In a few weeks my beloved New York Yankees will once again take the field for another opening day, one that brings many changes. Gone are the suspended Alex Rodriguez, the glorious game-ender Mariano Rivera, and my personal favorite, Curtis Granderson, who has made the cross-town trip to the New York Mets. Gone too, after this year, will be the captain, Derek Jeter, whose season-long goodbye will no doubt draw many tears from Yankee fans and haters alike who will miss his classy presence on the diamond.
Writer Joe Epstein jokes that during the years he taught literature and writing at Northwestern University, he had the collateral duty of coaching the Wildcats’ Jewish wide receivers. This extra chore, he concedes, didn’t take up much of his time. The joke always gets a laugh, and deservedly so.
The gag is that for some time now young American Jewish males have more often chosen to pursue success in the professions than in athletics. Today’s young Epsteins are far more likely to end up as gynecologists than as wide receivers or second basemen (though as the intended and unintended consequences of ObamaReidPelosiCare continue to reveal themselves, this avenue to prosperity may have to be rethought). Of course this doesn’t mean that American Jews are not interested in sports, in baseball particularly, or that there won’t be another Sandy Koufax or Hank Greenberg.
By now baseball fans, waiting eagerly for the return of the Grand Old Game as they put another log on the fire, know that the New York Yankees have broken the bank yet again, dumping $155 million on Masahiro Tanaka, a 25-year-old Japanese pitcher who has shown himself extremely proficient at getting outs against such as the Honshu Hares, the Yakult Swallows, and the Osaka Sage Hens. Tanaka posted an incomprehensible 24-0 record last year with the Rakuten Golden Eagles. In seven high-flying years with the Eagles, Tanaka was 93-35 with a 2.30 ERA.
One item that may well have signaled caution in any but the Yankees' lushly-funded and trophy-obsessed front office is the fact that Tanaka has never thrown a pitch in the Major Leagues. Hell, he hasn’t thrown a pitch in AA ball. He will essentially be on OJT this year at $22 million, taking the place in the Yankee rotation of Andy Pettitte, who retired (again) last year after a long and distinguished career.
The anecdote has it that someone once asked Louie Armstrong what jazz was. Satchmo is reported to have something like this in response, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”
Great answer. There are other questions we sometimes hear, the only response to which is: “If you can even ask that question, there is no answer I can give you that would satisfy or enlighten you.” One of these, and one that always pole-axes me that any sentient adult could ask, is: “Why shouldn’t women serve in combat roles in the military?” The why on this one, at least to anyone with more awareness than that of a cucumber, should be too obvious to detain us, even for a moment. It would take a highly-trained social scientist or a febrile, leftist geek not to understand this one.
Another of these knee-buckling questions we’ve heard at this time last year and this, is: “Why shouldn’t Barry Bonds be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame?” Anyone who can ask this question could as easily ask, “Why shouldn’t we vote Bernie Madoff into the Financial Counselors Hall of Fame?” Heck, Bernie’s customers put up some great numbers — a least for a while.
Later this week, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) will announce the results of its balloting for Baseball Hall of Fame Class of 2014. Last year, the BBWAA did not give any player a requisite 75 percent of the vote necessary to gain admission into Cooperstown. This was widely believed to be a protest vote against Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and other players associated with the so-called Steroids Era.
There will be no such protest vote this year with several players on the ballot for the first time. Pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are expected to receive a near unanimous vote while Frank Thomas has a chance to be the first DH to have a bronze plaque in Cooperstown. Jeff Kent and Mike Mussina are also on the ballot for the first time. Other players on the ballot include Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, and Lee Smith.
Last week, Allan “Bud” Selig announced he would step down as Commissioner of Major League Baseball after the end of the 2014 season. Selig has held the position since 1992, or 21 years, the first six of which he was actually Interim Commissioner. His interim status lasted longer than that of several of his predecessors and lasted nearly as long as the Clinton Administration.
So how did Selig manage to spend more than two decades on the job? It’s very simple – he was an owner. For many years, the public was under the illusion that the Commissioner was an independent figure. Consider what the late Marvin Miller, the longtime Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), wrote about the role of the Commissioner in his 1991 book A Whole Different Ballgame: The Sport and Business of Baseball: