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Meta-Baseball

What makes Baseball so special is that it is MORE than just the visible game in front of you; it is Meta-Baseball which every true fan sees just as clearly.

Meta-Baseball
Photo: Skeeze

As we emerge from the long, dark, cold, damp tunnel that is winter, we also face the culmination of the long, cold, damp hockey season in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Watching an ice-based activity while temperature is high and the sun is up doesn’t strike me as natural. It puts the hockey fan at odds with his environment. I would just as soon forget about snow and ice until I absolutely HAVE to in November or December. That’s one reason why I’m a baseball fan.

Spring brings with it the prospect of warmth and long days outside in the sunshine, of lounging idly and watching the kids play. That is what the Baseball season fosters. Hope springs eternal as the ritual of Opening Day is enacted across the continent and ushers in another season.

What makes Baseball so special is that it is MORE than just the visible game in front of you; it is Meta-Baseball which every true fan sees just as clearly.

Computer geeks are familiar with this prefix. “Meta” from the Greek means “after,” “beyond,” “with,” and expands baseball from the strict confines of what the rule book governs between the foul lines. Meta-Baseball embraces the activities that occur BETWEEN the bursts of action, as well as BEFORE and AFTER.

It embraces the History of the game, over 150 years of it, but most fans can only recall details going back to about 1900. Today’s game can be compared to previous games that have been played over the last 120 years.

Read The Mental Game of Baseball: A Guide to Peak Performance from Amazon.

Baseball lore allows for truth and myth, but that is all part of its charm. Proof being in the location of the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, the counterfeit “home” of the game. The debates are endless. Did Babe Ruth really make the “called shot” home run in the 1932 World Series? Could Ted Williams hit .400 in today’s game?

There were criminal misfortunes, such as the (villainous in my books) exclusion of non-whites for so long, denying us a good look at top-notch players such as Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige and so many others. The 1919 “Black Sox” scandal ended the careers of some players and changed the way the game is overseen. Pete Rose got himself banned for life in 1989 for gambling-related activities.

Meta-baseball incorporates that fact that non-athletic types make a contribution. When Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould died he left behind a book about baseball, published posthumously as “Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville.” When astrophysicist Stephen Hawking recanted a previously published theory he paid off a bet with another astrophysicist by sending him a copy of the encyclopedia “Total Baseball.” Actor Billy Crystal fulfilled a life-long dream this year in spring training by having at-bat as a bonafide, contracted New York Yankee in a live game. Sadly, he struck out. But he went down swinging.

There is Cast of Thousands in meta-baseball. There are Good guys and Bad guys; just think of Stan Musial and Gary Carter, then think of Ty Cobb and Barry Bonds. Towering Legends such as Babe Ruth and Cy Young and Tragic figures like Lou Gehrig and Roberto Clemente.

Baseball has seen Heroic Figures like Jackie Robinson and the Warm Personalities of Buck O’Neal. There were “If-Only” players. What if Mickey Mantle wasn’t injured most of his career?

We’ve seen Funny Guys like Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra, and Oddballs like Rube Waddell, a pitcher who would bolt from the game to follow fire trucks to a fire, and Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, a pitcher who stood on the mound and talked to the ball. Novel Players like Eddie Gaedel, standing 3 feet 7 inches, who had a single at-bat in a real game.

Then there is the game itself. There were Dramatic Seasons such in 1941 when Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio’s streak of hitting in 56 straight games. In 1961 Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chased and Maris beat Babe Ruth’s 60-homer record and 1998 when Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire chased Roger’s home run record.

And Magical Moments, Willy Mays’ “the catch” in the 1954 World Series. Ted Williams’ final at-bat home run. Henry Aaron’s 715th home run. Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series-winning home run for the Toronto Blue Jays.

While the Major Leagues provide most of our memory fodder, Minor League baseball at all levels makes its own contributions. In a 2007 Ottawa Lynx game, as a batter successfully hit a single and arrived at first base we turned back to home plate to find the umpire spread-eagled across the plate, unconscious after being hit by the bat’s back-swing.

It’s all part of meta-baseball and it only grows with time.

And let’s not forget that you can enjoy the game on a warm summer’s evening with a cold glass of beer and a hot dog while carrying on an animated discussion with your companions without missing a beat of the game. And you might catch a ball!

So as the hockey season winds down, cheer up. Baseball is here for another season!

Steve Cullen grew up with the Montreal Expos and still mourns their loss. He never played in a league, used to have a pretty accurate infield throw, and believes watching baseball movies should be part of every child’s basic education. He believes the game and the meta-game are almost the same thing.