Saturday, August 30, 2008
Ocho Cinco, for those of you who don’t know, was Johnson’s nickname before it was a waste of Broward County’s time and resources. Unlike most nicknames, it was not one that was given Chad by friends and loved ones. Rather, he concocted it all on his own and tried to force it on the people around him. It is his number. Translated into Spanish. Real clever. He awarded himself the name a couple years back in honor of Spanish Heritage Month. Well, Chad, since you seem to care so much about, you know, Spanish stuff, I thought you would want to know that eighty-five in Spanish is actually ochenta y cinco. Not ocho cinco. Oh, well. It’s just, uh, your legal name.
Not surprisingly, the people around him were not receptive to the nickname. Like I said, nicknames only tend to stick when they are given to us by someone else. They are, in a sense, a gesture of familiarity and intimacy, whether flattering or not. There is Big Papi, who described the creation of his own nickname by saying, “They call me Big Papi. Because I call everyone Papi. And I’m big.” I love a guy who gets to the point. There’s Magic Johnson, who earned his nickname by wowing a sports writer on the basketball court at the young age of fifteen. There is Pudge and, as we have already established, no one chooses that on his own. Then, of course, we have the Chowda for whom this blog is named. It’s true; he made the idiotic mistake of carrying on his asinine and humiliating nickname into adulthood. Evidence of his desperate need to feel special and a part of something. (And, by the way, you suck Coco Crisp.) But, still, it was Great Grandma who actually first conceived of the embarrassing moniker. But to create your own nickname? I am going to go ahead and suggest that it is only something you do when you are really needy and desirous of attention.
If you think I merely speculate, let’s consider Chad Johnson—whose nickname I refuse to acknowledge because that’s what he wants us to do. Since we have known him, he went and got that ridiculous bleached blonde mowhawk, he raced against a thoroughbred, and he socked Cincy’s head coach Marvin Lewis one right in the eye. Sound like someone who needs attention to you?
Marvin Lewis is among those who most despise Chad’s nickname. Not totally surprising. If someone punched me in the eye, I would probably have a hard time objectively analyzing his nickname. And when analyzed objectively, this nickname isn’t really so awesome anyway. Marvin Lewis went and did something crafty, however, when he transformed Ocho Cinco into a title he felt better suited Johnson—Ocho Psycho. (You see, Chad, THAT is a nickname.) Given Lewis’s distaste for the name, you can imagine that he was none too pleased when Johnson, in a desperate effort to get people to acknowledge him and his nickname, went and velcroed it onto his uniform before a game against the Falcons in 2006. A stunt that earned him a $5,000 fine and the disdain of his teammates.
This planted a seed in Johnson’s mind. There had to be a way to get the NFL to authorize him to have that name on his back. Enter the legal system. Not like they have anything better to do. And, according to Johnson, neither does Johnson. One would think that this back breaking effort was the result of some sort of madness bordering on obsession. But when asked about his latest antics, he responded, “Have I ever had a reason for why I do what I do? I'm having fun.”
Well, I am disinclined to believe this answer. Why? Because I know what fun is. And dealing with the court system unnecessarily? Not fun. Ever pay a fine for a ticket, despite the fact that you vowed that you were going to go contest it in court? Sure, you did. And, why? Because court is not fun. Ever try to get out of jury duty? Obviously. Why? Not fun. Every time I have to do anything that is going to require even a little bit of red tape or bureaucracy, I try systematically to avoid it. Why? Because it’s not fun. Therefore, it stands to reason that a sane person would never contrive a reason to legally change his name simply because he was on a quest for fun. I am assuming most people are aware of the existence of bowling and karaoke. So, no, I simply don’t buy that Ochenta y Cinco was putting himself to all of this trouble for kicks.
This brings me back to my original point: Giving yourself a nickname is only something you do if you are really needy and desirous of attention. Not that it is a wonder that Johnson would be that way. Show me someone who needs too much attention, I’ll show you someone who didn’t get enough love in his childhood. Well, I guess Johnson got enough, arguably, but maybe just not from enough people. Certainly not from his father, who has never been a presence in Johnson’s life. His mother was also unable to show Chad much in the love department. Ill-equipped to raise a child, she shipped him off to live with his grandparents in the tough part of Miami. Car jackings and riots tough. So tough, in fact, that his grandfather was murdered when Chad was still a boy. He spent the rest of his youth with his grandmother, Bessie Flowers, to whom he attributes the fact that he ever made it anywhere in life. Even at a young age, Johnson was unruly, defying authority, acting out whenever he had the chance. Lucky for him, Grandma always found a way to rein him in just before he took that last step off the precipice.
Unfortunately, his prowess on the football field proved something of a disservice because it enabled him to slide his way through high school with pretty abysmal grades. His teachers may have thought they were doing him a favor, but really they were just creating an all but insurmountable obstacle when it came time for Chad to apply to college. Granny knew well enough that the only way to keep a boy like Chad out of real trouble was to make sure that he was in one of three places at all times—class, the football field, or bed. It took work, and three years of junior college in Santa Monica, but he eventually made it to Oregon State University. Clearly, however, all Bessie's efforts have not done much to temper Chad’s need to act out. To get us to notice him.
While I sympathize with Chad in the way that I do any of my bad boys, it doesn’t mean I think we should buy into his antics. Not to mention the fact that I find showboating a much more distasteful way to broadcast one’s issues—better to have a good old-fashioned violent outburst. As any parenting book will tell you, there are two kinds of attention we can give our children: negative attention and positive attention. (I am assuming—I have never actually read any parenting books.) When Chad goes and changes his name legally to Ocho Cinco? When he does an interpretive dance at the end zone every time he scores a touch down? When he pulls a Brett Fav-ruh—“I hate the Bengals.” “I want you to trade me.” “I won’t come to minicamp.” “Of course I’m coming to minicamp.” “My ankle hurts.”? All that is what the parenting books would call negative attention.
Based on what I know about parenting, which is nothing, I would guess that the parenting books would encourage us not to feed into this behavior by acknowledging it. If people don’t respond—if Lewis acts likes it’s nothing—then maybe Chad will start to think that he is wasting his energy trying to impress us. I mean, really. All the time he’s invested into getting us to call him Ocho Cinco, he could have solved the energy crisis by now. And if Chad does, in fact, direct his attention towards solving the energy crisis, the parenting books would encourage us to praise him for that. Because that is what you call positive attention. Though, anytime Johnson does anything to earn our praise, it is pretty hard to get a word in edgewise because Johnson usually has plenty to say about it. Still, I propose that this is the approach to take with a guy like this, who is clearly just desperate for our love. And if anyone at the Bengals is reading, it also might not be a bad idea to have Bessie Flowers as a fixture in the clubhouse—as a backup plan.
Seriously. Did I have to write this at ten am if I wanted to be able to say that the Yanks had posted consecutive wins? And with a four-run lead you blow today’s game? Now I’m just starting to think that no one cares but me. Maybe me and Carl Pavano. He pitched like an ace last night. Kind of. He won, anyway. Oh, right. But he also skipped the three previous seasons. So, scratch that; he doesn’t get any points for caring. At least there is good news coming out of one of the five boroughs. Well, not technically one of the five boroughs because it took place in Florida, but it happened to the Mets. In last night’s game against the Marlins, Carlos Beltran—Choke Master-General—hit a game winning salami in the ninth. Just as well it didn’t happen at Shea. That poor apple could not have handled the excitement. Though, I guess it probably would have recovered somewhere around the eighth inning of today's game.
Friday, August 29, 2008
On paper, Giambi is everything I cannot stand in a player. He is tacky and crude. He has that ridiculous mustache, which—let’s face it—only really worked for pitchers in the late 70’s. He speaks freely and publicly about the gold thong to which he attributes his ability to pull out of a slump. He gives people the bird on camera, which is admittedly hilarious, but not exactly in the spirit of Lou Gehrig. He is not in particularly good shape. And, of course, Giambi’s name is practically synonymous with the BALCO scandal. Basically, if you boil Giambi down to his essence, he is a sloppy, meathead, frat boy, undisciplined buffoon. By all rights, I really shouldn’t like him.
And for a long time, I didn’t. All of the characteristics that I felt separated him from the Torre boys—the Riveras, the
This change in attitude came upon me gradually. For a number of reasons. Funnily, the BALCO debacle was the catalyst. I have little patience for juicers because I believe that there are certain rules that exist for a reason. There is the one where drivers have to stop at red lights, the one where people who cook food at restaurants have to wash their hands, and the one where sawed-off shotguns are illegal. These are rules that exist to hold society together. I am sure we can all agree that these are good rules.
