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Monday, October 25, 2010
The Fall. Classic.

By Jeff MacGregor
ESPN.com

Good luck Giants.

1800s Baseball Player
Dan Brouthers, who played in the late 1800s, probably heard about how much the game had changed for the worse.

Good luck Rangers.

The World Series starts Wednesday.

And having said that, let me be honest, it's hard to think of anything else to say. Certainly hard to think of anything new. After 107 autumns come and gone and hundreds of millions of words written and spoken, published and broadcast in joy or in sadness, it would be hard work to think of anything new to say about anything. But most especially about baseball. Most especially about our No Longer Operative National Metaphor. About our Faltering Anti-Modernist Faux-Pastoral Profit Center and Inapt Transcontinental Cliché.

About our National Pastime.

And because our mainstream zombie sporting press remains impervious to curiosity, rather than a thousand times a thousand words on the Medical Ethics of Performance Enhancement, or on the sub-prime foreclosure of baseball's future, or on the failures of earnestness in the Age of Irony, or on Who Paid For Your Local Stadium? (You Did, Sucker), prepare yourself instead for The Five Things Batters Look For; for the Seven Keys to Winning; for the Ten Mortal Managerial Locks; for the Dozen Inside Pitching Tips and for the Four Score Schematics And Statistical Scenarios In Which We Predict Who Is Most Likely To Do What To Whom.*

*And When and How.**

** But Never Why.

Gear yourself up as well for the inevitable, interchangeable short-form player profiles (parents/no parents; obstacles/many obstacles; strength/faith; English/Spanish; yes/no; jail/rehab; 22" rims/23" rims; neck beard/neck tattoo; loves/does not yet love), and the annual asking of capitalized rhetorical unanswerables, i.e., What Has Money Done To The Game?

Then maybe someone gets a postgame pie in the face.

Cliff Lee
In the late fall shadows, Cliff Lee might be devising even more torturous tricks for batters.

Thus will your newly straitened local sports section be filled with fables written in shorthand, harmless clubhouse antics, and numbers untroubled by meaning.

Traditionalists and salary-cappers and baseball originalists have brightened momentarily because the Yankees are gone from the postseason. And because the Giants and the Rangers are respectively 8th and 26th on the major league payroll list. But those smiles don't last any longer than it takes to ask them where serial killer Cliff Lee might ply his deadly trade in 2011.

The very question rings down a curtain of melancholy -- and sets off a 20-minute disquisition on the rotten corruptions of money and the lack of competitive balance. Of course the originalists have been disappointed in Base-Ball since the day after it was invented, telling anyone who will (or won't) listen, "You should have been here yesterday."

It is worth remembering (and worth remembering as more than just a function of American slang) that the rest of the world thinks of the United States the way a Pittsburgh Pirates fan thinks of the New York Yankees. As an arrogant, permanent nuisance; as a crass, overleveraged obstacle to balance in the world; as an enemy of happiness; as a tyrannical universal force of conscienceless amorality representing not excellence or ambition, but only the blunt hammer blow of its selfishness, of its undeserved and undeserving wealth. In Ambridge or Amman, Yankees are everything that's wrong in the world.

Which is no truer there than here; no truer in baseball than out of it. Yankees are only as bad as you allow them to be.

Set all that aside.

The genius of baseball, the genius of the game and our capacity to distract ourselves, lies in what the game reveals. The game, as it always has, mirrors the age in which it is played. In it, and in our response to it, it remains possible to see ourselves for who we truly are rather than who we pretend to be.

AT&T Park at Night
This is what we're looking forward to: Nine men per side playing on a diamond, the game greater than the sum of any number of words written about it.

Which -- in this age of money-grubbing corporate technocrats -- is powerfully unflattering to most of us.

But somewhere in one of these World Series games, you'll see it. A swing. A leap. A catch. One irreducible human gesture. One instant of genuine grace. Enough to redeem every one of us.

A player toes the infield; a player frowns and spits; a player squints up into the lights as if trying to puzzle out the answer to existence itself.

Pitch. Hit. Run. Throw.

The arm in motion, the bat in motion, the ball in motion, the man in motion.

And beneath it all, a whole green world turning.

Nothing new will be said, because nothing new can be said. For which we should all be very grateful.

The World Series starts Wednesday.

Good luck Rangers.

Good luck Giants.

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.

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