Joy is in the Ear that Hears

With Thanksgiving upon us in this, the year of our lord, 2020 A.D., I’m pausing to consider that spreading happiness may be one of our most important missions in life. I don’t know if we all have the means or resources to make huge donations of money, or other material gifts.

Our time is short in this world, and maybe we feel we don’t have much of it to spare. But any time we spend in spreading happiness to others has the power to redeem us. This is one of the reasons we gather at the Holidays, not just for ourselves; we well know the importance, even if we don’t always acknowledge it, of sharing our time and stories with the ones in our lives. Why do we wear a mask during the pandemic? It has been said that we wear it to benefit others. You wear your mask to protect me, I wear my mask to protect you.

It’s like that with relationships. You share your life to enrich mine. I share mine to enrich yours. Let’s be honest here: Pandemic aside, we’ve worn masks all our lives: The masks that we think protect us from harm by not letting others know who we are. In reality, they only prevent us from connecting with others, even the ones who should be closest to us.

Maybe we can’t take the physical masks off right now that are there to show our consideration and care for others. But we can take off the ones that keep us from sharing our lives with others. If we do, they can hear what our hearts have to say, and maybe we will hear what is in their heart too.

I had a great conversation today with one of the chaps (what, am I suddenly english now?) that I sing with, and Rob and I shared our experiences and observations about the effect of singing in our lives. Its no secret to any of us that many of our chorus members– Rob, Paul M, Paul W., Eddie, Scott, just to name a few of us, have had transcendent experiences in the hobby. I would wager that every single one of our guys would tell you that our Barbershop chapter has added joy to their lives.

When we hear the sounds that we make together, and experience the unisonity (Okay, it’s a real word, with full HarmonyTown sanction) of our voices, there is a mystical bond that is forged, and all of our troubles and sorrows, are, at least for a time, set aside, and there is true joy, in every one of the best senses of the word.

“Joy is in the ear that hears”. That’s a phrase I first saw in literature in a Stephen R Donaldson fantasy novel and I am not sure what meaning he would attribute to it, but I know how I interpret it. I think it just says, when we take the trouble to REALLY hear (okay some would say that is listening, but let’s not quibble), then we feel a connection, a fellowship, a part of something whole and strong, and it dissolves our loneliness and replaces it with joy. Joy that is everyone’s birthright, which, I will admit that in some lives, through no fault of their own, is never claimed.

As a consequent, this realization has changed how I view my hobby. Without proselytizing, I would say, we in the barbershop community, and really any singing organization should remember is this: What we have to offer is not just an outlet, not just an escape, or a pastime. If we describe it that way, we shortchange ourselves. Music, in general, and more so in the process of making it, whether by voice or instrument, is a joyful activity, which has the potential to change and enrich your life. It’s a blessing, and if we want to communicate the value of singing with us, we need to say, to anyone that we are encouraging to get into our hobby, that we have something to share that will add to their happiness, and perhaps, even help them be better persons.

Perhaps that seems a bit highfalutin, but if we don’t express this, then we fail to make our case in the best way. If we can take our psychic masks off, and admit the life-changing potential that it has, then our message can be heard without the tension that accompanies any joining option. We don’t want you to sing with us because it will make us better (altho that is most likely). We want you to sing with us, because spreading happiness is really what life is all about, and this is our way of paying forward, the happiness that was gifted to us.

Universal Designated Hitter should be here to stay.

In 1973, in response to dwindling offensive production, the American League, acting on its own, opted to adopt a rule that would replace the Pitcher in the batting order, in the hopes that this would increase run production. For reasons that were never clear, altho allowed by the separate governing bodies of the 2 leagues, the National League elected to keep things the way they were. In the short term, the DH did accomplish its objective, altho over time, there still remained no large difference in offense between the A.L. and N.L.

47 years later, during a pandemic which shall go nameless, Major League Baseball, in trying to simplify the cobbled together 60 game regular season that was this year’s offering, determined that teams would play only against teams in their geographic region, and hence AL Central teams would only compete against other AL Central teams and against NL Central teams. Because of this, it just made sense to either use the DH all the time, or not use it at all. Since AL pitchers would be handicapped having to bat more often when many have single digit career at bats at the professional level, the decision was made to use the DH for all games.

The reason for the above summary is because it points to the first and arguably the primary reason why the DH needs to become universal. At the professional level, Pitchers HARDLY EVER BAT in a game. Use of the DH in the minor leagues is pretty much restricted to when 2 teams that are BOTH affiliates of N.L. teams play each other. For that matter, even at the Collegiate level, while the DH is somewhat optional, the majority of teams use it as a way to produce as much offense and play as many players as possible.

in 2019, only 49 Pitchers (all in the N.L. of course) batted 40 or more times! Stephen Strasburg had 72 At Bats, topping all other Pitchers. ONLY 6 had more than 60 At Bats. There are 15 N.L. teams, so an easy comparison is to look at how many batted that many times when all Major League Baseball had a total of 16 teams. In 1930, 86 different pitchers batted 40 or more times. Ted Lyons with 122 At Bats, led the way, and 11 different pitchers batted more than 100 times! Keep in mind, that all the minor leagues and different levels of amateur ball all had the pitchers batting too. As late as 1972 (the last year prior to the enacting of the DH), there were 6 pitchers who batted over 100 times, and a total of 36 pitchers who batted more than Stephen Strasburg did last year! So its easy to see, in contrast, that Modern Day Pitchers aren’t batting much at all–certainly not at the levels they once were.

One of the reasons that Pitcher At Bats have dwindled should be obvious to any one who is even a casual student of the game. Namely, starting pitchers don’t pitch deep into games any more. Complete games have become exceedingly rare: Only 28 were thrown in the shortened 2020 season out of almost 900 games , and even in 2019, only 45 were accomplished out of over 2400 contests! A Starting pitcher who averages even 6 innings per start now is most unusual, even “aces” such as Justin Verlander and Gerritt Cole, only average around 6 1/2 innings per start. So it is often the case that a Starting Pitcher will bat only a couple of times in a game, and since relief pitchers now seldom work more than 1 inning a piece, they are usually pinch hit for, or (thru a double switch) situated in the batting order so they never bat at all.

The point is, the game is ALREADY evolving to where pitchers bat very little, and there is very little reason to resist this for a few very good reasons:

