"America's favorite pastime" may not have the passionate following the NFL enjoys, or the global marketability of the NBA, but few would argue against its popularity. America loves its baseball. From the Murderers' Row of the '20s to the World Baseball Classic today, baseball has endured. Perhaps the greatest testament to its place in American culture is how we seemingly have forgiven an entire era of players who cheated.
America loves baseball.
However, the boys of summer aren't without their detractors. For every fan who arrives with a glove and a scorecard to a game, there is one who wonders what the appeal is. The criticism is pretty consistent: The game is too slow; the rules don't make sense, why does the manager wear a uniform? Why is a ball who hits the foul pole fair? What exactly is the infield fly rule?
I try, often times in vain, to convert the non-believer. I explain how exciting the game is if you learn to understand it. When a runner is on first and the pitcher throws over, it's really a chess match. With a no strike, one ball count, the runner's lead grows by an inch. The pitcher throws a strike, then another ball. The one-strike, two-ball pitch is key--if the runner is going, he is going on the next pitch. I try to explain how the pitcher doesn't want a third ball count, so the hitter will likely get a good pitch to hit... a pitch he can control.
I don't bother trying to explain the infield fly rule--why bother? Invariably, the person is less than impressed with my explanation of the game within the game. It makes it all the harder to convert someone when Ken Griffey, Jr. misses an at-bat because he was napping.
Baseball today is a game of intricacies. When a right-handed pitcher is on the mound, the opposing manager will bring up a left-handed hitter whenever possible. Statistics show that lefties hit righties better and vice versa. In a game last week, Seattle Mariner manager Don Wakamatsu needed a lefty to hit, and called for Junior.
The future Hall of Famer, who has hit 630 home runs in his career, had wandered down to the clubhouse around the fifth inning to look for a jacket. No longer a full-time player, Griffey sits on the bench, waiting his turn to contribute. The victim of an apparent chill in the dugout he went looking for warmth but never returned.
When the call went out for the player, he was found in his chair, sound asleep during the seventh inning of a game. Remarkably, instead of waking the slugger, they let him doze. When Wakamatsu was asked later why he hadn't used Griffey in a pinch-hit situation that seemed to call for him, he was evasive.
Players, too, rallied to support Ken "Sleepy" Junior: He doesn't sleep well at night; he's away from his family; he's comfortable in the clubhouse, said one unnamed player.
They have a lounge here where I work. The couch is amazingly comfortable. I can't deny having spent a time or two sitting there, eyes closed, relaxing. I'm comfortable there. If I missed a meeting over it, however, well, I doubt any co-worker would race to support me.
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What other sport--in fact, what other profession, allows you to sneak out in the middle of your work day to catch a nap that extends to quitting time? Is baseball so boring that it bores its players to this degree?
America's favorite pastime for some, America's cash cow for others. Griffey's salary this year is a cool $2,350,000. That breaks down to about $14,506.17 per game.
Why do some people hate baseball? The $15,000 naps.