Baseball, Kangaroos and Mr. Robinson

What, you might ask? One of best baseball players passed away earlier this week. Frank Robinson is the only major leaguer to win the Most Valuable Player award in the American and National Leagues. Even though others got more notoriety, Robinson was an excellent player and a born leader.

He was also outspoken which leads me to the kangaroo thing. He held a Kangaroo Court in the locker room after games, complete with a judge’s wig. The purpose was to tease players with small fines when they failed to sacrifice for the team. For the non-baseball fans, the failures focused on not bunting a player over, hitting to right field to let a runner go from first to third base, not running out hit balls that looked like outs, overthrowing the cut off man, etc.

Although, he had individual success, his teams succeeded. The Baltimore Orioles won two championships and played in four World Series, while his Cincinnati Reds played in one. That is what mattered most. He helped his team focus on what made them win.

He was an obvious choice to be the Major League’s first African-American manager. Since he was outspoken, he said a black manager won’t truly be treated fairly until he is fired like all other managers. In other words, if he did not succeed, his race should not stand in the way of his firing. That is a very profound thought.

So, let’s toast the life of Mr. Robinson. He hit many homers, more than only a few players, but he played and coaxed his team to win. And, that is the true goal, for the team to win, not just achieve personal success. There is a reason he became a manager. Kanga would be proud of this Roo named Mr. Robinson.

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Friday funnies

Earlier this week, attending a funeral of a good friend’s mother allowed us to catch up with many high school and college friends. Stories abounded, so here are a few to get a smile, a laugh or a surprise. No one was harmed during these stories or their retelling.

When a couple of friends visited me in Atlanta, one forgot his walking shoes. I lent him my brand new pair which molded to his feet, not mine. It took several wearings a to remold them to my feet.

While taking baseball batting practice, the pitcher wondered why I was laughing at the plate. Behind him in the outfield were two friends who knew I liked hard rock music. They were hopping toward each other doing air guitars as some guitarists would do on stage.

Three friends roomed together as young adults. One observed the birdlike first names of the girlfriends of the other two. He noted, one is dating Robin, the other is dating Lark. It looks like I will need to find a girl named CON-dor, emphasizing the first syllable.

I mentioned we often hung out at the house of my friend’s mother (who just passed away). Late one evening, she told her son to remember to take out the garbage. But, he soon was out like a light. Since my ride home was now asleep and I lived just a 1/2 mile away cutting through yards, I locked up, took the trash out to the curb and walked home. He called me the next day to ask how the trash got out.

This same friend worked briefly at a bank branch. While on the phone with a customer, the branch was held up at gunpoint. The robber told everyone to hit the floor. My friend slowly starting to get down without hanging up. The robber shouted at him “Mo..erfu..er, I said hit the floor!” He said he was grabbing some carpet. Ironically, the person on the phone heard this and called the police, who arrested them outside.

One of the two classmates who rides herd over our high school reunion was ragging a friend who has only been to one early on. She teased him that he vaguely resembles our classmate. The real reason he does not attend is his wife teased him unmercifully about his ex-girlfriends fawning over him.

One set of friends got married and adopted a Korean boy as they had troubling conceiving. When he was a toddler, he was pitching a fit in a grocery checkout line with his red-haired mother. My blond haired friend had left the line to get a forgotten item. As he hustled back, other patrons expected to see an Asian-American husband. As they looked puzzled, the father said to all, “he is adopted.”

Finally, the funeral mass was in the church where we attended Midnight Mass. The contemporary folk choir inspired us high schoolers so much, we would go out and sing carols at 1 am waking up friends. Some did not appreciate our holiday spirit.

There are so many more stories, but I hoped you enjoyed these few. Have a great weekend.

Win or lose with class

It seems too many of us have lost a sense of fairness in competition. Be it sports or politics, too many of us feel it matters less if the game was fair, as long as my tribe wins. That is unfortunate as we should strive to be like our better angels and win or lose with class.

Whether the sport is a team game or an individual competition, winning means so much more if it is done the right way. Also, if your team gives it a great shot, but falls short, how the loss is handled matters a great deal. As a participant and a fan, I have had my share of heartbreaking losses. I had to learn as a boy to be a better sport, which is a necessary lesson that a coach or parent must impart.

Sports is just a game. For fans, it is entertainment. For participants, it is a way to test yourself and earn a living, if you are very good at it. But, unlike gladiators, no one dies at the end. No one loses a close friend or mother. Yet, people place the utmost importance to their tribe. If their team wins, it elevates them above their routine lives. If their team loses, they feel less about themselves. To be frank, whether my team wins or loses makes me feel one way or the other, but it is about the outcome not my life.

Politics has become the same way, very tribal in nature. My party must win and your party must lose. Doing our business to solve real problems is less relevant than winning. I want real problems solved. I don’t want politicians appeasing funders. But, the more important tribe is the country for which these elected officials represent. That is what matters the most, yet we lose sight of that.

