Bob Schwartz

Category: Baseball

Cleveland Indians Win and Win and Win

It appears that I haven’t published a baseball post this season. It also appears that while I wrote about the 2016 World Series before it began, what I didn’t write about was the Cleveland Indians missing winning the World Series last season in the last inning of the last game.

There’s always next year, which is this year. It is nearly the end of the regular season, before the playoffs and World Series, and yesterday the Indians won their 22nd game in a row.

If you’re interested (and some of you probably aren’t, not being sports fans, and if you are, not being baseball fans), you can read and watch lots about it elsewhere, because it is a very big deal (22 Fun Facts About the Cleveland Indians’ Historic 22-Game Winning Streak, Inside Indians’ 22-game win streak).

Consider any high-level competitive setting in any field. Consider that you are up against some worthy competition, many of the best. Consider the ups and downs of the typical journey, even if you are very, very good at what you do. Then consider having to bring 25 people together, each with their own individual ups and downs, to make sure that over the course of about three weeks, nobody beats you at that thing you do so well.

If it ends today, it ends today, and the awesome achievement stands. And if it doesn’t end today? A lot of people, me included, have been saying, “Well, you gotta lose sometime.” But what if you don’t?

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Baseball Poetry: Joy and Tragedy in Mudville

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright…

Baseball has inspired more literature, novels, stories, essays, poems, than all other sports combined. It isn’t that those other sports haven’t inspired some great works. It’s just that the volume of baseball writing is so huge.

I’ve mentioned Bart Giamatti before: Yale University President, baseball commissioner, writer of exquisite baseball elegies. Also the recently deceased W.P. Kinsella, author of the ultimate novel about baseball magic, Shoeless Joe, and many other baseball stories. For other classic baseball novels among the hundreds published, see The Natural by Bernard Malamud and Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris, to name a few.

And then there are thousands of baseball poems, by professional and amateur writers/baseball fans. Poems about baseball in general, about particular teams, about particular seasons, about particular players. Multiple volumes of baseball haiku.

Here is a favorite baseball poem:

The Pitcher
by Robert Francis

His art is eccentricity, his aim
How not to hit the mark he seems to aim at,
His passion how to avoid the obvious,
His technique how to vary the avoidance.
The others throw to be comprehended. He
Throws to be a moment misunderstood.
Yet not too much. Not errant, arrant, wild,
But every seeming aberration willed.

And then there’s the most famous baseball poem ever, Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer. Note well: This poem, published in 1888, has been popular for more than a century. And it is a tragedy. Casey battles a nameless pitcher in the ninth inning, with two out, men on second and third. Casey strikes out. Any game that inspires such a poem, and any fans who embrace such a poem, understand something about something that goes beyond the simple and conventional. They understand baseball.

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to the hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, “If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.”

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ‘twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his
shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the
air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one!” the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled
roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his
hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, “Strike two!”

“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered
“Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles
strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children
shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

 

Baseball: You’ve Gotta Have Heart

Damn Yankees - Heart

With the World Series tied at 1-1, it’s a good time to look back to the baseball musical Damn Yankees. Its most famous song, sung in the clubhouse of a losing team, is Heart. (The same trope appears in one of the only really great football movies, The Replacements. Coach Jimmy McGinty (Gene Hackman) is asked by a reporter the secret to his ragged team of replacement players. He just pounds his chest and simply says “Heart”.)

So whether you’re an Indians fan, a Cubs fan, or no fan of baseball whatsoever, here’s some encouragement. You’ve gotta have…. Well, you know.

You’ve gotta have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start

You’ve gotta have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope
Nothin’s half as bad as it may appear
Wait’ll next year and hope

When your luck is battin’ zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door, there’s nothin’ to it but to do it

You’ve gotta have heart
Miles ‘n miles n’ miles of heart
Oh, it’s fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you’ve gotta have heart

World Series I Ching

world-series-2016

The rope fails to raise
Water
From the Well.
The pitcher is broken.
Calamity.
From Hexagram 48 – Jing/The Well

The World Series begins tonight. I am consulting the I Ching about it, and I will explain my purpose carefully.

As I’ve written before, in my view the I Ching is not a predictive oracle, a divining tool, a crystal ball, though it began that way thousands of years ago and is still used that way around the world. It is an insight tool, and an unsurpassed one, offering vision into circumstances and situations so that we may act more knowingly.

