Do you want to bet that baseball is no longer the national pastime? Of course you do. America likes nothing better than laying down some money, as evidenced by all the exciting new places you can lose your shirt: in cyberspace, on aptly named cruises to nowhere or even on campus. The American dream has shrunk to one word—lotto.
Gambling has redefined our taste in sports. We have made football our favorite because it is three courses in one: gambling, violence and TV-watching. Hockey aspires to match it, while basketball is our junk food, empty calories of pleasure with the requisite garnish of a point spread. Increasingly, it's not whether you win or lose but whether you cover.
Thankfully, therapeutically, there's baseball, arriving this week as welcome as spring. It doesn't fit so well with gambling (it takes a Danny Sheridan—or a Pete Rose—just to figure out the inscrutable line on baseball games), violence or the tube. Baseball asks us not only to watch but also to think.
Those who have banished baseball to the uncool list have mistakenly equated the game with the fine gentlemen who run it. No other sport's pooh-bahs are more public in their mismanagement. Bud Selig is a pseudocommissioner without credibility. The Florida Marlins' Wayne Huizenga, sports' most dangerous hit-and-run artist, and the Chicago White Sox' Jerry Reinsdorf are the worst breed in sports: quitters. And now Reinsdorf, who said his Sox were not fan-friendly when he gave up on them last year, has set about selling tickets by signing a wife beater, Wil Cordero.
The game's greatness is only confirmed by such misguided trusteeship. Baseball can't be killed. For one reason, it's too ingrained. "Long-suffering" New York Jets fans who cheered the signing of free-agent running back Curtis Martin last week should first understand that this baseball season is a triple witching hour of serious sufferance: Fifty years have passed since the Cleveland Indians won the Series, 80 since the Boston Red Sox did and 90 since the Chicago Cubs did.
Baseball is the passion of Barry Bonds and the joy of Ken Griffey Jr. Yet it requires contributions from so many teammates that the sport's two best players have appeared in nearly 3,000 games between them without getting to a World Series.
Baseball is as egalitarian as we like to think our country is. Down to your last chance, you can't call timeout and design a play for John Elway or Michael Jordan. The baseball gods typically hand such moments to someone who looks like the kid who bags your groceries, someone like 170-pound Craig Counsell. Who can't root for that?