Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Reach Baseballs

Father’s Day.

In the house I grew up in there was a spot in the basement where my father kept at least a dozen Reach baseballs. Maybe two or three dozen.

Those different generations…. for my family, Father’s Day and baseball were and still are synonymous. In the age of television, Father’s Day and the U. S. Open are now synonymous, at least with fathers who grew up with television as a foster relative.

What is inside the ball? From one generation to the next, kids have always wondered what’s inside the ball.  Whether it was about the inert game of golf or baseball, most kids have a curiosity about the insides of the ball.  There is a sense of wonder about what is inside, and what is inside the ball is part of the attraction to the game.

Reach was the manufacturer of these baseballs kept in our basement. With Joe Cronin’s signature on them. Made in Haiti. In the late 19th century, Spalding had acquired Reach and then operated the company as a subsidiary, leaving the Reach name on these balls used in the American League. Our supply was always replenished.

That childhood sense of wonder –of what was inside the ball–was the first of the various real life mysteries in our lives … for my father’s kids, anyway.

It was a Father’s Day in the last 1980s. I lived in Chicago and my dad was in town on a trip that had him, for professional reasons, at Comiskey Park on that Sunday.  Afterward I took him to five o’clock Mass at old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. It was one of the few buildings that had survived the Great Chicago Fire.  Old St. Patrick’s Catholic Church then was being revitalized by a priest named Jack Wall.  And I think that was the day he delivered his Holy of Holies homily.  It had to do with Roman centurions storming into the temple, which must have been in Jerusalem, in search of the Holy of Holies about which they had heard so much.  It was the secret to what inspired the passions of the people of Israel.  After much destruction around the location inside the the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle where Holy of Holies was kept, the Roman centurions left.  They were unable to resolve the mystery of what was behind the thick curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place drawing such reverence from the people.

That Holy of Holies. It is not irreverence to compare my feeling to what is inside the ball, to the same mystery that Jack Wall talked about that Sunday. Have you ever been overcome with the smell of horsehide?

The spirit within. Exhibiting that spirit within. Hustle. The tenacity shown on the diamond. Or the gentleness at home.

Children in their innocence had a reverence for things that too many jaded adults lost along the way. About baseball. About life. The institutional voice of a parent who was always there from the beginning, as the seat of authority. In the humanness of a Father. The mystery and reality of life. Until one day any child had to answer the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Baseball was an art form, in one of the mysterious celebrations of life. Baseball which all seemed to start in our basement. At my house. Someone once wrote, “Art happens when what is seen becomes mixed with the inside of the person who is seeing it.”

There were always the questions. The bad hops. The mysterious bad hops, in the game of inches. On the playing field. The subtleness of the mystery. On diamonds. In churches. Until you eventually figured some things out. With the help of a father. Like the indicator before the steal sign. From one generation to the next. Those sacraments that produced Grace. Baseball was one of the sacraments that produced Grace. Like the sacrifice fly. God in His incredible subtleness, day in and day out. With the squeeze play. Baseball was one of the outward signs, believed by me anyway, believed by some American Irish Catholics anyway, over time, which produced INWARD signs. When the outward signs over time produced INWARD signs. And Grace.

What was the attraction? When I grew to be a man there was still a sense of the Holy of Holies around the game of baseball. The spirit within. At an outdoor ballpark. We had had this 28 year gap in Minnesota, with real baseball.

Generations were more adept now at using the new technology. My brother subscribed to the “bigger, stronger, faster” philosophy in sports that you heard promoted on television. That new technology. In car commercials and sports. Wherever that had taken us. With Chrysler and General Motors.

Baseball, in the horsehide, was one language of creation. Not many spoke the language like I had heard it. Like in poetry, here were places for pauses. For silence. Like in church. With the background noises, in the relationships which developed.

When I was fourteen, I got my first job. It was at a ball park. I worked there over 9 seasons. At an outdoor ballpark. Something happened to a person when you went to a ballpark everyday of the summer, even when the team was on the road. The ballpark was like a church. Something was absorbed each day. With the smell of resin and horsehide. A relationship developed, an invisible bond, with the past to the present. An invisible bond which was too often missing from too many who played the game professionally today.

Whereas I used to wonder what was now inside the ball, now with Bud Selig’s autograph I wonder in the age of steroids, from about 1992 through the present day, what is inside the athlete. I wonder about what inspired the passions of these present day people who had missed out on the real Holy of Holies.

