The Call

For the Return of Real Baseball in the Major Leagues -- Part 7

The ongoing discourse of what must happen for common sense to come back to the world of professional sports

Baseball Orpheus

by David Beck

EEEEEE!Contributing Editor

"Baseball is what must dictate what happens in baseball."

Installment 7 -- February 19, 1999

In past installments of "Free Agency is #!*%@#*!%#*&!" and "The Call" I have made the point that in light of all that free agency has done to wreck the game, it is Joe Fan who ultimately decides what he wants. Joe Fan may very well be perfectly content with the pretentious pap that the major leagues pass off as baseball, and as such he has every right to get what he wants. And he gets it.

This assertion was reached based on the foremost principle of the market economy: The consumer is sovereign. If Joe Consumer buys it, it will be made. If Joe Fan is entirely willing to contribute to the gidzillion dollars Joe Ballplayer wants for playing, then there should be no reason why Joe Ballplayer should not get it.

As I looked back on the 1998 major league season, I began to see how dangerous this is. I asked myself this question, "Is baseball great because it is baseball, or is it great because fans like it?" This question is indeed derivative of the whole "Which came first chicken or egg?" quandary, but really, ask yourself that question. What is the answer?

In my writings I have boldly proclaimed that the answer is baseball. Pundits through the century have commented about how perfect the dimensions of the game are -- the 90 feet between the bases, the spin of a curveball, the way the grass is cut, and so forth -- as if it were all evidence of divine design. After exhaustively detailing the ravaging effects of free agency, however, I have in the end betrayed myself by conceding to the proscriptive powers of the "free" market that confers upon Joe Fan the authority to forge baseball's rank and reputation. In doing so I neglected to see that I was acquiescing in the surrender of baseball to fanciful and destructive forces that would be its ruin -- no matter how nobly "market-oriented" they are.

It is not greedy selfish Joe Ballplayer, after all, but ignorant, sycophantic Joe Fan who bears the most reprehension. I have excoriated Joe Ballplayer but have shrugged off Joe Fan's complicity. I've realized now that in some ways, I stay away from the ballpark not as much because I don't want to patronize Joe Ballplayer, but because I don't want to be seen with Joe Fan.

Joe Fan may reasonably reply, "Yeah, Dave Fan, stay home. Don't come to the ballpark. We don't want a depressing curmudgeon like you spoiling our time anyway. Good riddance." And by the principles of the American free enterprise system, I must sadly comply, because quite frankly many more fans would come to the Giants' ballpark -- whichever one it might be -- and root for Mark McGwire to hit his 71st home run than would root for him to strike out so the Giants could win.

From all that I have shared, I may certainly envision being like Orpheus, the Greek musician who played so beautifully that all the animals, trees, and rocks listened joyously. In this sense I would like all baseball fans to listen to my "melody," follow my lead and really make the statement: refuse go to the ballpark.

Perhaps, but that is not it. I wouldn't care for beans if no one knew who I was. I would just want a whole bunch of really powerful people to see the merit in what I was saying and go, "Oh, yeah, what's-his-name said some great things there. Baseball would be much better if free agency were tossed completely. Let's all do it, get it outta there, and see the game become something truly great!"

At the least, I would like to consider that some people have actually listened and seriously considered the points I have made. The problem is that not nearly enough have, and I despair so much because I am convinced that what I know to be the beauty and wonder of this extraordinary game will never return.

If you are someone who has chanced upon this site or you are indeed someone who is a regular reader of EEEEEE! and you have some input about what I have shared, I now have e-mail, and I would love to hear from you. If you are indeed a supportive voice, I deeply appreciate it. If you have constructive thoughts and would consider sharing them, I welcome those too, even if they reflect opposing views. If you have devised some brilliant, iconoclastic alternative, then please -- let me in on it!

If you are, however, someone who thinks I am out of my tree and only wants to get a good dig in, or you just want to make the point that you think I will never get anywhere because I refuse to consider compromise, then please save it. Joe Fan to me has simply become an ignorant sycophant, and certainly my narrow-mindedness in this area does not make my task profitable. I understand that.

