Bread and Circus

An online journal of culture

Category: sports

Baseball: Finding Misery in Other People’s Joy

by Editors


baseball-skyline.jpg

BASEBALL NOTES

Finding Misery in Other People’s Joy

By Frank J. Colagiovanni

On Monday afternoon, the day after the Boston Red Sox won the American League Pennant, I was clicking through a few stories on the local newspaper web sites. I was at the game, had a great time and wanted to read about it in an effort to keep the good feelings going. In the Boston Herald, I came across a letter to the editor that I read, re-read, and then read a third time.

The writer, a woman from Brookline, Massachusetts, opens her missive to Red Sox fans-let’s be clear about that-with a statement so obtuse, so filled with arrogance and condescension that it actually took my Red Sox “buzz” known a notch.

She begins,

“Each October (barring the anomaly of 2004), as I see hubris and idol-worship shatter around me, I wonder: Will Sox fans put all that precious time and energy to better use, such as by working to help save our environment, improve our educational system, stem urban violence or stop global genocide?”

Reading this, I wonder — are these mutually exclusive? If I devote precious time and energy — and don’t forget money — to enjoying the Red Sox, do I do so at the exclusion of everything else? Does the time I spend at Fenway in October — or in July for that matter — negate the time I spend volunteering? Does the writer spend all her time devoted to the causes she listed?

And then she continues:

“Will they realize that big money rules every aspect of baseball? Will they (and especially, their kids) realize that second or third place still matters? That the “World” is actually the North American Series? That social workers, teachers, health care providers, community organizers and First Responders are the true heroes and heroines of society?”

And while the money involved with baseball is staggering, should that chase all enjoyment from it? If a ticket for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, or the Boston Ballet — all well endowed organizations to be sure — goes for a price the writer deems too high, does that change the sound of the music? Does that make it ruled by big money? The Kroc family donated $200 million of the McDonald’s restaurant fortune to National Public Radio; is NPR ruled by “big money?” Wang computers donated the money for the Wang Center. Bill and Melinda Gates have given millions upon millions to different organizations-and you can’t get much more “big money” then them.

The Boston Red Sox have, over the past 50 plus years, donated and facilitated the donation of millions to fight childhood cancer through the Jimmy Fund. I’d call that big money.

And the fact is, it is a World Series. The best players from around the globe come to the United States to play in the Major Leagues for the very reason that this is the summit of the sport. She might notice that David Ortiz, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima don’t have Hyde Park Boston accents. The guy with that accent is Manny Delcarmen, drafted by the Red Sox out of West Roxbury high school. The Red Sox, like most teams, are made up of the very best, no matter where they come from.

There’s nothing wrong with second or third place. Second and third still matter, but that doesn’t mean that striving for first is a bad thing. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you still need to try-just ask every Red Sox team from 1918 through 2004. Isn’t that a good lesson for kids and adults?

As for the notion that enjoying the Red Sox represents precious time and energy that should be put to better use, how much time? Is there an equation? Who gets to make that determination? How much time does she spend? I know for a fact that there in the stands over the past few nights there were there the everyday “heroes” the writer speaks of. In the first few seats of my row were a teacher, a pee-wee hockey referee, and a boy scout leader. A few sections over sat a Boston firefighter and former active duty Unites States Marine; he likely would have been joined by one of his childhood friends, but that guy had to go to work, as a police office in Roxbury.

These fans are all regular folks who give and have given their time and energy to do the very things she wonders about. Do those people who work to save our environment, improve our educational system, stem urban violence and stop global genocide deserve to enjoy themselves?

The arrogance it takes to deride people, good people, for finding enjoyment is a game speaks a lot more about the writer than about the people celebrating in the stands or cheering in front of their televisions.

Perhaps she should do a little less wondering and open her eyes to her own hubris.

_______________________
Frank J. Colagiovanni is an award-winning freelance copywriter and contributing writer for Bread and Circus.

