If you wish to divide Americans into two unambiguous groups, what would you choose as the best criterion? Males and females, east and west of the Mississippi? May I suggest, instead, the following question: “What is Justice Blackmun’s worst decision?” Anti-abortionists, and conservatives in general, will reply without a moment’s hesitation: Roe v. Wade. Liberals might need to think for a moment, but if they are baseball fans as well, they will surely answer: Flood v. Kuhn. For, in 1972, the same Harry Blackmun who gave us Roe v. Wade also wrote the 5–3 decision (with the usual trio of Douglas, Marshall, and Brennan in opposition) denying outfielder Curt Flood the right to negotiate freely with other teams following the expiration of his contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, and upholding the admittedly illogical exemption of major league baseball from all antitrust legislation (on the preposterous argument that this game alone—for none other has such a waiver—is a sport and not a business).
Curt Flood was one of the best ballplayers of the 1960s, a fine outfielder with a nearly 300 lifetime batting average. Following the 1969 season, after twelve good years with the Cards, he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies—and he didn’t want to go (or at least he wanted the option, available to any free man, of placing his services on the market and negotiating with other teams). But major league baseball, by explicit judicial sanction, had always enforced a system of peonage based upon the “reserve clause.” This statement, present in all contracts, “reserved” the player’s services to his club for the following season, even if terms had not been reached on a new contract. (That is, the player could be “reappointed”—without his approval, take it or leave it—for a following year at the same terms as the last season.) In effect, the reserve clause provided a perpetual contract because owners granted themselves the power of indefinite extension, year after year. Thus, teams owned players and could pay and trade them almost at will. A player had but one “recourse,” though it amounted to a death warrant, rather than a weapon: he could refuse to sign, but to what avail? No other team would hire him.
Owners insisted that they needed such a provision to prevent baseball’s wreckage by bidding wars—an odd argument that management must be protected from itself by oppressing workers. In two previous rulings, in 1922 and 1953, the Supreme Court had upheld baseball’s exemption from antitrust legislation, thereby depriving players of any judicial remedy for abuses of the reserve clause. (The Court did not present a constitutional defense of management, but rather passed the buck, stating that any regulation of baseball’s traditional ways must be instituted by Congress.) Blackmun’s regrettable decision of 1972 is a mixture of platitudes about the sanctity of our national pastime, combined with a third passing of the buck.
All Americans not living in a hole know that circumstances have since reversed dramatically: the reserve clause is history and players now have adequate power and fair representation in negotiating contracts. Consequently, players are co-equal with management, and their gargantuan salaries hog more news than their accomplishments on the field. (I don’t want to bore you with figures so endlessly repeated in the press that they have become a litany. But just to say it once and get off the subject: average salaries have risen 1,894 percent since 1976; the average annual major league salary for 1991 is $891,000; 223 players received more than a million dollars, thirty-two have topped three million; when baseball adds two new teams in 1993, in Denver and Miami, each will pay a franchise fee of $95 million, up from $7 million at the last expansion in 1977.)
Two other points are equally obvious to all fair-minded observers, but not so frequently stressed. First, contrary to the doomsday predictions made by owners for more than a century, baseball has never been healthier, both financially and in balance of talent. Attendance and revenues have skyrocketed. The central prediction has been disproved by an exactly opposite reality. Owners insisted that free agency would lead to an unfair concentration of talent, with rich teams buying all the best players and poorer teams mired in permanent mediocrity. In fact, free bidding has spread the talent and greatly increased interest and competition on the field by reducing the differences among teams and giving all a chance for a championship. Between 1949 and 1964 a New York team played in the World Series in all years but 1959. The Yankees alone won nine World Series during this period. These were blissful years for a Yankee fan like me, but not good for baseball and the rest of the country. No such dynasties can exist today; talent is too mobile and this year’s last can become next season’s first.
Second, effective unionizing of players had produced this more equable distribution of baseball’s immense revenues. (The vast increase arises from TV and radio contracts, and remarkably effective merchandizing—but owners wouldn’t have shared the bounty voluntarily.) I doubt that a better success story for trade unionism can be told in our times. Dave Winfield, a great veteran player and one of the most thoughtful men in the game today, said it all: “I have been a part of the best union for workers in this country. I don’t think that baseball players have been greedy, or that the union has been greedy or nasty. The owners used to make all the money. Now they share it.”
