The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

Ten Facts About Mets Ace Matt Harvey

Matt Harvey, who has begun his 2015 comeback campaign with a perfect record of 5-0, is certainly a candidate to win the N.L. Cy Young award this season.  Through his first 34 innings pitched, he has struck out 34 batters while walking just four.  He is currently averaging 8.5 strikeouts per walk, and (having been slated to make just 30 starts this season) is on pace to walk fewer than 30 batters this year.

So, yeah, he’s pretty good.

Here are ten other things you might not be aware regarding Matt Harvey:

1)  He has never been charged with an error in his career.

2)  He has never surrendered a grand slam homer in his career (and only one three-run homer.)

3)  He has never been charged with a balk.

4)  Only once has he ever intentionally walked a batter.

5)  He grew up as a Yankees fan (well, no one’s perfect.)

6)  He was the seventh pick in the first round of the 2010 amateur draft.  The first six players selected before him were, in order, Bryce Harper, Jameson Tailon, Manny Machado, Christian Colon, Drew Pomeranz, and Barret Loux.

7)  According to Baseball-Reference.com, the pitcher whose career, through age 24, most closely resembles that of Matt Harvey is Hall of Famer “Big Ed” Walsh of the early twentieth-century White Sox.

8)  His father was a collegiate athlete, playing both baseball and football at the University of Connecticut.

9)  Harvey shares a birthday (March 27th) with Hall of Fame manager Miller Huggins, and with teammate Mike Cuddyer (though Cuddyer was born a decade earlier.)

10)  The 1,067 batters who have faced Matt Harvey have hit a combined .191 against him.

Harvey’s next scheduled start is Friday, May 8th, in Philadelphia.

 

Invisible People, and the Noise They Make

Imagine if Wal-Mart opened for business today, but barred customers from entering their stores. Imagine a new radio station going on the air, but not advertising as to where to find their signal. Imagine a public election being held, where, due to distrust of (some of) the citizenry, the people were not allowed to vote.

Imagine a baseball game where the fans were not allowed to attend.

This bizarre, yet thoroughly American turn of events will occur this afternoon in Baltimore in a home game scheduled against the White Sox.  Does a team still have home-field advantage when no one’s home?

In Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Slaughterhouse Five,” the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck” in time. Pilgrim’s life plays out randomly, the normal linear progression of events mixed up and occurring haphazardly.  One event does not lead to the next, but could, in fact, circle back to a prior event. Normal cause and effect cease to have any meaning.

What we appear to be witnessing today in Baltimore is the progeny of a business-law enforcement alliance where privatized public spectacles are now shielded from the public itself.  Corporatism in America has become “unstuck” from the citizenry.  Normal cause and effect no longer have any meaning. Business decisions are unmoored from the real world concerns of local municipalities.

Banks are bailed out, but not people.  Corporations magically become citizens, while much of the citizenry lacks the basic necessities of life.  The Dignity of Work is summoned to shame those who’ve lost their jobs to overseas competition.  And people who lack the ability to buy shoes for their children are lectured to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

In many ways, this is not a new development, but is, in fact, the inevitable outcome of what happens when a political system is entirely consumed by corporatism, leveraging the power of law enforcement to corral, contain and coerce those elements of the citizenry written off as undesirable, irredeemable and politically powerless.

Many, perhaps most of the chattering class and the interests they serve will describe the current unrest in Baltimore this week as primarily a law enforcement issue.  After thirty years of a War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance Policies, and Three Strikes and Your Out legislation (the irony of which will certainly fail to find fertile ground in the imaginations of those who decided to play a baseball game today to empty stands), and over a million African-American men and women having been incarcerated at one time or another in their lives, it appears that American society remains more comfortable providing them with a ticket to prison than a ticket to a baseball game.

Last year, an elderly rancher named Cliven Bundy and his Gang-That-Couldn’t-Think-Straight were heralded by many in the media as heroes for individual liberty, property rights, and the idea that no white man, however delusional, should be denied his moment of public heroism, even as some of his supporters aimed their weapons directly at law enforcement officers.

That law enforcement officers were deemed “jack-booted thugs” when attempting to enforce the laws of the land in that situation out west, while the “thugs” are now the young men and women of Baltimore armed with bricks, and the police have been magically transformed once again into the thin blue line separating respectable society from those that would do us harm is familiar territory here in America.  Yet familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt, and contempt is the jet fuel of social unrest.

All of which brings us back to a baseball game later today in Baltimore.  Camden Yards and the area in which it is situated was the product of the sort of palatable corporate urban renewal that has become fashionable over the past quarter century or so, where gentrification (the removal of the undesirables) in favor of public and private investment that overwhelmingly favors the upper middle class has become the only politically expedient investment in existence.

