The Man at Rest (1920-2013)

January 28, 2013

Baseball, my beloved refuge from the world, is a game of numbers.  I find it a great irony that a game which is a lazy pastime is caught up in  advanced mathematics.

There are great players, phenomenal players, Hall-of-Fame players …. and then there are the highest echelons …. the Immortals.  Ruth and Gehrig, the racist paranoid Cobb, Teddy Ballgame, the Say Hay Kid …. Hammerin’ Hank.  The last two are the last alive on that list, because another of their number passed on this past week.   Stan Musial.  Stan “the Man”.

For those interested in ethnicity, the Italians had the private and quiet DiMaggio.  The Puerto Ricans had the immortal Roberto Clemente.  For Jews, there was the great slugger Hank Greenberg.  Poles had Stanislaw Franciszek Musial.  He was soft spoken, and fit in perfectly in the Midwest.  While DiMaggio stayed in the shadows, and Ted Williams was considered too antagonistic (though this was overblown by the press), Musial was a public commodity:  as beloved by the public as he was respected by his colleagues.  Mickey Mantle once said something to the effect of “He is a better player than me because he is a better person than me.

Musial was named or elected to 24  All-Star games.  That’s as many as Willie Mays, and no one has been elected to more.  Given the current structure of the All-Star Game, it is highly unlikely that this record will be approached, let alone topped.  He slammed 475 home runs, and walked 1599 times …. amazingly striking out only 696 times … all good for a 0.331 batting average.  His 725 doubles is third all-time, and since he hit his 177 career triples, no one has hit as many.  Only he and Gehrig have 400 home runs, 500 doubles, and 150 triples.  The man … he didn’t care what kind of hit …

… he also didn’t seem to care where.  On the last game of his career, he hit safely for the 3,630th time in his career;  then the all-time National League record.  At the time, only Ty Cobb had more, and since, only Hank Aaron and Pete Rose have hit more.  One of the most extraordinary things about his career:  1,815 of his hits were collected at home in St. Louis, and 1,815 were collected in road games.  He was unfazed by his settings.

His first at-bat in the Major Leagues was a hit.  So was his last.  His last hit went past the diving rookie second baseman of the Cincinnati Reds.  When the outfielder returned the ball to the infield, the second baseman caught the ball, and walked it over to Stan Musial just before he was taken out of the game.

That second baseman was Pete Rose … the man who would one day pass Musial to set the National League and then the Major League record for hits.  No one could have fathomed the importance of that simple moment, yet it must go down as one of baseball’s all-time great moments.

Musial was also the measuring stick of the passage of time.  Musial’s first game was in 1941.  This was the last summer of peace in the United States.  Players still left their mitts on the field when they went in to bat.  Jackie Robinson was still six years off.  St. Louis was the furthest west that professional sports went in the United States.

His last at -bat was in the Autumn of 1963.  John Kennedy had less than two months to live.  We were well into the space age.  Musial’s teammates included Bob Gibson and Curt Flood, two African-American players, one who would re-write the record books of baseball pitching, and the other who would help rewrite the labor rules of the game.  Flood scored on Musial’s last hit;  his final RBI.  The Braves had moved to Milwaukee, and the Dodgers and Giants, New York institutions, were now in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Musial was beloved even by baseball fans who lived nowhere near St. Louis.  Among players, he was well respected.  Ty Cobb hated everyone, and even Cobb once said “No man has ever been a perfect ballplayer. Stan Musial, however, is the closest to being perfect in the game today….”  When Albert Pujols established himself as a great slugger with the Cardinals in the last decade, some took to calling him “El Hombre”.  He asked people to stop it.  Even though he wasn’t alive to see Musial play, he felt that he was unworthy to share Musial’s nickname, even if it was in Spanish.  How unfathomable is it for a modern player to recognize that greatness, and to realize that he was unworthy of the comparison?

After retirement, he spent time as the President’s Special Adviser on Physical Fitness.  In 1967, the Cardinals hired him as general manager, but before 12 months had passed, he resigned to take control of his business interests after his business partner died.  In his one year as General Manager of the team, the Cardinals won the World Series.

His life followed a certain simplicity.  He was born in the coal mining town of Donora, Pennsylvania, and he was known among baseball fans as “The Donora Greyhound”.  When he was 15, he met a girl named Lillian.  They married in 1940, and remained married until her death in 2012.  That might be the most impressive number associated with Musial.  He lived to celebrate his seventy-second wedding anniversary!!  He stayed so consistent that he became a grandfather for the first time in 1960, and then celebrated by hitting a home run later that evening.  Not many grandfathers get to play Major League Baseball.

