Sunday, July 26, 2015

Awesome night card, pt. 240: it ain't just baseball


I follow quite a few baseball people on Twitter. It helps me stay informed, probably a little too informed. I don't think I need to know whether some Twins pitcher I've barely heard of is struggling in Florida on his rehab assignment.

But one of the things that I've noticed at my advanced age is how I also don't care about the same baseball things that much of the Twitter baseball people do. They watch a lot of baseball, much more than I do, and they know a lot of stats, much more than I do, and they know all about situational substitutions, and minor league prospects, and players' walk-up music, much more than I do.

But all of those things are just a part of why I follow baseball.

For example: while the Dodger twitterers were documenting every little move of the Dodgers' game against the Mets this afternoon, and eventually bemoaning the team's extra inning loss, I wasn't watching it. I didn't see a single pitch.

I could have easily watched it as it aired on the Mets' channel, but there was a can't-miss show on another channel. That show was the annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

I try to watch it every year. And no matter what you think about the Hall of Fame or the selection process and all of that hoo-hah that I care about even less than a player's BABIP with a lefty on the mound in the seventh inning, the induction day is probably the best venue for seeing baseball players for what they are: human beings.

There's a tendency in this fan culture not to treat baseball players as humans. I've addressed this a few times before. And constant analysis of players' salaries, statistics and on-field tendencies does take away some of that humanity. We see players as "jerks" or "heroes," based on what they do on the field, a few sound bites and what we read about them.

But during the induction ceremony we see their human nature, unfiltered, for the most part.

In his speech, Randy Johnson told his mom, sitting in the audience, that she was the most important person in his life. Even in that monotone way that Johnson has of speaking, it was touching. It brought a tear to my eye and to me that's a bigger deal than how Alberto Callaspo is hitting in night games during the last week of July.

What I saw was the human behind the ballplayer. I saw a composed Craig Biggio bring a coach in the audience -- a profession that is often characterized as filled with crusty, unfeeling, cliche-spouting, beer-drinking robots -- to tears. I've always had respect for Biggio for the way he treated me when I asked to interview him in the Montreal Expos' clubhouse, but it was great to see the person behind the player again, the kid behind the player: how he delivered newspapers as a youngster but his customers didn't get the paper until 7:30 or 8 at night because he was playing baseball.

I saw John Smoltz, who I always knew as competitive and glib, a jokester as a broadcaster and in interviews, turn into the man he probably actually is. Nervous, so full of energy that he repeatedly stumbled over his words, gregarious but not great with his emotions.

And, then there was Pedro Martinez, one of my favorite players of all-time. I like Martinez for how he succeeded in baseball and for how he competed, but also for his direct, uncompromising and joyous personality. And that was on full display. Martinez spoke in both English and Spanish and while there have been better Hall of Fame speeches, his was notable for the inclusion of and praise for the Dominican people. And the most important part for me was that by the time he got done with his speech, you couldn't care less about his baseball achievements or numbers, you were too busy admiring the man, and the way he included everyone else in his day.

To me that was the most notable part of my baseball day. Martinez got everyone in the audience to see a human being first, a baseball player second.

Sorry to get sappy. Maybe this is what happens when you become a father and an uncle and a boss and build more and more relationships the older you get. Maybe it's what happens when you see your parents age and people who you've known for a long time leave you. These four players were super-competitive and driven to be the best at their craft. But when that's over, what you do is not as important as the people who came along with you for the ride, many of whom couldn't recite a single one of your stats.

The human aspect of baseball is one of the most important aspects of baseball for me, and I enjoy those stories, and they stick in my mind far longer than how some team did in a mid-summer series on a Sunday. Sure, I love to watch the game. I do it all the time and it's full of angst and excitement and drama.

But to me today was more about baseball or about Hall politics. It was about people.

I'd like to think that you don't have to get elected to the Hall of Fame to get that.

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Night Card Binder candidate: Pedro Martinez, 2000 Topps, #225
Does it make the binder: Yes. Martinez enters another club.

5 comments:

  1. Great post, Greg.

    My favorite part was seeing the human aspect in a man like Johnson, who looked so comfortable and in-charge later in his career, yet looked so uncomfortable up on the podium.

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  2. I didn't watch this years' ceremony. I enjoy seeing the other side of the players we normally don't see via TV or read about it in the papers. I especially love it when a player thanks those that helped him with his accomplishments. Yes, its great to say I too have shed a tear or two during these events.

    Like you, of similar age and priorities, I no longer keep up with all the baseball stats and day-to-day ongoings. I've realized that it is OK to leave that behind on most days and life goes on without my MLB daily fill. I still love the game and I'm certainly involved with baseball in more ways than one. With an almost 16 year old son, who plays high school ball and would like to continue plaing in college, I'm "in the game" along with a dozen other families rooting for our team.

    Also, we host a couple of college players for the local summer baseball collegiate league team which is a great way "keep up with baseball" that also brings in the human side of the game. My family hears about these players aspirations, the struggles, the hard work, failures, success, schoolwork, etc., as it is all part of the game that affects who we are and where we end up. It can be fun and of course it will get emotional as we are connected in more ways than we realize. It's GREAT to see this side of the player as we do forget they are human and we have the same feelings. It's easy to forget this fact.

    Thanks for the post.

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  3. I got to listen to most of Smoltz's speech. He was nervous, but it was very sincere. Great stuff!

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  4. Great post. I probably fall somewhere in between you and the twitter folks. I like hearing the stats, but only when someone like Brian Kenny or Jayson Stark or Buster Olney or does a little work to put it into context for me. That's their job, and they are a big reason I watch ESPN or MLB Network.

    I didn't watch the HOF induction yesterday because of, you know, life stuff. I DVR'd it and hope to watch tonight or tomorrow. It's one of my favorite events on the annual calendar for the exact reasons you described.

    Also - I'm reading the book Pedro just came out with. I haven't read many autobiographies in my life, and this may actually be the first one I've read as an adult. When he was pitching, Pedro was never really my favorite pitcher, but it had more to do with playing for Boston and the Mets than anything else. I wasn't calling for his head after the Zimmer incident or anything. I appreciated his greatness, but always argued that Johnson, Clemens and Maddux were better. Regardless, it's hard not to like the guy after reading his book. He gives his perspective on a lot of things, and I'm hoping I can finish the last 30-40 pages on the train home before watching the induction tonight.

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  5. Kinda related story..

    I was in Flagstaff last week. Flagstaff has a card store so of course I went in there looking for Red Sox. Mostly what was in there was new stuff but he did have random boxes of cards from the 90s and 2000s all sorted by year/set/number (which is totally awesome). I got to noticing that there were no stars in anything I was searching so I asked him where is star cards were. He said that he would pull the star cards and keep them together. Then after a star retires he saves all the HOF players and gives the rest of his stars to kids. So I asked to see his Pedro cards only he didn't have any, at all. The guy said he never thought Pedro would make the HOF so when he retired he gave them all away.

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