Will it make money for a fortunate few, perhaps even at the expense of others?  If so, that’s a price that has been deemed acceptable, once you are able to hide the losers from view.

But now the “losers” are in full view on our round-the-clock cable news networks where the well-fed and well-groomed simultaneously engage in hand-wringing analysis that mimics concern while also condemning the inevitable rage that burns wherever people are marginalized.  But the system must be allowed to continue operating under any and all circumstances, because the system, after all, is its own reward.

So a professional baseball game will be played today for the first time in baseball history without a single fan to witness it.  The human element has finally been rendered obsolete.  The beast has eaten its fill.

In America, people are the raw material that feeds the system.  When the system no longer requires your contribution, or even your existence, the expectation is your silent acquiescence to a permanent state of invisibility.

Thus, in a stadium in downtown Baltimore, in a park that seats 45,971, ushers will serve no one, ticket takers will stare out at empty parking lots, and players will hit doubles that no one will cheer.  No one will stand up and stretch in the seventh inning, and the Great American Game will reflect the emptiness at the heart of a broken system where to be invisible is the price you pay for being born poor and powerless.

Article from “The Guardian”

I don’t usually post / reprint articles from newspapers or news magazines in this space, but I just finished reading this one in the British publication, “The Guardian” (U.S. Edition), written by Jonathan Bernhardt, and thought it was more than worth the use of my space.  See what you think:

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2015/apr/14/josh-hamilton-falls-victim-to-the-weird-sociopathy-of-the-business-decision

Banana Bread and George Theodore’s Sweet Tooth

My grandmother, of Slovak origin, made certain foods I could barely pronounce, let alone digest.  Among these old-world favorites (at least in eastern Slovakia, near the Ukrainian border), were bobalki, halushki and sirecz (pronounced “cidets.”)  I dare you to try to find any of these items on your friendly neighborhood menu.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

Even other Slovak-Americans (whom I rarely came into contact with, but they do exist), sometimes hadn’t heard of these foods.  In fact, I’m left wondering if these particular victuals weren’t native to simply one small neighborhood in a hidden quarter of a half-forgotten farm village left over from the Hapsburg Empire.  Kind of like the Mets fan rumored to live on the northern side of Staten Island, just beyond the ferry terminal.  He’d likely also have been a fan of Mets outfielder George Theodore.

George “The Stork” Theodore was a Utah native best remembered perhaps for colliding with Mets center-fielder Don Hahn during their improbable pennant winning season of 1973.  Theodore’s best season came in 1971 when he batted .333 with 28 homer runs and 113 RBI in 507 plate appearances.  He also scored 112 runs, and stole 15 bases in 17 attempts. Unfortunately for the Mets, that performance came in the Single-A California League in Visalia when George was already 24-years old, which is sort of like an 18-year old dating a 9th-grader.

George liked marshmallow milkshakes, or so the back of his 1974 Topps baseball card informs us.  I, on the other hand, loved my grandma’s banana bread.  In fact, from Bridgeport, Connecticut to Portland, Maine and then down to Greenville, South Carolina, I’ve never had banana bread quite the equal of her moist, sweet yellow cake.

She passed away over a decade ago, leaving the world with more apps than they can download while waiting for their tires to be balanced at your local Tire Kingdom, but all the poorer regarding the existence of a nice, satisfying little snack bread. Which, as far as I’m concerned, pretty much sums up the 21st-century.

I’m sure that if George Theodore had visited our house on Bridgeport’s west side in the mid-’70’s, he, too, would surely have enjoyed her banana bread.  In fact, it is even possible that the back of his card would have read “George loves Mets Fan Bill Miller’s Grandma’s Banana Bread.”

It would have been quite the coup for Topps, and Mets fans everywhere would want to know where exactly Colorado Avenue in Bridgeport really was.  A perhaps mythic location akin to the Elysian Fields in New Jersey, or the Schaefer beer brewery  on Kent Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn (which closed down in 1976, a pretty respectable year for the Mets.)

As far as I could tell, Slovaks generally didn’t go in for baseball.  In fact, as a species, Slovaks seem primarily to have thrived on the concept of not being noticed at all, which is what happens when you’ve spent around 500 years having been conquered and pillaged by one invader or another.  My ancestors did try to warn Jonathon Harker, however, away from Dracula’s castle, but who ever listens to a Slovak?  (“The Slav natives Harker meets along the way to the castle likewise incur his disdain.”  Dracula, page 33.  Ouch.)

