Sunday, October 31, 2010

Restoring sanity in baseball

Yesterday I tweeted a link to a column by some small town paper guy from some Texas site no one's ever heard of. The premise of the lunacy is that San Franciscans don't deserve to win the World Series because they are liberal hippy elitists, while people from Texas are hardworking "regular Joes." He makes fun of Mayor Newsome's name, brings up the coffee cliches, and broaches the subject of Nancy Pelosi.

He says,
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to inject politics into baseball. But it's hard to imagine two places more different facing each other in the World Series – one right, one left."
You don't mean to "inject politics into baseball?" Yes you do, or else you wouldn't have written the column. Duh.

A few weeks ago during the NLDS, some Philly sportstyper (writer is too noble a term to use for him) typed a similar column that was not political but no less arrogant mocking the city and people of Cincinnati. This was published in a real paper, the Philly Inquirer, as opposed to that Texas Cable News site, so more people read it. I never saw any apology for it.

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall to watch two comedians put on a show that addressed this very topic: the polemic vitriol that spews from the mouths of self-righteous folks who must have gotten journalism and broadcasting degrees in a box of Cracker Jacks. Granted, they were talking about something far more important than baseball, but as you can see, the contempt has trickled down into the realm of sports, too.

I'm sick of all of it. I wish the Earth would just open up and swallow these media types who get off on division, who are not good enough writers or broadcasters to be successful on their own merits so they pick fights and say "controversial" things just to get attention. Once I was a political animal; now I view politics as animosity. Unfortunately, a whole generation has grown up on Rovian politics, where people smarter or more experienced than you are "elitists" and intelligence is ridiculed, where no one is ever wrong except the other side, where people get angry over taxes and government domestic spending but support debt-escalating wars, where you are allowed to stomp on the head of someone who doesn't support your candidate, where you can call something socialist without being able to define that word, where paranoia drives political activity and politicians use fear to gain votes, where respect does not exist and you can say anything you want without shame or guilt or even truth. There are people who honestly cannot see anything wrong with this, that this is poisoning the country, and in turn, the world.

I wonder if Steve Blow (yeah, that's his actual name, and HE has the gall to mock someone else's name?) has ever been to San Francisco. It's a beautiful place full of intelligent people (can we stop denigrating intelligence - this country wasn't built on stupidity) who care about more than themselves. Yeah, sure, there's some frou frou stuff in San Fran - there's frou frou in Austin and Dallas, too. In fact, Austin is full of liberal hippies who drink four dollar lattes and drive environmentally friendly cars. So what? Also, last time I checked, California had a Republican governor. So what?

What on earth is the purpose of Steve Blow's piece of trash except to make people angry?

Jon Stewart is right. Unfortunately, it might be too late to restore sanity. We might have already flown from the cuckoo's nest.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Life update

I haven't had much trouble sinking into this World Series like a comfy couch. Many Reds fans say they are having difficulty with this postseason because of the Division Series loss. I, on the other hand, have had no problem, probably because I never could believe the Reds were in the playoffs in the first place.

We're all so excited for next year that we all wish we could skip the off season. But don't forget! The off season is what makes Opening Day such a holy day! The waiting and anticipation contribute the appreciation for the game - if it were baseball season all year around, it wouldn't be so special. But while we sit in the darkness with our artificial heat and our dried out winter skin, the baseball clock seems as if it stops.

I'm skipping winter this winter. I'm traveling again - back to Beirut, back to the functional chaos of a conflict-prone state, back to my friends with their bullet-riddled psyches and their broken Lebanese souls, back to Hezbollah and Fatah al-Islam and the Salafi jihadists coexisting with wealthy capitalists and pious Christians and scantily-clad women and communist students and Buddhist bartenders.

I'm going to be doing a lot of writing while there, and I vow to update this blog at least twice a week as well as my travel blog, Travellingrox. I'm over my baseball-doesn't-matter-when-people-have-no-food-to-eat stuff, and I will write about why over the course of the next few months. Until I leave, I will enjoy this World Series, and though I am root, root, rooting for the Giants, I hope Texass can win a couple of games to extend it a bit.

