The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

 

Heavy Thoughts from a Different Time Zone

Things to write when you find yourself awake before 8 AM due to the time zone difference...

• I'm far from being the world's biggest Peter Gammons fan, but my thoughts and best wishes go out to Gammons, who underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm on Tuesday.

At 61, Gammons is no spring chicken, no matter how many attempts to be hip he makes by throwing rock references into his ESPN columns. I have no wish to kick the man while he's flat on his back, so I hope that this critique of him is taken in the positive spirit with which it's intended. My main issue with Gammons is that aside from pioneering the "Sunday notes" column format as a writer for the Boston Globe -- an innovation that's deservedly included in his J.G. Taylor Spink Award bio for the Baseball Hall of Fame -- he hasn't produced much work of lasting substance.

Gammons published a book, Beyond the Sixth Game, back in 1986. It's supposed to be a very good book, but it's out of print, and 20 years out of date. I've never read it and I bet you haven't either, but you've read Gammons' notes columns and watched him monger rumors on behalf of anonymous GMs on TV and in pixel form. The man loves the game and has his finger on its pulse, certainly, and he'll win any popularity contest among baseball writers in a landslide. But from where I sit he seems addicted to access, more interested in feeding our short attention spans by acting as a mouthpiece and a pawn for front office thought balloons, or simply stringing together tidbits from a notebook than as somebody who genuinely advances our baseball knowledge with his considerable talents.

I'm certain that were Gammons to take a break from the yenta hotline, he could produce a book -- an in-depth look at the state of the game or a particular aspect of it, a memoir of his life and times within it, what have you -- that would explain to people 50 years from now why the man was so highly regarded within the game. Buster Olney's got one, and even Bill Plaschke collaborated Dick Williams' memoir, fer chrissakes. This week's scare should serve as a reminder that Gammons may not have forever to do that. I'm reminded of a "Pinstriped Bible" column my good friend Steven Goldman -- himself a man who's had to meditate on mortality -- wrote two years ago on the sad occasion of the passing of Baseball Prospectus author Doug Pappas, who was just 43:
Last week, my colleague, and, as George Harrison once said of Bob Dylan, "a friend of us all," Doug Pappas passed away. For those readers of the Pinstriped Bible who have not heard of Mr. Pappas, he was our preeminent writer on the business of baseball. His deconstructions of baseball's often nefarious financial practices brought new transparency to the game. That he accomplished this from the outside, in the face of opposition from the game's management speaks to his intelligence, perceptivity, and diligence.

Doug made himself available to most anyone who wanted to tap his tremendous reservoir of knowledge, and his work was one of the direct inspirations for Michael Lewis' Moneyball, one of the most important baseball books of the last twenty years. For those who try to understand baseball in all of its compelling facets, not just the athletic and the strategic but also the economic and the political, the loss of Doug is an irreparable blow.

Doug Pappas was just 43. Lou Gehrig was not quite 38. Thurman Munson was 32. Addie Joss, the four-time 20-game winner for the Cleveland Indians, was 31. Ross Youngs, the great Giants outfielder, was 30. I am 33 and am a cancer survivor. The thing about being a cancer survivor is that it's not necessarily a permanent distinction. I hope to be able to wear that badge for a long, long time, but you never know. Sometimes the doctors say encouraging things about that, sometimes not.

We make our long-term plans and we hope for the best, not really knowing whether we'll be able to follow through. Doug thought he was going on vacation. Gehrig suited up for that last game on May 2, 1939, but he didn't get to play. In the end, not even he could count on that.

Work while you can, gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and never turn down a time at bat, for the night comes, and in this game, they don't play night games.
Goldman has since published a book on Casey Stengel, Forging Genius, and he's edited a couple more for Baseball Prospectus. He's the hardest-working writer I know (so hard that I even forgive his email lapses) as well as the standard-bearer for a generation of Internet-groomed baseball writers, and a genuine inspiration on both a personal and professional level. No matter what endeavor you choose, his words should be taken to heart.

I don't know if Peter Gammons has the faintest idea who Goldman is; I suspect he might, given that he's touted BP on a number of occasions (and don't think I don't appreciate how that's trickled down to help me). I wish him a quick recovery and more than anything else, a chance to heed Steven's words.

