Conflict Resolution in Polite Society

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There have been many times in recent months when I have wondered whether baseball has at last slid down from its perch of representing all that is best and brightest about American ideals to instead wallow in the muck of scandal, in the howling amoral morass of sex and steroids and statistical analysis. The long nights of shuddering under the covers were cold and lonely ones indeed. But in my despair, there appeared two beacons, one lithe and cat-like, the other rotund and menacing.

I'm writing of Edgar Renteria and David Wells.

Now, before I reveal why I view these two capable baseball artisans as saviors of Our Great Game, let me regale you with another tale, a tale of Redskins past and present. First, there is Ifeanyi Ohalete -- he of cosmopolitan name and pedestrian pass-coverage skills. Then, there is Clinton Portis, possessing the regrettable name of our worst president but also the sort of rushing skills that might, were time no object, have been a capable ally of a solid Republican wideout like Steve Largent. Perhaps someday these gridiron luminaries shall join together and advance the ball of overturning Roe vs. Wade down the field. But dream I must not. Back to the present.

Messrs. Ohalete and Portis, when joined as teammates on the Washington Redskins, found themselves with a most pressing dilemma: both wished to wear the same number upon their backs. Being men of means, they elected to settle their dispute with a financial arrangement whereby Mr. Portis would pay $20,000 to Mr. Ohalete for the privilege of wearing No. 26. But Ohalete was cut from the Redskins' formidable roster, and with his disappearance, Mr. Portis assumed that he was freed from his onerous financial entanglement.

Mr. Ohalete saw things differently. And now we find ourselves speaking of the matter of Ohalte vs. Portis in the District Court of Maryland. To what litigious depths, to what judicial overreach, our society has been held hostage by this unfortunate development! One can only hope that these men will not use their considerable influence along the Beltway to press their case into a litmus test for prospective federal jurists. President Bush's judicial appointments have faced enough hurdles.

But in contrast to the moribund militaristic sweatshop of the NFL, hope springs eternal on the verdant diamonds of America's Game. Faced with the reality of their respective poor performances since joining the World Champion Boston Red Sox and casting about for a solution that would please all parties (including the Most Knowledgeable Fans in the Game), Messrs. Renteria and Wells did the proper and diplomatic thing, and forged a solution that has left all sides of the nettle eminently satisfied. If the Portis case is Munich, the Renteria-Wells resolution is Versailles.

Some of you may be skeptical that a man famous for shattering bar stools and other liquor-establishment equipment, whether over his own body or over the bodies of others, and a gentle, quiet man from so obviously strife-ridden and drug-laden a country as Colombia, might be able to find a gentlemanly solution to anything at all. But that is exactly what they did. Since then, each man's play on the field has flourished. Mr. Renteria has regained his All Star form, and Mr. Wells has been able to return to his between-innings habit of quaffing massive quantities of Rheingold lager without stress-testing the fibers of the petite number he once wore.

In exchanging uniform numbers -- Mr. Renteria now wears the Ruthian No. 3, while Mr. Wells is adorned with a wide No. 16 suitable for his massive, ale-trundling trunk -- these two men have showed why, despite all its failings, baseball continues to be the very best of the major sports in revealing to us once more the morals that we may have forgotten, and the lessons that we may have unconsciously chosen to forget.

George Will, columnist at the Washington Post and author of a number of bestselling books on politics and baseball, writes the sort of prose which assures he need never dine alone.


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