Sunday, November 28, 2010

I'm alive

I'm afraid the Hot Stove has been the Cold Stove for me. After Joey got his trophy, I sort of forgot baseball existed. A little disappointed the Reds are letting Rhodes walk. Still hope we can get him back.

Weird to be sweating next to palm trees while staring at Christmas decorations. My internet access is somewhat limited by my own laziness, meaning I have to go to a cafe to get online, aside from when I have my weekly 24 Blackberry MB, which I have been using up in three days. That's ok, there's not much to write about baseball-wise right now. I'm going to try to post twice a week from now on - every Sunday and one day in the middle of the week.

Cheers from Beirut.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Happy Free Agent Day!

Ugh. Free agent day is like festivus for the rich of us, a time when the havenots lose the players they nurtured and raised to the haves. Like poor folks, the havenots sometimes win the lottery, but like all else in life, the chances are slim.

The Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club won its division in 1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, and 1979 but even all that winning wasn't enough to prevent the loss of its players when the greed of free agency went into effect after the 1976 season. Baseball hasn't been the same since.

As November 2, 2010 showed us that most people aren't capable of grasping the idea that change doesn't happen overnight, teams continued to remain competitive for years after free agency. But the eighties were a period of fundamental change to the way business runs, a period where the Golden Rule was replaced by Anything for My Precious, and we know all too well that baseball is a business. Selfishness became a badge of honor and Wall Street wonderboys bragged about screwing people out of their money. Being a terrible person was cool.

For baseball, 1981 marked the beginning of a new era, and a strike ripped off what remained of the Big Red Machine. The Reds were screwed out of the playoffs again in 1994 by another strike. By the end of the nineties, salaries were out of control, and a few teams dominated baseball.

Brainwashed folks scream "Market!" every time you try to make a social argument about athletes being millionaires while teachers get a pittance. These folks are no different than those who defend Columbus Day because they were taught that "Columbus discovered America" in elementary school. Today, conventional "wisdom" dictates that capitalism is a veritable Disneyland, a place where dreams are made, the One True Religion. If you criticize it and question the status quo, you are called names like "communist" or "dirty hippy." People defend the Yankees outrageously unfair advantage because it's "The Market" and make a stretch to say there is parity when even a broken clock is right twice a day. A salary cap would be "socialist" and therefore "evil." Some try to use a "player value" argument, saying a salary cap is "unfair" to the players (indeed, this is the players argument.)

What's "unfair" is that one team can spend $200 million a year on their team while most others spend less than half that." What's "unfair" is that some incompetent owners can continue to operate their perennial losing franchises because they are making money so they don't care (Baltimore and Pittsburgh come to mind.) What's "unfair" is that first class jerks can make $15-20 million a year while a teacher - a vital part of a strong, healthy democratic society - makes $40-50,000, less than median income in the US.

Free agency, while meant to protect players from the owners, has become a symbol of all that is wrong with our society. It represents greed, corporatism, and misplaced values. It twists the knife in the backs of struggling industrial towns. It fuels animosity and exacerbates the mentality of tribalism among fans of various teams.

Major League Baseball may wonder why it had the lowest rated World Series in history, and it may even be plotting ways to ensure the dominant market teams get in (making Wild Card more difficult is one example.) What MLB doesn't realize is that Americans don't like baseball anymore. Putting the ADD Nation argument aside, the business of baseball has completely swallowed the children's game once woven into the fabric of our being. Those of us who still love the game are clinging to worn and unraveling threads. Don't look now, but those threads are connected to a starred and striped cloth.

Yeah, I hate losing players to free agency and can already feel the heartbreak of losing Votto and Bruce and all the players we've seen grow.

(For a brief history on free agency, see this.)

Saturday, November 06, 2010


I like to say I've been collecting baseball memorabilia since I was eight years old, but quite frankly, I don't remember where I came up with that number. That would have been in 1985, two years before I started collecting baseball cards and two years after my family moved to Ohio. I have my ticket to my first Reds game in San Diego in 1978, but I was a year old and can truthfully say I was not the one who made the conscious effort to save the ticket stub. I also have the "Pete's Back!" Shirt my grandfather gave to my sisters and I when Rose returned to Cincinnati in 1984. So I must have made the number up.

It might have been the year when I decided I wanted to own a Reds-themed restaurant, however. I've wanted to do that for a looooong time, although as I grew older, it changed into a sports bar. I've already created the menu - one appetizer, entree, and desert and one beer on tap from every Major League city - and I've drawn sketches of the place, complete with where certain pieces of memorabilia go. I've even designed a lounge area with couches and bookshelves full of my baseball books. It's a marvelous place, really.

But now I have doubts. They stem from an increasing gravitation to asceticism and a rejection of material things. True freedom is freedom from possessions, freedom from mortgages and debt, freedom from worrying about people stealing your things or natural disasters destroying them. True freedom is the ability to go anywhere and not have to make arrangements to have your stuff watched or stored. It is also not having to throw your life away and enslave yourself in a cubicle just to afford your lifestyle.

