Archive for December, 2015

December 28, 2015

#104) Remembering Hendu

Why couldn’t he have just struck out?

On October 12th, 1986 in Anaheim, Dave Henderson was batting with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, 2-2 count, one runner on base, the Red Sox trailing the Angels, 5-4. It was the fifth game of the American League Championship Series with the Angels leading the best-of-seven set, three games to one. All Henderson had to do was swing at Donnie Moore’s next pitch and miss it, or perhaps tap a grounder to third baseman Doug DeCinces or shortstop Dick Schofield for an easy out.

The man responsible for one of baseball’s most famous home runs died from a heart attack yesterday at age 57. Henderson’s home run not only made the 1986 A.L.C.S. historic but it paved the way for an equally famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) 1986 World Series against the New York Mets. In the sixth game, Henderson’s home run gave the Red Sox a short-lived lead in the 10th inning.

As a Red Sox fan and an admitted baseball geek, I can’t help but find the circumstances leading up to and following Henderson’s at-bat against Moore to be fascinating. Henderson, who had arrived in a quiet mid-season trade with Seattle, was a replacement in Game 5 for veteran Tony Armas, who’d been injured. With the Red Sox leading 2-1, Henderson tipped a Bobby Grich fly ball over the fence for a home run, appearing to be the latest victim of the “Curse of the Bambino.” In the ninth inning, Henderson came to the plate with a chance to redeem himself–Boston’s last chance.

Sadly, for Angels pitcher Donnie Moore, the loss proved to be the beginning of the end of his career. Worse still, Moore battled alcoholism and depression and following his release from baseball in 1989, shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. Unfortunately for Boston, the victory would merely prove the adage that if the Red Sox win today, that’s because it will hurt more for them to lose tomorrow. Boston scapegoat Bill Buckner would endure years of ridicule and harassment by fans,  causing him and his family to move to Idaho.

All that trouble because Henderson didn’t strike out.

But it’s another example of how America’s Pastime can teach us–even those who don’t care about the game. We’ve all had our backs to the wall, perhaps burdened as Hendu was by the memory of a recent mistake, surrounded by people just waiting for us to fail. No, the act of swinging at a ball and hitting it out of a stadium doesn’t change humanity, but it did galvanize a city and still inspires memories almost thirty years later.

Henderson would continue his post season success in Oakland, leading the Athletics to three consecutive World Series appearances, including a championship in 1989, before retiring in 1994. He later became a color commentator for the Seattle Mariners and continued to make his home in the Seattle area until his death.

While Henderson is most famous for his post season heroics, he’s also remembered as a positive team player who enjoyed interacting with the fans. Former Oakland teammate Terry Steinbach said, “People talk about all the big hits and the World Series, but to me, it was that great attitude he brought every day. He would instantly pick you up, put you in the right frame of mind, get you going.” Rich Gedman, the Boston catcher who was on base when Henderson hit the homer off Moore, said, “Go back and look at every picture of him. He always had a smile on his face.”



December 12, 2015

#103) How not to complain #4: Heil…Taylor?

Life’s three certainties are death, taxes and looking silly when you trot out a Hitler/Nazi comparison. The latest individual to break Godwin’s Law is critic/author Camille Paglia, who recently used the term “Nazi Barbie”, referring not to Klaus but Taylor Swift.

Paglia’s essay in “The Hollywood Reporter” has a viable premise: female bonding, particularly in the entertainment industry, can be a double-edged sword. On one hand,”girl squads can be seen as a positive step toward expanding female power in Hollywood.” Paglia also notes however, “Hollywood has always shrewdly known that cat-fighting makes great box office.”

So far, so good, but Paglia loses her credibility by admonishing Taylor Swift to “retire that obnoxious Nazi Barbie routine of wheeling out friends and celebrities as performance props…”

I’m going to take a wild guess and say that Holocaust survivors reading Paglia’s words may find that comparing a pop singer to a Nazi is a stretch. It’s understandable for Paglia to dislike seeing women trying to rise in the entertainment business by latching onto a queen bee such as Swift, rather than “focus[ing] like a laser on their own creative gifts.” Sure, Swift is nothing if not calculating and no one will ever accuse her of being subtle. But when it comes to murders, however, Swift trails the competition by about 11 million. As tempting as it is for musicians like me to say, “Shake It Off” is no “Mein Kampf.”