I just value the "hallowed station" of the baseball too much. It is a slam dunk to me that free agency has so profusely profaned baseball that a true devotee of the game cannot help but see it -- and would furthermore want to do whatever is necessary to change it. I'm not talking about a purist or even a traditionalist.

Just a devotee. Joe Devotee.

Joe Fan is just a bandwagon jumper. And because there are so many of them and they have so much of the cash that the major leagues now covets, he has now become The Guy Who Decides.

Joe Devotee would say, "Let baseball be baseball."

Joe Fan now says, "Change this and that and this other thing so I can be entertained!"

Joe Devotee says, "The game in and of itself is perfect, I enjoy all the different possible scenarios and outcomes."

Joe Fan says, "Gimme more home runs! And if I get what I want, I'll pay whatever these guys want me to pay! If I don't, then I'm outta here."

It is simple. With baseball's economics as it is, the game cannot survive with only Joe Devotee's support. It needs Joe Fan's.

Above and beyond the whole economic aspect is the simple fact that because Joe Fan has been decreed ruler over baseball when his only qualification is that he shows up means that his boorish, petulant, and inexorable arrogance will continue to be indulged. It is because of Joe Fan's imperious influence that the overwhelming pressure for Joe Ballplayer to perform distends to such a degree that it is really the primary reason he asks for his gidzillions. Joe Ballplayer really is saying, "Joe Fan, you are so insistent on me hitting that home run against the most wicked of sliders, a pitch you would never even see. You want me to hit your little home run for you? It's gonna cost you."

And Joe Fan pays. He pays because he simply must have his bread and circuses. He howls maniacally for his star ballplayer to come through. Doesn't even need to be a guy on his team. Just a guy who the media showcases and Joe Fan can get his vicarious kicks through. In the end, however, when Joe Fan has spent his wad and pleasured himself with the game, after he has mangled it for his own gratification in the name of free market economics, he'll chuck it like a rotten melon rind.

I do use the term Joe Fan with a certain amount of disdain, to say the least. It is, however, a rather generic term that could be seen as applying to anyone. I must add the disclaimer here that I do not believe that Joe Fan is representative of every fan who is in the ballpark. At its worst, Joe Fan is indeed any single individual who plunks down his ten bones for a ticket not just to procure a thrilling, well-fought sporting contest but also to enable greed, peevishness, vulgarity, abasement, conceit, and whatever other acute adjectives that would describe all that free agency has wrought. Yes, the way I feel now, in some ways Joe Fan is anyone„even my own very good friends who stroll on into that "forbidden domain.

But to their credit, they should not be indicted because of the wretched behavior of others, including that of Joe Fan. It would be like indicting the people who buy power tools for abetting the guy who uses a drill to murder his boss.

Joe Devotee is the one who loves the game and has an exceptionally strong affection for his team, whichever that team is. He may even appreciate the feats of good, skilled ballplayers even if they are not on his team. But Joe Devotee also genuinely discerns what free agency has done to the game, to the major leagues, and to his team. Even if he goes on into that park, he has a keen understanding of what the real score is. Dave Fan simply cannot find enjoyment in the illusion anymore. Joe Fan doesn't care -- or perhaps, to be honest, doesn't even nor care to know -- that his team has no chance to get to the Big Show, and that if the Yankees and Dodgers get into the World Series with only the merit of their mounds of cash, then that is just fine with him.

Joe Devotee isn't any brilliant baseball analyst or anything, he is just someone who is sincere. Joe Fan is a phony. When I look at the world of baseball patronage, it seems that for every one Joe Devotee, there are fifty Joe Fans.

That's just the way of the world. Today's major league world.

In this light, there are only two things left for me to do.

The first is to simply offer my predictions for what will happen in the future of Major League Baseball. I do this to detail exactly what will happen as a result of the proliferation of free agency in collusion with Joe Fan. I truly believe, as a devotee of the game of baseball, that most of the following predictions are bad news for baseball. They may be wonderful for Joe Fan, but bad for the game. Should they come to pass, I imagine that at least I will earn my own little vindication and perhaps the tiniest bit of credibility. If they don't, then maybe the game can be saved, and as a poor psychic I will be none the worse. Anyway, here goes....

