Playing to Win and League Perspective
For Love of the Game and League Perspectives
Home Runs &
Baseball: An Institution Worth
Defending & League Perspectives.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Baseball is an institution in this country which has captivated the imagination of both men and boys for over 100 years. We marvel at the batting prowess of all the baseball greats and the fielding wizardry of so many fine athletes. We passionately root for our favorite teams and we are inundated with melancholy when our teams do not prevail. Yet, with few exceptions, the game of baseball is played out by extremely talented men who abide by the rules of the game in terms of professional conduct, integrity and dedication.
All over this country and Japan, baseball is a national past time. We teach our children the fundamentals of the game at a very early age and we enroll them in little league by the age of eight. However, baseball is not just about the fundamentals of executing a double play, hitting to the opposite field or winning the game. The principles of baseball equally stress the importance of playing as a team, fair play and mutual respect. I remember when I was a very young man I used to take the subway to watch the baseball games at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. This was a Mecca of many ethnically diverse athletic groups from all over upper Manhattan and the South Bronx, who gathered for the single purpose of doing one thing: playing baseball. The competition and rivalries between the various groups was intense, but they were well managed and umpired games and if someone wanted to make a statement, he did so by hitting the ball over the fence, not with his mouth. And, there was no missing someoneís ďstatementĒ when he made a diving catch, stole a home run or hit a grand slam. The message was loud and clear: Iím a force to be reckoned with so watch out!
As I look back on my youth playing baseball with public school kids in either the park or the school yard, I cannot remember any serious physical or verbal altercations. I remember choosing up teams and each team playing their hearts out to win the game. But, our personal reputations as athletes were determined by what we did at the plate or by our defensive ability. As I think back on it, we actually spoke very little, other than the normal encouragement we would give to a team mate stepping up to the plate.
So what is it about players that have a need to ďverballyĒ mouth off and violate the integrity of the game? What motivates someone who hits a three run home run to turn his backside to the opposing team and invites them to kiss hisÖ(you know what)? I was shocked when this actually happened in a game several years ago in Riverdale New York. When it initially happened, I was oblivious to the situation since as catcher, I was recovering from a bungled throw to home plate which permitted the hitter to reach home safely. But I did peripherally hear the initial outrage from my team (particularly the older guys) and then was subsequently advised via email of all that had transpired. To say that I was incensed and outraged would be an understatement. I believe what bothered me most was the absolute lack of respect this very young man had for his elders who were present on the opposing team. I was somewhat mollified that the offending individual was thrown out of the game by the umpire and he was further suspended from the league for one game. However, I remain somewhat mystified as to the lack of development this individual had in terms of self respect, respect for his elders and peers, integrity, and personal ethics. But, maybe, the bigger picture is that this individual blemished the game of baseball. I am a believer in second chances, but this national past time is to be treasured and honored and those who continuously bring the game dishonor, should be banned from the game.
This brings me to another hot subject: questionable or poor calls from the umpire. Since starting with the RJSL in 2003, I have witnessed more bad or questionable calls than I choose to remember. Some of them were real ďdooziesĒ and these unfortunate calls tend to really infuriate various members of the league. Under normal circumstances, most of us refrain from a collision course with an umpire due to both league rules and rules of personal conduct. However, every now and then, someone simply looses it and this invites a very unfortunate set of circumstances including the poor use of language, behavioral decadence, and a general ethical meltdown.
I personally accept that umpires will periodically make bad calls and that such calls are a part of the game. Sometimes, the calls are to my teamís advantage and sometimes not. I donít believe that they do it to be annoying or that they are taking sides; they simply did not get a good look at a play or a pitch and they end up making a judgment call which everyone knows is inaccurate. C'est la vie! Ok, so itís a bad call; get over it!
I remember once I was taking a big lead off of first base and the catcher nailed me by drilling a beautiful throw to the first basemen. Unfortunately for the catcher and the first basemen, the umpire called me safe. The first baseman was incensed and accosted me, demanding that I admit that I was out. So, I went over to the umpire and told him that I was out (at which point everyone on my team yelled at me in annoyance) but the umpire overruled my admission and stated that if he did not see it, then Iím safe. Case closed. Incidentally, I never again attempted to over-rule an umpireís decision which was in my favor. I see these periodic mistakes as part of the game of baseball and such mistakes are typically made as frequently to my advantage as they are to my disadvantage.
