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Saturday, November 21, 2009


Written by: Rick Staggenborg, MD on Oct 29, 2009 7:12 AM PDT

This essay is dedicated to Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey. Together, these two men breached the barrier to equal participation of Black men in our national pastime. Robinson bravely and with dignity took the brunt of the backlash of this audacious move, including death threats and actual violence in the form of deliberate and vicious spiking by opponents, including a famous Yankee.

Baseball is a wonderful game, and each October millions of us relive our youth watching some of America’s best athletes compete in a competition somewhat grandiosely entitled the World Series. Other nations sometimes compare this with scorn to the truly international World Cup, but Americans born knowing of their innate superiority find this only amusing. I loved to play baseball before I grew up and realized that I had more important responsibilities. I can understand the love of the game, with its drama and its complex interplay between strategic and human elements that are the keys to victory.

I wish sometimes that America could have a month where all attention was focused on taking the World Serious, because life is infinitely more complex than any other game, and it takes discipline and focus to train to be a good player. In a Democracy, it is not enough to be a fan of the home team, one must be a player. Citizenship comes with responsibilities as well as rights, and if we do not exercise our responsibilities as citizens, we will surely lose our rights.

As politics have grown more complex, it has become popular to identify with the Parties most of us adopted as an inheritance from the often uninformed attitudes of our parents. As with professional sports teams, most people root for the home team regardless of their behavior on and off the field, although this is changing.

In Portland, for instance, Rip City fans left seats empty in the Rose Garden for the first time in the history of the franchise when the Trailblazers became widely regarded as the “Jail Blazers.” After failing to convince the fans with a public relations campaign that the team was as wonderful as ever, management made a conscious and public decision to clean up the personnel responsible for sullying the reputation of the team.

Contrast this with New York, where the salaries of the overgrown children representing The City drive ticket prices out of the reach of ordinary Americans. It is understandable why New Yorkers might worship these overpaid demigods, but it is simply staggering that lovers of the game elsewhere could root for them. Clearly, some people only care about being on the side of the winners, no matter who might lose as a result. Such is the case in politics.

The obvious analogy is with the Republican Party, whose fans have abandoned it in droves in disgust at the hypocrisy and self-serving actions of its leaders. Most now call themselves Independent, but many are at heart conservatives, afraid of the radical change that will be necessary to restore democracy in America. They forget that the Founding Fathers and Mothers were themselves revolutionaries with the radical idea that we could rule ourselves, if we were morally worthy and diligent in exercising our responsibilities as citizens. Conservatism is the logical position only when what we have is worth conserving. What America has become is not what the Founders intended.

The Democratic Party clearly risks the same fate, as the Democratic Central Committee, Pelosi and Reid seem only to care about what is clearly an ineffective majority of self-proclaimed “Democrats.” What does this term mean when it includes such reprobates as Blanche Lincoln, Max Baucus, Ben Nelson, and Mary Landrieu? For God’s sake, who really thinks that Arlen Specter will be a reliable Democrat, in the literal sense of the term? He may have been a maverick in trying to present a moderate view within the Republican Party, but he has certainly learned his lesson and will not dare to challenge the DCC and the corporatist tools who run it. As for those who believe that Lieberman is worth courting: I have a baseball team in New York I would like to sell you.

America has become a perversion of the Founder’s ideals, a shocking parody of a real democracy, where too many voters are easily swayed by propaganda and outright lies in the corporate media. Too many of us simply do not know how to sift through the mass of information and misinformation available on the Web, radio, TV, and in magazines all clamoring for our attention.

Only through diligent and constant self-evaluation of our values and beliefs can we hope to sort through the flotsam and navigate the Ship of State through the treacherous shoals in which we find ourselves due to the lack of leadership skills of recent commanders. Understanding the problems we face and their solutions will require not only reform of the educational system that we have so sadly failed, but an effort on the part of each of us to do our homework, as the President recently reminded our children.

Go ahead and enjoy the game, but remember that a much larger game is afoot, and we will be the losers if we do not study the rules, the players and the history of the game. The stakes could not be higher. Only when democracy is restored to America can we guarantee permanent peace in the world, for no two true democracies have ever chosen war over negotiation. The key to achieving democracy is to challenge the corporatocracy that now controls the health care debate in the Senate. Pay attention to the new draft choices available in 2010. With a new lineup, democracy can be a real contender in the World Serious.

In the words of John Fogerty:

Well, beat the drum and hold the phone - the sun came out today!
We're born again, there's new grass on the field.
A-roundin' third, and headed for home, it's a brown-eyed handsome man;
Anyone can understand the way I feel.

Oh, put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be Centerfield.

Well, I spent some time in the Mudville Nine, watchin' it from the bench;
You know I took some lumps when the Mighty Casey struck out.
So Say Hey Willie, tell Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio;
Don't say "it ain't so", you know the time is now.

Oh, put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be Centerfield.

Yeah! I got it, I got it!
Got a beat-up glove, a homemade bat, and brand-new pair of shoes;
You know I think it's time to give this game a ride.
Just to hit the ball and touch 'em all - a moment in the sun;
(pop) It's gone and you can tell that one goodbye!

Oh, put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be Centerfield.

Oh, put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Put me in, Coach - I'm ready to play today;
Look at me, I can be Centerfield.


Rick Staggenborg, MD

 Portland, Oregon

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