Thursday, June 22, 2017

Close the Book on a Golden Age in Sports

Baseball whiffed on Barry Bonds. They had the last great African-American baseball player in their midst. Instead of appreciating him, they colluded against him - refused him a a roster spot on a Major League team after he broke their all-time homerun record.

The owners had done it before - colluded against African-American ballplayers. That's how they kept blacks out of baseball the first 108 years of its existence. there was no definitive explanation given for why blacks were not allowed to play, but people understood. Neither was there an explanation for why there was no longer a place for Bonds in the game, though at the time of his exclusion, he arguably had more "pop" still left in his bat than most players in the league. Again, they left it to the public to presume the reason - that he tainted the game... cheated it by using steroids? Were they sure? Were they serious?

Major League baseball is the most insidious cheater in the history of American sports. It cheated an entire race of men out of the opportunity to compete in "America's game," and earn a living. This same league - with cheating in its DNA - looks at its players - past and present - and cannot be sure which, if not all, have cheated the game and one another - be it by steroids, corked bats, spit balls, amphetamines, stolen signs, etc., etc.; and whether they continue to cheat, still.

Now, it is over. Close the book on the great African-American baseball players: Josh, Satchel, Jackie; Willie, Ernie, Hank; Gibson, Henderson, Griffey, et al. It's over, America.

Imagine football - after watching Jim Brown, Deacon Jones, and Mean Joe Greene - ending with Lawrence Taylor, Barry Sanders, and Randy Moss. No Cam, no Zeke, no Beckham.

Imagine basketball - after Russell, Wilt, and the Big O - stopping with Jordan, Shaq, and Kobe. No Lebron, no Curry, no Durant. That is what has become of baseball in America. still a great game, but just as it was before Jackie Robinson, so much less than what it could have, and should have been.

I started watching baseball in the early 60's. The brothers were on a 50 year tear. Then, during the latter decades of the 20th century, African-American children stopped playing baseball - turned full-bore to basketball, which took less people, less space, and less time organizing.  And they turned to football, which represented a fundamental shift back to pure athleticism. The die was cast: When the nursery dries up, nothing grows. Add: Baseball is simply a more difficult game to play. Nothing is more baffling in sports than trying to hit Major League pitching.

It's over, boys. Barry Bonds is likely to be the last great African-American baseball player. (Never has Major League pitching seen the like. In one season, he not only had more intentional walks than any other player in baseball history, he had more than any team. They were not just afraid to pitch to Bonds, they refused.) For those of us who got to see him play, he was something to watch.  

Monday, June 19, 2017


They call him, “The Monster.” He is six-year-old Anthony Fremont, a child possessed of great powers with he wields viciously against anyone, or anything that doesn’t like him. His go-to move: Banish them “to the cornfield,” forever. 

Anthony is a television character in an episode of the popular ‘60’s series, “The Twilight Zone.” He could double as our own president, Donald Trump. All of those around Anthony must think happy thoughts and say happy things.

“I hate anybody who doesn’t like me!” he declares. 

“Everybody loves you, Anthony,” his father falsely, and fawningly assures him.

“That dog (barking)”, Anthony says, “doesn’t like me. He is a bad dog.”

Suddenly, the barking dog goes silent – into the cornfield. Afraid for his own safety, the father assures the boy: “That’s good what you did, Anthony… real good.” 

The father becomes a metaphor for Trump apologists across the country. They know that his actions – rescinding checks on Wall Street, rolling back environmental protections, spurning human rights, while sidling up to the dictators (perhaps for no other reason than that he is attracted to authoritarian rule) – are contrary to an enlightened society. The apologists choose to appease Trump, nonetheless – damn the collateral damage – to save themselves and their agendas.

When FBI director, James Comey, fell out of favor with President Trump, it was “to the cornfield” for him. But, it is not just that he was fired; it was tacky – meanly done, as if humiliation and denigration were necessary parts of the process. The apologists stepped forward:  “Well, you know Trump. He’s not steeped in the ways of Washington.” How about decency? Has he any familiarity with that?

Then, as though to outdo himself, the Trump administration went after Michelle Obama’s nutrition initiative for America’s school children. (What sort of people would interfere with children getting better nutrition?) The former first lady was more direct, asking of Trump: “What is wrong with you?” She might have added, “…Anthony!” 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Cat's in the Cradle

“The Hermit Kingdom” – that’s what they call North Korea. Sounds enchanting, and endearing when you think of its inhabitants who have no one but themselves to rely upon. That raw independence has spawned a siege mentality, beginning with it impetuous leader, Kim Jong Un. Many see him as 27 year old despot with a nuclear arsenal at his fingertips. America calls him “irrational”. (He must be. He defies America at every turn.)

Speaking at the United Nations this past month, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said of North Korea:  “They don’t need nuclear weapons.” They don’t? Then who does? America has over 2500 nukes. We must need them. (Do we need so many?) And, you say North Korea needs none. Who’s being irrational? 

