Some endeavors among the sporting world are easier to comprehend than others. Kick the Can, a great New York street game, may be the ultimate easy-to-follow, easy-to-play sport. I may have invented an even easier one in 1962. Co-devised by my friend Brian Limitone and named after another friend and classmate whose uncle was at the time an Assemblyman shortly to be the Bronx District Attorney, Merola consists of two people coming up to the prescribed line, shouting “Merola!,” and kicking off a sneaker or shoe (or boot). The player owning the foot-covering that sails farthest wins.
Merola took two people to invent, whereas baseball only took one: Abner Doubleday (a canard of course, but I’m trying here for a cheap laugh). It lay mostly dormant for nine years till it became something of a (foot) fetish (by the way, fetishes are now referred to by sexologists as paraphilias, I’m not sure if spelled with one “L” or two) among the 1971 senior(itis) class at the Bronx High School of Science. I was verklempt when our thirtieth-anniversary reunion included memorabilia Merola Mugs for each of several-hundred attendees, excluding significant others, who walked away scratching their heads even harder: Why did I bother to come? And what’s the deal with the Converse sneaker-on-the-mug “gift”?
One “school” says yes. Certainly, cricket is not easy to follow in the scoring: four runs if the ball bounces over the distant line; six runs if it leaves on the fly. Batsmen at both sides of the pitch running back and forth, touching the ground with their sticks. It’s difficult to follow. There is also far more strategy involved in the use of the bat.
Baseball is less complex . . . on the surface. But scratch a little deeper (reunion significant other or not) and one finds “the game within the game.” We talk about this at a certain (but not boring I hope) length in Right Off the Bat. Baseball is a sport that ought to appeal to Umberto Eco since, among other things, it is a game of signs. While nothing much seems to be happening, except for players scratching themselves or spitting, the manager is sending hand signals to his coaches who is conveying signals to batter, pitcher, and fielders as applicable. Semiotics is a complex field.
Should someone say to you baseball is less complex than cricket (or vice versa), think. It may be “a sign” that he or she ought to get a shoe right to the head.