Monday, September 29, 2008

"That Not Just Hurts. It Stings."

Before the Yankees played their last game at the Cathedral, I introduced you to another of my many principles—the principle of DUACLTLGTYAEGTPAYHS—Don’t Under Any Circumstances Lose The Last Game That You Are Ever Going To Play At Your Home Stadium. When a team fails to live up to this principle, it is both shocking and disappointing. It leaves fans and players alike with, not only an off-season, but a lifetime of regret. Fortunately, despite a season during which the Bombers did not always look like the Bombers, they were able to rise to the occasion and adhere to the principle of DUACLTLGTYAEGTPAYHS. Somewhere in our hearts, I think we all believed that they would.

Tragically, however, as well all know, the Mets couldn’t muster the feat. Just ask Mr. Met—he got the boos to prove it. Like that wasn’t a long time coming.

Yesterday, as I lived through the roller coaster that was the Mets-Brewers showdown, I felt conflicted about how it would all play out. On the one hand, it seemed impossible that any team should fail to live up to the principle of DUACLTLGTYAEGTPAYHS. On the other hand, this was the Mets, whose very hallmark is their ability to find new and excruciating ways to disappoint their fans. But, really? Now? On the last day of the year? With a potentially season-ending game? By breaking the principle of DUACLTLGTYAEGTPAYHS? In the words of—who was it again?—“That not just hurts. It stings.” Whatever that means.

The real icing on the cake, of course, the final eff you in the face of all of the fans in attendance, all of the former Mets who had schlepped out to be there, all of the players who had just suffered a painful and humiliating loss, was that the top brass thought it would be a good idea to conduct the farewell ceremony after the game rather than before. Why? I really couldn’t tell you. Did it not occur to anyone that if the team lost that game no one was going to feel particularly celebratory afterwards? Did it not occur to anyone that if ever there was a team that was likely to suffer such a crushing blow, it was the Mets?

The answer to both of these questions is, “Apparently not.”

Who knows, though? Maybe it’s perfect. Yankee Stadium has such a legacy of pride, honor, and victory. To have failed to live up to the principle of DUACLTLGTYAEGTPAYHS would have been to spit in the face of that legacy. Shea, on the other hand? What can I say? It was a pathetic stadium—down from its pathetic orange and blue seats up to its pathetic paper mache apple—and from it was born a pathetic legacy. With only a few exceptions—miracles, if you will—it’s a stadium that is shrouded in failure and bitter disappointment. And maybe the best way to honor that legacy was with one last failure. One last bitter disappointment. For old time’s sake. And, maybe, now that the doors to Shea have finally closed, the Mets can also close the door on that legacy. New Stadium, new beginning. Jeff Wilpon, who envisioned the plan for Citi Field seems to think so. When asked if the Mets were going to be making any major changes during the off-season he responded, “We are. We’re moving to a new ballpark.”

And may it help them turn their luck around. If, perchance, it doesn’t, at least the fans can finally watch their team be pathetic from a really nice stadium.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Living Well Is The Best Revenge

Please forgive my absence. I was working on a piece for another publication—one that people actually read—and I had a tight deadline. It’s an article that I was writing on spec. What that means, for those of you who don’t know, is that I pour sweat, blood, and 48 hours into working on the thing, and then the editors decide if they think it’s worth publishing. I tell you there’s nothing on earth more suspenseful and exhilarating than being a writer. Except maybe being a day trader. Or a strategist for John McCain. And, by the way, is it just me, or does he maybe have the same PR rep as Brett Favre and Celine Dion? (“I will go to the debate.” “ I won’t go to the debate.” “I will, but only if I can fix the economy first.” “OK. If you insist.”) Who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky and he'll just retire before the election.

Speaking of the debates, Friday, the very same day that John McCain came to the conclusion that the government could manage the economic crisis without him for an hour, Paul Newman passed away. I will not attempt to write a tribute worthy of his greatness—plenty of people are already doing that, and most are failing. I will, however, say a couple of words about Newman and how he affected my life. First his work in Cool Hand Luke was what made me want to act. OK. That might not be totally true, but it contributed to my desire to be better at acting. Granted, I gave up that whole dream after high school. I mean, let’s get real; acting is great, but it is fraught with rejection, and most who try it are destined for failure. I wanted to do something more practical with a greater sense of security, which is why I went with writing. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that Cool Hand Luke was amazing. One of my all-time favorites.

The other story about Newman that relates to me was that I rode in an elevator with him once. Now, I’m not a person who’s easily moved, but this is Paul Newman we’re talking about. And I was humiliatingly starstruck. We had a brief conversation, during which he asked me a number of questions, all of which I answered by repeating them back to him in statement form. He was very gracious about it.

Whether you loved him for his brilliance on the screen, his dreamy blue eyes, his political leanings, his charitable contributions, his humility, or that delicious array of sauces, dressing, and cookies he brought to the world, you’d have to be made of stone not to have loved him at least a little. The world has lost a great man, and a great talent. So, why not take your bike for a spin today—in his honor? You know what song to sing. Doo doo doo doo—doo doo—doo doo doo doo.

But moving onto baseball. That is, after all, why you come here, right? For cutting edge insights on America’s favorite pastime that no one else has to offer.

The other day I was discussing the final outing at Yankee Stadium. It was a tearful goodbye involving actors playing great Yankees, real great Yankees, family members filling in for great Yankees. However, a couple of great Yankees were notably absent at last week’s ceremonies. No, not Roger Clemens. Like anyone wants him to represent anything having to do with anything great, at the moment. For the record, some may think that this is controversial, but I do not consider Clemens to be a Yankee, and I never have. He is a Chowda in his soul. 100%.

But the Yankees to whom I am referring are undoubtedly Yankees and undeniably great—Donnie Baseball and Joe Torre. Unlike Clemens, Mattingly and Torre were not, of course, deliberately excluded from the events. They just had a more pressing engagement, one they couldn’t get out of—leading the Dodgers to divisional victory.

Mattingly is one of the most beloved living Yankees. And, as the manager to lead the Yankees to twelve consecutive postseasons, Torre, though never a player for the team, is no less a Yankee than anyone who ever was. He is certainly not less admired. The two of them have been such an integral part of the Yankees' recent history that it felt practically criminal to close down the shop without them, particularly since we never got to give them a proper sendoff after last season. Sunday’s ceremony allowed us the chance to show Bernie how we felt. And, while Mattingly and Torre are no doubt aware of how much we love them, it still would have been nice to have given them that last ovation in the Bronx.

Both Torre and Mattingly were, not surprisingly, ill-treated at the hands of the Yankees top brass. If the Steinbrenners have a motto, it seems to be: The family that betrays together stays together. First, of course, they insulted Torre by offering him a pay cut and incentives for getting to the playoffs and World Series. Torre, the man who led the Yanks to twelve consecutive postseasons, six trips to the big dance, and four world championships. Torre, of course told them that they could take their incentives and shove them up their pujols. But in a nice, classy, respectful way. Like he says everything.

Then it was Mattingly’s turn to get burned, when they decided to give Girardi the job rather than him. Which was obviously an awesome move. The 2008 Yankees were really well-managed.

They say that living well is the best revenge. And what better opportunity for Torre and Mattingly to exact their revenge through good living than the move to Los Angeles? No, I’m not talking about eating organic, getting high colonics, and waking up at dawn to go surfing. Though, it’s not impossible that all that is happening. The Southern California air does crazy things to people. And Torre is looking pretty relaxed these days. However, what I am referring to is the fact that, while the Yankees will be watching the postseason from their 62 inch flatscreens for the first time since the pre-Torre era, the Dodgers have just clinched their first division title in four years. The fact that Torre has let it be known that he didn’t luck into those twelve consecutive postseasons—it’s just that everything he touches turns to gold. Even without an incentive clause in his contract. And without him, well, apparently things fall apart. As for Mattingly? He gets to go along for the ride, sending the message, “Yeah, what he said. That goes double for me, too.” The bonus is, of course, that they are finally free of the ulcers that must inevitably comes from daily interactions with some member of the Steinbrenner clan. That and the high colonics.

Meanwhile, back in Flushing. Well, I’m not even going to comment. I am just going to hold my breath until it’s over. As for Chowdaville, Moose is trying to work his way to twenty. Fingers crossed. He got some help with a little run support early on. As a side not on the game, you won’t have a chance to tell Coco Crisp how much he sucks because they did not start him. Why? Probably because you suck Coco Crisp.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Baseball Cathedral In Truth

Well, we’re still in it. Technically. So, I suppose I should be happy. And, yet, I’m not. Why? Let me analogize, if I may.

I saw a truck hit a deer on the highway once. It was devastating. The deer was lying in the middle of the road, convulsing, in pain, unable to move. Naturally, I pulled over to call 911—you know, to get help for the deer. It occurred to me about ten seconds into the call that 911 exists as an emergency service for people and not for overpopulated species of animals. Especially in Wyoming, which is where I was. So I sat by helplessly, watching the deer as it struggled unsuccessfully to stand up. Eventually, another truck pulled over. A man emerged holding a hammer, and I realized with some terror what was about to happen. I watched shocked and horrified as he dealt the doe its death blow. But, to my surprise, it was quick, well-executed, and probably the most merciful thing he could have done. Do you see what I’m driving at?

Just put me out of my misery.

Barring a miracle, The House That Ruth Built has closed its doors for the final time. My last request before I made my way up to the stadium on Sunday was that we win. And, win, we did—with fairly little trouble. It was a night that I will never forget—alternately moving and strange.

With the pre-game ceremony, the emphasis was definitely on the strange. For reasons inexplicable, they kicked it off by parading a bunch of guys dressed up like old-timey Yankees onto the field. Each actor was meant to represent a different player from a bygone era, and all of them stood awkwardly in a line in center field for the duration of the hour-long ceremony. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. To give the effect that the ghosts of the stadium were present? To try to transport us back in time? To make me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed? The other weird and unnecessary attempt at dramatic effect was that the ceremony that we were watching live in color was being displayed to us in black and white on the jumbotron. It was very meta.