To her credit, Paglia falls on her own sword, at least to a degree, by admitting, “Writing about Taylor Swift is a horrific ordeal for me because her twinkly persona is such a scary flashback to the fascist blondes who ruled the social scene during my youth.” Fair enough, Cam, but let’s face it: you weren’t the only teenage girl who’s had to deal with fascist blondes.





December 11, 2015

#102) Eu-“league”-ogy

I find myself in an unfamiliar position: mourning, or at least contemplating, the end of a favorite TV show. Most programs I’ve enjoyed over the years are either classics that were already in reruns by the time I started watching (“Honeymooners”), too short-lived for me to have developed much of a relationship with them (“Sarah Silverman Show”, “Drawn Together”) or are still on the air but past their prime (“Family Guy”, “South Park” and…sorry, but we all know it…”The Simpsons.”) I know many people who felt a sense of loss when “Mad Men”, “The Sopranos”, “Breaking Bad” and “How I Met Your Mother” ended or when Stewart left “The Daily Show” and I’m not saying their feelings weren’t legitimate; I just didn’t share them.

Now, after the series finale of “The League” I can better empathize.

“The League” didn’t change the world; it didn’t bring us noble or tragic characters; it didn’t employ visionary costume or set design, being nominally set in Chicago but clearly substantially filmed in Los Angeles. Many people believe it declined after the first few seasons and those opinions aren’t without reason. Sad as I am to see it go, it feels more like an inevitable goodbye to an over-the-hill superstar than the loss of one just beginning to achieve their potential. Still, you never want to see it end.

“The League” was a semi-scripted comedy about a group of friends and their addiction to fantasy football. They lied, cheated and colluded to win. Things would go wrong in every possible way for every character, not just for one evildoer whose dastardly deeds backfire. To be sure some of the plot twists required massive suspension of disbelief, but the laughs were pretty consistent.

It’s been said that “The Far Side” was successful because everyone felt as if cartoonist Gary Larson had made one just for them. I discovered “The League” in its second season (2010), around the same time I started my hiking website and submitting photos I’d taken on the hikes to various stock photography websites. I quickly learned that easily accessible stats about post views, affiliate sales and photo downloads were addictive and my cell phone etiquette would have made teenage girls blush. Similarly, the characters of “The League” are constantly looking at their phones for the latest updates on their players. The scene that clinched “The League” for me shows a character pleasuring himself not to Playboy or a porno but to his own fantasy lineup. Don’t believe me? Check it out here. For the next five years, I eagerly awaited the start of each season, watching reruns whenever I could during the off season (thanks to the improvisational chemistry of the cast, the reruns hold up surprisingly well) and even going so far as to create Mii characters on my Wii based on the show.

Behind all of the locker room and bro humor, “The League” actually provided some interesting commentary about friendships in modern times. No, not everyone bonds/clashes over fantasy football–but many social groups have subtle and not so subtle undercurrents of competition. Not everyone impulsively checks their fantasy stats on their phones, but let’s face it – the Phone Stack exists for a reason.

The plight of the series itself also might be seen, at least among folks like me who like to overthink such things, as commentary on our evolving relationship with technology. As New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger notes in this article, “That this is the show’s final season feels right somehow, in that fantasy sports are being taken over by…Internet sites that cater to a more intense, daily type of game played for serious money, often by strangers. The notion of a group of friends getting together with a poster board and player names handwritten on Post-it Notes seems…quaint…” Cynically, one could interpret the decline of group-oriented, season-long fantasy football leagues and the rise of day leagues as egotism and instant gratification giving way to bigger egotism and instant-er gratification. A more melancholy view might say that as we get older, the dynamics of many friendships and rat packs become more muted. The backstabbing and trash talking may fade, but so can the camaraderie.

Thus I bid a bittersweet farewell to Kevin, Jenny, Taco, Ruxin, Pete, Andre, Shiva, Rafi, Dirty Randy, Russell the Sex Addict and all the rest. Thanks for the laughs, thanks for making me feel like I was right there with you throwing back rounds at Gibson’s. Best of luck to all of you in your future endeavors. Now SUCK IT!