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Archive for the ‘baseball’ Category

To read the scuttlebutt out of New York (I’m including you, NYT), you’d think Yankees fans had been waiting a lifetime for another chance at a World Series title.

(Actually, in the case of these tykes, they have waited a lifetime. But they can get back to me about being long-suffering Yanks fans after they hit puberty in a few years.)

It’s just the latest manifestation of the arrogance I associate with New Yorkers, and one that grates on my nerves in the worst way.

Fortunately, the Onion skewers this New York state of collective delusion mind perfectly in a story about another long-suffering fan base down in Philadelphia.

The last time the Philadelphia Phillies brought a World Series title back to the City of Brotherly Love, the nation’s financial sector was in complete ruin, the cost of a gallon of milk was only $2.74, fans watched the Fall Classic while huddled around their slightly-less-streamlined high-definition television sets, and Philadelphia slugger Ryan Howard was just 28 years old.

This week Howard, 29, hopes to lead the Phillies to their first World Series championship in more than 360 long days and end a title drought that has been punctuated by several embarrassing losses, including a 2009 opening-day defeat by the Atlanta Braves and a June loss to the Atlanta Braves. During its infamous dry spell, the team has also come up short twice, winning both an NLDS and an NLCS title but having absolutely no World Series ring to show for it.

To put into perspective just how long the Phillies have gone without a championship, the earth has almost made one full orbit of the sun since the franchise last paraded through downtown Philadelphia holding the famed Commissioner’s Trophy.

Wow. Has it has been a long time. Just ask this guy:

“Truthfully, I never thought I would live to see the Phillies get to another World Series,” longtime fan David Oswald said. “When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last November, the doctor only gave me eight months.”

Amen.

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Here’s an actual screen shot, captured moments ago, from the New York Times web site’s front page.

NYT headline writers exude the sense of understatement for which their fellow New Yorkers are renowned

NYT headline writers exude the sense of understatement for which their fellow New Yorkers are renowned

I loved loathed that second headline, which so neatly encapsulates everything I hate about New Yorkers, namely their obnoxious sense of superiority and total lack of self-awareness about same.

Moreover, the second headline especially captures the attribute that most compels me to revile the Yankees and their fans, since it suggests, without irony, that the Yankees should not only be in the playoffs every season, but should also win the World Series annually. It’s practically their birthright, can’t you see?

Thus, New York must be elated that the Bronx Bombers have returned to the postseason for the first time in — let’s see, 2009 minus 2007 — two years. Even a humanities scholar like me can do the math and figure out that the Yankees’ postseason drought had reached an onerous, soul-crushing, franchise-deflating, fan base-dejecting one year. And no longer counting.

OK, so the headline wasn’t alluding to that specific postseason drought. Making the playoffs is practically a formality for the Yanquís. (It’s beyond my comprehension how Yankee fans survived last season without a playoff berth.) I was actually surprised on some level to see the picture of the Yankees celebrating their division title with more emotion than they’d muster for burying the Royals in mid-May.

Rather, as the linked story describes, the Yankees are hoping to end their disappointing run of postseason flameouts that stretches back five, six or nine years, depending on what you take as the benchmark of success for the Yankees (hint: it’s not sweeping a mid-summer twin bill against the Orioles).

But the Yankees did not unload close to half a billion dollars to simply win the A.L. East. While the Yankees are pleased with what they have accomplished, their mandate, as always, is to win it all. The Yankees have journeyed to the postseason for 14 of the last 15 seasons, but they have not won a title since 2000 and have not been in the World Series since 2003 [emphasis added].

Gasp! Eek! Pow! Can you imagine that? I’m surprised such celebrated tormentors of the United States as Hugo Chávez, Muammar Qaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn’t take the opportunity of their addresses at the United Nations this week to decry the egregious treatment of Americans living in the UN’s backyard.

I’m not even going to bother listing how many other teams have endured similar postseason “droughts” to the Yankees’. Suffice it to observe that the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t had so much as a winning record, much less playoff success of any sort, since before the Yankees began their current run of postseason berths in fourteen of the past fifteen seasons.

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After half-listening to Jon Miller last night as he spun conspiracy theories about why the names of players like Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz who failed drug tests in 2003, I found Doug Glanville’s perspective much more reasoned, and fair.

The real issue, as Glanville notes more soberly, isn’t that some big names cheated pharmacologically. Rather, it’s that the test in 2003 was meant to determine if baseball actually had a drug problem. The new collective bargaining agreement struck before that season called for the implementation of a full-blown testing program if more than a specified percentage of players (I want to say 5 percent) tested positive. Players were given assurances in the contract that the tests were simply for information purposes, that there would be no punishment, and, more importantly, that the results would remain anonymous until they were destroyed after the season.

Of course, the results, for reasons no one has yet ascertained, weren’t destroyed, and they were unearthed in the congressional investigation into baseball’s drug culture, though the specific names of the 104 players who tested positive in 2003 haven’t been disclosed publicly, they’ve only been leaked sporadically in recent months.

And while there’s no denying that the players who tested positive cheated, the question of use or non-use is, in many ways, secondary to the profound violation of the CBA:

But we need to pay close attention to our outrage because the precedent set by allowing confidential and anonymous collectively bargained tests to be completely breached is a bigger problem. It creates the impression that agreements between employers and employees on policies and procedures can be thrown out at any time, just because someone felt they had the right to know. In such a world, what would prevent your employer from taking your drug test result at C.V.S., at I.B.M. or maybe the hospital you work for and slap it up on the Internet tomorrow?