The rest of the ceremony was reminiscent of the All-Star Game. They paid on-screen tribute to many of the greats, calling a number of them forward to take their respective positions on the field. Willie Randolph made the most notable entrance, sliding into second base. He may be too stoic in the dugout, but, when it comes to an emotional farewell ceremony—what a ham.

Yogi was in attendance, of course. But that’s hardly noteworthy. In recent years, it’s more unusual for me to go to the Stadium when Yogi isn’t there than when he is. I think he’s their go-to guy for a first pitch if they can’t find anyone else. I wonder what it’s like to be Yogi, whose whole existence is basically predicated on the fact of his Yankee-ness. More so than many of the other retired Bombers, I would say. (For the record, I named my hound after Yogi because she’s cute, has big ears, and gives the appearance of being not-so-bright but is secretly a total genius. I think.)

Bobby Murcer, whose wife and children attended in his place, received a warm welcome, as did Paul O’Neill and Tino Martinez. But, ultimately, it was Bernie’s night. After an unceremonious exit and a two year absence from the team, Sunday was our chance to let Bernie know just how much we love him. And I think it’s safe to say that we got our message across. He received an ovation larger than anyone else’s, lasting almost two minutes, and by which he seemed very moved. Bernie was always a favorite of mine. I was angry about the way he was treated and regretted the fact that we never got the opportunity to say a proper goodbye. So, for me, had they excluded the entire ceremony—the old-timey players, the black and white jumbotron—but given us this chance to show Bernie our undying devotion? Dayeinu.

In honor of the fact that Babe hit a home run on the day that the stadium opened—something they seemed eager to drill into us, as if we didn’t already know—his daughter, Julia Ruth Stevens, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Pretty amazing. I should be in such good shape when I’m 92. Johnny Damon and Jose Molina must have been channeling the Ruth energy because each of them got dingers of their own. Johnny a three-run shot in the 3rd and Molina a two-run homer in the 4th.

(A note on both of their names. I have talked about Jhonny Peralta and how confused I am by the fact that he doesn’t just decide to spell his name the right way. However, a friend of mine commented to me at the game that it actually would make sense if Johnny Damon were to spell his name Jhonny. I can’t say why, exactly, but I agree with this assessment. It just works. I almost expect it. As for Molina, I am not sure quite how or when it began, but I have noticed that the people who work the Stadium scoreboard have launched a campaign to get us all to refer to him as Panda. To my knowledge, they have not been particularly successful, which makes it weird. I am aware that both Bengie and Jose Molina go by this nickname in their clubhouses, which I also think is weird—two brothers should not share a nickname. However, the fans have obviously not decided to pick up the thread. So, to the people who operate the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, stop. Just stop. It’s not happening.)

After a season of ceremonially counting down the number of home games until the Stadium lights went out, Michael Kay had the audacity to tell us that the number on the ticker would never go to zero—because the Stadium would live on in our hearts until the end of time. Instead, they moved the ticker from one to—get ready for this—“forever.” Please. What a gyp. I wanted that number at zero. Zero gives you closure. Forever does not. But I got my closure. Or my closer, rather. It was only appropriate that Mo should end the game and shut down the Stadium. It was only when the first bars of “Enter Sandman” came over the loudspeakers that it finally registered: This was it. This was really and truly it.

Bob Sheppard has the uncanny ability to makes everything he says sound important. I will leave you with his tribute to the Stadium. But I want you to imagine it in his voice. If you don’t, it might sound sort of dumb:

Farewell old Yankee Stadium, farewell
What a wonderful story you can tell
DiMaggio, Mantle, Gehrig and Ruth
A baseball cathedral in truth

Sunday, September 21, 2008

October Is The Cruelest Month

Forgive me; I'm about to wax poetic.

The first day of fall is almost upon us. We know this, of course, because the pennant race is winding up. But also because the advertisements for eggnog lattes are hitting Starbucks windows. And, by the way, the reemergence of the peppermint latte will be your sign that it’s winter.

Despite my unspeakable sadness over the end of an incredible era in The House That Ruth Built, there is something poetic about closing up shop on the last night of summer. Not that I wouldn’t have preferred an evening in late October. But if it couldn’t happen in the postseason, better that it should happen with the close of the season—the way it was meant to, according to Bart Giamatti, former Commissioner of baseball.

Giamatti starts his essay "Green Fields of the Mind," by saying, “It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rain comes, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.”

The other day, I expressed annoyance about the fact that our boys had chosen such an inopportune time to go on such a winning tear. I want to clarify something, lest anyone get the wrong idea. I said that it was too late for us to end our season with pride, and I still think that’s true. However, I want to say for the record that I credit the Bombers for holding on to the principle of Try Your Hardest. Sure, it has been with a certain amount of frustration that I have watched them suddenly come to life—now that it’s a moot point. But it would have been easy to just roll over and die this week. And I’m glad that the principle of TYH overrode any inclination they might have had to do that.

However, tonight, I’m afraid that that principle simply isn’t going to be enough. Tonight, our boys are going to have to draw on another, rarely applicable but infinitely more important principle—the principle of Don’t Under Any Circumstance Lose The Last Game That You Are Ever Going To Play At Your Home Stadium. See, unlike suddenly winning when it doesn’t count, the principle of DUACLTLGTYAEGTPAYHS? Totally a matter of pride. More than that, it’s a matter of respect. Respect for a tradition, for a long line of legendary players, historical moments, and magical late inning comebacks. I hate to weight this game with unnecessary pressure, but to lose tonight? It would be like spitting in the face of Lou Gehrig. Babe Ruth. Mickey Mantle. Joe DiMaggio. Yogi Berra. Roger Maris. Thurman Munson. Reggie Jackson. Don Mattingly. Paul O’Neill. Bernie Williams. You get the point.

So, while history may not remember what you boys did these last two weeks, it will certainly remember what you do tonight. And presumably, so will you—as you sit in Starbucks this fall, like Mike Mussina, drinking eggnog lattes and writing poetry.

Despite another week on the road, tonight is the night that matters--the night that, for most of us, it really “stops,” as Giamatti said. Not just for the season, but for all eternity. So, make it a game to sustain us through the winter—a winter that will be longer than usual for us Yankee fans.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Pride Of The Yankees?

Well, the Yankees sure picked a hell of a time to start winning—right when it couldn’t matter less. And, I assure you, it couldn’t matter less.

If you think that this point is obvious to anyone who isn’t Tim McCarver, you would be surprised. I have had several fellow Yankee fans comment to me in the last few days, “At this point, it’s just a matter of pride.” I would argue that, no, in fact, having been all but officially eliminated from the postseason race by mid-September, we’ve blown our chance at pride. When history remembers this season, it will not remember us for failing to make it to the postseason and then admirably restoring our dignity. It will simply remember that we did not live to see October in our final season in The House That Ruth Built. For the first time since 1993. I guess, in theory, one could argue that it’s a matter of avoiding total humiliation—that’s certainly within our reach. But it’s not what I would call a matter of pride.

Now, it may sound like, as Curt Schilling suggests, I am just bitter and mad and miserable. But let me assure you that my vitriol is just a mask for my pain. I look forward to October baseball. This year, particularly, it seemed significant, what with the closing of the Cathedral and all. I just assumed we’d be saying our goodbyes in October. In late October. It seems too unceremonious for us to just be playing our way through a vaguely autumn-like week in late September for “pride.” Especially given our run in that place.

To make matters worse, there has been so much scandal surrounding the new stadium—the accusations of fraud, and waste, and abuse of public funds. Then, of course, there was the recent announcement that premium season tickets are going to cost up to $2,500 per game—that’s roughly $200,000 per person per season. Outrageous, true. But, not surprisingly, there are takers. Well, there were last week anyway. This week, good luck selling your house for that much. Well, at the beginning of this week, anyway. Today, who knows? I’m confused about the fundamentals of the economy.

The point is that it’s disappointing that the new stadium is already tainted with that stench for which the Yanks are so famous—Eau de Evil Empire. I try to argue with the haters, but it’s an uphill battle. Stuff like this doesn’t help.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter all that much. I’m a Yankees fan because I love the boys in pinstripes—not because the Steinbrenner family speaks to me on a spiritual level. And when my boys are working their magic, it’s pretty easy to ignore the top brass and all their meshugas, as my people call it. But, alas, there has been little magic this year, so it’s more of a challenge. True, there have been injuries. But there have also been unaccounted for disappointments. A lack of cohesion. A seemingly blasé attitude. An inability to get players around the base. And let’s get real—injuries or not—there should have been enough bats in our lineup to have ensured a solid offense.

So, again, don’t mistake my tone for bitterness, madness, or misery. I’m just disheartened by the generally uninspiring nature of the season. With all of my fond memories from the Cathedral, I figured it was all but impossible that we’d go out without a fight.

But, you’re all depressed enough, so I’m going to leave you with a happier thought. Early this year, I asked my friend, the Thunderphobe, if he would rather take the championship in the last season at the old stadium or the first season in the new one. He responded, emphatically, and without hesitation, “First season at the new one. Without a doubt.” Here’s hoping he gets his wish.

If that didn’t cheer you up, affirm yourself with the reminder that, at the very least, you’re not Coco Crisp. Oh, Coco Crisp, it just never gets old. You suck Coco Crisp.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Jeter And The Mildly Encumbering Flaw

It would be inaccurate to say that Derek Jeter has a tragic flaw—just as it’s inaccurate to say he has an edge. He is not exceptionally tragic. Or even a little bit tragic. But he has, I guess, what you could call a mildly encumbering flaw—perfection.

Let’s review the facts.