For an example that bears closer relation to the steroid rule, let’s discuss the rule where you are only allowed fifteen items or less in the express lane at the grocery store. A few weeks back, while I was in the checkout line at the market, I witnessed a girl as she blatantly spat in the face of this rule. You remember. She had four items—Splenda, heavy cream, ice, and chocolate syrup. I will not repeat for you what was wrong with the assortment of items on her grocery list. However, the main issue is that, while she had only four items, she had a great enough quantity of each of them to make her total number of items add up to thirty. Now, let’s say the express lane is the baseball book of records. And let’s say that the fewer items you have, the more ability you have. It is unfair for someone to waste my time by worming her way into the express lane by using a false measure to determine the number of items in her cart. So, it follows that it is also unfair for someone to get his name into the record books by using a false measure to determine his actual level ability.
To take this analogy a step further, what happens when people start fudging the express lane rule is that it inspires resentment in those who are still waiting in the other line. They, too, start to rationalize reasons for being in the express lane. This one only has sixteen items, this other one is in a major hurry. You get the point. Steroid use begets more steroid use. It makes the playing field uneven and creates the feeling that one has to cheat to compete. For these reasons, I am disinclined to sympathize with a juicer.
That said, Jason Giambi did something that surprised me. He took responsibility for his actions. He took responsibility, and then he apologized. Don’t get me wrong; I was not immediately won over. In fact, when shortly after his public mea culpa, he started striking out his way through the first half of the 2005 season, I was wholly unimpressed. But when Giambi kept his head down, and his mouth shut, and turned things around to become the AL Comeback Player of the Year that season with 32 dingers and 87 RBIs, he showed me something. And he did it despite the chorus of our boos that he heard along the way. As a follow-up, he gave us 37 home runs and 113 RBIs in 2006. All that took a little grit.
In 2007, Giambi gave us a more comprehensive apology for his steroid abuse. It was a supplement to his previous public statement, which some felt was too vague. “I was wrong for using that stuff," he said in an interview with USA Today. "What we should have done a long time ago was stand up—players, ownership, everybody—and said, 'We made a mistake.’” Can I get an “Amen?”
The Commissioner’s Office was less than thrilled with Giambi’s implication that anyone but the individual players involved were somehow to blame for the scandal, but let’s get real. I’m sure we all remember the famous scene from
The people in all of this for whom I have the most respect are, of course, the players who never got involved. I am going to go out on a limb here with some educated guesses and say guys like Mike Mussina, Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Mariano Rivera. Players who have proven that you can make it to the express lane without fudging the number of items in your cart.
Then, there are those who, once enmeshed, find a way to handle it with as little grace and integrity as is humanly possible. There is Jose Canseco, who has used his literary prowess and his propensity for squealing into an opportunity to make a buck. Here’s hoping he turns the series into a trilogy. In the meantime, buddy, I’d enroll yourself into the Penguin Books Witness Protection Program.
Then we have, of course, the man, the myth, the brain trust, Rafael Palmeiro. He persuaded us of his innocence in a hearing before the House of Representatives, saying, “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids. Period. I don't know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never. The reference to me in Mr. Canseco's book is absolutely false. I am against the use of steroids. I don't think athletes should use steroids and I don't think our kids should use them.” Sounds pretty darn convincing to me. Unfortunately, Raffy, pee tests speak louder than words. And you failed yours only weeks after wowing us with this State of the Union address.
There are those who don’t deny receiving the injections—they just claim not to have known what was in them. Bonds thought his were flaxseed oil. Because who doesn’t prefer to inject his flaxseed oil? Clemens thought his injections contained lidocaine and Vitamin B12. And he has turned his attempt to prove this to us into nothing short of a circus with video taped rants, and interviews, and secretly recorded phone calls.
Finally, we have the players who fall into another, more sympathetic category. Guys like Pettitte and Giambi, who I do not necessarily commend for their behavior. True, juicing is cheating. And I hold cheating among the gravest of all possible offenses. But we are all fallible, after all. I admire their courage in admitting they were wrong.
This brings us back to Giambi, who has still not quite found a place in my heart. But he has, over the years, managed to crawl his way out of my bad graces and make me willing to even tolerate that mustache, that ridiculous thong talk. It certainly doesn’t hurt that while he may be a thong-wearing, mustachioed doofus, unlike some Yankees I know, Giambi CAN clutch this. Something he’s shown us time and time again. Most recently, he came into last night’s game in the 7th as a pinch hitter and got us a much needed two-run dinger. He went ahead and capped it off in the 9th with a walk-off single. This earned as a three-to-two win in what will all but certainly be our last Chowda Series ever in the House That Ruth Built. Even if we continue to tank, if the Yanks keep twisting the knife they have been inching into my heart all month, at least we will be able to say that this series was not a sweep. That the last game of this series was, in fact, a win. For that, we can thank the Giambino. And Moose, who despite a solid outing with two runs and five hits over seven innings, still got a no-decision. His third in four outings. Alas, he remains stuck at sixteen. Let’s hope that he isn’t simply fated to be the player about whom we always said, “Missed it by THAT much.”
With Moose stuck at sixteen and the Yanks stuck at six back, some say it’ll take nothing short of a miracle. But I don’t think it’s going to take a miracle. I just think it’s going to take a whole lot of late season wins—the Yankees specialty. And the will to give the Chowdas the metaphorical bird—to show Coco Crisp just how much he truly sucks. Who’s with me? I know Giambi is. That guy’s psyched to give anyone the bird.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Jose Guillen did, indeed, have a point. It was that when he loses his cool, as he is known to do, it’s only because he’s passionate. Because he loves the game. Because he just can’t contain his competitive edge. Because he can’t understand anyone else who feels differently. Except for Tuesday night. That night he just got peeved because a fan called him a bad name and insulted his family. But, usually, it’s the other stuff.
Tuesday’s outburst was not the first of Jose’s public displays of what he would probably call team spirit. There was the time, in 2004, when Guillen was playing for the Angels and Mike Scioscia pulled him from a game for a pinch runner. This so angered Jose that he threw both his helmet and his glove inside the dugout. The team responded by suspending Guillen for the remainder of the season, including the postseason, which did not make Jose particularly happy. He let them know. Not surprisingly, the Angels traded Guillen that November. When Scioscia tried to bury the hatchet with Guillen, he responded by calling Scioscia a “piece of garbage.” Yeah, it’s true; trying to bury the hatchet is pretty trashy.
In 2005, when Jose was with the Nationals, he was plunked by Pedro Martinez. Guillen made a big spectacle of berating his own pitcher, Esteban Loaiza, for his failure to retaliate. Deja vu all over again. The exact same thing had happened the previous year with the Angels. Jose was also known to publicly criticize players for the Nationals for not playing through their injuries. True, he didn’t use any names. But it's not like anyone was unaware of who was injured on the Nationals. So, it would sort of be like if I said, “I find it really frustrating when overpaid players on the Yankees who have frosted tips ground into double plays in late season games.”
Fast forward to his time with the Royals. Since joining the team, he has cursed out his teammates and referred to them as a bunch of "babies," cursed out his fan base, saying he could care less what they think of him, and had to be physically restrained from going at it with pitching coach Bob McLure. I assume cursing was involved in that incident as well. And probably no middle finger for comic relief. Then there was Tuesday night, when Guillen was, again, physically restrained in order to prevent him from attacking a fan who was heckling him.
Guillen claims that his outbursts can all be chalked up to an insatiable desire for victory. That so great is his need to win that he becomes frustrated when he sees other people who are not giving it their all. The problem is that sometimes Guillen’s actions are inconsistent with his supposed competitive edge. For example, if Guillen was so in love with winning, wouldn’t he be disciplined enough to have laid off the Fribbles and not shown up to Spring Training, by his own estimate, twenty to thirty pounds overweight? There is nothing wrong with having a little extra junk in your trunk if you are not getting paid $12 million dollars a year to be a professional athlete. But, seriously. Come on. Jose Guillen literally has nothing to do all winter besides drink protein shakes and do pilates. So, if Jose Guillen is going to be the guy who yells at all the other guys for not trying hard enough, not being invested enough, shouldn’t he also be the guy who shows up to Spring Training in peak physical condition?
