Thursday, August 18, 2011

Through a PONY League Lens—The Conservative/Liberal Divide

Note—This is re-posted from an entry made almost exactly five years ago, on August 17, 2006 in the infancy of this blog.  When I stumbled on it, I realized that it was every bit as apt today.

I want to talk about sports today.  About baseball.  Not the Cubs (the object of my longings, disappointment and shame.)  The Bountiful, Utah Red Sox and their arch foes, the Yankees of the PONY League.  That’s right we’re talking about ten year old baseball.
 I first heard the story discussed on WGN Radio, on the John Williams Show.  He was talking about a Sports Illustrated column by Rick Reilly called You Make the Call.  The story related events between the Red Sox and Yankees in the PONY league championship.  This is a “fun” league in which all players are supposed to get to bat, games are limited to one hour, there is an assortment of rules meant to curb cut throat competition, and in which everyone is supposed to go home happy after a game knowing that they had done their best.
The situation was this:  It was the bottom of the final inning.  The Yankees led by one run.  Red Sox at bat, two outs with a runner at third.  Up to the plate strode the mighty Jordan, the Sox most fearsome hitter.  On deck was puny Romney, a hapless athlete almost sure to strike out.  A no brainer, right?  The Yankee manager Bob Farley ordered an intentional pass to Jordan and pitched to Romney  who dutifully struck out winning the championship for the Yankees. 
Hardly a remarkable baseball story.  But consider this:  Romney is an underweight cancer survivor with a shunt in his brain who wears a batting helmet even in the outfield to protect his fragile head.  He takes human growth hormone in a failing attempt to get to normal size.  Because of radiation treatments he need cortisone shot immediately if he is injured or he could go into a life threatening shock.  All coaches in the league, as well as on the field officials were informed of Romney’s condition.

No, Romney didn’t triumph over adversity and hit one out over the left field fence.  This wasn’t an up lifting movie.  As he was expected to do, Romney feebly struck out.  The boy hung his head in shame.  He felt responsible for his team’s loss.  His father reported that he cried himself to sleep that night.

So it was no surprise that fans packing the stands booed manager Farley’s decision to humiliate Romney.   After the game instead of celebrating, the two coaching staff nearly came to blows.  Farley was denounced in harsh terms by a local sports editor, Ben De Voe of the Davis Clipper,  Hopefully these coaches enjoy the trophy on their mantle, right next to their dunce caps.”  Did I forget to mention that this was the only intentional walk called in the entire league over the entire season?

Bountiful was bitterly divided in the ensuing controversy.  Yankee coaches were vilified. Some sprang to their defense as “Great Men” who had made the only logical baseball decision.  They were voracious in demanding that Voe of the Clipper be fired for reviling the Yankees.  Partisans on both sides were smeared in the letters to the editor columns.  Threats of actual physical violence were made.

Williams on his WGN program, like Reilly in the Sports Illustrated  piece, clearly thought that the Yankee manager was way out of line.  “It’s a no brainer,” he said, “This isn’t the major leagues.  We’re talking about a ten year old fun league, for crying out loud!”  He seemed surprised when traffic reporter and banter partner Leslie Keiling opined that the Yankees had made exactly the right decision.  In the phone calls that followed, a significant minority took the same position, many voraciously.

Taken aback, Williams made the issue his Newsclick of the Day.  The next day he reported that more than 40% of those who had voted favored walking the star to get to the sad sack.

 So What?  Why is this whole topic worth even an inch of screen space on my blog, let alone the lengthy set up this has required?  Because listening to the comments from callers on Williams’s program, I was struck that the whole controversy was a mirror of the conservative/liberal split in this country.  I’ll tell you how.

It has to do with values.  To the true conservative, the highest value is unfettered competition.  This is supposed to separate the sheep from the goats, the losers from the winners.  The cream will rise to the top and be justifiably rewarded for their talent/hard work/beauty/brains/wealth. 

The losers need to shut up and stop whining.  The world owes them nothing they can’t take for themselves.  In fact any sign of “compassion” is giving in to weakness and is in itself morally reprehensible.  At best the losers will learn from their humiliation, gird their loins and go on to be winners themselves, having had their character improved by the beating administered by their betters.  And if they cannot, they deserve all of the misery resulting from their own manifest failures as human beings.   In the end society will benefit from this rough and tumble process which is the only engine of progress.

A corollary to this is a respect for authority and The Rules.  Anything that is within The Rules is permissible and there is no moral consideration out side of them.  It can’t be wrong to walk a batter to pitch to a sick child if The Rules allow it.  (Of course the Conservative makes an exception for those strong enough to make The Rules, and the truly powerful can actually ignore them as a reward for becoming powerful.)  The leader—or team manager—being an authority figure can do no wrong. 
The liberal doesn’t deny the virtue of competition.  Only that it is the sole value or that it at all times must triumph over all other concerns.  Liberals believe that compassion can be a good thing.  That it is a virtue in looking  out for one another and  protecting the weak.   That moral choices are complex and that the right choice is not always the one that scrapes by because it is narrowly permissible under  The Rules.  That sometimes a sick ten year old is more important than a plastic trophy awarded at a rubber chicken banquet.

What do you think?

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