You all can enjoy scraping your windshields and driving 30 miles per hour in a 55 zone over icy roads and shoveling your sidewalks and freezing your butts off. I'm going to the Mediterranean sunshine, where fifty-five degrees is bone-chilling and palm trees have Christmas lights and...oh! Christmas in Lebanon! A new experience! I love seeing the way other countries celebrate Christmas. (Yes, Lebanon has Christians - 30% of the population is Christian.)

All of this warmth comes at a price, however, for when the cold rains of February cascade from the gloomy Midwestern sky, the jubilance of rebirth becomes a glitter in a baseball fan's eye. Oh, who among us has not been filled with joy at the sound of the words "pitchers and catchers report?" The sight of these exalted beings, their shiny red shirts covering their wintry white skin until their arms turn brown from the glorious southern sunshine...a symphony for the soul!

Part of the joy Spring Training brings us has to do with suffering through winter. When you don't suffer through it, that joy is suppressed, as I found out last spring. But I was new to Beirut then. I had been in country for three weeks when pitchers and catchers reported, had no internet access in my residence, and didn't know where to go to get good enough internet to watch Spring Training games. Oh, but I know now. When I went back last month and it was time for the Reds to clinch the division (did that really happen?), I watched Jay Bruce hit the homer (The Homer?) two days after it happened. And I am just remembering now the guy at one of my cafes asking me if I was watching baseball as I sat there staring at my laptop. He knew. They all knew. It was funny to be watching the clincher in the same city I had watched the start of the season. (Though I had watched Opening Day in Cyprus.)

Anyway, being abroad when baseball starts is a bit dispiriting, even with the miracle of the internet.

I made my return ticket for March 30. Obviously there's a reason for that...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Short reflection

I started this after the Reds lots the NLDS. Just never got around to finishing it but thought I'd post it anyway.

This was a different year for me personally. I missed Spring Training and the first two months of the season due to a 7 hour time difference and crappy internet connections. I flew from Beirut to Cyprus and stayed at a five star hotel in Nicosia to watch Opening Day.

We lost.

Remember that? That was the day I felt like this year would be the same as all the others, that all of the promise of the future was just going to waste away. At the most, we'd win 82 or 83 games and have a winning record.

When we finally got around to being in first place in May, I thought, this is just another one of those years. We'd been there before. We had started off strong many times in the last decade of losing, only to stumble and fall come July. We were swept by Philly before the All Star break and I thought, this is it, this is where we go back to being the Cincinnati Reds of the twenty-first century.

The All Star game was fun. Four Reds? Really? And they had a hand in winning the game, too! Nothing like seeing that All Star infield full of Reds.

There was still half a season to play, still half a season to screw it all up. Then, we played that St. Louis series, when they walked away with first place. I thought, this is it. We finally blew it.

September saw some pretty crappy baseball in Cincinnati. I thought, this is it, this is the collapse.

Yet somehow, after 162 games, the Cincinnati Reds Baseball Club sat atop the standings by a comfortable margin. 91 wins. A division title. Playoff baseball.

Just wait til next year...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Winning Team

In the absence of a baseball game yesterday, I watched a baseball movie I had never heard of called The Winning Team, starring Ronald Reagan and Doris Day. It is a cheesy account about the interesting and somewhat tragic life of Grover Cleveland Alexander, one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history.

After awhile I forgot it was actually Ronald Reagan in the film, which was interesting in its own right. The fact that we had a not-so-great actor become POTUS says a lot about this country.

Anyway, Alexander, who was for some reason nicknamed Pete and for obvious reasons called Alex the Great, was beaned in the head by a throw while trying to break up a double play before he even made it to the Majors. The accident left him unconscious for two days, and he suffered from double vision for a year. Then, by some miracle, it cleared up right before Spring Training in 1911, and Alex made his Major League debut with the Phillies, winning a stellar 28 games against 13 losses. He completed 31 games that season with a league leading 7 shutouts.

Granted, Alex pitched his best years during the Dead Ball Era, so his pitching stats are padded by that, but in a category that transcends time, he excels by even today's standards. The guy had impeccable control, posting a 1.6 BB/9 over his career, contributing to a 1.121 career WHIP.