Then of, course, there is the fact that Guillen famously fails to run out his ground balls. This makes me suspicious of his allegedly competitive nature. Wouldn’t someone with his theoretical yen to win always be running out every ground ball no matter what?
Jose Guillen will be the first to tell you that Jose Guillen is a gamer. Jose Guillen plays through injuries and, consequently, cannot understand the guys who don’t. Jose Guillen claims that it is evidence that they simply are not invested enough. But I would make another argument. You see, Jose Guillen hasn’t had such a great season, which is why fans keep saying things that make him respond so, uh, passionately. And the reason that keeps cropping up for Jose Guillen’s not-so-hot performance is—surprise, surprise—an injury. I wonder if Jose Guillen ever considered the possibility that it actually wasn’t best for his team for him to have suffered through a leg injury for months rather than take the necessary time on the DL to address it. Jeter showed us just earlier this year that sometimes the best thing you can do for an injury is rest it. He showed us right around the same time that A-Rod showed us that sometimes the worst thing you can do it play through it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that there are some guys—guys who fake injuries for seasons and seasons whose names I won’t mention—who don’t need to start playing through the “pain” a little. But Jose falls into another category.
I do not believe his desire to play through his pain is evidence of his need to serve his team. What I do think is that if his team is going to win, he wants his fair share of the credit. That is the reason he got so angry about Scioscia pulling him for a pinch runner. But a manager does not make decisions in order to soothe the overly fragile ego of a temperamental player. A manager makes decisions based on what is best for the team. A player who truly has his team's welfare at heart will respect those decisions.
Finally, it cannot go unsaid that Jose Guillen is reported to have purchased a large supply of performance enhancing drugs last year when he was playing for Oakland. To be shipped directly to the Coliseum. (Good thinking, Jose Guillen.) This shows me that Jose Guillen is not truly a competitor. Real competitors don't cheat. In my humble opinion. Moreover, it shows me that he does not actually respect the sport about which he claims to care so passionately. It makes it hard to take him seriously when he tell us that the root of his problem is that he cares too much.
It seems to me that Jose Guillen only cares about one thing: Jose Guillen. He cares when Jose Guillen gets hit by a pitch. He cares when Jose Guillen gets pulled from games. He cares when Jose Guillen gets insulted by fans. All of this stuff about Jose Guillen being invested in the team, in winning? Honestly? I think Jose Guillen is just a hothead who is looking for a reason to yell.
On another note, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge my hamster Sadie, who passed away yesterday. Sadie was born on July 28, 2006 to Tomi and Wolfgang. She is survived by sister Jolene, brothers Fitzwilliam and Felix, nieces and nephews Cyrus, Augustin, Mackenzie, and Rose of Sharon, and great nieces and nephews Cristóbal, Alonzo, Su Lin and Max. (Do not be alarmed. Not all of these hamster live with me.) Sadie will be remembered for her curiosity, her exceptional interest in people, and her ability to fit a really large number of seeds into her mouth. She was truly an extraordinary hamster. Rest in peace, Sadie.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
The short answer to that question is that A-Rod doesn’t perform well in the clutch. You’ve also heard that song before. It’s the reason so many people, present company included, give him such a hard time. But A-Rod has a different take, speculating that the real explanation for people’s criticism is jealousy—the other green monster—with maybe just a hint of racism. In an interview with Sports Illustrated, he commented, "When people write [bad things] about me, I don't know if it's [because] I'm good-looking, I'm biracial, I make the most money, I play on the most popular team."
Well, A-Rod, it’s true; those frosted tips and eerily glossy cat eyes may be somebody’s defintion of good-looking, but David Wright is also someone’s definition of good-looking. No one seems particularly eager to find fault with him. And, true, you’re biracial, but so is Derek Jeter. And, uh, ever heard of a little someone named Tiger Woods? Talk about a cornucopia of multiracial fun. People are just gaga over him. So, I’m just going to go ahead and eliminate that possibility on the grounds that it’s preposterous. As you mentioned, you do get paid more than anyone in baseball, and I’ll give you that as one possible reason why people find you so despicable. But I will also assert that that is less about being the highest paid player in baseball than it is about being the most overpaid player in baseball. Big difference. Finally, the fact that you play on the most popular team? Please. Sure, there are those who resent the Bombers. But I don’t hear them running around town slinging insults at Mariano Rivera or Hideki Matsui. And you said it yourself—the Yankees are POPULAR. That means, by definition, that people like them. That lots of people like them. Those of us who do are prepared to rally behind their players. Apparently, all of them but you.
So, A-Rod, now that I’ve successfully poked a hole through your theory about why people love to razz you, I’m going to go back to mine, which is that you stink in the clutch. This year, you’re batting a measly .246 with runners in scoring position. You’re 1-for-10 with bases loaded. Not to mention the fact that you’ve grounded into nine double plays this month alone. Sure, you helped us get to the postseason last year, but look what you did when we finally got there? And dare I even mention the horrifying displays of stinkiness that occurred in the postseasons of 2005 and 2006? You’ve shown us time, and time, and time again that, when it really matters, we can’t count on you to perform. Last night was proof perfect. It was, as I think we all know, all but a must-win game for the Yanks, and what did you do? You went 0-for-5—grounding into two double plays—and gave us a throwing error.
And, yet, there are other numbers to consider—numbers that confuse the issue. A-Rod is batting .308 this season with twenty-eight long balls and seventy-eight RBIs. It’s sometimes hard to understand what appears to be an inexplicable inconsistency between those numbers and what I’m seeing when I watch him take the plate. When I look at his career stats, his season stats, it is impossible not to acknowledge just how good he is. But, as I already said, when we need the hit at the critical juncture in the critical game, he’s not the guy I believe will be able to get it for us. Again I ask: Why is that? Is it truly possible that a player with his numbers really never comes through when we need him? Or do I choose to focus on his failures rather than his successes because it suits my needs?
Not surprisingly, A-Rod has strong feelings on the subject. In another moving attempt to earn our respect and vindicate himself in the eyes of the baseball-viewing public, he commented, “I could care less.” Sorry. That’s not the part that relates to what I’m saying. That’s just the part where he’s pulling on my heart strings. He went onto say, “I've done a lot of special things in this game, and for none of that to be considered clutch, it's an injustice. I don't take anything personally; I enjoy it, it motivates me and I think it's comical. I think [for] anyone that drives in over 130 runs numerous times in his career, it's impossible not to be clutch.” Unlike the other thing he said, it almost sounds like it makes sense, so do we have to accept it as the truth?
I’m afraid I’m going to have to say no. And I’ll tell you why. Remember all that stuff I said before about him batting. 246 with runners in scoring position? Remember his nine GIDPs in a month? Remember the sub-.200 postseasons? That’s why.
A-Rod is truly an anomaly. He is not a case of a player who has talent but fails to recognize his potential. A-Rod gets results. He has the numbers to prove his worth. What he does that’s extraordinary is somehow manage to maximize his own potential without ever maximizing his team’s. And it is a feat that I find impossible to explain. I don’t even know if A-Rod himself could explain it. But who knows? Maybe Kabbalah will reveal to him how he is able to perform so well while every team he touches turns to Crapelbon. Or, maybe, it’s like he says. He could care less.
While we’re on the subject of last night’s game, Mike Bauman of mlb.com had this to say about our friend Covelli’s performance: “The Red Sox were also opportunistic. A high point in this area occurred in a three-run fifth inning, when center fielder Coco Crisp scored from second on a mere infield hit. Crisp alertly kept coming as Jeff Bailey beat out a grounder to third, while Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi held the ball. It was a display of alertness on Crisp's part, and a show of bewilderment on the part of Giambi.” Anyone else get the sense that Coco did a good job being alert? Is it just me, or is that like the saddest baseball compliment you could ever get? It sounds sort of like the kind of compliment you give to someone who sucks, right? Well, Coco Crisp, on behalf of all (one) of us at “You Suck Coco Crisp,” way to be alert. However, and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear this, but notwithstanding your level of alertness, You Suck Coco Crisp.
Monday, August 25, 2008
What is unique about the Yankees is our capacity to triumph in the face of adversity. People simply don’t talk about the Marlins taking their division the way they talk about the Yanks winning the wild card. Sure, maybe Marlins fans talk about it, but people don’t. And, yet, the two events are equally likely to happen—based on the numbers. If few people talk about the Marlins taking their division, then no people talk about the Rockies winning theirs. And, yet, there’s a better chance of that happening than of the Yanks forging ahead past the Chowdas and the Devils to reign superior over the AL East. But, still, people think they might. True, fewer than the number who believe that they still have a solid shot at the wild card. But enough to where it’s something that even gets discussed. The question is why. The answer is because defying odds is what the Yankees do best.
