Eliot didn’t mean baseball. If he had he would have said August.
But, Eliot was a baseball fan and, it’s said, his heart was broken when his team, the Red Sox, sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919.
So, yeh, he knew cruel.
(Hemingway once slammed Eliot’s writing by telling a friend that Eliot “never hit a ball out of the infield in his life.” Also cruel.)
The Baltimore Orioles are slowly tumbling down the AL East ladder.
They’ve been looking increasingly listless and pitiful, like a ratty old tomcat trying to hack out a hairball. So much hacking and all that comes out is a desperate, sad noise that sounds, best I can translate, something like, “Ggggackuck [brief pause] Aahkgggackuck [longer pause] geeeeeeack.” Then he stops, swallows, shakes his head, and starts all over again.
I mean, you still love that ratty old tomcat, sure, but mainly you’re just hoping you’re not the one who’s going to get stuck cleaning up whatever is trying so hard to come out.
Baseball’s July 31 trade deadline – Trade! Sell! Abandon Hope! – turns a perfect pastoral game into the dirtiest place in town. It’s the bathroom in a sketchy dive at closing time. (Step carefully, touch nothing, hold your breath as long as you can.)
And, so the Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Philadelphia Phillies, … have I left anyone out? … Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Oakland A’s, and I can’t remember who else, sold or traded whomever they could, conceding the season, resigned to slide through the last 540 innings of summer as quickly and meaninglessly as possible.
Did your team just bleed out? Well, you’ll always have April, won’t you?
Hot teams feast on the bones of others, like vultures. But, vultures are pretty cool and, if you got to know them, you would find them sociable creatures who are simply recycling carcasses and protecting us from plague and terrible diseases.
General Managers are not vultures in the “pretty cool” sense.
They are cut-throat, not sociable at all. They move pitchers, swap batters, dump salaries, and make blockbuster deals like I change stations on the car radio (which is to say often and with little care).
Editor/Husband says I’m being too dark. “Remember Spaghetti Legs,” he says.
And, I smile wistfully, remembering the three heavenly months last summer with Andrew “Spaghetti Legs” Miller, the remarkable, shut’em down reliever, whom the Orioles greedily gathered up from the Red Sox, giving Boston in return a hot minor leaguer, who now is the Red Sox future, while Miller is now a Yankee.
Miller was a “rental.” By season’s end he was a free agent and the Yankees – of course, the Yankees – dangled pinstripes and bags filled with guilders, beads, and trinkets, and, just like that, Spaghetti Legs was gone.
But, not before he helped the O’s to the ALCS, which was amazing.
Sure, players expect to be jostled and juggled, wondering where they are going next.
Baseball has always done this. They sold and traded Babe Ruth, after all. Twice.
(Pitcher Octavio Dotel played for 13 teams during his 15-season career (1999-2013), making him the most travelled teammate in baseball’s modern era. Chances are he played for you.)
And, I like free agency that allows players to negotiate for their share of the millions that owners amass from their luxury boxes and $26 hot dogs.
“These are human beings, not pieces of meat. Really bothers me when I hear, ‘Are you buyers or sellers?’ Don’t use that around me. These are human beings that I am close with and I don’t look at them that way. I know it’s the reality of the business, but it’s not like we’re moving around slabs of bacon here. And I like bacon.” ~ Buck Showalter, Orioles Manager
I don’t like all the trading and moving people about like cattle at a stockyard, because it seems uncivilized and cruel – if making a few million dollars and moving from one comfy clubhouse to another can be deemed cruel.
What’s really cruel is the way it’s handled.
Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter was traded to the Chicago Cubs on Friday one minute before the 4:00 p.m. trade deadline.
Everyone thought it might happen. Baltimore’s bullpen is crowded, they need outfielders, and Tommy’s a free agent who’s having a not-bad season.
The trade deadline brought Hunter to the O’s in 2011. The 2015 deadline sent him on his way.
Tommy was gracious in his goodbyes.
Bmore! Ive enjoyed every part of the last 4 years! My wife & I have called it home & will miss the city, my teammates, & the fans! @Orioles
The Hunter trade was leaked to reporters who promptly leaked it to Twitter, where I saw it scroll by on my feed at 3:59 p.m. … at the same time that … Tommy Hunter learned of his own trade through the same tweet.
Really? Tommy Hunter and I learn about his trade at the very same moment, from the very same source?
It seems a bit ugly and thoughtless. I don’t want to find out I’ve got a new job because my boss told a tweeter – and the rest of the world – before he told me.
And, Tommy’s not the only one.
On Wednesday night in the middle of a game, Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores learned he was being traded when fans in the stands who had seen Twitter rumors told him. He cried.
And, it broke my heart just a little.
Surreal scene. Mets trade Wilmer Flores but leave him in game. Flores then cries on field while playing. pic.twitter.com/0CDpjGpwpS
Well, it snowed enough that lots of things around me closed for the day.
While this smattering of snowlets has closed things in Virginia, it’s the kind of snow that someone in North Dakota wouldn’t even notice. “It snowed last night? Really? I didn’t notice the dusting on top of the other 20 inches that have been here since September.”
I lived in North Dakota for awhile, I should know.
So, this may not seem like anything to you.
But, sometimes things are not as they seem … and this dusting has upended Central Virginia.
And, as a result, hundreds and hundreds of schoolchildren around here got to sleep in, blissfully unaware for one more day of important things like Algebra, adverbs, and Chester Alan Arthur.
Today in “Free Baseball,” three other things that are not quite what they seem.
