It's a measure of the summer of our discontent that everyone who walks through the National Museum of American History this weekend stops in midstride and drifts with the current over to a television running a tape loop of close plays in important baseball games from the last decade or two.
Small matter that Reggie Jackson is wearing gold and Kelly green, or Carlton Fisk Red Sox red and gray when he steps into Ed Armbrister in the third game of the 1975 World Series and whips the ball into center field. The color on the tapes in grainy, but it's a paint-by-numbers sunset to eyes deprived of this game for almost a month.
"See that, where Fisk gets the ball? That's no-man's land. The right call was no call. He had plenty of time to throw. He just made a bad play."
Ron Tellefson, umpire, special guest for the Smithsonian's Fourth of July baseball show, narrates the clips. He spins and verbally accosts the wide-eyed kids packed four rows deep.
"See Harrelson there? He said I ruined the game with that call. Ruined the game. What do you call him?Out or safe?" There is an urgency in Tellefson's voice. Umpires are by nature so defensive they assume it's them against the world and proceed from there.
Just watching the ump badger the kid in the hallway of this museum -- ah, throw the kid out of here -- it's almost enough to make you forget the strike.
But not quite. Lou Brock, Elrod Hendricks and Jim Bouton notwithstanding, the speed gun and the Bat Mobile -- as in the 34-ounce Davey Lopes model -- notwithstanding, it's just not enough.
Davey Lopes hasn't even seen this bat. What good is it? Yes, it's fascinating that a week ago this bat was one-quarter of a tree trunk. But what's this bat done for us lately? A disemobodied bat is like a pack of baseball cards with six Twins and four Padres.
"Well, I sort of feel like it's the players' fault, but I side with the players." The visitor smiled sheepishly, shrugged his shoulders and took his kids inside to see a ventriloquist do Abbott and Costello's "Who's On First?" routine with a dummy in an Oriole hat.
A random sample of 25 visitors to this four-day, grad-old-game celebration produced a far-from-startling result: Do you side with either side in the strike, or would you just say you want to see it end? Eleven sided with the players, three with the owners and 11 just wanted to see it over with, period.
"I don't see why there's free agency, anyway," said ex-Senator Chuck Hinton. "I don't see any ballplayer not taking $200,000. What's the problem? You don't have to sign for $800,000 with some other team.Take the 200,000 a year for 15 years. I don't see any problem with that. No thank you."
The display comes closest to satisfying a real hunger for baseball when it is live. Dick Bosman playing catch with a catcher, a real live not-too-former pitcher throwing a real ball with a realthwack into a real catcher's glove. Or Hendricks explaining signals to little kids with gloves stuck under their arms. And, of course, autographs.
The memorabilia is nice, but static.Nice batting helmet, nice old uniform, but they're still relics; if we wanted relics we'd be in Cooperstown or in the attic.
The low point is the film clip on how they make gloves, with somber accompanying taped narration like someone describing a giant earthquake in a newsreel.
And "Who's On First?" is superb, but it only makes you yearn for Abbott and Costello, not baseball.
The hit, though, of this show, is the speed gun -- live action and a chance to measure yourself in miles per hour. They stand in line in the 40s. One stocky teen-ager, with a neck thicker than his head, walks away from the front of the line as the number 76 appears in the mph box. The crowd watches intently as the boy and his girlfriend stride away, hand in hand.
"That," said Hinton, "was not even a mediocre fast ball."
"Fast? You know how fast Satchel Paige was?" asked scout Joe Consoli. "His fast ball used to skin like a stone on water."
Back at the end of the line, the kid with the neck had stopped, holding up his girl, watching all the other people throwing, seeing if anyone was nearing his mark. Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you.