We Tried To Imagine A World Without Baseball And It Wasn’t Fun

Image credit: Mookie Betts (Jessie Grant/Getty Images)

Over the holidays, when “It’s a Wonderful Life” is on TV and baseball isn’t, it’s possible to imagine — like George Bailey, gazing on the world without him — that baseball never existed. Without baseball,
there are no Ballpark Franks because there never were any ballparks and people seldom eat franks. A backward K is a typographical error. A few of us — plumbing the deeper recesses of YouTube — fondly recall NBC golf announcer Vin Scully. But otherwise we live in a bleak Pottersville, and it isn’t named for Mike Potter, because the 1977 St. Louis Cardinals never existed, so he never played five games for them.

Without baseball, you’ve never known anyone named Sparky, Stump, Stubby, Stick, Mickey, Champ, Bump, Pumpsie or Heinie, and you know half as many Busters. The only Mookies you’ve ever heard of are ex-NBA player Mookie Blaylock and current professional bowler Mookie Betts. The last person to call anyone Skipper was Gilligan. The next person you meet named “Three Finger” will be the first.

Without baseball, drinking beer in the park on a Thursday afternoon is frowned upon. It would be socially acceptable if the Chicago Cubs had ever been invented, but they weren’t. (On his day off, Ferris Bueller went to watch . . . tennis.) Wind is only referred to by compass points—“coming from the northeast”—rather than the only directions that matter: blowing in or blowing out. And when’s the last time you ate anything out of a hat?

Without baseball, the world has two fewer green monsters: the one in Boston and the one that rides an ATV in Philadelphia. No one has ever uttered the phrase “belly itcher.” The shaving cream pie and the lead donut were never invented.

Without baseball, you can’t buy a packet of shredded pink bubble gum. You never stand up and stretch because you’re never compelled to. The chances you know the lyrics to “Sweet Caroline” are almost nil. You associate organ music unhappily with church.

Without baseball you’ve never said “fungo” or cracked a sunflower seed with your front teeth. The hours you might have spent debating the merits of the DH, banning the shift or Pete Rose’s fitness for the Hall of Fame have, instead, been wasted.

Without baseball you do 50 percent less spitting and 90 percent less scratching. With or without baseball, nobody knows what “azure” is, but without baseball, you can’t clarify by saying, “Dodger blue.”

Without baseball, your summers are devoted to horse racing, the only Triple Crown worth following. The sleepy hamlet of Cooperstown, N.Y., remains just as sleepy in August, as does South Williamsport, Pa. There are no pitchers and catchers, so they don’t report to spring training early and reduce your winter by a month.

Without baseball, a guy with five tools is called a handyman. The baseball hat doesn’t exist, so there is no easy way to identify uncouth people in restaurants. When searching for a five-syllable hero whose name scans properly, Paul Simon settled on, “Where have you gone, Sonny Jurgensen, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

Without baseball, Mr. October was a Playgirl centerfold, the Swinging Padre was a defrocked priest and the magazine you’re reading right now is simply called America.

Without baseball, we don’t know what an Iron Pig, Yard Goat, Blue Wahoo, Tin Cap, Cornbelter, Mudhen or Muck Dog is. With baseball, we wouldn’t either.

Happily, there are some advantages to a world without baseball. No one complains that games are too long. There never were any baseball cards so your mom never threw yours away while you were at school. You go to sleep at a reasonable hour every night in October, and wake up refreshed the next morning.

Your gutters drain beautifully, unclogged by Wiffle balls. Marlins Man is forced to buy commercial air time whenever he wants to appear on TV. And all the brain space that might be taken up by statistics—.406 in 1941, 1.12 in 1968—is freed to learn Portuguese.

In every other respect, however, your life is immeasurably poorer without baseball. Thank goodness an angel — Mike Trout? —can shake us from this waking nightmare, in which George Herman Ruth is known only to his family and a close circle of friends.

You see, George, you really did have a wonderful life.

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