Yesterday, I briefly discussed the idea of a team’s psychology as reflected through its slogan. This raises an interesting question: Can a team really have a collective psychology? You look at a team like the Mets, who continue to find ways to rise to the top, get within inches of success, and then, just when you think they’re set to nab the prize, they crumble. A coincidence? Maybe. But is it also possible that the players on the Mets have somehow internalized the idea that the Mets are a team that are destined to unravel when it counts? That the notion has become a part of their subconscious identities as players and, consequently, continues to drive their inability to rise up under pressure? Just as it may have been the case that, somewhere, deep within their souls, players for the Red Sox had begun to convince themselves, that maybe, just maybe, they actually were playing for a team that had truly been cursed?
If this is true, then the Yankees, of course, got the best end of this bargain. For they are a team that, time, and time, and time again has proven its worth in the clutch. Has made us feel hopeless up until the last only to produce a late season or late inning miracle to change things around. Want an example? 1978, the Yanks went into July fourteen games behind the Chowdas and came back to win the World Series. Want one that’s more recent? Last year, the Yanks were nine and a half games back in the wild card race. They won fifteen out of twenty games in September in order to clinch it.
The concept I describe is not simple or new. Anticipate failure, you’re going to fail. Anticipate success, you’re bound to succeed. Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, call it a cult phenomenon in California that people pay to read a book about even though I just summed up its essence in a sentence. I mean, call it The Secret. Whatever you call it, one can’t help but wonder if a team’s own self-image doesn’t start to play a role in its own ability to perform in pressure situations.
If a team can develop a set of expectations based on its self-image, then this also applies to its fan base. How many times have we heard a sorry Cubs fan bemoaning his fate as a lovable loser? Or a Mets fan utter the words, “They’re going to find a way to blow it. They always do.” Conversely, how often have you been at Yankees Stadium in late innings when the Yanks were down, all hope seemed lost, but noticed that barely a person had left? Yankees fans have a winning mentality. They refuse to believe that the game is over and lost until the game is actually over and lost.
With the Chowdas, you have a slightly more complex fan psychology. There were, of course, the years of losing. The years, and years, and year, and years, and years—well, I’m not going to write it out eighty-six times, but you get it. Like the Mets fans and Cubs fans, the Chowda fans have always had a losing mentality. But never one that was quite so sympathetic. Pathetic? Yes. Sympathetic. Not so much. I think the reason for this is that it was a losing mentality that was accompanied simultaneously by self-pity and grandiosity. They felt bad about all the losing, yet couldn’t help but brag about it every time they happened to win. This inflated sense of self in the face of all that suckiness is part of what made the old Chowdas fans just so intolerable. The problem is, now that the Chowdas actually went and won, they’ve created a monster—namely the new Chowda fan. This fan is grandiose minus the self-pity. This fan is taking years, and years, and years, and years—well, I’m not going to write it out eighty-six times—of failure and trying to compensate for it with his recent bout of success. This is not a winning mentality. It’s what happens to an ego-driven losing mentality when it gets the smallest taste of victory. It’s what happens to Jan Brady when a boy finally agrees to go out with her. Does it make her somehow suddenly prettier and less annoying than Marsha that she finally went and got a date? Obviously not. But she’s a whole lot more likely to go around bragging about it
The Sox recent success, the breaking of the alleged curse, brings us back to the original question—can a team have a collective psychology? If so, how did the Chowdas manage to change theirs? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe it’s that the players in this recent generation of Red Sox were too self-involved to be aware of their relationship to the team for which they were playing. Pedro, Manny, Trot Nixon, Curt Schilling, Kevin Youkilis. The analysis fits. Then, of course, there’s Johnny D., who isn’t so much self-involved as not-so-bright. Maybe they were just really good in 2004 and not quite good enough all those years prior and this whole theory of mine is a load of hooey. Who knows?
Either way, the fact remains that people expect things from the Yankees that they don’t expect from other franchises. They believe that, where the Yankees are concerned, anything’s possible. I know I do. And if, indeed, there is such a thing as a collective team psychology, perhaps this past weekend and our sweep of the Orioles was the beginning of yet another miraculous late-season Yankees comeback. Only time will tell. All I know is this: Since the Red Sox aren’t the losers they used to be, we can’t count on them to just lie down and die. We’re going to have to come by our shot in the postseason the honest way. The Yankee way. Smart money says it’s long shot. History says it’s gonna happen. And I sure hope history repeats itself. Because the only things I need more than October baseball are water and oxygen. Though, I could probably go without water a while as long as I had enough juice. But that’s not based on any statistical data. It’s just a guess.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
The saddest slogan of all, however, belongs to the losers of all losers—Chicago’s very own Cubbies. Three embarrassing little words, at once so hopeful yet totally pathetic: It’s Gonna Happen. The depths of loserness expressed in this sentiment are so profound that it’s hard to know where to begin. First there is just the mere fact that there is no timeline on when the “it” in the statement is gonna happen. It’s just gonna. Could be this year, could be 2073—the projected date of Fav-ruh’s retirement—but it’s gonna. Then there is the element of desperation, of needing to convince someone of something. It’s almost as though the sentiment that they were really going for here was, “Seriously, guys. No. Seriously.” Finally, there’s the inescapable fact of the “gonna.” It’s just so unfortunate to have a “gonna” in your slogan. It reflects the reality that your team is too abject to use proper English. Either that or they’re trying super hard to be cute. More likely the latter since we’re dealing with the Cubs, who have practically made an art form out of capitalizing on their cuteness. One need look no further than that adorable little logo in order to discover just how cute they really are. Indeed, the Cubs truly do know how to put the lovable into lovable losers.
When I went to Wrigley Field today, I really got a sense of why it is exactly that people love their Cubs so very much. I cannot speak with 100% conviction because I haven’t visited every stadium in the country, but I think it’s pretty unlikely that you could have a more pleasant ballpark experience than the one you have at Wrigley. At the risk of sounding embarrassing, it’s a magical place. The ivy on the outfield walls, the old scoreboard, the conspicuous absence of the jumbotron and in-your-face advertising, the organist instead of the at-bat song. It was like being transported back to olden timey days. And it made me realize how nice it was to experience the game as it used to be—as it’s meant to be. Without kiss cams or trivia or Cotton Eyed Joe (I’m sorry—Joey) or the asinine hide-the-ball in the cap game on the tron. (Though, I am a fan of the Yankee Stadium marriage proposal—it’s the only kind that I will ever be interested in.) Without all these distractions, it was easier to pay attention to what really mattered, namely, the game. Though, being who I am, I always find inconsequential things on which to focus. Like the guy in front of me in the Soriano Cubs t-shirt and the Expos hat. The Cubs were playing the Nats—the artists formerly known as the Expos—so who was he cheering for? I hate inconsistent sports gear. (As a side note, my friend, the Thunderphobe, goes nuts when he sees a random jersey.)
Incongruously clothed neighbor aside, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Former Athletic Rich Harden allowed two hits in seven innings. Mark DeRosa smacked his fourth long ball in consecutive games. Geovany Soto and Kosuke Fukudome also contributed to the hit parade with dingers of their own. The only disappointment was that my boy Soriano didn’t do much to write home about. But, despite this, the end result was a 6-1 victory. And Cubs fans were so darn happy that it made them want to jump up and sing. And they did. A peppy little ditty called “Go, Cubs, Go.” All in unison as soon as the game was over. When I say that everyone burst into song at the completion of the game, I don’t mean like “New York, New York” Bronx-style, where people all sing along as they’re exiting the stadium. These Cubbies fans meany business. They stayed in their seats and they sang the song until it was over. With no one missing a lyric or a beat. As though it were a musical rather than a sporting event. And I have to admit that the effect was weird. On the one hand, the stadium is so small and intimate, and the fans so energetic that I found the ritual cozy and charming. Something I would theoretically want to orchestrate if it was possible to orchestrate such an event outside of the Midwest. And, yet, somehow, it made me uncomfortable. It was, if this is possible, almost too cute. Like I was on an episode from a TV show on the WB. Or the CW. Or whatever the hell they’re calling that channel nowadays.