No one is perfect.  I am sure that Musial wasn’t.  But given the long list of baseball stars whose weaknesses overshadow their greatness, Musial managed to make it through his career and through a retirement of over 50 years without any significant scandal or concern.  Ford Frick once had attributed to him one of baseball’s most beautiful quotes, supposedly said in reference to Musial: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”  It is inscribed on one of the two statues representing him at Busch Stadium.  That’s right:  2 statues.

A few years ago, my uncle bequeathed me some of his memorabilia.  One of them was a personally autographed photo from Musial that he got while he was recovering from a severe injury in the hospital.  My uncle lived on the South Side of Chicago.  He wasn’t a Cardinals fan.  Musial didn’t seem to care.  I had it framed, it has occupied a prominent place on the wall.

When Musial came to bat for the final time, St. Louis radio fans were listening to young Harry Caray.

As Harry put it:

This might be the last time at bat in the Major Leagues … Remember the stance … and the swing … You’re not likely to see his likes again.

For as goofy as Harry could get, he was likely never as prescient as in that moment.  This is the 50th anniversary year of his leaving baseball.  We have had Ripkens and Schmidts.  We have had Thomas’ and Thomes.  Carters and Fisks.  Bretts and Biggios.

We wait still for the next Musial.


The end of an era …

January 21, 2013

Atari US has decleared bankruptcy, and is selling everything from the rights to its classic games (Pong, Centipede, Missile Command) to its logo.  While the arcade industry is long past its golden age … I guess this means that 1980s are officially over.

1972-2013 RIP

Hernan Cortés and the Chicago Cubs: the ships have been burned

January 20, 2013

In 1519, as the story goes, a rebellious 34-year old Hernan Cortés reached Veracruz.  After landing, and preparing to march on the Aztec capital, Cortés sank his ships (most stories report burning, though this is not confirmed) as a way of sending a message to his men:  we have reached the point of no return … we either succeed or die … retreat is not an option.  It is a classic story from history of a ballsy move, of sending an unambiguous message to your followers … it can also be interpreted as a story of motivation through fear.

First, we’ll take Tenochtitlan … then we’ll take Ber-linnnn.


The Cubs may have just burned the ships…

Just two years ago, Tom Ricketts et al, secured a purchase of the Chicago Cubs for a roughly $900 million.  That’s a lot of money, but it needs to be kept in mind:  This wasn’t Bill Gates throwing $900 million away (when you have $66 billion in the bank, $900 million isn’t an end-of-the-world amount of money to lose).  This was a guy whose family is worth a net $1 billion.  This guy didn’t cough up the entire $900 million, but he committed a large percent of his personal and family holdings to the sale.  In short, if the Cubs don’t continue to generate $$, the Ricketts are in big trouble.

This past weekend, the Chicago Cubs announced that they will be spending $300 million to spruce up Wrigley Field.

On the list of things to do:  wider concourses, more bathrooms (hopefully also to make their bathrooms no longer remind people of films that include prison rape scenes), upgrade to home clubhouse, replacement of the roof, adding a rooftop terrace

Pictured:  artists conception of new Wrigley Field concourse

Not pictured:  World Series championship banners


…oh, and they are also planning to add an LED scoreboard.

On the one hand, welcome Chicago Cubs to the 20th 21st century.  Some of these upgrades are long overdo …

… but consider this … the The Ricketts are now sinking more money into the stadium (a full additional one-third of their original investment) … upgrades that will not substantially increase seating (read:  this will not substantially increase revenue).

The Ricketts have made it clear that the City of Chicago will need to allow more advertising in the stadium to raise money.  That, on the surface, sounds smart.

But $300 million is likely to be an underestimation … Wrigley Field is a bonafide National and City of Chicago Landmark.  If you want to do just about anything, it has to go through a lot of hurdles to get clearance (read:  $$$).  Also, this isn’t as simple as slapping a new scoreboard here or there … this is going to require special work dealing with an old building, most of which cannot be damaged in any substantial way.  Lots and lots of TLC.  This is hardly going to be cheap.

However … any Cubs fan who is sober and in a state of reality will tell you … a sizable percentage of the people who come out to Wrigley Field are senior citizens who show up to take in the good ol’ ballpark, and are not actually paying $45 for a ticket to cheer on a team whose record for failure is longer than the Titanic‘s … they show up to see a ball park that still looks like ones from the 1950s and 40s.  Read:  no advertising, no lame stadium rock music, no electronic scoreboard.

