Maybe there is a game more romanticised, more mythologised than rugby.
Baseball. The game that eases America into sweet dreams, despite itself, even as it tosses and turns with a revolver under its pillow.
Folklore larger than life. Superhuman heroes, whose feats swell in the telling and retelling.
Ted Williams’ mythical 502-foot homer at Fenway. Wade Boggs’ 64 beers on a cross-country flight. DiMaggio’s silence.
The lore of Babe, whose home runs, according to a Virginia University profile, signified “man’s triumph over the harsh conditions in the West”.
They haven’t yet said that about Paulie. Or even Drico.
The pastoral game of Ken Burns’ Baseball: “A primarily urban sport that succeeded precisely by removing the city-dweller from urban life.”
Fathers and sons together on the bleachers, then playing catch on the lawn, the father dewy-eyed, the boy dreaming, both of them dreaming.
The dreams Amy Edgar and Joseph Sklansky talk about in America’s Pastime: “As the nation drifted away from its Jeffersonian ideals – abandoning the farm and crowding into cities, using and abusing capitalism to achieve material wealth at the cost of fair play, and suffering through defeat and poverty — the baseball field marked a small area where such dreams seemed possible once more.”
And what harm if these dreams are spiced with an intoxicating dash of capitalism? Even Babe got paid. More than the president, as it happens.
As Terence Mann allowed in Field of Dreams:
“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it.
“They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack.”
Dreams and hope and peace. All we want and need.
This week, baseball’s thirst for lore and hope and dreams saw us wake up on Back To The Future Day expecting the Chicago Cubs to negotiate an improbable escape and eventually progress to a World Series, which they would win and end the 107-year drought, the longest in American sport. Just as the second BTTF movie predicted, when McFly and Brown visited us in 2015.
Alas, the Cubs were routed 8-3, and swept 4-0 in the National League Championship series, and the Mets progress to the big ball game.
And the Cubs fans must fall back again on dreams, just as we must for hoverboards and self-tying shoes.
And this disappointment might, on the face of it, have been a slap in the face for hope and dreams and peace.
But what a beautiful, inspiring parable we can enjoy instead.
The New York Mets owners — Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz — were stung to the tune of €450m when Bernie Madoff — the kind of fellow Jefferson worried about — and his ponzi scheme capsized.
The lads had around 500 accounts with Bernie, by popular estimation, and a strong addiction to the 18% returns Bernie used to dish out, when the going was good.
They even structured players’ contracts around Bernie’s scheme, it has been alleged in court, deferring payments for years in a caper which meant the players would pay for themselves, thanks to Bernie.
If Bobby Bonilla, long retired, chooses to visit 2035, he will find himself still collecting $1.2m every July from the Mets.
Unfortunately, Wilpon and Katz began to collect less than that, from Bernie, having long ago calculated that 18% of nothing was nothing.
Naturally, when the lads took the hit, the Mets were soon making fewer hits, with the salary budget slashed from $149m to $85m.
But here’s where hope and dreams returned. Sabermetrics, all that jazz. Sound judgment from baseball men, dressed up in jargon.
An old general manager called Sandy Alderson still had dreams of building one more team.
Baseball Maverick, a recent book about him, has a lovely account of Fred Wilpon dropping by Alderson’s office to do “a little brainstorming on how to shift the culture around the team”.
That culture involved doing it on the cheap and yet the Mets are back in a World Series for the first time since 2000.
And a couple of men may well have found peace again.
Win and they will come, suggest the increased attendances. TV ratings, merch sales are up. Revenues are soaring.
Eat your heart out Bernie, Forbes reckon the franchise value grew 69% in a year. This week, came the headline, in some business journal, that every small boy dreams about: “Mets’ World Series appearance gives Citi Field bondholders something to cheer about.”
And whisper it gently, the New York Post reckons Wilpon and Katz will be back in profit this year.
Maybe in a ‘moneyball’- obsessed sporting world, when the kid catching on the lawn, if there are any left, knows how much every pitcher is being paid; when Billy Beane-counter is almost as mythologised as Babe Ruth; maybe this is now the sweetest dream of all.
Apologies for last week. Not all of the facts were at my disposal. How was I to know that the finest coach in the world, the prince of attention to detail, was operating off a hopelessly-outdated playbook?
To untrained observers of The Ugly Game, it’s not always obvious which crowd are the Barbarians and which are the barbarians.
A lot of things were soon obvious afterwards, such as the fact that the unfathomable bravery of these heroic men could never have been enough, what with the few injuries and the unfair advantage the Argies had, playing against good teams recently.
But, in truth the fallout has been almost refreshing; measured, non-hysterical, realistic, introspective.
In some quarters, Rugby Country has been compared to English football at World Cup-time; deafening hype followed by consistent flop.
And so a certain clamour has gone up this week to ape English football’s need for vindictive recrimination. Which is an extreme version of what our own footballers might face on weeks like this. Indeed, English football’s thirst for vegetable superimposition might look tame beside the bloodletting a failed GAA team might face at difficult times like these.
But the inquest has been dignified. And sure, there’s some grousing about old boys’ clubs never letting it be any other way.
But what harm? If some people were looking to Rugby Country to show us how to win, instead it has at least shown us how to lose.
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Adam Lallana: Has advised everyone to calm down about Jurgen Klopp’s arrival. Now watch him expedite that deflation effort on the field.
HELL IN A HANDCART
Jose Mourinho: Has vowed, in his latest strop, to deny us any more funny headlines. The gust you felt was the giants of comedy sighing their relief.
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