Thursday, July 30, 2009

No reason to fear honesty in your writing; Henry Miller didn't, neither did Henry Wiggen

Here's something Matt's writing block suggests to me for our infrequent conversation about writing.

Listening to XM radio yesterday, I heard Graham Nash talking about the wonderful Crosby Stills Nash and Young tune “Chicago,” part of the radicalization of rock music in the 1960s. Graham Nash said he wished he had not written one particular line in the song. The line is:

“Rules and regulations/who needs them…”

Well, I kind of like the line. And in the context of the times when it was written, the line had a lot of meaning. Particularly in rock music, it was important for a song to distinguish itself as coming from outside the accepted line of thinking. In other words, it was important to demonstrate your music had not been co-opted to appear radical when, in fact, it wasn't. Nash’s tag line certainly established "Chicago" as a sentiment outside the mainstream.

Nash’s subsequent regret notwithstanding, the real question here is what writers should do retrospectively about the thoughts they've expressed, and how their fear of the future should impact what they write in the present. I heard Henry Miller speak once at the Actor's Studio in LA, and a questioner in the audience asked the great man about some of the particularly troublesome statements in his work. Miller looked out at the audience -- I'm not sure he could actually see well enough at 80-something to even see the questioner -- and said without hesitation, "I don't take back one word."

I was heartened when he didn’t capitulate. It seemed to me to be the right response. A writer should write from the heart in the context of his times. And then, a writer should live with with what he has said.

Writers can find themselves stifled by fear of what they are saying. How will their family react? How will their colleagues react? How will society react? What will the critics say? These voices are antithetical to creativity.

Because, you see, when a writer -- even in fiction -- expresses something, he is revealing himself; revealing who he is, what he thinks. And, the fear of revealing this is probably destructive to the creative process. His work will suffer if he censors himself in fear of how others will see him based on what he writes. Or, on the other hand, he can be seduced by the idea of writing something which will make him seem like a wonderful person to know.

The writer can strive to show his better self and suppress his worst self. The effort, either way, will not be honest.

Henry Miller certainly did not succumb to either seduction. Perhaps that's why his work still resonates as original today.

As Matt showed us so well, the process of writing is damned fragile.

-- Lofflin, posting again by voice

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


So I'm working on a novel, have been pretty much full-time for the last couple months. The process is going well. It's a very research-intensive book, so that's what's occupied most of my time, plus I have about 50 pages worth of typewritten notes and a detailed outline. Just recently I've started writing the actual book. Two chapters are under my belt, and it's going pretty smoothly.

That is, until today.

Chapter 3 starts out with a newspaper article. I'm trying to write it to look like a feature story that would run in the Sunday issue of a major metropolitan daily newspaper.

And I'm stuck.

I guess you could call it irony. For the past decade, the thing I've dedicated my work life to is writing real newspaper articles. But for the life of me, I can't figure out how to write this fake one.

So I think I'm going to have to take a new strategy. Instead of trying to create an entire article from my imagination, I'm going to have to do it like I would have back when I was a working journalist: by conducting interviews.

Of course, they'll be fake interviews. I'll ask myself questions and answer them in the voice of the characters of my novel. I'll make transcripts, and I'll get way more information than I'll need for the story, then pick and choose what works (you can judge a good news article, and a good book, by the quality of what's left on the editing room floor).

I'm gonna feel pretty silly interviewing myself. But it's the only thing I can think of to make the fake news story feel real.

I am, however, open to suggestions.

--Matt Kelsey, fake journalist

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tony Pena reinvents himself as a pitcher while Zach Grienke is the best shortstop on the team; baseball is about youth, age, renewal and perfection

For me, For Love of the Game is another book which is better than the movie.

I like the development of Billy Chapel as a reluctant hero in the novel. And the novel resonates with me because I often see life coming down to a moment when a man, or a woman, has to stand his or her ground. The no-hitter is an interesting phenomenon in baseball, a singular moment when one player stands in the spotlight and everything depends upon his ability to be perfect. This provides a new dimension to standing your ground. and beyond what happens in the game, Billy Chapel must stand his ground against the greed of management, a common theme in baseball novels.

Of course, For Love of the Game deals with the subject of aging and this is a subject to which baseball is, perhaps, uniquely suited. Christian Messenger, author of Sports and the Spirit of Play in Contemporary American Fiction, points out baseball is an organic game in that it begins in spring, flowers in summer, and dies in autumn. Every spring provides a new start, new hope. Every summer is an experience of reality, as any Kansas City Royals fan clearly understands, Hope fades, truth triumphs.

And in autumn the season matures. Life narrows, and soon we are down to seven games. All the focus shines on those seven games.

And, all players come and go in a similar rhythm.

So, For Love of the Game is built upon that sweet truth -- we come, we mature, we go.

Of course, Billy Chapel does not go quietly into the night.

Lofflin, posting by voice...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Book review: "For Love of the Game"

I thought it would be good to take a break from all these depressing Royals posts and finally sit down to write my review of Michael Shaara's brief novel "For Love of the Game."

Seems like a recurring theme of this book review series is comparing the novels to the movies based on them. I'll get to that in a minute. The thing that struck me first about this book is that the main character, Billy Chapel, plays for a fictional baseball team called the Hawks.

I guess I don't understand why baseball authors can't just use real team names, but it seems like lots of them do this. Malamud's Roy Hobbs played for the Knights. Henry Wiggen for the Mammoths. And Billy Chapel for the Hawks. Sounds like a high-school mascot. Shaara uses real MLB team names in the book, including the Yankees, Giants and Reds, which makes it even more ususual that he would use a fictional team for the main character (unless he wanted to avoid direct comparisons to a real-life player...)

