In those Sunday afternoon adventure flicks–say about some British soldiers trying to survive in the desert–there is always one character who is the coward. Who, in cravenly trying to save himself, spills the precious canteen of water.
That character is Bob Greene. Because his values are so utterly skewed inward, his outlook so narrow and false, he can be counted on to utter a bleat of selfish dismay at the exact moment when the times call for courage and forbearance.
Take his astonishing Sunday, February 19, column, “Baseball is not on strike,” repeated in a different form Monday and, the way Bob has been going, to be reprised in perpetuity. Here Bob distinguishes himself by penning the first column in the wide swoop of journalism to celebrate the prospect of baseball with replacement players.
Bob has hied himself to Sarasota, Florida, where he wanders giddily through the abandoned White Sox training center, admiring a red hose, “faded to near-pink on the grass.” Other objects–a batter’s cage, a wooden picnic bench, a glob of paint, a bird–also catch his attention.
There are no seasoned athletes to make rude noises or hurl insults in his direction, and Bob likes it. “Baseball’s message is clearest during moments when there’s no one on the field,” he writes. The next day, he fingers blank jerseys and eagerly awaits the arrival of the nonentity scabs who will wear them in shame.
In Sunday’s column, you almost think that Bob is going to bemoan the stillbirth of spring training. After all, baseball nostalgia is one of his tiny pocketfuls of interests. But no. In the last three paragraphs Bob opens his parched lips to utter an agonizing cry as he lunges for the canteen. Baseball is not about the players, he concludes, not about the striking millionaires who “do not wish to subject themselves to this.” Not Cal Ripkin Jr. Not Frank Thomas. Not Roger Clemens. None of them.
Baseball is the nice Florida weather, Bob decides. The pinkish hose. The “gray cement wall with a yellow rectangle painted onto it.” Bob’s baseball is not dependent on people, not populated with the legendary players who breathe life into the game. He would enjoy Cooperstown just as much were there no plaques explaining who owned all those bats and balls and gloves.
“Baseball’s not on strike. Only they are,” he whines, the disdainful “they” of course referring to the heroes who play the game, the same sort of guys who pounded the crap out of little Bobby Greene back in Columbus, now denying Bob one of the few pleasures that can still cut through his fog of self and raise a tingle in his blown-out senses.
Sunday’s column ends with Bob in the empty stands, Sox cap protecting his bald pate from the Florida sun, howling for the game to begin. While his childhood heroes avert their faces in disgust, Bob tosses his lot in with his Cubs-owning bosses. Play ball, the pariah cries, on his knees, the canteen glugging its liquid treasure into the sand. “Real life, in the real world can be ugly,” the quisling concludes, cutting himself off from the rest of fandom if not the rest of humanity. “Here, it’s beautiful. Play ball.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration/Jeff Heller.