Military Robert Lipsyte Sports

The Home Run Should Be Cancelled If the World Is to Be Saved

Consider banning both The Bomb and the home run as the first crucial steps toward a safer, more peaceful world.
[Minda Haas Kuhlmann / CC BY 2.0]

By Robert Lipsyte | TomDispatch

The time has come to ban The Bomb.

Of course, all those nuclear ones in the arsenals of the “great” powers, but — since I’m a sportswriter by trade — let’s start with the home run. Call it a four-bagger, a dinger, a moon shot, or (in my childhood) a Ballantine blast for the beer that sponsored so much baseball. One thing is certain, though: the dream of the game-changing home run has shaped our approach to so much, from sports to geopolitics. Most significantly, it’s damaged our ability to solve problems through reason and diplomacy.

So, consider banning both The Bomb and the home run as the first crucial steps toward a safer, more peaceful world.

For 102 years now, since Babe Ruth first joined the Yankees, we’ve been heading for this moment when a frustrated American lunatic might potentially try to take this country hostage by threatening violent civil war, while a frustrated Russian lunatic tries to take the world hostage by threatening to annihilate it.

Saving both the country and the world by disarming the lunatics can only be accomplished via the careful little steps that no longer seem to be a priority either in the playbooks of baseball or in the arsenals of liberal democracy. Over the past decades, they’ve largely been discarded in favor of the idea of the big bang, be it for deterrence, intimidation, or, in two horrendous moments in 1945, actual big bangs that created the politics of mutually assured destruction as a forever possibility.

How did that happen? In sports, blame it on baseball, which gave up much of its original artistry for the triumphal explosion that now overrides all else, potentially wiping out both past mistakes and future hopes. To set a proper example, the home run should be cancelled if the world is to be saved.

It’s easy enough. Just change the rulebooks so that a ball hit out of the park doesn’t count. It’s not even a ball or a strike, just a nothing, another missing baseball. Get over it.

Bombs Away!

Getting rid of the home run will be a particularly hard sell in the glow of the round-tripper renaissance born by the extraordinary season of the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge. It unfolded, handily enough, as the specters of both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin haunted the non-sports networks. By hitting 62 home runs in a single season, an American League record, Judge brought back the shock-and-awe thrill of it all in a creamy cloud of nostalgia that has briefly obscured the terror of the real bombs.

Judge’s record season also managed to obscure for the moment just how tawdry the very idea of a home-run record had become. After all, the major league home-run record is now 73, set in 2001 by Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants. Until Judge came along, that record, like Bonds himself, had been mired in a Trumpian or Putinesque sports version of disgrace and disgust, though ascribing sane motives to Bonds is far easier than to Trump or Putin, because Bonds is no lunatic.

In fact, he was a truly great player, apparently so maddened by the ascendence of rival hitters seemingly on performance-enhancing drugs that he, too, may have reached for chemical help. The runner-ups to him for the single-season record, Mark McGwire (70 dingers in 1998) and Sammy Sosa (66 in 1998), were also linked to steroid use.

Ironically, it was in 1998, a year stained by the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, that the McGwire-Sosa home run rivalry was credited with diverting the nation from the shame of the White House — and it could only do so because home-run records held such powerful magic.

The record for ultimate power without drugs demands respect. In that sense, the most impressive previous one was set at 61 in 1961 by Roger Maris. He was a Yankees outfielder and a thoughtful, decent player without much flair. Despite all those homers, he was no Bombardier, especially because he was playing alongside a charismatic superstar, Mickey Mantle, whom fans had long hoped would supplant the until-then ultimate record of that ur-superstar Babe Ruth. Maris was never quite accepted as such after he broke Ruth’s 1927 60-homer mark.

Enter The Babe

In his time (and for decades thereafter), the Babe was Mr. Baseball and, in some ways, Mr. America, too, the very symbol of this country’s emerging power after World War I. His style of play — Bam! — was the one our leaders began to see themselves bringing to global dynamics. He was the face of the Roaring Twenties (unless you’d prefer that flying fascist Charles Lindbergh or that gangster-in-chief Al Capone).

Ruth had been a sensation, a metaphor for appetite, celebrity, food, sex, and victory. In 1920, his first year with the New York Yankees, the 25-year-old Ruth hit what was then a nearly inconceivable number of home runs: 54. Until that moment, 15 or so homers were usually enough to win the home-run title. An exception was 1919 when Ruth, then still a Boston Red Sox pitcher, hit 29. 

