Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Baseball and Life during Peacetime

Read the first part of this series here.

World War I had been called the Great War and The War to End All Wars, but it was neither great nor did it end war. Instead, it set the world up for the worst war in the history of mankind, one in which unspeakable acts were committed in the name of ideology.

No one knew it at the time, and things began to return to life as usual, baseball included. Only it wasn't so usual. Following the Black Sox scandal of 1919 (the Reds did not win because of it - they were a good team that could have won regardless), baseball needed a hero who could lead the game into a new decade and leave the past behind. The dead ball era was over as the world became alive again; line drives replaced bullets and home runs replaced bombs. Mustard went on hotdogs instead of eyes. Babe Ruth replaced General Pershing as America's hero. Attendance rose by 50% from the 10's, and America fell in love with baseball all over again.

The world seemed to have come to terms with itself. Peace and prosperity appeared to be reality. Booze was banned in America but it just made the parties better as they moved underground. It was all a facade, of course. That Austrian corporal with the German Iron Cross, First Class, was contemplating entering politics. He was thirty-something years old and mad at the world - the world being run by "scoundrel Jews," of course. His mindset wasn't unique, however, as the Bavarian rightwing clung to the "stabbed in the back" mythos. Conservatives despised the new democratic republic and the individual freedoms it brought; they longed for a return to the monarchy, the good old days. And there was the defeated Army with nothing to do, minds destroyed by the horrors of the war they had just waged, morale destroyed by the loss and the stipulations of the armistice. Militias sprung up everywhere; the disgruntled Army helped equip them for fear of the rise of socialism. Berlin was briefly occupied by one of these rightwing brigades in March 1920 until a general strike by the trade unions restored the republic. At the same time, a coup overthrew a socialist government in Munich, installing a rightwing regime. This was the climate in Bavaria, one of angry conservatives armed to the teeth, a climate that Iron Cross, First Class found home.

That was far away from the ballparks of America. While the United States lost about 117,000 troops, Americans never really felt the full effects of the war because it didn't happen here. I suppose it made it easier to get back to living life. Germany had lost 2 million soldiers and 2.5 million civilians while ravaging cities and countryside alike. You have to imagine what it was like, to see your homes and villages destroyed, to see bombed out bridges and burnt up forests, to see your childhood memories demolished and wonder if your country could ever be whole again, if you could ever be you again. Germany's population at the start of the war was 67 million; there was not a German who didn't know dozens of dead by the end of it.

I think the whole world was in denial. Americans certainly were, getting fake rich and falling under the spell of consumerism. That a game could grow so big and start making so much money was testament to that. But it was always more than a game, wasn't it? It was that pastime that had found its way from Valley Forge to the Civil War to history's worst war, and it was solace and unity and summer and the proverbial return to innocence, if only for a couple of hours a day. While the Giants and the Yankees took turns winning World Series in that decadent decade and using the Middlewestern teams as their own AAAA farm clubs, the haves in the real world were having and having some more and the baseball loving POTUS was promising a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage and then there were no chickens or pots or cars or garages.

The haves were having and having some more everywhere. That's how communism rose. It's how the German Workers Party rose. As fate would have it, the Army ordered Iron Cross, First Class to attend one of the latter's meetings to investigate. A crank economist who had developed a religious devotion to the idea that speculative capital had caused Germany's economic trouble, calling it "interest slavery," spoke at one of these meetings, where the first seeds of evil of something called National Socialism were sown. The founder, a locksmith by trade, had set up a "Committee of Independent Workmen" to counter the growing popularity of Marxism in the trade unions. Peas in a pod. Both were formed out of contempt for the middle class and the establishment. Both blamed the middle class and the establishment for their troubles and scorned them for their lack of understanding of the social problems of the lower class.

This is populism.

With the German variety came an intense hatred for the post-war democratic republic that had been established and the people that were running it. This new German Workers Party was full of misfits who had failed at life, failed to see their own flaws, and blamed everyone else for their problems. They did have a point - the social ills were real and they were often ignored. The haves were having and having some more and then some more after that and many people pretended this wasn't happening or didn't care because they had theirs. But the freaks in the German Workers Party probably couldn't have made it anywhere - a fat, gay Army captain, a crazy locksmith, a failed playwright whose works had only been performed by patients in a mental hospital, a crank economist, and an untalented painter with an Iron Cross, First Class had found each other in the wrong place at the wrong time and the whole world suffered for it.

Baseball advertising was as old as the Major Leagues, going back to tobacco cards, but it took on a life of its own in the twenties. Babe Ruth sold soda, candy, cigarettes, and guns. Lou Gehrig sold batteries and breakfast cereals. Jimmie Foxx sold bats and lubricants. Owners were coming up with new ways to make money and enticing fans to come to games. But baseball was just going along with a new craze. As Edward Bernays was telling Americans to buy soap because it was 99% pure and eat bacon for breakfast because it was patriotic and women to smoke because it would give them freedom, that Iron Cross, First Class, was also mastering the art of propaganda.

To be continued...

(Incidentally, Bernays despised democracy, too, preferring "enlightened despotism." Peas in pods.)

