Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Bud Selig, meet Pontius Pilate

While I continue to think about how Barry Larkin's contract with the Nationals is up at the end of this year and work on a piece about the greatest Reds player in my lifetime and one of the best ever, I thought I'd take the time to post something. Anything. And it just so happens my thoughts are on Pontius Pilate, thanks to a sort of biography I'm reading by Ann Wroe.

My second favorite book in the world is Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. This is a book I had never in my life heard of (thanks to my poor public school education, no doubt) until I met a guy who had an MA in Russian literature (and German lit, too). The setting was Monterey, California during the early days of spring - not that the seasons matter in California except for the amount of light you receive during the day. We'd become friends on account of him noticing I always seemed to be carrying stacks of books, and we often went to Bay Books to browse their titles just for the joy of being in a bookstore, especially one that was independent of the mammoth stores whose employees couldn't tell you the difference between Sylvia Plath and Nora Roberts.

Well, on this early spring day, Bay Books had on display Bulgakov's classic allegory of life under Stalinism. It was most likely a moment of shear randomness that they had displayed the book; perhaps it was one of those employee favorites or something. But my friend told me I had to read it. That was six years ago (god, has it been that long?), and I've read it three or four more times since then.

In the book, the devil arrives in Moscow as a black magician, a "foreigner," as they call him. Craziness starts happening to the godless communists, really great stuff like the head of the Variety Theater ending up in Yalta in his underwear and sending desperate telegrams which make his employees believe he is sending them from a bar called Yalta because he couldn't possibly have made it to the city of Yalta in three hours; a black magic show where money falls from the ceiling but turns into beer labels the day after it is used and where people trade in their clothes for new ones, only to find themselves naked when they leave the theater; and a bunch of people ending up in an insane asylum. There's a big black cat that enjoys a good drink, vampires, a guy getting his head cut off, witches...you name it, it's all there, all representing one of the hideous sides of life under Stalin.

The Master and Margarita don't enter the story until about halfway through. The Master is in the asylum because he had written a story about Pontius Pilate that was rejected and ridiculed by the Soviet appointed publishers of the day. Suffice it to say that the Master was a coward for not standing up for Truth like Pilate was a coward for giving in to Caiaphas when he could find no crime committed by Christ. Nutshells - they crunch beneath your feet.

Now, I know that comparing baseball to such an important thing as eternal salvation is, well, blasphemy, but I suppose it's no different than calling a blog "Church of Baseball." If we look at the "religion" of baseball, we can see that Bud Selig is the Pilate figure in the whole poor allegory. Selig sees himself as a pious representative of the empire, i.e. the profit side of the game. Yet there is this truth about the game, its beauty, something inherent in the soul of America, and he listens to it, and he frets about it, and he sees its innocence.

But he kills it anyway.

I don't like Bud Selig. He sat and watched from his palace as football took over as the national pastime (though I realize baseball was well into its decline way before he was appointed hegemon.) However, there are those who call him a saint like there are those who call Pilate a saint for his part in the inevitable.

No, Selig's done nothing lately to provoke this post. I just have little to write about a team that stinks so badly I can smell them over the airwaves. It's one of those putrid smells I still take some pleasure in, though, like jet fuel or rotting autumn leaves or the stench of burning hops that floats through the Dublin air from the Guinness factory.

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