Ended: The 2012 Major League Baseball regular season, a version of which has been played every year since 1869, Civil War soldiers having been the game’s first traveling ambassadors. Professional baseball teams play more games and attract more fans to their stadiums each season than any other sport. This year the Red Sox, not having their finest campaign, still attracted more than 3 million souls to the “lyric little bandbox” called Fenway. Their great rival, the Yankees, drew 3.5 million to their new eponymous stadium in the Bronx. Around the country attendance topped 50 million. The people saw things great and small. The woeful Houston Astros burst through an atmosphere of futility into something like a win streak in September—heartening preparation for a team that will switch leagues next year. While at the spectrum’s other end that normally elusive achievement, the perfect game, was not so shy. There were three—a record. (There have been only 23 in history.) Now as the playoffs begin, this year’s names include San Francisco, Cincinnati, Detroit, St. Louis and Atlanta—a familiar, friendly old song, even to part-time fans.
The tick-tock of baseball season is writ deep in the American notion of time. The difficulty of the game—hitting a revolving ball thrown at 90 mph from 60 ft. away, for starters—astonishes and at the same time reminds of our own daily struggles. No metaphor will soon take the place of home run in the American lexicon. Yet there’s a certain kind of baseball fan for whom the playoffs aren’t quite as pure and true as the long, intricate regular season. It’s the fan who prefers the triple–rarest of baseball hits. That fan knows the greatness and sorrow in this: that once in 1950, fastballer Bob Feller walked a young Yogi Berra in order to pitch to the great Joe DiMaggio, whose masterly skills had begun their rotten erosion. There is no record of DiMaggio’s shock or anger at the walk: the living legend simply banged a triple in response. But time was moving. In another season DiMaggio was gone, his grace a ghost in pop songs and daydreams. Mickey Mantel took his place. It’s autumn again. Let the playoffs begin.