As professional sports rush to become just another shrill screech in the cacophony of criticism of America and Americans by an increasingly remote elite, I am reminded of the bygone days of American sports. Players were accessible to their fans, they rarely spoke out on matters about which they had no particular expertise; they preferred to make their presence known on the field. That is not to say that they were ignorant of the larger world, but they understood that sports was the great unifier in contentious times.
2020 seems to have been particularly cruel to those baseball greats; the list of those who have gone is long, and curiously painful. Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Whitey Ford, Joe Morgan, Tom Seaver, Al Kaline, Don Larsen. These are men who played a great game at the highest level imaginable. They were fierce competitors and comported themselves with dignity and grace…so unlike our current crop of “superstars,” who demand respect while simultaneously denigrating the fans whose worship they expect.
As I look at those names my first thoughts are: Cardinal, Cardinal, Yankees, Reds, Mets, Tigers, Yankees. And then a jumble of memories, some good, and some bad (Joe Morgan destroyed the Yankees in 1976), but all a testament to what is uplifting about sports. And interestingly, no thoughts of race! It’s as if color didn’t matter between the lines.
I am not observing those bygone years through rose-colored glasses. Of course there was racial strife when these men were growing up. But integration of baseball was part of the solution, and the reality that American sports are colorblind, no matter what the race-baiters may say, is a fine commentary on Americans.
We have lost those unifying aspects of sports, and the collapse of TV ratings is a signal of something broken. Turning on a game used to be a respite from the real world…a few hours during which we could enjoy a little corner of the world that wasn’t strife-filled and angry. But now? I refuse to be harangued and criticized and mocked by poorly informed millionaires who feel entitled to my attention to their political and social commentary as well as to their ability to hit a slider or throw a 99mph fastball.
Instead of watching them, I will reclaim the time, part of which I will spend on more important pursuits, such as marveling at Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in the 1968 season, or Tom Seaver’s 21 complete games in 1971, or Al Kaline’s cannon of an arm, or Lou Brock’s balletic base stealing, or Don Larsen’s improbable capturing of lightning in a bottle during one magical World Series game.
Sports is still important, but its joys can be captured on a Little League field or a Pee-Wee hockey rink or during a pick-up basketball game. We simply don’t need the ills of the larger world on the field. The games are enough!