THE VOICE OF GENERATIONS

THE VOICE OF GENERATIONS

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In the world of psychology, it is a given that the sense of smell is the most evocative of prior experiences.  Who am I to dispute the science?  But if sense of smell is number one, for me, the sense of hearing is a close second.  I can hear a horn, an alarm, or a voice, and be transported back to my childhood as fast as, well, the speed of sound.

In the world of sports psychology, there is a school of thought that your prime sports fandom years are between ages 12-14.  For boys, this is oftentimes pre-puberty, pre-girls, pre-high school, and pre-real pressures.  It is when you are introduced to fantasy sports and advanced stats, and when you still have an innocent and healthy love of players and teams – unsullied by what we, as adults, know to be true about both.

Recently, I have given a lot of thought to this topic – how the sound of a voice can bring back memories of childhood.

Billy Crystal, and many others, have told tale of walking out of the tunnel of Old Yankee Stadium and seeing – for the first time – the bright green grass.  Who hasn’t been moved to hunger by the smell of a Fenway Frank as you walk up concourse from Yawkey Way?  How many stories have you heard about the taste of a cold Old Style while sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field?  Can you feel the grit of peanut shells in your hands as you mow through an entire bag before the third inning?  All are true.  But for me, it’s the sounds.

And certain sounds, certain voices, resonate more than others.

Imagine you were, like my father, born in 1941.  By 1955, you were in the prime of your sports fandom.  And if you happened to live in New York, you were lucky enough to listen to Vincent Edward Scully announce to the world: “Ladies and gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world”.

But let’s say you were born ten years later, in 1951, at the tail end of the Truman Administration.  If you lived in Los Angeles and were fourteen years old, you would know – with absolute certainty – that “the mound at Dodger Stadium … is the loneliest place in the world”.

And what if you born a decade later, say 1962, and were watching a game the first week of the season of your twelfth year?  You would be too young to have heard the words of Dr. King, but you would remember, with absolute clarity: “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. . . A black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol”.   And it is a great moment for all of us”.

Or, like me, you were born in 1972.  And maybe you aren’t a Red Sox fan, but you are 14 years old.  Can you still picture – even without the benefit of a VHS tape – “A little roller up along first. Behind the bag. It gets through Buckner!”?

Or two years later, if “She is . . . gone” doesn’t get you dusty, maybe it takes, “In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened” to start the waterworks.

If you were born in 1981, and lived north of the border, and were about to enter your teen years, you probably can never forget this from 1993: “A fastball is hit to leftfield, down the line, in the corner . . . homerun.”  And then you and an entire nation celebrated for a total of 45 seconds before another word was uttered.

How about someone born after the turn of the century (like my son), 60 years and three full generations after that kid (like my dad) in 1941.  And at 12 years old you hear the words: “The Wild Horse”.  Who/what do you imagine?  Unless you love dressage as much as baseball, I defy you tell me that this doesn’t fill your mind’s eye.

And, no matter your age, no matter your hometown, when you hear: “It’s time for Dodger baseball”, an amazing alchemy happens – a paradox that cannot be duplicated by any drug.  When you hear those words, when you hear that voice, your blood pressure immediately rises with unmitigated excitement, and immediately drops as you know you are in store for mellifluous sounds for the next 2½ hours.  When you “pull up a chair”, sit back and enjoy a “very pleasant good evening”, it is that voice – that sense of sound – that transports you to a happier, simpler, and more contented time.  It’s not the photographic memory, the Mark Twain-esque story-telling, nor the “deuces wild”, that I will miss the most.  No, what I will miss the most is the sound of being 12-14 again – when turning on the TV or the radio meant there was no need to long for easier times, easier times were ahead for the next nine innings.  That, for me – and for decade upon decade of baseball fans – is what we will lose this Sunday when the best there ever was says “and a very pleasant good afternoon to you, wherever you may be” for the very last time.

I miss him already.

PLAY BALL!!

RACISTS IN OUR MIDST

RACISTS IN OUR MIDST

Colin Kaepernick is on the cover of this week’s Time Magazine.  Did he win a Super Bowl, or save a drowning baby?  No.  He merely took a knee.  A small gesture, no larger or physically more significant than raising a gloved hand to the sky.  But sometimes small gestures have a long and lasting impact.

There is no reason to re-hash what Kaepernick started, the implications of the movement, the rightness or wrongness of the act, or the legality thereof.  All of those issues have been addressed, many times over, by people smarter, better read, and more articulate than me.  What I will say, however, is that by speaking (kneeling) his mind, Kaepernick may have opened the door to other, less thoughtful, athletes thinking that they, too, should speak (or Tweet) their minds.

Rosters and scrapheaps are strewn with athletes making (or attempting to make) righteous political stands.  Sometimes these hit the mark and lead to real change; and sometimes they are epic fails.  The best example of the latter may have happened just yesterday.  Take a journeyman catcher with a misguided view of the world, a poor grasp of facts, and a smart phone, and you have a combustible combination.

Steve Clevenger began his career with the Cubs in 2011 (2 games/5 ABs), moved to Baltimore in 2013, and is now in Seattle.  His illustrious career includes a .227 BA, 4 HRs, 48 RBI, and a .608 OPS.  So who better to thrust himself into the limelight and do and say something utterly contemptible while his teams is vying for a Wild Card birth?

As this election season has shown us, people are angry and they seem to have no compunction about expressing that anger in public.  And this has led people to do and say things that, in a more genteel time, they would never think to do or say (publicly, at least).  The Trumpifcation of our national discourse has left us with the idea that nothing is out of bounds.  Well, this morning, the Seattle Mariners reminded us that some things are still out of bounds.

