Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Start Spreadin' the Fantastic News

Start Spreadin’ the Fantastic News!

by Mike C. DeNero

As Wall Street crumbles and the Main Street choir bellows the blues around street fires kindled with pink slips and worthless stock certificates, the ghost of Paul Revere blazes frantically across the recession-depleted countryside on a steroid-fueled palomino galloping on corked horseshoes and screams at the top of his lungs, “Baseball is coming! Baseball is coming!”

“Beware,” the headlines intone in macabre print. As the Dow Jones plummets and unemployment soars, more steroid scandal this way comes, just in time for baseball season, and this time it directly implicates some of the best baggers in the history of our national pastime. The blue sky has given way to heavy, dark clouds. Smells like acid rain.

Imminent perjury charges loom over the allegedly Rocket-fueled Clemens. Positive steroid tests were unsealed in a legal matter involving Bobby Bonds’ kid -- you know, the irascible one who broke that record. Miguel Tejada lay prostrate and sobbing through an interpreter after pleading guilty to perjury. Alex [insert favorite pejorative nickname] Rodriguez took time away from “yoga” with Madonna to admit he juiced up and lied. And then there’s the remaining 103 names on the “confidential” list of 104 and, of course, the Mitchell Report and its lingering cast of deadbeats. All this, remember, on top of a recent history replete with congressional hearings, Slammin’ Sammy’s corked bat, and Charlie Hustle’s gambling habit.

It’s enough to yell “Bah! Humbug!” Perhaps President Obama, confronted with questions about A-Rod’s recent admission, framed the state of affairs correctly. “I think it’s depressing news,” he said, “on top of what’s been a flurry of depressing items when it comes to Major League Baseball.”

Well, I’ve had enough. I’m done with the doom and gloom. April is nigh. Sportswriters have deployed to sunny Arizona and Florida. Pitchers and catchers are surging to camp. Yes, with all its invective hijinks, baseball is coming!

Oh, what a beautiful morning! Particularly in these uncertain times, I can’t wait to smell the Cracker Jack and freshly cut grass, feel the spring air blow through my thinning hair, hear the crack of a narrowly-grained Louisville Slugger, and witness a new generation of little buggers singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

So, please, don’t bother me with talk of scandal and corruption. I have my fill of that living on Capitol Hill. Anyone who thinks that baseball is purer than that rotten lot we call human beings is shooting up with something more dangerous than HGH. The American and National Leagues have long been populated with drunkards (e.g., Mantle), alleged gamblers (e.g., J. McGraw), and borderline psychopaths (e.g., Cobb), and engaged in scandal -- including cheating (e.g., Shoeless Joe Jackson). But in its defense, baseball always works to right its wrongs.

Let’s look at racism, for instance, that most insidious poison. Baseball had a dream long before Martin Luther King’s time-honored speech from the Lincoln Memorial and, in fact, was desegregated well before America. Jackie Robinson entered the National League in 1947, seven years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s desegregation decision in Brown v. Board of Education. And while even staunch conservatives couldn’t conceal their pride during the monumental inauguration of our country’s first African-American President last month, Major League Baseball voted Robinson into Cooperstown in 1962, almost fifty years earlier.

And don’t trouble me with the so-called steroid-induced stats problem. The different eras in baseball never yielded any pure reading of relative statistical determinations. Just as we’ve had honest players and juiced players, we’ve had dead balls and juiced balls. We’ve had pitchers who pitched complete games and every third or fourth day replaced by five game rotations, middle relievers, and closers. Exeunt stamina and durability, “Enter Sandman.”

We’ve had seemingly mile-long ballparks replaced by carnival-like short fences. Sportswriter Frank Deford said it best: “Baseball statistics are not quite as pure as the mandarins of the game would have you believe. The various eras [of baseball] are distinctively different from one another. The 1890s, without foul strikes, equate very nicely to the recent years, with steroids.”[1] Bottom line: stats and records are fun, if useful; but their unreliability and fallibility does not a catastrophe make.

And don’t bore me with sour economic news. You can have your IRAs and 401(k)s. I invest in baseball. And my investments are up. When it rains, I don’t sit in front of my iMAC and check my sinking stock portfolio. I teach my kids about baseball. I break out my 1909 T206 Cobb (bat off shoulder), 1934 Goudey Gehrig (with bat on shoulder), and 1954 Johnston Cookies Aaron and start telling stories. I teach them about investing in a way that resonates (e.g., T206 Honus Wagner vs. the Dow Jones). And my young children love arithmetic. How could they not when it involves Yankees legends: Babe Ruth (number 3) + Lou Gehrig (number 4) = Mickey Mantle (number 7)? (You have to try it: Yogi Berra - Babe Ruth = ________)[2].

And when the sun shines, we go to the ballpark. Major leagues and minor leagues. Box seats and bleacher seats. Last year, I took my five-year old son to Yankee Stadium before it shut down. On the Amtrak up from Washington, D.C., we watched videos on the lives of Ruth, Mantle, and DiMaggio.

The following day we sat in the same stadium where those players became legends. And in the fifth inning, with the Yankees falling hopelessly behind the Mets, my son left his own mark on the Cathedral by starting the “Let’s Go Yankees!” chant. Some drunk guy turned around to me and said, “You know, Dad, you can die now.” And he’s right.

The game ended, as always, with Frank Sinatra crooning “Start Spreadin’ the News!” And so I will. It’s fantastic news, by the way. Baseball is coming . . . in all its glory. If I can afford a ticket to the ballgame, I’ll see you there. Otherwise, I’ll be watching from home. And smiling.

Copyright © 2009 Mike DeNero's Vintage Sportscards, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.



[1] Deford, Frank. The Old Ball Game: How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball. New York: Grove Press, 2005, p.41.

[2] Yogi Berra (8) - Babe Ruth (3) = Joe DiMaggio (5).

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