The right bases covered: Baseball can be pitch for civility
By James Alan Fox
Monday, April 10, 2006

Baseball is an enchanting sport, conjuring up peaceful thoughts of fragrant green grass and warm springtime breezes. Notwithstanding the steroid scandal, what could be more delightful than the Blue Jays of Toronto flying into town to play in tomorrow's opening day game staged in what quaintly is described as a yard?

This is a welcome change of pace now that basketball's "March Madness" -- "April Angst" with respect to last week's Women's Final Four -- has left town along with all those oversized buses that clogged our narrow streets.

Baseball has it right: Competition without ferocity. The longest hit is a home run, which sounds rather comforting. The batter runs home to the collective bosom of teammates welcoming him to their dugout. Batters who fail to hit are retired. And the pitcher who retired all those batters himself retires to the clubhouse steam room when he's lost his own steam on the fastball.

And unlike the Maryland /Duke hoop nail-biter at the Garden, baseball has no sudden death. Relax, time is never of the essence -- unless, of course, the last subway is about to leave Kenmore Station.

Our Grand Old Game also has some really tame names for teams -- like Red Sox and White Sox, though you can't see the stockings anymore with today's on-the-field fashion. Our beloved Sox once shared the local scene with a squad called the Beaneaters. It must have been an interesting era when owners' imaginations spawned names like that. In contrast, today's trendy names of sport -- like Red Storm or Ragin' Cajuns -- are fierce and violent.

Baseball is not the only sport with elegance. In tennis, ``love'' is a kinder and gentler way to say your opponent has zippo, zilch, nada. Maybe it's just that tennis pros love shutting out their rivals.

Golf may be the ultimate in cultured competition. When you play badly, it's a bogey, double bogey, triple bogey or, in my case, mega-bogey. Leaving alone that it sounds like some disgusting thing you'd deposit underneath your chair back in second grade, bogey rings of endearing awkwardness, not utter ineptitude. At least spectators don't chant "bogey" when a golfer misses the green, like fans of that March/April Madness game who jeer "air ball" whenever a shooter misses badly.

When did basketball become so ``in your face'' anyway? After all, it originated with gentlemen dressed in really skimpy shorts bouncing balls into peach baskets at the Y. But at some point it became a frenetic, slammin' and jammin' contest played in oversized uniforms that are patterned after prison garb.

There has been much squawking, and rightfully so, about racist nicknames and mascots that portray Native Americans in an unflattering light. But I'm just as concerned about violence reflected in the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota and the Fighting Illini of Illinois (as well as Notre Dame's Fighting Irish).

At least the folks in our nation's capital had the good sense to holster their Bullets of basketball, even if stubbornly clinging to their football Redskins. Calling them the Skins doesn't help much, although I suppose it is better than shortening it to Reds.

Sure, there are the baseball Reds from Cincinnati, but it is short for that old hosiery thing, as in Red Stockings, which became Red Legs and eventually Reds. Not a Native-American slight in sight.

In baseball, even modern-era nicknames have charm: the Mariners of Seattle and the Angels of Los Angeles (or California, Anaheim or wherever). And when baseball returned to the nation's capital, the chosen name, the Nationals, sounds patriotic and historic, clearly superior to something violent like the D.C. Snipers.

Contrary to the grace of the game, however, Houston's team was originally called the Colt .45s, named after the gun, not the malt liquor.

Well, that's Texas for you. Need I say more?

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University. Talk back at