Never Give Up Hope

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I was re-reading Ben Hunt’s superb series Things Fall Apart in the midst of research for my own contributions to Epsilon Theory (Notes From the Diamond) and was struck by a potentially encouraging contrast between Ben’s dire appraisal of contemporary politics on the one hand and famed incidents in baseball’s past on the other: incidents suggesting that seemingly irreconcilable differences between the bitterest of foes can not only be overcome but inevitably are — often sooner than the persons (or “tribes”) involved could possibly have imagined.

Consider perhaps the ugliest on-field example of tribalism in major league baseball (MLB) history: San Francisco Giant Juan Marichal’s clubbing of Los Angeles Dodgers catcher John Roseboro during an August 1965 game between two teams whose respective fan bases loathed each other almost as much as did the warring parties in the Dominican Civil War raging in Marichal’s home country at the time.  Though hardly an excuse for the violence Marichal unleashed on Roseboro after the Dodgers catcher whistled a ball being returned to pitcher Sandy Koufax too close to his ear for Marichal’s comfort, Marichal’s extreme angst over the uncertain fate of loved ones back in the Dominican made him especially testy the afternoon he assaulted Roseboro. 


Marichal having another go at Roseboro as a horrified Koufax (far left) arrives 

For better or worse — and it admittedly took a while for the incident’s redeeming virtues to become manifest — another future Hall of Famer at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park that afternoon, Giants superstar Willie Mays, assumed immediately the role of peacemaker (“centrist” in Hunt-speak) after Marichal clubbed Roseboro, shielding the Dodgers catcher during the melee that Marichal’s assault unleashed and escorting a profusely bleeding Roseboro off the field to the Dodgers dugout for medical treatment.  Mays underwent pretty ferocious criticism from Giants partisans following the incident, as did Roseboro, of course, albeit not as ferocious as the scorn cast upon Marichal — by Dodgers fans and the broader public generally — for clubbing Roseboro.  Interestingly, and importantly for our purposes here, Roseboro as well as Mays ended up playing pivotal and supportive roles in Marichal’s eventual election to baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1983, three years after his initial appearance on a Hall of Fame ballot, and four and eleven years, respectively, after Mays and Koufax took their rightful places in Cooperstown during their first years of eligibility for the Hall. 


Willie Mays escorting John Roseboro to the Dodgers dugout

George Brett is a baseball Hall of Famer too, remembered by all serious students of the game as one of the greatest hitters ever — he’s the only MLB player in history to win batting titles in three different decades — and by even casual observers of the game as the chief protagonist in an on-field incident that ripened into an off-field battle involving two characters who fairly exemplify the anti-centrism that Ben critiques in Things Fall Apart.  The incident involved Brett’s bashing of a ninth inning home run off future Hall of Famer Richard “Goose” Gossage that seemingly gave Brett’s Kansas City Royals a 5-4 win over their bitter rivals at the time, the New York Yankees, in July 1983. 


George Brett tussling with umpires after his “pine tar” homer was nullified

As became clear during hearings conducted by American League president Lee McPhail that led ultimately to Brett’s acquittal (if you will), the bat that Brett used to take Gossage deep had more pine tar on its handle than MLB rules at the time permitted — a fact trumpeted endlessly by the attorney who represented the Yankees in a transparently frivolous lawsuit brought by Yankees fans upset that they’d been deprived of the privilege of watching the pine tar game’s final half-inning.  (The umps on the day had ruled Brett’s homer invalid and awarded the Yankees a win, thus ending the game — temporarily as it turned out — after the visiting Royals had “completed” their ninth inning at-bats.)  The attorney?  Roy Cohn — the rapaciously divisive lawyer who served as chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy during his ignominious witch hunt for Communists in US government in the 1950s and later as a key advisor to (gulp) Donald Trump.  Who was the other infamously divisive coot who played an important role in whipping up partisan emotions over the pine tar incident?  The Royals’ director of promotions at the time: Rush Limbaugh.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brett and Limbaugh remain on friendly terms, or so it is said.  It is said too that Brett and Gossage have become close friends since wrapping up their MLB playing careers (in 1993 and 1994, respectively).

