March 31, 2011

Hungry And Faithful, Watching And Waiting

William Saroyan, Sports Illustrated, October 8, 1956:
Baseball is caring. Player and fan alike must care, or there is no game. If there's no game, there's no pennant race and no World Series. And for all any of us know there might soon be no nation at all.

The caring is whole and constant, whether warranted or hopeless, tender or angry, ribald or reverent. From the first pitch to the last out the caring continues. With a score of 6-0, two outs, two strikes, nobody on, only an average batter at bat, it is still possible, and sometimes necessary, to believe something can still happen - for the simple reason that it has happened before, and very probably will again. And when it does, won't that be the day? Isn't that alone almost enough to live for, assuming there might just be little else? To witness so pure a demonstration of the unaccountable way by which the human spirit achieves stunning, unbelievable grandeur?

If the caring isn't for a team (because a team won't come through, or can't), then for the game itself, the annual ritual, moving with time and the world, the carefully planned and slowly accelerated approach to the great reward - the outcome, the answer, the revelation of the best, the winner.

It is good to care - in any dimension. More Americans put their spare (and purest?) caring into baseball than into anything else I can think of - and most of them put at least a little of it there. Most of them know the game is going on all the time, like the tides, and suspect there's a reason, or at least wonder about it. What is all the fuss about the whole year, and all the excitement every October? Is this a nation of kids, or what? Why not existentialism instead of baseball, for instance? Well, for one thing, you've got to be tired to care for old existentialism, and Americans just aren't ready to be that tired yet. For another, baseball can be trusted, as great art can, and bad art can't, especially as it comes from Hollywood, where sharp dealing is an accepted principle of profit-making. And it doesn't matter that baseball is very, very big business - quite the contrary. That only makes its truth all the more touching and magnificent. It doesn't matter, either, that the great players don't think of baseball as I do, for instance. Why should they? It's enough for them to go after being great and then to be great - and then to be no longer able, as time goes by.

I'm devoted to the game, to all of the teams in both leagues and to the World Series, because I don't know of anything better of its kind to be devoted to - and it's always out there with that anonymous crowd of the hungry and faithful, watching and waiting, in the stadium - their eyes on the geometric design of the fresh diamond, all set for the unfolding of another episode in the great drama, which cannot be put anywhere else - not into movies, not onto the stage, not even onto the television screen (although that's pretty good when you're held captive somewhere 3,000 miles away from the great place and the grand moment), not into books, and not even into statistics, although the game has grown on them.

It's a game - the biggest and best and most decent yet. The idea is to win the most games in the American or the National League, and then to go on and win the World Series: to establish a statistic, and tie it forever to the ragtag experience of a whole people for a whole year. ...

Well, is it a game? Is that all it is? ... What good does that do the nation? What good does that do the world?

A little good. Quite a little.


Pokerwolf said...

This is an awesome article. Thanks for sharing, Allan!

Zenslinger said...

This piece may be a little sentimental, and I may be a little drunk coming back from the Bar after promising Big Head Ed that I would be there at 1pm tomorrow to buy him a drink for the beginning of the Sox game, but -- this is a very nice piece. I am not sure if it is indeed empirically good to root for a team (I rooted hard for the Giants tonight but there was nothing forthcoming). But I'll do it. I think it's true: there is no game like baseball. The complexity, the possibilities, the drama, the probabilities, the irrationality, the unexpected. Football is just a testosterone-soaked martial melee in comparison, basketball a May dance with a bouncing ball.

Matt said...

So today I read that the Sox have released Lenny DiNardo and sold their AAA Player of the Year to Cleveland for cash, and I care! Yeesh.

Amy said...

Love it!


s1c said...

great read - oh oatmeal ws announced yesterday


Lester pitching - just in case you didn't see it somewhere - It starts today !!!

Pokerwolf said...

There's quite an awesome Opening Day celebration picture over at Surviving The World if you haven't seen it yet.

laura k said...

The Saroyan is a bit soupy for me. I do like the idea though.

It is good to care - in any dimension.

I agree.

laura k said...

There's quite an awesome Opening Day celebration picture over at Surviving The World if you haven't seen it yet.

As usual, I feel I must be missing something.