The Corner

Sports

Baseball and Its Worriers

Manager Jim Leyland of the Detroit Tigers hits balls during practice at the World Series in 2012. (Danny Moloshok / Reuters)

My Impromptus today is headed “Funeral rites and wrongs, &c.” It begins with Bill Clinton and Louis Farrakhan; somewhere in the middle it has a joke making the rounds in Turkey; and it ends with a cherry on top — or on the bottom, so to speak: a note on the late Don Cherry, who spent his life as a singer and a golfer, both. A very good combo to pull off.

Now that I’ve mentioned the Turkish joke, I should probably tell it, right here: A Turkish prisoner visits the prison library, to ask for a particular book. He’s told, “We don’t have the book, but we do have its author.” #GallowsHumor

Why is there a baseball picture at the top of this post? Well, for one thing, the image is of Jim Leyland, the manager of the Detroit Tigers from 2006 until his retirement in 2013. He was my favorite manager in baseball; my favorite manager or coach in all of sports; and just about my favorite American. I loved the way he conducted himself. And I read his post-game remarks hungrily, all season long.

But also: One of my friends on Twitter asked me for a reaction to this article in the Wall Street Journal, “A Radical Pitch to Save Baseball: A pair of academics offer a dramatic rule to increase competitiveness — and cut almost a half-hour from a nine-inning game.” I did not shoehorn this item into my Impromptus, already crowded. I’d like to say something here on the Corner.

The academics propose a “catch-up rule”: When a team is winning, it gets only two outs while at bat, not three. The team that’s losing gets the standard three. This will make games closer, or “more competitive.” It will also shave about 24 minutes off a game.

You know what? If you don’t like baseball the way it is, you won’t like it much more with the catch-up rule. If baseball is too long for you, a reduction by 24 minutes will not likely sway you. That is my quick and main reaction.

I also wonder about the idea that baseball needs “saving.” From what? Being less popular than the NFL and the NBA?

I spend a fair amount of my life in and around classical music. And some people in this field are always whoring after popularity. (Pardon my French.) They look for ways to make classical music jazzier, spiffier, cooler — more appealing to the young. Churches do the same thing. It’s so sad. (Actually, if you want to be more popular, be more pure, I say, but that’s a subject for another time.)

One of my standard lines is, “There’s a reason they call pop music ‘pop music,’ you know: It’s popular.” Classical music has never been popular and never will be. But it has always been loved and cherished by a minority, and always will be. There’s nothing wrong with that.

(I pressed this theme in a recent interview with the Smithsonian, here.)

Maybe baseball has to accept that it is now more like classical music than popular music, with football and basketball — and soccer? — being the Justin Biebers and Lady Gagas of sports. Baseball need not hang its head in shame. A lot of things that are good and worthy are not popular. And baseball is plenty popular, for heaven’s sake.

A few days ago, I was at the New York State Fair. A fair features performers, in addition to farm animals and roller coasters, and New York’s had its share. Among them was a juggler who also danced, cracked jokes, and rode a very tall unicycle. Brilliant. Elsewhere, you had platform divers, who performed feats of incredible skill and daring.

Watching all this, I thought, “Are these guys less talented, or less impressive, than the musicians I review at the Salzburg Festival or Carnegie Hall? Are they less talented and impressive than professional athletes who are paid millions?” I don’t think so. Yet they are hustling for change at state fairs.

So — weep not for baseball, that great game, which may not be for everyone, like much that is great.

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