THE BLIVET

THE BLIVET

As an ode to my mom, who never missed an opportunity to say something whacky or just plain funny, I present to you the “blivet”. Sure, we could go with Webster, and tell you that a “blivet” is also known as a poiuyt, devil’s fork, or widget.  I could explain to you that a blivet is an undecipherable figure, an optical illusion, and an impossible object; something that appears to have three cylindrical prongs at one end which then mysteriously transform into two rectangular prongs at the other end.  Here, stare at it for a while. Blog_Blivet_1

But no, that is not what I am talking about.

Long before there was ever the concept of the Urban Dictionary, my mom was extolling the virtues and vices of the “blivet”, which, in her and UD’s world, is defined as 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bag.

What, on God’s green earth, you ask, does this have to do with baseball?  Ah, I am glad you asked.

Every day I pick my son up from baseball – be it a game or a long practice – and each time I am treated to a protracted delay while he tries to put all of his equipment into what I deem to be an already very large bag.  My son is truly shoving 10 pounds of shit into a 5 pound bag.  He then turns it upright, rolls it to the car, and allows me to wrench my back lifting it into the trunk.  Who needs all 10 pounds of this shit?  Not to get all “get off of my lawn”, but in my day…

…In my day, we rode our bikes to the park and to practice.  If we were lucky, we had a bat (usually wood, although that changed in the mid-’80s) that we held across our handlebars, with our lone glove on one end of the bat and our cleats tied to the other.  We held on for dear life (no helmets required), and then rode home at dusk.  In between, we played some pretty good baseball.

While I acknowledge that riding your bike to practice today is both impractical and against all societal norms, the rest of it could theoretically still hold true.

Alas, that is not the case.  Here is a brief summary of what currently resides in my son’s baseball bag (and yes, I am 89.4% to blame for this): 1 very expensive, totally unnecessary, top of the line, aluminum (or composite, who the hell knows) baseball bat; 1 pitcher’s glove; 1 outfielders’ glove; 1 first baseman’s glove; 1 catcher’s glove; a set of shin guards; a chest protector; a catcher’s mask; a batting helmet; multiple pairs of batting gloves; 2 different arm sleeves; a few loose baseballs; 2 wrist protectors (one a custom Evoshield and another off-brand that actually provides more protection); an odd wristband; and a pair of cleats.  He isn’t a player so much as he is a section of Sports Authority.

As I have previously written, I remember with great clarity the day I got my first first baseman’s glove, which upped my equipment tally by 33.3%.  My son could lose a $200 mitt in his bag and forget it even exists.

Each kid today must have his own helmet – heaven forbid lice gets spread.  Each must have his own bat – when did the Easton corporation perform a mind meld on every Little Leaguer such that his life is incomplete if he doesn’t have the latest SL or Mako model?  Each kid must have multiple mitts.  How could a fielder ever handle first base with a glove that has individualized fingers?  Some players now sport two pairs of cleats – rubber for Little League and metal for travel ball.  Cleats that, ostensibly, he will out grow before he wears out.  And each player must have a high performance bag to carry all this swag – be it a cool backpack with slots for multiple bats (really?) or a bag with wheels to protect their precious lumbars.  When did this happen?  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?

As to when, it must have been some time in the past 5-10 years, but maybe it happened even earlier.

As to how, that is simple.  We, as parents, allowed it to happen.

