Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Hey, #MLB: What’s With the Terrible Umps?

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This year in baseball, I’ve seen more awful calls by umpires than ever before.

I know this seems hyperbolic, but it’s true. The umps have made bad call after bad call after bad call. I don’t know who’s supervising them, but something has to be done.

Why am I saying this, other than the fact that I’m annoyed with the umps? Because over the weekend, my Milwaukee Brewers had a series with the Minnesota Twins in Minnesota. The umpires, led by crew chief Brian Gorman, made plenty of bad calls, most having to do with the strike zone. (For non-baseball fans, the strike zone is generally from the batter’s knees to the top of the letters on his jersey. The pitch also has to be reasonably close to the batter. Pitches that hit the zone but are in the opposite side’s batter’s box are balls, not strikes, because they’re too far away.)

But the most egregious thing was this: Bench coach Pat Murphy brought a lineup card out on Saturday night, and somehow managed to get ejected before the game even started. As Murphy is not known to be a hothead, and seems for the most part to be a rather calm and collected person, this made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Now, you may be asking, “So, Barb, they have instant replay now. Why aren’t these calls being fixed by the instant replay folks?”

First, there is no such thing as an instant replay of a ball or strike count. No matter how bad it is, it can’t be challenged by instant replay.

Second, on the plays that can be challenged (such as a close play at first base, say), the instant replay people seem to get it wrong at least 40% of the time.

Third, sometimes it seems like all of the umpires have no idea what they’re doing in a major league baseball stadium. (And I say this being a fan of former umpire Ron Luciano, who was one of the most ebullient and charismatic umps to ever work a major league game.)

I know that major league baseball (MLB) has procedures to grade umpires on what they’re doing and what they’re not doing. But I have no idea if MLB realizes just how bad some of these umps are, as they don’t tell us anything about these evaluations.

Now, I will admit that I am especially frustrated because there have been not one, not two, but three umpires — female umps — in triple-A baseball in the past thirty to forty years that were every bit as good as the male umps, but never got a chance to umpire in a major league, regular season game.

Yet we have these yahoos out there, who are willing to throw out a bench coach before a pitch is ever thrown, and before a game has even started.

My solution would be to make the umpire evaluations public. (At least that they’re doing them. Please!) And take another look at the current female umps in the minor league system, if you would, ’cause I can’t believe they’d be any worse than some of the idiots we have up here now. (All apologies to the good umps, as I know there are still some in MLB. But really, this is just wrong.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

August 29, 2021 at 8:23 pm

2021 Baseball Oddities, or, The Baseball Curmudgeon’s Rant

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Folks, it’s no secret that I am a huge baseball fan.

I have followed the Brewers almost since their inception in 1970. (I was quite young, but I remember Hank Aaron’s final games as a Brewer in 1976.) They have never won the World Series, but they have played in one (in 1982); they have come close, since switching to the National League, to getting to the World Series again, but have not actually gotten there. I say all this to explain why I am so irritated with 2021’s version of Major League Baseball (MLB).

First, there are the rules changes that happened last year during the height of the Covid-19 crisis. These are meant to shorten games, which made sense then — but doesn’t, now, considering there is a vaccine — and they are profoundly vexing.

What are they, and why do they frustrate me so much? Simple.

It used to be, in extra innings, that no one started on base to start the inning. This made sense. An extra inning was just like every other inning, and of course no one should be on base when they haven’t gotten a hit or taken a walk or gotten hit by a pitch, or any number of other legal baseball plays that would put them on base in a normal fashion.

But now, there’s a rule that starting in the tenth inning in normal games that the last person who made an out in the ninth inning gets to stand on second base. If that person scores. it’s an unearned run against the pitcher.

That rule reminds me of Little League.

Remember, these are MLB players. They are used to the grind of a 162-game season. They do not need to start on second base to shave off time from a game now that there is a vaccine.

But that’s not the worst rule.

The worst rule is that if a doubleheader is now played, the game will only be seven innings long.