Ya Gotta Believe! became a popular battle cry in Mets Land in ’73 precisely because Tug McGraw wasn’t mostly Slovak.  Not even a little bit, in fact.  And I’m fairly certain he’d never had bobalki at Easter or Christmas, but that was his loss.  Still, having the American League affiliate of the Hapsburg Empire nearby in the Bronx, led by the despotic Teutonic House of Steinbrenner, we Slovak-American Mets fans knew a thing or two about playing second fiddle to the Yankees while biding our time.  The uprising at Shea Stadium in ’73 wasn’t unlike the Glorious Revolution that swept Europe in 1848, but with slightly less bloodshed, at least if you weren’t seated in the bleachers.

For me, George Theodore represented that unlikely euphoric atmosphere which engulfed much of the Tri-State area that summer.  Yes, Tom Terrific was the valiant warrior, and Bud Harrelson slugging Pete Rose after a hard slide into second base was the iconic moment, but George Theodore was the any-man who’d known mostly nothing but mediocrity or worse suddenly finding himself in a goddamned ticker-tape parade in the canyons of New York City, eating his banana bread and marshmallow milkshakes with a big ear-to-ear grin on his face as he sat in the back seat of a Lincoln Continental filled with confetti.  Or so I’d like to believe.

George is 68-years old now, around the same age that my grandma was when my parents, my brother and I left her and my grandpa behind and moved out to the suburbs.  I think Dante mentioned some sort of appropriate punishment for people like us who did that sort of thing in his “Purgatorio.”

With that move, all remaining Old World smells, tastes and fears were left behind for the stilleto-capitalism of the Reagan ’80’s, by which point Spielberg had almost single-handedly buried the blue-collar ethnic working class under the scrap-heap of American cultural history with his schmaltzy, two-dimensional paeans to paleo-Eisenhower suburbia replete with market-tested hairstyles and product placement marketing.  Even the ’86 Mets, I now have to admit, were a bit more like New Coke than The Real Thing of ’73.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday, and my wife and kids and I will drive on out to my parents’ house and enjoy a nice, unnecessarily gargantuan Sunday meal.  It will taste delicious, and we’ll all have a great time.  I may not remember to take a few moments tomorrow to remember the old ethnic foods my grandma made forty years ago, the foods that are probably built into my DNA, but a 1974 Topps George Theodore baseball card does sit in the glove compartment of our Toyota.

Once, my older son found it in there, and asked me why I keep such an old card just lying around with the gas station receipts and the loose change.  I told him because it helps me remember things I don’t dare forget.

 

 

 

National League Predictions For 2015

There is but one potentially great team in the National League, the Washington Nationals.  They are the only team in the Majors that I could imagine winning as many as 100 games in 2015. There are about another half-dozen N.L. teams I can see making the playoffs, depending on the breaks they receive.  The weakest division in the N.L., even with the inclusion of those Nats, is the N.L. East.  Like wages in right-to-work states, it is essentially a race to the bottom in that division.

N.L. East

1888 Washington Nationals team photo

1888 Washington Nationals team photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1)  Nationals – It’s a pretty ridiculous pitching staff when Doug Fister is your 4th starter.  Prediction:  98 wins.

2)  Mets – Young and ready to rise above .500, and Matt Harvey adds swagger.  If everything breaks right, a potential Wild Card contender.  Prediction:  83 wins.

3)  Marlins – In some ways, not really all that different from the Mets.  The return to form of Jose Fernandez is key.  Prediction: 81 wins.

4)  Braves – May not finish in last place only because the Phillies are still allegedly a Major League baseball team.  Prediction:  74 wins.

5)  Phillies – May not finish in last place only because the Braves might be even worse than expected.  Prediction:  69 wins.

N.L. Central

1) Cardinals – Does this team ever have a really bad season?  Not this year.  Should rather easily win the Central Division.  Prediction:  90 wins

2) Pirates – An outfield of McCutchen, Polanco, and Marte is one to salivate over.  Should take a Wild Card slot, even with some pitching issues.  Prediction:  85 wins.

3)  Cubs – Lots of people pick the Cubs to grab a Wild Card slot this year.  Could happen, but I’m betting their chances are better in 2016.  Prediction:  83 wins.

4)  Brewers –  Really didn’t do much to improve their team in the off-season.  Lost their de facto ace, Gallardo.  Should be consistently mediocre.  Prediction:  79 wins.

5)  Reds –  A franchise that appears to be moving in the wrong direction.  Will Joey Votto and Jay Bruce return to form?  Prediction:  73 wins.

