I know what you are thinking; another guy, way too into baseball for his age, about to rant about A-Rod, Roids, Bud Selig, and why somehow, the US Congress has time to posture on C-SPAN about HGH and the game when the economy is in the dumper. Relax. The title has nothing to do with any of that. I worry about the end of my game for another reason.
It just so happens that, with pitchers and catchers about to report to Spring Training, I just picked up Philip Howard’s new book, “Life Without Lawyers”. I first noticed Mr. Howard many years ago when he wrote the best-seller, “The Death of Common Sense”. At the risk of paraphrasing someone MUCH smarter than I will ever be, the gist of Mr. Howard’s current and past books is as follows: For a nation founded upon individual freedom, we have managed to eviscerate those very founding principles with ridiculous laws, too many “rules” and the ever-present threat that both will come and bite all of us hard on our collective ass. Again, Mr. Howard is a bit more eloquent.
In his first book, “The Death of Common Sense”, Howard argued that the legal system has gone haywire because judges stopped, well, judging. Hence, an elderly woman’s ability to sue McDonalds when she spilled their hot coffee in her lap and burned her private parts. THIS HOT COFFEE IS HOT, or some other absurd warning may have saved McDonalds from her wrath. I would have argued a lack of the necessary element of demonstrable damages, but that is another story.
In this latest book, Howard digs deeper to expose a root and sinister culprit in all of this. In a misguided effort to guarantee that fundamental rights are protected, we have gotten so rule and law-bound that any notion of free choice, reasonable risk, and genuine individual liberty has been trashed. We suffer now from the tyranny of the minority whim. By that I mean that we will kill the rights and pleasures of the majority in order to protect the often stupid proclivities of a teeny tiny portion of the populace. It’s why teachers aren’t allowed to keep order in their classrooms without fear of being sued. It’s why no kids can swim in a lake because one knucklehead decides to dive head first into three feet of water and, well you know. It’s why my friend Paul Provenza used to talk about “dying funny” in his stand up act. (If you haven’t seen Paul you must. He is hilarious and actually says something via his comedy.)
Paul would point out that the Windex bottle warns us “Not to Spray in Eyes”. He would mention that a Bronx Zoo polar bear was euthanized when it ate a teen who crawled into the FENCED habitat (where there were numerous signs saying something like “Hey! Yeah, you. Please don’t crawl in with the bears. They WILL EAT YOU! Seriously.”) because the Zoo feared a law suit. Funny, yet not so funny point. We’ve gone nuts and, for the sake of our beloved rules and laws, removed every ounce of spontaneity from human existence.
I live this way too. Case in point? When my daughters were little and used to have bubble baths together, my wife and I once took a photo of them when they were being particularly hilarious. Cut to some friends over for dinner. The wife shows the funny photo and one of our friends, a lawyer, says, “you know, some parents have been investigated by social services for taking nude photos of their kids”. I never took another photo of them in the tub again. (Now I just shoot those kinds of photos of my wife. Damn, she just walked in and saw me writing this…. OK, THAT is a joke….I swear…..Ouch!…That was my head!” I may sue her.)
So, we are left with a society where judgment, individual choice, and reasonable assessment of risk are dead. Those human joys have been replaced with a ridiculous cavalcade of rules. And those rules beget a life of limitations and fear. Howard puts it well over and over again. What happened to common sense? www.commongood.org Damn I almost forget about baseball.
Here’s why this post is called The End of Baseball. I LOVE BASEBALL. I’m not worried about the drugs (my hero, Mickey Mantle was a less than stellar citizen). The game will bounce back, much as it has before. The REAL threat to the game is what Mr. Howard is talking about in “Life Without Lawyers”. If you are a fan, you remember the first time you went to a big league park and saw all that “green”, smelled the chow, and hugged the stranger next to you when your team cleared the bases. I fear that we are a minute away from losing all of this. How far away are we from “NO CHEERING” signs to accommodate the occasional fan with sensitive ears? When will the cops bust us for dropping peanut shells on the ground? When will the hot dogs come wrapped in foil labeled “WARNING: THIS FOOD IS REALLY BAD FOR YOU. IF YOU GIVE IT TO YOUR KID YOU ARE A BAD PARENT”. Maybe you will have to sign a “liver waiver” if you want a beer? Maybe all stadiums will install gigantic sheets of Plexiglas over the entire seating area so that no one gets hit with a foul ball?
I’m going to walk into Dodger Stadium on opening day (I’m a Yankees fan, but I am forced to live out here by my wife and my business partner). I’m going to grab a beer, sit down, see my old, grizzled, dentally-challenged peanut vendor, and motion to him. I swear, if he walks that damn bag of peanuts up to me instead of throwing it at my head, for fear that some schmo might sue him for assault with a deadly legume, I’m done. I will leave the stadium and frankly may sell the house and move to an island.
You think this is insane? Read Mr. Howard’s book. And then let me know what you think.
Peter J. Schankowitz