As much as traditional trade unionists may take heart from this success, special circumstances prohibit a translation into more conventional work-places. We are, after all, speaking of a few hundred “workers” (major league players) in a market that brings in billions of dollars a year for the exercise of their talents. The average person in an office or on an assembly line simply cannot generate such resources for potential sharing. As Gene Orza, general counsel of the Player’s Association, once said to me: “Workers vs. bosses just can’t be the rhetoric any more. I would rather talk of playing capitalists vs. entrepreneurial capitalists.”
I do not generally believe in “great man” theories of history, but I cannot think of a better case for the importance of a single person. The Player’s Association owes its success to good sense and good fortune in not hiring a management shill to lead a nascent association that would have become a company club (the previous history of players’ “unions”), but in bucking baseball’s “in-house” tradition and appointing Marvin Miller, lifelong trade union professional, chief economist for the United Steelworkers of America, and a brilliant, persistent, patient, and principled man (also an old Dodger fan from a Brooklyn boyhood but this irrelevancy, for once, didn’t count; business is business).
Miller, who created an effective union out of the Player’s Association and served as its executive director from the mid-Sixties to the early Eighties, has finally written his long-awaited account: A Whole Different Ball Game: The Sport and Business of Baseball. The jacket copy by the great announcer Red Barber (voice of the hated Bums and later the beloved Yanks in my youth, and now a weekly commentator on NPR) states with all the one-sided strength of the genre, but with undeniable justice and accuracy:
When you speak of Babe Ruth, he is one of the two men, in my opinion, who changed baseball the most. He changed the construction of the game, the construction of bats as well as the ball. And the second most influential man in the history of baseball is Marvin Miller…. Miller formed the players’ union. And from the union we have free agency, we have arbitration. We have the entire structure of baseball changed—the entire relationship between the players and the owners.
If we ask how such a radical change could occur so quickly, two factors stand out. (Though we should, following recent events in the former Soviet Union, recognize that complex systems, when they change at all, tend to transform by rupture rather than imperceptible evolution.) First, the new revenues of our TV culture provided a gargantuan pie to divide; no matter how much power players gained, they could not have achieved their current economic might from gate receipts. Second, players had to start very far down in order to rise so far—and we must ask why they were so oppressed (or, rather, “underempowered,” if oppressed seems too strong a word for stars in the entertainment industry, whatever their exploitation).
Why, then, did players have so little power in the pre-Miller era? Why were they so underpaid, so devoid of influence over their own lives and futures? Why could the owner’s pawn, first commissioner of baseball Kenesaw Mountain Landis, ban Shoeless Joe Jackson and the seven other Black Sox for life—without trial and without any hope of redress—after a court had dismissed charges against them of throwing the World Series. Why did the stigma stick so strongly, and permanently, to yield this, the most poignant of all baseball stories: Jackson ended up behind the counter of a liquor store in his native South Carolina. One day, more than thirty-five years after the Black Sox scandal, Ty Cobb stopped by. Cobb brought some bottles to the register, but Jackson just looked down, said nothing, and began to ring up the transaction. The puzzled Cobb exclaimed: “Joe, don’t you recognize me?” “Of course I do, Ty,” Jackson replied, “but I wasn’t sure you wanted to know me.” (Only Cobb and Rogers Hornsby had lifetime batting averages higher than Jackson’s. Cobb himself was widely suspected, probably correctly, of consorting with gamblers and occasionally throwing games.)
The reasons for this underempowerment are complex, but consider two intertwined aspects. Owners played an effective game of “divide and conquer” against a group of mostly young and uneducated players (Rube, the nickname of so many early players, reflected a common background). Hardly any of the early players went to college and few finished high school. Baseball, for all the mythological hyping, really took root as a people’s sport in America, while football remained a minor pastime for a collegiate elite. Owners nipped any fledgling attempts at organization among players by providing a few paternalistic scraps and then invoking the same bogeymen that stalled unionization in more fertile fields of factories and mines—“not real baseball people,” “trying to undermine the game,” “radicals,” “outside agitators.” A grizzled miner with twenty years in the pits, a huge debt at the company store, and thousands of compatriots might see through the bluff; an eighteen-year-old farmboy, with no one to represent him and only a few hundred colleagues, might never think of challenging it. Moreover, owners had great success in invoking the hoary and elaborate mythology of baseball as a “game” and a “national pastime”—the same line that the Supreme Court has bought three times. “How can you even raise a question about salaries?” owners would intone: “Where else could a person actually get paid for playing a game? Thank your lucky stars, shut up, play, and don’t complain.” The ruse worked for nearly one hundred years.
