You know why kids don't play baseball anymore? Because they took
down the fences.
It's the era of the dread multiuse field. Every kid's diamond
now has to share its centerfield with three other fields and a
tai chi class. This way, come spring and fall, the park can be
turned into (cough, hack, spit) soccer fields.
What fun is baseball without a fence? Without a fence you can't
hit a real home run, and without a real home run you can't do
the home run trot, which is one of the last truly American joys.
I love the home run trot. The longer, the better. Did you see
Rickey Henderson's home run trot the other night in Baltimore?
You could've washed and waxed a 1973 Plymouth Barracuda in the
time it took him to get around the bases. Henderson turns a home
run into an HBO special. First, he pulls at his jersey. Then he
slaps his helmet. Twice. Then he hip-hops in the box a few
times, and, finally, he takes off on his epic journey, going so
wide around first and third that he nearly steps in both
dugouts. Generally, Henderson gets around the bases just a hair
faster than a man laying sod.
Pete Rose used to fly around the bases as though he had a pot of
soup boiling over somewhere. Occasionally he'd touch a bag, but
he wasn't a stickler about it. Frank Robinson told him, "Kid,
you better leave those homers to those of us who can act them
Mickey Mantle always ran with his head down in shame, as if he
were eight years old and had just put one through a stained
glass window. Babe Ruth ran with little mincing steps, as though
he were trying not to step on cracks. Dave Parker used to trot
with his fingers pointed like pistols.
Right now is a great time to be alive if you're hot for trots,
on account of sluggers are hitting home runs every three
minutes. Mark McGwire is on pace to hit 311 this year. McGwire
has a very humble trot, but he does the coolest thing before he
starts: The instant he connects, he flips the bat away, end over
end, like a toothpick, as if to say, "Well, there's no use
having that around anymore."
Just the idea of the trot is wonderful. Here a man is being
allowed to gallivant from one base to the next--real estate that
is fraught with peril and angst in every other moment of the
game--at his leisure! As he does this, the fielders have to just
stand there, hands on hips, and watch, clench-jawed, as he mocks
them with his lazy left turns.
You could retype Shakespeare's sonnets into Sanskrit in the time
it takes Barry Bonds to get around, yet he's still faster than
Oscar Gamble was. One day Ken Griffey Sr. was in the New York
Yankees' clubhouse in Minnesota when teammate Gamble smashed one
out. Griffey dashed out of the clubhouse, around a corner and
down a tunnel, figuring he'd get to home plate just as Gamble
was crossing it. Except when Griffey got to the top step of the
dugout, Gamble was still waiting for the bat boy to come get his
bat. Why rush?
Great trotters are men of courage because they know they might
get an earful of cowhide next time up. Yet they carry on.
Jeffrey (Hackman) Leonard let his left arm hang limp and leaned
toward the pitcher as he ran, like some disabled Cessna. Reggie
Jackson would pose long enough to strike a decent oil painting.
The trot is part of the game's very fabric. Remember the look on
the face of the death-threatened Hank Aaron when the two fans
caught up to him between second and third on number 715?
Remember Jimmy Piersall going around backward on his 100th? Do
you realize the greatest home run trot ever was done on one
leg--Kirk Gibson's, after his heroic pinch-hit 1988 Series
shocker against the Oakland A's?
Look, baseball is a game of simple pleasures. I coach a team in
the Catholic Youth League, and when one of my kids slams a huge
one, he doesn't get the glory of a trot. He sprints madly around
the bases in case the kid in left has somehow grown a catapult
for a right arm and can throw him out from some lady's purse on
Field Number 14.
Please, Mr. Parks and Rec Director, if you love baseball, fence
us in. Home runs and childhood are over way too soon.
B/W PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [Rick Reilly]
You could retype Shakespeare into Sanskrit in the time Barry
Bonds takes to get around.