August 11, 2007

On Chris Rock and Baseball

The Economist had an article ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") in this week's (August 9) edition about Barry Bonds and the various problems, drug related and otherwise, affecting baseball and some other sports. There was one comment made in the article by Chris Rock that was thought provoking:

“Babe Ruth didn't play with no brothers. What is more of an advantage, a pill or racism?”

That's a valid point, Chris, and we don't know how many fewer - or more - home runs Ruth might have hit if baseball had been desegregated in his era. But let's look at another factor: "What's more of an advantage: racism or money?" By money, I mean the ability for today's athletes to be able to focus on their sport to the exclusion of all other occupations. Today's athletes make enough money to train year-round if they so choose, without needing to worry about whether they have enough money in the off-season to support themselves and their families by taking a second job.

When I was a kid growing up in the 60s and 70s, it wasn't unusual to see a sentence on the back of baseball cards telling fans what Joe Blow did in his off-season. My dad, who was a fan of the Baltimore Orioles' manager Earl Weaver, once sent me Weaver's autobiography when I was in my 20s. Weaver told about how he worked as a car saleman in his off-seasons. Think Barry Bonds spends his off-seasons at a car dealership, hustling cars? Think any major league baseball player spends any serious time working at another job to keep his kids fed? These guys have the time, the money, the technology and training to keep in shape and study the game and their opponents in the off-season that ball players up through at least the late-60s (if not the mid- to late-70s) never had. They can focus on baseball (and other athletes on their respective sports) to the exclusion of all else. Think that's not more of an advantage than the racism of Ruth's era? You're kidding yourself if you don't.

That's not to say that Rock's point isn't valid. Nor is it to say that Barry Bonds doesn't deserve his new record. There's a lot more to hitting a home run than just the muscle that puts the ball past the fence. But between a pill, racism, and money, I'd say that money is the biggest advantage of them all.

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