SPORTS: And that’s why the games are played

by Editors

SPORTS
And that’s why the games are played
by Frank Colagiovanni

When you look at the teams on paper, the conclusion is nearly certain. There’s no way that a Division 1-AA football team could knock off a perennial powerhouse. The powerhouse is too big, too strong, too talented. There is no way they could lose. But they don’t play the games on paper.

Appalachian State of the Southern football conference took everything Michigan could throw at them and, powered by a 21 point second quarter, bested the Wolverines 32-34-at home and in front of 107,501 die hard fans in stunned silence.

They never even should have been “in” the game.

That was almost the case this past weekend when my team, the Eagles of Boston College lined up opposite the University of Massachusetts Minutemen. The problem for BC was that when they lined up, they did so with an illegal formation–less than seven on the line-resulting in loss of yards, three times is the first quarter alone. UMass played like they had nothing to loose.

UMass never even should have been “in” the game. But they were, pulling within one score, a field goal during the first half, much to the delight of the visiting fans voicing their approval and quieting the homers.

BC pulled it out, but it easily could have gone the other way. On paper, it was a mismatch, just like Michigan/Appalachian State. But between the lines, between the whistles and between the tackles, none of that mattered.

They don’t play the games on paper.

And that’s the part of being a sports fan that I love the most, those moments when the impossible happens. The comeback, the no-hitter, the overtime goal — all those moments that are, in their essence, perfect. Those are the moments I hope for every time I file through the turnstile and take my seat.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out. Sometimes your team loses. And then sometimes everything falls together for a perfect moment.

I’ve had the opportunity to witness a few of them, to feel the current shift. The collective elation and relief when Dave Roberts slid into second ahead of Jeter’s tag in the 2004 ALCS. The seconds counted by everyone at Fenway after the ball left the bat of David Ortiz before it landed in the Red Sox bullpen.

As I tap this out, I’m four hours away from passing thought the Fenway turnstile for Game 1 of the American League Divisional Series, and I’ll be back at there again on Friday night for Game 2. In an hour or so I’ll start to get the nervous feeling. And at noon on Saturday I’ll be taking my seat on the goal line at Alumni Stadium for the Boston College-Bowling Green game. It’s a busy week, and I know the outcomes I’m hoping for — and if my lifetime as a Red Sox fan has taught me, will be praying for — but you just never know. That’s why I have to be there.

As of 2004, no team in the history of baseball had ever come back from a three game series deficit. And as of last week, there was no way that a Division 1-AA team was going to take down mighty Michigan.

And that’s why the games are played.

And that’s why I watch them.

And the hits just keep on coming

by Editors

SPORTS EXTRA

 

And the hits just keep on coming–

Barry Bonds, responsibility and a continuing conversation

By Frank J. Colagiovanni, special contributing writer

Since mid-June when Bread &Circus posted my essay “Forgive Me Father, for I have sinned: Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Number 756,” we’ve gotten some interesting feedback from readers and quite a few hits from people just stopping by. And, while it would be great if everyone left a comment to continue the discussion—which is what the site is all about—the few we’ve got seem to be running in a very interesting vein.

And all the while, as we’ve been taking this topic around the dance floor—discussing the ills of the culture, the role of the media and the general condition of sport in the modern era—Barry Bonds, the subject of the article, has continued to hit home runs. Not quite at the clip he was hitting two years or even a year ago, but he’s still plugging away; now only four to go before he ties the most revered record in baseball.

What surprised me about the responses posted on B&C and in a few conversations I’ve had with sports fans and non-fans alike, is that there seems to be to a higher level of distrust, frustration and disgust with “the media” than there is with someone who is about to break a cherished record under…well, let’s call them dubious circumstances. It’s as if cheating really isn’t all that bad; that there are degrees of cheating, and that some cheating, by some people and in some circumstances, is almost acceptable. One of the facets of this story that seems lost in the shuffle is that the current record holder, the beloved Hank Aaron, isn’t by any stretch of the imagination on board with this situation. He’s stated publicly that he won’t be there at home plate when Bonds comes around after breaking his record.