He plays for the Yankees. He is, in fact, the first Yankee to be named captain since Donnie Baseball. He is known as Mr. November, a tribute to his walkoff home run in the wee hours of the morning on November 1st during the postseason of 2001. Generally speaking, people are fond of referring to him as clutch. And, not only that, he makes those crazy, standout fielding plays that dazzle the eye and go down in the annals of history for their greatness. He never says the wrong thing, never does the wrong thing. He always gets the girl—the girls. Sometimes, you just can’t help but want to scream, “Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!”

What is it about perfect people that is so inherently annoying? Is it that we resent them for making us aware of all of our own imperfections? Is it that we find perfection to be boring? That maybe, in fact, we believe that it is our imperfections that make us interesting? Or is that we don’t buy it? That, ultimately, behind every perfect person there is always a secret sex scandal, or worse, a secret love of Sarah Palin?

Whatever the reason, people can’t stand Derek Jeter. (Leaving aside, of course, all those people who worship him.) They call him a robot, they call him overrated, they look for unflattering ways to picks apart his statistics, to dispel the myth of his greatness. Those who don’t love him and laud him are irritated by just how much he’s loved and lauded. And they are ever-looking for ways to chip away at the exterior—to reveal the terrible truth about either his character or his ability.

I will admit that it was my initial instinct to resist liking Derek Jeter. It can be hard enough to earn respect as a female sports fan. And during Derek’s younger years, it seemed like men were just waiting for me to even mention him in conversation, as if that would explain the otherwise inexplicable interest in baseball. “Oh, I see. You think Jeter’s got a nice tush, huh? So, THAT’S it.” For small-minded morons, this is apparently the only logical explanation. By the way, all you girls out there walking around in pink Derek Jeter baby tees aren’t doing much to help the cause.

However, the baby tees were only part of the reason for my lukewarm reaction to Jeter in the beginning. Like a lot of people, I am wary of perfection. I take a “wait and see,” attitude. Assume that, eventually, the cracks will begin to show. So, by way of rebellion, for many years, I politely ignored him, focusing my attention on the likes of Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, Bernie Williams. I never hated Jeet. I just couldn’t jump on the bandwagon.

But, over time, I must confess, slowly but surely, he got to me.

No, he’s still not my top Bomber—that would be Mo—or even necessarily my number two. However, in recent years, I’ve started to get a little more defensive, a little more irritated, when people sling mud in his direction.

This year, Sports Illustrated surveyed 495 major leaguers to see which players they believed to be the most overrated. Jeter’s rank? Numero uno. (If this were football, he could put it on his jersey. Or not.) Interestingly, those same players ranked Jeter second in a survey on which player they would most like to build a team around. Sounds a little flip-floppy to me. But, then, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. (In case anyone in Washington is reading.)

This raises an interesting question—a hot button issue in the baseball community. By what measure, exactly, do we rate our players? The hard line Moneyballers say it’s all about the SABRmetrics. The Buzz Bissingers say, “OBP, ShmoBP; it’s all about heart.” I think that it is unwise to disregard either argument out of hand.

I happened to love Moneyball, and I think it raises interesting points about stats that old school baseballers are simply afraid to acknowledge. They harbor the fear that the usefulness of Moneyball will render them obsolete, nullify their special skills in understanding exactly who’s got “heart” and who doesn’t. That said, the brainiacs could stand to show a little bit more respect for their elders. To consider the possibility that, even though it’s crazy to make multi-million dollar decisions on the basis of gut feelings, there are factors beyond the numbers that do count for something.

The fact that so many players would choose to build a team around Jeter—that should be a consideration in our decision on how to rate him. Because what can we speculate that this means about him? That he’s a player around whom other players coalesce. That he’s a player whose presence in a clubhouse is a benefit to other players. That he is a player who is likely to get better performances out of other players. That he is an overall asset to his team. And isn’t that the whole point?

Just as the Moneyball way is scary to the olden-timers because it’s new-fangled and requires complicated math, the stat geeks tend to get judgmental and defensive about their system because they don’t know how to manage factors that can’t be quantified. Both matter. If they didn’t, Manny would still be a Chowda.

The bottom line about Jeter is that, from the very first day he donned his pinstripes, he put his everything into the game. Always hustling, always running out the ground ball, and making defensive plays that are—to my mind—impossible. The dive. The flip. Epic plays. True, Jeter’s fielding statistics are a far cry from perfect—they’re about the only thing—but when he does something special, it is impossible to deny his greatness. Yes, even as a fielder.

While Jeter’s defense may leave something to be desired, he is truly a phenomenal offensive shortstop. And he has plenty of numbers that can back me on that one. Among others, last night, he broke Lou Gehrig’s record for first on the all-time hit list at Yankee Stadium. Yet another thing for which we can resent him—setting a record that can never, ever be broken. And an awesome record at that. Prior to his record-breaking hit, Jeter had 1,269 hits in 8,001 at-bats. When Gehrig retired, so did he. I’m pretty sure we can all agree that Gehrig wasn’t overrated, right?

So, say what you want about Jeter. All I know is that this is the first year that the Yankees will not be playing in the postseason since cap got called up from the minors. I also know that Jeter always handles the press with dignity and respect for his fellow players. That rookies look to him as a role model. That, even though he’s a man-whore, at least he’s not a married man-whore, as are so many other players.

And, by the way, take an office-wide survey of the person you work with who most people believe to be overrated, and it will probably be someone who is getting paid a whole lot and rarely does anything wrong. You have to be highly rated to be overrated. And people don’t like people who are highly rated. As we’ve established.

Whatever. With or without the mildly encumbering flaw, I’d rather be Derek Jeter than Coco Crisp. Yeah, you know what’s coming, Coco Crisp. Cuz You Suck Coco Crisp.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Losing Games, Wrecking Homes, And Ruining Lives

One word, two syllables. Fav-ruh.

He is the Iago to my Othello. The Pharaoh to my Moses. The Gargomel to my Papa Smurf. And, as we all know, he is trying to ruin my life.

There has been such an air of celebration since his arrival in the City, such a sense of unbridled glee. And I must confess to having felt a little bit lonely. Was it really the case that I was the only one who felt personally affronted by the fact that Farvil hadn’t just stayed in Wisconsin? Who were these bandwagon Fav-ruh fans, and how did their brains work? Was there an actual thought process that precipitated the donning of the green cheesehead? An internal struggle? A wondering, “Why?” Or merely a willingness to abandon all reason? Whatever the case, I had come to the painful revelation that perhaps, when it came right down to it, I was alone in the world.

But it turns out I was wrong.

You see, someone else in New York was a little less than thrilled to see Pennington displaced by Farvil, and that some was Laveranues Coles. And after weeks of silence on the subject, he has finally decided to tell the media all about it.

Coles has said of his relationship with Pennington that it “goes deeper than just football.” That they have a “special” connection. And anyone who knows anything about Coles knows that he is not reckless in declaring any relationship to be “special.”

In 2005, Coles went on Oprah to reveal that he had been sexually molested at gunpoint by his stepfather. His mom worked the night shift, and his stepfather abused him when she was at her job. Not surprisingly, Coles became angry as he moved into adolescence, acting out his rage in ways that often got him in trouble, occasionally with the law. But truth will out. And it did—thanks to an exceptionally perceptive police officer who suspected that there was something underlying Cole’s rebellion. With some persuading, Laveranues eventually opened up to the cop, and his stepfather was finally put away for nine years.

Laveranues was deeply traumatized by the events of his childhood. He went through his life as a loner, confiding in few people. "If I had a problem, I dealt with it internally," he said. "I was in my own little world for a long time." Clearly, it is in Coles’s nature to want to conceal himself, so his decision to go on Oprah is a tribute to his character and bravery. He said that, as a public figure, he felt it was his duty to speak out. "Here I am, a professional athlete, with the opportunity to say something and maybe reach one child that this is happening to, and give him the courage and the strength to come out and say 'this is happening to me and this is wrong.'"

Since his stepfather's arrest, Coles and his mother had never discussed the abuse until the two of them went on the show together. But if anyone was going to get then talking, it was Oprah. I won’t rehash the details for you, but let’s just say, there was a lot of healing. I mean, obviously—Oprah.

Despite the fact that Coles is described as winsome and likable by his teammates, he still has a tendency to keep people at bay. In 2006, he built himself an $8 million dollar home made of concrete, which he described as a “place where he could hunker down.” One got the sense that he was attempting to build a physical fortress—using one of the most impenetrable of all materials—to protect himself. Coles has said, “I try to extract myself from reality.” Considering what he’s been through, and how it has shaped his experience of the world, it’s not so hard to understand.

In Pennington, however, Coles has found a friend in whom he feels he can instill his total confidence. And for a guy like Coles, who has struggled all his life to feel close to people, to trust them, that’s pretty major.

Both Pennington and Coles were drafted to the Jets in 2000, and Coles describes their connection as being instantaneous. "We had it the day we walked through the doors." Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger ain’t got nothin’ on them. Other than Scientology and, in Renee’s case, the uncanny ability to always look like she just ate a lemon.

Coles went onto say, "We had special chemistry. We never sat and watched film and never really did a lot of things together. We just knew." And when you know, you know. But as someone who was a fan of the Jets for the past several years, reading this, I sort of feel like, well, it actually would have been nice if maybe, just once in a while, you had watched a little film together.

Given the depth of their relationship, you can see why Coles would have been less than thrilled to have Pennington cast aside. And though he would never say so explicitly, one gets the sense that Coles is a little resentful towards the guy who made it happen: F-A-R-V—Farv, Farv, Farv!

In football, it is fairly customary for players to laud their quarterback. And Farvie has gotten nothing short of a royal welcome from his teammates on the Jets. Cotchery, in particular. While Coles has certainly not spoken ill of Farv, focusing most of this week’s comments on Pennington, he did have this to say about Farvil, "I don't have a feel for him and he doesn't have a feel for me. That's one of the things I am going to have to deal with. In the past, I always knew when the ball was coming. Now, you don't really know. It's totally different for me as a player. It is what it is. He's getting adjusted and I'm trying to do what I'm supposed to do." He also added, in reference to Pennington, “To be honest, I would never expect to have the same relationship with anybody that I had with him.”