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Baseball is Life during Wartime

Everything in history has happened because of what happened before it. You, reading this on your laptop or your mobile phone, or if you're older, your PC with a giant monitor, may or may not contemplate how amazing it is that of 6,000 years of recorded human history (recorded, people), we have been able to communicate by distance for less than two hundred years. Coincidentally, that's about the same time baseball has been, well, baseball in America.

It's no secret that I am enamored with the role baseball has played in our nation's history and am fond of saying George Washington played catch with his troops at Valley Forge and Abe Lincoln watched games played on the White House lawn. (I have written some pretty great stuff about it all that you've never read because I am incapable of finishing anything. I am hoping this little endeavor that I am beginning will change that, because a lot is stake right now in our country and I once again turn to baseball to fix it.)

The American Civil War was no accident. Slavery was ending as colonialism was ending, and slavery was a product of the Western colonial era. The Civil War was as much a result of a changing global order which saw empires falling as it was a problem with human rights or the Union. This change had a lot to do with the outbreak of World War I, a war in which a young, failed artist from Austria suffered a mustard gas attack by the British and cemented an ideology of Hate. His regiment was in the thick of the fighting all spring and summer of 1918 while the US was fighting its second summer to save Europe from itself. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class that August for capturing 15 British soldiers singlehandedly. Or French, depending on which account you are reading.

The minor leagues had closed up shop in 1917 but MLB owners kept the majors open. Unlike WWII, despite what they claimed as patriotism, it wasn't for morale for the country. It was pure greed. The US government had pressured them to shut down and let the players contribute to the war effort, but they would not. They were roundly criticized by the public, and they cut travel and shortened the season in 1918 thinking that would appease the critics.

But the assholes also cut player salaries as a result. Real patriotic.

The reigning World Series champs White Sox were looking as good as the previous season and the Giants were set to repeat as NL champs. In a perfect world - or even a half decent world - they would have had a rematch.

On July 1, 1918, the "Work or Fight Order" went into effect, and all draft-eligible men employed in non-essential occupations had to apply for work that was related to the war or risk being drafted. Playing a game for a living was considered a non-essential occupation. The deadline was extended until September 1 for ballplayers, and then the owners lobbied/paid bribes(probably) to have it extended two more weeks so they could play the World Series, the only one to be played entirely in September. But the players didn't wait. By season's end, each team had lost an average of 15 players due to voluntary enlistment, and both the White Sox and the Giants lost their best players (Shoeless Joe among them.) (775 ballplayers fought in World War I. You can find them all here.)

Instead, the Red Sox played the Cubs in the Fall (Technically Summer) Classic, defeating them in six games as the war in Europe raged on. Babe Ruth - you might have heard of him - was instrumental in the victory, his final year in that uniform. It was the last World Series Boston would win for a very long time, because of the curse, you know. And you know about the Cubs, who had started a curse of their own a decade before.

A month after the final out, that gas attack took place in the last Battle of Ypres and that young psychopath with the Iron Cross, First Class, was laid up in a hospital bed, unable to see a thing except the warped visions in his head. Germany was losing the war to "invisible foes," who were a "greater danger to the German people than the biggest cannon of the enemy."

Those "invisible foes," of course, were Jews and Marxists.

The other soldiers hated the future fascist. "We all cursed him and found him intolerable...There was this white crow among us that didn't go along with us when we damned the war to hell." He'd sit "in the corner of our mess holding his head between his hands in deep contemplation." Then he'd leap up and go on a rant about the invisible foes, scoundrels who cursed the war and wished for its quick end. They were slackers, and who but Jews could be slackers?

Germany lost the war a month after the attack at Ypres, but they hadn't been defeated by the British or the Americans or the French...Jews had defeated them. Jews had stabbed the country in the back.

That "stabbed in the back" conspiratorial myth did more than anything else to bring the fall of the Weimer Republic that followed Germany's defeat. It is astounding that this myth was so widespread among the German people. "November criminals," they said.

The truth is, if the German army hadn't insisted on signing the armistice, Germany could have very easily fallen into the hands of the Bolsheviks, and history would look very different. Maybe not better, probably not worse, but we'll never know, will we? All we can do is learn from what actually happened in the past and work to change it.

Back in the US, the White Sox, with all their players back, were on their way to another pennant. But we were in the throes of corruption, emboldened by a war victory, feeling invincible, gambling. While Europe was celebrating into oblivion into the next decade, conservative Christians were banning everything they didn't like in the US. One of those was alcohol. Another was black people. Even though they weren't playing in the league at that point, Kennesaw Mountain Landis saw to it that no person of dark skin would play a Major League game until he was long dead and burning in hell. Capitalists made fake fortunes off the working man and then crashed the economy. The twenties were a mess. Everyone thought they could do whatever they wanted even when the law said they couldn't.

The Roaring Twenties came to an end. So did the Weimer Republic. So, too, did civility.

And then, darkness set upon us all...

This is going to be a series. All World War II  references come from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. It is by far the definitive book on the rise and fall of a psychopath. Yes, I do know how to properly cite references. But the Blogger platform has no footnote option.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Brunhilda isn't wailing yet...