Even during the All-Star game—televised from AT&T Park, the home of the San Francisco Giants and their big-headed slugger Barry Bonds—when the talk naturally turned to Bonds, the allegations of performance enhancers and the grand jury testimony, the crew in the booth charged with providing commentary didn’t provide much at all. In fact, as the conversation became more pointed with comments about the impact of steroids on baseball, the Commissioner’s apparent decision not to be in attendance as Bonds draws near, and the possibility that Bonds had broken the rules of the Game, they quickly backed off, shifting to a non-confrontational, “institutional message”. They talked about of “the culture” of the Game, the fact that there was no way of knowing who did what and when and then fell back to the old standby: Bonds was a Hall of Fame player even before he did whatever he did.

It seems to me that blaming the “culture,” the “media,” the pernicious “influence” of ESPN or the specter of corporate America—perhaps epitomized by Halliburton, Blackwater or even The Wiffle Ball, Inc.—is a pretty convenient copout. Especially when we’ve had players like Jason Giambi making cryptic almost-apologies, gaining massive amounts of “bulk” only to loose it, along with his power hitting production, and then blame the loss on curbing his fast food habit. And then bam! — he’s hitting again, packing on the bulk and making even more cryptic remarks that have landed him in front of congressional sub-committees. Clearly it was the burgers and fries that packed it onto his neck, hips and backside. And if it wasn’t the burgers it must have been the prevailing culture in baseball.

This “blame-something-that-is-nameless-and-faceless” attitude affords people the opportunity for righteous indignation without having to take a meaningful position.

Bonds had the ability, perhaps the greatest natural ability in 50 years, but it was the “system” that made him cheat, and so that’s ok, it’s overlookable. We disassociate him with his actions. But these arguments ignore the facts, responsibility, fairness, and the rules of a game.

To blame a “system,” especially in the context of baseball, is a fairly thin argument in my mind. We’re not thinking about a life or death situation, we’re talking about playing a game. The fact that so much money is at stake muddies the water, but not so much as so you can’t see the bottom. I simply don’t see this as an ambiguous issue. This isn’t a “stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family” argument about morality, despite the fact that it’s devolved into the murk of moral relativism. This is a fairly cut and dried example of cheating.

Cheating alters the complexion of the Game, compromising its integrity. What makes sport different from “real life” is the controlled environment and near complete meritocracy. Everyone plays by the same rules, yet some are simply more talented than others. Because Jordan could fly and Bird could shoot didn’t mean that they should have been made to wear leg and arm weights. They had to go out and play with the same rules as everyone else. They were just better. And they were expected to live by certain rules off the court. In many respects, because they were superstars, they were held to an even higher standard.

In baseball you can’t use a corked bat or a glove with stitching colored to hide the ball. Betting on the game or taking a gamblers’ money in a bribe has been a cardinal sin in the Game since the Black Sox scandal. And right now, the use of performance-enhancing drugs is simply against the rules, giving some players an unfair advantage over others. Advantage based on ability, talent and the development of skill is what competitive sports are all about. Advantage gained from a disregard for or breaking of the rules is cheating.

As I stated in my original essay and in my subsequent posts, just because we’ll never know who did what and when, doesn’t mean that when someone is caught, they shouldn’t be punished—or at least called on it.

Perhaps it’s easier to pin responsibility on the “culture” rather than the individual. Saying the “system” is what made him do it, letting all the other excuses fall into a twisted conga line behind, might be more palatable, easier to swallow, less confrontational.

But it also means that “we,” the fans and consumers, are abdicating “our” responsibilities as fans and consumers—and that’s a big, steroid-swollen “but.”

_______________________
Frank J. Colagiovanni (www.colagiovanni.com) is an award-winning freelance copywriter and special contributing writer for Bread and Circus.

Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Number 756

by Editors

SPORTS EXTRA

Forgive Me Father, for I have sinned:

Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, and Number 756

By Frank J. Colagiovanni

I’d say a prayer. Then I’d throw two pitches.

The first, a message pitch, high and tight—chin music—brushing him off the plate. The second, to put him on base, I’d plunk him right where he carries his wallet—possibly where he sticks his needles. That’s how I’d keep Barry bonds from hitting home runs.

But I’m not a Major League pitcher.

Now as a matter of full disclosure, I don’t like Barry Bonds, never really have. But, until his head began to grow three sizes, and he started dumping dingers into McCovey Cove, I never needed to pay him much attention. He’s in a different league, in a different city, on a different coast. And as a practicing member of the First Congregation of the Church of Fenway Park, I’ve regarded what goes on in the National League as a Catholic might view an Episcopalian: similar, but not the same. Their church might resemble my church, but their service involves a lot of bunting, that and weak bats in the seven, eight and nine holes.

But Barry Bonds become the elephant on the altar, too hard to ignore, storming heaven by assaulting the most hallowed record in the Game. When this baseball blasphemy is completed, he will have passed Hank Aaron as baseball’s all-time home run leader. 755 will no longer be the number. And Aaron, who took the crown, earned the crown, from Ruth, will no longer be on top of the list—sitting at the head of all baseball tables.

At the time of this writing Bonds has 747, eight away from the record, seven away from breaking it. In a recent interview at the site of his record-setting home run, Hank Aaron, one of the true Olympians of the sport, told the press that he wouldn’t be there when Bonds broke his record.

Records were made to be broken, especially in baseball where everything is measure by numbers. But numbers are stubborn things, like facts, and they mean something. 755 has represented the fact that Aaron was the best, consistently. 756 will represent the fact that that Barry Bonds cheated. He allegedly admitted it to a Grand Jury, his numbers are tainted. There have been others who have cheated, compromised the integrity of the Game, and we know them by name. And we know the facts of their fall from grace. How is Bonds worthy of inclusion in the Pantheon of baseball if Jackson and Rose are not?

And frankly, bagging Bonds might just serve the greater good. Banning Pete Rose from baseball has likely dissuaded others from betting on the game, just as the Chicago Black Sox Scandal and the fact that Joe Jackson left baseball in disgrace has done the same. Both Rose and Jackson had Hall of Fame careers, but neither were called to the Hall because they broke the rules—cheated the game.

What makes it even more maddening is that Bonds was bound for the Hall without going on the Juice. The rare 5-tool player he could hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, throw accurately and field the ball better than almost any player of his time.

But Rose and Jackson had Hall worthy careers before their transgressions; Rose wasn’t even playing when he was banned. He was a manager. But Pete Rose was banned from baseball for life and “Shoeless” Joe Jackson was tossed out of the Game in 1920, never to return. Both remain on baseball’s Ineligible List to this day. Bonds should be out as well.

The perfect should not be the enemy of the good.

The fact that men will always cheat, that there will always be those who choose to break the rules should not mitigate the fact that when you catch one, you should punish him.

Because we can’t catch all bank robbers doesn’t mean bank robbery should be legal. Because we can’t catch all steroids users doesn’t mean we should turn a blind eye.

On June 15th, 16th and 17th Bonds and the Giants come to Fenway, and while I have tickets I won’t be there. Other than to boo him or turn my back when he comes to the plate, I don’t want any part of Barry Bonds. It’s sometimes said that you are to hate the sin but love the sinner, but I feel contrition needs to be in there somewhere. With Bonds I don’t see any. And I don’t want to see that kind of blasphemy in my church.

Aaron won’t be there, and neither will I.

_____________________________
Frank J. Colagiovanni (www.colagiovanni.com) is an award-winning freelance copywriter and special contributing writer for Bread and Circus.