art_covid_darkow

By George F. Will

WASHINGTON — Medicalizing unpleasant character traits or bad behaviors by blaming them on “addictions” worsens the modern tendency to minimize individual responsibility. However, about your sports addiction...

Imagine your brain on sports. It is not a pretty picture. The most wondrous thing in the universe is the human brain, and for decades yours has devoted much (most, to be honest) of its bandwidth to games. Now you are suffering something akin to delirium tremens. The agonies you are going through during this withdrawal are evidence that spectatorship is addictive. During baseball’s regular season you overdose on 2,430 games, your synapses firing away, sending pleasure pulses through you. But now, with the suddenness of a walk-off home run, all sports, and the firing, have stopped.

And you find yourself mystified by your surroundings, which you last really noticed when you were about 7. Now you resemble the man who in mid-March posted this: “Day 3 without sports. Found a lady sitting on my couch yesterday. Apparently she’s my wife. She seems nice.”

Day 4 without sports. Began reading Proust.

Really? No.

Fortunately, the Major League Baseball channel is methadone for those forced to go cold turkey. In the wee small hours of the morning you might be able to watch, say, Game 7 of the 1992 National League Championship Series. (Spoiler alert: Sid Bream still slides in safe at home, the Braves still beat the Pirates 3-2.) It is 3 a.m. and time for one of those argumentative panels ranking the “10 Best Middle Relievers from Southern North Dakota.”

Sports exemplify what Walt Whitman called America’s “stir.” Civil War historian Bruce Catton called baseball America’s greatest conversation piece. Now that the stirring by games has stopped, so has a substantial portion of the nation’s conversation. Think of the many memorable aperçus that baseball always generates but that will not be uttered because baseball is dormant. There will not be gems like this from former Braves manager Dave Bristol: “Only trouble I ever had with chewing tobacco was that the orthodontist said my daughter was going to have to give it up because of her braces.” Or Ralph Kiner, Hall of Fame slugger, Mets broadcaster and amateur physicist, explaining how cold weather can shorten by 25 feet the distance a fly ball travels: “If the fence is 338 feet [away] and you hit the ball 338 feet, you’ll be 25 feet short.”

Admit it, you are not even ashamed that your first — yes, first — thought when COVID-19 caused the shutdown of everything was not “this is going to leave tragedies in its wake.” Rather, you thought: “Mike Trout will miss a chance to make his career numbers even gaudier.” Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci notes that Trout’s loss will not be as great as that suffered by Ted Williams, a Marine aviator who lost his age-24, -25 and -26 seasons to World War II military service and all but 43 games of his age-33 and -34 seasons to the Korean War. “Williams,” Verducci calculates, “lost about 154 homers, finishing with 521 instead of 675.”

Bob Feller’s loss was larger. In 1936, the soon-to-be high school senior from Van Meter, Iowa, made his debut with the Indians at age 17. He was the youngest in history to win 100 games and had 107 wins when, two days after Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Navy. Unhappy with a safe stateside posting, he became chief of an anti-aircraft gun crew on the battleship Alabama. It steamed 175,000 miles, participated in eight Pacific island landings and was off Saipan when U.S. forces shot down 400 enemy aircraft.

In the 1939, 1940 and 1941 seasons, Feller won 24, 27 and 25 games, respectively, and he won 26 in 1946, his first full season back. He ranks 37th among pitchers in terms of wins (266). But for the war, he might have passed Grover Cleveland Alexander and Christy Mathewson, who are tied for third (373), behind only Cy Young (511) and Walter Johnson (417). But, then, how many symphonies were not composed and vaccines not developed because, in A.E. Housman’s words, “The saviors come not home tonight: / Themselves they could not save.”

Vin Scully, the mellifluous voice of baseball during his 67 years broadcasting Dodgers games, once said, “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” Yes we are, and it will be nice when we again have baseball to banish that fact to the attic of our brains.

Will is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.

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