It only comes when you’re ready for it – in the exhausted flush of reflected glory if your team won it all, in the enervated dejection of what coulda been if your team came close but no cigar, or in the slumpfunk of disinterest if your team stalled out early and fell asleep on the steam grate of history. It reaches out with skeletal arms – it lets you see, in other words, what makes it tick, as opposed to the garlanded illusions of the season in its prime. It comes with none of the incipient disappointments of springtime when, as T. S. Eliot observed with his “look at me I’m British now” puffery, April is the cruelest month, stirring a few unrealistic hopes with new acquisitions, suppressing memory with artificial enthusiasm, mixing incipient frustration with desire.
The orfseason proffers none of this. Like greed, it clarifies. It is a cleansing of the imagination of its seven months of accretions of myth and mayhem. It returns us to the astringent reality of numbers, making, in a way, theoretical mathematicians of us all. Like that old Renwal hobby kit, The Visible Man – the anatomically correct model of the human figure without genitals, honoring no doubt the modest tradition of the two single marital beds of the era of the late 50s sitcoms which also produced it [and after all, can you even imagine Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver doing it? I mean, really] – the orfseason lays bare the inner workings of the grand illusion with its remorseless fixation on contract terms, obscure rules of engagement, capering executives congelating in posh resorts, the reductio ad absurdum of heroes and goats alike into mere equations, the buying and selling of media-confabulated mock-heroic doppelgängers which occupy the same vectors in spacetime as their human all too human simulacra (for baseball values and trades the image of which the fleshly is merely its projection).
In Kabbalistic lore, the great Rabbi Akiba was presiding over the meditational regimen of his students, who had achieved an intense level of near-devekuth, personal sanctity worthy of attachment to the thin, thin sixteen millimeter shell (and inside? It’s delicious!) surrounding the Godhead. The wise old Akiba, though, knew they weren’t quite ready to take that final step towards the eradication of all illusion and imperfection and achieve a full-on, umediated vision of the divine. He urged upon them an interregnum of purification instead, and retired to his study to pray. His students, however, like this past season’s Mutts fans, figured they were ready to go for the prize and began meditating for the big payday. When Akiba returned, he found one dead on the spot, one hiding under the table making noises like a Tasmanian devil with laryngitis, one that had hanged himself and a broken window where the other had run orf into the desert hissing like a dust devil. Or so my Bubbeh, shtetel-born and bred out of a line of great Talmudists and rebbes so devout that they could dunk a bialy the size of a cartwheel in a demi-tasse without scraping any cream cheese orf on the rim of the cup, used to tell me. Reality is tough to take, so Eat.
The orfseason, in other words, is when we can fixate for a change on what it’s really all about, though doubtless while fending away the horrifying revelation that the ballplayers we adore or revile are all unified only in their subsumption into the numerary adjuncts of their contracts. That we are ourselves, when you get down to it, made of dollar signs and numbers before the first complex molecule of ribonucleic acid begins twisting itself into a pretezel. And if you’ve ever eaten a pretzel – especially a ballpark pretzel slathered in mustard – you are, indeed, what you eat. You just don’t know it at the time.
What’s more, and perhaps best of all, the orfseason blesses us by retracting back into itself those notorious “unwritten rules” out of which our would-be heroes fashion their inflated, fanged harlequin selves; those collective hallucinations of subliminal reality, those unfathomably silly calls to instant lycanthropy afield (it has often surprised me that Brian McCann, for example, doesn’t explode out of his uniform into a taloned, slavering, rhombusmuzzled hypermetastasizing furball whenever an opposing batter surprises himself and pauses to observe his dinger sail to the seats), those energy directing and releasing signs (as Joseph Campbell once defined myths) which, like love, but without the pathos, make fools of us all, but especially of baseball players.
At the end of All the Pretty Horses, John Grady Cole opines “I dont know what happens to country.” And you don’t know what happens to the unwritten rules during the orfseason, do you? I mean, really. You don’t. Does the general manager become irrationally offended and go chin to chin with a ballplayer who’s taken a moment to admire the drying ink on his insanely inflated new contract? No. For the duration of the orfseason, the unwritten rules have been withdrawn from reality (some would say blessedly), like some Kryptonian coprophagiac exiled to the forbidden zone, by some as yet unexplained manifold of the imagination.
So let’s explain it. Here’s what happens. Turn to the baseball section of the Necronomicon, where it explains that the Ancient Old Ones created baseball as a joke, and designatedhitterball as a slightly dumber joke that the barely educable could understand as well. As the last out is recorded at the end of the World Series, the Necronomicon is opened and the unwritten rules reluctantly slink back into its pages like the danced-out skeletons from the “Night on Bald Mountain” segment of Fantasia, to hide once again behind the runic inscriptions, papyroglyphs and coffee stains until, with croaks and cackles of “Yog Sothoth! Yog Sothoth!” the Ancient Old Ones release them, rested and refreshed, for spring training.
You see what all of this is getting at, don’t you, but you don’t want to admit it. It is the orfseason which really matters. It is the orfseason from which the onseason is a mere distraction, the orfseason from which the green fields of the mind are suspended like a 162-game coccyx. The so-called baseball season is no more than a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning. It is all an excuse to have an orfseason, when its most nonsensical features are camphored and packed away for late February and hard, cold, fiscal sanity reigns through the shortened nights and crystalizing cold.
And now the orfseason begins. Rejoice!