Play Ball

In ancient times, the baseball off-season was a yawning, aching void; a prolonged and dreary hibernation occasionally spiced with summer dreams. In today’s brave new baseball world it is legitimate to ask whether -- in terms of drama, competitive fury, and nasty give and take -- the regular season can be as interesting as the off-season?’ Are pennants won in December? We are about to find out.

This latest off-season edition ran from All Saints Day to Palm Sunday, stretched needlessly by the entirely ill-advised and overstated World Baseball Classic with rarely a day lacking in hot-button issues brimming over. The Grapefruit League sweepstakes lasted almost two months. How many dandies left their best game in Sarasota or Palm Beach let alone in some meaningless exhibition with the Koreans? That is another question.

We had the Perils of A-Rod, the Yankees’ Christmas spending spree, the Red Sox failed Teixeira flirtations, Joe Torre’s book, A-Rod’s outing, Selena Roberts’ book, A-Rod’s confessions, Joe Torre’s book tour, more Japanese supremacy in the American pastime, the Bud Selig debates, much ado about the Dominican cousin, the Hall of Fame debates, the further adventures of Manny Ramirez, the unveiling of the twin baseball Taj Mahals of the Bronx and Queens amidst the requisite controversy, the latest Larry Lucchino “evil empire” tantrum, the decline of the players union. How can a three game series with the Washington Nationals or Seattle Mariners compare with any of that?

All of which should presage either one of the more uproarious seasons in baseball history or an inglorious letdown. Or so might be the case under ordinary circumstances. But there’s no such thing as “ordinary circumstances” in anno domini 2009. And there’s the rub.

Actually, baseball has done well in hard times historically. Not many businesses were steadier during the Great Depression when the minor leagues were deep and widespread and stacked. Lads got paid what might seem pauper’s wages now but they were five to ten times what they might have commanded in ‘‘the real world’’ assuming they had the rare luck to find a job in a general economy with 35 percent of its work force on the beach.

Moreover, there was a wonderful national network of business, trade, industrial and town team leagues -- semi-pro baseball -- where working stiffs could supplement meager paychecks with important dough. My dear late dad, the estimable Ace Booth, a stylish first baseman out of Squantum, was still smiling 15 years later when he recalled how he got a $10 a week raise for jumping Filenes to play for Jordan Marsh. Scandalous!

During the War, when the game bore on in the interest of national morale, the owners made more money than they made in the Depression while most of the old-timers and draft ineligibles who glutted big league rosters made far more than they would have in the defense plants. And thanks to FDR, with his “bear on Boys” mandate, they were made to seem like patriots to boot.

In those early to mid-20th century economic downswings, baseball, along with the movie industry, invariably thrived. The notion that in hard times the great-unwashed public yearns for such escapes became the governing rationale. But then we’re talking about times when a general admission baseball ticket cost a quarter and you could get into a movie for a dime. Maybe the hundred or so bucks such amusements might cost you now isn’t that much more when you factor two thirds of a century of soaring wages, mushrooming disposable income, and hyper inflation. But the psychology of the thing is a whole lot different. This is not 1933 revisited.

As best dramatized by the ludicrous extremes. In 1965, which was only yesterday, reserved grandstand seats at Yankee Stadium cost $2.50 and those up-close box seats, some of which they are pricing at $2,650 at the new palace, cost $3.50. Not that the wretched excess is confined to the Bronx although it is so comforting for the cheeky denizens of Red Sox Nation to think so. For the price of just one game viewed from the top of the Fenway Park leftfield wall for mom, dad and no more than one kid (not including the beer, junk food, parking, programs, ad nauseam) you could have had a season ticket for the entire regular and post-season in that epic year, 1975. Where wretched excess is concerned, the Red Sox and Yankees are brothers under the skin.

This is totally uncharted territory for baseball. There are no valid comparisons. The great question of the ’09 season is not about who ultimately wins or bombs or excels or fails or leads the leagues in this or that. Rather it is about whether they all survive and how well and how grave is the impact of an economy gone sour and a customer base shriveled by obligatory prudence veering on sheer, abject, and unmitigated fear, as FDR himself might have termed it. Thus baseball becomes an economic indicator, much like the jobless rate or the Dow Jones. Attendance figures will be studied as closely as batting averages. It should be mighty interesting.

As for the traditional factors -- you know, the ones about who wins or loses and all that relatively mundane stuff -- our cup of burning questions runneth over.