Alex went 19-17 in 1912, 22-8 in 1913, 27-15 in 1914, 31-10 in 1915, 33-12 in 1916, and 30-13 in 1917, all with the Phillies. Then, at age 31, Alex went to war.

Sergeant Alexander spent most of the 1918 season trying to save Europe from its own destruction and save himself, too. He suffered shellshock, what we know today as post-traumatic stress disorder, losing some hearing and suffering from dizzy spells. It is said that his wartime was cut short by alcohol abuse and insubordination.

He had been sold by the Phillies, who were broke, to the Cubs. He started 3 games in 1918 and returned to his Hall of Fame form the next year. You can figure out from deduction that he never played in a World Series for the Cubs. He pitched for Chicago until 1926, when the Cubs cut him because of his alcohol problem. What they didn't know, what no one knew, was that Alex suffered from epilepsy that may have been a result of his war experience, and his frequent blackouts were often epileptic seizures. He hadn't even told his wife about his illness, as he was afraid he wouldn't be allowed to play baseball if anyone knew. His alcohol use was partially a result of the stress from his secret.

When Roy O came into the Phillies game last week, it was reminiscent of old time baseball. Alex, in what would become the best-known moment of his career, came into the 1926 World Series game for the Cardinals the day after he had started and won a game. He was pitching for the Cardinals after being out of baseball for part of the season. According to the movie, Alex's wife called Rogers Hornsby and convinced him to sign Alex, who was working in a circus. Who knows if that's true or not? Like I said, the movie is cheesy. Anyway, Alex got a Yankee to strikeout with the bases loaded and a one run lead to end the seventh inning, and he finished the game to give the Cardinals the Series.

The movie showed actual footage of the Series, and the most interesting part of this was footage of a square in St. Louis full of hundreds of people who were watching a scrolling sign that gave updates on the game. Now we can watch games from anywhere in the world thanks to signals from outerspace. Really incredible to think about.

The Winning Team ended after that World Series game, but Alex's career went on for three more seasons and part of a fourth. In 1927 at age 40 he went 21-10 for the Cardinals, won 16 more games the next season, and went 9-8 in 1929. He was traded to the Phillies in December 1929 for one last Philadelphia hurrah, pitching in 9 games (starting 3) in 1930. After he was released by the Phillies, he played with traveling teams until he was 51 years old.

Alexander wore no number to retire, but the Phillies retired the P logo they wore back then in his honor. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938. While The Winning Team is not that great of a movie, it is still worth watching.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Bankeele$$ World Series

I can genuinely say I am happy for Rangers fans.

Forty years of nothing, and they finally get to the World Series.

Colby Lewis (there are TWO players named after cheese in baseball?) pitched the game of his life, and I hope he doesn't drink too much tonight, because I want him to remember this night forever. Three hits? Against a team full of All Stars and Hall of Famers?

Congrats. Now, GO GIANTS!

Time to give some thoughts on the game

My friend Ash says that time does not exist. He's British of Indian decent who grew up with a religious father well-versed in Eastern philosophy. We met at the best dive bar in the world that happens to be in Beirut owned and operated by a Lebanese guy who is as equally in touch with his spiritual side and has become a dear friend of mine.

What Ash means by that is that time is a concept that measures the movement of celestial bodies that we use to gauge the aging process. He doesn't put it that way, that's my own simplified explanation, but he's right. Time is a product of our minds, nothing more. Of course, most people can't wrap their heads around that notion because it is so ingrained and let's face it, most people don't spend much time reflecting on abstract concepts as they go through the motions of their daily lives. It's a shame, really, because there is so much more to existence than birth, childhood, schooling, marriage, death. Few people question the notions that are part of their perceptions of "reality."

Take, for example, the idea of space. Not Star Wars space, but physical space, like distance (which is part of the time/rate equation.) I am physically sitting in a room in Washington DC. I am trying my best to be mentally here, but I lack focus and discipline and my thoughts seem to be stuck somewhere across the ocean. It is quite possible that our minds and spirits are separate entities from our bodies. There's a reason people use the term "whole" to describe various states of happiness. If someone is physically, mentally, and spiritually all in the same place at the same time, he is most likely to be happy.

