When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, the Dodgers came to town. It was a life-changing experience for me. The Hollywood Stars and the Los Angeles Angels were our teams before the Dodgers arrived. The old Hollywood Stars stadium was smack dab in the middle of Hollywood, not far from the Pan Pacific Auditorium where all the best shows were put on for people much older than me. Both stadiums were a short car ride away from where we lived in West L.A.
Farmers Market is still there. Neighboring parts of it have been turned into an outdoor mall that reminds me of those streets you find in Disneyland, all pretty and unreal-looking, full of casual consumers in a daze of buying fever. And the Pan Pacific became CBS Television City, appropriate I guess for the next-door neighbor of the Hollywood Stars. A few years after the stadium had been leveled, I went and stood on the place where the pitcher’s mound had been. I stood there and looked around at the nothingness that surrounded it now. A moment of enlightenment for me; a minor Zen satori moment about the transition of life from something we experience as tangible to the nothingness of the intangible.
Though I wasn’t born in the USA (and kids at my school didn’t let me forget it), I very soon fell in love with the game of baseball and discovered, after Little League tryouts, that I was good at it. Turns out that when you end up being the catcher on your team (a position nobody else wanted), you start to understand the strike zone quite well. And you learn how to see the ball in flight and how it spins. When you’re an 11-year-old and becoming a hitter, that is quite an advantage. My batting average reflected it. I decided then and there that I would make baseball my top priority.
Every day after school I went to the local park and played catch, shagged fly balls, took grounders and played in pickup games with all sorts of different people. One of the guys I practiced with a great deal was a guy who went to my school. Tony. He lived near a PONY League park that had lights! That was so absolutely great for us because we could stay there in the dark (after 6 pm in the winter) and still see the ball. We would take turns pitching to each other. Tony was a real pitcher. I wasn’t, but I was good enough for batting practice and Tony smashed plenty of balls into the extra-high fences in left field that allowed us to fetch the balls because they didn’t end up in the bushes on the other side. There was a white line about halfway up the fence that told you when it was a home run. Tony hit many home runs off me.
The next season, when I was 12 and in my final year, I was one of the players who was actually picked by a team that wanted to be a contender for our Little League title. This made me rather proud. Tony and I were picked to play on different teams and, as fate would have it, in an important game against his team, which was one of the best, I came up to face him with the bases loaded. He was good, and he was fast and he was certain that he could throw the ball past me. Unfortunately for him, he threw one down the middle and I connected with it and it sailed directly over our field’s much lower and closer center field fence for a grand slam. I remember jumping high in the air with joy before I got to first base. That was the game-winner and I even got a line in the local paper that reported on Little League results.
Tony never asked me to practice with him again.
The Hollywood Stars and the Angeles had gone and the Dodgers had come to town. I mourned along with everyone else after the crippling accident that ended the career of Roy Campanella. He was a catcher, like me. And Campanella was definitely an Italian name, like mine. I identified with him. But for their first few years the Dodgers played at the enormous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with that very short and 42-foot high left field fence. It was an absurd place to play, but left-handed hitter Wally Moon didn’t think so. He mastered the art of the Moon Shot and helped the Dodgers to a World Series win.
We had a real team in town now. Koufax, Drysdale, Gil Hodges, Duke Snyder, Pee Wee Reese, a whole gang of players we all wanted to emulate on the field. And in those days there were 8 teams in each league, and at the end of the 154-game season (National League, the American League already had 162), the 2 teams with the best records played each other in the World Series. It was all over before the middle of October, before the cold and rainy weather started in the eastern half of the USA. We had eternal sunshine in Los Angeles, and sometimes even some of the hottest days of the year in October, what with the Santa Ana winds blowing from Mexico through the southern part of the state up to L.A. So winter didn’t mean much for us baseball kids. We continued playing through until the 2-week rainy season in December or January, depending on the year.
