How Baseball Ruined My Life
It's 1862: a game between the Brooklyn Excelsiors and the Brooklyn Atlantics Excelsiors. Pitcher Jim Creighton, perhaps baseball's first superstar, smashes a home run, hitting the ball so ferociously that while taking his victory lap around the bases, his spleen ruptures, and he collapses and dies.
Baseball is the cruelest game. At every level and in every incarnation, it's rife with insults and humiliations that, as Creighton's own death proves, are long-lasting. The game is littered with corpses, both physical and psychic.
Someone might argue that golf is just as humbling. But when you screw up in golf, you are your only victim, and you are often alone. When you screw up in baseball, you screw the entire team, many times in front of a crowd, which weighs upon you as you chase the fly ball now rolling away. But the ball never seems to get any closer as the runners round the bases and your teammates roll their eyes, clucking their tongues behind your back. "Throw it! Throw it!" And you're still no closer to the ball because the grass has turned to soft sand.
You screw up in clear sight in baseball, whether at bat or in the field. It is just you. In other sports-basketball, football, hockey-positions and movement are so fluid that many times, it's difficult to determine who screwed what up. Not in baseball. Strike out with bases loaded and two outs? Go out in the field and stand by yourself, shunned by your teammates and taunted by spectators. Except for the illicit scratching and spitting, Puritans would have loved baseball.
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When we were putting together our annual baseball issue, it occurred to us that last year's major-league season had given the opposite impression of baseball's nature. Men hit home runs seemingly at will. The New York Yankees played the game near flawlessly. Their performances raised the game's popularity and gave further license to the game's literary barkers: George Will, the New Yorker's Roger Angell, the Washington Post's Thomas Boswell.
But that isn't baseball. Baseball is what you, the reader, have ahead of you-stories of hard luck, humiliation and urine-soaked garments. It wasn't hard to collect these stories. You simply ask almost any American, "What's the worst thing that ever happened to you in baseball?" There's always an answer, usually two or three. And they come to mind almost instantaneously.
Not everyone can hit the game-winning homer, strike out the side, make a diving one-handed grab in left-center. But everyone, EVERYONE has a story of how baseball embarrassed them, made them at that moment loathe their place in the universe.
Here are some of those tales, long and short, shameful, degrading, teeming with refracted light, sparked doobies and cracked skulls. Enjoy!
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