The Chicago Cubs drew 1,254,979 people to 37 weekday afternoon games at Wrigley Field last year. "Eighty-five percent of the [bleepin'] world is working," then Chicago manager Lee Elia memorably said of Cubs fans in 1983. "The other 15 percent come out here, a [bleepin'] playground for the [bleepers]." Likewise, the final hours of golf's rain-delayed Players Championship—broadcast live on NBC on the morning of Monday, March 27—were seen in 4,400,352 households. Add the number of Cubs fans attending weekday home games to the number of viewers watching Monday-morning golf and you get a figure (5,655,331) nearly identical to the official government estimate of jobless people in the American labor pool (5,804,000). Could this be the formula by which the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates the unemployment rate, before fudging the figure slightly in a halfhearted effort to cover its tracks?
The truth is more complicated. The truth is that the majority of people who watch weekday sports, in person or on TV, are fully employed or full-time students. They—we—are hardworking, conscientious men and women who wouldn't think of shirking an obligation under any circumstance, unless that circumstance is a Monday (the Reds opener is on ESPN!), a Wednesday (Champions League soccer is on ESPN2!!), a Thursday (the Bonnies and Kentucky are in double OT in the tournament!!!) or a Friday (Tiger just made the turn at Augusta!!!!). On Tuesdays, of course, we're all yours, boss. Tuesday good for you?
Etymologists will tell you that the late 1840s were the Golden Age of Hooky. That's when the phrase to play hooky came into common parlance—from another slang expression, "to hook it," or to escape (which is precisely what I feel like I'm doing while sitting at a baseball game on a Thursday afternoon). At that same time, the gold rush gave us the goldbrick, a covertly lazy worker, from the worthless, gold-painted bricks sold by swindlers. In other words, playing hooky and goldbricking are both American phrases, and thus there's something patriotic about graduating from the former (as a schoolkid) to the latter (as an adult), and calling in sick to watch Friday's rounds of the Ryder Cup.
What could be more American than skipping school or shirking work this spring to attend (or tune in to) our national pastime? Ground zero of goldbricking is, as Elia knew so well, Wrigley Field. When Ferris Bueller hooked school in his cinematic Day Off, he was captured in close-up on WGN catching a foul ball while his high school principal stood at a lunch counter, the Cubs game playing to patrons on a television overhead. Here were people who knew the illicit joys of hooky and goldbricking, all to watch sports on a weekday. Kids: Do try this at home, if only once in your life.
Habitual truancy is wrong. Countless Pittsburghers claim to have skipped school or smuggled a radio into class on the Thursday afternoon that Bill Mazeroski's home run won the seventh game of the '60 World Series for the Pirates. Thirty-seven years later, a government report claimed that 3,500 students, or 12% of the pupil population, were absent from Pittsburgh schools every day, and that 70% of those absences were unexcused. Is this what Maz has wrought?
"Truancy," warns a Department of Education study, "is the first indicator that a young person is giving up and losing his or her way." Truants, says the study, will lead lives of low-paid drudgery, doomed to do things like compiling statistics on truancy for alarmist government reports. Indeed, a 1997 government study on employee absenteeism—the adult equivalent of truancy—found that by far the highest percentage of no-shows in the 16 industries ranked were those who worked in...government.
No wonder they keep telling us to stay in school and to get a job. It means more tickets for them.