  1. Pitchers generally, and with very few exceptions are TERRIBLE hitters. They don’t get much practice to begin with; they are not asked to be proficient, and most do not want to even concentrate on it. Sure there are exceptions, but what of it? Would you want a Goalie in a Hockey game to skate on a line every 9 shifts? How about having the Punter having to play QB every 9 plays? Why, in a sport, which presumably displays excellence, would you want to provide what couldn’t even be described as up to the level of mediocre, every 9 batters? There were only 8 Pitchers in 2019 who batted 40 or more times, that hit .200 or higher, and had a slugging average of .280 or more. Of the 135 regular position players in 2019 who had 502 plate appearances or more, none batted below .205 or slugged below .321. Yet the baseball purists are happy to run out .100 hitters who have no more chance of hitting for power than you or I. This is inconsistent with the purpose of putting premium athletes in situations where they can display their talents, when it is abundantly clear that the lion’s share of Major League Pitchers have no talent for (or much interest in) skillfully hitting a baseball.
  2. Hitting a baseball, in the current era, is more difficult, AND more dangerous than it ever has been. Pitchers throw faster now, and with a greater range of pitches than ever before. With Specialization, Pitchers have been forced to higher and higher levels of proficiency. Since Starters and Relievers don’t have the inning load they once did, and because Hitters are stronger and hit the ball farther than ever, the game has evolved to where Pitchers throw as hard as they can as long as they can. Pitchers don’t pace themselves, because they know if they do, the other team may put a crooked number up on the board. Consequently, even with an opposing pitcher at bat, he’s going to see the best stuff the hurler has. For someone who has little training, and not a lot of focus, hitting major league pitching is a daunting task, and may actually expose him to the risk of being hit, along w/ all the usual occupational risks associated with hitting, such as fouling a ball off his foot or running the bases.
  3. One of the tasks that Pitchers were asked to perform in the past was bunting. The thought was, if a teammate was on first, even with one out, you could at least bunt him over to 2nd, and then maybe the leadoff hitter could single him home. But think about it– this strategy largely evolved during a period of time when runs were at a premium. This is way back at the beginning of the 20th century– the “deadball era”. At that time, even POSITION PLAYERS were often asked to bunt. Playing for a single run was a common strategy when many games were as low scoring as a hockey or soccer contest. That makes sense to a point, when you are in that paradigm, but it makes no sense at all when the game isn’t even played that way any more. In today’s game, players hardly ever bunt, as most teams would rather play for the big inning. The proliferation of the Home Run has made managers unwilling to sacrifice an out for the chance to score one measly run. Especially when almost all the hitters in the line-up are now capable of hitting the long ball in any At Bat. The ONLY reason that management continues to have pitchers bunt is because they are capable of almost nothing else! It used to be that they’d have them bunt partially to stay out of the double play, reasoning that even if the bunt was poor, it likely would still produce only 1 out. But pitchers at bat strike out so frequently that this concern is rendered meaningless. For example: Sandy Alcantara batted 58 times in 2019 and struck out 46 times. Madison Bumgarner, who at times has been thought to be a reasonably capable hitter, struck out 40 times in his 63 At Bats. Clearly, there is almost nothing that Pitchers can provide, offensively, that is much worth preserving.

There are a number of issues that Major League Baseball should address, and one could argue that this one isn’t the most important. But it has one feature that should be sobering to the Brain Trust of the game. Baseball, because of abundant strike-outs and lengthy at bats with very few fair balls hit into play, has become a bit boring to watch. A 3 hour and 15 minute regular season game on TV is almost impossible to watch. And it shouldn’t be missed that a game that isn’t watched, sooner or later, is not going to produce much advertising revenue. Anyone who thinks that watching Pitchers strike out or bunt is compelling viewing, is probably in camp with those that think the Kick-off in Football is an exciting play. It’s time to let Pitchers be the specialists that they have become over time: Artists whose job it is to throw a baseball skillfully to thwart hitters, and not, to satisfy mis-guided purists who think that watching them flail ineptly at the plate is entertaining.

The Impact of Polorization

I’ve put off doing this post for a while, as I was not sure how to do it exactly, and had the impression that it was a serious topic and I didn’t want it to come off as shallow or ill-considered, let alone crazy, and motivated by conspiracy theory thinking.

I’ve thought for some time that it is very curious that, depending on the news source, the reporting is slanted either one way or the other. For example, you can’t find any measured reporting on climate change. It’s pretty much always– this is the end of life on this planet as we know it, or it’s ridiculous, it’s all fake news. I haven’t run across any articles that say, yeah, it seems to be a problem, we should probably keep our eye on it, but we’re not totally sure of our metrics, and lets not assume everything is hunky dory, either.

Or take the reporting on E-cigarettes. They are either the latest scourge to bedevil and enslave our teenagers, or they are god’s gift to smokers in their seemingly never ending battle to avoid lifelong addiction to cigarettes. Name me one writer who has said, look, they are not perfect, they probably are still not that good for you, but evidence shows they aren’t as bad as cigarettes, and maybe we should embrace something that gives smokers a VIABLE alternative to cigarettes that is more likely to produce results than nicotine patches. Or even to say, this is not a great long term solution, but it should be an available option until we have a better way to help smokers change their lives.

There are numerous examples of this polarized reporting; It’s either: How dare you decry our founding fathers?! Or–Our Founding Fathers were racists! No articles saying, Our founding fathers were flawed human beings, and we should not defend or condone all their actions, but given the temper and character of their times, they managed to do some remarkable things that could not have been easy, and paved the way for the modern world, and for a country, that for all its mistakes, has actually been the one place in the world that offers opportunity and freedom, maybe not in equal measure, but to a greater degree than most of the planet.

Another Example: Police are much maligned servants who are being scapegoated for isolated incidents, or they are part of “systemic racism” that must be rooted out, replaced, defunded, completely redefined, etc.

The list goes on and on:

“Our country has made a lot of progress toward eliminating racial and class distinctions”, –or– “things are worse than ever and we’re all in denial.”

“We are a country of immigrants and should have open borders and if anyone is here without documentation, we should be understanding and pave the way for them to become citizens.” –Versus: “We need to build a wall to keep unwanted immigrants out, and if anyone is here w/o documentation, they are ILLEGAL, and we need to kick them out.”

Do you get what I’m saying? It’s all or nothing, and this kind of reporting and opining infests our media in the early 21st century. I didn’t even mention the Covid-19 Pandemic or the Trump-Biden insult hurling that is a stand-in for actual political discourse. You get the picture.

I’ve thought long and hard about why this is, and I’ve come up with 2 theories:

Theory 1: People who report the news, and pundits both in and out of the media, essentially are not invested in purveying comprehensive coverage of a news story or issue. RATHER, they are interested in protecting the relationship they have with their consumers. If CNN knows their viewership is mostly liberal, why would they want to do stories in any way, even partially sympathetic to a conservative point of view? They don’t want to distress their liberal viewers, and in some way cause them to flip to another channel. If FOX news is aware, and they surely are, that conservatives make up at least 90% of their audience, does it make sense for them to offer cogent arguments for a liberal take on an issue?

Now you might say, reasonably, why don’t they (or someone) try to provide balanced coverage, and thereby have a chance to capture a large share of both liberals and conservatives as consumers of their “media products”?

I think the answer to that is pretty much “a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush”. Once this pattern was set, and it got set pretty much in the latter part of the 20th century, following the Nixon debacle, positions have become more and more polarized. Much of the younger population have never seen respectful political discourse and would hardly recognize it if they did. No one who is a purveyor of news and opinion wants to risk their current audience, and so, it is easier just to continue to pander to the segment of the population that has become “comfortable” with the positions that they take.

Let’s face a fact of human nature: Most people are uncomfortable with uncertainty. And we want someone we can trust, to tell us what’s going on. If we grow accustomed to a particular thread of reasoning, we may be consoled, even if others see things differently, by the impression that a person we trust is imparting the information. And as I say, we don’t want to be uncomfortable, we want confidence in what we believe and that includes confidence in the people we trust to give us information.

Admitting that another point of view could have validity erodes are sense of confort and replaces it with uncertainty. Then, we not only don’t know what the truth is, but we no longer know who to trust. For many of us, that is an intolerable position, and we will switch channels (or radio stations) to avoid this unpleasant cognitive dissonance.

Which brings us to theory # 2 (the one that may paint me as a conspiracy theorist, but it can’t be helped): There is a malevolent group of people (okay, so maybe they don’t THINK of themselves a malevolent) that is PERFECTLY HAPPY to see the larger populace at odds with each other.

