Monday, May 22, 2017

Striking Out

It could be argued that in baseball an out is an out is an out. Does it really matter whether the hometown heroes drive a grounder to short, loft a booming fly to center or swing in vain at a two-seam fastball? Either way, the inning's over, right? Who cares what kind of outs they make?

As a guy reared on pre-steroid baseball, I do.

Strike-outs reached an all-time high last season, with 38,983 at bats concluding thusly. That was fifteen-hundred more than the year before, and an increase of 21.3% since 2005. In a game where you can never have enough runs, I wonder at the widespread acceptance of this.

It wasn't always that way.

When Bobby Bonds struck-out 187 times in 1969 and 189 times the following year, he established himself as Mr. Strikeout. Besting the previous record by twelve, Bonds set a new standard for futility. That 1970 total remained a record no one wanted to break for thirty-three years.

When Reggie Jackson threatened Roger Maris' single-season home run record in 1969, the celebration was tarnished by the frequency of his strike-outs. (To no one's surprise, Jackson ended-up as the game's all-time strike-out king.)

If the great Babe Ruth had an on-the-field weakness, it was for whiffing. Ruth's peers derided him for it, equating his lack of self-control at the plate with his behavior in between games. 

You see, striking out was for bush leaguers. It made you look like a feckless rookie fresh off the bus for 'A' ball. Striking-out meant you weren't worthy of the uniform.

And that strike-out shaming was a good thing. By encouraging a hitter to put the ball into play, a player was giving himself a far better chance of getting on base than by blindly trying to knock a pitch into next week.

A fielder could lose track of the ball. Make a bad throw. A first baseman could drop the throw. You just never knew. And that doesn't even take into account the runners you could advance.

Even in a world without Google, players knew they couldn't score from the dugout.

But things change, don't they? The twin forces of our obsession with the big gesture (the dunk, the sack, the home run) and owners willing to offer generational wealth to someone capable of banging 40 home runs removed the stigma of striking-out.

In our twenty-first century parlance, it just means you're going for it. And what's wrong with that?

In a word, everything.

While I generally advocate for it, too many of today's hitters are far too generous to opposing pitchers. By swinging at anything and everything, hitters demand only that a pitcher throw the ball in the general vicinity of the plate, where like the wolf in The Three Little Pigs, they will huff and puff and blow the house down.

This while the ball more often than not resides safely in the catcher's mitt.

Am I the only guy who's figured out that in these days of hard pitch counts, the quickest way to get last year's Cy Young winner off the mound is to make him throw lots of pitches?

Work that at bat. Foul off pitches until you see the one you want. Make that guy earn his thirty-million per.

Home plate doesn't care whether the guy crossing it just smacked a five-hundred foot home run or scored on an infield groundout. Each counts for exactly one run. Just like ICBMs, selfie sticks and those giant foam fingers that say we're number one, runs are manufactured.

There's a methodology to it, a set of instructions. And step number-one says you have to get on base.

By swinging for the lottery's grand prize every time up, hitters are condemning themselves (and their buddies on the basepaths) to an all-or-nothing gamble the house is going to win the vast majority of the time.

It's the equivalent of a basketball player taking a half-court shot every time down the court.

It's stupid.

Yes, home runs are fun. Who doesn't love seeing a hitter pulverize a ball and send it screaming over the wall? But if said hitter hits 40 and strikes out 200 times (a ratio of five strike-outs to every home run), that becomes a very expensive run.

How many teammates did this player leave on base or fail to advance over the course of those five strike-outs?

Again, turning a baseball diamond into a casino is dumb. Strike-outs are toxic. They are absolutely, positively the worst kind of out. Play the odds. The home runs will still happen.

It'll be cool—even with out all the fanning.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

...And I Was Made Grateful

Gratitude comes in many forms. I spent a lifetime assuming that I knew where and how it would arrive. That I knew what it would look like. But clearly, I was wrong.

