Back in the lineup

Following a mostly baseball-free trip to Lake Tahoe, I’m back in the world of the Internet (and, that means, the office). But because I have a fair amount of work to do this morning, I’ve got just some disjointed thoughts to offer.

1) Here are some things that people I overheard on the trip (at restaurants, airports, in the gondola at Squaw Valley) are more concerned about than I tend to be: Property values, cars, gas prices, commercials, and traffic. Oh, and there was the woman at the airport who was detailing to everyone in earshot the degree to which she always gets sick on airplanes. The short version: not quite sick enough to barf, but very close.

Things they are less concerned about than me: public transportation, bicycles, and baseball.

I’ll take my set any day.

2) We did get to see one game while we were on vacation. The last night of our trip we spent at Stacey’s aunt’s house in Sacramento, where I got to watch the Cardinals beat the Athletics on the Bay Area Fox Sports Network. And I got to feed Aunt Sherry’s pair of pet bunnies. It was a great day.

3) The flag at Wrigley Field at Saturday’s very chilly game was still at half staff. The Most-Loved Terrible President Ever has been dead more than three weeks! Isn’t it time to reflect his American optimism and pull that flag back up?

4) Speaking of honoring the dead, if I had been Commissioner of Baseball, “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the day Ray Charles died would have been played by solo organ or trumpet in every ballpark. It’s not like anyone is ever going to sing it better than he did at Game 2 of the 2001 World Series. Watching that performance, I was astonished that any such carefully staged moment as the pre-game National Anthem at the World Series could be so moving. On a song and in a situation where most renditions don’t even reach the level of craft, Ray Charles on that night produced art.

5) Jim’s posts recently have now doubled the amount of non-Maura-created Devil Rays content on the Internet. The infinity symbol no longer quite expresses the porn/Devil Rays ratio on the Web. Congratulations, Jim. The D-Rays will have your season tickets in the mail this week. Hope there’s room on that fast-rolling bandwagon.

6) Ron Santo and Pat Hughes on Friday had this exchange:
Ron: “Patrick, have you ever thought of writing poetry?”
Pat: “No, not really, Ron.”
Ron: “I think you should.”
Pat: “Well, I think I might just stick to broadcasting.”
Ron: “I really think you should write poetry.”
Pat: “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”

It’s good to be back.

Original comments…

sandor: Re: #3. I (regrettably) didn’t take any pictures, but in our short jaunt through southern Wisconsin this weekend, we saw an inordinate number of flags at half-mast. Probably more at half- than at full-. In fact, the larger the flag was, the greater chance it was halfway down the pole. It was astonishing.

Jim: They’re supposed to be at half-mast (or half-staff) for 30 days after a President dies. I seem to recall that 10 years ago, flag proprietors were pretty good about keeping them halfway down (or up) for a month after Nixon died, so if he can get that kind of flag cooperation, it’s no wonder Reagan is doing even better.

Levi: Wow. 30 days?

Stand me corrected!

But it still seems like an odd relic of, say, Victorian-style mourning, when you went through several specific stages of mourning with their accompanying public displays.

Toby: Levi, At Sunday’s Cardinals vs. Reds game (in which Junior hit his 500th homer), a kid from your hometown named Landon Bayley threw out the first pitch. Just an FYI.

Levi: How’d he manage to get to do that? And was it faster than Matt Morris’s fastball these days?

Toby: His grandfather is the Bayley in Martin & Bayley – the small Carmi company that built Huck’s into a major chain in the Midwest. It was Huck’s day at the ballpark. He got to meet Lou Brock, who, I believe, also threw out a ceremonial first pitch.

I’ve never clocked Landon so I don’t know if he’s faster than Morris, but I know he’s a good kid.

Like a middle-school dance

That’s how my father described the atmosphere of Wrigley Field the first time he was there, astounded by the fact that seemingly no one ever sits down for more than a couple pitches before wandering off again hither and yon.

Ordinarily, because my season ticket seat is high up in the upper deck, where the slope allows me to see over the heads of the perambulators, that’s just a minor source of annoyance for me. Kind of along the lines of that caused by people who don’t understand that you let the passengers off the train first before attempting to board.

But Sunday, we were in the lower deck, section 108, where to see the game we had to see over or through anyone in the aisle. And everyone was always in the aisle. Which led me to a couple of possible solutions.

The first idea is for true baseball fans to work up an advertising and media campaign to make wandering fans realize that, come the Day of Judgment, their behavior at baseball games–like all bad behavior–will be held against them. Just as a good fan might get extra credit for, say, knocking the glove off an opposing fielder reaching into the stands to attempt a catch, a drunken lout will find his balance sheet slipping more into the red for every time he staggered back from the concession stand and unwittingly left most of his new beer down the back of, say, a nearby nun. The calculation that determines eternal damnation is a complex algorithm, of course, making Fermat’s Last Theorem look like the formula for figuring E.R.A., but I have faith that trips up and down the aisle while yammering into two cell phones have their part in it. We just have to make the drunks realize it.

The second option is to have Pedometer Day at Wrigley Field every day. Each fan, upon entering, would get a pedometer, which he would be forced to wear during the entire game. At the conclusion of the game, everyone’s pedometer would be checked, and anyone who walked more than the average beer vendor would have to stay and clean the park with a toothbrush. His own. This plan has the virtue of simplicity and a very American attempt to encourage good behavior through imprisonment and hard work.

Anyone have better ideas?

Original comments…

Steve: Maybe make a 3rd inning, 5th inning and 7th inning stretch where people can go to a designated area and exchange phone numbers.

At Wrigley only of course….

