Play Ball! These 2 famous words kick off the Spring, which extends through Summer and into Fall. You know; The crack of the bat. The smell of peanuts and hot dogs combined with a cold beverage and the warmth of the sun. Taking a break from the daily grind. High-fiving your new best friends in your section as you share a common interest. Good old competition is healthy. It brings out the best. If the home team doesn’t win it’s a shame, but you have the chance to get ’em next time. It’s a mindset. It’s a way of life.
Baseball is our national pastime. Well, it used to be. American passion for the game has evaporated over the years. It’s now considered “slow-moving and boring.” A common belief is “there’s not enough action.” But a sunny day at the ballpark is an experience, well beyond the diamond.
The brain trust of Major League Baseball nearly blew it again this year with another lockout. There almost wasn’t a season at all. This, at a time when the American people desperately want to get back to some sense of normalcy. To get out and about, like going to ballgames. Kids seeing their heroes. Talk about being out of touch. The popularity keeps sliding.
I still wonder if baseball’s decline in popularity has more to do with the short attention spans and lack of understanding in our society. There’s so much more to the game than throwing the ball, hitting the ball and catching the ball, though the simplicity is brilliant in and of itself. Today’s game makes it harder for pitchers to own the inside part of the plate. There’s no clock, but they’re trying to speed up the flow of the game. It still helps to choke up with 2 strikes. Good base runners can always distract infielders and pitchers. And it’s still a no-no to make the first or last out at 3rd or home. Inside baseball strategies are where games and titles are generally won.
For some reason, I was thinking about the film “The Graduate” this week. The Oscar winner from 1967 was an instant classic. 55 years ago, plastic was the innovative breakthrough for society. It changed the world. Plastic launched new and more cost-effective products, packaging and storage. It’s in everything. Plastic played a huge role in America’s economic expansion in the 20th century. That fact probably rocks the core of the sub-30-year-olds in your lives. Plastic and the Environment clearly have a contentious relationship. Within decades, plastic morphed from an engineering triumph into what’s become a sort of global plague today.
That year 1967 was of significance in America and around the world. There was a great deal of friction and soul searching going on back then. War fatigue was setting in. Protests against Vietnam throughout the country grew. Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title for refusing to serve. Race riots across the country spread. Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court, making history as the first Black justice to serve the nation’s highest court. NASA’s mission to the moon suffered a setback with the Apollo I tragedy. 1967 also brought the Summer of Love, where a new generation expressed themselves. The Monterey Music Festival sort of kicked things off. America was evolving. That’s nothing new.
Carl Yastrzemski won the triple crown for the Boston Red Sox in 1967. It’s the rare achievement of leading the league in batting average, home runs and runs batted in. Yastrzemski joined names like Gehrig, Mantle, Robinson and Williams, who previously won the season trio. There’s only been one other triple crown winner since. Carl’s grandson Mike is keeping the Yaz name alive in San Francisco today.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. Those were lyrics from Simon & Garfunkel’s hit song Mrs. Robinson, featured in “The Graduate.” DiMaggio reportedly took issue with it, but later approved after better understanding Paul Simon’s point. Simon felt that genuine American heroes were in short supply in ’67. Through song, Simon was mourning the loss of DiMaggio’s grace and dignity.
Joe DiMaggio was an All-American boy, born in Martinez and grew up in San Francisco. He played his entire career with the New York Yankees, earning the nicknames the Yankee Clipper and Joltin’ Joe. DiMaggio is probably best known for his 56 game hit streak in 1941. Can you imagine, getting a base hit in 56 straight games in the big leagues? Did you know that after the streak ended, he hit safely in the next 16? DiMaggio played for the Yankees from 1936 to 1951. He missed 3 seasons in the prime of his career for military service during World War II. The love of his life was Marilyn Monroe, his wife for 2 years. DiMaggio wasn’t flashy. But he was a model of consistency and greatness at the highest level.
Something else might surprise: The song was originally titled “Mrs. Roosevelt.” It’s true. Simon & Garfunkel changed the name to “Mrs. Robinson” for the Graduate in 1967. The song was actually written about Eleanor Roosevelt, our nation’s longest-serving First Lady. She spent a record 12 years in the White House (1933-1945) with her husband FDR. The first couple served through some of America’s greatest challenges: The Great Depression and World War II. Baseball continued during the war as both the President and First Lady felt the need for some normalcy for the American people. Eleanor Roosevelt was widely admired and respected for her contributions to the Presidency.
The phrase coo-coo-ca-choo hit the mainstream from the song. Some say John Lennon came up with it, meaning all is good. Paul Simon paid homage by elevating and expanding it. You may recall that Crush, the 150-year-old turtle in Finding Nemo, brought the phrase back in 2003. It’s timeless. It’s life. It’s a good message. I bet Mrs. Roosevelt would have liked it too.
Back to today: Fighting continues in Ukraine. Shanghai remains in Covid lockdown. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson made history, becoming the first Black woman on the Supreme Court. It’s another major milestone in America. There was some Market movement this week. The Fed Minutes were released on Wednesday. They confirmed what Fed Governor Lael Brainard said on Tuesday, which sent stocks lower, reversing the March ascent. All members are in agreement that the Federal Reserve will have to adopt a faster pace in shrinking its record $9 Trillion balance sheet built up to insulate from the Covid crisis in 2020. Whatever it takes has a cost. It’s now starting to get paid.
America’s central bank is not only gearing up for a 1/2 point hike in May, they could start to reduce the balance sheet at the next meeting too, much earlier than expected. The current talk is to cut off $1 Trillion this year. The goal is taming inflation. The 10-year Treasury yield spiked above 2.7%, its highest level in 3 years. The price of money keeps getting more expensive.
30-year mortgages cleared 5%. Homeowners haven’t seen that elevated rate since 2011. A half a year ago, these most popular home loans were below 3%, the lowest in decades. Cheap money is drying up. Monthly payments buy less house today. That will slow the runaway housing prices, if it hasn’t already. Inflation remains enemy #1 to the Fed and the Market.
Innovation is a constant. It’s as American as Baseball and Apple Pie. New ways and new ideas drive growth and forward movement. Apple is making its baseball debut, broadcasting a doubleheader on Apple+. The Tech Titans are circling sports, coveting live events and their audiences.
Inflation is nothing new to baseball either. $1 in 1967 is equivalent to $8 today. Ticket prices have been experiencing inflationary pressures for years. The average ticket to a baseball game 5 decades ago was $2. It’s $53 today. Beers have been over $10 for 2 decades. Inflation has lived at the ballpark for ages.
Statistics, records and even hat sizes have been known to be inflated in baseball too. But the purity of the freshly cut green grass, the sound of the crowd in a new season where every team has a chance at a championship will never cease to inspire. It’s that sense of optimism and positive energy that’s infectious. It fuels greatness. It creates opportunities. New heroes are born.
I’ll leave you with some of the best words about the game, spoken by James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams:
“The one constant through all the years Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”
Have a nice weekend. We’ll be back, dark and early on Monday.