Bombast and baseball

Darryl Strawberry created a stir the other day by claiming his 1986 Mets team was better than his 1998 Yankees team. Without going into the merits of his argument, the negative zeal of Yankee fans in defending their team reminded me much of what has gone wrong with this country and why I am happy to be rooting for a team other than the New York Yankees. Naturally, as was pointed out by some commenters, Strawberry’s contributions to the 1986 Mets were more critical and prominent than those he added to the 1998 Yankees, so in this, the 25th anniversary of that ’86 team, he might have a bias. Still, it’s one thing to disagree with a man, but quite another to spew venom and viciousness scant few levels shy of Hank Williams Jr.

Few reasonable responses should be expected by commenters on an ESPN site (though I fully agree with this quite reasonable hypothesis). But the arrogance, the bile showering forth from many fans of the most honored franchise in baseball history is disgusting. Once I felt as though the Yankees were occupied by the conquering force of the late George M. Steinbrenner and his offspring — clearly, the fans are the ones who are the ones occupying this franchise. I am glad I am not a part of it. Hell, even the dugout is more reflective and self-aware than their fan base.

Society suffers these days from an undercurrent lacking in humility and grace and an overabundance of greed, arrogance, and bombast. The most vocal (and, hence, the de facto representative) Yankee fans have it in spades, and that’s why I needed to leave that fold. I am not naive enough to think that if another sports teams had their success rate and resources, they would not be as obnoxious or as utterly lacking in self-reflection and empathy, but there you have it; these are the times in which we live.

When, as vocal Yankees fans and the team’s president, Randy Levine, openly admit that anything less than winning the World Series a failure and a bitter disappointment — not mere disappointment but a failure and bitterness and all that implies — I think you get to the core of being a Yankee fan these days. In many ways, it reflects the current rot as it exists in many sectors of America’s economic society. It’s of a piece to what those involved with Occupy Wall Street movement are protesting against. And this is not to argue in favor of accepting failure, or of a socialist view of the world, or against capitalism, or against intrinsic success in favor of lovable losers. But success takes many forms. It does not mean that only one team in baseball is a Success and the 29 others Failures. There is one team that is a champion. Though by the measure of athletics, it essentially equates to 29 losers, it does not equate to 29 failures. The inability to see that, and the attendant lust for greed that accompanies this worldview, does not bode well for American society and its need to take care of all and to show forms of grace and humility.

Yankee fans of a previous era, perhaps, say, before the 21st century began (to select a convenient starting point), could win and enjoy their successes without this insatiable need for greed, for apocalyptic dominance, for suffering for winning only one of the past three World Series, while simultaneously dismissing and belittling the accomplishments of anyone else. It is hard to image the fans of the Fifties Yankess, the Twenties Yankees, even the Seventies Yankees, behaving so poorly.

Likewise, corporate leaders and captains of industry, while having a long history of opulence themselves, did not quite show the greedy disconnect that they show now, except perhaps in the trust-busting days of Theodore Roosevelt.  When Jeff Imeltt doesn’t bat an eye for building his success on using overseas workers (and, by easy extension, putting Americans out of work) while acting as the country’s jobs czar, it’s all part and parcel of the same arrogance and greed that is ruining America’s economy for all but the most comfortable.


Color commenting by My Dad, Mets vs. Braves, Sunday, April 25

My father should be on TV. He could talk circles around Joe Morgan and Jon Miller in the ESPN booth (no easy feat). He’s sort of a cross between Phil Rizzuto (in full “O Holy Cow!” mode) and Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos. Here’s a sampling of his analysis, as we watched the Mets play the Braves, Sunday night, April 25, on the Self-Acclaimed Worldwide Leader…


Top of the second:
This Pelfrey, he’s always licking his fingers. He’s going to wind up with a disease. Who knows what one of these players have?


