I love Effectively Wild. It’s my favorite podcast, and it helped rediscover my love of baseball . But I take issue with something that comes up on the show from time to time, which is the notion of baseball as a distraction from our mortality. The show's co-host, Sam Miller, once said this of the game's purpose:
The point of this entire enterprise is to entertain us with baseball games. The point of it is not to decide who is the best team. The illusion that that is what we’re doing has long been a powerful draw to sports. But it is ultimately not the point. There is no scenario where the universe will care or remember who the best team was out of this collection of collections. It only matters inasmuch as we create this illusion that it matters.
If you lose even the illusion, then it becomes problematic. But the point is not to have the illusion: the point is to entertain people and make them forget that we are all dying right in front of each other — that this is just this horrible, rotten slog to rigor mortis, that we are going to lose everybody we know, that we are going to lose everything we have and the only way to distract ourselves is by separating our day into distractions.”
And sure, it sort of doesn’t really matter which team is the "best," but is Miller serious about this notion of “distraction?” I don’t have much patience for today’s brand of “ha-ha, nothing matters, LOL” nihilism – unless it’s truly jokey and surface-level, deployed ironically as a way to do some brush-clearing so we can get to things that really matter. I’m not sure which way Miller is deploying it here, and maybe he’s not even attempting to be nihilistic in a true sense.
But of course baseball matters, because people and our stories matter, and because everything matters. We could get into some kind of existential debate about whether God exists or whether, as Thornton Wilder wrote in Our Town, there is “something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being” or whether there is ultimately a kind of intelligibility to all of existence, and whether that is solely inherent in the human mind or somehow transcendently outside of it. I do, mostly, come down on a particular side on most of those questions.