Baseball is supposed to be fun. It became the national pastime precisely because it is a more enjoyable way to melt the day than, say, working in a steel mill 18 consecutive hours or braving the July heat to till the land. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball, you run the bases. The sun shines on your back and you feel alive. A smile inevitably spreads from ear to ear. Baseball, the greatest of games, is fun.
Tim McCarver knows this. He had fun as a player and has been having fun as a broadcaster. He’s spent his life around the game and experienced untold joy. That’s why it was jarring to hear his cranky, Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino commentary during yesterday’s Cubs-Cardinals game.
The Cubs, playing for the National League Central title, fell behind early. Anthony Rizzo, the heart and soul of the franchise, then doubled in the tying run. As he approached second, he jumped in the air and wildly waved his hands in the air.
It was an organic expression of happiness that didn’t show up the other team. It was for the team and not myopic. It had no bearing on anything, really. It was simply an acknowledgement that Rizzo felt the same euphoria as those packing Wrigley Field.
“A little much, I think,” he surmised.
McCarver is certainly entitled to his opinion. He’s forgotten more about baseball than I’ll ever know. But there’s something so depressing about that one-liner. It exists in a dark place, where the unbridled joy of the game is stifled.
If celebrating in this major of a moment — with this benign display — is out of bounds, things seem so futile. What’s the point in playing if you can’t experience emotions honestly? What’s the point in playing 162 games a year, if you can’t outwardly show that you care?
Think of all the time Cubs fans have spent watching their team this season. Think of how emotionally invested they are, let alone the players. It’s on television because there’s a tremendous and passionate audience. What’s the value in paying a commentator to judge someone for actually being human? What does McCarver’s comment sound like to fans who had a more boisterous reaction than Rizzo?
And this is coming from me, a prematurely crusty “respect the game” guy. A guy who doesn’t much care for bat flips and finger guns and other actions intentionally done to taunt the opposition. In fact, I’d suggest that a person who finds Rizzo waving his arms a bit much and shouting while bouncing into second base problematic is not a person who should be serving as an ambassador to the masses.
This isn’t piling on McCarver. He’s just a small cog on a former players machine that gets on television and radio, then spends an inordinate amount of time criticizing today’s players and yearning for yesteryear. This is so tired and should be retired. There are, of course, times where criticism is warranted.
But I think I speak for a lot of people in saying that I’m sick of the no-fun police stopping and frisking every player who dares show some personality. Baseball gets attacked enough from the outside. Let’s not take the most human moments and strip them of their humanness.
It’s a fun game, played by people allowed to have fun, for the enjoyment of the masses. Sometimes it’s easier to clap along than to tsk tsk.