Jump to content
Brewer Fanatic
  • The Weekly Dispatch: Baseball Can Change the World, If We Want It To

    Brent Sirvio

    Until all the tough conversations are had and we genuinely bridge and reconcile racial divides in this country, Juneteenth will only be salt in the wound. The game that gave us Jackie Robinson, Larry Doby and Henry Aaron can and should lead the way.

    Image courtesy of © Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Brewers Video

    The Weekly Dispatch is a column on the Brewers. 'On' may do heavier lifting on some weeks than others.

    Baseball requires a kind of commitment antithetical to American life. The season is a day-in, day-out orchestral performance, different from basketball's jazz, football's marching band, hockey's 80s butt rock or soccer's 28-year-long song. It is -- provided current leadership is not allowed to have its way -- unconstrained by artificial time constraints: a baseball game conceivably could have no end. 

    It is a relic of a bygone era; of the sports Americans were drawn to 100 years ago. Others, like boxing and horse racing, are marginal events that surface on the societal radar a handful of times a year. It is a game birthed in the city and given to (and perhaps made more perfect by) the country, a pathway for those from the latter to join the former. Baseball has survived five wars, four impeachment crises, numerous work stoppages, several pandemics and some seriously incompetent, spineless or otherwise bumbling leadership. It may even survive Bob Manfred.

    Another relic of a bygone era, a spectre lingering over American life that has been allowed to stay too long, is our stained legacy of racism. Some have called it America's 'original sin,' drawing from the biblical allegory of creation and the Garden of Eden. In the throes of a pandemic, our societal consciousness was pricked by footage of George Floyd's needless, senseless murder. We had a unique moment in history, a window wherein we could have addressed racial strife and inequity as well as police reform without the influence of partisan hacks or agents provocateurs. The fact that we as a society, as Americans, failed to seize upon it is a footnote written to our everlasting shame.

    'Stick to sports' is a refrain that dies on arrival; sports exist within the milieu of life and asking its participants and proprietors to do is to ask a dandelion not reproduce. It is often proffered in the worst faith in that the person who requests it of the other disagrees to the point of demanding a self-imposed restriction on his or her liberty. It is an attitude that says 'I will patronize you insofar as I hear nothing inconvenient to me.' Tyranny in three words, often asked by paper tigers incapable of and unwilling to defend themselves.

    Milwaukee is notoriously the most segregated city in America. Its interstate highways -- concrete and rebar overbuild that, amongst other victims, claimed both Bronzeville and Borchert Field -- served and continue to serve as racially-based neighborhood boundaries. White flight into satellite cities and suburbs, then exburbs, then municipalities beyond, exacerbated racial tension. 

    Baseball did its part in erecting walls between black and white Americans, 'a victim of its own prejudice,' as Jerry Malloy put it. Moses Fleetwood Walker was mercilessly taunted by opposing teams and fans alike in his one season playing major league (American Association) baseball with Toledo. The 'gentleman's agreement' in 1887 gave us the grounds for the modern-day Major Leagues. Active, actionable social evil became a banality within the game when Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson would cause their seismic shift in sports -- and American -- life.

    The thing about time is that it allows us to order or compartmentalize our lives. It is a conditioning mechanism. Start waking up at 4:30 in the morning for a week and it takes two weeks to adjust and four more weeks to re-adjust. Work a 8-5 job with a noon lunch and before long, you begin to get hungry at 11:15.

    More than physical responses, time allows us to restrict our contextual awareness, for better or worse. Other sports may unify a community for a short time -- see Milwaukee in 2021 with the Bucks - but a season where the first half barely matters and the playoffs are an interminable slog of exhausted teams pitted against one another in a war of attrition does not lend itself toward sustainable community.

    Football commands one sacred day a week for its consumers while spinning a cult-like web around them, convincing them that watching men kill themselves in an act of gridiron martyrdom with an oblong ball is worth ordering their existence. It is the game shaped by the advent of television more than any other. Glorious warfare, brought to you by Little Caesars and DraftKings.

