The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Invisible People, and the Noise They Make

Imagine if Wal-Mart opened for business today, but barred customers from entering their stores. Imagine a new radio station going on the air, but not advertising as to where to find their signal. Imagine a public election being held, where, due to distrust of (some of) the citizenry, the people were not allowed to vote.

Imagine a baseball game where the fans were not allowed to attend.

This bizarre, yet thoroughly American turn of events will occur this afternoon in Baltimore in a home game scheduled against the White Sox.  Does a team still have home-field advantage when no one’s home?

In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Slaughterhouse Five,” the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck” in time. Pilgrim’s life plays out randomly, the normal linear progression of events mixed up and occurring haphazardly.  One event does not lead to the next, but could, in fact, circle back to a prior event. Normal cause and effect cease to have any meaning.

What we appear to be witnessing today in Baltimore is the progeny of a business-law enforcement alliance where privatized public spectacles are now shielded from the public itself.  Corporatism in America has become “unstuck” from the citizenry.  Normal cause and effect no longer have any meaning. Business decisions are unmoored from the real world concerns of local municipalities.

Banks are bailed out, but not people.  Corporations magically become citizens, while much of the citizenry lacks the basic necessities of life.  The Dignity of Work is summoned to shame those who’ve lost their jobs to overseas competition.  And people who lack the ability to buy shoes for their children are lectured to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

In many ways, this is not a new development, but is, in fact, the inevitable outcome of what happens when a political system is entirely consumed by corporatism, leveraging the power of law enforcement to corral, contain and coerce those elements of the citizenry written off as undesirable, irredeemable and politically powerless.

Many, perhaps most of the chattering class and the interests they serve will describe the current unrest in Baltimore this week as primarily a law enforcement issue.  After thirty years of a War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance Policies, and Three Strikes and Your Out legislation (the irony of which will certainly fail to find fertile ground in the imaginations of those who decided to play a baseball game today to empty stands), and over a million African-American men and women having been incarcerated at one time or another in their lives, it appears that American society remains more comfortable providing them with a ticket to prison than a ticket to a baseball game.

Last year, an elderly rancher named Cliven Bundy and his Gang-That-Couldn’t-Think-Straight were heralded by many in the media as heroes for individual liberty, property rights, and the idea that no white man, however delusional, should be denied his moment of public heroism, even as some of his supporters aimed their weapons directly at law enforcement officers.

That law enforcement officers were deemed “jack-booted thugs” when attempting to enforce the laws of the land in that situation out west, while the “thugs” are now the young men and women of Baltimore armed with bricks, and the police have been magically transformed once again into the thin blue line separating respectable society from those that would do us harm is familiar territory here in America.  Yet familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt, and contempt is the jet fuel of social unrest.

All of which brings us back to a baseball game later today in Baltimore.  Camden Yards and the area in which it is situated was the product of the sort of palatable corporate urban renewal that has become fashionable over the past quarter century or so, where gentrification (the removal of the undesirables) in favor of public and private investment that overwhelmingly favors the upper middle class has become the only politically expedient investment in existence.

Will it make money for a fortunate few, perhaps even at the expense of others?  If so, that’s a price that has been deemed acceptable, once you are able to hide the losers from view.

But now the “losers” are in full view on our round-the-clock cable news networks where the well-fed and well-groomed simultaneously engage in hand-wringing analysis that mimics concern while also condemning the inevitable rage that burns wherever people are marginalized.  But the system must be allowed to continue operating under any and all circumstances, because the system, after all, is its own reward.

So a professional baseball game will be played today for the first time in baseball history without a single fan to witness it.  The human element has finally been rendered obsolete.  The beast has eaten its fill.

In America, people are the raw material that feeds the system.  When the system no longer requires your contribution, or even your existence, the expectation is your silent acquiescence to a permanent state of invisibility.

Thus, in a stadium in downtown Baltimore, in a park that seats 45,971, ushers will serve no one, ticket takers will stare out at empty parking lots, and players will hit doubles that no one will cheer.  No one will stand up and stretch in the seventh inning, and the Great American Game will reflect the emptiness at the heart of a broken system where to be invisible is the price you pay for being born poor and powerless.

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20 thoughts on “Invisible People, and the Noise They Make

  1. Love this. Reading things like “Banks are bailed out, but not people. Corporations magically become citizens, while much of the citizenry lacks the basic necessities of life. The Dignity of Work is summoned to shame those who’ve lost their jobs to overseas competition. And people who lack the ability to buy shoes for their children are lectured to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” made feel like I was reading one of the liberal blogs I read every morning. I should send this to cousin of mine who hates liberals and calls me a traitor for my liberal views.

  2. Powerful writing, well thought out and well stated.

  3. When I heard the report that this game was taking place, the thought that ran through my mind was the old conundrum, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
    The media has, for the most part, praised the Angelos family, owners of the Orioles, for devising this solution to Major League Baseball’s dilemma. However, you present a thought-provoking perspective with your sentence: “But the system must be allowed to continue operating under any and all circumstances, because the system, after all, is its own reward.”
    Brilliantly written. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. In fairness to the Angelos family, even though I still think the decision to play the game in an empty park was bizarre, I did see an interview with John Angelos, the Chief Operating Officer of the Orioles, and I came away impressed with his obvious empathy for the greater Baltimore community. He had a lot of interesting things to say on the subject of poverty, the decline of America’s industrial base, and baseball’s comparatively unimportant role in all of this.
      Again, thank you very much,

  4. What goes around, comes around. Years of police zero tolerance in Baltimore & other cities in America, years of beautiful new ballparks built but placing the “untouchables” in prison, providing poor education & few jobs in African/American neighborhoods and selling off our Congress to Corporate America has produced results that causes good white folk fto ail to understood the volcanic results that occur when people’s anger explodes at the police. I never thought I would see the piece you wrote in a sports blog. Thanks.

  5. 1 problem, the Orioles played the White Sox not the Rays

  6. Well said, Bill, well said.

  7. Bill,

    This is an AMAZING post and a breath of fresh air. I’ve read far too many underhanded racist posts these past few days to last me a lifetime. The situation in Baltimore is a rich tapestry that has been waiting to explode for some time now. It’s unfortunate that most of the uneducated masses don’t seem to see it that way and subscribe to the group-thought mentality. It’s about time we stop attacking each other and start attacking the multi national corporations that will eventually sell this country from out under us while we pacify ourselves with sports, cars, clothes and the Kardashians.



  8. Kevin Graham on said:

    Nice post Bill, well said.

  9. Allan G. Smorra on said:

    Thanks Bill,

    As always you have raised some great points with your analysis of the state of society today.

    With all of the TV money pouring into the coffers of the teams maybe the owners will just do away with fans—think of the money saved on operating expenses and payroll for stadium upkeep and crowd control.

    Once the stands were cleared out the teams could cater to the Corporate Skybox clientele and make every game a must-see, tax-deductable, one-off event.

    The working-fan would have to use pay-per-view or a premium season subscription to see the game, and thus come full-circle to subsidizing the whole charade—just like now, but to a greater degree.

    Keep’em coming,

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