"For Love of the Game" is the story of 19-year veteran pitcher Billy Chapel, a lifelong Hawk (I can't even write it without laughing) who is destined for the Hall of Fame (alongside Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice, who were just inducted today. Rice, of course, played for the Boston Bulldogs, and Henderson was a prolific base-stealer for the Oakland Eagles).

But on the eve of his last start of the season, Billy learns he's going to be traded to a team on the West Coast. See, the longtime owner of the Hawks (ha) died a few years earlier, leaving his sons to run the team. With him died his promise to never trade Chapel. Billy must decide whether to accept the trade and head West or just hang 'em up for good.

Shortly after the news of the trade, Billy's long-time occasional girlfriend, says she's getting married to someone else, and delivers the unkindest cut of all: "You don't need me, Billy."

So Chapel has a lot on his plate. He goes to the ballpark to pitch against the Yankees, and the book takes an interesting (if not overdone) structure: he pitches an inning, then sits in the dugout and thinks about Carol and the trade, then back to the mound, then back to thinking. The formula works in the way that good thrillers work: when he's pitching, you just want Shaara to get back to the Carol-trade backstory; when he's in the dugout, you just want him to head back to the mound.

Unbeknownst to Billy, whose mind is elsewhere, he's pitching a gem, and he realizes later than everyone else in the park that he's working on a perfect game.

It's not a bad read, although I don't think it's in the same class as "The Natural," "The Celebrant," the Wiggen books and the other baseball fiction classics. But this is maybe the shortest book I've reviewed yet except for the short story-turned-novella "A Ticket for a Seamstitch." A fast reader could finish it in an afternoon; I'm a pretty slow reader, and it only took me three or four days.

Now, back to that movie. Sam Raimi had the foresight to place Billy Chapel on a real team (the Detroit Tigers). But that wasn't the only change. In the movie, the female lead is not getting married, she's leaving to take a job in London. She also has a daughter (not in the book), and there's some weird plotline about her car breaking down on the highway and Billy helping her out. Oh, yeah, and in the movie she's not named Carol Grey. It's Jane Aubrey (who knows why they would make that change).

All in all, the movie is about as good as the book.

What the movie did give us is a good visual in the much superior Kevin Costner movie, "The Upside of Anger," in which Costner plays an ex-ballplayer. In one scene a poster of Costner wearing a Tigers uniform can be seen in the background; it's a still photo from "For Love of the Game."

--Matt Kelsey

Saturday, July 25, 2009

And the Cards get Holliday; the Royals got Guillen's slow feet, often tepid bat, and penchant for the DL

You readers may come to appreciate this. I'm sure it will mean shorter, more focused posts.

I'm having some trouble typing for long stretches. I guess four decades of pounding away at the keyboard have taken a toll. I had to come out of the game behind the plate Thursday night because of it; my able fill-in Tommy (Gunn) Heapes did a fine job in my absence. The boy can still hustle down the line to back up first base. I just try to get in front of the opening to the dugout to prevent a bad throw from turning into two bases. Tommy, by the way, added a triple to his stats on a rocket into the gap.

The pain in my shoulder was substantial, but it was also gone by noon Friday. It's a special kind of pain I've been having for two decades -- it corresponds roughly with the widespread use of the personal computer. It strikes different places -- wrist, elbow, shoulder, sometimes in order and sometimes not.

By the way, I have already heard the joke about how I actually got these pains, so don't bother. Trust me -- it's from doing just what I'm doing now, hunkering over a keyboard, hands flying wildly all over the place. The diagnosis is clear because I also get these pains in my left hand.

So, I'm trying to work my way through some voice recognition software. (If anyone out there has some advice on this, PLEASE share...) I certainly can't use voice recognition for everything, but if I could just take care of the things I type for fun each day, I might be able to stay in the game. To a significant degree, I make my living with words -- I love words -- so I'm taking this seriously.

You'll love what happened the first time I tried to use the software to send an e-mail. I was "writing" about this exact problem. I was telling our skipper, Charlie Hiller, I didn't have a sore arm from throwing; I had a sore arm from something akin to carpal tunnel. The computer wrote: "It is something akin to Carl Hubbell." I could hardly believe my eyes.

I tried it again and again the computer wrote: "It is something akin to Carl Hubbell." So, I guess you could say I have Carl Hubbell syndrome. I don't know if Carl Hubbell had arm trouble.

I e-mailed the skipper because I didn't want him to think I was pulling a Guillen.

Which takes me, finally, to what I started out to say this morning. It was inevitable, wasn't it, that Jose would find his way to the disabled list. Something is simply amiss here. The last two seasons he has been late returning from the All Star break. Last year he may have shown up on time but the report was that he was not feeling up to playing. Television cameras actually caught him apparently asleep on the bench during the first or second game back from the break. This year he didn't show up at all for the first game after the break and within a few days had another public meltdown -- this time, at least, it was a case of self-flagellation. Now he is on the disabled list for the remainder of the season, and possibly until he is released or traded.

This just doesn't pass the smell test.

And, the Cardinals get Matt Holliday. Jeeeeze....

--Lofflin, using my fingertips to write this but I'll let you know later when I first manage to "write" a post by speaking. I'm curious how that will affect my style. And, by the way, I have already tried to find out if the voice recognition software knows my favorite obscenities. It doesn't.

Friday, July 24, 2009

On a good team, this would be amazing (but this is the Royals)

An interesting fact in this morning's Kansas City Star.

According to an info box in the sports section, the Royals have 20 of the players on their 25-man roster under team control for 2010.

