The Perfect Game

Rob Carr

Sure, you can make fun of Slate's tendency toward the controversial and the counterintuitive all day long until the cows jump over the moon. But what about when Slate's tendency matches one of your own predilections?

Ha. I thought so. Not complaining about Slate now, are you?

Seriously, you gotta hit that link, if only to see the heartwarming photo of a baseball-obsessed eight-year-old's bulletin board and desk. That eight-year-old you were? Or maybe still are, deep down? You're not alone. And the father of that living, breathing eight-year-old offers some reasons for his son's passion. Among them:

So baseball started out with the benefit of the evolutionary honing that all informal playground games do. On top of that, it's had almost two centuries to smooth down its rough spots as a formalized pursuit. No wonder it's perfect. Baseball is to sports as ketchup is to condiments: something that doesn't change much, not because of stuffy conservatism, but because almost any change would make it worse. It's amazing, how effective the lure of baseball still is, how fast it grabs you. My son, before age 7, was willing to watch any sporting event with me, in a distracted, OK-daddy-is-there-going-to-be-ice-cream-at-this-thing fashion. And then, suddenly, baseball kicked in. He saw how it worked and he was hooked.

Some people find baseball boring, yes. But some people find ketchup boring. Those people can keep their jalapeño mustard and their March Madness.

I don't remember when it kicked in for me. I wish I did. But I didn't come to love baseball through watching it. I just liked hitting a tennis ball when I was six years old. The figuring-out part came slowly, and I probably didn't watch a whole baseball game until I was almost nine and serving as a batboy for a Little League team. By then I was already hooked.

And the pressing issue of performance-enhancing drugs? What about their tender little minds? We probably shouldn't worry about them too terribly much ...

But what about PEDs? What kind of terrible lessons is my kid learning from a sport whose biggest stars, like Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, are failing drug tests and getting suspended, or, maybe worse, failing drug tests and getting off on technicalities?

Here's the thing about Ryan Braun. Kids in Wisconsin love Ryan Braun. He is undisgraced here. I see a kid in a Ryan Braun shirt every other day. As you can see in the photo above, my son has two Ryan Braun bobbleheads on his desk. Kids are smart; they understand what a rule is, that when you break a rule you get punished, and then after the punishment things go back to normal. And they understand baseball much better than scoldy sportswriters do. You cheer for the guys on your team because they're on your team, not because you can assign them roles in whatever anxious moral drama keeps you up at night. Baseball isn't a metaphor for the decline of society, or for our pastoral heritage, or for the idea of fair play. It isn't a side you can take in a culture war. It is itself, and only itself. And it definitely isn't here to teach us lessons.

This is the best I've ever seen this put. I honestly believe that your average eight-year-old has a healthier attitude toward sports drugs than a serious percentage of baseball writers. Children are forgiving, while far too many baseball writers carry the grudge forever; fail one drug test, and you're dead to them. Well, unless they need a quote for a story. But hey, they're just doing their job.

Speaking of putting something well, here's a great take on why we root for certain players over other players:

Seinfeld's not an idiot, and of course he's loved the Mets for their entire history for other reasons. But I remembered his bit about rooting for laundry when I saw this note in the Times about the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals:

Rosters turn over so quickly these days, the St. Louis Cardinals used only seven players from their 2011 World Series roster in this year's NL championship series.

--snip--

Lance Lynn is the only pitcher left from two years ago, joined against the Dodgers by position players Yadier Molina, Matt Carpenter, Daniel Descalso, David Freese, Matt Holliday and Jon Jay. Cleanup man Allen Craig, sidelined by a foot injury since early September, is expected to join them in the Series and would open as the DH.

Okay, so Craig makes eight. Eight out of 25. Eight out of 25, two years later. That's a phenomenal thing. It's a testament to the Cardinals' management, and it's also a testament to the ability of the St. Louis fans -- and yes, fans generally -- to quickly and perhaps immediately adopt with great love whomever happens to be wearing that laundry at the moment. Granted, nearly all of these guys were Cardinals two years ago ... they just weren't big-league 'birds. The franchise didn't just go out and buy a pennant. In fact, this is the home-grownest team we've seen in quite some time ...

Impressive, no? It's also worth mentioning, as John Mozeliak does in the aforementioned article, that these Cardinals are quite a bit better than those Cardinals. Those Cardinals of '11 won 90 games in a fairly weak division and outscored their opponents by 70 runs. Frankly, as World Series winners go, those Cardinals weren't really so good. But these Cardinals? They won 97 games in a tough division and outscored their enemies by 187 runs. This is a really good team, and that's exactly as true if they wind up losing to the Red Sox.

Which I don't think they will. With the Red Sox slated to get little production from their third basemen or their left fielders and the Cardinals slated to feature Allen Craig in a meaningful role, I think the Cardinals' bullpen depth will carry the day in six or seven games.

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