This interplay of baseball’s sporting mythology and its commercial reality fascinates me more than anything else about the game as a social phenomenon in America. Each year’s flood of baseball books can be neatly partitioned into these two basic categories. I shall call them H-mode and Q-mode, for hagiographical and quotidian reality. Such a division seems especially well marked in this season of anniversaries. Miller tells us that he chose this year to publish (in Q-mode) because he wished to launch his book on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the founding of the Players Association in 1966. As for the H-mode, you would have to live in the same hole previously mentioned not to know that 1991 is the fiftieth anniversary for the greatest achievements of baseball’s two living saints—Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six-game hitting streak and Ted Williams’s .406 batting average (no one has exceeded .390 since then). The New York Times has run a box in every issue this season detailing Joe and Ted’s daily accomplishments in 1941. President Bush invited DiMaggio and Williams to the White House on July 9, and then flew them, with baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, up to Toronto aboard Air Force 1 to take in the sixty-second All-Star game. Bush, who had entertained Elizabeth II in Washington just a few days before, stated: “I didn’t think I’d get to meet royalty so soon after the queen’s visit.”
I will therefore devote this year’s World Series-time review of baseball books to a contrast of the H- and Q-modes, in particular to a comparison of Miller’s anniversary with books devoted to three milestones in the hagiographical tradition—the story of a career (Ted Williams on the fiftieth anniversary of his greatest achievement), a season (Mickey Mantle’s favorite 1956 campaign on its thirty-fifth anniversary), and even of an incident: (Bobby Thomson’s most famous of all home runs, on the fortieth anniversary of its few-second trajectory from bat to the left field seats). (The mills of the gods may grind exceedingly fine but the microscope of hagiography probes even more minutely.) I have another, and more immediate, reason for choosing to contrast Miller’s book with three different representatives of the hagiographical tradition. The existence of the myth—particularly its unfair, but clever exploitation by owners—made Marvin Miller necessary.
Miller’s fascinating story is testimony to the power of patience, giving a productive twist to the old Roman maxim for a life of pleasure: festina lente, or make haste slowly. Miller held all the cards; after all, how can feudalism be justified or maintained in a democratic age with at least some legislated safeguards? Baseball’s owners had prevailed by bluff and force, but they had also become complacent in the absence of any effective challenge for so long. They may even have believed their own rhetoric.
But, as Moses learned, seeing the promised land is one thing, and getting there another. Miller knew that he could win if only he could forge solidarity and union consciousness among players. But how could an intellectual, Jewish, professional union man from Brooklyn prevail on a terrain inhabited by so few of the above. How could techniques for organizing workers succeed in a world where most people viewed “union” as a dirty word? The answer can only be: quietly but forcefully, a step at a time, and, above all, with respect for the intelligence and background of players (something the owners had never learned). Miller’s triumph is a credit both to his own skills, and to the virtues of professionalism.
Miller’s two greatest successes, won sequentially and with help from the arsenal of labor legislation, included the establishment of impartial arbitration for settling contract and other disputes, and the invalidation of the reserve clause, which, as the owners correctly noted, had been the bulwark of their unjust system. None of this could have been accomplished without Miller’s success, powerfully abetted by dependable stupidity among owners, in bringing about solidarity among players. Miller can pay no finer compliment than his statement, coming from a man who helped to lead some of the most important industrial actions of the twentieth century, that the players’ strike of 1981 was the most principled he had ever seen—for older players, fighting for nothing personal but only for benefits to younger colleagues, held firm, and management eventually collapsed after more than fifty days (following their original prediction that the players would crumble within five).
