Re: Why do we compete? (cont'd)

Someone a while back (I think it was Bill James, but it has been a couple of decades since I read this) who pointed out some cultural ideas about the most popular sports in America.


  • Football as an allegory for war
  • Basketball as an allegory for street traffic

I'm going to venture the connection and change it from the original for baseball

  • Baseball as an allegory for law and order

In football, there are the two teams (combatants) being overseen by the referees (international courts/governing bodies). 

In basketball, there are also two teams, but also simultaneously ten individuals whose ebb and flow is monitored by traffic cops - the essential rule is 'no harm, no foul'.

In baseball, (in my view, at least) the pre-eminent personages on the field are not the two teams, nor the indivudal players, but the umpires.

In the first two, it is relatively rare to see a player ejected for kicking dirt on the referee's shoes (especially since basketball is played on hardwood). The coach or player may get tossed on an infrequent basis for an overabundance of badinage directed at the ref. Of course, Bob Knight is the pre-eminent exception - a flying chair is a bit more substantial than  a cloud of dirt. Football players almost never get tossed. I can only recall (vaguely) a handful of situations where a player gets the hook, and it's usually for a dangerous play on the field rather than abuse of a referee.

Now there's baseball. Players and managers regularly receive the regulatory finger towards the dugout for disputing plays, pitches (which nowadays is almost automatic), or just raising hell on general principle.

That being said...

All sports have rules a myriad of them that requires players, coaches/managers, and umpires to all have what almost amounts to a law degree. At the professional (and in certain cases, the college level), there are rules about activity and behaviour off the field as well as on. Gambling on games, certain types of public behaviour, and performance enhancing substances all have regulations applied to them.

Baseball, by my allegory, is the ethical touchstone for all the other popular sports in this country. It is still called the National Pastime. So is it any wonder that, given the currently-playing-out aftermath of the Mitchell Report, as well as the Congressional hearings which began three years ago, such a magnifying glass is aimed directly at baseball? Nothing of this magnitude has happened to this pastime since the Black Sox (although the seventies and eighties saw the amphetamine surge which was quashed in fairly short order by the organization).

I watched the first hearings wherein Mark McGuire, Jose Canseco, Bud Selig, and Donald Fehr (among others) 'testified' before a the Government Reform Committee. I will point to Selig and Fehr and suggest that their attitude and overall presence in that hearing was one of the sleaziest attempts at self-serving collusion I have seen since the double-play combination of Ehrlichmann-to-Haldeman-to-Mitchell. It made me sick to hear them.

For the transcripts of this hearing, go to this non-exclusive source. Unfortunately, the transcripts don't give the flavour of the arrogance and demeanor of the participants.

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