Long-time readers of this blog are well aware of my struggle to reclaim my pre-Great Recession life, and of my inability to do so. Left to labor in menial, dead end jobs with few—if any—benefits, I ranted and raved about the stupidity and the greed and the utter lack of morality in corporate America.

I shared my personal experiences; the personality profiles and the group interviews and the don't-hire-the-unemployed ethos. The thoughtless and short-sighted cost-cutting and the knee-jerk lip service to the words customer service, which lies at the heart of virtually every one of their two-faced marketing campaigns.

Likewise the egocentric displays of power, mindless conformity and raging hypocrisy.

But none of that exorcised the gnawing, insistent feeling that I was a failure. None of it repaired my broken self-esteem. Not even the knowledge that there were hundreds of thousands of Americans just like me whose lives had been put on permanent pause.

I was conditioned to believe that as a man, I was something less than one if I did not succeed in a system that I understand now considered me an expense. A speed bump on the road to unfettered wealth creation.That I was hired to be fired.

It humiliates me to admit it but yes, I ached.

That is, until I heard U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speak.

I don't think the former senator from Alabama could recall the thirteen original colonies, much less explain the Theory of Relativity. He doesn't know the difference between Budapest and Bucharest, or the significance of the Magna Carta.

What Jeff Sessions knows how to do is acquire power and please the people who can give it to him—as instinctively as my cat knew the sound of me opening a tin of cat food meant she was going to eat.

This walking mediocrity is a luminous example of the sea-level intelligence which infests the legislative branch of our federal government.

One has only to listen to Session's surprise at a federal judge's decision to hear the abundant witlessness and arrogance and prejudice inborn in this man (supposedly expert in the checks and balances within the government that has so generously supported him for the past two decades) to realize what a shithead he is.

And he is the Attorney General of the United States of America.

Just as the NBA doesn't necessarily possess the world's best basketball players (it possesses the best who remained felony-free while simultaneously gleaning a scholarship to a school with a prominent basketball program), our government doesn't necessarily feature the best and brightest minds of our times.

It features the best and brightest minds of those eager and adept at lapping at the food dish set out by the wealthy and the powerful.

Mr. Sessions, thank you. Thanks to you and your generous display of ignorance, I now understand in a way I never quite did before the complete lack of a relationship between ability and success.

I am, if I haven't made it clear, eternally grateful.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What to Wear

I don't read the Sunday newspaper—I scour it. I scour it like those guys in hazmat suits who neutralize EPA superfund sites.

That's how I end up reading about condo associations and grilled pork served with mint leaves and fig compote and South American political scandals from the 1940s. It's also how I end up reading a woman's complaints about how men dress at the gym.

The aggrieved party wrote a columnist because she is disturbed by the sight of men in tight-fitting clothing at the gym. Shorts in particular. Even worse, the sommelier who heads this whine cellar goes on to empathize with the complainant.

Sigh. Eye rolls, anyone?

I've heard this argument before. And if I hear another woman complain about guys in Speedos (or clingy gym attire) I'm going to burst. And here's why:

Everyday I see size 18 women waddling around in size 5 clothes. I see cellulite jiggling underneath tissue-thin yoga pants. Guts hanging out from midriff tops. XL rear ends not quite contained by XS string bikinis.

And that's just the beginning.

But that's not indecent exposure. Nope. That's empowerment. Women being strong. Liberated. Casting off the shackles of male expectations of beauty.

If you say so.

I call it U-G-L-Y. And I really, really don't want to see it.

But saying so makes me a seething, hateful misogynist. Which only fuels my argument that there's a raging double-standard at work here.

We live in an age of unfettered ego. “What do you mean I don't look like Kerry Washington? I rock these, baby!” “You can actually tell the difference between Vin Diesel and me? I'm gonna run you over, you punk-ass bitch!”

All of us have the bodies of Greek gods and goddesses. Check.

And speaking of unfettered egos, I should add that I wish more people were just like me.

