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What's Wrong with Baseball These Days?

Baseball is not the same game it was when I was a kid. That's no surprise.  A sport should evolve over a generation or two.

Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth prove that baseball players of earlier generations were certainly not saints.  When I read Jim Bouton's Ball Four as an impressionable teenager, I quickly realized that my Yankee heroes were very flawed men--an important life lesson that has served me well.  Baseball has always had its scandals and woes.  That's nothing new and not the point.  Something else is wrong.

And while people may not like the bloated Yankee payroll, the fact is that Yankees luxury tax payments help keep small market teams afloat.  Those criticisms are partisan and ring hollow in my ears.  The Yankees' business model is very sound and they make tons of money.  As I see it, most complaints like this are rivalry based, or just old fashioned envy.  It is to be expected.  

While free agency changed the game in profound ways, some good, some not so good, the marriage of sports and entertainment has been disastrous, especially for a non-TV sport like baseball.  Since ESPN, Disney, and ABC now serve the same corporate master, the result is the gross thing pictured here--the athlete-celebrity kissing himself in the mirror for a tell-all piece in a men's magazine.  Since when did male sports fans start reading tell-all articles like those in People?  That is what happens when sports marries entertainment.  The star baseball player is known for his celebrity power as much as for his athleticism.

Steroids are bad enough--using them is cheating, plain and simple.  But the self-idolatry pictured above (yes, its a campy photo for an article and wasn't intended to be taken too seriously--Click here: A-Rod gives a few details to Details | The LoHud Yankees Blog), is one of the clearest indications yet of what is wrong with professional sports in general, and baseball in particular.

What happened to those little boys (like in the Sandlot), who never really grew up, playing an absolutely great game for the sheer fun of it?

Thanks to ABC, Disney, and ESPN, we get A-Rod kissing himself in a mirror.  But that is the spirit of the age, isn't it?

Reader Comments (19)

Great commentary Pastor Kim.

I'm finding, as time goes by, that I'm having much less interest and time for sports.

Being very involved in my church, family and work, it doesn't leave too much time for sports. (Oh, I'll catch a Celtics game when on T.V., now and then.)

With the little time left over, I love to really get into my studies of the Bible and Luther. I also really enjoy following world events and politics. And, of course, this great website!

This world is becoming so bad, the only way to keep a level head, and the perspective of the two kingdoms, is to keep one's face buried in the Word of God, and great theological books.

I truly can't wait for the day when Christ comes!
March 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd
I agree Lloyd. You could not have said it better. When I was a kid that was all I did during summer breaks- play sports from sunup to sundown. It is almost disgusting to see what has happened to the great games of our youth. I think Willomon said it best when he said in his critique of Bart Ehrman that he takes himself much more seriously than God. That is the core problem right there. It is extremely difficult to talk about truth to anyone in the culture today- we are so self oriented. Yet we still have to. To think that we can become wealthy or popular or anything else that most people look as desirable today by doing God's will is a joke. We will get spit on, ridiculed and tried to get shoved back into the Christian ghetto. To me (not that what I think matters) a big problem today is how do you determine if the reactions of others towards you and your views is your fault or just their negative reactions to what you represent. It causes a lot of psychological turmoil and it makes you want to retreat and give up.

That was a great commentary about sports. Christopher Lasch in his book The Culture of Narcissism had a great chapter on what sports has become and what it should be. KIm's commentary was written in that vein.
March 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Y

I also know what you mean when you say "I love to really get into my studies of the Bible and Luther. I also really enjoy following world events and politics. And, of course, this great website." These things are our haven from all the confusion and turmoil around us. I am spending more and more time on the internet and reading in order to maintain my sanity. It enables me to get the courage to go back out into the world and take a few more punches. Occasionaly, God allows us to throw a few knock out punches ourselves. Perhaps, I am looking at that wrong though- that is what I mean by the psychological turmoil.
March 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Y
If by cheating Kim means the breaking of a rule in baseball, then I think that many baseball player's have cheated. But I don't see any inherent unethical thing about taking anabolic steroids to improve performance, even in the attempt to be better than others. Please don't take this to mean that anyone should go ahead and take these hormones.