To any clear thinking individual, it should be obvious that most of us share many of the same values, regardless of whether we are so-called “conservatives, liberals, leftists, Democrats, Republicans, Right wingers, centrists, defenseman, shortstops, or Goaltenders”. We want a safe neighborhood to live in. We’d like good schooling for our children, and to have food on the table, and a roof over our head. We’d like the opportunity to better ourselves, and to be given a fair shake by others. We’d like laws to protect us, and brave, honorable policemen to enforce those laws when necessary. We want to be compassionate to our neighbors, help out those truly in need, whether it be materially, or thru education, counseling or medical care. We want to be part of a country that makes us proud and to do whatever we can to defend that country while making it possible for well-meaning and well-intentioned immigrants to join in the American story. And if America can be an example and sometimes even a defender of liberty around the world, most of us would say, at least in principle, that ought to be our goal. Again, I could go on and on, but the point should be clear enough: If you shut off the news, and muzzled the talking heads, and gathered any random group of people together, what you would find is that there is a lot more that unites us than divides us.

But, as I say, my belief is that there are people, some of them quite powerful, that have an agenda that CAN’T ALLOW that kind of consensus. Rather, it is important that we are divided into 2 roughly equal groups that are engaged in a (I hate this term) “culture war”. I will be so bold as to say that it serves their purpose nicely as a distraction to the somewhat covert effort to break America up, so that, in their minds, they can rebuild it the way they view that it “ought to be”. You can argue, if you like, that this is a legitimate effort, but what I have realized is that most people have no idea that this is even happening. I firmly believe that this effort to divide us is not something that these people would be anxious to admit, insofar as, if they did, many people would see more clearly how they are being manipulated, and would reevaluate, not only their own positions on issues, but others, too. But I think, Joe McCarthy comparisons aside, we are fools if we fail to recognize that America has always been an enemy of the enemies of freedom, and if you don’t think there are powerful forces in the world that are happy to see this “bickering chaos”, you’re either someone who has never studied history or you prefer to see the world through rose colored glasses.

If you did want to infiltrate American culture and poison it with contrived conflict and hostility, it wouldn’t be hard to do, would it? All you have to do is put out a message, any message, and let it circulate. There’s no Iron Curtain in America and there never has been one. So our openness CAN be a source of vulnerability. But not if we are paying attention! It’s ironic, isn’t it, that Thomas Jefferson is now under attack along with many of our other founding fathers, which is convenient, since it means some might miss the wisdom of these words: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. Jefferson was reminding us that we shouldn’t get too comfortable with having the blessings of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. He knew from personal experience of the world that he lived in, that there would always be forces determined to take those blessings away from us, either out of some misguided belief that we don’t know what’s best for us, or just a malevolent desire to control power for the sake of power alone.

Okay, I warned you that this would seem like a conspiracy theory. But consider this– if someone did want to create unrest and divisiveness for the purpose of turning America against itself, could they possibly have done a better job? Isn’t this exactly what it would look like? Is it possible that we need to wise up, and take more of what we hear in the news, the paper, and the internet with “a grain of salt”? A bit of skepticism might replace comfort with uncertainty, but would it be worth it, if it meant that we are not willing accomplices in our country’s demise?

View of Life

Lately, due to both personal, and world events, I’ve been struck by a seeming contradiction between 2 well-worn phrases, that almost all of us have heard voiced from time to time. “Live each day as if it was your last” is an old chestnut that is a sobering view, at once a call for action (or at least for attention!) in the only day guaranteed to us (today). I could split hairs and say we might only be guaranteed an hour, or a minute, but let’s not go there). The contrary cliche is that “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”. This platitude looks to imply that you need to plan for the future, and to obvious analysis, if today is your last, planning would be kind of beside the point, other than planning one’s last meals, family contacts, etc.

So we might nod our heads and say, yes, this just proves the fallacy of putting much stock in cliches, which as my son and I have often reflected aren’t true just because they are cleverly worded and concise. In fact it’s tempting to say, that each is partially true, or even, since they apparently contradict each other, maybe neither is.

But while I am always quick to be dismissive of short phrases that amount to horoscope advice, a closer examination suggests a common thread that runs through both of these bromides. And that is: You can’t live your life tied to the past. Informed by it, yes; counciled by it’s lessons, certainly. But beyond that, you can’t allow what has happened to weigh too heavily on your view of today.

Whatever has happened, one can’t go back and change it. If you allow yesterday too much to burden your heart, this emotional baggage will prevent you from living today with hope and gratitude. And that is mostly what we need to do. We are grateful that we’re alive, and that has nothing whatever to do with what has gone before. It’s an amazing thing to see and be a part of the world, and if we are so blessed, to share it with family, friends, and even casual associates. Who among us, has not been in a line at a store, or in a crowd waiting to see a show, or visit some attraction, or any of a number of chance interaction scenarios, and struck up a friendly conversation, and found a moment of shared insight, or laughed at a joke, or commiserated on a common challenge with another fellow passenger on this ship we call “life”? This can’t be easily explained as motivated by a desire for personal gain or glory. It’s much easier to see it as it most likely is; a moment of shared pleasure in the mere act of being alive.

So if we are to live each day as if it is our last, then gratitude that we are here is essential. And letting go of our baggage is too. What about it being the first day of the rest of our life? Aside of that logically being true, it gives us to understand that facing the day without hope is no way to live. If we can take that deep breath, and decide, that whatever has gone before, we’ll muster forward with optimism, and courage, we can plan for the future, even knowing that it may not come. And if this IS our last day, our spending it with hope and gratitude will have been perhaps the best use of the life that we have been blessed with.

Freedom & Responsibility

As we get further into the Year 1, A.C. (Age of Covid-19), I struggle, as many of us do, to think of the proper way to think about issues involved with how to be responsible and maintain freedom. As a singer, my tentative philosophy has been to “push the envelope, but cautiously”. The other day, I got together with 4 other basses, in my backyard, and we conducted, somewhat clumsily, yet enthusiastically, a sectional rehearsal, to go over our parts for a few of our newer songs. For the most part, we did it as responsibly as we could; Everyone was temperature tested with touchless thermometers, we spread out or lawn chairs at 6 foot gaps, and all faced outward (mostly) so that we were not singing toward each other. When we weren’t singing, we pulled our chairs into a more circular arrangement to chat, and put our masks on.

We did our singing without masks, which technically we have been advised not to do, by many musical experts who have weighed in on the subject, altho advice from the Barbershop Harmony Society did hint that small sectionals might be possible, without going into any great details as to what protocols should be observed.

My point is, we were all there voluntarily, and we acted with what I thought was a fair amount of prudence, and so I like to think we were acting as free Americans, but in a responsible way. Maybe you don’t agree, but that was our intent.

Sunday’s Detroit Free Press had 2 thought-provoking columns; one by Mitch Albom, who writes for the Free Press and one by Nolan Finley, who writes for the Detroit News. While the columns are not representative of exactly the same subject, I think they are complimentary in a significant way, as they both deal, in their fashion, with the issue of Freedom versus Responsibility.

I think my casual analysis is that Mitch tilts slightly more to the left (liberal) and that Nolan a bit more to the right (conservative) but I suspect that both men would reject that appraisal, and plead that they would prefer not to be pigeonholed into either box. Whether you agree or disagree with my assessment, I think anyone who has read either man’s columns on a regular basis would judge both of them to be thoughtful and measured in their opinions.

