Friday, March 14, 2008

Camp will break soon enough

The season is just around the corner and I'm feeling the itch for another year of ball games. As I get older, I feel grateful to see another season of baseball start up. It is comforting and a wonderful way to pass time, even if you have the game droning on an AM station while you work. The crack of the bat is always a good way to snap back into reality.

No waxing nostalgic and going all George Will on you. That would be a cop out. I present instead a list of the 10 worst things to ever happen to baseball:

10 – The strike of 1994/1995

It is amazing that when bad things happen in life, no one blames the Devil for being himself, they swear at God for not stepping in. The owners and the players both took the rap for this when it happened but time has festered against the players in the eyes of casual and diehard fans alike. The owners were still pissed over the collusion fiasco and the players were pissed over the salary cap proposal. Both sides dug in, the owners decided to start withholding millions of dollars slated for the players association and the fight was on and we didn’t get a World Series in 1994. Scabs were brought in for the 1995 spring training and only a court injunction got the players back on the field.

Fan sentiment for the sport is still waning as a direct result over this episode. The feel good story of the McGwire-Sosa home run chase helped in the healing process for a brief while but the recent steroid scandal has killed that buzz. If the strike were the Buddy Holly plane crash and the Maris home run chase were the Beatles on Sullivan, steroids are Altamont. Sympathy for the Devil, anyone?

9 – The Yankees of the 90’s

David Wells’ flabby ass in pinstripes. Roger Clemens’ two-day stubble in pinstripes. Wade Boggs in pinstripes. No, wait. Wade Boggs riding a horse in pinstripes. Scratch that, make it Wade Boggs wearing pinstripes, while riding a sway back nag around Yankee Stadium and a New York cop is the one holding the reigns, after a World Series victory. No further explanation needed. The only thing more stomach churning is the typical Mets fan originally from Long Island but relocated to Atlanta and keeps talking up the Santana deal like he’s sitting in the bleachers at Shea. Even mooks like that can’t top the dominance of the Yankees in the 90’s as being a bad thing for baseball.

8 – Segregation

Can you imagine the numbers that Cool Papa Bell and Satchel Page alone could have racked up if they hadn’t been limited to just the Negro Leagues? No segregation means there wouldn’t be a separate exhibit in Cooperstown ‘honoring’ the Negro League players today as just a sidebar to baseball history. There would be no what if questions. They would all be in their rightful place alongside Feller, Ruth, Cobb, Wagner and Mathewson; treated as equals and the legends would be even larger than they are now. Dear Lord…the legends that would have been created and the fables of their feats. It’s staggering

Aaron could have been signed to a contract 1 to 2 years sooner, and his career might have started as early as a mid-season call up in 1952 instead of starting with the ’54 season. Looking at his first two seasons in the show, Aaron could have added as many as 300+ hits, 40 homers and 175 RBIs to his career stats if the league had not been segregated. Henry was a ball player we will never see the likes of again.

7 – The Tragic Phenom/Precautionary Tale/Would’ve, Could’ve Nexus

Tragic Phenoms – Tony Conigliaro, Lyman Bostock, Thurman Munson.
Precautionary Tales – Denny McClain, Dwight Gooden, Darryll Strawberry, Bob Welch
Would’ve, Could’ve – Mark Fidrych, Nick Esasky, Roy Campanella.

6 – Intraleague play
The joy and novelty of seeing the “other league” and how it compares to “your league” is diminished to nothingness because of this hair brained scheme. The World Series is watered down even more. The Crown Jewel looses a bit more of it’s shine.

5 – The loss of the blue collar fan at the ball park

Get yourself to a game these days and the fans are dressed in their Abercrombie & Fitch, J. Crew and Docker slacks. They read the latest Oprah recommendation in their club level seats, dine on cuisine and cut business deals in the suites. Virtually no one scores a game from their seat and even fewer seem to know how to do it at all. They leave by the seventh inning stretch because of the long drive back to the cul-de-sac in the burbs. They turn their faces into a look like they’ve eaten a lemon and smelled a fart when someone calls the shortstop a real horsehit cocksucker wearing pink lace panties, who ought to be providing oral service for a fee to the sailors down on the pier, rather than disgracing their beloved palace of green grass with their lackadaisical work ethic and absent talent. They call security in to toss out the bohemians with potty mouths and faint hint of body odor.

