We don't want to cause a panic, but for the sake of the public welfare we think you should know: The end is coming. No, not of the NHL playoffs; that's still a ways down the road. We mean of the world. We're talking the big one here: bloodred seas, earthquakes, tidal waves and, as the prophet Bill Murray predicted in Ghostbusters, dogs and cats living together. Scoff if you want, but the portents are piling up. In May alone we've been assaulted by one film about a gigantic asteroid that smashes into the globe, another about an unnaturally oversized, green aquatic creature who crushes everything in its path—Godzilla, not Irish swimmer Michelle Smith—and endured previews for that upcoming dose of sunshine, Armageddon.
The millennium-eve angst that's driving these movies also is afoot in another entertainment industry: sports. Apocalyptic hints are in the air. Reggie White has spoken in tongues. As of Sunday, Mark McGwire was on pace to hit 81 home runs. Chicken Little is running through stadiums and arenas, proclaiming doom: Baseball is killing itself! NBA life ends after Michael! Everyone is screeching about survival or performing autopsies. Track is dead, field is dead. Boxing is dead, horse racing is dead, tennis is dead. Ratings are down, attendance is down. Even ice hockey, yesterday's next hot thing, is receiving last rites.
America's most popular saloon singer died last month, leaving a nation collectively repeating the opening words to his signature song, "And now, the end is near...." This is no coincidence. This is a sign of the times. We refer you to the essential apocalyptic text, Yeats's The Second Coming, which has long puzzled scholars with its imagery. No more. From the moment you read the famous line "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold," it's clear Yeats was foretelling the state of sports at century's end.
Read beyond those lines. "Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed": Baltimore Orioles reliever Armando Benitez and the bean-ball that sparked one of baseball's worst brawls in decades (page 60). "The ceremony of innocence is drowned": Florida Marlins fans and the ice-water hosing they're taking from owner Wayne Huizenga. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity": Michael Jordan and Latrell Sprewell. As for Yeats's survivor, "A shape with lion body and the head of a man,/A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun"? Well, who else could it be but Cal Ripken Jr., slouching towards Baltimore to play third.