Of bat flips and trump

For the past 24 hours, the baseball media has been in a whirl about Goose Gossage’s comments about demonstrative celebrations in baseball. The Hall-of-Fame closer for the Yankees called Jose Bautista a “fucking disgrace” for flipping his bat after hitting a decisive home run in last year’s playoffs. Gossage also took exception to the celebratory antics of Bryce Harper, who himself has railed against the stodginess of baseball.

While my sympathies lie with Gossage (maybe the only time this Red Sox fan will ever say that), he might as well save his breath. Celebrations are in baseball to stay. We can only be thankful that at least the players are still only celebrating great plays, unlike in the NFL where there is a celebration by someone at the end of almost every play, even though the celebrants have only just done what they are paid to do. But don’t worry, it is only a matter of time until that kind of pedestrian chest thumping will work its way onto the diamond.

I played interscholastic football for five years. One game I intercepted a pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown — the only time I ever scored in any way on the gridiron. When I crossed the goal line I just dropped the ball. Suddenly I was swarmed by teammates who wanted me to spike the ball or otherwise celebrate. Even though I was young at the time, I thought to myself, “I just scored a touchdown on a 60-yard interception return. Doesn’t that accomplishment stand by itself without me having to add a little dance?”

As I see it, this is precisely the problem with celebration. It attracts attention AWAY from your achievement. Ask ten baseball fans if they remember Bautista’s bat flip and I’d bet at least nine will say yes. But ask them the situation when the bat flip occurred and I’d be surprised if half of them could tell you. A year from now, while the flip will be remembered, 90% of those asked won’t know exactly why.

It would be easy to blame young people for this change, but I think it is part of a larger societal shift away from content and meaning to attitude and gesture.

It’s why so many divas strain the lyrics and melody of the National Anthem before games. They are not concerned with the words or music, but only with demonstrating their powerful vocal gymnastics.

That’s why Donald Trump can run a successful campaign without making one substantive policy statement. Instead, he’s risen to the top of the GOP candidate list by saying one outrageous thing after another. This is an extension of the sound bite media culture, but taken to another (lower) level. Formerly, sound bites at least had some actual, if abbreviated, meaning. Now Trump can build his lead in the polls simply by promising to “Make America great again” without defining what “great” means or how he will actually achieve this goal. The Trump campaign is so reliant on empty gestures, it’s like playing a football game without the plays and only the celebrations.

So, if you’re a baseball fan, brace yourself for more whoops and hollers and flips of bats. The game is America’s past time after all.


A simple solution to the PED/HOF quagmire

Every year at this time — Baseball Hall of Fame balloting time — we get a plague of hand-wringing from baseball pundits about whether or not players suspected of using performance enhancing drugs should receive support for enshrinement.

For the record, I’m on the side that believes if there is a lot of evidence  that the player did cheat (as in the case of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens), they do not deserve to be in the Hall.

But I feel sorry for guys like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell for whom there is no evidence, only suspicion. There will be other players on the fringe like this in the years to come. And that isn’t fair. I don’t blame the voters for this. I blame the players who did cheat, because we KNOW players cheated. With a few exceptions (Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettit), we just don’t know who.

Here is my simple solution: The players who did cheat should just fess up. Then the game can move forward. Man up, fellows. Anyone who didn’t confess, we’d take at his word. There will be some who still don’t admit it, but they’ll just have to live with themselves.

Imagine Roger Clemens calling a press conference on the day Hall of Fame voting results are announced:

The issue of PED use has plagued baseball long enough. This is not fair to the fans, and it is not fair to the players — my teammates — who played clean. That’s why I am admitting today that I did take PEDs for a significant part of the final decade of my career.

I know this may permanently exclude me from being elected into the Hall of Fame, but we need to set the record straight. I am calling for all players who took PEDs to join me in admitting what they did. It is the only way the game can move on.

Other players would come forward, first slowly, but soon there would be dozens and even more. This act by Clemens would in itself earn my respect and support for induction to the Hall. All it would take is a little courage.

But that’s why it will never happen. And that’s why players like Clemens and Bonds do NOT deserve to be elected to sports’ most honored shrine.

Super Duds

I don’t watch many television commercials these days. My wife and I don’t actually get television. No satellite or cable, and certainly no broadcast here in the sticks. My parents next door have satellite, and we watch a few shows with them, but mom and dad hate the commercials and liberally employ the mute button. As a marketing communications professional, I should probably stay abreast of the latest TV commercials, but they are usually so bad and annoying, I don’t lose any sleep over missing them.

But for last night’s Super Bowl, I insisted dad put the remote down and keep the sound up. I shouldn’t have bothered.

The Super Bowl is supposed to be the showcase for advertising’s greatest creativity. If it is, what a sorry, sorry state the industry is in.

