Dear readers, let us all agree that the game is the game. It’s balls and strikes, it’s first to third, it’s infield shifts and 3-0 green lights. From Baltimore to Fresno to Okinawa to Calgary, baseball is a game. Or rather, baseball is the game.
Yet we follow it for the people.
Without the story lines, Kirk Gibson’s homerun is just another homerun, Derek Jeter’s dive into the third row is just a catch, Adam Wainwright’s curve to get Inge swinging is simply, just a curve. Stories make these plays so momentous, so glorious, so gut wrenching.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.
So you can imagine my excitement at getting to meet Tom Walsh from the Rocky Mountain Way, a fellow baseball blogger with a commitment to the game, to its people, while his journey brought him to Chicago last Monday evening.
I took him to Beiguo, a gem of a Chinese restaurant in my Bridgeport neighborhood where they know me as that “baseball guy”, deep in the heart of the Southside. Hearing Tom’s stories about the fascinating people he has met and the powerful stories they have shared during his cross-country trek following the game reminded me exactly why baseball is the greatest game on earth.
It brings us together.
With baseball as my loyal ally, fellowship with like-minded fans, familiar or strange, is never difficult. Whether you live in Taiwan or Tacoma, we, as baseball people can always share in the power, the memories, the communitas that is the game.
Sure, if you wear your Cubbie blue and I wear my Cardinal red there’s a chance we might argue a bit, disgrace both of our mothers and end up in the hospital, drunk, but in the end, you’ll shake my hand and I’ll shake yours. Because we’re baseball people. And baseball people are the best kind of people.
Full of cumin spiced lamb, Yangzhou fried rice and a keener sense of Todd Helton, I wished Tom well on his journey and as he drove off west I looked down and realized my fortune cookie was unopened. Quickly, I snapped it in two, grabbed the small strip of paper, held it to the light and read:
(Image courtesy of Tom Walsh)
It’s not often that the fates see fit to dish up a tidbit that hits on everything that makes the RSBS heart tick. So when one of my brothers sent me a link to this story today there was no other option but to bring it to you all. The nomination of a Justice of the Supreme Court is always a momentous occasion but when the judge may have also single-handedly saved baseball, well, that’s more than momentous. Monumental, perhaps?
I think the phrase that really gets me, though, is this one: “she deliberated for just 15 minutes before making a decision that, in the President’s words, ‘saved baseball.'” 15 minutes and she saved baseball? How could you not confirm this person?
Now, I understand that it’s important to step back and review her entire body of work. We don’t need a stealth Clarence Thomas or Alito clone on the bench. And the fact that she’s a Yankee fan is particularly worrisome. But knowing that she might have saved baseball? That’s clutch. That’s Kirk Gibson in the ’88 World Series, that’s what that is.
Now, if Obama can pull this one off and then somehow manage to get the NCAA to replace the BCS with a playoff, I think we might have to start channelling Stephen Colbert and asking, “Obama: great president or the greatest?”
-Photo from NY Times
Last year I made the mistake of placing my faith in the savior apparent of the Detroit Tigers, a man I lovingly referred to as my big, black baby Jesus. He rewarded my faith by issuing more free passes than a scalper outside a Washington Nationals game. But after some time in the minors and a stint on the DL for an “anxiety disorder,” Dontrelle Willis finally made it back to the big leagues last night. And didn’t do a whole lot to allay our fears.
It’s rare that we see our heroes crumble into dust and then reemerge as a better version of themselves. Al Gore and Andre Agassi are good examples of how that works out at it’s best but, unfortunately, the Dontrelle Willis route is much more common. Something happens, something disappears and suddenly the person is a shell of their former self. It’s like the final episode of Seinfeld. We recognize it as being Seinfeld but its essential Seinfeldness wasn’t there.
That’s why I especially appreciate it, though, when heroes of my childhood reemerge in a better if not stronger form. Sergei Fedorov leads the Red Wings for years and then plays his heart out for the Washington Capitals. Kirk Gibson lays it on the line for the ’84 Tigers and then comes back and provides the spark for the ’88 Dodgers as well. But if I have to choose only one hero who has come back better, stronger and faster, well, I think this video will explain:
Willie Tanner: a poor man’s Eraserhead.
