Twenty Seven Outs in 2024

Image by Lesly Juarez.

I’m pretty certain many people reading this sentence don’t give a shit about Major League Baseball, much less professional sports in general. Their reasons might include one, two or all of the following. Players get paid too much. It’s a racist institution. It’s bread and circuses for the proles in a world going to hell. It’s sexist as fuck. It’s a capitalist scam. I could go on and on and on, but I’m guessing you get the point.

You know what? Those folks are right. All of these reasons are as true as the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson was a bad ass on the mound and Satchel Paige was a poet and probably the greatest pitcher that ever toed the rubber. Or the easily verifiable truth that the New York Yankees have won more World Series titles than any other team. That fact remains true whether you love the team Red Sox owner Larry Lucchino called the evil empire or hate them as much as I do.

No matter what one’s feelings are about MLB or NFL or world cup football or the NBA, there’s the essential fact that the 2024 Major League baseball season is now underway. From the chilly winds of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field to the Elysian green of Dodger’s stadium and the air-conditioned pinball machine that serves as the playground for the Tampa Bay Rays, the game is on.

MLB’s season began in Korea on March 20, 2024. This is part of a recent trend to incorporate more countries into the US sports for maximum profit machine. MLB has been stealing the best players from professional teams in Asia for a few decades now. In the Caribbean and Latin America, they entrap youngsters who show promise into their camps, taking the young men ( or boys, depending on your perspective) and becoming their entire lives. Schooling, training, and outside entertainment. Like parents of promising young athletes everywhere, the youngsters’ parents sign the kids over.

Baseball has always been part of the velvet glove of US imperialism. Baseball players have often been the missionaries of US capitalism, as it were. With gods of its own, even if it’s mandatory for players nowadays to thank the big guy upstairs when they have a particularly good game. General MacArthur insisted on his occupation forces teaching baseball to the defeated Japanese. Cuba and Puerto Rico were introduced to the game after Washington defeated Spain. Hell, the late revolutionary Fidel Castro tried out for the Washington Senators. It’s a common trope among certain baseball fans that there might not have been a Cuban revolution if Fidel had won a position on the team. Of course, it was the conditions in the country that created the circumstances leading to that revolution, but hey, it’s good copy to bring the possibility up.

I was part of a leftist anti-imperialist organization in the 1970s. For a few months, I attended study groups with other cadre and an organizer from our parent group, the Revolutionary Union. We studied Marx, Lenin, Leontiev and Mao. We also read an article about sports in the post-revolutionary society. It’s not that any of us were athletes or jocks, but it was in our interest to understand the role of sports in a future communist society, especially for those who had no desire to play, but enjoyed watching athletic competition. The essence of the forecast for the future was that sports would be encouraged within society, with teams being put together in workplaces and schools. There would also be teams made of top level players who would compete for larger audiences. My thoughts were that they should be regular workers with no possibility of an agent selling them to the highest bidder like a pimp or slave trader and the games should be free. Ultimately, however, the idea of non-competitive sports would become the norm in the future, kind of like how the dictatorship of the proletariat would evolve into a classless society. Unfortunately, the culture of capital has its own temptations that seem to go far beyond any apple on a tree in a garden named Eden.

I didn’t go to many ball games while I was in that leftist group. This wasn’t because I didn’t want to. It was because I was working the night shift at a pancake house and preferred going to bars with live music over baseball games on my nights off. I did catch a few Orioles games in the old stadium, though. My friends and I brought in our own beer and watched the Orioles lose lots of games only a couple years after they ruled the American League. As they say, that’s baseball. When I lived in Oakland and Berkeley, I spent a few afternoons watching the Oakland A’s or the San Francisco Giants. The A’s played at Oakland Stadium and the Giants played in Candlestick Park at the time. Neither team was very good. Nonetheless, it was a great way to spend an afternoon or evening. Hanging out in the cheap seats drinking Lucky Beer and smoking Mexican weed with the rest of the bums. The cops would come around in the seventh inning and we would snuff our joints out. We traded comments about the game and how bad the home team was then they moved on. Nowadays, the beer costs around fifteen dollars and you get tossed from the ballpark if they find you drinking a beer not bought there. As I write this, MLB’s biggest star—an incredible player named Shohei Ohtani—is letting his team’s (Los Angeles Dodgers) attorneys do the talking about a gambling scandal he is somehow involved in. I hope for his sake his participation is minimal. If it isn’t, it could spell the end of his almost $1 billion dollar contract. The size of the contract is an indication of how much professional sports have been monetized. The pervasiveness of legalized gambling in sports is another such indication. I have sports-crazy friends who watch ball games with their phone in hand and a gambling app open; they bet on almost anything and everything in a game. I wonder how many team ownerships in every league have holdings that are linked to some company in the gambling industry. This phenomenon reminds me once again that the word monetization is a synonym for the phrase maximization of profit. As for me, gambling takes the fun out of watching a game. When money is on the line it’s more like work.

Go team of your choice!

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com