• I railed at the Philadelphia Phillies in this week's Hit List, and with good cause:
Brett Myers is arrested for beating his wife, but he can't beat the Boston Red Sox lineup he faces a day later. In putting the team's interest ahead of other concerns by allowing Myers to pitch, the Phils send a disgraceful message that trivializes a problem all too common among professional athletes, one that does far more harm to society than performance-enhancing drugs. Seriously, here's hoping the fine fans of Philadelphia shower Myers and the organization with the scorn and abuse they deserve, and that both Major League Baseball and the criminal justice system bring down the hammer on this thug.
The last line of what I wrote for this entry was understandably left on the cutting room floor: "Until they do that, the Phillies can phucking rot." Sorry to enter yet another soapbox derby, but this is an issue I feel very strongly about. More than any other transgression involving athletes -- steroids, hard drugs, even drunk driving --domestic violence gets short shrift; the police blotters are dotted with wife- and girlfriend-beatings on an annual basis, yet justice is rarely served because often these incidents take place without witnesses. Critics of my bitter obituary of Kirby Puckett liked to point out that Puckett was never convicted of a crime, but it's clear from his rap sheet that the man displayed a pattern of behavior in his private life that contradicted -- and to me, completely devalued -- his cuddly public image.

There were apparently plenty of witnesses to what Myers did outside of his hotel, allegedly hitting a woman half his size in the face with his fist two times and dragging her by the hair; charges were filed by the police, not the victim, meaning that this isn't going to fade away the way so many other domestic violence cases do.

I'm gratified to see the consensus among baseball writers is that Myers and the Phillies shit the bed on this one, big-time -- yes, their conduct is as foul and graceless as that metaphor. My Hit List entry linked to well-written columns by a pair of writers I normally disdain, the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy and the Philadelphia Daily News' Bill Conlin. Shaughnessy pointed out a useful precedent, citing the Sox benching and subsequent release of Wil Cordero, who hit his wife with a telephone, in 1997. Conlin wrote of the legacy of numerous Phillies players' brushes with the law that were ignored by the team: "No Arrest + No Witnesses + No Media = It Never Happened."

Another Philadelphia-based writer, ESPN's Jayson Stark, knocked the ball out of the park:
It's now four days since the arrest of Brett Myers after one of the most public, most witnessed and -- if all those witness accounts are accurate -- most reprehensible examples of spousal abuse I can ever remember an athlete being accused of.

But I'm still waiting (as is the rest of the planet) for some evidence that it has dawned on Myers, or anyone on the Phillies, exactly what a horrendous job he and the team have done of handling everything -- everything -- related to this incident since.

It seems clear now that Myers, who already has made one start since his arrest, is going to make his second Thursday in Baltimore. Bad idea. Really, really bad idea.

Yes, Brett Myers has legal rights, as a citizen and as a baseball player. Yes, his team and his sport have an obligation to let the legal system play out before they discipline this man.

But somebody needs to take charge of this situation. Somebody needs to sit down with Myers and make him understand the gravity of this mess.

Somebody needs to make him comprehend the irreparable damage he has a chance to do to his career if he really thinks the only thing he needs to say to the public is: "I gave it my all."

And once that sinks in (if it ever does), somebody needs to make him understand that he needs to miss a start -- or five -- to get his life together and to work on what really matters:

Demonstrating that he's a civilized human being who believes in treating the female half of the species with proper respect and decency.
Myers finally agreed to take a leave of absence through the All-Star break to deal with his situation, but the damage has been done. The Phils took four days to reach a conclusion that the rest of us reached in four seconds, reacting only when they were being all but burned in effigy. They get no points here.

And, on that note, neither do the Detroit Tigers, who are allowing Dmitri Young to proceed with a rehab assignment in Florida despite an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Michigan for failing to appear in court in conjunction with a domestic violence case of his own (he's "accused of choking a 21-year-old woman from Toledo on April 14 at a suburban Detroit hotel", according to the article). The two cases aren't parallel, but the Tigers appear to have their heads just as far up their asses as the Phillies do: "[Young's] lawyer, William Swor, and the Tigers have declined to comment about Young's whereabouts. Team president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has said the arrest warrant would not affect Young's status with the team."

Dombrowski has done an admirable job of turning the Tigers around; they're atop the Hit List yet again this week. But his handling of this situation is giving the team, and the game, a black eye. Young shouldn't be allowed back on the field until his legal situation is sorted out, and the Tigers should be held accountable by the criminal justice system and Major League Baseball for failing to comply with that. If Bud Selig can be bothered to speak up about Ozzie Guillen's running off at the mouth, he should have the sense to confront a much more serious issue where The Right Answer is glaringly obvious.

• Mea culpa: I'm not sure what I was thinking when I wrote this week's Red Sox entry for the Hit List and counted David Ortiz's homer off of Tom Gordon in the 2004 ALCS as a walk-off. He did end the game with a walk-off hit, of course, but it was a single off of Esteban Loaiza. Consider me punch-drunk on that particular matter, I guess.

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