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.