Having read many of their more recent columns, I have perceived that neither of them is likely to vote for our current president in the next election. I only mention that as an easy example demonstrating that people of differing viewpoints can agree in some areas. This may seem obvious, except if you were to listen to some of the people who pass for commentators on our various news stations you might be convinced that the “Butter-side Up” folks NEVER agree with the “Butter-side down” ones on ANYTHING. For anyone curious about this reference, you can find it fleshed out in Dr. Seuss’ prescient book “The Butter Battle Book”.

Mitch’s article addresses the rather depressing occurrences accompanying the latest moves to slightly “re-open” the state. I will say that I have a dislike for that word: to me, too many people have a simplistic understanding of “re-open” as meaning “back to normal”. But there has never been a static “normal”. Normal has always been a dynamic concept, and it changes from century to century, year to year, and lately, from month to month. Since everyone agrees that “words” matter (sometimes a great deal), my thought was we should only refer to “relaxation of some protocols” with the emphasis being on what that entails, rather than referring to the vague and ambiguous word “reopening”. Mitch rightly points out that with all the attempted safety measures put in place, when they allowed bars to resume entertaining guests, the variable they could NOT control was the behavior of the the Bar patrons. Perhaps it would not have mattered how we worded it; that people would not have acted any differently, that they were predisposed to view the bars opening their doors as a “return to normal”. That’s fine, and I’ll yield that point. It seems obvious enough that many folks will hear what they want to hear and tune out the rest.

So, it’s clear enough that while the state allowed the freedom to go to the bar, the bar’s customers (at least many of them) couldn’t shoulder the responsibility. Instead of acting in a way that would support the continuation of that establishment’s availability, there actions precipitated another local outbreak and forced the bar to close.

Mitch cites impatience as a trait that contributes to the possibility of a spike in Covid-19 cases, and that certainly is true. But maybe as big a factor is simply failing to be aware of the consequences of your actions. Responsibility begins with understanding that what you say and do can affect other people and if you believe that the only one you have to worry about is yourself, that’s almost the definition of irresponsibility. Anyone who had been diligent enough to pay attention would know that the safest ways to protect each other included wearing masks (especially if were in doors, and in close proximity to others), and to maintain physical distance from anyone not from your own household.

By contrast, Nolan Finley’s piece in the same paper addresses a concern that many of us have that we will no longer have the freedom to express any dissenting opinions: That only “Politically correct” opinions can be voiced, and any contrary views will be muzzled. He points out that a true conversation that is meant to lead to meaningful change must allow for people to voice concerns, even if those concerns are not directly shared by other parties.

He rightly states that censoring people who wish to voice reasoned opinions in a respectful, civil manner can lead to people feeling marginalized. This is a universal concern, is it not? No one wants that treatment, whether they be black men living in the city, or single mothers, or farmers living in the country. It’s not unreasonable to say that shutting down meaningful discourse, allowed frustrated voters to turn a blind eye to our current president’s tone-deaf personality. I might say that Trump’s election led to some worthwhile changes, but we’ll leave that aside as his ignorance and unwillingness to listen to advisers who disagreed with him (or even keep them on their jobs) has been more than an offset, and it’s difficult to see how he can best lead the country at this point. But people who decried his election should understand that labeling anyone who had a dissenting opinion on political issues as a racist, bigot, homophobe, or misogynist may have helped lead to that electoral result. As anyone who has taken a course in Logic knows, “attack on the person” is not a valid form of argument, and it’s real purpose is to delegitimize the other party.

So what are we to think? Surely, freedom without responsibility is like giving someone a car without teaching them to drive. But…..denial of many freedoms, particularly freedom of speech, may lead to more terrible consequences. Most of us in America have never lived in a society that bans all dissent, but history is rife with examples of such tyrannies, and many among us who have come from those situations could easily provide us with cautionary tales of their experiences.

What we need, then, is a healthy respect for both freedom, which is the hallmark of a democracy, and responsibility, which should not be mistaken as licence. Just because we can do a thing, does not mean that society can sanction it. Individual interests, at times, take a backseat to community interests, and needs. For example, we don’t allow people to vandalize another person’s house or automobile, because we think that person has been mean or cruel to us. Our system of justice isn’t meted out by each person deciding what another person deserves. Nor do we allow one person to be sole judge and jury of anyone. It’s impossible to imagine how such a scenario could ever work out in the long run.

The people who are deciding, on their own, what words or phrases can be said, or what statue can be displayed, or what stores can be looted or buildings burned, or when they are willing to adhere to protocols designed to protect all of us from harm, are not our better angels, and we should be smart enough to realize this. They are the ones who, in denying others of their freedoms, and/or displaying their contempt for rules that require us to act responsibly, are examples of these twin evils of the current age.

Real tolerance, and not the packaged version, requires of us to show respect to others through our actions and our willingness to protect the freedoms to which they are entitled.

A Shared Challenge for Americans

In recent days, what with the Global Pandemic apparently not being enough, we’ve had to confront the elephant in the room: the thing embedded in our culture and our consciousness that has no proper name, but has been called variously– bigotry, prejudice and more recently, just plain racism. I am not a big fan of any of these terms, as I don’t think anyone can adequately define them beyond some vague reference to “You don’t like me because I’m not like you”. But that is sort of the crux of it, isn’t it? Because, in the end, we always struggle with the concept of “the other”. It’s not like we can read people’s minds, or their intentions– let alone know their hearts. And so, we take refuge in the ways that we are similar; perhaps there is some comfort in knowing that “Hey that person feels like I do about (fill in the blank). Or, “They have the same worries and concerns, and hopes and dreams”.

Conversely, if we are unable to make those connections, we may feel fear, or at least nervousness. Because of this we have all sorts of pop culture references, such as “Islamaphobia, or homophobia” as a single word reference to describe someone who is nervous or fearful of Muslims or gays, for these 2 particular examples.

In the case of the Afro-Americans (a term that seems puzzling, since the reference to a former continent doesn’t really seem instructive, but I like the term “blacks” even less since it so sweeping in a fairly inaccurate way), we can’t seem to decide if the problem is that they are hated, or feared, or have cause to be fearful, or a combination of all 3. I think hate is an overused word, and may apply in some cases, but in my opinion (and it’s just an opinion), it doesn’t apply as often as certainly was the case in much of the previous 2 centuries). The fear component remains, on both sides of the divide, though. I’ll admit I have been fearful walking thru Detroit late at night when I couldn’t remember where I parked my car. In my defense, it was a general fear and I have certainly been fearful in situations where I was fearful of other “white” folks, specifically. Our fear stems from concern for personal safety, or fear for our family or friends. It’s not necessarily a character defect. Sometimes it’s just from lack of information.

Complicate this with the fact that, statistically, Afro-Americans are a group that struggles with economic equality, fair treatment by police, and in a related way, greater incidence of criminal activity, and a higher incidence of broken families, more stressful and unrewarding jobs, poorer education, etc. These are all important considerations, and blaming this person or that person is not the way to solve those problems.

For example, if an Afro-American points a finger at “white people” and says “You’re all racists!”, they would be painting whites with the same broad brush that they wish not to be painted with themselves.

You see the problem. One could go back and forth like that, ad nauseum, until fatigue and exhaustion would beg of you to look at and discuss anything else. And that kind of folding of one’s arms and dismissing the “other party” in no way leads to a solution.

The real surprise is that anyone thinks that it does. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to gather people from all segments of the population to discuss ways in which all of us could get fair treatment and assistance in ways most suited to us INDIVIDUALLY ? In the end, saying that we need to do for “this group” or “that ethnicity” or “those religious folks” leads us back into the never ending cycle of identity politics. We can’t free ourselves from this concern with “otherness” until we de-emphasize the idiosyncratic ways in which we are different.

