Monday, April 23, 2007


Sir Saunders came over on Saturday to visit me during my Meniscus recovery and he said two things that will forever become part of my consciousness.

While describing to him the movie, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, he said the whole phenomenon was an example of the PROFIT OF DOOM myth and then explained the psychology behind it. Though he admitted that he did not coin the phrase, I bet the guy who did would have had a tough time competing with Sir Saunders description. Steve promises a Junto Boys post on the matter soon.

As we discussed the war in Iraq and the incredible lack of historical perspective in the media and politics, Steve said that he thought he understood why our country changed after World War II. That was a war that we could have legitimately lost, especially after the Japanese crippled our Pacific fleet, and therefore the populace was very invested in American victory. The wars we have fought since could only be lost politically and since they can be won or lost without a change of American lifestyle, there is no public urgency to win.

It immediately brought to mind two Olympic moments that capture the same spirit. In 1980, ABC’s Al Michaels openly cheered the underdog American Hockey team to victory. In 1992, NBC’s Bob Costas apologized as the Dream Team bore a hole through every basketball team on their way to the gold. Same result, two journeys.


I am so happy that Steve Whitaker invited me into the ESPN baseball league and Dude talked me into joining. It comes at a great time with the demise of online poker and it has really reminded me how much I enjoy baseball even despite the people who run it. After our draft in March I read THE HEAD GAME (Review Soon) by Roger Kahn (Boys of Summer). It deals with pitching through the ages. Thoughtful baseball writers can really make the game richer for the thoughtful fan.

Back and forth to the doctor’s office and when ever I have a little time I’ve been slowly enjoying Roger Angell’s SEASON TICKET. Angell has a half dozen or so books that collect his NEW YORKER pieces on baseball. This book is a collection of his stuff from the 1980s before ESPN’s Baseball Tonight when I followed baseball every week in the Sporting News. This collection brings back a lot of memories about players during our early years of the IBL.

One great piece deals with the art of catching and how guys like Carlton Fisk, Bob Boone and Ted Simmons approach it. Johnny Bench had recently retired but his lore hung over the whole discussion. There were arguments in the 1980s about how Johnny’s one handed catching style hurt a lot of other catchers who weren’t good enough copy it effectively and throw out base runners. Angell explains that it began in the 1960s when the catching glove was given a bigger pocket. Before that the ball wouldn’t stick in the glove and you had to use your second hand to catch it after the pop. My dad had a catcher’s mitt like that but it was very tough to use when we were playing ball back in the 1970s. The glove was all cushioned padding. No matter how hard anyone threw you couldn’t feel it, but it would immediately drop to the ground if your second hand wasn’t there to catch it. The discussion in the article is that the two handed method was tougher, but made the catcher ready to throw like or not.

Although guys like Pudge Rodriguez are impossible to run on, I wonder if the base stealing increase is the long-term effects of the glove change. The most interesting thing 20 years hence is that Johnny Bench, lionized in the article, is rarely talked about anymore when it comes to the art of catching. Even his teammate, Joe Morgan, doesn’t make the comparisons you’d expect. His legacy now seems to be that of a good hitting catcher. I’ve got a couple of other Angell books around that I have picked up here and there that I am going to spend some time with this summer. If you see any at a used bookstore they’re worth the small investment.


Last week, the knee doctor said the Meniscus surgery was optional depending on whether I could live with the pain. Well, I have a high tolerance to pain and since January the pain has been worse than my herniated discs. I’ve been in an almost constant limp. I hate medical shows, but the orthoscopic pictures fascinate me. This is what my torn meniscus looked like:

See the feather-like thing jutting out? That’s the torn part. I thought it would be one simple tear, but it’s more like a frayed quilt. The doctor told Trish that the tear was much worse than the MRI indicated and that now she understood why I insisted on the surgery. All of that garbage was rubbing against the nerves and making me walk like Walter Brennan from Rio Bravo.

After the 30 minute procedure, here is the result:

Nice and smooth. What surprised me is that the surgery itself has caused some swelling and tightness, but the pain I was originally feeling was immediately gone because the meniscus has no nerves to hurt and the surgery ended the irritation. Now I just have these two little holes and some weakness when I walk. I expect to be back to work the first Monday in May. A part of me wants to get back sooner, but the doctor and the health services lady at work said that taking it slow will ensure a smoother recovery. More Angell until then.


Drudge has been running with the Sheryl Crow suggestion of limiting toilet paper to one square per visit. The good thing about the public environmental movement is that it provides example after example of unreasonableness. The celebrities that push for limitations are easily found cheating in their personal lives. Unlike her transportation uses maybe Crow figures that she can’t be policed here and this is the beginning numerous proposals from Crow concerning things only known privately. Maybe I’m not getting enough of something in my diet, but one square won’t cut it 90% of the time for me.

Rush and Hannity both referenced this today, but neither made the comparison to the old Soviet Union that forced this behavior through scarcity of toilet paper. You wouldn’t exactly call their air and water clean, would you? But instructive in that the environmental movement wouldn’t mind creating a little scarcity and these celebrities wouldn’t lament much of life in the Soviet Union as long as they maintained their Party Membership like economic privileges.


Now baseball and politics. Last week a columnist for the Detroit News, Rob Parker, called Hank Aaron a coward for his no comment on Barry Bonds.
It comes down to accusations Bonds used steroids, even though the slugger hasn't been found guilty.What's Aaron's problem?

