"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Reaching Across the Aisle

Aside from the fact that most of the Series wasn’t particularly competitive, and that it involved teams I can muster only very tepid enthusiasm for or against, I had a problem getting into the Fall Classic this year simply because I’m deeply distracted – not just with work, or personal stuff, but with the *#&@ing election, with which I’ve been unhealthily obsessed for well over a year now.

Don’t get me wrong: if the Yankees or Mets had been in the Series, I would absolutely not have been so focused on silly stuff like a global economic crisis, and I would most likely have been checking baseball sites eight times a day instead of FiveThirtyEight.com (Baseball Prospectus writers: is there anything they can’t do?). As it is, it seems my baseball obsession has finally, temporarily, met its match.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to talk politics here; it seems no comment section is safe these days, and I myself completely lost my sense of humor on this topic weeks ago. But that’s why baseball’s more important to my mental health than ever. At a time when it sometimes seems like an innocuous remark about the weather can provoke partisan shrieking, it feels like one of the last safe havens.

In the office where I’m currently working, there’s an older man, who I’ll call Pete, a very friendly and affable guy, with whom I happen to disagree on virtually every conceivable political point. It was clear from my first day on the job a couple months back that, issues-wise, we were each more or less the other’s worst nightmare. There was, however, exactly one thing we had in common … campaign-finance reform! No, I’m kidding, you were right the first time: baseball.

Most baseball fans are familiar with Walt Whitman’s famous (and it turns out, after some very cursory research, possibly mis-attributed) quote about the game, from Bull Durham if from nowhere else: “I see great things in baseball. It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism, tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set, repair those losses and be a blessing to us.”

I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, personally – anyone who thinks baseball relieves nerves and dyspepsia has never watched their team play a close Game 7, and it’s going to take more than Rays vs Phillies to repair our losses. I’m wary of the kind of sentimentalizing that would have us believe that all we need to overcome our pesky differences is a good ball game. Still, I think it’s safe to say it can sometimes, in a small-scale way, be a start.

Pete, my colleague, is a die-hard Yankees fan. He comes over to the area by my cubicle at least once a day, usually, ostensibly to water the half-dead plants there, but really to talk about baseball. And so instead of arguing about the political news every morning, the kind of conversations which start out lighthearted but can eventually get a little heated despite our best intentions, we could talk about the team, or about the playoffs, and instead of arguing about Sarah Palin we can debate whether K-Rod or Papelbon is the bigger douchebag. Now Pete is, as I said, a very nice guy, and I’m sure we’d manage to get along all right without the Yankees, if we had to. But I’m glad we don’t have to.

This phenomenon is, putting aside the games themselves, one of my favorite things about being a baseball fan (or a sports fan more generally). The first thing I do in any strange party, new job, airplane row or other potentially awkward social situation is: find the baseball fans. Even if you don’t have a single other thing in common, that by itself can be enough for hours and hours; I’ve very rarely met a serious baseball fan I couldn’t have a decent conversation with. Not long ago, I had a pretty good talk about the Yankees’ bullpen with a crazy homeless guy on the subway at one in the morning. Granted, it later degenerated into a monologue about how the voices on the radio had stolen his ideas and he was going to make them pay, but from about 59th st. to Atlantic Ave., we were doing pretty well.

The bottom line is, no matter what you believe and no matter who you’re voting for next week, surely we can all take a moment to agree, in the spirit of bipartisanship, that Mariano Rivera is awesome.

Categories:  Baseball  Emma Span

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1 rbj   ~  Oct 31, 2008 2:46 pm

I agree 110% Mariano Rivera is awesome.

2 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Oct 31, 2008 3:02 pm

Yes, the tall, thin, dark-skinned man with the calm demeanor and prominent ears is awesome.

3 rbs   ~  Oct 31, 2008 3:19 pm

The having a topic to chat about is too true, but being able to just skip the ugly stuff in the rest of the news and go straight to the baseball section is pretty much how I maintain an even keel.

And that Mariano fella, I'm going to name a kid after him some day, even it has to be someone else's kid.

4 Diane Firstman   ~  Oct 31, 2008 3:33 pm

Wonderful post as always Emma!

I'm very happy Nate has been getting such positive attention for his new site. If its helps to draw more people to the realization that polls are quite malleable and subject to biases (intended or not), then its a good thing. I'm glad he has taken to weighting the different polls to come up with a composite, and his site is a one-stop shop for all things political these days.

I concur with Cliff ... and note that that fellow also plays some mean hoops. :-)

5 RIYank   ~  Oct 31, 2008 3:41 pm

When that dude steps onto the playing field, so confident that he's about to close the deal, man, it just gives me the chills. The word "audacity" keeps coming to mind.

6 Shaun P.   ~  Oct 31, 2008 3:57 pm

Its much harder, Emma, when you don't have baseball - or any sport - to fall back on.

I've never gotten into the comments at fivethirtyeight.com, but it certainly is a wonderful place. Nate's pie charts have been quite the relief for most of the summer and fall. I look forward to watching him with Dan Rather on HDNet on Tuesday night.

7 Shaun P.   ~  Oct 31, 2008 4:02 pm

Emma, your title made me think of something Steven Goldman said a couple of days ago at his excellent Wholesome Reading blog:

Know what happens when you reach across the aisle? You block some poor guy who is coming down the aisle, just trying to get to his seat–which may be on your side of the aisle.

Hopefully there will be little need to block anyone from reaching their seats when the party is over.

8 Just Fair   ~  Oct 31, 2008 4:11 pm

Bigger douchebag? Papelbon or Francisco? That's enough to make my head spin for awhile.

9 Emma Span   ~  Oct 31, 2008 5:14 pm

[4] Yeah, if Obama doesn't get elected, I'm hoping the Knicks will sign him. He's probably a better 3-point shooter than anyone they've got now...

[8] We were unable to reach any consensus.

10 Diane Firstman   ~  Oct 31, 2008 5:34 pm
11 Just Fair   ~  Oct 31, 2008 7:13 pm

[10] I owe you a couple of links now. Thanks. That still makes me laugh out loud even thought I've seen it too many times to count. : ) What time's the game tonight? Ugh.

12 Max   ~  Oct 31, 2008 8:02 pm

Emma, if you lived in New England (particularly Boston), it would be the opposite set of circumstances -- discussing liberal politics and Nate Silver is a much safer bet than discussing anything relating to NY sports and baseball (unless you're anxious to drink serious RSN koolaid).

Like you, I am totally addicted to fivethirtyeight -- it's crazy how much I visit there.

13 Mr. OK Jazz TOKYO   ~  Nov 1, 2008 1:05 am

Yep, exactly the same for my brother-in-law and me...outside baseball there's zero to talk about..i even hate the beer he drinks (Bud Light...i mean, light beer? how can anyone drink that??)

Wishing all of you a safe and sound Election Day, will be following here Wed morning...

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver