Monthly Archive for August, 2009

Weekend Reading: All-Time Greats and Some Technological Blunders and Wonders

In the midst of various PnP relocations, Weekend Reading directs you to an eternal debate, an eternal great, and some technological mishaps and marvels.

  • Rick Soisson offers an alternative vision of the eternal question at The Baseball Chronicle: who is the best hitter of all time?
  • Keith Olbermann explores the form of another baseball great: Christy Mathewson, who pitched in a time before film.
  • Is John Smoltz the latest All-Time Great to fizzle at the end of his career away from the town where he built his legend? The Sporting Blog discusses, and notes some other late-career faders.
  • Sons of Steve Garvey found an abbreviationally challenged mini-scoreboard.
  • If ever technology has raised the stakes of human history, it is in the eminently searchable, enthralling Dressed to the Nines database of baseball uniforms through history. via UniWatch

The Sheff Abides

Last night I got the chance to sit front row behind the home dugout at Citi Field. Needless to say the game between the Mets and Cardinals was stunning. I saw Johan being Johan, Albert being Albert, and K-Rod being Joe Borowski.

But mostly I saw Gary Sheffield.

I’ve been fascinated by Gary Sheffield since his tumultuous stint with my Dodgers. He was awful off the field in LA. He bitched about his teammates in the media, he fought with management, and he whined and whined and whined. But goodness gracious did he hit.

No matter where he’s gone Gary Sheffield has always been that guy. He’s never been your favorite player, but he’s often been your favorite team’s best player. He’s never been enough of a problem off the field, or enough of a superstar on the field to elicit romantic baseball love or fanatic baseball hatred from fans. Gary Sheffield is meant to confuse, meant to muddle, and meant to be pondered. In my mind he is a first ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Rodin Thinker

The thing about Gary Sheffield is that he’s very serious. I saw it yesterday. He emerged from the dugout for the National Anthem with a distant look on his face. As other players sang, blew bubbles, and grinned their way through the song, Sheffield stood focused. He was solemn and somber. I wondered for a moment if I had discounted him. Perhaps the brooding Sheffield was more complex than I had ever given him credit for. Perhaps he was a humble patriot doing his American thing for these few quiet moments before the game.

But his expression stayed that way. Over the nine innings, Sheffield’s face remained distant, sullen. It was as if he carried some burden, understood some troubling reality that we in the stands could never appreciate. Indeed, it was not the Anthem, it was just Gary. It was just Gary playing baseball. And when Gary plays baseball he is more than just immune to his surroundings – he appears oblivious to them. It’s as if he doesn’t even see his own teammates on the bench.

The game, it seems, happens around Gary. He simply is. The Sheff abides. He doesn’t put on a uniform, but rather the uniforms seem to put themselves on him.  He doesn’t come to the stadium either. The stadiums he plays in grow organically from the ground beneath where he happens to be standing, so as to leave him at ease in left field, the batters’ box, or the on-deck circle. These things happen by sheer momentum. They are just the way of the universe.

The-Big-Lebowski

In a sense, there’s a Ricky Henderson-ness to Sheffield. Ricky played baseball like gravity. He was everywhere, and he was the same everywhere. Sheffield is like that too. He is serious and wise and silent and ubiquitous and eerily consistent. He’s only played for eight teams in his career, but it seems like so many more. He hasn’t hit 30 home runs in a season since 2005, but his violent pendulum of a batting stance still induces the fear of nature into opponents.

Sheffield went 2-4 yesterday, with a double and a pair of runs batted in. He jogged and took a couple awful, lazy angles in left field. On an exciting evening, a back and forth, high scoring, star-driven evening, Gary Sheffield was muddled, inhibited, himself.

Poem Of The Week: The Night Game

Tonight I saw one of the best baseball games I have ever seen. It was Mets and Cardinals and Albert Pujols and Johan Santana and everything that game should have been. Mostly it was Albert Pujols. I’ll write about the game, I think, tomorrow. But for now, a poem by Robert Pinsky, The Night Game. I just discovered it a few moments ago, and am smitten. Especially with the little haiku about Whitey Ford you’ll find halfway down. “A mere success,” Pinsky calls Ford. How many people would give up years, limbs, loves for the chance to be a “mere success?” Ask the poet, ask the pitcher (not Ford) Pinsky refers to at the end of this poem:

robert pinsky poet basebal cardSome of us believe
We would have conceived romantic
Love out of our own passions
With no precedents,
Without songs and poetry–
Or have invented poetry and music

As a comb of cells for the honey.

Shaped by ignorance,
A succession of new worlds,
Congruities improvised by
Immigrants or children.

I once thought most people were Italian,
Jewish or Colored.
To be white and called
Something like Ed Ford
Seemed aristocratic,
A rare distinction.

Possibly I believed only gentiles
And blonds could be left-handed.

Already famous
After one year in the majors,
Whitey Ford was drafted by the Army
To play ball in the flannels
Of the Signal Corps, stationed
In Long Branch, New Jersey.

A night game, the silver potion
Of the lights, his pink skin
Shining like a burn.

Never a player
I liked or hated: a Yankee,
A mere success.

But white the chalked-off lines
In the grass, white and green
The immaculate uniform,
And white the unpigmented
Halo of his hair
When he shifted his cap:

So ordinary and distinct,
So close up, that I felt
As if I could have made him up,
Imagined him as I imagined

The ball, a scintilla
High in the black backdrop
Of the sky. Tight red stitches.
Rawlings. The bleached

Horsehide white: the color
Of nothing. Color of the past
And of the future, of the movie screen
At rest and of blank paper.

“I could have.” The mind. The black
Backdrop, the white
Fly picked out by the towering
Lights. A few years later

On a blanket in the grass
By the same river
A girl and I came into
Being together
To the faint muttering
Of unthinkable
Troubadours and radios.

The emerald
Theater, the night.
Another time,
I devised a left-hander
Even more gifted
Than Whitey Ford: A Dodger.
People were amazed by him.
Once, when he was young,
He refused to pitch on Yom Kippur.