The U.S. wants North Korea to dismantle its entire nuclear program, (composed of six to ten warheads.) We want the Korean peninsula to be nuclear free. Are we so full of ourselves that we presume the right to set the parameters of another nation’s existence?

We have nuclear weapons to deter other nations from attacking us. Russia has the same nukes. Lesser nations – France, Israel, Pakistan have nukes for the same reasons: to insure their survival in the face of nations who only respect the ability of contrary nations to hit them back. It is called “Mutual Assured Destruction” – “MAD.” That is what N. Korea wants – what America has in spades: the surety of MAD(ness).

America claims Un threatens our existence. No, he doesn’t. Un says, “If the U.S. attacks us, we will fight back.” That is a simple assurance. We, Americans, can trace such assurances back to grade school – those of us, that is, who had guts to hit the bully back. N. Korea, with its nuclear program, seeks to keep the bully at bay, like everyone else. 

N. Korea saw what happened to Iraq and Libya. Neither of those countries threatened America. America made them disarm, nonetheless. Then, we killed both of  their leaders, and left their nations in shambles. “Irrational” would be for Un to disarm in the face of American intimidation., and expect a different result.

President Trump dispatched a nuclear-powered naval strike force to the Korean peninsula, ostensibly to intimidate Un into backing down from any more nuclear, and ballistic missile tests. A day later, Un tested one of his missiles, anyway. Two weeks later, on the 28th of April, as the U. S. naval “armada” drew nearer to the Korean peninsula, Un tested another missile. 

By the way, how does one use a nuclear-powered strike force to convince another nation to de-nuclearize? Weaker peoples might fold. A determined nation will respond, “I’m gonna be like you.” If nothing else, N. Korea is determined.

It is interesting that as the United Nations Security Council convened a special session to discuss N. Korea’s ballistic missile tests, the U.S. and India, that same week, tested ballistic missiles of their own. Unbowed, Rex Tillerson stood on the floor of  the U.N. and asked that N. Korea – already the most-sanctioned nation on Earth – be hit with ever more crippling sanctions for daring to do what we do. 

By its policy toward N. Korea, it is apparent that the U.S. wants to bring that nation to its knees – perhaps to total extinction, and subsequent absorption into a unified Korea dominated by the U.S.-friendly, non-nuclear South. Many in the world might say that would be a good thing for the impoverished N. Korean people. Perhaps…

But, what if that nation views itself as 25 million people operating as a simple organism, like a colony of honeybees. This is not to belittle, but to highlight the industriousness of this feisty people who, with less outside help than any other nation on Earth, strive with dogged purpose to fulfill its destiny.

As a people, Americans reject the notion – think: humans were not meant to conform, like bees, to a single purpose. How do we know? Were all humans meant to be like Americans – slavishly staring into their iPhones, worshipping money, fame; cramming gratuitous foodstuffs down our throats until the entire nation is awash in an epidemic of obesity? Are we so much better than they?

I have had the advantage of being raised in rural Michigan of the 50’s and 60’s. A hand-pump was our sole source of water, a pot-bellied stove our sole source of heat, an outhouse at the edge of our backyard our source of relief. Times were hard. We ate regularly, but food was never in abundance. 

When I hear of the dire straits N. Koreans face, I am reminded that our family was never closer, never so assured of who we were, then when times were hardest. Perhaps the hard times the N. Koreans know – the threats, the sanctions – has only made them more united/less divided than any other nation on Earth. 

Recently, the N. Koreans celebrated the anniversary of their republic’s founding with a splendid display of pageantry. Such spectacles, along with the nation’s expansive weapons systems, tax Un’s ability to feed his own people. Come nighttime N. Korea becomes a black spot on the global map, evidence of a modern nation that cannot afford to keep the lights on. 

Such failures make N. Korea a bright target for ridicule. Yet, even the U.S. must temper its mockery with a measure of respect. Earth abounds with nations that fail to feed their own; that have little to show for their existence besides hunger, squalor, and corruption. Through the hardships visited upon the N. Korean people, a poor nation has forged itself into a an advanced and nuclear state. 

Still, America cannot resist deploying her smug pit: “They have no access to the internet!” Big deal! Neither did we. Instead, my siblings and I were raised on the complete set of “Childcraft” books – children’s literature from “Bo-Peep” to “Rapunzel”, and beyond. 
Look, let not lean with our feigned pity. Ask: “Can the N. Korean children go fishing, play baseball, go for walks in the woods?” If so, then many of them are more free than our own children – chained as they are to their fancy computers and cell phones; addicts to technology that diminishes them where consequent time spent with nature would enrich their souls. 

This is no attempt to romanticize the tribulations of the N. Korean people. They suffer; who doesn’t. I wish all the world’s children were free from hunger. That will not happen, especially with world leaders like ours who feign commiseration out of one side of their mouths, while clamoring for ever more bone-chilling child-starving sanctions out of the other side. 

Leave the N. Koreans be. (Stop trying to make everybody like your sick selves.) They want to live, that’s all. They have a right to self-determination; the right to be different. They are a unique people – they are denizens of  “The Hermit Kingdom.”