Baseball Is a Game Played in History

white baseball ball on brown leather baseball mitt
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This season1 Major League Baseball will institute a universal designated hitter rule. For readers who are not familiar with baseball, until 1973 pitchers had to come to bat at their turn in the lineup. In 1973, in the American League, a designated hitter was instituted. Pitchers would no longer come to bat. Instead, a player could be designed a batter in the lineup without having to play in the field. There are a variety of reasons for doing this, the most talked about one being that it makes the game more exciting because of the likelihood of more hits.

I don’t like the DH rule, even in the American League. Joe Posnanski makes a good case, however, for the general ridiculousness of pitchers attempting to hit. There is a trade off between those extra hits generated by a designated hitter, and the strategy of situation that often requires bunting, double-switches, and other tactics. For me, it feels like a dumbing down of the game in order to appeal to a wider audience.

What I have come to realize, however, is that baseball is a game played in history. We might experience it in the moment, if we catch a broadcast, or better yet, attend a game in person. But it is afterward that the game solidifies in our memory. It is after the game that we talk about it. Box scores and sports columns are the written historical records of the game. Even sitting in a ball park, watching a game, a bang-bang play often triggers a memory of another game we saw with a similar (or even better) play. A baseball game that unfold live before us is just the tip of the iceberg. The vast hidden remainder of that iceberg is what we think and say and write about the game once it is part of baseball history.

I find this comforting. I used to fret at every inexplicable change that was made to the game, often in the weak attempt at speeding up the pace of the game. But I have come to realize that baseball really is a game played in history. If want to watch a game without a designated hitter, I can find and old replay on TV or the Internet. Better yet, an old radio broadcast. Or a book on the game. Sportswriting, and baseball writing specifically, is among the finest of the American arts.

Baseball is also a game that seems more and more likely to be played in history going forward. As I write this the owners have locked out the players in a dispute over money. The owners want more. The players want more. In locking out the players, the owners have also locked out the fans. Baseball’s commissioner has said, “Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season.” I think checking greed on both sides is probably a better mechanism. It seems utterly ridiculous to fans (at least this one) that billionaire owners and mulit-millionaire players are complaining about how much money they make.

For long-time fans, this is nothing new. In past labor negotiations, I’ve been completely behind the players. History shows how poorly the players were treated for the vast majority of the game. Now, however, it seems ridiculous. The players have given up most of what they were asking for, jettisoning those things that might have helped to improve the game in favor of going for the most important goal: money.

This time around, I’m diappointed with both the players and the owners. Let’s call this lockout what it: a shakedown. Let’s frame this lockout in a way that reflects reality, one that both the players and owners don’t want us to think of it: This is a fan lock-out. The players will be fine. The owners will be fine. They both seem to be under the misapprehension that fans are powerless in all of this. But, of course, we are not.

Fans can take action, too. After many years as a subscriber to MLB TV, I canceled my subscription before this season started as a protest. If there is a lockout, if spring training is delayed, if the season is likely to be delayed, why pay for it? And what if there is a season? No fan of the game can be happy with this situation. Players and owners expect that we will all come happily back. So do the networks that broadcast the games. I’m not sure I will, at least, not right away. As I said at the beginning, baseball is a game played in history. There are thousands of games I watch without watching the current season. There are thousands of books and articles I can read about the game without watching the current season. The only way real change will happen is if fans decide to lock out the owners and players: canceled subscriptions, season tickets. Tune out the broadcasts and read the papers instead, read the sportswriters, watch old games, find comfort in the joy of the game without the frustration that greed forces upon us.

Written on February 18, 2022.

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  1. If there is a season.


  1. Amen. Great article. Fans are certainly the losers in this game. I am trying to watch college and minor league ball, and most exciting, youth baseball. For the love of the game.

  2. There is a decent book on the history of the business of baseball called Lords of the Realm by John Helyar. It was published shortly before the 1994 work stoppage:

    “There was something about the national pastime that made the people in it behave badly. They were, perhaps, blinded by the light of what it represented—a glowing distillate of America. Men fought to control it as if they could own it. They wallowed in dubious battle, locked in ugly trench warfare for dominion over the green fields. The money poured into the game and men gorged and gouged over it—made damned fools of themselves over it. And the fans, ever forgiving, were still there.”
    —John Helyar, Lords of the Realm: The Real History of Baseball


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