Much of the political uproar over the past week centered on Rush Limbaugh’s address at CPAC in which he reaffirmed his desire to see President Obama fail. Understandably, many people are up in arms over this statement but some of them seem to be upset for all the wrong reasons. Obama is not the messiah and he will have policy failures. The sooner we accept that inevitability, the better.
But there is another reason why Rush’s words should have incensed us. Not only is his naive desire to see our country’s problems worsen ignorant at best, it also goes against everything we’ve been led to believe. America is a country built on dreams, MLK’s dream, the American Dream, even Obama’s dreams from his father, and failure, although sometimes an intermediate result, is never a goal. That’s where Rush gets it so wrong.
In America, we love dreams and we love seeing people pull through when everyone else is sure they’re going to fail. Kirk Gibson in the ’88 World Series. Willie Mays’ catch. The Tampa Bay Rays’ run to the pennant. No one gave any of them a chance but somehow they managed to overcome failure and succeed beyond their (and our) wildest imagination. When failure is an end instead of a means, dreams die and you become irrelevant.
Rush’s problem and, by extension, the problem of the Republican Party is that their actions have begun to cast them as irrelevant to the national debate. Wishing failure on your opponents doesn’t make you a seer. It makes you a streetcorner prophet, carrying your cardboard sign and sleeping on a park bench at night. It doesn’t signal engagement but rather disengagement.
The real issue and what Rush is afraid to say is that it’s not so much that he disagrees with Obama as it is that he has no solution of his own. After the experiment of the past eight years proved morally and financially bankrupt, how could he? However, the purview of the streetcorner lunatic has always included yelling louder than everyone else and making sure that yours is the voice that stands out. In that respect, Rush can truly claim, “Mission Accomplished.”
With the talented Mr. Rodriguez back in the news again for his off the field exploits, it seems like a good time to once again explore his worth in baseball terms. You would think this is an open and shut case since, his love for testosterone fueled women aside, the man is obviously one of the most talented baseball players of our generation. But, I’m not convinced. Yes, his regular season achievements are legendary and there’s no doubt he’ll go into the Hall of Fame once he retires.
But, my question is, how does he stack up against a real hero, a man who inspired more than one town over the course of his career, a man who could have been mistaken for Magnum P.I.? Yes, that’s right. I want to match A-Rod up with Kirk Gibson and I have a sneaking suspicion that the man who enjoys smelling Derek Jeter’s used underwear will be found wanting.
Now, over the course of the regular season there’s no denying that A-Rod is the far superior player. His gaudy 44 home runs a year average and a lifetime .306 batting average beat the heck out of Gibby’s 25 and .268. But, something funny happens once you get beyond the 162nd game of the year. Let’s face it, getting into the playoffs doesn’t mean squat if you don’t show up and A-Rod’s complete lack of World Series appearances indicate exactly what he has meant to his team come playoff time.
I’m not going to rehash all of A-Rod’s postseason shortcomings since many people with much greater baseball knowledge than myself have already done so. But, I do want to put his numbers next to Gibby’s for the sake of comparison. In 10 postseason series, Rodriguez has batted .279 which isn’t terrible. In fact, Gibson is only a couple points ahead at .282. But the number that really jumps out is how their teams fared. In the ten series in which A-Rod has played, his team has won only 3, all of them LDS’s. Gibson? Out of the five series he played in, his team won 4 and that includes two World Series. So, half the number of chances but one more victory. In fact, if you want to see how much he really meant to his team, remember that he only had ONE at bat in the ’88 World Series but we all know how that turned out.
So, here’s what I’ll say. Yes, A-Rod is the better overall player. But, if I’m a manager going into the postseason or really any important game, there’s only one of these two men that I would want on my team: The mustachioed, anti A-Rod himself.
