You know why kids don't play baseball anymore? Because they took down the fences.
It's the era of the dread multiuse field. Every kid's diamond now has to share its centerfield with three other fields and a tai chi class. This way, come spring and fall, the park can be turned into (cough, hack, spit) soccer fields.
What fun is baseball without a fence? Without a fence you can't hit a real home run, and without a real home run you can't do the home run trot, which is one of the last truly American joys.
I love the home run trot. The longer, the better. Did you see Rickey Henderson's home run trot the other night in Baltimore? You could've washed and waxed a 1973 Plymouth Barracuda in the time it took him to get around the bases. Henderson turns a home run into an HBO special. First, he pulls at his jersey. Then he slaps his helmet. Twice. Then he hip-hops in the box a few times, and, finally, he takes off on his epic journey, going so wide around first and third that he nearly steps in both dugouts. Generally, Henderson gets around the bases just a hair faster than a man laying sod.
Pete Rose used to fly around the bases as though he had a pot of soup boiling over somewhere. Occasionally he'd touch a bag, but he wasn't a stickler about it. Frank Robinson told him, "Kid, you better leave those homers to those of us who can act them out."
Mickey Mantle always ran with his head down in shame, as if he were eight years old and had just put one through a stained glass window. Babe Ruth ran with little mincing steps, as though he were trying not to step on cracks. Dave Parker used to trot with his fingers pointed like pistols.
Right now is a great time to be alive if you're hot for trots, on account of sluggers are hitting home runs every three minutes. Mark McGwire is on pace to hit 311 this year. McGwire has a very humble trot, but he does the coolest thing before he starts: The instant he connects, he flips the bat away, end over end, like a toothpick, as if to say, "Well, there's no use having that around anymore."
Just the idea of the trot is wonderful. Here a man is being allowed to gallivant from one base to the next—real estate that is fraught with peril and angst in every other moment of the game—at his leisure! As he does this, the fielders have to just stand there, hands on hips, and watch, clench-jawed, as he mocks them with his lazy left turns.
You could retype Shakespeare's sonnets into Sanskrit in the time it takes Barry Bonds to get around, yet he's still faster than Oscar Gamble was. One day Ken Griffey Sr. was in the New York Yankees' clubhouse in Minnesota when teammate Gamble smashed one out. Griffey dashed out of the clubhouse, around a corner and down a tunnel, figuring he'd get to home plate just as Gamble was crossing it. Except when Griffey got to the top step of the dugout, Gamble was still waiting for the bat boy to come get his bat. Why rush?
Great trotters are men of courage because they know they might get an earful of cowhide next time up. Yet they carry on. Jeffrey (Hackman) Leonard let his left arm hang limp and leaned toward the pitcher as he ran, like some disabled Cessna. Reggie Jackson would pose long enough to strike a decent oil painting.