Winning & Musing…..Volume 8.11

Congratulations to the Texas Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals for grinding through the l-o-n-g baseball season and making it to The World Series. To be honest I was pulling for the Detroit Tigers because I have always been a big fan of manager Jim Leyland, who I believe to be one of the genuine good guys in sports, but as long as the NY Yankees are sitting at home instead of still playing then it’s all good.

 

“Be careful what you wish for” is timeless advice that just might apply to quarterback Carson Palmer these days. Palmer won his months long pissing contest against Cincinnati Bengals’ management, only to be traded to the Oakland Raiders, a franchise not entirely unfamiliar with dysfunction. Let’s check back in a year or two and see who really came out ahead.

 

As usual I am rooting for complete chaos in college football when it comes to the flawed BCS system, but somehow things always seem to work out and end up with a legit #1 vs. #2 title game. Right now it is theoretically possible that as many as a half dozen teams could finish undefeated, which would wreak the desired havoc quite sufficiently. However, I am not holding my breath.

 

Three things I would do to improve baseball:

Shorten the season to 138 games. Each team would play the other 3 teams in their division 24 times (6 four game series) and the remaining 8 teams in their league 12 times (4 three game series). Each division would meet their counterparts in another division in the other league for one 3 game series. The season would begin in early April and be over by the first week of October.

Constriction. Reduce the league from 30 to 24 teams. The Washington Nationals would be absorbed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Florida Marlins would fold into the Tampa Rays. The Oakland A’s & San Francisco Giants would be combined into one franchise. The California Angels would be absorbed by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Houston Astros would absorb the Colorado Rockies. The Kansas City Royals would fold into the St. Louis Cardinals.

The post-season see each league’s 2nd & 3rd rated division winners match up in a Best-of-3 series. The winner would then face the top division winner in that league in a Best-of-5 League Championship Series. Then of course we’d have the traditional Best-of-7 World Series.

 

Rush Limbaugh was right and we’re seeing the proof right now. Quarterback Donovan McNabb has always been overrated, and now to complicate matters he is washed up. The 35 year old signal caller is about to lose his starting gig in Minnesota to rookie Christian Ponder after “leading” the Vikings to a dismal 1-5 start. But hey, the flaming liberals in the sports media can now turn their attention to anointing Carolina Panthers’ QB Cam Newton as their new Chosen One. Atleast he has genuine talent.

 

The NBA has already cancelled the first two weeks of the season and seems to be on the verge of eliminating games through December. I am actually a little bit excited about these developments because I am sincerely hoping that in place of games normally broadcast on Christmas Day ABC might treat us to a couple of classic holiday films like Miracle on 34th St., The Polar Express, The Santa Clause, or one of the bazillion adaptations of A Christmas Carol.

 

I am not a huge fan of open wheel racing except for the requisite impure thoughts about driver Danica Patrick and the annual tradition of watching The Indianapolis 500. There are just too many road courses and foreign influences for my tastes. But the recent death of driver Dan Wheldon was a tragic event and a reminder of just how dangerous auto sports can be. Since the accident that claimed the life of the legendary Dale Earnhardt a decade ago Nascar has taken huge leaps in safety, but I am not so sure the folks in charge of Indy cars can do the same. The machines themselves are just so small, and there is no roof on them at all. If there is a unanimous calling for reduced speeds that may help a little I guess.

 

Halfway through the college football season here is who I would invite to New York for the presentation of The Heisman Trophy:         Stanford QB Andrew Luck, Michigan QB Denard Robinson, Alabama RB Trent Richardson, Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson, and Oklahoma St. WR Justin Blackmon.

 

The recent brouhaha involving San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was laughable and a bit pathetic. Both men share equal blame…Harbaugh for being a disrespectful jackass to the person whose team he’d just defeated, and Schwartz for reacting like a pre-teen drama queen.  Grow up gentlemen.

 

 

Doing Whatever It Takes To Go Above & Beyond While Giving 110% And Leaving It All Out On The Field

I did my best

But I guess my best wasn’t good enough

I gave my all

But I think my all may have been too much

‘Cause Lord knows we’re not getting anywhere

–          James ingram, Just Once

 

 

I used to work for a company that tried to sell the employees on the idea of having a “Whatever It Takes Attitude”. That sounds great on the surface, but when one applies some critical thinking skills and digs a little deeper it is actually indicative of a rather sinister scheme that has infiltrated not only the corporate culture but all areas of society.