After the third out, t
op of the second, Mike Pelfrey and the Mets walking off the field:
What was the purpose of a dugout? Why couldn’t it be level years ago? Because it could be cooler maybe for the players? This guy’s eating his shirt, besides licking it. This guy eats his shirt, licks his fingers. Not very sanitary.

(Dad then momentarily switches the channel to The Cleveland Show on Fox5 during the commercial break.)


Two outs, Pelfrey at bat, bottom of the second:
Dad:
You want a cookie?
Me: Sure. What is it? Chocolate chip?
Dad: No, flax seed.

(Pelfrey grounds out, Dad switches back to Channel 5, which is now showing Family Guy; Peter, for some reason is preparing to join a rodeo and is brandishing a hot iron when he finds his daughter, Meg, on the front step of their house.)
Dad: (laughing) He’s going to brand her.


Top of the third, man on first, one out:
They got a man on, no out.
(Jon Miller then uses the word “omnipresent” in referring to Pelfrey’s high pitch count. Miller 1, Dad 1.)


Top of the third, two on, one out:

Now it’s starting to pour again. A lot of rain. They just had a close-up. Not as hard as it was, but it’s coming down.


Top of the third, two on, one out:

(Jason Heyward grounds into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning, right after my dad notes that Pelfrey has allowed “like” seven Braves on base already.)
Double play! This guy’s getting away with murder.

(Now back to Family Guy.)


Bottom of the third, no outs:
All these guys, they’re second-stringers. Even the pitchers. How do you expect to win with these guys? How do you like that stadium in Minnesota? It’s pretty nice, except it’s cold there.


Bottom of the third, one out, Jose Reyes coming to bat:
(ESPN shows a clip of Reyes’ first-inning single)
That would have been a “crushed” single if this was on YES.

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Local-washing food and sportswriting

McDonald’s recently launched a local TV commercial around these parts (h/t All Over Albany). Yep, multi-national Mickey D’s name-dropped a bunch of Albany-isms (some of which The Locals don’t actually or frequently use) into a spot in a bid to put a local face on the Golden Arches.

I suppose it should be a compliment that parochial Small-bany rated a commercial geared directly toward its decidedly Single-A market. But a comment about “local-washing” in the All Over Albany blog got me thinking about the phenomenon.

The “Buy Local” movement has had some positive impacts, even beyond the obvious growth of the excellent farmer’s markets we have in upstate New York. I like that regional chain supermarket Hannaford sells some local produce from farms in a few-county radius here, even if the offerings are limited to one cart in a several-thousand-square-foot store. But they position the offering as you come into the produce section and label it with the farm it came from. Bully for them. It’s a good idea, and a smart idea. It appeals to my 100-Mile Food sensibilities, even if I don’t come close to fully practicing that.

But what about Starbucks re-naming one of its Seattle stores as “15th Avenue Coffee and Tea” to whitewash some corporate stain? What about the execrable Gannett Corporation’s deceptively named ShopLocal™ Web site? (h/t Forbes). Frito-Lay ads in Florida? Local-washing efforts by Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Citgo and Hellmann’s? Does at least some of what Wal-mart and other supermarkets do (in selling local produce) redeem themselves in the same way that Hannaford does in my mind (though Hannaford’s superior-for-a-chain organic section, including its own house-brand, gives it a bump in my book, and no, I’m no flack for them, I just like their store; but am I biased because I’m a fan?). And, as Elisabeth Eaves writes in Forbes, did the “Localvores” bring this onto themselves?

I have mixed feelings about this. Not about the McDonald’s commercial, but about the full ethos of buying local. I support that philosophy wholeheartedly, but I worry about the dogma of supporting that ethos to the exclusion of all other approaches.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that the chains do actually hire local people, which Eaves notes — yes, I agree that they do create jobs. On the flip side, those jobs often pay poorly, come with limited or no health insurance, send most (if not all) of the local franchise’s profits out of the area and back to the corporate headquarters, are situated in a building that often has no architectural relationship to long-standing neighboring structures (except to other chain places in a sea of urban sprawl, and this in the face of typically weak zoning laws), and quite possibly replaced jobs in locally owned businesses (not franchises) to begin with.

