I love baseball.
In my opinion, mastering the skill set necessary to play baseball well offers the most difficult challenge of any sport. Consider: The hand-eye coordination, reflexes, depth perception, strength and balance necessary to hit a relatively small object traveling at speeds approaching 100 mph with less than a second to determine the trajectory, height, and speed of the ball that’s delivered from a mere 66 feet and 6 inches away; and then have the ability to determine if the spin on the ball will force it to dive, rise or curve to one side or the other. It’s hard to do at any level—Little League to Major League.
It’s also difficult to run at full speed and pluck a ball out of the air with your back turned away from where the ball began its flight. And putting your body in front of a well-struck ball that speeds across grass and dirt at unbelievable speeds takes a rare combination of skill and courage.
I admire anyone who can do these things well. I often wish I could have done them better, but I’m not certain increased skill would have enhanced my enjoyment of the game much.
I still enjoy baseball, but I am a bit disgusted with what it has become. I grew up admiring—never revering—Yogi Berra, Warren Spahn, Lou Burdette and others who were among the best of their times.
I’m not naive enough to believe that baseball players in the 1950s and 60s were all choir boys who never crossed the lines, never took a short cut and never tried to get an edge through deceitful means. I remember “the spitter,” corked bats and other devious methods to cheat an opponent.
But it’s worse today—mainly because of the immense amounts of money teams pay players. They receive scads more from product endorsements and even charge fans for autographs.
So they cheat to get more. They take drugs that enhance performance to allow them to hit a ball farther, throw it faster and run it down with more speed than they could without the extra boost. Most recently, the highest paid baseball player in history, Alex Rodriguez, a gifted athlete paid an obscene amount of money, has been suspended—pending appeal—through the 2014 season for what is considered to be long-term use of banned substances. More than a dozen others received substantial but shorter suspensions.
These are all talented, well-paid, fortunate athletes who got caught cheating the system—hurting their teammates, their opponents, and the game’s credibility. These are not and should not be heroes. They are overpaid, pampered ball players who never grew up and never thought they had to abide by the rules. Their suspensions and loss of revenue will be chump change compared to what they earn. They are not heroes.
I’ve never been prone to hero worship. People are people. Some do amazing, even heroic things. Most just do what’s necessary. They show up. They work. They make do. They don’t sign autographs for doing their jobs. They don’t feel heroic. But, more so than pampered athletes, they keep families fed, communities solvent and the country strong.
They are teachers, nurses, factory workers, and you guys—farmers—whom we all take for granted until we need them. You are the heroes: you play by the rules; you are people worth emulating.