    'Baseball is boring!' is the common reply from those who do not appreciate it. To the outsider, the kid who wanders into the room to see what's on, it looks like a lot of nothing. It's the game made for radio, every day of the season is a narratival process kept with scorecards and broadcasters who become familiar, close friends, even family. (Can Brewers fans imagine a baseball summer without Bob Uecker? Sure, road games are handled by a talented crew of Jeff Levering, Lane Grindle and Josh Maurer, but their presence only underscores Uecker's absence.)

    That kind of shared experience, unconcerned with the passage of time -- after all, it is a pastime -- cultivates something more than fair-weathered affiliation or a pseudo-military fraternal order. Like the (multi-cultural!) emergence of barbecue in America, a process that lends itself to cold beverages and conversation while tending to a pit and exercising the patience that only comes from being exposed to smoked meat for hours at a time, baseball engenders a deeper, more intimate relationship, one that facilitates friendships and encourages shared life.

    Life is boring, if one sits in front of a television and is spoonfed its programming.

    "Milwaukee was perfect for me. Any player would have been fortunate to play in front of those fans. Baseball has never seen fans like Milwaukee's in the 1950s and never will again." -- Henry Aaron

    Aaron's recollections of his time in Wisconsin are overwhelmingly positive; as a minor leaguer in Eau Claire, he was welcomed into a community largely unfamiliar with African-Americans and only earned equity on his time there by hitting .336 in his sole season with the Bears. Hammer helped the Braves, along with fellow African-Americans in Wes Covington and Bill Bruton, to Milwaukee's only World Series championship in 1957 and became a god to children throughout the Upper Midwest, which was then entirely Braves radio territory. Aaron prompted desegregation in Mequon, where he bought a home in 1958 and was a forceful, if publicly understated influence for racial justice and reconciliation in Greater Milwaukee. 

    The Braves left Milwaukee after 1965. It is a tragic irony -- correlation, not causation, but nonetheless ironic -- that should not be lost on anyone that Milwaukee's race riot erupted two years later. Aaron sold his home shortly thereafter, making Atlanta his family's full-time home.

    The freeway system remodeled a fractured city. Baseball diamonds took up too much valuable real estate. Televisions proliferated in homes throughout America, showing cities and countries on fire and football on Sundays. The Green Bay Packers became long-term interlopers for spurned Wisconsinites in what was, up to that point, baseball-obsessed Wisconsin.

    Baseball is an enduring reflection of life and society: from Cap Anson's bigotry to the Negro Leagues' innovations that would transform the game in its golden age, to Rickey's persistence and vision to Jackie Robinson's endurance and performance under extreme pressure, to Henry Aaron's life and legacy of baseball and personal excellence, to baseball's perception now as a white person's game with an obscenely-expensive entry point for participation. The blemishes are not slights on the game, they are indictments of our culture. 

    A game that distinctly lends itself so well to relationship-building has become an ivory tower. Those who love this game ought to be ashamed at how it has regressed from social conscience.

    It took far too long for us to formally recognize Juneteenth as a holiday for all Americans, but if anything, the day shows us how far we've drifted from visions of racial unity and justice shared by so many, some to the point of personal sacrifice, over generations. We need more opportunities to see and share life together, experience one another and foster conversations that can break down personal and social barriers. More than another Henry Aaron or Roberto Clemente -- though to have anyone who can even remotely get their feet into those shoes would be more than welcomed -- we need to recognize our American need for community, from the city to the suburb to the country and back again.

    From a tailgate, to giving a foul ball to a child, to bringing the family to the ballpark and seeing that first glimpse of green grass and all those seats, baseball can be a transcendent experience that draws out the best in us: wonder, generosity, kindness, patience, endurance, inspiration, love. All the good things that make life worth living inside and outside stadium confines. Things that help us see past race and affirm one another's humanity and dignity. Things with which evil cannot coexist. There is a game with 162 chances a year that can do just that.

    I believe baseball can change the world, but only if we want it to.

    Think you could write a story like this? Brewer Fanatic wants you to develop your voice, find an audience, and we'll pay you to do it. Just fill out this form.

    — Latest Brewers coverage from our writers
    — Recent Brewers discussion in our forums
    — Follow Brewer Fanatic via Twitter, Facebook or email


    • Like 1

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    There are no comments to display.

    Join the conversation

    You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
    Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

    Add a comment...

    ×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

      Only 75 emoji are allowed.

    ×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

    ×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

    ×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...