Monday, September 24, 2007

The Baseball Gods

From time to time you will hear about the baseball gods, who apparently control luck, show favor upon some teams and not upon others, and other such godly tasks. As playoff time approaches and fans everywhere seek favor for their teams with the gods, the unanswered question is “Who are these gods anyway?”

Luckily, I have uncovered a new ancient text that sheds light on this important issue. Why one of the baseball gods bestowed upon me the honor of finding this information I cannot say. I know little about mythology; I did take Classics 224, but that was titled something to the effect of “ancient Greek civilization”; the gods were discussed, but not exclusively. Perhaps if I would have taken the mythology-focused course, Classics 222 (better known as “who screwed who 222”), I would be better suited to this responsibility. Hopefully what follows would not make Professor Tran cry.

Nonetheless, it is my responsibility to share the identities of the gods with the world. Each god had a counterpart in Greek mythology, with whom they share at least one characteristic, even if it is a bit of a stretch.

The father of the gods is Zeus. Who was the father of baseball? There are a couple of people who have been bestowed with this title, but there is one to whom it is more universally applied. I do not believe he had the ability to shoot thunderbolts at his enemies, and I am unaware of any tales of his extramarital affairs. Nonetheless, the father is the father. Zeus is Henry Chadwick.

When Zeus overthrew his father Cronus and the Titans, it brought about a new era of order and prosperity. The old order was gone, and the threats to the new gods was gone. Likewise, when Father Chadwick and company established baseball as our national game, it became the unquestioned king of the ball and stick games. Thus, Cronus is town ball, the Massachusetts game, cricket, and other pretenders to the throne.

When Cronus castrated his father, out of the bloody mess emerged a goddess, a goddess of love. Our baseball god is a man, yet he served a similar function as one of the first sex symbols of the new national game. Some even credit him with the creation of Ladies’ Days, although this is probably not true. Nonetheless, he was a good pitcher, although not great enough that we don’t remember him too much for his pitching. He even carried the nickname “The Apollo of the Box”. Aphrodite is Tony Mullane.

There was another god who in some tellings was destined to be even greater than Zeus. His followers were often under a trance, worshiping him and the wine and pleasure that came with him. In baseball, there would arise a player so great that some would claim that he and not Father Chadwick should occupy the highest throne on Olympus. Alas, it was not to be, but his many followers and his indulgence in pleasure and sin were as prodigious as his home runs. Dionysus is Babe Ruth.

War has been a reality since the dawn of the gods and of civilization, and of course baseball like any team sport can be viewed as a bloodless, refined, civilized proxy for war. There was a god who loved war and bloodlust, wrecking havoc wherever he went and being despised by many despite his greatness. Likewise, there was a ballplayer whose burning desire to win knew no bounds of civility. Sliding into bases with spikes up and pummeling bothersome spectators was all fair game. Can there be any doubt that Ares is Ty Cobb?

Ares had a counterpart though, a goddess of war who focused on strategy, tactics, and civilized war in contrast to her brother. In baseball, a contemporary of Cobb was in many ways his opposite. A pitcher rather than a hitter; a gentleman rather than a ruffian who would spike his own mother if she was in his way (of course, there was some history there…); and yet, in his own way, with just as much of a will to win. No, he did not spring fully formed from Chadwick’s head, but he might as well have. Athena is Christy Mathewson.

We come to a goddess of the hunt, known for her virginity. The best example of hunting in baseball is the hitter, weapon in hand, staring down the pitcher and attempting to inflict harm upon him. There was one man whose single-minded drive to be a great hitter has been celebrated throughout the years. The virginity angle is a little awkward, but it can be said that you do not hear stories about him chasing women, drinking, or doing anything other than attempting to be the greatest hitter who ever lived. Better yet, he flew a fighter in Korea, engaging in an even more literal hunt. Artemis is Ted Williams.

Artemis’ twin brother is a little harder to relate to his baseball counterpart--a god of song, colonies, medicine, the sun, and more. But there is a player who is celebrated in several songs, who was a great player from a young age, and is forever linked with Ted Williams. Apollo is Joe DiMaggio.

A swift-footed messenger was a little late to the party, but with his cunning, he earned the respect of the other gods. In baseball, an entire race of talented players was cut off from the glory of the major leagues until a fast, fearless, daring player earned his opportunity and earned respect, however belated it was. Hermes is Jackie Robinson.

Then there are those who go to the underworld, whether as punishment or as a neutral afterlife destination. Ruling over them was a god who was an Olympian in his own right, but was born to rule the underworld. In baseball, Hades was sent below as punishment, and so the parallel is note quite exact. The Greeks apparently could not anticipate the pathetic nature of the baseball counterpart. Nonetheless, he exists, and Hades is Pete Rose.

Another god was in charge of fire and forging of weapons. He made a brilliant set of armor for Achilles, arming him for battle. Likewise, a baseball Hephaestus forged weapons for ballplayers. There is no more important tool than a ballplayer’s sword, which he uses to inflict damage on the opposing pitcher, and there is no bat more synonymous with baseball than Louisville Slugger. Hephaestus is John Hillerich.

Unfortunately, the scroll ends there, so we don’t know who the baseball equivalents of Hera, Poseidon, and others are. Nevertheless, maybe next time you sacrifice a chicken to the baseball gods to help the Cubbies, you’ll have a better idea of who it is you are dealing with. Just don’t make Ares mad.

1 comment:

  1. Fun allegory. Shame those gods no longer play!

    ReplyDelete

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