Jennifer Diaz poses with a car given to her by Mel Hall Jr.

The Depressing Tale of Baseball

I keep a notepad with story ideas for this website. It’s quite long and I’m always adding ideas to the notepad. I know that I likely won’t get to every idea, but if I have a decent idea I want to make sure it’s jotted down so that I don’t forget. Some ideas stick around longer than some, and eventually as ideas are written about and their entry is deleted from the notepad file articles move positions and get closer to other articles. I didn’t think there would be a day where my idea of what to write about on Words Above Replacement was driven by lines moving around in a notepad file. But, here we are and that’s what we’re broaching today.

One item on my list that I will get to is about Latino players in Major League Baseball prior to segregation. Recently joining it near the top is the lack of minority managers in unaffiliated baseball in America. Next up on the list is an idea about a great Cuban team of the 1920s that only came about because MLB was segregated at that time. The next four or five ideas are of a similar vein until finally there’s a respite in the form of an idea for an article about Lin Li, the all-world Rakuten Monkeys star. That idea is then followed by a bunch more ideas that paint a stark and depressing view of baseball.

The larger point this brings to bear for me is that there are times when I wish I could turn off my ability to care about humanity. It would be so much easier to be the random dude on Twitter whose profile pic is of a Thin Blue Line flag with a bio that reads “#GoBraves, #GoSkins, #MAGA.” Life is easy for that guy because empathy and understanding aren’t required. Babe Ruth can unquestionably be the greatest ballplayer of all time because that’s what his parents taught him and he’s not about to waste any time digging into the history of the Negro Leagues. Heck, MLB was segregated for a reason, after all.

I have friends on Twitter who are stats driven to the level where they literally only care about baseball in terms of stats. It doesn’t matter that Mike Clevinger is an abusive piece of shit, what matters is his current FIP. Cap Anson may have been a virulent racist, but they wouldn’t know and certainly don’t care about any of Anson’s history beyond his career rWAR. It’s not that they don’t care about a player’s misdeeds it’s that they don’t see the reason to acknowledge said misdeeds. All that matters are the numbers that are put up on a ball field.

Then there’s the fan who takes it a step further, they don’t care about anything but winning. Not only do they not have time for any newfound statistics, but who cares if Mel Hall Jr. held a woman against her will for years, did he help the team win? Oh, how easy of a life it must be to turn off any semblance of caring about humanity and only care about whether your team won the game tonight. These are the folks who don’t view players as people, but rather as commodities to be bought, sold, and traded in whatever fashion gives their team the better shot at taking home a W.

Perhaps the most delusional fan is the one who likes to think that sports and politics don’t mix. This person looks at the racism and class struggle that has defined baseball and pretends it doesn’t exist. To them, there’s no need to talk about racism in baseball because politics aren’t a part of baseball. It doesn’t matter that history, the present, and the future say otherwise, they will not come off that hill. They will spend countless hours arguing that politics don’t matter, all the while ignoring that by doing so they are injecting their own politics into the baseball landscape. This is the one fan I’m fairly confident doesn’t have it any easier due to their lack of humanity. The way these folks argue is exhausting, repetitive, and like getting hit in the face with a sledgehammer of stupidity over and over again.

This isn’t a pity party, rather it’s a reflection that honest discussions about baseball’s past, present, and future can be depressing. Sometimes I do wish I could go back to being the kid who just loved watching baseball for the actual art of the game. The genie can’t be put back into the bottle, I know that much. The more I learn about the history of racism in the sport, the struggles of homosexual players to find acceptance, the plight of women to even be heard; I simply cannot turn off the part of my brain that cares more about their struggles than the box score in the morning paper. 

Baseball is thoroughly depressing at times, it takes me to the highest of highs but also leaves me in the lowest of lows. There’s never been a sport I’ve loved as much as I love baseball, warts and all. Those warts are important, we can’t hide them or ignore them. Turning a blind eye to who Josh Hamilton has become after his playing days does a disservice to Hamilton’s victims and the complex nature of the sport of baseball. Though it may be depressing baseball is still the sport I love and I would rather deal with its complexities than miss the forest for the trees by focusing only on its simplicity. There are no easy answers when it comes to loving baseball, only easy ways to bury your head in the sand and act like everything is just fine.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – SB Nation

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), fiancé, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Baseball.FYI, Beyond the Box Score, Off the Bench Baseball & Internet Baseball Writer’s Association of America; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writer's Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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