There is no better sport than baseball

You football and hockey fans are going to want to stop reading right here because you’ve shown in the past you can’t handle this truth: There’s no better sport than baseball.

The Cleveland Indians are going to the World Series and those of us who’ve followed the team as fans for more than 50 years, never having had the luxury that Minnesota Twins fans have had of knowing what it’s like to win a World Series, are doing what baseball fans get to do at this time of the year. They’re using baseball as the yardstick marking life’s passage.

We suspect that by this time next week, we’ll be joined by fans of the Chicago Cubs, who’ve buried loved ones who used their ebbing energy to dream of one last chance to see the Cubs win, if not in this life, then maybe the next.

I never lived in Ohio but I became a fan of the Cleveland Indians because my older brother, Mike, was an Indians fan and I was a pretty big fan of my older brother Mike, who was born in 1948, the year the Indians last won a World Series.

How he became an Indians fan I’ll never know since he died a few years ago. But I suspect it had something to do with my aunt, who did live near Cleveland and who presented him at some point with her 1954 (the year of my birth) Indians scrapbook, which she meticulously kept as a teenager.

“Great Game! Now on to the World Series!!” the Facebook message said moments after yesterday’s game. It was from my aunt, whom I haven’t seen in at least 40 years.

Every newspaper game story was in her scrapbook. So were scorecards and programs, and baseball cards from that season, during which the team set a record for the most wins in baseball history, shortly before losing four straight to Willie Mays and the New York Giants in the World Series. That’s the way Cleveland rolls.

I got the scrapbook for my own the way brothers get such things. When my brother was otherwise distracted with some other part of his life, I snuck into his room and stole it.

Today, it would be worth thousands. And I had it until a few years ago when, after I went off to college, my mother cleaned my room and consigned the scrapbook to the loft in the barn, where it remained for decades until my twin brother needed the space to store items for his pharmacy and shoved everything in the loft into a dumpster.

He denies this, but he’s a Red Sox fan, so I know he’s lying.

My older brother isn’t around to see his team win a World Series. Neither is my grandmother, who took me to Fenway Park when the Indians came to town and to her dying days told the story of how I stood up after the Indians, who were terrible then, beat the Red Sox and I shouted, “We won! We won! We won!” to the dismay of the Red Sox fans around us.

Even the Sons of Sam Horn won’t pop a kid and his grandmother.

She was a Red Sox fan too, until her last year of life, when, through the miracle of cable TV, she started following the Mets and became a fan, in particular, of Mookie Wilson. It was 1986. She died on Sept. 14 that year at 94.

Before they closed her casket, I put a Red Sox cap next to her.

A month later, her two favorite ball clubs were playing in the World Series when Bill Buckner made the biggest error in the history of the game on a ball that was hit … by Mookie Wilson.

Football can’t do perfection like that.

By the time my oldest son was born in 1985, the Indians were perennial losers of the Cubs variety. On the day he came home from the hospital, a package arrived from the staff of the radio station I worked with in Boston. It was a Cleveland Indians onesie.

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Alas, it didn’t take. I was working in New York City at the time and the forces of evil are strong there. My son grew up to be a Yankees fan. We don’t talk about him anymore.

As with most second sons, this one was easier to pollute. He grew up an Indians fan. Even more peculiar: He grew up to be an optimistic Indians fan, the kind who knew mere minutes before the greatest comeback in the history of the game of baseball, that his team would stage the greatest comeback in the history of baseball.

Beyond the center field fence in the ballpark that will host game one of the World Series next Tuesday night, lies a brick commemorating the kid and his optimism, the same kind my older brother used to have.

The average resale value of tickets for next week’s games in Cleveland has just shot past $2,000. Weather permitting, we’ll fly to Cleveland next week and stand outside the gate for game two against the Cubs or Dodgers and consider for a moment or two that baseball’s few imperfections include the fact tickets aren’t awarded based on long-held but false hope.

“My mother-in-law was from Ohio and a big Indians fan,” my friend and MPR News editor Paul Tosto, a Red Sox fan, wrote to me today in an email. “She died a few years ago and it bums me out she’s not here to see them in the World Series. I suspect if the Indians win you’ll see many ‘this is for my dad’ stories similar to the Sox winning in 2004.”

Baseball is just a game that naturally lends itself to overwrought metaphors. That’s a feature, not a bug. And it’s singularly the nature of the game.

We pull our past with us — our brothers, our grandmothers, our aunts, our sons and daughters — as we hang on for one more season, one more game, one more chance to dream that salvation will come, if not in this life, then surely the next. Or the one after that.

“Nobody ever talks like this about hockey or football or basketball,” Tosto said. “Ever.”

Forever.

  • Veronica

    Beautifully, beautifully, beautifully written. Thank you.

