For Love of the Game and League Perspectives
Home Runs &
Playing to Win and League Perspectives
Tuesday, May 11, 2009
I play to win. I can’t help it; it’s my nature. Now, I’m not cut throat about it in the sense that I will not play dirty to achieve victory. However, I’m not here just to have fun playing baseball: I’m here to bring home the trophy. Now, there are guys in the league who simply love to play baseball, win or lose. But not me: I’m here to win and when I don’t it hurts. The first ten or 15 minutes after a loss are the worst for me. That’s a time period when I will typically not say a word to anyone because I’m afraid of what may come out of my mouth. I’ve learned about myself that when I’m angry either over a loss or anything else that upsets me, my first and even second reactions are not to be taken into consideration. So, one of the benefits of being 50 and “wise”, is that I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut and my fists unclenched during my initial bad reactions and I wait for a more “mature” and “reasonable” state of mind to settle in.
I remember that a few years ago we were playing a team and at the end of what turned out to be a very competitive game, we were winning by a run or two. Since we have timing rules in the RJSL regarding when a final inning can be started, several of my most vocal players strongly urged me to inform the ump that, due to the lateness of the game, no additional innings could be played. This would, of course, guarantee our winning the game. Now, as I stated earlier, I want to win, but legitimately. I was somewhat skeptical if I wanted to defeat the other team by enforcing a technicality. So, I conferred with one of my trusted, level headed players, and he also advised me to terminate the game without giving the other team one more chance to catch up.
Well, to say that all hell broke loose would be an understatement. The opposing team was understandably furious and unfortunately, a couple of their players said a few things to me that I found insulting. And then I snapped. Although I knew in my mind that I would not physically hurt these individuals (somewhere along the line I learned that a Jew does not physically hurt another Jew), I did want to make a very strong and aggressive point that if they had the audacity and “chutzpah” to be insensitive and insulting, that there would be a price to pay. In retrospect, my initial reaction was not one of my proudest moments. After getting my wits about me, I called Marv and Sam and advised them that I was suspending myself from the next game due to my inappropriate behavior as both a team captain and a league player.
So, this brings me to yesterday’s fireworks during one of the games. I did not witness this particular acrimony, but I heard that it was not pretty and suspensions are certain to result. Now, without question, we have some very strong, competitive personalities in our league with very strong opinions regarding what is fair and unfair. These are highly competitive men who love the game and who will argue strenuously for what they believe is right. The problem is that if we allow everyone who feels transgressed on the field to vociferously argue their particular perspective we would have chaos on the field. On my team, it is very clear that all complaints regarding questionable calls go through me, without exception. Although I give some latitude to my players asking a respectful question to a very questionable call, anything beyond that is cut off at its knees, forthwith. I would have no problem throwing a player out of a game if required, although the refs typically beat me to the punch. In general, Sam and Marv have selected team captains that have learned how to keep their cool with the umps and also have the ability to manage the myriad personalities of their players. It takes a very strong personality to manage very bright, competitive players and a captain must bring to the game a strong sense of fair play, open mindedness and the ability to make the tough decisions. It’s certainly not easy to find the “middle ground” between the spirit of the game and the urge to win. It is impossible to make everyone happy, however, if a captain is perceived as fair and open minded, most things get worked out.
So, this brings me to a discussion that has surfaced many times over the years which continues to haunt both the commissioners and many of us captains: how do we manage the weaker players in the league? Yesterday, I witnessed a game where the person playing first base was making errors hand over fist. He simply did not belong at that position. In our game yesterday, one of my players requested playing first base with the supporting argument, “I’ve played first base for other teams for years”. Well, it takes a very strong, competent first basemen that can handle the high velocity throws of a Yossie Ritterman or a Moshe Hans. Although my instincts were to not permit this individual to play this position, my heart got in the way and, let me just say, I should have gone with my instincts. Before I could make the necessary changes, our regular first basemen informed me in a very definitive manner “I’m taking first base”. I wasn’t about to argue with him: he’s a great first basemen.
There are certain positions where you can place a weaker player such as second base or short center field and positions such as first base or short stop that competence at the position is mandatory. Our league has evolved to the point where most players expect their cohorts to perform. Most of us become incensed if a player makes error after error, costing us runs and threatening the successful outcome of the game. Last night during the Samet vs. Jada game, a player asked my opinion regarding the fairness of his sitting on the bench for two innings of every game. I advised him that if he was on my team, he probably would not play more than four innings and that he was fortunate to have a captain like his. Several players on teams where the captain has an equitable” approach to managing their players made it very clear to me that they were very unhappy and risked the team falling apart due to disenchantment. My advice was that if enough players on the team felt this way, that this sentiment be brought to the captain in one unanimous voice. I remember having an informal meeting with my team several years ago and I put the question on the table as to how they wanted me to manage the team: each player gets equal playing time or that I use my best judgment to position assets to help us win games. Well, you can tell by the results of last year’s championship what direction we decided to pursue.
