Thursday, June 22, 2006

World Cup + Baseball = Bad Writing

If I were smarter, I would draw a link between the world and the world of cup, or I should say the World Cup, that quadrennial tournament of soccer madness now taking place in Germany.

The United States squad made a splendid exit today, losing a match it certainly could have won. Americans, feel free to now ignore the rest of the World Cup.

Instead of commenting on our nation’s soccer ignorance and why it is bad for Cooperation Between Nations, I could write about the precision of the German side, the stylish domination of Brazil, France's tendencies to choke, or the surprising coherence so far of Spain or Argentina. But since I haven't been a sportswriter for in 20 years, I'll let those pass.

And I will also let pass the temptation to write about the poetics of soccer, of its intellectual and philosophical dimensions. Somewhere, there's an egghead with a one-word name doing a much better job in a foreign language bloviating on aesthetics and soccer, writing about "the beautiful game" as if it were hanging on the wall of the Louvre.

Randy returns to Bookfraud!

Do you know what I'm talking about? I'm not really sure myself—I haven't read such treatises about soccer. However, I have read many books about America's national pastime (or at least, I've read the reviews). These are the books that have titles like "Why Baseball Is Life," "The Art of the Sacrifice Bunt," or "Perfection Is a Nolan Ryan Fastball."

These are, in a word, stupid books. This is not to say I don’t enjoy baseball, for on several occasions, I have contemplated impaling myself on a spear after the Cubs found yet brand-new way to lose in the playoffs.

But these books are a different matter. The people being written about—baseball players—would never be caught dead reading them. In fact, given the choice between spending $20 for a George Will book on baseball or another lap dance at Club Cheetah, you know two sawbucks are going to end up in a g-string of a lady named “Porsche.”

It's interesting how little by comparison is written about, say, Football as Metaphor or Basketball as Life. That’s because baseball is a game that overeducated, uncoordinated weenies (yeah, me too) love to write about because the game holds the illusion that just about anybody can play it.

Meet your favorite athlete here

Sure, most baseball players are taller than your standard American male, and thanks to advances in pharmaceutical science, have more beef on them than cattle on the Steroid Ranch. But sportswriters and intellectuals (not one and the same, trust me) still harbor the fantasy of being able to stand in against Randy Johnson and knock one over the fence. It's the same dream they've had since they were kids.

Instead of actually playing, these university professors and public thinkers write books about the “glory of the game.” The interesting thing about all of these books is that they're written almost exclusively by white men for white men.

Even though I'm a white man, I'm not really taken with kind of thing, because it elevates sports to something that it's not, which is something one should spend time contemplating. Of all the philosophers in the world, sports philosophers are the least deserving of our attention.

For instance, I played soccer in high school. The coach put me in goal the first day of freshman practice. But being of average height, slow reflex, and lousy vision, my goalkeeping skills were less advanced than my skills with teenage girls, and my only real athletic talent (I was fast, and could stop on a dime) went to waste.

Now, I could go into some serious soul searching, contemplating what all this meant to my long-term mental health, but why? It was just a stupid game, and though it pains me still to remember any goal I surrendered (and believe me, I remember them all), there was little about the experience that taught Life Lessons or any crap like that. Sure, I had to "learn" about teamwork and disclipline, the things sports "teaches" us. But I had teammates who were selfish and arrogant, who weren't less selfish and arrogant when the season ended. They got the red card for life.

If I were to attach any philosophical element to baseball or soccer, it would be no different than for any other sport. Since we no longer attach glory to the battlefield or the hunt, men play sports to establish their genetic bona fides, prove their mettle on the battlefield, and grab babes. Pretty much comes down to that. Baseball, soccer, hockey, football, it doesn't matter. (Women's motivation for playing sports, well, that’s for another blog).

I'm so bored with the U.S.A.

This evolutionary psychology point of view de-romanticizes sports to the point where nobody should be writing books about the beauty of the free kick or the perfection of nine innings. These kind of non-fiction books celebrate men who are particularly successful on the athletic battlefield and gain reproductive advantages on the battlefield of life, and generally, are dudes with whom you would have a fairly hard time carrying on a conversation.

Ah, male displays to proclaim reproductive fitness—nothing like a little sports to ease the mind.