As to why, I have a few thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Ubiquity.  When I was a kid, sporting goods were the purview of a single aisle at Thrifty Drugs, a small section at Sears (where they also sold fishing rod and guns), the local sporting goods store (which didn’t open in my neighborhood until I was in high school), and the occasional mail-order catalogue that found its way into our mailbox.  Today, kids are just a few clicks away from “what pros wear”.  In fact, “whatproswear.com” is an actual website that contains links to everything you see on television or at the stadium.  (And, not for nothing, this is an awesome site to get lost in, and which make you pine to be a kid again.)  Everything they could want is within reach, all they need is . . .
  • Vicariousness.  If you are anything like me, when you were a kid you wanted everything you saw, but for the reasons stated above, plus parents who didn’t really care what we wanted, plus the cost of such items, that gear was unattainable.  So, if you are anything like me, you live vicariously through your kids in the swag department.  Batting gloves that match the uniform, check; cleats with cool contrasting laces, check; glove with his name embroidered on the side, check, check, and check.  If we couldn’t have that stuff, at least they can.
  • The Joneses.  You gotta keep up.  This has various permutations.  The first is obvious – Little Timmy’s got it, so your guy should have it too.  That story doesn’t get much traction in my house, but that story gets told nonetheless.  But how about the fact that your kid won’t have a helmet to wear unless you buy him one?  The league doesn’t provide them, and teammates (or their parents) are loathe to let someone borrow theirs.  This is a real life issue.  Or this one: Bobby and Mikey both have $40 custom-molded Evoshield elbow guards; your kid asks for one and you laugh him out of the room.  And then he gets hit on the elbow and you feel (a) guilty, (b) like an asshole, (c) like a cheap asshole, and (d) a guilty, cheap asshole who has now lost all high ground in these future battles.  I guess Bobby and Mikey have better parents than my kid.
  • Coolness.  Truth be told, the equipment is just plain cool.  Even if you never played the game, and thus have no vicariousness to deal with, you still want your kid to look cool on the field.  And, let’s be honest, the Oakley Half Jacket 2.0 XL with Black Iridium lenses and team color sock kit just look damn good (even if they spend the majority of their time perched on top of the cap rather than on the player’s eyes).  What 12-year old doesn’t need an arm sleeve – let alone a custom one with his initials or number on it?  What group of 12-year olds doesn’t need matching $150 bags with their names and numbers embroidered on them so they can hang side-by-side on the back of the dugout?  Let’s face it, the majority of the people reading this blog never wore Fonzie’s jacket, but we all hold out hope that our kid just might.

This phenomenon, rest assured, is not exclusive to baseball; it is just the world we live in today.  When I pick my daughter up from her dance studio, after her two hour practice (which, of course, includes a private lesson), I am stuck waiting in the lobby while she jams all of her dance gear into a pink, embroidered (with her name), customized (for her dance team), wheeled blivet.

For generations people have had as their solitary goal that their children have a better life than they.  In many ways, that is the American Dream.  I just don’t think, when immigrants started landing on Ellis Island in the late 19th century, they could have ever envisioned that all of their worldly belongings – their own personal blivets – would fit into a knapsack smaller than the bag my son takes to the field every day.

And when the children of those immigrants first picked up a broomstick and a Spaldeen, and ran from manhole to manhole, avoiding parked cars and angry shop owners, I highly doubt they ever worried about modified trap webbings, BBCOR technology, or Pittards digital sheepskin leather.  They cared about the game of baseball – and getting home before the streetlights came on.

Ah well, this is the monster we created; we could always say, “no”.

So, if you can find one at the bottom of that suitcase your player rolls into the dugout, I say to you . . .

PLAY BALL!!

BASEBALL GODS

BASEBALL GODS

I’m a Red Sox fan.  There, I admitted it.  And I have no shame in doing so.  Of course, that is considerably easier today than it was 12 years ago.  Over the past 11 seasons, the Red Sox have won 3 World Series championships.  It’s not hard to be a fan.  After 86 years of futility, after countless near-misses, after torturing not only a fan base but an entire region of this great country, it seems the Baseball Gods smiled down on the players housed in a musty clubhouse locked underneath the then 92-year old edifice erected between Lansdowne St. and Yawkey Way.  Ah, the Baseball Gods.

Do they exist, these oft-quoted, oft-lamented, Baseball Gods?  If you are a superstitious sort, like I am, you definitely believe.  There has not been any qualitative or quantitative research done on the number of Atheist baseball fans who believe in the Baseball Gods, but I have to imagine there are more than a few.  If not for the Baseball Gods, how could you explain the crazy turns of event that seem to happen over and over again?

