Politics and Baseball: An acidic chemistry

Joe Reynolds

A Marxist interpretation of baseball seems misplaced and even repugnant to the virtue of our pastime, and that is why it is perfect for the moment at hand.
The striking and ironic aspect of the political nature of the game’s latest round of labor negotiations is that baseball is supposed to be, at least traditionally speaking, the one segment of culture isolated from bottom line corporate greed.
Baseball is what consumes the mind before society corrupts it. Baseball is the ten-year-old kid sitting sullen at his window sill, his eyes red and wet as he watches the rain fall on gameday.
Baseball is always best when it is immune to the world around it, when all agonies and tragedies are temporarily put aside and the sole focus of effort, ambition and achievement becomes pushing one more runner across home plate than the other guys.
Baseball ceased to be a game the second it became a viable capitalist venture. And make no mistake, it is unmitigated capitalist desire that is at the source of baseball’s ills. Player salaries skyrocketed with the dawn of free agency in the mid 1970’s, leaving the poorer, small-market teams unable to compete with their wealthy, big city counterparts. Post free agency, players play out their original contracts, and if they become stars, or even usable commodities, they leave for the highest bidder, creating a virtual magnetic pull of talent for baseball’s richest teams.
This inequity could have easily been averted. If the owners had agreed amongst each other to cap salaries, player contracts would have remained within the scope of reality and the importance would be on developing and retaining players rather than buying them after they have already progressed through another team’s system.
Seems simple, but we must hold on a moment. Why would the wealthier teams sacrifice their advantage in a free market system? Of course they would not. And isn’t it troubling that it has become an almost vulgar and un-American notion to ask people to sacrifice personal ambition for the sake of something greater than themselves?
The players have defended their strike threats as a principled effort to obtain fair business practices, but they have become so jaded that they actually seem to believe the rhetoric they spew.
None seem to understand that they are playing a game, rather than maximizing their stock portfolios or climbing the company ladder. This became plainly evident the first time a player looked into the camera with a straight face and said, “Yes, loyalty and pride are important, but we must remember that this is a business.”
Thoughts of a work stoppage are nauseating to even die hard fans, and major league baseball’s behavior is a perversion of the dream of the aspiring shortstop playing stickball in the slums of Santo Domingo, and the corn-fed ace hurling weather beaten brown baseballs through a swinging tire outside a barn in the American Midwest.
The startling realization is that greed infects only baseball’s highest level. It is as if the wide-eyed players who ride rickety buses through small minor-league towns and endure cold showers after tough losses are handed a memo immediately upon entering major-league clubhouses that reads: “Check your hunger here, our union will protect your satisfactory effort and insufficient desire.”
Total disaster has, at least for now, been averted as the owners and players reached an 11th hour deal on Aug. 30, but the image of sweat-ridden, brow-beaten, commissioner Bud Selig at the post agreement press conference perfectly defined the state of baseball. As Selig stiffly quoted the Beatles in describing the process as a “long and winding road,” we were all reminded that there isn’t much poetry in baseball anymore.