If the Cubs go forward with this, they could see an increase in what they are already seeing:  a lack of sold out games … It used to be the one thing Cubs fans could razz Sox fans about, but the last two years have seen the Cubs forced to turn to advertising to sell tickets because the Wrigley faithful have been a little less faithful of late.  Improving the concourses and bathrooms would be a major step forward for the Cubs … one that their fans would appreciate.  Turning the playing area into a mall would, I suspect, drive a certain percentage away.

I suspect that the Ricketts family have thought through this risk … so why do it, especially in an unsure economy, and in an era where overall following of baseball is lagging?

I think this is a sign of commitment … if the Cubs do this, the only way they could be sure to pack the fans back in would be to win a World Series.  This means that the Cubs are banking their entire economic future on Theo Epstein working his magic to build a World Series champion and bring the fans back with the potential for loss that could be coming.  Unlike the White Sox, with the money being invested, a World Series along may not be enough … the Cubs will need to do something they have no done in decades:  sustained winning paired with routine playoff appearances, at least one of which soon has to be a World Series appearance, and relatively soon, a World Series championship.  In the absence of those developments, the Cubs could see not only that their continued losing continues to be a mockery, but the things they have rarely needed to worry about:  a sustained fan base and an endless supply of cash, could become issues.

The Cubs have burned their ships … it is win, or die trying.

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 03:  Manager Ozzie Guillen #13 of the Chicago White Sox  talks to the media before the Chicago Cubs game on July 3, 2011 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

I think I said that once …

Dreams and Politics

January 7, 2013

I stumbled upon this, and found it interesting:

A study conducted a few years back found an interesting correlation between your politics and your dreams.  If you tend to vote Republican, you tend to describe a lot more of your dreams as nightmares than if you vote Democrat.

That is kind of interesting.

Another study (albeit a small scale one) looked at graduate students, and noted that those who were objectively tested to be more conservative tended to report a larger percent of their dreams as being negative.

Also interesting.

The first story offers some potential interpretations:

1.  Negative dreams/nightmares can be interpreted as meaning that an individual is better in tune with real world problems and horrors.  While others look away from the worst things in life, folks who suffer nightmares may have a better time seeing these problems and being aware of them.  Thus, political conservatives may have a tendency to be aware of problems that others don’t perceive as problems.  Thus, nightmares are an unfortunate symptom of being conservative.  You see dangers, and these dangers show up in the subconscious.

2.  Nightmares may have little to do with the real world, other than to alter your perception of it … that is, it might make a person see dangers that aren’t really there (what you might call a degree of paranoia).  So, it is also possible that people are driven to conservatism because they have these nightmares, and perceive the world as a dangerous place in need of far more protection with guns, armies, etc.

What I am interested in:  there are people who change party affiliation later in life, and I wonder if this change in affiliation occurs at a time in their life that their dream pattern changes …. and which changes first?

So if a kid has nightmares, do they tend more toward an absolute view of the world, while kids who don’t suffer from nightmares may have a more open view of the world … though is it the dream that pushes the world view, or the world view that pushes the direction of dreams?  I also wonder if this has anything to do with some incidences of depression, especially in childhood (a kid who tends to have bad dreams, especially at an age when determining the boundary from reality and fantasy is tough, could certainly get depressed).

Chicago Northsiders: Something to cheer about

January 1, 2013

Things that have happened since the Cubs were last in a World Series

Put a man in space

Put a man on the moon

the entire Korean War

the entire Vietnam War

Two wars with Iraq, and one in Afghanistan

The Sears Tower is planned

The Sears Tower is built

Mare Daley dies

a woman gets elected mare of Chicago

an African-American is elected mare of Chicago

Soviet Union collapses

Mare Daley’s son gets elected mare

Mare Daley’s son retires after serving the second longest term of mare in Chicago history

an African-American (from Chicago) is elected president

an African-American is re-elected president

Chicago gets an NBA team

the Chicago Bulls win six NBA championships

da Bers win a Super Bowl

Da Haaks win Lord Stanley’s Cup …. twice

White Sox go to a World Series

White Sox win a World Series

Northwestern wins a bowl game

Northwestern wins a second bowl game

Mayan apocalypse

Congratulations to the Northwestern Wildcats … the first team from the north side of Chicago to win something significant in sports above the high school level since … 1949.