Now call me crazy, but those sort of sound like the words of someone who is not particularly happy. Someone who has been robbed of something incredibly important and meaningful to him. Someone who, like me, has had his life ruined. By Brett, well, you know his last name.

But that’s not to say that Coles and I are the only ones who are going through it. Fav-ruh himself has had his share of woes since his courageous decision to unretire. (Other than yesterday’s loss to a Brady-less New England.) That, incidentally, as a refresher, was the decision that ruined my life—and Vernie’s. After his fifth practice, Farvil commented, “I wondered this morning what in the heck am I doing.” (Yeah, so do we.) “The answer to the question is: I love to play. I hate to study. At times I hate to practice, but I love to play.”

So, even I have to admit that the guy has it a little rough. You know, having to do all that hard work when all he wants to do is the fun stuff. There’s got to be some well-meaning, nerdy girl out there who is willing to watch his game film for him, no? Even if he fake promises to take her to the prom?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Say It Ain't So, Cano

Thursday was, as we all know, September 11th. Consequently, a lot of people were preoccupied thinking about, well, September 11th. So, it would have been easy to miss some of the other things that were going on in the world that day. Major stuff. Like the announcement of the radical cutting edge plan to “overhaul” the ailing swing of Robinson Cano.

No, you read that right. So you can just go ahead, sit down, and stop what you’re doing.

The plan is simple. The Yanks are going to send Kevin Long to the Dominican Republic this winter, where he will help Cano with his strike zone discipline and the mechanics of his swing.

I only have one question: How do I get that job?

The way I see it, it’s a win-win for Long. If this strategy proves effective, he is hailed a hero. If not, he can say that Cano was undisciplined, unfocused, and downright impossible to teach. Either way, he gets a winter in the DR out of it. I don’t really see the downside.

Long claims to have high hopes for the venture and has said, "You're going to see a huge difference visually. You'll see less movement, an explosive, compact swing, and you'll probably see more home runs. I think his average will go way up and I think his walks will go way up."

Well, one should hope.

Robbie is currently 6 for his 38 at bats this month. He has an OBP of .295 this season, compared with a career OBP of .333. Not to mention the fact that he has committed a whopping 13 errors this season, often with plays where he looks—how shall I put it?—like he’s giving it a little bit less than 110%. And, well, having just signed that big old contract for $30 million over four years in January, it makes you wonder—now that Robbie got his payday, is he just putting on the uniform, showing up, and going through the motions?

Say it ain’t so, Cano.

Well, Robbie did have something to say, though that wasn’t exactly it. What he said was, “It’s not your business.”

Huh. I must confess that I was a little taken aback by what I perceived to be a direct and personal attack by someone who I had always thought of as a friend. Not my business? Oh, really. Not my business? So that’s how we were going to play this? Well, how about as long as I am the schmuck who buys the tickets, and t-shirts, and bobble heads that pay your salary, it actually kind of is.

And just as my lather was reaching its pinnacle, as I was preparing myself to write the kind of excoriating piece that I felt worthy of his betrayal, I read the rest of the quote. “There is one other good thing. I’m going to know who’s on my side. Who’s my friend; who’s not my friend. Who’s talking behind my back. I’ll remember all that. Because I’m going to go back and be the player I’m supposed to be.”

And that’s when it occurred to me. Robbie isn’t telling us it’s not our business because he doesn’t care about us. He’s telling us it’s not our business because his feelings are hurt. All this talk of friends and being gossiped about behind his back? Well, it’s what you say when you’re feeling wounded. And if wounding Robbie is within our capability, it suggests that—far from being smug and indifferent—Robbie cares deeply about we think. Which would lead me to believe that he probably doesn’t feel too great about his performance this season, with or without the big salary. And as the person who coined the phrase, “To Cano him is to love him,” that makes me feel a whole lot better about the world.

From the very beginning, I always had a special place in my heart for Robbie. He brought to the game a youthful exuberance. The kind of passion for the sport that I really respect. I remember the day he hit his first home run. The camera panned to the dugout and the grin on his face just said it all. Here was a kid who loved baseball. A kid who was living a dream. It was written all over that grin. And I don’t think that kind of sincerity goes away just because you tack a lot of zeros onto the end of a paycheck.

Don’t get me wrong. Just because I happen to like Robbie, it doesn’t mean I’m going to give him a pass on this one. The bottom line is that he hasn’t handled the criticism with the grace and maturity that I have come to expect as the signature of a Torre baby. However, I am inclined to believe that his frustration is earnest and that his struggles are more the results of sloppiness and immaturity than anything else. In a sense, his behavior with the press and off the field reflect the nature of his problems on the field—Robbie, love him though I may, is a little bit of a baby. And it’s time for him to grow up. We’ve walked him through his infancy. So, now, what I would like to see when he emerges from batting camp, is a player who has changed his approach, not only mechanically, but mentally.

What Cano needs from Long is more than just a batting coach—he needs a life coach. Someone to give him encouragement along with that swift kick in the pinstripes he occasionally deserves. Based on what we saw when Robbie was under the tutelage of Larry Bowa, he is the kind of player who really benefits from one-on-one mentorship. And based on what we know from Oprah, a life coach can be just the thing to turn a rookie into a champ.

Will this require Long to go jogging on the beach with Robbie and tackle him in the waves in slow motion at least once alla Apollo Creed in Rocky III? Possibly. But, then, I’m pretty sure that Rocky went on to do some serious damage in the fight against Mr. T, so…you tell me if you think it’s worth it.

And, incidentally, I pity the po’ fool who don’t eat my Coco Crisps.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Putting The Loser Into Lovable Losers

It’s gonna happen. I must confess, my Wrigley experience almost made me forget how it was that the Cubs had come to earn such a pathetic slogan. It was only a month ago, and yet they played with such confidence, seemed so unstoppable. It’s gonna happen? Well, of course it was gonna happen. One only wondered why they were so embarrassingly desperate to convince us.

Now I remember.

Yes, the Cubbies are back to doing what it is that they do best—putting the loser into lovable loser. And I must admit that it’s getting a little bit old. It’s like watching a really, really predictable movie. It’s like that friend who keeps getting back together with her jerk of a boyfriend even though you know it can’t possibly end well. It’s like turning on Nick at Nite to find that they are airing that episode of Taxi where Jim builds Elaine a castle in her living room—again. Well, that’s actually an awesome episode, and I could never really get sick of it. And, come to think if it, they don’t even air Taxi on Nick at Nite anymore. So it’s more like if flipping on Nick at Nite to discover they are rerunning that episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air where Vivian and Philip go on Soul Train. Sure, it was amazing the first time. But it doesn’t really bear re-watching.

I don’t want to sound heartless. I get that it must suck to suck. I mean, hell the Yankees aren’t exactly the envy of the East this year. And, no, just because the Yanks are down on their luck, I would never dream of saying that I can relate to what it must be like to be a Cubs fan. That would be condescending. I know someone who once had the ridiculous notion that he would go sleep on the street for a few nights so that he could “see what it felt like to be homeless.” For me to say that I could truly relate to the pain of what it was like to be a Cubs fan? It would be kind of like that. But, still, I get that it’s no fun. And I get that it’s not your fault.

That said, it’s still a little tiresome. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. You don’t have to be a loser to be lovable. That day that I went to Wrigley? The day DeRosa and Soto hit dingers, John Cusack sang “Take Me Out to The Ballgame,” and all of those Cubs fans won me over with that special brand of adorability that doesn’t exist outside the Midwest? Nobody was a loser that day. Well, nobody except the Nationals.

I am a baseball atheist—a batheist, if you will. I do not believe in fortune, and curses, and predetermined fates for certain teams. If anything, as previously stated, I do believe in collective psychology. And, perhaps, when the players for a certain team start to believe that their team is fated to lose, they may force a particular outcome. But there is no Roberto Clemente in the sky who is willing this to happen to the Cubs. Phil Rizzuto does not declare, “Holy Cow!” and before you know it, despite themselves, the Cubs find that they have lost eight of their last nine games. There is no destiny—only self-determination. Want proof? Take a look at the Chowdas. If after years, and years, and years, and years—well, I’m not going to write it out eighty-six times—they can turn things around and win not one, but two championships, it leaves the Cubs with no excuse.

The Cubs have built an identity around the fact of their loserness. And maybe there is an anxiety there that, if they aren’t the lovable losers, they wont know who they are. Will they even be lovable anymore? But I argue, yes. A thousand times yes. Because, at the rate the Cubs are going, the loser thing, it’s growing less and less lovable by the season. In fact, I’d say the Cubs are about one implosion away from being the loathe-able losers. If the Cubs really want to earn our love, at this point, the best thing they could possibly do is surprise us by winning. The timing is almost too perfect. A hundred years? That's just about as inspirational sports movie as you can get. And everyone knows that everyone loves the winning team in the inspirational sports movie.

So, Soriano, Lee, Soto, Theriot, you march back onto that field, and you show those birds from St. Louis that Cardinals fans take it in the Pujols. I’m sorry. I saw a Cubs fan wearing a shirt that said that one time, and I have been waiting for the opportunity to repeat it. And here I thought I was the only one who liked to make fun of ballplayers who have names that sound like crapelbon. I think someone should make a t-shirt for the Indians that says, “Tigers Fans Give Me Renteria.”

On another note, I have been anxiously awaiting this week’s episode of Project Runway. Now that the Yankees have ruined my September, I have to take solace where I can. I was fantasizing today about how unbelievably amazing it would be to find a way to fuse my love of Project Runway with my love of baseball. Picture this: A close call at the plate. Heidi Klum comes strutting onto the field clad in spiked heels and mini-dress, says smugly in that oh-so-sexy German accent of hers, “In baseball, one play you're safe, the next play you're out. Coco Crisp… You’re out.”

