In Search of the Healing Palindrome
Don turns to numerology for hope in the upcoming labor war.
A Prayer for the 2002 Baseball Season
Last year at this time I wrote an article about baseball’s powers
of pacifism. Unwittingly prophetic as usual, I’ve watched the world
go more than a little bit crazy (crazier?) in the past seven months
while wondering how to reconcile those lofty but hopelessly naive
ideas of last April with where things would be at when the 2002
baseball season began.
2002 is, as those of you who simply enjoy numbers for their own
sake already know, one of those beautiful years, with an innate
elegance in how it looks on the page or how it rolls off the
tongue. Some call it a palindrome, which is not technically correct
(a true member of the species is alphabetic, not numerical) but that
fact won’t stop most of you from appropriating the term—and with good
The world in general-and the world of baseball in
particular—could use some healing right now, and it’s clear that the
simple beauty of a number representing this small speck of time isn’t
really going to do that job, no matter how much we might hope it might
The good news, however, is that there will be a 2002 baseball
season after all. The ominous rumblings of a world gone awry spread
across baseball like an Arctic storm over the winter, with lingering
tensions focused on off-field matters (the usual: labor and economics)
threatening to leave us with two fewer teams at best, and no games at
all at worst.
That didn’t happen, but there is still some chance that 2002 will
be the last year before some new baseball Armageddon; therefore, we
are all well-advised to savor as much of the details of this year as
we can-just in case.
The tension in the game and in those who follow it—fans and media
alike—is clearly more palpable this year than in any of recent
memory. Nicholas Dawidoff, whose baseball credentials include his
biography of Moe Berg, wrote in the New York Times recently about this
generalized unease, and pointed to the idea that the casual fan senses
something more amiss than usual.
Some tensions amongst the players may be surfacing as well. The
recent spate of aggressive play in the latter stages of spring
training could be a symptom of such tensions; on the other hand, it
could simply be the competitive juices approaching full spew. Keep
an eye on the HBP counts early in the year; 2001 had the highest such
rates per team since the late 1890s, and a ban on body armor may not
prevent this total from escalating further.
The connection between world events and the sub-universe of
baseball is one that many followers of the game try valiantly to keep
at arm’s length, but that specialized pacific element in the game is
what many fans count on to provide them a respite from the events in
the world and in their own lives, both of which may seem out of
control and/or uncontrollable. In the midst of change, turmoil, and
the relentless grinding of capitalist consumerism, baseball—as a game
and a ritual—takes us to a different place, if only for a little
Most of what bothers people about baseball these days is related
to its intersection with the outside world-labor wars and economic
skirmishes that distract from the function of the game for most
people. Analysts may be more unperturbable with respect to such
matters, but they cannot completely escape such emotions, and no one
wishes to relive the Armageddon of 1994-95.
Such may, in fact, be unavoidable. There may be a silver lining in
such an apocalypse, however, in that the current power structure in
baseball, already tottering under mounting charges of conflict of
interest, capricious and imprudent management decisions, and lack of
honesty, might be toppled as a result of any significant forthcoming
battle. An open book policy might finally be adopted by the leaders
who take their place, permitting a more genuinely cooperative
relationship to emerge between labor and management.
The on-field events of 2002 may not be as aesthetically
interesting as those that have populated recent baseball seasons. It
is unlikely that major records will fall, or that any team will have a
career season. (1927, 1961, 1998 and 2001 are the four seasons in
modern baseball history where a team has won more than two-thirds of
its games while the home run record was being set; odds are that we
will be waiting a long time for a similar convergence.) But that
doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that any year in which baseball is being played,
from spring training to Opening Day on through to the final pitch of
the World Series, is a beautiful year. 2002—a year blessed with a
kind of healing euphony in its self-symmetry—will be such a season,
too, if it carries its baseball child through to full term.
Baseball could send the world a tiny message of hope by managing
to do this, demonstrating that even deeply split combatants are
capable of remembering that civilization is a deep-seated impulse, not
simply a set of competing institutions. In such a sense, baseball’s
2002 might in some way still be a healing palindrome after all.
Hope springs eternal, to be sure.
Posted: April 08, 2002 at 06:00 AM | 5 comment(s)
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