I was watching this most unanticipated World Series and wishing that the Yankees and Brewers were there. I really hate the Yankees so this has nothing to do with loyalty. No, I wanted to sort of test a hypothesis that my son and I argue about over the years. Baseball provides a haven for the most out of shape athletes in the world.
He claims that baseball is the one sport where players play who can in no way be considered real athletes. He strengthens the argument with illustrations of how many obviously out of shape lumpens actually play baseball and do so successfully. With considerable sarcasm he points out that these so called players can’t run fast or far; they are not really strong in a mano a mano sense; they are not real quick and, above all, they do not look like athletes. He likes to cite two obvious cases: Prince Fielder and C. C. Sabathia. See these pictures as evidence.
So I wanted to watch a series where two of the most out of shape and least athletic looking human beings I have ever seen were playing. Oddly enough they both seem to possess unidimensional and unique baseball talents that seem little related to a standard or classical conception of athleticism based upon form, speed, strength, courage and elegance..
Anyone who watches baseball knows what I am saying here. Only in baseball could you get body shapes and types of these two. We are not talking about the muscular strength and size of offensive linemen with their remarkable combination of size, strength, mass and intelligence. We are not talking about the fierce combination of strength and courage that goes into one on one battles in football or soccer or basketball where players jockey for position and movement. Certainly we are not talking about the vast endurance, quickness and strength of the modern soccer player, nor the svelte endurance and elegant form of a modern swimmer.
No, we are talking about guys who never hit triples because they would die of heart attacks between second and third. We are talking about guys who would faint the second time up and down a soccer field and guys who would suffer multiple contusions and life threatening damage if we put them in a football uniform. Can you imagine any of them trying to leap in basketball or volleyball? They would strangle themselves in the volleyball net and would suffer heart failure on the basketball court. Girth and width and ponderousness are not qualities any other sport, except sumo wrestling, values. Of course it is also a sport where the Red Sox demonstrated that star players can eat fried chicken and drink beer during games
I am not denying that some baseball players are superb athletes and many have speed and a remarkable quickness to hit and field. I love baseball but one of its true anomalies is how human beings so obviously and incredibly out of shape and lacking endurance, quickness, speed can actually play and succeed in a professional game.
I think we should celebrate this fact that the nonathletic can play baseball and make it into an icon. After all think about Big Papi, David Ortiz, the immobile designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. In fact the designated hitter, kind of like being a pitcher, creates a role that permits such individuals to play the sport. We might add the beloved Kung Fu Panda Pablo Sandoval of the World Champion Giants from last year’s World Series.
The best analogues I can think of are the accidental seven footers who populate basketball. Many of them have not so great coordination and might be quite slow or have hard hands or little leaping ability. But they are seven feet tall and can take up space and work in a narrow zone when surrounded by four athletic, swift, quick and strong players. And at least they can run up and down the court innumerable times without dying or fainting.
So let’s hear it for baseball. A last bastion! where out of shape people can still play a professional sport. Who else can say that?