Impatience is a virtue in America, where even fast food isn't fast enough. Americans once ate leisurely dinners but then discovered TV dinners, and then McDonald's, and then the drive-through window at McDonald's, and finally the number-coded meal ordered through the drive-through window at McDonald's. The trouble with instant gratification is that it takes too long, a notion best expressed by comedian Steven Wright, who aspired to put instant coffee in a microwave oven and actually go back in time.
Baseball was once a happy exception to this national antsiness. In baseball gratification was delayed or never arrived at all. A four-hour game might end in rain. Your Cubs might not win for three quarters of a century. The impossibly cheap prizes awarded in contests administered by the Topps Company always required six to eight weeks for delivery. Baseball introduced "Wait till next year" into the public lexicon. But who has time to wait anymore?
In its account of a recent Cubs victory, the Associated Press declared, "Sammy Sosa remained homerless for the season...." It was only the Cubs' third game, but already Sosa was consigned to a homerless shelter, hopelessly behind a record pace. Perhaps that's a blessing. If he or someone else does take the nation on another joyride this summer, it will be one in which members of the media shout daily from the backseat, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"
Why is baseball suddenly in a hurry? Commissioner Bud Selig announced last week the creation of the Hank Aaron Award. It will annually honor the "best hitter" in each league. "The Hank Aaron Award is on a par with the Cy Young and the MVP," said Selig, as if the trophy, sponsored by a lemonade firm, can be made instantly historic and prestigious simply by decreeing it so. The best things in baseball have always been worth waiting for. The eminent baseball writer Roger Angell publishes perhaps two pieces a year in The New Yorker: one in the fall (on spring training) and one in the spring (on the Fall Classic). And no one's telling him to speed it up.
During the Yankees' hopelessly shower-soaked home opener last Friday, new Bombers TV analyst Tim McCarver suggested waiving the mandatory 45-minute waiting period before a game can be called due to rain. It was an outrageous proposal. For years the only upside to Braves games were the impromptu Sanford and Son marathons shown during Biblically long rain delays on the Superstation.
Everything about baseball, from the games to the season to Randy Johnson's mud flap, is too long by half. But that is baseball's peculiar charm. Which is why we should thank the Man Upstairs—which is to say, the official scorer—for the box score. The box score is like the Oscars: It gets longer, more tedious, more self-important every spring, and I say more power to it. Indeed, the standard box is now a ludicrously complicated rectangle half a foot long. The box score in my morning paper lists not only those players who grounded into double plays but, even more uselessly, the double-play combinations that turned them.
Ninety years ago Franklin Pierce Adams wrote:
These are the saddest of possible words: "Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Trio of bear Cubs and fleeter than birds, Tinker to Evers to Chance.
Last Friday morning box score archaeologists were rewarded with this notation in The New York Times: DP-Minnesota 1 (Guardado, Hocking and Mientkiewicz). It was agate poetry, well worth 45 minutes of digging to discover it, and I couldn't help but think: