Posts tagged ‘politics’

April 13, 2017

#125) Why the 1985 World Series matters

If there’s one thing I love, it’s squeezing teachable moments out of the game of baseball. Often times, the more of a stretch it is to find a lesson from an event on the diamond, the more I enjoy trying to do it. With another baseball season underway, let’s examine the fallout for one of the most controversial calls in the history of the game, one which is still dissected and debated more than 30 years later.

If you’re a baseball geek, feel free to drop down to the Important Life Lesson part of this post. For those of you who actually have lives, here’s the backstory:

In the 1985 World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals led their in-state rivals, the Kansas City Royals, three games to two. In the sixth game, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog brought his closer, Todd Worrell, in to protect a 1-0 ninth inning lead. The first Royals batter, Jorge Orta, hit a chopper which first baseman Jack Clark fielded and tossed to Worrell, who had run over to cover the base. First base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe. Despite arguments from Clark, Worrell and Herzog and replays that clearly showed Orta was out, the call stood. A misplayed pop fly, a passed ball, an intentional walk and a two-run base hit later, the Royals had a 2-1 win to force a seventh game. Angry and deflated from the loss, the Cardinals imploded the next night. Both Herzog and relief pitcher Joaquin Andujar were ejected for arguing with Denkinger as the Royals rolled to an 11-0 win.

Needless to say, St. Louis fans saw Don Denkinger as the reason their team lost. In the ensuing months, Denkinger would receive much harassment from irate fans, up to and including death threats. Losing in such a manner had to suck for St. Louis fans, especially with Missouri bragging rights on the line, but scapegoating Denkinger didn’t account for Clark misplaying an easy foul ball that could have been the first out or for the passed ball that put the Royals in a prime position to win the game. This was game six, not game seven and despite the momentum having swung in the Royals’ favor, the Cardinals had another chance to win.

There are also the circumstances that led up to game 6. After winning three of the first four games of the Series, the Cardinals had had a chance to close it out in game 5 as well but didn’t. The Cards’ offense was M.I.A., even in the three games they won. Their four-run ninth inning rally to win game 2 was the only inning in the entire series in which they scored more than one run. To be sure, losing rookie star Vince Coleman in the infamous “runaway tarp” incident during the previous series against the Dodgers didn’t help, but that alone didn’t explain the Cardinals’ team average of .185 against K.C., setting a record for lowest batting average for a team in a 7-game World Series. The Cardinals even benefited by another questionable umpiring call earlier in game 6: Kansas City’s Frank White was called out on a stolen base attempt despite appearing to have been safe from multiple replay angles. The next Royals batter lined a base hit which would have likely scored White for the game’s first run.

Important Life Lesson Part of This Post

Are there parallels between one of baseball’s most controversial calls and one of America’s most controversial elections?

Every Denkinger moment has both a history and a subsequent series of events that made it significant. It didn’t come from nowhere and after it happened, it could have been contained. Donald Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. While his Republican opponents were bickering and posturing, Trump got alienated voters on board. Sure, many of them saw him as the least of several evils but a desirable Republican candidate could have easily put an end to the issue. Similarly, the Democrats put up a candidate who failed to inspire. Perhaps they never took the opposition seriously; perhaps, like the St. Louis Cardinals, they felt as if being right should have trumped (sorry) winning. Either way the results on November 8th, 2016 were, as they were on October 26th, 1985, tough for the losers to swallow.

The most compelling, actionable parallel however, is in the reactions following the key moment. After the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Cardinals’ game 7 meltdown, there was little reflection among Whitey Herzog, the players or the fans about how the team could have done better. In the months since the election, I have seen articles making fun of Melania Trump’s inefficient planning of the Easter Egg Roll; re-posts of tweets by Trump against Syrian involvement vintage 2013; all manner of clever Sean Spicer memes and a general contest among bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers to be the most shareable critic of the administration.

What I haven’t seen is any serious indication of who the Democrats plan on grooming for 2020. The decisive winner of a March, 2017 Harvard-Harris poll, with 45% of the vote, was “Someone new.” Vegas apparently likes Elizabeth Warren, but the Massachusetts senator, with declining numbers in her own state, faces a no-sure-thing election in 2018 – possibly against former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling (see, you just can’t escape baseball!)

Will the Dems (and other Trump opponents throughout the political spectrum) continue the path to self-destruction as the Cardinals did or will they take a page from Armando Galarraga’s playbook? The Tigers pitcher had a perfect game ruined by a first base umpire’s blown call, on a very similar play to the one from 1985. Talking to reporters after the game, Galarraga was calm and forgiving of umpire Jim Joyce, saying, “Nobody’s perfect.”

I leave you with the words of Seth Godin: “You can disdain gravity all you want…seek to have it banned. But that’s not going to help you build an airplane.”

 

Advertisements
May 30, 2016

#112) How not to complain #5: Condescension and condiments (an open letter to Sara Benincasa)

Note: the original article this post references was updated in October, 2016 to be more Trump specific. The previous version of the article focused more on the Republican party in general than Trump.

Dear Ms. Benincasa,

First, the good stuff: your recent article wouldn’t have struck a nerve with me if you hadn’t done something right. Like the other previous four subjects of my How Not To Complain series, you show potential in this timeless art form. Sometimes the boat needs to be rocked; sometimes we need to be douchebags, especially in the current political climate. When all of the douchecockery has been meted out however, has the opinion of your mark changed? For your incisive and witty deconstruction of voters who are motivated by “ego and need to talk about stuff at your organic locally grown dinner parties for the next four years”, come November, my vote will still be cast for one Gary E. Johnson, unless a porn star comes out of the woodwork an announces her candidacy.

Why did you fail to convince me? The C-word. Not that C-word; it’s condescension. Sometimes condescension is not only necessary; it can be highly entertaining. I’ve watched the video of Baylor basketball player Taurean Prince’s explanation of how his team got out-rebounded by Yale almost as much as Miss Teen South Carolina and “Asians in the Library” combined. Condescension resembles another C-word: condiments. Condiments can make a burger, hot dog or Amish-made soft pretzel taste great – but 1) they can’t mask lack of quality in the burger/dog/pretzel itself and 2) when they are used in excess, the main course itself is lost.

You start off with a promising main course: a new slant on a line we’ve heard before. “Don’t throw your vote away because [of] your ego and ‘personal brand'”, you say. “I get it if it makes you feel really good personally and like a great liberal with super awesome true blue standards to vote for Bernie and support Bernie. But when Hillary gets the nomination, and she will, it is imperative to vote for the Democrat because the DNC platform is vastly superior to the GOP values.”

Indeed, the villain of your piece isn’t so much Trump, whose name is mentioned only a few times in passing (and has shown himself to be just as much of an enemy of the Republican establishment as of the Dems), as it is the GOP itself. I’ll grant you that Republicans have not exactly distinguished itself over the last dec..quar..half centu…well, it’s been a while. I don’t, however, believe that the difference between the two parties is so big that “people… would suffer terribly under a GOP presidency and the Supreme Court for the next 10 to 40 years.”

The protein of your main course, your argument against Republican policy, consists of two examples: “No Child Left Behind” and abstinence-only education. We’re on the same page here: those were both turds. Rip Torn has a good phrase to describe abstinence only education; it also applies to NCLB. However, laughable as it is, has abstinence-only education truly “made people suffer?” Are Race to the Top and Common Core a drastic improvement over NCLB? Was American education the envy of the world during the Bill Clinton presidency?

Once those two examples are given, the rest of the dish is filled out by lines that are quotable and likely to get those who already agree with your arguments to nod vigorously but not likely to convert anyone to your point of view. “You’d consign us to 4 years of Trump and two or three decades of a disgusting, vile Supreme Court because you have a sad feelz in your tum-tum?” you ask. Fair enough, but your claim that my not voting for Clinton would be “an insult to me and women and queer folks and all the people who benefit and even have a chance to thrive under Democratic policies” just isn’t enough of a deterrent to stop me from pulling the lever for Johnson/Weld. The sad feelz I have in my tum-tum is hunger. The condiments, while tasty and original, weren’t enough to carry the dish.

 

 

February 26, 2016

#107) Why Marilyn Manson matters to the presidential race

Mitt Romney has come out of the woodwork with some dirt about Donald Trump’s taxes and I think I speak for those of all political leanings when I say, “Yaaaaawwnn.”