The global economic downturn has produced some wonderful stories of Americans rediscovering their souls after years of thinking they had to buy this or that, from tales of family picnics in city parks instead of wasted hours over video game systems to families who sold their oversized houses and their possessions to travel the world together. While so many Americans are angry because they can no longer afford to be irresponsible in their spending, these inspiring tales of transformed outlooks on life are a welcome relief from the chains of materialism that have incarcerated the planet, leading to wars over resources, terrorism, and so much death and destruction.

I still have things stored in Ohio, and I will have to deal with it when I get a chance. There are boxes of clothes, books, CDs, and the things I've hoarded from my travels that I have been easily living without for two years. Most of my boxes, however, are full of the baseball memorabilia I have spent years collecting. I'm sure I could get a sizable chunk of change for it all, but I am clinging to it, because maybe one day the desire to open the place will return. After all, the whole point of the bar is to provide a place where people can have a good time and enjoy the game they love and all the pleasure and nostalgia that comes with it, and really, that's what I want for everyone in life.

I've packed up two large suitcases and am going on a long trip. The suitcases contain clothes, books, and not much else. I'll also have a backpack with a laptop, Blackberry, and camera on my back, necessary tools for survival. (And how else will I be able to keep up on the Hot Stove happenings and watch the press conference when Votto gets his MVP award?) Life is so simple. It's amazing to me that people kill each other over crap they don't need (or let their politicians decide to do the killing so they can buy crap they don't need.)

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Spark that Set the Flame

Sparky. I grew up only with the legend of the man. Sure, I vaguely remember the Tigers uniform and the 84 World Series, but his Reds days were over by the time my child brain was ripe enough for memories. He led those Tigers to victory just as Pete was returning to Cincinnati, before Pete's sports gambling days, before the wishbone C was disgraced, before my memory was capable of more than vagueness.

But I grew up on the legend of the Big Red Machine. Sparky in the Tigers uniform wasn't the same man as the Reds legend. Sparky in the Tigers uniform was just an old man whose baseball card showed an Old English D on his breast.

Of course years later, both Sparkys are a legend, and both are vague childhood memories. The Big Red Machine seems like a myth to me, just as the legend of Daedalus and his labyrinth. Free agency is Icarus, free agency flew the Big Red Machine too close to the sun, and Sparky with the wishbone C fell into Detroit.

We can be sure that the baseball gods welcome Sparky with open arms into that magical cornfield in Iowa.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Peace through baseball

So I’ve written about how I am leaving for Beirut soon – Monday. Perhaps I should pull a Pete Rose and do some sports betting at Sports Interaction to help finance my trip. One of the projects I hope to raise money for is a peacebuilding exchange project that will bring high school baseball players from the US to Lebanon to teach Lebanese students how to play baseball. I would love to get kids from Lebanon, Ohio – Reds country, of course – to participate in the exchange program. After all, the Lebanons of the United States were founded by Lebanese, and what better way to grow the Cincinnati Reds brand throughout the world than to bring folks from Reds country across the ocean to teach it?

The world needs more East-West peacebuilding programs, because the biggest problem between the Orient and the Occident is misunderstanding and ignorance. Americans have this idea that everyone in the Arab world lives in tents and rides camels and wears long, flowing robes with bombs strapped to them underneath. The Arab world thinks we all live in mansions and eat whole cows at every meal and drink oil to wash it down and give all our disposable income to Israel.

It’s all a bunch of stupidity, and neither side is less guilty than the other. But it’s easier to shout at each other and to succumb to the violence of hatred than it is to listen. We’ve had all of this Quran-burning, mosque-building nonsense in the US, which sadly is not the behavior of extremists. People are proud of their hate. It’s disgusting.

The essence of conflict is cowardice.

The peacemakers of the world all shared one thing in common: courage. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, and Yitzhak Rabin all lost their lives because peacemaking is a threat to the weak men who wage war. Gerry Adams, Ian Paisley, and Tony Blair had the balls to sit down at the same table together to end the 800 year long conflict in Ireland. Mikhail Gorbachev risked his life and was exiled to bring change to the Soviet Union, and Boris Yeltsin stared down tanks in the front of the Russian parliament building to stop a coup that would bring back communism. Conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Cyprus were resolved because people were strong enough and brave enough to put aside their hatreds. Europe’s entire history is defined by war, so some very smart and very brave men sat down and decided to create a system that would ensure if one country attempted to wage war on another, the warmongering country would be destroyed in the process. Today we call it the European Union.

Peace is not a “liberal elitist hippy” idea. It is a reality. For the life of me I can’t understand why there are people on this planet that are fine with war. Unbalanced chemicals in their brains, I guess. If only the warmongers of the world would smash the houses and kill the families of the other warmongers of the world and leave the rest of us out of it…

The East and West are not destined to be enemies forever, but you need to cut the crap, stop letting cable news tell you how to think, and find the courage to say “Enough!” Some people need help with that. We need better channels of communication, more direct contact, and the desire to live in a peaceful world. What better way to bring the two worlds together than with the beautiful game of baseball, a game that is as much about strategy as it is about physical ability?

Hopefully, though, the two sides won’t end up using baseball bats the way the mafia does.

If you would like to make a donation to the peacebuilding program, you can send through Paypal to