In case you missed it, Drayton McLane, the owner of the Houston Astros, became embroiled in a big controversy last week. McLane was accused of saying that Hispanics aren't smart enough to understand and follow baseball, but McLane -- and several eyewitnesses -- had a perfect explanation.
"I was talking about everybody," he said. "I've had lots in my family that I had to teach baseball to. It was never meant to be about Hispanics. It was meant for everyone."Maybe that explains why some of us have failed to fully appreciate baseball. Too dumb. McLane is right. Whether you're black, brown, white or just a fat, hairy guy in a Barcalounger, baseball IS difficult to truly understand and follow. I think you have to be George Will or Ken Burns or possibly Albert Einstein to really appreciate the game. Burns once called baseball "the American Odyssey . . . the Rosetta stone . . . a Blakean grain of sand that reveals the universe."
Wow, he sees all that? All I see are nine guys playing with a ball. Or spitting.
I guess baseball is much deeper than I ever suspected. Burns did a documentary on baseball that lasted 18 1/2 hours, whereas Carl Sagan needed only 13 hours to tell the story of the Cosmos. I can't think of one thing I could talk about for 18 hours, or even 13 hours. But if I could, I'm sure it wouldn't be baseball.
One of these days I want to sit down with McLane and have him teach me a few things about baseball, too (but I hope it won't take 18 hours). McLane supposedly said that baseball is a game of statistics and numbers and you have to read newspapers to absorb it all and really appreciate the game. I read newspapers -- I WRITE newspapers -- but apparently there are still some things I need explained.
I still don't see that "Blakean grain of sand that reveals the universe." When I watch a game, mostly what I see reveals the inside of my eyelids. I want to see the things that cause Mr. Will, the Newsweek columnist/nerd, to drone on and on, paragraph after paragraph, about the beauty and depth of the game through its endless supply of arcane numbers and stats.
There must be something to this game I'm missing. Apparently, the people in Hollywood get it. You can't swing a dead cat in a video store without hitting a baseball movie -- "The Natural," "Field of Dreams," "Angels in the Outfield" (old and new versions), "Little Big League," "Mr. Baseball," "Mr. Destiny," "Rookie of the Year," "Bull Durham," "Major League," "Major League 2," "The Babe," "The Sandlot," "Talent for the Game," "Slugger's Wife," the three "Bad New Bears" films, "A League of Their Own," "Eight Men Out," et al.
We won't even get into baseball books.
If McLane is to be believed, there are a lot of us who are just too dumb to understand baseball. It's a complicated, highly intellectual game. I know it is for me. I know, for instance, that a base runner runs from home plate to first base, then from first base to second base, but I can never remember which base comes next. I leave balks, infield fly rules and Rosetta stones to guys like Burns and McLane.
If I could sit with McLane, I would have him explain a few things about baseball:
-- Why organ music? Organ music at the ballpark in and of itself is not a bad thing. It's terrible. And it got even worse when, as columnist Scott Ostler once wrote, somebody decided to start paying the organist by the note. If I want organ music, I'll go see the Mo Tabs. By the way, if the CIA ever needs a new form of torture, here's a suggestion: the Mexican Hat Dance. Play that a few hundred times and, trust me, you'll get what you want.
-- Those high-level meetings on the mound between the coach and pitcher -- what's that about? The girl in the fourth row?
-- Why do umpires get to make up their own rules, whether it's creating their own strike zone or suddenly deciding to watch a TV replay to correct a call? What do they think this is, the NBA?
-- Why do managers and coaches wear uniforms? Just in case they have to pinch hit?
-- Spitting? What is that about? I haven't seen this many loogies since high school gym class.
-- Why the urge toward food nicknames? Pitches are "cheese" or "stinky cheese," base runners get caught in pickles and grand slams are salamis, as in "Back to the wall, get out the rye bread and mustard, grandma, it's grand salami time," which is how Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Mariners, calls them.
Are they playing baseball or building a sandwich? McLane's got a lot of explaining to do.