That seems like an unbelievably high number.

Can you imagine if this was a GOOD TEAM? Or even a decent team with players on the verge of goodness? That's how dynasties are built, friends.

But that doesn't really seem to be the case. Instead of being a good thing, basically what it means is what Sam Mellinger wrote about the Royals today:

"...You might want to sit down for this - the 2010 team might look a lot like the one that's now in last place."

--Matt Kelsey, looking for reasons to get out of bed tomorrow morning

PS - Just after I finished this post, my Pandora radio station must have sensed my mood, and kicked on Van Morrison's version of "Days Like This," which features the line "My mama told me there'll be days like this..."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's wrong with major league baseball? No, it isn't the inability of middle infielders to bunt. It's the high cost of inventory accumulation. Ugh!

What's wrong with major league baseball? Read this quote from a story by Jesse Sanchez on this morning, and you'll know:

"One of the things that we liked about today's acquisition is that it was at a relatively reasonable acquisition cost, especially in terms of our prospect inventory, so that there's no real opportunity cost lost with this move," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. "We'll still continue to pursue further upgrades to the club."

1) ... a relatively reasonable acquisition cost
2) terms of our prospect inventory
3) real opportunity cost lost...
4) ...pursue further upgrades...

This is not the language of baseball, or even of humans. It could be lifted whole from a press release issued by a bloated pharmaceutical conglomerate. Epstein is one of the new whiz kids in baseball management. Wish they'd decided to sell Viagra or cell phone applications instead.

By the way, this nearly unreadable quotation came in response to a trade which sent a real human being, Adam LaRoche, to the Red Sox for two minor leaguers. The Pirate GM said his club is still in "talent accumulation mode." Hope Pittsburgh fans enjoy watching talent accumulate as they munch their hot dogs at the old ball park.

--Lofflin -- thinking this would be funny if it weren't a symptom of the business-speak flu infecting all areas of otherwise human endeavor...

PPS: Noticed in today's Kansas City Star general manager Dayton Moore is fond of the process he is using to build the ballclub. “Our processes are good. Our processes are consistent..." Moore told the Star in his best corporate-speak. Let's hope Kansas City Royals fans, like Pittsburgh Pirate fans, enjoy -- the midst of a miserable nine-game losing streak -- watching the process of building a ballclub rather than watching major league play.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Royals' season torpedoed mostly by bad luck, not bad decisions

John made some terrific points about Trey Hillman's non-use of closer Joakim Soria yesterday. I wanted to apply a bit of a postscript to his thoughts.

Yes, General Manager Dayton Moore has made some bad decisions. Yes, manager Trey Hillman has made LOTS of bad decisions. Yes, several Royals players are performing well below their ability.

But for the most part, the Royals have just been plagued by an incredible string of bad luck and very little good luck.

Injuries have plagued a significant amount of Royals starters, including starting center fielder Coco Crisp (out for the season), starting shortstop and 2008 Player of the Year Mike Aviles (out for the season), starting third baseman Alex Gordon (just returned from DL), closer Joakim Soria (hurt earlier in the year), backup catcher John Buck (out earlier in the year) starting pitcher Gil Meche (15-day DL, but maybe longer) and others.

I can't think of a team in Major League Baseball that wouldn't struggle after losing the starting center fielder, the No. 2 pitcher and the left side of the infield to injury.

And the Royals as an organization can't be blamed for underperforming players. The bullpen has been atrocious, but it probably shouldn't have been. Moore traded away two key bullpen players in the preseason, but he signed two veteran relievers (Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz) to replace them. That should have been an upgrade.

Moore traded for two position players that should have had a bigger impact. Coco Crisp showed signs of life early in the year before he got hurt. Mike Jacobs has not yet lived up to his promise and has been reduced to the role of bit player. (The jury is still out on Yuniesky Betancourt - although he was tried, convicted and sentenced by fans and the media before he ever put on a Royals uniform.)

Now, the Royals have had a limited amount of good luck. Zack Greinke has been something special. Miguel Olivo has been a fine starting catcher. Alberto Callaspo came out of nowhere to have a great season. Billy Butler is slugging. Mark Teahan is playing ball. And Willie Bloomquist - perhaps the bigges surprise of all - is perhaps the most important player on the team right now.

So... The 2009 season will hopefully be remembered for those bright spots. It's not over yet, but, well, yes, for the Royals it's pretty much over. I know I'm saying something that's said after every disastrous season, but hopefully the Royals can build on the small successes for the future.

--Matt Kelsey

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A painful day for the home team; Soria finally gets into a game; Lafebvre and White debate the merits of mailing the season in...

Oh my, what a painful day for a Royals fan.

This doubleheader embodied everything wrong with this team and this organization. The final three hitters in the ninth inning of the second game would be in triple A in any other organization. The pitching was dreadful. The defense (three errors in the second game) was embarrassing.

Worse, and most disheartening, the ballplayers seemed to be mailing these two in. No fire. No extra effort. No joy. The way Bloomquist handled a ground ball in the top of the ninth just said it all. Must have been way past his bedtime.

Or else the way this team is mailing it in finally broke his baseball heart. Heck, even Billy Butler finally looks deflated and he's hitting the crap out of the ball.

The announcers revealed much more than they intended. Ryan Lafebvre started the first game with a corporate apology -- thinly disguised -- for the way Hillman has used his closer. It's not that the Royals aren't going to compete, he whined, but being so far down in the standings it would make no sense to overuse Soria. That doesn't mean the Royals aren't trying to win, he added quickly. But, Ryan, that DOES mean the Royals aren't trying to win. Who do you think you are kidding?