Though my father died eleven years ago, Father’s Day and baseball still for my family are synonymous. I had come to learn baseball was about relationships, that a ballpark was more than a holy place where the Holy of Holies was kept, but a place to share something deep inside, from a craftsman who was connecting the past to the present, very much the case by my own father. With a reverence for the game, through Sport involved with Time and Place and Distance, baseball had become a part of me, through this father-son relationship passing on the power in bonds between people, passing on the Spirit.

 

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The Race for the Cure

Enhancements. Some women paid for them. It really did not happen amidst the poor. They had other things to worry about. Enhancement might attract the attention of a richer man. Time would tell of the depth of a relationship. Not many people really cared about those enhancements. Unless you were paying the plastic surgeon for the reconstruction. Or unless it was your daughter.

There are forces apparent on a generation schooled in the era of moral relativism. In business, in sports. Listen to the quotes on Manny Ramirez, posted on MLB.com.

Washington General Manager Manny Acta: “It is sad because this guy is going to get his name tainted forever.”

Oakland manager Bob Geren: “This is an unfortunate thing to happen, but the rules are very clear.”

Giants catcher Bengie Molina: “I’m not anybody to judge anybody. I’m not going to judge Manny.”

Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker: “Fifty is a long time. And that’s really going to hurt the Dodgers. And it is going to hurt his reputation. I just hate it that another star goes down.”

Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel, Ramirez’s former hitting coach in the Cleveland Indian organization: “I’m kind of sad about that. But I don’t know what to say about that. I’m sad. I saw him when he was in rookie ball.”

The cost of enhancements. The moral relativism.

I love Charlie Manuel. Even before today. Since he was a rookie in Minnesota. Since those days, he has seen the world. The poverty. He knows how poor a kid like Manny was. In either the Dominican or in the slums of New York. But Manny is now 37. He has made his millions.

The world should be sad and disappointed. Over what he is doing to his own body. And OUTRAGED over cheating. The baseball world should wake up to the meaning of what is going on, in a game that has become a living science experiment. It was like the world of spies and counter-spies. Who do you trust among these players? Any of them? And why am I watching this? Why am I watching these experiments in human growth hormones mingle with the natural athletes?

It was not just about enhancements. Not when the game was a competition. Not when the game was about the past and the future. That was the selfishness of either an uneducated group of users or this entire generation schooled in the era of moral relativism. These graduates asked not to be judged. Like the Giant catcher.

Speaking about a post on MLB.com. and the cost of enhancements, all this was going on as newspapers were dying. MLB.com is paying a writer to travel with the team. In the case of the Dodgers, one of only two daily “beat” writers. Beat writers who used to follow a team from coast to coast, to bring you a sense of the heartbeat of the game, and the pulse of the players. In a day when there was, in my sense, a bit of heart disease in the game, based upon these quotes.

The day was coming soon when the game of baseball itself was gonna need a heart transplant. If anybody even cared, after watching this generation of players. But in the words of Sonny and Cher, “and the Beat Goes On.” The beat after the Mitchell Report. But without the “beat” writers who have not really been given access to this modern era of players. Without the “beat” writers who never really have brought the story of steroid use to the public over the last 15 years. And I sure did not expect MLB.com beat writers to reveal the transparency of a team. There seemed to be a conflict of interest for what was once called publicists. With MLB.com paying writers to cover a team, with Major League Baseball forming their own network with their own announcers, who expected criticism, much less transparency. These “beat” writers, the true critics, had been, in the era of agents, denied real access to the modern players anyway. And about the time that steroid use started. The day was here where the organic player was in need a special place just like grocers put old-fashioned organic food in the grocery stores, and maybe would charge us more. If that was possible.

From one generation to the next, baseball has provided a language to communicate that there was a sense of transcendence about life greater than I. Baseball communicated that there was a connection between me and others. My teammates. To all who played the game. Like a religion, baseball was a spiritual experience in a world where people felt closer in ritual. Baseball was all about the depth of a relationship.

Hall of Famer Juan Marichal: “I was wrong thinking he was a pure, natural hitter and that he would never use anything that would help a player do better. I am very sad to hear a player of his caliber could be involved in such a thing. I consider it cheating the game to have a positive test.”

Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki: “Him being out 50 games is huge for the Dodgers lineup. It takes the best player in the division out for 50 games. That gives us a little window of opportunity so hopefully we can take advantage of it.”

