Monday, May 30, 2011

Hometown excuses about emotional damage: O'Sullivan and the gopher ball, Pena and the tag; has baseball come to this? Emotional damage? Really?

One more ridiculous excuse from the local newspaper, unfortunately from usually reliable Sam Mellinger:

“I’m getting more and more concerned with Yost. I’m fully aware of what the theoretical logic is – save the bullpen, especially when a game is lost. But how do you factor in the emotional damage done to the pitcher who has to keep serving up gopher ball after gopher ball?

This, it must be said, is just plain silly. Are we really to be worried about the"emotional damage" of leaving a pitcher in the game when the roof caves in? Has baseball really come to this?

While I don't agree with Ned Yost's obsessive desire to save the bullpen -- for what? -- I think the idea of coddling pitchers like children is as misguided as coddling children. Both pitchers and children are capable of much greater resiliency than common wisdom suggests.

Maybe it is because both have short memories.

In the case of pitchers, short memory is a matter of survival. Standing on the hill in the center of the diamond is a place of great import, whether your wife is sitting on the steel bleachers with four other wives or 40,000 screaming fans are arranged in three bowls and you feel like a bullfighter. Most pitchers are performers. They love being out there. Hell, I even love being out there in the circle in slow-pitch softball though I'm just 50-some feet away from a crushed eye socket. Pitchers are pitchers because they have extraordinary arms, they develop extraordinary legs, and they love being on the hill at the center of everything.

But, baseball being baseball, they are going to get whacked now and then, even the very best. And when a pitcher is whacked, he or she has no place to hide. That's why pitchers take so much offense at hot-dogging, even in slow-pitch softball. Nobody on the field is so guaranteed to be embarrassed several times a night than a pitcher.

If Mr. O'Sullivan can't take it, he should learn to play right field. Period. Same for the young minor league pitcher Yost left on the mound to rot a week ago. Look at the list of Royals' pitchers who have given up 15 hits in a single outing. O'Sullivan is in very good company -- You'd say most of those guys were pretty tough minded... and successful.

My question is why he didn't sit some Rangers on the seat of their pants. Back to back homeruns happen. Can you imagine back to back to back homeruns off Bob Gibson? Neither can I.

My real complaint is that Mr. O'Sullivan doesn't seem to have anything in his arsenal to get major league hitters out. There is a reason why he gave up "gopher ball after gopher ball," Sam. If you want to blame anyone for exposing Mr. O'Sullivan to the possibility of emotional damage, blame the general manager for making him a major league starter.

Talk about emotional damage is silly. Especially when you are talking about catchers. Was catcher Pena afraid of contact at the plate yesterday at the game's most critical point? Had he seen too many replays of Buster Posey? Was his psyche damaged? Do we need a change in the rules (yes)?

Come on. He's a catcher. He crouches behind the plate, inches from the bat, ordering 98 m-p-h fastballs thrown at his face. Do you really think in the heat of the moment he's afraid of a baserunner? He's a catcher, dammit.

Besides, he's wearing armor. He's got the ball in his hand, which is like holding a club if you do it right.

The problem here -- again -- is not emotional. It's physical. Like Mr. O'Sullivan, it has to do with skills. Now, I think Brayan Pena should be the everyday catcher. His bat is making a case for such. But he takes forever to apply the tag. Watch him do it and you'll see he hasn't mastered the instinct of slapping the tag down quickly. Some middle infielders also suffer this malady. You just let the momentum of the throw carry your glove to the ground and you've got the job done.

He can learn. But this intrusion of pop psychology into major league baseball writing destroys the true grit nature of the game. Save it for Parent magazine. Or, maybe not.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

The revolution will not be right back after a message from anybody... rest in peace Gil Scott-Heron

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Jazz simmers in the background.Brian Jackson's funked up sax. Then a voice. Low. Growly. Sure. Tough. Fragile. Uncomprimising. Intelligent.

Angry yet hiding an onery smile, if that's possible in sound. These words:

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

OK, now you know. This is not going to be what you thought it was when you put the needle on the record. It's not going to be like anything you've heard before. The sixties were full of these moments of surprise. Then these three killer lines:

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruption

Suddenly you see yourself and your world in stark relief. This man has us nailed, our world. It is uncomfortable and it is reassuring. What you've always thought about your world is confirmed. We are amusing ourselves to death. We have lost touch with reality. We are living vicariously through television. We want to change the world but our expectations are surprisingly low and our energy level extends little beyond the space between us and screen. And, historically, even MTV has yet to be invented. Then he drops in some topical stuff. Nixon, Mitchell, Abrams and Agnew. None of that makes a lot of sense these days. Skip ahead:

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

Not the same products today -- substitute Enzyte or Lexus and you get the picture. You have to love this even it is is 45 or so years later:

NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised. ....