N.L. West

1)  Dodgers – Look very strong on paper.  Would be hard-pressed not to at least make the playoffs, even if they somehow don’t win this division outright.  Prediction:  93 wins.

2)  Padres – Lots of upgrades in the off-season, but still not a shoo-in for a Wild Card slot, though I think they’ll grab one.  Prediction:  85 wins.

3)  Giants – The Giants are consistently the most difficult team for me to pick correctly.  Bumgarner is a monster, but tossed a huge number of innings last season.  Prediction:  83 wins.

4)  Rockies – Car-Go and Tu-Lo, Corey Dickerson, Blackmon and Arenado provide a solid core of offense.  If the pitching improves at all, this could be the surprise team of the N.L.  Prediction:  80 wins.

5)  Diamondbacks – Hard to envision this team not finishing in last place.  May even be the worst team in the entire Majors this year.  Prediction:  65 wins.

World Series prediction:  Nationals over the Red Sox in seven games.

 

 

American League Predictions for 2015

Now that the 2015 baseball season is just right around the corner, it’s time to once again take a look at which teams will be the pretenders, and which will be the contenders this year.

I normally have no idea how my predictions turn out from year to year, because I typically forget all about them by about April Fool’s Day.  So I decided to go back and take a look at last season’s predictions, and, strangely enough, I did pretty well.  Of the ten teams that made the playoffs last season, I correctly forecast eight of them:  Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Anaheim, Washington, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles.

The ones I got wrong?  I picked Tampa Bay to win the A.L. East, and they turned out to be terrible.  Instead, the A’s made the playoffs as a Wild Card team.  In the N.L., I somehow thought the Reds looked strong enough to capture a Wild Card slot, but the Giants once again assembled just the right mix of players to vaunt all the way to the World Series, where Madison Bumgarner took things into his own hands.

With the Red Sox alternating horrible years with World Championship seasons, it’s always a challenge to predict where they will finish in the A.L. East, which then makes it difficult to slot the other divisional teams around them, but we’ll have a go at it anyway.

A.L. East

To begin with, I don’t think there’s a 90-win team in this division.  Whichever team wins this division will probably finish with around 87-89 victories.

1)  Red Sox (they finished last in 2014, so….)

2)  Tampa Bay (may win anywhere from 78-85 games.  I’ll go with 83 wins.)

3)  Toronto (will one win fewer games than the Rays.)

4)  Orioles (will finish right at .500.)

5)  Yankees (will win around 80 games.)

A.L. Central

The primary question here is whether or not the Tigers have enough left in the gas tank to pull out yet another divisional title.

1)  White Sox (Some nice moves over the winter, and a division ripe for the taking.)

2)  Tigers (Still enough left to win up to 85 games, but no longer the favorites to win.)

3)  Indians (Will look more or less like last year, a competitive team without enough horses.)

4)  Royals (Significant regression here.  Perhaps not even a .500 club.)

5)  Twins (Not quite a minor league team; we’ll call them a Four-A club.)

A.L. West 

Baseball’s best division.  The A’s might still have enough to steal a Wild Card, and the Astros will make a significant leap forward this year.

1)  Angels (Still the deepest team, and Garret Richards is coming back mid-April.  My early choice for A.L. Cy Young winner.)

2)  Mariners (Wild Card, but consider:  Only twice in his career has Nelson Cruz ever topped 130 games played.  Yes, he’ll mostly D.H., but guys like him find ways to get hurt.)

3)  A’s  (One of two teams in the Bay Area it is foolish to completely rule out.  More wins than losses again this year.)

4)  Astros (Could push 80 wins, but I’ll call it 79, nine more than last year.)

5)  Rangers (Seem to have declined in a hurry.  Sub-.500.)

 

Next time, my N.L. Predictions.

 

Dreams Before Dusk

The white sun showered Sacramento with fraying rays ’til well past 4:00.  By then, the only folks left in the ballpark were those paid ten cents an hour to pick up hot dog wrappers and half-filled soda cups under the bleachers.  Even the drunks had staggered out of the cooler spots under the grandstand, destinations to-be-determined.  And the Japanese kid, now just a hushed memory of Depression-era reticence.

Nine vs. nine, plus a couple of local high school kids on the bench to provide the home-team with extra lumber, should the boys from Nippon come looking for a fight.  Word was they were plenty good, though being on foreign turf had to rattle them some.  Especially out here in the Central Valley, where hard times had folded and molded men into something only faintly resembling human beings, and the W.P.A. was the only game in town.  Moering Field was the only getaway for the Oakies,  baseballs courtesy of Our Lady of Humble Secondary Offerings.