Well, Wrigley Field still has less signage (modern euphemism for advertising) than any other ballpark. Actually, at one point during the broadcast, I think Bill Murray was joking with Chip and Steve about putting ads on the wall behind the ivy, at a reduced price, of course, since they’d only be visible in April and perhaps October. Or maybe it was Senator Dick Durbin doing the joking and not Bill Murray. I forget. What did come up during their conversation with the senator was a suggestion that he introduce legislation to force the Cardinals to trade Albert Pujols, preferably to the Cubs, or to the American League.

Anyway, here’s this week’s “Car Talk” puzzler, posted here because it happens to be baseball-related:

RAY: Lefty McDougal, star pitcher of the Kenosha Ramblers, had an incentive clause in his contract that guaranteed him an extra thousand bucks if he won 20 games during the season.

TOM: This sounds like 1925!

RAY: It’s last game of the season. Lefty has 19 victories, and is scheduled to be that day’s starting pitcher. The opponent is a lousy team. They’ve got a terrible record, and Lefty knows he’s going to get the bonus.

As luck would have it, an hour before the game his manager approaches him and says, “You ain’t starting, Lefty.”

Lefty asks, “Why not?”

The manager says, “The owner of the team came and said, ‘If you start this bum… if he throws even one pitch, you’re losing your job!'”

Lefty’s dejected. He says, “Jeez, I was going buy a new house in the Hamptons with that thousand bucks!”

Lefty’s discouraged, and the manager is discouraged too, because he has great regard for Lefty. The manager wonders, “How can I get Lefty to win his 20th game and collect his bonus– and not throw a single pitch?”

And that’s what happens. Lefty wins the game without throwing a single pitch.

How did he do it?

Original comments…

sandor: Here’s a guess. I’m not an expert on how win-lose records are figured, so I may have this wrong.

If the game is away, the Ramblers will bat first. Assuming they get a run in in the first inning, they’ll have the lead going into the bottom of the first. Lefty starts the game, but gets pulled for a reliever immediately before throwing a pitch. Assuming the reliever does his job, and the offense does theirs, and the Ramblers keep the lead for the entire game, wouldn’t Lefty get the win?

Levi: No–to get a win, a starting pitcher has to go five full innings.

The rules for relievers are much less solid, and I’m trying to come up with an answer. The problem I’m having is that so far, the only scenario I can come up with (pitcher comes in with 2 outs, runner on first in a tie game, picks him off, team takes lead in the bottom of the inning, he gets the win) is not a situation that the manager could plan for. And technically, that pitcher ought not to get the win, because the rule for awarding wins for relievers says that they should be the pitcher of record when the team goes ahead to stay, but it also mentions that, in a game featuring multiple pitchers, the win could be awarded to the pitcher who pitched most effectively. Wins are almost never parceled out that way, but in this case, I think even the official scorer might have to agree that a different pitcher deserved the win.

I’ll keep thinking.

Jim: I have here a link to a recent example of a pitcher getting the win without throwing a pitch. It’s similar but not identical to the situation Levi described, and it would still be hard to plan for.

Luke: Who gets the win in a forfeit? Maybe the manager persuades Lefty to offer half of his bonus to the other team if it forfeits.

Or maybe lefty balks four times to each batter, thus walking him, then picks him off the bag. He is left-handed, after all. He probably has a wicked move to first.

Luke, hanger-on: Oh, what happens when a starting pitcher dies after the game starts but before he’s thrown a pitch? Is it like when your roommate dies in college and you get a 4.0 for the quarter? (It’s probably a 5.0 now with grade inflation.) Assuming it’s a home game, let Lefty take the mound in the bottom of the first, then right as he’s about to start his wind-up, he takes a big lick of the hemlock he’s hidden in his glove, next to the emory board and Vaseline.

Luke, hanger-on: Well, what was the answer?


Some thoughts on yesterday’s Cubs opener:

1) The forecast, for once, was right on: 40 degrees, with a 20mph wind out of the northeast. That’s like having a personal wind just for my season ticket seat. So it was cold.

2) Sadly, no one wore a balaclava like Shawon Dunston used to do. I always felt like it was a form of protest from Dunston, saying, essentially, if you guys are going to force me to be out here in this shit, I’m going to look as silly as I can.

3) None of the players seemed to be playing with the urgency of people who realized how absurdly cold it was until the 6th inning, when three Pirates struck out, a couple of them on “We’ve got a six-run lead and my fingers hurt” kind of swings.

4) Not content with raising my ticket price 70% (from $10 to $17) in six years (and more than 100% in the twelve seasons I’ve been going to Wrigley Field), the Cubs seem in the last couple offseasons to have spent most of their time trying to figure out how to bring in more billions. Two seasons ago, they added silly little Sears ads by the dugouts. Last year, they added really tacky-looking LED screens along the roof of the upper deck in right and left. This year, they’ve replaced the three light boards–the one below the scoreboard in center and the two along the facade of the upper deck–with LED screens. So now we’ve got McDonald’s ads in center field during play. What’s their slogan these days? Gotta love it?
I half expect to show up for Opening Day next year and find the outfield grass mowed in the shape of a McRib.

5) Public address announcer Paul Friedman welcomed “those Cubs fans watching from the rooftops.” The request did not elicit the booing that the whole enterprise–and the strongarming the Cubs gave it–deserves.

6) The Cubs lost. Badly. I only lasted six innings, the fierce cold and wind overcoming my desire not to start the season with an incomplete entry in my book of scorecards.

Original comments…

Levi: By the way: I am a little bit embarrassed that I only lasted six innings. I don’t regret it, seeing as seven or eight of the thirteen walks the Cubs issued came after I left. But you’d think that, dressed for the cold, I could hold out longer.

Luke, hanger-on: Didn’t Stacey give you her flask to keep you warm?