Then all of this, like a machine gun burst:

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

RIP Gill Scott-Heron April 1, 1949 - May 27, 2011


Image courtesy: Cover/ Reflections, 1981

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What happens when the dog finally catches the car? Mike Bettes' open heart in Joplin; Aaron Barnhart misses THE ethical question in the Star

Watching Mike Bettes, the Weather Channel's tornado chaser, catch his prey Sunday afternoon in Joplin was one of those moments of live television which stop you in your tracks. It was not hard to see that Bettes had gotten more than he bargained for.

The wise injunction to 'be careful what you wish for,' may have gone through his head at the moment he stood among the bare shards of trees and cars, the devastated hospital framing the sky in the background.

Bettes seemed quite sincerely moved. So often television turns life into a game of sorts -- a contest, a reality show. We know it does this to politics and political scientists suspect this is destructive to our schema about what is really at stake in an election.

Talk to a Vietnam veteran -- anti-war or not -- about how television coverage led away from the reality of that bleak moment in history rather than revealing it. My sense is early on Vietnam was covered as a trench war -- like WWI or the Civil War, or even WWII -- geographical coverage that lent itself to maps and advances and retreats, territory taken or lost. Reality was much different.

So, it is no surprise tornado chasing has perhaps obscured the reality of these enormously destructive storms. Mike Bettes seemed to be realizing this Sunday afternoon. We must be grateful to him for allowing his emotions to show. Television is best at showing emotion and genuine emotion -- not scripted, not contrived -- is rare on television these days.

Aaron Barnhart, the Kansas City Star's television "critic", wrote about Bettes today, but his piece was little more than a collage of one-liners from good sources. It was, in modern parlance, well-sourced but it was written on auto-pilot. Barnhart missed THE most important question raised by Mike Bettes at the scene, and today amplified by the presence of everyone from Al Roker to Anderson Cooper, and every television talker in this town.

Let's go back to the moments after the storm and Mike Bettes holding the microphone, stunned and humbled by the utter destruction as far has his cameraman could pan. A man comes up, stage left, obviously distraught, moves into the frame, tells Bettes he's just burrowed out of his house and he needs help finding his 74-year-old neighbor. Great television, eh?

You can see the ethical problem developing like a storm cloud in the reporter's head. Does he help? Or does he film? He tries feebly to evade the horns of the bull by telling the guy he will help and walking back with him to what might have been a house. But he doesn't really help -- what could he do with one hand -- and, if memory serves, we are abruptly switched to commercial so we never really know what came next.

Here's how you phrase the question: Confronted with immediate need, do you continue to broadcast or do you put down the microphone and begin trying to move lumber?

The answer might seem simple to those who are not reporters, which is one clue reporters need to notice. People who aren't reporters say, "Well, yes. Of course." But reporters often take another position, a position their bosses take even more strongly. My job is not to rescue; my job is to report. We all have our jobs.

For Bettes, the argument is more difficult because he was not just reporting but also warning. On the microphone, he was telling people, literally, the tornado is still on the ground east of here, for god sake, take cover. He had a compelling reason to keep talking.

Still, a man may have been trapped under that rubble behind him. He could have put the microphone down, and his cameraman could have put the camera down, and they both could have started pawing through the debris. Would you have blamed them? Would you have applauded?

I was raising this issue in the abstract in class several years ago when a student held up his hand. His father, he said, had been a cameraman at a local television station -- I don't recall which -- and had been one of the first to arrive at the scene of the Hyatt Regency collapse in 1981 where about the same number of people were crushed by concrete as died in the Joplin twister. In fact, he had arrived before fire and police -- a true first responder that day. He could hear cries for help inside the rubble. My student said his father called into the station on the radio and told his boss he was putting down the camera and going in.

According to my student, his boss told him his job was to take pictures and he'd be fired if he didn't.

He didn't and he was fired.

As you can imagine, our discussion went from abstract to real in a heartbeat. That's what reality does. It takes the abstract -- a tornado forming because the jet stream is stuck in a late winter mode -- and makes it real. Mike Bettes gave us a glimpse of what happens when reality strikes and we have to be grateful to him for opening his heart and our eyes. And, in his dilemma, we glimpsed a big ethical issue -- are reporters, when the rubber of a crisis meets the road, observers or doers? Which raises the even bigger ethical issue of what television does to us viewers when it turns its mighty power to making us passive observers rather than doers.