Yep. You saw that right. Only seven innings.

That means that the eighth inning is when that stupid rule about putting someone on second base who doesn’t belong there and shouldn’t be there happens in a doubleheader. It also means that someone can pitch a complete game (which up until now was defined as a full, nine-inning game unless shortened by weather or other problems) and only go seven innings.

This reminds me of preschool ball, before the kids even get to Little League.

Again, these are pro players we’re talking about, used to the grind of a full season of baseball. They don’t need games to be shortened to only seven innings, and they definitely don’t need to start putting people on second base if they’re going to insist on that stupid rule until the tenth inning.

As a fan, these things irritate me quite a bit, as I’m sure you’ve figured out. But I have one, final piece of news to impart that’s even more infuriating than that.

I walk with a cane. I say this because I am considered to be a disabled person.

How does this relate, you ask? Well, in 2020, major league baseball decided to change the name of the list of players who can’t play from the disabled list (DL) to the injured list (IL).

Did they really think I can’t tell the difference between me, a truly disabled person, and someone who went on the DL?

To my mind, changing it was the height of political correctness. And it did not need to be done, at all.

So, to reiterate: we now have three different changes in MLB since last year. None of them make any sense in 2021. I definitely do not like any of them. And I wish they’d change them back.

P.S. The other night, I was frustrated when the Brewers lost, 6-1, in 11 innings to the St. Louis Cardinals. My mother and I had watched the game in its entirety together. The announcers, who were fill-ins from the usual pair of Brian Anderson and Bill Schroeder, didn’t seem to understand that we and other fans had actually watched the whole game, and reiterated that the Cards had scored five runs in the top of the 11th several times before we even got to the bottom of the 11th.

I actually wrote in to the Brewers Facebook page to say how upsetting this was to both me and my mother.

I mean, I can count to five. Can’t everyone?

Remembering Henry Aaron

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Last Friday morning, baseball Hall of Fame great Henry “Hank” Aaron passed away in his sleep. Aaron was many things in his lifetime: a phenomenal player, a good husband, a wonderful father, a great friend, and possibly most of all a humanitarian.

I never met Aaron, personally, but I remember going to one of his last games when I was quite young. This was in 1976. Aaron was 42 years old and a designated hitter for my hometown Milwaukee Brewers team, and it was cold, a bit rainy, and windy…when Aaron hit the ball over the fence, no one was sure if he had hit it fair or foul. To me, where I was, it looked fair. (No instant replay in the stadiums, back then.) But the umpire called it foul (no way to challenge that, back then, either), and that was that.

Aaron already had 755 home runs at that point, making him at that time the greatest home-run hitter in Major League Baseball history. But that near-miss home run is what sticks with me, mostly because Aaron didn’t complain. He didn’t yell at the umpire. He may have shaken his head a little, but he went back into the batter’s box and finished up his at-bat. (I think he struck out.)

Put simply, Henry Aaron was a class act.

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel wrote an article today about a service held in Atlanta earlier today, where many different people spoke. (Some spoke by Zoom, some by recorded messages, and a few in person, as is proper during a pandemic.) Here’s one of the salient quotes from that article from Atlanta Braves chairman Terry McGuirk:

“He will always be known as our home run king,” McGuirk said. “For our organization, Hank was much more than those stats, much more than the greatest ballplayer of all time. He helped guide our organization ever since his playing days ended.

“Doing things the right way was one of his mantras. The saying on the front of today’s program, which is also on one of the pillars here, reads, ‘What you do with your life and how you do it, is not only a reflection on you, but on your family and all those institutions that have helped make you who you are.’”

I think that quote sums up what most of us are trying to understand in this lifetime. Think about it a little bit: “What you do with your life and how you do it is not only a reflection on you, but on your family and all those institutions that have helped make you who you are.” This, in one pithy saying, gets to the heart of the matter: we are who we are because of what we’ve learned, because of the people we’ve come into contact with, and because of our own efforts (the phrase “have helped make you who you are” is key in that).

