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TAKE THREE: Three views of the Southland | PATT MORRISON

Take Me Out of the Ballpark

September 26, 1997|PATT MORRISON

The Titanic struck an iceberg on a Sunday night in 1912, and sank 2 hours and 33 minutes later.

The Dodgers ran into the Padres on a Wednesday night in 1997, and it took them three minutes longer to sink than it did the Titanic, and they tell me that's the Reader's Digest condensed version of baseball.

Perhaps that's a little harsh.

On Wednesday, the last night of the Age of O'Malley, I thought I'd give baseball one more chance. Maybe I had been wrong. Maybe it isn't as boring as watching circuit boards being assembled. But no miracle happened. Dodger Dogs did not turn into textured soy, and I was not converted.

The last time I went to Dodger Stadium was 10 years ago this month, and the pope was playing right field.

The first time I went, Dodger Stadium ranked second of my top three most awful dates. (The third worst was going to see "2001," and the worst was being "surprised" with passes to an est seminar with Werner Erhard--and on the day of the Ohio State-Michigan game too, the holiest day on the Big 10 calendar.)

At each of these, I fell asleep. The same thing would have happened Wednesday had the sportswriters a few seats down from me not been speculating about Marv Albert's recreational underwear.

They say baseball is a relaxing game. Boy, is it. As long as Fortune 500 companies are buying up ballparks and renaming them, they should make Chavez Ravine into Sominex Stadium. This game doesn't need upper decks, it needs upper berths.

The only sizzle Wednesday night was coming from the hot dogs. Dodger Stadium might do better advertising, "Come for the food . . . stay for the game." When the courtly Brett Butler stepped up for his last home game as a Dodger, then promptly grounded out, the man standing next to me shrugged and said, "Well, back to my nachos."


The diamond is not this girl's best friend. Give me the gridiron. Televised or live, football has it all over baseball. (It was the game I learned at my father's knee, and perhaps if he had fed me on baseball instead, I might have warmed to it.)

A pro football team plays 16 games in a regular season; a pro baseball team plays 10 times that, 162. Somewhere in there, interest has to wander, even for a player.

The basic principles of baseball are simple. Guys move in a square to score points while other guys move a ball to stop them. It's the individual players whose long reach or short fuse turns a simple game into some demotic priesthood, full of ritual and arcana and secret signs that no outsider, no novice could possibly appreciate--like the endless statistical natterings about players living and dead, and how shortstop Rog Rakehell massaged his first glove with neat's foot oil every day since he was 8 years old and he still has it today even though it looks like a glossy piece of cowhide jerky.

The basics of football are more complicated, but once mastered they alone can make the game engrossing, without individual stats or quirks. In football, every play has manifold variables--even the defense could score at any moment, impossible in the stately ploddings of baseball.

Football is a 100-yard dash from which you don't dare glance away. Baseball is marathon; tune in at the start and watch the finish, and you won't have missed a thing.


Once you decide to take a dislike to something, no criticism is too petty.

Pockets in baseball players' uniform pants--as annoying as the Queen of England carrying a purse. What is that all about? What do they need to carry on the field, ID? Their names are right there on their shirts in case they forget. Change for the Coke machines? A tin of chaw?

And this 2 1/2-games-out-of-first-place stuff. What is half a game? An editor used to tell me to write half a paragraph; there is no such thing. It was an invention of an editor, as this is some statistician's conceit.

So don't get me started.


The mind wanders, the attention drifts.

What are those two rocks up on the crest of the hill over there? They look like something left over from Stonehenge. Why, there's the Police Academy. Is that baton training going on? And did you know that on the scoreboard it takes 25 lightbulbs to make the numeral 5?

The big video screen was telling me to buy the latest issue of Dodgers magazine, $2.50, with Mike Piazza on the cover. It makes no mention of Mike Piazza also being on the cover of a skin magazine. Inside, he says he is for the double standard. He wants a girl who is there to please him, and that because he's strong, there have been rumors he's on steroids, even rumors he's gay, put out "probably [by] some chick who I blew off."

Can someone get this guy a designated thinker?

The calliope music from the stadium organ plays "Some Day My Prince Will Come," and I notice the game is over--what, already?--and everyone, even Mike Piazza, can get home in time to watch "Ellen."

This game doesn't need upper decks, it needs upper berths.

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