Dear Dr. Boli: Now that baseball season is upon us, I was wondering whether you might take the time to explain the game to a visitor from foreign shores. I have attempted to understand the rules without success, and every time I watch a game, the only thing that occurs to me is that, whatever it is, it’s not cricket. —Sincerely, A Resident Alien, Originally from Karachi.
Dear Sir or Madam: Dr. Boli is delighted to be of assistance. Baseball, unlike other American spectator sports, is a game for gentlemen, because it is the only outdoor sport in which the players have the good sense to come in out of the rain. This has always made it Dr. Boli’s favorite sport, which is to say the one he is least likely to avoid. The other rules are fairly simple, and easily remembered once you notice the general tendency of them all.
The first rule is that each “team” of players should hire a graphic designer to create an attractive logotype suitable for a wide variety of applications, from shirts to bumper stickers to coffee mugs. This is probably the most important rule. It enables the team to attract an entourage of “fans” (short for “fanatics,” in the religious sense) who can identify with the athletic exploits of the players even when the fans themselves cannot lift anything heavier than a Quarter Pounder. Without the fans, the team ceases to exist—a principle of quantum physics first enunciated by Heisenberg in a paper that Dr. Boli is sure he has around here somewhere.
It is then required that the team should hire a marketer to license the logo to the manufacturers of consumer goods, thus accumulating license fees, which help fund the next rule.
The team shall then hire a number of recognizable star players to provide a human interest that a mere logo cannot supply. These players shall pose for posters, magazine covers, paper cups at fast-food joints, and so on, creating a climate in which the ordinary citizen cannot avoid their faces no matter which way he turns, which (it is hoped) may help turn some ordinary citizens into fans (see above).
It is also required that the team shall play a certain number of baseball games. For this purpose, it is necessary to blackmail the local governing authorities into providing a new ballpark or stadium every decade or so. The threat is commonly that, if the new ballpark is not forthcoming, the team will depart for another city, leaving its former city with hundreds of thousands of disgruntled fans who will riot in the streets and lynch the local governing authorities. The team that puts any of its own money into a ballpark is considered to have lost, as victory can be achieved only if the building is paid for entirely with the taxpayers’ money.
Finally, after the half-billion-dollar ballpark has been built, it is considered good form to move the team to another city that has promised a more luxurious ballpark worth three quarters of a billion dollars.
These are the fundamental rules of baseball. There are also certain customs that have to do with the playing of the game itself, but if you can hit a ball with a stick and run around in a circle, you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.