Getting wrapped up in doing studies as to whether Red Haired people are being denied time in the sun, or tall people are being forced to crouch when going thru doorways will never lead us anywhere useful. Okay, I know those are absurd examples. My point is, how can we get to the point where people say “So what?” to skin color if we keep emphasizing it in all of our discussions? Shouldn’t we be able to look past that to see which “individuals” need help? Are we so caught up in demographics that we’re not willing to do the homework necessary to see who is in a situation demanding our care and compassion? There are many people of various cultures, and races, and religions that are finding a successful path thru life, and many in every category who are struggling.

Let’s not make the assumption that if I’m a member of some group, or category, or race, or religion that I’m necessarily doing well, or poorly. To me, that is just lazy. But we might look closer and find that there are families or whole neighborhoods, consisting of a wide range of folks, who all are struggling, and then we might find a solution that fits them, with the knowledge that sometimes that solution will require economic assistance.

We know that there are times when catastrophic occurrences take precedence over identity concerns. When the floodwaters hit Midland, Mi, did we have to apply some sort of litmus test in order to determine who deserved aid? So why are we so determined to sort people by color, or religion, or other rather superficial differences ? At least, those differences WOULD be more superficial, if we stopped pointing fingers and saying things like “you’re a racist” or “you’re playing the victim” or “you’re not trying to fit in” or “you’re excluding me because of (fill in the blank).

If we’re trying to get past that, we’re not going to get past it by name calling. That is what we’re trying to end, right? Treat every human as an individual. Not as a meaningless cipher in a dehumanizing stereotype.

This piece isn’t meant to be an attack on any one; it’s more of a clarification of what one (admittedly “white”) person thinks. And I can’t say I care for that word either, but I suppose we may be stuck with it.

There are lots of good signs, one of which, the partnering of police with those in a neighborhood, is the right idea for the right time. I would hope that rather than try to match skin color demographics, we might try to match geographical backgrounds. If I grew up in a neighborhood, and lived there, or have relatives living there, it seems to me that then there is a vested interest in the “well-being of all”. Certainly, it would mean training policeman to be sure that having “each other’s back” doesn’t mean “covering for them”, but only means protecting them from harm, and, when necessary, protecting them from over-reaction. Letting policemen know that “good faith” intervention will be supported, accepted, AND appreciated by other policemen needs to become the standard.

I would say, mildly, that even if the people who were advocating “defunding the police” were having their meaning twisted, that it was an incendiary phrase, and it ought to be understood that many fair-minded people would find it counter-productive. Spending money on the wrong programs is something we’d all like to avoid. But it’s hard to make a case that spending less on policemen will make everyone feel safer.

Either we think we need to be protected, or we don’t. But I’m pretty sure, most everyone agrees that we need to be protected. And I would go a step further; we would probably concur that at times we need to have our behavior “throttled”, for the good of the community. While keeping in mind, that good training, and GOOD VETTING during the hiring process, are necessary to prevent abuses.

Having said that, I think it’s important to remember that unless you don’t think police are needed at all, SOMEONE has to volunteer to do that job. So if we do OUR job, of ensuring there is appropriate applicant screening, and officer training, then we ought to be appreciative of the ones who end up doing the needed, often thankless, work of preserving the law and protecting ALL the population.

It’s right to be horrified that, in apprehending a person, any person, that there is not proper care taken to prevent unnecessary injury, or in this case, death. I’ll let the courts make the determination, as every one is entitled to a jury trial for such a serious offence. I think I know how they will find the defendants, in the case of the death of George Floyd, but it doesn’t matter what I think. It will be up to the court, the jury and the judge to determine.

But let’s stipulate, for the moment, that George Floyd was murdered, and that 2nd degree murder is the appropriate charge. That may well be the case– that’s certainly how it looks, but it isn’t my call. And that is my point, really, since lynching, is by definition, when a mob, under the pretext of administering justice without trial, carries out a sentence. Admittedly, those that rioted did not kill any one, but I can’t defend actions that were petty, destructive and injurious, as being justified. And I would hope any one would think long and hard, about whether that is the world they want to live in, or the way they would like George Floyd to be remembered: As someone whose death spawned the burning and looting of businesses, or as someone who inspired real discussion and real change, long over due, to the way our society polices and protects its citizenry.

The Tenuous Present, the Fading Past, and the Uncertain Future

It’s been a while since my last entry, and I have the unsettling feeling that if I read my earlier entries, it would be like reading something written by someone else. This is, at once, both exhilarating and disturbing. Exhilarating, because it gives me a glimpse of who I was and what I thought at an earlier time– okay, so not a whole lot earlier, but enough time having passed that I could read it and say, yes– yes– I did think that, how have I forgotten? Which is the disturbing part, really, that we have such a time clinging to what we’ve been. So much so, that memories we have of childhood play like a newsreel in our head; we hardly retain the sense of “I” and it feels so much like a 3rd person narrative that we can scarcely be blamed for wondering if it happened at all.

I’ve shared with friends and family alike in the last few weeks that I’ll be retiring from my job the middle of next year. I’ve worked really my whole adult life, and while I’ve accomplished not so much, and am only modestly placed in my company, even so, much of what I am has been my job and that, in its absence, I’ll need to find other ways to define myself, and ways to feel like I’m contributing. The present is always where we are going to live, but there has been such a feeling of fragility and peril lately, that I have found myself wistfully longing for times past. I’m reminded of a saying I heard a number of years back about why we long for the past. “We love the past, because we know we survived it. We aren’t so sure about today”.

We had a neighbor on our block, down at the corner, that always seemed alive and vital, cheerful and neighborly. We never knew her as well as we might have, but she had a random accident recently and died, and now we will never have that chance.

A Barbershop singer in my chapter who joined us in 2018 along with his adopted son, just passed– I just sang w/ him a month ago in our show, and now I’ll have no more chances to do that.

If that sounds selfish, it is; I acknowledge it. If we like traditions, if we dislike change, it’s because we know that change is coming, and that we may not survive it. So we have favorite activities, and favorite restaurants, and familiar friends, and we can’t bear to toss out an old sweater, or old shoes because, we think, if only we could stay in the present, this never ending present and not have to face what inevitably will be ahead for us all.

And so we cherish our memories, and our possessions, our photographs and our videos, because they help us hold on to who we are, and that is what we really ask of the present, that it not take us into the future, which is a frightening place, where we may forget who we are, and lose our hold on the world, and our place in it.

I wrote all of above paragraphs in the latter part of 2019, and for some reason, was not moved to publish it; I think, perhaps because it felt like an unfinished theme, like I had left something important out. And now that we have lived these last couple months under the shadow of a global pandemic, I find it eerie that what I wrote, while nothing terribly original, seemed to foreshadow coming events, which I freely admit I would not have predicted.

But as I reflect on the last 2 months– to the day– since I left my office in Plymouth, Mi. (little knowing it was to be my last work day at our mfg plant), I realize that what was missing, is the anxiety and worry that we live with, much of our lives, often, without even being aware of it, or at least, acknowledging the affect it has on our every waking, and even sleeping, hour.

