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Baseball Season Winds Down…or Up For Some

Baseball Season Winds Down…or Up For Those Who Only Watch Post-Season Games

TGIO! Thank God It’s October!BaseballFan

I never thought I’d utter such heresy, but for the New York Yankees the 2013 season was the worst in recent memory, and stats will no doubt prove it. Talk about injuries! The dugout in the Bronx was like the Emergency Room at Bellevue.  Every time a supposedly healed player returned, another one went down—and sometimes, as in the case of Captain Jeter and his stubborn ankle, the same guy came and went the same day. These guys probably had more emotional pain than physical. I sure did.

When the Mets swept the Yanks in a four-game series, they had the grace and humility to recognize they hadn’t actually swept the Yankees, but, as I came to call them, a bunch of Strangers on the Field. In fact, the thrown-together, ragtag, rotating players did pretty well considering their experience and team cohesion, or lack of both. They fought bravely to the last, nearly making it to the playoffs as a wild card—but didn’t.

And now the Playoffs. As noted up above, some people don’t even watch baseball until things heat up for the post-season. Players pull out all the stops come October, and the games are their most exciting. Each year, it seems, more and more teams compete to get into the World Series, as MLB comes up with more new ideas to make it happen, crowding the field with more wild cards than a poker game among six-year-olds.

Big PapiNow we’re down to just four teams, two from each league, both in the midst of the semi-final battle. In the National League it’s the LA Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals, while in the American League it’s the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers. I care more about the American League, given who’s playing, but I don’t care so much who wins as I do  who should not win. Which is obvious: as a Yankee fan I’m fervently hoping the Sox go down soon with as much humiliation as possible (with the exception of Big Papi–one of my favorite players, he’s allowed to do well as long as he doesn’t win it for them). This year in particular, after what the Yankees and their fans have been through, it will be devastating if the Sox take the WS title. Besides, the only bright spot in the whole of a bankrupt, dying Detroit is their baseball team. So go Tigers! Whip their butts! Whip ’em good!

As for the National League, I’m not fond of the Dodgers and their violent fans, one or more (the perpetrator still hasn’t been caught) of whom severely beat up a Giants fan on opening day two years ago, compromising the workings of his brain. Before an LA fan jumps in here to deliver the news that a Dodger fan was recently murdered on a San Francisco street—I know this. So? It doesn’t lessen the vileness of the first incident or make it right. Let’s hope these crazy morons call it even, and the guy didn’t die entirely for nothing.

Chair of Broken Dreams

The other 2013 story, in the Bronx if not in all of MLB—no, it isn’t A-Rod and his steroids and lawsuit–it’s Mariano Rivera’s season-long farewell. It was such a heartwarming event, or series of events, it almost made us forget what else was going on. Rivera is probably the only player in all of baseball who’s respected and even loved universally. The gifts, the accolades, the notes, the speeches, the donations to Rivera’s charity—every time the Yanks showed up in another city, we got another wonderful story, like the Chair of Broken Dreams or Mariano as Pizza Man delivering to stadium staff. What a trip! What a guy! This is one player who is irreplaceable, and will be greatly missed. So will Andy Pettite, who only announced his retirement a few days before the season closed. Maybe he didn’t want to steal Mariano’s thunder…but Pettite’s also well regarded throughout baseball. Remember the Core Four?  Jeter, Posada, Pettite and Rivera—they played together for something like 18 years. And now there is one. I sure hope his ankle heals by next season!

As my son, a diehard Mets fan says every October, Wait until next year! This is the first time I’ve been forced to say it. Come on, all you broken-hearted Yankee fans. Take a deep breath. Repeat after me:




People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  
I’ll tell you what I do. 
I stare out the window and wait for spring. 
 ~Rogers Hornsby


He’s a Giant! He’s a Catcher! He’s Busta!

Buster Posey was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player on Thursday. This season Posey had returned after being out more than half of last season after a collision at home plate that left him with a devastating leg injury. Not only did he fully recover, but in 2012 Posey set career highs with a .336 average, 24 homers and 103 RBIs. He helped the San Francisco Giants get to the World Series and win it in four games, becoming the World Champions for the second time in 3 years. Posey is the first catcher in four decades to win the award, determined by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Posey’s 2011 collision

My admiration for catchers is immense. In my opinion, they do the hardest job in the game, squatting for 9 or more innings, up and down, up and down–the physical wear and tear alone is enormous. Then there’s the psychological aspect of managing pitchers, who, as I’ve pointed out before, are frequently psychotic.  

Catchers are underpaid and underrated. Jorge Posadawas my favorite player partly because of his position. I used to call him “Jorge-He-Does-It-All” whenever he hit a clutch home run or a Grand Slam. He was a catcher who hit well.