Watched the Nats-Reds series this weekend with enthusiasm after initial disinterest because the Reds have been so...what's the word? Disappointing isn't it, because we didn't expect much this year. But we expected more than this. Appalling comes to mind. I don't know. It's some kind of negative emotion, but maybe there isn't a word in English for it. However, I got into it the game Friday night when the Reds decided to be a Major League baseball team, then was excited to see them defeat the Nats again on Saturday.

All it did was make me think irrational thoughts about potentially maybe possibly recovering enough to compete for the Wild Card. Because the offense is good. Half of the offense won two division titles and appeared in three post seasons in the last five years. Sure, we lost our All Star catcher to injury and third baseman to trade, but Suarez can hit and Duvall has surprised everyone and the team can score runs.

Of course, the rotation is at best questionable, but Homer is making his way back and Desclafani will be pitching soon and Stephenson already has an MLB W under his belt. If Finnegan can figure out how to put more pitches over the plate, he'll be serviceable if not good.

But the Reds' front office threw in the towel before the season ever began and we've been stuck with this shitshow of a bullpen, a revolving door of future DFAs and guys who have no business wearing MLB jerseys anywhere other than the stands. It is no exaggeration to say this is the worst Reds bullpen I have every witnessed. Prove me wrong with your fancy numbers. You can't. The bullpen ERA is OVER SIX.

You know, you can "rebuild" and still put a competitive team on the field.

Anyway, there's always a part of me with irrational hope no matter how bleak things look. Don't forget that when I seem like the most negative of Nancys.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Dear Dan Haren

I read this article about you yesterday and for some reason woke up this morning with it on my mind. I had this post all written out in my head while I was lying there in the pre-coffee hours but wonder if I'll be able to put it into writing now that I've migrated to the couch, where I will be watching baseball in a few minutes while the winds of March blow outside on this May day. This post really isn't to you or about you, but I feel it could help the reader if I wrote it as if I were speaking to a real person. Or maybe it just helps me write it.

I guess the article resonated with me because I know what it's like to deal with anxiety. Anxiety makes me procrastinate to the point where sometimes I don't do things that must be done at all. I won't take drugs for it because I know that drugs don't fix the root of the problem, which is the way we live our lives in American society, and society seems so unwilling to change its unsustainable lifestyle that we will surely meet our destruction before we deal with our country's worsening mental health epidemic.

I work in an uncelebrated and oft criticized field that doesn't get the spotlight of sports, though what we do is more important than what you did for a living, given that we are helping people who suffer from war and oppression. The only time we get the spotlight is when there is a foreign aid corruption scandal. Then it's usually said that all NGOs have too much overhead, as if us human rights workers are supposed to work for free and not earn a living. We tend to live in big cities where the organizations are located and where the cost of living should be criminal, so we're usually living paycheck to paycheck and sometimes deciding which bill to pay late each month, at least until we have put in enough years for our 3% cost of living raises to add up to something useful. Most of you MLB ballplayers have no concept of what that is like, or you forget. You yourself put so much pressure on yourself because you thought quitting and losing out on another $15 million put your family at risk. That is offensive to those who work their asses off in industries that are not valued as sports are in this country. As a society, our values are warped. But I get that you guys work your asses off, too, and you felt like you earned it. For your industry, you did.

I quit once. I had the same thoughts as you did. I had quit in my head many times and then one day when the the stress of barely scraping by had finally gotten to me, I took my last paycheck and went to live in the cheapest European country I could find - Bulgaria - for a few months just to get away from it all. I think the suffering of people had overtaken my unconscious mind. I thought I would get some writing done, maybe publish a book, come back with a fresh perspective, but I came back and had trouble finding a job because in my field, it's not necessarily about talent. It's about who you know, like it is in many other industries. I had yet to learn that so I kept applying for jobs without using the connections I had made. Then one day, out of the blue, when depression had set up permanent residence in my psyche, one of those connections offered me a job, and I started on a journey that opened my eyes to the real world in a way I could never have known sitting behind a desk in our nation's capital. Your wife told you to "use perspective" and "there is more to life than baseball." Boy, is she right.

I spent a year over the course of two years living in Beirut. I felt like I was living in the center of the news. You see, those people live every day with the stress of the threat of destruction. People my age had grown up with the bullets and bombs of the world consuming all that was good in their lives. People refer to it as the "Lebanese Civil War," but it was a World War fought in a tiny country between various Lebanese militias, the Israelis and the Palestinians, the Iranians, the Syrians, the Saudis, the Russians, and us Americans.

While you and I were playing baseball and softball at age 14, my friend was driving a makeshift ambulance with a group of his friends to help those blown up by car bombs or airstrikes. Some of my first memories of the world outside the United States were about news of hostages and the bombings of our embassy and the Marine barracks. But those things happened so far away from my Ohio suburban home that it was as if they weren't real. They weren't real until I went there two decades later, and I saw the vestiges of war, bombed out buildings, bullet holes, and the psychological scars of a society that had experienced the apocalypse.