And if the television observer at the local newspaper can't see the real dilemma here, the reality of our passivity will continue to elude us, both as viewers and as professionals in news. This was a genuine lost moment -- on television and in print. If the Star could spare Aaron Barnhart from television criticism and send him to Joplin to cover the damage and the rescue effort, he would -- if he were not on ethical auto-pilot -- be forced to face this critical issue.


I see where Tony wrote on this, too, this morning. I think he missed the point also because he was thinking in the old-school journalism way about objectivity and the passivity being objective requires. That's a surprise coming from Tony's Kansas City.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book blurbs, boxing and the greatest sports novel of all time

Sorry, baseball. The best sports novel of all time doesn't belong to your sport.

It's a book about boxing: "The Professional," by W.C. Heinz.

Heinz is also the mastermind behind the terrific novel "M*A*S*H," which inspired an equally-brilliant movie and a television show that redefined the genre. Heinz, whose name is largely unknown these days, can be credited for an enormous cultural impact.

I began re-reading "The Professional" this week, and one of the things I'm struck by is the blurb on the front of the book. As you probably know, authors often have other authors write blurbs for their dust jackets. It's a common practice, and it's a good way to sell books. If you write a horror novel and Stephen King pens a blurb for your dust jacket, you've just sold a million copies.

Anyway, Heinz' novel had this blurb on the cover:

"THE PROFESSIONAL is the only good novel about a fighter I've ever read and an excellent novel in its own right."

The blurbist? Ernest Hemingway.

I'm not going to tell you about the story, because you should buy this book and read it. If possible, get the edition with a foreword by Elmore Leonard. That's damn fine reading, too.

But I will say that after you read "The Professional" you'll know where Stallone stole the blueprint for "Rocky." And I will share one passage from the book, wherein Heinz writes about a trainer creating a boxer:

The greatest sculptor in the world, working in marble, cannot add a thing. It it is not there, it is not there. No man makes it, and so no man is truly creative, but by subtraction from the whole he reveals it. That is the nearest that man can come to creation, and that is why the great are afraid. Only they can see all of it, and they are afraid that, in their process of subtraction, they will not reveal the all of it, and what is hidden will remain hidden forever. They are even more afraid that, in the process, they will cut too far and destroy that much of it forever. It is that way in the making of all things, including the making of a fighter.

Could truer words ever be applied to editing?

Heinz died in 2008; here's a nice obituary from the Washington Post.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sometimes you just have to laugh...

A good morning laugh is so good for your soul. My grandson graduated fifth grade last night. His mother tells me the teacher read this about him... no doubt written by him: "He plans to play basketball at either KU or Hawaii and... he is good looking."

Now, he IS good looking. And he does have a pretty good jump shot for fifth grade. But that must have been one of those moments for his mother... one of many 'oh-my' moments. You know what they say: What goes around, comma, comes around. Let's just say he and his mother have more than DNA in common.

Here's another chuckle. Tuesday night we're playing softball. Doubleheader night. First game we get our butts kicked but we're doing better in the second game. We might even be ahead. It's about the third inning and right in the middle of the pitch, the sprinklers come on in the outfield sending everybody running.

Crash Davis: "You want a rainout? I can get us a rainout."

What I loved was the banter before the game. Remember, we're all at least 60 years old. Well, the guys are all gathered around in the dugout putting pine tar on their bats, rubbing analgesic into their knees, backs, shoulders, calves et al., lacing up their spikes, working over mouthfuls of sunflower seeds, bending and twisting muscles and joints that have suffered from a half-century or more of swinging bats, throwing pitches and running bases.

But the conversation isn't about baseball or softball or politics, or even grand children. It's about urologists. We're like fifth graders telling fart jokes. We've got wonderful tales about being surprised the urologist was a woman ("This just ain't happening!"... "Hey, that's exactly what I said when she walked into the room..."), or when the urologist has particularly short fingers ("You have no idea...") -- a story which set everyone to squirming--, or stories about a wide variety of other wonderful happenings when latex gloves have been snapped on and the position assumed.

At homeplate, the umpire and our skipper are trying valiantly to get us to take the field but nobody can hear them for the laughter. The ump finally has to walk over and order us onto the field.

Sometimes you just have to laugh in this life. Thank god for my wonderful grandson. He has no idea how many times he has lifted my spirits when the whole world seemed to be raining.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I'll trade you Schwarzeneggar and Gingrich for John Edwards on the All-Cad lying and cheating team

If the two political parties were baseball teams and 'Hypocritical Cad' was a valued position on the infield -- are you following me? -- and I was the Democrat team GM and you were the Republican GM -- still with me? -- I'd trade you our John Edwards this morning for your Newt Gingrich and Arnold Schwarzeneggar.