  • Jerry

    As an outsider to thise some of the appeal of baseball will be lost when the Indians, or especially the Cubs, win the World Series. Baseball is about tradition and history. Their timeless futility made a nice counterpoint to unlovable juggernauts like the Yankees. Now, they will just be another team like what the Red Sox have become.

  • crystals

    **all the heart emojis**

  • >> There’s no better sport than baseball.<<

    [Image deleted for the sake of Bob's sanity]

    • Also – Go Cubs…

    • Geez, I wanted one spot — one spot — on the Internet that was Trump free today, and then you go and spoil it.

      Typical Cubs fan. :*)

      • Fair enough…

        Better?

        😉

        • John

          Did Bob just have a chilling effect on your first amendment rights? Self-censorship, man. . .

          Also – he could have just banned you for obscene content. Good move on your part.

          Finally – go Cubs! (I have no loyalty to either team, I just want to troll a little bit)

          • >>Did Bob just have a chilling effect on your first amendment rights?<<

            No 1st Amendment rights here, this is Bob's domain and I was just abiding by his wish to have a "Trump free" zone (plus I was trolling a bit).

            Cubs – I became a Cubs fan back in 1984 when I was able to watch them on cable TV.

  • David Brauer

    Can’t stand the nickname, so it’s been a struggle embracing Cleveland and its pennant-starved fans. So thanks for the read, it’s wonderful and for me, challenging. I may embrace a Cleveland win if only to stop Bob’s Twitter whining about his club, however briefly. ;*)

    • Try to remember that the Indians were the first franchise in the American League to hire a black player, and also the first franchise to hire a black manager.

      • Gary F

        Larry Doby and Frank Robinson

        Larry Doby was 2nd black manager for White Sox

      • Rob

        Yup. Now they need to get a less racist mascot and name. Use your influence, Bob.

  • John O.

    In your humble opinion Bob, what kinds of therapy will be required if the Cubs end the curse?

    • I think the day pitchers and catches report to spring training is all anyone ever needs for whatever ailments they suffer.

    • Gary F

      Old Style. Lots of Old Style. JAY’S chips and Chicago dogs with those great french fries cooked in lard like they do in those little shops in Bucktown. Plenty of bitching about Culter and Da Bears. A couple of snow storms, then, Bob’s right, spring training and the talk about how this will be the year.

  • Mike Worcester

    My marker for the greatness of baseball is to make a list of all the classic baseball-themed movies then try to find a comparable list for other sports. It’s not even a close comparison. I mean, is there even a single classic movie about pro basketball? (An no, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh does not count…)

    • jon

      Airbud?

    • Ben Chorn

      Maybe not PRO basketball, but: Space Jam, Air Bud, Coach Carter

    • Jerry

      Does Airplane! count?

      But seriously, Hoop Dreams is the best sports movie, although about high school basketball.

    • HE GOT GAME!

  • >> There’s no better sport than baseball.<<

    FWIW: I attended the home playoff games for the Twins back in 1987 and can attest to the excitement that gripped the state during that WS run. Each and every game was exciting…

    With that said, there really is nothing better than NHL playoff hockey…

    • Jeff

      I like playoff hockey, it just takes so long to get there.

    • Rob

      Also, you have tinnitus from the obscenely loud noise levels in the Baggie…

      • Oddly enough, I DO have tinnitus, but from my time in the Army (artillery simulator dropped next to my head)…

  • JeffreyT419

    Always something to be said for loyalty rewarded (from a Red Sox fan from ’75 to the present, richly rewarded for stated loyalty in ’04). For fans of the Indians or Cubs, life will never be the same if IT happens.

  • wjc

    Sorry to rain on the baseball parade.

    Last night’s game 3 hours and 58 minutes. Snore!! (Unless you are a Cubs fan.)

    • Joe

      Well watching baseball has clearly been designed for people with nothing exciting to do. So the absurd length of the games is a feature, not a bug.

      If your options are watching baseball or watching paint dry, you want that ball game to go on forever. If you have options other than watching paint dry, well then you’re not watching baseball in the first place.

      • wjc

        I was once at a Jerry Koosman-pitched game at Met Stadium that came in at right around the 2-hour mark for a game that the Twins won 6-1 or 6-0, if I remember correctly. That was a fun game to watch. 4 hours is nuts.

        • The commercial breaks for the LCS games are crazy long. Pitching changes and inning breaks take forever. I usually flip the channel to catch a few minutes of preseason basketball during every commercial.