You see, not so long ago, I stood 6' 3” and weighed 190 pounds. I had a thirty-four inch waist. I played basketball without a shirt, and did my power walking in shorts that did not conform to the prevailing skater/hip hop/just-released-felon aesthetic.

I.E., they did not hang down to my shins.

But then I gained thirty pounds.

As a result, I don't walk around the house, much less public spaces, without a shirt. You feel me? I am embarrassed. I am not proud. I am—as we like to spout on social media—humbled.

Yes, the old self-esteem has taken a hit. But even after cataract surgery, I fail to see how going out in a too-tight t-shirt is going to empower me.

Granted, I am not a woman. But even within the relaxed appearance standards women typically hold men to, I am fat. I am a middle-aged, pear-shaped, dad-bodied cliché. It's not self-loathing. It's not culturally-induced shaming. It's just a realistic look in the mirror.

I don't like it, and I doubt you would, either. So, in a gesture of magnanimity to my fellow man, I cover it up.

And it doesn't make you or me a hater or sexist to wish that all the ball-sack baring, stretch-mark sharing men and women around us would do the same.

Two sexes, one standard.

We can do this.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Empowering the Powerful, Enriching the Wealthy (a.k.a. The Same Old Thing)

In our headlong rush to hand over every last particle of our collective rights as individuals to corporate America comes the news that our so-called elected representation is in the process of approving a measure that would give employers access to their employee's DNA, conceivably hiring, firing and promoting based on the projected health care costs an employee (or one of their family members) might incur.

If you think this is a good idea, I have a cell phone app that allows you to amend and repeal the laws of physics that I will sell to you for just one-hundred thousand U.S. dollars.

Like so much of their benignly-titled legislation, the Republican-sponsored Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act appears concerned and downright caring on the surface, yet is the most-invasive and potentially exclusionary piece of legislation to come down the pike since the Patriot Act.

Think of it. Your employer will offer you a break on your health care insurance if you submit your DNA (and again, that of your spouse and children) for review. If it even needs to be said, there are no restrictions—none whatsoever—on what your employer can do with this information.

This would be a good time to remember that At Will employment statutes are still very much in effect.

You, the educated and worldly reader of The Square Peg, see where this is headed, right?

Jon: “You know I love Madison's work, Melissa. But her profile troubles me. There's a marker that indicates a susceptibility to Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and I'm wondering if going forward, she's the best choice for Communications Director.

IBS is notoriously uncomfortable, and the thought of it—or its side effects—creeping into her work is distressing. Imagine our communication tainted by a spastic colon. Or constricted by constipation. Or worse, let to flow—unchecked—by diarrhea.

The damage to our carefully-crafted brand could be irreparable, Melissa.

It is my belief that we need to make Madison available to the industry ASAP. While Abby's work doesn't possess the articulate, fine edge that Madison's does, her DNA profile is rock-solid, and doesn't point to anything more severe than an occasional cold."

Melissa: "Jon, I have to agree. I'll be sad to see Madison go—she's a lovely girl and has brought so much to this office—but the potential savings on healthcare costs and down time are just too big to ignore.

I think this is the right decision, and one that resonates with our core values. Have Abby see me in five and while she's here, have security escort Madison out. Thanks so much for your input.”

Of course, Republicans and the corporate hacks who who back this deny that any such agenda exists. The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act wants only to lower the cost and speed the delivery of high-quality health care to employees.

Awww. Isn't that sweet? 

But having watched the bloodletting done in the name of efficiency and shareholder value, I have no doubt this is our future should H.R. 1313 be enacted.

Just as Americans win a hard-fought battle for health insurance that cannot bar us for pre-existing conditions, Republicans want to transfer that ability to our employers.

Thank you. Thank you so very much.

Again, we get the government we deserve. If you're okay with this, remain silent.

If you're not, pick up your phone and start texting your representation now. 

It's important.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Random Thoughts, Vol. 9

America is a country rich in authority and poor in leadership.

Comedy is no joke. When do we start presenting the 'Best Comedy' Oscar?

