My brother phoned me with a big announcement last week: “You remember how my favorite sport when we were kids,” he said, “was Baseball, and then Football, and then Basketball, and then Hockey?”
I did. He went on to announce that as of this week, that order had been precisely reversed.
I went him one better: as of today, I have lost interest in Baseball, having previously lost interest in each of the other professional sports in the exact order he named. I stopped following Hockey in my early teens, when I became convinced that I could never learn to skate and had no motivation to overcome that lack of talent, and much more recently, I lost interest in pro Basketball, around the time they legalized walking and palming, and then I lost interest in the NFL when they blackballed Colin Kaepernik for expressing his First Amendment rights.
And now that MLB has decided to alienate me by installing the DH in the National League, I have lost all my interest in following baseball.
Oddly, I don’t feel terribly sad at any of these losses. I don’t even view them as losses.
When my football viewing dropped down to zero hours per week, from a peak of five to ten hours, I quickly realized that I now had a weekend afternoon, and a few weekday nights, completely free, to do with as I wished.
Baseball has always occupied a place close to my heart, and I never considered the possibility of paying no attention to the game at all. Other than a few years before the age of seven, I’ve been "that guy who was obsessed with baseball.”
But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about cancel culture, and the useful function it serves, symbolically and practically, for people to withdraw their patronage from people, stores, companies, organizations, and institutions that take their patronage for granted. The NFL decided, on some level, to presume that if they behaved in an overtly racist way, their fans would tolerate their racism rather than give up their addiction to pro football. Once I realized this, I decided to test myself, and see if I could give up watching the NFL.
It was surprisingly easy. As it was to have given up following the NBA, and decades earlier the NHL.
My brother enjoys mocking me for my stand, both by challenging my claim not to have watched a single down of NFL football in the last five years (he insists that I couldn’t possibly change a news channel quickly enough when they display clips of football games, and if I did, I’m a major jerk for reaching for the remote control as if it were my smoke alarm blaring) and by challenging the effectuality of a single person’s boycott on a multi-billion-dollar league’s policies.
His disparagement aside, it feels right to take the position I have taken for the past five NFL seasons. But he has another criticism that hits a little bit closer to home: I have no problem watching clips of football games dating from before I stopped watching.
I phoned him up last week, for example, to tell him that ESPN was showing a 30-for-30 episode about the 2001 AFL Playoff game’s “Tuck Rule,” which I enjoyed 20 years ago and which I enjoyed in ESPN’s current hour-long examination of a single play. My brother finds it hypocritical of me to claim I’ve lost all interest in football while avidly watching a TV show devoted to nothing else but.
But I cannot undo the past, and I can’t deny my interest in things that interested me before I lost interest, can I?
So I expect that pattern to continue with MLB—I will keep being the person I was before the spring of 2022, and I will continue to think about, to watch, to obsess over baseball prior to the universal installation of the DH. Truth to tell, I have gradually lost interest in the current game: the length of games has cut back on my willingness to commit that gross amount of time to watching games (and I took to recording most games long ago, so I could fast-forward through commercials), I don’t enjoy watching overshifts on most lefthanded batters who refuse to bunt down the third-base line, I have trouble staying up late enough to watch the ends of many recorded games, and I have issues with a lot of other recent innovations to the game. The DH is just a capper to it all.
Oddly, I had thought I might lose interest in MLB once before: when I thought the steroid-era would be met by an unbroken series of installations into the Hall of Fame of players I considered blatant cheaters. I’ve been happily surprised to find that HoF voters have, so far, soundly rejected the likes of Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and their otherwise-overqualified ilk into the Hall. My thinking at the time was that I would have to boycott the Hall of Fame, not all of MLB, and this wasn’t a terrible sacrifice, since my visits there had fallen off sharply ever since I moved out of upstate New York and then out of the Northeast entirely. But that aborted thought did form the basis of my current thinking.
It's just no longer the same game I grew up enjoying. There was a certain balance that I took pleasure in, the balance of offense and defense, the challenge of assigning players roles despite offensive or defensive shortcomings. The single largest disparity between offense and defense lies in the pitchers’ role: they are obviously crucial to the defense and ruinous to their teams’ offense. Games often depend heavily on who is pitching and how well, while most pitchers’ relative ineffectiveness with the bat makes for the most fascinating strategic choice, for me, in the entire game, the choice of whether to bat for a pitcher in mid-game to gain a clear advantage that costs that pitcher’s presence in the game from that point forward.
Reducing that cost to 0 also has the effect of minimizing my own interest in following the game. Not down to 0 exactly, but close enough to restrict my interest in MLB from roughly 1901 to roughly last week.
Will I be able to stick to this decision? Good question. I think I will, and the prospect of missing a week or a month of the 2022 season only makes it a little easier for me to make that choice. MLB is dead to me.