Why Joe Slusarski Throws Like a Girl
You Would Too If Your ERA Was 5.27
By Bill James
Didy you ever think about the pitcher and hitter as representing the male and female parts of a baseball game? Which is which? Is the pitcher male or female?
What is strange is that this question does have an answer. Although almost no one will admit to having considered the issue until you brought it up, any baseball fan will tell you, when forced to the issue, that the hitter is the male part of the ballgame and the pitcher the female. The hitter is the active force, the aggressive part—and therefore, symbolically male. Gloria Steinem will never be able to change this.
A 1.84 ERA—this is an hourglass figure, tall, slender, elegant. A pitcher with a 4.27 ERA represents rather a plain-looking woman, while an ERA of 5.60 is a 187-pound Russian peasant, the ubiquitous angry shopper who appears on CNN every hour or so. An ERA over 7.00 is a woman with a moustache as well as shoulders. Offense is masculine.
Or, alternatively, is a 7.08 ERA represented by a whore, a woman who has yielded too often? Is this sexist? No, it is merely nonsense. Sometimes, working into the night and quiting too close to bedtime, I have known baseball statistics to become armies, and battle all night through the corridors of my unconscious. (Maps of Europe with pins in them, remembered from forgotten 1958 movies.) I know I shall live to regret this confession, but there have also been times when I have found my sleep swimming in confused sexual images, RBI representing some indefinable but distinctly masculine accomplishment.
In other sports the sexual imagery is much more explicit than it is in baseball. Think of the basketball goal as representing a spot on a woman’s body, and the entire court becomes anatomically identifiable, a cubist Madonna. I always thought that the three-point line should have been called the three-point skirt. The language of basketball, football, hockey and soccer is replete with quasi-sexual images—driving the lane, running up the gut, etc. The defender plays the part of the woman, his chief goal being to acquire the ball, to become the man, and to score. The team which scores more is the team which is more of a man. In baseball the sexual imagery is more vague, almost indistinct; baseball is the only sport in which the defense could be thought of as the masculine part of the game, if only the second baseman carried the bat.
Here’s a tougher question: Does the pitcher represent the liberal or conservative elements of the game? Because the defense is obsessed with control of the game, with not giving anything away for free, I tend to identify defense as conservative, but there are arguments on both sides. I had been hoping, with the end of the Cold War, that we would see the end of the politicization of everything, the end of movies with no apparent social conscience being scrutinized for their political orientation by the Village Voice. This was naive, of course; politics is rarely about right or wrong, and almost always about xenophobia, about the fear of strangers. The fault is not in our tsars but in ourselves. Being unable to locate the precise meaning of what we see, we transfer to each game the intuitive lessons of the last one, interpreting politics as if it was football, and football as foreplay.
Hegel attempted to extract from things the lessons we learn from them, practical wisdom in pure form. The results are almost unintelligible. Marx applied Hegel to a third object—xenophobia, class warfare—and created a set of ideas so attractive that millions would die for them, a few willingly. Yin, yang, action, reaction, thesis, synthesis....I can’t understand any of that. I can deal with a pitcher and a hitter. An offense (in baseball) has distinctly male and female components. The male component is the RBI man, the power hitter, the guy who bats late in the inning; the female component is the singles hitter, the leadoff man. The leadoff man nurtures the offense. He “sets the table”. Although baseball men never speak about such things this is a very real perception, and in fact it’s something of a problem for a lot of teams. Because being the RBI guy is perceived as the most macho role in a macho world, everybody wants to do that job, and few people are content to set the table. Even Wade Boggs, who has no power, still wants to bat third. Willie Wilson was a .315 hitter until he decided that he wanted to “drive” the ball. The Royals hired power hitters to be batting coaches, Lee May and Rocky Colavito. They taught Wilson how to hit the ball hard. Of course, he was a .270 hitter after that and basically a pretty useless player, but at least he hit the ball harder.
A great deal of our election-year discussion centers around issues of no apparent importance. Not only that, but I often wonder if this is the only country in the world in which the national news devotes several minutes every night to the opinions of people who obviously haven’t any idea what the hell they are talking about. Almost every story seems littered with the emotional opinions of the uniformed. The TV networds are married to the idea that the only real view of the economy is that of the unemployed, that the ultimate authority on the Supreme Court is an autoworker. Hegel drained the ideas from the things around him to purify the ideas. Television news drains the ideas from the discussion because the ideas are a nuisance. People are becoming speaking things. Unemployment is up; here is an unemployed it.
Perhaps, rather than attacking the networks for covering a political race as if it was a football game, we should encourage this. Pure understanding is incomprehensible; the ideas we can work with are like third and long. Every issue, I think, should be divided into masculine and feminine components. The incumbent could always be spoken of as female, and the candidate, the one seeking a position, as the male. Since Bush is in office, the Republicans can be represented by a female elephant.
Will it help? No, of course not, but then, Hegel didn’t help either, did he? Hegel gave us Marx, Marx gave us Stalin. We don’t understand the world we live in, and we never will. Work is meat and potatoes, sports is dessert, and political theory is a dangerous poison. It should be kept on a high shelf.