And the corollary to the concept is that one must go to great lengths not to upset the Baseball Gods.  It is a well worn fact that, in the midst of a no-hitter, you don’t deign to talk to the pitcher, and the announcers and fans are verboten from discussing the same.  We have now taken this to its logical and technological conclusion, to the world of social media, where this edict is now writ large (small?).  To wit:

SportsCenter ‏@SportsCenter Jun 14: DEVELOPING: Nationals P Max Scherzer has not allowed a baserunner vs Brewers through 6 innings. He has 11 strikeouts on 67 pitches.

You see any words that are conspicuously missing?

How about this one:

Baseball Tonight@BBTN Jun 9: Chris Heston is having himself a pretty good game…

Blog_No_Hitter_Heston

Or last night:

: Michael Pineda is dealing in New York against the Marlins…

Blog_No_Hitter_Pineda.jpg

No one – with the possible exception of Buster Olney who, for reasons that are inexplicable, doesn’t believe – wants to be the guy who pissed off the Baseball Gods are caused a base hit to occur.

How about when the Baseball Gods have taken out their animus on entire organizations (see Cubs, Chicago; Red Sox, Boston)?  The Baseball Gods were big fans of the Bambino in Boston and not so much Billy Goats on the ballfield.  Is there any other way to explain, in no particular order:

  • Bucky “Fucking” Dent
  • Bill Buckner
  • Aaron “Bleeping” Boone
  • Steve Bartman
  • Leon “Bull” Durham (in case you forgot, a quick reminder)

And, to that end, is there any other way to explain how fortunes change?  Go to Netflix and watch “Four Days in October” and tell me that some form of divine intervention wasn’t at play.

Or what about baseball’s biggest heel: Barry Bonds.  Did anyone – mortal or otherwise outside the City by the Bay – want him and the Giants to win the 2002 World Series?  Apparently not, as that series turned on a dime when Scott Spezio (yup, Scott Spezio, who later fell out of baseball in a haze of drug abuse and ended up being tased by the police a few months back) changed a player’s and a team’s fortunes with one swing of the bat.

The Baseball Gods are not fond of certain vices; gambling on the sport, for instance.  The White Sox (er, Black Sox) fixed the 1919 World Series. They didn’t get back to another World Series for 40 years (losing to the Dodgers in ’59), and didn’t win one until 2005.  It seems the Baseball Gods abide by some long-gestating statute of limitations.

The Baseball Gods are not kind to premature victory celebrations.  Take, for instance, the 2001 World Series, wherein the Yankees were up a run going into the bottom of the ninth of Game 7, with Mariano Rivera on the mound.  Some marketing mensa thought it made sense to cover the Yankees’ locker room with plastic and roll out cases of champagne.  We all know what happened next, as the D-Backs got to Rivera and Luis Gonzalez duck-farted his way into World Series lore.  I hope that same lackey was charged with clearing out the clubhouse before any shocked Yankee made it down the tunnel.

Nor do Baseball Gods take kindly to “Bush League” behavior.  For a litany of examples, see the career high (low?) lights of one Alex Rodriguez.  He ran across the mound in Oakland – much to the dismay of Dallas Braden; he yelled “Hah, I got it” while running past the third baseman in Toronto; he smacked the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove in Game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, and then claimed he did nothing of the sort.  We could do this all day with this guy.  End result: A-Rod received the harshest drug punishment in the history of the sport – without ever failing a drug test.  The Baseball Gods (this time in the form of Bud Selig) had spoken.

Lest we think the Baseball Gods only focus on the Big Leaguers, I personally pissed them off a few years ago.  After the fifth run scored in extra innings of a win or go-home game, I started making weekend plans for the next round of playoffs.  Wouldn’t you know it, the opposing team scored six times in the bottom half – culminating with a walk-off grand slam (which was preceded by a Bull Durham/Bill Buckner-esque ball through the first baseman’s wickets).  I knew I had done wrong when I opened my mouth, but thought there was no way the Baseball Gods would bother with a 12-year old baseball game.  As my daughter is apt to say, “I guess you were wrong”.

The Baseball Gods are also quick to punish what they believe are unfair outcomes.  Last week we (re)learned about Merkle’s Boner. That mistake (read: properly but questionably enforced rule) allowed the Cubs to win the pennant and then the World Series.  As we discussed, they haven’t won one since, and haven’t even been back in 70 years.  Or, how about when a coach appeals and wins a questionable (albeit, by the rules, correct) interference call early in a series, only to end up losing that series in the final game?  The Baseball Gods never forget; their power is always lurking right around the corner.