Jorge Posada

Not superlatively, but well; some catchers can barely connect bat to ball. They’re also notorious for not running very fast on those wobbly “catcher’s legs” that are always going up and down, up and down…okay, no need to belabor the point. It’s a tough job.

That’s why, when a Buster Posey comes along, give credit where credit is due. He’s only 25 and just starting his career–with a bang. It’s going to be fun watching him mature and get even better. Go Buster!

Slideshow: Baseball’s Greatest Catchers


Barry Zito’s Chatter: The Loneliness of the Ace Pitcher

Barry the Beautiful

I had to laugh when I checked my stats today and saw Dirty Laundry got its second highest number of views of all time yesterday. Under “Search Terms” were several variations of “Barry Zito Talks To Himself.” The phrase linked readers to the many posts I’ve written over the years about Zito, who I’m obviously mad about (if only he wasn’t so much younger than me…).

Anyhow, it’s true: Barry talks to himself on the mound with no shame or embarrassment. I don’t know if he’s conscious he’s doing it, but he must be, since he’s such a conscious human being–he meditates and does yoga regularly. I’d love to be a fly on the mound so I could hear what he’s saying. His chatter must help him in some way with pitching. Besides, pitchers are known to be the quirkiest players in baseball; some are nearly psychotic. I wrote a post about this once–but I left Zito off the roster of loco pitchers, since he’s so sane compared to the others. I mean, what’s a little muttering on the mound? It’s not like breaking a player’s hand (Hernandez to A-Rod) or throwing broken bats at them (Clemens to Piazza) or knocking down old men (Pedro Martinez to 70-something Don Zimmer).

When I was a kid I had a friend who talked to herself. She was an only child, and she told me she did it because she was alone all the time with nobody else to talk to. I’ve been talking to myself more and more as I get older, even in public; I’ve tried to control it, but cannot seem to stop. Part of the reason I do  it is because, like my old friend, I’m alone a lot these days.

Maybe that’s also Barry’s reason: up on that mound, he’s so very alone. Maybe his self-conversing is an antidote for The Loneliness of the Ace Pitcher. Whatever the reason, if it helps him do what he’s doing these days, he can do as much of it as he wants.

Go Barry Baby!

Yankee Collapse


I’ve never seen the Yankees play so poorly. They stranded players — bases loaded — twice. A-Rod was dramatic, as usual, in his  fuck-ups. Mariano Rivera, the only reliable pitcher, did a 1-2-3 out 9th inning, but there was nothing there to save: the score was 3-2 Detroit. I’m so mad at them — I’m not even sad, don’t feel sorry for them, I’m just pissed off at the way they threw away the pennant and the chance to play in the

World Series. Joe Girardi made his usual idiotic choices; I can’t help wondering if George Steinbrenner would fire him, were he alive. Nobody talks about firing Girardi.

Most likely it was Posada‘s last game as a Yankee, probably in baseball altogether. When asked about it, he turned away to hide his tears.

I fell in love with the Tigers‘ manager, Jim Leyland, a cool and warm guy if you know what I mean; it’s all there in his eyes. Two years older than me, he smokes and defends it. Because of him I’m rooting for the Tigers to annihilate the Texas Rangers, owned by right-wing conservative Nolan Ryan, who’s pals with  George Bush. So at least there’s a team to care about; usually once the Yanks go so do I.

I got to see Moneyball at last. Very entertaining, but I hate it that audiences now think Billy Beane is some kind of hero. He isn’t. Just take one look at where the Oakland A‘s are today, and at what BB’s been doing on the side (lecturing to financial companies) and draw your own conclusions.

Also, while it’s true that the statistical method he used to choose players, sabermetrics, worked well for awhile and was adopted by other teams to a certain degree, Beane went way too far with it. Baseball is a game with heart, and done by the numbers it wouldn’t be the same. What kind of person bases the fate of players and teams on statistics? A cold person, IMO. In fact, I read that the movie producers put the storyline of his daughter in  just to humanize the guy.

So the Yankee season’s over, and soon the rest of baseball will be also. I just wish I’d had time to write more about it this year. As they say in the game: Wait’ll next year!

Players At Work

This is my annual Labor Day blog post, honoring two groups 28yankees-190.jpgof workers: baseball players and writers. For the fourth year in a row I’m reposting it. The reason I like it and think it’s important is that writers/poets as well as baseball players are so frequently derided as not really “working,” but having fun. That’s it, we just wanna have fun! 

