“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and could be again.”
These words were spoken by the J. D. Salinger manqué, Ted Mann (played by James Earl Jones), in the 1989 film Field of Dreams. It is certainly true that, ever since Abner Doubleday’s disputed creation of the sport, baseball quickly became the undisputed “national pastime.” Many a boy has been taken by his father to watch their team defend the honor of their hometown, all the while consuming hot dogs and popcorn while the calliope screams, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Folk of a certain age will remember the automobile ad incessantly chanting on television, “They go together, in the good old USA, baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.” Even now, to countless Americans, those words resonate. I don’t know how it is today, but in my boyhood, unofficial games of softball were played with as much zest by neighborhood kids as the more organized ones to be found in Little League. While the Boy Scouts of America may be collapsing, Little League is going strong.
Baseball players have always been considered heroes to their fans, who rejoiced with their victories and mourned their defeats. Hence the joylessness in Muddville when mighty Casey struck out. Could there have been greater pathos than the plaintive cry of the young fan to “Shoeless Joe” Jackson during the Black Sox scandal of 1919? (“Say it ain’t so, Joe?”) Generations of fans have seen a succession of baseball heroes: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, and on and on.
Even in my childhood, baseball cards were coin of the realm, alongside marbles, toy soldiers, and other such lad things. My Uncle Kitch took me to the old Riverfront Stadium in the summer of 1978 to watch Cincinnati Reds’ star Pete Rose in the midst of his 44-game hitting streak. Alas, being there on leave from ROTC Basic Training at Fort Knox (and much to my uncle’s disgust), I fell asleep. I don’t think he ever forgave me.
Starting today, I intend to keep snoozing through the games, since the players of our national pastime have decided they’d rather be activists than athletes. And that includes my home team, the New York Yankees, every single one of whom “took a knee” during the national anthem at the first game of the season.
Really, this makes my blood boil.
If I do not venerate the Founding Fathers, I do love the country to which my ancestors came, and whose uniform the men in my family have worn, down to my brother and me—him for over four decades and counting, me briefly in the very peacetime National Guard. I have been to every one of her states. I have studied her history, so mixed with glory and infamy. And I thank God for the opportunities she has showered on me and mine since we came here (albeit opportunities, rather than gifts).
I am not going to go into the organization founded by a trio of Marxist lesbians, or the embarrassing statistic that far more whites die at the hands of the police than blacks, or even that the single greatest cause of death among young black men is other young black men.
I will simply point out that while professional Major League Baseball players may no longer be the folk heroes they once were and baseball may be more a multimillion-dollar industry than the American folk symbol it once was, the MLB players still do quite well. Their average salary is over $4 million per year. Considering the modest backgrounds of many, there are almost as many rags-to-riches stories as there are players. If ever there were a group of people who ought to be grateful to the United States of America for what it has done for them, it is professional sports players in general, baseball players in particular, and coaches and owners especially. After all, these latter are making a fortune from an industry that essentially produces nothing.
This is why I have been particularly annoyed at the phenomenon of these football, basketball, and baseball players kneeling during the national anthem since 2016. I realize that these pampered darlings feel the need to be relevant. Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who began the practice in September of 2016, declared at the time, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Since then, knee-taking has become almost obligatory. It reached a crescendo this year, with the Football Commissioner apologizing for having condemned the practice and declaring his solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
So, what to do? Firstly, the national anthem should no longer be played at professional sports events of this nature. The little darlings should no longer be given the opportunity to besmirch a flag few of them have served under, but the better part of whose benefits they have so ostentatiously reaped. There is nothing worse than hearing the wealthy (however they have come by their pelf) whine about oppression. I cannot think of another country where professional athletes have the potential to make so much money.
Secondly, it is time to defund professional sports. The most obvious way to do this is the hardest: stop participating. Do not attend and do not watch. Refuse to buy products endorsed by such folk—save, perhaps, the few who refuse to kneel. Be sure to let the makers of the products know that you are not buying them for that reason. These people should simply not be allowed to profit from a system they claim to despise. Instead, put your time and energy into Little League, Pop Warner, and the equivalent, as well as local high school and college sports.
It’s very simple. Loyalty to a team has always meant loyalty to a city, but that city is part of one of fifty states. When athletes insult the national anthem and the flag, they are not merely insulting the symbols of a system which has allowed them the chance at immense wealth most Americans shall never know; they are insulting their fans—whether the fans are smart enough to notice that or not. As with actors and other entertainers, professional athletes exist because of their audience. As with those performers also, if they have contempt for the working men and women who are the sources of their income, they have no business making money off them. Above all, they have insulted the memory of those who have shed their blood for that flag. These spoiled children need spanking.
Photo credit: Rob Kim/Getty Images Entertainment