Those honest windows of opportunity in a game with a lot of deceit: welcome to baseball in the 21st century. It was truth being stranger than science fiction. Why am I watching these experiments in human growth hormones mingle with the natural athletes? When I had never wasted my time on science fiction.

Even in the era of moral relativism, those 10 Commandments never changed. The tenets of the past remained for the present and the future, without enhancements. The failure amidst all of this was in the teaching the graciousness of the game, the “gentle” part of “gentlemen,” to the souls of the young. Whether players had come from the PAC 8 colleges or the barrios of Latin America, in an age of diversity there should be lifelong banishment for steroid use. The Barry Bondses, the Roger Clemenses, the Manny Ramirezes

David Howman, director of the World Anti-Doping Agency: “It is regrettable that the sport does not identify substances involved in positive cases. Baseball needs to be transparent.”

A lack of transparency was what had caused the collapse last September on Wall Street, which did not happen over night. Ah the politics of the game which also now had limited transparency. So this was what had been taught to those guys who majored in sports administration.

George Bush had been the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers about the time Bud Selig came to power in the current system. That current system under Selig with no distinction to the American League or the National League. The narrative of the story of baseball under Bud has been an acquiescence to the player’s association, a looking the other way, with a lack of regulation. From the commissioner, to the general manager, the managers, the umpires, everyone was making too much money and looking the other way while cheaters just kept on cheating. It sounded a lot like Wall Street. So why was I watching this? I would not compete myself again a cheater for recreation, after I did it all week on Wall Street.

I was a Juan Marichal fan growing up. Reading MLB.com, he seems one of the few people who could connect the sense of transcendence about baseball, about what he did in his life, that was greater than himself. Someone should tell Dusty Baker, this was more than about the Dodgers, or Manny’s reputation. The waters of free agency had made all of the guys just Prussian soldiers, going through the motions.

“And the Beat Goes On.” In 50 more games. In the polluted waters of free agency. It was a new era of globalization. When that local newspaper was owned from far away. When local politics was decided by political contributions from Hollywood. Or maybe from China. It was the era when the players came from afar, when an owner in Los Angeles was a parking lot owner in Boston. When scattered stockholders throughout the world were interested only in bottom lines. And no one really cared about anything except money.

Those enhancement might attract attention for a while, of those of us with money to spend on tickets. Until we looked at what was underneath it all.

Time would tell of the depth of a relationship. Time would be the judge of the depth of love of the game of kids who grew up amidst all of this.

The Race for the Cure might be a new name for the entire decade of baseball, not that division competition in the National League West. Those enhancements following the last baseball strike had worked for a while. Until someone actually figured to look underneath it all. Now that we all knew what was under the current game, it was time to change this unending behavior.

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The Day the Music Died

For all that it mattered, Obama had my vote until he kicked 3 reporters off a plane in the closing week of the campaign when their newspapers endorsed the other candidate. It was in 2008 that I set out to write about the threat to democracy when newspapers died. The news reports on the news is like watching a loved one with cancer. The deathwatch was prolonged, but the end result is fairly obvious.

A generation has come of age with a free news media. Without the news, I would not be on-line with the anticipation of excitement which I bring to the desk each evening.

Today I read a piece by Neil Macdonald of the CBC News. If you have never had the pleasure of watching the news produced from Canada, you have missed one of the Cadillacs of the industry.

Macdonald writes: “Many of the people who govern us do not believe the public has a right to know very much at all. This is not a conservative or a liberal thing.”

“George W. Bush and his group were obvious stonewallers. But the Obama administration is, in some ways, even more controlling. Barack Obama has taken up the Bush practice of pre-selecting and notifying reporters in advance that they will be called upon at his press conference, leaving all the others to act as props. Obama’s people are also famous for what’s called message discipline, meaning no leaks.”

“Were it not for newspapers, the American public would likely not know that its former president had authorized secret CIA ‘black’ prisons abroad, where government operatives were free to torture detainees. Or that the U.S. government was wiretapping American citizens without judicial permission. Or that returning veterans, their minds and bodies shattered, were suffering in the dank squalor of a mouldy military hospital.”

http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2009/03/31/f-rfa-macdonald.html

Amidst the age of bailouts, it was rather noble that not a newspaper was asking the government for loans that the industry might survive. Without newspapers, we are all of us more vulnerable. Whatever your beliefs, whatever your political affiliation. Anyone who has not given thought to subscribing to the local news at this point in history, to save an institution that has provided a formidable part of a democrat society, will rue the day when their town no longer has reporters out sniffing out stories of corruption, dishonesty, or well thought opinion pieces.