10th Inning: Tommy Hunter, Retail Dude
Tommy Hunter is one of the Baltimore Orioles longest-tenured and pretty steady (mostly steady, often steady … or, at least, more-often-steady-than-not steady, 2.97-ERA-in-2014 steady) bullpen relievers. I’m soft on the boys of the bullpen. It’s a thankless job being a reliever. Even when you’re great – or at least steady more often than not – you’re unheralded. You’re probably never going to win a Cy Young (although occasionally relievers do), you’re probably not going to be an MVP of anything, and, apparently, unless it’s the 8th or 9th inning, you’re not going to be recognized, even by your own fans.
Tommy went “undercover” to work at the Orioles Fan Store in nearby York, Pennsylvania last summer.
“The Hunter jerseys just came in, man. I’ve got a couple of them, too.”
Watching him hawk Tommy Hunter jerseys is why I believe bullpens – and the boys who live there – are one of the best parts of the game. Watch here.
We (heart) Tommy.
11th Inning: Baseball in Japan
“It’s not just baseball. It’s something else. It’s something more.”
Each spring dozens of high school teams from around Japan come together at Koshien for a nine-day tournament that captivates the country. Like “the Super Bowl and World Series rolled into one,” it is one of Japan’s biggest sporting events.
In “When 772 Pitches Isn’t Enough,”writer Chris Jones tells the story of Tomohiro Anraku, a 16-year-old pitching phenom from Saibi High School and one of the top baseball prospects in the world, and his appearance at Koshien.
The culture of youth baseball in Japan – the dedication to perfection at any physical or emotional cost – is fascinating. And, when you read of how Anraku throws 772 pitches over five games in nine days, it’s also frightening.
The article first appeared in ESPN: The Magazine, and, most recently, in the 2014 Edition of The Best American Sports Writing. Read here.
12th Inning: The Birth Of A Twins Fan
Because I am a loyal (some would say annoying) Orioles fan, people assume I live in Baltimore. Not true. Although I lived in nearby Northern Virginia for a number of years, I’ve never lived in Baltimore. To get to Camden Yards today takes us a good three hours, usually in terrible I-95 traffic. When we’re about halfway to Baltimore, I will thumb my nose at much-closer Nationals Stadium as we pass by it. I’m a loyal Birdland Girl.
This week Verdun – who writes the fabulous Verdun2’s Blog – explained how he, a lifelong Dodgers fan, inadvertently turned his son into a Minnesota Twins fan simply because of one seemingly innocuous act when his son was small.
Sam calls me from time to time … sometimes twice a day, sometimes more.
Most days I don’t answer. (Sorry Sam, baseball season is a very busy time for me.)
But, I have talked to him.
Sam says he’s from Microsoft Windows and that he has been monitoring my computer and that I am uploading malicious things. He must mean these blog posts.
(Hurtful, Sam. And, stop hating on baseball.)
Sam is a scam.
But, he’s a tenacious fellow and just keeps calling.
Sam called one night at 10:30. You shouldn’t call us after 10 p.m. unless you are:
1)Baltimore Orioles Manager Buck Showalter calling Editor/Husband for bullpen advice. Editor/Husband will tell Buck, “For God’s sake, Buck, what in the world are you doing? Keep Britton out there for the ninth. He’s fine. FINE! Tommy Hunter … what the hell?? Why is he warming up? You just want to lose this game, don’t you? Well, now we’re going to lose. Great.”
Usually, we just let the phone ring when we see that it’s Sam.
The other day, though, I decided I would talk to him again.
I wanted to ask Sam why he had a job whose main description is, best I can tell, to take advantage of, and steal from, innocent people.
I thought it would be interesting to ask a crook why he was crooking. I figured I could reason with Sam.
“Why do you hurt people, Sam? Why are you trying to steal from me?”
My tough love question would pierce his heart. There would be an uncomfortably long pause as Sam thought deeply about what I had said. Then Sam, seeing the error of his ways, would thank me for setting him right. He would leave his job of cheating and hurting people and set off on a new course of helping people.
After a time of reflection, Sam would start a volunteer-run food pantry in his village … his small way of giving back to humanity. One day – a year or two from now – Sam would call me again. “Thank you,” he would say softly. “You have changed my life.”
You may think I’m making this up for the sake of this post. I assure you, I am the idiot you think I am. I really believed this would happen.
I had it all planned out … I had my dialogue and Sam’s. (Although in the movie version Sam’s English, while still fractured, would be much easier to understand.)
This could not go wrong.
I did my part just right.
I interrupted his spiel, “Sam? Sam? Sam, wait, can I ask you a question?”
Pause. Then “Yes.”
“Sam, I know that you’re not with Windows. I know that there’s nothing wrong with my computer. I know that you’re being dishonest. Why would you do that? Why would you try to hurt me and other people by lying about who you are? Why are you trying to steal from me?”
Then I waited for the long and remorseful pause from Sam.
And, this is when he started yelling at me.
Sam was yelling about my computer doing malicious things. And, my Windows ID number that he had, but that I did not. He started yelling a long string of random numbers and letters.
“There! There! That is your ID number. You do not know your ID number! Do YOU??? DO YOU??? Tell me your ID number! You can’t! You do not know it! I do! I have your ID number! What is it? Tell me! TELL ME!!”
This was crazy talk. Sam was ruining everything.
“Stop yelling at me. I don’t like to be yelled at.”
I told him I was going to hang up. (I’m exceedingly polite at times.) “Sam. I am hanging up now.” And, I did.
I’m sort of sad about Sam, but I know that he is so far up in the crooking business that it would take more than one person to pull him out.
I’m also mad at Sam for being a crook and for ruining my plan and ruining this post.
Sam called again the other day. But, I didn’t take his call. My heart just wasn’t in it.
All I can do is ask you this.
If some day soon you get a call from a U.S. Cellular number somewhere in Maine, it might be Sam. Please tell him “hi” for me. Maybe you can reason with him.