The keystone sack

Russell Baker

April 08, 1992|By Russell Baker

(EDITOR'S NOTE: We apologize to our readers for Mr. Baker's column today. Regrettably, sustaining his membership in the Association of American Newspaper Columnists and Allied Journalists Licensed to Traffic in Profundities requires him to publish one column each year waxing poetical, historical, poetical-historical, philosophical, philosophical-poetical or philosophical-historical about baseball.

(This rule was adopted after publication of "The Boys of Summer," by Roger Kahn, a major journalist of the Eisenhower era, revealed the mystical-poetical significance of the Brooklyn Dodgers in the formation of the American psyche.

(In tribute to Mr. Kahn's pioneering achievement, for many years the requirement stated specifically that the annual baseball piece had to be "mystical-poetical."

(This was changed during the 1960s in response to complaints from many columnists, as well as many journalists skilled at trafficking in profundities. They objected that "mystical- poetical" was simply not every journalist's cup of tea and, furthermore, that it did not allow them to apply their powerful philosophical and historical wisdom to baseball.

(Several of the nation's more virile prose stylists, like Mr. Robert Novak, Mr. Rowland Evans, Mr. Mike Royko and Mr. David Halberstam, asserted that waxing "mystical-poetical" about baseball made them feel like sissies. Mr. George Will objected that though he could handle "mystical-poetical" with ease, it did not provide sufficient philosophical and historical amplitude to exercise a mind like his.

(Mr. Baker is, in our view, utterly unqualified to wax in any vein on the subject of baseball. In 1975 on his only visit to Yankee Stadium the behavior of the fans so terrified him that he hasn't been back for 17 years.

(Moreover, he appears to believe that the San Diego Padres is the name of a peculiarly dangerous gang of crack dealers. He cannot understand why baseball executives are allowed to call their championship contest "the World Series" when they refuse to let a Japanese buyer acquire the Seattle Mariners on ground that the sport is peculiarly American.

(Why then do we consent to publish his baseball columns? Because the severe penalties imposed for violating the once-a-year rule would gravely hinder his future work.

(These penalties include revocation of license to consult highly placed sources, veteran political observers, White House insiders and old congressional hands.

(He would, moreover, be forbidden to quote the latest findings of any poll, no matter how irrelevant, badly conducted or fraudulent. Taxi drivers would be ordered not to reveal the political mood of their city, state or nation in his presence, or to utter witty or trenchant remarks suitable for his columns. The list of punishments goes on.

(Mario Cuomo's telephone number, for example, would be ceremonially ripped out of his little black book. His colleagues would be forbidden to laugh at his jokes about Vice President Quayle and Justice Clarence Thomas.

(Thus we publish these reflections on "the keystone sack.")

*

THEY DON'T call it "the keystone sack" anymore. Don't ask me why. You don't see Boy Scouts helping old ladies across the street anymore either. That's how it is with history. And history is what happens in America. Things change. Old ladies disappear, and in their place all we have left are senior female citizens.

When I was a kid there were old ladies, just like the Boy Scout manual said there'd be when you had to do a good deed. And there was a keystone sack too. Nowadays maybe you call it "second base." That's what's happened all over America. The poetry all leaking out, like the air leaking out through the hole in the ozone layer.

If you grew up in the days when you called a keystone sack a keystone sack, and a spade a spade, and an old lady an old lady whether she was a lady or not, you still feel your hair stand on end and a chill run up your glove hand when the ump cries, "Play ball!" and the nifty little second baseman takes his position atop the bag that an earlier, purer, more innocent America called "the keystone sack" . . .

(Editor: How much longer does this thing go on?)

Until it uses up all the available space.

(Editor: Though apologetic about Mr. Baker's column, we are quite pleased to have spared the reader yet another screed on the Bush-Brown-Clinton farrago.)

Russell Baker is a columnist for the New York Times. Other

Voices apologizes for his column today.

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