The fifteen year war ended in 1990, but it wasn't truly over. There were more bombs and assassinations and the militias still rule today. Sometimes it takes a year for them to put together a government. They haven't had a president for - what is it, three years now? They ran out of landfill room, so trash has been piling up for a year and counting. Israel periodically comes and bombs them. Hezbollah is the most powerful political party. One fifth of the country are refugees from Palestine, Syria, and Iraq.  ISIS keeps trying to come in. The Syrians are attempting to wipe themselves out next door, a war that sometimes spills over the officially defined borders into Lebanese territory. They aren't even allowed to attend their league's soccer games for fear of militia violence, so they can only watch on TV. Imagine playing to empty ballparks every single day. These are the realities of life in Lebanon and too many other places on this planet. But people keep pushing on.

Here in America, we have no concept of war. As most WWII vets have passed, few of us has suffered war on American soil, which is a reason 9/11 was overwhelmingly traumatic for many people. We glorify our soldiers, unaware of the reality of what military life entails or what it means to "defend the country" or why we are even fighting the wars in the first place. Most Americans don't serve, so they are ripe targets for military propaganda. Hell, many MLB ballplayers won't even serve their country by playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. Patriotism is waving a flag, clapping for troops, and saying a pledge of allegiance that was originally created as a marketing gimmick. The reality is that most soldiers aren't heroes, the wars are unjust, the DOD spends billions on propaganda that is working, and military life is often mundane. So you aren't alone in lack of perspective. It's practically the American Way.

The hero worship is, as you are well aware, not confined to the military. Our obsession with sports figures and celebrities is unhealthy at best. We expect you to be machines. You aren't human. We don't know you personally and it is rare to have any interaction with you at all, so what we see on the field or in the newspaper is all we have to go on. I am one who probably called you a whiner for not accepting the trade to the Marlins, and I apologize for that. I'm really trying to be nicer on social media. The climate is just so toxic that it is hard sometimes, as it gets into your unconscious and you don't even realize your tone is too sharp or too bitter. Then there's all the social polarization and the intentional wedge driving by politicians, and people fall in line with the propaganda, and it is just impossible to filter out all that negativity. It's like virtual liver cirrhosis - the poison has overwhelmed and destroyed our filtering system.

But anxiety is a real thing, and you can "have perspective" rationally while your insides are torn up. Those who have never experienced it or have never had a panic attack just don't get it. It's not something you can control, and it can happen to you even if you're sitting on your couch doing nothing. I've read a great deal about psychology, some on my own and some for university work. While studying in Europe, I took a course that focused on the psychology of adolescents who grew up in traumatic circumstances, largely revolving around World War II. We went to Terezenstadt near Prague, which was considered a "model" concentration camp by the Nazis who showed it off to international groups like the Red Cross to show they treated their prisoners "well." You should have seen some of the artwork drawn by the children they had on display. The human mind is a fragile thing, and for all our conscious thoughts, there are unconscious influences.

But you don't have to experience something as horrific as a concentration camp for your mind to mess you up. Sigmund Freud did groundbreaking work in the field of psychoanalysis, even though he was wrong on some things. Carl Jung was his student and became his equal. They both studied the unconscious mind and discovered that a lot of our conscious problems stem from an inability to reconcile them with our unconscious. Science is showing that anxiety stems from the unconscious mind and that until we are able to have more balance in our lives and resolve the conflict between the conscious and unconscious, we will continue to suffer from it, and no amount of talk about perspective will fix that. But we must strive for that balance.

I don't know if you have seen a therapist but s/he'd probably tell you something that happened in your youth is responsible for the anxiety. I think about this a lot and think of the family turmoil in my development years and am pretty sure my anxiety is rooted in that, and despite the fact that I was the best student in my class growing up and the best athlete, I never feel adequate enough in my professional life. I think my experiences in Lebanon helped me to bring some of the unconscious concerns to my consciousness, and I've learned to take control of some of that anxiety. But I could never go on TV, even though I have the expertise to talk about certain issues, and I have a hard time participating in meetings or talking on the phone unless I have spent hours preparing for it. I feel uncomfortable in social situations, which just gets worse as I get older. I used to post to this blog every day, but then the internet got mean and I lost my desire to write. I moved to short memory Twitter and racked up a decent number of followers, but like you I found the environment difficult. Sometimes I'll call someone out on Twitter for being a total garbage human being, then won't check my mentions for days for fear of the reply. I usually apologize if I am in the wrong, but that's not enough for some people. We shouldn't - we can't - let people get away with being awful people. We can't let rotten individuals throw our country in the trash. As Dr. King said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

I liked the LA Times article, because it didn't try to glorify you, or pity you, or make us feel any sort of manufactured emotion. It was just a normal human story, and the writer didn't Hollywood it. (Kind of ironic, given the paper.) I think writers often start off with good intentions but get lost in the pressure to reach readers or get stuck on the rules of journalism school textbooks. I'm sure the pressure of deadlines hurts the work, too. There is pressure in every job and to be honest, sportswriters probably receive more negative criticism than struggling ballplayers because they are more accessible in the Internet Age and they tend to be viewed as mouthpieces for the teams they cover, as if they are the ones making the decisions. Some of the criticism is warranted as they spew cliches and avoid controversial topics for fear of losing access, but a lot of negativity comes from people who can barely put together a coherent sentence but feel their "opinions" are of the same value as anyone else's. That probably stems from our culture of giving everyone a participation trophy so no one's feelings are hurt and the emphasis on standardized tests in our schools that inhibits the development of critical thinking skills. We should fix that, too.