No, I never became a professional baseball player, though I was an All Star in PONY league in both years I played, and I was doing well on the Junior Varsity baseball team in high school until I got kicked off the team by an over-disciplinarian coach after I argued with the umpire on a close play at the plate. After all, I was just emulating the major-leaguers, but obviously the coach didn’t see it that way. Anyway, the summer after that incident we left the USA and I was gone for 10 years, living in Africa and India but reading about the Dodgers whenever the chance came.
It was during that breathing time away from the American mind-grinder machine that I started exploring literature, music and history. India provided me with plenty of opportunity to explore religion as well. Buddhism was interesting. I traveled to Varanasi, splashed myself with the holy water of the Ganges and took the short taxi journey to the Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath, a few kilometers away. It’s supposed to be the place where the Buddha sat and spoke with his first disciples. I walked around it a few times with hundreds of the faithful, like I was supposed to, and thought about what Buddhism meant to me. That’s when it hit me: “It’s like baseball!” Actually, now that I have a historical perspective, I would turn that around and say “Baseball is like Buddhism.”
At least it used to be before all the extra teams, the big money and the recent rule changes. Meditative qualities were necessary before instant replays and screens began to dominate. You had to remember what the pitcher had thrown at you last time you met. And the pitcher had to remember what got that hitter out or allowed him to get a hit. It was all in the mind. Some discussions of course with coaches and other players, but it was your mind at work, meditating on the action of the ball or the action of the bat. And then came the ultimate empty-minded concentration. The pitcher as he starts his windup and the batter as the ball is released and starts its journey toward the plate. There is no more thought from either pitcher or batter at that point. It’s a pure moment of being in the now, a Zen moment if you will, because there is action involved and automatic reaction, thought-less reaction. And then it’s over, either because the ball has not been hit or because it has. Then the whole process begins over again.
Of course in the game there are winners and losers. Only the real Buddhist-influenced Japanese and Koreans allow for tie games, which are called after 12 innings in the regular season and 15 innings in the playoffs. But even the old extra-innings feature of baseball, the one where a game could, theoretically, never actually end, go on for days, months, even years, was an essentially Buddhist feature. These days they allow a phantom to arrive at second base so that the game can more quickly end in a win. Where’s the fun in that? And now instead of the two teams who have literally busted their balls all season long to arrive in first place, with the best record able to be mustered in a season (now 162 games long), these teams have to face some second-rate wannabe-champion who won ten or even 15 games less than the best during the regular season. I have no problem with these “playoff” teams playing a round-robin tournament against each other for 3rd place, but the two top winning teams in each league should be the ones to go on to the World Series. They deserve it after surviving the long grind from April to the end of September. And if a game goes into extra innings, there should be no phantom runner at 2nd base. Either they should be allowed the chance to go on forever, or they should insert the 12 or 15 inning rule and declare a tie.
Stamina and concentration used to be the hallmarks of the game. Of course there is still stamina and concentration there, but it has been, to my mind, negatively modified by the screens and the over-abundance of teams and the profit-driven owners. Yes, owners were always rich, but now they belong to the oligarch class, like Roman Abramovich and the other billionaire owners of soccer teams in England. Here in Germany, although it is also a money-based game, the soccer teams cannot be owned outright by one person or company. They are all cooperative associations owned by the cooperative. And that must remain at 51% or more.
Which brings me to Capitalism Ltd.™
Proponents of capitalism always resort to the “entrepreneur” card to argue as if only through the magic of a brilliant founder can a company ever be made into a successful enterprise. This is of course false, as any cursory glance at the thousands of successful cooperatives around the world can show you. But let’s cater for a moment to the capitalist true believers who worship the likes of Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Morgan, Bezos, Gates (who founded Microsoft with the now-forgotten Paul Allen) and Musk (who actually joined the Tesla party after it was founded by two other guys, Eberhard and Tarpenning).