Also, I've noticed how ignorant some journalist are in these matters. I've heard them call things steroids that are not steroids. They just like to make stories juicier.
March 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto
I so very much want to continue loving baseball (and I do, especially as a Phils fan!). But you've got your finger on it here. I'm at the point really that if I can't literally go to a park and watch a game, I don't want to see or hear about it.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris Donato
Over the years I have grown more and more cynical and weary of sports in general . The attitude seems to be win at any cost , no matter what. Granted I think that many are naive to think it was really that different in any era , but we like our illusions . The self love and worship many athletes received in past decades are well documented in all sports. However in these days of instant access , it seems more prevalent. Plus sports just reflect the reality of a fallen world in the spasms of sin and the only hope for any is the gospel.

One last thing, the issue of steroids is a contentious one. I do see it as wrong but even if I inject myself with all the "roids" in the world it will not help me one bit if I do not work hard and push my body to the limit. It is a short cut to recovery more than anything. Plus prior to the steroid crave all sort of stimulants have been used and who knows what athletes used what before testing . But when you have a winning is the only thing mentality , is it any wonder as sinful human beings , we fall into this trap.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterReg Schofield
If the rules of sphere sovereignty aren’t going to be respected, and if I had to choose between a lesser of two evils, I'd pick sports marrying entertainment well before politics marrying entertainment.

The Sandlot was about baseball? I thought it was about timeless themes like friendship and growing up. Otherwise, I don’t know how I enjoyed it so much since baseball bores me so much.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZrim

I'm reminded of Limbaugh's astute line--"politics is Hollywood for ugly people." Entertainment has not only married sports and politics, what about theology?

For many of us, baseball was an essential part of growing up. A common love for baseball built many a friendship. You don't see many adults develop a love for baseball (although the large number of female baseball fans may contradict that). But those of us who had a "Sandlot" summer will love baseball until we die. And we lament its current state.

But I still follow baseball and my beloved Yankees (regardless of how they do, or which self-worshiper plays for them) because I love the game, and they are my team.
March 18, 2009 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger

I agree to an extent that with the mass media these types of images are more prominent. But I am not sure there is all that big of a difference in the way athlete's behave now than when they did when I was growing up. I recall reading an article written by Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt. He mentioned that when he played that many of his teammates would take whatever "performance enhancers" (for lack of a better term) in order to give themselves an edge. Men are sinners and they sin no matter what their profession. I think the Media just makes us more aware of the issue and to a degree probably encourage such behavior.

As far as the Yankees spending lots of cash, I totally agree. I wish the Cardinals would spend a little more. We need another big bat (preferably a lefty) behind Pujols.

Matt Holst
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatt
I forgot to add this, but if you replace A-Rod's pic with Joel Osteen, you would have essentially the same product--the mass-marketing of the Self.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatt

"Entertainment has not only married sports and politics, what about theology?"

Ouch, good point. Ok, then sporto- and politico-tainment are really bad blind dates, religo-tainment is unholy matrimony.

I hear you on the nostaglia thing. We all need a deep connection to our past. (My best friend growing up was your kind of baseballer--he didn't take well to George Carlin's "Baseball versus Football" routine though. I thought it was hilarious.)
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZrim

I am not so sure you can blame "roids" use on the winning at all cost mentality. I think it is more of a self-glorification thing and the desire to make more money and make a mark in the history of the game. Winning, is what we should seek to do when playing games, however, to learn how to do it with dignity and class and without demeaning the other person is another story. All this debate about shielding kids from the adverse effects of losing is just as wrong as the winning at all costs mentality.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
I went back and read Lasch's chapter "The Degradation of Sport" in his book The Culture of Narcissism. It is well worth taking the time to read for anyone interested. This is from his first two paragraphs in the chapter. "The spirit of play versus the rage for national uplift. Among the activities through which men seek release from everyday life , games offer in many ways the purest form of escape. Like sex, drugs and drink, they obliterate awareness of everyday reality, but they do this not by dimming awareness but by raising it to a new intensity of concentration. Moreover, they have no side effects, hangovers or emotional complications. Games simultaneously satisfy the need for free fantasy and the search for gratuitous difficulty; they combine childlike exuberance with deliberately created complications. By establishing conditions of equality among the players, according to Roger Caillois, games attempt to substitute ideal conditions for the normal 'confusion of everyday life.' They recreate the freedom , the remembered perfection of childhood, and mark it off from ordinary life with artificial boundaries, within which the only constraints are the rules to which the players freely submit. Games enlist skill and intelligence, the utmost concentration of purpose, on behalf of activities utterly useless, which make no contribution to the struggle of man against nature, to the wealth or comfort of the community, or to its physical survival.