I think more of us are becoming aware of the toxins in our society, and I hope we can find the political will to change the situation before it consumes us. What we see on Twitter is a microcosm for greater societal problems. The poisonous discourse has grown to a level that is threatening to destroy this country, as mass shootings become normalized, violence plagues our political gatherings, and a demagogue rises to power on the backs of bigotry and hatred. I can actually imagine the things people said to you, because I see the vitriol every day. These are probably unconscious feelings of inadequacy manifesting themselves in the form of what can only be called "meanness." We shouldn't accept that.

So here I am, several baseball games from when I began this post, and I'm still not entirely sure why the article was on my mind this morning. The point is perspective, I think. It seems you've found it. Plenty of things to do in life. Choose to do good and some of that anxiety will be relieved. I wish I had more to offer you, some advice, an opportunity, anything, really. I'm still trying to figure things out for myself, still wondering why so many people are awful, why meanness is acceptable, why our country seems unwilling to do anything about its problems except make them worse. Good luck to you.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

oh hey, look, there's an app for this

i really have no excuse not to post anymore.

I was at the Scherzer game last night. Twenty K's. I've been to Game 5 of the 2002 World Series, Randy Johnson's 300th win, and the Nationals Opening Day for the return of baseball to DC. This was up there with those games.

I left my seat once the entire game. There seemed to be less of that up and down stuff so typical of fans at Nats Park once Scherzer hit 15 strikeouts. Fewer fans left the game early, too, although some still did. Soulless creatures, those folks.

The oddest thing about the game was that the scoreboard operators never put "20 strikeouts" on the board. The outfield fence scoreboard had "kkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk" but you'd think they'd put something up immediately. Even after the game they flashed "Nats win" as if this were just another ordinary game. Five times in history, folks. Seems like the scoreboard is so over programmed that there's no room for spontaneity. Style over substance.

Also, I should mention that the all beef hotdogs are far superior to Nats dogs.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No joy in Mudville

Part 1

I wanted to write something about baseball but I'm sort of out of words for it. But I'll try.

I started this blog when I was still in my twenties and as I was going back through some of the old posts looking for a particular one on Bonds, I thought how fun I had maintaining it and what unbridled passion I felt. That's your twenties, though. If you do it right, anyway.

I remember our after work happy hours, arguing about politics and world affairs and thinking we all could save the world with our own naive ideas. They were naive, but they were informed, at least. You can't really say the same for some of the people who open their mouths today. I mean, there are people who think that you can just print money and your country will be ok. Ever heard of Weimer Republic? Probably not. Look it up to find out why you can't just print money.

Anyway, when blogging first started, there was a community and people wrote on blogs because they were passionate about whatever they were writing about. Your blog was ranked based on links to it and there wasn't money involved. It wasn't who paid the most that got the readers; it was who wrote the best. Because you needed links, you visited others' sites and formed communities where you conversed about your shared interests. This was fun, back when people who knew how to write were the ones on the internet and the mouthbreathers were trying to find the computer's on switch. Hard to believe it was a decade ago, but time flies when you throw a clock through a window.

The Reds were awful at that time, but not so often that you couldn't muster hope until about August each year. The offense was good. Home runs were sailing into the incandescent summer evenings under the ballpark lights and we had yet to raise a generation that had not known a Reds World Series championship.

I didn't watch many Reds games last year because my internet didn't work correctly and I was stuck in a Comcast contract and they refused to acknowledge that it didn't work. Oh, and the team was so awful and I was so disappointed that I think that my heart would have ripped to shreds. I think back to only ten years ago and no corporation would have been able to get away with robbing someone like that, but that was before Citizens United and United States citizens decided it was ok to give control of their lives to corporations. Granted, the internet was not as fast and MLB.TV was not in HD but you know what? It worked. (It took us almost a year and Comcast finally fixed the problem so I can watch this year.) There was no Facebook to control what content we see and Google was giving out email addresses by invitation only and the internet was enjoyable. We had fun. I made stupid photoshops like this:

We were civil to each other. We had blogger "roundtables." We had something called "blogrolls," and they were as important as the blog itself. No one got paid to do anything. No one put ads on their blogs.

What happened was this: Google. It got to be that you had to spend more time promoting your blog, focusing on search engine optimization, paying for social media ads, and using analytics than you did actually writing the content. Oh, and Americans' attention spans dropped four seconds in the span of a decade thanks to social media and they couldn't read anymore. And the incivility. Oh, the incivility.

