The Sweet Science in Baseball

Some people contend that we live in a culture that’s more violent than ever. Without getting into all the data that prove otherwise, it’s easy to see why people get that impression. Constant images of strangers in neighborhoods from the now-ubiquitous cameras on private homes. A 24-hour news cycle that still adheres to “if it bleeds, it leads”. Politicians and advocacy groups that literally make their living by selling fear.

But one form of violence provides guilt-free entertainment. The baseball fight.


Originally posted to Flickr as “_MG_7092

If you’ve never seen a baseball fight, imagine two grown men arguing over the last bag of charcoal at Home Depot on the morning of Labor Day. As the discussion grows more and more heated, both subjects keep glancing around to make sure store employees have noticed and will intervene if things get physical. Finally, one of them takes a few tentative steps toward the other, and two staff members grab the combatants from behind in a bear hug.

Meanwhile, the rest of the staff mills around behind the action, some laughing, some grabbing/hugging others, a few self-designated peacemakers saying,  “Hey, come on guys, we gotta sell some grills today”. Other employees jog over from the plumbing section, hoping to move slowly enough that they won’t have to actually get involved.

Eventually the two original guys separate unscathed, turning to shout the occasional insult as they’re led away with minimal effort.     

These days, so-called “bench-clearing brawls” generally result from one of two conditions:

  1. Batter is hit by a pitch. It’s notable that the rules of baseball specify that the player doesn’t actually have to be hit by the ball. It’s enough if the pitch grazes the players uniform. So, naturally, a player must avenge this insult to the integrity of his shirt or shoelace.
  2. Batter hits a home run, then stops and watches the flight of the ball before running the bases. This is a relatively new development considering baseball has been around for over 150 years now. When Barry Bonds was mashing home runs, he’d routinely turn his size-12 head to watch the ball, walk a few steps and then jog around the bases. But Bonds was a prolific hitter, and would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer if it weren’t for steroid use. Oh, sorry; alleged steroid use. (He now wears size seven hats. Allegedly.)

But these days you don’t have to be a superstar to act like one. 28-year old career minor-leaguers now give it the full Bonds treatment when they hit dingers. The pitchers (or, more likely, their teammates on the bench) take exception to the show-offiness, and the pitcher responds by throwing close to (or even behind) a hitter. The pillow fight ensues.  

A few days ago I watched a baseball fight that was started when the batter claimed the pitcher looked at him for too long after grazing his uniform. It’s like two brothers in the back seat of a compact car on a long road trip.

The one serious baseball fight that I’ve seen was actually more of a one-sided pummeling. I’m referring, of course, to the infamous Nolan Ryan vs. Robin Ventura incident of 1993.

At the time, Ryan was in his last season and 46 years old. Ventura was twenty years younger and coming off an all-star year with the White Sox. In the re-play (viewed almost six million times on YouTube), Ventura gets hit by a pitch in the middle of the back, takes several steps toward first base, then suddenly throws his bat down and charges the mound.

Ryan quickly takes off his glove. When Ventura arrives, he makes a strategic error in going for a tackle. Ryan turns, gets his opponent in a headlock and starts punching him (mostly on top of his head), then both benches come out and start grabbing people.

For a baseball fight it’s pretty violent, with actual punches being delivered. But it has its comic aspects.

For one thing, there’s the age difference. Ryan is balding, and after the thing is over, he stands there panting like a six-year old St. Bernard on a July afternoon in Houston. Ventura paces around, hands on hips, wiping his mouth and clearly in no hurry to resume hostilities.

I once read an account of the fight that provided details on the back story. According to the book, the Sox  had been discussing Ryan’s aggressiveness in the clubhouse before the game and resolved to retaliate if he hit any batters. Ventura hadn’t been involved in any of the prior incidents, but agreed to back his teammates. I wonder if he’d forgotten about it but was goaded to charge the mound by shouts from the dugout. I mean, you just don’t see that kind of delayed reaction if somebody is really angry.

But most of the “fights” don’t even come to that. In a recent incident in a Pirates game, I actually saw Josh Bell (a large man) laughing out loud as he held a smaller player in a bear hug.

UFC fights are bloody, brutal affairs that I have no interest in watching. I’ve soured on boxing, unable to shake the image of Muhammad Ali’s last public appearances. I even feel a little guilty watching football due to all the people making bank off concussions.Jack_dempsey_ring_loc_50497v

But a baseball fight? That’s conflict I can get behind.



I have no pets

When I retired from my real job a few years ago, I decided to make a specific effort to keep my mind active. Not from a fear of boredom, but more a horror of dementia. It was a little easier at first, because I was still working on the book and writing several days per week.

Since then, my writing has been mostly limited to this blog and the occasional freelance article. I still read a fair amount, and took up the mandolin a couple years ago. But reading is pretty passive, and the mandolin sits gathering dust most days. When I do drag it out, it takes me 10-15 minutes just to tune it, and I count the minutes until I can stop “practicing” and put it back in its case.