In the past, I experienced baseball with my full being, but this year has been a little different. I felt distant from the game. I thought I lost my faith in the great religion of baseball. But there was a moment last night as I watched the Phillies-Giants game when I was fully into it, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Nothing in particular had happened in the game at that moment, but I felt the excitement surge through me, like I had been transported back to days past.

It reminded me of how the notion of time is an inherent part of baseball. Nostalgia is as much a part of the game as what is actually going on on the field. In no other sport do we speak with revelry about players who died a hundred years ago. In no other sport do we argue with such passion about the criteria for entering a Hall of Fame. For many of us, we are raised on baseball, so as adults the game is inseparable from our childhood memories, and indeed, as parents we try to instill the love of the game in our children and dream that they, too, will do the same for our grandchildren.

In baseball, there is no separation between the past, present, and future. The game cannot exist in one phase of time without the other two, so there really is no time in baseball. Just look at how it is measured - in 9 innings, not with a clock (although we'd love to see fewer commercials and shorter games.) These games will go down in history books and talked about fondly (or for fans of the losers, with heartache) just like all the other post season games.

I'm sure there was a point to all this rambling when I started it. Oh well, bring on the game! Go [insert team playing Bankee$]!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Twitter Playoff Notes

This is the first baseball playoffs on Twitter for me. Last year, I had an account but didn’t really use it during the playoffs. It has allowed me to connect with baseball fans across America in a way that I never have, and I’m seeing some interesting things.

1. Most people find the Rangers-Bankee$ series dull. Most of us are rooting against the Bankee$, not for the Rangers. God, has this series been dull.

2. Last night’s Giants-Phillies game was amazing. Many folks were commenting about how exciting it was, and it really was, although I wouldn’t go so far as MLB on Fox did and say it was one of the most exciting NLCS games in baseball history. It was pretty great, though, especially since Roy O took the loss.

3. Bankee$ fatigue is real. While Fox and TBS and MLB executives salivate at the thought of a New York-Philly World Series, in the real world, the only folks that would care about that series are in New York and Philly. Fans of other teams are sick of the Bankee$.

4. Lots of Reds fans aren’t watching the rest of the post-season. I’ve never understood how you could be a fan of one team, but not of the sport. Next year at this time I hope to be hearing The National play the National Anthem in Cincy.

5. When football is on, baseball does not exist for many people. Sad that people would watch a game versus two teams they are not fans of over the playoffs of the “National Pastime.” (We all know that bird flew a long time ago. Still, you’d think with all this faux patriotic nonsense that floats around America these days, baseball would be more popular.)

6. Many folks are not of the sieg heil mentality and despise the playing of God Bless America as I do. Hallelujah.

7. There are as many commercials as there is baseball, and we can’t help but comment on all of it. Geico “Stanley” bestiality ad is disturbing. I wish there’d be a requiem for that DirecTV commercial. It’s generally acknowledged that the Conan commercials are retarded. And please, UPS, please stop making Dean Martin roll in his grave.

Monday, October 11, 2010


It hasn't sunk in yet. Actually, I spent most of the playoffs trying to grasp that we were actually IN the playoffs.

I'll write something here later about the series and the season. Right now I feel like my pet goldfish has died of something preventable.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Well, crap.

Go Giants.


I never hated the Phillies. They were one of my "surrogate" teams I rooted for in the playoffs in the absence of the Reds. I had liked them since the Daulton and Dykstra days. I rooted for them over the last few years.

But no more.

I hate them. I hate them with the same level of intensity as Albert Poopholes. I hate them like dogs hate cats. I hate Chutley. I hate Werthless. I hate Coward. I hate Ruinz. I hate Plunko. I hate Victorpeeno. I hate Ibumez. I hate Boweladay and Bozowalt and Camels and Sludge. The earth could open up and swallow them and I'd laugh as they were screaming.