Frank White would not bend on this. From the first inning of the first game to the ninth inning of the second he contended Soria should be used when the game is on the line, even if it's the eighth inning. First, he said, Soria needs to pitch. More than rest, a pitcher like Soria needs consistent work. That's the best way to protect his arm. When Lafebvre brought back the same tired argument about being careful with the closer when the team is already so far behind in the standings as Soria FINALLY came into the second game -- the home team down eight runs -- Frank put it simply: A pitcher like Soria who throws strikes is good for five or six outs. Rather than following the "unwritten rules" for managers, White said, the criteria should be HOW THE GAME IS GOING. Read between the lines here. If the team has a chance to win and you don't have anybody else in the bullpen who can hold the lead, bring the closer in. GETTING A WIN CAN BE IMPORTANT, Frank said.

My goodness, isn't that obvious? Why else play the games?

Frank White wasn't buying this nonsense about saving a pitcher for next year, which is the only way to interpret the strategy Lafebvre was trying desperately to sell. The gold glove second baseman with a World Series ring on his finger comes from a different baseball tradition and a different Royals tradition, a tradition where the game is there to be won or lost, not part of a long range strategy to husband assets.

I agree with Frank White. He's the only person in the organization who knows anything about winning .... instead of whining.


Manny passes Mantle; there is no justice...

A sad day in baseball. A day when a player who wouldn't hustle to get out of a burning building passed a player held together with wrapping tape and grit who got that way because he would run through a brick wall. Manny passes Mickey on the home run list. No justice in this universe.
-- Lofflin

PPS: In the cold (damp) light of morning, allow me to temper this thought. It would be wrong to simply valorize Mickey Mantle at the expense of Manny Ramirez. The Mick was a heavy, heavy drinker and had he taken care of himself Manny wouldn't even be able to smell his home run total. Imagine Mantle pampered by today's doctors and trainers -- let alone managers! My god, if Trey Hillman treated Mantle the way he treats his prize closer, The Mick would only be allowed to play on Sundays. I always liked what Mantle said about Pete Rose in one of his autobiographies: If I'd wanted to dunk the ball in over the second baseman my whole career, I'd of worn a dress. Now, it's sexist and it rankles the Rose-ites, but the point is Mantle played the game full-on, and I like a person who goes full-on in anything.

OK, every time I try to write about Mickey Mantle I get caught in some kind of inconsistency trap, like this sexist remark, and I have to apologize. Exactly what I love about the man, or, the myth he created, don't you know.

In truth, my great desire is to see a woman play ball in the major leagues.

Well, as the Texas politician said: When you figure out you're digging a hole for yourself, stop digging.

So --peace, out...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Novel notes: "For Love of the Game"

Well, John, I tried to get my hands on some of the John R. Tunis books you mentioned in this post, but alas, no luck. They're definitely on my baseball reading list, though.

In the meantime, I've started to read Michael Shaara's "For Love of the Game." Shaara is most famous for writing the epic Civil War novel "The Killer Angels" (his son, Jeff, continued in that vain and has penned several Civil War novels himself, and also wrote the introduction to "For Love of the Game").

I'd never read Shaara's Civil War classic. Unlike my father and brother, I'm not enchanted by the Civil War like I am with baseball. My dad and brother stop at every - EVERY - Civil War battlefield they pass. I don't know why, but I just can't do it. Battlefields don't feel special to me, like they obviously do for a lot of people.

Before starting "For Love of the Game," I had started to wonder why a Civil War author would write a baseball book. But I don't really think it's that much of a stretch. Take, for example, the greatest documentarian of our time, Ken Burns. He's chronicled baseball and the Civil War in multi-part films.

There's nothing more American than baseball. And there's no more significant event in American history than the Civil War. Burns sees that; Shaara saw that.

One more note, to add to John's baseball-as-religion topic. I mentioned in the comments section that it's interesting to see how baseball novelists look at religion. Noteworthy in "For Love of the Game" - the main character's name is Billy Chapel.

It's difficult to believe that wasn't a conscious choice on Shaara's part.

--Matt Kelsey

Friday, July 17, 2009

Baseball as Religion: A flawed concept especially if you are a Kansas City Royals fan; Posnanski sees this, too -- Hey, you gotta' believe

Baseball as religion. Hmmmm.... I've often thought of a pristine baseball field (I have one in mind but I'm not sure I still have permission to be there... so it shall go unnamed) on a cool Sunday morning under an achingly blue sky as a cathedral.

But, that's as far as I'm willing to push the comparison, for a variety of reasons. And, I'm more convinced than ever, watching the machinations of the Kansas City Royals, that baseball and religion -- like politics and religion -- don't mix.

Kansas City Pitch writer David Martin pushed this idea as far as it would go recently and his thoughts are highly recommended here. He compares the Royal's organization to the Bush administration and, surprisingly, this comparison is dead on. Even I wouldn't have thought of this, and most people who have to deal with me daily would tell you they are sick and tired of the comparisons I see between everything and baseball.

Star writer, Sam Mellinger, put together a fine analysis in today's paper of the problems this hapless franchise faces under the headline "What we've learned and still need to know about the Royals." Mellinger's piece looked at the Royals from primarily a statistical perspective. His conclusions made sense. They might even have been revealing to fans and management. Of course, management might respond in its usually thin-skinned manner and just freeze Mellinger out, as history suggests. Again, see Martin's piece on this subject. Here's one link to the Royals' recent reaction to media criticism.