Since it’s Labor Day I thought I’d write something I’ve been wanting to work on for a long time: the topic of baseball players’ salaries. Wait! Don’t cut and run, thinking you already know what I’m going to say. Believe it or not, I’m not about to rant and rave because these guys get too much money for throwing a ball around. I’m actually here to talk about why they deserve the big bucks.

1. History: There was a time when baseball players made bubkas. So little were they paid that most had to have menial jobs in the off-season, some of them even during the season. Worse, they were treated like chattel: any player could be traded to any team at any time, and he had to shut his mouth and go wherever they sent him. Players had no say about how their pension fund was run, and there was no such thing in baseball as collective bargaining.

The most unfair aspect of players’ working conditions was that the sport was mysteriously exempt from national antitrust laws. The standard player’s contract included a reserve clause stating that if a team and its player did not reach agreement by a certain date, the club could simply renew the contract without the player’s consent. Players had no recourse other than retirement. A lawsuit brought in 1969 by Curt Flood, a St. Louis Cardinal who’d objected to being traded to the Phillies, started the ball rolling in a new direction. Though Flood lost the suit, his tireless fight was responsible for changes that came later.  In 1998 Congress passed the Curt Flood Act, eliminating baseball’s exemption from antitrust laws. For more of this history, see Stepping Up: The Story of Curt Flood and his Fight for Baseball Players’ Rights, by Alex Belth.

I like to compare the ballplayers’ situation to that of old rock ‘n’ rollers like Jackie Wilson, who died destitute: once musicians got organized, they went overboard, and by now we can’t even download a song without paying, or reprint lyrics without forking over a small fortune. Thus, while most baseball players could get by with half of what they make, like the musicians they got a little carried away.

2. Training. Baseball players, like ballet dancers, ice skaters, and other professional athletes, undergo a grueling training period that begins in childhood. Not only must they learn, but to stay in shape for such arduous physical labor is a 24/7 pursuit, a way of life, not merely an exercise plan or diet.

3. Wrecked bodies. Every player has to confront, first and foremost, the terror of standing still while a 96 mile-per-hour hard ball comes hurtling in his direction. These guys get hit with balls, tear their ligaments, crash into walls and each other, pull their muscles, bang their limbs, rip off their flesh and break their bones. They undergo major surgeries, some of which take years of recovery. Which brings me to

4. Early retirement. By the time a player reaches his late thirties he’s lucky if he can still walk, let alone run, throw or see the damn ball. Advances in surgery and improved health maintenance in general have made it possible for  some players to go into their 40s. That’s still early to retire, and though some players go on to coach, manage, or announce games, most of them need those big bucks so they can stash some away for their many non-productive years.

5. Pressure. Picture this. It’s the ninth inning of an important game, let’s say a playoff for the World Series. Or it’s  not even so important, but the score is 8-7 in your opponent’s favor. There are two outs in the final inning, and bases are loaded. If you get a base hit you’ll send the tying run home. If you get a double, you’ll win the game for the team. If you get a Grand Slam they’ll call you a hero. But… if you strike out, or hit a pop-out, or get an out in any of the numerous ways it can occur…well, you get the picture. Plus, it’s a home game, so your team’s loyal fans are roaring in the stands, cheering you on, praying for you to come through for them. And, just to throw another element into this pressure cooker, millions of people are watching the game on television. Did I also mention that a lot of money’s at stake?

Every time something like this happens in a game, I turn to my son, who thinks players make too much money, and I say, “See this! Right now! Right now he’s earning every penny of his salary.”  The stress of those minutes cannot be calculated in dollars; as the obnoxious credit card ads say: Priceless.

And that’s why they get the big bucks.

As for poets: it goes without saying that we don’t make the big bucks. What we have in common with baseball players, though, is misperception of our work. People think a poet–or any writer who doesn’t have a dozen fat books on the shelves of Barnes images-6.jpgand Noble–doesn’t deserve whatever s/he makes, because s/he’s not really working: writing, like baseball, is seen as child’s play. Poets and writers loll about all day playing with words. Unlike the factory worker or secretary or computer technician, we have fun doing what we do. Many people believe we contribute very little to society.

It’s a lot easier for me to defend ball players than to make a case that writers should be able to earn a living without taking three other jobs or living in poverty. Defending writers means defending myself, and defending myself stirs up my emotions. In honor of Labor Day, allow me to merely go on record to state that Writing is Work.

Many of us don’t take off on holidays: we take advantage of them to write, either because we have paying jobs the rest of the time, or because on days when American business takes a breather, we’re not so likely to be interrupted by the phone or the door or Fed Ex or the mail or the neighbors. Notice I’m not at a BBQ today. I’m sitting at my computer, where I’ve been since 6:00 a.m. Working.