So, whatís happening in the league? With almost a third of the season behind us, everything is up for grabs. Although Westrock-Chai (WC) remains in first place point wise, several teams such as Merockdim, Marvíles, and particularly the Framers are threatening to overtake the Pizza men imminently. Last night, the Framers defeated Sterling which propels them past the likes of Samet, Marvíles and Merockdim to claim second place with only four games played (as compared to WCís seven games). Captain Avi is playing real hard ball out there on the field and he has the scrapped knees to prove it. Cool, calm and collected, this gentle giant of a man is propelling his team to heretofore undefeated status which Iím sure makes Shmuel Ber and Dovid Hoffman very happy puppies. Well, weíll see what Jada has to say about the Framers undefeated record when they meet next Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Itís a game that I plan to attend, either as a reserve player or a fan (Menachem, Iíll bring the drinks and desert and you bring the pizza).
Captain Effy and his campers missed their opportunity to grab first place when they were severely beaten by Sterling 15-2. Personally, I was hoping for a Merockdim loss just so WC could stay in first place for a little while longer. However, a loss this devastating was not anticipated since the campers seemed to be out in full force (although Captain Effy will argue that his double ďDĒ team played that evening). I, for one, am not buying this bill of goods and in reality, Sterling simply accomplished the essence of their gene pool: to win. During the first hour that I watched this game, Sterling was already ahead 6-2. One particularly exciting moment is when I witnessed Doc Friedman drive a hard hit line-drive which sailed over Avi Barenís head. In a flash, Avi raced after the ball and made a sensational running catch, arm and torso fully extended, robbing Doc Friedman of a sure home run. It was magic to watch and that magic gave Sterling another nine runs as icing on the cake.
Whatís so interesting to me is that Sterling defeated Merockdim with their relief pitcher, Jeff Weiskopf. Sterlingís lose last night against the Framers was led by ringer, Zevy Simanowitz. Although I have very few details regarding this competition, the Framers reportedly scored early and repeatedly and by the time Sterling got their wits about them, the Framers were already striding to the winners circle. I can tell that Captain Avi is going to be impossible to live with for the next few weeks until he is humbled by a few losses. I, for one, will certainly attempt to play my part in this endeavor.
I was particularly impressed with Sametís performance this week. Since I wrote the lionís share of the Samet vs. WC game summary this week (which will be soon erased from the RJSL website), I will borrow some of my previous commentsÖ
Midas or King Midas (in Greek Μίδας) is popularly remembered for his ability to turn everything he touched into gold: the Midas touch. Well, this week we experienced nothing less than the "Samet Touch". Starting with a 6-5 win over Jada, a 10-0 win by forfeit over Sterling and a 7-6 win over Westrock-Chai (WC), Samet has moved up six points in the league standingsÖ. On the one hand, Iím impressed that, considering Samets last place showing over the past few w eeks, they now find themselves in the middle of the pack. However, I predict that Samet has their work cut out for them and they are going to have to dig much deeper to continue their hunt for additional success. Winning by forfeit or edging out a depleted WC team will afford Samet points, but that will not be nearly good enough to defeat a burly Merockdim, a chomping at the bit Framers team or a manic-depressive Sterling organization.
Todayís Marvíles vs. Jada game is important in many respects. Should Marvíles win, they will rise in rank to 2nd place. Sam told me early in the season that his team had some guts to them, but I was not a believer. Well, if they can defeat a recoiled and threatening Jada team and swoop into 2nd place, I will believe. WC does not get to rendezvous with the sign makers until Monday, June 1st. However, I will have my organization ready and we shall dance.
As far as Jada is concerned, Iím watching this team very carefully. Jada has been frustrated of late and is poised to gain lost momentum. They do have talent and passion, but Iím curious whether Captain Yechiel Rubin can harness and direct his teamís passion towards an extended winning streak? I detect a deep personality conflict between this teamís leadership and the ornery, core, self starters that afford this team their true potential. Somehow, a meeting of the minds will have to be accomplished for Jada to focus on their first priority which is to win baseball games.
Last, but not least, Bubbas. After six games, Bubbas is bringing up the ďrearĒ. My obvious question is why is the youngest team in the league not performing? They have talent, they have speed, they have guts, so what is lacking? One possible answer may be a lack of discipline and consistency. In order for a team to have a winning recipe, they must have the discipline and respect to work well together as a team. Itís the overall coordination of a team to function as a strong unit that wins games. That requires consistency in showing up for games and overcoming weaknesses either offensively or defensively. Captain Yaakov Katsof certainly has the passion and the talent to lead his young cohorts. However, my question is will Bubbas allow Katsof to lead them to victory and success by perseverance and consistency. So far, the verdict is still out regarding the future of this team. If Bubbas ever makes the long term commitment to prevail, they will be a force to be reckoned with.
Until then, letís play ball!