That Japanese kid, though, was some fast out there.  First six guys might not have even seen that steam, just read about it a half-second later in the catcher’s mitt, smoke emanating from leather like redolent gunshot.  My, how the laws of physics were Putting on the Ritz!  A pair of self-conscious pop ups to the infield, a ground-out to short, harmless as a baby snake, and three K’s, each punctuated with a grunting final swing, finished off the first three innings.

But our own kid, the dark-haired Angelich, held his own, too.  Just nineteen-years old, still had a year on their guy, Sawamura.  Angelich tossed down and slow, heavy pitches with just enough movement to frustrate over-eager sluggers, like suckers at a five-cent peephole aback a county fair.  Damned familiar she looked, too, all churlish grins as we counted our sins.  That is to say, they couldn’t touch it.

Still, their boys scratched out a pair of runs in the sixth and seventh innings, though none of the balls left the park.  Angelich left in the eighth to a Standing-O, waving one quick gloved-hand up to the crowd as he slicked back his hair with his bare one.  A fine performance, but still no permanent spot on the team.  Tough year, ’35.  And much tougher to come.

Sawamura, though, had the look that day.  Could’ve knocked down Mount Shasta with that game-face.  Baby-faced or not, the kid had STUFF.  How we managed even the one lone run was a water-to-wine miracle.  And what was he getting paid for this performance?  Did he even own a wallet?  Did he have a girl waiting for him back home?  And what did he think about during that empty Sacramento night, hours after reluctant American crowd regaled him with polite applause?  Fate writ large is still invisible to the naked eye, even to small-town heroes.

An ocean away, (both oceans, as it turned out), steely men with glinting eyes that knew neither love nor laughter planned hurricane death because they could and would.  Big plans, small minds, and lots of flags.

Baseball only a kid’s game, of course.  Inconsequential, but to those along the third-base line, shouting as the runner rounds third, digging for home, dirt-churning cleats digging clods of sod in a straight line to home plate, base-path all possibility, a dream out-running time and space, as the soft summer light fades into gray, and the dream withers at dusk.

This one’s for Jerry Angelich and Eigi Sawamura.

Please read the excellent link below for further context.

http://www.baseballsgreatestsacrifice.com/biographies/angelich_jerry.html

 

The Rich Get Richer…

Word is that the Nationals have signed free agent pitcher Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal.  Scherzer joins Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark in an unbelievable rotation.  It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Nationals win a hundred games in 2015.  They led the N.L. with 96 wins last year, and that was with Bryce Harper missing 62 games, and Ryan Zimmerman missing 101 games.  Adding Scherzer to this squad is akin to cutting Mitt Romney’s capital gains tax by another 10%.  The rich just got richer.

Meanwhile, in case you missed it, the world’s richest 85 people now have as much wealth as the world’s poorest 3.5 billion. Oxfam now estimates that by next year, the richest 1% will own about 50% of the world’s wealth.  Currently in the U.S., the bottom 90% of American families average wealth is exactly the same as it was in 1986, meaning that despite all the productivity gains that have occurred over the past quarter of a century, in effect, none of those gains have benefited the vast majority of Americans.  The richest 10%, however, have seen their cumulative wealth triple during that same period of time.

The wealthiest 1% will soon own more than the rest of us combined.  Yet, in a gratuitous display of ignorance characterized by being completely immune from the real world, in a recent poll, the wealthy apparently truly believe that the poor “have it easy.”

But Americans have long history of obsequious fascination with the rich, and the upper middle class in particular seem to personally identify with the wealthiest Americans more than they do with the poorest Americans, or even with the working class, to whom in reality they are much closer (economically speaking) than they are to the wealthy.

Similarly, in baseball, Americans love a winner.  With the impressive roster that the Nationals have accumulated this year, attendance should be strong in Washington, D.C. for the Nats home games, just as it was in New York when the Yankees were the strongest team in baseball about fifteen years ago.

A nation of optimists, we identify with those who publicly display confidence, success and a sunny disposition, as Americans did when Ronald Reagan was President during the 1980’s.  We live vicariously through their success stories as we dream that someday they could one day be our own, even as those with the sunny smiles are already busily creating the conditions that actually ensure fewer and fewer of us will ever be able to reach those lofty summits.

While no one should feel sorry for the mere millionaires who own the struggling Major League franchises due to sheer incompetence or poorly executed planning, for the millions of struggling people in America, and throughout the world, life is not a game where we even if we screw up, at the end of the day we still get to sit in our private luxury box, secure and confident in our privileged lives which we begin to rationalize are of necessity worth far more than the lives of the millions around us, and of whom even God himself must deign to smile upon if he hopes to remain relevant.

