The shine wore off Dogshaming.com some time ago for me, but the confluence of yesterday’s sloppy-as-a-puppy-in-mud-and-not-nearly-as-cute Cardinal game, my strong feeling that it was time for Mike Matheny to start assessing fines/push-ups/canings for boneheaded plays on the diamond, and this Twitter pic of two of last night’s culprits (thanks, Julie, for the tip) helped me realize that the time had come for Cardinalshaming.com. Who’s with me?
More to come, I fear.
three days five months of darkness and sorrow, the Angels Rangers and Astros rolled the stone away! Rejoice—it’s another thrilling, frustrating, glorious season of rookie revelations, cryptic injury reports, maddening sacrifice bunt attempts, interminable internet debates about when Oscar Taveras should be called up, Torty tweets, second-guessing, Musial patches, Yadi crouches, Waino dimples, playoff beards, and October amazements.
My spirits are risen. They are risen indeed.
If you ever met Dolores, you probably talked with her about baseball, and if you talked with her about baseball, chances are that you heard about her personal host of angels in the outfield. “I had six brothers, you know,” she’d begin, “and they’re all dead now. I call them my angels in the outfield, and when the other team hits the ball and it heads out of the park, I tell my brothers to throw it back!”
As we learned pretty quickly after making her acquaintance, Dolores’s workhorse brothers were only part of the strategy package she deployed on behalf of her beloved Cardinals. She wore all the requisite red gear and talismans when important games were on, crossed (or had someone cross) her arthritic fingers, and timed her bathroom trips for maximum juju (“did something good happen the last time I went? I think it did! And I have to go again!”). That’s not to say she was ruled by sentiment or superstition, because she was equally well-versed in facts and stats from the present day and the past seven decades, give or take. She could tell you what Dizzy Dean did in the Texas League in 1931, or why she felt the Cards should never have let Steve Carlton get away, or how much it ticked her off when young outfielders failed to use both hands to catch fly balls. And if you needed any information at all about her all-time favorite player, Marty Marion, you weren’t going to find a better source.
Dolores felt pretty strongly that the Cardinals’ amazing 2011 season, during her 96th year on earth, was meant to be her last hurrah, and who could argue? Baseball-movie scripts don’t get any better. “I asked God last night for a win, you know,” she told us during the NLCS, “because I don’t have much time left! And he probably thought, ‘you conceited little ass!’ But you know, maybe he’ll find it amusing because I’m so old and all.” Julie and Dolores and I followed that postseason together, wearing Cardinal earrings and eating lucky sprinkle doughnuts, swearing or high-fiving in person when possible and on the phone when necessary. She badgered her dead brothers (“What the heck were you guys doing? Good God! Six of you in the outfield and you couldn’t even get that?”) until they got the job done, and then we all partied like it was 1931, or 1946, or 1967, or any of the other World Series victories she lived through with her favorite team.
Truthfully, I think she’d have been content to die in her sleep the night after Game 7. But just like the 2011 Cardinals—figures!—her body refused to quit long after it had every reason to, and her spirit, typically, decided it might as well keep plugging along too.
Maybe the Cards’ 2012 season, marked by a respectable dose of 2011′s resilience but ultimately destined for a peaceable and decisive end, should have been a sign to all of us. Around Thanksgiving, Dolores’s health took a downturn from which she wasn’t expected to recover. We visited her in the hospital one day and leaned over her bed, surveying her tiny fragile frame and wondering if we’d see our friend alive again. She was asleep, or maybe half-conscious—or so we thought until we heard a soft mutter:
“That Posey kid….got the MVP….I thought it should have been Yadi.”
That’s Dolores for you. Whoever was responsible for finishing her off just couldn’t get the job done. And if I were to make a just-like-Drew-Storen-in-the-NLDS joke here, it would probably crack her up, because she carried herself just that lightly, and she grinned and gritted her way through her last few months with the same “I don’t know why I’m still here, but I may as well keep playing hard as long as I am” attitude that she adored so much in her team.
It couldn’t last forever, of course. Dolores died a week ago.
