In 1994, Ken Burns’ iconic nod to the nation’s pastime, the gargantuan 18 hour epic, “Baseball” aired on PBS for the first time. I had just arrived in Vietnam at the time and so I clearly missed it – the highest rated PBS show of all time. What is it about baseball that brings back so much nostalgia? It’s because the history of baseball parallels the history of America in remarkable ways. Eventually, I was able to watch the entire series on a friend’s VHS, and, since then, have purchased my own DVD copy of it. The episode on Jackie Robinson is required watching in my US History class.
Many complain that baseball is too slow. I contend that life is too fast, and that baseball perfectly compliments an evening of small talk, revelry, and excitement. The minutia of baseball is incredible – the individual performances – the nuances – the unpredictability – the boredom – the excitement – the slowness – the fastness.
On the 20th anniversary of the release of “Baseball”, MLB interviewed Ken Burns. Here’s what he said why he thinks baseball is the greatest game ever invented. I couldn’t agree more:
I love this game! Let’s just say, “What are the elements that make this the greatest game ever invented?”
No clock. And in what other sport does the defense have the ball? Baseball is the evolutionary improvement on cricket. In baseball, the defense has the ball. In all the other sports, the ball scores. In baseball, the man scores. And he comes home! The ball could be going in the other direction. In fact, if it is going in the other direction, he does go home.
Baseball demands blinding speed but it has this strange, contemplative pace to it. There is an amazing set of things that go on in this game that make it observable at any level. You can keep score of every pitch or at-bat, or you can just follow the game avidly, as I do.”
The pace is terrific. All meaning accrues in duration. The work you’re proudest of, the relationships that mean the most to you, have benefited by your sustained attention. Baseball rewards attention. Life rewards attention. Most of our consumer society is based upon inattention. It’s the tortoise and the hare. I’m happy to be with something that people might think is really slow because the others will sit down and rest and we will always cross the finish line. It’s the greatest game ever invented.”