I’ve touched on the Pandemic in my last post: A rant at Major League Baseball. But I realize its been difficult to says what I’m thinking or to put into words how I’m processing this unique, singular event of our lifetimes. What I have sensed, in recent days, is that what is happening to us, for many of us, maybe most of us, hasn’t sunk in. We’ve seen the way the world has changed already, in reaction to an unprecedented set of circumstances. We scarcely comprehend what has occurred, and the broad ways that we have reacted, is a sure indication of that. At our core, we know that some things have changed irrevocably, and that many more changes, ones we can barely grasp, are still ahead of us.

I titled this piece, before the Pandemic, and as I sit here, I realize how completely apt the title was, despite (admittedly) no foresight on events that would shape the world of 2020. The Past is INDEED fading…does anyone else think how quaint and unrealistic the crowd scenes in TV and movies seem? We almost can’t believe that was the way we lived, even as we long to return to that once familiar template.

A tenuous Present? You bet! Tell me when, in most of our lifetimes, did our reality seem so fragile? During the Vietnam war, or the Gulf War, or the “so-called” Great Recession of the 80’s, or that terrible day in 2001 when we had to pull all the planes out of the air? For those events, we still had some hold on what our world was, and what the aftermath would look like. Did we have uncertainty? Assuredly, we did, but we had models of what might occur next that could comfort us, even if we did not have complete faith in them.

The current uncertainty is greater than any I remember; we don’t know how long the current world crisis will last, or what shape it will have in the weeks/ months ahead. So much of what we considered “normal” has no ETA for its return, if ever. And we have no real clue on what changes are still ahead. Virtually every aspect of society has been touched: Church, entertainment, work, medical care, school, and any gathering of people that are so much apart of our social fabric– all of these are affected, and in uncountable ways.

Leave aside whatever you think politically (with the acceptance that the diverse range of opinions on what was right, or is right, or will be right in dealing with the pandemic, and its aftermath, are based on terribly incomplete data). Whatever your view is, there can be no arguing this point: Big changes have not only come, but are still ahead, and if we walk around in a daze, not sure quite why we feel as anxious as we do, we know that it is because, however normal things may look, when we go about are yardwork, or our crossword puzzles, or our visual scans of the our neighborhoods, or city streets– if we lift our eyes a bit, and listen to the news, or go to a store, or restaurant, or look at Facebook or YouTube, we have the sobering knowledge that the Universe is changing, and we wonder if we’ll be able to find our place in it.

Obstinate is the Enemy of Truth

During the COVID19 age, I call it an age, because it has the feeling that it will have too much length to be considered an episode, or a phase, or a season.

It already feels like it’s gone on forever and that we’ve fallen off a cliff, and if only we could hit the bottom, we could at least put ourselves out of our misery, but no, we have something much worse, we have a bottom that just seems to get farther and farther away while holding out no hope that a different outcome may eventually take its place. At least my sentence finally ended, but it seems there is no such feeling about the Coronic Age. If only I rename it enough times maybe I can diffuse its impact.

But I realize my first paragraph wasn’t even a full sentence. Never mind, I will get to my point. As I started to say, during the Chinese Virus Pandemic, the Sports and Entertainment world have come face to face with a problem that, well, never has occurred. They have lots of consumers, really, more than ever, and yet, they have nothing much to offer up for consumption. Under such a circumstance, what can they really do? Entertainment is being weakly packaged in remote concoctions that have all the feel of high tech amateurism. We are supposed to be impressed by the fact that they are “here for us”. That with their gadgetry and wizardry they can put on concerts while remaining faithful to the vacuous “Shelter in Place” edict. I might be quite a bit impressed by amateurs putting together
“spooky performances at a distance”. But when this sort of thing comes from professionals, it feels tepid, and not a few are are exposed as “less than impressive” when not surrounded by a supporting cast of back up singers, technicians, and production crews.

The irony is that, in a desperate search for entertainment, many old, and I mean really old, and by really old, I mean– “before the internet”, entertainment is getting a look by quite a number of people who are discovering that …..wow…..old time movies, and music and even TV is pretty good. I wonder if the entertainment industry might be vaguely fearful that comparisons to the current stuff they fling at us might not cast them in a favorable light?

With sporting events, it’s even worse, they can’t do baseball “at a distance”. In fact, any of the team sports can’t be done at all. If they do baseball, they’ll pretty well have to do it without a plate umpire. Flag football might have to replace “full contact” football (with disposable flags of course) and basketball will have to played with “no touching” allowed! One can’t imagine how you could even conduct a Boston Marathon; the logistics boggle the mind. So, desperately, ESPN and every sports channel or radio station is left with merely recycling “classic games of the past”. But this will become tiresome , if not opening up old wounds, which I will get to, but on the whole, since sporting events depend on the tension of “outcome uncertainly”, sooner or later, after they’ve shown every classic they can think of, they’ll realize that we are less and less drawn to see old clips of Michael Jordan and Barry Sanders. They are nice for reminiscing, but can’t adequately substitute for live athletic competitions. And never mind the fans– What are high school and college athletes supposed to do? Is endless solitary training going to satisfy anyone for long?

Once again, there is a silver lining; old baseball games have, what shall we say….PACE? I think any youngster of the new century might wonder what game he was watching if he tuned in to watch Mark “The Bird” Fidrych throttle the Yankees in 1976. Imagine, starting pitchers pitched the whole game back then! Hitters sometimes hit a fair ball after only 1 or 2 pitches! Entire games were actually sometimes played in 2 hours….or even less! Unthinkable as it seems, televised baseball games could on occasion be captivating, even enthralling. Not the 3 1/2 hour time waste that they have become.

I would love to think that the Baseball Brain trust would look back at the way the game used to be played and have the noodles to realize that after the Masked Pandemic is in the rear view mirror, that they may have less and less fan base, and only minuscule interest from the nation’s youth. And that might inspire them to make some REAL changes to restore pace to the game. Do I think they will? Naw….they probably will stupidly conclude that the game needs even MORE Home Runs, more strike outs and more TV timeouts, effectively putting to sleep even the more willing fans.

Because baseball is obstinate, it is ignoring the truth that the game can’t keep trending the way it is going. Something is going to give, and it’s going to be fans unwilling to shell out 75 or 100 dollars for a decent seat at a game that approximates less than 1% of the season. And even hundreds of dollars for any postseason game. And its going to be Networks unwilling to allocate huge sums of money for games that last too long and aren’t being watched by many. And Advertisers that don’t want to buy time during a dreary regular season game.

But Baseball has ignored the Truth before. For example, they ignored gambling early in the 20th century, until it almost brought the game down. They ignored fans in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s who begged them not to let a strike make a mockery of the season. In 1994 they didn’t even bother to finish the season. Imagine that? There was no pandemic back then? They just didn’t feel like it, so there was no world series, no conclusion….a season that, for all intents and purposes should be treated like it never happened. What an embarrassing crock that was! And then, in a mad attempt to rescue fans who had drifted away from the game, baseball ignored — and I think its fair to say it– they IGNORED mounting evidence that was obvious to anyone closely associated with the game, that Home Runs were being artificially inflated by the use of PED’s. Even tho, for years, 50 or slightly more home runs was the gold standard of hitting; now, suddenly it was okay for people to hit 60 or 65, or 70 or 73 in a season, and what is really unnerving is that, like a conspiracy of thieves, no one said a thing. Oh, eventually they did, but does anyone mean to tell me that in 1998 when MLB was so merrily recovering from the memory and bad taste of the 1994 debauchery, they weren’t fully aware what was going on? Because I’m not having it. That strains credulity and the motive was so painfully obvious. As a long time fan, I’m embarrassed that I didn’t catch on to it. But my excuse was that I didn’t want to believe it. The Baseball moguls have no such excuse, they sat on the situation until it started to get away from them, and then, and only then, they self-righteously moved to “put a stop to it” for the integrity of the game. Integity, my ass. At that point, the cover-up was hemorrhaging so badly, they had no choice to go into full scale “damage control”.

