Monthly Archive for May, 2009

Manny Being Manny

Had an update. Not really relevant anymore. Here’s the original post.

* * * *

First thoughts. Slightly jumbled:

Alex Rodriguez. Rafael Palmeiro. Jason Giambi. Barry Bonds. Roger Clemens. Gary Sheffield. Not one of those guys ever served a day’s suspension for steroid use. Tainted? Sure. But tainted in the shadows, in the off-season, in the clubhouse. Tainted never mattered for them on the field. Now, with Manny, it does.

My first thought, and I think still the overwhelming emotion, is betrayal. I feel betrayed in a way I never have by a ballplayer. As a Dodger fan, my disappointments have been with bad front office maneuvers, poor managerial decisions, underperformance, and all sorts of suspect player behavior. I’ve never felt so let down before.

Ironically, I was writing a post about heroism in baseball as the news broke. Craig Calcaterra had a nice write-up yesterday defending Zach Greinke from early deification. Borrowing from Bill James, he makes convincing and totally intuitive case for patience and sanity. I will now borrow heavily from Calcaterra. Money quote:

Before Greinke’s canonization, Alex Rodriguez was pegged to be the man to restore honor to the game by sanitizing the home run crown. Before A-Rod, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were the game’s heroic saviors. I recall an article from the late 80s talking about how Barry Bonds was the perfect antidote to the nastiness that the Strawberry-Gooden Mets unleashed into the public consciousness, and as James noted, Gooden was once thought of a fine young man poised to breathe fresh air into the game himself. I’m sure we could trace that trail back to the deadball era if we wanted to.

Manny Ramirez never, ever, fit into this category. All he ever saved were the playoff chances of his teams. Hero? Ha. I was going to make a point for blemished heroes. I was going to say that baseball needs heroes to lift the game from mere routine and repetition to cultural consequence. Baseball’s figures are a big part of what make the game such a weighty institution etc. etc. Next point would have been that flawed heroes are okay. Mickey Mantle was a drunk, Ted Williams (a real war hero) was a prick, etc. etc. etc. An imperfect game deserves imperfect heroes; to a little kid that stuff doesn’t matter much anymore. Waiting For Berkman had a great post on baseball’s nostalgia for villains in regards to A-Rod’s alleged pitch-tipping.

Anyway, Manny is not a villain. He was excessively imperfect in his pre-steroid suspension incarnation and I suppose that won’t change. He’s already come out with a nice, humble apology that reads to me (and I spend a lot of time reading statements like this from politicians at work) as an implicit admission of guilt:

“Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy. Under the policy that mistake is now my responsibility. I have been advised not to say anything more for now. I do want to say one other thing; I’ve taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons.

“I want to apologize to Mr. McCourt, Mrs. McCourt, Mr. Torre, my teammates, the Dodger organization, and to the Dodger fans. LA is a special place to meand I know everybody is disappointed. So am I. I’m sorry about this whole situation.”

He got caught cheating (and it’s cheating now so no technicality defenses about the lack of MLB rules here), and he and the Dodgers will suffer the consequences. It’s a pretty big surprise to me. My friend Ross said, “I didn’t know he even cared that much.” I kind of agree with him. I knew Manny cared about hitting and winning, but baseball never seemed important enough to Manny for him to use performance enhancing drugs. Maybe that’s why this is a lot more disappointing to me than Bonds or Clemens or A-Rod or even the retroactive knowledge that Dodgers like Gagne and Lo Duca were using. Or maybe it’s the idea of Juan Pierre in LF for the next 50 games.

Maybe this is just another chapter in the endless saga of Manny Being Manny. At the very least, I’m not that worried for the Dodgers. If he was out for 50 games with injury, it would be considered a big blow but not insurmountable. I think same thing applies here.

What Makes A Good Ballpark?

It’s Not Whether You Win Or Lose, But Where You Play The Game

I joined a softball team in my Brooklyn neighborhood called the Saints and the Sinners. The league is run out of a bar and played on asphalt baseball fields across the street. There are dirt and grass fields nearby too –fields I thought I was signing up for. But we play on asphalt, where breaking up double plays involves putting your face between the ball and first base and diving in the outfield is an act of suicidal courage. There’s one thing I like about the field though: the view from home plate. I can see the Manhattan skyline from the batter’s box. If I were to call my shot over the left field fence, I’d be pointing toward the Empire State Building.

There’s something to be said, I think, for atmosphere. And while playing on what amounts to a giant playground basketball court is not the thrill of my career, I can’t get over the New York-ness of it all. The chain link fences and the East River and the city rising up behind the outfield create a sort of urbanized Field of Dreams atmosphere. It completely makes up for the playing conditions, which suck beyond comprehension.

Citi Field is nothing like McCarren Park. I saw my first game there on a blazing hot Sunday afternoon last week and left without much of an opinion. The field itself, I imagine, is perfect. And from a cold, aesthetic point of view, the whole ballpark is really kind of nice. But the fact that I came, watched the Mets get pounded by the Nats, and left without really feeling anything about the stadium one way or another probably tells more than enough. It’s nice. It seems more like somebody else’s idea of a stadium than an actual stadium itself. It looks like it was built to blend into an urban landscape, like the one I play softball in. Only instead of an urban landscape, there’s a parking lot, a train station, the tennis center.

This all has me wondering what a stadium should be. What are the ingredients, tangible and intangible, that make a ballpark work? It starts with the fans, I think. Safeco field, I know from experience, is a great place to watch a game. But when the Mariners suck and the place is 2/3 empty, a lot of that is lost. I haven’t been to Fenway or Wrigley but I’ve always defined them first by their fans, and second by the Green Monster and the Ivy.

There’s history to consider, and atmosphere, and food, and sightlines, and comfort, and parking. There are a million little details that go into a ballpark. And of course a stadium can seem an entirely different place in the playoffs. But what matters most? Do the good parks have something in common that the bad ones don’t? Am I totally off base in distinguishing between good and bad baseball stadiums in the first place?

I have some vague ideas about this, but no real answers. Softball on the asphalt is a joy but baseball at Citi Field is a dud. Stadiums are subject to every bit of hyperbole that the rest of baseball is. They are our Cathedrals, the cliché goes, our Coliseums. So why the hell can’t we consistently make good ones? Is it because the Coliseum was built to entertain the masses but our stadiums are built with profiting as much as possible off the super-rich in mind? Maybe making great ballparks, like all the best things in life, is an art and not a science. Or maybe making great ballparks is a science, just not as important as the science of making money.

Anyway, this post is not about money, it’s about baseball. What makes a ballpark good or bad. Why is PNC Park lauded and Great American Ballpark generally dismissed as relatively ungreat? I haven’t been to either.

Please tell me.

image courtesty of flickr user @msg

Poem Of The Week: The Abominable Baseball Bat

This poem, by super-poet/children’s writer/scholar/translator/holder of cool initials  XJ Kennedy is not, in fact, about Brian Giles and his .443 OPS. But it is about vampires, so Brian Giles does have something to do with it.

I swung and swung at empty air
And when I heard the umpire
Behind me shout, “Strike three – you’re out!”
My bat turned to a vampire.

The whole team had to pry it loose.
Poor Ump looked sorta flat.
Now ever since, my bat and I
Walk every time we bat.

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