Du Stinkst Coco Crsip. Auf wiedersehen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why Do You Build Me Up Pudgey-cup?

Well, for those of us who thought that the Yanks had lost their will to fight, I guess that last night’s outing against the Angels proved us all wrong. It was the bottom of the sixth. Pudge and Torii Hunter did the bumpty bump during a play at the plate. And, while Hunter claimed it was an accident, Pudge believed it was intentional. So Pudge pushed Hunter. Hunter pushed Pudge. On thing led to another, and before you could say, “The only thing stupider than a mascot is a rally monkey,” the benches had cleared. The tension was incredible. Everyone was all fired up. Raring to go. And then, and then…

And then the Yanks continued to get pounded and ultimately lost the game in a 12-1 decision.

Girardi had this to say about the fight. “It's not something that you want to see happen, but it's emotion. Pudge was showing emotion, and I'm OK with that. Emotion is a good thing. It's baseball.”

Actually, it’s not.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, emotion is “a strong mental or instinctive feeling such as love or fear.” And, just to do a little refresher, baseball is the thing where you swing the bat at the ball and try to get the guys on your team around the bases. It is the thing, Girardi, that your team is currently not so good at. It does not technically ever involve shoving or punching or physical displays of “emotion.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I like a brawl as much as the next guy. Not so much in real life. In real life, I’m a pacifist. But in real life, I also don’t believe in telling people they suck. Sports is a little bit different from real life. However, just because I like a sports brawl, it doesn’t mean I think that they should be happening willy-nilly for no reason. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the entire point of beefing in sports to get everyone all pumped up to kick some tush? When the Yanks get into a benches-clearing fracas in the sixth and then go scoreless for the three remaining innings, I don’t call that a display of “emotion.” I call it a useless expenditure of energy.

Let me digress a moment, if I may.

I watched a movie the other night. An Irish film, entitled Once, which some of you may remember as this year’s Oscar winner for Best Original Song. (If you would prefer not to hear the details of the storyline, I advise you to skip this paragraph.) The movie tells the heartwarming tale of an Irish guy and Czech girl, both of whom are hung up on an ex who doesn’t value them. Throughout the course of the film, the boy and the girl discover a shared passion for music, they record a CD, they fall in love. And all’s well that ends well. Except. Except. They never tell each other. They never tell each other, and they get back together with the ex-husband and ex-girlfriend who didn’t appreciate them in the first place. For no good reason. If I had to guess, I would say because someone told John Carney, the filmmaker, that happy endings were not allowed in independent movies. The result of this narrative decision was that I was left with the feeling that the whole experience, the journey, the voyage of their love, had been a total waste of my time. Leaving me to wonder, “Why do you build me up, John Carney-cup, just to let me down?”

And that is much how I felt last night. If you’re going to go to the trouble of getting into a brawl, shouldn’t you just win? Shouldn’t you at least make a stab at a comeback? Score another run? Something?

Meanwhile, back on the Jersey Shore…For those of you haven’t already heard, let me fill you in about Ryan Ward, the pride of New Jersey, who has been using his likeness to Joba Chamberlain as a way to get women to sleep with him. The 29-year-old, who originally hails from Delaware, was recently arrested for the scam and released on $10,000 bail. Poor guy had obviously never heard of JDate, where it's just so darn easy to not get arrested for being a pervert.

Now, the best way to teach this moron a lesson—if indeed a lesson could ever even penetrate the sieve that must be his mind—would be to simply let it lie. And to teach this moron a lesson would probably be in the best interest of society at large—or the women of New Jersey, at the very least. The New York Post, of course, does not have the best interest of society at heart. As evidenced by their penchant for lipstick-wearing pit bulls. And basically every news article they have ever published. Eager as ever to jump on anything remotely tawdry, the Post has decided that, rather than let this story run its natural course, they would find a way to breathe new life into it. They have arranged a meeting between Ryan and Joba. The pitcher is apparently anxious to meet his impersonator, claiming he wants to “know what was going on in his head.”

May I make a suggestion to Joba Chamberlain? (Because the people at the Post could give a crapelbon.) A guy like Ryan Ward—a guy who pretends to be a professional baseball player so that he can laid? A guy who does this and then later jokes about it with the press? A guy who says he would only “probably” never do it again? A guy who now claims to want to parlay his likeness to Chamberlain into a living? (Because we all go to Vegas for the Joba impersonators.) This wouldn’t be a guy who loves attention by any chance, would it? A guy who would be really psyched to be getting as much media as possible out of this whole ridiculous farce? And we want to, what? Reward him by giving him even more press and a private audience with one of the most famous sports figures in New York? Right. That seems fair. Because I don’t get to meet Joba Chamberlain and I didn’t imitate anyone so that I could get laid.

Look, Joba, I’m no expert in male psychology, but if you really want a glimpse into the mind of Ryan Ward, I am going to go ahead and guess that it looks something like this: “I want sex. I want sex. I want sex. I look like a famous person. I want sex. I want sex.” Curiosity piqued?

Oh, right. But I forgot who I was dealing with. Because while Joba may not be a sexual deviant, he can relate to Ward on one level—homeboy loves to make love to the camera. He’d pass up the opportunity to participate in a ridiculous media circus like I’d pass up the opportunity to tell Torii Hunter that his name is misspelled.

Or the opportunity to say You Suck Coco Crisp.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Johan Santana: Regalo de Dios

Johan Santana.

What comes immediately to mind when one hears that name? Ace pitcher? Two-time Cy Young Award winner by unanimous vote? The guy who, in the final estimation, the Yankees actually could have used more than Kennedy, Hughes, and Melky this year? These are common things to think when one hears mention of Johan Santana. And, yet, none of them are the thoughts that come immediately to my mind.

The thought that comes immediately to my mind is that it’s really bizarre to be named Johan when you come from Venezuela.

I went to the trouble of looking up the name Johan. Just to make sure that I was not somehow laboring under a misapprehension as to its origins. Maybe it was Johann Bach, and not Johan Santana, who had been incongruously named. It turns out that this was not the case. My instinct was correct. As it happens, the name Johan has nothing to do with anything Venezuelan, or even Latin American for that matter. Johan is Finnish, German, and Swedish for John. It is also Hebrew for “gift from God.” It is not Spanish for anything. The Spanish for John is Juan. The Spanish for “gift from God” is “regalo de Dios.” This last bit of information, for the record, is information that came from my brain and not the website from which I gathered my information.

But it should not go without saying that the website that I used for reference——was an invaluable resource, a veritable well of knowledge. Among the other information that I was able to gather from my visit, it provided me with a list of names that sound like Johan. Names such as Mohan, Rohan, Monohan, and Bohan. The last name, which is supposedly unisex, is not a name I believe to truly exist based on my experience in the world. But according to the site, it is Biblical for “in them.” Ah, yes, one wonders why we don’t hear that one more often.

Now you might think that it’s just silly that this site should offer us information about names that happen to sound like names that interest us. What, you ask, does Mohan have to do with Johan? As it happens, for our friend Johan Santana of the weirdly mismatched first and last names, the answer to that question is everything. Johan is married to a woman named Yasmile, who he has known since he was nine. Adorable. Johan and Yasmile have two daughters. And since you’ll never guess their names, I’m just going to tell you. Jasmily and Jasmine. Get it? Like Yasmile. But not.

Now I can only speak personally, but if I married a guy named—oh, I don’t—let’s say Johan, I would probably shy away from naming our children Rohan and Monohan. In fact, I am going to go so far as to say that I think that for me to do that would even be a little bit weird. The compulsion to name your child after yourself—that’s one thing. It’s not something I would do—Jews tend not to—but it’s something that makes sense to me. But to give children names that sort of approximate the name of one of their parents—enough to where it is obvious but not enough to just have it be the same name—I don’t quite get the thinking. It seems illogical.

This brings us back my original question. Why is Johan Santana named Johan in the first place? I am going to posit that, perhaps it is his confusion about his own name that we see being reflected in his choices about the names for his children.

And, yet, I am open to the possibility that maybe I am just wrong. Because if Johan is a weird name for someone from Latin America—someone with the last name Santana—how come there are two of them? That’s right. I’m talking about Angels pitcher Ervin Santana from the Dominican Republic, whose actual name is Johan. In 2003, when Ervin was still in the minors and Johan was making a name for himself with the Twins, Ervin decided that the big leagues weren’t quite big enough for two pitchers with the same name. Especially when one of those pitchers happened to be a superstar. So, he took it upon himself to change his. To Ervin—just in case you hadn’t really registered that.

Now I have to admit. I sort of think the guy has a point. This is a measured practical reason for which to change your name. A reason that seems unrelated to a need for attention. A reason I can get behind. However, I think that having made this decision, the only logical thing for Ervin to have done would have been to take his middle name—Ramon. Because it’s just weird to make up a new name for no reason. And, yet, this is what Ervin decided to do. OK. Fine. A strange choice. And, yet, he still could have taken advantage of this opportunity and figured out a way to make his name make sense. Like, by picking the name Juan. Or Regalo de Dios. But, Ervin? Really? Santana commented, “I just came up with Ervin. Ervin Santana, that sounds good.”

No, not true. It doesn’t. In fact, I will posit that Ervin Santana actually sounds about as good as Pepe Edelstein.

But this is just my initial line of thinking when I hear the name Johan Santana. Then I usually move on to the stuff that other people think about. And, this brings us to last night’s game against the Phillies. A game which the Mets were able to win in large part because of the contribution of the Hebraic gift of God, otherwise known as Johan Santana.