My point is, baseball is too consumed with short term profits to take the long view of anything, and they can hardly be bothered wih the truth. Their statement that they are aware they need to “manage the organic changes” to the game are laughable. They haven’t managed anything and seem only to be able to manage to ignore what they should be paying attention to.

Which brings me to Thursday night May 7th, 2020. A night when the local Sports Station, showed another one of the “classic Tiger games” from the past, in a desperate attempt to get us to watch anything, since they can’t show us any live sports right now.

And I knew I shouldn’t watch it. I don’t know quite why I did. It’s not like I somehow thought that this time the 27th out would be recorded immediately following the 26th, giving Armando Galarraga his perfect game. I think I wanted once more to look and assure myself that he should have been called out, and yes, Galarraga had his foot on the first base bag, with the ball in his glove ahead of the batter. who was clearly out by half a step.

Well , baseball had no instant replay in 2010….well, okay, they had no mechanism for USING instant replay to correct a botched call. I’m not arguing for or against instant replay as a device that baseball should use. That’s not where I’m going with this, I’m merely stating that HAD THEY had it in effect in 2010, Galarraga would have had his perfect game.

There is an argument that can be made that you can’t go back and change the result of a game after the fact.

But that is ridiculous, of course, you can. In fact, it’s even happened– or have you forgotten that a belligerent George Brett, by being famous, and making a stink, was able to get baseball to reverse itself. They took a home run that had been called an out in accordance to a rule (admittedly a stupid rule, but a rule nevertheless) and decided, well…..that isn’t really FAIR…. and he IS George Brett….so they took a game that had gone one way, and said, “We’ll just go back and take that Yankee win away, reinstate the Home Run and play the game to completion from the point where the Home Run gave the Royals the lead” They didn’t say, “It’s a shame, but this is the rule right now, and maybe it shouldn’t be a rule, but we can’t selectively enforce rules whenever someone whines about it”. No, and you know what, without trying to, they did the sensible thing. They didn’t do it because it was right, which it clearly was. They did it because, doing what they LIKE DOING which is to pontificate about the integrity of the game, wasn’t going to play. A Big star was making a big stink, and the surest way to make it go away was to utter some pablum about how the pine tar “hadn’t altered the outcome of the game”. Well, gee what a revelation that was? We sure didn’t realize that until Lee McPhail patiently explained it to. Then, as if to show us all that he could still play both sides of the fence, he retroactively threw Brett out of the game. I suspect that was more out of some need to assert himself after allowing himself to be “bullied” by the Royal’s big star.

Again, I would contend they did exactly the right thing, but not with any awareness of what was right. Merely to capitulate to pressure, because it was just a little too high of a profile situation. Had Brett been a lesser player who had said, “that’s the way it goes, I guess next time , I’ll be more careful”, would baseball have bothered to even review the incident? I think there is reason to doubt it.

But I think there is even another interpretation to be had. And that is that Baseball is willing to bend the rules in situations where “a win or loss” is involved. When the outcome of the game is not in doubt, they feel more “safe” in pontificating that “the rules are the rules”.

That might seem defensible at a casual glance, but think about it…! When a win or loss is involved, they feel free to make a call on something that happened on the field– in essence, picking winners and losers! I’ve already said I think they did the right thing, so I’m not going to beat that to death.

Except….why make a big deal about maintaining a rule when a win or loss is NOT in the balance?

After the blown call that cost Galarraga his perfect game, the next batter grounded out. Let’s say instead of that, the next batter had walked, and then, there’d been a pitching change, and then another hit, and then a 3 run Homer? Would the league then say, “Hmmmm….by sticking to a rule, we cost the Tigers a win….maybe we better change that call and let the Tigers win the game.” Ridiculous you say? Okay maybe it is– but look at it another way. Galarraga wasn’t Bob Gibson or Pedro Martinez or Justin Verlander. And he did not make a stink about it. In fact, he made a point of “forgiving” the umpire for making the call. It was a noble thing to do, but there was nothing to forgive! Bad calls happen, and sometimes the game hinges on them, but until either all calls are made by robots or all calls can be reviewed by instant replay, its going to happen.

Well, anyway, with everyone being so civil, and no big star involved, did the league really have to do a thing? No, they could nobly say, “the integrity of the game demands that we let the call stand”. How could they say that? The game didn’t hinge on the call. They had 2 choices, they could take this RARE opportunity to overturn an obviously mistaken call and right an injustice to ONE player without affecting anyone else! Okay, they took away one out that the next man made, like anyone would lose sleep over that! Or– they could fold their arms and say “it’s tough luck, but there is nothing we can do, we don’t have instant replay yet, and we aren’t allowed to use it to overturn a call”.

That’s preposterous!! It would have cost them NOTHING to overturn the call. I repeat– NOTHING! No one would have complained, no one would have called it playing favorites, no one would have said it was artificial. No one’s feelings would have been hurt and no one would have self-righteously complained about it. It was too easy– it was like a slow pitch down the middle that they should knocked out of the park, and instead they whiffed on it. I think it’s fair to say, that people OVERWHELMINGLY would have applauded the decision, as fair and in the process would have REWARDED Galarraga for taking the high road instead of basically penalizing him, denying him his place in history, because he wasn’t a big star like George Brett and he didn’t holler or whine. It was a PERFECT GAME, and all baseball had to do was sanction it! There isn’t even a slippery slope here! What would they claim,….well we can’t be overturning wrong calls just because they are wrong? Why can’t you? Isn’t that why baseball adopted instant replay?

I’ll even grant that maybe they felt at the time that they’d be opening up a can of worms. I don’t buy it, but let’s stipulate that. Okay, well now we are years later, and we HAVE instant replay. Please explain to me why NOW it can’t be overturned. No one can claim that slippery slope exists any more.

They don’t do it though, and it’s not from laziness, or stupidity. It’s from being obstinate, and if baseball continues to manage the game in that fashion, they will manage it right into extinction. You could look it up.

The Folly of Making Predictions

As the 4th round of the 2019 Masters Golf Tournament unfolded, I had the unsettling feeling that a man that I don’t even know, have never spoken with, and could only go by what I had read other people say about him, was making a prediction I had made regarding his future, look very foolish indeed.

I had blithely, and maybe even smugly, stated that Tiger Woods was through: that if he ever even played again he would be, at best, a shadow of what he once was– a tragic figure of a former sports start trying vainly to recapture his past glory.

I had the twin realization, that in spite of my inner embarrassment, I was now unabashedly rooting for him, which, on the whole made me feel rather sophomoric. I had more or less kicked him when he was down, altho, lord knows, many were in much better position to make themselves visible in that regard than me, and now I was merrily jumping back on the Tiger Bandwagon, now that there was this amazing feel-good story developing before our eyes.

The more I thought about it, the clearer the conclusion came to me, that my better angel was the one rooting for him. After all, whatever human frailties he exhibited, and however people described him (aloof, cold, self-centered, etc.), it was a testimony to the human spirit that he tried mightily, in the face of daunting circumstances, and many doubters, not to mention his own self-doubts, which he had acknowledged, and persevered, at an age when it would have been easy to say– I’m in my 40’s now, I’ve accomplished a lot as a golfer, and I’m set financially– what have I got to prove?