 

One of the many Dadisms that my father has taught me over the years is something along the lines of “They name streets after people like him/her/them…One Way”. And that is exactly what is wrong with platitudes like the “Whatever It Takes Attitude.” It’s a one way street. You are expected to go above & beyond, go the extra mile, and do more than what is typically required. Doing just what you are supposed to do is seen as lazy and putting forth minimal effort. Doing more isn’t appreciated…it is expected. But on the flip side, even after you’ve put forth extra effort, been readily available even when you didn’t have to be, and twisted your life in knots to help others the minute you make a mistake they turn on you like a viper. One…way…street.

 

We always hear athletes and other famous types talking about giving 110%. But my question is this: When did giving 100% cease to be sufficient?? Why is my best never good enough??

 

I am well aware that ultra-successful, driven, prosperous people like politicians, billionaire businessmen, doctors, lawyers, etc. are, more often than not, overachievers that embody the very ideal that I am railing against. And you know what…God bless them. I have the utmost respect for those individuals. However, let’s be honest…most of us are not them. The majority of folks…if they are fortunate enough to have a job in the current Obameconomy…are just doing the best they can to put food on the table, pay the bills, and maybe have a few luxuries like satellite TV, the occasional steak dinner, and a summer vacation to the nearest family friendly amusement park. We are more than willing to put in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, but we do have lives and are not defined by our careers. We don’t mind being somewhat flexible and taking one for the team sometimes, but it becomes a bit much when we are expected…not asked but expected…to sacrifice ourselves at the altar of whoever it is that is using us like a cheap street walker and assuming we should just shut up, bend over, and put a smile on our face. It is certainly not too much to expect maximum effort…the aforementioned 100%. But the new standard of 110% seems just a bit presumptuous and is most definitely aggravating, especially when one realizes that there is no reciprocation, that those asking so much of us are rather unwilling to cut any slack or accommodate in likewise fashion.

 

I am not nor never have been married, but maybe all this is why the divorce rate is so high. How much pressure would it be to live with…to be married to…someone who has such high expectations on a daily basis?? If one person is giving 100% but for the other that is never good enough then the numbers are never going to add up and there would be constant upheaval.

 

I wonder if this is why society has become so…anti-social?? Facebook, Xbox, and iTunes don’t expect 110%. They don’t have any expectations at all.

 

Pets are also awesome because they aren’t going to complain about you not going the extra mile. As long as you feed & water your dog and give him some love & attention he’ll think you’re the greatest thing since Kibbles met Bits.

 

The sad thing is that so many buy into all this BS because of a lifetime of watching too much unrealistic TV and having various people in our lives convince us that what we have to offer doesn’t measure up. We whine & complain about The Rat Race on a daily basis but we get up each & every day and fall right in lockstep because we don’t want to be left behind. We let people bully us, push us around, and generally make life miserable, and for what?? The book of Ecclesiastes asks the question “What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?” and tells us that “all is vanity”. The narrator of the story then answers his own query: “I became great and excelled more than all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure, for my heart rejoiced in all my labor and this was my reward from all my labor. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done and on the labor in which I had toiled, and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind. There was no profit under the sun.”

 

To be clear, I am not condemning the concept of hard work & dedication. I am fully behind that notion. What I am critical of is what seems to be a constantly raising bar that is unreachable by definition. Somehow we have gotten to a point where we don’t even dangle carrots or offer challenges that can be met before putting forth the next goal to be achieved. We just beat people down on a daily basis and expect them to be happy about it. The powers-that-be use & abuse their charges simply because they can. Is it slavery?? Of course not. Most people get something out of whatever it is they are doing. They are compensated by an employer or fed (theoretically) spiritually by the church or have some sort of status, prestige, cachet, etc. attached to whatever extracurricular activity with which they may be involved. But the assumptions, mistreatment, and being taking advantage of are all still there. And sometimes a paycheck that barely covers expenses or a pat on the back for helping out with the community hot dog sale don’t make up for the constant look of disappointment and snide words of derision people spew because one did not live up to their unreasonably excessive expectations.

 

So y’all go ahead and give 110%, go the extra mile, and do “whatever it takes” to make other people…people who will screw you over in a heartbeat…happy. As for your humble Potentate of Profundity, I will continue to just do the best that I can knowing that is all it takes to make the man in the mirror happy and that is all that really matters. 100% is good enough for me, I believe it’s just dandy in the eyes of God, and it thrills my dog. The rest is just vanity.

 

A Post-Mortem on the 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates

While fans in Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit and a few other cities eagerly engulf themselves in the revelry of the playoffs and the baseball world is still abuzz about the spectacular crash & burns of the Red Sox & Braves, it is time once again for Pirate Nation to lower the Jolly Roger, spew a few meaningless “we’ll get ‘em next years”, and throw our passion full throttle into football season because the Steelers very rarely let us down.