The fact that taxes proved the undoing of Al Capone notwithstanding, does Romney or anyone else really think that THIS will stop Trump? Haven’t we figured out by now that Republican tongue-clucking and Democrat Hitler comparisons only fuel the Trump juggernaut?

Clutch your pearls at his latest outrageous soundbite; Trump and his supporters will laugh you all the way to the fainting couch. Lecture ‘Murca all you want; they’ll just make a drinking game out of the number of times you say the words “hateful rhetoric.” Sure, many Trump fans are incorrigible rednecks who like hearing what they themselves are afraid to say, but not all of his voter base wears the white sheet. The best way to reach those behind enemy lines is to understand exactly how they came to back The Donald. It is in that spirit that I present  Marilyn Manson.

A friend of mine who grew up in a suburban Ohio community commented that the area is so white-bread, middle-of-the-road and cookie cutter that he understood how someone like Marilyn Manson could germinate from there. As Manson himself said, his Christian education made him fall in love with “what [I] wasn’t supposed to do.” The allure of the forbidden is powerful and it doesn’t get much more forbidden than Trump, whether you are a liberal or an establishment Republican.

Just as Marilyn Manson spoke to people who felt trapped by the sterility of the Lower Midwest, many see Trump as an alternative to an out of touch political machine and a hypersensitive social climate. In an article entitled “I am a socially liberal, millennial immigrant-and here’s why Donald Trump has my vote” author Eugene Spektor writes, “[M]y interests [are] no longer represented by either party…I am part of a generation that is facing stagnant salaries, rising debts and government programs that may not sustain us. I want a president with the business acumen to rectify these issues.” As an “immigrant who legally immigrated to this country”, Spektor believes that illegal immigration “has an unfair effect on legal immigration and the pursuit of the American dream.” A.J. Delgado writes in this article for Breitbart, “We have politicians who will throw us meaningless bones, corny platitudes…[a]t the end of the day, all do…the bidding of Big Business rather than ours.” On Trump’s political incorrectness, she says, “Where you see a lack of filter, I see transparency…Do we wish to be led by a politician who waits to see how the polls emerge on a subject before issuing an opinion?”

Even those who have concerns about Trump’s qualifications can see his appeal. In this piece for the Blaze, military wife and mother of eight Kimberly Fletcher expresses doubt about voting for Trump but also writes, “I love how Donald Trump puts the media in their place….I am so fed up with the media’s holier than thou attitude, shoving their agenda down my throat and flooding the airways with useless nonsense.”

It may all be academic at this point; the Trump train has long since left the station and Romney’s tax “bombshell” won’t stop it. People had their reasons for listening to “Some children died the other day, we fed machines and then we prayed, puked up and down in morbid faith, you should’ve seen the ratings that day“; they have their reasons for supporting a candidate who declared that he could “shoot someone and not lose voters.” Who knows; in keeping with his sense of showmanship and love of shock value, Trump may even pick Manson as his running mate.

December 21, 2013

#67) Rosa Parks is the new Hitler

It’s official: Rosa Parks is the new Hitler.

By that, I don’t mean that she’s responsible for the slaughter of 11 million people or that she has a recognizable mustache.  What I mean is, like that of Hitler, Rosa Parks’s name has become a last resort for anyone about to lose a political argument.

It’s generally agreed that during a debate or discussion, if one side has to use Hitler to make their point, by proxy, they’ve admitted defeat.  There’s even a name for the act of bringing Hitler into an argument: Godwin’s Law.  Just as people seem to have no trouble comparing their enemies to Hitler, there’s an emerging trend to conveniently align oneself, or one’s allies, with the civil rights pioneer.  Early adopters were doing it at least as far back as 2001.  After Sandy Hook I had to “unfriend” someone for sharing a photo comparing Parks’s right to sit at the front of the bus with the right to own an AR-15The latest example of playing the “Parks card” comes from congressional candidate Ian Bayne (R-IL).  He compared the plight of “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson–recently suspended by A&E, the channel that broadcasts the show, for making anti-gay remarks–to that of Parks: “In December 1955, Rosa Parks took a stand against an unjust societal persecution of black people, and in December 2013, Robertson took a stand against persecution of Christians.”