To be too sad about that would be selfish, since she was nearing 97 years old and she’d been ready to hang up her cleats for some time. And we got to spend some terrific visits with her in her last few weeks, including a 2011 World Series DVD viewing party during which she kept her eyes fixed on Julie’s laptop screen and her face in a perma-beam for two hours, except when she had to shush an interrupting nurse or snarl “that jerk” whenever Albert Pujols appeared. She lived longer, loved harder, and saw more Cardinal wins than she ever could have imagined or hoped, and she died without pain; no one could have wanted more for her or from her. Yet at this moment it’s as difficult for me to imagine a baseball season without Dolores as to imagine one without Stan Musial riding through the Busch Stadium wagon gate in a red blazer on Opening Day. That “sustained excellence” and “complete decency” Bob Costas identified in Musial? They applied to her, too and they’ll be missed just as deeply.
On the bright side, she told us more than a few times that she’d struck a deal with God: When she got to heaven (and she was pretty confident that she’d meet the entrance requirements: “I don’t care if the worms get me or if they throw me on the junk pile, ’cause my soul is going to heaven!”), she’d join her brothers in the outfield—well, okay, we suggested that she consider switching to the middle infield, if she really wanted to address a Redbird weakness—and shag flies until the Cards brought home another World Championship. “If they win it after I die,” she’d say with a giggle, “you’ll know I had something to do with it!”
So that’s something to look forward to, and until then, I’m enjoying the replays and highlight reels of our friendship, and feeling about her passing much the way she felt after the Cards lost Game 2 of the 2011 Series:
“Dammit! I could just cry! ….But it’s not over.”
Godspeed, Dolores. Stan’s going to get such a kick out of meeting you.
On the night of 1996 NLCS Game 7, after the Braves beat the Cardinals 15-0 to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in Tony La Russa’s first year as the Redbirds’ manager, I went to my local Trader Joe’s to buy something that I can no longer recall and that, in retrospect, didn’t have nearly the alcohol content that the occasion called for. When the cheery cashier took my basket and said “And how are you doing tonight?”, I….well, I burst into tears and explained that my beloved team had just crushed my soul beyond repair.
This year, there’s no crying in baseball, at least not in my house or my Trader Joe’s. Sure, I’m irritable and sad about the Cards’ multi-system organ failure in the final three games of their season. I’ve got a list of players and coaches in whose ribs I fully intend to bury a fastball the next time I have a chance. I’m grouchy about having to face the dilemma of whether to watch the World Series or pretend it doesn’t exist.
But I’m not devastated. Here’s why.
* I never thought they’d get this far—and admit it, neither did you. The Cards played maddeningly inconsistent baseball all year, lost a handful of key players to injuries, and barely managed to grab a postseason ticket that wouldn’t even have been available to them last year. They probably shouldn’t have been able to beat Kris Medlen and the Braves. They surely shouldn’t have been able to beat Davey Johnson and the Nationals. The only reason we fans were in a position to be so deeply disappointed this week is that the Cardinals, borrowing a few scoops of last October’s magic fairy dust, made us forget for a while that this team actually wasn’t all that great this year.
* They let us down easy. Your results here may vary, but I, for one, am grateful that the Cardinals didn’t take Game 7 (or 6…or 5…) down to the wire. We’ll never know why it suddenly seemed that the whole team took a vote to go home rather than to the World Series, but once they quit, boy, did they quit. The breakup was decisive and unambiguous, with no late-night regrets or last-minute flirting. They were done; they told us they were done (I’m talking about their play on the field, not their quotes in the newspaper); and they meant it.
* Most of the faces we’ve grown to love will be back next season. Kyle Lohse (well, the pre-NLCS-Game-7 version of Kyle Lohse, at least) will be missed, and it seems unlikely that we’ll get to keep the completely delightful Lance Berkman around much longer, but the assortment of veterans and young talent that we can expect to see on the field in 2013 has every opportunity to do well, especially if John Mozeliak uses his offseason and his considerable payroll flexibility to fill a few notable gaps. The Cards played it safe at the trading deadline this year, declining to take the sorts of “win now or else” gambles that helped them to a ring last year, and they still came within a game of the World Series. This is a team in a deep and badly-timed funk, not a franchise in disarray.