First of all, I can hardly even recall any of the spots, which is likely the worst thing you can say about advertising. I’m going over to, which has a listing of the commercials quarter by quarter just to remind myself what I saw.

I'd like to teach the world to fight over Oreo cookies.

I’d like to teach the world to fight over Oreo cookies.

Oh, yes. There was the Oreo commercial that was just a stupid re-calibration of the old Miller Light campaign, “Tastes great. Less filling.” In this one a bunch of morons destroy a library arguing over whether it is the cookie or the creme filling that is the best part of the Oreo. We had the requisite competing Pepsi and Coke ads, of course. I think the Coke ad was trying to modernize the “I’d like to teach the world to sing” spot from the 1960s; while not exactly brilliant at least it is promoting harmony and not mayhem. And I have no idea what Pepsi was trying to say, but then I never do. I’m not cool enough to drink Pepsi.

There was that movie trailer with Vin Diesel and the Rock. Lots of things exploding. My mom commented, “I have no interest in seeing that.” To which I tried to explain that the studio would be horrified if she did; if an 81-year old woman wanted to see this flammable garbage, either the filmmaker fucked up or the promo people did, because, sadly, the last audience marketers not selling dentures or Depends care about is old people.

That Calvin Klein commercial simply looked like it had gotten lost on its way to HereTV.

And we can’t forget the beer commercials. These seem to come in two varieties, both of which promise that you’ll get laid if you drink their product. In the first variety, they want to convince us that the best way to improve our sex lives is by associating with their label. These ads feature people so fashion-conscious they orgasm just by seeing themselves in a mirror. The second and more common variety of beer commercial wallows in the frat boy mentality — just get everyone drunk, you’re bound to get fucked. The people in these spots are so stupid that even the brothers from Delta House would not want to be seen in their company.

Overall, what I’ve never understood about television commercials is how often the advertisers make the people who use their products look like idiots. Why do they do that? To make the commercials memorable? All this says to me is, “We think our customers are morons. Isn’t that funny?”

The advertisers pay $4,000,000 for each 30 seconds during the Super Bowl to display this dreck. So who are the morons, really?

Three cheers for the Baseball Writers

Gashouse GorillaCongratulations to the Baseball Writers Association of America for proving they are the proper gatekeepers for America’s greatest sports museum. Today they sent the message that steroid use in sports is wrong by not electing anyone* on this year’s ballot to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

I’ve heard and read a lot of blather about how awful this would be if it happened. People who object to this outcome seem to hold it against the writers, instead of placing the blame where it belongs: with the cheaters. Clean players who feel unfairly tarred by the same brush as Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, need to look in the mirror and ask themselves why they stood by and let steroid use explode in the 1990s. Why did they let the Players Association block any efforts to test for illegal PEDs? Good for Curt Schilling acknowledging this after the voting results were released.

Let there be no mistake about it. If players who everyone knows were cheating are elected to the Hall of Fame, it will legitimize PED use. The Baseball Writers have, at least for a time, said you cheat and you don’t get the ultimate prize. Sorry.

The players who cheated could solve this current dilemma very easily. Stand up like men and admit it. That would make way for the clean players. Of course, this isn’t going to happen because the cheaters were never men of integrity. They were slimy cheaters, who wanted a short-cut to greatness and riches. They got the latter. Let them do without the former, please!

*Curt Schilling and Craig Biggio deserve to get in, but they had respectable first-ballot totals, and I’m certain they will at one point in the next few years.

Marvin Miller: Modern day Lincoln? I don’t think so.

Marvin Miller, the great labor leader, died this week, and it has caused a ripple of hyperbole among sports journalists. This morning I was listening to MLB Radio while Peter Gammons, a journalist I very much admire and respect, refered to pre-Millerian baseball as a “plantation.” That is, the players were slaves, and Marvin Miller is a modern day Lincoln emancipating them from the suppression of their owners. Utter nonsense, of course. Baseball players prior to 1976 (when they finally got free agency) made a reasonable living playing a game. If they didn’t like their situation, they were always free to, you know, get a real job like the rest of us.

The minimum salary for players in 1966, the year Miller became the head of the players union, was $6,000. The average was $19,000. That’s for a job that consumed only two-thirds of the year. The average annual salary for Americans in 1966 was $6,900. So the average ballplayer was making nearly triple what he could expect to make in the real world. Not too bad, really.

I’m not trying to make Miller a villain. I believe ball players deserve the right to choose who to play for and for what amount. Just don’t try to convince me the players had it so bad before.

And don’t expect me to jump for joy about creating a new class of millionaire. Let’s face it, someone is footing the bill for those huge salaries and it isn’t the owners. Still, as anyone would argue, no one is forcing the fans to support the sport. It’s a market-driven business like any other. And that’s fine.