The story of the reserve clause, and the winning of free agency, best illustrates Miller’s method: speak softly and gain little by little. Step 1: by raising consciousness, you can win through losing—the Curt Flood case, previously discussed. Step 2: win a case even if it doesn’t establish the general principle. Irascible A’s owner Charlie Finley had reneged on a provision of Catfish Hunter’s 1974 contract. Miller filed a grievance, went to arbitration (previously established as a first great victory), won his watertight case, and had Hunter’s contract voided. The case established no principle, since it only punished Finley for a contract violation, but Yankee owner George Steinbrenner then paid millions to sign Hunter, and the dam broke. Steinbrenner, whose later judgments may be questioned (to say the least), made a good move here, and Hunter’s classy pitching was indispensable in Yankee championships of 1977 and 1978, their first since 1964.
Step 3: take all the marbles. Miller had always insisted—and plain reading seemed to support his view—that the standard language of the reserve clause, as always written, only bound a player to his team for one additional year if no contract agreement could be reached. Owners insisted that they could pile on “additional years” in perpetuity. In the famous Messersmith-McNally case (also an arbitration) of 1975, Miller won the principle, and the war. Players, if unable to reach agreement with their owners, could play out their one additional year and then become free agents, able to negotiate with any team. We can, and do, debate the principle endlessly, but we cannot deny the efficacy.
Miller’s book is one of the most important ever published about baseball, but I wish he had made it better. Ironically, A Whole Different Ball Game suffers from two features that, above all else, Miller never introduced into his successful negotiations as executive director of the Players Association: some bad organization and a little mean-spiritedness. Miller can’t seem to decide whether to write his book as a chronological story or a series of portraits—and you can’t have both. For example, an early chapter on Bowie Kuhn (Miller’s nemesis as commissioner of baseball) describes in detail the entire history of their relationship, but later chronological chapters go through the same material again.
As for the second problem, a less than optimal generosity of spirit, books just don’t work well as devices for settling scores. There is a time to kill, and a time to heal: a time to break down, and a time to build up. Besides, who but you really cares about all the details of potential ingratitude? I didn’t mind the harshness about Bowie Kuhn, for he and Miller were serious sparring partners for years, and Kuhn had already gotten his licks in with a previous book. But why go after so many players, including Carlton Fisk, Catfish Hunter, and Dennis Eckersley, for later downplaying the work of the association that had won their benefits. Miller is probably right in his unhappiness with them, but people do lapse into the H-mode as they get older and further from the battles actually fought. They can be reminded gently, and with humor.
Marvin Miller is one of my heroes, but he is anathema—and quite unfairly—to many baseball fans because they vent upon him their anger and puzzlement about the assault of Q-mode reality upon their H-mode image of the game. How can I uphold the Field of Dreams when salaries and agents get more press coverage than sandlots and extra innings, and if stars, paid in millions, add insult to injury by charging my kid fifteen bucks for an autograph at a card show?
While I shall defend the current salary levels, I do acknowledge some real problems. First, anyone who has a piece of graph paper and knows the meaning of “extrapolate” will easily realize that something has to give. Current trends cannot continue, lest Roger Clemens’s salary exceed the GNP. But what can stop a runaway machine fueled by positive feedback? (Remember that “positive feedback” is a technical term for more leading to still more, not a statement about ethics or fairness.) Evolutionary biologists, more than most people, understand that legitimate advantages sought by individuals (tail feathers of a peacock leading to greater mating success) can foster the extermination of collectivities (the entire species becomes vulnerable because such extreme specialization makes adaptation so difficult when environments change). Advantages to individuals and benefits to species need not coincide, and may directly conflict.
Secondly, baseball will be in difficulty if arrogance bred by financial success seriously erodes public sympathy and affection for players. I do not think that this will happen, but sometimes I wonder, especially when I sense that an issue, resolved in financial terms, is not really about money, but about something so juvenile as “who is king of the mountain.” Two years ago, within a week, baseball’s three premier pitchers, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, and Roger Clemens, played leapfrog over one another to become, in sequence (like “king for a day” or “famous for fifteen minutes”) the highest-paid player in baseball. (They signed three-year contracts worth between six and eight million dollars; this year, to continue the spiral, Clemens signed a new four-year contract worth 21.5 million!) Can six vs. seven million possibly matter, since either figure should comfortably set up an extended family for life? Is this not a public debate over status, using money as a token? Cash is an awfully expensive token for such an issue. Won’t medals do? Or how about pieces of paper proclaiming degrees and written in Latin (we get away with that one)?