The Babe appeared at a propitious moment for baseball. His achievements counteracted the negative effects of what came to be known as the Black Sox scandal in which members of the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds in a gambling scheme. There was gloom and soul searching. The national pastime fixed? The nation corrupted?

At least in the mythology of baseball, the emergence of Babe Ruth and the Yankees was credited with helping save the game itself and perhaps the pride of the nation as well. Through sheer power! Bam!

The Yankees would, in fact, get into the World Series in six of the next eight seasons as they developed into baseball’s powerhouse franchise. With all those homers in mind, they would come to be known as the Bronx Bombers. The United States went on to swing its own big bats in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan in 2001 and the Persian Gulf again in 2003, all en route to becoming, at least in the minds of its leaders and the Washington foreign-policy crew, the world’s leading superpower.

Time out. Are you finding this hyperbolic or, given the nature of baseball, not serious enough to put on the same page with those endless wars or the once all-American weaponry that has now become Vladimir Putin’s threat to the world? Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Barry Bonds a key to our future? Not likely, huh? Well, just hang on to my theory that we’re in thrall to The Bomb (or do I mean enthralled by it?) and that, to survive, we’d better begin disarming — and keep reading.

Enter Aaron Judge

Enter Aaron Judge, a large, friendly, humble 30-year-old, an accomplished all-round player who’s considered “clean” or steroid-free.

On October 4th, in Toronto, in the first inning of the next-to-last game of the 2022 regular season, Judge, to his great relief and that of so many fans, hammered number 62. Mission accomplished! (Sadly, an apt enough phrase, given the way President George W. Bush featured it in reference to his 2003 invasion of Iraq — only to later regret it for obvious reasons and have it used again in 2018 by Donald Trump in reference to Syria, where U.S. troops remain to this day.)

At that moment, there was a new Bomber-in-Chief and might makes right was reaffirmed. No other sport, in fact, ever reinvented itself so thoroughly by focusing on one act — although football came close in 1906 when it legalized the forward pass. That, however, was an attempt to open up the game to prevent so many injuries from the brutal mass collisions of what was then essentially a rushing game. The year before, 19 young men had died and 159 had been seriously injured. President Theodore Roosevelt, a famous proponent of that supposedly manly game, demanded reforms to save it. The casualty rate soon dropped, but how well that all came out remains open to doubt, since the issue of traumatic brain injuries continues to plague football.

While football and baseball both became more dramatically exciting with their big bangs, in the process, baseball lost its brainy chess-like quality. Instead of eking out runs using cunning tactics like the sacrifice bunt, the hit-and-run play, or the delayed steal — all now categorized, whether nostalgically or derisively, as “small ball” — managers came to depend on their sluggers to muscle their way to victory, often at the last minute. As time went on and football, with its dramatic brutality, also often heightened at the last minute, became the dominant sport, the home run only gained more value as one of the best ways to lure in younger fans.

Power Is Sexy

The home run was once justified by the Nike slogan “Chicks dig the long ball,” a variant perhaps of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”

Trump and Putin, like most long-ball hitters (although not Aaron Judge), tend to strike out all too often and be forgiven for it because their fans believe that they’ll soon turn it all around with a home run. No wonder the term home run has become synonymous with having done the best job possible, nailing the deal, case, or diagnosis. In truth, the home run should have become the symbol of the quick fix that may not hold, the brass ring that diverts us from the pleasure of the process, the big club created to intimidate opponents into submission that so often turns them into resentful insurgents.  

Which is where we are now. The Russians are in the deep muddy exactly because the Ukrainians knew how to play small ball. They found that they could take a hit-and-run approach with those Russian tanks on the outskirts of Kyiv as effectively as the Vietcong ever did with American ones (and you may remember who won that war).

At the same time, Trump’s Republicans and Putin’s Russians have depended on the long ball. The January 6th insurgency was an attempted walk-off blast to drive home the Big Lie that Trump had really won the election. Had it succeeded, he would have been an autocrat by coup. It was, however, thwarted by small ball: the incredible courage and discipline of the police and the defense of the nation by Democrats through the democratic process.