Donald Trump has learned that if he throws a stick, we will chase it. What is our so-called president doing while we obediently retrieve it?

If Scott Pruitt is going to head the EPA, can I head the NRA?

Tom Waits for no man.

Two of the states with the highest incidence of opioid abuse (West Virginia and Ohio) were also two of the states to lean most-decisively for Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election. Coincidence?

I fully expect things will clear up in 2020.

I've always wanted to ask a coach of professional athletes “How do you get 23 year-old guys making eight-million dollars a year to do what you want them to?”

If memory serves, do I need to tip? 

Some of us see the cheese and some of us see the holes. Together, we form an accurate and complete picture of Swiss cheese.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why Do Republicans Hate Democracy?

In that particular way our self-declared defenders of the Constitution have, they inevitably end up sounding like admirers of dictatorships. Totalitarianism. Authoritarianism. Monarchies.

Or, for you private sector adherents, the boss.

The most recent example comes from our so-called president's chief advisor, Steve Bannon, who reportedly told House Republican on the eve of their failed health care bill “This isn't a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.”

Now, as someone who isn't a right-wing Republican, I probably have my head up my ass. But I thought democracies were all about debate. Choice. The open and unfettered exchange of ideas. The greatest good for the greatest number.

So why is it that Republicans repeatedly express their disdain for democracy? Why do they hate it when we think about what they say, as opposed to instinctively obeying? Why do they hate it when we don't reflexively and unthinkingly line up behind them?

Could it be that when we look at something we see the truth in it? See that it often isn't such a great deal unless our net worth happens to be well into eight-figures?

Why is it that only Democrats seem to understand that if an idea can''t stand up to examination, it probably isn't much of an idea? 

We all need to come to our own conclusions in our own time. But I'll go to my grave believing this is a question worth asking.

Only bullies lead by fear and intimidation. This because they have nothing else.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Pizza Truths

To paraphrase the late Vince Lombardi, pizza isn't life or death. It's bigger than that. And yet, if our so-called president had written The Art of the Pizza instead of The Art of the Deal, he likely would not be our so-called president, and as such would be making a tangible contribution to society at large.

Pizza is a lifestyle choice. On a table, it practically qualifies as interior decoration. If I were a realtor, I'd have a succession of pizzas baking during an open house. That sucker (the house—not the pizza) would be gone in minutes! (Although the pizzas would disappear like this year's NU Wildcats fighting for a NCAA tournament bid.)

Pizza is a liar. Its circular shape suggests infinity, something that goes on forever. But as any sauce-smeared pizzaholic can tell you, pizza can and does end.

Dysfunctional people are familiar with something called leftover pizza. Of course, I know nothing of this. Leftover pizza? Isn't that an oxymoron? Leftover pizza is an enigma wrapped in silver foil. Or thoughtlessly left in its cardboard box to wither in the cold, dark recesses of a refrigerator.

Pizza is a big, giant anti-depressant you can share with your friends, without the unintended side-effects or social stigma. I should caution you, however, that like any pharmaceutical, pizza may be habit-forming. Best of all, pizza doesn't prohibit you from operating heavy machinery.

Like vampires, pizza is ageless. Unlike vampires, a pizza will not suck every last drop of blood from your person. Psychologists blame this antisocial behavior on an eternity spent in a pizzaless void.

Pizza is ancient, following closely on the discoveries of bread and fire and cheese. Had the Romans not held tomatoes in such misguided contempt and instead used them to embellish pizza, their empire would have lasted longer.

About the same time Persian soldiers were baking early prototypes of pizza on their government-issue shields, the Greek mathematician Pythagoras was theorizing that the Earth was, indeed, round.

Which brings me to the fact that pizza is flat. It is also round, which must be tremendously confounding to the world's flat Earth societies. This is probably the number-one reason they so rarely order it for their banquets.

While it has yet to be proven you can sail off the edge of the Earth, a toy boat can sail off the edge of a pizza.

Beware, Kyrie Irving.