One of the enterprises I wanted to pursue in retirement was my work on involving boys of short stature in baseball. The game itself, and the instruction surrounding it, has turned as regimented and mechanical as everything else in our digitally obsessed society—yet learning complex games is no small part of a young person’s education. The child learns fast and hard rules, he realizes that certain rules put him at a disadvantage to other players, he figures out how to turn a liability into an asset, and he emerges from it all—with honest, sustained effort—in a triumph of self-discovery and successful adjustment. These moral lessons are terrifically important.
Football and basketball virtually require extraordinary natural endowments: skills there are an adorning cornice, not a foundation. By no accident, these latter two sports are also much the most popular with spectators on college campuses. As spectators, we seem to be growing ever more distant from the spectacle’s participants. They almost represent a different species; and perhaps, with the aid of hormones and nanobot supplementation, they will soon become precisely that.
I think it well worthwhile, then, to persuade young people that they can excel at a game by identifying their particular (if not spectacular) strengths, perfecting these through practice, and offering a significant contribution to the team’s effort that draws more upon reflection and self-discipline than upon raw sinew. That’s where baseball comes in—and where boys, especially, come in. Contemporary Ivory Tower propaganda (which quickly filters all the way down to kindergarten, make no mistake) wails about “toxic masculinity”, labels all males as rapists-in-waiting, and applauds only the gender-uncertain who cede decisions, authority, and initiative to the Nurturing Mother. Now, mothers are great, as we all know; but boys, if they are to become independent and upright young men, need to learn a regimen that introduces them to self-control and vigorous persistence.
Unfortunately, the history of baseball has almost always garbled this hygienic message with incidental static, at least in the United States. (In Japan and Korea, the game appears to have followed an educational trajectory more like what I should like to see.) In America’s late nineteenth century, professional players were viewed as rowdies who shirked the productive labor of farm and factory. Early in the next century, its practices were submitted to a considerable clean-up before any pay-at-the-gate contest was thought fit for ladies to attend. Even as figures like Babe Ruth (and Ty Cobb, too, before Fake News claimed him as one of its early victims) ushered in a heroic era, baseball’s practical and commercial parameters continued to gravitate against a positive moral message. Games were played almost daily in numerous far-flung venues, so the players’ normal Circadian rhythms—eating habits, sleeping habits, and other bodily demands that needn’t be specified—were forever being nudged hither and yon. As a result, late-night frolics and heavy drinking became associated with the pro athlete’s life.
Mill teams or municipal squads that squared off on Saturdays (never on Sundays!) somewhat counterpoised this unflattering image; but on the whole, women even of my mother’s generation did not wish to see their sons inking a professional contract.
Today the interference with the constructive message comes primarily from different sources. The obvious one is the professional game’s saturation in money (following the demise of the nefarious Reserve Clause, which legally classed players as virtual slaves of their owners). Fathers are so eager to see their sons get the free scholarship ride through college—with a shot at being professionally drafted—that, in a couple of cases I have seen personally, they start the boys on the syringe at the age of ten or eleven. Even in less depraved cases, dads push their sons too hard to succeed in Little League, thinking that they are helping the boys get a huge headstart on money-making and all the happiness supposed to come with it. But, Dad, if you will stop and think about that oath that the kids are uttering before each contest, it’s not drawn from the Gospel of Mammon. On the contrary… search your Bible for the verse, “Love of money is the root of all evil.”
That our boys need a moral lifeline of some sort thrown to them has been underscored for me during the past two weeks by the grotesque volleys exchanged over a Supreme Court nomination. I have my own very strong opinions about where the truth lies; but in the context of this discussion, I will say no more than that the addiction of both men and women to alcohol and sex as a routine path to social integration on elite college campuses is a national disgrace—and even more: an epidemic of moral degeneracy such as no nation can survive. To the extent that my own son was able to steer clear of debauchery during his college years, I believe his devotion to baseball was the cause. I would like to write, “his devotion to the Christian faith”… but the organized Church, as represented by most mainstream denominations, is itself in vital need of an infusion of backbone. St. Paul was fond of comparing the spiritual life to the athlete’s rigorous program of training—but I’m afraid that today’s Church more resembles the party-animal superstar whose contract guarantees him a fortune whether he stays in shape or not.
I posted a very sophomoric video a few days ago (which became 1st part and 2nd part when I overshot YouTube’s time restrictions) entitled “Faith, Reality, and Baseball”. I truly hate addressing cameras… but I attempted to speak on these issues with what eloquence I could muster off the cuff. Young men, I find, will actually watch such a presentation with infinitely higher probability than they will read an essay like the one before you; and some of them, even, will be quite generous to the stammering old fool trying to reach them through their generation’s preferred avenue. It’s clearly not the singer: it has to be the song. Let’s sing it louder.