No Joy In Mudville: Baseball's Self-Induced Destruction Of Romanticism

Bret BledsoeCorrespondent IJuly 17, 2009

MUDVILLE (NP) - There is no joy to be found here today, as the Mudville Nine fell 4-2 to the Anta Gonists in heart-wrenching fashion yesterday afternoon.

The Nine attempted a valiant comeback with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when the light-hitting Flynn and the oft-maligned Jimmy Blake managed to notch a single and a double, respectively—bringing Mudville's heralded slugger, M. Casey, to the plate with the tying run just 180 feet away.

Newly energized by the turn of events, the 5,000 Mudville faithful still in attendance made their presence known.

"Everyone started shouting and cheering," one Mudville fan in attendance said. "We were sure that, with Casey at the bat, our team could win it."

Alas, it was not meant to be.

The Gonists' (henceforth known as the antagonists) pitcher (1-0, 2.00 ERA) was able to sneak an 0-2 fastball past the gargantuan swing of Casey for strike three—dashing the hopes of Mudville fans, both young and old.

"My children haven't been the same since the game—they haven't even been screaming and shouting," stated one concerned Mudville mother.

Casey's at-bat was not without controversy, however. The umpire's strike calls on the first two pitches were greeted with a cacophany of boos and catcalls from the upset Mudville fans.

When asked about the particularly suspect first strike, Casey merely said, "That [pitch] ain't my style."

The umpire was not available for comment.

Not very elegant, is it?

Ernest Thayer's iconic poem "Casey at the Bat" didn't focus on what happened in the 8 1/2 innings prior to this story beginning, nor did he inform us as to how the six runs in the game were scored.

Obviously, the game never actually happened, but that is beside the point—the focus of the verse was the overconfident hero, the Mighty Casey, and how he let the Mudville fans down.

Baseball has a way of immortalizing the heroes (and antiheroes) of years past—a legacy that no other sport can claim. Indeed, most baseball fans know of the original Home Run King, the transgressions of the 1919 White Sox, the dominance of the New York franchises for decades, the "Say Hey Kid," and the enigma that was Teddy Ballgame.

They know who the "luckiest man in the world" is, the man who uttered Confucious-like phrases, such as "If you come to a fork in the road, take it,", that "The Giants win the pennant!," the importance of a 56-game streak, and the courage and determination (not to mention ability) of the first man to break the color barrier.

With apologies to diehard football and basketball fans, such legacies cannot be found in those sports, at least not nearly on the same scale as baseball.

It is no mistake that baseball is called "The American Game," as baseball has been an integral part of our own American culture. 

The game founded by Alexander Cartwright (NOT Abner Doubleday) has been immortalized in many movies & books— 8 Men Out, Pride of the Yankees, Bull Durham, A League of Their Own, and The Natural, just to name a few.

Yet it now seems that baseball, at least the Major League version of it, is on the decline in popularity—so much so that one of the top baseball 'heroes' of the last 25 years is Roy Hobbs, a.k.a. The Natural, who unfortunately is a fictional character.

Recently, it feels that the flow of baseball has shifted.

No longer do we seek to create heroes, or watch legends surge to the Hall of Fame—rather, it appears that there is more of an obsession on destroying and disparaging the men who dazzled us with their ability, skill, power, and knowledge of the game.

There are those in the media that lament the lack of players such as Gehrig, Ruth, Feller, Williams, and Mays in today's game—completely unaware that there are players who are those kinds of players in today's game.

Names such as Rodriguez, Ripken, Bonds, Clemens, Pujols, and Griffey come to mind.

However, it seems that the media's focus is not acknowledging these players, but rather with tearing them down—creating disappointments out of our contemporary legends, all in the name of finding the "cheaters" and "liars."

Why is there such a huge focus on this? Is it really necessary for Congress to be involved in this investigation?

I submit that the answer is "no". Baseball is a pastime, not a matter requiring the materials and attention of the government.

Are there those in baseball that cheated and should be punished? Certainly. 

Do these same people warrant character assassination, federal charges, and tell-all books regarding their personal lives? Certainly not.

Beyond this, we shouldn't be so pessimistic in regards to the titans of today—when you intently search for failures or shortcomings, you will usually find them. Expecting the worst just creates a habitat of distrust for anything remarkable.

Regardless, the steroid accusation train chugs on, seeking to demolish any phenomenal season, fantastic performance, or legendary player—and the next station is Albert Pujols (I don't think he has, but there is now more speculation than ever before).

The complaints of the media are that "there are no more role models in today's game," ignorant of the fact that players aren't role-models for kids—they are heroes—not examples of how to live.

We need to be concious of the players that have personified and shaped this current age—the Golden Age has passed, and there is no sense in lamenting for it. There is also no sense in letting this current period in baseball be forever known as the "Steroid Era."

Men such as Roy Hobbs are embraced nowadays. While Hobbs had a great story, keep in mind that he is fictional.

Until we appreciate today's actual players for what they've done in the game, not off the field, there will never be any joy in Mudville.