That’s a sobering thought, even if I have no reason to fear a drug test.

Plus, I’m not even sure the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs is really such a black mark on the game of baseball, if viewed historically. Surely it pales to the half-century (and more) when the big leagues were racially segregated. But it’s not like many baseball players (or other athletes) were such paragons of morality in the past, and there were plenty of players before the steroid era who used amphetamines and other drugs to try to boost their performance.

From what I’ve read about Zev Chafets’ new book, Cooperstown Confidential, we really ought to try to take things with a grain of salt. Maybe with the passage of a few decades, people will cease to condemn Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, et al, in such a knee-jerk way, and will recognize instead that they were, for better or worse, products of their times.

Then again, there are still plenty of people who allow their childhood nostalgia to deify someone like Mickey Mantle, who by most accounts was pretty sleazy as a person, and certainly not worthy of reverence for anything he did off the field.

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Reading a story about the drunk driver responsible for the car accident that killed Angels rookie Nick Adenhart and two others last week, I came across this description of the rehab program the driver, Andrew Gallo, underwent following a previous DUI arrest.

As part of Gallo’s plea deal on that arrest, he went to the Bible Tabernacle, a rehabilitation facility in Canyon Country, Calif., which is also a Christian ministry. Bible Tabernacle uses faith instead of therapy to heal. Mario Harper, who runs the facility, said its intent is to put discipline back into men’s lives.

Gallo was required to stay at Bible Tabernacle for six months, waking each morning at 5:30, reading his bible for 90 minutes, then working each day as a grounds crew member, raking leaves and taking out trash, among other tasks.

I’ve never heard of this form of rehab before, especially for alcoholism and other forms of addiction. I know it’s not uncommon for churches and other religious groups to sponsor treatment programs. But, sheesh, substituting religion for therapy?

For one thing, alcoholism, like other forms of chemical dependency, is a disease. So while their “discipline” might be a part of treating the addiction, it seems negligent to fail to educate alcoholics about the nature of their disease, and to not offer them the kind of therapy that might help them manage their disease more effectively.

Reading the program description from the Bible Tabernacle site, I’m no more encouraged that the program is really equipping its patients for recovery.

Our Canyon Country Ministry, The New Life Institute, was founded in 1979. Over 100 men are housed, fed and given the Gospel of Jesus Christ every day. Canyon Country uses a Biblical approach to rehabilitation. By offering spiritual guidance based on the Word of God, guest residents prepare to re – enter the working and social environments with confidence.

Guest residents read the bible every morning, attend Bible studies every evening and receive spiritual guidance on a daily basis. They work in departments ranging from the front office to the kitchen in preparation for the day they leave the ministry. Many opportunities are provided to learn the skills required to become productive members of society.

The Bible Tabernacle founder, Pastor Fred Hilst, believed that the self-contained environment of the facility (an 11-acre ranch away from the city) would help those in need of spiritual guidance to focus on the Word of God. As the name New Life Institute suggests, this is a place where thousands of men have started on their way to a new life with the Lord Jesus as their Savior.

In fact, that description makes it sound like the focus is solely on Christian evangelism. Rehabilitation seems like an incidental goal. Clearly this is a program of faith healing, quite literally.

I have no qualms with making bible study, religious instruction or other such faith-based components an element of recovery. If it helps someone cope with demons, I’m not one to question that.

But it still seems irresponsible to make that element into the totality of rehabilitation and recovery. I’m quite appalled that a court would recognize this program as a suitable course of recovery as part of a plea agreement (though, admittedly, the details of the plea deal are sketchy). It just seems irresponsible to let a drunk driver have non-treatment “rehabilitation,” when the dangers of relapse are great, and the possibility of a relapse could cause serious injury or death to others.

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Here’s a blurb of an AP story reporting on an uptick in the proportion of African Americans playing in Major League Baseball.

NEW YORK — The percentage of black players in the major leagues increased to 10.2 percent last year, the first rise since the 1995 season.

The sport had reached an all-time low of 8.2 percent [emphasis added] in 2007, according to Richard Lapchick, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports.

Now, I’m going to presume that Lapchick’s actual report says something like, “The sport has begun to rebound from its low point of 8.2 percent since annual statistics for racial composition were first collected in 19XX.”

At least, I’m going to hope Lapchick’s report says as much.

Regardless, either Lapchick or, more likely, the unnamed AP reporter who wrote the story really botched their figures.

After all, today, 15 April, is Jackie Robinson Day in baseball, commemorating the sixty-second anniversary of Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier.

And as we all know, before Robinson first suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers way back in 1947, there were no black ballplayers in the majors. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero.

So, assuming your historical memory stretches back a bit further, which is hardly a reach for MLB and its aficionados, it’s quite obvious that baseball’s “all-time low” percentage of African American players was its pre-1947 level of absolute zero.*

I suppose it’s always possible the reporter (or Lapchick) has simply chosen to regard the entire pre-integration era of baseball as statistically dubious, and it giving it the rhetorical equivalent of a giant asterisk for not permitting some of the finest players of the time to play due to the color of their skin. That would be an awesome and eminently defensible stand to make.

But, I still think it’s more likely the reporter just got really sloppy and failed to include an important detail as a point of clarification. In journalism school, that kind of factual error usually garners an automatic F.

* Baseball fans with an even keener historical memory know that Moses Fleetwood Walker, along with his brother Welday Walker, actually predated Robinson by more than half a century, though their careers were very brief, but those old American Association records are often not given equal treatment as “major league” by many.

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