Edition No. 4
February 19, 2004
Oh, yeah. It’s just around the corner. Even now, as you are reading this, the Boys of Summer are gathered in Florida and in Arizona, starting their preparations for the 2004 season. Our 2004 Draft is only a month away, and Opening Day is now on the radar screen. Life is good, and soon to get even better.
This past week has produced one of the blockbuster trades of all time, maybe the blockbuster trade of all time. Alex Rodriguez and bundles of cash (the $60 million or so of A-Rod’s contract that the Rangers are eating) from the Rangers to the Yankees for Soriano. Screech must be absolutely ecstatic. The greatest player in the game, in his prime, to play third base for the Yankees, alongside the great Derek Jeter. This team may score twelve runs a game.
What I don’t understand is how Tom Hicks ever managed to make a nickel in his business career, based upon his utter foolishness in signing A-Rod for $250 million and then unloading him to the Yankees while still gulping down $60 million of his remaining contract. The guy is an absolute bonehead. The Rangers end up paying A-Rod something like $140 million for three years of play, while the Yankees get his services for seven years for less overall money. Of course, Hicks had the benefit of A-Rod’s leadership for three years, during which the Rangers finished in last place in their division each year, through no fault of A-Rod.
The Yankees will get seven great years out of A-Rod, probably culminating in him chasing the all-time home run record of Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa in the year 2010, all the while ringing up their cash registers with wads of cash from A-Rod’s winning smile and presence in Gotham City.
Don’t look now, Hicks, but your pants are down at your ankles, and you’ve got 29 other owners laughing hysterically at you.
Good thing that Bud Selig didn’t let the major leagues slide down that slippery slope toward contract manipulation, eh, U-Bob? What’s a good union man (an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one) like you think about A-Rod being a Yankee? We can’t wait to hear.
Speaking of Steinbrenner and his ilk, I just picked up the other day and started to read a terrific book on major league baseball and its management-labor history, titled Lord of the Realm. It was written in 1994, and I either bought it or somebody gave it to me a number of years ago, but I just now am digging into it. U-Bob would love it, because it’s basically a paean to his union crusading hero, Marvin Miller. I always thought that Miller was a labor lawyer who probably started as an underling in the chain of baseball lawyers, but he actually cut his teeth as a numbers-cruncher for the United Steelworkers of America. He only became involved as a representative of the MLB Players Association because the first choice of the players, some judge whose name has been long forgotten, didn’t want to move to where the players wanted him to be based. Since the judge was cozy with the owners – unbeknownst to the players – it was a twist of fate for the players to have ended up with their second choice, Marvin Miller. The rest is history.
I just finished a great book by baseball author Roger Kahn about the great Jack Dempsey, the heavyweight champion of the world during the Roaring Twenties. The book is entitled A Pure Flame of Fire, and is a fascinating recounting of life during the first couple of decades of the last century.
I always thought Jack Dempsey retired as the heavyweight champion of the world, but in fact he retired after losing his second bout to Gene Tunney. The first loss to Tunney was the infamous “long count” fight, in which Tunney spent eighteen seconds with his face on the canvas, but was never counted out by the referee, whom many historians, including Kahn, believe was on the take. I also learned from reading this book that Dempsey was tried by the federal government for being a “slacker” during World War I. “Slacker” was the parlance of the time for a draft dodger. In part because of lies spread by his bitter prostitute ex-wife, the government sought to prove that Dempsey had lied about supporting his wife and family to avoid having to serve in the Armed Forces. After his crackerjack trial lawyer reduced the harlot to ribbons through his cross-examination, it took the jury but a few minutes to exonerate the great Dempsey of all charges, even after his confident trial lawyer waived his right to give a summation at the close of the case.
Lastly, my final offering to you is a wonderful excerpt from the book The Game by Robert Benson, in which he concludes his book by sharing his feelings about what he hopes his own children will have gotten out of their many trips to the ballpark together:
I do not know if my children will remember any of these things when they are grown-ups and taking their kids to the ballpark. I do not even know for sure that they will take their kids to the ballpark, though Heaven knows that I have tried to be a good parent. If they learn to be responsible adults, pay their taxes, stay out of jail, hold a good job and do good work, be kind to their neighbors and clean their rooms and vote in local and national elections, but do not take their kids to the ballpark, I will have failed them somehow.