Predictions for the Coming Years in Major League Baseball

In more and more ways the fans will dictate what the game of baseball will look like. Kowtowing to Joe Fan by the Powers-That-Be will continue unabated, only because most people think of themselves proudly as Joe Fan and believe that they are being duly gratified. Joe Fan has always sucked at picking All-Stars, but that was never enough to convince the Powers-That-Be to end fan voting. What will stop them now?

This last prediction, again, is the most destructive one. For really, it is the one from which all the other omens come.

Joe Fan dictating what happens in the game of baseball.

Ultimately, here is the deal that will save baseball:

Baseball is what must dictate what happens in baseball.

Because money is now the driving force of the game, and the fans are the ones with the money, then they will dictate what the game is and what it will become. They will also be profoundly goaded by the Powers-That-Be, so please understand that I do not solely condemn Joe Fan in all this.

The crucial question is then, how does baseball return as the rightful sovereign?

These things must happen:

  1. Free agency must be ended. Period. No in-between considerations, no compromise plans, no luxury taxes, no salary caps, no revenue sharing, no restricted free agents, no nothin'. I will say it as bluntly as it can be said: No player at any time should have the right to leave his team, ever, at any time, unless of course he wants to leave Major League Baseball and work somewhere else (team considerations aside). He can take another job anywhere. He can play for another team in another league. He can start his own league if he wants. He can go be a bum in the street if he so chooses. But for baseball to endure, it must be taken back from the players who have used their greed and petulance to wreck it. Again I will emphasize, nothing is wrong with the players each making a million dollars a year playing the game, it is just that free agency must be eradicated.Period.

All those things must happen for baseball to be saved. What? There was only one thing? Oh, well, then, all of that one thing must happen, then.

I will emphasize, I am speaking of just the game. Major League Baseball may survive just fine for fans who care only about seeing Mark McGwire hit a ball 700 feet or watching the super-$$$ teams like the Yankees and Dodgers in the World Series. Major League Baseball may make it based on its entertainment value, its show quality, its dazzling spectacle.

But it will not be, and has not been for some time, baseball.

And that is truly where my part as Baseball Orpheus comes in.

You see, I have given up paying attention to the game. Given up following it in any way. I read the sports page no more. I check out the sports magazines and websites no more. I plan to watch exactly zero baseball games this year, much less go to any in person. It is the complete cold turkey abdication of my commitment to the major leagues. As I think about it, considering the farce that was the Tony Phillips drug affair two years ago, I wonder what took me so long.

Whenever I watch a game, read about what's going on, listen to thoughts and ideas about what's happening, free agency is still around. Why should I continue to endorse it and furthermore enable Joe Fan and Joe Ballplayer with my attention?

A lot of other reasons enter into this plan of action, and an inventory of those reasons may be in order some other time. For now, I will say that chief among them is my firm resolution against being treated like a duped Washington Generals fan. The San Francisco Giants really have the tiniest of chances to go to the World Series unless they are the team that breaks the bank, and really then, what is the value of that? Would the Giants have won it, or their money? At its core, in my own little perhaps even a bit deranged way, I simply want to make my polemic against free agency that much more profound.

Baseball, and the Giants together -- they comprise my Eurydice. She has gone into the depths of Hell, and I want to rescue her. "The Call" is my valiant attempt to do so.

I am baseball's Orpheus.

Yes, the metaphor may be a bit melodramatic, but it works.

By indefinitely putting the whole thing aside, I am essentially compelled to look steadfastly forward. I will be sorely tempted. In forsaking any knowledge of the major league goings-on, it will seem to me as if she isn't there, and I will long to look back too soon. But if I do, the major leagues will snatch her right back. My Eurydice will disappear. The game, as it should be, will not be there.

I will see only the burning cinders of hell that free agency incessantly stokes.

No Eurydice.

No baseball.

So as I move ahead, on to other endeavors, I may indeed never be allowed to look back. I accept that possibility. Hades has proffered such a test of my resolve, and at times it will be agony.

EEEEEE! Contributing Editor David Beck teaches stuff in a Southern California high school and has some kind of master's degree 'cause he went to college and graduate school.

Copyright ©1999 by David Beck

Last updated 3/24/99
Gregg Pearlman,

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