Will the Yankees reap the benefits of their runaway spending? Will the Red Sox pay a price for not patching aging gaps in their offense? Will Manny, driven by new contract incentives, burn up the NL? Will all that undeservedly feather Joe Torre’s nest? Are the Phils a one-year phenom? Will it be 101 years and counting for the Cubbies? Are the Rays for real? Is the Angels run done? Quo vadis A-Rod? Will the WBC cost Daisuke the Cy Young? Will A-Rod keep his mouth shut and lower his profile? Will the Royals Zack Greinke win the Cy; the Yanks’ Mark Teixeira the MVP? Will the Royals rise from the ashes? Will some team (Jays, Tigers, Padres, Astro’s, Nationals) go bankrupt? Will the Mets flop classically again? If the Yankees blow it will A-Rod get blamed? Will the Red Sox finish second and be life or death for the playoffs? Will the other 103 names on that 2004 steroid test list be revealed? Will there be still another, steroid-related blockbuster? Are hard times ahead for Czar Selig, the $18 million a year, do-nothing, commissioner? Is the Players Union, as we have known it, in trouble?

The answer to all the questions is ‘‘Yes” -- save for those about the inscrutable A-Rod, which are appropriately unanswerable. Hence the dear boy’s dubious charm. Yet another question might be, “Is there life for the Manhattan tabloids after A-Rod?” To which the answer would be, “uncertain”.

Clearly that’s enough to keep us amused in the forthcoming campaign which proceeds merrily from the blocks this week with all teams being equal for about two weeks. Heaviest attention is on the AL East where, some maintain, the three best teams in all of baseball reside. They’re saying it’s how the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays deal with one another that will decide who wins this race and ultimately the whole enchilada. Many believe all three could win 94 or more games with one of them -- incredibly -- missing the playoffs. That’s the conventional wisdom and it’s widespread.

Which is, as ever, a good reason to be skeptical and look elsewhere. I have the hunch that one of them will fail and another will be better than expected and that the race in the AL East will not be as grueling as predicted. Always remember that you must never trust the “conventional wisdom”.

For sure, fine story lines abound but the best remains the one that has nothing to do with what happens on the field or who wins or loses, etc. Can baseball, a never-never land existing in a rarefied bubble that defies all laws and logic having to do with economics, finance, even basic reality, for that matter, simply shrug off forces that have shaken the entire global order?

If the answer is “Yes”, it is one helluva story. We shall hold our breath.

Play Ball!

World
Cardinal beatifies 22-year-old Romanian as 'martyr to chastity'

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- A 22-year-old Romanian peasant has taken a step closer to sainthood as a "martyr to chastity," six decades after she was murdered ...

Nation
Maryland attorney general will review church records on child sex abuse

BALTIMORE (CNS) -- In a Sept. 24 letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Archbishop William E. Lori informed priests and deacons that the ...

Nation
People helping people is what attracted actor to 'God Friended Me'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Television audiences may recall seeing actor Joe Morton as Eli Rowan Pope, the father of professional Washington fixer Olivia Pope, ...

Nation
Pa. bishops support creating fund to compensate survivors of sex abuse

PHILADELPHIA (CNS) -- The bishops of Pennsylvania's eight Roman Catholic dioceses are supporting creation of an independent fund to compensate survivors ...

Nation
CRS sells fair trade coffee, supporting Mexican farmers and land

Baltimore, Md., Sep 24, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Catholic Relief Services is now offering fair trade coffee beans that will benefit local farming communities ...

World
The Jesuit who survived the KGB

Vilnius, Lithuania, Sep 24, 2018 CNA.- When Pope Francis visited a former KGB building in Vilnius, Lithuania Sept. 23, Archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius ...

World
Next step toward artificial reproduction violates human fundamentals, ethicist warns

Washington D.C., Sep 25, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Artificial human reproduction appears to be on the horizon with Japanese scientists’ claim to ...

World
Update: Scandals create outrage, but there is time for conversion, pope says

TALLINN, Estonia (CNS) -- In what is probably the least religious country in Europe, Pope Francis said he is surprised by how many people hold firm to ...

Nation
Catholic leaders oppose administration's plan to limit green cards

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic leaders are speaking out against a Trump administration proposed rule announced Sept. 22 that would deny green cards to legal ...

Nation
Head of Georgetown Prep urges renewed commitment to being 'men for others'

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In a letter to the school community, the president of an all-boys Jesuit high school in suburban Washington emphasized the schools' ...

Nation
Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

World
Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Nation
Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

World
Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

World
God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

World
Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

World
Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Nation
Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

Nation
N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Nation
Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Nation
Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Nation
Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

Nation
#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Nation
Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Nation
Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Nation
Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Nation
Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

World
Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Local
Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Local
Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Local
Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Local
Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Local
Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

Local
From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

Nation
N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

Nation
U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Nation
Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

World
Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

World
Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

World
In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Nation
Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...