Now, the commissioners attempt to find balance by mandating that a player must be placed in the field for at least four innings and I certainly support their requirements. And yes, new rules have been enforced which mandate a captain to “more equitably” play their weaker players during playoffs (I believe that I was personally responsible for this rule since I only utilized my “A” team for virtually every game during the playoffs to help insure our victory). So, yes, I did upset some off the guys that did not get to play and yes, we did win the championship. So, was there a greater good? I believe that a majority of the team feels that we did what we had to do to win. We wanted it badly and Sterling had possession of the throne for too long. Was it “fair” to the weaker players? I represent the sentiments of 17 players and the commissioners and I did what I needed to do. No excuses and no regrets. Would I play my cards again the same way if I was permitted: no question about it. However, my hands will be somewhat tied by the commissioner’s sense of fair play which I am required to support.
So, what’s going on in the league? After one very wet week, we finally got the opportunity to play some baseball. My game against Merockdim did not go as planned. What is that expression: "The best laid plans of mice and men” or “men plan and G-d laughs”. All week, Captain Effy of Merockdim was complaining that most of his good players would not be attending yesterday’s (Sunday’s) game again WC, insinuating that a Merockdim loss was inevitable. Well, even I started to believe that we had this game in the bag and this would be our opportunity to knock the campers out of first place. I wrote to my team a day or two before the game: “Show neither weakness nor mercy. Treat this game as any other extremely competitive game or else the outcome may not be a happy one”.
Let me just say at the outset that I hate roller coaster rides The accelerated ups and downs and upside downs wear on me. I enjoy strong strategic defensive planning and tactical hitting to win my games. Well, all of that went out the window against the campers. They were simply tearing the cover off the ball. WC pitcher Loebenberg was putting it accurately over the plate but Merockdim was taking nothing less than batting practice on us. As I wrote in my game summary: Well, if this was Merockdim's "C" team, then their "A" team must be devastating”. We were very lucky to pull out a 14-14 tie with the exceptional help of Shruly Dahan's grand slam home run. In an email to my team after the game I stated:
The fact is,
earlier in the game we kept putting the ball right over the plate and
they took batting practice on us. The difference in their hitting after
we decided to continuously jam them was remarkable. They could not make
anything materialize for the last three innings because we kept the ball
inside. Shmuel, we have to work more closely together to jam the hitters
so that they cannot strike with impunity. Let's use today as a learning
experience and be more aggressive twisting the batters in knots at the
I was unable to attend the Marv’les vs Sterling game but outside of the acrimony which assaulted the senses of the umpire, Marv'les has moved way up in the standings! They are only a point behind WC and Merockdim!!! Wow, where did they come from? Way to go Sammy boy! Keep on truckin. As I said in one of my earlier blogs, the Marv’les team is a great bunch of guys and obviously a team to take very seriously.
Sterling, on the other hand, has not found their edge, yet. There is tremendous talent on this team but Captain Chaim certainly has his hands full maintaining calm when things are not going Sterling’s way. At some point, Sterling will find their groove but calmer heads will have to prevail in order to sustain a winning streak which will take them to the playoffs.
Last night, I sat with the Samet team as they took on Jada. A few years ago, Dovid Hoffman and Eli Gelb gave me a few very important batting pointers regarding keeping my right elbow high in the air and keeping my eye on the ball until after making contact, so that I could avoid hitting the ball in the air. Their advice has paid off time and again. I decided to share this wisdom with several of the Samet players, arguing that it was their line drive base hits which always propelled them to high league standings. Well, some of these boys appeared to take my advice because for a short period of time, Samet looked like the Samet team of old, hitting the ball with impunity. They executed hit after hit and were finally able to clinch their first win 5-4.
Now, to be fair, first string Jada pitcher Vic Fein was absent from the game and left fielder Jeff Astor pitched for Jada. With stronger pitching, Jada may have walked away from this game with the W. They are a feisty group and they play to win. We have yet to hear the last from Jada this season. I believe that they will make a strong play for the title before the season is over and the rest of us better stay on our toes.
I got to play for the Framers in the Framing vs. Bubbas game which ended in a tie (my second tie of the day). Bubba’s had their “A” team available for the first time this season according to Captain Yaakov Katsof. These guys certainly have talent and “speed”. They kind of remind me of the Sterling team from five years ago. Incredible natural talent and a tendency to push “the envelope”. I was particularly impressed with Bubbas pitcher, Naftoli Solomon, who not only pitched well, but drove hit after hit deep into left field.
From my vantage point, I was convinced that Bubbas would take the win. Bubbas executed very strong hitting to left and left center field, hitting the ball repeatedly over the Framers outfielder’s heads. However, Captain Avi and his Framers appear to possess some kind of magic which pulls them out of deep trouble. They yielded it in their game against WC and they did it again last night. Mendy Halpert is now a big part of this team and he appears to represent what is best in this league in regards to our younger players in terms of talent, fair play and sportsmanship. It did not surprise me when Mendy beat out a grounder to first base, advanced to second on a walk, stole third which forced a poorly thrown ball by the catcher which ended in the outfield and permitted Halpert to score the tying run. It was, simply, a thing of beauty to watch. Of course, at the bottom of the last inning, with the Framers threatening a win with men on first and third with two outs, and Captain Avi at the plate with a full count, and I’m up next, I yell over to him: “Don’t you dare put me in the position to make the last out!” Avi just smiled (having hit earlier in the game a bases clearing triple for three RBI's), swung at the next pitch and grounded out. Thank G-d! Better him than me!!!