When a black man was shot and killed in Charlotte, North Carolina, people protested.  There are many questions about the circumstances of the shooting (how and why we cannot know the difference between a book and a gun is beyond me, but I will leave that to those with more forensic experience than I).  In any event, a community felt aggrieved, and they utilized their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.

By all accounts – and as these things are wont to do – the expression of First Amendment rights led to an expression of Second Amendment rights, and soon a State of Emergency was called.

After seeing, hearing, reading about the goings-on in Charlotte, Steve Clevenger deemed it important to shed some light on the topic.  He felt that he, a white, professional athlete from an affluent suburb of Baltimore, who makes more than half a million dollars per year, had a particularly insightful view of this situation; and, in a sign of the times, felt compelled to share the same with his 2,480 Twitter followers.  Herewith, his elegant prose:

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The Mariners acted swiftly.  Ostensibly under Article XII.B. of the MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement (Conduct Detrimental or Prejudicial to Baseball), the Mariners effectively fired Clevenger, suspending him for the rest of the season without pay.  Kudos to Jerry Dipoto and the entire organization.

Now it is up to the other 29 teams to not sign this piece of trash next season.  He is a free agent; and any team that employs him is willingly making him their representative – on the field and off.

We seem to live in a world where words have no consequences.  People – political figures included – can compulsively lie, and we shrug our shoulders.  People can go on television and the Internet and race bait and not get called out.  People can incite violence, and not feel the wrath of that which they have provoked.

I told my son, just the other day, in real life you have certain freedoms, but you must be prepared to deal with the consequences of exercising those freedoms.

It is time for the Steve Clevengers of the world to deal with the consequences of exercising their freedoms.  I whole-heartedly defend Clevenger’s right to write that which he wrote; but I also whole-heartedly believe that a private institution – like Major League Baseball – need not avail itself of the racists in its midst.

So, here’s to hoping that this is something that Steve Clevenger will never again hear on a Major League diamond . . .

PLAY BALL!!

 

7 Innings is Perfect…Enough

I have previously written about the excitement and anticipation of sitting in the stands watching a no-hitter.  How the crowd holds its collective breath on every pitch; how the fielders focus their attention just a little more; how the manager wears a hole pacing the dugout.

For those of you paying attention to my prior writings, you know that, since 1901, there have been 252 no-hitters.  However, there have only been 23 perfect games in the history of the sport.  The last one happened a month before Mitt Romney uttered the phrase “47%”; and there have been seventeen no-hitters since then.  Suffice it to say, the perfect game is the rare bird.

When newly-acquired Dodger Rich Hill recorded his 21st consecutive out in Miami on Saturday night, he was six outs away from perfection and a place in the history books.  He was at 89 pitches – a mere pittance by MLB standards – and cruising along.  This one was a no-brainer.  This wasn’t Johan Santana coming off shoulder surgery, throwing 147 pitches to give the Mets their first-ever no-hitter.  This was a 36-year old with a relatively fresh arm and no signs of distress.

Ah, signs of distress.  Rich Hill had – as of Saturday night – pitched in only 21 games over the past two seasons, and only two with the Dodgers since he was acquired on July 31st.  Why so few, you ask?  Because Rich Hill is injury prone in general, and specifically, has a predisposition to blisters.

Now, for you and me, a blister is an annoyance and something that stings in the shower.  For a Major League pitcher, a blister (or blisters) is/are career threatening – they keep you from executing the pitches you are paid millions of dollars to execute.  And Rich Hill doesn’t have a predisposition to just one blister, but two – one that comes from throwing his fastball and one from throwing his curve.  In short, blisters are Rich Hill’s kryptonite.

But on Saturday night, Rich Hill had no such blisters.  Under normal circumstances, Hill would have headed to the mound for the 8th inning; in a perfect world, Dave Roberts could have sat comfortably, waiting for a hit, a walk, or a certain pitch threshold, and then yanked him.  However, these are not normal circumstances, and the Dodgers don’t live in a perfect world.  As of Saturday night, the Dodgers faced the following facts:

  • They had 22 games left, with just a 4-game lead over the recently-surging Giants (in an even year, no less);
  • The greatest pitcher on the planet has made one appearance in six weeks, and his health is a question mark;
  • They have utilized 15 different starting pitchers this season;
  • They currently have 6 pitchers on the DL;
  • After Kershaw and Hill, the five Dodger pitchers on their depth chart have combined for a total of 64 MLB starts; and
  • If Dodgers have any chance of holding off the Giants and making a deep run into October, they need a healthy Rich Hill.

Take those six pre-game factors into consideration, add to them the trainers claimed one of Hill’s blisters was “getting hot”, and that Kershaw had pitched a mere three innings the night before, and, indeed, this was a no-brainer.

If we take as gospel that the sole goal for a team is to win the World Series, Dave Roberts’ decision should be lauded.  If, as many have written, there are other goals – including individual goals – that make up a season and a career, then we need to reconsider.

Earlier this season Joe Girardi spoke of his role in “farewell tours”.  Could the same be said of Dave Roberts for no-hitters and perfect games?

What would the chattering class have said if Hill completed the perfect game, but was then on the shelf for the rest of the season because of the blister(s)?  Could Roberts – a first-year manager – survive that outcome?  Would Dodger fans be okay with a perfect game in Miami in September, but a quick out in Washington or St. Louis in October?

One last point(s): Hill needed to record six more outs to achieve perfection.  There have been thirteen perfect games spoiled by the 27th batter; ten perfect games spoiled by a fielding error; only 65.8% of perfect games through 8-2/3 have been completed; and only 73.7% have even survived as no-hitters.  As of today, Hillary Clinton has a 78% chance of winning to the election.  Does anyone feel super-confident about any of those odds?

Thus, a Nate Silver tip-o’-the-cap to Manager of the Year, Dave Roberts.

PLAY BALL!!