If you are Barry Bonds this season, you take the chin music and trot down to first — and assume that your pitcher is going to even things up next inning. It's why Greg Maddux's expression never changes, whether he's throwing a shutout or getting shelled. And it is why Jackie Robinson is an American hero.
As Mickey Cochrane said about the great second baseman Charlie Gehringer, "He says hello on opening day and goodbye on closing day, and in between he hits .350." Needless to say, Gehringer never played soccer.
The same is true about all traditional American sports and its athletes.
Can you imagine the Celtics' Robert Parrish prancing around Boston Garden, tearing off his jersey, and dropping to his knees as he sobs after a victory?
How about Chicago Bears' Bronco Nagurski theatrically leaping off a stretcher to do jumping jacks on the sidelines? Or the Boston Bruins' Bobby Orr wandering in curlicues around the ice clutching a cramped calf muscle?
And I don't seem to remember the athlete of the century, Secretariat, mugging for the crowd at Churchill Downs.
The Soccer Mom Bloc
Perhaps that is why soccer seems so alien to most Americans — three-fourths of whom never watched a World Cup game.
In fact, only two groups in this country seem to have embraced the sport: new immigrants, who can be forgiven, and middle-class soccer moms, who cannot.
The SUV moms love soccer, I think, not because of its style and beauty, but because, in its cheap shots and endless pleas to the teacher for justice, it most resembles a schoolyard. And that is something they understand — unlike the battlefield of football, the Arcadia of baseball and the high-school gym of basketball.
Remember, this is the same voting bloc that gave us Bill Clinton, a man most other men instantly recognized (as the polls showed) as utterly untrustworthy.
At the time, there were various theories for this soccer mom vote. One held that these women saw Clinton as their first husband. Another that they secretly wanted to sleep with him. But I think they saw in Clinton the grown-up version of those precocious little demon children you see dragging them through the mall.
The appeal of soccer to this cohort is similarly contradictory: Soccer is a game that appears egalitarian, but is actually acutely hierarchal; seems open to even the worst spazzs, but in fact requires exceptional athleticism; and looks well-supervised and well-behaved, but is in fact a game of cheap dramatics and even cheaper shots.
Is This a New Way of Life?
So, even as I sat there, bleary-eyed, watching the soccer game but thinking about baseball hall-of-famers, it was obvious to me that soccer is winning over the United States, not just as a sport, but as a way of life.
Eighteen months ago, the economy took a nasty turn as the new economy bubble burst. Most of us got burned. Why? Not because analyst Mary Meeker or CNBC or Global Crossing suckered us, but because we got greedy. As greedy as the people we are not putting on trial.
Everyone I know was obsessed with getting rich, right now, and we believed all of the delusional garbage because wanted to. If an insider deal had been offered to us, most of us would have taken it.
There were prudent and sagacious voices out there, including many tech industry veterans, who warned us that we were in for a fall — but we laughed at them.