Naturally, on the night of July 11, I turned my TV channel to the broadcast of the All Star Home Run Derby. But a strange thing happened. Despite the triadic confluence of baseball, home runs, and All Stars, I soon became bored. And so, by the time Robinson Cano and Adrian Gonzalez fought it out in the last round for home run supremacy, I was in bed and sound asleep (or, as they say in baseball parlance, “long gone”).
Was it too much of a good thing? Going into the final round, Cano and Gonzales each had 20 home runs. That’s 40 home runs altogether. And in less than 2 hours. I love the “walk-off” home run when it secures a win for my team. But when they come wholesale and in double digits, they induce torpor. Thus, while two All Stars were displaying their lumber, I took peaceful refuge in quiet slumber.
The most memorable home runs are prized for their singularity. Consider Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world” in 1951 that lifted the New York Giants past the Brooklyn Dodgers and gained them a berth in the World Series. There was Ted Williams’ victorious blast in the 1941 All Star game with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning. Recall “Touch ‘em all” Joe Carter’s ninth-inning round tripper in 1993 that gave the Toronto Blue Jays a World Series Championship. Then there was Carlton Fisk adding his own body-English to keep his game-winning home run fair in the 1975 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds. And, more recently, Derek Jeter’s clout, putting the exclamation mark on his 3,000 career hit with the New York Yankees, just days before this year’s Home Run Derby. These are five famous home runs that no true baseball fan can ever forget.
The final confrontation in the Home Run Derby should have sustained my interest for other reasons. It was a classic clash between a Yankee and a Red Sox. Robinson Cano, named after Jackie Robinson and sporting #24, the reverse of his idol, was being pitched to by his father, himself a former big leaguer. I thought to myself, had his father been trained in the classics, he might have Christened his son Arma virumque cano, the first three words of Virgil’s Aeneid (“Of arms and the man I sing”). Adrian Gonzalez, a Mexican-American, was setting the American League ablaze, leading everybody in batting average, runs batted in, hits, doubles, and total bases. But the interest here was in the incidentals. The home run had been radically deflated. It had become easy, cheap, unheroic, commonplace, and boring. Missing was its luster, excitement, unexpectedness, and dramatic singularity. In the derby, the individual home run was not an object of celebration and commemoration, but merely elicited lust for another and another and another. It was the next home run that was important.
I could have turned to another TV station to watch a program that exalts polygamy, called Big Love. The premise of the show seems to be that a man’s happiness is proportioned to the number of wives he has. Multiplying wives, however, does not increase a man’s happiness as much as it depreciates the value of both marriage and the individual woman (along with the meaning of sexual intimacy). G. K. Chesterton is right when he remarks that “polygamy is a lack of the realization of sex” and that “keeping to one woman is a small price to pay for so much as seeing one woman.” How many mothers or fathers does a child need? How many times do we need to be born? How many gods do we need?
There is something wonderfully altruistic about hitting a game-winning home run. It produces a victory for the team. The participant in the Home Run Derby is in it solely for himself. Likewise, monogamy, in its reciprocal giving, is communal and benefits both partners. The man with a harem is in it for himself. To quote Chesterton once more, “the moment sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant.”
Baseball, in its essence, is marvelously monogamous: one batter against one pitcher at a time; one batter reaching base or making an out at a time; one victory or one defeat at a time. Home runs, like spouses, should not come in clusters. Nor do we properly savor wine by sipping five different kinds at the same time. There is something to be said about the importance of singularity, both in baseball and in marriage. Promiscuity leads to boredom. The uniqueness of the singular can be enough to fill our hearts.
Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ont., and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Connecticut.