Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jose Reyes on how not to play the game

By now, most of us know that Jose Reyes won the National League batting title yesterday, and the way he did has caused a lot of controversy among the baseball punditry. Basically, he played 12 minutes or so in the last game of the season, going 1-1, on a bunt single. He then took himself out of the game, with manager Terry Collins's blessing, so that his batting average was safe and that he would thus seal the deal.

Well, fans everywhere know that Don Mattingly played the entire last game of the 1984 season when he edged out teammate Dave Winfield for the batting title. Mattingly had to go 4-5 to do it, and the margin was only .003. I remember this game well because I was lucky enough to see it up close -- sitting a few rows behind the Yankee dugout with my wife, Meg, and my friend F.X. Flinn (it still amazes me how he procured these seats). Applause greeted both Don and Dave every time they returned to the dugout. These guys understood that you play the game hard, and you play it every day, even when the outcome is basically meaningless.

I wonder if Reyes knows about this. I wonder if he knows that Ted Williams played an entire doubleheader (going 6-8) on the last day of the 1941 season when he became the last player to hit .400 for an entire season. Yeah, he probably knows it and doesn't care. Because his agent probably has some clause that gives him extra bonus money for achieving the goal. How classless. Reyes couldn't carry Williams's cummerbund, let alone jock strap.

The capper of all this was Terry Collins, who apparently wept at Reyes's achievement during a post-game press conference. Hasn't Collins seen "A League of Their Own" with Tom Hanks?

On the talk shows this morning, several debates surrounded the issue of fans paying a lot of money to watch a ball game, and how disappointed they must have been when they saw the Mets star leave the game so abruptly. As a ticket buyer, I'd be furious. But it's even worse when you consider how many dads and moms took their kids to the game, and these kids wanted to see a hero/role model play the game. Gee, how do you explain it to them? Reyes cheated the kids, that's all.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why I Hate the Grammys

I love music as much as everyone else, and I have a rather ecumenical view of those who are partial to a particular genre -- classical, jazz, rock, rap, hip-hop, country, R&B. But the Grammys, which are technically given for artistic achievement in the world of recorded music (and supposedly not beholden to chart position or sales), signify our overabundance of awards and award ceremonies.

It's just gotten way out of hand. In 2010, there were 109 different Grammys handed out to those achievers in the music community. I'm certain everyone who received one of those little statutes felt terrific, and their fans felt almost as good. But 109? Come on. Do we really need number 93, "Best Remixed Classical Recording?" Or "Best Album Notes?" Or "Best Boxed Set or Limited Edition?" Is anyone connected with any recording
not nominated at some time in their career?

This propensity to make everyone feel good has cheapened artistic achievement, and if anything, it shows that those who work hard to create and choose not to really "compete" are the classy ones who are worth remembering. Jean Paul Sartre declined the Nobel Prize for Literature; Le Duc Tho also turned down the Peace Prize, claiming there wasn't anything that resembled peace in Vietnam in 1973. Brando turned down the Oscar for Best Actor in The Godfather, less because he didn't believe in awards than he thought the American Indians were still getting a bad shake in America. I do recall Dustin Hoffman graciously making reference to all those actors out their who were struggling just to get a job when he took home his statue. Those who persisted every day, forging ahead despite the rejection, were the true achievers and deserve some recognition.

I guess this is why I still like baseball so much, despite all its foibles. There are only a half dozen or so awards given out in each league every year, and I can still name them -- Cy Young, MVP, Gold Glove, Rookie of the Year. There are no awards for best bullpen catcher or third-base coach. Those guys know who they are anyway.

Every few quadrennials, there is some threat or other of one of the major nations to boycott the Olympics. I remember during one an elite marathon runner was asked how he felt if his country withdrew and he missed his chance at a gold medal. His reply was sort of ho hum, and what I remembered was that he said something like the marathoners didn't care. They could all run without numbers or uniforms and it would be just be fine by them. What class. All about the journey. And knowing within their little community who was best on a given day.

Otherwise, we're simply Bestowal Bloated and should think about toning it down some. Best efforts often go unrewarded. So why are we making a pathetic effort to keep adding to this pile? Maybe mankind is suffering from a collective lack of self-esteem?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Trouble With Gold Star Syndrome

As a follow-up to yesterday's blog, I want to take a moment to complain about our propensity to overpraise our kids to make us feel better as parents. If you haven't read it, listen to the argument of Lori Gottlieb who wrote a provocative cover story in the July-August issue of The Atlantic called "How the Cult of Self-Esteem is Ruining Our Kids." When I saw the cover art -- a huge gold trophy inscribed GOOD TRY, I smiled.

My son Jake played soccer for five years, and he wasn't very good and finally confessed years later that he hated it. I apologized. He should have just up and quit, but of course he didn't because he didn't want to disappoint his parents. (His street hoop game is pretty good, however.) I recall that he brought home trophy after trophy every season for simply showing up. In 1998 the West Side Soccer League even gave me a medal for my "commitment and service," presumably for setting up goal posts and painting the lines on blustery weekend mornings. The medal was larger than the one I won for finishing second in the New York State Wrestling Championships in 1967. The sacrifice, sweat and the hours of hard work that went into that little quarter-sized emblem was incalculable. I also remember a college wrestler winning an NCAA title make a telling comment to his beaming high school coach: "I wouldn't care if all they gave me was a postage stamp."

I know parents are trying to do the right thing. I realize that we're all struggling every day for that zen middle ground between humility and arrogance -- confidence without sounding off like a jerk? I guess -- but we've lost our way. Let the kids fail occasionally and then help them pick themselves up. It's a continuing life lesson, and the earlier they can handle it the better off they'll be.

I'm certainly proud of a lot of the things my son has done, but one thing he did really made me feel good. He tossed all those meaningless trophies that he had. Just cleared the shelf one day and never said a word about it. He knew all along. But I still have that little token that signified that on a Saturday a long time ago I was the second best wrestler in my weight class in New York State.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hero Worship Gone Amok

About a dozen years ago, I went on a job interview to write speeches for a prominent high-tech executive on Long Island. While waiting in the lobby of the steel and glass building, there was a bronze sculpture prominently displayed. I decided to check it out. The bust was the head of the company founder, and my potential client. I thought at the time, "This is a very bad sign. What kind of ego does it take to do something like this?" My instinct was, leave now. I didn't. I took the gig, at very high pay, and lasted but three weeks. I resigned via fax. The man was a nice guy but clueless. I told him I could deal with the difficult, not the impossible. I told him he needed "a stenographer and a shrink, not a speechwriter," and that I had neither of those skills. His outside PR firm told me that my resignation letter had made the rounds and it had everybody in hysterics for the entire day.

Today, The New York Times published a piece on the trend in Major League baseball to honor great players like Johnny Bench with bronze statues, usually located somewhere in the stadium plaza. There is one of Hank Aaron, one of Ty Cobb, and so on.

Now, here's my rant. Let's wait till these guys are at least dead. It's embarrassing. Aaron? An all-time great and one of the four or five best to play the game. Bench? Great catcher. Cobb was an asshole by nearly every account (see Ray Liotta's great comment in "Field of Dreams" on why they didn't invite Ty to play with them), but at least he's under ground.

Recently, they renamed the Queensboro Bridge in New York after ex-Mayor Ed Koch. Come on, folks. The man is still alive and bitching. Want your name on a bridge while you're around, pay for the upkeep, I say.