Well, he needs to take a stand -- either denounce Bonds' attempt because he's been implicated in the steroids scandal, or embrace Bonds' accomplishment and show up.
Playing middle of the road isn't fair -- to baseball, its fans or Bonds.

Instead, Aaron has chosen the easy way out -- saying nothing. That's sad.

I know that columnists usually make their reputations taking strong and sometimes foolish stands. I have written some foolish blog entries, I’m sure. But calling Hank Aaron a coward misunderstands the generational gap between the “in your face” young athletes of today and the poise in which the older generation conducted themselves on and off the field.

Hank Aaron is in a bad spot. We all know that Barry Bonds cheated and Aaron doesn’t want to support a cheater. A loud-mouth jerk like Bonds would say so without a thought, but Hank Aaron took the classy approach by letting his actions speak rather than mouthing off. Parker continues:
How ironic for Aaron, who was the pillar of courage during his pursuit of one of the most important records in American sports.

As he approached Babe Ruth's record of 714 homers, critics claimed Aaron played in more games than Ruth, in smaller parks and against watered-down pitching. And, don't forget all the hate mail and racism Aaron was subjected to.

And, did he forget then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn didn't attend the record-setting game in 1974? If anyone knows what it's like to pursue a record while others try to ignore or discredit you, it's Aaron.

This is an example of a growing trend to make an argument based on similar looking events while ignoring the context of those events. No one ever suggested Hank Aaron is a cheater while Bonds has been implicated in the Balco scandal. It’s not about whether Barry Bonds has been found guilty in court. He could have subjected himself to the necessary steroid tests to clear himself when this scandal popped up years ago. Rather than clear himself he’s been running out the clock and MLB and the player’s union have let it happen every step of the way.

So Hank Aaron is supposed to support or denounce him to show his own bravery? Hank Aaron went through every hardship that Jackie Robinson did. MLB is lucky that Aaron didn’t break the color barrier now that they’re letting the pampered Bonds steal his record.

ESPN use to play the old 1950s show HOME RUN DERBY where two All-Star caliber players would matchup. What I always found interesting about the show is how the opposing player would be on the microphone providing commentary with the host as the other guy hit. They always had an “aw shucks” persona and complimented the other guy’s style and ability. That’s exactly how Hank behaved when he was on the show too.

Rob Parker misunderstood Aaron’s silence for cowardice when it is, in fact, class. That’s not something that Parker is use to in athletes he covers. That’s also something about that era in sports that doesn’t get much ink either. These guys make a lot of money now and too many of them mistake that money and fame for importance. In the fantasy league we’re playing on ESPN, you can send another owner a “smack” card and I suppose that’s supposed to be hip and edgy.

I much prefer the style that lets people compete on the field and expects them to shake hands and be humble in victory or defeat. I admire Aaron a great deal for his handling of this and I wish others could find appreciation in this last glimpse of a gentler era.


Thinking back to Gore’s movie and that strain of the environmental movement I’m reminded of a theme in Whit Stillman’s movie Metropolitan. The affluent kids wonder about whether or not they’ll be successful in their careers and there is real worry because they have their own parents as a benchmark. Some even say that their own parents, though comfortable, feel like failures compared to the grandparents. Charlie says that one way of dealing with it is getting involved in charity work or the arts where involvement alone is seen as success because even if they are a failure at it, no one will ever know. Think of that if you see the Gore movie or see it again.


And speaking of movie, have you seen UNITED 93? I saw it a few months ago under the duress of not looking forward to it. What I saw is the best movie of 2006. It was on HBO the other night if you subscribe, otherwise do yourself a favor and rent it. We all know the story or think we do, but the film fills in a lot of gaps about how the air traffic controllers and the military were putting the pieces together throughout the morning. And even though you know the ending, the events as portrayed on United 93 offer a hope anyway. For as bad as that day was and as hard as it is to see such brave people die, I was so impressed with their bravery and how quickly they were ready to sacrifice their lives to save strangers on the ground. It’s a glimpse into the kind of America not portrayed in our media, but one of the big reasons America is a great country.


Also speaking to Steve’s earlier thought about World War II being a war that we could have lost and thus the united country, 9-11 was surprising and shocking and our country united because we expected it to be the first of many such attacks. You cannot measure how much Bush’s offensive strategy in defeating terrorists is the reason for no further attacks, but further attacks certainly would have created a consensus behind Iraq and Iran that we don’t have now. Further attacks would have become willingness for 10 times the casualties we now suffer. The quiet times let us slide right back into the David and Goliath perception in the media.

Bush said today that politicians shouldn’t get in the way of the Generals running the war. Reid replied that the White House said those remarks were made in the state of Michigan, but Reid believes they were made in the state of denial. Very poetic, Harry. Denial is believing those in the Middle East wish us no harm and withdrawing will end the conflict between us and that ideology.


BAND OF BROTHERS, I think, is the best TV mini-series of all-time. Since World War II isn’t out-of-bounds when it comes to heroism and rooting for our team, this Spielberg/Hanks production is a real satisfying story and good enough to watch multiple times. I’m sure much of this is due to Stephen Ambrose’s excellent writing and respect for the men portrayed.

Good Monday, my friends.

1 comment:

Sir Saunders said...

Great blog here Tom. To expound on your thought, what we DO need is a worthy enemy. We haven't really had one since the Communists. The last good fight was WWII. But as was said in your blog, it was because there was a geniune chance of us losing. We could have lost everything, our culture, way of life, etc. I believe Islamic Fasists are just as dangerous. But it will take several more 9/11's or even a nuke on US soil, before EVERYONE really gets on board with it.

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