But how can we blame the players, and Marvin Miller, for something entirely of our creation? We have made the world of these gargantuan salaries, and they that have sown the wind…shall reap the whirlwind. We want our television programs; we watch the advertisements and buy the products. We turn the people we admire into objects called “celebrities”; we think we own pieces of them, and can deny them the most elementary right of privacy. Sure it’s nasty to charge a kid $15 for an autograph; but when you know that every proprietor in town is hiring kids to get free signatures on large numbers of cards for later resale at enormous profit, do you not feel used and exploited? We are paying out the money that goes to these salaries. What are the players supposed to do? Dig a hole and bury it? Give it to the owners? Marvin Miller did a limited and entirely admirable thing: he forced an equable distribution of funds available.
Bruce Bochte, former first baseman of the Oakland A’s, helped me to understand this when he said to me:
Don’t think for a moment that any player is under the slightest illusion that, in any absolute sense, his performance is worth the money he receives. The point is that we are members of the entertainment industry, a particularly crazy enterprise. What we do generates this money, primarily through TV and radio contracts. Either we get it or the owners get it; and since we are doing the playing, we might as well get our fair share.
You can talk about general reform of society that would, among other things, eliminate such frivolous advertising revenues—and here I will agree, and might work with you. (This would lead, of course, to a rationalization of baseball salary structures as one among many unintended side consequences.) But you can’t blame Marvin Miller for the nature of the system he was hired to work within. Miller did his job consummately, with principled honesty and superlative effectiveness. Don’t castigate him because our nutty economy (in a world of poverty) provides so much money in such places.
In this special year of so many H-mode anniversaries, I must ask whether the solution to a fan’s distress at Q-mode antics lies in willful abandonment of an admitted partial reality for a home in the bosom of warmth and hope. No real fan can do such a things for two reasons. First, you cannot even construct an adequately comforting H-mode without an unacceptable degree of fictionalization—for honorable Q- and H-modes are not fact vs. fiction, but two styles of truth à la Rashomon. Indeed, we must even fictionalize fiction to get the “pure” H-mode of Field of Dreams. In Thomas Kinsella’s fine novel, J.D. Salinger is the cynic taken to the ball game. In the film version, James Earl Jones plays the part and, in a moving scene, makes a speech about the beauty of baseball and then disappears with the old players into the field of dreams. They had to use a black man to perfect the H-mode; in no other way could baseball’s greatest sin be expiated. In life, most of those older players were racists, and none ever played in the majors with a black teammate. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the film. But Field of Dreams is not enough; we need Eight Men Out (the story of the Black Sox) for symmetry.
Second, a restricted dose of H-mode books can become pretty dull and pretty limiting pretty soon. I like all three of the books I have chosen for my H-mode counterpart to Marvin Miller—Teddy’s career on the fiftieth anniversary of his greatest year (Ted Williams: A Portrait in Words and Pictures, by Dick Johnson and Glenn Stout); Mickey’s finest season thirty-five years ago (My Favorite Summer 1956, by Mickey Mantle and Phil Pepe); and Bobby’s transcendant moment of 1951, forty years ago (The Home Run Heard ‘Round the World, by Ray Robinson). They are all well-written, accurate, and fun to read.
But the sameness of the genre begins to wear thin after a while. The two books that treat a specific time (Mickey in 1956 and Bobby in 1951) both begin with a scene-setting chapter in standard form: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” They are eerily similar. We learn what was on TV, who topped the charts of pop music, the content of newspaper headlines, the price of a hamburger. All three books then proceed in chronological fashion, for hagiography is a form of narrative, while criticism is analytical and tends to focus on issues rather than sequences.
