Academic journal article Nine

The Ridiculous and the Sublime: A Decade of Commenting on Baseball; Keynote Speech to the Ninth Annual Nine Spring Training Conference, March 16, 2002. (Articles)

Academic journal article Nine

The Ridiculous and the Sublime: A Decade of Commenting on Baseball; Keynote Speech to the Ninth Annual Nine Spring Training Conference, March 16, 2002. (Articles)

Article excerpt

Over ten years ago, when I backed into the chairmanship of the History Department at the University of Central Florida, I decided I would do something to maintain my sanity by forcing myself to continue to think and write about sport. I knew that the scholarly route, requiring lots of research and writing time, was no longer an option and so chose to try the dubious art of sports commentary for seven years on radio and subsequently in written form only.

The result has been a collection of 450 essays, of some 900 words in length, which began in September of 1991 and continues to this day. Nearly 100 of the essays have dealt with baseball in whole or in part. Of these, at least a third have focused on the game off the field--the business and governance of baseball.

What I will do tonight is take you through the decade by going back to these commentaries or portions of them. The central focus will be off the field, with relief provided by some of the marvelous on-field moments and some reflections on extraordinary people and events.

If in the spring of 1991 you had gone to Las Vegas, you would have found the two longest shots to win the World Series were the Braves and the Twins.

OCTOBER 31, 1991--NO ONE THOUGHT THEY WOULD BE THERE

As for the World Series that ended last Sunday night, there may never have been a more exciting Series in the history of the Fall Classic. Two teams that no one thought would be there battled fiercely for 7 games to decide the World Championship in the tenth inning of the last game, 1-0. Jack Morris, pitching for the third time in the short series, worked the entire ten innings and in the process turned in one of the greatest pitching performances in World Series history. He certainly deserved the MVP Award.

Three games went to extra innings, and four games were decided on the last pitch. The heroes were numerous, and there were plenty of candidates for goat as well. Kirby Puckett is one of the most exciting players on the field today. His round wide-body look, the intensity with which he plays, and the obvious delight he takes in the game all make him a pleasure to watch. His performance in game 6 with a single, triple, game-saving catch, and game-winning home run in the eleventh inning made him a leading candidate for MVP. As Peter Gammons pointed out the other day, Puckett is the only current superstar who has not been booed in his own ballpark.

The eighth inning of the 7th game was one of the most amazing innings in World Series history. With no score in the game, the Braves loaded the bases in the top half of the inning, and then with one out, Sid Bream hit into a double play. Then in the bottom half of the inning, the Twins loaded the bases with i out as the Braves pitched around Kirby Puckett. Kent Hrbek then hit into a double play. By that time in the game every pitch was critical, and the pressure was unbelievable.

As a longtime Twins fan and a longtime Braves fan, I couldn't have asked for a better outcome.

Money has always been a major focus in this business, and rising salaries always a bugaboo for the owners and the fans. Prior to the opening of the 1992 season, I focused on this issue. What is interesting in retrospect is the quaintness of the numbers.

MARCH 11, 1992--MODERN PLAYERS

These modern ballplayers care about nothing but money. They don't care about their team, or their city, or their fans. In my day they were different.

Somehow or other they don't play ball nowadays as they used to some eight or ten years ago. ... I mean that they don't play with the same kinds of feelings or for the same objects they used to.

These are two quotations, one from a fan and one from a former player, one from a few years ago, one from 1868, which demonstrate the continuity of concerns and perceptions that can be found in baseball. From the beginning the cry has gone out that money is ruining the game. …

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