Henry Aaron was 86, and lived a good, long, honorable life. He was a tremendous player — even in 1976, his final year as a player, it was obvious that everyone on the field had great respect for him. The stats can’t possibly show his value and worth as a human being, though…only those who knew him, and of his philanthropic nature, and of his wish to lift others up as he, himself, had been lifted along the way, can fully know that.

But what I know is this: We lost a wonderful person when Henry Aaron passed away.

We truly did.

Now, all we can do is remember his mantra (as stated, above, by McGuirk) and live every day the best way we can. (Or, to go back to my blog about the John Wesley saying, “Do all the good you can, for as long as you can, for as many you can.” That’s my paraphrase, but I hope it works.)

And if you’re able, do one small thing every day to better someone else’s life…just ’cause it’s the right thing to do. I think Henry Aaron would approve of that — and I, myself, definitely do.

When Life Is Like Baseball

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Folks, if you’ve read my blog for a while, you may have noticed that I am a baseball fan. (My Milwaukee Brewers jersey, worn in the picture I put in the “About” section, kind of gives it away.) And while I haven’t written much about baseball in recent years, that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped watching it.

Or learning from it, either.

Yesterday evening, the Brewers played the Washington Nationals in the National League Wild-Card play-in game. This is a one-game playoff, and whichever team wins the game advances.

My Brewers did not advance.

Now, they were ahead until the bottom of the 8th inning. (One inning away from winning the game, if you’re not a baseball fan.) But at that time, three pivotal events happened:

  1. Home plate ump called a hit-by-pitch instead of a batted ball when the ball clearly hit the knob of the bat of the hitter rather than any part of the hitter’s hand. And when the Brewers complained, and asked for a replay, the umps doing replay didn’t fix the call.

    Had that call been a batted ball (inadvertent, but still), that runner would’ve been out. Instead, the runner was awarded first base, and that ultimately mattered because…

    2. Josh Hader, the Brewers bullpen ace (and “closer,” meaning he finishes games and usually shuts down opposing hitters cold), did not have his best stuff. He was missing the locations catcher Yasmani Grandal was asking for that Hader normally would’ve hit…and Hader was clearly rattled by the ump’s bad call, too. And that led to the bases being loaded, which led to…

    3. Hader gives up a single to Juan Soto of the Nationals. Soto’s ball went to right field, where Brewers OF Trent Grisham waited. However, the ball got past Grisham (somehow), meaning three runs scored rather than one, or two. (Probably two runs would’ve scored there no matter what, but for the sake of argument, you could say it was possible that had Grisham fielded the ball properly, he could’ve thrown out the second runner at home.)

    This error was costly.

    Check that. Beyond costly.

And after all that happened, instead of the Brewers leading, 3-1, as they had at the beginning of the inning, they now trailed, 4-3. And they weren’t able to muster a rally in the ninth and climactic inning, though OF Lorenzo Cain singled with one out. (This meant the tying run was aboard, but was unable to score.)

Game over.

But that doesn’t mean the season was a waste. Far, far from it.

The Brewers season was good this year. They had ups and downs. They could be streaky. They lost their best player, NL MVP Christian Yelich, at the beginning of September. Several of their other best players, such as former NL MVP Ryan Braun, Lo Cain, Keston Hiura, and Mike Moustakas, were battling through injuries. And they still kept going, and made an improbable run in September (going 20-7) to get to the Wild-Card Game at all.

Persistence, grit, and heart in action. It was fun to watch them overcome so much adversity in September.

That said, this was a disappointing loss. It hurt, as a fan, to watch it. And I’m sure the players didn’t enjoy it either, most especially not Grisham and Hader.

Now, the title of this blog is, “When Life Is Like Baseball.” So you might be wondering, “Barb, what on Earth are you going on about, nattering about the Brewers game? They lost. So what?”

