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Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Baseball, and Other Thoughts

I'm usually not impressed by most "cool" or "hip" or "trendy" things. I pride myself of requiring substance in the TV I watch, the books I read, even the conversations I have. Even when I'm participating in something for the pure fun or humor of the thing, I like to think there's something deeper at the heart of it; something that makes a connection on some "deeper" level.

One area where I've succumbed to the "bigger, better, now" tendency of our society is the All-Star Homerun Derby. I consider myself a baseball purist, in many ways, though I'm not one to think that things were always "better" in the past. I do find myself, when I think about the problems of today's game, longing for a more simple, fundamental, team oriented approach to the game, but I don't try to pretend that today's players aren't just as talented as their early counterparts.

The focus on the individual, and the homerun, is distressing. The atmosphere is such that a big lug of an outfielder, who's fielding is suspect (at best) and who's ability to come through in clutch situations is miserable, is often considered one of the greats of the game. Granted, Mr. Sosa can hit the ball a mile, and that talent is sometimes greatly appreciated by the starting pitcher, and almost always appreciated by the fans (both in Chicago, and in every park he goes to play). But, Sammy is NOT a great ball player. Great homerun hitter? Yes. But, he's really not a ballplayer. He's the Shaq of MLB. And that's what worries me.

MLB is NOT the NBA. But, the more it BECOMES the NBA, with its thug-star attitudes and glorification of ME, the more it will fade farther and farther from the title of "America's Game".

But, I do enjoy watching the homerun contest prior to the All-STar Game. Its an appropriate forum for the individual to shine. His teammates are not relying on him. The "bad" swings don't count against the 27 outs your team is alotted your team in a real game.

What made last night's derby even better was that the participants were more "all around" players, and yet, the display was almost as amazing as any I've seen from the Sosa/McQuire clones. Albert Pujols was hitting the ball to all fields, piling up point after point, not by jerking the ball straight down the line, but by being a good, consistent hitter. As far as I could tell, not a single ball broke the 500 foot barrier, yet I enjoyed watching last night's derby more than many.

I've been assimilated.


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