What Yogi Berra, (And Others), Never Actually Said

When it comes to famous quotations, Americans seem to love them more than any other people on the planet.  We put them on bumper-stickers, toss them around in political or religious debates, and use them as an excuse to avoid actually having to think too deeply about any particular topic.  If it can be summed up in a phrase or two, so much the better.

Baseball fans, of course, also love famous quotations, such as Satchel Paiges’s “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you.”  Simply recalling these quotes puts a satisfied smile on our face.

Unfortunately, the truth is many of the quotations we take for granted as having been said by, for example, the Founding Fathers, or old-time ball players, in many instances turn out not to have been said by them at all.   Sometimes, the alleged statements are inaccurate renderings of much less interesting comments.  Other times, they appear to have been simply made up completely out of whole-cloth, or actually belong to someone else.

English: New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra i...

English: New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra in a 1956 issue of Baseball Digest. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra probably has more quotes attributed to him than any other baseball player in history. Yogi was lovable, successful and humble, and he looked kind of funny with big ears and the grin of a six-year old who just tasted his first ice-cream cone.  What’s not to like?

Many of the sayings attributed to Berra, however, are probably apocryphal.  But if a quotation could be attached to the legend of Yogi Berra, it would seem to be that much more funny and interesting.

The same can be said, in a way, to all the alleged quotations attributed to our Founding Fathers over the years.  While these men actually did, of course, pen many significant, historical statements, many other quotations which have been credited to them (especially in recent years), are at best of suspicious origin, and, at worst, are obviously fake.

I have provided a list of several famous quotations allegedly made by famous people (including Yogi Berra) which, it turns out, were probably never penned by the person to whom these lines are attributed.

1)  “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”  – George Washington.  Except here’s what the official, non-partisan website of Mount Vernon and the legacy of George Washington has to say about this quotation:

The quote is frequently misattributed to Washington, particularly in regards to his farewell address of 1796. The origin of the misquote is, perhaps, a mention of a similar statement in a biography of Washington first published in 1835. However, the quote that appeared in the biography has never been proven to have come from Washington.

2)  “Nobody goes there anymore.  It’s too crowded.”  – Yogi Berra.  Unfortunately, Yogi didn’t come up with this one.  The origin of this quote can be traced (at least) as far back as John McNulty writing in the New Yorker magazine, in a story published February 1943, before Yogi was even in the Majors.

English: A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Sec...

English: A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3)  “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”  – Thomas Jefferson.  It appears that this statement was first made (sort of) famous not by Jefferson, but by that other Founding Father…President Gerald R. Ford.  Barry Goldwater has also sometimes been credited with making this statement.

As an aside, I just saw this exact quotation on a bumper sticker in a parking lot today, and it was attributed to Thomas Jefferson.  The interesting thing is I also saw this same quotation on another car in a different parking lot a few weeks ago, but it was attributed to conservative philosopher Edmund Burke.  So, at least in Greenville County, SC, you appear to have your choice of whom to award this statement.

4)  “Its Deja Vu all over again.”  – Yes, Yogi Berra is often credited with this saying, but in a phone interview with journalist William Safire in the late ’80’s, Yogi denied ever having made this statement.  About a decade later, however, Berra did take credit for it after all.  Did he really say it, or did he just come to believe that it would do no harm taking credit for it after all?  A version of this line was also found in a poem called “Thanks to You,” by Jim Prior, which appeared in a Florida newspaper in 1962:

It’s Deja Vu again / Out of the blue again / Truer than true again / Thanks to you.

5)  Most of us are familiar with the following quotation, frequently attributed to Protestant theologian Martin Niemoller:

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out for the trade unionists, because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came out for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

This quotation has always held strong emotional appeal precisely because it points out the inherent danger of good people remaining silent in the face of great evil.  But was Martin Niemoller really the first to say it, assuming he ever said it at all?

On the floor of the House of Representatives in October, 1968, a slightly different version was entered into the Congressional Record by Henry Reuss, a Congressman from Wisconsin.  His version led off with the Jews, then moved on to Catholics, then unions, then industrialists, and finally the Protestant church.  His version left out the communists and socialists.

Representative Reuss credited these words to a Jewish businessman named Howard Samuels.

A paraphrase of the lines attributed to Father Niemoller was discovered going back to the mid-1950’s, however, and though the thoughts are generally similar, the phraseology isn’t as clearly defined and polished as the version most commonly attributed to him.  It should be pointed out that Niemoller actually did bravely stand up to the Nazis, and did survive a period of time in a Nazi Concentration Camp.