          • Bob Sinclair

            or the Red Wings games. or the debates.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    I became a baseball fan in 1969, the year of the Miracle Mets. (Sorry Cubs fans.) I followed the Mets until I came to Minnesota. (In 1986 it was difficult to follow an National League team in an American League town.) I was working from home that first summer and fall so was able to watch the Mets in the playoffs. What I remember vividly was Game 6 of the NLCS that year. It was a day game in Houston. A friend of mine stopped by the apartment, I was going to take to get some belongings out of car that had been totaled and was at the body shop’s lot. Little did we know that the game would go on for another probably hour and a half. The Mets were playing for there season, and they were up 3-2 in the series. Both losses came at the hands of Mike Scott during his career year in 1986. Scott was scheduled to pitch Game 7. They played 16 innings that day and the game went back and forth. Just when you thought it was over Houston would tie it up and on they’d go. My sister was living in NY at the time and said that most people came out of their offices and into the bars. Rush hour was delayed that day.

    Congratulations, Bob. I hope its a Cubs vs Indians World Series. One of those two cities deserves to celebrate.

  • Gary F

    I haven’t been able to find it on YouTube. But when Hillary was First Lady, she stood with Harry Carry and sang take me out to the ballgame at Wrigley. At the end, they waved and what we thought was just going to be a hug ended up with Harry giving her an open mouth lips to lips kiss. Just think of kissing a 30 pound carp or large great Dane. Hillary kept her cool and pushed him back and then gave the crowd a big wave. The crowd roared, and Harry had a big smile on his face.

  • An AL Central team has won the pennant in 4 of the past 5 seasons. The Twins must be due, right? Bueller?

  • Jeff

    Alas I grew up near Akron and became a long suffering Indians fan by birth rather than choice. My earliest Indians memory was at a twinight doubleheader circa 1966 when Rocky Colavito and Fred Whitfield hit back to back homers. In college my brother (twin also) and I used to drive up to Cleveland and get in for a couple of bucks and sit most anywhere we wanted in cavernous Municipal Stadium. In 1974 in the midst of another lost season we were there when Gaylord Perry tied the consecutive win streak. I moved away in 1976 for college, but continued to follow them including the 1997 World Series disaster when they were one out away from winning. I morphed into a Twins fan sometime in the mid-00’s (not sure of the exact date). It’s a little bittersweet since I don’t have the passion I once did, if they win it won’t be quite the same.

  • Zachary

    Well written piece Bob – I hope for your sake Cleveland wins. I have no dog in this fight, and lost any interest in World Series baseball back in April. I do however, have a Designated Hitter bet riding on the Cubbies losing, so there is that too I guess.
    I know you’re a bit of a Star Trek fan, so maybe you have seen the scene in the pilot episode of Deep Space Nine, where Sisko is trying to explain to some aliens about baseball. The exchange is something along the lines of “You never know what is going to happen next, he could get a hit, he could strike out. The joy is in not knowing the outcome.”

  • Bob Sinclair

    On the other side of the optimism coin, I had the ignominious pleasure of listening to that Mariners/Indians game, and cursed players, managers, GMs and ownership for allowing such a collapse. The only high point of that game was listening to Dave Niehaus lament such an epic collapse.

  • glsfunstuff

    Lovely essay, I couldn’t agree more about baseball being the best sport and the way it weaves into our lives and its memories stay with us like being with my sons in downtown Minneapolis when the Twins won their 1st World Series. Many of my favorite books are baseball books especially October 1964 by David Halberstam. My California brother and I can’t always find time to call one another but we carry on quite a conversation via text while we watch play off games from our respective states. Thanks.

  • Postal Customer

    Baseball is a great game. It’s too bad that the TV experience of it has become so tedious and unbearable.

    Also, in the last 12 seasons, each team in the AL Central has played or won the world series except the Twins. What is their excuse again? Small-market team or something?

    • Their excuse is Terry Ryan.

  • Phil Fitzpatrick

    No mention of Albert belle or Rocky Colavito? Much less Early Wynn, Lou Boudreau, or Vic Power? In 1961, when the Senators became the Twins, I thought we had pulled off the hesit of the century getting Vic Power (or “Beeg Powder”) to play first base for us. I always thought Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore would make good World Series heroes. Now it’ll have to be Lonnie Chisenhall (best baseball name ever!) and Jason Kipnis. Good luck, Cleveland fans. In a way, I hope for your sake it’s the Dodgers, and NOT the Cubs; Lady Luck will clearly be on the side of the Cubbies. Bartman II is a cosmological impossibility!

  • tom k

    Bob,
    Thanks for a great piece. As a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan, born and raised until moving to SF in 1990, I feel your pain, joy, despair, optimism and love of the game.
    LeBron and the Cavs breaking the trophy drought was a beautiful thing. But for me, an Indians World Series win will complete a journey that started when my Dad took me to my first game – which just happened to be Dick Bosman’s no-hitter against the A’s in 74. I still have the scorecard and an old photo of the 14-year-old me getting Dennis Eckersly’s autograph at a pre-game behind the fence party.
    Anyway, not a lot of folks here in Giant’s land to share Tribe Talk with right now, besides being told that we better beat the Dodgers if they win the NL. So thanks much.
    Hopefully we’ll both be at our personal Party At Napolis in a week or so.
    Tom K.