Like any of our professional sports, baseball often get its drive from the individual performance. The ratings for pro golf have never been higher than when Tiger Woods was on his game. And, like him or not, LeBron James ignites basketball. The huge dustup over Alex Rodriguez was simply shameful. We like the drama of close contests (as opposed to the drama of the courtroom) and we like the intimacy with the big-name player as he makes his move to the front of the pack but we abhor the taint of cheating.This is the year I hope will be a bit different. Cincinnati Reds’ center fielder Billy Hamilton has been talked up as the speedster to watch since the days of Rickey Henderson and Lou Brock. In a sport that at times seems sluggish with heavyweights who can swing for the bleachers but who also make the game rather boring, Hamilton owns the spotlight for now to become the hot focus of the game. The New York Yankees are showing that spending ever- increasing gobs of money won’t get you more wins, while the Boston Red Sox are showing that spending money wisely instead of with the heart will win games. And the Cubs look like they will continue to spend money and not win games.What baseball needs is someone to ignite the day-to-day game. On a grander scale, a lot of us need the Billy Hamiltons to liven up our days. I am not about to hype up baseball as a metaphor for life, but there is a certain lack of excitement in sports as well as in politics and in business.I am not sure where it came from, but there is a dark shadow of conceit over us nowadays.It seems to me, nationally, that we have started taking ourselves far too seriously. We have all become so “professional” we no longer know what it means to do something for the fun of it.It’s not fair, though, that pro ballplayers, if they get down in a slump, have a batting coach. Us working stiffs, if we get down, we have to hire our own therapists.When I was a kid, a very long time ago, I would have known more about the rules of the game than the rules of life. Nothing surprising about that. We did know a few rules about living — you didn’t pick a fight with a bigger kid; you stood tall as you could at 5-foot, 3-inches and 100 pounds to protect your little sister; you practiced your music because it impressed the girls and your mother made you; you took your hat off at the lunch table; you said “Yes, ma’am” which allowed you to say “No, ma’am”; you learned that the kids from the other end of town were more like you than different from you.I am never quite sure how many of those early teenage rules of life still get practiced in my generation and I worry daily that those rules are disappearing from American society. We’ve gotten away from playing the game over a long haul, but rather seem determined for the quick win. And when we don’t get it, somebody is to blame.It takes some kind of charismatic diversion, I guess, to sort of reboot our thinking. That’s what the Billy Hamiltons do for us. They becomes the neutral talking points, a common reference, a common admiration that is woefully lacking sometimes in our very broadly based multi-cultured selfish country. Having a focal point, over the years, which changes over time as the fan base moves on, is perhaps what has allowed us to develop into the larger community expressed as a country.I won’t say any of that is the result of play or sport because, perhaps, our chance to have sports and free play might themselves be a result of our experience as a country. But it would appear that we are always on a razor’s edge to protect what we hold dear against the specter of scandal, whether it be rules of the game, the rules of life or the excitement of one person’s achievements.
Charles Moore lives in Johnson City.