The Show

it’s october and so we’ll have rain, deadlines, and baseball. not everyone makes the playoffs. and the parks and fields and stadiums of those who do need to get ready, because this is the show of The Show.

just as every spring – early spring – the day when Pitchers & Catchers Report for Spring Training, i’ve more than once found enough hope in that moment to think that this one (the trembling anticipation of post-season) could happen again. even that hint of fresh-cut grass under electric light is enough to hold onto. it’s the rhythm, of course, but also structure and language and history.

when i was young, my lack of awareness of the big world was near-total. i only realized there was such a thing through baseball, since sports are somehow perceived as innocent. they are not of course – sports are complex expressions of cultural morality. and their histories are revealing.

when i was very young, though, i didn’t know there was history – i remember a growing awareness of depth and time as obsessively read about baseball, but i didn’t understand what history is until i read about The Curse. it has been lifted now, of course, but i remember being concerned back in 2004 that without the Curse, my sense of history itself was off kilter, which ideas were fair or foul.

The Curse of the Bambino was a superstition evolving from the failure of the Boston Red Sox baseball team to win the World Series in the 86-year period from 1918 to 2004. While some fans took the curse seriously, most used the expression in a tongue-in-cheek manner. (Wikipedia)

Ted Williams, the greatest player in Red Sox history, played during the era when the Curse really took hold, the 1930s and 40s. he was irritable, gruff, silent. famously – notoriously – confident. his earliest ambition was to be the greatest hitter ever. he was not known for changing his mind. he was the last player to bat .400 – but did so in 1941, when Joe diMaggio (NYY) hit in 56 consecutive games. That winter Teddy Ballgame enlisted in the Air Force. After the War, it wasn’t the same.

In the 70s, there was a moment when the springs were a little brighter, or sharper. expansion led to the first organized labour unrest. there were player subcultures, and resistance, and another war. Jim Bouton was a washed-up pitcher: he threw his arm out winning 23 games for the Yankees, throwing so hard his cap would fly off his head and he’d spin himself around. one day he felt his elbow move in a new way and it was over, the dream was over, he’d never report in the spring again. he was sent down to the minor leagues, cut from The Show, or as he reports in his memoir Ball Four, “and then I died.”

In that remarkable book, he chronicles his attempt to return, as a knuckleball pitcher – partly to redeem himself, but also because he’s a baseball player and he didn’t know how to do anything else. he knew that in the world it was nothing, a game, but he had to get back to The Show.

but Jim worries, up all night, rehearsing each game past and present, the wobble his pitch made in the air that time, trying to figure it all out, worrying through each inning like a bead or a stitch on a baseball (108). he doesn’t have the confidence of a Ted Williams. he’s saying this to himself during batting practice in Boston. in the clubhouse  he hears a story.

Ted Williams, when he was still playing, would psyche himself up for a game during batting practice, usually early practice before the fans or reporters got there.
He’d go into the cage, wave his bat at the pitcher and start screaming at the top of his voice, ‘My name is Ted Fucking Williams and I’m the greatest hitter in baseball!’
He’s swing and hit a line drive.
‘Jesus H. Christ Himself couldn’t get me out!’
And he’d his another.
Then he’d say ‘Here comes Jim Bunning, Jim Fucking Bunning with that little shit slider of his!’
‘He doesn’t really think he’s gonna get me out with that shit!’
‘I’m Ted Fucking Williams of the Major Fucking Leagues!’

and sometimes, that would be all he’d say that day, those were his lines in The Show. he played in one World Series; they lost (The Curse).

and each october, as the year end, i can see that the end is coming … but baseball, because it is not quite life, always makes the offer of spring – which is the magic sung into being during the seventh inning stretch at Red Sox games. spring becomes summer. it’s so good. there is that. the season is over, but it will return.