My pal -- and predecessor as Commissioner -- Bart Giamatti used to do a riff on baseball in which he related our beloved game to the whole of the Western Canon of literature with special focus of why we use the term “home” for what should, in logic, be called “fourth base.”
He, the former Yale president, saw baseball as the effort to get “home” in which we who have managed to circle the bases finally count, where we are warmly greeted by our team or family and where we can retire to our dugout or home or place of refuge until we have to begin the effort to get home all over again. Much of our literature, Bart would explain, involves the same effort to get home. The recurrent struggle to make the round trip resonates with the Tom Wolfe novel “You Can’t Go Home Again" and hundreds of similar works.
The effort to explain the appeal of baseball has defied many fine writers as well as millions of us loyal fans. Now as the new season is about to begin, one is tempted to try to translate the feeling we experience at the renewal of old friendships with the players, announcers and even the ballparks with which we will now be spending so much time. It is as if good and close family members have been away and are now returning. We lay out the welcome. We bring out the finest china and silver. We offer to them our “home plates”.
To me, baseball is special because like our family it is so familiar. When the new season begins, we are glad to see our old friends the broadcasters whose faces and voices we have come to know so well and with whom we associate the long season ahead. It is with these same people we have spent so much time in the past and with whom in this coming season we will spend so many summer evenings and afternoons enjoying the languorous pace of our game.
Yes, we will renew our friendships with Messrs. Cohen, Darling , Kiner and Hernandez as well as with the Mets players. Yes, I know of the off field tumult, the tsouris as some might term it, but none of that matters now. For us Mets fans the worries are Beltran’s legs, Santana’s arm and the rotation. Some of the Mets family has gone and there are new faces to learn. How will manager Collins express anger and joy? Is he a spitter? Does he chew ? These are the little things we will soon come to know. These are the patterns of the daily games that make us comfortable. Because we spend so much time in their company we grow to recognize the tiny speech patterns of the broadcasters, the batting and even the scratching habits of the players and the shadow patterns of the ballpark. It all becomes so familiar. It seems like we are home.
And so with the Barry Bonds trial just beginning and the Roger Clemens trial not far off, the season will begin. The background could be brighter. Meanwhile the games will go on with little attention paid to the legal and even the financial news. On the field it is only those who make it safely home who matter. The realities of such harsh items as fraud and financial problems of owners, alleged perjury by former players and even earthquakes all disappear and what matters will be whether the pitch was a strike and can the bullpen hold the lead in the ninth. The solid and familiar patterns are back. The season is long; there are 162 games to be played by our team. There is time. Lots of time. Take it easy. We and baseball are home again.
Fay Vincent is a former CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries and from 1989-92 served as the Commissioner of Baseball.