The problem is this. Life doesn't always respond to linear, rational thinking., at least not to the sort of 1 + 1 = 2 thinking we like to imagine runs the world. Physicists like Mark Buchanan, author of The Social Atom: Why the Rich Get Richer, Cheaters Get Caught and Your Neighbor Usually Looks Like You, make a strong case for a much more complicated physics of human behavior challenging the economic model that people will ultimately do what is good for them. And, because people run organizations, his analysis sugests organizations often don't do what is good for them, which brings me to this question:

What role does religion play in this organization's decision-making criteria?

Did the general manager select the manager because he thought the man exhibited all the right qualities for a manager the franchise could afford to hire? Or, did the comfort of the manager's similarly fundamental religious beliefs enter the equation, consciously or unconsciously? Are scouts chosen in the same manner? (If the Royals need to expand payroll, the money should be used to hire the best scouts away from Tampa Bay and New York, Boston and Philly. The reasons are just too numerous to list.) Are players selected, consciously or unconsciously, for the comfort of their religious beliefs (or short-changed for the same reason)? Do religious beliefs make a difference in how a player moves through the farm system?

And, interestingly, do religious beliefs affect the decisions the general manager and the manager make on the field. Strongly religious people obviously live by strong faith in positive outcomes for positive beliefs. It's hard to imagine such a deeply held mindset might not enter every decision a man makes in his life, even the decision to keep sending a tired pitcher out for another inning (if he believes in that pitcher) or to stick by a light hitting catcher with strong religious beliefs or to hope against hope and what's good for the ballclub for the redemption of an outfielder working on his third career strike.

Frustration with this Wal-Mart team, I'm afraid, leads to such cockamamie questions.


PPS: Allow me to add this on Saturday morning from Joe Posnanski's blog decrying the looney Yuniesky Betancourt trade. First, he provides all the statistics which strongly suggest this trade will rank up there with Nefi Perez :

The Royals, obviously, believe this is entirely wrong. The numbers I have chosen to see are wrong. They believe Betancourt is actually a very good defensive shortstop with a chance to be the best. They believe that his problem is that he can be inconsistent but that he has tremendous ability and that with a new start, a stable environment, a firm but encouraging group of coaches and teammates, he can shake off that inconsistency and pull out that remarkable talent.

Notice here how many times Joe uses the word "believe." He's seeing essentially the same thing. He has nailed an essential element of the Royal's philosophy: A blind faith in the power of redemption. Well, even if you believe in redemption, baseball has a lot more to do with the ability to react to a 95-mile-per-hour fastball than it does with character. Just make a list of the Royals' redemption projects across the years. I'm trying to think of one who was redeemed as a player. The Royals may have saved a few souls, but not many games.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The next sports dynasty

If I had to bet on which professional sports team would become the next so-called "dynasty," I'd put my money on these guys:

The Philadelphia Phillies already have the most recent World Series in the bag, based around a solid, solid group of core talent including Ryan Howard, Shane Victorino, Brad Lidge, Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins and the terrific Chase Utley. In the offseason they added Raul Ibanez, who is having a career year, and just this week they signed Pedro Martinez, who should help anchor the pitching rotation.

Now, it looks like the Phillies are the frontrunners to trade for Roy Halladay.

If they can do that - and if they can lock him up to a long-term deal - I think we have the makings of a dynasty.

It might depend, though, on your definition of a "dynasty." I think three championships in five years is a short-term dynasty; then you have the Yankees, who have established a dynasty over the past century.

The only problem with trading for Halladay is the Phils would have to give up a substantial amount of minor-league talent; that could effectively kill the dynasty in a few years.

So, I guess the Phillies GM has to decide: is a short-term dynasty now worth more than a long-term dynasty over the next few decades?

--Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How to fix Home Run Derby

1) Fewer hitters. Match two American League hitters and two National League hitters. Round one. Match winners, round two. You wind up with three "winners:" League, most home runs total, match play winner. Might be really fun to form a third match -- two combatants from another sport or occupation. Winner meets the baseball winner in a final round. From the looks of things in the celebrity softball game, Nelly might be a competitor.

2) Each hitter gets three outs per inning. Game lasts five innings. This way a hitter can't get into a groove. The results are more realistic. The competition is more dramatic.

3) Call strikes. Again, this is more realistic. The side benefit is it will speed up the contest.

4) Ban children from the field.

5) Eliminate the current trio of announcers. They are fingernails on a blackboard. Replace them with one good play-by-play man -- one who understands the value of silence. Bob Uecker would be my nominee.

6) X-ray bats for cork. Or, not.

--Lofflin, JMHO

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A few reflections from All-Star Weekend

I used to love watching re-runs of an old television show called "Home Run Derby" that matched up two sluggers in a home run hitting contest. The matchups were epic, usually something like Mickey Mantle vs. Willie Mays or Hank Aaron vs. Harmon Killebrew. It was awesome.

The Home Run Derby as we know it sucks. I don't have any desire to watch these sweaty, roided-out jerks swing from their ankles on every pitch.

And my goodness, some of them were taking it a little too seriously. Albert Pujols looked like he was at a funeral. At least the winner, Prince Fielder, appeared to be having a good time.

Oh, and one more thing about the Home Run Derby. WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE - Can someone please tell Chris Berman to shut the fuck up?

As far as the All-Star Game pregame show, some of the things were pretty cool. Barack Obama is pretty gutsy for wearing a White Sox jacket to throw out the first pitch. The "All-Stars Among Us" feature with all the living presidents was cool. It's always great to see baseball legends take the field, like Stan Musial and Bob Gibson. (I had a chance to meet Gibson in Cooperstown during the George Brett induction weekend. I've always said even at his age he could still go out there and compete. Same thing goes for Brett, by the way; he could still hit .285 in the big leagues.)