What? You want me to throw in Bill Clinton, too? He's redeemed, in other words, retired. How about a player to be named later whose lying cheating affair hasn't yet been made public?



Apparently we have lots of cat scratch fever to go around, as The Nuge reminded us recently on the Rev. Mike Huckabee's Fox show.

--Lofflin, reminding you that a man who will lie to his wife will lie straight up to the country.

Nuge album cover image courtesy

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Zack Greinke with a big smile today after a big boy swing

Did you see the smile on Zack Greinke's face just now in the Milwaukee dugout? It was a wonderful thing to see. He obviously made the right move for himself.

In his first at-bat in the second inning, with a 4-0 lead, he drove a pitch to the wall in left center. It didn't go out, but that didn't matter. It was good wood on a good swing with everything in sync.

Back in the dugout, his grin was infectious. In fact, it was More like uninhibited. And if you are a Kansas City fan, you have to ask yourself the last time you remember Zack Grienke being uninhibited. Better put, when was the last time you saw Zack Greinke enjoying the game?

The kid needed to swing the bat once in a while. Heck, a manager and general manager with guts would have made him a utility infielder on the days he didn't pitch. But, that's not how million dollar assets are treated at the major league level. Too bad.

Anyway, it was good to see the kid is still a kid. More later. He has a five-run lead. Let's see if he can pitch when his mind is on hitting. Hmmm... he just threw a fastball past Ronny Cedeno (.222) for strike one.

Later: Well, Greinke got out of the second inning on seven pitches but in the fifth, the roof caved in. This has been a familiar outcome for Greinke, familiar to Kansas City fans. It's like the kid gets bored or loses his concentration or his pitches just flatten out. He needs a catcher who understands this and knows what to do about it. But the difference today is the kid isn't in Kansas City 2010. He got out of the inning ahead 6-5 and the Brewers tacked on two more runs in the sixth. He got the win despite a disasterous fifth.


Fine photograph from yesterday: Michael Sears, Milwaukee Journal

BTW: Tony Pena Jr. is now pitching for the Red Sox affiliate Pawtucket. He's seeing limited action, having pitched in just eight games with a large era approaching five. However, he is still in Triple A, which means he still has a chance.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Joe Posnanski's so-long column, the Kansas City Kid leaves home... Don't miss it

Before you read anything else, go to the Kansas City Star’s Web site and read this goodbye column from Joe Posnanski. As my buddy Kevin Scobee (who says he threw 88 but I swear looked 92 from behind the screen) says, bring a hankie.

Of course, it may be more poignant for him because Kevin has moved to California to find himself and his fortune and he misses his home town. He should miss it, but he should also be adventurous and brave and he should do what young writers do: live and see in order to write. You aren’t writing just when you’re at the keyboard; you’re writing every damned time you really look at what’s going on around you. As Least Heat Moon says, writing is "witnessing," and the key to witnessing is seeing. Seeing in bold ital.

So Posnanski’s words are sharper for Kevin, but they're anything but dull for me. He loved my city, he noticed its charm, he immersed himself in it the way I wish I had. I mean, Lord, he made friends with Buck O’Neil. I can’t even get anybody to recommend me for Buck's seat at the stadium. Posnanski did exactly what a columnist should do: he became one with his city in the tradition of Mike Royko and Jimmy Breslin ... and Joe McGuff before him at the Star.

(If only he’d followed McGuff to the editor and publisher's desk at our hapless local newspaper.)

And he wrote from his heart but also from his mind. He wrote opinion, of course, but he wrote opinion from fact and observation and by actually talking to people and taking notes about what they said. This is a lesson for all who venture into the murk of column writing and blogging. The point of the column was never Joe. Well, it was never Joe until he became obsessed with the cute-ness of his writing voice, then it was about Joe. But, he recovered from such lapses quickly. Red Smith once compared column writing to baseball. If you wrote five columns a week, you simply could not be expected to have five hits in five at-bats.

I’d say, off hand, Joe hit about .300. And I mean that as high praise. His on-base percentage was probably a hundred points higher. This is why you never missed his column and if you did, somebody sent it to you with a note that you really must read this.

I’ll tell you something about Joe Posnanski that should impress you. I sat across from him in another booth once at D’Bronx on 39th Street. It was a pleasant summer afternoon. He was alone in the booth next to the brick wall scribbled with names and dates and messages. And he did this thing that was so generous and – if you know D’Bronx – so out of place for the place. He tipped the guy who brought his sandwich over. He tipped him five bucks. I mean, the sandwich didn’t cost five bucks. The guy was surprised but happy and Joe made another friend in the city, this time without writing a word.

