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Fanfare for the Leisured Baseballer

(Or: Great Moments in Reclining)

The game of baseball has taken unwarranted criticism over the centuries for being somewhat lethargic. To the untrained eye, the many pauses and activities that occur during said pauses, such as scratching, spitting, and the sewing of loose buttons, gives the viewer the impression that nothing is happening during these intervals. Hardly helping matters is the fact the authors of many of the great baseball confessionals, such as The Long Season, Ball Four, and The Bullpen Gospels, spend most of their books planted on their backsides. This, coupled with the endomorphism of Bob Hamelin, give the layman the false impression that baseball players are lazy, indolent creatures stuffed with sunflower oil, tryptophan and NyQuil.

Now stare at the visage of Dave Chalk. Here we see a man who is in all ways at rest, but it is a far different form of rest than the slanderers claim. His hat lies askew, hair cascades tremulously southward, his hand dangles lifelessly. But not his eyes. Dave Chalk is resting, but he is not relaxing. Knowing that the action of baseball is in the instant, the swing of the bat and the flash of the glove, Dave Chalk stores every iota of his energy, conserves the maximum of his talent and grace and purpose for that one moment. His eyes are the key: they take in everything, but they do not register worry or fatigue. Dave Chalk is simply waiting to be Dave Chalk, and he is content to be nothing in the meantime.

This level of leisure has never been eclipsed by any other baseball player, and its record may stand the test of time. Eleven years later, Mike Flanagan made his own attempt at leisure:

As is so often the case in sport, the fan assumes that a subpar performance by the trained athlete is on the same level as the amateur. It is admittedly true that Mike Flanagan, despite his years of training, falls short of a Dave Chalk level of consciousness. His posture is strong, his arm angle sound. His hair, though shorter, is perhaps equally limp. But one can see from the lines in his eyes and chin that Mike Flanagan has not achieved peace; some small supply of his strength is consumed in worry, rather than stored for use. Mike Flanagan is simply unable to truly disconnect himself from the world and watch it as an impartial, dispassionate observer. This is, of course, no easy task. Other men have tried to drown themselves before reaching even this level of nirvana.

But we should not take this as a denigration to Mike Flanagan, who is by any account a leisured gentleman. As he and Dave Chalk and others have slumped, they have brought honor to baseball.