Baseball On My Brain

I’m not a football guy, but…
January 2, 2009, 1:40 am
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The old-timey, romancing-the-past side of me got intrigued by this article that happened to be on the front page (?!?) of the January 1, 2009 edition of the New York Times.

As George Carlin reminds us, there are numerous differences between baseball and football, particularly that football is a twentieth-century technological struggle, while baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game. Well inspite of all that technology, there is the good ol’ football chain gang.

To think about how much football revolves around the first down – effectively the lifeline of the offense – and then to realize the antiquity of the procedure that goes into spotting and measuring the position of the ball, it’s kind of suprising. I had never stopped to think about it – this isn’t, now is it? But now that I have, I have a bit more affection for this classic device which I believe is best referred to as “the chains.”


I keep thinking about autographs

This has been a post I’ve been working on since an ad for Steiner Sports in the latest issue of Conde Nast Portfolio got me thinking about autographs once again. It’s not meant to pick on the Steiner folks – but it did get me thinking about what they sell.

I used to really be into autographs, all the way into my late 20s. I lugged around baseballs and the occasional magazine cover in hopes of getting a player to sign it. I really thought having that signature would make my life better.

And as I just finished putting shelves up for a whole bunch of that stuff, I realize that it really hasn’t.

It’s not to say that there aren’t certain ones that I think are a little cooler than others, but I know that none of them really bring any more happiness, peace, or joy to my life than any other. They are what they are – signed baseballs, nothing more, nothing less.

I guess I could make the case that they are connections to certain greats from the game – players who I watched and got the chance to see play first hand. I’ll give you that.

What does irk me a bit is the buying of memorabilia. To me, it presents a feigned sense of connection – it I’m paraphrasing from an interview with Hall of Fame basketball player and fellow University of San Francisco alum Bill Russell, forgive me.

The reality is that I will never see Babe Ruth or Ted Williams play, nor will I run into Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, or Roberto Clemente at a card show or at the airport. I won’t get to interview Ty Cobb or Honus Wagner on the radio.

To think that purchasing something bearing their signature actually brings me closer to them is, well, ridiculous in my mind.

Sometimes you just have to accept that your path won’t cross with someone else’s. It’s just the way it is.

But back to my autograph hunters.

Given that I’m writing this in the off-season, I’m relying on memory of those I see who get to the gates of the ballpark before they open, rush down the aisles to the prime spots behind the dugouts, and ready themselves with the requisite materials that are the tools of the autograph hunter.

They jockey for position – some amateurs, some more seasoned to the game. They call out names – nicknames, Mr. So-and-so, and my personal favorite, “hey number so-and-so!” Mostly they ask nicely, although sometimes the requests lack common courtesy, or are laced with an air of expectation or entitlement.

Some score, some don’t. In this 80-90 minute ritual before most baseball games, nights are made or tarnished based on whether or not a player signs an autograph.

To be honest with you – I’m not a hater when it comes to the autograph seekers. I may not do it anymore – but I’m not here to tell you not to do it.

What I am suggesting is that you simply be clear in your purpose for wanting that autograph. Is it because it’s from your favorite player – someone who has really influenced you? Is it because it’s from a superstar or Hall of Famer? Or is it because you want to flip it and make some cash off it?

Or is it because you’re simply addicted to the notion of signed memorabilia?

A harsh thing to say, I’m sure, but I wanted to put it out there.

Regardless – just be clear and honest with your intentions and motivations – and realize that ultimately, an autographed piece of memorabilia is just another physical thing that while it might provide some enjoyment and pleasure, it won’t provide true happiness.

The first post of 2009
January 1, 2009, 2:11 am
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My fault for not getting more posts up lately. Simple truth – baseball hasn’t really been on my brain that much. Even with my hometown Mariners making a 12-player, three-team trade, it didn’t really spark anything exciting within me.

There will be a few new posts on in the coming days and weeks – stay tuned for The Hardball Times 2009 review.

In the meantime, here are a few things that have caught my eye in the recent weeks.

In the current climate of multi-year contracts worth tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars, meet Clay Zavada.

Apparently Manny thinks the Yankees are going to make him a three year offer — this article, about a conversation on the radio, made me chuckle about the discussions that I’m sure Yankee fans are having all over the place.

Time to revisit the 5% rule on Hall of Fame voting? Dan Rosenheck thinks so. while the Bats column makes mention of it as well.

And because I loved the book, the Freakonmoics blog asks what museums have that sporting events don’t? The comments are my favorite part of the piece.

This clip from the end of the Seahawks-Jets game crossed my path today – I’m ashamed of both sides…

Remember the hoo-ha about a Red Sox jersey being buried inside the new Yankee Stadium? My neighbors to the south found themselves in a similar situation.

That’s it for now – peace, joy and happiness to you and yours in the new year!

Baseball and Black Friday
December 1, 2008, 2:40 pm
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I’ve been bothered by the whole Black Friday thing this year, more so than other years. I’ve never been big on it, but for some reason – maybe it’s this blog – it has really been sticking in my craw.

I’m only going to make mention of the absolutely senseless and tragic deaths that occured once – those are so hard to fathom,  I don’t even know a proper way to address them.

An article in Monday’s New York Times by David Carr did an absolutely excellent job in holding the media accountable for their role in the Black Friday madness.

But what bothers me is this absolute obsession with consumption that has become a focal point of American attention. There are people who camp out for a day or more simply to spend their hard-earned money on something that will most likely end up in the garbage and won’t fundamentally improve the true happiness and peace in anyone’s life.