That said, while the song at the end sort of gave me the heebs, I have nothing but undying respect for the way the Cubs handle their seventh inning stretch. Call me crazy, but the seventh inning stretch is supposed to be kind of all about “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” Yankees Stadium has obviously turned the stretch into a ridiculous farce involving Ronan Tynan and “God Bless America.” But I don’t get what goes on at the other stadiums, where “Take me Out to the Ballgame” is the only song performed at the stretch. And, yet, it still seems to fall by the wayside. They have one of those little bouncing balls follow the words on the tron, and about three people sing along half-heartedly. Sure, it’s true, Cubs fans obviously love to sing just about anything, as we’ve already established. But, regardless, I salute them for the fact that they give “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” the special care and attention that it deserves. How? They put a famous person up in a box, give him a mic, and have him lead the crowd in a sing-along. Today it was John Cusack. Who doesn’t want to join in on a sing-along led by a famous person? Plus, let me repeat in case you missed it: Cubs fans love to sing, so it's easy to make them.
It was a great day for baseball, and a long one at that. What with the triathlon and all. Yes, I did finish. Yes, I did try my hardest. No, there weren’t any sharks in Lake Michigan after all. But I’m going to tell you something, and I’m just going to lay it out there. The swimming portion wasn’t pretty. Anyone remember Byung-Hyun Kim in games four and five of the 2001 World Series? For those of you who don’t, let me just summarize by saying that it basically ended up with him in a puddle of tears on the mound. Get the point? Not thirty seconds into my swim, my lungs closed in on me again, like they had in that lake in Connecticut. I couldn’t tell you why. All I know is that, if you wonder why I love a head case, your answer should be clear. Takes one to love one. So, I’m in the water, basically unable to breathe, treading water, contemplating what to do. It occurs to me that, while all the Yankees I had previously mentioned might have gone on, they also get paid a stupid amount of money and have people counting on them. This, on the other hand, is a voluntary activity that I’m doing for no one but myself at six in the morning on a Sunday. So what’s to stop me from getting out? Well, I’ll tell you what. I’ve shared with you many of my principles, but now I’m going to share with you my slogan. Never Humiliate Yourself Publicly. For better or for worse, I was surrounded by peppy, good-natured Midwesterners who had all gotten up at that ridiculous hour to cheer on their loved ones. I would be damned before I got out of that water two minutes into that race and paraded my way through the throngs of people only to collect my stuff and go home. In the world of triathletes, I’m pretty sure that’s like walking around wearing a scarlet A. So, I made a decision that I was going to get there—by any means necessary. The breast stroke may not be efficient, but it’s effective. And the deed got done.
And it looks like I’m not the only one doing the deed. The Yanks took my advice and went for the sweep against the Orioles. Pavano even decided to show up. Not only did he show up, but he showed up, and he actually pitched well. And won. But every rose has its thorn because, apparently, so did the Jets. Not that the game actually mattered, but I hate for Farvil to get a whiff of anything even resembling success. Oh, well. He’ll get his due. Believe you me. A guy like that? It’s gonna happen.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
I am going to state a fact verified by both scientific evidence and Tim McCarver. There are no sharks in Lake Michigan. I know this. I believe this. And, yet, somewhere in my soul, I remain unconvinced. Blame it on Steven Spielberg, who single-handedly ruined an entire generation’s relationship with the ocean. Blame it on my father, who used to swim around the swimming pool with his hand on his head like a fin. All I know is that, when I see a large expanse of water, I assume that, somewhere--somewhere nearby--there must be a shark that's starving to death and waiting to eat me.
The anxiety began about a month ago, when I went for my first swim in open water. Up until then, I had been training in a pool, and I figured I ought to get a feel for being in a lake. I saw a couple of guys fishing on the shore and asked them if they would watch my stuff while I went out into the water. Feeling pretty cocky, I told them I was going to be gone for a while—at least an hour—and that they should feel free to leave if they needed to.
I hadn’t been gone four minutes when the panic began to set in. I was seeing things under that water that I never saw inside the pool. Fish. Algae. Rocks. It occurred to me that there was a whole ecosystem of creatures about which I knew nothing living down there. That I was invading their space. That I didn’t belong there. That I was making them angry. It was then that I realized that it wasn’t totally impossible that maybe, just maybe, somewhere in that lake, there lived a shark that would take vengeance on me for my intrusion. Of course, it was impossible. Somewhere inside me, I knew that. Furthermore, I also knew that if I turned around and went back to shore after eight minutes, having made such a production of the fact that I was the second coming of Michael Phelps, I was going to be eating a whole lot of crow. And I hate the taste of crow. But so powerful was my anxiety—the certainty that at any moment that fin would emerge from beneath the water, that horrifying jaw that had been emblazoned onto my brain would open up to swallow me whole—that my lungs began to close up. Dignity be damned. I was going ashore.
I could barely keep it together to flounder my way back. Once there, I tried to explain myself to the fishermen with whom I had entrusted my belongings. However, being that I was in Connecticut, it was the wrong crowd for my attempted self-deprecating comedy routine about my own neuroses. The men looked at me with confusion and sympathy. Whenever I leave New York, people often do.
Since this event, I have been plagued with dread about the open water swim. I tried talking to my mom, but she just put me on the phone with my dad, saying it was his fault anyway for having let me watch Jaws at such a young age. I looked to my dad for encouragement, but he had very little to offer besides the advice I could easily have gotten from Tim McCarver, saying with some exasperation, “There are no sharks in Lake Michigan.” Yeah, so they tell me.
Given that my parents and Tim McCarver, the people I rely in my times of need, were so unhelpful, I decided I would try to draw strength and inspiration by asking of myself, "What Would the Yankees Do?" My mind immediately went to Carl Pavano, who would have of course come up with some kind of injury that prevented him from entering the race. And I could have gone this route without even lying. I have a bone spur, a bruised palm and, if necessary, would have taken a hammer to my ribs and broken a couple for effect. However, since I have already established that Carl Pavano is in direct defiance of the principle of Try Your Hardest, what kind of sense would it make for me to look to him—of all Yankees—as my role model?
So I thought about Hideki and the integrity he brings to all his endeavors. Having made a commitment to himself, he would have gone through with it--even if there was a shark in Lake Michigan. Because pride is king in the universe in which he resides. Giambi would have undoubtedly done the race, and, in the unlikely even that he had seen a shark, he would probably have just given him the bird. I think it’s his go-to. Jeter would have done the race. And won it. A-Rod would have done the race, probably failed to perform to expectations, but never missed a photo op. Robbie? Please. Even if the swimming portion was in a pit full of crocodiles. The point is, Pavano aside, they all would have tried. Just as I expect them to continue to try until all hope for October is officially dead. So that’s what I’m going to do. Even if my parents, and science, and Tim McCarver are all wrong, and there is a shark in that lake that can and will destroy me. At least that way, they can write it on my tombstone that I died trying. Though, honestly, I would rather if it just said, “Science and Tim McCarver, You Were WRONG.”
Speaking of aspirations for October, last night our offense had a hell of a game. Abreu went five for five, Robbie and Molina went back-to-back on home runs, and Cap clocked his 2,500th career hit. Solid work, but now we’ve got to figure out how to do it lots of times in a row. Every other game might be fine if it weren’t so late in the season and we weren’t so far behind. But, at this point, our only hope is to do what we did last night, and then do it again. And again. And again. All the way until the end of September. The series against Boston and Tampa Bay are important for obvious reasons. But when you’ve got a series against a subpar team like the Orioles, and you’re as far behind as we are, you have to take advantage and win. Sure, at this point just a series would be nice. But I’d sort of like to see a sweep. And now is the time, Pavano, for you to show us what you’ve got. It’s not too late for you to earn our respect. Well, that’t not true. But it’s not too late for you to earn your paycheck. Hm…also not true. OK. At the very least, it’s not too late for us to say, “Well at least the schmuck helped us turn things around in the end and make it to October in our last season at the old stadium.” Beats sucking—Coco Crisp style.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I’m going to do a little deduction here for a moment—Tim McCarver style. There’s no such thing as a perfect person. Umpires are people. Therefore, I deduce that there’s no such thing as a perfect umpire. They make mistakes. That’s how insulting them came to be a part of the baseball tradition. Sometimes their mistakes come to nothing—they just give us a fun excuse to yell at someone we aren’t related or married to. Sometimes, their mistakes determine games.