Last night’s was an extremely important victory in one of the most critical series the Mets will play all month. They did not fare quite as well as they would have liked against the Phils this weekend, but last night’s outing staved off the sweep at the very least. It is a sweep that the Mets could ill have afforded. Not only because, at this point in the season, every game matters. But also because both the players and the fans are still recovering psychologically from last year’s cataclysmic September. A sweep by the Phillies would have been the kind of demoralizing blow that would have been pretty tough to take at this juncture.

Santana pitched 7 and 1/3 innings, allowing only five hits and two runs. All told, Santana has done well by the Mets this year. Better than his win-loss record might reflect, with only 13 in the “W” column and 7 losses. Like Joan Jett, he’s what you’d call a victim of circumstance. And in his case, circumstance boils down to a craptastic bullpen and little run support. The reality of his victimhood is reflected as much through his 2.70 ERA as it is through the fact that everyone on the Mets continues to have undying confidence in him. And while Johan Santana has never pointed the finger at his teammates for their failure to support him, they have all been more than willing to take on the blame. And rightfully so.

But on a night like last night, when all the pieces come together, the Mets get to reap the rewards of their investment in Santana. And Jerry Manuel had this to say of his performance, "Anytime his turn comes around, we feel confident that he can keep us going, or stop us from going the other way."

However, one great pitcher does not a winning team make. And, as established, the Mets have found a way to lose in spite of great outings by Santana. Time and time again. So, if this September is going to be different from the last one, everyone has to contribute. It has to be a team effort. And so far, not everyone seems to be rising to the occasion. True, Beltran is on a seven game hitting streak. True, also, that Delgado is an unstoppable force of run batting in awesomeness that it is hard to imagine anyone ever having booed. However, it is also true that Jose Reyes went 0-13 in the series against the Phils. And that Dee Dubs is batting .167 with a .192 OBP in his last 24 at bats.

Then, of course, we have Wagner. The latest on Wags is that he is going to be out for the remainder of the season. At the very least. I know that this is supposed to fall into the deficit category, but I think that one’s up for debate.

All I know is this; with the Yanks all but out of it, I would like to see at least one New York team representing this October. I am pretty sure I have already made clear to everyone exactly why and how much I hate Halloween. So, I need October baseball.

Speaking of hitting streaks, guess who else is on a bit of a tear these days. Your friend and mine. Covelli Loyce Crisp. He hit big ten tonight in the opener against Tampa Bay. And I bet he just thinks that with this bender of his he will rob me of one of my remaining few joys in life. Fat friggin’ chance, buddy. Post a hit in every game from now until the end of September if you want. See if I care. You want to know why? Because You Suck Coco Crisp.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Futbol Americano y Ocho Hell No

Viva, Viagra! Oh, I’m sorry. I’m watching football. And the commercials are just so darn catchy.

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Which means what? Well, among other things, it means that I get to watch a whole lot more commercials for erectile dysfunction than usual. By the way, as a side note, I find it intriguing that the baseball games tend to air more of the hair re-growth product commercials whereas the football games tend to focus on the erectile dysfunction. It’s just interesting what you can learn from watching game time advertising. Like, I now know that guys who watch baseball are bald and the ones who watch football can’t get it up. And, based on the advertising I have seen the few times I have been forced to watch the golf channel, those guys should all consider seeking immediate medical assistance.

But in addition to what the beginning of football season promises to do for my repertoire of ad campaign jingles, it also means that we are going to be reunited with a whole lot of old friends. Old friends we all but forgot while we were busy focusing on baseball, tennis and the Olympics. Well, not Fav-ruh. We could never really forget about him. What with all the headlines, cornfield mazes, and text messages. But the other guys? We all know we haven’t stayed in touch quite the way we would have liked. The way we promised we would when the season was over. Even Tom Brady has been conspicuously absent from the pages of US Weekly these days. Probably busy going over plans with the contractors for that house in Malibu. I hear he’s like totally obsessed with getting the bathroom right. But the good news is that friends in professional sports are the really quality friends. You know, the kind you can go months without talking to and it’s as though no time has passed at all.

I know what you’re going to say. Why, really, do we need these guys? Doesn’t baseball provides us with an unending well of material? It’s true; with so many major league players, on any given day, you can always count on someone to break his hand on his bat, or give someone the bird, or get married and present the world with a hand drawn sketch of the wife whose name he refuses to make public. But every once in a while, I think we all can admit to wanting a change of pace. A-Rod is A-Rod, and Manny is Manny, and maybe I’m ready to be hearing about someone else. And while I wish that baseball season would never end, maybe five months into it, I am still ready for some fresh faces—for some different brands of crazy.

It’s true. Most of the football headlines these days have been pretty narrowly focused on the game. We’re not so far into the season yet that players have taken the liberty of distracting us with their antics. So, there has been a lot on the injuries, the matchups and, of course, Fah-Fah-Fah-Fav-ruh and the Jets. You know, the stuff that is arguably more important, though dramatically less entertaining. There was a little bit of feather ruffling when Big Blue played the Redskins. Mathias Kiwanuka apparently took offense to the fact that Chris Samuels was willing to play for a team with such an incredibly racist name. Oh, no. That wasn’t it. That’s just the fight I want someone to have. I guess what Kiwanuka really said was that Samuels got a little down and dirty with a play. The result was a not-so-serious ankle injury for Kiwanuka. Samuels tried feebly to defend himself. Everyone else basically said he was in the wrong. And that was it. Pretty boring. But, like I said, it’s still early.

But there is one story—one story totally unrelated to anything having to do with actual football—that has captured the hearts and minds of football fans everywhere these past few days. Well, it has captured the heart and mind of this football fan, anyway, and I am just going to assume that the rest of them are like me. Except that I don’t have erectile dysfunction, and I would rather frost my tips than leave the house wearing a Styrofoam cheesehead. Bad for both the environment and one’s self-esteem, I would think. But I digress.

The story to which I refer is a story that has to do with a player and his fight to have the football community acknowledge the person who he truly is. And that person is a person who wants to have a Spanish number for a last name. Only not a real Spanish number because, apparently, he doesn’t speak Spanish. However, he wants an approximation of a Spanish number for a last name. So much so that he was wiling to take legal steps to make it happen. But the latest on Chad Ocho Cinco is that, despite his efforts, he was forced to start the season with his old name on his jersey—the boring name. Johnson. Blech. It’s just so…pedestrian.

The NFL made the ruling, claiming, “He has a financial obligation to Reebok, which produces the jerseys available to fans. That has to be resolved before the on-field jersey can be changed.” Hmm…funny because I actually heard that Reebok had already started making jerseys with Johnson’s new name on them. Like, as soon as he had it legally changed. So, people at NFL, is that the real reason? Or do you just hate Spanish Heritage Month? Whatever the case, shockingly, you obviously didn’t read or heed my advice about how to handle Ochenta y Cinco. You may feel like you are winning the battle by making a big deal of this, but you are actually only giving him the attention he so desires. And yet another headline on

Me? I don’t mind. You’re giving me something to write about. All I am saying is that if you let him play the game with the jersey without saying a word, he gets one story out of it, and then it’s over. Now? He gets this story. He gets the story where he makes a big stink out of it. He gets the story where you finally give in and let him do what he wants, which you eventually will. So cut to the chase. Or don’t. It’s not that easy for me to figure out what to write about, and I am glad for the material. Like I said, no one else in the world of the NFL is doing much that’s newsworthy yet.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Foul Or Fair: I'll Be An Effin' Redneck

"There are probably 800 players in the big leagues," commented A-Rod. "The odds of me being in some controversy are probably 2-1.” The statistical analysis required in order to understand all that is a little bit over my head. However, he is right on one count. When something newsworthy happens in the land of Major League Baseball, one is usually not surprised to discover that A-Rod was involved in one way or another. And something newsworthy certainly happened last night. That something was the implementation of instant replay. For the very first time. And on whose home run ball? That’s right. Frost Tip. I mean, like he said, the odds were 2-1.

In the top of the ninth, A-Rod hit a hard shot down the left field line, which both he and umpire Brian Runge saw as fair. The catcher for the Devils, Dioner Navarro, protested. As did Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon. The umps agreed that the best way to settle the issue was the not-so-old-fashioned way. Bring it to a replay. After disappearing together for a nail-biting two minutes and fifteen second, during which time they carefully reviewed the footage, they determined that Runge had gotten it right the first time. The ball had been fair. The home run would stick. A-Rod said with some relief, “I was just glad we got the right call.” And I am just glad that A-Rod didn’t have anything to lose sleep over.

But did they get the call right? You see, I watched the replay several times. Just to make sure. In case anyone needed a second opinion. And I’ll be an effin’ redneck if that ball didn’t look just a little left of fair to me. Not that it wasn’t close. But it raises an interesting point. Just because we bring technology into the mix, it does not mean that we eliminate human error. Unfortunately, at this point in time, we still need humans to watch and interpret replays. And if the camera angle doesn’t get it just right—if a ball is still a little close to call—we end up right back where we started. One ump, one call. Or, I guess last night, a group of umps and one call. Like I said, if I had been a part of the two minute and fifteen second deliberation, I would have been inclined to call that ball foul. However, maybe the ability to read the call right is altered ever-so-slightly when you were the one to have made it in the first place. When you are looking at instant replay footage to confirm something you feel you already know rather than to get at the truth.

All I know is this—without the instant replay, A-Rod got robbed of a home run on May 21, a call that did not affect the game’s outcome. With or without instant replay, A-Rod got credited with a home run last night that I don’t believe he necessarily deserved. Again, either way, it would not have affected the game’s outcome. Basically, without the use of instant replay, A-Rod is even-steven on the home run front and the games’ final outcomes are unaltered. When it comes to botched calls, you win some, you lose some, and the odds are 2-1 that it balances out in the end.

