With God Bless America, it’s all or nothing

With Sunday night’s opener between the defending world champion Anaheim Angels and the Texas Rangers and a slew of Opening Day games today, optimism is permeating the baseball world, as it usually does this time of year. If you want to spend the next five minutes reading about all the reasons for that exuberance, don’t bother, unless you want to share my skeptical view (it’s not fun, believe me.)

I’m a huge baseball fan, and I love the game so much that I’ve spent countless summer nights at minor league ballparks in addition to trekking to the major league cathedrals. But I choose to greet the start of this season with great cynicism and sheer contempt, aimed mostly at the big-wigs who occupy the Major League Baseball commissioner’s office.

Discussing their ineptitude has become borderline commonplace, but I’m currently stewed about an issue that has not seen much commentary — “God Bless America,” but only on Opening Day, Sundays, and holidays, according to major league baseball. After gracing all major league ballparks at every game since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, “God Bless America” will be limited to only the occasional singing this season.

Let me get this straight. Major league baseball is fortunate enough to reside in a country where the games can continue, relatively unaffected by the second Persian Gulf War, but singing “God Bless America” has been given a reduced role this year. This is pure speculation on my part, but what possible explanation could there be for this except time considerations? (Consider that when it was played last year it was supposed to be done under strict time parameters, which were not always met, especially if there was a live performer and not a recorded version). Is the two minutes it takes to sing the song in the seventh inning stretch before “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” too much to ask? Is it any wonder baseball is no longer “America’s Pastime”?

Now, I understand the counter-argument — why must we sing “God Bless America” when the National Anthem is already performed before every game? Maybe I would agree with this, if “God Bless America” was not played at every stadium last season. To reduce the song’s role during a time of war is ludicrous.

I also understand some people will say the song should not be sung at baseball games at all because of the religious nature of the title, but, this argument would support my feeling in part that it should be an all or nothing proposition. If major league baseball said that the song could not be sung any time, in any stadium for that reason, I would have some respect for that — I would not agree with them, but at least I could understand it.

But that — like letting individual teams decide the issue for themselves — would be a firm, logical, reasoned (some will say well-reasoned) position. No wonder it’s not the one that Major League Baseball currently holds.

The bottom line is that the song was sung and performed at every game last season. Right or wrong, it was. To reduce drastically its presence while the country is at war sends the wrong message. And, if indeed it is a matter of time — what else could it be? — then shame on Bud Selig.

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