As one of my readers pointed out to me, by definition, every time the validity of a home run is in question, the validity of a run is in question. No, my reader was not Tim McCarver, and he actually had a point. His point was that, by allowing instant replay for home runs, the Commissioner’s Office is honing in on only the calls that will almost always be of import—the calls that determine whether or not at least one run will score. Moreover, how often does someone really hit a home run? In every game there is a strike or a tag to contest. However, the home run instant replay is something that will be used in a limited capacity by sheer virtue of the frequency of the occurrence. Therefore, he argues, it is a reasonable way to implement the use of instant replay without going overboard. Seems fair enough. And, yet, because I’m an anxious person, I can’t help but ask again: Where do we draw the line?
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t mind the element of human error in baseball. Why? Well, for one, it’s always been there. It’s simply one of many factors that a player has to deal with—like, say, the wind, or Kevin Youkilis’s facial hair, or a swarm of bugs that descend upon the mound in the eighth inning of game two of the Division Series and begin the ruin of your entire October. Did Joba get a do-over because of the bugs? Not that I recall. And I actually remember that night with crystal clarity. Was it fair that that happened? Nope, pretty sure it wasn’t. Would it have been less fair if he had gotten a bad call on a strike? I don’t think so. There are certain things that you just have to consider part of the game. You’re going to get some bad calls. In all likelihood, you’re also going to get some inaccurate calls that work to your advantage.
They used to refer to my grandfather as five-strike Greenberg because the umps supposedly gave him more breaks than most. On the flip side, in 1938, certain pitchers supposedly wouldn't give him anything to hit because they would be damned if some Jewish kid was going to be the one to break Babe Ruth's home run record. What do I think? I think, anti-Semitism aside, it’s all part of the game. I also think that, in the end, it all evens out. But, then again, what do I know? I’m just the jerk who doesn’t like being shot at with a t-shirt gun.
I’m of two minds about home run instant replays. On the one hand, I get that it’s unfair that someone scores or misses a run because some ump was too blind to call it right. On the other hand, I do think that it’s critical that you draw the line. My fear is that, in allowing the instant replay for home runs, the Commissioner’s Office is opening up a nasty, old can of worms. I simply will not be persuaded that every disputed call warrants the use of the instant replay. If we let that happen, what happens to the umps? Moreover, what becomes of the tradition of insulting the umps?
This brings us back to Tim McCarver’s point. (Or the one I made for him.) Umps aren’t perfect. Their imperfections are just another challenge inherent in the game. Just because we have the capacity to make perfect calls all the time, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should. At least, not until someone makes Kevin Youkilis shave his facial hair.
Speaking of abominations, in response to what I wrote about Mr. Met, my reader Koala has challenged me to say a little something about Warriors mascot Thunder. A difficult feat because, truly, there are no words. But I’ll do my best. The first and most obvious thing I can say about Thunder is that he is named after a sound. Mascots, to be redundant, shouldn’t exist, but they most certainly should never, under any circumstances, be modeled after sounds. Would you ever name a mascot Kablam? No, because sounds are impossible to physically replicate. This brings us to our next point. Thunder is called Thunder and, yet, he has what appears to be a lightning bolt coming out of his head. Lightning is different than thunder. I understand that it was hard to come up with an appropriate costume for Thunder because thunder doesn’t look like anything. That, however, is your fault for picking a mascot that is a sound. It is no excuse for confusing young children who are probably in school learning about the difference between thunder and lighting. Learning that one is a sound and the other is an atmospheric discharge of electricity. If you wanted to cover your mascot in lightning bolts, you should have called him Lightning. Though, truth be told, I would have had a problem with that, too. Finally, it is my understanding that Thunder knows how to break dance. If this is true, then all I have to say is have some dignity, man. Nothing against mascots, but no self-respecting break dancer is a mascot.
Oh, and nothing against Sir Sidney, but watching you pitch is making me cry.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
What’s funny is that it’s NOT the only way to get a t-shirt. True, one of the few free ways to get a t-shirt. But, tell me, is it worth it? You don’t even know what shirt you’re actually diving for as it’s being hurled at you. You don’t know if it’s the right size. You’re at the baseball game, so clearly willing to invest a certain amount of money into your love for your team. This makes it hard for me believe that it is the price of the t-shirt that compels you to risk life, limb, and self-respect diving for the one coming out of the gun rather than paying for the one in the store. The only conclusion that I can come up with, therefore, is that you think that if you catch one, it somehow entitles you to bragging rights. I’m just unclear as to what it is you now feel you have the right to brag about. Certainly not owning the t-shirt because, as we’ve gone over, there are other, less stupid ways to go about getting one. When I posed the question to my friend, she responded, “People just like catching things—anything—at stadiums, and then telling people about it.” It was, in essence, the catching itself that they felt had earned them the privilege to showoff. The right to say, “I don’t have hands like tits.”
I have to admit. Maybe I’m slow, but this confused me still. Is the idea that if you catch something at the game, it is tantamount to having participated in the playing experience? You get, I assume, that the flying t-shirt bears no relation to the game that you’re watching, right? It actually doesn’t matter if you catch that flying t-shirt or not and, furthermore, I’m guessing it didn’t require a whole lot of skill. So I’m still unclear. What’s the purpose? As I pressed my friend on the issue, she stood firm by her initial assertion, repeating, “I’m telling you. People just love catching stuff at stadiums and then talking about it after.”
The seemingly illogical nature of this hypothesis might have led me to question my friend and her judgment. However, I saw something last night that made me realize that the behavior of people—Met’s fans, at the very least—is not governed by logic. What did I see that led me to this conclusion? Unabashed, unbridled enthusiasm about the possibility of posing in a picture with Mr. Met.
Now there are mascots, and there are mascots—like Luseal—that make no sense. Mr. Met, however, is a category of mascot unto himself. People have been anthropomorphizing adorable animals since the dawn of time. (Well, maybe not for that long, but at least since the dawn of Disney.) I have grown inured to mascots and cartoons that take otherwise perfectly lovable creatures and make them into something disturbing and grotesque. (See aforementioned Luseal.) Mr. Met, however, is the only example that comes immediately to mind of the decision to take an inanimate object—one of my favorite inanimate objects—and bring it to life in a form at once horrifying and outrageously ridiculous. Baseballs don’t have legs. Or faces. If you’re going to have a mascot—which you shouldn’t—you definitely shouldn’t give it legs or a face if it doesn’t already have one. Even if it’s not an official rule, I would think it was something universally understood. Right, but I’m the schmuck who also doesn’t get what’s so fun about diving onto concrete for a t-shirt.
Leaving the legs and face issue aside, the fact is that Mr. Met breaks the cardinal rule of mascotism. No, not the one where mascots aren’t allowed to exist. That he breaks that one is a given. In addition, however, like Luseal, Mr. Met also falls into a category of mascots that don’t make sense. Now, the sport is baseball; the team is the Mets. You are just one team, and therefore, your mascot should represent something related to your team. Why do you get to appropriate the baseball as your mascot? How does the baseball belong to you anymore than it does to any of the other twenty-nine teams? A baseball mascot only makes sense if you are trying to give a mascot to the entire sport. However, we’ve established that mascots shouldn’t exist. We have also established that—should they exist—they should never take the form of inanimate objects. Therefore, there is actually no context in which Mr. Met would be acceptable.
While we’re on the subject, it really bothers me that, in addition to having to tolerate this mascot as a thing that exists in the universe, I am asked to address him as “Mr.” I’m sorry, but the Mr. title is one that I reserve for people who have earned my respect. I would like to learn Mr. Met’s full name so that I can start addressing him as “Emmanuel” or “George” rather than continue to suffer the indignity of referring to a baseball as Mr. anything. People don’t call me “Ms. Greenberg,” and I’m pretty sure that I’m better than an oversized baseball with a creepy face and chicken legs. Like Barry Zito, I hate to sound cocky, but I’m just pretty sure that this is true.
And, yet, he comes, and people gather. For emphasis, let me explain it one more time. They gather to have their pictures taken with a big, giant, grinning baseball. Am I not fun? Am I completely missing something? Is it indicative of the fact that I am fundamentally flawed that I would rather be—oh, I don’t know—diving for a t-shirt from a t-shirt gun than posing for this photo?