He made me happy, too. I wanted to like him but I was afraid I wouldn’t. I’ve always said, ‘If you like a musician, don’t meet him.’ I was afraid he’d be arrogant. He’d be a jerk. He’d be the kind of person who gives journalists a bad name.

He wasn’t. He was, after all, a Kansas City kid by then.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Hosmer arrives in KC, Mellinger gushes, silliness and victory dances overtake fans

The silliness of baseball fans in this town never ends. Despite all indications, this has to be the most optimistic group of people on the face of the planet.

Eric Hosmer has been promoted to Kansas City from Omaha. People in baseball towns usually reserve such celebrations for pennants and World Series championships. One guy on a radio talk show this morning said he danced around the house when he heard the news and woke up this morning still dancing.

The future, the Star reports, is coming fast.

Remember last summer when the fans were crying and begging for Mr. Ka'aihue to be brought up from Omaha. We want to see the future up here now, they pleaded. They got their wish and apparently the future was not a .195 batting average.

I hope Hosmer pans out. I also hope Alex Gordon continues to pan out. His comeback has been nothing short of inspirational. But what fans so often lose sight of is the simple reality that this game is difficult. At the major league level it is damn near impossible.

So, be cautious when Sam Mellinger at the Star gushes: "Mission 2012 is real now, it’s legitimate, and if you don’t believe it, you can come out to Kauffman Stadium tonight to see for yourself." Not only is that shameless cheerleading (What DO they teach in journalism school these days?), it's also silly. Mellinger knows the numbers. He knows the real odds against any of these guys becoming a big time ball player.

It's a hard game. Ridiculously hard. If it was an easy game, they'd call it basketball and keep the rim at 10 feet.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Zack Greinke pitching tonight for the Brewers... the more things change, the more they, unfortunately for the kid, stay the same...

Zack Greinke must feel like he never left Kansas City tonight. He's 84 pitches into a 90-pitch limit opening game in Atlanta. He's behind 5-0 but he has five strikeouts. And the Brewers have made three errors behind him.

At least we've got Bob Uecker, eh?

And now Uni-B, as Ueck calls him, is at the plate. He's at .250 -- on base percentage .294 -- and down in the count oh-two. And now... a strikeout swinging, low and away.

With that, the end of the fourth and Zack is sitting on the bench next to pitching coach Rick Kranitz. Some Kansas City fans will be cheering his less than stellar outing. We're like that, mean spirited when we're jilted. And, leave it to baseball to make you feel jilted.

Personally, I think the Kansas City fans are the ones who have been jilted -- jilted by the tight fisted WalMart folks who bought and milked the team. Their success so far this season is a thing of beauty. Let's hope the brain trust has indeed found a way to make something out of nothing.

And from this poor writer, some hope Greinke has found a better home and will light up the National League this summer. He deserves it.


Image courtesy Piat Pat Toes. My, Zack has aged, eh?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why on earth did it take so long to track Osama bin Laden to such an obvious hiding place in the suburbs?

THIS IS NOT a conspiracy theory. Let's get that out of the way first.

It's just a head shaker. It's just one of those things when you think about it, you just can't really believe it's true.

Osama bin Laden was found -- after nearly 10 years -- hold up in a house with no telephone or Internet service in the suburbs behind a 10-foot concrete wall ? Are you kidding? And no one noticed?

No one noticed. You really have to just shake your head at the idea because this guy is more famous than the Beatles. If John Lennon was right, that makes him more famous than Jesus.

Could Paul McCartney hide out in such a place? Not likely.

And, when I say, 'no one noticed' I don't just mean just the neighbors. I don't even mean the paparazzi. I mean the most advanced intelligence service in the world.

Maybe we should have put the paparazzi on bin Laden instead of the CIA?

Are you telling me the CIA overlooked a compound they now say was obviously built to house Osama bin Laden? A house whose occupants burned their trash rather than taking it to the streets? A house with no outside connections? With barbed wire around the perimeter? In the suburbs?

This house was so close to its neighbors that one of them tweeted the whole raid looking out his back window, from the arrival of the helicopters to their landing, the apparent shooting down of one of the choppers, the firefight and the subsequent explosion.

This is strange. I'm just sayin...

BTW: You have to give Tony Botello credit for courage for his post on the touchdown dance we've been doing in our cities since last night. Very unbecoming. We're better than this.