In any event, it gives A-Rod something to gossip about with the girls when he’s getting those tips done at the salon. At Frederick Fekkai to be exact. Yes, I have it from a fairly reliable source that it is to the good stylists at F squared that A-Rod owes his frosty tips. So, if you are having trouble making an appointment, you can blame it on A-Rod. He probably stole your slot. (I sometimes even blame him when there is interrupted service on the subway. Because he exists.) However, this information might make you want to rethink your choice of salon anyway. You all have seen his hair, right?

What I will say about A-Rod is that he is continuing to deliver the goods this week, providing us with four more RBIs in last night’s 8-4 victory over the Devs. Rookie Phil Coke also deserves a shout-out for his contribution of two perfect innings. Well pitched, Phil-a-roo. Edwar Ramirez did his part, as well, helping Carl Pavano out of no-out bases loaded jam in the fifth. Despite the fact that he only faced three batters, Ramirez managed to earn himself the win—our third “W” in consecutive games. Here is the trouble. Want to know who else earned their third “W” in a row last night? You guessed it—or you already knew it—the Chowdas. So they remain seven in front of us for the wild card. And the problem is, of course, that we could win every game on our schedule from now until the end of the month, and it won’t matter a lick unless the Chowdas start to lose. A lot. Fortunately, we will see them again before the season is through. Let's just hope it still matters by then.

On a different note, I discovered this week that I think I might have a new favorite sport. Sadly, like both the summer and winter Olympics, it is a sport that only comes around once every four years. But BOY is it ever fun. I am talking about the Republican National Convention. They still haven’t wrapped up the event for the week, but smart money for the gold medal in batshit crazy is on everyone’s favorite lipstick-wearing, hockey-loving, polar bear-hating pit bull. That’s not mean. I am just quoting her. Well, except the part about the polar bears. That was just a deduction based on other things she said. Other competitors for the batshit crazy award, such as Rudy and Huck, have both updated their myspace pages with messages that indicate that they are starting to get a little worried. Ultimately, it is not impossible that it will all come down to a replay. To be honest, I don’t really care who wins. I am just glad that someone is out there telling the truth about the uselessness of community organizing. And I also just think it’s fun to yell, “Drill, baby, drill!”

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Mike Mussina: He'd Rather Be At Home

On one of the many occasions when I went to see the Yanks at the Stadium last season, I happened to find myself sitting in front of a well-known sportscaster. We’ll call him Bob. Anyway, Bob was giving his friends the inside scoop on some of the players—who was cool, easy to talk to, a pain in the pujols. One of his friends inquired about Roger Clemens. Bob told him that Roger Clemens was all but impossible to dislike. The kind of guy with whom you really want to go out and have a beer. Being the busybody that I am, I couldn’t help but snort loudly by way of voicing my disapproval. Apparently, I got my point across because Bob responded by saying, “What? You don’t agree.” I said, “No, I absolutely don’t. Roger Clemens is a fundamentally bad person.” I said this with the confidence of someone who had met Roger Clemens, which of course I had not—Bob undoubtedly had. But I have never shied away from a debate for lack of concrete evidence. And, by the way, I am pretty sure that everything that has happened in the past few months has served to substantiate what was always obvious to me about Clemens. And if you’ve been reading about his son this week, you’ll know that the asshole doesn’t fall far from the tree.

In any event, Bob and I engaged in a bit of a debate about the personalities of the various players. He suggested Giambi would be fun to have a beer with. Again, I disagreed. (Though, the whole flipping bird thing has gotten me thinking that Giambi might actually be a little bit hilarious.) Bob threw out the names of player after player, each of which I rejected on the grounds that they were evidence of Bob’s bad taste in ballplayers. Eventually, he said, “Well, fine, then. If you could sit down for a beer with any player, who would it be?” I paused for a moment, reflected, and responded, “Mike Mussina. Hands down.” He looked at me with awe, shook his head, and said, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” It’s true. I didn’t. And, yet, I was certain I was right.

On the surface, it might be difficult to deduce that Mike Mussina and I have all that much in common. Moose grew up in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. I grew up in Los Angeles and New York. Moose went to Stanford, and graduated in three years as an Economics major. I went to three different colleges and eventually graduated in eight years as an English major. Moose is a famous professional baseball player. I am a not-famous unpublished novelist with a blog, which has a readership that is small, to say the least, though admittedly elite. I move approximately once every six months. Moose never moves. I have two dogs and three hamsters. Moose has a wife and two kids. I love doing the crossword. Moose…well, Moose also loves doing the crossword. But, you get the point. And, yet, I feel in him a kindred spirit.

I have a mantra. And that mantra is: “I’d rather be at home.” This is particularly true where evening activities are concerned—evening activities that most people tend to think are fun. The words “cocktail party,” “barbecue,” “going out,” “wedding,” “networking opportunity,” “a lot of fun,” “great place to meet people”—these are all watchwords for me. Words that produce in me an unspeakable amount of anxiety. Anxiety I never experience when I am home watching a Yankees games, or Season 4 of House, or reading Edith Wharton.

How does this make me like Moose? You see, despite being a multimillionaire with the option to live anywhere his heart desires in any manner he wants, Moose chooses to keep his permanent residence in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. He chooses to keep his old friends, despite the fact that a player of his talent and stature could be out rubbing elbows with middle-aged pop stars and sleeping with groupies. Whenever he has a day off, he chooses to go home to spend time with his wife and his children rather than bask in the warm glow of his stardom. He chooses to help coach the football team at his old high school during his spare time—spare time that he could be spending at the club or doing nothing on a beach somewhere. I don’t want to speak for Moose, but it sort of sounds like his mantra is more or less the same as mine. When push comes to shove, in a manner of speaking, he would also rather be at home.

In 2004, The Yanks played their opener in Japan. Moose famously took refuge in his room, refusing to come out whenever unnecessary—opting to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches rather than branch out and eat sushi. Some might say that it is behavior like this that makes Moose an eccentric. No, not an eccentric as defined by Tim McCarver—the kind of eccentric who sits in Starbucks and writes poetry. I mean the kind of eccentric who is a little unconventional, a little bit different. The kind of eccentric who is rich and famous and still chooses to live in Montoursville, Pennsylvania. The kind of eccentric who travels to Japan and would rather lock himself up in his room than explore.

I happen to be a person who loves to travel, and I can still relate to Moose on this one. The same year that he traveled to Japan for the opener, I spent some time in Cambodia. I was there for several months, during which time I was invited to one of the rural villages to attend a traditional Cambodian wedding. It was a cultural immersion experience unlike any which I had previously experienced. From the beginning of the weekend to the end, I was dragged around from house to house, stared at, touched, made the center of attention in ways that I systematically avoid in my day-to-day existence. (You will remember that I am a person who would rather be at home.) The food at the event was making me completely and utterly sick to my stomach. Had I the means to make myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I would have. I was sharing one big room with all of the other guests at the wedding, but believe me, had hiding in my own room been an option, it is one I would have exercised. So, I did the next best thing—faked a headache and pretended to sleep through the entire wedding reception.

Maybe this behavior is indicative of the fact that I, too, am an eccentric. Or maybe it’s just that we have different expectations of our sports figures. It is not at all uncommon for a person to travel for business and retreat to his hotel at night as soon as his work for the day is done. Particularly if it is a trip that he would rather not have taken in the first place. And, for Moose, the trip to Japan was just that kind of trip. He went there to do a job. Period. But, nowadays, to be a professional athlete is not so much a job as it is a way of life. These guys have money, they have fame, they have all kinds of opportunities that we do not. The voyeurs in us want to see them take advantage of that. But Moose defies us all by doing the unthinkable: He treats baseball like it is work. He is deeply invested in what he does while he is doing it. However, when he is not playing or practicing, Mussina clocks out. He goes home.

According to his agent Arn Tellem, “He’s still the same small town guy from Pennsylvania. He has the same friends, is committed to his family, and is dedicated to not letting his professional career get in the way of his home life…And being able to pull that off, I have unbelievable respect and admiration for him.” And so should we. Because it’s hard enough for anyone to strike that balance. For an athlete? It’s all but impossible. And I think because we are unaccustomed to it, we just don’t know how to interpret it. We assume that our athletes should fit a certain profile because so many of them do. But Mike Mussina is ultimately just a quiet guy who lives in a small town in Pennsylvania. And, when he’s not at work, he would rather be at home. If Mike were a fireman, or a stockbroker, or an engineer, we wouldn’t think anything of it. But Moose does sports for a living, which makes it more confusing.

The most striking thing that Tellem had to say about Moose is that he is “true to himself.” Tellem went on to say, “He is probably the most grounded professional athlete that I know.” I admit, this is a little like saying that someone is the classiest player on the Red Sox. However, I am inclined to believe that, with Moose, what you see is what you get. And what you get is a guy who works hard and gets the job done without ever losing sight of the fact that, ultimately, a job is just a job. Even if that job is sports. What you get is a guy who values family above all else. What you get is a guy who loves tractors.

Moose posted yet another win last night. This is not only significant because, these days, every Yankees win is significant. It is significant because it moved Mussina past Eppa Rixey and Bob Feller up to 34th on the all-time win list with 267. More importantly, last night's win constitutes Moose’s 17th of the season. As we all know, he is working his way to 20—a number that has eluded him more times than one. You could say that, in Moose’s pursuit of 20, if it weren’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have no luck at all. He came close in 1995, with 19. If you will recall, the 1995 season was cut short by the strike. In 1996, he pitched what would have been his 20th win for the Orioles were it not for the fact that Armando Benitez blew the save. Moose is the king of almost, just about, missed it by that much. With four or five chances remaining this season, it is coming down to the wire. Moose, in typical Mussina fashion, seems more focused on winning games for the team than beating his best. When asked about last night’s outing, he responded, “We're just trying to win ballgames any way we can. I'm just trying to contribute on my day, so today was a decent day.” It sure was, Moose. Here’s hoping for three more before the month is through.

