Scene: The press room in the bowels of a baseball stadium in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The time is New Year's Eve in the year 2010, outside temperature minus 27 degrees Fahrenheit. The occasion is the end of Major League Baseball, the decline of which began when the Giants and the Dodgers moved to California, and has now reached its Gotterdammerung conclusion: the final game of the World Series between the Fargo Phillies and the Green Bay Red Sox has been called off at the end of the fifth inning because all the players have frozen to death. The Baseball Commissioner, Yogi Berra, has just called a press conference.
Commissioner Berra: "It ain't baseball no more. And it hasn't been ever since we went to a 12-month year. The future ain't what it used to be and therefore, as Czar, I call the whole thing off."
The press room erupts, then goes silent as Ted Schottbrenner, on behalf of all baseball owners, pushes his way to the front and grabs the microphone.
Schottbrenner: "I don't know about the commissioner, but I bleed red, white, and blue. If it's really the National Pastime, it's un-American to play baseball only in warm weather. What are we? Summer soldiers and sunshine patriots? George Washington crossed the Delaware to fight the Battle of the Bulge in the middle of winter. Baseball is America. And America, by god, doesn't shut down in cold weather. Besides, there are fans out there who'll pay $350 for a box seat on New Year's Eve. Would Commissioner Berra break their hearts?"
NY Times reporter: "But death by freezing, Mr. Schottbrenner. Surely"
Schottbrenner [misty-eyed]: "We're not insensitive to that. We could have a nice little memorial service on opening day of next season. All the players could take off their caps and bow their heads for 30 seconds."
NY Times reporter: "But opening day of next season is tomorrow. Wouldn't a longer period of mourning be appropriate?"
Schottbrenner [dabbing eyes, blowing nose]: "Of course. You're right. We'll have them bow their heads for a whole minute."
Washington Post reporter: "Might there also be a period of mourning for the 12,678 fans who froze to death in the stands tonight?"
Schottbrenner [pulling self together]: "Fans died? Paying fans? Excuse me."
[He pulls out his cell phone and ducks into a broom closet, emerging two minutes later, a relieved look on his face.]
Schottbrenner: "You'll be happy to hear, gentlemen, that our lawyers assure me that while we give refunds for games rained out, there's nothing in the small print that entitles anyone to a refund in the event of freezing to death. So there's no need for concern."
The Truth, Mainly
Modern Maturity reporter: "In light of tonight's tragedy, will the owners rethink the 340-game season? My father tells me that back before the Giants and the Dodgers moved to California, the season lasted only 154 games and began and ended with no snow on the ground."
Schottbrenner: "Your father probably thinks he also remembers when hot dogs were 35 cents and beer was a quarter. It's a common delusion among old geezers. They fantacize about a game that never was and never will be. The Giants and Dodgers have always been in California."
Modern Maturity reporter [on edge]: "My father also remembers when there were only eight teams in each league and it was assumed that after 154 games, the team with the best record was the best team and went to the World Series. Without any playoffs. Could you comment on that?"
Schottbrenner [exploding]: "Your father is a bleeping reactionary! Your father is a dirty rotten commie Luddite elitist who doesn't want to give loyal fans in every one of the 128 Major League cities the chance to pay $350 for a box seat to watch the home team play in December. Every team in the playoffs! Every seat a box seat! Is this a great country or what?"
Modern Maturity reporter: "But the commissioner says"
Schottbrenner [flecks of spittle on his lips]: "We don't need no stinkin' commissioner! We don't need no stinkin' regulations! This is Free Enterprise! This is Caveat by god Emptor! A sucker born every minute! Take 'em out to the ballgame! Sell 'em some peanuts and crackerjack! Sell 'em earmuffs and buttwarmers! It's a grand old game, it's a high-flyin' game!"
[At a signal from Commissioner Berra, two burly umpires wrestle Schottbrenner to the floor. Seconds later, they lead him off in a strait jacket, still shouting in the throes of terminal entrepreneurship.]
Commissioner Berra: "It ain't over till it's over. [Reporters applaud thunderously. The commissioner raises his hand to silence them.] Now it's over."
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.