an African-American basketball team which traveled with the Washington Generals, playing exhibition games. The Harlem Globetrotters always won. The Washington Generals always lost. That, to me, is what baseball has become today. The very rich teams always win. The very mediocre or poor teams almost always lose. Baseball is still a game, but it’s no longer a sport.
I don’t begrudge anyone in baseball – owners, players, sponsors, etc. – the money they make. To whom much is given, much is expected. I know many of them do good things with their money. I just mourn the loss of baseball as a sport.
Baseball fans in general are going through a grief process, as most people recognize what I’m saying but not all can say it. Denial is one stage of grief. “Hey, Tampa Bay won a few years ago!” True. Cancer does sometimes go into remission. Parkinson’s disease does sometimes go into remission. We call those miracles. Baseball shouldn’t have to depend on divine intervention in order to claim that it’s still a sport.
Other commentators are angry. They complain about owners and managers. I’m not angry. I’m just sad. I encourage people to go to the games. Sometimes the Orioles will win against the richer teams. Most times they will lose. If you enjoy watching pitching, running, hitting, fielding, etc., by all means go. Just remember that Major League Baseball is just a series of exhibition games. Go watch the Orioles. Go watch a local little league or high school or minor league teams. There’s a great team in Altoona, Pa. called the Curve. Enjoy a ride in the country, and go see a game there.
How will we know when Major League Baseball has become a sport again? When the Orioles meet the Pirates in the World Series. That will happen the day before Jesus comes again on the clouds of heaven!