The good news is that the Mets had an amazing eighth inning, thanks in large part to Carlos Delgado, and as a result, people at the game didn’t have to leave with the feeling that the photo with the baseball or the t-shirt gun dive had been the highlight of the evening. If that had been the case, it would have depressed me. Almost as much as watching the big “F” for final flip onto the scoreboard announcing that the Yanks had lost yet another—2-1. The loss was due in large part to Damon’s failure to handle a routine fly ball—for the second time that evening. Damon, however, has already addressed the issue with his glove manufacturer. He’s pretty sure that it’s the glove.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s troubled by our recent hardships. My boy Frost Tip had plenty to say about the issue earlier when he publicly called out the Yanks, telling them they needed to start playing more aggressively. (A move that Girardi didn’t seem to be in love with.) A-Rod said of the run deficits in recent games, "It's frustrating. These games, we have to be able to at least score three, four or five runs to help these guys." To quote someone smarter than me, “Talk about the pot calling the kettle an asshole.”
Fortunately, I am writing this so late in the day that I can actually report on a 5-1 Yankees victory for tonight. Pettitte was solid as a rock for seven innings. He was the Pettitte I know and love. Jeet and Nady both came through as well. Nady gave us a first inning RBI single. (Am I the only one who kind of wants to marry him right now? Too early in the relationship to be making that decision?) Jeter gave us a two-run shot over the right field wall. It was significant, not only because it gave us the now unusual security of extra runs, but also because the blast moved him into a tie with Roger Maris for eleventh place on New York’s all-time dinger list with 203. Well played, DJ. Hats off.
Cap was not the only one with a milestone home run tonight. Ken Griffey Jr. hit his 609th, tying him with Sammy Sosa for fifth on the all-time list. Sometimes I wonder what that list would look like had it not been for the introduction of—um, how do I say this?—B-12 shots into the game. Oh, don’t listen to me. I’m just bitter because my team is six back behind the Chowdas, and that’s just in the race for the wild card. Oh, that and because Pavano has disappointed me, yet again, by grumbling about a stiff neck. I’m disappointed, not by the possibility that he might miss another start, but by the lack of creativity that has clearly gone into selecting his ailment. I was sure that this time it was going to be plague. I’m going to give Coco Crisp a break tonight because I’m saving all my love for you, Carl Pavano. Guess what, Carl Pavano? You suck Carl Pavano. Aw, hell. There’s plenty to go around. So guess what, Coco Crisp? You suck Coco Crisp.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
When a player signs a four-year, $40 million contract and spends the bulk of that time on the DL with injuries so vague as to seem suspiciously non-existent, I count that as not trying. You have to play to try. And since, as we’ve established, you have to try to try your hardest, Carl Pavano has spent his tenure with the Yankees spitting in the face of one of the principles I value most in life. For this reason, I’m going to say something to Carl Pavano that I rarely say to anyone who isn’t Coco Crisp or Brett Fav-ruh. I’m going to say that you suck. In fact, I’m going to say that it’s not impossible that maybe you suck even more than either of those fools. You’re getting paid double what Farvil was supposed to get paid to do nothing for four years, and you’re actually supposed to be doing something. In the end, Farvil declined the offer because, even though he’s a jackass hell bent on ruining my life, he actually sincerely wanted to play sports. And for the record, it turns out that Farv wasn’t going to just be doing nothing for the $20 million over four years—he was going to be writing a blog. (More on that later.) You’ve been doing nothing since 2005, Carl Pavano, and I don’t see you writing a blog. As for Crisp? He’s got a dumb name and plays for an abominable team. But I am under the impression that he tries.
You, on the other hand, Pavano, you don’t know from trying. Let’s roll through the excuses you have concocted to avoid playing ball since June of ’05. Shoulder injury—seemed fair enough at the time, before we knew you. Strained back—yeah, you and every middle-aged Jewish woman in America. Bruised tush—you are a pitcher and not a bull rider. I fail to see why this matters. Chip in your elbow—and apparently one on your shoulder. Broken ribs from a car accident—you conveniently avoided telling us about this one until you were being pulled from the DL after recovering from elbow surgery. And I actually believe it more likely that you took a hammer to your ribs than that you really got into a car accident. Finally, two starts into the 2007 season, Pavano complains of elbow pain. Rather than opt for a course of rest, as requested by Yankees top brass, he went for Tommy John surgery. I guess I get it. He didn’t want to risk destroying his pitching arm because he might need it some day to—I don’t know—teach his kids to play catch? Fan himself off at the beach? This brings us to today.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know how a love a head case. Give me a player with deeply rooted psychological issues, I’ll give him my undying loyalty and understanding forever. Sure, it might be tempting to give Pavano the benefit of the doubt here, to think maybe the pressure was just too much. Maybe his fear of failure was so great that he simply Munchausened himself into almost four seasons worth of debilitating injuries. Here’s why I can’t sign off on that conclusion. During the offseason, the Yankees asked Pavano to sign a minor league contract in order to make room on their forty-man roster. You know, for a player who was actually going to play. He refused, and in so doing, he ensured his cut of the Yankees hard-earned postseason money. This is how I know that the root cause of all of Pavano’s problems is selfishness. And this is why I can’t forgive him. The irony is, of course, that the Yanks may not live to see the postseason and, in large part, because we could have used help with our pitching. So, joke’s on you, Pavano. You and all the rest of us.
Pavano promised us a midseason return this year. It’s now August. Late August. He’s slated to make his first start this Saturday. I’m sure that, in some sport, that would constitute midseason. In some sport, perhaps, but not in baseball. With all the talk of his impending return, I must admit that I am not particularly focused on how he will perform once he’s back in the lineup because I’m smarter than to think he will ever make it. I’m more curious about what excuse he’s going to give us this time. Avian Bird Flu? Plague? A Crippling case of the Crapelbons? Worst case scenario, Pavano, you can always take a tip from your soul twin, Kevin Brown. I’m pretty sure that if you break your hand punching a wall, that’ll put you out of commission for the duration of the season. Knock on wood.
While there can be no doubt that a player like Pavano is not an asset to any team, his situation raises an interesting question. If you’re top brass at a sports franchise, what do you want more—a pitcher you are overpaying to do nothing, who neither helps nor hurts you, or a pitcher you are overpaying to underperform? This bring us to yet another principle, in which I believe deeply (I’m a very principled person)—the principle of Don’t Suck if You’re Overpaid. So simple and, yet, look at Barry Zito.
In December of 2006, Barry Zito signed with the Giants for $126 million over seven years. Immediately after, the craziest thing happened. He started to suck. Last year he only regular sucked with a win-loss record of 11-13 and an ERA of 4.53. This year, notwithstanding last night’s anomalous performance, he decided to go for the gold in the sucking department, and boy did her ever succeed. He’s 7-15 with an ERA of 5.43. Prior to signing with the Giants, Zito’s ERA had only ever gone above 4.0 once before. It seems funny to me that, just as he starts making a whole lot more, he should also start sucking a whole lot more. He is obviously in direct defiance of the principle of Don’t Suck if You’re Overpaid. However, it also begs the question: How invested is Zito in the principle of Always Try Your Hardest? This is not to say that I doubt that Zito is upset with his performance. He once said, “I'm not trying to be cocky, but I set such a high standard for myself. I'm not happy when I pitch seven innings and give up two runs and get a win.” If that’s true, I can’t imagine how bummed he must be this year. And by the way, Zito, you’re not TRYING to be cocky. You sound cocky because you ARE cocky.
Meanwhile, there are two pitchers making headlines these days who have lived their pitching careers without ever having strayed from the principles I have set forth. One of them is Tom Glavine—a five-time twenty-game winner and two-time Cy Young Award winner, who is one of only twenty-three pitchers to have won 300 career starts. Numbers don’t lie. (Except maybe A-Rod’s.) No one could ever say that Glavine had failed to try this hardest or achieve his maximum potential. After twenty-one years in the game, our 300+ starter finds himself with an elbow injury that will likely see him into retirement. If this is the case, he will be missed, and for more than just his accomplishments on the field. Over the past several years, Glavine has acted as a player representative, helped Hurricane Katrina victims, and worked to cure childhood cancer.
Zito, to his credit, is also something of a philanthropist. But, more importantly, he can relate to anyone. We know this because he told us so. “I can hang out with stoners, skaters, surfers, stockbrokers, lawyers, athletes, rappers. I feel I can hang out with any group of people and find common ground to talk with them.” If I was a Giants fan, I would take solace in this discovery. If your most overpaid starting pitcher is going to suck on the mound, you at least want him to be able to “hang out” with stoners and stockbrokers alike. Good for you, Zito, for being so open minded. I’m sure it didn’t hurt that you got exposure to so many different kinds of people when you were hanging out in Starbucks writing poetry. Pavano, for the record, can’t relate to just anyone, but he can fake just about any illness.