Well, life is like this, too. You try, and try, and try again, and sometimes you make errors. Sometimes you get bad calls, where you did everything right, but the person in charge feels you still did it wrong…and sometimes, your best play (or player) is going to let you down, because that’s what the law of averages is all about.

No one wants to make a critical error in a one-and-done situation like Grisham did, mind. And no one wants to blow a save at the worst possible time, as Hader did.

Sometimes, you are going to make your best effort, and still lose. This doesn’t mean that you should stop trying, but it does mean you have to learn from your mistakes.

You have to keep going, though. Despite disappointment. Despite adversity. Despite setbacks.

You have to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and sometimes you have to wait a long time to “get a bit of your own back.” (Or better yet, just live well and let that be the best revenge. Or in the Brewers case, play well.)

But you can do it. No matter what the adversity, setback, or disappointment, you can do it if you learn from your mistakes, you keep on trying, and you make your best effort every day.

I firmly believe that. And I hope you do, too.

MLB Pitcher Tyler Skaggs Dies at 27

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I didn’t know anything about major league baseball pitcher Tyler Skaggs, before yesterday.

Then I found out that Skaggs had died at the young age of 27. No one’s sure why. He went to bed in a hotel room in Texas, as his team, the Los Angeles Angels, was about to play the Texas Rangers. And he never woke up. No foul play was suspected.

Skaggs’ death reminded me right away of another tragic and early death in major league baseball. St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile died in 2002 at the age of 32 after going to bed in his hotel room while traveling with his team. No one suspected foul play there, either — and indeed, there was none. In Kile’s case, he had undiagnosed atherosclerosis — and it was so bad, it caused him to have what amounted to a massive heart attack. (Blood could not get to the heart properly, I think was the cause — but this happened in 2002, so don’t quote me.)

Skaggs’ death, as awful as it was, appears to have been a natural one.

Now, athletes — major league athletes in particular — tend to get the best possible medical care. They know so much more about how their bodies work, and why they do this, that, and the other; they know all sorts of things about fast-twitch reflexes, and they can repair ACLs (anterior cruciate ligaments) to fix blown-out knees, and they can do Tommy John surgery to fix blown-out arms.

But with all that the doctors know, there’s still a great deal they don’t know.

My father calls this “the practice of medicine.” (As in, they’re just practicing.) And I suppose that’s as good a way to look at it as any, when it comes to sudden and unexpected deaths.

You may be wondering why this bothers me so much.

Years ago, when I was a child, I remember being at a Brewers game at Milwaukee County Stadium (the old stadium). New York Yankees catcher Thurman Munson had just died in a plane crash, and there was a moment of silence for him. (Munson was a pilot, and was in the air in his own plane on his day off, if memory serves.)

I hated the Yankees. They were the Brewers biggest nemesis in the whole wide world. But I realized that day that Munson, as well as being a fantastic player, was a fellow human being, who left behind a family and friends and colleagues.

That, too, went through my mind when I heard about Skaggs’ passing.

Skaggs sounds like he was a very good man, in addition to being a good pitcher. He’d been involved in the California Strong campaign along with Brewers Ryan Braun, Christian Yelich, and Mike Moustakas; they all raised money for the victims of the California wildfires.

So, as in the deaths of Munson and Kile, Skaggs’ death has left big holes in the hearts of his wife and children; his extended family; his friends; and his colleagues.

All I can do is send a prayer or two, and hope it’ll do some good somehow.

If you’re so inclined, that may be a good idea also.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

July 2, 2019 at 4:44 am

A Teensy Little Baseball Bloglet…

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Folks, as I continue to heal from the respiratory nastiness, I wanted to give you a brief update about how my favorite baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers, are doing in the playoffs.

Last night, the Brewers had to win or they’d have been out of the playoffs. And they did win, forcing a climactic game seven tonight in Milwaukee against the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s rainy, windy, and cold, but the Brewers’ stadium, Miller Park, has a roof so the game will be played.