But why the hell didn't Fox show where Obama's pitch landed? What gives?

Also - Really, St. Louis? The giant American flag thing? Real original. I don't mean to sound unpatriotic, but I think that whole trend is really, REALLY played out. Let's retire the giant American flag, once and for all.

As a Royals fan, I'm upset Greinke didn't get the start, but hey, he'll be back.

--Matt Kelsey

Why baseball? Let's read John R. Tunis. Roy Tucker and Razzle Nugent await

More rain!

I've got a game tonight. I hate rain outs. Feel like I did when I was a kid and had my nose pressed up against the window all afternoon. I was, I hate to admit, the one kid who showed up even though the field was under water, on the off chance 1) It didn't rain at Heathwood Park, 2) The field drained amazingly well during the day, or 3) The parents decided to use gasoline to burn the field off.

OK, I felt really silly back then. Today, they'd call it obsessive-compulsive and give me a drug. My father wondered why I couldn't be obsessive about cutting the grass or earning my own spending money. He thought my baseball obsession strange. He understood the game but wasn't much impressed by it. I remember the day he turned in his catcher's mitt. He had to admit -- and this was difficult for him -- that he couldn't catch my fastball anymore.

I didn't blame him then, and I don't blame him now. I had absolutely no idea where that thing was going. Once, in a game, I threw it over the backstop. I threw the next one for a strike. Our catcher came out to the mound and told me to never throw it again. He said he didn't see it.

Guess that's been a pretty good metaphor for my life. Pretty good heater; not much control.

Kind of wish this rain would stop.

One of the things I've tried to puzzle out in recent years is the same question my father had. What is it about baseball? The same question led me to read all these baseball novels. I've been plumbing them for the answer, or at least a few clues. What is it about baseball?

The same lifelong obsession with the stock market and I could hire a service to cut my overgrown lawn.

I interviewed a veterinarian once up in Detroit for a magazine story. Spent the day with him in his exemplary practice. I knew I would have a little time to kill before going to the airport to head home so I asked if he knew of any batting cages on the way. Not only did he know every batting cage for miles, the question opened up a whole new avenue of discussion. He was, he said, obsessed with fast pitch softball. Had been his entire life.

"What my clients don't know is that if they come in for emergency surgery late in the day, I usually have my ball uniform on under my scrubs," he said with an inside wink. "Soon as I'm done, I'm out the back door." He said he now plays on a team with his grown son, who nearly caught up with him on the base paths the week before. Might be time to move into 50-and-over, he said. I was already there.

Grown men -- way grown -- with baseball on the brain. What is it about baseball?

In search of the answer, I'd like to propose that we use the rest of July to read the first three baseball books I ever read -- the starting point for this lifelong literary quest. They're by John R. Tunis. World Series, The Kid from Tompkinsville, and Young Razzle, which, apparently, can be yours for a penny on Amazon.

You have my word this won't be a waste of time. Sign on if you are up to the challenge.


PP: Let me add that if you're of the female persuasion, and trying to understand men, this may be particularly instructive. It may be the best fifteen bucks you've ever spent.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Jon Miller is back!

Man, this is one powerful blog!

Jon Miller is back tonight calling the Cards and the Cubs. ESPN obviously listened. Now if we could just get them to move Phillips to any other night.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kind words from Keith Law about the Royals' new shortstop

Well-respected ESPN writer Keith Law ripped Yuniesky Betancourt to shreds in a recent post and criticized the Royals for making the trade. He says Betancourt "might very well be the worst everyday player in the majors."

Ouch. That's rough. But his criticism didn't end there:

Betancourt does nothing well on a baseball field. He can't hit and has lost bat speed since reaching the majors. He hacks at everything he sees, and even swings at pitches thrown to other hitters. He has next to no range at short. And he never hustles on anything -- not balls hit in his direction, not ground balls he might have a chance to beat out (well, before he let himself go physically). Other than all that, he's Honus Wagner.

Good golly, man, why don't you tell us how you really feel?

I'm not sure, though. No, I don't like the trade - two pitching prospects for a player EVERYBODY is down on? - but I don't think Betancourt is as bad as people seem to think he is. He's a career .279 hitter, which sure as hell is better than the Royals' average, and he's had three pretty consistent, injury-free seasons in Seattle until this year. On top of that, he's only 27, which puts him right at the beginning of his baseball "prime."

I'm hoping this is one of those deals where, in a couple years, everybody looks back and says, "You know, that wasn't such a bad trade for the Royals."

Let's just hope Yuniesky is not the next Neifi Perez.

--Matt Kelsey

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nohitter in San Fran, Jonathon Sanchez hurls first in 33 years: Jon Miller has the call...

Just listened to Jon Miller call the ninth inning of Jonathon Sanchez no hitter in San Francisco against the Padres. It was a dignified and passionate call, almost literary in language. One of the best radio calls I've ever heard. This was the first Giants' no hitter in 33 years; "A night to remember at the corner of Second and King Streets..."

What can ESPN be thinking?


Thursday, July 9, 2009

The taste of summer

You know summer is here when you can buy a decent watermelon.

My definition of a decent watermelon may be different from yours. To me, a good watermelon is a Black Diamond, and the really good ones aren't available until late July or early August.

Photo courtesy

Black Diamonds have a dark green rind with no stripes, and the melon itself is a lighter pink color than most striped watermelons. But the taste is oh-so sweet.

In my childhood, my family would make frequent summer trips to the City Market to buy a watermelon. My mom and dad would pile my brother and I into Dad's 1980 Chevy truck (3-speed manual, no power steering, no power anything) on a Saturday morning and head south across the river to the Market. We'd fight the crowds and find a parking space, then venture in, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells the Market has to offer.

