Thriller was one of the first albums to come into my possession that did not involve animated characters, and it was an actual album, too, which draws into sharp focus the highly disturbing meme I just saw reminding and horrifying everyone that in a scant eight years, events taking place in the ’80s will have achieved golden anniversary status. If that doesn’t disturb you enough, realize that there are only three months left of this year, which means I need to lie down.
But if the ’80s are this far behind us, that means I don’t even want to think about the ’70s, which are now so far in the rearview mirror as to require the Rosetta Stone to translate the hieroglyphics of its age. Have you ever manually changed stations on a television set? Could the children in your family even endure the commercial break involved with the avoidance of doing so? I did. Mine couldn’t. It’s a world without boundaries.
Now that televised baseball games are no longer a state occasion set aside for the playoffs, we are left to assess what we once had, both as a sport and as a city. And, frankly, it could be worse. Imagine life as a Rangers fan. Imagine life as a Tigers fan; when you wake up the morning after a game, you’ve not only lost, you’re in Detroit.) If Reds fans seem increasingly steeped in nostalgia, it’s because we have nowhere left to go and still maintain a happy connection to the home team.
I’ve often heard complaints that the Cincinnati fanbase has never matured past the Big Red Machine, and why should it? What reason to look beyond the satisfying row of World Series trophies lined up there by the river?
When the primary reason to go to the ballpark is the 39-year-old first baseman, and he just succumbed to an injury of a frayed and increasingly worn rotator cuff, it’s rather difficult to assert that one must wear shades to the ballpark ’cause the future’s so bright (and if you don’t need to look up that reference, you’ve probably received at least one cheerful third-class piece of mail from AARP.)
The Big Red Machine was perhaps the finest dynasty baseball has ever seen, and certainly the most dominent within living memory. But the problem with unparalleled greatness is the near-impossibility of matching or succeeding it, both for empires as well as baseball teams.
Just so, one of the most striking sentences I took from a documentary about Michael Jackson was a question: “How do you follow up Thiller?” No wonder this guy got weird. He was a Reagan administration Alexander, the origin of the best-selling album of all time at the age of 24. Elvis isn’t in that category. The Beatles aren’t even in that category, and there were four of them pitching in on it.
We know there is no following up the Big Red Machine, the last of the pre-free agency dynasties. Never again can the fanbase relax into the knowledge that if one contract-locked National League Batting Champion fails to reach first, there are two more right behind him in the lineup. And while that might not be healthy, at least it means we’re still here.