Newspapers for the most part are about figuring out what things are worth. Newspapers are about integrity and setting standards which politicians are expected to meet. And newspapers are about those who walk among us, and learning through the obituary page who is now gone. Sadly, the newspapers in my town, both of them, do not appear to have a life expectancy of more than a few months.

Mystery: Being Able to Question

The mystery: of baseball, of markets, of the opposite sex, of God. 

Why did you bunt, with a man on second and no one out?  All of the questions of the press conference, there were actually two managers giving honest answers.  We now live in an age where candidates, coaches, managers answered less questions.  They arranged and spun events, setting the tone.  So it was refreshing to see Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel in action.      

The loss of access to question was followed by people who quit questioning.  It was the environment we lived in, dominated by former journalists turned public relation specialists.  The environment, the moral one, had changed.  It was a result of moral relativism, decried by agnostics like George Orwell or Christian Evelyn Waugh.   Maybe no one would notice.  But the old-timers did.  They saw limited access in press rooms and locker rooms.  Young journalists took all of this loss of access as the norm. 

The loss of access was part of the the daily llfe of a new generation.  Voice messages, e-mail, might increase communication in one way, but it was one dimensional.  I could manipulate people and time to my advantage.  But did it make people, candidates, less authentic?     

Did anyone else see the irony in lower interest rates, announced by the Fed yesterday?  Wasn’t that easy credit what created this mess in the first place?   Washington was going to be compelling banks to lend, in a new form of fascism?  The Associated Press actually ran this story:

October 28, 2008…..WASHINGTON (AP) — An impatient White House served notice Tuesday on banks and other financial companies receiving billions of dollars in federal help to quit hoarding the money and start making more loans.

“We’re trying to do is get banks to do what they are supposed to do, which is support the system that we have in America. And banks exist to lend money,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Though there are limits on how much Washington can pressure banks, she noted that banks are regulated by the federal government.  “They will be watching very closely, and they’re working with the banks,” she said.  She said that Anthony Ryan, Treasury’s acting undersecretary for domestic finance, delivered a speech in New York on Tuesday that made this point. Ryan spoke to the annual meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.” 

It also was reported, “As the crisis that began in the mortgage market spreads through the economy, policy makers are redoubling their efforts to contain the damage. Even as the Fed reduced rates on Wednesday, the Bush administration was weighing a plan to slow the foreclosure epidemic in the nation’s housing market. Details of the initiative were in flux, but the plan could involve the government guaranteeing the mortgages of as many as three million at-risk homeowners, a step that could cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, people briefed on the plan said.”

The “why me, Lord?” refrain.  A lot of people sang it in tough times.  Few sang it in good times.  In an affluent time, too many of use just ate, drank, and were married without realizing all of the ingredients put into the food, and from where those ingredients had come.

At some point in a budding relationship, there was hope to find out and put an end to the wonder of what was behind this body.   To see someone naked was move to the next step.  But the real mystery involved responding to a fidelity, to the wonder of nakedness.  It seemed nothing but attempting to feel a lover’s soul. 

 

With all of the questioning, there are promises made, tested, and kept. In the end, maybe at a funeral, maybe at the end of a season, you see how God has proven faithful.  And for those who survive a deadly illness, an addiction, there is a question of response.  As in any loving relationship, there is a necessity of laying down the proper way to respond to this fidelity.  

 

With mysteries, it was all about the daily questioning. 

Getting Out From the Revolving Door of the Credit Markets

 

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WE ARE HIS PEOPLE

It was Father’s Day.

Selig-Fehr Wing of the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown

The worst thing that you used to could say about a player was he was bigger than the game.

This week the world read about a lot of guys who were bigger than the game. Guys who had disrespected not only their profession in the modern age, but all those in the game who went before them, who set records playing over their lifetime. Guys who were unable, unwilling to accept that their talents were diminishing, if it was natural-born talent which had brought them some degree of success through their lifetime. Guys who had diminished the game by cheating.

Baseball is a humbling sport. It was a sport always intended to teach humility. It was a lot like life. It was why people played sport, why schools sponsored teams from the beginning. These guys were supposed to, in their youth, learn sportsmanship to a degree, with concepts of fairness. Sports built character. Ask some old-timer in a nursing home how baseball prepared him for the challenges of aging and dealing with failure, with some degree of grace.