There was a time when men wore suits to the ballpark but not because they were businessmen; that’s just what men wore every day in those long ago times 40 and more years ago. They drank warm beer, chain smoked Chesterfields and nickel cigars in their seats, ate hot dogs slathered with onions and kraut and yelled obscenities at the shortstop for not turning that double play, which would have ended the inning instead of giving those other rat bastards wearing visiting team’s grey flannels a chance to score 3 runs off a tired and dogged pitcher. Don’t get them started on that pitcher. The fan’s mother in law has a better curve ball than he does and she can stare down a man better than you would believe. She’s got gas and that bum doesn’t even have air left in that 2 bit arm of his. Cleveland raped us with that trade.

I wish I could go to a Braves game again and hear the fan in the row behind me calling the Met’s outfielders a circle jerk of chimps and baboons, lacking a pivot man or a director, and wondering who would clean up the mess the primates left behind on the field. Or inviting the umpires to a semester or two at a school for the developmentally challenged; of whom they came from a questionable husbandry of species and doubtful parental legitimacy. Instead I hear Larry the salesman telling Vance the salesman, how the new marketing VP on the 8th floor has some tight connections since she is a Wharton alum, in between the both of them bitching about not being able to take the boat out on Lake Lanier because of the drought and how awful their hedge’s are performing in their portfolios. I want to turn around and smack Larry and Vince in the nose and mouth while calling them Yankee cocksuckers who need to go back to Long Island because their mothers are driving the prices down for the other street walking whores. I want my fellow fans to join in with furious shouts of ,”Goddman right! I’m sick of you fucks. Go back home in Alpharetta and let the men watch the goddamn game.” As we drag them through the stands and out to the main concourse of the Ted, both lose their Itallian loafers, which we toss at them after stomping them with our workboots and well worn Chuck Taylor hightops…black, faded and worn from years of wear. “Fucking Larry and Vance…don’t drag your sorry ass back here unless you want more of the beat down.”, we shout as they crawl away to the Gold parking lot to find their Hummer and Benz and drive home.

4 – The ascendency of Rotisserie Baseball and the decendency of intelligence

These days people think that looking at a box score will tell you that Ichiro went 3 for 5 last night against the A’s. That isn’t how you read a box score, kids. Yes, Ichiro’s stats for the night are there but if you know how to read a box score you’ll be able to recreate the game as it was played and you would know that the two times he didn’t get a hit were with men on base and one man in scoring position.

My Grandpa taught me how to read a box score when I was still in Elementary School and was too young to stay awake long enough to hear or see the west coast Braves games. With his imparted wisdom and knowledge I could get the next day’s newspaper and recreate the game in my head and on paper with a pencil. I knew that Roland Office’s 0 for 4 performance at the plate wasn’t for naught, that one of those outs was a sacrifice fly in the 5th inning to bring Cheney across the plate with the winning run. Roland was the hero of the game and he let his batting average dip so we could score a run and win the game.

Put away the spreadsheet’s for a few minutes and read the box score the way it is intended to be read and you won’t make mistakes like you did the year you had a failed hunch that JD Drew was going to bust out.

3 – Rookie Card syndrome

Sports Memorabilia should actually mean something other than how much it’s worth in terms of dollars and cents. Back in the early 90’s I was browsing an antique store and had the breath taken out of me by an old Textile League uniform for sale in a glass booth. I’d never seen one before in person and I have studied the Textile Leagues of Georgia for about 30 of my now-41 years on this earth. I know former players on a personal level, some who went to the bigs and the old Southern League, some have passed away and some are still alive but very advanced in age. It was a small uniform for a player on the old Lindale Georgia team, blue, and in beautiful wool complete with stirrups. Price tag said $500.00 and I felt betrayed by my passion and the wind came out of my sails. A piece of history, meaning so much to one person (me) for it’s history and symbolism, reduced to a sum a half a grand, which was almost as much as two week’s worth of my labor as a skilled tradesman at that time. I’ve never seen a Textile League uniform since that day and probably never will again. God only knows where that old Lindale uniform wound up.