On behalf of my fellow political independents who on any given issue usually take the side of whoever sounds the least crazy and desperate, I implore Bayne and his like-minded colleagues to lay low on this one.  Don’t make yourselves look nutty.  Last year the GOP lost what should have been an easy-win presidential election on social issues alone.   Insanity is, as the old saying goes, doing the same thing and expecting different results.

I happen to disagree with A&E’s decision to suspend Robertson, not because I sympathize with his sentiments–I don’t–but because he’s DOING WHAT HE’S SUPPOSED TO BE DOING.  If A&E is trying to earn points by showing Robertson and his family at the dinner table, heads bowed in prayer, they also need to accept the less attractive side of his Christianity.  Punishing  him for expressing homophobic views is akin to Indiana University’s firing of Bob Knight for having too many temper tantrums.  But comparing him to Rosa Parks comes off as a little bit self-important.  The very conservatives such as Bayne who embrace capitalism and preach personal responsibility should see Robertson’s suspension as a market response, not censorship.

Nancy Pelosi recently encouraged her colleagues to “embrace the suck.”  Let’s all make that a goal for 2014.  There are certain issues on which not everyone will see eye to eye; that’s a given.  But we have to start somewhere, and we can begin with making our discourse more civilized and literate.  Whatever the debate may be, let’s just agree to leave Hitler and Rosa Parks out of it.

December 13, 2013

#66) Embracing the Suck

Nancy Pelosi may be smarter than she looks.  In response to the latest federal government budget deal, the House Minority Leader encouraged her Democratic colleagues to “embrace the suck.”

What exactly does it mean to “embrace the suck?”  In this context, it’s about accepting circumstances and moving forward, acknowledging that things won’t always work out as you want.  In the political world, it could be interpreted as recognizing that while there will always be partisan bickering (and intra-partisan bickering), the job of all elected officials is to make America better. It can also refer to non-politicians who don’t see eye to eye but must work together: corporations; sports teams; musical groups; even friendships and marriages.

The use of “suck” as a noun may have its origins in the Marines; the phrase “welcome to the suck” was used frequently in the film “Jarhead.”  The suck is a situation that, well, sucks, but can also bring people together, as in the Marines.  While the suck might not be enjoyable while it’s going on, surviving it creates a bond among those who have experienced it.

The suck can definitely create positive results.  The tensions between John Lennon and Paul McCartney produced some of the Beatles’ best music.    Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant may hate each other, but they each won more rings together than separately.  The suck can also create personal growth and often those who overcome it can inspire others with their story.  If there was no suck, we wouldn’t enjoy the great moments of our lives.

Will Pelosi and her colleagues on both sides of the aisle embrace the suck?  Will the two parties start working together more efficiently and amicably in 2014?  There’s no way to know for sure, but in its own way, Pelosi’s phrase is a small step in the right direction.   Hopefully the suck will become an obstacle which both parties will work together to vanquish and not remain a response to a less than perfect situation.  All of us have to deal with the suck, regardless of our background.  Help in handling the suck can sometimes come from unlikely places.

April 9, 2012

#41) Learning from Geniuses (geeks): Game 16, Move 37

I came across an interesting chess story the other day.  Yes, I realize, for most people, using the words “interesting” and “chess” in the same sentence is contradictory, but this one contains some good teachable moments – even for those outside the chess world.  (And anyone who reads this blog knows how much I love teachable moments).

In 1984, 21-year old Garry Kasparov, the future world champion, was challenging incumbent Anatoly Karpov for the title.  Karpov had been the reigning champ since 1975, when Bobby Fischer refused to defend his title against him.  The rules of the match stated that the first player to win six games took the prize.  Karpov was crushing his young challenger, leading four games to none (with 11 ties).  In the sixteenth game, after 37 moves, Karpov offered Kasparov a draw, which was accepted.  At the time, no one had any idea that this unspectacular activity would be discussed (and blogged about) in the decades to come.

Many experts who have since analyzed the position at the point where Karpov offered a draw have said that he could have easily won the game, taking a commanding 5-0 lead.  It’s easy to assume that, after falling behind so early, Kasparov might have become discouraged and lost the match soon afterward. As it turned out, following the draw, Kasparov started mounting a comeback.  After losing a fifth game, he won three, but following many more ties–40 total–the match was called off.  The two players battled again in 1985 under different rules, and Kasparov won.