Which itself would be useful, if I was Manager of the Indians or Cubs. I could use it to help determine the lineup, or to decide when to pull the starting pitcher. And if I was a pitcher, I could use it to help figure out which pitches to throw, or as a batter which pitches to expect. I’m none of those.

The point here is to look into the attitude a fan might have as the Series proceeds on its roller coaster.

My lifelong love of baseball necessarily includes these ups and downs, measured in innings, in games, in seasons. Or in the case of the Cubs, who have been waiting 108 years to win a World Series, in centuries.

The I Ching is all about ups and downs. It is by title and essence The Classic of Changes. So why not ask it about the changes we are about to experience, as the Indians, this season’s little engine that could, defy the odds. Starting tonight on a very cold but still green fall field in Cleveland.

Some brief excerpts from I Ching commentaries on the received hexagram follow. As for interpretation, feel free to consider it all as the Series plays out.

hexagram-48

Hexagram 48
Jing/The Well

The structure of the gua is Water above, Wood below. This image gave the ancient sage the picture of a well. The water in a well was practically an inexhaustible resource. It was in constant use yet continually refilled. It was the source of life. The image also suggests that the roots of a plant draw water from the soil to nourish the stalk and leaves.

Decision

Neither loses nor gains.
Coming and going, drawing, drawing.
Nearly out of the well,
Break one’s bucket—misfortune.

Commentary on the Decision

Nearly out of the well,
The achievement has not yet been fulfilled.
Break one’s bucket;
There is misfortune.

Commentary on the Symbol

In correspondence with this,
The superior person encourages the people at their work
And urges them to help one another.

Judgment

At the Well.
The rope fails to raise
Water
From the Well.
The pitcher is broken.
Calamity.

On the Image of the Hexagram

Water above Wood,
The True Gentleman
Comforts the Folk;
He gives encouragement.

The Weird Randomness of Life

The Catcher in the Rye

I went to the gym this morning for my regular morning workout. The TV was on, but nobody was there. I saw that the remote control was gone. I climbed on a chair, pushed the power button and turned the TV off.

On further search for the remote, I discovered a handbag on the seat of stationery bike. I didn’t want to pry, but I peeked in to see if the remote had ended up there. Instead, I saw a copy of The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Are people still reading The Catcher in the Rye? They should and apparently they are. It is a great and famous novel. Once upon a time controversial, when it was published in 1951, because Salinger included the word “fuck” multiple times.

After this novel, another novel, and a book of stories, Salinger disappeared, like the remote control. He is considered the most reclusive and mysterious of contemporary fiction writers. W.P. Kinsella included a character based on Salinger in his novel Shoeless Joe, which became a character in the movie version Field of Dreams. The character in the movie is played by James Earl Jones, a big black man with a booming voice. Salinger was a white Jewish man, as far as we can tell regular size and regular voice.

In high school, I wrote a book report on The Catcher in the Rye, one that was supposed to be read aloud. The English teacher was one of those young, hip women, so I thought it would be alright. I was a little concerned about some of the quotes, specifically the ones that included the word “fuck.” In that class was a girl who was a friend, not a girlfriend, who read it before class and urged me to read it just as it was. She was a popular and cool girl, but mostly I wanted to seem cool to her because she was pretty and had really big breasts.

So I read the report out loud. This is one of the passages I read. The confused and questioning adolescent Holden Caulfield says:

I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another “Fuck you” on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn’t come off. It’s hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn’t rub out even half the “Fuck you” signs in the world. It’s impossible.

I wasn’t particularly confused, but I was punished. Someone in the class took offense and told the principal. I was called down to his office, and despite his liking me a lot and despite my record as a star student, he believed some sort of sanction for my indiscretion was necessary. The sentence was that my entry into the National Honor Society was to be delayed one year.

If I had it to do all over again, I would know that none of this mattered. I read the book, still love it, and maybe my book report led someone else to read it. If I was somebody else, then or now, I might have said something to the principal that was clever and super-meta, such as “Go fuck yourself.” I didn’t and wouldn’t.

On the other hand, if I go down to the gym tomorrow, and still can’t find it, I might say to myself—only to myself and not out loud—“Where’s the fucking remote?”