How long will it take for partisans on both sides of the latest headline-grabbing incident in major league baseball to either reconcile their views of the incident’s fundamental properties or, at a minimum, agree to disagree agreeably (sic)?  I have no idea.  But I do have strongly held views of what happened when Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts tried to snag a fly ball hit by Houston Astros star Jose Altuve during Game 4 of this year’s American League Championship Series (ALCS).  Obviously, fans interfered with Betts, and the umps involved were unarguably correct to rule the unlucky Altuve ”out” on the play (Ed Note: David’s views may not reflect the views of Epsilon Theory or its other writers).  Just as obviously, having been born as close to Boston’s Fenway Park as one could in the year of my birth (or indeed today) and still take one’s first breath in a well-equipped hospital, I’m rooting for my home town team to supplement its indisputably well-deserved ALCS triumph over the Astros with a win over the Dodgers in the World Series that commenced earlier this week.  I’m rooting too for the divisiveness in American politics and culture that Ben discusses in Things Fall Apart to fade, if not as rapidly nor as completely as did the enmity between John Roseboro and Juan Marichal following their famed encounter in 1965, then soon enough to keep the “center” from splintering wholly and irretrievably.


Fans interfering (sic) with Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts during Game 1 of 2018 ALCS
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Thomas
Member
Thomas

I am rather uncertain about responding to a message that advocates for hope. David’s one here is sincere enough. Even though I think it draws tenuous comparisons between the highly defined/refereed realm of sporting events and the life or death stakes of political strife. I would never disregard that sports amounts to matters of life for death for many fans unless I was also prepared to do some brawling thereafter. Yet it seems that private interests have learned how to win every season of modern US politics in spite of how any electoral game gets called. Mitch McConnell’s amazing streak of overturning and nullifying his opponents’ fairly won victories comes to mind most prominently. But sports aside, and regardless if it’s an honest or self-serving plug for hope, my thinking around politics rarely strays far from the consequences for individual lives and larger societies. But it is an avowed bias that becomes most evident to me whenever reminded of our potential to overcome disunity. So with that stated up front…

Shortly after the Kavanaugh confirmation I found a message on twitter stating, “We have a collective responsibility to hope.” (https://twitter.com/trainsbutspooky/status/1049125256420581381) And yesterday there was a plea from a father wanting his 8 year old to be able to grow up with some sense of normalcy. (https://twitter.com/RedTRaccoon/status/1055930441654550529) Part of me believes in the nobility of the first message and the sincerity of the second. But another part of me—the part that has participated in armed conflict, that has encountered the immutability of extreme ideologies, that has observed the overwhelming temptation for institutions to place self-interest before the public good—that part is not swayed. That part of me chastises any indulgent magical thinking. It spits back the remark from Ash’s severed head in Alien (1979), “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.”

No surprise I was reminded of that line by Dr. Ben’s ‘Anthem!’ from 2016. It represents my dominant sentiment very well as I think the escalation of our political divisions is as real as it gets, superseded only by those moments that turn into outright political violence. This is also why I hold a special animosity towards those loud and influential voices who continue to make proclamations for lofty reason or responsible pragmatism despite manifest political and socioeconomic fault lines. See most anything from David Brooks, Tom Friedman, the insufferable ex-Obama staffers, or Ben Sasse lately. Yesterday’s WSJ supplies a particularly untimely example from Peggy Noonan declaring we must ‘Defuse America’s Explosive Politics’ and that “both parties need to clean up their own side of the street.” Yet we see today’s horrors on Pittsburgh’s streets is a more serious plight than politics not being nice enough.

Wanting things to be nice strikes very much at the core of my feelings because I too want the same things. But I worry very much that the all-too-human desire for those nice things and comfortable conditions makes confronting hard realities impossible. It is highly laudable to assert that love conquers all and our capacity for shared humanity can prevail, but is this also an unintentional surrender from confronting the battlefield of politics? Seeking, building, developing some kind of process for being counted by society? Except for occasionally voting, the underlying deceit I hear from centrists is that most people should refrain from political life because it is unseemly and nasty and best left to the pros who know what they’re doing. This is the akin to the notion that citizens are nothing more than fans who are just supposed to cheer or boo every other year from the ballot box. Allowing the scruffy rabble come down onto the field and join the game has long been the stuff of nightmares for Team Elite. But how to confront the dire reality that private interests have done the work, paid the graft, in order to assemble a highly effective process for dominating US politics? How to confront that and its implications for the future with hope? Just about every millennial is asking or intuits some version of this question. My weathered self replies with a quote from Henry Rollins, “Hope is the last thing a person does before they are defeated.”

