Monday, July 17, 2006

the commedia dell'arte

this writer remembers faintly those years of youth when the hypothetical dominated everything. the operative word in naive life was not as it is now -- "probable" -- but was instead the open-ended "possible" and all the flights of fancy to which the word could carry small minds with large imaginations.

most of us, one suspects, can recall the children's game of "what if" -- what if you crossed a giraffe with a donkey? what if superman fought batman? what if the cubs were good?

sunday night saw the resolution of one of the infinite number of hypotheticals of playground dreaming: what if the best team in the national league played the worst?

the answer came in the sixth, when this writer was treated to the single worst inning of cub baseball in all of team history.

the mets sent 16 to the dish and plated a franchise-record eleven runs in the top half, coming on two grand slams, two todd walker errors and an aramis ramirez unscored mental error which botched an inning-ending double play. juan pierre also dropped a catchable liner off the bat of carlos delgado as the cubs gave the metropolitans, as bad teams sometimes do, at least seven outs to get through the inning -- and the mets, as good teams sometimes do, capitalized.

but what made it the worse single inning overall was the laughable flight of the cub offense in the bottom half. it was nothing special -- what has been special this year? -- but a ramirez double play and a jacque jones tapper back to the pitcher carried such an air of meek and helpless futility as to render this writer helpless himself with laughter.

don't fool yourself, dear reader -- the cubs are in fact the worst team in baseball, and it's really quite beyond doubt. the pittsburgh pirates are perhaps the unluckiest, blighted as they are with the record they are while the cubs have underperformed them significantly in run differential. but few who watched last night's performance could doubt that the cubs are beneath the lowest low.

and it hasn't escaped the notice of espn, at least. in their introductory skit/montage which opened their broadcast, the network openly mocked the average cub game attendee as a dimwitted, sentimental and fatalistic fantasist and the team as a sort of perpetual blight on the sport incapable of deserving serious consideration as a ballclub and therefore of attracting serious or deserving fans.

this page would be hard pressed to say where that picture is wrong, as it seems here that the cubs have taken on most of the characteristics of the commedia dell'arte -- the vaudevillian buffoonery of italian improvisational theater. all the stock characters are present. macfail as il capitano, hendry as pantalone, dusty as harlequin, the players an assortment of pagliacci -- and of course, as the innamorati, the fans hold the central but naive role in the whole vexation. as with any good italian commedia, more than a little criminality pervades the plot, and slapstick ribaldry exists in equal parts with treachery and hapless incompetence.

in short, the cubs have become an extended theatrical joke -- but that does as unjustly little to describe the grace and perfection of the wry humor of this trundling failed ballclub as calling shakespeare's lear a tragic figure. there is art in this disaster, even as the perpetually scheming pantalone denies that anything is wrong, and this page advises you, dear reader, to enjoy it so for there is no other way to enjoy it at all.

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