April 4, 2002

On the Wire

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B aseball: (n.) America’s pastime, backyard sport, national passion, elitist multi-million dollar business that has sacrificed its innocence to the demise of a respectful and historically unifying cultural phenomenon.

Elitist multi-million dollar business that has sacrificed its innocence? Yes, unfortunately baseball has become devoid of the pride-inducing American spirit that once defined this great national pastime. And even more devastating, it is one of my home-teams, the Yankees, who are perpetuating this business-minded perspective of a sport historically viewed as a cultural unifier — a sport intended for the people.

Spending my childhood in New Jersey, I vividly remember the interruption of Sunday evening programming on Channels 9 and 11 as a result of weekly Met and Yankee games. Although I may not have always watched every Yankee game in its entirety, I would always know the score by the cheers of my family booming in from the other room. This weekly ritual has ultimately succumbed to the cable networks (since now Yankee games can only be accessed on MSG, and therefore, only to those who pay for cable). Better yet, it may now also be forced to adhere to standards set by the digital industry and, by extension, to money-hungry executives who have stripped our national pastime of its homegrown, family oriented roots.

Thus, along with the benefits of digital technology comes horrific pitfalls that unfortunately serve to stratify the nation. Apparently, YES network wants to make Yankee games accessible only through a single digital channel, that might prevent, according to a New York Times article, “three million Cablevision subscribers in the New York metropolitan area from seeing 130 Yankee games this season.” Better yet, even if Cablevision is allowed to set aside a channel for the YES network, Cablevision subscribers will have to pay a monthly fee for their subscription to the channel. While the games were first moved to a cable station, at least cable subscribers were not forced to pay extra for their services. So much for America’s favorite pastime!!!

With astronomically increasing prices at the actual ballparks, one would assume that (even though some people may not be able to afford to attend the games on a regular basis) your average citizen would be able to watch the games on television while sitting in the comfort of one’s living room. Nevertheless, the sport of baseball has now been thrust into the hands of America’s business people and may ultimately be transmitted to only those who are willing to contribute to the pocket-lining desires of American society. Obviously, those who aren’t able to afford digital cable (or even cable for that matter), or those who simply do not want the expense, may not be deemed worthy enough to participate in the spectacle and aura of our national sport.

While our society moves further toward an over-arching bureaucratic community, even the sporting arena is moving further and further from its innocent beginnings, inching closer to having a new home in the heart of the Wall Street District. For years, baseball has moved toward this kind of corporatism, acting as a slave to exorbitant salaries and contracts, and obedient puppy dogs to television ratings (which have become more important and exciting than the young children who could have, ultimately, developed a love for the sport). No longer is the patriotic game of baseball under the auspices of its fans — which is, ironically, the one element that ultimately keeps the industry running.

No longer are movies like The Sandlot accurate depictions of the pride inherent in the game. Rather, pride as such may be regarded as an obsolete form of the American spirit. Baseball originated as its own subculture within American culture. It was a culture that brought all people together, from all sectors of the community, from all walks of life. Now, attendance at games is becoming more difficult for the average American and even viewing the games at home looks like it might become a nearly impossible (or, at the very least, an extremely expensive) task. In the aftermath of September 11th, our nation was obsessed with the idea of American unity, American pride, and everything red, white, and blue. However, one of the only aspects of our nation that really is “all-American” can no longer be be labeled as such. Baseball as an all-American sport died when, somewhere along the line, it became an all-American business. Perhaps there are some things that should be left untouched by the digital world and technological improvement. Perhaps the traditional values in which the sport of baseball arose should be left unfettered.

In essence, my earlier definition of baseball should be ultimately shortened to simply: “America’s pastime, backyard sport, national passion.” We should send a message to the owners, the managers, the business people promoting the sport that less is more, and that originality is sometimes better than innovation. As a society we should urge the sport (its players, and, moreover, its managers) to earn back its pride and play the game for its fans. In a cry to George Steinbrenner, I believe that we should urge him to please say “yes” to the millions of Yankee fans in the metro area who want to support their beloved Yankees, and “no” to YES.

Archived article by Barbara Seigel