We would walk up and down every row, looking for the perfect watermelon, until my dad found just the right one. Then he'd toss it up on his shoulder like a sack of flour and carry it back to the truck. When my brother got a little older, it was his job to carry the melon, and then, eventually, my job. (That's also how the old red truck was handed down: first to my brother, then to me.)

When we got home, my dad would pull out a cutting board and a butcher knife. You knew it was a good melon when Dad would sink the knife into the skin and it would make that wonderful c-c-c-c-crack! sound.

The Kelseys didn't cut our watermelon into slices with the rind still attached; Dad would cut the melon away from the rind and throw square chunks into a big bowl (sampling along the way, and giving us kids a taste right from the middle). The melon bowl would go right into the fridge to make it nice and cold.

A good melon was always cause for celebration. Usually our old family friend Ralph Lynch would come over. He'd bring the corn on the cob, or the tomatoes, or the string beans, whatever veggies he found being sold on the side of the road. Dad would grill pork chops with a honey-mustard barbecue sauce; Mom would make fried potatoes.

After dinner, mom served us heaping bowls of cold, fresh, black diamond watermelon. We'd sit outside on the porch until after dark, Marty and I playing catch or catching fireflies, Mom laughing and watching us, Dad and Ralph drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon.

I can still taste that watermelon. And I'll never forget those summer nights when everything was perfect.

--Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

ESPN, Where in the World is Jon Miller?

It looked like forever for Jon Miller and Joe Morgan on Sunday nights. Until now.

I'm asking again, where is Jon Miller on Sunday Night Baseball? A quick search turned up serious questions about the Miller / Morgan team late last year across the virtual rumor mill. I'm not a Joe Morgan hater; I can take him or leave him. But I'd rather hear Jon Miller call a game than anybody except Vin Scully or Bob Uecker. Sometimes I tune into San Francisco games late at night just to listen to Miller's call.

The only good thing I could see about not playing ball on Sunday nights this year (aside from keeping the peace with Dr. Lofflin, to whom I made a promise to just play two nights a week...) was Sunday Night Baseball. But without Jon Miller, these broadcasts are dull as oatmeal. And, with the former GM in the booth, they've actually become tedius.

OK, ESPN, fess up. Where is Jon Miller?


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Book review: “It Looked Like For Ever”

The final novel in the Henry Wiggen series starts with a death and ends with a brand new life. But “It Looked Like For Ever” is not really about life or death – or baseball, for that matter. I think it’s about motive.

“It Looked Like For Ever” is substantially different from the first three in the Wiggen series: “The Southpaw,” “Bang the Drum Slowly” and “A Ticket for a Seamstitch.” In each of those, Mark Harris’ narrator spends most of his time talking about one baseball season (1952 in “Southpaw,” 1955 in “Drum” and 1956 in “Seamstitch”). But most of “For Ever” takes place during the off-season. And it doesn’t pick up a year or two after the last book; “For Ever” is set in the early 1970s, at the end of Henry Wiggen’s playing career.

But the book still has lots of humor mixed with profoundly touching moments. In fact, this may be the funniest book in the series, and the saddest except for “Bang the Drum Slowly.” And Henry still narrates in his down-home vernacular, which comes across even more down-home in this book, if that’s possible.

The book starts out with Henry hearing that his long-time manager, Dutch Schnell, has died. Always a little bit on the selfish side, Henry’s first thought is that he would replace Dutch as manager of the New York Mammoths (Holly, his wife, reminds him to mourn first). But Henry is blackballed by Mammoths owner Patricia Moors, and a lesser man is named manager. And, Wiggen finds out that Dutch is cursing him from the grave; the last words he spoke in life were derogatory against Henry.

Not only does he miss out on the manager job, but he’s given his outright release by the Mammoths after a 19-year career as one of the best pitchers in the game.

I forgot to mention something: since we last heard from Henry in “Seamstitch,” his family has grown significantly. He now has four daughters, the youngest of whom, Hilary, struggles with behavioral issues. Whenever she gets upset, she issues an ear-splitting scream that lasts for ever.

When Hilary finds out that her father has been released, and she realizes she won’t ever see him play big-league ball like all her sisters have, she screams.

And it’s here where the novel made me re-think an opinion or two I’ve long held about athletes. I’ve often groaned about Brett Favre wanting to come back and play “just one more year,” or Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds trying to hang on. I guess I’ve always assumed their motives were less than pure. But you can’t really know a person’s motives for anything, can you?

Henry Wiggen decides that he’s going to get on with a team again so his last daughter can see him play.

That’s a pretty damn impressive motive, if you ask me.

Wiggen’s quest to play takes him to Japan, where he’s asked not only to help build a baseball team but also an entire city; to Washington, where a manager backpedals from his promise to give Henry a job; and to California, where an owner believes the ONLY appropriate motivation to play is $$$.

The reader keeps wondering whether Henry will ever pitch again. At one point I was positive I knew the answer. I was wrong.

It’s a great book. In some ways, maybe the best in the series, and a fitting end to the Henry Wiggen saga.

--Matt Kelsey

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Where in the world is Jon Miller on Sunday night?

Henry, you're welcome. We wish you would come to Kansas City and just pitch an inning but if not we'd be happy to take you to Danny Edward's Eat It And Beat It for lunch. Three old smokies, please.

Question: Where in the world is Jon Miller? He is Sunday Night Baseball, in my opinion and he has been AWOL the past three weeks. I disliked the inclusion of Steve Phillips in the booth this year. The chemistry between Joe Morgan and Jon Miller was just right. Phillips simply grates. I enjoyed listening to Morgan and Miller talk even if the game wasn't interesting.