I do not know if they will remember the tarp being pulled up during the rain delays, or the clubhouse guy who came out that night in the rain and slid in the puddles, making us all laugh and cheer even though we were cold and wet and shivering. I do not know if they will keep the baseballs or remember sitting on the left-field fence or in the dugouts.
There is no way to tell if they will remember the day that we went to the game and looked at our ticket stubs and discovered that their faces were on the tickets, because the team photographer had taken their picture the summer before and then used it when they printed tickets for the next season. I do not know how long my son will remember the picnic on the stone wall or how long my daughter will remember hitting in the cage where the big guys hit.
One cannot know if my kids will remember meeting Lasorda or Durham or any of the others. Or watching Nunez as he would fly down the base paths or Wehner diving behind second base to rob somebody of a hit or Laker hitting one over the wall as though it was so easy that anyone could do it. Or even if it will matter much to them if they do.
Will they remember checking on Nunez’s stats that summer at the beach? Will they remember keeping score next to me in the stands? Will they take their kids to hit baseballs in the spring? I do not know the answers to those questions either.
“What I do know,” wrote Roger Angell once when he was trying to sum up his feelings about the game and the people who love it, “is that this belonging and caring is what our games are all about; this is what we come for.” True enough, I think.
I do not know if my kids will remember any of these things, or if they do that they will hold them to be as dear as I do. But from time to time I have a sneaking suspicion, a suspicion that is the beginning of a hope, that they will remember.
More than anything, what I hope they will remember are the things that the game can teach them.
I hope that they will remember that baseball is game about going home. And in that way at least, it is a game that mirrors everything, because everything in life is about going home again. It is about leaving home, and going out to a place where home is far away, and then doing the things that you must to get home again, some of them simple and routine, some of them occasionally heroic and glorious.
I hope that they will remember that the only thing worth doing is the thing that you love to do and have been given the gifts to do and have found a place in which to do it, whether it be playing a game on a green field in the sun, or teaching a child to read in a classroom in a school, or writing a sentence in a room where no one visits. And that they will recall from time to time that the game that has called them, be it baseball or biology or bus driving, requires that they learn the steps in its dance and practice them well. That only then can they hope to do it with the joy and the grace that it deserves.
I wish for them that they will remember that there will be days when the best that can be done is to move the runner, and to offer themselves up for someone else; that what happens to them is not as important as what they can do for someone else. I wish, too, for them to remember that even the best of us, and not just the worst of us, strike out a fair amount, and come home at the end of the day with not much to show for our efforts. That life is like that somehow, a series of routine plays and sacrifices and near misses that are part and parcel of life itself.
If I could decide, then I would have them remember, too, that there will be days in their life when they will be the star, the center of some universe, large or small. Days when they will be the one who hit the ball out of the park somehow and those around them will cheer loud and long. I hope that they remember that such times are precious and fleeting and glorious, and not to be missed because one is not paying attention.
And I hope that they will remember that there are other days as well, days when their hearts will be broken, when the home team will come up empty, and that there will be little cause for joy in Mudville or anywhere else. And that on those days they can stand up and sing as well, perhaps even more than once, for it is often the only thing left for any of us to do.
In the end, I hope that they will remember some of these stories and add to them their own. I want them to remember the days when we sat in the sunshine, when we were young and strong, and the call to play ball was the best sound on earth.
My sneaking suspicion that they will remember began when my daughter left our seats at the ballpark the night that we saw Leon, saying that she would be right back. She and her brother were whispering between them for a minute or two, and then she went off up the stairs. She was gone for a while, and though I was not worried about whether or not she would be okay, I was anxious for her to get back for the start of the game. She has started keeping score along with me now, and it makes her a little crazy to miss anything.
In a few minutes she slipped in beside me just as the national anthem was over and the crowd shouted, “Play ball.” She tapped me on the arm and held out a baseball. It had Leon’s signature on it.
“It’s for you, Dad. For bringing us to the ballpark.”
Wow. Baseball really is life.
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