Many of us, and rightly so, would admire, and be somewhat awed by his perseverance. And we couldn’t mistake his reaction as anything other than the joy that any of us feels when we’ve striven and succeeded at our goals.

So that is our better angel, the one that doesn’t waste a lot of energy envying what others do, but gives credit where credit is due, and possibly, in doing so, sees the role that such individuals play in reminding us all, that if we care, and we work, and we are willing to keep getting up when we fall, or fail, that good things can happen. Maybe not every time, and maybe not often, but we can deserve for them to happen, and sometimes, that would even be satisfaction enough.

So what that leaves me to consider is the sobering thought that maybe I was just a callous human being, willing to heap discredit and shame upon someone that I hardly knew, and couldn’t even have reasonably claimed that I did. Could it be that, in my modest life, I got some satisfaction out of seeing the mighty Tiger Woods be revealed as having feet of clay? Like that was some marvelous revelation, that he wasn’t perfect, that his own particular foibles were capable of handicapping him, as surely, we must admit our own shortcomings could do the same to us.

Maybe his own demons troubled him, and maybe his physical challenges might have overwelmed him, but by all accounts (and again, I am cautiously adding that I can’t really know) he has weathered the storm and come out on the other size a better human being and a still shining example of excellence. Whatever the details, I feel silly now, in acknowledging that my motives for saying he was through, were partly sourced from my hope that he was, so I could say, “Look, he’s no better than the rest of us. He had this great talent, and the world by the tail, and he threw it all away” That wasn’t even completely true, but I see now that smugness was the dominant rationale to that sentiment, and that maybe I could have been a trifle more sympathetic or at least more neutral in my assessment.

I could have easily said, “Well, the deck is stacked against him right now; he’s had some personal issues and health problems that have given him a challenging road. Let’s see how he handles it, maybe this set of circumstances will galvanize him and he’ll come through it okay- a better man, if not a better golfer.

I could have said something like that. But instead, I chose to haughtily predict that he was “through” as if that myopic observation was even of any value. If it had come to pass, it would have had less to say about my powers of prediction and more about the frailty of existence. Most people are trying to walk a successful line in life, and some do it better than others, but maybe the default should be that we respect others, and not gauge our love or scorn based on how they compare to us in their lives.

The High Price of Leisure

I had in mind for some time to set down my thoughts regarding the recent signing of Mike Trout to a contract approximately the size of an urban budget, but I didn’t want to give a knee jerk response to it (which would have been “That’s ridiculous– he’s not the 2nd coming of Babe Ruth– why does hyperbole always seem to translate to huge payouts?). I know that these sorts of things are always a matter of degree, and there are many variables that go into the determination of what something (or someone) is worth.

The simplistic answer to that is– a thing is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it. And at that level, there is plenty of room for disagreement. Many of us, for example, would look at a high priced piece of art and say (even if we thought it was good), “Why would I ever want to spend that kind of money for something whose value is tied up simply in how much I admire it?”. And of course, the answer to that question ends up being more than just simple. A thing can have value simply by association; If I have high quality art items in my home, then it speaks to my taste, and is an indirect indicator of affluence, and for many people, demonstrating taste and wealth are important considerations.

Before you think I’m getting sidetracked, let me point out that it’s not much different with a star player. The perception of value often is the driving factor. It might well be true that 3 players who are very good, would end up being cheaper than 1 player who is a “star”, and it might even be true that an organization would be better off spending it’s money that way, in terms of Wins and losses for the team. But in the end, decisions like this often have less to do with Wins & Losses, and more to do with “creating an impression of taste & wealth”. If an owner spends this kind of money (as the LA Angels have done), they can say to their fan base, “See? We have the taste to not undervalue our superstar, and we have the wealth to keep him”. This can seem like a big win to management. And it’s easy for them to imagine that fans would accuse them of being “cheap skates” if they let their future Hall of Famer go elsewhere. Jim Rome in his radio show stated that the Angels “couldn’t afford NOT to sign Trout.

If you doubt this is true, consider that the Angels are paying Albert Pujols almost as much per year as they are about to pay Trout, and Pujols hit .241 & .245 the last 2 years, and he is signed to play thru 2022. You may say that they expected Pujols to perform at a higher level? Let’s suppose that to be true. Wouldn’t you think that, given their experience with that contract that they would be gun-shy about handing out another one of even greater sum and length? But I would argue that they didn’t necessarily even expect great performance out of Pujols. But that rather, they paid him because it looked good to the fan base, and that they could say “we’re willing to spend money to make our team good, and we have the money to spend”.

From 2012 to 2018 (7 years), the Angels have had 3 winning seasons, and Trout and Pujols have been full-time players all 7 years. So now they have both players locked up thru 2022 (longer for Trout) but what have they really gained? They now, in fact, have lost cap space, as Trout and Pujols have now chunked off 50 to 60 million per year between them. At some point they’ll have to figure out how they are going to keep young wunderkind Shohei Ohtani, who will be eligible for Salary Arbitration after the 2020 season. The Angels are in the peculiar situation of almost having to hope he doesn’t get too good too fast.

So what have they gained? I’ll beat this dead horse once more: They have given the fan base the impression that they are not cheap, and they have the dough. Never mind that this doesn’t necessarily translate into improved Wins & Losses– as far as Angel Management goes, it will lead to increased ticket sales, at least in the short run, and they likely will hope that they win just enough that fans won’t become disenchanted.

It would seem that this is a case of Style triumphing, as it often does, over substance, and that while they may not end up with a well-balance team, they can at least boast “Marquis” players on their roster.

Prices in 2019 are 8.27 x higher (on average) than prices in 1963. I mention this because in 1963 the price of a Box Seat ticket at the World Series was 12 dollars, and a bleacher ticket was 2 dollars. A World Series program sold for 50 cents. If we do the math, that would translate to $99.24 for a Box Seat to a World Series Game in 2019, and 16.54 for a bleacher seat.

By Contrast, Tickets to the World Series Games in Boston in 2018 went for an AVERAGE of $ 1,700 dollars a piece! You see what I’m getting at? I know this is just one example, but World Series Tickets have Jumped MORE than 17 times what they were in 1963, WHEN ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION!

What does all this mean? It means that we are paying more than ever in REAL DISPOSABLE income for the games that we watch. And we, apparently, are willing accomplices to this “highway robbery”. If we are to be honest, we can’t say the games are really better, or more entertaining than ever, even allowing that this is a subjective judgement. But what we have done is we’ve passively accepted the increases.

But it goes farther than that. No fan base, or local talk radio, has ever applauded the local sports teams for their “frugal approach”. In fact, we blithely exhort them to spend money (really, in the end, OUR money) to “buy a winner”. But in this, we don’t even have good judgement. Because, we want stars– larger than life players who we can buy jerseys bearing their names, and who can give us the feeling that our team is something special. Very few fans talk energetically about having good “role players” that will give the team the best chance to win games.

Now is the cart pulling the horse, or the horse pulling the cart? Do owners go for flash and sizzle over competitiveness of the team? Or do they just give us what we want? It would seem to be a bit of both. But any time we want to grouse about how much corporate executives make, we should keep in mind that at least they are paid by their companies based on their abilities (or perceived abilities, admittedly) but not based on what the public thinks about them. And if we think athletes or movie or TV stars are paid too much, we should be sobered by the knowledge that we are, collectively, ponying up the dollars to pay those “ridiculous” salaries.