So forget Friday the 13th and black cats running across the field, it is not calendars and felines you need to be worried about.  It is the omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent Baseball Gods with whom you must curry favor.  So grab your glove (which, hopefully, no one else has touched), step over the baseline, touch second base on your way to the outfield, use the same bat over and again, draw a symbol in the batter’s box, carry a crystal in your back pocket, and then just go about your business.  Because nothing can affect your performance or the outcome of the game . . . except the Baseball Gods.

PLAY BALL!!

WHEN IS A RULE A RULE?

WHEN IS A RULE A RULE?

It is often said that lawyers are the people in society who have read the inside of the box.  We (ostensibly) know the rules, and we are charged with helping interpret those rules, enforcing those rules, and/or seeking remediation when someone violates those rules.  But what happens when a rule isn’t a rule?  What happens when there is another side of the box, the side with the rules that are seldom enforced?  (As an aside, we will cover the unwritten rules at another time.)

Situation in Point: A shortstop, in attempting to turn a double-play, doesn’t touch the bag.  This is so commonplace that is has its own name: “The Neighborhood Play”.  Abide by the specific rules of baseball, and the base runner is safe.  When was the last time that call was made?

Situation in Point: A third baseman swipes the tag down well ahead of a would-be base stealer.  The throw and tag beat the runner by some distance, but the glove (with the ball) doesn’t actually make contact with the sliding player.  We often chalk that one up to “the throw beat him”, so he should be out.  With instant replay now being utilized at the Big League level, this is probably a safe call.  But for the last 100+ years (prior to 2014), more often than not (read: nearly always), the runner was out.  Was this the right call?

How many times have you seen the strike zone expand on a 3-0 count?  Or when a pitcher is at the plate?  Or shrink for a batter with a reputation for a great eye (see Boggs, Wade)?  Again, with new technology and umpires under stricter scrutiny, this happens less often, but it still happens.  Isn’t a ball a ball and a strike a strike, regardless . . .?

Umpires have an incredibly difficult job.  The rule book looks like a phone book and reads like the Talmud.  And yet, umpires are expected to know all of the rules, recognize the play, and make the right call, all in a split second.  Not so easy to do.  So, should they be forgiven for being lenient?  Or for choosing when not to enforce the rules?

How about this one, a direct case on point: A college softball player hits her first and only homerun of her career.  Coming around first base she tears a ligament in her knee, and cannot make it around the bases.  By rule, if her teammates help her, she will be out; if she cedes to a pinch-runner, it will be a single.  Isn’t this an instance when the rule need not be a rule?  Apparently not, as it took the great sportsmanship and humanity of her opponents to help make the homerun happen for the injured player.  By the way, this happened twice – on the same day, six years apart.

(After what we have seen recently in college softball, it is worth reading these to reaffirm your faith.)

http://www.tampabay.com/sports/colleges/foes-carry-softball-player-around-bases-after-her-first-homer/481640

http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/10848732/espnw-florida-southern-college-softball-players-carry-injured-eckerd-college-opponent-bases-game-winning-homer

A rule is a rule, even when the umpires need to use common sense to enforce it.  A batter hits a swinging bunt down the third base line.  It rolls and rolls.  If the third baseman touches it, it will be a fair ball, and an infield single.  So, he does what any right-thinking grown man would do: he drops to his knees and blows the ball into foul territory.  Ingenious?  Not so much; the umpires rule interference, the batter is safe, and now it is the hitter who gets to blow – a sigh of relief, that is.

But, sometimes, a rule is not a rule, and umpires (or league officials) have to use common sense not to enforce it.