The invasion of Ukraine and the attempted seizure of its capital, Kyiv, ostensibly to save it from Western aggression as well as “militarism and Nazification,” was Putin’s shot at a home-run-style putsch. He had envisioned his invasion as a triumphant blitzkrieg ending in a quick Russian victory. The duration, relentlessness, and success of the Ukrainian response surprised the world, especially America, which (in its version of finesse) then used sanctions and military aid to support that beleaguered country.

The struggle continues as the Trump team threatens bloodshed in the streets and civil war if their criminal goals are legally blocked. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin continues to threaten an all-too-literal big-bang response to Ukrainian battlefield successes via his country’s vast arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons stationed just offstage — with the fear of escalation into full-scale mushroom clouds and, as our president put it, “Armageddon” lurking in our future.

Talk about a potential Big Bang!

What Can We Do?

Getting out the vote, especially in this time of voter suppression, requires small ball in its most passionate and precise form. Small ball was always about hard work, discipline, and dedication. Think of non-violent demonstrations during the Civil Rights era. So, practice your political version of the sacrifice bunt, while making sure that everyone is on the team, knows the play, and turns out.

Far be it from me to advise the Ukrainians, especially in the arts of the hit-and-run and the sacrifice. Material aid and back-channel diplomacy are, however, also examples of small ball in their way, but the terror of the Big Bang still looms over everything.

Admittedly, metaphor seems shallow and easy when so many lives are at stake, but at least when it comes to baseball, if not this planet, it would indeed be possible to ban the bomb and return to a sports version of a small-ball world. Unfortunately, sports rules don’t work globally, so banning the real bomb seems all too unlikely. 

If we could do that, though, you could let the home run stay and who would care?

But, alas, what’s happening on this planet isn’t a game after all.

Copyright 2022 Robert Lipsyte


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Robert Lipsyte is a TomDispatch regular and a former sports and city columnist for the New York Times. He is the author, among other works, of SportsWorld: An American Dreamland.

26 comments

  1. Very entertaining with humor which . We all.need now.The world and political situations are in crisis,nobody knows quite what to do.Some genius better think fast or we are done for by the.big bomb no matter who launches first.

  2. Starts out from the wrong premise. Look back. Putin (clearly, not insane) did not threaten the US. What happened was that Joe Biden rattled his war sabers at Russia, to which Putin calmly responded that Russia is ready and able to defend itself. This seems to have outraged Americans. Oh well.

    1. Exactly, I stopped reading and started skimming after reading

      ” frustrated Russian lunatic tries to take the world hostage by threatening to annihilate it. ”

      People aren’t stupid everyone knows Putin’s actions are deplorable and reactionary invading Ukraine. He fell right into the trap the United States and it’s NATO lackeys had been preparing for decades rattling sabers at Russia. Either you haven’t been paying attention or are on some absurd agenda.

  3. What should be banned is propagating U.S. propaganda on Sheerpost.
    You made the the statement that Vladimir Putin threatened to annihilate the world. That is not correct. Vladimir Putin never threatened to annihilate the world. In fact the only nuclear super power with a preemptive strike doctrine to use nuclear weapons (since W Bush) is the United States Vladimir Putin said In a recent speech is that Russia knows how to defend it defended self and will do so if directly attacked by the U.S. or its NATO subordinates. Russia’s nuclear weapons doctrine is published for anyone to see. Russia does not have a preemptive use doctrine like the U.S. , the only country to have used nuclear weapons (twice) to slaughter hundreds of thousands Japanese citizens, not out of military necessity, but for the sole purpose of showing the Russians what it can do.
    Russia’s nuclear weapons, unlike the United States are to be used steicly in defensive situations.

    1. A+ spot on. Really sick of Scheerpost, which is supposedly a step above the propaganda, reiterating propaganda. And it happens a lot. If I were on the payroll at Langley or Arlington, I’d be engineering plans to slowly infiltrate whatever honest sources of editorial analysis exist, including this site. It’s refreshing to see a number of readers here calling this out.

    2. But Putin has such a self-serving definition of “directly attacked”.

      He has twice committed the Crime Against Peace, for which Hitler, his German counterpart, would have been hanged had he not committed suicide before they could hang him.

      But Putin refuses to acknowledge that he committed those crimes because he only counts international transition points that are favorable to him.