The books have their differences. Ted Williams is full of well-chosen (and well-reproduced) photos and other pictorial memorabilia, and the biographical chapters include short essays written by some of baseball’s literary groupies, including David Halberstam, Donald Hall, George V. Higgins, and, I must admit it, yours truly (on the statistics of Williams’s .406 season). My Favorite Summer is particularly well constructed. The 1956 season was a classic and a triumph, climaxed by Don Larsen’s perfect game (including Mantle’s saving catch) in the World Series. But the chronology of old seasons is not nearly so interesting as the usual stuff of drama, and I would have thought such a format difficult to sustain (though the book is appropriately short). Phil Pepe, Mantle’s “as told to” writer, solves this problem by deftly following a chronological sequence, but using each major incident for a well-paced digression on the subject. Mantle’s batting in the All-Star game with Williams prompts a little essay on his reverence for the greatest of all hitters; the introduction of Don larsen, one of the best of the old-time drinkers, provides an occasion for a discourse on Mantle’s own legendary, late-night escapades.
For those benighted enough not to know the context of The Home Run Heard ‘Round the World (though I don’t know why I bother, for such folks can’t be fans and probably abandoned this essay long ago), the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers maintained the greatest of all rivalries (I loved the Giants and hated the Bums; their joint departure for California in 1958 began the serious decline of New York City). In 1951, the haughty Bums were thirteen and a half games ahead in mid-August and the race seemed over. But the Giants fought back and tied the Dodgers at the end of the season, prompting a three-game play-off. They split the first two games, and the entire year hinged on the finale. The Giants entered the ninth inning behind 4–1, and all seemed lost. But they scored a run and had two men on when Bobby Thomson came up, unfurled his bat to October’s breeze, and hit the pill heard round the world. Russ Hodges, the Giant announcer, broke into joyous babbling. Red Barber, the Dodgers’ man, simply broadcast: “It’s in there for the pennant.” Red Smith wrote in his next morning’s column: “The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention.”
If a season seemed implausible, you wouldn’t think that a moment could fill out a whole book. But Ray Robinson prevails, particularly for New Yorkers like me who lived through the event with maximal passion. Predictably, most of the book fills out the entire season, the personalities, and the finer points of baseball’s deepest rivalry. But several final chapters treat the moment itself, and Robinson does not run out of things to say. I particularly enjoyed the “where were you when?” final chapter, where many celebrities and ordinary folks recall their spot—for my generation knows this as well as the next remembers where they were on November 22, 1963. I, at age ten, was glued to our newly purchased first TV, home alone after school. I have never known a greater moment of pure joy in my life.
How, then, shall we deal with relationships between the H- and Q-modes, the two deep valleys that house nearly every baseball book (with very few able to maintain a position on the sharp ridge between)? I have thought about this for years, have played with many solutions, and have finally come to the decision that we must leave the two modes alone in their different realities. We need both, but they cannot be combined. They are like oil and water in a jar—immiscible—and all lovers of the game must own a jar with both components in their separate layers.
Please do not misunderstand me. Hagiographical and quotidian are not true vs. false, exaggerated vs. accurate. Both are equally true, but partial. Hagiography is myth in the honorable, not the prevaricatory, sense. There are no lies in My Favorite Summer, only a partial account in the H-mode. But to understand Mantle fully, you need both modes. In the current, H-mode book, Mantle presents the mythological line on salary: I loved the game so much, I couldn’t even think of such issues. He writes:
After the 1955 season, the Yankees sent me a contract for $32,500. To me, that was all the money in the world. My dad probably didn’t make that much combined all the years he worked in the mines. I didn’t even try to get the Yankees to give me more. I just signed the contract and sent it right back. I couldn’t wait to go to spring training to get ready for the 1956 season.
But Mantle also wrote a Q-mode book in 1985, The Mick. Here he writes with bitterness about yearly run-ins with George Weiss, his paternalistic, mean-spirited boss. After the 1957 season, which (on paper) was even greater than his 1956 year, Weiss had the audacity to propose a $5,000 pay cut. (The denigration continued. Mantle was forced to take a $10,000 pay cut before the 1961 season; he responded by hitting fifty-four home runs, his highest total, and inspiring teammate Roger Maris to break Babe Ruth’s record with sixty-one.) Most revealing are Mantle’s long descriptions of his financial worries at the height of his career. He was especially concerned about a failing bowling alley that he had started to secure his long-term financial future. His fears reached their peak in 1957:
I was also getting migraines worrying about my once-flourishing bowling alley. Competition had sprouted faster than a field of wild daisies…. My alley was not luxurious…. And here I am holding a five-year lease. At $2,300 a month there were those nights after closing time where I’d stare at the ceiling and imagine myself drilling a hole through the floor of the banks above to let some of their money trickle down.