Books: W.P. Kinsella

The Essential W.P. Kinsella

The writer W.P. Kinsella has died at the age of 81. He is most famous as the author of the novel Shoeless Joe, which was turned into the beloved baseball movie Field of Dreams. (The book is infinitely better.)

That was only a small part of his work. He wrote many other books and stories, some about baseball, some about indigenous Canadians on the reserve (reservation), and others. All his work was by parts unique and charming and funny, filled with a lot of magic, because Kinsella was such a gifted literary magician.

I looked for an obituary to quote that didn’t spend most of its time talking about Field of Dreams. Not many of those. I also looked for an obituary that didn’t mention his personal life, which seems to have been untidy and ragged in some ways, as he apparently could be a difficult person, as talented artists are wont to be. He may have been difficult, but reading his work is easy, so what does it matter, at least to readers?

Many of his books appear to be out of print, as interest in his work has faded. His death has brought him more attention than he had for years, which is the way it goes. The good news is that last year a collection of his stories was published. Here is the publisher’s description of The Essential W.P. Kinsella:

This career retrospective celebrates the 80th birthday of baseball’s greatest scribe, W. P. Kinsella (Shoeless Joe), as well as the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams, the film that he inspired.

In addition to his classic baseball tales, W. P. Kinsella is also a critically-acclaimed short fiction writer. His satiric wit has been celebrated with numerous honors, including the Order of British Columbia.

Here are his notorious First Nation narratives of indigenous Canadians, and a literary homage to J. D. Salinger. Alongside the “real” story of the 1951 Giants and the afterlife of Roberto Clemente, are the legends of a pirated radio station and a hockey game rigged by tribal magic.

Eclectic, dark, and comedic by turns, The Essential W. P. Kinsella is a living tribute to an extraordinary raconteur.

And from a starred review in Publishers Weekly:

The career of the incomparable Kinsella is beautifully represented by these 31 short stories, including, of course, “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa,” the haunting tale of a baseball fan’s obsession with a long-dead star that was developed into a bestselling novel and then the film Field of Dreams. Other charming baseball fantasies include “The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record,” in which a fan agrees to sacrifice himself to bring back the recently dead Yankees star Thurman Munson, and “Searching for January,” which concerns an encounter with the deceased Roberto Clemente. Alongside these stories are several more realistic and mostly gentle satires, such as “The Fog,” that present the escapades of several indefatigable members of Canada’s First Nations. “The Grecian Urn” concerns a couple who can inhabit the interior worlds of great works of art. “K Mart” is the touching tale of three boys who use baseball to escape from their unhappy lives. Kinsella is a masterly writer of short fiction.

If you love good writing, please give W.P. Kinsella a read.

Baseball: The Green Fields of the Mind

The Major League Baseball season begins this weekend.

I’ve read, written and talked about baseball almost as passionately as about anything else in my life. Baseball people understand. Others may not.

Looking for something else to say besides what I’ve said before, including in this blog, I’ve decided instead to repeat myself. Or, to be precise, to repeat my repeating what somebody else said.

The fifth post on this blog was four years ago, just as that baseball season was beginning. The post, replicated here, speaks for itself. Even if you’re just a fan of life and not of baseball, there is something for you here.


A. Bartlett Giamatti was the president of Yale University and, for a brief time until his untimely death in 1989, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Besides his commitment to baseball, Giamatti was a man of letters who left behind some remarkable writing about the game. None is more moving and famous than his short essay The Green Fields of the Mind.

On the occasion of a new baseball season, here is an excerpt. Whoever you root for, whatever the season or the game – baseball, politics, art, religion, business, love, life – it offers hard to accept wisdom and the semi-sweet opposite of comfort:

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops…

It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised…

And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

Ken Griffey Jr. in the Baseball Hall of Fame

Ken Griffey Jr.

You probably don’t care that much about baseball. And I’ve been writing less and less about it, though it remains by far the greatest of our popular team sports, even if football has sort of taken over as America’s game. More’s the pity, as we seem to have chosen brute force in the service of skill and strategy over grace and talent actually forbidden to collide or be gratuitously aggressive.

Ken Griffey Jr. is going to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The official announcement will come late today. There will be plenty of stories to explain why and what it means, and you might enjoy reading a few of them.

He was known as Junior, in part to distinguish him from his baseball-player father, Ken Griffey Sr. If a son ever exceeded his father, exceeded even the highest expectations, and exceeded just about everybody else who played the game, Junior is it.

