Apparently, football is our lord and master now, so there's no sense even beginning a debate about baseball's holding onto the quaint "America's pastime" label. The televisions have spoken. Football wins.
But baseball's Americanness is an open topic again, brought to you by the World Baseball Classic. Don't be surprised if the comparative lack of interest in the U.S. is used as another artificial ruler by those intent on measuring the game's popularity.
Prophesying the doom of baseball is an industry in some quarters, and this trumped-up tournament is a chance to get out the shovels and start digging all over again.
The best rebuttal to those folks is sort of a nonargument: If it hasn't been killed yet, with gambling and strikes and bumbling leaders and recreational drugs and performance-enhancing drugs, you're probably not going to kill it with words.
But in the context of the WBC, the prophets miss an even more important point: Baseball in this country has never been a nationalist game. It has been a racist game, and at times a clueless game, but nationalism takes a different mind-set. We just don't think of it that way.
There's more interest in the game between Venezuela and the Dominican here than there is in any game in the Americans' pool play. We'd like the U.S. to win this thing, but we don't really care that much.
We can be just as happy watching the Dominican Republic win, or Venezuela, or Puerto Rico. American baseball fans root for those same guys from April through October in ballparks all over the country. Our country, by the way, so it's hard to summon any nationalist pride over watching them lose just because they're playing for someone else's country.
Put it this way: They're all our guys. It sounds ditzy and dreamy, but that doesn't make it any less true.
Make no mistake, there is national pride in baseball, but it resides in the Dominican and Venezuela and Panama and Mexico. Before the rosters for the tournament were announced, most American fans probably couldn't tell you that Carlos Lee is Panamanian and Pedro Feliz is Dominican. But in those countries, they can damned sure tell you, and they didn't need a WBC roster to point it out. In Latin America, baseball becomes a nationalistic game every winter.
This discussion raises another issue, though probably one for another day: Do we lose something in the process by creating a spectacle that intentionally injects nationalism into the discussion?
This Week's List
• On Sept. 4, when all their 40-year-olds get ready to start a series in 900-degree weather, the Giants can draw strength from that day back in spring training when Barry Bonds put on a wig: Can we please call a moratorium on the gooey pontification about the wonderful chemical magic created by a cross-dressing Bonds?
• It sounds like the beginnings of a plot line for a movie destined to be spurned by the Academy: Whenever he felt misunderstood, the moody superstar donned a wig and a set of falsies, and all was right with the world.