The Hot Stove League opened for business late Saturday night, a little earlier than confident Yankee fans were expecting. Between now and Opening Day of 2004, baseball fans will dissect the season that just concluded—not least, the Florida Marlins' splendid run to the World Championship—and speculate on what's to come.
As always, questions abound and rumors swirl. My family and friends in Southern California (where I followed the Dodgers from their arrival in 1958 until we moved to the Midwest in 1994) are wondering what the new ownership will bring to what was—before the Murdoch era—the best-run, most widely admired franchise in the game. There's talk that Oakland's wizard, Billy Beane, may be persuaded to move south.
A perennial Hot Stove question is What will George do? Surely there may be must be a lot fuming going on at the throne of the Evil Empire. After all, this was the third season in a row that the Yankees failed to bring home the championship. The excellent Chicago Tribune baseball writer Phil Rogers suggests that Steinbrenner may set his sights on Sammy Sosa and/or Frank Thomas. Which raises an interesting question. If you got a bunch of dedicated Cubs and Sox fans in a room and kicked that idea around, how many would regard it as a potential disaster for their team?
For Cubs fans, of course, the big question will be how the team will respond to losing the NLCS to the Marlins after mounting a 3-1 lead and returning home with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood set to start. What will loom largest: the failure that ended their season, or all they had accomplished up to that point? Even the way the question is framed leaves out a crucial ingredient. Contrary to a lot of the coverage, the Cubs didn't give away the victory. The Marlins took it, with a number of extraordinary individual performances and a great team effort. The guess here is that the Cubs will come back strong next season with their great young arms. Don't be surprised if Dusty Baker takes them to the postseason again.
For Marlins fans—and for a lot of others who suddenly feel affection for a team they knew almost nothing about until the playoffs—there's a mixture of jubilation and foreboding. On the one hand, they are savoring their triumph; on the other, they are remembering what happened after they won it all in 1997: the cost-cutting breakup of the team left a bad taste in the mouth of baseball fans everywhere. No wonder that even this year, the team drew poorly. Current owner Jeffrey Loria has a lousy reputation, earned in Montreal. But he has a great deal to build on in Florida, and maybe he will make the most of it.
The biggest lesson I took from a delightfully unpredictable Series had to do with baseball at a different level. For me as for many others, Miguel Cabrera, the exuberant 20-year-old Venezuelan who started the year in Double-A ball, was a treat to discover: a star in the making, whose delight in the game is contagious. Only midway through the Series did I learn that a couple of years ago, as an 18-year-old shortstop, Cabrera was playing just down the road from us with the Kane County Cougars, an A-ball team in the Marlins' system. I could have seen him—like watching a young Joe DiMaggio in California—and at far less expense and hassle than a trip to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field entails—but I missed out. Ditto for Dontrelle Willis. In the 9-plus years we've lived here, I have been to maybe three Cougars' games, total. Starting next season, I will be there a few times every year.
John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture and of Best Christian Writing 2004, just published by Jossey-Bass.
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Books & Culture's 2003 baseball preview appeared only on the Books & Culture site.
Earlier Books & Culture Corners on baseball include:
Angels in Heaven | A game that's more than a game (Oct. 28, 2002)
Baseball 2002 Preview | Part 2: Saving the game? By Michael R. Stevens (Mar. 25, 2002)
The State of the Game | After one of the best World Series ever, baseball faces a crisis. By Michael R. Stevens (March 18, 2002)
Play Ball | Baseball, leisure, and worship. By John Wilson (November 5, 2001)
Last year, Christianity Today examined Why God Enjoys Baseball.
Books & Culture Corner appears every Monday. Earlier editions of Books & Culture Corner and Book of the Week include:
I Shop, Therefore I Am | Critics of "consumer culture" are all wet, Virginia Postrel says. The riot of choices available to us resonates with our deepest aesthetic instincts (Oct. 20, 2003)
Back to the Future | A sprawling new novel by the author of Snowcrash and Cryptonomicon goes to the 17th century to investigate the birth of the modern world. (You won't be surprised to learn that the Puritans are among the Bad Guys.) (Oct. 13, 2003)
Poetry, Prayer, and Parable | The playful provocations of Scott Cairns (Oct. 06, 2003)
Terrorists on Trial | How the nation responded to an earlier attack. (Sept. 29, 2003)
The Contemplative Christian | Eugene Peterson calls believers to a life lived with "wholeness, honesty, without contrivance"-against the grain of much that's currently driving the church in America. (Sept. 29, 2003)
Recalling California | Want to understand what's going on in the Golden State? Toss your newsmagazines and pick up Joan Didion's new book (Sept. 22, 2003)
The Ph.D. Octopus, 100 Years On | How Christians can make a difference in the upside-down world of graduate school (Sept. 15, 2003)
The Difference Between Conservatives and Prolifers | William Saletan unspins, and respins, the abortion debate (Sept. 8, 2003)
A New View of Worldview | Some critics want to retire the concept. Not so fast, says David Naugle (Aug. 18, 2003)
'A Golden Age' of Religious Tolerance? | The Ornament of the World analyzes how the intellectual elites of medieval Spain eschewed fundamentalism and showed surprising sensitivity in reconciling competing truths. (Aug. 11, 2003)
Looking for the 'I' | What happens to the self when the brain is injured or malformed? (Aug. 4, 2003)
The Terror of the Therapeutic | Margaret Atwood's new novel considers the price we may pay for looking to technology to remedy our ills, personal and social. (July 28, 2003)
The Catholic Church's Regime Change | Would lay power really augur a new epoch of openness and honesty? (July 21, 2003)
One-Hit Wonder | The long swansong of Madalyn Murray O'Hair. (July 7, 2003)
Divinely Decreed? | Re-fighting the Battle of Gettysburg. (June 27, 2003)
Why There Will Be Sidewalks in Heaven | Isaiah and the New Urbanism. (June 9, 2003)