Roger Ebert vs. Baseball


I may be a little late to the party on this one, but then again I am not attacking the main argument I am attacking the foundation of the argument. Roger Ebert a couple months ago famously said that, "Video Games can never be art." His entire argument was summed up by this statement, "Why are gamers so intensely concerned, anyway, that games be defined as art? Bobby Fischer, Michael Jordan and Dick Butkus never said they thought their games were an art form. Nor did Shi Hua Chen, winner of the $500,000 World Series of Mah Jong in 2009. Why aren't gamers content to play their games and simply enjoy themselves?"

It is funny how Ebert goes about this. He claims that games cannot be art, but isn’t there a difference between sports and games. Maybe there is and maybe there isn’t. Baseball is a game. It has rules and structure and those rules ebb and flow with changes in time, but at its heart baseball is the same game that has been played for over a century. The Narrator of Ken Burns documentary Baseball said, "It is played everywhere. In parks and playgrounds and prison yards. In back alleys and farmers' fields. By small children and old men. Raw amateurs and millionaire professionals. It is a leisurely game that demands blinding speed. The only game in which the defense has the ball. It follows the seasons, beginning each year with the fond expectancy of springtime, and ending with the hard facts of autumn. It is a haunted game, in which every player is measured against the ghosts of all who have gone before. Most of all, it is about time and timelessness. Speed and grace. Failure and loss. Imperishable hope. And coming home."

It is about time and timelessness. Art at its essences is about catching a moment out of time and making it timeless. Is this little prosaic poem about baseball more art than baseball itself? Is art the subject matter or the medium? I cannot answer these questions. The answer I know is the postmodern conceit that art is what we say it is.

The idea of accidental art is nothing new, and with a quick Google search it can be seen that it isn’t going away either, but the idea is a much older one. This is Dochump's Fountain. In 1917 Marcel Duchamp was fed up with definitions. He felt that art was everywhere in life and he was going to prove it. He was already an accomplished artist, and so one day he displayed a repositioned urinal. He called this a "ready made," and it started a trend of found art. But the fountain was only the first step. It didn’t entirely tear down the definitions of art. Part of its importance was that it was repositioned. There was still a creative effort in moving it. The argument against this of course is even if the art is found or accidental a step is still required. How am I to know that the artist finds a crushed traffic cone aesthetically pleasing unless they show it to me, and how can they show it to me? There must be a step.

Is it then this extra step that makes something art. That in fact the subject matter is not art but the step used to create it is. Jackson Pollack painted his raw emotions. He turned the unseen and invisible into something tangible. Here is a good example of what Pollock did. Every human emotion at once can be seen in this painting. Joy, frustration, anger, it is all visible. This type of art was call Abstract Expression for a reason.  

A baseball player can turn raw emotion into expression. The anger and frustration can be turned into a swing that can turn into a homerun that can lead to a moment captured in time. Pujols vs. Lidge summarizes the struggle between pitcher and batter. The Astros were winning. The Cardinals losing. And it all came down to these two men. This picture captures a moment in time. It shows the anger and frustration being released from Pujols. He stares up with amazement at what he has done, while Lidge stares back horrified. It is a moment that embodies athletic competition. There is a clear winner and a clear loser and all spectrums of human emotion are on display. In many ways it says the same thing as Jackson Pollock.

It also says the same thing as this. It appears that one man is clearly winning and the other is hunched over in defeat. It expresses the same meaning as Pujols and Lidge. Two men locked in battle with the release leaving one sitting tall and proud and the other slumped in shame, and they are playing a game. Is the game itself art, or is it the human emotion that it brings about captured in a photograph? Maybe this is the same question of a tree falling in the woods. If there is a moment that occurs and no one captures it then can it be considered art? There are probably moments like this every day. A leaf flies across the road spinning and twirling tantalizing your vision as you drive down the road. Then it is gone. Nothing but a memory lost to time. It still occurred. Nothing can change the fact that it happened. Does that make that moment any less art than a moment that someone captured? How can we define that which is indefinable?

The question that maybe should be asked is are athletes art? The Greeks believed athletes were art. The human body at peak condition is still an aesthetic and scientific wonder. The beauty and grace in which baseball players run the bases, or a centerfielder runns down a fly ball. Are these images not as much art as the Greek statues? They captured moments in time. An athlete facing the end of not just a career of athletic excellences, but the approaching shadow of death, and one of the best athletes to ever live performing what is still thought of as one of the greatest single moments in sports. I am sure you have seen pictures of baseball players on the top step of the dugout about to enter the field of play. Are these images of a player on the top step of the dugout with their bat slung over their shoulder about to do battle with a fearsome pitcher that much different than Michelangelo's David. The sling slung over his shoulder. His gaze set towards his fearsome opponent. The calm moment before battle.


A single moment plucked from the pages of time. This is what art at its essences is. The athlete are art, what they do is art. The capturing of the moment is art. We live in a world surrounded by beauty and wonder. Whether we take the time to write about, sing about it, act it out, draw it, paint it, photograph it, film it, or make a game of it is incidental. Those moments exist if we acknowledge them or not. Thousands of instances of art occur during a baseball season. Few of them are passed down through generations as timeless representations of a game played by highly skilled men. Those images become known as art, but it does not diminish the moments that are swept away and forgotten.



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