Baseball is back. Yesterday, the Yankees beat the Nationals in D.C. yesterday with “do as I say, not as I do” exemplar Dr. Anthony Fauci throwing an embarrassing first pitch). Meanwhile, the Dodgers beat the Giants in Los Angeles, where one brave relief pitcher took a stand against the Black Lives Matter political movement otherwise sweeping through professional sports.
Today starts a full slate of MLB games, and with it, one more unique feature of America’s pastime: the philosophical debates embedded in the sport.
These debates rear their heads in questions such as:
- Should steroid users be banned from the Hall of Fame?
- Are small ball tactics like bunting and stealing bases more interesting than a parade of muscle-bound home run hitters?
- Is the slower, untimed nature of baseball a feature or a bug of the game?
- Do you believe, as Kevin Costner’s character put it in the movie Bull Durham, that “there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter”?
Baseball lends itself to these discussions, and the leisurely pace of the game allows for many such arguments to take place while sitting in the stands. There are even books written specifically about the philosophy of baseball, one of which is Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark by Alva Noë. But, as former minor leaguer Vito Chiaravalloti puts it in his review of Noë’s book for Chronicles:
“The contemporary slur that baseball is boring is one of the biggest insults you can sling at a former player. Noë defends the game’s seemingly lazy pace. Baseball is only boring to the untrained eye, which does not appreciate the many decisions making up a single inning. Drunken fans rarely think of the planning needed prior to the action. Unfortunately, nine innings over three-and-a-half hours is an unacceptable diversion when your cell phone lurks in your pocket. Ironically, America’s pastime has become countercultural.”
Chiaravalloti might be on to something here. Our modern attention spans seem to be slipping towards that of a goldfish, so the nuance of baseball may simply be too much effort for many to enjoy in our digital age. Football and basketball surely lend themselves better to video highlights than baseball, but in terms of cerebral experiences and rigorous debate, baseball is king.
As Chiaravalloti states later in his review:
“Baseball, at its best, requires players and fans alike to engage in deep, critical thought while simultaneously taking in the game at an unconscious level. Baseball is an altered state of consciousness.”
Who is the best major league baseball player of all time? Most people default to a handful of answers such as Ruth, Cobb, and Aaron, but the room for debate is endless based on the many different facets of the game available for consumption and obsession. Sure Ruth and Aaron hit tons of home runs, and Cobb holds the MLB record for career batting average (.366) but that only covers the offensive side of the ball. What about Cy Young and his 511 wins? What about Nolan Ryan and his seven no-hitters and 5,714 strikeouts? What about Rickey Henderson’s 1,406 stolen bases?
The game of baseball has been so diverse in the types of players it employs as to have something for everyone. From web gems, to cerebral base running, to history making home runs, to dominant pitching, there’s so many different things that you can witness at a baseball game. The sport’s uniqueness is on display every single day.
During COVID-19 lockdowns Americans have been forced to adapt to a slower pace of life, filled with fewer distractions and entertainment options. Perhaps the return to baseball (even if it comes with gimmicks like expanded playoffs and a runner on second base to start extra innings) is an opportunity for all of us to better connect to a slower-paced, thought-filled sport suited to the lives we are leading in this challenging time.
It feels good to say this:
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Flickr-Ian D’Andrea, CC BY-SA 2.0