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How Baseball Helps Me Understand Politics

Baseball is the American game, in part because it feels like America.

Baseball Flag by Guian Bolisay is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

How Baseball Helps Me Understand Politics


Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner, says he believes there should be a constitutional amendment banning the designated hitter. In his mind, he is defending the constitution of baseball. The irony that he wants to preserve baseball’s constitution by changing America’s signifies its import.

I have been an avid baseball fan for about twenty-five years, and in that time, the only significant change to the game’s constitution – COVID era aside – is that they added a second wild card team in 2012. So I’ve gotten pretty used to the game the way it is. I’ve grown accustomed to its face, as Henry Higgins might say. And its face, throughout my baseball lifetime, has been thus: the American League has the designated hitter and the National League doesn’t. There has been talk of implementing the designated hitter in the National League for years, and for one COVID-shortened season, it happened. In 2021 we were back to normal, although many continue to clamor for the Universal DH.

I’m against it. Consider me Team Crash.

The first reason I’m on Team Crash is, when it comes to baseball, I’m fairly conservative. Meaning, I don’t like change. The American League has the designated hitter and the National League doesn’t. That’s the way it is and that’s the way it should be. It may be an imperfect system, but that’s the way I’ve always known it and that’s the way it should stay. Call me old-fashioned, but we can improve the game without changing the rules.

I hear myself say that and I think, “oh my God… I sound like a Republican.”

Now, I am not referring to the insurrectionist MAGA cult that has taken over the party, nor am I waxing nostalgic about a bygone era of bipartisanship. I’m talking about people who long for what they think of as the good old days when you could tell an off-color joke, or flirt with your secretary without the fear of losing your livelihood, or express confusion about what all the LGBTQIABIPOC letters mean without risking ostracization, or call your potato head Mister.

Come to think of it, some of these people aren’t even Republicans.

As Barack Obama would say, let me be clear: I have no desire to return to a time when racism and sexism ran amuck without consequence. The “good old days” were only good for some people, and our society is objectively a much better place when xenophobia and harassment are not tolerated. Nevertheless, I understand how a person who is averse to change – the very definition of conservative – can struggle to adapt to an ever-evolving society. I stress that I do not share this point of view. But I understand it, and the world of baseball has helped me do so.

Games change. Countries change. Societies evolve, etiquette shifts. Teams adapt to different styles. Observers and participants either acclimate or yell at the TV. Sometimes both. When societal norms or managing styles modulate, it feels like the natural order of things, even when we don’t like it. But changing the rules? Actually opening up the big book and rewriting it? That, if you’ll pardon the pun, is a whole other ballgame.

Baseball is the American game, in part because it feels like America.

You have two teams who don’t like getting too close to each other; frequently, one wears red and one wears blue. The “three strikes and you’re out” rule is often applied to everyday life, even by non-baseball fans. And the game is soaked in nostalgia. Much in the way that many Americans idolize Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and the Roosevelts, baseball fans talk about Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle as if they were gods among men. Lou Gehrig’s legacy seems more akin to Lyndon Johnson’s than to Larry Bird’s. The romanticization of the game’s history is so legendary that there’s a whole movie (based on a book) about a guy who goes bankrupt ruining his farm because a voice told him Shoeless Joe Jackson would come play on his field.

America romanticizes its history so much we went to the trouble of putting four of our presidents’ faces on a mountain (in a town that in 2010 counted 337 residents).

The second reason I agree with Crash Davis is that it would be good for people to see our constitution get amended as a reminder that it can, in fact, be amended. The constitution has not been amended in nearly three decades, which is by far our longest gap between amendments since 1900, or what I would call the modern era.

Most Americans probably do not even remember the ratification of the twenty-seventh amendment, our most recent, since what it does is delay laws affecting Congressional salary from taking effect until after the next election. So it’s likely that the last amendment people remember was the twenty-sixth, ratified in 1971, which lowered the voting age to 18. In other words, the constitution has not changed in any meaningful way in half a century. Americans have gotten accustomed to the notion that the constitution is not a living document. (A constipated Congress and Supreme Court Justices like Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia have not helped this misperception.) But the constitution is a living, breathing document. We’ve proved it twenty-seven times. We can do it again.

And so, America, I say to you, take a stand and ratify the twenty-eighth amendment. Change the United States constitution. Ban the designated hitter. At least in the National League.

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