Or it used to. Some players have been accused of wrongdoing not with their day in court, and not with an examination of the quality of the evidence of wrongdoing.

Congress will soon have hearing, where one representative is on record asking the commissioner to preserve the 10,000 tests baseball does each year in search of steroids. Yes, 10,000 urine tests a year.

Some of the guys who had cheated had robbed somebody, not with firearms, but had used the system to obtain contracts for millions of dollars. In a very public way some of the cheaters will be able to carry on, protected by the guidelines of collective bargaining, with their contracts with performance bonuses and escalator clauses that have been in place for most of professional their careers.

The theme of the Mitchell Report involved the basic human condition, the failure of moral authority, the failure of baseball to have a moral authority to rule over what is right and what is wrong, in a world that more and more was filled with people who ask not to be judged. These were people, by-standers, trying to make a living in baseball, that humbling sport. Now played by athletes in their realm most high, above the law, the highest, the mightiest of them all.

By-standers trying to make a living? What did the sign say in the clubhouse? ‘What you see here, what you say here, when you leave here, let it stay here.’

One month ago, a New York Times columnist thought an executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association should have been remembered and enshrined this year in the Hall of Fame for his influence upon the game, an assertion that seems right since the Players Association had made certain that Dollar Sign on Muscles was not just the name of some old reference book now available in used bookstores. In a society where more and more are isolated, challenged to come together, reflected in participation in bowling leagues, in labor unions, there is the Players Association, stronger each year, eroding to a degree more and more each year the lessons of humility in the game. Through collective bargaining creating the realm most high, high above the law, the mightiest of them all.

The theme of the Mitchell Report was that, as more and more money was pumped into one sport, sportsmanship was missing. The theme of the Mitchell Report was it was missing with players, with front office people, with owners, and overall with the moral authority in the game. Baseball had come to reflect society. The failure of baseball in the modern age is not the sport.

Accused by Fay Vincent of being a ringleader in the collusion that took place in the late 1980s, Bud Selig was asked to guide the game starting in September 1992. Maybe that was why the players in the Players Association refused to talk to Mr. Mitchell, who was hired by the commissioner. One year ago the commissioner was honored by a magazine Sports Business Journal, where it was reported that he too was rewarded with a contract with performance bonuses and escalator clauses of close to $15 million.

The Mitchell Report does call the question if his era, the Selig Years from 1993 through 2007, with his greatest achievement of consensus-building among owners, was not a repeat of his leadership of collusion, only this time with Bud in bed with the Major League Baseball Players Association, setting records for attendance, looking the other way in denial of a problem. It is an era that should always be remembered. When the Major League Baseball Players Association had now grown bigger than the game, with and without performance enhanced drugs. It is an era that should always be remembered, comparable to those Cold War days when East German athletes were always viewed as less than human, as walking science experiments. These Selig Years present such a nice continuity from the end of the Cold War. Some guys who were bigger than the game will inevitably be enshrined as some kind of heroes. Some people who ask not to be judged, would not be interviewed.

Sportswriters assigned to cover this sport, given access to these modern gods, will now wrestle with their privilege granted to determine which players of this era with no moral authority belong in the Hall of Fame, as if that Hall of Fame was also bigger than the game.

The lessons of humility are still there everyday. A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote in the epilogue to Take time for Paradise, “Games, contests, sports reiterate the purpose of freedom every time they are enacted –the purpose being to show how to be free and to be complete and connected, unimpeded, integrated, all at once.” And he continued, no matter how cheapened, or commercialized, for the purpose of training, and testing, and rewarding the rousing motion within us, to find a moment or more of freedom. “Through sport, we re-create our daily portion of freedom, in public.”

The theme of the Mitchel Report is the same theme as in the book of Genesis, of the human condition while connected to a PLACE, lessons of humility extracted from an overabundance of pride. Tradition. Passing along the tradition of human endeavor, on the border of good and evil.

These still are days when most players try to go about their own business, some better than others, dealing with the sleaze, and a commissioner’s office dealing with 10,000 urine tests a year. While baseball figures out what to do next, maybe those 10,000 urine tests can be stored in the Hall of Fame, in a special wing to be built and also used for any new inductees, for guys who played after September 1992.

PHOTO COURTESY OF JEWEL SAMAD OF GETTY IMAGES

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