From my Book, If I Knew Then What I Know Now:
After the team’s final 1964 spring training game, most sports reporters were clamoring around me. Even those who were interviewing my teammates were asking what they thought about my performance. I told the reporters that I had simply lived up to my highest expectations for this particular day. And I felt that my teammates had done the same! “If you thought I performed well today, let’s wait and see if I can perform in a similar fashion when the real games begin in two days,” I told them. But I thought to myself, Is it even possible to have a better game than today’s? If not, what would be the next logical conclusion? If the darkest hour always precedes the dawning of the new light, then when its brilliance comes to full effulgence, does it not seem reasonable to presume that “one’s finest hour should prefigure some form of impending gloom? Could greatness be sustained within the grasp of hubris? As I pondered the ramifications of greatness, I remembered Socrates reading a short essay by J. F. P. It read as follows:
Greatness is a humanly exaggerated or a spiritually magnified sense of being. To be extolled with greatness, one must step up above one’s peers, beyond the casualness of conformity, into the altitude of “Uniqueness,” wherein the atmosphere of Soul the inspiration of life a lesser man cannot inhale. The greatest man that ever walked the earth was once asked by his disciples, “Who is the greatest among us?” At one time, he told them that “. . . of a man born of a woman, none was greater than John the Baptist. Albeit, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Later, he answered by taking a little child and placing him/her in their midst and saying, “. . . of such is the kingdom of heaven. He who would be greatest among you, let him humble himself and become as a little child.”
Arriving at my room, I immediately sat at my bedside and pondered the succession of wonderful incidents that took place during today’s game. I realized that I had reached that point in my brief career that had surpassed the highest expectations of anyone who had previously played the game of baseball. Not long ago, it would have satisfied my greatest aspirations to merely progress to a point of making it onto a “big-league” baseball team. For a player to hit the ball hard every time he swung his bat would certainly be a high accomplishment, worthy of admiration. And to be one of nine or twenty-five or forty players to play a pivotal role in establishing a championship team would be cause to generate a sense of pride that might override any previous personal accomplishment or disappointment. But what I did today went beyond what I, or anyone, could have expected of a baseball player. The strange sequence of events occurring over the past six months had set into motion what easily could have been considered a “paradigm shift.” It had affected me in a way that could not be totally appreciated nor understood by those with whom I was presently sharing my physical reality. I seemed to have become an enigma, as a player who is living in an era not yet ready to comply with such new standard of technological enhancement. Such criteria might impose itself as being the vanguard to advanced baseball ingenuity and prosperity. Where and how do I fit into this dimension of extreme athletic proficiency?
My thoughts immediately recalled Plato’s reading, from J. F. P.’s essay, the subsequent verses to “Baseball’s Glory”:
The game of Baseball will eventually receive a “facelift” that inevitably will introduce a new paradigm into the minds and hearts of modern baseball enthusiasts. A new story of America’s beloved pastime is at the point of superseding the original model. The beauty and grandeur of a glorious past will soon reinvent itself in a form suitable to days immemorial. In Baseball, the singular concepts of individual and collective (team) excellence are intertwined masterfully. The proficiency of each player on offense and on defense will determine his individual worth. And the excellence towards which he strives for himself and his team will endear him to his mates and adoring fans. As each player accomplishes his own mastery, the team itself should be beneficiary of a collectively successful enterprise. And each player should also become beneficiary to the collective worth of the team.
Baseball’s enduring attributes, to all levels of civilized society, are those which foster relevance to equal opportunity for the individual, and a sense of genuine contribution to a collective effort. These afford respect that cannot be diminished by an insignificant standard to a presumably less significant status. Every player in a line-up bats. And, every position is held equally accountable for mental and physical errors. The standard is the same for all players! What can be a fairer way of evaluating performance? Is there any other arena for “Sports” that epitomizes the universal “American Experience” more than that displayed on Baseball’s level field of play? In Baseball, the adage, “one for all, and all for one,” rings true in the hearts and minds of these “9 Musketeers,” with their collectively idealistic sense of purpose.
What other sport besides Baseball involves so many individuals in a collective endeavor? All have equal opportunities to be exalted to the full range of glory. They all play positions where equality of skill cannot be differentiated for maximum results. Size is never a preponderant factor. And, potentially, remuneration for services should never alienate players, or create team dissension?
Except for what could be considered brief lapses in moral consciousness (early segregationist issues, and its latter insidious bout with steroid controversy), the level playing field of Baseball has remained virtually intact. Its pristine elements are continually being unfolded. (Even the latest “Steroid Controversies” that have stirred up a hornet’s nest will ultimately subside, and the game will resume, but with a renewed sense of moral legitimacy.)
The world has fast become a theatrical stage for public sentiment to display both outrageous and benevolent characterizations of humanity. A universal demand for the highest possible standard of excellence should be embodied by those who would be model-heroes for aspiring youth. Bickering over the trivialities concerning absurd compensatory packaging, and equating successful performance levels to the artificial inflation of one’s artistic potential, are two areas where public scrutiny will exhibit least toleration, even toward heroes. Once Baseball has cleaned up its Act, on Steroid Controversy, and engages itself with its ever-expanding dilemma involving inequitable player compensation, then the certainty of its utopian appeal will be more in evidence. Until then, while Baseball is still America’s endearing National Pastime, it certainly holds the prospect of being embraced universally.
Coming Soon: Part 2!