And yet, I remain foolish enough not to accept defeat until it deals some fatal blow in the future. Hope remains the best weapon against despair but is largely insufficient to acknowledge enough of what’s going on around us. That latter part is so incredibly hard. It is doubt. It is denial. It is our identity and self-esteem exposed. It’s a patriotic military veteran coming to accept the limits of American power and exceptionalism. It’s a father of an 8-year old knowing his own child cannot be shielded against the systemic dangers reshaping our world. It’s privilege and mobility being obliterated in tandem for a growing majority of society. It’s professional status and unaccountable expertise being reduced to nothing more than an overpaid mascot for power. It’s a small sky box of unelected oligarchs redrawing the foul lines for winners and losers that everybody must play within. It’s more heat than hope is able to stare down at the plate.

Everybody remembers Koufax while forgetting Drysdale. What I am beginning to recognize is that hope doesn’t have to play it alone. There’s another slugger riding the bench that hardly ever gets called up. One that doesn’t swing for the stands and is never ever playing to win. No, not Jesus or The Buddha, but something the theologians are supposed to know all about. And although I am not particularly familiar with it in my own life, I think it’s a way to play that doesn’t depend on who gets the most runs. The way to compete without relying on morbid advantage. Ignoring all expectations of success. Willingly risking to lose. A way to live that evokes some measure of the divine.

We usually just call it something else. Faith.

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Jason
Member
Jason

Wow, I’ll be sure to tell my dad about that Rush Limbaugh nugget; he was a huge Brett fan. Welcome aboard David!

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Redcat
Member

David, I really like this new angle – ancient literature, movie quotes, and philosophic remnants are wonderful but good ol’ Americana fills a need – especially when it’s real and back in my day. Good on ya, mate, keep ’em comin’.

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Victor K
Member
Victor K

“As became clear…final half-inning.” 80+ words!! Time for relief ;()

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James Stewart
Member
James Stewart

David, setting aside silly things such as “rules” and whatnot, and focusing on the “spirit” of the game, in the case of Altuve/Betts, why should the benefit of the doubt be given to the fielder versus the batter? The former needed to make an exceptional play on a ball that the latter objectionably hit out of the park. The call, very clearly, should have been given to the batter and upon review a “lack of evidence” should have justified the call on the field. When, in fact, the reverse happened. It was plain as day that the call on the field couldn’t be overturned, it just seems like the benefit of the doubt should have been given to the batter and not the fielder. I suspect our widening gyre will prevent us seeing eye to eye on this but I know you know in your heart that I’m right.

Cc: Ben and Rusty

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James Hunter
Member

Point of order – There was only ONE camera angle that gave the answer to the question of “Interference?” or “No Interference?”; and the photo above is not it, but the photo is useful. In the photo above, the guy in the WHITE shirt is the key, for his hand hits the hand/arm of the guy in the orange shirt (and what looks to be a “Reagan/Bush” ball cap) – and “Orange shirt” is responsible for closing Betts’ glove which otherwise certainly makes the catch. TBS looked at the play from as many angles as they could, but the one that would have given the answer was blocked (if memory serves) by a Security Guard. However, the smoking gun was the one angle which showed the SHADOW of the arm of the guy in the white shirt fully formed on the yellow paint defining the top of the wall. If he was NOT in the field of play, his shadow could not possibly have shown and extended over the yellow paint. And if white shirt’s arm and hand are in play, by definition Orange Shirt’s are as well. Unfortunately, Ron Darling and Brian Anderson didn’t notice the shadow, and TBS only went to that angle a couple of times. The call was correct for those with Clear Eyes and Full Hearts (even if that heart belongs to a Yankees fan!). And its STILL true even if I fully disclose that my Grandfather worked at the Deaconess Hospital and we could walk to Fenway…….

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