Enough About Canada; Let's Shoot Some Anti-Baseball Terrorists, and Slap a Hockey Puck in the Nuts of Every Nostalgic Writer in New York
Now that Fat Lady Neil Young has sung ("Still rockin' in the free world after some 40 years," observed Bob Costas; "Amen," piped in Al Michaels), William Shatner (true!) has delivered a spoken-word benediction, and every other distantly famous Canuck has set foot north of Mulholland Drive for the first time since Wayne Gretzky married Janet Jones, the MCMXLVIIIth Winter Olympiad is finally behind us, giving weary viewers at least 28 months or so before having to contemplate what new horrors modern plastic surgery will visit upon the once-expressive sportscasters of our youth. So it's time to tip our toques to Canada, loosen our grip on those curling rocks, and get back to the real American pastimes. Which are, in order: baseball, and arming ourselves to the teeth.
Enter Orioles designated hitter Luke Scott, who is none too happy that some unfortunate gun incidents featuring NFL wide receiver Plaxico Burress and NBA swingman Gilbert Arenas have provoked Major League Baseball to officially ban firearms from clubhouses:
"I don't think that everyone else should pay for the mistakes of a few," said Scott, one of baseball's most vocal gun rights proponents. "There is a good reason behind the rule, I can't deny that. The reason is you cannot trust 25 guys in a locker room to have the same respect and training as I do with a weapon. That I do understand. I've carried a gun for 10 years. I've carried them in the locker room, and nobody really knows about it. I know how to handle myself, and I stow it away where nobody really knows about it." […]
"We have good security," Scott said. "It's hard to get in here. Barring a tactical entry where terrorists come in and hold us hostage, that's about the only thing that could possibly warrant me carrying a gun in the clubhouse. That's highly unlikely, and I admit that. But my personal belief is I don't want to suffer from the poor choices of others."
Speaking of people who, if they were capable of embarrassment, should be maroon-faced after writing confidently in this Sunday's New York Times on subjects they don't remotely understand, Pete Hamill puts the purple back in prose, the fuddy back in duddy, and the New York back in New York, with this godawful, modernity-hating, faux-elegiac review of Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend. Behold the worst opening of any piece of writing you'll read the rest of this month:
A long time ago in America, there was a beautiful game called baseball. This was before 30 major-league teams were scattered in a blurry variety of divisions; before 162-game seasons and extended playoffs and fans who watched World Series games in thick down jackets; before the D.H. came to the American League; before AstroTurf on baseball fields and aluminum bats on sandlots; before complete games by pitchers were a rarity; before ballparks were named for corporations instead of individuals; and long, long before the innocence of the game was permanently stained by the filthy deception of steroids.
In that vanished time, there was a ballplayer named Willie Mays.
He came to a Manhattan ballpark named the Polo Grounds in 1951, when he was 20, to play for the New York Giants.
Hamill should be rung up for the tuff-guy mytho-poesie of that last sentence alone. As for his get-off-my-lawn list, 1) There were more complete games thrown in 1974–the year after Mays retired–than in any season since the 1950s; 2) only two of the 30 Major League Baseball teams still play their home games on artificial turf (a surface that, for all its many sins, produced an exciting, speed-oriented style of baseball); 3) the family of the original owner-operator of the American League's oldest surviving baseball stadium just happened to own something called the Fenway Realty Company; and 4) the only thing "permanently stained" is my eyeballs, from reading so many pieces of nostalgic Nu Journalism over the years about the one sport I'm doomed by birth to follow. Also, read any honest book about baseball in the 1950s and 1960s, then come back and tell me about this pharmalogically pristine sport that Barry Bonds et al are alleged to have ruined.
These are just quibbles; my main beef here, at long last, is with the complete and utter unshuttupability of a Manhattan cultural elite that has been demanding that the rest of us feel their exquisitely described pain for MORE THAN A HALF CENTURY ALREADY for having to suffer the cruel, life-blunting indignity of having having only one Major League baseball team calling New York home for four years between 1958-61. (And that team, the Yankees, won three pennants and two World Series during the excruciating interim.) Here's Hamill:
For me, starting on Page 269, Hirsch reveals a story I never knew: what happened after the Giants and the Dodgers left New York at the end of the 1957 season. Like many others, including my father, I erased baseball from my life that year. I wouldn't read about it. I didn't watch a single game on television. I was embarrassed and embittered by the childish naïveté that had fueled my passion. Like most Giant and Dodger fans, I could never root for the Yankees. So I never saw Mays play for San Francisco. Not an inning.
Mays came to New York to play against the Mets more than 80 times from 1962-71, and faced off against the hated Yankees in the classic 1962 World Series. Hamill must be some kinda baseball/Mays fan.
More importantly, when do we ever hear about the broken childhoods and shattered immigrant dreams of Boston Braves fans? Philadelphia is still a great city; how come we don't have to suffer through a thousand literary laments about the prodigal A's, a team that won five times as many World Series titles in their original hometown than the goddamned Dodgers?
Worse yet, for those of us whelped west of the Mississippi River, is that we've been force-fed this would-be ancient-Indian-burial-ground-level set of curses from the Media Industrial Complex in our own damned back yard. Though I can't find the precise offender I'm looking for at this L.A. Times link, my former hometown paper would routinely run op-eds and sports-page thumbsuckers from various sub-Hamills talking about how the very fabric of modern life was forever ruined by two businessmen who thought, gee, maybe I'll move to where the population lives, and play in places that are actually made for modern baseball, and not polo. In a journalism culture that has forever looked anxiously toward Manhattan for validation, it was a way of saying "We're one of you," or at least "Hey, I still haven't met any local writers since moving out here, not that any exist, of course."
I mean, hell, L.A. doesn't even have one professional football team anymore, yet you don't hear people like me complain that my very development was kneecapped by the eternally recurring loss of Nolan Cromwell. Yet here's the MLB Channel last week, re-running that endless baseball shlockumentary from the awful (yet somehow awfully good!) Ken Burns, with its endless string of Stephen Jay Gouldses and Doris Kearns Goodwins decrying the horrid greed and childhood-murdering avarice of baseball owners who didn't respect the Big Apple's birthright to have 19 percent of all Major League Baseball teams compared to the western half of the country's 0.
When watching this 16-year-old production, I was thinking "Well, at least most of these people are getting old and fading away, so maybe there will come a day when I don't have to hear this anymore." But reading Hamill's latest I've come to the opposite conclusion: Boring New Yorkers who know squat-all about baseball will be trying to bum me out about the Dodgers and Giants when I'm on my deathbed, wrapping it all up in a bow of insufferable and inaccurate nostalgia that attempts to validate their mildly sad junior high school days by impugning the greatest-ever sport's greatest-ever players: i.e., the ones playing right the hell now. With more passion even than Hit & Run readers who hate sports want to say to me right about now, I say to you, Pete Hamill: Enough!