If the Brewers can win tonight, they will go to the World Series for the first time since 1982. I was young then, and yes, I did go to both a playoff game and a World Series game. (I was a huge fan then, too.) Old Milwaukee County Stadium was electric with energy; though we didn’t have a roof, we had tons of fans who knew and loved baseball, and it was a wonderful experience even though the Brewers, then in the American League, did not win the World Series.

The players back then were so much fun. My all-time favorite, catcher and right fielder Charlie Moore (he who threw out Reggie Jackson from right field in game 5 of the ALCS). Hall of Famers Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. First baseman Cecil Cooper, a great hitter and one of the all-around good guys of the team. Starters Pete Vuckovich and Mike Caldwell and Moose Haas. Reliever extraordinaire Rollie Fingers, also a Hall of Famer. Homegrown second baseman Jim Gantner, a guy who could and did anything required of him. And swingman Jerry Augustine…who now works for Fox Sports Wisconsin as an analyst.

My hope is that the 2018 Brewers will someday be as well-regarded as my 1982 team, and that the kids coming up today will know all the names: Ryan Braun, Mike Moustakas, Orlando Arcia, Jesus Aguilar, Travis Shaw, Lorenzo Cain, Keon Broxton (who I hope, if the Brewers do make it to the World Series, is activated for the WS as he’s such a dynamic force in the outfield and on the basepaths), and MVP candidate Christian Yelich. If they do, and can remember back to this wonderful year, and think of it with fondness, that’s all any baseball fan can ever ask.

Now back to healing, already in progress…

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 20, 2018 at 12:47 pm

Six Things for Saturday

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Folks, I know I didn’t write a blog all week, and I’m sorry. So without further ado, here are six takes on six different things. (Why six? It’s Saturday. I like alliteration. It makes sense in my head, anyway…)

  • I’m very happy that my favorite baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers, are in the playoffs. They haven’t had a team this good since 1982, and that year, the Brewers (in the American League back then) made it to the World Series. I don’t know if this year’s team can do that or not; much remains unclear at this time. But they have had a great year, and their bullpen is the main reason, along with the play of MVP-candidate Christian Yelich.
  • I’ve thought a lot about editing this past week. Some books that I’ve otherwise loved end up with odd errors in them. One such error is “fairing” instead of the proper word, faring, as in, “How are you faring?” (Meaning, how are you doing.) I don’t know why this keeps showing up in books, except that I’m guessing the authors either didn’t have good editors or they relied too much on spellcheck and/or grammar check. (No spellcheck or grammar check in the world is as good as a real, live editor.)
  • I am far from indifferent to the political situation we have going on in the US right now. I am frustrated with the descent into tribalism. We cannot get any traction if those of us in the middle are either vilified or ignored. And yet, if you try to take a middle stance on anything, that’s exactly what happens. As I’ve said before, change usually is incremental. (Mind, it may show up, all of a sudden, as a huge one, such as when same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 states in 2015. But it took decades of progress to get to that point.) And to get that incremental change, you need people who are willing to look at the problems — take a good, hard, rational, fact-based look — and then compromise to get the best solution possible.

Now, is this hard to do? Damn straight it is. Most people do not have the wherewithal to truly serve the public rather than themselves, or worse, special interests/big moneyed interests. Maybe they want to serve the public, but can’t figure out a way; maybe they get to state capitals (or even more challenging, Washington, DC) and get blinded by the “bright lights, big city” phenomenon.

But this is what must happen to have good, positive public service. And right now, because no one trusts anyone else politically and there’s very little bipartisanship to be had at any level, those of us who just want to fix the potholes and make sensible public policy get pushed to the side. And that’s wrong.

  • Someone asked me if I believed Doctor Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony. The answer is that I did. Something definitely happened to her, and she was definitely sexually assaulted. Her behavior afterward is characteristic of that, as is the fact it took her years to put herself back together. So yes, I believed her. And yes, I believe we need to listen to sexual assault survivors, and make better public policy overall if we can in that regard, too.