* Now that the Cardinals don’t need my help anymore, I can finally get a haircut and stop eating these damned sprinkle doughnuts.
* 2011 wasn’t meant to be repeated so soon. Bear with me here as I plunge into what may sound like a tangled mess of sour-grapevines. It would have been tons of fun to return to the World Series, and maybe even to win it. But in a strange and sappy way, I’m content to allow 2011 to remain, for a little while longer, its own island of awesomeness, the kind of dazzling and distinctive experience that you spend years waiting for and years remembering, the kind that means more because you never saw it coming and you can’t be sure it’ll ever return. Rings or no rings, 2012 was going to be an anticlimax, a sequel without the passion and poetry of the original. I wanted to win. But more than that, I wanted to feel again the way I felt in October 2011, and that wasn’t going to—wasn’t supposed to—happen.
That’s bittersweet, but the bittersweet is the part of baseball I love best. And I’ll be back for another helping of it, with sprinkles, when spring training starts on February 18.
Conservative columnist George Will used to earn a pinch of grudging respect from me, chiefly due to his long-standing and well documented love of baseball—a connection that reminded me that this pinko liberal artist and that grandstanding patrician journo were still part of the same crazy race we call humanity, and one I carefully avoided undermining by never, ever reading any of his baseball books.
As it turns out, and as any decent journalistic sabermetrician could probably have predicted, Will’s understanding of baseball history is just as…well, let’s not say wrongheaded; let’s just say catastrophically skewed by a lethal brew of naivete and unacknowledged privilege as his understanding of history-history.
Take this excerpt from his most recent column, in which he compares Mitt Romney’s festering campaign to a football game with a running clock, and Barack Obama to….Frank Robinson?
A significant date in the nation’s civil rights progress involved an African American baseball player named Robinson, but not Jackie. The date was Oct. 3, 1974, when Frank Robinson, one the greatest players in history, was hired by the Cleveland Indians as the major leagues’ first black manager. But an even more important milestone of progress occurred June 19, 1977, when the Indians fired him. That was colorblind equality.
Managers get fired all the time. The fact that the Indians felt free to fire Robinson — who went on to have a distinguished career managing four other teams — showed that another racial barrier had fallen: Henceforth, African Americans, too, could enjoy the God-given right to be scapegoats for impatient team owners or incompetent team executives.
Oh, George, no. That makes about as much sense as having Yadier Molina bunting in the ninth inning of a one-run game that one of the most loyal Cardinal fans on the West Coast spent four hours in the car to get to.* The multi-faceted folly of the argument is easy to spot, unless your sheltered existence has led you to assume that identical outcomes always have identical motivations for people of different races and demographics. Will is so eager to make the argument that civil rights took a step forward because a white man felt free to fire a black man! that he fails to consider whether Robinson’s firing might have had anything, anything whatsoever, to do with his race.
To be sure, that’s a tricky thing to assess. Contrary to the belief of most racists, racism doesn’t always declare itself with pointy hoods and grand gestures; it’s subtler and more insidious than that, which helps to explain its persistence, its virulence, and, often, its invisibility to those who have never been on the receiving end of its insults and injuries. George Will wasn’t in the Orioles’ organization in 1977, and he can’t be expected to know what it was like for Frank Robinson to be the first and only African-American manager in a sport that had been integrated only 35 years earlier.
Gosh. It’s too bad Frank Robinson never gave an easily Google-able interview discussing this exact subject:
Baseball has been hiding this ugly prejudice for years—that blacks aren’t smart enough to be managers or third-base coaches or part of the front office….
As a black, you find you have to be two or three times better than a white even to play. And when it comes to front-office jobs, management believes you’ll never be as good….
….there’s an old boy network, and it’s lily white. The people upstairs also say white players won’t play for a black manager and fans won’t come to the ballpark….
White management doesn’t like black people to speak their minds. They like you to be seen but not heard.
Those are a few of the money quotes, but read the whole thing, which is titled “In America’s National Pastime, Says Frank Robinson, White Is the Color of the Game Off the Field,” and which ran in People magazine just after Al Campanis tanked his own career and shined a light—shocking to some, utterly unsurprising to Robinson and a lot of others, I imagine—on the sport’s ugly racist undercurrent.