Read the stats. Watch the videos. And remember that just before baseball was mired in lies and controversies about stars succeeding by using performance enhancing drugs, there were a few actual supermen who did it themselves. Those who could do it all, including possessing the perfect swing. Junior was a cultural hero because he was both incredibly talented (literally, you couldn’t believe it) and so very cool. Actually, he was more like a cross between Superman and Batman.

It is uplifting to know that in this world there are such people.

Life Lessons from the End of the Regular Baseball Season

MLB Standings
The 162 games of the regular Major League Baseball season are over. Now the League Championship Series begin. For those who don’t care about baseball—or who think it a stupid waste of time—some generalized random thoughts about life lessons we can learn.

Cleveland Indians: The Indians closed the season with a ten-game winning streak. 10-0. That itself is a big deal. A bigger deal is that it came at the end of the season and kept them in the running for a spot in the playoffs.

Life Lesson: Winning streaks are good, well-timed winning streaks are better.

Boston Red Sox: Up until 2004, the Red Sox were one of the two legendary non-winners of World Series (Chicago Cubs are the other). Some attributed this to their selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919. Prior to that, the Red Sox were one of baseball’s great teams. After, the so-called Curse of the Bambino took over. They did get their mojo back, winning the World Series in 2004 and 2007, and having another great season this time around, with a 97-65 record—the best in baseball.

Life Lesson 1: Hang in there.

Life Lesson 2: There is no Curse of the Bambino.

Miami Marlins: The Marlins have the strangest history of any modern expansion team, maybe of any major league team at all. A rich guy owned them when they began in 1993. He bought a lot of talent, which led to their winning a World Series in 1997. He got rid of all the high-priced players before the next season, and so the World Champions had a record of 54-78. He sold the team to another rich guy, who would later own the Boston Red Sox. Before leaving, that rich guy set the stage for another World Series win in 2003. The current rich guy, who had previously owned a team that is now defunct, bought the Marlins just before that championship. He has subsequently changed his approach to baseball every year in a style that can be described as either whimsical or self-serving. To entice the leaders of South Florida to spend hundreds of millions on a new ballpark, he beefed up the team with lots of expensive talent for the 2012 season. He got the park, but the talent fizzled there, with a record of 69-93. He got rid of the talent, went for cheap and mostly untried young players, and the Marlins finished this season at 62-100. The most infamous upshot of his profitable penny-pinching was trading Miguel Cabrera to the Detroit Tigers in 2007, because he knew he could never pay what Cabrera might one day be worth. Cabrera is now almost certainly the greatest hitter of his generation, so it may not be the Curse of the Miguelito, but it’s close.

Life Lesson 1: When Eve complained to her nemesis in the Garden of Eden, the legless one who convinced her to break bad, the reply was simple: What are you complaining about? You knew all along that I was a snake.

Life Lesson 2: It’s all fun and games, but business is business. Not being cynical, just realistic. Whether you’re a fan of politics or music or baseball or whatever, enjoy the show, but don’t forget that.

How to Innovate: Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t

Willie Keeler

Here’s a bit of advice on innovation from baseball great Willie Keeler, who played in the majors from 1892 to 1910.

Batters usually hit to the field on the side of the plate they bat from. Right-handed batters stand on the left side of the plate and usually hit to left field. This is known as pull hitting. Some batters can time their swing so that they can hit to the opposite field—that is, right handers to right field—and this is appropriately known as hitting to the opposite field. In either case, when fielders know the tendency of the batter, they can be positioned to best catch the ball.

The greatest batters can hit the ball wherever they want, leaving fielders having to guess and work for every out, and leaving those hitters with awesome statistics.

Keeler was one of those greats. He was called “Wee Willie” because he was only 5’4-1/2” tall and weighed 140 pounds. That did not stop him from compiling a .341 career batting average (14th all time), hitting over .300 16 times in 19 seasons, and hitting over .400 once. If you’re not a baseball person, just trust that this is really good.

How did he do it?

He advised keeping the ball away from opposing fielders. “Keep your eye clear, and hit ’em where they ain’t.”

So if you are starting or renewing a business, starting or renewing a career, no matter how “wee” you think you are, take it from someone who knew. Hit ‘em where they ain’t.