23 October 2012

The Intellectual Richness of Baseball

"I believe in the church of baseball. I've tried all the major religions and most of the minor ones. I've worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn't work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there's no guilt in baseball. And it is never boring.... I've tried them all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the church of baseball." -- From Bull Durham (1988).

Someone cut into a discussion I was having regarding the forthcoming World Series to complain about the intellectual vacuity of baseball.

Seriously.

Such confusion. As if the exertions of the body were separate and unequal from the mind. As if playing a game were not an indicator of intelligence. Woody Allen said in Annie Hall (1977), "That's one thing about intellectuals — they've proved that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what's going on."

The mind should not be left to its own devices. It so easily develops a complex about physical acts --  an ugly snobbery that labels athletic achievement as inferior rather than seeing it as another part of the human experience. Some of those soft weak kids who couldn't play sports in school can still appreciate athletics. Others scoff and snort and create an illusion of superiority because they read Proust while we are watching a man hit a baseball 400 feet and marveling.

Sunsets waves mountains the snow. Visceral and physical and thus to be diminished. That notorious  jock Albert Camus once said that "an intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself."

My two favorite sports are baseball and soccer. They are beautiful games that seem slow to the novice but provide endless talking points and huge casts of characters. For that is part and parcel to the love of sports the players -- people -- who perform. It is not just their physical actions but what they bring of themselves the unique people they are their story their zeitgeist to those performances. And then often how they magically gel as a team. Team. Coordinated efforts of individuals towards a common goal with an opposing side trying to best them not just through physical means but by matching wits as well. And the drama they create. The real life stories that unfold before our very eyes. Stories that sometimes defy fiction. Tragedy triumph comedy drama elation and heartbreak. Such a rich stew for the mind to sup on. Intellectual vacuity indeed.

My quibble is with sports watchers who do nothing else. Junkies hooked on the game and not its beauty but its results its numbers its gossip. There are 24 hour sports networks an endless array of sports websites and tweets and updates and scores and it all becomes a meaningless jumble that detracts from whatever purity is involved in athletics. So many obsessed people who care too much and seem to know too little who are engorged by their tribal attachment to a team and knowing every last bit of trivia and keeping up with every score as they parse parse parse the night away.

There has to be a balance.

A balance between the effete rejection of people in motion and teeth gnashing when the home team loses. It's a game. Which is a good thing. And its a game which means it has a place that is not every place.

One reason I'm glad my beloved San Francisco Giants made it to the World Series is that I get to watch them play for at least four more games. If they win the title I will celebrate and feel happy and satisfied and good as I did when they were champions two years ago. Should they lose I will happily go on about other matters such as reading great books and pondering great questions and watching teams and athletes in other sports match talents with others.

That is not vacuity but a very rich world indeed. And one worth talking about.


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