So let’s go along with the prevalent capitalist mythology of the entrepreneur who has a brilliant idea, is honest and hard-working and builds up a company that dominates a certain sector of the economy. What about all the help the entrepreneur got to do that from the people who actually put in the work on a daily basis, who took care of the mail, the product distribution, the engineering, the accounting, the human beings who made sure the enterprise was running as smoothly and efficiently as possible on a day-to-day basis? OK. They got a salary. Fine. But often it wasn’t much, since the guiding principle in capitalism is to make as great a profit as possible with as little expenditure as possible. So if human beings cost too much, you cut the payroll, and presto you have an uptick in profits. If the company becomes a publicly traded corporation, the stock price ticks up each time jobs are cut. Profit!
Now we can all rail against capitalism because of its deep-rooted unfairness, but let’s put that aside long enough to look at a different possibility. Why not put a time-limit on the ruthless practices of a capitalist enterprise?
Let’s call this Capitalism Ltd.™
My proposal is to put a time limit of 10 years on all new capitalist enterprises. Let the so-called entrepreneur run wild for 10 years doing what the mythologized role says he/she is supposed to be doing, starting a business with energy and intelligence until it is built up into a powerhouse of efficiency and profit. Well, my proposal is that you’ve got 10 years to get that done. In year 9, the transition begins, from privately owned enterprise to a cooperative, where the people who work in it each get an equal share and, in year 10, the company is fully transitioned into a cooperative. The original entrepreneur is now faced with a choice: “Should I stay or should I go?”
Staying will bring the entrepreneur into an equal relationship with all his/her coworkers. The profits made during the time running up to the transition can remain with the entrepreneur, but everything after that goes into the common kitty for everyone in the company. The entrepreneur might even still be viewed as an essential piece in the function of the enterprise and may be given an important post like CEO or CFO, but the difference in salary will have been voted on by the members of the coop and you can be sure it will not ever rise to 300 times that of the lowest-paid worker.
And what if the entrepreneur decides to go? OK. The money made personally by her/him over the previous years is money that can be kept (that is, the salary but not yet the profit, which has to go through forensic accounting and must remain in escrow until it is proved to be above-board). Thank you and goodbye! Now this entrepreneur can either go off and start another enterprise or live on the money made without working ever again.
This Capitalism Ltd.™ system would allow for the mythologized role of the entrepreneur to continue, but would also provide all the people who help that myth to flourish with an incentive to do their best and look forward to a future where they can actually benefit from the time and energy they put into the enterprise for 10 years.
Ah, you say, what about the con-artists who build a business up for 5 years and then let it fail before the transition? Easy. Besides a reasonable salary as the CEO for a new business (never more than 30 times the salary of the lowest paid worker), all profits from the enterprise must be held in escrow until the transition is complete. Should the business fail before the 10 years are up, the profits accrued up to that point will be distributed fairly to all the employees, and to the entrepreneur, after a forensic accountant’s investigation into the circumstances of the failure.
So, if we put this Capitalism Ltd.™ system into place we could have sports teams that belong to the players and the people working for the team, banks that belong to all the people working in them, basically public banks, major enterprises, even arms manufacturing firms and aerospace companies which belong to the people working in them, and still allow the mythical capitalist entrepreneur a modicum of freedom to indulge her/his intelligence and energy into starting a business which makes a profit. The good thing here is that in the end that business also benefits the workers who kept it running. That results in a general spreading of wealth that brings peace, prosperity and satisfaction to a huge portion of the population. It also makes people aware that helping the less fortunate in society is actually of benefit to everyone. It might even cause the arms and aerospace co-ops to not favor war because, well, we can get along just fine without it.
That’s approaching a Buddhist mindset, isn’t it?
So the game of capitalism can go into extra innings without phantoms designed to kill off the competition and when the transition comes into a co-op, it kind of even ends in a tie without anyone feeling hurt or resentful. In this way the inherent evil nature of capitalism is corralled and transformed into a benefit for the many instead of the few. Maybe, as a side-benefit from the democratic nature of the cooperative, governance at the state and country level will become more democratic as well.
Why not try it out for a couple of hundred years and see what results?
Let me know how it worked out.