WUOMFM

Play ball. But not this early.

Mar 30, 2018

Yesterday was supposed to be the Detroit Tigers’ opening game, except that it was rained out. Well, of course it was. This is March in Michigan and trying to play baseball here and now is an abomination unto the Lord.

Opening Day is supposed to happen around April 10th, and the weather is iffy even then. Teams, by the way, never schedule a game the day after Opening Day, because weather so often intervenes. I’ve been trying to rationally analyze what goes on in this state for many years, and much of it defies any kind of rational explanation. So, like medieval man, I’ve decided to attribute anything I don’t understand to vague theological causes.

Incidentally, I think most of us hold an odd combination of conservative and liberal beliefs. When it comes to civil liberties, I am a screaming left-winger. But when it comes to baseball, I am a hard conservative. Not absolutely Orthodox. (Passover starts tonight, and while this is Good Friday, I thought I’d better throw in some Jewish references too.)

I liked it when there were ten teams in each league, and the winners in each league played each other in the World Series. The regular season is supposed to be over in the first couple days of October. The great Theodore H. White, author of the Making of the President books, thought voters didn’t pay much attention to political campaigns till after the last out of the World Series, which is supposed to happen around October 10th.

Now, they are often still playing into November, which is as bad as playing in March. There are too many playoffs, and teams from rival leagues play each other during the regular season. That, too, is sacrilegious.

Baseball is said to be the one sport that is in a hard-to-define sense, some kind of reflection of the American psyche. The French-American historian Jacques Barzun famously said that anyone who would know the heart and mind of America better learn baseball.

Well, these days that means learning about money and greed.

Between 1900 and 1975, the average major league salary was between seven and eight times that of an average worker. Now, it is exactly a hundred times more -- $4.4 million for a player; $44,000 or so for average Joe. No player makes less than half a million.

Players were probably underpaid in my youth. Al Kaline famously turned down a salary of $100,000 a year in 1966, which was three-quarters of a million in today’s money.

But teenagers could actually afford to go to a game then. Half a century ago, when the Detroit Tigers came from behind to win that amazing World Series, kids knew all the players. They were truly a team, the core of which stayed together for a decade.

In recent years, what they’ve fielded instead was a collection of high-priced individuals, assembled to try and give Mr. Ilitch a World Series before he died.

It didn’t work. He’s dead, most of them are gone, and now there are a bunch of largely unknown players collectively expected to be the weakest team in baseball.

But that may mean they’ll actually have to learn to work together as a team. That might, by the time it warms up outside, possibly make them interesting again.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.