The expense of buying things that have no obvious intrinsic value may be determined by demand and the vague whims of men, but the true worth of things can be found elsewhere. My hope is that uniform and the rarest trinkets of the sport are not losing their stories at the expense of financial speculation while they sit in safes and containers.

2 – The stroll to first base and taking away the inside corner

Few things have altered the attitude of the sport as the acceptance of a hitter strolling down to first while admiring their towering home run. Few things have enabled that attitude change as the league’s policy to take away a pitcher’s right to dominate the inside of the plate and knock a player back.

Back in the day, if you gazed at a big homer there was an unwritten understanding that the pitcher, who was being shown up with such disrespect, was fully within his right to park a fastball between the shoulder blades of either you or one of your teammates. Possibly both depending on how lovingly you watched the old horsehide sail into the bleachers.

This kept the “look at me” factor to a minimum, maintained a certain level of diplomacy on the field and it kept kids from looking like spoiled little brats when they emulated their heroes on the field of their Pony League game. When I was a kid, we wanted to hustle and play rough, hard and fast like Pete Rose. We wanted intensity and focus like George Brett had. We wanted to be the kid who held back the tears over a split lip and a shitload of blood pouring out when they got hit in the mouth with a ball because when Freddie Patek got spiked in the ’77 AL Championship series, he didn’t miss a beat and went back on the field to play short with a torn sanitary and stirrup sock, both soaked in blood. Schilling wasn’t the first bloody sock player to roam the diamond and Patek’s clutch playing after that awful spiking to the shin wasn’t turned into a feel good Good Morning America fluff job by the media. Patek got some camera time before the inning started and got called a tough cookie with guts and fire by the NBC announcers. After that, he played the position and didn’t even wince. We wanted to be Patek because he was tough. By God, Freddie Patek was exactly what a man was supposed to be when he played baseball.

Now days, if a batter doesn’t get the ball in his power zone and the ball comes within 2 feet of his thigh, he’ll stare down the pitcher like he’s John L. Sullivan ready to go 80 rounds. These pussies couldn’t turn on one in their wheelhouse if their lives and their baby’s mama’s lives depended on it, and getting plunked in the wallet with a 95mph fastball goes from being a free shot at stealing second in revenge for a sore ass, to becoming a shot at bowing up and puffing your chest out like the pitcher had the balls to steal the tampons out of your wife’s purse.

I wish to God that Drysdale, Gibson and Grimes were pitching today. There’d be a whole bunch of batters with sore backs from being hit by pitches and sporting black eyes from being hit by the pitchers.

1 – No more Name Game

Other than Chipper Jones, who in the league has a baseball sounding name? No one. We need some guys with names like:

Chief Bender, Waite Hoyt, Nap Lajoie, Connie Mack, Tris Speaker, Rube Waddell. Satchel Paige, Enos Slaughter, Orlando Cepeda, Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, Goose Gossage. Vida Blue, Blue Moon Odom, Joe Rudi, Nellie Fox, Jimmy Foxx, Robin Roberts, Cesar Cedeno, Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain, Burleigh Grimes, Rabbit Maranville. Rube Marquand, Kid Nichols, Ducky Medwick. Dizzy Dean, Daffy Dean, Pepper Martin, Honus Wagner, Three Fingers Brown, Dazzy Vance.

There is a zip to names like that. Those sound like ball player’s names. Those names sound like Old Style beer and popping gloves and pepper games where someone takes a baseball in the throat because they didn’t move fast enough. Those names sound like they can handle themselves on a high and tight fastball. Names like that can turn a double play and make it look like workmen doing ballet. Names like that scream for a 20 point headline.

When your name is Rube, no one will bat an eye if you cuss out a fan because you are hung over and they keep razzing you about last night’s extra inning loss. With a name like Goose or Catfish, no one will think twice if you get caught in bed with three flight attendants by your wife while you were on a road trip to Cleveland. Hell, it’d be expected of you to horse around. If they call you Pepper, no one will expect anything less from you than a damn good game and a dirty uniform when the day is done, and when your day comes to retire, men with fists the size of hams will tear up and say they always liked you, felt a certain kinship with you. No one says that about guys named Drew or Todd or Jeremy.