Niemoller himself did later say that his favorite version of this quotation included the communists and the socialists as two of the persecuted groups because it was much closer to being historically accurate than the ones which leave out those two groups in favor of Industrialists and Catholics.

Nevertheless, no written record of Niemoller making the specific statement famously associated with him has ever been located.

6)  “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  –  Yogi Berra.  Berra is on record stating that he’s pretty sure he never said this one.

7)  “The death of one man is a tragedy.  The death of millions is a statistic.”  – Josef Stalin.  The person who actually first wrote those words was the German journalist / satirist Kurt Tucholsky in an essay on French humor in 1932.  He was a left-wing Democrat in Germany during the Weimar Republic.  Later, under Hitler, his books were burned and he was stripped of his German citizenship (though he had already fled to Sweden.)  He died in 1935, before the worst of the Nazi genocidal campaigns and the Second World War commenced.

8)  “Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”  –  Yogi Berra  While that very well be true, Berra didn’t say this.  Instead, the quotation belongs to Rocky Bridges, who played for several Major League baseball teams from 1951 to 1961.

Why does this happen so often?  In many cases, there is a political motivation involved.  If you can attribute a statement which appears to support your side’s political convictions to a Founding Father, for example, you gain implicit credibility in the eyes of an unsuspecting, credulous public.  As for baseball fans, we just like to read cool-sounding stuff.

 

The Way of Things

We’d never been this far from our familiar stomping grounds before.  West of the railroad tracks, three blocks past State Street, (which was the normal boundary of our unofficial territory), across a large overgrown lot littered with needles, cans, and used condoms.  I think it was a park, but no longer functioning in its former capacity.

It was strange, actually, that we even found the place, considering we weren’t even looking for it, on a mission crafted of vague, half-formed ideas.  Let’s go looking for other kids to play ball against, in a place we’d never been before.  I would say that you used to be able make journeys like that in those days, but that would provide credence to an idea that was uniformly bad from the start.For one thing, none of us had brought any water, or any money.

 Normally, we didn’t have to worry about those considerations because, seldom straying far from home, we were always within a short walking distance to someone’s house, where a pitcher of iced tea or lemonade could be emptied into half a dozen plus one Dixie cups, our team sans a catcher and a proper center-fielder.  We savored the sweetness while sweating in someone’s kitchen, our gear smelling of soiled leather and splintered wood.

On this occasion, however, we set off on our ill-defined journey with less actual idea of where we might end up with than did Coronado four-hundred years earlier.  At least he had oxen and arquebuses.  All we had were feigned scowls and Pro Keds.

Johnny, the youngest among us, was always the first to speak up.  We’d been walking for around 45 minutes under a July southern New England sun, and were pretty thirsty and worse, we were getting on each other’s nerves.  And, as usual, Scott was Johnny’s favorite target.

“Jesus H. Christ, Scott, you got a load in your pants or something?  You walk like my grandma after her stroke.”

This, of course, would set off Scott, normally tightly wound to begin with, and now even more profoundly insecure with his newly acquired acne.  He was just 12, but his body had already begun to betray him.  A head taller than some of us, he was nonetheless the worst player in our group, though one we could always count on to never have anything better to do on any given day than to play baseball.

“AaarrrRRAHHH!”  He went after Johnny with his bat raised high, but none of us believed he’d actually ever hit Johnny with it.  Weirdly, they were actually quite inseparable; you never found one without finding the other.  Nevertheless, to save face, he needed to indulge in the pantomime of outrage to assuage his honor.  It’s just the way it was.  Johnny stopped Scott by pointing at another approaching tribe of ball players, more roughshod and studiously sullen than even ourselves.  And there were more of them.

Now, it would be disingenuous of me to pretend that racial differences didn’t matter.  Our group could be loosely described as whitish, if you considered one Portuguese, one half-French / half-Italian, one theatrically tall long-limbed loudmouth with dried Prell Concentrate in his hair, a pair of third generation Slovaks whose mother still made us say the rosary at home on Wednesday nights, one black kid who got beat up by the other black kids in our school for “jumping like a white boy” (worse than that, actually), and one other boy named John (as opposed to Johnny) who recently emigrated from Cape Verde (of all places) with the tanned, dewy skin of a doe.  He was normally the most frightened of all of us, or at least the first to reveal his fear.

“Them Portuguese are gonna beat me up!”  John exclaimed.  No one knew why, but John always referred to anyone with skin even darker than his own as Portuguese.  John was probably strong enough to take on two or three of them, but he couldn’t exactly be counted on if things got a little rough.

