My wife recently asked me, “Why do you like baseball? Is it just for nostalgic reasons or are there other reasons you like the game?” She had heard my tales about becoming a Cubs fan. She had heard my stories about going to Salt Lake Gulls games with my dad when I was a kid. She knows I like to take my kids to Salt Lake Bees games and how I cherish the memories we create there. But why do I like baseball in and of itself? It’s the poetry of baseball.
The instant she asked the question, Al Capone’s monologue about baseball from The Untouchables sprang to my mind. The following clip is rated R so skip if you need to.
“A man… a man stands alone at a plate. This is the time for what? For individual achievement. There he stands alone, but in the field what? Part of a team. Looks, throws, catches, hustles, part of one big team. Bats himself to live long day: Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and so on.”
Al Capone was, of course, using this speech to keep his lieutenants in line, and as a prelude to bashing a guy’s skull in with a baseball bat. However, the point of this speech is one reason I like baseball. Nowhere else in team sports is a player so isolated from his teammates than when he stands at the plate.
I suppose arguments could be made for a soccer or a hockey goalie during a shootout. However, those aren’t every game occurrences, and the events of the game and actions of your teammates have led you to that point. In football and basketball sometimes an individual can make a big difference. A Peyton Manning or Michael Jordan can put teams on their shoulders at times, but they are never alone.
In baseball, the game is built around this isolation. There is something very poetic about striding to the plate with your weapon in hand to take on your enemy alone. The inherent drama of that single sports act has made for an exciting climax to some great baseball movies. The Natural comes to mind immediately. I still get teary every time Robert Redford smashes the home run into the lights, setting off the pseudo-fireworks.
Another part of baseball I like is you never know at what part during your lineup you are going to need a big hit, a sacrifice fly, or a bunt. Unlike basketball or football where you can’t draw up a play for your star when the game gets tight you are stuck with what you got. Sure you can call in a pinch hitter, or when in the field a closer to take the mound for an inning or sometimes for just one hitter but it isn’t the same. The game can rely any player at anytime. This can change the narrative of the game in a heartbeat.
There are many other reasons I like baseball but part of it is the narrative of the game. From the nearly tall tale status of Babe Ruth’s called shot in the World Series (yes, I know there is debate about it) to the tragedy of Shoeless Joe Jackson, baseball just creates great stories. Baseball also lends itself to great storytelling. Only baseball could provide the sports backdrop to a story like The Natural which was essentially a fairy tale in the sports world pitting a knight who wields an Excalibur-esque baseball bat against an evil king (The Judge) who employs a wizard (Gus) and dark witch (Kim Bassinger, always in black). The bad guys fight to bring the hero over to their side, but with the aid of a good witch (Glenn Close, always in white) our knight overcomes betrayal and injury to win in the end.
Yes, there is more to my love of baseball than simple nostalgia and habit. I love it for the same reason the movies love it. Baseball is an epic story of teams and individuals told on a grand scale. Heroes can emerge and sometimes fall. Good can overcome evil. Underdogs can become legend.
Baseball is poetry.