As a player, I have never been a fan of trash talking. It shows poorly on the talker and dishonors fair competition. I feel the same about labeling and name-calling a political opponent. It reveals a lack of character and a poor argument. In politics, it gets in the way of working together. I can assure you as an independent voter and former member of both parties, neither side has all the good ideas, and both have some pretty bad ones. In fact, the good ideas seem to be drowned out by ideas to solve overstated problems. It is essential to work together.

After 9/11, one of the more profound pieces of advice came from a professional basketball announcer named Gerry Vaillancourt. On his talk show after 9/11, the callers discussed what we must do to quickly get back at someone for the four attacks, one which was thwarted. Vaillancourt disagreed. He said we need to be very calm and diligent as we gather our information, taking the necessary time to get it right. Only then, should we act. He said our calmness will be unnerving. I think about his words as they came from an unexpected source and they ring so true. In life and in sport, you should be more wary of the quiet person.

To me, this is in keeping with treating others like you want to be treated. You do your very best to compete with fairness and, win or lose, do so with class. If you cheat or show your hind end, you will be remembered for that as well. And, one thing sports teaches us is how to handle failure. The very best baseball hitters will fail seven times out of ten. Even the best of boxers get knocked down. So, in life, when you do get knocked down, you get back up, dust yourself off and keep going.

A few quick memories of Dad

Happy Father’s Day all! I lost my Dad twelve years ago. Years of smoking did enough damage, even though he had stopped a dozen years before. Ironically, one of his best lessons was not to smoke, as any teen will tell you how could anyone do something that tastes that bad after they sneak a try?

When I think of my Dad, I think of how he loved his grandchildren. He would be the comforter and entertainer to allow us parents to have some needed time. He would invariably tend to children after a meal to let others linger over conversation.

I think of his dutiful pitching in my batting practice. He would throw a bucketful of baseballs and then we would collect them and he would throw them again. Doing that after working all day is a way he showed his devotion to his children.

I think of his company having potluck lunches at work. Dad would smoke a ham and turkey. He would get up during the night to check on the smoking process to keep the meat tender. As I recall, they would do this three or four times a year.

I think of his marvelous roast beef he grilled and terrific BBQ chicken. He would laugh when we told him the chicken did not have any wings. The chef would be sampling said wings outside before he brought the chicken in.

I think of him loving my mother. We kids would sheepishly hide our faces as they hugged and kissed in front of us. I remember the story of how my Dad fell into my Mom’s lap chasing a loose basketball when she arrived late to the college team’s game. She also accidentally pushed him in a pond at college when the Women’s Dean approached.

My Dad was a good man. He was not perfect and had a few demons in smoking and alcohol, but I remember him well. Happy Father’s Day, Dad.

Mistakes happen – focus on tasks at hand

Sometimes sports stories offer good examples for daily life. Four stories shed light on putting mistakes behind you, so you can focus on the tasks at hand.

Orel Hershisher was a successful pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. While he looks more like a Sunday school teacher, this devout man was as tough a competitor as you could find. He had a knack for not letting mistakes get to him. He said in his biography he set out to throw a perfect game and after the first hit, he would try to throw a one-hitter and so on. One of his more significant achievements is setting a record for not allowing a run for 59 consecutive innings of play.

Years before the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series breaking a 108 year drought, they stood on the brink of going to the series with one more playoff victory. With their opponent, the Florida Marlins, rallying in game six of their 2003 playoff, the hitter hit a foul fly ball that was just inside the stands. The left fielder had a chance to catch the ball by reaching into the stands. A fan did what many do and tried to catch it, so he prevented the Cubs player from catching it. The player demonstratively berated the fan, the crowd booed and the Cubs pitcher and players came unglued and they lost their cool and the game. It carried over and they went on to lose the next game losing the playoff series.

The New York Yankees had a pitcher by the name of Allie Reynolds, who the players called the Big Chief as he was he was a stoic and fierce competitor. He was throwing a no-hitter and the famous Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters ever, was possibly the final out. Williams popped up a pitch and Hall of Famer catcher Yogi Berra settled underneath the foul ball…and then dropped it and fell down. Helping Berra to his feet, a tired and anxious Reynolds was kind: “Don’t worry Yogi, we’ll get him next time.” Williams popped up the next pitch and Berra squeezed it for the final out.

How you react to mistakes or a crisis is important. A great leader can be judged by how he or she handles a crisis. The leader’s calm and reassuring demeanor can make the difference as others will follow suit. Reynolds and Hershisher understood that. The Cubs pitcher and players did not and affected their behavior.

After mistakes happen, the best we can do is to focus on the tasks at hand. Preparation and practice helps a great deal in handling stress. The great basketball coach Bobby Knight was asked why he did not call time out at the end of a close game his team won. He said he knew his team was more prepared, so he did not want to give the other team a chance to do so. In one national championship game, one of his players Keith Smart hit the final basket after their opponent, Syracuse missed a free throw, and Knight just let his team play without a timeout.

