Splinters From An Old Baseball Bat

It is well known that the pro leagues run educational programs for young rookies to prepare them for certain perils that face professional athletes, notably the attentions of opportunistic young women, who perhaps wish to become pregnant with the athlete's progeny and extort palimony or child support in the process. While the lottery-style payoff to the prospective vessel of this conception, immaculate or otherwise, seems like a merry deal today, in fact the economics of predatory groupies are about to get much better. For why would one resort to a single payment when a stream of payments could be earned instead?

How? The answer lies in cloning.



[Aside] Some people sing in the shower. I, on the other hand, have voices. And the voice I had in the shower one morning not long ago was that sports agents should soon bone up on bioethics and the intellectual property law dealing with genetics. Why? Because cloning procedures are continually improving, and some day it won't be necessary for the groupie to get laid in order to get paid, when all that will be required is a sample of hair or some other body tissue. My advice to all the aspiring 21st-century Mark McCormack's out there? When in Rome, do as the Romans: if you can't suppress a particular technology or social movement, find a way to cash in on it instead.

That's when all hell broke loose with Ted Williams.



Yes, the spectre of human cloning and the broader transhumanist movement hit an awkward puberty recently with the strange story of Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams. One of America's greatest war-era heroes ("Marine Fighter Pilot, Baseball Hall of Famer, Worldclass Angler" reads the official Ted Williams web site, and it doesn't get any more American than that), Williams passed away a little over a year ago, and was immediately sent to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation in Arizona to be cryogenically frozen with the hope that one day the technology would be available to bring him back to life.

The story gets weird when it turns out that despite the perception Williams' whole body was suspended upside-down in cryostasis, in fact his head had been dismembered from the rest of his body to be stored in a separate container and was cracked nearly a dozen times in the process (which is apparently "normal" during such a procedure). Furthermore, eight samples of Williams' DNA had allegedly disappeared from the Alcor laboratories, and Alcor's COO recently resigned. Naturally, Alcor disputed that any patient had been mishandled, or that DNA samples had been stolen from the lab.

In a final twist, it has been alleged that the note expressing Williams' desire to be cryogenically suspended after his death, originally scrawled on a motor oil-stained scrap of paper, may have been forged by Ted's son John Henry.

Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrote a scathing indictment of the saga, which appeared on the magazine's web site under a title that read: "What's happened to Ted Williams is an American tragedy."

Whoa — a little outside Tom! Though by replacing "an American tragedy" with "the American telos" you might have something that gets a little closer to the strike zone.

If Verducci and others really want the tragedy, it's that in the Society of Spectacle a story like Williams' becomes the punchline of a joke, or some other form of amusement intertextually incorporated into the matrix of programming, while circumventing serious debate in the process. But Verducci and his superiors at Sports Illustrated are equally complicit in the Spectacle, posturing as if this had anything to do with sport in the first place.

Spectacle aside, Verducci's wild pitch underscores the problem with sportswriters tackling the larger social issues of the day: they are nostalgic creatures by habit, ludic luddites who are unable to detect the shifts in the sensory environment caused by our technologies, and who find lewd the disappearing "purity" of sport. Sportswriting's roots lie in the hot medium of the newspaper, with the romantic, lyrical narrative of the truly gifted sportswriter (which Verducci certainly is) evoking rich sporting mindscapes for the sports fan to enjoy. In other words, sportswriters are unsuited for the pragmatic analysis of Teddy Baseball's cryostasis.

The analysis is thus:

Baseball, fighter pilots, motor oil: all the rich symbolism of industrial-age corporeality disintegrating into information, signaling the decay of the American Empire and freezing it for the posterity of future history. The triumph of modern capitalism, rational science, and abstract individualism have led us to the logical end point where the only economic and social need left to be served is to supersede the limits of our human bodies. We have trouble accepting the fact that we die. We are hysterical about aging. Surely human ingenuity can overcome these limits? Yet ne'er shall The Greatest Generation understand the ecology of this brave new world it has set us towards and thus it seeks solace in the warm nostalgic embrace of the simulated (re)creation of history.

* * *

To return to the proverbial groupie from the beginning of this article, it indeed appears that with black marketeering and continued improvements in the science of human cloning, one could create a team of All-Stars simply by purchasing a chip off the old Splinter — or a splint off the old Chipper, if mediocre National League outfielders are more to your liking.

The real question in my mind seems to be why only 8 samples of Williams' DNA went missing, when 9 are required to take the field. My guess is that the answer rests in modern science's inability to clone a pitcher from a hitter's body. I imagine that Alcor will be talking to long-in-the-tooth Sandy Koufax in the very near future …


One response to Splinters From An Old Baseball Bat

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  1. sportsBabel » Unleaded (Ode to Ted Williams) says:

    [...] "Baseball, fighter pilots, motor oil: all the rich symbolism of industrial-age corporeality disintegrating into information, signaling the decay of the American Empire and freezing it for the posterity of future history" (sportsBabel, Sept. 2003). [...]