Take Me Out to the Race Track

July 14, 2002

by John K. Bates

The situation seems doomed. No matter what good news comes along, it is always overshadowed by bad results. The numbers go up on Friday, only to go down for three days afterwards. Everyone - or at least a majority - is cheating, using funny business to give him or herself a competitive advantage. And even on the one day of the year when everyone should be in harmony and enjoy the nature of the business, there is controversy an undercurrent of despair. It seems that the whole enterprise is on a road to either ruin, or to a very bad time needed to prevent certain ruin.

I refer to the stock market, right? Not quite. In fact, I refer to baseball, America’s grandest sport but also its most endangered sport today. Baseball - beset by labor strife, cheating (the steroid scandal) and now an utterly stupid decision to allow the Midsummer Classic (better known as the All Star Game) to end in a tie, is on the road to ruin. When the players strike later this year - and it says here a strike is inevitable since the game’s labor situation as it stands today is fundamentally untenable - it may very well spell the end of baseball as we know it. Fans, many of them a bit older than fans of other sports, have seen and heard enough. The All Star game was perhaps, with the exception of anything that comes out of Barry Bonds’ mouth, the worst and final straw, the epitome of what is wrong with the game. It is obvious today’s high-priced babies have no regard for the game, or the sport, or (especially) the fans. The fans therefore will cease to have any sort of regard for the players, and the game will die a slow, painful, and well-deserved death.

Many have and will continue to argue about why this is so, but perhaps it is easier to decide what is NOT to blame. The salaries (and by extension the greed) of the players are not to blame. One can hardly fault a player for seeking and obtaining what the market is willing to pay. Similarily, the owners are not necessarily the idiotic morons people assume they are for paying these salaries. These men are, for the most part, rational businesspeople. They may or may not have annual operating losses, but there is no doubt the annual appreciation in the value of each baseball franchise more than offsets the supposed operating losses. So we should not weep for, nor worry about, the owners; they are the owners of cash cows and they know it.

Is television perhaps to blame? Not really - television, though convenient for fans such as myself who are physically detached from their favorite teams, will always be a poor substitute for the real thing. Nor can we place the blame on the preponderance of new “bandbox” stadiums, or the consequent explosion of hitting statistics, or the designated hitter, though purists rightly criticize all these things as detrimental to the game. Inflated offensive numbers never hurt attendance in a sporting event in America, as anyone wondering why soccer has never and will never become popular in this country will (if they are honest) attest to. No one likes 1-0 or 2-1 scores; 13-9 and 15-11 are much more fun to watch and hence more popular.

Having eliminated some of the possibilities, we are left with two major problems affecting America’s Game. Both are intractable, and both could very well bring the game down. There is simply no way the sport - or any enterprise - can continue to thrive with such albatrosses around its neck.

The first is the player attitudes. Barry Bonds may be a fantastic player (though we have to wonder how much of his newfound home run hitting prowess is artificially created), but he is also the worst thing to happen to baseball at least in this writer’s lifetime. He is the embodiment of the spoiled, overpaid athlete who could give a damn about the fans who pay his salary. A few weeks ago he uttered, in response to the question of whether the average fan could understand the labor issues surrounding baseball, he replied, “It’s not my fault they don’t play baseball.” In his flippant remark, he turned off many fans forever. How stupid. We may not play, but we pay, and many of us will cease to pay when the sullen Mr. Bonds and others of his ilk come back from their petulant strike. His attitude is contemptible, but it perfectly exemplifies the attitude many fans think the players have towards them.

The second problem, sadly, is the fans. When fans wake up in August and realize in their hearts the sport of baseball is dead, they will have to look in the mirror and blame - or at least chastise - themselves. After all, who has welcomed back the players after devastating strikes in 1981 and 1994? Who has looked the other way while salaries ran out of control and baseball players turned into petulant little babies? Who has applauded while the game has become a circus, with new records broken annually or even monthly? And who stood silent while the New York Yankees and occasional poseurs made a mockery of competition by purchasing pennant after pennant? More so than any other sport, the game of baseball is one of integrity. The ultimate wards of the game - the fans - should have demanded better. They did not, and therefore the game may very well end now. And in many respects at least, we will get what we deserve.

That said, all is not lost for those who love sport. There is still one quintessentially American sport; a sport that - much like baseball - requires a combination of tremendous individual talent and precise teamwork. But unlike baseball, it is a sport where the athletes are not controversial, do not get arrested (et tu, Allen Iverson?) and do not get busted for snorting cocaine or taking steroids. It is, in other words, what baseball was back when it captured the hearts of Americans from coast to coast. And though this sport started in the South, it has expanded to most every corner of the country and enjoys a huge following, especially among younger fans.

I refer, of course, to racing. Stock car racing specifically, and NASCAR racing in particular. It is here - and anyone who claims drivers are not athletes have never attempted to drive 500 miles at 200 miles per hour a mere 18 inches away from cars on three sides - that today’s real athletes play. NASCAR’s athletes are clean and sportsmanlike; so long as they remain so there is no reason whatsoever why they cannot replace Ruth, Mantle and Williams as today’s heroes. And as long as baseball as a sport continues to pursue policies and employ athletes that will forsake fans for their own short-term selfish gain, the door is open to racing and every other sport.

Gordon, Johnson, and Earnhardt, Jr. may never become Tinker, Evers and Chance. But given time and exposure, and given the void in our collective hearts, they may have a real opportunity to replace baseball as our national pastime. Maybe we will never say, “let’s race two” on a Sunday. But here’s hoping some day “take me out to the racetrack” will become as ubiquitous as its more famous counterpart from the dying professional sport of baseball.


John K. Bates is a part-time freelance writer who works in the energy engineering field and lives in the Denver, Colorado area. He enjoys many outdoor pursuits and the company of his family of three cats. His columns can also be seen on CheyenneNetwork.com.

Send the author an E mail at Bates@ConservativeTruth.org.

For more of John's articles, visit his archives.

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