As an aside, Bob and I ended our exchange peacefully. We put it together that we had been at the same Bat Mitzvah the previous week. There is no other such revelation that could have so successfully transformed our animosity into good will.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Field Of Favre: If You Build It,They Will Run

If you build it, they will come. Eventually. Hopefully. Well, once it gets a little bit cooler. Cool enough for the idea of getting lost in a cornfield for who knows how long to seem at least vaguely appealing. Now, I know what you’re going to say. (Don’t I always?) You’re going to say that the idea of getting lost in a cornfield is never appealing. We’ve all seen Children of the Corn. And Signs. Or at least I have because I was a little slow to figure that M. Night Shyamalan was a one-trick pony. In my defense, I did figure it out in time to not see The Village. But the point is that, unless you are a corn farmer, you would likely prefer not to be walking around in a cornfield. You would probably rather spend your spare time doing something more fun, like—oh, I don’t know—having your name legally changed into a Spanish number that isn’t really a number.

But Carlene and Duane Schultz of Eleva, Wisconsin believe that they have found the key to unlocking the door to that special chamber in people’s hearts—the one that accesses their love of corn. How? The Schultzes have gone and created a giant corn maze in the shape of America’s favorite un-unretired sociopathic quarterback who is hell bent on ruining my life. It was meant to be a tribute, on behalf of the people of Wisconsin, to Dr. Farvil and all that he has done for their great state. I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that the Schultzes conceived of the idea before Fav-ruh pulled his recent antics, metaphorically cutting the cheese in the face of all his loyal cheeseheads. But, the Schultzes decided to proceed with the idea nonetheless. Given that the maze is made of corn—rather than paint, or ink, or stone, or some medium that allows for the display of details—the only way that we really know that the football player maze is meant to be a replica of Farvoroni is that the Schultzes told us. Oh, and they also carved his number into it. It’s a good thing, too. Maybe it’s just me, but I think all football player mazes look alike. I hope that doesn’t make me a bigot. The maze could, however, be said to resemble Farviavelli in that it serves as a metaphor for his addled mind. You know, the way you can wander around a maze for hours, getting lost and confused, feeling like nothing makes sense.

Opening day got off to a bit of a slow start, with only about a hundred visitors showing up on Sunday. Carlene isn’t sweating it, though. She is confident that people will flock their way in droves once the weather cools down. What the hell else do people have to do in Wisconsin? Plus, she saw Field of Dreams. And, like they said in the movie, if you build it, they will come. The only difference is that the “it” to which they referred in Field of Dreams was a cornfield that Kevin Costner mowed down to turn into a baseball diamond that somehow magically allowed famous dead ballplayers to come back to life to play baseball together. I am guessing that if you could build a place where people could go see Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, and Grandpa Hank Greenberg, they would come. If, on the off chance, Carlene, you have the capability to build that, do it. A hundred times over, do it. If, for whatever reason, you just opted for the maze instead of the dead, great baseball player ballpark—if you just happened to think it might be more profitable—tear that mofo down. Revise and resubmit. Otherwise, I guess just keep waiting for the cool weather. Or, you could also just be a normal corn farmer. Who farms corn just for eating. I hear there’s a decent market for that these days.

You want to know what I love about the Yankees? The fact that people are still talking about October like it’s within our realm of possibility. And I’m not saying it’s not. I’m just saying that it’s what I love the Yankees. And yesterday’s game served to keep our feeble hopes alive. We are all familiar with the expression, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose; it’s how you play the game.” Well, there is another, less familiar (because I invented it) but probably more accurate saying that goes, “It doesn’t matter how you play the game; it’s whether you win or lose.” What I mean by that is not, of course, that it doesn’t matter if you cheat or display unsportsmanlike conduct. That matters. What I mean is that, in the end, whether you win by a margin of one or a margin of ten, whether you win with a walk-off salami or a walk-off hit-by-pitch (a Molina specialty), the only thing that shows up in the column is that you won. In other words, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. And yesterday’s game was a perfect example. It was, for all intents and purposes, sort of a travesty. At the end of the third, we were up 11-2; by the end of the fourth, it was 11-9. Our favorite Arubian Knight just couldn’t make an out in the fourth to save his Arubian hide. Ultimately, we went onto win the game 13-9. And, while it wasn’t exactly graceful, it was a win. I figure I am in no position to be picking and choosing how we get them these days.

Brian Bruney deserves some props for allowing only one hit in 1 and 2/3 innings. Also, I feel it only fair to give A-Rod his due for helping us out with four RBIs. So, consider it given. I am nothing if not fair. Nady, Jeter, and Matsui gave us two RBIs a piece—both Jeter’s and Matsui’s came with two outs. The hit support in yesterday’s game was obviously critical. Given the unreliability of our pitching of late, it could continue to be a crucial piece of the postseason pie. For the record, in my fantasy, the postseason pie is blueberry. Nothing against corn, but it’s just not very good in pie.

Monday, September 1, 2008

CC Sabathia: Laboring Under False Hope

Earlier today, I was waiting in line at a buffet breakfast when I happened to overhear an unfortunate conversation. In my experience, whenever you overhear a conversation, particularly at a breakfast buffet, it is usually unfortunate. The exchange took place between two women who were clearly strangers. One was shamelessly eyeing the pregnant belly of the other. When the first woman eventually got caught, she said, “I’m so sorry to stare. I was just wondering when you were due.” With the weariness and wariness of someone who was due in two weeks, the second woman responded, “Two weeks.” The other woman just about came unhinged, responding with complete and unbridled enthusiasm, “What fun! Oh my GOSH. WHAT FUN!” (Have I mentioned I am currently in Texas?) OK. First of all, there is the fact that, from what I understand, all a baby does for the first few months of his or her infancy is renteria, keep you up all night, and make you feel incompetent. This is not to say we do not love our children; it’s just that that they are not all that much fun right off the bat. However, that is beside the point because I am pretty sure that every expecting mother is a little too focused on another more imminent, more painful event to be thinking much about that. I know I would be.

I have no personal experience with labor, but I have seen enough movies and listened to enough stories to have a pretty good sense that the miracle of childbirth can be described using just about any word but fun. As I mentioned yesterday, I also don’t think it’s fun to deal with the court system. Yet, according to Ocho Cinco, it apparently is. So maybe I am just really out of touch. Maybe I don’t get what fun really is. Or maybe people just throw the word fun around a little too willy nilly.

It isn’t that I don’t think anything is fun. I spend so much time talking about things that I don’t think are fun—court, labor, mascots, Halloween—I fear you may all begin to think I am something of a curmudgeon. So just to prove that isn’t true, I am going to give you an example of something that I think is really fun. Parachuting into the wrong football field before a game. That, in my humble opinion, is the absolute pinnacle of fun. And that is exactly what happened yesterday when the two jumpers scheduled to land in Chapel Hill before the North Carolina game landed eight miles down the road in Duke’s Wallace Wade’s Stadium about an hour before the Blue Devils were scheduled to kickoff. Leslie Nielsen style. So much fun. For the record, if the parachutists had landed where they were supposed to, that wouldn’t have been particularly fun. UNC associate athletics director Rick Steinbacher was deeply embarrassed and apologetic about the gaff. He commented, in response, “In about five years, maybe this will be funny. Right now, I'm just glad no one was hurt.” And, you see, that is just incorrect. We don’t have to wait five years for it to be funny because it’s funny now. Having said that, these parachutists are probably not the guys to hire for a landing at Yankee Stadium. It’s just a little too close to the Bronx Zoo for comfort. And the result of an error like that would probably have ended up being not so fun.

In other news, as reported by the AP, “To the Milwaukee Brewers, CC Sabathia pitched the no-hitter that wasn't.” I bet I can guess what you’re thinking: Why is Melanie writing a blog no one reads when people who can’t write sentences that make sense are writing for the AP? The point, however, was that Sabathia all but made it through yesterday’s outing with a no-hitter but for a controversial call that has everyone on the Brewers all up in arms. Sabathia bobbled a soft grounder hit by Andy LaRoche in the fifth, and the official scorer called it a hit. The Brewers felt it was an error, and are enraged that Sabathia should be robbed of a no-hitter on account of a botched call. Sabathia, on the other hand, seems to be taking it in stride. Shrugging his shoulders and saying, “What are you going to do?” I guess the nice thing about having a team that has your back is that you can do that because you know that there is someone out there who is willing to fight your battles for you. It’s a hell of a lot better than raising a stink yourself. When you do, you just sort of look like a jerk. Like James Blake in the Olympics. (Not to say that Fernando Gonzalez didn’t also come out of that one looking like a jerk.) In any event, the Brewers plan to take their grievance all the way to the MLB top brass. They have compiled a DVD of replays. You have to watch it while listening to Dan Hill’s “Sometimes When We Touch” if you really want to capture the mood. We continue down the slippery slope. Today, the replay is only used to dispute REALLY important calls, the instant replay specifically home runs. But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Where do we draw the line?

To return to the original topic of this post, today is Labor Day. Not that kind of labor. It is rather a tribute to the labor movement. A tribute in which we gladly partake, despite the fact that most of us don’t know or care what it’s about. We know enough, which is that we get a three-day weekend out of it. However, the real purpose of this holiday is to celebrate the contribution that workers and the labor movement have made to our great nation. A nation in which ANYONE—a woman, a black man, even just a simple, down home, gun-slinging, oil-rigging, hockey mom—can rise to the top. It is to the labor movement that we owe the two-day weekend, the eight-hour workday, the fair wage. So, let us take a moment to contemplate the real reason we get to stay home from work today. And, in doing so, you need not feel sorry for the players on your favorite teams because they, unlike you, did not get the day off. Despite the fact that they are part of a union, they are not entitled the same privileges as the rest of us. You see, they, unlike you, are earning a really, really unfair wage. So, they are obligated to work today in order to even begin to earn it. The only reason I sort of wish that the Yankees had a day off was that, when they don’t play, they can’t ruin my day by losing.