On the other hand, in these strained economic days, if I’m not eating PB&J for lunch (again) my lunch budget is $3 — enough for two items off McDonald’s Dollar Menu and a buck coffee, provided I can scrounge up enough change in between my car seats to cover the sales tax. Plus, we took Junior to the place once and he referred to it as “Old McDonald’s.” In fact, we tried Wendy’s a few weeks later, and eager to avoid him becoming brand-brainwashed, we called Dave Thomas’ place Old McDonald’s, too.

(Aside: At once point I had attempted the Neil Pollack approach in Alternadad and tried to flip branding on its ear by telling Junior that, whenever he saw the Golden Arches, it signaled a building that sold yucky food. That didn’t last long once we had a hungry 3-year-old suddenly awake on a road trip and the only thing open on a Thruway rest stop was Mickey D’s. But I digress.)

In the end, it’s a fine line. Hannaford’s approach seems to be the right one, though of course, I’d like to see even more local offerings there. But McDonald’s approach seems more sneaky, more insidious somehow.

It’s not entirely dissimilar from what ESPN is doing with ESPNChicago.com, ESPNBoston.com, ESPNDallas.com and (God help us) ESPNNewYork.com. (Though ESPNScranton.com still seems to be available.)

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William Safire RIP

Wow, have I got some catching up to do. As I’ve previously mentioned, yep, I’m a hypocrite. But here are some items I threw up on my Facebook page in the last month that I wanted to include here. So, previously, on Facebook…

  • William Safire, dead at 79: Great lexicographer, I carry a well-thumbed copy of his Political Dictionary in my work bag. May have disagreed politically, but the man was a damn smart writer. A man who knew the power of words and speeches, and despite our political differences (and some of his questionable journalism), a man I enjoyed reading for his love of language.
  • ESPN.com: Selling out more than previously thought possible? To borrow from Sports Illustrated, that week’s sign that the apocalypse is upon us: Bill Simmons, Brought to You by Miller Lite
  • Belatedly (on my part), Happy Labor Day from the execrable Gannett Corp.: The New York Times’ David Carr, writing about  The Journal News of Westchester: “…(R)eporters at The Journal News don’t work in a newsroom, they are part of an ‘Information Center’; they don’t cover beats, they cover ‘topics’; and in a new wrinkle to an old story, the staff was not being laid off, but becoming part of a ‘comprehensive restructuring plan.'”

I hate the ESPN ‘Ball Track’

Memo to ESPN: Thanks for ruining the annual Home Run Derby with your annoying, distracting, execrable and stupid Ball Track graphic.

For those of you who care about such things (all two of you), ESPN introduced a fiery line that follows the path of batted balls during the annual homer tournament. Remember the glowing tail that Fox used to follow the course of the puck during hockey coverage about a decade or more ago, presumably because they thought fans were too dimwitted and slow (or so their message seemed)? ESPN has brought the technology back to crap on its fans tonight.

Hey Bristol Braintrust — Josh Hamilton blasting 28 home runs is exciting, thrilling and made great television. Your Ball Track? Not so much. In fact, quite the opposite. The Home Run Derby is simplistic, perfect television at its best. It’s not complicated, it’s strictly for the fans, and it showcases exactly one aspect of an extremely complex, thinking-person’s sport. So what? It’s July. It’s hot. It’s fun.

The Ball Track? It celebrates the triumph of ESPN.

I’m turning your broadcast off, now. Thanks. Alienation was just what I was looking for to begin my week.

Is this what British and Spanish fans have to look forward to next year when the Bristol Galactus takes over part of the Premier League and La Liga coverage? Oooo. A line that follows the course of a ball, because we think our viewers are too stupid to follow it. Nice. Thanks for condescending.

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