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I Hate Interleague Baseball

23 May

If St. Peter is a baseball fan, Bud Selig will never get through the Pearly Gates because the Commissioner of Baseball rammed through interleague play into the baseball season. There are many excellent technical reasons why interleague play hurts baseball. Most of them are presented here by Sports Illustrated’s Joe Sheehan. He makes the case better and in more detail than I can. But, in sum, he says interleague play hurts the pennant races in both leagues. And pennant races, beside the game itself, is what makes baseball fun.

I especially hate interleague play because it ruins one of the most pleasant pastimes a baseball fan can have: perusing the box scores in the newspaper or online. For a fan, reading a box score is an exercise in imagination. Not only can you see how both teams did in a given game, but because you follow the standings, you instantly can envision how the outcome of a given game can affect whether a team will rise or fall against the competition in its league and division. But with interleague play a loss or a win doesn’t work the same. Your favorite team can win a game, even sweep a series from an opponent from another league, but because of the awfulness of interleague play, it may not gain an inch in the pennant race. So, you now need to look across the abomination of all the interleague games and figure the whole thing out piecemeal. It sucks innate baseball knowledge dry.

Interleague play is worse than the designated hitter rule.

So, I don’t even bother looking at the box scores during a wretched interleague play weekend like this one. And I won’t watch tonight’s game on ESPN, which, without even looking, I’m betting will be the Mets vs. Yankees because that’s what it always is. (Bud Selig is not only evil, he’s pathetically predictable.) That doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy some sports tonight. The NBA is in the midst of its playoffs. Instead of ESPN, I’ll be watching TNT and wishing Bud Selig a long hot stay in hell.

My Obsession With Numbers

16 May

After eight years, tens of thousands of miles, hours upon hours of use and abuse in all kinds of weather, my CicloMaster died. It had tracked my miles, my speed, my time, and other statistics as I pedaled my bicycle around the state of Oregon.

It also fed my obsession with numbers. It was a steady fix, an injection of facts and figures shot directly into my brain. They measured more than how far I’d ridden my bike or how fast. In some sad, sick way, they measured who I am.

With society as my primary pusher, I’ve been addicted to numbers since childhood. Without them, I would not exist. Growing up, what would I have been without my grade point average? How could I have progressed lacking SAT or GRE scores? In sports I kept a close eye on my batting average in baseball and how much I could bench press in the weight room. Later, as I built a career, the best way to evaluate success was my salary’s number.

Happiness, satisfaction, meaning, or purpose seldom played a part in calculating my advance through life. How could they? What does happiness weigh? How fast is satisfaction? What’s the point total for meaning? Does purpose have an average score? Society never patted me on the head because I felt joy in my heart. But it sure gave me hearty backslaps for achieving some good numbers.

I wish I could say that the death of my CicloMaster has liberated me. Far from it. I immediately replaced it with a Garmin Edge 205, which spits out even more numbers about each ride I take and delivers more data about my overall biking history. It satisfied my numbers jones nicely.

Despite knowing the ephemeral, even meaningless nature of the numbers that summarize my life, I can’t help myself. I’m addicted. Without them I would not know who I am. Perhaps, as I said, I would even cease to exist.

Willie, Racism, & Me

4 May

Full disclosure: I am a baseball fan; moreover, I am a San Francisco Giants baseball fan, and have been since I attended my first game at Candlestick Park in 1961, the year after it opened. I was nine years old.

That’s why I was thrilled when my good friend Stan sent me his copy of Willie Mays: The Life. The Legend (Scribner, 2010), a brilliant authorized biography by James S. Hirsch. Although a fan of the game, I seldom read books about sports or sport figures. But Stan promised me Hirsch did not simply relate wonderful anecdotes about Mays and baseball, but told a story about a vital part of the era in which the great ballplayer ruled over America’s pasttime.

My friend was right. Hirsch’s biography reveals as much about this nation’s race relations and the struggle for civil rights as it does about the complex cypher we call the Say Hey Kid. But he also reveals how strongly attached children, particularly young boys, were to Willie Mays. He was our hero. He played the game joyously in major league ballparks, just as we played the game in city streets and suburban playgrounds. We did not want to grow up and be as good as as Mays. We wanted to be Willie.

Scrawny white kids like me would imitate the great centerfielder’s basket catch. We’d run as fast as we could so that our caps would fly from our heads just as his did. Whenever any of us would make a nice play the ultimate accolade would be: “Just like Willie Mays.”

Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial, and other great players of the era never connected as deeply with kids as Mays could. That’s because kids knew that Willie’s affection for them was completely genuine. Hirsch, who sprinkles stories about Mays’s special relationship with kids throughout his 600-plus page tome, devotes an entire chapter to the ballplayer’s love and dedication to children. “Youth Is Served” ought to be required reading to any person lucky enough to sign a professional sports contract.

In just one of many instances from the book, someone recalls an event Mays attended for some underprivileged kids. “[He] did this for no money, no publicity, no conditions whatsoever. He did it just because he loved kids, plain and simple.”

Willie would do anything for children. Maybe that’s why I was able to intervene on his behalf in an adult argument when I was 11 years old.

My stepfather had three daughters from his previous marriage. Two were married; one to a giant of a man, whose size and booming voice utterly intimidated me and I always tried to steer clear of the man.

It was 1963 and he was in a loud argument with my stepfather at some social gathering at our house. He was berating his father-in-law for not using his position in the community “to stomp those niggers.” I can remember that phrase because the word “stomp” was a common playground term used by bullies and “nigger” was a word never uttered in our home.

My stepfather offered a lackluster defense of his unwillingness to “stomp” anyone, probably more for sound business reasons than for any devotion to civil rights. But after listening to their row for a few minutes, I screwed up my courage and squeezed between the two men. I remember looking way up to my step-brother-in-law and in a shaking voice demanded to know how could he be against Negros. I reminded him that he, too, was a baseball fan, even a San Francisco Giants fan, and that Willie Mays was the not just the greatest Giants player, but the greatest baseball player ever. And because Mays was a Negro, it was illogical for him to want to “stomp” him, too. Or so I remember the thrust of my innocent reasoning.

He just looked down on me, and with a face full of hate that chills me to this day, said, “Willie Mays is just a nigger just like the rest of them.”

My stepfather quickly shooed me away. I remember crying alone in my bedroom, ever more fearful of my step-brother-in-law.

While Hirsch’s biography of Mays brought back that memory, more importantly, it retold the times in which black men like Mays, even after they had become legends, had to endure people like my in-law and worse. But it also reminded me that children don’t think about skin color when they meet other people. It’s adults who poison their minds with foul ideas. Willie Mays knew that, which is why, to this day, he prefers to be in the company of kids rather than that of adults. Who can blame him?