Contemplation: Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks . . . and Death?

Greetings friends, time for another contemplation.

This one was sparked by Jon Mooallem’s article “You’re Out: The national pastimes shocking death toll” appearing on  The article is a bit of a review of the book Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities, 1862-2007 by Robert M. Gorman and David Weeks.  Besides the obvious interesting subject matter, I feel that it is a worthy book of note (well for me personally) in that the authors are both South Carolinians and librarians (I being a South Carolina resident and working at a library — albeit not a librarian).

But yeah . . . Baseball has it’s fatalities.  Really this fact isn’t that much of a surprise to me, though the number of said fatalities documented in the book (850) is quite impressive.  What really interests me is the way in which thinking about this potentially deadly aspect of “America’s pastime” can cause a strange eerie feeling.  What is that feeling?  I would say that it is the sense of “nothing is safe.”

We like to think  of Baseball as this great sport, wonderfully associated with summer time, getting outside while having some fun in friendly competition, and in most ways this is probably a true pursuit of the lovers of the game.  But the fact is that anything, put through enough scrutiny, can loose its warm friendly sheen. 

Throw a few deaths into a spectator event and suddenly we have a good re-examination going on.  I recently attended a Red Sox game at Fenway and did not find myself thinking about any potential for death in the park during that evening, but if I were to go to a game after reading the above article, sure, the thought would probably go through my head.  And in truth, I have wondered, on occasions sitting in a ball park, whether one of those fouls potentially packed a deadly punch (at one baseball game I attended a foul ball bounced off of an upper bleacher seat and landed right in my box of popcorn — that was amazing).

And the whole friendly game thing.  Hell, it is nice to think that sports can be enjoyed civilly by both players and fans alike, but that just ain’t the world we live in.  I mean it is one thing when you have a classic rivalry like the Sox and the Yankees, at that point you really can’t expect too much in the kindness factor of opponents, but what about the crazy ass parents at little league games, screaming their fucking heads off at ten year old kids?  I have no doubt that deaths have occurred due to competitive disagreements around the sport.

We should also consider that Baseball has provided us with a significant and easily available weapon; the baseball bat.  Sure the bat is really just a club, which, as a weapon, has been around for quite some time, but as a piece of sports equipment it takes on a perceived appearance of relative innocence.  Then some hooligan “re-discoveries” its primal skull bludgeoning ability and we are left in shock.  Of course that easy availability factor has come in handy as a staple of self-served home security (it leans so nicely next to the bed) as well as possibly serving as a future work-horse of human survivability in the potential zombie apocalypse.

And really, isn’t all competitive sport somewhat of a metaphore for warfare in general?  It is civilized so far as that the loosing team isn’t usually put to death, but the underlying concept of striving for victory over your opponents is really not too different from the main goals of the battlefield (again, in a purely metaphorical sense).

I guess really the whole things begs a question about our society as a whole.  What do we love a game for (not just baseball, but any sport really).  The inherent symbolism of the activities as cultural icons help define the society in which they exist.  Furthermore, the games provide a pretty convenient means of distraction from the discomforts and challenges of life.  That’s just what we want; sunny outdoors good clean fun, no major life changing worries for the moment.  Then some fellows write about death and the game and something sacred has been tread upon.  How do we cope?

I suggest that we forget about it, and if the foul does crack us one in the temple, maybe we can find out whether angles really do play in the outfield or if dead ballplayers can find redemption through a cornfield.

~ by Nathaniel on May 27, 2009.

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