Jim Mullen: There is joy in Mudville | TheUnion.com

Jim Mullen: There is joy in Mudville

Jim Mullen
Special to The Union

When the baseball playoffs really get going, Sue will sometimes watch four games in one day. If I watch with her, I am not allowed to speak, because that would spoil the spell.

During the regular season, she will only watch her team — the Yankees — and maybe the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. But during the playoffs? It doesn’t matter what teams are playing: Don’t even think of walking in front of the TV.

A few years ago, we were going to be in New York City when the Yankees were scheduled to play their archrivals, the dreaded Boston Red Sox. As a surprise for Sue, I thought it would be a good idea to buy a couple of tickets to one of the games. The cheapest seats were somewhere above the nosebleed section, and they were $300 apiece. To this day, I thank my lucky stars that the games were sold out.

That’s when I started saying things like, “The best seats are in front of the television, anyway, and those are free.” Only the TV access is NOT free; we had to buy a package for that, too. Broadway musicals at only $125 a ticket were starting to look like a bargain.

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Of course, the common complaint is that professional athletes make too much money. I’ve yet to hear anyone say the team owners make too much money, or the sports commentators. It’s only the athletes.

I wonder if the people who say athletes are overpaid would turn down the money if they were playing. Can’t you just hear them say to the team owner, “Oh no, that’s way too much money! Please cut my salary and use the money to buy yourself another home in Aspen. You deserve it. I don’t. After all, all I did was practice every waking moment since the age of 10, spend hours on a bus going to high-school meets, and spend every dime my parents could scrape together on trainers, equipment and private coaching. Whereas YOU did all the hard work of inheriting this team.” (A note: 13 of the 32 NFL teams were inherited.)

I once heard a guy complain about overpaid athletes while he was standing in line to buy lottery tickets. If the lottery isn’t money for nothing, what is? So why is it OK for some people to have “too much money,” but not others? It’s not. It’s just something people have learned to say without thinking. Who hasn’t heard somebody complain about a sales tax at the counter by saying “Gotta pay Governor So-and-so’s tax,” as if no one ever had to pay taxes before the current guy or gal got into office?

When I hear people say that the problem with baseball is that it’s too slow compared to football, I wonder what they’re talking about. A regulation one-hour football game takes three to four hours to watch. One minute of action, four minutes of commercials. No wonder the TV executives want you to watch more football. And no wonder there are so many ads for beer and snacks — you’ve got to do something during all that downtime, why not eat and drink?

One of my friends is into something called “game theory,” which I can’t explain too well, except to say that the games and sports we like to play (and watch) didn’t happen by accident. They evolved to where they are now, and knowing how that happened helps people design new games.

For instance, they’ve learned that if a game is too easy or too hard, no one will play it. It’s not an accident, for example, that there are so many near-ties at first base, with the runner barely beating the throw, and vice versa. It turns out that putting the base 90 feet away from home plate is the perfect distance for that to happen. Had they made the bases 89 feet apart, or 91, it would rarely happen, and the game would be boring. (Or “more boring,” if you’re not a fan.)

And a baseball game has become a metaphor for life. Its vocabulary is everywhere: “He struck out with her,” “She balked,” “He hit a home run with that proposal,” “She’s on deck for a promotion,” “That speech was a curveball.”

Even if you don’t watch, baseball is a part of your life.

Contact Jim Mullen at mullen.jim@gmail.com.

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