So about a year ago I started learning Spanish online through an app called Duolingo. I use it only a few minutes each day, so I’m not going to be fluent anytime soon. But I have slowly, tentatively started trying to speak simple Spanish in Mexican groceries. Mostly accompanied by a lot of pointing and nodding.

The app plays a Spanish sentence, then the student types it in Spanish, repeats it in English, then enunciates a written Spanish sentence into the mic on a computer or tablet. The app alternates between a male and female voice, and I’ve noticed it’s harder for me to catch all the words with the female voice. Which probably comes as no surprise to Theresa.

I realize I’m not the only person using this process, but it would be more helpful to me if I learned phrases useful in restaurants and groceries. I have learned several snippets of conversations not especially handy for my situation, and some that make me wonder about Latinx culture.

Two common topics of conversation are, apparently, pets and work. A sentence that I’ve repeated constantly in the practice sessions is “Yo no tengo mascotas.” (In English, “I have no pets.”) Though this is accurate for me (for reasons I’ve described previously), I wonder why people who speak Spanish find it necessary to repeat this phrase so frequently.

Maybe to foreclose the possibility of other people talking about their dogs and cats. Because people who do have pets apparently comment constantly on their relative attractiveness.

“Mi perro es muy bonito.” (My dog is very pretty.)


“Mi gato es muy bonito.” (My cat is very pretty.)

“Ramon tiene dos gatos y un perro bonito.” (Ramon has two cats and a pretty dog.)

Ramon needs to get cable TV and a high efficiency vaccum cleaner.    

The work sentences often refer to people having multiple desks.

“Ella tiene dos escritorios.” (She has two desks.)

“El jefe tiene dos escritorios nuevo.” (The boss has two new desks.)

“Sonia, tienes dos escritorios?”  (Sonia, do you have two desks?)    

The work ethic of immigrants has been thoroughly documented elsewhere, but, come on…..two desks?

In the Latinx workplace, there also appears to be an epidemic of chit-chat with the secretaries.

“El jefe habla con las secretarias.” (The boss is talking to the secretaries.)


“Ramon habla con las secretarias.” (Ramon is talking to the secretaries.)


“Las secretarias trabaja poco en las viernes.” (The secretaries don’t work much on Fridays.)

Seems like they could save a lot of money on desks by insisting on more productivity.

Anyway, the language learning is, I think, helping to keep my brain healthy. And the few minutes I’m spending each day actually expands since I also think about it when I listen to the local Mexican music station or try to find a grocery that sells canned tamales.    Stenographer_Tower_Bros

“Mr Allen? I’d like a word with you…”

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the Allen wrench is the worst-designed hand tool ever created.

In the interest of transparency, I’ll confess that I decided this shortly after dismantling a canopy frame that was held together by approximately five thousand Allen bolts. I removed about three quarters of them with the “wrench”. The rest were torn out of the frame by twisting the metal back and forth until they ripped out of their holes.

What’s wrong with good old-fashioned screws (flat head or Phillips, I’m not picky)? Or just bolts with nuts and washers on the end? Connectors that can be attached with a screwdriver you can wrap your palm around, or a nut that can be tightened with a socket wrench?


But, no. It makes MUCH more sense to require a tool consisting of a skinny piece of polished metal that constantly slips between the fingers and bounces off the steps of a ladder into grass still awaiting the first mowing of the spring. (I realize that’s a pretty specific complaint, but, you get the idea.)

As documented elsewhere, I’m not the ablest home improvement/repair guy around. My motto has always been, “Don’t let the ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘Good enough to hold until next weekend. Probably”. So I don’t need the added frustration of a perfidious little scrap of metal making everything take five times as long.

Based on my extensive research of the available literature (Wikipedia), the first patent for a hex key system was recorded in 1910. A man named Howard Hallowell (which sounds fake) apparently wrote a book documenting the adoption of the tool during World War II.  The tome is quoted as follows:

“the transition from a square head set screw to a hexagon socket head hollow set screw, for which had to be developed special keys or wrenches for tightening or loosening the screw, was the cause of more profanity among the mechanics and machine manufacturers than any other single event that happened….. I am sure that the old-timers who read this book will remember this period vividly.”

Which may be the least surprising paragraph ever written. Because I can safely say Allen wrenches are in my top three profanity generators. The other two being Cincinnati Reds radio broadcasters (#FireJeffBrantley) and people who insist on crowding around the baggage claim carousel in airports.