(Before someone says, “But Barb! That doesn’t say Judge Kavanaugh did anything! You have no proof! She has no proof either beyond her bare word,” I will point out that I am answering only the one question. I wait for facts.)

I am very pleased Doctor Ford put herself back together, mind, and used her experiences to better inform her life, make better and more positive choices in the long run, and get her doctorate (which is a very big deal). That’s hard to do. She did it. She deserves credit for it.

And the people who are angry with her for telling her story need to show some compassion. Even if they think she’s flat wrong, they should be praying for her; they shouldn’t be doxxing her or sending death threats. (That should go without saying, but somehow, it no longer does.)

  • Weather is the last bastion of bipartisanship in the United States.

Weather is a great equalizer, you know. We all face it. We all have to deal with it. We all have to learn to live with it. And we all have to figure out ways to cope with it.

In my area in Southeastern Wisconsin, we’ve had lots of rain lately, with some of it overflowing the banks of the various rivers. That is never good. (We also are getting more rain and the ground is super-saturated already. Also not good.)

So, weather is still bipartisan, and is still a safe subject. (Hallelujah?)

  • Sixth and last, if I’ve learned anything from this life, it’s that I can’t change anyone else. I can only change me. (And that happens very, very slowly.)

Why am I talking about this? Recent events in my personal life, mostly. I have had to face the fact that no matter what I want, certain folks just aren’t going to change. I have to deal with the problem as it is (or as a golfer would say, “Play the ball as it lies”); I can’t prettify it up or hope for better.

Now, this can be depressing, if you take it one way. But it also can be liberating.

See, if you’ve done everything in your power, and nothing has affected the outcome, that just shows you’re in the wrong place. Or maybe with the wrong people.

So, going forward, I will keep working on myself, and my craft, and my art. And if I can find like-minded souls willing to walk with me on the journey, good.

If not? Well, I’m going to have to stop bending myself into pretzel-shapes, and save steps.

Any comments from the peanut gallery? (Preferably not about politics?) Let me know in the comments!

Why I Don’t Care About Josh Hader’s Teenage Tweets

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As most of you know, I am a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers. I love baseball, enjoy the Brewers, watch their games, sometimes write blogs about them, and have been happy to keep the faith over many years of mostly non-winning, non-viable teams.

This year, the Brewers have a better team than they’ve had in years. After last year’s shockingly good season (where they missed the playoffs by only one game), they remain in the playoff hunt. And they placed five players, a team record, in the All-Star Game: Jeremy Jeffress, Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Jesus Aguilar, and Josh Hader. Two of them, Hader and Jeffress, are relief pitchers; two, Cain and Yelich, are outfielders; the last one, Aguilar, is a first baseman.

But rather than being happy the Brewers placed five players on the All-Star team (a nice accolade to have), Brewers fans woke up yesterday to a very sour story, that of Josh Hader’s teenage Tweets. Hader’s Twitter account (now locked down to “private” mode) was public, and went all the way back to 2010 or 2011…and some of the Tweets from that time period were pretty raw. Hader bragged about the size of his, er, male anatomy; he quoted raunchy song lyrics without attribution; he said he couldn’t stand gay people; he even made an odd KKK Tweet. (This latter made no sense, but Hader has been an elite-level pitcher since high school. I want to believe he maybe meant this as a reference to three strikeouts in a game he’d pitched, though who knows?) Worst of all, to my mind, was the disregard he showed, whether it was to women, LGBT people, minorities, or anyone else nonwhite and not an elite athlete like himself.

(Note that I am not linking to the screen-capped Tweets, mostly because this is a family blog. (I also believe you can find them elsewhere without too much difficulty.) They aren’t pleasant reading. I felt like washing my mind out with soap after reading them. But back to the blog.)

