Earlier on, I called America’s frontier self-governance “football hooligan democracy.” “Baseball team democracy” is better, because baseball is a metaphor for America. (Since it seems we must do the Ken Burns thing, here’s a sepia-toned photograph of old ballplayers. You’ll have to provide the goopy music yourself, and read this in Morgan Freeman’s voice).
Everything that happens in the game is individual. The batter, of course, is all alone — it’s just his talent, training, knowledge, and experience versus the talent, training, knowledge, and experience of the opponent’s nine guys. But everything else that happens is also the sole result of individuals’ talent, training, knowledge, and experience. Simplifying just a little: The catcher is solely responsible for the type of pitch that’s thrown. The pitcher alone is responsible for the quality of the pitch (velocity, movement, location). If the pitch is hit — the sole responsibility of the batter — then the fielder alone is responsible for fielding it. All of these are individual actions, performed by individuals.
And yet… as anyone who has ever played Little League knows, a baseball team is more than a collection of individuals, doing individual things. The catcher must know his pitcher. The right pitch in this situation might be a curveball low and away, but maybe the pitcher doesn’t have it tonight. The catcher who calls for the curve low and away anyway — because all else equal, the pitcher is capable of throwing that pitch — won’t be a catcher for long (and the pitcher who can’t throw all his pitches consistently, on command, won’t be a pitcher much longer). The best catch-and-throw in the world from the third baseman is meaningless if the first baseman can’t get to his base in time (or can’t handle the throw when it arrives). Even the batter — the loneliest guy on the field — has other responsibilities than just trying to hit the ball as hard as he can. He, too, must know the situation and swing accordingly… or even not swing, as the situation demands. Here too, even the best hitter who swings away without reference to his team won’t be a hitter for long.
And yet… selfless, team-first guys won’t last, either, unless they’re individually very skilled. All the euphemisms for selfless, team first guys — “field general,” “player-coach,” or the dreaded “veteran locker room presence” — all decode to “this guy stinks.” A good manager can work with a certain level of “veteran leadership,” but a team full of great locker room guys will be as bad as — honestly, probably a lot worse than — a team of me-first prima donnas.
I hope this digression into baseball arcana (and I hope foreign readers followed ok) hasn’t obscured two important facts about baseball:
- There’s a minimum skill level involved; and
- The team has a clear, obvious goal.
The higher up the ladder you go, the more 1) applies. A small town high school team might have to put the only 9 guys it has out there, regardless of skill level. Even low-level professional teams, by contrast, are full of top-tier talent. Every single guy who makes even a low-minor roster was the best player on his team in Little League, in high school, in the whole school district, in fact, if not the entire state… and often the best player on his team in college, too. There’s nobody playing pro baseball, in other words — no matter how “minor” the league — who isn’t really really really really really good at baseball.*
The political parallel is obvious, and it’s the reason I keep banging on about this “human biodiversity” (HBD) stuff. Representative government, too, requires a certain “skill level” from its voters. Are we a small town high school team, or are we the Major Leagues? As we have enough nuclear weapons to incinerate the solar system, I really hope we’re the Majors. Which means…..
But let’s not forget 2). What is our goal?
The political parallel is less obvious: It’s legitimacy. A baseball team exists to win baseball games. “Winning baseball games” is the one thing from which all others flow. No matter how great the team is for the community — and I’m sure the good people of Boonton really loved their ball club (pictured above) — they can’t continue to exist without winning games. Whatever else our government does, then, it’s core function is….what? Identify that, then see if the government is actually doing it.
If it is, no problem. If not… well, ask the guys from Boonton.
*One of the advantages of going to a third-rate state college, I’ve found, is that you get a much broader experience of people. My school was full of folks who were “just giving college a try” — lots of ex-military, lots of older folks who were taking classes for self-improvement, etc. And lots of former minor league baseball players, who went straight from high school to the minors and didn’t make it. These guys were the ringers on intramural softball teams, and holy guacamole. I remember playing against a guy who wore huge, clunky braces on both knees. He’d been a prospect, but suffered one of those horrific injuries that show up on ESPN. He was still ungodly compared to the rest of us, even the former high school athletes among us — he played shortstop, for instance, even though every single guy on his team could beat him in a foot race.**
**For foreign readers; “Shortstop” is the toughest position to play in baseball. Even most guys who play shortstop throughout their minor league careers can’t handle it in the Majors. You need to be very, very fast, with fighter pilot reflexes.