So, following their lead, prepare and practice for tests, speeches, meetings, interviews, etc. Mistakes will happen, so don’t react too negatively and focus on the tasks at hand. And, thank goodness for erasers and delete keys.

Dad did good

My Dad had a hard life growing up. His parents split up early and neither played a big role in his formative years. Fortunately, he was provided a safety net that would not let him fail. He was raised by his Great Aunt and Uncle.

His Uncle ran a general store in a small Georgia town. My Dad was asked to help out there. This eventually led my Dad to start his career with a regional supermarket after college and a stint in the Navy. More on that later.

He went to college in north Georgia, but it was under a required work study program.  You had to work to attend and that was the only way the students could afford the tuition costs. He met my mother there and they married in 1951 and moved to Jacksonvulle, FL.

He had a stint in the Navy when the Korean Conflict started joining with several friends. Serving on an aircraft carrier, he learned of 25 second showers, discipline and visited some exotic places,  Once home, he decided soon a supermarket career was not for him. Even with his low salary, he would have to cover bounced checks as a manager.

He and his good friend George decided to move into this career called data processing, the precursor to IT. He worked for a regional insurance company and eventually worked his way up. He was there until he retired in the early 1990s.

He and my Mom raised us three kids. She was a schoolteacher. I mentioned in my last post in a comment that he would pitch batting practice to me after work and coached me on occasion. He was a very good athlete in college playing basketball, baseball and track.

He also was a great outdoor cook. He would love to smoke hams and turkeys, and cooked a mean roast and chicken. He would tease us saying the chicken did not have any wings, as he would sample them outside. His team would have indoor office picnics and he would usually bring a ham or turkey. They tended to request this of him.

He and my Mom were a great couple, married for 54 years. He died too early after a life of smoking and drinking, even though he quit both a dozen years before he passed. Like me, my Dad was an alcoholic. I stopped drinking myself the year after he died.

When he passed in 2006, there were a half dozen couples that met in college like my parents and were still together that came to his funeral. He was remembered well, but it was a tribute to Mom, too. My Dad was not perfect, but he was a good man, husband and father. I love you Dad. Your lessons are remembered and appreciated.

Movies I must admit I like

People who read my posts or comments know I like to quote movie lines. They also know I have written several posts about favorite movies or movie quotes.

Taking a different approach, I want to mention a few movies I should not like as the plot is very thin, but I do.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure – This movie is about as stupid as they come, but I cannot help liking it. It mixes interesting historical characters in a silly setting with the classic advice from two non-studious high schoolers, “Be excellent to one another and party on dude,” words even Abraham Lincoln repeated.

The Inlaws – Starring Peter Falk and Alan Arkin this movie will leave you in stitches with some of its inane scenes mixed around an unbelievable espionage story. Richard Libertini, who passed away earlier this year, plays a hilarious over-the-top dictator. The funniest part involves the proper way to evade bullet fire, even after you successfully do so – “serpentine!”

Zombieland – My boys wanted to see this comedy movie about zombies starring Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone. Seeing everyone was turning into zombies, they referred to each by where they were from. Harrelson’s character was Tallahassee, eg. The best scenes are during an extended cameo by Bill Murray, who pretended to be a zombie.

50 First Dates – Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore star in a second movie that qualifies for this list along with The Wedding Singer. Sandler must make Barrymore fall in love with him each day, as her short term memory goes away each night. Dan Akyroyd, Sean Astin and Rob Schneider add additional color with their characters.

The Wedding Singer – Sandler and Barrymore star in this one as well, which immortalizes a Spandau Ballet song and makes Billy Idol a hero in the end. Sandler, the wedding singer, falls in love with the bride-to-be Barrymore, who is maltreated by her jerky groom-to-be. Seeing the hip-hop granny in the credits is worth the wait.

Major League – Tom Berenger plays a washed up catcher, Charlie Sheen a wild pitcher who can’t see very well, and Wesley Snipes, plays a base stealing wizard who can’t hit, who all make the team so that they finish dead last. With that failure the new owner can move the team to Miami (the movie was made before a franchise was placed there). It has a predictable plot, but the characters make it fun. Baseball announcer, Bob Uecker, is a key addition to the movie with calls like “Ball Twelve,” after Sheen walks three batters in a row.

So, I Married an Axe Murderer – Mike Myers and Nancy Travis star in this movie about a couple falling in love and getting married. The groom finds out the bride’s previous husbands have left her mysteriously. Charles Grodin does a deadpan cameo where he refuses to yield his car to a police officer, Anthony LaPaglia, in chase. Myers also plays several relatives of Scottish descent which add to the hilarity.

There are too many to choose from, so I left off several questionable favorites. Many romantic comedies don’t dive too deep on plot, so you have to sit back and enjoy the hilarity, no matter how inane.

What are some of your favorite movies that you don’t like to brag about? Any reactions to my list above?