The uselessness of games makes them offensive to social reformers, improvers of public morals, or functionalist critics of society like Veblen, who saw in the futility of the upper-class sports anachronistic survivals of militarism and prowess. Yet the 'futility' of play, and nothing else, explains its appeal- its artificiality, the arbitrary obstacles it sets up for no other purpose than to challenge the players to surmount them, the absence of any utilitarian or uplifting object. Games quickly lose their charm when forced into the service of education, character development, or social improvement.":

Is that not profound or what. Lasch's books are worth tearing into. I think his two best are The Culture of Narcissism and The Minimal Self. I also enjoyed The Revolt of the Elites which is written in the same vein as Bobo's in Paradise.

Lasch is an extraordinary contemporary social critic. David Wells drew a lot from his books in his trilogy of contemporary culture. That has grown to 5 books now. What is so amazing about the Lasch quote above is that it was written in 1979. If his books are not prophetic I do not know what prophetic is.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel

I think it was Rod Rosenbladt who blamed some of Carlin's (among other standup comedians) attitudes about religion on getting burned and bruised by the Church. There was a period in Carlin's life where he was attending Church regularly.

Carlin makes me squimish (is that a word?) at times. I remember he tore into a white guy in the audience who was wearing his baseball cap backwards while I was watching the HBO special with my baseball cap backwards. If I was the guy in the audience I would have stood up and told him to take his pony tail out- he was close to 70 and still was living back in the 60's. I know that just fuels the culture wars but Carlin does go after the jugular and sacred cows in people. There is a bit of innate hypocrisy in some of his dialog which I am not sure he was aware of.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel

My best friends and I in high school also passed around the book Ball Four. It really was controversial in its day and it had a big effect of me. It made me less of a jock, made me aware of what my idols were really like and started me thinking a little bit more deeply about things.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel

To avoid culture wars with Carlin I could respond in the following way: If you take your pony tail out I will turn my hat back around. There is always a way to avoid culture wars if we think about it a little bit before reacting.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel

I don't have much idea what caps and ponytails have to do with culture war (I don't wear either). Sometimes it's just one person bullying another, sometimes a comedian doing his work with an audience member who may or may not appreciate it. And sometimes it's a person responding to being burned over by Fundamentalism, sometimes it's a guy who is set against the things of God, sometimes a guy just trying to be funny. Chances are that Carlin, like most of us, is all that.

Even so, the "Baseball v. Football" bit is still classic.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterZrim

Let me explain that a bit further- sometimes I think points I make are obvious but that is a problem I have with my own subjective thinking ie., I think it is readily apparent to others. Was that redundant? Carlin's point was that this white guy was trying to be black and he was accusing him of being inauthentic to his race. Besides white people are nowhere near as cool as blacks in regards to fashion statements among some other things. On the other hand, Carlin's pony tail was supposed to portray the image of someone still fighting the battles of the 60's- it was out of date and anachronistic. Was he not just trying to be like Lenny Bruce or some radical protester of the establishment. Could that not be argued as inauthentic? I am bumping into all sorts of problems here so I had better bail out. I trust you will get my point. In a implied sense it was a culture war issue.

But, yeah, you are right it could be any of those things you mentioned above. I am probably reading more into it than I should. Besides we can never really know about what motivates someones remarks unless we sit down and talk with him about it. And then he may be lying to us or not really sure why he made the remark. This is really going nowhere so I will shut up.
March 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
This debate about culture wars goes back to the definition of what we mean by the word culture. It is very difficult to difine if you try to. I believe there was an article about this in the last Modern Reformation magazine. The biggest culture war is of course the bringing of a Christian and biblical view of reality into the public square which is dominated by a closed metaphysical viewpoint ie., the metaphysical is a myth and a fabrication and fig newton of our imaginations (I stole thatphrase from R. C. Sproul and look for situations I can use it). The minor culture wars and things like the clothes we wear and minor things like this. So, that is my explanation of why you can put the Carlin diatrabe against the poor white boy in the audience. as part of the culture war.
March 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Y

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