Moving back to players that matter, Greg Maddux is also making headlines these days. It looks like the 353 win player will be heading back to Los Angeles to see if he can’t help them find their way to October. Maddux, who won the Cy Young for four consecutive years, continues to be solid, if not the same pitcher he was ten years ago. And let’s face it. What pitcher is? But with seventeen consecutive fifteen-win seasons, it can’t be said of Maddux that he hasn’t earned his right to a big league salary. When you think about guys like Maddux and Glavine, you can’t help but wonder how, after only a few years of proving their worth, guys like Pavano and Zito feel entitled to the big contract without feeling obliged to perform for it. I don’t know. But maybe until they do, they should do what Farv was meant to have done and start a blog. Something to prove that they're earning their keep.
And while we’re on the subject, yes, it’s true. Yesterday, my reader Koala brought it to my attention that, if all had gone according to the Packers’ plan, you could have been reading Fav-ruh’s blog instead of mine. It was part of the $20 million over four years agreement that they had offered him. Is anyone else as sad as I am that this didn’t end up happening? Apparently, however, not all hope is lost. The Packers plan to offer Farvil a similar deal as soon as he decides to actually retire. (Projected date: 2073.) Until then, Farv has promised to keep us apprised of all his movements via text message to ESPN. Can’t w8.
Monday, August 18, 2008
It’s been a rough season in a lot of ways. A season riddled with injuries and doubt. All the while I’ve had to process the impending disappearance of the old Stadium. Losing Hideki to a midseason knee injury in the midst of all this was, perhaps, the hardest blow I had to suffer. True, I missed him for the obvious reasons. In his sixty-nine games of play, Upper-deki had been batting .323 with seven dingers and thirty-four RBI’s. Given the fact that our bats seem to have been broken for the majority of the last month, his was one we could certainly have used. But it was more than just that. Hideki has integrity. He has character. He embodies the kind of perfect sportsmanship with which I am so obsessed.
It was apparent early on that Hideki was simply genetically engineered to be better at everything than everyone. In school, his superiority on the field was so pronounced that his brother finally gave him an ultimatum—start batting lefty or get out of the game. He claimed that Hideki’s advantage was simply too unfair otherwise. (I don’t know Hideki's brother, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that he inherited neither Hideki’s natural athleticism nor his sportsmanlike conduct.) Where many of us would have protested—I know I would have—Hideki obliged. It was simply in his nature to do so. He obliged and, despite the handicap, still managed to kick his brother's butt all the way to Osaka and back. This is how Hideki came to throw righty but bat lefty.
Since coming to play for the Yankees, Hideki has continued to display nothing but good sportsmanship and humility. He played through his first three seasons without missing a single game, completing a 1,768 game streak that begun in Japan and ended only when he broke his wrist. This exemplifies Matsui’s dedication, his work ethic. Not once have I heard about Hideki mouthing off to the press or grumbling about a managerial decision. Not once have I heard that Hideki had had a conflict with a fellow teammate. Not once have I heard about Hideki getting angry and throwing something, like a bat or a helmet. Though, interestingly, he attributes his impeccable restraint to an incident in his youth when he had not demonstrated such restraint. He was in junior high, and he threw a bat out of anger. His coach responded to his outburst with a public slapping. Hideki says of the experience that it taught him a powerful lesson. (One would imagine. I think the Japanese educational system might have killed me.) He commented, “From that day on, I resolved never to lose control of my emotions in a game again.” And as far as I’m aware, he never did.
Lest you think that I’m writing with a bias, I’m not the only one who feels this way about the Upper-dekinator. Someone, in fact, wrote a whole book on the subject entitled, “Hideki Matsui: Sportsmanship, Modesty, and the Art of the Home Run.” The book, written by Shizuka Injuin, explains how Hideki’s style of play embodies the important Eastern value that “combines compassion and self-effacement with high achievement.” That it does. He seems to be ever striving to be better. Never asking for our praise for what he accomplishes but only for our forgiveness for what he cannot.
Hideki’s batting stance is a perfect metaphor for his nature and his stoicism. He plants himself firmly on the ground and stands completely unmoving at the plate, like a statue, just waiting for the ball. Hideki doesn’t need to shoot off his mouth because he lets his bat do all the talking. And from the time he hit his first grand slam on his first day at the Stadium, his bat made clear that it had plenty to say.
But don’t go thinking that all of this “character” and “modesty” have turned Hideki into an automaton. I’d say we’ve had proof positive that it has not. When he left Japan to come to America, he offered a tearful goodbye, referring to himself as “selfish” and asking his fans not to view him as a traitor because he was leaving them. It was a farewell that could stir even the hardest of hearts. Really. What a novel concept. A player who actually cares about how his actions might affect his fan base. And if you’re thinking that anyone who’s that nice has to be a giant stick in the mud, think again. I need only refer you to the photo of Hideki that was taken during annual Yankees rookie hazing in 2003. Despite the fact that he was twenty-eight by this point and a long-time professional in Japan, it was technically his rookie year in MLB. Thus, he was subject to the same public humiliation as the rest of the young Yanks. Rather than protest when they forced him to dress up in a pimp suit that looked like it had had a wrestling match with a leopard and lost, he took it in stride. If you ask me, he even seemed to enjoy it.
Earlier this year, Hideki surprised us all when he announced his marriage to “a 25-year-old civilian,” who had “been formerly working in a reputable position at a highly respected company.” I, for, one was a little unclear as to what this meant. Was she a call girl or a day trader? Not to mention the choice of the word “civilian.” As opposed to…a cop? A Navy Seal? It was all so shrouded in mystery. And as if the whole thing wasn’t cryptic enough, Hideki went ahead and released a picture of the girl. Only it wasn’t a real picture. It was a picture he had drawn. A picture that revealed little about the girl’s appearance other than the fact that she was probably Japanese and possibly really creepy looking. Or maybe Hideki had just drawn it with his left hand so his brother wouldn’t get jealous.
It’s not that hard to understand why Hideki wanted to keep the identity of his wife under wraps. Much as we love the guy here in America, they’re just totally mental for him over in Japan. So much so that his apartment in New York is a regular stop on the Japanese tour bus circuit. I have it on record from a reliable source that, on one occasion, Hideki happened to be leaving his apartment as tourists from one of the aforementioned buses was parked in front. The driver, upon noticing that Hideki had emerged from the building and gotten into a car, instructed the passengers to quickly board the bus because they were going on a Kamikaze mission—destination: wherever Hideki was going. According to my same source, Hideki who values his privacy, secretly moved to another apartment after this fiasco. He kept the old one as well so that the touring companies would have somewhere to take their photo happy travelers.
Given this, you can see why a 25-year-old civilian who had been formerly working in a reputable position at a highly respected company would have wanted to protect her identity. Hideki’s marriage was the kind of story that a Japanese US Weekly was going to have a field day with. That or there’s always the possibility that Hideki’s portrait offered an accurate representation, and his wife was just embarrassed because she’s so crazy looking.
Whatever the case may be, all I know is this: Hideki is reported to come back into the lineup tomorrow, and I couldn’t be more excited. Not that our boys looked like they needed much help yesterday. With a Salami for mustachioed Giambi, a three-run shot for A-Rod, and a solo dinger for Nady, the bats did their fair share to help Moose secure his sixteenth win of the season. Maybe they’re finally feeling the flames of the fire under those Pujols. All I know is that yesterday we put on the kind of offensive show I’ve been waiting for. Even Cody Ransom, called up only days ago, came up to the plate for his first at-bat as a Yankee and hit a two-run shot in the seventh inning. The lead was so substantial that it didn’t really matter much at that point, but the crowd still appreciated the significance of his effort enough to give him a curtain call. A curtain call at the Stadium. The last season before it closes. If this guy never gets a major league at-bat again, he’s still luckier than all of us. Unless, say, Yogi Berra or Paul O’Neill or Don Mattingly happen to be reading. Though I guess Don Mattingly isn’t all that lucky. He isn’t all that lucky but at least he doesn’t suck. Unlike some people we know, like Coco Crisp, who sucks. Yes, friendly reminder: You suck Coco Crisp.