Can you imagine anyone of Mantle’s status worrying about, or even thinking of establishing, a bowling alley today? A modern Mantle could make three times $2,300 for each at-bat, and could secure his financial future in a single season.
I would make an analogy to the hoary issue of science vs. religion. This is a supposed conflict, more accurately a pseudo-conflict, that shouldn’t exist at all, but flares up only when one side invades the domain of the other. As inquiries into empirical and moral truth, these subjects form necessary components of a complete life. But they integrate no better than H and Q, or oil and water. We each need to carry a jar with the two layers. Yet some of the world’s greatest troubles, intellectual and otherwise, arise from movements by one realm into alien territory—the oxymoronic “scientific creationism,” religion improperly masquerading as science, to choose a prominent contemporary example; or claims that we can judge human value from test scores and measurements, to show that both realms can be guilty of imperialism.
Similarly, in baseball, great and unnecessary troubles arise when one mode invades the legitimate domain of the other. We often hear that the H-mode passion for events of the pre-Miller era is false and phony because Q-mode oppression was then so real. But Babe Ruth was the greatest icon we ever had; Lou Gehrig lived and died with nobility; and Bobby Thomson hit that home run, bringing joy or despondency to millions. These splendid men, and their marvelous achievements, are degraded if we deny their legitimacy because the quotidian reality of baseball as a business stressed a different theme. In fact, one might argue that their achievements and their passion are even more admirable because they played with all their heart while being cheated and patronized by management.
Even more perniciously, hagiography has always slipped into the Q world of contracts to gain a great ideological leg up for management: “Hey guys, we are actually paying you to play a game. Just take what we offer and shut up.” This is the very incursion that Marvin Miller fought so long, and with complete success. Thanks to his victory, we can now properly separate the modes and, for the first time, treasure both—for Q is no longer oppression, and H can therefore give us unalloyed pleasure.
In other words, we want a détente for this two-sided Rashomon. We need a sporting equivalent of the Status Quo. The Status Quo—the proper noun, not the common phrase—is the agreement signed in 1852 to regulate the unseemly turf wars among various Christian factions within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, site of Christ’s crucifixion, in Jerusalem. Under this agreement, times for lighting lamps, opening windows, and saying masses are strictly regulated; and territory is subdivided to the inch. The factions do not love one another, but they survive in imposed and separate harmony mingled with tension—and they do supposedly share a common purpose. Let the H- and Q-modes of baseball commentary execute a similar, if unwritten, status quo. They share the common goal of bringing the best in baseball to a nation of fans.
Last year, I participated in a baseball seminar in Philadelphia. I sat on the dais, surrounded by the great pitching heroes of Philadelphia’s only World Series in my lifetime—Robin Roberts (of the 1950 team) and Tug McGraw, who got the last outs in 1980, when the Phillies won their first World Series ever. I felt moved to note this passage of H-mode history in my remarks—from the Phils’ noble failure in my nine-year-old youth, to their success in my maturity. I said that, although the Phils lost all four games to my Yanks in 1950, people forget that all were close (the first three decided by a single run), and that the Series was far more exciting and closely matched than most people remember. I added that although Roberts lost the second game, he had pitched magnificently, losing 2–1 on a homer by my hero Joe DiMaggio in the tenth inning. Roberts stopped me in the middle of my speech and went to the podium. He said: “I want to thank you for remembering that; so few people do. We were good, and it meant so much to us.”
I looked at Roberts, a former hero now aging, and felt suffused by H-mode warmth. But then I remembered: Robin Roberts was the agitator, the thorn in the side of management, the campaigner for players’ rights and better contracts, the man who, above all other players, was responsible for hiring Marvin Miller. Is there a “real” Robin Roberts to stand up? Is the H-mode man who spoke so movingly to me any less genuine than the Q-mode player who brought Marvin Miller into baseball? Let us instead be thankful that personalities and institutions display such interesting variety.
October 24, 1991