Guys with the name Nap or Tris don’t get invited to White House functions. Guys named Burleigh don’t wind up bare chested in Cosmo or with a long line of silicone enhanced strippers out for a quick buck and some Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses for their effort. Guys who answer to the name Rabbit aren’t going to wind up on TV, mugging smug for you to buy their new line of designer clothes, Rabbit Gear for the New Urban Sophisticate. If you sign the checks with the name Dizzy, Daffy or Dazzy; you never have to worry about paying for your lunch for all your days on earth because the Rotarians, Lions Club and Jay Cees are always looking for a knee slapper over their roast beef and a story for when they get back to the office.

You’d never plunk a cat named Chief in the earhole unless you wanted the field mopped up with your ass. Only a fool would mosey down to first base after Satchel gave up a pop fly with the wind blowing out and you lucked into a dinger. He’d kill you the next time you stepped up to the plate. Hearing the PA announcer call out the names Slaughter and Grimes would add a serious tone of danger. Slaughter wouldn’t walk to the plate to 5 seconds of a Madonna song, Grimes wouldn’t have anything to do with a bad Bon Jovi song. No musical introduction is needed for those men…the name and the reputation would say all there is to say.

The good ole days were good not because we were all innocent and goodly. They were good because men acted like men and they did what men do. They worked. They had personality. They were tough. We wanted to be like them whether they were baseball players, movie cowboys or the guy who drove the fire truck and had forearms bigger than Popeye. They were men and you could not wait to grow up and be a real man too. The worst thing that ever happened to baseball, in the long run, was mistaking youth for childishness and immaturity. Sooner or later the brats and babies will spoil the game. They did and we let them.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Client 9

While the media falls over themselves for the sex angle in the Spitzer case, the real story is being ignored. It makes good copy to report the Governor is going down in flames for some paid fucking, it’s even better on the hypocrisy meter since he’s busted prostitution rings. It’s not good copy to get into the financial disaster that awaits us and Spitzer was hip deep in brokering deals to prop up the bond insurers market.

Ambac, one of the AAA rated bond insurers on the verge of losing it’s rating and being a huge domino in the already falling world economy, was ‘saved’ last week after more than a billion USD were pumped into it in a deal headed by Spitzer. Ambac’s stock from yesterday looks like fingerprints at the scene of a crime. A spike in price shortly after the bell rang followed by a huge drop, before news of the Spitzer fuck-fest hit the street. Ambac went down 23% before the bell rang. Spitzer was brokering more deals in an attempt to save the bond insurers.

What happens when these bond insurers go tits up? It’ll be worse than the ongoing sub-prime crisis. Those insurers were there to back the banks for losses from a variety of disasters all of which are looming larger on a daily basis. What else ties in with these insurers? Everything under the sun from hedge funds to 401k investment portfolios, who have loads of money sunk into them for ‘security’. They are among the items traded in portfolios for these kinds of investments. Look at your 401k plan and look for the plans that focus on ‘safe’ investments, there you will find them lumped in with muni bonds, T-bills and other low interest ‘safe’ investments.

When the dust finally settles, Client #9 may be the side bar note that reminds us all where it really picked up steam. Time is a major liability in this economic landscape and we just lost a bunch of it with Spitzer’s bust. The powers that would benefit from a larger meltdown of the financial system have just gained time on their side with his bust.

So I can’t help but wonder…did Eliot Spitzer’s trail of Wall Street blood lead to this or did he lose his bona fides with a certain group of players because he decided to play a different game? Did he lose his usefulness to a group of people or did he become a threat to them? Of course the Feds say they were alerted to Spitzer as an ancillary target stemming from an investigation into large sums of cash being moved. Of course they are going to tell us that. All I can say is that I am sure the NSA was having a ball peering into his voice and data stream for quite some time.

The IC is linking everything about us into neatly packaged containers in their databases. Public officials have got to be targets of their monitoring simply because they are keeping tabs on their own players. They know what the weaknesses and strengths are for their own people. I have not doubt that sitting somewhere, on some server, in Ft. Meade is a matrix which the IC community can run and see what methods they can use to force a person to toe the line, and what method they can use to remove one of their people.

I think Spitzer’s downfall wasn’t his love of hookers…it was some agent or DBA within the Intelligence Community.