But the absence of Jon Miller the past three weeks, including the Texas - Tampa Bay game tonight, is curious, especially since Miller called the Giants game this afternoon on KNBR radio.

Anyone know?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thank you for remembering my birthday

Well, it is very nice to have your birthday remembered, though I wonder where you 2 were 3 years ago when I hit 3-4ths of 1 century old. It is especially nice when I no longer work on the mound for the New York Mammoths or for anyone else for that matter. I do not even do much work here, hiring out what I can of it to neighborhood boys who have never heard of me except for the 20 dollar bills I give them.

I have a friend who is 85. He wakes up each and every morning and says to himself What? Not dead yet? then he gets out of bed and goes about his business for the day. That is how Holly and I live, too.

Many a person has asked me why I have not become a manager like Dutch Schnell. Holly says it is because I am too smart and because I am not a snake. Also, as I wrote in Bang the Drum Slowly, the one thing I learned from Bruce Pearson is that I will rag no man. Now what kind of manager takes such a vow? I will rag no man, I said in that book and I have not done so ever since.

They asked me to come to your city next week and pitch in some sort of old timer's game. I do not think I have anything left in my arm. I cannot imagine working against your George Brett or your Willie Wilson but I would not mind having a man like your Frank White playing second base behind me. I have thought about how nice it would be to pull up the old socks again and button the front of a wool shirt with the word Mammoths on it 1 more time but, then, I have thought 2 more times about it and decided no. Holly said that shows I am too smart to be a manager and I figure she is right.

I do not know about this manager you have in Kansas City. I think Dutch would have a stroke managing your bunch of boys except he is dead already.

Thank you boys for remembering me. Check to make sure your insurance is up to date and keep up the good work.

--Henry "Author" Wiggen

It's Henry Wiggen's birthday!

Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

For baseball fans and Mark Harris fans, July 4 has a different meaning, though. Today is Henry Wiggen's birthday! According to "The Southpaw" and other books in the Wiggen series, Henry "Author" Wiggen was born July 4, 1931, in Perkinsville, New York.

Happy Birthday, Author! Thanks for the continuing inspiration you provide on this blog.

July 4 is also a special day for non-fictional baseball history. On this day 70 years ago, Lou Gehrig gave his farewell speech - the "Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" speech - at Yankee Stadium.

Major League Baseball has created a program called 4ALS to help find a cure Lou Gehrig's Disease. Check out the Web site here.

All big-league players will be wearing a 4ALS patch today, and every Major League game today Gehrig's speech will be read during the Seventh Inning Stretch.

For those of us not lucky enough to be attending a ball game today, here's some footage from July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium. It's not the whole speech, but it's a good compilation of the day's events:

The full text of the speech can be read, and heard, here.

--Matt Kelsey

Friday, July 3, 2009

This is a Michael Jackson, Jon & Kate - Free Zone: Thinking about Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" at 20

I've been thinking about civility lately. We're working on civility at the university, attempting to identify what it looks like when it happens and what it doesn't look like (which is much easier). We're trying to find that fine line where free speech becomes harmful speech.

Sissela Bok postulates you always need a reason to lie but not to tell the truth.

As a journalist, I agreed with her at first. But 20-some classes of students talking about the same idea have taught me to think again about it. Maybe you need an excuse sometimes to say something you think is absolutely right but also hurtful. Then, again...

What, for example, is the difference between passionate speech and angry speech?

What we've found in our working group deliberations, instead of answers, is the therapeutic nature of free speech. In particular, we've found how powerful it is to say things honestly to each other, to trot it all out the way people trot out their belongings for a yard sale -- that old couch over there, the broken lamp here, the high chair we think we'll never need again out by the street.

Thinking about this reminded me of "Do The Right Thing," Spike Lee's brilliantly profane film which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. I thought strongly about bringing in a clip of the infamous scene where each character simply stands in the street shouting racial slurs into the camera. It is a testament to a film when well-meaning people are afraid to show clips from it even though those clips perfectly fit the situation.

"Do The Right Thing" was beautifully photographed. The way Lee used the camera to create unexpected points of view reminded me of "Rebel Without A Cause." The dialogue was Henry Wiggen in a completely different context. The voices were so real they hurt.

And the film raised as many ethical questions as it answered. For example, Lee decided before he made the film no one in it would smoke. He said he wanted to undo the stereotype of African-Americans as smokers. I think only a couple character are shown drinking alcohol in the film and I can't recall a character who was drunk in any scene. This is, of course, a lie. But, is it a justifiable lie?

Lee might say African-Americans have been subjected to lies about themselves and their communities from the invention of film. And, he'd be right.

Here's another ethical dilemma. I read an interview with Rosie Perez. She said she cried through the entire scene where she appeared in the nude -- the ice cube scene -- which killed the eroticism of those wonderful goosebumps for me forever.

And, of course, the solution to the film, what appears to be Lee's answer to what "the right thing" is, raises more questions than it answers. When he raises the trash can over his head as the protagonist Mookie and hurls it through the window of Sal's Pizzeria, you can't help but cheer.

Brecht warned the use of catharsis in theater in his time, the 1930s and 1940s, had fallen to the level of bourgeois drug traffic. Lee, however, turns catharsis on its noodle. Here, the catharsis we feel makes us everything we wish not to be. It feels good, it feels right, it feels bad and it feels wrong, all at the same time.

Is it therapeutic? After 20 years, I still don't know. But I do know this. Any film which can keep you engaged in a single question for two decades, certainly did its job.