Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Game Over the Player

It's obvious that baseball is a team sport. At any given moment in the game there are at least 10 players on the field, batter plus fielders. When you think about it, the concept of a baseball card, a snapshot or portrait of a single player, in that sense runs counter to the spirit of the game. We are invited to contemplate one player, if not to the exclusion to, then at least over and above, all the others. He is the center and the others are, at best, footnotes or references. 

Most tobacco cards solve this dilemma by giving us studio portraits, eschewing game action all together (the triple folders are a noted exception). The focus is all on the player.

Current cards tend to combine that notion of portraiture with our desire for action, honing in on one face among the other players, reducing these to blurs and anonymous limbs. The drama of the game is likewise a passing reference, a presence implied but not necessarily represented in any recognizable way. Catches are already made, the home run clearing the outfield wall, or the post-K celebration commenced. Nothing is left to chance or speculation: the man on the card is, in this moment, a hero. 

Which brings me back to this card. The game itself is in the balance up until the final out, so why should our representations of the game and its players be any different? The card lacks the absolute certainty we desire of our idols. The ball, I am guessing, is out of reach, which makes this card a representation of failure. The pitcher's. Crawford's. A metaphor for that of humanity in general. But none of that stops anyone from moving on to the next batter, the next pitch, the next day. 

The photo on the card is not a portrait. The ball absorbs Crawford's focus and he is turned away from us. His focus is on the game, not the players or even himself. There are larger things at stake on which this moment plays a crucial part. And we know that, at this moment, there are nine other men on the diamond with their attention turned, like us, towards Crawford and the inscrutable, descending ball. We are in their company, watching.

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