Bryce Harper has the unbridled passion of a twenty-something. Worse, a young twenty-something who has grown up knowing only one thing in life: baseball. He's the youngest guy to every win an MVP. And when his mouth is shut, he's fun to watch.

But then it opens.

Tonight he may have done the worst thing he's ever done, worse than even blowing the kiss at the pitcher after he hit a minor league home run. While his team was celebrating a walk off home run, he was yelling "fuck you" at the ump for throwing him out of the game a batter earlier. He wasn't even batting. He was in the dugout. Getting thrown out of a tie game for yelling at the ump is bad enough, but your team is celebrating a walk off win and you have to seek out the ump to yell profanities at him?

This is the Bryce Harper that is not fun to watch, the one that people hate.

Worse? Watching people defend this behavior or get their Bryce Harper Underoos in bunches when they hear criticism of it, incapable of comprehending why what he did was wrong.

Your team just won. You don't go seeking out vengeance. You overshadowed the heroics of a teammate who doesn't get much of a spotlight. It was a classless act, absolute garbage. It wasn't passion. It was narcissism. He's too full of himself to even celebrate with his teammates.

He'll make a perfect Yankee.

But in our narcissistic age, I guess being a dick of a teammate is A-OK. It's "fun." Concepts as professionalism or sportsmanship are outdated, amirite? Let's just drag every bit of decency through the mud.

There is a reason people are supporting a politician (yes, he's a politician despite beliefs to the contrary) who runs on a slogan "Make America Great Again." Because we have lost something (though not the things he stands for, not at all, but the message resonates for a reason.) People don't quite understand what has been lost, but they sense it is something big. The loss of civility is "huge," and decency, and respect. It's not kids these days. It's everyone. Talking about baseball online is not fun anymore. We can't talk to each other without dragging our opponents through the mud.

There is no joy in Mudville.

So right back at you, Harper. Grow up. And grow up, internet.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

"There's nothing bad that accrues from baseball."

There were three of them, small scraps of white fabric with red trim and letters that proclaimed a celebration of something that we were too young to understand. We knew it was a big deal, though, because we were given these gifts and it wasn't a birthday or Christmas. "Pete's Back!" the shirts proclaimed, gifts from our grandparents celebrating the return of Pete Rose to the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club (est. 1869).

I was seven years old then, and twelve during the year of Rose's demise, old enough to know something very bad had happened but not enough to understand it. It was the year of The Quake, too, ending a tumultuous year for baseball.

I thought Bart Giamatti was the bad guy at that time. Sure, I had grown up with the baseball mythology and the knowledge of the game's progression from rounders to the nation's pastime, but I didn't understand just how close baseball had come to destroying itself all those decades ago, and I certainly didn't understand the reasoning behind such a harsh punishment. All I understood was that a man who may have saved baseball in Cincinnati was expelled from paradise.

That was a lifetime ago, it seems, yet I still don't understand it. I don't think Rose should be allowed to work in baseball again - any place of employment that saw an employee do something detrimental to the organization would not rehire said employee, and baseball is no different. But keeping the all-time hits leader out of the Hall of Fame? That's nothing more than vengeance.

Paul Giamatti believes as so many others do, as Bart's pals Fay Vincent and Bud Selig did, that Pete Rose killed A. Bartlett Giamatti. Perhaps this is their grief talking, and I suppose it is excusable. But what is not excusable is the self-aggrandizing moralizing bullshit of the baseball writers.

Baseball is not like any other sport in this country. Its history is interwoven into the history of our nation itself. The Black Sox Scandal was not a problem in baseball - it was a reflection of the corruption that was running rampant in our society, and the banishment of those eight men forever was a reflection of the teetotaling conservative mindset that was plaguing our country at the time, the same mindset that led to Prohibition and the official ban of blacks in the Major Leagues. The precedent of that punishment is why Rose was also banned for life.

There is nothing more powerful than forgiveness, that all too ignored basic Christian value that seems to be lost in the travesty of vengeance. America wallows in vengeance, confuses it with justice, takes pride in an eye for an eye and the hypocrisy of it all.

I think most of Cincinnati forgave Rose long ago. I am thrilled that the Reds are inducting him into the team Hall of Fame and are finally retiring 14. I hope this serves as a wake up call for the rest of baseball. You can't take our memories and throw them into the dustbin of history. One has to wonder if we'd still be here if Rose had been a Yankee.

"There's nothing bad that accrues from baseball." Bart Giamatti said that. I'd like to think the vengeance mentality will go away, too, while Rose is still alive to appreciate it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Frazier exits, Reds squander, Towel thrown in

I drafted some of this around the All Star Game but never posted it. I figure now is a good time.

I don't remember the year anymore; a good guess would be 2008, since I was in Ohio that year and went to several Dayton Dragons games. Todd Frazier was a prospect at the time. He hit a homer that went out of the park at one game.

I was well into adulthood by then, but I stood outside the players entrance with a ball and pen in hand with the kids after the game. All of the Dragons players but one had signed it, all but the one I wanted the most: Frazier. He was older than many of the other players, as he had graduated from Rutgers and had started pro ball in Billings, the Reds Rookie League affiliate for decades now. Edwin Encarnacion was entrenched at third, though Frazier may have been a shortstop back then. He did not garner the same excitement I had felt for Bruce and Votto a few years before. Still, I wanted his name on that ball.

