26 August 2010

rooting for the uniform

I don't think that baseball fans have the memory they once used to have. Now, this isn't simply about statistics and player-tracking, although the massive scoreboards which give every bit of information you would ever need have certainly contributed to this. Rather, my thought is about the memory which defines the essence of the game - what makes the team what it is supposed to be.

With the exceptions of Boston, Detroit, possibly Cincinnati, and definitely the Cubs, baseball fans have typically lost their sense of history of their club. What were the trades that stole the heart of the team? Which pitcher was throwing dirty at your guys? Who made the call that blew a moment of perfection?

Boston will always have Babe Ruth's departure over them. The Cubs will not forget that Maddux became a Cy Young Award winning Brave. Detroit will always remember Jim Joyce.

Yes, there may be times of forgiveness, but ultimately the memories will shape our current experience. When Johnny Damon left Boston for New York, it was a dagger into the heart of that city. (And when he cut his hair and shaved his beard, it was a sell-out which went beyond terrible.) Now that Derrek Lee has gone south, Chicago fans have once again had their hearts broken because one of the class-acts has been moved out. We are in a time when players don't stick it out with a team for their whole career. Not even close. It is an age of transition and the all-important goal of winning.

I reference this reality because baseball has always been, and will continue to be, a metaphor for our culture. This isn't some 'baseball is life' as an adrenaline-pumped bumper sticker intended to get you excited about this afternoon's game. No, it has been long recognized that the story of baseball has mirrored the story of ourselves. We have protected this national pastime with great tenacity simply because we realize that our heritage is on the line. This is us - warts and all - and what we are about.

Simply stated, Americans are losing their memories. Although we will miss a player who was traded amidst great outcry and heartbreak, once the new guy gets a couple of hits we will (sadly) forget all about what's-his-name. And, even though we swear off a team because of the managerial ineptitude . . . we know we'll be back, and so do they. But this has led to our supporting a uniform more than an actual team. And this is the mirror of who we are.

Winning has become our primary goal; we are as much about victory as the Romans idealized nike in their world. Perhaps we are playing it out a bit differently, but the same drive remains. And now baseball highlights this in its own way: the game has always had tainted players - some morally, some physically - which is always going to be a part of our past, but now we see that perhaps the fans are too becoming tainted. We have allowed a culture to rise up where loyalty and dedication is not rewarded, all for the sake of the big show. And while this may be acceptable in other, lesser sports, it cannot do here.

For baseball will always tell us who we are.

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