In 1983, George Brett came to the plate at (Old) Yankee Stadium to face Rich “Goose” Gossage.  The Royals trailed 4-3, there were two outs, and U.L. Washington (and his toothpick) were on first.  We all know what happened next: Brett hit a bomb deep into the right field seats; Billy Martin contested the homerun claiming George had too much pine tar on his bat; Umpire Tim McLelland agreed (invoking MLB Rules 1.10(c) and 6.06) and called Brett out; game over; and then Mt. George erupted.  By all accounts, Brett was in violation of the rule, and however bush it may have been, Martin (and McLelland) were right in their assessment.  However, American League president Lee McPhail disagreed, claiming that was not the “spirit of the restriction”.  McPhail overruled the rule, and allowed the homerun to stand.  The teams had to finish the game nearly a month later (with Ron Guidry playing centerfield and Don Mattingly playing second base), and the Royals tallied the victory.

The “when is a rule a rule” debate has become heated the past two seasons with respect to “foreign substances” that pitchers use to get a better grip on the ball.  Back in the day, Vaseline was the substance du jour, but that was used to gain a competitive advantage.  Hell, Gaylord Perry, a self-described cheat (his biography is entitled “Me and the Spitter”), is in the Hall of Fame (see, Bloom Back on the Rose, March 21, 2015).

In my day, sandpaper and nail files were used for competitive advantage.  Today, it does not seem that pitchers use the substances to cheat, but cheating it is (Rule 8.02(4)).  But when?  If Clay Buchholz loads goop into his hair and touches his flowing locks in between every pitch, why don’t the umpires call him out.  When Kenny Rogers had a dark streak of something on his throwing hand in the World Series, or Jon Lester had some green substance on his glove during another World Series, why were those acceptable?  And yet, when Michael Pineda loads up his neck with pine tar; or when Brian Matusz or Will Smith put a little rosin and sunscreen on their arms, let the suspensions begin.  Which rule were they violating that the others were/have not?

(As an aside/on a related note, this is one of my favorite videos: Joe Niekro trying to fling away an Emery board.)

One thing we can all agree upon is that, with respect to the field, all of the rules must be enforced, right?  Well, not always.  How many times have you seen a batter wipe away the back line of the batter’s box before he digs in a little farther back.  Rare is the umpire – at the MLB level, at least – who will redraw the batter’s box.  I guess Rule 6.03 isn’t necessarily “a rule”.  Or what about teams who over-chalk the baselines if they have especially proficient bunters?  Or teams that over-water the infield if facing a team with speedsters?  I guess umpires liberally interpret (i.e., don’t enforce) Rule 1.04.

Here is a famous one that could easily not have been enforced.  To baseball aficionados it is known as “Merkle’s Boner”.  If you don’t know the story, it’s pretty good one:

On September 23, 1908, Fred Merkle, all of 19 years old, having played in only 38 games all year, was called for his first big league start against the Cubs in the heat of the pennant race (Merkle’s Giants were tied with the Cubs for first place).  With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Merkle came to the plate with the winning run on first.  This was only his 48th plate appearance of the season.  Merkle promptly singled down the rightfield line, moving the winning run to third.  The next batter, the light-hitting Al Bridwell, ripped the first pitch into centerfield for the apparent game winner.  Giants fans poured out of the stands and mobbed the field.  Merkle, advancing from first base, saw the onslaught of fans and (knowing what a crowd of unruly/overly excited New Yorkers might do to him) turned back to the dugout before ever reaching second base.  The Cubs’ centerfielder, responding to his teammate’s pleas, tossed the ball to Johnny Evers, who stepped on second base to record the third out.  Rule 4.09 was enforced, and “Merkle’s Boner” was born.  So much chaos ensued that the game was ruled a tie, and the teams had to meet two weeks later to decide the pennant.  The Cubbies won that game, on their way to winning the 1908 World Series.  Which, as we all know, is the last time that happened.  Which leads us to a topic for another day: The Baseball Gods . . .

As with most topics, we could go on and on.  You watch enough baseball, you will see and learn something new nearly every day.  Unfortunately, you oftentimes have to learn it by figuring out what rule was or was not enforced.

To some people, baseball is boring.  To others, it is confusing.  To us, it is beautiful.  But even to the baseball lovers and cognoscenti among us, it is truly dizzying trying to determine “when is a rule a rule”.

PLAY BALL!!!