Ballplayers are rich, thanks to Mr. Miller. But why should I care? It’s not as if these powerful unions for various sports have done one ounce of good for the cause of unions in general. While the athletes’ unions got stronger, the union movement in America was crushed.

The current average salary of even the team with the lowest payroll is almost $2 million (and for the Yankees the average salary is over $6 million), but let’s ask ourselves how often we see baseball players or any other professional athletes standing on the picket line with the auto workers or any other union? Jim Bunning, one of the ballplayers who brought Miller to baseball, has actively worked against the interests of working people as a conservative U.S. Senator. I’d like to know what his stance was when Ronald Reagan busted the Air Traffic Controllers Union in the early ’80s. My guess is he supported Reagan or kept his mouth shut; otherwise he wouldn’t have had the support of the Republican Party all these years.

So, yeah, it’s nice for the players that they have a strong union that gets them lots of money on the backs of the fans who support the teams. This is right. It’s the American way. Especially the part where they become millionaires and turn their backs on the labor movement in general.

Tim Tebow vs. Bill Belichick

Tonight is the showdown of showdowns in the NFL post season, with the New England Patriots squaring off against the miraculous Denver Broncos, led by overtly Christian Tim Tebow. You’re either a Bill Belichick fan or a Tim Tebow fan in this one. But I must say that it is a little unfair that one side has an all-knowing, all-powerful being while the other just has God.

What’s up, Doc?

There may be hope for us after all.

Whether it’s an earthquake, a hurricane or the Tea Party threatening to hit the self-destruct button, the world has started to feel like it is falling apart (and that’s just here on the east coast of the U.S.). But I found hope yesterday listening to MLB Radio on SiriusXM. A pitcher (with the Milwaukee Brewers, I think) was describing the repertoire of another major leaguer and said he has “a Bugs Bunny change-up.”* I couldn’t help but laugh, then thought we can’t be too far down the drain if 20-something professional athletes still use Bugs Bunny as the barometer of an effective pitch?

Bugs Bunny, the glue that will keep America — and even western civilization — together.

*For non-baseball savvy readers, a change-up is a pitch that looks like your fastball, but which you throw slower — also known as an off-speed pitch. Just keeps the hitters guessing. The reference is to the Looney Toons cartoon in which Bugs single-handedly takes on the Gas-House Gorillas. In one inning, he winds up like he is going to throw the fastest pitch possible, but when it leaves his hand, the ball floats slowly to the plate, and he strikes out three batters with that one pitch!

To stand or not to stand

Peter Abraham of the Extra Bases blog over at the commented on the fact that many baseball players are not on the field standing at attention when the national anthem is played to kick off a ball game. He wondered about this “disrespect” for the United States, and if MLB should require players to stand at attention for the anthem.

I like Pete. He is an insightful baseball writer. But he is a little off the deep end with this inquiry. Playing the national anthem before a sporting event is a bit of a strange tradition anyway. What do sports and patriotism have to do with one another? I doubt that Pete has to stand while the anthem is played in his office before he begins work. Really, what’s the difference? Just the fact that a bunch of people are gathered together? There are special occasions when the anthem is called far. I choke up when the Star Spangled Banner is played during medal ceremonies at the Olympics.

Look it is okay with me if it continues before ballgames. Most people seem to appreciate it. The national anthem is about uniting people of a nation, not alienating them from each other. And I even think that ball players on the field should stand at attention, instead of stretching or shoving another chaw in their mouths. But requiring them to be on the field? Well, that’s just crossing the line into fascism and that’s not a line we should get anywhere near.

Why I am rooting for the Packers this weekend

Okay, it hasn’t been proven in court, and in the eyes of the law someone is innocent until proven guilty, but I’m entitled to my opinion. And I believe, from what I’ve heard and read (here and here), that Ben Roethlisberger is guilty — at best — of treating women badly, and at worst of being a genuine rapist. He’s the very essence of the over-privileged, wealthy athlete. And I don’t believe he’s changed his ways. Five years ago he flew headlong into a car windshield riding his motorcycle without a helmet. You would think that surviving something like that might make him more human (and smart enough to start using a helmet — but there are reports that he continues to ride with nothing but his brute face to protect that decaying brain). But this is clearly a man who thinks he’s invulnerable to the laws of the land as well as of physics. If he learned anything from last year’s brush with Georgia’s so-called judicial system it is that he can get away with it. Oh, he got a little slap on the wrist from the NFL, which needs to pretend it cares about such things. But if he wins his third Super Bowl on Sunday, there will only be talk of his legacy as a great quarterback. No one will talk about the dark side of Big Ben — that is until he assaults another woman, maybe in a state that has an actual law enforcement agency that cares about the truth.

So I am going to be cheering on the Green Bay Packers this weekend, which, unfortunately, almost assures that they will lose. But better to root for the loser than to cheer for a repulsive creep.