Game 7 beckons. One of baseball’s longest-suffering franchises will win the World Series. Maybe we’ll even get extra innings for extra drama. America’s pastime rarely feels more vital and connected to the American experience than at times like these.
Trouble is, tomorrow baseball season is over. And election season isn’t. We’ll have to turn our attention yet again to a presidential contest that sometimes feels like the American dream distorted in a funhouse mirror.
One candidate impugns baseball clubhouses, among other inner sanctums of sports, by excusing explicit talk of sexual assault as mere locker-room banter. Another candidate has an email scandal suddenly reappear because the estranged husband of her top aide stands accused of sexting a 15-year-old girl.
But all that wretchedness is for tomorrow. Today we have a fairy tale of a game that’s an instant classic before its first pitch. Baseball remains our national pastime — even if football’s bellicose style garners more eyeballs on TV — because it is the game most connected to our past.
Tonight is a fine demonstration of that. The Chicago Cubs have not won the World Series since the Roosevelt administration — Teddy, not Franklin — and the Cleveland Indians since Truman.
The everydayness of baseball often offers solace at times of national need. Franklin Roosevelt wrote what came to be called baseball’s green-light letter a few weeks after Pearl Harbor. He said, in effect, that even a nation at war needs its play. In the weeks after 9/11, ballparks morphed into town squares where much of the ritual of public healing took place.
“We needed the comfort of continuity that baseball always offers,” Ken Burns later told USA TODAY Sports.
“Baseball’s central therapeutic quality is that it has always been there when you need it,” Washington Post sports columnist Tom Boswell wrote last week. “The game, at times, seems to be a friendly confine of its own.”
Sportswriters have made this sort of argument before and been wrong. Public exposure of President Clinton’s illicit assignation with an intern unfolded simultaneously with the great home run race of 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa posed on the cover of Sports Illustrated in togas and laurel wreaths. Only later did we learn they’d been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, exposing baseball’s revered record book as a steroid-scuttled sham.
The game recovered from the stains on those togas just as surely as the nation will recover from the squalor of this mudslinging campaign. If another Clinton emerges victorious next week, and if the Cubs do so tonight, we’d see double-history — the first woman elected president of the United States and the Cubs as champions for the first time since a dozen years before women had the right to vote.
Chicago’s Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. Cleveland’s Indians have not won it since 1948. Tonight there’s going to be joy in one of these Mudvilles.
And everywhere else, just mud.