      The dissolution of the USSR on 26 December 1991 was such a transition point.

      It created a historical benchmark in which the USSR had transferred ownership of Crimea to Ukraina (1954). Similarly, the Donbas was part of Ukraina during the USSR’s existence, and that was also a legal status quo wef 27 December 1991.

      Any aggressive taking of land became the Number One international crime in 1946, for which the Nazi leadership was hanged.

      Putin claims he sent forces into the Donbas to protect the Russophones living there. He had no right to do that under international law. He could have repatriated them, but that’s all.

      The “separatists” in those oblasts were both recent incomers thanks to Putin and minorities within the oblasts. They had no standing to host self-serving referenda, nor did Putin have any right to annex the oblasts after.

      Writers here who try to whitewash Putin’s criminal behavior should feel greatly embarrassed since they are defending his criminal “right” to use atomic weapons to prevent the territories stolen by him from being taken back by their rightful owners.

      The real information is widely available and none of it favors Putin in any way.

  4. I very much appreciate the majority of the journalism I read on Scheerpost. I will however, immediately abandon the writing of anyone who throws out thoughtless epithets like, ” a frustrated Russian lunatic tries to take the world hostage by threatening to annihilate it.”
    This is tiresome and ignorant assertion that does not educate the idiots in the United States, which is really going to become necessary on some level if we have an hope in hell in rolling back the nuclear tension we find ourselves under currently.
    When I read of someone that writes stories for others calling Putin ‘a lunatic’ it is becomes immediately recognizable that this person has never read any of Putin’s speeches and has no more business than Trump bleating his bullshit to the masses.
    The current president of the United State is clearly senile. Even before that occurred he never did display the scope and comprehension of world history that Putin does and he certainly never displayed a fraction of the statesmanship.
    Do us all a favor and research your ‘lunatics’ before attempting to discuss them.

    1. Bravo for your direct assault on one of the most egregious lies in the US/West pseudo intellectual toolkit.

      Lipsyte parroting the crapstorm of vilification vomited up by US MSM and US politicians (and probably engineered to start with by communication criminals at Langley & Arlington Virginia) needs to be called out. They are playing the lynch mob mentality of the masses for applause. Boo them.

      1. Thank you.
        There appears to be something wrong with the option of liking anyone’s comment, (it’s in a perpetual loading stage) or I would have liked your remark.
        It’s a relief to know that there are some other people who recognize what is happening here.

  5. I would like to think that this is part of the irony of the article: a frustrated American lunatic might potentially try to take this country hostage by threatening violent civil war, while a frustrated Russian lunatic tries to take the world hostage by threatening to annihilate it. But I am not sure. Getting out the vote is playing small ball is another one. Getting out the vote for whom? The corporate Dems or the corporate Reps? Neither represent the people. I won’t abandon Sheerpost over one article; nor will I vote. I prefer to put my efforts towards actions that might throw all the bums out, like taking over the streets, strikes, stopping the machines of war and corporate abuse.

    1. See the posts here that point out that “Russian lunatic” is a straight up lie. You have one foot out the door of status quo US politics, you might as well remove the foot you have cemented in US MSM agitprop against people like the president of Russia.

    2. I’m with you on the pointlessness of voting.
      In fact, I unregistered completely.
      At least the landfills won’t be clogged with shiny, un recyclable political mailings with my name on it…

  6. Despite the mischaracterization of Putin near the outset, I appreciate this heterodox argument against the baseball obsession with home runs. I think professional baseball really jumped the shark with the invention of the Home Run Derby, the most monotonous and silly pseudo-sport spectacle of the century.

    I will take the author’s challenge to abolish home runs, and raise him one step: let the present home run count as a foul, or even an out. Because, after all, it is literally an out: the ball is out of the park, it’s out of play. Let players go back to hitting singles, doubles, triples, and even in-park four-baggers. But set a limit at the edge of the outfield: the batter must hit a ball that can be fielded.

    That might disappoint some glove-wielding fans, but it might raise a new generation of baseball fans who don’t all act like children who expect to ‘get something’.

    Lord knows, we could use a few more adults in attendance, both in and out of the stands.

  7. Bob, Bob, Bob, not another article by a shitlib spouting propaganda. The US is the only country to ever use nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them (all options are on the table) for decades.