Airport Bromma

I can just picture this Allen guy sitting around with a bunch of other lowlife industrialists, cheating each other at poker and drinking bathtub gin. Suddenly, it occurs to him to scam all of the exhausted working people dragging themselves home after a long day who just want to put something together. Like an icebox or furniture from Ikea. Chuckling to himself as he pulls an ace from his sock, he says, “Boys, I’ve got an idea that’ll make us and all of the mechanics in the world a fortune. Convince everybody to eschew (I’m thinking he was a Yale man; just go along with me on this, for once) regular screws and bolts, and make a tool so clumsy, so inefficient, so……French…..that they’ll never want to fix anything themselves again!”

They all laugh cruelly, drain their glasses, and play cards until somebody gets shanked.

I don’t ask for much. Give me good craft beer and a late afternoon sunset at the grill or smoker and I’m a contented man. But I’m begging manufacturers here. Enough with the hex keys. I’ve only got so many trips up and down the ladder left in me.

Enough with the sports commentary; let’s talk leaf blowers

I’m often accused of being a cranky old man. Sometimes, the charge is not entirely without merit. But on this one issue, I’m not angry, just mystified.

Why does my leaf blower have more than one power setting?

I can’t imagine any circumstances under which I’d find lower power useful. If I have to use a leaf blower, I’d like the chore to be over with as soon as possible. It’s hard for me to envision standing in the yard during a bright, sunny, autumn day, wearing a flannel shirt and blowing leaves as slowly as possible as a wisp of smoke from the chimney curls up to the cloudless sky. I mean, I’m not making a Lowe’s commercial here. I want to dispatch these leaves quickly so I can get back to the couch.

All I can figure is that the manufacturer put the lower setting on there to make me think I’m getting more power than I really am.  

Scene: A large, windowless room, filled with electrical equipment and tools, parts of lawn mowers, snow blowers, and tractors lying inert on brightly-lit tables, each with an electrical engineer in a white lab coat and safety goggles peering intently at its insides.

Suddenly, an obese, middle-aged man in a brown suit bursts through the double doors, leaving cigar smoke, a secretary, and a vapor trail of impatience in his wake.

“Peterson! Peterson! Where’s Peterson?”, he barks. One of the lab coats turns and tentatively raises a gloved hand.

“Um. Right here, sir.”

“Peterson!” The big man wheels in the aisle, knocking a can of lubricant off a table, and races over, taking long, quick strides.

“It’s almost June, Peterson! We need to ship the new Articulated Scoop N’ Suck Leaf Blowers by July! Where are we?”

“Almost – almost there, Mr. Spacely”, Peterson stammers. “Last step is this power switch, then it’s ready to go to production.”

“Hmmph. Hmmph,” Spacely grunts. He yanks the leaf blower away from Peterson, knocking a glass beaker to the floor that shatters. A long-suffering maintenance man walks over with a broom as Spacely turns the blower upside down, right side up, then sideways.

“How many power settings does it have?”

Peterson looks at him quizzically. “How many? Well, um, just the one, Mr. Spacely. We call it ‘On’”

“One!? Are you kidding me, Peterson? How are we going to sell leaf blowers with only one setting?”

“Well, market research tells us nobody ever uses anything but maximum power anyway, sir. And besides, it’s already blowing 600 cubic feet per minute. That’s enough to knock a passing paperboy off a Schwinn.”

“Dammit, Peterson! The actual performance has nothing to do with it! We’re not selling the steak, son; we’re selling the sizzle! What self-respecting suburbanite is going to stand around the gas grill on a Saturday and brag to his neighbors that he has a leaf blower with one setting? That guy’ll be running to the drugstore to fill his Viagra prescription in minutes! He’d be a laughingstock, boy, a laughingstock!

“Now here’s what you’re going to do, Peterson. You’re going to add a lower power setting to this thing ASAP. We’re going to call the lower setting “High” and call the regular setting “Road grader”. Got it? ABC, Peterson, ABC. Always be closing.”

Spacely jams his cigar back in his mouth and turns away quickly, his suit coat knocking a can of soda off a table as he bulls his way out the door. Peterson turns glumly back to his work.

“Well,” he mumbles to himself. “I’m glad I didn’t show him the Breast Cancer Awareness model.”        


Now that we’re getting into basketball season, the signing events are picking up for Thirty-Two Minutes in March. On December 2, I’ll be signing and selling copies during the Southport game at Center Grove.

On December 10, I’ll be at the Southport Shootout for most of the day at the fabled Southport High School Fieldhouse. It’s the tenth largest gym in the state, seating over 7,000. Southport has put together a strong lineup for the day. I’m looking forward to seeing Romeo Langford (probably the 2018 Indiana Mr. Basketball and a high-level D-1 recruit) in person. The schedule is:

Castle vs. Mt Vernon (Fortville)………………………..12 noon

New Albany vs. North Central (Indianapolis)………..2:00 PM

Cloverdale vs. Park Tudor……………………………4:00 PM

Fort Wayne Snider vs. Hamilton Southeastern……..5:40 PM

South Bend Riley vs. Southport………………..…….7:20 PM