I’ve been following the Detroit Tigers for several years now, since it became apparent that they live here, too, and are my husband’s good friends. At a certain point he began muttering to me about the games, and in time, I was a follower.
My ideas about baseball were tarnished forever when, as a child who won tickets to the Denver baseball game and in fact went to the game, I found I was not eligible to win the pony being awarded to a lucky attendee. Apparently I was already lucky enough. I never went back.
In the meantime, sports grew from a voice on the radio to a whole world. Channels of it. Magazines full of it. Papparazzi. Movies. Big business.
When I tuned back in, we were in a different universe. And as a follower or at least occasional visitor to the sports world, I feel sometimes like a visitor from another planet.
On the one hand, we have sports as a builder of spirit, able to bring divided communities together. It provides role models in the athletes who give back to their areas both time and money, and who work very hard to maintain physical prowess and personal excellence. It is a visible sign of how teamwork works.
It’s also a continuing soap opera. Just as in high school sports, the game is richer with insight into the characters on the field. The aches and breaks resound as much as the ups and downs in the fielding or hitting records.
And it’s a numbers game. Statistics are very important, as in “I believe that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a left-handed European first baseman under six feet tall making that play in a day game.” “In four more games, he’ll be the first Asian American to have started a career in Japan and achieved a game count over four million in the U.S.!”
Game strategy has changed or maybe intensified with the advent of computers and film. Every team analyzes every other team’s personnel to the extent of knowing that the Hippogriff’s starting pitcher always fades to the left on the fourth pitch, and that their hitting star bloops to right on a slow curve away.
These things amuse me, mostly. Humans are fallible and changeable enough that scouting information will always be just one component of a game of many components. Numbers are another, and although they aren’t necessary in any way to my enjoyment of the game, they are interesting. As a story person, the soap opera appeals to me. We listen to the games on radio mostly, and I know the commentators as well as the guys on the field.
What doesn’t appeal to me is the mixed message I get: Be loyal to our team and our team members. They’re out there playing hard for you, for us – but we’re going to be selling some of them to the highest bidder because it all comes down to money. And we’ll get someone else. Sometime.
Why should I be loyal to your money-making scheme? What about this system helps me, the spectator? Doesn’t it insure that players can’t be truly loyal to anyone except themselves, since they’ll be somewhere else if and when management decides so?
I hear about old-time players and the schisms created by trading a popular player to somewhere else. It didn’t happen that often. A team had a nucleus that provided stability and a basis for the necessary change caused by time and circumstance.
It provided stability for the fans, too. When I rooted for the Tigers in past years, I was rooting for Verlander and Scherzer. Now I’m rooting for kids I don’t know, and while I like them, they’re not yet my Tigers.
The whole process feels a little like trading cards. It’s like a sophisticated checkers game, with interchangeable player-markers and all the real maneuvering being done off the board and the real score in dollars. And it feels sometimes like most of the maneuvering is being done to us. If it’s just a numbers game, after all, it means far less to me.
I understand that the apparatuses of sports require funding, from the temples – er, stadiums, to the expensive bats and gloves. I understand that kids are being paid outlandish amounts of money to lay their future health on the line for our amusement (just like the Army!) I understand that management gets big bucks to deliver wins any way that works. I understand that the current paradigm does not include loyalty from or toward the team members.
I think we deserve better than this corporate me-first attitude. When Detroit teams win, it’s usually been because everyone plays together without an overpowering central figure. (Okay, Yzerman, but still..) Good basic material and good (or brilliant) coaching mold a team from separate parts, and that’s where the magic happens. The baseball world scoffs at the Yankees, “the best team money can buy”. And yet, the Yankees are merely preemptively successful at melding the real game of numbers (in which they have a financial edge) with the apparent game on the field.
We should really applaud those financial sports wizards. The Romans had bread and circuses to pacify their populations, too, but had to provide both free – no profit there. How things have changed! We pay handsomely and willingly for the privilege of participating in our own pacification.
TAKE ME OUT…
Take me out to the ball game
Twenty dollars a head
Buy me some pizza,
a beer for Dad,
Oops – $50 dollars was all that we had
Now it’s thirty bucks for a ball cap.
I wonder just why I came –
Because management owns
My complete baseball jones
And the old ball game!