Anything wrong with that? Not in my opinion. In a world full of greed, hate, debauchery and Cubs baseball, I find solace knowing that even the tireless spin-doctoring and smoke-screening of Rod Blagojevich eventually falls on the deaf ears of a nation distracted with the task of rebuilding itself.
Blago’s days as governor are as numbered as Joe Morgan is annoying; and soon, he will just be another political coelacanth — a footnote in the oppression and wasted tax-dollars of a people.
In my fervent bidding adieu, I refuse to let Blago’s self-indulgent, gloomy demise get me down. The older I get, the more I realize how little my brain can actually remember if not trained otherwise; thus, I find it best to replace negativity with post-partisan positivity. So it is, on this four degree Sunday afternoon, with a broken heart and three cups of coffee too many, that I find grace in the baseball-politico memories dearest to me.
Of course, there are always the Joe Carters, the Kirk Gibsons, the Ozzie Smiths… the inauguration of a new hope for my country… those are all givens. Today I focus on the obscure, the seemingly minute, the more poignant personal moments that help me to forget about what an awful place this earth can be sometimes. And so I begin…
Ozzie Guillen Goes to Bobby Jenks
A move he’s made several times, but never as interesting as it was during the 2005 post-season when Ozzie motioned for Jenks by extending his arms out sideways as if to say: “Bring in the fat fella.”
Talking to Carlos Lee Outside Wrigley Field
Having gone hitless against Ted Lilly that night, I was stunned to see a smiling Carlos Lee on the corner of Sheffield and Addison waiting to get on the Astros player’s bus. I approached him — all gargantuan 230 plus pounds of him — and flippantly asked: “Caballo, what happened?”
“Ball move too much, man.”
I’m still laughing at that one.
“Yes We Can” Viral Video
Sure, I admit I’m a sucker for inspirational acts of creativity… this one still gets me.
Brian Anderson’s Catch
Picture it, October 1, 2008… a one game playoff between the White Sox and Twins to crown the AL Central winner, and a Jim Thome homerun is all that separates the two when we reach the top of the ninth and two outs. A sharp flare streamlines to right center field, in comes Brian Anderson… instant party on the Southside.
Bill Clinton on Carroll Quigley, DNC 1992
As a young, impressionable, questioning 12 year-old, this quote pushed me in to politics… to stay.
Adam Wainwright’s Curveball
Whether it was striking out Carlos Beltran looking or Brandon Inge swinging, I’ve never seen a more devastating hook — ever.
Barack Obama’s 2004 DNC Keynote Address
I thought a change was a comin’… didn’t know it was going to take so long, but it got me revved up nonetheless.
Yadier Molina Hitting .304 in 2008
After the rocket homerun he hit off Aaron Heilman to beat the Mets in the 2006 NLCS, Molina became my indisputable hero. To see him blossom into a true hitter in conjunction with his unrivaled defensive skills just makes me want to hug the guy any chance I get. Yadi, you out there, pal? Let’s hook that up.
Grandma Lois Talking Baseball
May she rest in peace, my beloved grandmother was talking Cardinals baseball like no other 84 year-old I knew. Before the 2004 season, she told me: “It’d be nice to see Edmonds and Rolen have really good years.” She died on April 20, 2004; Jimmy and Scott both put up career numbers and vied for the MVP. I know she’s still smiling about that one.
Post 9/11 Baseball in New York
I’d be hard pressed to find a more inspiring, more electric, more communal surge of patriotic energy and overall bipartisan goodwill towards all through the greatest game on earth than what took place in New York City that fall.
I still get goosebumps just thinking of it.
Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
My venerable colleague and longtime friend, Allen Krause, has been alive for thirty years now (as of today); I just put myself in his shoes and realized how miserable he must be having not seen his precious Tigers win a championship for a quarter of a century.
So this one’s for you, Al.
Just pretend Ernie Harwell is saying “Happy Birthday” while Gibby circles the bases.
Happy friggin’ birthday, pal!
Jeffy & RSBS Dear Readers Galore