I’ve been trying to find some lesson that baseball can teach us about not investing in material things and how to rise above such a thing as Black Friday that ends up turning people into consumption machines, and so far my search has come up dry.

So until I find something – I just implore you to rise above this madness of consumption if you are one who, as Mr. Carr says, hears the whistle of holiday shopping. Realize that consumption of physical goods is simply throwing things down a bottomless pit and will never provide true happiness, joy, and peace in life.

The Three True Outcomes
November 24, 2008, 10:05 am
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Thanks to Dan Rosenheck of the New York Times for starting my Monday off with a good article.

Hall of Fame merit articles always feel like an obituary to me – they acknowledge the death of a player’s career, and almost harken back to earlier days of religion when people wondered whether someone had enough credits to get into heaven, or weather they’d be stuck in purgatory.

But the point of this isn’t the merits of Mike Mussina getting into the Hall of Fame.

Contained within Mr. Rosenheck’s article is a reference to a statistical analysis tool that I had forgotten about – the Three True Outcomes.

Quick summary – the Three True Outcomes looks at the results of an at-bat that a pitcher can truly control – a strikeout, a walk, or a home run. Everything else is dependent on defense to some extent or another, and thus hard to judge exactly how much importance the pitcher actually played in the result of the at-bat.

Take the Three True Outcomes out of baseball and apply if to daily life – how much of what occurs in your life is directly attributable to you, and how much is dependent on the defense playing behind you? Think about work today – did you issue a walk because you couldn’t find the strike zone or were afraid of serving up a good pitch? Or did you go after the hitter with craft and guile and strike him out? Or did you make a mistake pitch and watch it sail over the fence?

There is a key lesson to be learned here about how each of us approach our lives – we have the oppotunity to take more control of our lives than most of us realize, but at the same time, we are all dependent on our defense to help us out. Sometimes you make a great pitch and get a routine grounder, only to have it flubbed by the second baseman, putting the runner on and giving the offense a free out.

And while not all of us are strikeout pitchers, it pays to be aware how much you rely on other people to make you look good. If you’re one of those folks, take the time to thank your defense profusely every chance you get. Congratulate them on making great plays, don’t beat them up when they flub a ball on occasion, be ready to trade them or kick them off your team if they’re costing you runs, and realize that at the end of the day, you wouldn’t be where you are without them.

All of us have those folks playing behind us – and all of us play behind someone else, most likely behind multiple people. Remember that as well – someone may be counting on you to make a play for them.

Disappointment vs. Discouragement
November 23, 2008, 1:22 am
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There is this really fine line that I find myself walking on or near a good amount of the time. It’s the line that exists between disappointment and discouragement, and it’s a line that I need to be critically aware of which side I’m on.

Life is – or at least can be, depending on your outlook – full of disappointment. The weather didn’t work out, you didn’t get the job you applied for, that cute guy or girl didn’t think your line was funny. The car broke down, the lottery ticket wasn’t a winner, or you didn’t get your to-do list done.

Things like this are all around, pushing me, dragging me, taunting me right up to this line between disappointment and discouragement.

What is so important about this line? On the other side of this line is where disappointment wins – it’s where the spirit gets weakened, where self esteem turns into self doubt, and where self doubt turns into a lack of motivation, motivated by a fear of failure.

That place is discouragement. It’s where fear rules, bravery and courage suffocate and die, self doubt thrives and risk is to be avoided at all costs.

It’s a pretty miserable place to be, because it’s where I become afraid to go to the plate and swing at a pitch. It’s where I become afraid to take my foot off of first base out of fear that I’ll be picked off. Or round second base hard and go for third because I don’t want to be that guy who got thrown out trying to be what some will label as greedy or aggressive.

It’s said that certain people lack motivation. I believe that statement is absolutely false. Those people who some think lack motivation only lack the right kind of motivation. Those people who are talked about have plenty of motivation – it’s just a motivation rooted in avoidance of failure rather than embrace of success.

And let me be the first to raise my hand and say that’s how I’ve spent a good majority of my life. I wish I knew whether it was something I learned, or rather, something I never learned, but somehow the fear of failure and the feelings of rejection and loss of self worth that comes with it are things I truly have yet to overcome.

So how does this all fit into this blog that is supposed to be baseball related?

First, I have to constantly remind myself that baseball is a sport that baseball is a sport rooted almost entirely in failure. The best hitters will fail close to seven times out of ten…pitchers are measured by how far away from perfect they are.

As fans, it feels like we’re constantly rooting for our team to dodge the inevitable failure and somehow, just this once, finally this year, triumph. Whether it be to strikeout the hitter, or avoid the strikeout and get a hit, it’s hard to push back against the feelings of doubt and fear.

But baseball challenges each and every one of us to do just that: put that last strikeout behind me and get in the batter’s box again and take another swing.

But how do I work up the belief in myself to get back up there?

Is it a matter of simply blocking out every failure and focusing solely on my triumphs? Do I have to lie to myself and say that success is the only option? Or is it something else?

I wish I knew. That’s one lesson I haven’t learned yet.

Give it to the kid, part 2
November 18, 2008, 5:16 pm
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Baseball has a funny way of working itself out. Or rather, working us out.

As I was walking out of HoHoKam Park in Mesa on Monday afternoon, the 13th and final Arizona Fall League game I’d see in my 7 days in the desert, what should I see sitting just a few feet behind my car?

A foul ball.

I’m keeping this one.