“Can it, John.  Let me handle this,” announced Johnny, always the first to dive in to the deep end of a tsunami.

For some reason, though, when the eight or nine boys from the West Side reached us, silent and serious, it was me they first spoke to.  How they had apparently reached this unspoken consensus that I might be the leader our tribe was beyond me.  The only reason I wasn’t truly terrified was that just the previous week, I’d been in a fight in my own backyard with a local Puerto Rican kid named Matos, and had come out of it mostly O.K.

We’d been playing a version of football where the goal was simply to tackle each other as hard as we could whenever we ended up with the ball.  Tackling Matos, I’d taken a knee to the cheek but had brought him down just the same.  A moral victory for the boy in the plaid pants.

“Whatchoo doin’ around here?  We ain’t never seen you guys before.  You looking for a fight or somethin’?”  They got right to the point.  No 18th-century parlay and tea for these guys.  “Nah, we just wanta play some ball.  Looking for someplace different to play.”  Then, in a bit of divine inspiration intended to gain a modicum of respect with this crowd, “The police keep chasing us out of our neighborhood.  Damned cops.”  I could feel the eyes of Scott, Johnny and my gang boring into the back of my head with a unified “WTF is he talking about?”  Wisely, however, they kept their collective mouths shut.

“Oh, yeah, so you come over here looking for a game?  You from the South Side?”  Actually, I wasn’t really sure what side of town we were officially from, so I barely nodded in the affirmative.  I’m pretty sure we were actually West End kids, too, in a way, but I hadn’t been raised studying the geography of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  In school, we were forced to trace the journeys of Marco Polo and Magellan, but we were never required to know how to find our way from one public school district to another.  There Be Dragons.

“Yeah, man, we just looking to play some ball.”  Never taking my eyes off of their de facto spokesperson, I simply stated our case without inflection, fear or attitude.  After a quiet moment, it was clear that neither group was hoping for a fight, and that other than the prospect of a baseball game, none of us had any other reason to stand there staring at each other a moment longer.

“You get first ups,” stated their little leader, perhaps eleven-years old.  The boy had toes coming out of his right sneaker.  His glove was a floppy mess of dead leather, and his hair hadn’t seen a comb since perhaps springtime.  But he ran out to the shortstop position like a young Ernie Banks.  The other kids on his team, outfitted in Sears hand-me-downs just like us, followed his cue and took the field like the young ghosts of a Negro League long forgotten.  We had no chance.

Who knows how many innings our game lasted.  We lost count at around eleven or twelve.  No one wanted to stop playing.  It was more than a game.  Two lost tribes had improbably found one other on a field that wasn’t even there to host baseball, but baseball sprouts in the most unlikely locations.  Dusk gradually gave way to evening, and at some point, a few of their players simply vanished.  Not of the metaphysical persuasion, I simply chalked it up to everyone has a bedtime or a dinnertime somewhere in the world.

Once the ball itself disappeared into the darkening outfield, amidst the tall grass and the empty beer cans, we had no choice but to stop the game.  I knew that they had probably won, though we had held our own.  Their young leader jogged in from his shortstop position as my gang gathered round.  We were waiting for him to announce some fraudulent score that would certainly send Johnny into paroxysms of incandescent profanity that would light up the night sky.  But, instead, the boy said, “We’ll finish this game tomorrow.”  Then he turned around and took off, the last one of their group off the field.

“Well, shit,” Johnny started.  “My old man will probably kick my ass for being out so late tonight as it is.”

“Yeah,” said Scott.  “No way I’ll be allowed to come all the way out here again tomorrow, or ever again probably.”

The other boys around us nodded in agreement.  This game would go in the books as a permanent tie.  In all the years we played together before and after that, it was the only tie game we allowed to occur.  Forever after, when we remembered this game, we simply called it, “The Tie.”

Years later, when I was in my late twenties,  I happened to drive by that empty old field on my way to a funeral.  No one was around but a homeless man on a park bench, sipping from a brown paper-bag.  I couldn’t help myself, and pulled over to look at the place one more time.  No boys running around through the trash.  No yelling to throw the ball to second base.  No pop ups to the infield.  Just quiet, and an old man drinking.  I just stood there with my arms on my hips.

“Looking for something?”  The man asked me.  He wore an old sports coat, green pants, and had holes in his shoes.

“Not really sure,” I smiled back at him.

“Well, you just wait around a bit, and I’m sure it’ll all come back to you.  That’s just the way of things.”

That’s just the way of things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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