 

It’s quite true that after 19 straight losing seasons long time Pittsburgh Pirates fans should be used to it. But this year was a bit different. As jaded as folks like me have become over the past two decades the Pirates did something in 2011 that they hadn’t in years: they gave us a brief glimmer of hope & anticipation. Alas it was all a mirage, like when a beautiful woman talks to you only because she is so drunk she can barely see or it’s a poorly conceived effort to make her cooler, better looking, wealthier boyfriend jealous.

 

After 100 games the Pirates were 6 games above .500 and…shockingly…in 1st place in the NL Central. Then umpire Jerry Meals came along.

 

At 1:50 a.m. on Wednesday July 27, home plate umpire Meals made quite possibly the worst call in the history of American sports. He called an Atlanta Braves player safe at the plate at the end of a grueling 19 inning classic, a player that was 100% clearly, undeniably, indisputably, unmistakably out, giving the Braves an unearned, tainted, hollow victory over the Pirates. Honest to God…Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Helen Keller, Ronnie Milsap, and Jeff Healey all would have called the player out. But not Jerry Meals. I am and will always be convinced that Meals was/is involved with gambling & organized crime and should have been fired by MLB on the spot. Unfortunately Commissioner Bud Selig is an insufferable tool so Meals is not amongst the 10% of Americans currently unemployed, which is a damn shame. Am I bitter?? Just a little bit.

 

At any rate the Pirates went 19-42 the remainder of the season, finishing in 4th place 24 games out and 18 games below .500.

Look, I am not a fool. I never for one second expected the Pittsburgh Pirates to win their division this season. I knew at some point that there would be a second half swoon. I even wrote as much here in this space. But before Meals and his blatant, dirty cheating came along I thought that meant the team would finish in 3rd place about 10 games back. Call me irrational, but the complete collapse that followed was both disappointing and somewhat surprising to this Humble Potentate of Profundity.

 

The good news is that the Pirates do seem to have a core in place to build around for the foreseeable future. 2B Neil Walker and outfielders Andrew McCutchen & Garrett Jones are budding stars. I like the potential of 3B Josh Harrison and outfielders Xavier Paul & Alex Presley, insomuch as having solid depth is important. The jury is still out on 3B Pedro Alvarez and outfielder Jose Tabata, both of whom must go into 2012 with the outlook that it is a make or break year. Their success will bring the Pirates one step closer to the goal. Their failure would be a significant setback.

 

I am not sold on one single pitcher on the staff. Not even All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan. This has been a major issue with the Pirates for many years. They just can’t seem to produce pitchers that would be any better than a 4th or 5th starter or middle reliever on most other major league ball clubs. The Pirates almost always have very high draft picks and have used a plethora of them on pitchers, with results ranging from unimpressive to disastrous. Starting with Kris Benson in 1996 and going down the line through Sean Burnett, John VanBenschoten, Bryan Bullington, and Daniel Moskos (currently a dime-a-dozen middle reliever), the track record is appalling. Youngsters James Taillon and Gerritt Cole are still in the farm system, but pardon my cynicism if I don’t put my money on either of them becoming the next Cliff Lee or Justin Verlander, which is exactly what the Pirates need. If they are to ever get over the hump they must…MUST…produce a top flight pitcher that would be in the conversation with names like Lincecum, Greinke, and Sabathia when speaking of the best in the business. They need Taillon and/or Cole to be that type of player, but history indicates that the odds of it happening are slim. I desperately want to be wrong about that.

 

The powers-that-be must go out and get atleast a few players with some pop in their bat. A power hitting 1B has been a glaring weakness for way too long. Catching prospect Tony Sanchez is another player that needs to come through at a position of need. A .244 team batting average ain’t gonna get it done, especially with the lack of quality pitching to balance things out. Some of these issues are best addressed through the draft and bringing up home grown players through the ranks, but it is also high time the Pirates become buyers in the free agent market. The self-loathing defeatist attitude that the Pittsburgh Pirates cannot attract big time free agents must change. In my opinion pitching must come from the draft & the system, while signing a couple of free agent .300 hitters capable of jacking 30+ home runs is a realistic goal and needs to be a priority.

 

So is there hope?? Of course. There is always hope. I might even go so far as to say there is reason for optimism. But I am also a realist, and two decades of futility have robbed me (and many others) of any notion that the Pittsburgh brass has the capability to get the job done right. Prove me wrong suits…prove me wrong.