Capitalism, Al Gore, and the New York Yankees

The other day I received an email from a dear friend. She said that she didn’t know why but that she was totally engaged in the Yankees vs the Phillies World Series. I feel the same and I haven’t watched a World Series for about 8 years. Why?

We both share the Bronx; we both spent our formative years there. I can remember driving past the old (now it’s the old) Yankee Stadium when I was a kid, my nose pressed against the window in awe. I can recall seeing Mickey Mantle, Roger Marris, Yogi Berra, and the one player I had an affinity for, Héctor López, who played left field. But I don’t think that Ronni, my great friend for 17 or so years, and I feel that we’re so engaged with this series because of our romantic memories of bygone years.

The Yankees, in this series, though “hated” by many non-New York fans, have captured the imagination of viewers because they represent hope for an established institution when so many of our institutions are crumbling. This is it — and it’s ironic : the Yankees inspire hope of a different kind; it is the hope that maybe we’re living an illusion and that we’ve not been lied to, cheated and deprecated as much as we think we have.

But the fact remains, sooner rather than later, the series with Phillie — an outstanding, beautiful team to watch — will be over and we’ll be again left with the reality we escape when we sit in and vicariously become the game. In an American world where the violence and vicious constraints of football dominate, we are enraptured by the hope of baseball: home is where we want to go; space is what we contemplate in the game; possibilities and chance are privileged, as are a deep sense of self-reliance. The game has boundaries that can be overcome, that in fact exist to make us better, unlike football that privileges brute strength, power, and the aggressive taking of territory at all costs — and this within manufactured time constraints. Football has become our lives; it enables us, the voyeurs, to invest our displeasure for our age in every down. Baseball, though, asks that we consider the world aesthetically, without time constraints; it asks that we meditate, converse and experience — even dream — of possibilities.

Football engages us at a completely different level. It’s vertical, as opposed to horizontal, which is how baseball is played. The increased violence in football, the injuries, the tension and the tremendous emotional swings we experience are a metaphor for our mediated lives. It’s not surprising, then, following this football mentality, we find in The New York Times criticism leveled at Al Gore for “profiteering” from his environmental advocacy. No single article has appeared criticizing the Bush Administration and its members from profiteering from Iraq — and they did. Our profiteering from desperate moments is what we do. For instance, within 2 months of the start of World War I, in August 1914, “Charles Schwab, president of Bethlehem Steel, one of the world’s largest arms merchants, took a profitable trip to London. There, he secured orders from the British government for millions of artillery shells, as well as ten 500-ton submarines. Though the construction of such foreign vessels broke the law, Bethlehem proceeded with it and the Wilson administration did not stop them. The company earned $61 million in 1916, more than its combined gross revenues for the previous eight years.”And, “By the time America declared war on Germany, Morgan was having a bang-up war of its own. The company had already loaned Britain and France $2.1 billion (around $30 billion by 2004 standards), and had cleared $30 million – around $425 million in 2004 dollars – in profit.” America’s financial empire grew from war.

This is American capitalism at its finest; we are expert at profiteering from death, depravity, violence and devastation. In this system, many are sacrificed. We even have the “sacrifice fly” and the “sacrifice bunt,” say, in baseball. In football, when a player is sacrificed, he ends up on the gurney on the way to x-rays or worse. At the top end of these couple of examples is the capitalist, the one individual or the few individuals that make extraordinary profits, even on the backs of poor families that send their loved ones to die. This is a vertical model; this is the football model — take by aggression by any means necessary. Some will suffer, but this is life, indeed.

In America, we have also held the practice, if not the belief, that we expect someone to be at the top, some to be victorious enough, powerful enough to generate production. In the Yankees’ case, the Steinbrenner family reigns supreme. Joe Gerardi, in my own recollection, aside from perhaps Joe Torre, have worked with George Steinbrenner in a manner that is reminiscent of the middle ages when the peasants and overseers knelt at the knees of the owner and were granted certain privileges in the fiefdom. In the case of Yankee managers and players, its salary, but perhaps much more so, it’s a chance to be in America’s fickle eye for a brief moment. This is where hope exists in our America today. It’s fleeting and in the Yankees in this series we see — and experience — that hope because what we are able to momentarily fantasize is that our medieval system is still there, still wanting, still trying to work.

The Yankees, in this World Series, represent our discipleship to our crumbling economic system; they represent how much we’ve been manufactured into a kind of nebulous and sleepy citizenship; they represent how we wish we could succumb to our illusions about our history. But we can’t. After every game, millions of Americans get up and go to work and face the music.

Baseball is no longer America’s past time. It’s lost its place. This World Series is also about how we, mediated spectators, have lost our place. Football has won this accolade. Vicious brutality, a hankering for pain, and the blatant disregard for the other, coupled to primitive displays of war-like victory dances have won. In the political world, it’s pretty much the same — it’s vicious, un-thinking, a-historical. It’s not surprising, then, that Al Gore, the epitome of an American capitalist, is being blasted by extremely conservative forces. Is this because a new capitalist horizon could emerge that profits from peace? Let’s watch baseball and think about it.