Though the Red Sox and A’s have already played two games in Japan — and the Braves and Nationals christened the new Nationals stadium in walk-off style last night — today marks the really, really real, actual opening day of Major League Baseball.
Needless to say, Pax Arcana loves this time of year. I love it so much, in fact, that I would ruin everything by writing about it myself. Instead, I point you to the most elegant, intuitive baseball writer the world has ever known — Roger Angell.
In this week’s installment for the New Yorker, Angell reflects on the steroid-fueled tumult that has knotted the stomachs of many baseball fans. And with the wisdom of a tribal elder assures us that these events were set in motion long ago:
In some way, we almost knew about Roger in advance, the way we’ve always known that the lifetime home-run mark, “baseball’s most hallowed record,” has been rubberized in the cause of higher numbers. Alex Rodriguez, with five hundred and eighteen lifetime homers, plays half his games in Yankee Stadium, where it’s three hundred and ninety-nine feet to the left-center-field wall; Joe DiMaggio swung for the same fence when it was four hundred and seventy feet away. Pitchers’ mounds in DiMaggio’s day were fifteen inches high but in 1969 were lowered to ten inches, to make them more dinger-prone. Not much later, the strike zone shrank down to the size of a cellar window. Lore like this is amazing to kids, but it doesn’t count for much except when editorialists and sports columnists begin to go all trembly about the sanctity of old records.
He then rifles off a few vital statistics proving that baseball’s wager on big bopper numbers has paid off to the tune of billions of dollars, which in turn has increased pressure on today’s players to crack not only the big team’s roster — but the upper stratosphere of highly-paid sports machines:
If we fans need an image to connect us to the departing era, I would pass up the tarnished Clemens or the unpleasant Bonds and, looking back five years, focus, rather, on some imagined Class AAA infielder who has just been called up to a major-league team as a midseason defensive replacement. He doesn’t have to carry his bags anymore, but at twenty-seven he’s a gloveman with a lifetime .269 average who will now be looking at world-famous sliders and heat. Sitting a couple of lockers away there’s a celebrated but tired-looking shortstop in his late thirties, with two gated-community houses, a nanny, a nutritionist, a trainer, a motivational coach, two lawyers, a divorced wife, three foreign-marque cars, an agent, two chefs, and a part-time veterinarian on his payroll. Our rookie may be competing against this icon for a steady job next spring, but for that to happen he’ll need two additional base hits a week, starting right now. The word “Help!” floats into his head, perhaps from not far away.
Paging Kirk Radomski. Which reminds me:
LET’S GO METS!
Green [The New Yorker]