Baseball Is the Republican Party of Sports [On the Contrary]
I never played little league. Baseball was never a presence in my life. My father was a hockey fan, my brother played football in high school, and when we played anything around the neighborhood involving bases, it tended to be kickball. Later I would be a hockey player, with some minor dabbling in basketball and soccer before giving up playing sports all together in high school. All through that time, baseball never had any kind of sway on me, except in movies like FIELD OF DREAMS. I found it boring and the clothing unpleasant, and I was just bad at the game.
As I’ve gotten older, I have fashioned myself into a sports fan, learning to care about games that had previously seemed a waste of time to me. I’ve become obsessed with football, gotten back into hockey, given basketball some attention, and even managed to drum up a little soccer interest (at least during the World Cup). However, I cannot make myself care about baseball. Watching a game is dull to me, and while I like the experience of attending a live game, I tend to get more excited about the hot dogs and pierogi races than the actual game.
Why can’t I make myself like “America’s Pastime?” Maybe it’s my politics.
I’ve recently been making my way through Ken Burns’ exhaustive 18-hour documentary BASEBALL. I may not like the game itself, but the history is fascinating, and the great thing about Burns’ films is that you can have them on while you’re doing other things. The documentary is rewarding (if laborious) from the perspective of history. Making my way through it I started to notice a pattern in the outlook of the game that bears a striking resemblance to a political party I have never quite been able to wrap my head around—the G.O.P. Maybe the constant presence of conservative writer George Will in Burns’ film influences this, but I could not help but notice that baseball is a lot like the Republican Party.
Let’s look at some parallels. Baseball declares itself “America’s Pastime,” even though it does not draw nearly the fan interest of football, a sport that is every bit as American as baseball. Republican candidates (I’m thinking the Palin-types) make a big showing of patriotism and often reference “Real Americans,” even though this excludes a number of ethnically, socially, economically, and religiously (or irreligiously) diverse United States Citizens.
Baseball fans also hearken back to a kind of idyllic past of simpler, more innocent times—a picture that seems to resemble 1950s America. Republicans have likewise been hearkening to a more innocent country ever since Reagan’s “Morning In America” ads.
Of course this romanticized past never really existed. The 50s was a great time for some people, but if you were not white and male, you’re much happier to be living in today’s America. Baseball also was never that innocent. In the early days, one of the game’s biggest stars Ty Cobb was a dirty racist asshole (meant metaphorically, though he might have had one as well, with hygiene being what it was in the 1900s), purposely trying to slash other players with his spikes. A team deliberately lost a professional championship to make money on the bet. Black players were excluded from the game for decades, and when Jackie Robinson finally broke that barrier he was abused and threatened for years. When exactly was this more innocent time in the sport of baseball?
In the modern era, Major League Baseball is the only one of the major team sports that does not have a hard salary cap limiting the amount teams are allowed to spend on players. There is kind of a free market approach to the league, which allows for larger market teams to consistently secure the best players and ensures smaller and less popular teams have even less chance of improving and securing a playoff berth. Granted, the Republican outlook would probably frown upon the “luxury tax” MLB charges to teams that spend the most every year, but certainly the sport would have greater acceptance for free marketers than the socialistic approaches of the NFL, NHL, or NBA.
There are more parallels to be drawn between the G.O.P. and baseball, but most of them feel like snarky cheap shots about hypocritically espousing values (like marital faithfulness or fair gamesmanship) while doing the opposite in secret (maintaining extramarital affairs or taking human growth hormone to improve batting strength). Besides, hypocrisy is far from being limited to Republicans or the sport of baseball.
I’m obviously not a Republican. As with baseball, there was no Republican influence in my home growing up, with a hippie mother (or anti-war activist as she would prefer, since she thinks “hippie” implies laziness) and a unionized father. Getting older and more educated (and theoretically wiser), I have felt no draw to the right wing of politics, just as I have felt no draw toward baseball. Both things are capable of great good. Baseball makes great fodder for some of the best sports movies ever made. Republicans can make great business people and high school principals. I can respect and even appreciate both, but I will probably never be rooting for either of them.