The real-estate man sells land and knows it. The grocer realizes he sells food. The girl who walks up and down Eighth Avenue in hot pants and high-laced boots knows precisely what she is selling. But the Lords of Baseball, they haven't the foggiest. It is this, their failure to perceive their product, that causes baseball its biggest problems.
"We're in the entertainment business," they say repeatedly, reaching for their designated hitter. Most of them think this way, if they think about it at all, and they are so wrong. Baseball is not entertainment. Baseball is a religion.
Compared to the baseball fan, a Jesus freak is an atheist. The fan believes in his team with a faith that is absolute—and blind. It is an involvement that seizes you in your unthinking childhood and addicts you to death, defying all reason.
Example: a pitcher beats your team. You hate his guts. The following season he is traded—to your team. You love him. Faith, yours, has converted him from devil to angel.
The most famous miracle of baseball conversion occurred many years ago. Leo Durocher was the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was very famous and very loved in Brooklyn. And very hated elsewhere, especially where dwelled fans of the New York Giants.
One day Durocher took off his Brooklyn uniform, drove across The Bridge and became manager of the Giants, an act of treason that would call for death in time of war. Suddenly Giant fans loved him, deified his genius. Brooklyn fans, just as suddenly, decided he had always been an overrated bum.
Blind loyalty—complete believing—is the anguish of being a fan, and the joy. If a club owner could understand this simple truism, his dilemma would vanish. He would not be carried away with the modern rage to speed up the game.
"Baseball is too slow," somebody once said. "Baseball is dull." (I think it was Howard Cosell, shortly after ABC-TV became disassociated with baseball.) Whoever said it was not in a ball park. Viewed in a ball park, baseball is not slow. In a ball park baseball is exciting, exasperating, furious, infuriating. In a ball park you scream your head off, and it is wonderful. Only an idiot would scream at his television set.
That is the major difference between football and baseball. Football is a television sport. Baseball is a ball-park sport. No attempt will be made here to argue the relative merits of baseball and football, or to choose between one and the other as Numero Uno. That can be left to Lou Harris and the other pollsters.
My casual comparison of baseball to football is one of apples and oranges, accepting the obvious; that there is a time and place for both and one need not claim to surpass the other. Apples are better eaten. Oranges are better juiced. Football is seen better on television. Baseball is seen better in the ball park.