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State of the Union, Signs of the Times

July 11, 2002

As your president, in the event that my chain-letter campaign for the office succeeds, it will be my constitutional duty “from time to time [to] give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union.” This information will include full reports on the health of the national pastime, and will specifically feature frequent updates on the progress of the baseball career of my grandson Joe.

If I were giving my state of the Union speech today, for example, it would run more or less as follows.

My grandson Joseph Sobran, now 15, is no longer the darling little gerbil who first scrambled onto a Little League diamond seven years ago. He is now a strapping 170-pounder; last time I remember checking, he weighed about 59 pounds. He recently hit a home run an estimated 390 feet and is perfecting an unpredictable and well-nigh unhittable knuckleball.

The prospects for baseball in general, I regret to report, are less encouraging. Though raw talent abounds as never before, Major League Baseball seems determined to rid itself of its remaining fans.

This last Tuesday night, the commissioner of Major League Baseball outraged fans by stopping the annual All-Star Game in the eleventh inning, causing it to end in a frustrating 7-to-7 tie. He gave as his reason that both teams had run out of pitchers — as if this weren’t one of the possibilities a manager has to take into account as he makes his decisions throughout the game. Either you use your pitchers sparingly, or you risk having to put your shortstop on the mound in the late innings.

The current season may also be interrupted by another strike — leaving another indelible scar on baseball history. It’s not as if we were in an age of scarcity, with sweatshop owners and workers haggling over the minimum wage. Players and management alike are millionaires, indifferent to the unseemly way they are redefining the very character of baseball, not to mention their contempt for the fans.

[Breaker quote: A baseball nightmare]Faster-moving sports — football, basketball, even soccer — have long been overtaking baseball in popularity. Baseball has coped by giving undue emphasis to the offensive game, particularly the home run that attracts and thrills the casual fan. This has meant increasing the hitter’s advantage over the pitcher by allowing or encouraging umpires to shrink the strike zone without the formality of a change in the rules. As a result, the game is now becoming lawless.

The unnatural frequency of home runs, however appealing to the casual fan who cares only for high scores and spectacular displays of hitting power, has devalued the subtler skills of pitching, fielding, bunting, and base-running that fascinate the serious fan. Witness the rise of that unspeakably vulgar contest, the Home Run Derby, which, if present trends continue, will replace nine-inning games altogether. Who needs subtlety?

The huge profits accruing to the home run have spawned another evil: players are now using illegal and dangerous drugs — steroids — to increase their size and strength. By some estimates, half of all Major League players, as well as many college and even high-school players, are currently taking steroids. This puts all other players under pressure to use steroids too, or risk being literally dwarfed by the competition. The players are already starting to look like freaks with bulging arms and heads.

It also means that baseball’s most venerable records — its statistics — are being devalued too. New, steroid-enhanced records are being set. Is this fair to the great players of the past, who achieved their records without chemical assistance? Should the new marks carry asterisks, signifying that they were set in the steroid era?

Finally, the body of the late Ted Williams has been cryogenically frozen by order of his son, who has hitherto been content to sell his father’s autographs. Relatives charge that the son plans to sell his father’s DNA, possibly with a view to future cloning.

This bizarre development is not the fault of Major League Baseball, but it is nevertheless a disturbing sign of the times. If modern science can find a way to fuse Ted Williams’s DNA with steroids, then a generation from now, instead of baseball as we have known it, we may see countless seven-foot, hypermuscular Ted Williamses competing in endless Home Run Derbies.

A lot of good Joe Sobran’s knuckleball will do him then!

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2002 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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