Plenty of others have capably set about skewering Will’s facile extended analogy, and his deeply offensive implication that a second term for Barack Obama might simply be the result of a surfeit of white guilt—and I need to go root for my team to lower its magic number from 1 to 0—so for now I’ll content myself with slamming his willful (see what I did there?) ignorance of the sport he claims as his passion. We all love the poetry and the life-lessons and the dewy nostalgia of baseball, but to turn a blind eye to its crueler, nastier realities is to insult the people who fought, and continue to fight, against them.
* Just hypothetically.
Twenty-seven runs. Thirty-eight hits. Three errors. Four blown saves. Five home runs, one of which might not have been a home run if Bobby Valentine hadn’t too been busy searching Hotwire for one-way flights out of Boston to ask for a review. Ten innings. Two overpaid, pitching-starved clubs locked in an East-vs.-West death-match for the title of Most Unimproved Team.
MLB.com calls it a “classic.” I call it a four-hour bludgeoning of all my baseball sensibilities. MLB Network says it was “maybe the best game of the year.” I say “yeah, in the way that ‘Jersey Shore’ is maybe the best TV show of all time.”
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a relentless American-League slugfest. But—especially given the past week’s rash of PED-related suspensions—let’s remember this the next time someone shrugs and says “Well, chicks dig the long ball” as a shorthand explanation of baseball’s obsession with explosive offense.
Female fans get slammed all the time for supposedly not appreciating the finer points of the game and relying on home runs to hold our interest. But now that the league’s official website and TV network have crowned a showcase of cruddy defense and worse pitching as “maybe the best game” in a season that included this and this and this, I think we “chicks” are officially off the hook. Woohoo!
Which means at least one good thing came from that stupid, stupid game.
1) Fox Sports is the worst. Their new “FOXiest fans” slideshow says “As baseball fires up, our eyes wander away from the diamond and onto the beauties in the stands.* Check out the best looking fans from every team.” Okay! Let’s do that! Hmmm….I can’t help noticing that the “foxiest fans” are 100% female, roughly 98.5% white (the only two African-American women in the 83-photo slideshow are standing next to white women), 100% thin, and approximately 97% long-haired. I’M SHOCKED!
2) Papa John’s Pizza is offering half-price pizzas to everyone in the universe if 100 runs are scored in today’s MLB games. What a great deal!** But wait: Isn’t this the same Papa John’s that was going to have to raise prices because of the big, bad specter of Obamacare forcing them to provide health care to their employees? How puzzling! One would think that a company struggling to make ends meet would be reluctant to offer enormous discounts to huge numbers of customers! Could it be that Papa John’s actually turned profits of $16.7 million and $14.6 million in the first and second quarters of 2012—representing a healthy increase over last year’s numbers—but has a CEO who overwhelmingly supports Republican political candidates and decided to score some free points in the media? It’s a mystery!
3) St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriter Joe Strauss is still an enormous douchebag. I would pick a specific tweet to link to, but I’m not sure how I’d choose. When he’s not obnoxiously licking his lips over an all-American Chick-Fil-A lunch, he’s slamming the city that keeps him employed, deriding his fellow columnists and media figures with no apparent awareness that they are his superiors both personally and grammatically, and trying to set new records for hashtag smuggery.
4) More of you should be following me! Join the fun at https://twitter.com/BlogOfTheirOwn.
* Notice the dual assumptions here?—first, that baseball fans are all heterosexual males (duh), and second, that they can’t possibly be expected to pay attention to the game on the field in the thick of a pennant race, esepcially if there are buxom blondes in the bleachers. And yet it’s women who aren’t considered “serious” enough to be Real Sports Fans. Got it.
**Statistically, they’ll probably have to pay up, since scoring FEWER than 100 runs over 16 games—including a doubleheader—would require each game to generate almost 2 fewer runs than the MLB average so far this season. And with the Angels’ pitching staff seemingly uber-committed to helping everyone get cheap pizza, how can we go wrong?