Archive for June, 2019

June 26, 2019

#151) Remembering Buckner

Former major league baseball player Bill Buckner died at age 69 on May 27th in Idaho, following a battle with Lewy body dementia. Despite my being a baseball geek and having listened to quite a bit of Boston sports radio since moving back to Massachusetts following 20 years in California, the news escaped my radar. Being a baseball geek (see above) I had a random fact I wanted to impulsively look up on the Baseball Reference website and I was saddened to see Buckner’s name in the “In Memoriam” section.

At first I was surprised that I hadn’t heard, but as I thought about it, it made sense that Buckner’s death wasn’t a big sensation. The Boston sports world has recently been focused on the Bruins’ run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Celtics’ disappointing playoff performance, the Red Sox’ unimpressive start and the prospects for the upcoming Patriots season. It could also be that perhaps the Boston media and fan base are (for once) doing the right thing and giving the Buckner family a little bit of space.

Buckner’s moment of infamy happened on October 25th, 1986 in the sixth game of the World Series against the New York Mets. Any Sox fan old enough can tell you exactly where they were; those too young to remember or born after it happened have heard the tale just like children whose parents told them about the JFK or John Lennon murders or the moon landing. When Buckner let a ground ball go between his legs, allowing the Mets to win the game, he and his family began an ordeal that included everything from harassment of their kids to death threats.

A tipping point happened in 1993 when Buckner got into a physical altercation with a fan (he was signing baseball cards at an event and the fan said, “Don’t give him a ball, he’ll just drop it.”) There are those who say that, just as crab fishermen risk their lives for a fat payday, once an athlete signs the big contract, they are fair game for ridicule if they make a mistake in the spotlight. For the most part though, by this point, Boston sports fans – not always known for tact or compassion – got the message: enough is enough.

Shortly after the incident, Buckner (who had made his home in the Boston area even after being released by the Sox) and his family moved to Idaho. According to the ESPN “Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame…” show, Buckner, “tired of numerous replays of his error”, couldn’t get himself to watch the Red Sox’ 2004 World Series win. However, he received a standing ovation at Fenway Park when he threw out the first pitch of the 2008 season. He also drew praise for his turn on the show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in which he played himself. He remained lifelong friends with Mookie Wilson, the Mets batter who hit the ball, appearing with him in a 2016 commercial.

With four Sox championships in the 21st century, it’s easy for those who remember Buckner to laugh about it now. That the man was willing to laugh about it himself perhaps spoke even more loudly than his on-field accomplishments: over 2,700 career hits, a batting title and being one of only 29 players in baseball history to play in four different decades. Some have argued that he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Those too young to remember Buckner or indeed anything much of the lean years from 1987-2001, when the Sox, Bruins and Celtics were coming close but never going all the way and when Bill Belichick was a defensive coordinator for the Jets, can still learn from the story that began on that October night. In death, as he did in life, Bill Buckner teaches the lesson that while the world may not always be fair, one can always transcend the situation by taking the high road – and that forgiveness is a gift.

June 11, 2019

#150) How not to complain #9: If you’re going to hit the one percent, you’d better kill the one percent

In Margaret Grace Myers’ article for the Cut, “I Babysit for the One Percent”, she has given herself an unenviable task: convincing the reader that her take on economic inequality is different from those of everyone else who has weighed in on the subject. Sadly, she does not pull it off. Like David Hopkins, who insulted non-nerds as he was telling us to be nice to nerds, Myers isn’t going to convert anyone to the other side. Her railings against the wealthy won’t start any conversations at parties in Park Avenue penthouses about how zillionaires can empathize with those less fortunate.

Stories about the rich tend to follow one of two directions: the shocking expose of what goes on behind closed doors of affluent homes or “I thought that the ______ family were going to be total assholes, but they’re just like me!” If you eschew either of those narratives, you may find yourself with shapeless, forgettable work, as Myers has done: a collection of vague grievances with no real evolution. Readers don’t always need Learn Something, but Myers is not an interesting enough writer or protagonist to abandon the framework of the familiar and still be effective.

Why doesn’t Myers get us emotionally invested in the disconnect between her lifestyle and those of her clients? Her examples of conspicuous consumption aren’t as outrageous as she thinks they are (a wall-mounted television screen! Think of all the children who could be fed!) Her comments on home furnishings leave you wondering why “sectionals in muted tones with one elegant blanket thrown just so” strike such a nerve with her.

Just as Myers doesn’t give us enough reason to hate the Goliaths that “hang big photographs of the ocean” on the walls and have “bottles of sparkling and still” (how European!) water in their fridges, her David doesn’t make us want to be more “woke.” Myers writes, “I am picky enough to only take jobs where I think the child or children will be asleep….to do the actual work of caring for children….is, frankly, not worth it for me.” When she says, “I know I am very lucky in the grand scheme of things money-wise”, it plays less as genuine gratitude and more like an attempt to convince us she is not being resentful. If Myers was doggedly struggling toward a goal – like Rudy sweating it out in the steel mill and at community college – we might buy into her story arc, but she doesn’t give us the sense (if she’s trying to) that her clients, simply by being wealthy, are preventing her from following her dreams. It apparently never occurs to her to try to use any of the 1% as role models for building a better life. Sure, some of them may have had advantages that Myers didn’t; some of them may have come into their wealth unethically. Myers doesn’t seem to think there’s any chance that any of the 1% may have actually earned it.

One anecdote does hit the mark: Myers describes waiting in a lobby for almost an hour, unable to connect with her client, a mom who “had forgotten her cell phone somewhere and didn’t have the intercom set up correctly.” Yes, we would all like to have the luxury of being absent-minded without consequences and one guesses that had the mom been the one kept waiting, she would not have handled it as diplomatically as Myers was forced to. More in-the-trenches examples of the reality of the income gap would have helped Myers make her points more convincingly.

Myers’ article concludes with an irony that is likely unintended. “I know that I spend much more time thinking about these people than they do about me,” she says as she describes a mother whom she had seen a few weeks earlier introducing herself as if for the first time. “I am just a being in their home…a body, a transaction.” While Myers apparently feels she deserves more than anonymity in the eyes of the one percent, she is fine with being a faceless voice in the chorus of the haters.