On Collapsing Civilization, Sloppy Losses and Uncertain Certainty

Reporter: What do you think of Western Civilization?
Mahatma Gandhi: I think it would be a good idea.

September 9, 2005—My new philosophy of life has been sorely tested of late. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know of my announcement on August 25 that I was adopting a new outlook on life. It’s an attempt to be a little cheerier than my overweight, hypertensive, burnt-out journalist self usually is, even though I think Civilization as we know it might well collapse before ‘06 Spring Training begins. (The Gandhi quote appears at the top of this essay because overweight, hypertensive, burnt-out journalist self thinks the imminent collapse of Western Civilization might not be a bad thing, aside from the fact that it would ruin Eric Byrnes’ opportunity to have the big breakout year I’m predicting for him in ‘06).

It’s nearing midnight. I’m eating York peppermint patties and drinking milk as I type this. I keep reminding myself of my new philosophy of life: any day Eric Byrnes gets a hit, or makes a great defensive play, is not a total loss. Any time Eric Byrnes gets a hit, or makes a great defensive play, is an occasion to be of good cheer. He got a hit and, two plays later, scored a run today. But it’s hard to maintain the good cheer in the wake of the devastation in the Mississippi Delta. Something on MLB’s response to Katrina in a future article.

Of course the sages would tell me that I should find happiness from within. That I shouldn’t need a baseball player getting a hit or making a great defensive play to make me smile. But I suppose if we could all find happiness from within, we wouldn’t need sports figures or actors or musicians or standup comics at all. We certainly wouldn’t need booze, drugs, or in my case, candy, in order to dull life’s pain. (Yeah, I have a sweet tooth…32 of them, in fact. But I never buy cotton candy at the ballpark. That’s circus food, not ballpark food).

I don’t care what sages might say. The evidence is clear: my mood gets a lift when Byrnesie gets a hit. I enjoy watching him do well. Maybe that’s because what I’m good at, i.e. reporting scary news, or teching for others who do so, is nowhere near as fun as baseball. It’s educational, to be sure, and we all need education. But, when I’m on top of my game, the results are not fun. Or to put it another way: my work is girth-inducing, definitely not mirth-inducing.

Even without the disaster in the Mississippi Delta, my saying that any day Eric Byrnes gets a hit is an occasion to be of good cheer is a little tough when Byrnesie’s going 0 for 18. When he doubled and homered on August 31, I declared his hitting slump officially over, and then everything went downhill again. I am actually looking forward to the end of this season. Every player has a year they would like to forget. I think 2005 is Byrnes’ fuggeddaboutit year.

Sloppy losses: The Birds lost a sloppy one to the Mariners tonight, 3-2. They really should have won it. But Brian Roberts made a baserunning error in the 4th that was worthy of the ’62 Mets. It probably cost the O’s at least one run. Later the Mariners scored a run on a Jorge Julio wild pitch. Check out my Aug. 29 blog entry, “What’s My Motivation in This Scene?” if you want to know what I think of Jorge Julio. It’s in the Players category. Go ahead; it’s family-friendly.

Any time Eric Byrnes gets a hit is an occasion to be of good cheer. Well, he singled and scored a run tonight in the 8th, and I was definitely of good cheer when it happened. Brian Roberts batted him in with a double and that had me jumping out of my chair, clapping. Then Roberts tried to score on a Melvin Mora single, but was out on a controversial call. Roberts was hopping mad…literally. Looks like he got his left hand on the plate before the catcher tagged him on the shoulder. The ball got to the plate just ahead of Roberts but it was a little offline and the catcher had to make a lunging tag. I wonder if the ump’s brain pre-programmed an out call, assuming the catcher maintained possession, just because the ball arrived first. But that’s one for the guys and gals with the white coats and the brain electrodes to figure out. We all make mental assumptions, especially in baseball. I’m sure you’ve all heard of “the neighborhood play” at second base.

Byrnesie came up in the 9th with two out and the tying run on second and, on the 4th pitch of that plate appearance, he hit into a 4-3 groundout to end the game. So here’s a philosophical question: do I try to maintain a postgame aspect of good cheer over the end of the 0 for 18 streak and a run scored, or does the occasion of good cheer come to an end with the game-ending groundout in the 9th? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? When is someone born for the purpose of casting a natal chart? How do I define the length of an occasion of good cheer without sounding like Bill Clinton telling us that it depends on what the definition of “is” is?

There’s also the fact that Byrnes himself is a tough competitor. He wants his team to win. And while one can’t lay the entire cause for tonight’s defeat on his doorstep, he’s probably unhappy at leaving the tying run on base. I know I was. It’s hard for me to be of good cheer at his performance when I know he’s probably not of good cheer over it.

Still, the single in the 8th was the culmination of a rather interesting plate appearance. Byrnes tried to bunt the first pitch down the third base line, but it went foul. The Seattle broadcasters called it a sign of confusion. Why would a guy with some power try to bunt? they asked. Here’s the point you missed, Seattle broadcasters: the Orioles know that Byrnes has the potential to do it all. They want him to hit for power. But they also know he’s very fast, so they want him to be able to bunt for a base hit. Bunting is discouraged in the Oakland organization, so Byrnes has to learn it. He’s been working on it and bunted successfully against the A’s when they were last at Camden Yards. (In your face, Chavvy!) I still laugh over that one!

Seattle broadcasters, what you called confusion was actually flexibility of approach. Byrnes had gone 0 for 18. He was leading off the inning and wanted to get on base, which is what leadoff hitters are supposed to do. So he changed tactics and tried a bunt. We know pitchers throw different types of pitches, and they throw at different speeds. Why shouldn’t hitters have their own “change ups”?

After the bunt foul, Byrnes took a big cut at a ball way outside, and while I would not call that confusion, I would call it desperation. He checked his swing in time against the next pitch, also outside. And then he settled down and remembered that he’s a major league hitter. He went with the next pitch instead of trying to pull it, and he did what comes naturally to him, i.e. he hit on a line, instead of trying to loft the ball. The results were a line drive single to center, the end of the long “ofer” string, an eventual run scored, and a happy camper in Oakland.

The uncertain certainty: In the 9th, after Jay Gibbons homered to bring the Birds within one, I saw that, barring a DP, one more baserunner would bring Byrnesie to the plate. After Javy Lopez grounded out, B.J. Surhoff got on. Bernie Castro pinch-ran for him and stole second while David Newhan was pinch-hitting for Alejandro Freire. But Newhan struck out looking. That brought Byrnes to the plate with two out. A base hit would tie the game, a homer would put the Orioles up by one. Did I really want Byrnes coming to the plate with the game on the line when he was 1 for 19? When I’d been logging more runners left in scoring position than batted in on my Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Reports? When he’d been pinch-hit for twice this week? I decided yes. I’ve been thinking lately that Byrnes lacks certainty. He’s got tools; he’s got desire; he’s got work ethic. He needs more certainty. And you don’t find certainty in the on-deck circle.

I decided that if I thought Byrnes should have more certainty at the plate, then I should have more certainty about him hitting with the game on the line. Of course, the pitcher influences these matters. But as the late Tug McGraw used to say, “Ya gotta believe.”

Byrnesie grounded out to end the game. He’ll have the game-winning hit another day; I’m certain of it. And that will certainly be an occasion of great good cheer.

Kéllia Ramares
Oakland, CA

R.I.S.E.’s Katrina Page 

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