Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Archives Project: STL #17

Title: 3-2
Description: Rage, rage against the Yankees and the Marlins. The sporadic review of culture casts its eye on the American Pastime.
Publication Date: 25 October 2003

Looking back over my only piece of sports writing, I come across a few incoherent statements that I've tried to fix. I can't see myself writing about baseball again in the near future, even after two pleasing World Series victories by the assorted Soxes.

After a couple of deadline Saturday morning posts in the last few weeks, I'm in danger of slipping from the weekly to the occasional. It's surprising to me that I haven't already-- in fact I planned a maybe weekly, more likely sporadic schedule when I started this summer. But during the summer I had the time, and found writing these weekly memos to the void amusing, if not rewarding. Lately it's been more hectic, but if I can't find an hour or two a week to jot down my thoughts, I might as well slash my wrists right now. I have a few ideas in the back of my head: there's a couple of books I've read for my dissertation that might be of general interest, an engaging conversation I had with one of my students about Kill Bill's warrant and why it shouldn't apply to the depraved fantasies of Marshall Mathers (the kids, they love Eminem b/c he's "real"), the accumulating mass of Songs:Ohia and the similarly studied obscurity of Will Oldham, which seems to lash out against itself in the beer anthem that never was "Work Hard Play Hard," a definition of 'high lonesome,' or the beautiful wordless comic that I read last week, "The Last Lonely Saturday." But I can't think about any of that right now. This lovely Saturday morning is troubled by a dark cloud on the horizon, or maybe that's a tropical storm offshore: tonight, the Florida Marlins could win the World Series for the second time in eight years.

I've found that I've been resorting to a rhetorical technique that my alter ego Drunk Tom uses frequently. Instead of finishing the point I'm trying to make, I break off and shake my fist at the sky, uttering a sound that can best be captured as "GARGH!" I call this 'argument from inarticulate rage.' I blame my increasing usage on the current Series. When Drunk Tom cries "GARGH!" he has either forgotten what he was going to say or stumbled into a contradiction. The other Tom uses argument from inarticulate rage because he knows that the universe resembles baseball, and sees that no win is possible. The phrase "Yankees Win" is distasteful enough, as every other time you turned around in the twentieth century this consolidated source of power had vanquished some contender or another. In fact, the first World Series I can remember was the Yankees and the Dodgers. Their strategy then as now is blunt: stockpile as many star players as you can, at any cost. As a result, you get people who aren't in any sense Yankees playing in pinstripes. This strategy didn't work to well during the eighties, but during the current dynasty the team has been able to surround a homegrown set of stars like Mariano Rivera and the smug Prince of New York Derek Jeter with guns for hire like Clemens and big Jason Giambi. It's a little distasteful, both because of the money and the predictability of it, but the cultural continuity of it is nice. We always know that the Yankees are good, and in fact the statement bores us.

The last time the Marlins had a winning season, they bought it off the shelf. It was the best team money could buy, but had no cohesion and was parceled off as soon as they won the Series. By comparison, this team is a lot more interesting. The have only one big name player, the superlative catcher Ivan Rodriguez, and he seems to be interested in sticking around with some talented youngsters. This team runs, which is more interesting than watching big necked sluggers swing from their heels. Why then does the notion of "Marlins win!" make me so nauseated? That's simple, I can tell you right now: I don't believe in them.

Its not just that they're an expansion team. I've followed my hometown team the Seattle Mariners most of my life (I'm a little older than they are.) But they are an expansion team that hasn't paid there dues, nor have they cultivated an informed fan base. I remember the contrast between the fans in frosty, long-suffering Cleveland leaning out of the right field stands signaling 'fair ball' on a double down the line, and just a few days later a bunch of Floridians playing beach ball in the stands. Despite the fact that they're an exciting young team who had the best record down the stretch, the Marlins averaged 16,000 fans during the regular season (though now the locals have jumped on the bandwagon and are filling the Walmart-like Pro Player Stadium to the rafters.)

It's not just because they're a wild card team. I don't care for baseball imitating football, I don't care for gimmicks to wring out more advertising money, and I don't care for pushing the end of the season to the edge of November. Although I'm grateful to the Marlins for eliminating the Braves, so that I only had to hear their fans collective Tomahawk moan a couple of times this October, their presence in the World Series is Wrong: they didn't win the most games in their league or their division. I'm willing to let that slide sometimes, but they have a lot else going against them.

It's not just because they're from Florida. I can't hate the state too much. They did, after all, go for Gore in the last election. But you may have guessed by now that I'm a baseball traditionalist, and in a matter of fact I'm also a mythicist. I usually don't go much for Eternal Recurrence and whatnot, but baseball follows a cycle: hope in born in the early spring, as we hear reports on our heroes practicing in the warm South. Strength and skill are tested throughout the summer, and valor and stamina in the fall, at the closing of the season. I can tell you right now, there's no crisp air in Florida. Florida is where baseball starts, not where it ends.

So I favor the Yankees marginally, because to me the proposition "same as it always was" is better than "whatever." It's the terms of the argument that frustrate me--what's the point in finishing this? What really depresses me, the reason I'm locking up the knives this weekend, is that I know what we're missing: the two most beautiful old ballparks left, and two sets of knowledgeable, long-suffering fans. This phantom Series would have no possible loser, because both "Sox win" and "Cubs win" the same two possible meanings: "Curses don't stick forever" or maybe "it's the end of the world." I've seen some objectively great games this post-season, but their outcomes frustrate me beyond words. I half-believe that this dream Series is taking place somewhere else, where managers can stick with their aces all night if they want to, and where my arguments have a satisfactory end.

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