Phillies, I put a curse on you.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Hangover

The beers were cheap, $1 bottles of Miller Lite, but they weren't as cheap as the loss. As soon as it began, things seemed right with the world - a leadoff blast into the leftfield stands, cheering and high fives in the bar, a genuine happiness. Another run, another blast, another run, and the starter who could do no wrong in the eyes of the phans was out of the game.

We were cruising. We had Chapman. We had shots of Jaegermeister.

The television next to the one with the baseball game had been tuned to the Caps hockey game. Now it was filled with paramedics and a stretcher and what seemed like a corpse in goalie gear. The Thrashers goaltender had collapsed on the ice when no one was around him. He laid motionless, unconscious, and suddenly I forgot there was a Reds playoff game going on.

The universe was out of line again.

A blown call by the ump, a ball lost in the lights, miscue after miscue and we were sent home in misery.

Today my head aches from the cheap beer and my heart aches from the cheap loss, but my perspective is as clear as ever. It's a game, nothing more. It may give us moments of great pleasure or pain, it may give us bonding with friends and family, it may even nourish our souls when our spirits are in the midst of famine, but in the end, it is still a game with no life or death implications.

Of course, I am still overwhelmed with disappointment and desperation.

Friday, October 08, 2010

I umpire you when you're stupid

Let's get one thing straight: I have no tolerance for people who refuse to think or who are not as smart as they think they are. The worst is people who think they are entitled to their opinions even though they have no clue what they are talking about and have never put an ounce of thought into forming arguments to support their opinions. Nor do they understand that simply saying something doesn't make it true, that you need evidence to back up a case, and they don't even understand that they don't understand, that their underdeveloped, underused brains are not capable of grasping the notion that they don't understand.

Take, for example, the needlessly outraged who claim Major League umpiring is getting worse. Not only do they have no evidence to back up those claims (nor is it possible to obtain that evidence), but they fail to take into account that technology is what is permitting us to see more bad calls. Some guy writes "Major League umpiring has gotten progressively worse over the last 20 years." Prove it, I say. You can't - it is impossible, because the technology to capture it wasn't there. There was no X-mo twenty years ago. There weren't cameras at every angle with the zoom power we have now. Hell, there really wasn't internet 20 years ago. Technology has given us the power of sight that our eyes can't give us and the ability to spread that information in a click. Technology is the reason umpiring seems worse now. Major League umpires have been umping baseball for decades; they didn't suddenly become incompetent.

Umpires have always blown calls just as players have always made errors. Our "I'm Special!" culture makes people believe they are perfect and they can do no wrong, so when they see others being human, their blood senselessly boils. This is the epitome of American stupidity. Baseball is a game played by human beings, managed by human beings, watched by human beings, and umped by human beings, AND HUMAN BEINGS BY NATURE ARE FLAWED. YOU TOO.

Calm down, STFU, and just enjoy the game of baseball. The Braves had 27 opportunities to score a run but did not do so. The umpire did not lose that game, the Braves did.

Edit: I'm not making a case for or against replay, just that umpiring hasn't gotten worse and the screaming is out of proportion to the "crime."

Thoughts on the non-Reds part of October baseball

I sat drinking one of those frou-frou seasonal coffee drinks, outrageously priced, contemplating my future on a fairly warm October afternoon. The Reds had been no hit the previous day. The Rays and Rangers were playing but still I sat, not in the office, not doing work, just sitting there sipping that pumpkin latte with my faded old Mr. Redlegs cap atop my head.

After awhile, the latte was gone and I was done sitting there, so I sort of moseyed towards home, but along the way, I decided to stop in a sports bar to watch the game that was going on as a sort of obligation or something. In years past, I wouldn't miss a playoff game. I'd sit for nine hours straight if I had to, rooting for one surrogate team after another or at least rooting for whoever was playing the Bankee$ or the Braves. This year, since the Reds are in it, I find myself disinterested in the other games. A strange feeling, indeed.

I do like the Giants, as I have written about in the past. I am happy they won the NL West and would love for the Reds to defeat them in the NLCS. But I didn't even watch the end of that game. I had the Bankee$-Twins game on as I made a video of my Paris photos, but I really wasn't watching. I did not watch either ALDS Game 1. I find myself asking if the worst happens, if the Phillies come out on top, will I even bother with the rest of October baseball?