  8. Another propaganda piece from Thomdispatch. Putin is the only adult in the room. I have become so disheartened with so many of the sources that I have relied for truth telling. Especially thomdispatch, democracy now, and the intercept. They have drank the coolaid.

  9. I agree with all the points you make. CIA programs like Mockingbird are in evidence, i.e. compliant media

  10. The real long ball, that is assuredly going to be banned next two elections, is my (leftside) party’s 30 year-long lather-rinse-repeat program of creating a massive lie about a topic, then using cable new to pound it into the tired minds of Americans home on the couch after a too-long day at work.

    From Russian election interference, to Ukraine had a democratic revolution, to cow-horned insurrectionism, to lockdowns are necessary, the information systems of the USA are wholly owned subsidiaries of vile Neocons, Neoliberals, and Greedmeisters. The Augean Stables get hosed out starting Nov. 2.

    I don’t own a TV, and I canceled my 40+ year sub to the NYT about two years ago when it was obvious they loved the liars in Langley & Arlington more than then cared even a whit about the truth. If Americans could be a fly on the wall in the planning rooms at the NYT & CNN they’d be sick to their stomachs watching the owners collude with Wall St. & the Deep State, while Ivy League educated careerists rotate into and out of the offices to abrade their tongues on ownership’s boots so they can afford their coops on the upper West Side.

  11. “The Home Run Should Be Cancelled If the World Is to Be Saved… the dream of the game-changing home run has shaped our approach to so much, from sports to geopolitics. Most significantly, it’s damaged our ability to solve problems through reason and diplomacy.”

    Most people today do not appreciate subtlety… nuance… the crafty and more delicate. They have been brought up on the IN YOUR FACE!… the obvious… the noisy… the domineering… the submission to powerful force. That’s what people today are used to and so that’s what they want and demand. These shell shocked souls have no capacity or tolerance for anything else.

    They want big… bold… shallow… quick and easy… simple… simplistic… and without depth of thinking or character. The new American way.

    People have grown up being bullied. Being bullied, everywhere. At home. With your peer group. At school. At work. In politics. At church, if you go. At the doctor’s office. At the airport gates. Absorbing State media. Bully, bully, bully. After a while you just get used to it. You don’t stand up for yourself any more. You don’t value yourself anymore. You just get used to being abused and after a while you no longer know any other way to be.

    People become desensitized… detached… less human and less humane. We get alienated from ourselves. We get nasty… and then nastier. People just start attacking each other because they have no other way to channel their inner anger and frustration and feeling of being less-than-human that still bubbles under the surface. So we strike not at our many Oppressors but at each other as the closest and easiest targets.

    And does this mollify our agitated state? No, it just adds more fuel to the fire. The cycle continues with additional energy added to it. More anger and alienation.

    People want simple, easy fixes. Home runs… yeah that’s the ticket. Not great plays to preserve a lead or stringing three wimpy singles together to score a run. No, give us big, noisy, violent launch angles and deep drives with helpless baseball flying into the next County.

    And in terms of World politics and conflicts… give us bombs. Lots of bombs. And great big evil looking planes to deliver those death jabs. And lots of media fanfare to canonize our pillage.

    Baseball has been becoming less popular with each passing generation. Why? It’s slow and subtle. And most of the time, boring. How much action is there when it takes 60 seconds to deliver the next pitch? When the batter steps out to scratch his private areas? When the pitcher throws to first base to keep the runner who’s nearly standing on the base from daring to venture further? And with four minutes between innings to run commercials for unhealthy food and big telecom?

    And what is most popular today as sports? Football… the poster child for violence and personal health destruction. And the NBA… with very large men slamming a helpless basketball violently through a stationary hoop. Oooohhh! Does that get the crowd going! A large man slamming a ball through a hoop! Weeeee! What a display of talent! Do it again!

    Simple minds demand simple solutions. Give us home runs and bombs. Big, bold, violent, angry, dehumanizing. That speaks to Our Age and all us lost souls that are stuck within it.

    On second thought, no, that won’t do it. It’s not the bombs and the homers that are the real problem. It’s we the People who now demand those things and nothing else.

    We have found the enemy. And it is… us.

    And banning home runs or anything else won’t fix that.

  12. originally rejected by Milton freewater junior high monthly news miss lypsite convinced Soros to pay SP to publish this

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