The thing is, Hader was seventeen at the time of these Tweets. I do not condone what he said; I, myself, would not have said anything remotely like that at seventeen, and I was considered an elite-level musician at the time, with multiple scholarship offers. (Not exactly the same thing as Hader, and certainly without the earning potential. But close enough.)

Still. He was seventeen. And one would hope he’s learned better by now, as he’s now twenty-four.

His teammates have said what’s expected. (Jesus Aguilar in particular came out and said Hader’s not racist, and that everyone should know it.) They know Hader better than anyone else. They do not believe he’s a bigot. Nor do they believe he’s misogynistic.

Look. We all have said something we shouldn’t, that hurts us. (I know I have.) It may not be as bad as this, no. But it is something we do because we haven’t fully matured yet, or maybe we just don’t realize the impact our words have on others yet.

Or, perhaps, we all make mistakes, so we can learn from them? Or try to learn from them?

In this day and age, when mistakes can linger for years and years–as Hader’s did, waiting to bite him on the butt in 2018–shouldn’t we learn how to forgive and forget? Or at least forgive?

Also, keep this in mind: Hader is not making public policy. He is not in charge of the federal government, or the state government, or even the local government…he is a baseball player. A pitcher.

In other words, Hader’s words have only as much effect on us as we allow. And if his teammates are all right with him, and providing he continues to work on himself and mature and become a better person (as we all must, if we want to get something good out of this life at all), why should we care about his teenage Tweets?

So, that’s my position. I do not care about Hader’s Tweets from 2011. But I do care about how he acts right now. And my hope is that he will be able to become a force for good, and use his celebrity and money to good effect.

In that way, he can transform this obnoxious episode from his past into something better. And then, maybe, his old Tweets can become a blessing…that is the best-case scenario.

Why I Love Baseball

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Ever since I was a child, I have loved baseball. There’s something about how the game is played, including the managerial moves (pitching substitutions in particular), that has captivated me, and made me want to learn more and more about it.

Early on, I read the biographies of Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and several other ballplayers. Most of the players I read about had struggled to get the big leagues; Jackie Robinson, in particular, had a very rough go of it as he was the first black player to break the “color line” (that is, the lily white major leagues). And whether it was race, poverty, or race and poverty, most of the players I read about found a way out of their bad situations, and made decent livings for themselves as ballplayers.

Because back then, ballplayers — even huge stars like Robinson and Aaron — were not paid extravagantly, as they are now. There were no millionaires in the major leagues until after Curt Flood challenged the reserve clause (and gave the baseball world free agency, and thus shifted salaries rapidly upward), though perhaps a few people came close to making a hundred thousand dollars now and again. And except for the really big stars, most players had to work in the off-season at regular jobs. Car salesmen, say, or at the post office, or maybe at the grocery store.

So if they weren’t making big money, why did most of them play? I think they did it because they enjoyed it. It’s a fun game, baseball; there are lots of different things to watch, from the pitching, the hitting, the defense, the managerial substitutions…a good manager can take a ho-hum game and make it dramatic, if he has the right team and makes the right moves at the right time.

Of course, sometimes, you don’t need a manager for the dramatics to occur naturally.

My favorite team, the Milwaukee Brewers, have had many interesting things happen over the years. The Brewers have had position players pitching in blowout losses; they’ve had inside-the-park home runs (one memorable one was Prince Fielder’s, several year back; Fielder was not exactly svelte compared to most other players, so seeing how fast he could scamper around the bases was a particular delight); they’ve had players do nearly everything, except win a World Series. (One of these years, perhaps that will happen, too.)

But around baseball, there are dozens of things that happen a night that are interesting, and usually there’s at least one truly different and unique happening every week or so. Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants third baseman and all-around good, beefy guy, pitched a stellar ninth inning in a blowout loss just last week, and amidst the hysterical laughter by all the relief pitchers in the ballpark (home and away), there were some genuine compliments. Especially as Sandoval was the one “pitcher” who managed to get through an inning without giving up any runs for the Giants in the entire ballgame, these compliments seemed warranted.