So GO REDS! And remember, a Roy O is a broken Arroyo.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

It's only a fifth of our lives

Yesterday, baseball was such an easy game to play, now we need a place to hide away...

But I believe in tomorrow.

The day was spent staring at the clock, waiting, waiting, tick tock tick tock. We were excited, we were nervous, we were anxious, we were hopeful, we felt like all was right with the world for a day. We gathered around television sets in bars around the country, we were there on the national stage, waiting to prove to the country that they were wrong, that this wasn't just a lucky team from a backwards part of the country to go down in history books as also-rans.

Then we had to go and support their words with offensive inactions.

Ah, but it's history! they tell us, unable to comprehend how long is 15 years in a desert of disappointment. Even those old enough to remember 1975, 1976, 1990 struggle to recall what it feels like to have electricity surging through the veins. Our excitement was innocence, our nerves were inexperience, our happiness was...shortlived?

We were numb. Our faces were heavy and dark. We could barely make eye contact with each other anymore. And the outs kept coming in consecutive order, ugly outs, without a glimmer of hope as they left bats - if there was even contact. Sure, the strikezone was a bit unfair. Nobody wants the Reds to win - it'd be murder on the ratings! But few Reds had a clue at the plate, most of them swung wildly at pitches out of the large strikezone, and they all swung early in the count. Without looking it up, I'd bet 20 of the 28 Reds at bats swung at the first pitch. (Correct me if I'm wrong.)

And so today, we wait. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in its petty place. Our innocence is destroyed, our hope more desperate, our lives inching ever closer to their ends. Fifteen years is a long time to wait. Let's get a messiah in here to get us out of this desert, because I sure as heck am thirsty for victory.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

The clock is not moving

I woke up early this morning, got dressed, threw my Reds jersey over my sweater, put on my faded, filthy Mr. Redlegs cap, and walked to work at 8am. I never leave before 9, yet I arrived in the office at 8:15. By the time 9am rolled around, I was clock watching.

Three hours and forty-five minutes until game time, and I can't sit still. I'm excited, I'm nervous, I'm anxious, and I'm a little peeved that the nation has written off the Reds as also-rans. If you had asked me yesterday how the series would go, I'd have said the Reds would lose Game 1 but maybe win the series in 5. Today, though, I feel like the Reds are going to win tonight, too.

I finished all of my work for the day - I really don't have anything else to do, as I'm waiting on some responses from other people, so I can't help put look at the clock as each minute passes. I swear it's moving backwards. My friend Ash says time doesn't exist, that it is only a figment of our minds. Well, my mind is incarcerated by the clock, and my stomach is in knots.

I got some comments this morning about my jersey. There's an appreciation in baseball fans that the Reds have made it, that they're finally back as a legitimate baseball team. The respect still isn't there, but that will come.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


I was sitting in Camden Yards one afternoon when the Phillies were in town. The Orioles were celebrating the 20th anniversary of their last World Series win in 1983. I remember thinking how sad it was that a team went twenty years without a World Series win and hoped the Reds would never get to the point when we were celebrating a twenty year drought. Then we did.

Even more improbable to me at that time was going 15 years without a playoff appearance. It had been eight years since the last one, four since the 96 win 1999 team. It just didn't seem like it would be possible that we'd be losing much longer. We had Ken Griffey, Jr., after all, and he couldn't always be hurt.

Well, it took some time, but those days are OVER. I still find myself saying the Cincinnati Reds won the division with disbelief. It hasn't fully hit me that the Reds are in the playoffs. The Reds are in the playoffs. The Reds are in the playoffs. THE REDS ARE IN THE PLAYOFFS!

I wore my Reds skull cap today - it's freezing outside! - and wanted people to look at it and think I must be happy because my team's in the playoffs. Probably none of them thought that, but maybe, just maybe, one of them did, and even if he's a Phillies phan, at least he could acknowledge that wishbone C.

I have a hard time believing we're in it. But I have no problem believing we can win it.