I remember Bruce's Reds debut; I made an effort to go to that game. I sat way up high behind homeplate. I had Sam Adams beer bottles confiscated at the gate. I remember that detail, for some reason.

I remember watching Homer's debut, too, when I lived on Ingraham Street way up in 16th Street Heights, where I biked to work through a Colombia Heights neighborhood that was still sketchy after dark. Storms knocked the power out in the fifth inning; I had to listen to the rest of the game through a scratchy WLW that was coming to DC all the way from Cincinnati.

I remember Tony Cingrani's debut. I had brought Chris to see the ballpark in Cincinnati. (He still frequently brings it up, usually mentioning the Reds Hall of Fame and the wall of baseballs for Pete's hits, impressed and awed.) Cingrani made a relief appearance that game; the starter left the game early, but I don't remember who he was. It might have been Cueto.

I remember Cueto's debut. I was at that game, too. It was freezing and wet and I signed up for a credit card just to get a free blanket. My other cards reduced my credit limit because of that application - they don't warn you about that. Cueto was throwing a no hitter through five innings and people were starting to whisper about the zeroes on the scoreboard. He ended up striking out ten batters that game. I don't remember the opposing team. I feel like it might have been the Pirates. I'm probably wrong.

I remember the Dunn and Kearns show, two guys for whose call up I had been waiting since their Dragons days. They were really the first players I can remember whose whole careers I had watched. I was pretty heartbroken when they swapped Kearns in The Trade of 2006, that awful deal that threw away one-fourth of our entire offense for a couple of relievers and quite possibly ruined the season.

I don't remember Frazier's debut. I don't even remember his call up. Maybe it was in September of that disappointing 2011 - I think I've blocked out much of that season. One can only tolerate so much disappointment in baseball before the brain takes protective measures.

Weird, the things you remember and the things you don't.

The Dragons ball has Todd Frazier's signature on it, and I know which one it is. As for the others? Tucker Barnhart could be on there. And the guy who was a big prospect with Frazier...we traded him to...Baltimore? Brandon. Brendan? Warring? Warren? Waring? Gone. Curtis Parch? Gone. Scott Carol? Gone. Carlos Fischer? Gone. Jake Kahlehawaii...whatever his last name was? Gone. I don't even remember other players.

Yeah, I could look them up, but why? The internet is not a replacement for memory. Memory is about experience, about life. Unfortunately life fades and withers until it is no more. Just like our memories.

Sure, we're upset about trades now. In a year, maybe two, we'll forget all about it. [We always do, despite the warnings to not forget the past. Right now we have major presidential candidates proposing registration for groups of people they don't like, and a significant chunk of Americans agree with them. This, despite all of the WWII Holocaust movies that should keep alive the memory of what happens when you do that to people. I guess human beings never learn.]

The Reds are in rebuilding mode, yes. They missed their window because Walt Jocketty was unable or unwilling to fill the gaping holes in a very good but not good enough team. I didn't watch many games of the second half of 2015, and I don't see myself watching a lot of a 2016 season that has already been thrown away. I get the rebuilding. But I'm angry because they missed that window, and though the holes were obvious to all but the most casual fan, they did not fill them. Which makes the rebuilding worse. I remember the last rebuilding. It was exciting because we hadn't won in a while, and players like Votto, Bruce, and Cueto were some of the top prospects in baseball. I remember when John Sickles was writing about the Reds farm system, he started his post with "Good lord." The farm was loaded.

And then it was squandered in a couple of first round playoff exits and a Wild Card game I wish hadn't happened. Yeah, playoffs are better than none, and two division titles should be nothing to scoff at, but we were a leftfielder and a bench player away from winning it all.

That's the real disappointment. It's not the trading away of players and the rebuilding. It's the squandering.

Yeah, I'll be in and out of 2016. But they better fast track this rebuilding because I'm ready for 2017, so they better be, too.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Baseball pics from Brooklyn

Walked around the Brooklyn Cyclones ballpark at Coney Island over the weekend. The Jackie Robinson/Pee Wee Reese statue was worth the walk.

Back then, Cincinnati cops weren't killing black guys, but Cincinnati fans were disgustingly racist. The statue honors the moment at Crosley Field when Reds fans were taunting and jeering Robinson and Reese came over and put his arm around him to shut them up.

Things are somewhat better now than then, but racist remarks at GABp are a regular occurrence, and now Cincinnati cops are killing black guys for not having drivers licenses. (Of course, Cincinnati isn't alone in this trend.) Sadly, this statue in Brooklyn was vandalized with racist slurs and swastikas a few years ago.

That there are Americans who justify cops giving people the death penalty without trial is evidence that America is in decline. While many of these same people point to marriage equality as "moral decline," the truth is the real moral decline is that murder of actual human beings has been legalized and glorified in our country and racism has made a strong comeback.

Enough is enough, America.

