Early on, to save
arguments, I became an Oriole fan and even bought a little stock in that club.
If you were for anyone else you got an argument, but if you said you were an
Oriole fan people just laughed and let you alone. I thought I had a guarantee
that they would stay on the bottom, but now they have doublecrossed me by
climbing up. I nearly went to the Senators, because there is a federal law
which forbids them to win. Then the Mets happened, and I was stuck.
out a kind of pugnacious frustration in foreigners. Once as guests of a very
old and dear friend in London, we were at Lord's watching a sedate and
important cricket match. When a player let a fast ball go by, my wife yelled,
"Git it! What ya got, lead in ya pants?" A deathly silence fell on the
section around us, and it was apparent that our host would have to resign from
all his clubs. After-ward he lectured her gently. "My dear," he said,
"we don't do it."
" Peewee Reese
would of got it," said my elegant moglie.
me about baseball," said our host. "It's only rounders, and I know all
about it. Don't forget, I, too, have been to Egbert's Field." There is no
way to explain that baseball is not a sport or a game or a contest. It is a
state of mind, and you can't learn it.
You will be aware
by now of my reasons for not being able to write a piece about sports for
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. My interests are too scattered and too unorthodox. But I do
find the American cult of youth, violence and coronaries a little unreasonable.
It does seem to me that "as life's shadows lengthen" our so-called
senior citizens should have competitive sports, but that the pace should be
reduced. Turtle racing won't do, because it is dull. But, being lazy, I
invented some years ago a sport which satisfied my ego and my sense of
competition and matched my inclination. It is called vine racing. Each
contestant plants a seed beside a pole of specified height, and the first vine
to reach the lop wins. There are, however, some furious vines which have been
known to grow 10 inches a day—which might in some owner-managers raise the
blood pressure. For these passionate ones, among whom am I, I have laid out the
ground rules for an even more sedate and healthful contest. This is oak-tree
racing. Each of the eager players plants an acorn. The obvious advantage of
this contest is that, depending on the agreed finishing height, it may go on
for generations. At the cry, "They're off!" the fancy could enjoy all
semblance of growth and renewal until the checkered flag came down 300 years
later. By that time the original contestants should be represented by large
numbers of descendants, for tree racing allows one the leisure to indulge in
other sports, the darlings.
I should like to
mention one more activity which only the Anglo-Saxons consider a sport and hate
and attend in droves. That is bullfighting. In this I have gone full course,
read, studied, watched and shared. From the first horror I went to the mortal
beauty, the form and exquisiteness from ver�nica to faena. I have seen a great
main bullfights (it is only called a fight in English). I even saw Manolete
fight a number of times, which is more than Ernest Hemingway did. And I have
seen a few great and beautiful things in the bullring. There are only a few,
and you must see very many fights to see the great one. But I suppose there are
very few great anythings in the world. How many great sonnets are there? How
many great plays? For that matter, how many great wines?
I think I have
been through most of the possible feelings about tauromachy, rising eventually
to the sublime conception that the incomparable bravery of the matador somehow
doled out courage to the audience. Oh! this was not blind and ignorant
celebration. I hung around the rings. I knew about the underweight bulls, the
sandbags on the kidneys, the shaved horns and sometimes the needle of
barbiturate in the shoulder as the gate swung open. But there was also that
moment of what they call truth, a sublimity, a halo of the invincible human
spirit and unspeakable, beautiful courage.
And then doubt
began to creep in. The matadors I knew had souls of Toledo steel for the bull,
but they were terrified of their impresarios, pulp in the hands of their
critics and avaricious beyond belief. Perhaps they gave the audience a little
courage of a certain kind, but not the kind the audience and the world needed
and needs. I have yet to hear of a bullfighter who has taken a dangerous
political stand, who has fought a moral battle unless its horns were shaved. It
began to seem to me that this superb courage could be put to better uses than
the ritual slaughter of bulls in the afternoon. One Ed Murrow standing up to
take the charge of an enraged McCarthy, one little chicken-necked Negro going
into a voting booth in Alabama, one Dag Hammarskjold flying to his death and
knowing it—this is the kind of courage we need, because in the end it is not
the bulls that will defeat us, I am afraid, but our own miserable, craven and
So you see, Ray
Cave, it was a mistake to ask me to write an essay about sports. Hell, I don't
even know the batting average of Eddie Kranepool.