My beloved New York Times ran an article today about Germany’s national soccer museum in Dortmund that focused on how the museum holds up a mirror to Germany itself:
Any soccer fan — in fact, almost any German — will tell you that the moment the country first felt able to return with dignity to the international arena after the evil of Nazism came with what is known here as “the miracle of Bern,” the 3-2 victory in Switzerland over favored Hungary to win the World Cup in 1954…
…But the museum does not shy from Germany’s past. The national team of 1941 is seen giving the Nazi salute before a game in Sweden. An infamous 1944 propaganda film runs, showing Jewish inmates at the Nazis’ Theresienstadt camp near Prague playing soccer and ostensibly enjoying a relaxed life. (In reality, most were about to be shipped to Auschwitz.)
The German Football Association’s ban on women’s soccer from 1955 to 1970 is also related in detail — as are the considerable achievements of Germany’s female soccer team since.
I’d like to argue that while the Cooperstown Hall of Fame may not hold up a mirror to America, baseball certainly does and that, perhaps, explains why Major League Baseball’s brand has lost some of its shine.
This image was decidedly not approved by Major League Baseball or its affiliates
Feel free to accuse me of cherry-picking examples, but consider some of the social issues that baseball has gotten in front of:
- Jackie Robinson (or, more fairly, Branch Rickey) integrated the Major Leagues the year before President Truman integrated the armed forces and well before the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s. Hell, we had a Jewish MVP about four decades before a Jewish major-party Presidential candidate–and that’s only if you count Goldwater. Feh.
- Curt Flood’s challenge of the reserve clause in 1969 led to free agency and presaged the deterioration of the employer-employee relationships of the 1980s and 90s.
- And would it be too great a stretch to see reflections of the Steroid Era in the cook-the-books attitude of companies like Enron or Wall Street Figures such as Bernie Madoff? Of course crooks in business predate Abner Doubleday, but I can’t watch Raffi Palmiero’s awkward testimony before Congress without seeing a hedge fund perp walk.
As such, I disagree with James Earl Jones’s soliloquy at the climax of “Field of Dreams.”
Sure, they’ll come. But do you have to charge $75 for halfway decent seats?
Baseball has not withstood the “army of steamrollers” from Mr. Jones’s speech. In fact, they led the steamrollers, much to their credit in the cases of integration and free agency. Fans cannot visit the ballpark or tune in on their radios to escape the world; they merely experience the world dressed in doubleknits. And maybe this confrontation takes some of the aura of mystery away from the game.
Other US sports, I think, benefited from baseball’s taking one for the team. Can you name the first black NFL player? What about the first NBA free agent? Those sports have their own problems in the forms of concussions and trash talkers. If anything, these sports tend to get called out for not addressing major concerns.
I will always love baseball and feel a sense of rebirth with each opening day when the voice of the turtle is once again heard in our land. Moreover, I take pride in baseball for the times its pushed the leading edge of progress. However, to paraphrase the game’s greatest sage, if progress is going to keep fans away, you can’t stop ’em.