"This monument honors Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese: Teammates, friends, and men of courage and conviction. Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball, Reese supported him, and together they made history.

In May 1947, on Cincinnati's Crosley Field, Robinson endured racist taunts, jeers, and death threats that would have broken the spirit of a lesser man.

Reese, captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, walked over to his teammate Robinson and stood by his side, silencing the taunts of the crowd. This simple gesture challenged prejudice and created a powerful and enduring friendship.

Born 1919 Cairo, Georgia - Died 1972 Stamford, Connecticut. Jack Roosevelt Robinson. On April 15, 1947 Robinson first took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. In the face of hostility, he remained steadfast, winning his way into the Hall of Fame and the hearts of baseball fans. Robinson was a champion of the game of baseball, of justice, and of civil rights."

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Here's Johnny

What a wonderful performance by Johnny Cueto last night.

I'll never forget his debut game, a miserable rainy April game in Cincinnati during which we signed up for credit cards just to get a free blanket, back when the credit card companies were allowed to exploit you at ballgames.

We saw the zeroes on the scoreboard and everyone was looking around at each other, unwilling to say aloud what was happening. That's back when you didn't mention no hitters by tradition. But it was five innings of zeroes and we thought we were witnessing something special. We were. We were witnessing the debut of a homegrown guy whom we would see become one of the best pitchers in baseball. This, in Cincinnati, who once had Tom Seaver and Mario Soto and few other pitchers of the caliber of Good in its very long history. This, where we watched Paul Wilson and Eric Milton and Pitchers Whose Names We've Forgotten because they were so mediocre or worse.

Cueto had ten strikeouts in his debut, if I remember correctly. It was a masterful performance just like last night was masterful, but the first game was so full of hope, whereas last night's game, most likely the last I'll see of Cueto in a Reds uniform, was bittersweet. For me, it was a cap on a magnificent career, one where I saw him pitch in low A and saw his debut and saw him lead our team to two division titles after The Losing Years. We were lucky to get to watch him pitch.

I feel like I'm going to a funeral.

Baseball is the best game but goddamn it, it breaks your heart in the worst ways.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


I was going to go to the Nats game today. I wanted to walk to the stadium more than I actually wanted to go to the game, because from my new place, I can. I was going to the Nats game yesterday, too, but I decided against it and missed a no hitter. I was actually getting ready to go to the game yesterday but looked out at my potted plants whom I’ve promised for weeks to get into the ground and decided to stay. Of all the times. (No hitter.)

I don’t know what it is about this season, but I haven’t been paying attention as much. I mean, moving has something to do with it – a LOT to do with it – having to get pieces of the place because we both had so little before. And I have 2.5 hours of commuting every day (the move cut a half hour out of that, hallelujah.) The Reds stink, so there’s that, too, but I’ve had some frequent Comcast internet problems that have prevented me from watching them. And the Nationals, well, they just don’t have that coveted baseball feeling. They did, once, when they arrived to Washington in 2005, I guess because there was a sense of history there. There isn’t one now – it’s more like going to a Washington happy hour. I watch most of the games, still, but I’ve only been to two so far this season, partially – or mostly – because Chris works at the ballpark now and can’t go to games with me, but also because I just haven’t wanted to go as much.

But somehow, tonight, on the day after the solstice, when the sky is still light until 9pm and the temperature is perfect, as my hands and legs are covered in dirt from gardening but I refuse to waste even a second of this beautiful night to wash it off inside, somehow now I think of baseball.

This is my favorite time of year when there is more light now than all year long. It’s not the same as growing up in Ohio, though, because we are on opposite sides of the time zone, and in Washington, we only get until 9pm whereas in Ohio it’s light until 10. One of my goals in life is to someday attend the 24 hour baseball tournament that happens in Alaska with its endless daylight. What could be better than 24 hours or so of baseball? Once I had the great fortune of traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland from London on the summer solstice. We took an overnight bus. It was light until midnight, and I got to see the Northern Lights. Everyone should see that in their lifetime, and if you don’t want to, you might as well be dead, because you certainly aren’t living. I fell asleep on the bus (that was supposed to be the intention) and woke up when it was totally light out – at 3am.  It was the strangest thing. And awesome.

We live close enough to the Marine barracks to hear the bugle at dusk. It’s a wonderful way to move into night. The fireflies are out; they are the only bug that I will touch on purpose, which I think is odd, because so many others are perfectly harmless. I remember in the fields in Ohio the thousands of lightning bugs, as I called them then, and still marvel at them today if I am back there. I can only see dozens at the moment. Right now, though, it seems like enough.

The sky is pink now, the light is waning and I am thinking about baseball on the banks of the Ohio River and the ugly cookie cutter stadium that was the best place on earth and the endless ramps to walk up with the squishy black stuff and the sticky summer days with the ten o’clock night times, back when people weren’t so addicted to air conditioning and they actually could enjoy an evening like I am enjoying it now, with the silhouettes of chimneys in front of the pink sky backdrops and a single visible star in the still blue sky and the white fluffy clouds floating overhead and for a moment that is all too fleeting, everything is perfect.