Garry Kasparov would go on to make waves both in and out of the chess world.  He defended his title against Karpov in 1987 and 1990, but all the while, he was feuding with FIDE (Federacion Inernationale des Eschecs, or World Chess Federation; pronounced “fee-day”), the governing body of professional chess.  Kasparov formed his own organization, the Professional Chess Association.  In 1993, when he defended his title against Englishman Nigel Short, he did so under the jurisdiction of the P.C.A., not FIDE.  FIDE organized a championship match between Karpov and challenger Jan Timman, which Karpov won.  In 1997, Kasparov was defeated by a computer called Deep Blue, after which he speculated that the machine was being “fed” moves by its inventors.

While Kasparov would retire from chess in 2005, he would remain an active political figure, outspokenly opposed to Gorbachev, Putin and other Soviet leaders.  At one point, Kasparov considered running for the presidency, but withdrew.

As polarizing a figure as Kasparov became, one could make the case that had Karpov not offered him a draw in a game he should have won, none of it would have happened.  The story of Game 16 illustrates some interesting points:

  • You never know when you might be on the threshold of victory.
  • You never know when, or how, an event – as unspectacular as it may seem – might impact the future.
  • Sometimes, geniuses can miss simple details, which are obvious to mere mortals.

To be sure, most peoples’ lives haven’t been deeply affected by whether Karpov or Kasparov was the champion, or whether chess is governed by FIDE or the P.C.A.  But it’s interesting to consider the impact that a seemingly inconspicuous move might have had on the game.  Like the removal of Yankees first baseman Wally Pipp (replaced by Lou Gehrig) or the chance meeting on Church Road in Liverpool between young John Lennon and even younger Paul McCartney, Karpov’s draw offer became part of history in a way that no one who witnessed it could have predicted.

September 18, 2011

#24) The Last Meals Project

Recently I came across the Last Meals Project, an online gallery by Jonathon Kambouris consisting of photos of death row inmates with their last meals super-imposed.  There’s a certain starkness to the work, and it’s hard not to look at these pictures and feel a sense of loss, for the lives the condemned took, and in some cases perhaps for the prisoner themselves.   In all probability, few tears will be shed over the loss of high-profile offenders such as Timothy McVeigh (mint ice cream) and Ted Bundy (steak, eggs and hash browns), but some of the lesser-known convicts undoubtedly had troubled lives.  Of course, had the victims of James Autry (burger, fries and Dr. Pepper) or Reginald Reeves (fried chicken and Coke) or any of the other killers shown here been my loved ones, I would have been happy to give the accused a knuckle sandwich as their last meal.  Nevertheless, the subjects of Kambouris’s project were human beings, regardless of what their crimes may have been.

The public knowledge of what a condemned killer ate for their last meal begs questions.  It’s natural to have at least some curiosity about why they may have picked what they did.   Sweets seem to be an obvious choice: besides McVeigh’s ice cream, other dessert items displayed here include an ice cream sandwich, Jolly Ranchers and chocolate chip cookies.  Comfort foods were also popular, such as Reeves’s chicken, and the oatmeal picked by Stanley “Tookie” Williams, executed in 2005 at San Quentin amid much public controversy.   There’s also a bleak minimalism to some of the food selections.  Aileen Wournous, portrayed by Charlize Theron in the film “Monster”, went out with a cup of coffee.  One prisoner had only a tortilla and water; another a single olive; another declined altogether.  (Since this blog was originally published, Troy Davis, convicted for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer, was executed in Georgia, and he also declined a last meal.)

There are some rather unusual items too.  One killer decided to have a jar of dill pickles for his last meal.  Another requested the Eucharist sacrament, and one asked for “justice, equality and world peace.”

Kambouris avoids explicitly commenting on the death penalty, acknowledging that pro or con arguments are “emotionally loaded”, although it’s not hard to detect a liberal slant in the information he presents.  If Kambouris’s goal was to give viewers pause and cause them to reflect upon the death penalty, regardless of any political affiliation, in my case, he certainly succeeded.