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Monday April 22, 2002
A game of skill
or a Job for the unemployed?
Bill Corson, Contributor

   FRESNO --  Baseball! When played by professionals for profit, it is a performance of worldly employment and business. Enter the Fresno Grizzlies and the sickly team's financial investors and local promoters.
     It didn't always exist in its current form, with rules, giant City owned ballparks, minor leagues, and the team franchise investors.
    History establishes that the first literary reference to "baseball" was made by John Newberry in 1744. Newberry wrote, "The ball once struck - Away flies the boy - From each abandoned post - To the next with joy."
     Since then, other writers have discussed baseball with the same underlying connotation to the play of boys.
     In the year 1824, American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote: "...there is nothing now heard of, in our leisure hours, but ballóballóball."     Of course, his version of "ball" is very different from the "baseball" we think of in current baseball literature, but much of the conception of play vs. work is still the same.  
   Even, Walt Whitman wrote of baseball as a form of A erican leisure, "it's our game: that's the chief fact in connection with it: America's game." As Whitman captured the spirit of America in his literary way, he felt compelled to link baseball to the spirit of the play of children.
     Like so many writers after them, Twain and Whitman thought baseball expressed fundamental risk taking plkay, and orgqnized idlenesse. Twain wrote that baseball was a form of psychopathy, in thatit was "...wild, vigorous, improvisational, rushing toward the future..." risk taking, and time wasting.
     Newspapers followed along behind on the wild ride. By the 1860's even Clarence Darrow was writing , "I have snatched my share of joys from the grudging hands of Fate as I have jogged along, but never has life held for me anything quite so entrancing as baseball."
    By 1913, H.L. Mencken was caught explaining that baseball stimulates "a childish and orgiastic local pride, a typical American weakness..." pathology.
     It's easy to see what all of the excitement is about when come to realize that baseball playersthough they are paid actors, risk kife and limb playing out their roles, often ruin their health, and generally suffer major health breakdows by early 50's. Lower back injuries, broken bone in the feet and ankles often prevent older players from maintaining any gainful employment after the short lived baseball days are over.
    All the paid admission and pass holders, and the players themselve, know it. For a variety of reasons, playing baseball and getting paid for is all the work they can get. While they can play, the young men take the money and worry about ther lost youth and failing health later. For the present, they have work and pay and tghey are loved by the fans. That's in the now.
     It reminds me of the pro wrestling script. Most fans agree with me, but won't admit it.
    Perhaps it's true what Richard Ford says about sports having very little lasting value, but there's something about staging a baseball game that draws the simple minded to such a diversion and delivers to them heaping portions of despair, laughter, tears, false hope, and the experience of programmed idleness together with a free stage show after the game is over!
     All of these factors figure for minor league baseball as a sort of wonderful, irresistible mass propaganda session, so enduring in its personal and group impact, so varied in its lore and chatter, it seems to have everything aman with too much time on his hands could ask for, most especially the opportunity for providing moral support rehab of injured players who otherwise lack permanent gainful employment.

Letter to Editor

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