And again, I turn back to my team, the Brewers, for a novelty. They were in a game earlier this year where the first two batters (from the opposing team) hit back-to-back home runs, which is not novel in and of itself…however, the fact that the Brewers, at the very end of the game, hit back-to-back home runs to end it was the first time that feat had ever occurred in the modern history of major league baseball.

Yeah. The first two guys hit solo homers. And the last two guys also hit solo homers.

Now, that’s entertainment!

Anyway, I love baseball. It can be thrilling. It can also, occasionally, be downright boring (I’m looking at my Brewers again, here, as they mounted almost no offense during last week’s series against the Cubs — must I say, again, that two runs over four games does not make an offense?). But even the boring moments usually have a silver lining, if you look hard enough…and hey, on nights like that, I can catch up on my reading.

So it’s always a win/win, as far as I’m concerned.

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 2, 2018 at 4:19 am

Pablo Sandoval, and Point of View

with 12 comments

Folks, I’m a baseball fan, so maybe this will make more sense to me than to you. But here goes…

A few years ago, third baseman Pablo Sandoval was on top of the world. His then-team, the San Francisco Giants, had won the World Series, and his power hitting was a big part of that effort. He had every right to feel proud, much less satisfied, and he certainly did.

But he also became a free agent, able to sign with any team, not too long after achieving that pinnacle. And because he was feeling buoyant, or maybe just because he was feeling “immature” (his own words now, but I’m getting to that), he got very angry with his team, the Giants, and signed with the Boston Red Sox instead.

Now, just signing with another team is not a big deal. (Yeah, it hurts as a fan when your favorite players do this, but it’s a part of the 21st Century baseball fandom experience.) But saying bad things about your now-former team is a big deal.

But at the time, Sandoval’s point of view was that he was a big power hitter. Surely, playing in Boston with the Green Monster (a very famous wall, for non-baseball fans) was going to help his power numbers. And anyway, he was frustrated with the Giants because they’d told him he had to keep his weight down. (My guess there is that the Giants wanted Sandoval on the field, and to keep him free from injury. But that’s definitely not how Sandoval took it. As a larger-sized person, I completely understand that impulse, mind you…but I digress.)

Unfortunately, Sandoval’s belief did not carry water. He went to Boston, but didn’t do particularly well. He ended up fighting nagging injuries, appeared to gain weight (which may have contributed, but may not have), and because he’d signed a very large contract, quickly fell out of favor with the Boston fans.

Then, he was designated for assignment this year, and given his outright release. Which is a very humbling thing for a baseball player…not something anyone ever wants, even though Sandoval’s contract was and remains guaranteed so he will be paid.

This story has a happy ending, of sorts, because Sandoval was re-signed by the Giants to a minor league deal. And Sandoval apologized for his previous comments, saying he was “immature” and that he really hadn’t felt that way. (My guess is, he was just angry over a wide variety of things, and didn’t know how to express himself.)

So, Sandoval adjusted his point of view, and realized that he’d had a good experience in San Francisco after all. The fans loved him there; the front office treated him well; he’d been given good medical support; and he’d played well.

That’s why he is back with the Giants farm system, and is attempting to get his hitting stroke back.

Now, what’s the lesson the rest of us non-baseball players can learn from this?

Sometimes, life is all about the point of view. And our point of view may not be accurate. We can make mistakes. And when we do, we have to own up to them.

It’s not easy, no. But if you can swallow your pride — as Sandoval did in signing a minor-league deal with the Giants — you have a chance to still achieve your heart’s desire.

I know I’ve made my share of mistakes in this life. I can’t take all of them back. (Some of them, I would not take back, because that’s the only way I learned. But again, I digress.) But one thing I have learned is that Sandoval’s reaction here was right on the money; he told his pride to take a hike, and did what was necessary to try to rejuvenate himself and his career.

More of us should be like Pablo Sandoval. (Further writer sayeth not.)